Friday, 27 May 2011

Adventures of Superman #426

It's here! Golden Age Superman episode 19, featuring myself with the host Jon M Wilson covering Superman #3, Action Comics #20 and a whole bunch of newspaper strips, has gone live. I had a blast recording the show last week, and although I get a little quiet towards the end as my local time heads towards midnight, I think I made a good shot at talking about comics that I have very little experience with. Thanks to Jon for having me on!

It's been a busy week, what with a whole bunch of work for my job, and preparation for this weekend's MCM Expo. I'm really looking forward to the show - I'm off in a couple of hours to the preview day. I can't wait to re-meet some creators from last year, including Kieron Gillen, who had yet to have his first issue of Uncanny X-Men published, and Tony Lee, the writer of the fantastic IDW Doctor Who series. There are panels for both the Green Lantern and X-Men First Class movie, and most of the voice cast of Futurama are making an appearance, although sadly no Bender or Leela. But I'm really looking forward to meeting some great Superman-related guests. Occasional JLA: Classified writer Warren Ellis (I'll admit, that's a very tenuous connection) is a guest of honour for the weekend. Hitman artist John McCrea will be there, and in celebration of that I picked up a copy of the award-winning Hitman #34, featuring Superman, for him to sign.

The biggest Superman name for the convention, though, is All-Star Superman and JLA: Earth-2 artist Frank Quitely. I have these titles from the original release, and I also picked up the first trade of Batman and Robin yesterday to re-read and get signed, and I can't wait to meet this amazing artist.

As with last year I'll be posting a review and round-up after the event, but for 'live' coverage, be sure to follow me on Twitter as that's how I'll be keeping up with the world.

Legends Chapter 18: From The Dregs…

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist/Co-Plotter: Jerry Ordway
Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Letterer: Albert de Guzman
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Andrew Helfer
Cover Art: Jerry Ordway
Cover Date: March 1987
Release Date: 18/12/1986

The fires of Apokolips burn. Beneath the surface of the planet, a scavenger collects waste and debris from the flame pits. He has a luck catch when he snags red material, and pulls the unconscious body of Superman from the flames. Realising that his catch has survived the fires, he wonders whether he should attempt to sell him to Darkseid, but decides against it, choosing instead to let the Hunger Dogs of Apokolips know of his find. Word spreads, and a crowd forms around Superman’s prone form. The scavenger attempts to show Superman’s invulnerability by scorching his hand with a fiery torch, but gets a surprise when Superman revives and grabs his hand. Superman is more surprised to discover that his hand has actually been burned. The Hunger Dogs react to the apparent deception by forming a mob, but the appearance of Amazing Grace, the woman from the previous issue, cows the threat. She declares Superman their saviour, one of the New Gods of New Genesis, and announces his arrival as the start of a revolution.

Watching Amazing Grace and the Hunger Dogs on a monitor screen, Darkseid is unconcerned, unleashing his parademons on the crowd. Although he is unable to remember much of who he is or how he came to Apokolips, Superman recognises innocents in danger, and leaps to their defence, fighting the parademons. After a short but furious battle, Superman is victorious, and the Hunger Dogs strip the defeated parademons of their amour. Superman notices that every time he begins to think clearly and remember details of his life, his mind starts to cloud over. Unable to resist, he accepts Amazing Grace’s proclamation of him as Apokolips’ saviour, and becomes a figurehead for the rebellion.

Elsewhere, Highfather of the New Gods feels a sense of dread and unease, and consults the Source. The Source shows him something that makes him fear for the safety of all the New Gods.

On Apokolips, Amazing Grace fires up the leadership of the rebellion, before tending to Superman, relaxing his aches away in a herbal bath. Grace replaces Superman’s costume with armour emblazoned with Superman’s symbol. As Superman leads the battles, his logo and costume become symbols of the rebellion. The battle approaches Darkseid’s citadel. Amazing Grace oversees the battle from a balcony. Declaring victory, Superman embraces her and gives her a passionate kiss. Superman addresses the crowd, telling them that their hope for freedom must now be ended. Parademons swoop down and massacre the Hunger Dogs. Superman and Amazing Grace then turn away from the slaughter and face their master, Darkseid.

The second chapter of this three-part Apokoliptian romp gives us a Superman who is barely the character we know and love, and whose passion and drive to fight against injustice is gruesomely subverted in the closing pages of the book.

I came out with a lot of love for Jerry Ordway when he made his artistic debut on the Superman books, and that love stands, but it’s unfortunate that in the midst of the entire Legends event and this crossover, all of which was pencilled by John Byrne, we didn’t get a guest spot from Byrne on Adventures of Superman. Ordway’s style, whilst strong and distinctive, feels out of place in the middle of such a Byrne-led story. There is some great artwork on display here. Ordway draws the heck out of the crowds of rebelling Hunger Dogs, and his parademons look and act as threatening as the characters treat them. In later years, parademons would come to be used cannon fodder for the fists of various heroes, but here a small force are as great a threat to the rebellion as Darkseid himself. Talking of Darkseid, he is well-presented by Ordway, but the hard, malicious tone that Byrne brings to the character is sadly missing. The final panel in particular should be far more ominous than it looks. Wolfman's scripting also feels out of place in the wider context of the crossover. His scripting is more verbose than both Byrne and Ostrander, resulting in pages that look more crowded than the other issues, and that take longer to read. It's a good read, but like the artwork, it sits awkwardly in the middle of the story.

The growth of the rebellion is interesting. As the crowds grow and they get closer to their goal, Amazing Grace becomes more… well… amazing! Her transformation from rag-clad fugitive to glorious princess overseeing the advance of her troops is a sure tip to the reader that not is all as it seems, although subtle enough to prevent the shock of the final twist from being lessened.

And what a final moment this is. Superman unleashes a horde of parademons onto the massed Hunger Dogs, wiping them out, before pledging allegiance to Darkseid himself. It’s heartbreaking to see Superman party to and instigator of these actions, even though it is clear, if unstated, that Amazing Grace is the one responsible. What perhaps robs this moment of its true power is the lack of reflection or penance on Superman’s part after he regains his memories. I believe that Superman’s conscience is strong enough that he would feel responsible, even though he was being manipulated by Darkseid and Grace, and indeed, we have seen plenty of occasions where Superman takes responsibility for events completely out of his control. In a couple of years we would see Superman react very strongly to three deaths that he took complete responsibility for, but I feel that it was a missed opportunity to deal with Superman’s guilt, regardless of whether he could be truly blamed or not.

The Geeky Bits: Several references are made throughout this series to the one-shot titled The Hunger Dogs, published in 1985 as DC Graphic Novel #4. This was Jack Kirby's final work for DC, and his intention was to bring the Fourth World saga to a close with the death of the New Gods. DC disagreed, demanding that the New Gods survive the series. When the story finally saw publication, it was not as Kirby had intended, with many page orders restructured and plot points revised. The plot featured a rebellion on Apokolips by the slave population, the titular Hunger Dogs, that saw Darkseid fleeing Apokolips. At some point between that story and this, Darkseid regained control of Apokolips, and the massacre of the Hunger Dogs in this issue would be the final rebellion on Apokolips.

This issue was covered on episode 5 of From Crisis To Crisis

Next on World of Superman: We'll be back after the weekend to cover a four-way smackdown featuring Orion, Lightray, Superman and Darkseid.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Superman #3

Hey guys, welcome back to the World of Superman.

Before we get going today, I just wanted to throw a shout-out to Jeffrey Taylor, co-host of From Crisis To Crisis and a contributor and administrator of the Superman Homepage. I had the great pleasure of meeting Jeffrey at the start of April in San Francisco, where my holiday coincided with WonderCon, and Jeffrey was kind enough to take a part of his Sunday morning to share breakfast and chat about Superman and life in general. Jeffrey has just started a series of articles for focusing on the production of the upcoming Superman: The Man of Steel film. The first instalment went up a few days ago, and future instalments will arrive every other Tuesday. Go check it out! The article is a great read, and I'll be looking forward to future posts. Don't forget to add your comments and interact as sell - I'm told that the next post will be worthy of comment!

But let us turn our view away from Jeffrey, and instead take a look at a maniacal super-god, determined to conquer the Earth. I'll leave you guys to make up your own punchlines!

Legends Chapter 17: Legends From The Darkside

Writer/Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Andrew Helfer
Cover Artist: John Byrne
Cover Date: March 1987
Release Date: 11/12/1986

Lois Lane arrives at the Metropolis Grande Hotel to interview G. Gordon Godfrey. Godfrey resists attempts by Lois to pry into his background, and tells her that the true goal of his crusade is to see super-heroes wiped from the face of the Earth.

In the streets below, Clark Kent rushes through the crowds in a panic. He is being pursued by two beams of light that take great care not to strike anyone as they chase him, and is unable to change into Superman as a result of President Reagan’s edict. Clark heads into the sewers, ducking to avoid the beams, but is struck by them when they unexpectedly reverse direction. The beams take him to Apokolips, to Darkseid’s feat. Darkseid cannot understand why his omega beams haven’t brought Superman to him, and gaining no help from the Phantom Stranger, he hurls Clark through a window and into the Armagetto below.

Finding himself in the garbage of the Armagetto, Clark wonders about the Phantom Stranger’s involvement with Darkseid’s plans. Denizens of Armagetto quickly descend on Clark, stripping him of his possessions and clothes, revealing him as Superman, who easily bats them aside. Exploring the Armagetto, Superman reviews all he knows of the New Gods. He uses his telescopic vision and discovers that New Genesis no longer exists. Superman ducks further down into the Armagetto to avoid detection by Parademons, and uses rags and cloth to disguise his costume.

Proceeding on foot, Superman comes across an angry mob, protesting the imminent execution of a woman who preached against Darkseid’s rule. Recognising that a life is in danger, Superman steps forward, breaking the fence that keeps the mob back and demanding the woman’s release. With the shock troops distracted by Superman’s show of strength, the woman escapes. The troops summon a pacifier, an oversized armoured soldier, who attacks Superman. The two fight, and Superman is able to crack the armour, releasing a parasitic slug-like creature which attacks Superman, attaching itself to him. As Superman struggles, he topples into a flame pit. Looking on, Darkseid laughs.

This is a great book. Whilst I felt that the Legends series proper had lost momentum leading into this crossover, this book comes out of the gate with all guns blazing. Lois gets to grip with G. Gordon Godfrey and his twisted philosophy, and his manipulation powers come across as far more insidious when directed solely at Lois. Her admission that his arguments are so persuasive that she has to remind herself which side she is on carries as much weight as the baying mobs seen in the back half of the Legends storyline.

In the meantime, an unprepared Superman narrowly avoids a one-on-one confrontation with Darkseid. Clark’s madcap dash through the streets of Metropolis has a real sense of panic to it. You really get the feeling of his desperation, forced to stay in his civilian identity but frantically trying to outpace the omega beams. Thankfully the Phantom Stranger is present to help deflect Darkseid’s attentions when he arrives on Apokolips, although it is unusual that Darkseid should be so trusting of another’s word, especially when it would appear to cast doubt on his own abilities.

Superman’s adventures on Apokolips are interesting. After twenty-five years of Superman vs Darkseid stories in different media, we are used to Superman marching into Apokolips on a war footing, ready to throw down with Darkseid as soon as he needs to. Having him skulk around in the Armagetto, his costume covered by rags, is an different and clever way to get Superman involved with the story. I particularly like the touch where Superman’s aura that keeps his costume intact during battle also prevents the grime of the Armagetto from dirtying him, forcing him to hide in the shadows to avoid detection by Darkseid’s troops.

Of course, a whole issue of skulking would not make for a satisfying read, and it doesn't take long for the injustices of Apokolips to bring Superman out. The throwdown with the pacifier is a great piece of action. John Byrne’s style seems particularly suited to the designs and environments of the Fourth World, and the pacifier – and the slug-like parasite within – are strong visuals.

I love, just love, the final page of this book, where the camera pulls back from Superman’s descent into the flame-pit to a menacing, gloating Darkseid. It takes a lot to be able to draw Darkseid smiling or laughing, and Byrne really sells the image in the final panel. There is an incredible amount of sinister and insidious delight in Darkseid’s reaction to Superman’s plight, and this whole page makes for a great cliffhanger to the book.

The Geeky Bits: Man, I can’t believe I forgot to drop this in on the last post!

Although this is the first time that readers saw Superman face Darkseid after the Man of Steel reboot, Clark's thoughts here clearly indicate that the two have met before. John Byrne wrote the story of how Superman first encountered the New Gods in the closing issue of his series Jack Kirby's Fourth World (covered here), and later events would seem to canonise the pre-Crisis Justice League of America #183-185.

This is the first time all of the current Superman titles directly tie into each other, with the story continuing from book to book. For the next few years, such inter-title continuity will be the exception, rather than the norm, but as we move from the 1980s into the 1990s, these three books (with the addition of Superman: The Man Of Steel) will form a continuous ongoing storyline, eventually linked by the ‘shield numbering’ on the covers, that will be known colloquially as the Neverending Battle style of storytelling. This will last until 1999 when the replacement of almost all of the creative teams on the four titles will only see continual inter-title storytelling for special events and crossovers.

This issue was covered on Episode 5 of From Crisis To Crisis.

Next on World of Superman: Forgive me, for I have been watching too much Futurama (particularly All My Circuits), but… Superman comes down with a sudden case of… AMNESIA!!!?!?!!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Legends #3 and #4

We're back! Check out my previous post for details of my latest podcast appearance. I'll let you know as soon as it's up and available on iTunes.

I'm writing this post from my new laptop, and sadly I don't have my image editing software up and running yet, so no scans to illustrate the posts. Hopefully I'll be properly set in time for the next post.

Anyway, on with the story!

Legends #3
Send For... The Suicide Squad

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: January 1987
Release Date: 23/10/1986

Angry mobs lay siege to public headquarters of super-heroes, whose activities have been prevented by executive order. Sarge Steel acts a a chaperone to the Teen Titans, but is unable to follow through his threats of extreme force when Changeling and the Flash decide to head out to help. Meanwhile, Task Force X is given their purpose - carry out missions in exchange for pardons - and with most of the team wearing explosive bracers to keep them in check, are directed to take down Brimstone. They engage the monster at the foot of Mount Rushmore.

Billy Batson, distraught at the death of Macro Man, goes into hiding, meeting a young girl called Lisa who has become separated from her parents. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne visits Jason Todd in hospital. As Bruce comforts his injured sidekick, shots ring out from outside, a symbol of the civil disorder inspired by G. Gordon Godfrey. Wayne leaves, determined to prove that President Reagan's edict was wrong.

During the battle, Blockbuster directly attacks Brimstone, who reaches down and burns the villain to death in his fist. Revelling in the destruction, Brimstone leaves his chest open to attack, and is destroyed by a shot from Deadshot, wielding a specially-constructed laser sniper. In the aftermath, Captain Boomerang realises that everyone on the team was considered to be expendable, including Rick Flag.

At the White House, Superman pledges his support to Reagan's edict, despite his vocal opposition to it. At the same time, Billy Batson is invited to dinner by Lisa's parents. During the meal, G. Gordon Godfrey appears on the TV, provoking a reaction in Lisa's family that intimidates Billy into running away again. Catching up , Lisa tells him that she still believes in super-heroes.

Throughout the issue, Darkseid and the Phantom Stranger debate Darkseid's plans. Observing Lisa's faith, the Stranger declares that this is why Darkseid is doomed to fail. Darkseid refuses to believe this, unveiling the next phase in his strategy - his Warhounds.

Legends #4
Cry Havoc

Plotter: John Ostrander
Scripter: Len Wein
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Karl Kesel
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Mike Gold
Cover Art: John Byrne
Cover Date: Feb 1987
Release Date: 24/11/1986

In Star City, an attack by Count Vertigo is foiled by a law-breaking Black Canary. A policeman pulls a gun, attempting to arrest her, but is blocked by his partner. The two argue whilst Black Canary escapes, with the first policeman accidentally shooting and killing the second. Attempting to rationalize his actions, the policeman concludes that Black Canary made him shoot, and thus she murdered his partner.

On Apokolips, Darkseid sees all on Earth, despatching Desaad to the land of Skartaris to destroy the legend of Travis Morgan, the Warlord. Elsewhere in Gotham City, Batman foils a raid by the Joker, apprehending him in defiance of the Presidential Order. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, a gang of body-building bank robbers are caught by Guy Gardner. In Chicago, Blue Beetle foils a heist by Chronos, but is forced to let the villain escape when the police arrive and turn their attentions to him. Meanwhile, spurred into action by the growing public hysteria, Doctor Fate returns to service.

In Washington, Rick Flag announces to Task Force X that their actions against Brimstone have earned them their freedom, de-activating their bracelets and letting them free. At the same time, G. Gordon Godfrey addresses a rally in Gotham City calling for a revolt against President Reagan for the weakness of his frequently-flouted edict. He introduces the weapon to be used against the government, human-controlled Warhounds. Enjoying his freedom, Captain Boomerang goes on a rampage, but is quickly caught by the Teen Titans. As they prepare to take him away, Flash and Changeling are attacked by two Warhounds.

On Apokolips, Darkseid turns his attention to Superman, unleashing the power of his Omega Beams.

The middle chapters of Legends feel like they both progress the story and tread water at the same time. There is a large amount of time spent setting up tie-in issues in the fourth chapter, despatching Desaad to participate in the Warlord title, and using the cliffhanger to draw readers into the next month's Superman titles. We also spend a lot of time following various future members of Justice League International as they ignore the presidential edict, although in the case of some members such as Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, they are newer characters within the DC Universe, and in the case of Guy Gardner, a character with a new status quo, having recently received a power ring during the Crisis. Whilst these vignettes were undoubtedly important at the time, knowing where these characters will end up after the crossover makes most of the fourth issue seems like an extended exercise in moving the pieces of the story into position.

I do like the continuation of the Task Force X storyline. It plays very nicely into Darkseid's schemes that Brimstone, the monster that has apparently destroyed the Justice League of America, should be brought down by a morally dubious government-sponsored team of super-villains, hardly an achievement that can be propogandized.

I'll be honest here. I see the Legends crossover in four parts - the opening two issues, these two, the Superman crossover, and then the conclusion. I like the opening, love the Superman crossover, enjoy the ending, but see these issues, especially the fourth, as the bit we have to get through to get to the good stuff. I have nothing against the creators, but apart from the death of Brimstone, it all feels a bit too much 'middle chapter'-ish. The cliffhanger to the third issue, the introduction of the Warhounds, is barely touched upon in the fourth, save for a brief reference to the fact that people get 'turned into' them.

Knowing the great Apokolitian action just around the corner, I think it's best to draw a veil here and reconvene at Darkseid's feet.

Next on World of Superman: Clark Kent vs Apokolips!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Golden Age Superman

Hi guys, just a fast post, made mid-recording of my good friend Jon M. Wilson's podcast Golden Age Superman. Jon's recapping concurrent releases from the month, which features Superman #3 and Action Comics  #20.

I'm so very close to a new post, featuring Legends #3 and #4, then featuring Superman #3, this time from the second series.

Anyway, back to the podcast!