Saturday, 5 December 2009

Not dead, just sleeping

So, regular readers (if such things exist) will notice that it's been nearly five weeks since I last posted here. Contrary to the evidence, I have not abandoned or given up on this project. I have found it difficult to make the time to focus on the project, as a result of two factors. The first is that my last post coincided with me starting the fifth week of my new job as a retail manager, moving from my training base into my home store. The pressures of learning a new job coupled with the busiest months of the year for just about any retailer has resulted in a sharp decline in the amount of free time I have.

The other factor is that the current series under review, The Kents, is a very challenging series. As a British citizen with minimal knowledge of the period in history covered by the series, I have found the reviews and, in some cases, the issue recaps, difficult to write due to the amount of research I have felt necessary to conduct. This is in no way to say that I dislike the series; on the contrary my initial reaction upon the first reading several months ago was that it was a very good limited series and it is one that I have been enjoying rereading. However, I am unable to devote the time required to do the series justice in my writing.

Therefore, I am going to 'cheat' and place The Kents on hiatus until the New Year when I can devote more time to covering the series. I am then going to jump forward in time another few decades and take a look at the earlier life of Jor-El, as featured in issue 51 of Starman.

I'll see you soon for Starman #51!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Kents #5

Brother vs Brother Part 1

Writer: John Ostrander
Penciller: Tim Truman
Inker: Michael Bair
Letters: Oakley/NJQ (Bill Oakley)
Colors: Carla Feeny
Color Separations: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover Art: Timothy Truman
Cover Date: December 1997
Release Date: 08/10/1997

The issue opens with the shooting of Nate, as seen from Jeb's point of view. As he rides off, something makes him look back, and he sees Joshua Freeman break cover to tend to Nate. The look Josh gives Nate chills the younger brother.

Abraham Lincoln is elected President, and over the next few months the tensions escalate further. Quantrill is arrested near Lawrence in early 1961, but is taken to a more friendly town to await bail. Jeb arrives to post the bail, chased by a posse from Lawrence, but he and Quantrill escape.

In June 1961, John Glenowen leaves his daughter to look after Josh, and joins the Union forces. He has a chance meeting with Nate, who has been looking for his brother, and who has joined up along with Wild Bill Hickok. The Union forces engage the Confederates, with the Kent brothers on opposing sides. In the confusion of the conflict, Jeb shoots out Nate's horse and wounds John Glenowen, before recognising his brother. When Nate recognises Jeb, he fires wildly at him until John is able to calm him down. Nate takes John to get medical attention, vowing to kill his brother on their next meeting.

With this issue the Civil War finally erupts, after 4 and a bit issues of tensions rising and events escalating. The War in this story serves to highlight the differences between Jeb and Nate. In this issue, they only meet on the battlefield where their allegiances and beliefs push them into conflict with each other, an outcome that Jeb clearly doesn't want as evidenced by his actions in greeting his brother, who he last saw dying after he shot him.

This issue feels more focused than most of the first four. It centers on two scenes - the post-shooting of Nate, and the battle at the end. The transition from Bleeding Kansas to the Civil War is covered in one smooth passage, with a brief Jeb scene to prevent there from being 8 pages of pure exposition. The central scenes we do have show us that Jeb has remorse for his actions, even if he doesn't have a fully formed sense of self-preservation to stop him from breaking cover to greet the man he shot a year previously. Jeb is by no means redeemed  in this issue, but his character grows beyond the impulsive teenager rebelling against his family that had driven his actions in the last two issues. Conversely, Nate is shown to us as the revenge-driven hardened veteran, with no room in his heart for his brother, a less likeable character than the Nate we have seen previously. Starting this arc with the brother so opposed not only from each other but from their previous depictions sheds new light on where events have taken them, and shows us that Ostrander is looking for new ways to present Nate and Jeb.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-Orders: 27,332 (-2383)
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 106 (-11)
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Uncanny X-Men #350

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Kents #4

Bleeding Kansas Part 4

Writer: John Ostrander
Penciller: Tim Truman
Inker: Michael Bair
Letters: Oakley/NJQ (Bill Oakley)
Colours: Carla Feeny
Colour Separations: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover Art: Timothy Truman
Cover Date: November 1997
Release Date: 03/09/1997

Stung by the words of Jeb, Nate decides to reach out and get to know the people he is fighting for. He seeks out a family of freed slaves, the Freemans, who make their living as farmers. Despite some initial tensions on the part of Tobias and Sarah Freeman, they bond when Jeb asks for Tobias to teach him how to tend the land.

Later that year, elections are once again held. Although there is no direct conflict this time, ballot-stuffing is rife. Governor Walker disqualifies many candidates, including Sherriff, and is himself relieved of his position by President Buchanan.

Tensions are relieved somewhat in the spring of 1858, when gold is discovered at Pike's Peak, sparking the Colorado Gold Rush. Nate and Jeb's relationship continues to deteriorate. An argument over Mary Glenowen, who Wild Bill Hickok is starting to lose his affections for, leads to Nate hitting his brother, and Jeb pulling a gun, promising to lose it next time.

Nate continues to ride with Quantrill and his men, who now include Luther. The group have started killing Free State supporters in acts of guerilla warfare. but Jeb abstains from firing his gun. Wild Bill breaks up with Mary over issues of her half-Indian heritage, and rides off. As Nate comforts Mary, he confesses his love for her. She cannot reciprocate his feelings so soon, and the two part.

Over the next year, tensions start to rise again, spurred on by John Brown's actions, stealing slaves from Missourian farms and delivering them to freedom. He is eventually caught after a period of hiding, and hung.

The summer of 1860 sees a drought blight Kansas, causing further hardship. One day, while Nate is teaching the Freemans' son, Josh, to read, Quantrill and his gang, including Jeb, ride up to forcibly enslave the family. When Nate defends the Freemans, Jeb shoots him in the back. The Tobias and Sarah Freeman are dragged away. Josh saves Nate, bringing him to Mary Glenowen, who helps him recover. Part of the recovery process involves being covered with an Iroquois healing blanket, which bears a symbol of healing, a familiar 'S' shield.

At the end of 1960, having fully healed, Nate rides off to free Tobias and Sarah, and to have his revenge on Jeb.

There's no avoiding it, so let's deal with the elephant in the room - the 'S' shield. Such an obvious link to Superman, far more blatant than Luther-as-bad-guy connection, stands out like a sore thumb.The design just doesn't work. The bright red, blue, and yellow, jump off the page at the reader, further sticking out as we have never seen these particular colours before. They seem to be from a completely different colour palette to those used so far in this series. About the only good thing to remark about the appearance of the logo is that it never really pops up again - thankfully, Jeb doesn't fashion it into a cloak and fight for freedom under it. Although the Superman logo is worked into the cover of each issue, it has always been in a more subdued manner, feeling as if it belongs to the image. Here, it's an unwelcome intrusion that brings the reader out of the story crafted by Ostrander.

This issue feels a bit rushed. The story needs to end with the Civil War about to erupt, and thus this issue covers over three years of plot. It's also the most focused of the issues - the detours into historical background are limited to two single pages, allowing the narrative more room to focus on the Kent brothers. Despite his inaction during the murder of the Free Men, Jeb finishes the issue firmly painted as a villain, shooting his brother in the back and throwing his lot in fully with Quantrill. Jeb will inhabit this role for most of the rest of the series, losing some of the layered detail of character that he was portrayed with during the first few issues.

Overall, this first arc in The Kents has been a success, despite having to work against a specific era of American history that is perhaps less well-known that the Civil War era that dominates the next arc.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-Orders: 29,715 (-3,805)
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 91 (-6)
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Uncanny X-Men #349

Breaking News!

Well, it's not really news. And as the event in question happened on Wednesday, I guess 'breaking' is inaccurate. But whatever!

At the end of Episode 23 of the From Crisis to Crisis podcast, I got an almost mention. The hosts were talking up their Facebook page, and mentioned that they had just reached 100 friends (not bad for a podcast). The 100th friend was me, and I had a special mention on the facebook page. Unfortunately, they forget my name on the podcast, which is why this counts as an almost mention... but it was still nice to hear, even if I would probably be the only person to recognise it.

Go and subscribe to the podcast as well, it's a great listen.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Kents #3

First of all, an apology for the delay in this review. I've been away training for my new job at a location that takes three times longer to get to than my home location, which has reduced my free time considerably. I've actually completed this review a couple of times over, but the blogsite has crashed and deleted all my writings, which has been frustrating. Normal service shall resume! And on with the show!

Bleeding Kansas, Part 3

Writer: John Ostrander
Penciller: Tim Truman
Inks: Michael Bair
Letters: Oakley/N.J.Q. (Bill Oakley)
Colors: Carla Feeny
Color Seperations: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover Art: Timothy Truman
Cover Date: October 1997
Release Date: 06/08/1997

As Nate rides from Washington to Lawrence to help the town survive the siege, fallout from President Pierce's refusal to consider Kansas' statehood hits the Senate, with Senator Sumner brutally beaten for denouncing the 'crime against Kansas'. Meanwhile, Lawrence surrenders to the Missourians, believing that no help will be forthcoming from the Washington party. Despite the surrender, Sherriff Woods and Luther's men ransack the town, arresting key opponents and torching buildings. Deciding to deal with his issues over being left behind, Jeb, in disguise, incites a mob to attack and destroy the family printing press.

Two days after the surrender and sacking of Lawrence, Nate arrives home, and is distraught at the destruction of the family press. Jeb has fled town, and has taken up with Lily Beaumont, the daughter of a pro-slaver. That night, John Brown and his gang confront and kill Lily's father, with Lily and Jeb watching from cover. Jeb returns to Lawrence with news of the Pottawatomie Massacre comitted by Brown. During a confrontation with Nate, Jeb expresses solidarity with the Missourians, and the two part company again.

By late September 1856, things have got worse in Lawrence, with key community leaders arrested and the new pro-slavery Governor Woodson inviting the Missourians to 'restore order'. Lawrence has become better defended, and Nate renews his acquaintance with Bill Hickok, who has taken up with the half-Indian Mary Glenowen and her Welsh father, John. Nate visits the Glenowens and falls in love with Mary, but hides his feelings out of respect for Bill. In the meantime, Jeb has taken up with bad company, and helps lead some abolitionists into an ambush where they are killed by William Clarke Quantrill, who recruits Jeb to his posse.

If you boil this series down, stripping away the historical research and cameos from historical figures, what The Kents is about is the two different paths taken by the Kent brothers. As the American Civil War (Apologies to the American readers, but here in England we had our own Civil War 200 years earlier. Not only did we get to commit regicide, but the Civil War was so popular it came back a few years later for a sequel.) becomes the focus of the series, these paths and conflicts are made more explicit and sit at the front of the series, but what is impressive here is the way that Ostrander refuses to portray Jeb as the 'bad' brother.

Although Jeb's actions are hardly noble, they are born from a desire to find his own place in the world, one that distinguishes him from his brother. His desire to be his own man is shown through his actions and inactions, although his choices of when to act and when not to send him down a different path. He chooses to be a part of the looting of Lawrence, destroying his father's press, and again chooses to be a part of Quantrill's murderous actions at the end of the issue. He is presented with the opportunity to take a stand when Beaumont Sr is killed, but chooses to an observer and not a participant.

As the brothers drift further apart, and as history takes its course, the impending Civil War propels this issue forward. The young Government of America descends into chaos, with attacks on senators who stand up for Kansas, and in Kansas itself the two opposing factions turn to guerilla-style tactics to further their cause. The two brothers are inextricably caught up in this, and their paths, while still fluid here, will be well and truly set by the end of the next issue.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-Orders: 33,519 (-4,802)
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 85 (-16)
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Spawn #65

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Kents #2

Bleeding Kansas Part 2

John Ostrander
Penciller: Tim Truman
Inker: Michael Bair
Letters: Oakley/N.J.Q. (Bill Oakley)
Colors: Carla Feeny
Color Separations: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover Art: Timothy Truman
Cover Date: September 1997
Release Date: 02/07/1997

Luther and Sheriff Jones arrest Jeb for threatening Luther's life. The posse is confronted by Nate at a ford, where Jeb is freed from custody. In December 1855, Jones returns with a larger group of men, who lay siege to Lawrence. The town is defended not only by its inhabitants, but John Brown and his men, and reinforcements from the nearby Indian tribes. A decision is taken to send three men, led by Nate, to break through the barricade and attempt to pleas with Governor Shannon for assistance. Although Jeb is told to stay behind, he gatecrashes the midnight expedition, racing off directly towards the enemy encampment on horseback. The noise rouses the attackers, who kill one of the men and give chase to the Kents. Although they are able to shake off the pursuit, Jeb can only see the glory of the ride, and is knocked out in anger by Nate, who drags his brother back to town. Word manages to get through to the Governor, who breaks up the siege.

In March 1856, Nate and Jeb's mother dies, and in accordance with her last wishes, Nate travels with her body from Boston to Lawrence. Along his journey, he teams up with Wild Bill Hickok to break through a pro-slavery protest led by Luther.

A month later and Nate prepares to leave for Washington to present a petition asking for Kansas to be granted Free Statehood. Angered at being left behind again, Jeb strikes out at Nate. In Washington, the delegation is snubbed by President Pearce, who turns down their petition. Later that evening, word arrives from Jeb - Jones and Luther have once again laid siege to the town, with far greater numbers than ever before. Fearing a massacre, Nate rides for home.

The second issue of this historical Western ups the ante for this series in three different ways. The political stakes are raised, with the refusal of Pearce to support the abolitionists. The physical stakes are raised, as Jones and Luther keep returning to Lawrence with more men and more advanced weaponry. And the emotional stakes are raised, as the first signs of dissent between the brothers Kent start to show.

The seeds of Jeb's character planted in the first issue start to show in the second. Devoid of parental influence, his strong-mindedness and inquisitiveness turns to brash, unthinking arrogance, shown in his mad ride through the siege camps and the tragic death of one of his comrades, unnoticed by the younger Kent. At this point, Jeb is humble and scared enough to call for his brother's support at the end of the issue, an action he wouldn't have taken if the siege had happened in later issues.

This issue also sees the introduction of the series most prominent historical supporting character, 'Wild Bill' Hickok. Hickok is certainly an interesting addition to the title. Well known in his lifetime, after his death tales of his exploits achieved near legendary status through fictionalisations of his life including many TV series and films, as well as through his own embellishments. Hickok was also a prominent feature of 'dime novels', early serialised adventure magazines, which some have described as proto-comic books. In contrast to my views expressed in the previous post, where I suggested that Hickok's inclusion was uncomfortable and unnecessary, having further researched his character I find him a wholly suitable character to be added to this book. Considering how many of his exploits have been fictionalised, it seems appropriate that he should appear in a fictional account of real world events.

Although it could appear that constant besieging of Lawrence shows a repetitive plot, the escalation of each encounter, both in terms of the numbers besieging and the desperation of the defenders, culminating in the final siege taking place whilst most key members of Lawrence's community are halfway across the country, means that this cycle will be broken soon, propelling the book into a new direction.

Truman's art continues to impress. His subtle aging and degradation of characters work well, with the rabble-rousing Luther, face covered in shadow, presented as an almost demonic force, despite the absence of any supernatural elements in the book. Special mention must got to letterer Bill Oakley, who skillfully provides numerous cursive fonts throughout the series, breaking up the different narrations clearly and visually.

As before, this book is strong enough to stand on its own feet without the 'S' shield on the cover, or the intrusive Clark and Lois interruptions to the plot.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-orders: 38,321 (-8,149)
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 69
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Uncanny X-Men #347

The Kents #1

Bleeding Kansas Part 1

John Ostrander
Penciller: Timothy Truman
Inks: Michael Bair
Letters: Bill Oakley
Colors: Carla Feeny
Colour Separations: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Peter J. Tomasi
Cover Art: Timothy Truman
Cover Date: August 1997
Release Date: 04/06/1987

In present-day Smallville, Pa Kent uncovers a buried trunk containing letters and heirlooms from his ancestors. As he investigates the finds, he writes a series of letters to Clark informing him of the story of Kents as he uncovers it...

Silas Kent, patriarch of the Kent family in Boston, Massachusetts, is an abolitionist and active in the underground railroad, supported by his sons Nathanial and Jebediah. He relocates himself and his sons to Kansas, intending to send for the rest of his family once he and a group of like-minded people have founded a society there. He takes his printing press with him. Upon arrival, the group is confronted by Luther Reid and his band of pro-slavery Missourians. Although conflict is avoided on their first meeting, the threat of reprisals casts a shadow over their endeavours.

In August 1854, the town of Lawrence is founded, and the Kents make their home there. In November of that year, elections are rigged and disrupted by the Missourians in an attempt to deprive the abolitionists of representation, and tensions rise again when in the Spring of 1855, Luther and his enlarged posse attempt to disrupt elections with a cannon. Silas is instrumental in seeing Luther off, but this, along with the anti-slavery printing from his press, make him a target.

In reaction to the impending pro-slavery legislation, Silas republishes the US constitution on the front page of his local paper, stirring up anti-slavery protests. One night, he is shot in the back and killed. Nate and Jeb confront Luther, who denies having Silas killed. Luther then enlists the help of a Southern sheriff to help destroy the Kents and Lawrence.

John Ostrander's sprawling 12-issue epic The Kents is brave project. It's a Western comic, published in an age where true Westerns have fallen out of favour, despite, as pointed out by Ostrander in his editorial contained at the back of the issue, the themes of a Western being found throughout fiction. It is also a serious historical comic, rooted firmly (as suggested by the title) in the Bleeding Kansas era of American history.

The book is permeated by cameos of real historical figures. In the first issue alone, Harriet Tubman, Charles Robinson and John Brown appear. Unlike in later issues, where the plot turns Bill Hickok into a major supporting character, these cameos feel natural and unobtrusive, serving to ground the series further in the real life events that occurred.

If this first issue has a flaw, it is that the main characters of the series, brothers Nate and Jeb, receive little page time. There is a lovely scene set during the emigration, where Jeb's curiosity, intelligence, and desire to understand further the events that have uprooted his life come across as positive character traits, despite the journey that these traits would lead him down throughout the series. And although I like pitting a character named Luther against the Kents, the appearance by John Henry Lane (despite the wonderful naming coincidence) feels like over egging the naming pudding, inviting more comparisons with the traditional Superman status quo than are intended by the series.

The art is beautiful. Everyone in the series feels real, from the interpretations of the real-life figures down the more caricatured designs such as Luther. The threats of weapons, such as the numerous guns levelled at Luther throughout the issue, are powerfully conveyed without ever assigning a morality to them - the guns, no matter who wields them, are presented as deadly tools and nothing more.

Ignore the 'S' shield on the cover - other than the names, this is a gripping stand-alone historical Western saga.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Preorders:  46,470.
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 47
Best-selling Comic Of The Month: Uncanny X-Men #346

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The World of Krypton #2

After The Fall

Writer: John Byrne
Breakdowns: Mike Mignola
Finishes: Rick Bryant
Colours: Petra Scotese
Letters: John Workman
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Artist: John Byrne, Walt Simonson
Cover Date: January 1988
Release Date: 15/09/1987

Many years later…

Krypton is now a deserted wasteland. A battlesuit lumbers across the desolation, heading towards the city seen in the first issue. Inside, a foetal Kryptonian remembers the past…

A time-delayed suicide message from Kan-Z is broadcast to Krypton, revealing Nyra’s actions regarding her clone. The violence from Kandor spreads across the planet, as young Kryptonians, following the historical protests of anti-cloning campaigner Sem-L, press harder for clone right. Returning to their family, Van-L and Ran-L learn of the destruction of Kandor, the result of a nuclear explosion set off in the heart of the city by a terrorist group called Black Zero. Vara and Van-L argue over the cloning issue. Vara reveals her distress at having her life saved with cloned parts, and leaves Van-L.

At a later point in the conflict, Van-L leads a squadron of Kryptonian soldiers against Black Zero rebels. During the fight, he discovers that one of the terrorists is Vara. They tussle, and Vara escapes into a building which explodes.

Back in the present, the battlesuit arrives at its destination, and ejects its passenger, Van-L. Having been encased and protected by the suit for over a century, Van-L is unable to walk unaided, and is unable to talk to the soldiers who approach him. Van-L is taken into the compound where, after a time, he is able to introduce himself as President of the World Council, and brings warning that Black Zero has reformed, and has the power to destroy Krypton.

At the time of release, the timeframe of the first two issues relative to the ongoing Superman series and the destruction of Krypton was not revealed until issues three and four. This creates a good deal of ambiguity around the issue’s cliffhanger. Although the Krypton seen in issue 1 is clearly not the Krypton of Jor-El, there is little to suggest in issue 2 that Jor-El is not concurrently discovering the fate of Krypton and making plans to save his unborn son.

Vara’s change of opinion rings both true and untrue. The body-horror aspect works well, as Vara wishes to remove her cloned implants. However, the tight time-frame of the flashbacks, where we are led to believe that Kandor is destroyed within hours of Kan-Z’s broadcast, marks a sudden change of mind for Vara, having been patched up with her implants less than a day previously with no misgiving. Indeed, her main cause of conflict while recovering in issue one is around the fuss being made for her coming of age ceremony.

Each issue of World of Krypton opens with the same shot of a tower, altered by time or location. It’s a lovely way of linking each issue together, despite the large gaps of time and space between them.

The next part of this issue occurs closer to modern Earth times, happening in Jor-El’s early life. It is revealed that the conflicts seen so far happen many millennia in Krypton’s past. As a result, in trying to keep things as chronological as possible, the next entry in this blog will examine a chapter of Superman’s history grounded in Earth history.

The World of Krypton #1


Writer: John Byrne
Breakdowns: Mike Mignola
Finishes: Rick Bryant
Letters: John Workman
Colours: Petra Scotese
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Artist: John Byrne, Walt Simonson
Cover Date: December 1987
Release Date: 01/09/1987

Over 100, 000 years ago…
Van-L and Vara, young Kryptonian lovers, go for a joyride out of the city. Vara flies too recklessly and crashes, suffering serious, life-threatening injuries. Van-L takes her to the hospital, where she makes a full recovery within an hour. While there he meets the overly macho Kan-Z, who is distraught at the news of a personal loss. Returning home, Van-L and his mother worry about Ran-L, Van-L's father, who is currently thought to be in the riot-torn city of Kandor. Ran-L has managed to escape the city before the violence started, and the family prepare for the evening's ceremonies.

At the event, Kryptonian society is gripped by discussions of clone rights. We discover that every Kryptonian has three clones kept in storage for use as spare parts. These clones are the cause of the disruption in Kandor, where the fight for clone rights has erupted into violence. Nyra, mother of Kan-Z, announces her son's forthcoming nuptials, but is confronted by an angry and drunken Kan-Z, who shoots her before committing suicide.

In the aftermath, Kan-Z is found to have murdered his fiancée as well. Investigating further, and sensing a link to the clone riots, Van-L and Ran-L enter the clone banks. There they discover that one of Nyra's clones is missing. The full story shocks Van-L and Ran-L: Nyra had removed her own clone, allowed it to develop its own personality, then engineered her clone's engagement to her son. Kan-Z discovered this and was sent into a murderous rage. Ran-L realises the consequences of this - if word escapes that clones can and have developed independently then Krypton will succumb to civil war.
The first of three mini-series published to explore the background of Superman (the other two minis are World of Smallville and World of Metropolis), and the first Superman work for future Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. Mignola’s style is rather muted, probably as a result of his breakdown credit (by issue #4 he would be credited as a penciller).
The story is rather dark, a pseudo-Oedipal tale where the tragic figure not only sleeps with (a clone of) his mother but kills her and himself, all the time being a supporting character. This is a book of reaction rather than action. Van-L is a rather passive figure, unable or unwilling to understand the great changes occurring around him until the very end.
Even though the events in this issue take place millennia before the destruction of Krypton, it is easy to see the seeds of the sterile Krypton as seen in Man of Steel #1. Many functions, including medical care, are taken by robots, and the reliance on cloning forshadows the birthing matrices and emotional isolation of most Kryptonians.
As well as leading up the death of the planet, this series introduces the clone issue that would lead, via the Cleric, to the construction of the Eradicator (as seen in Action Comiccs Annual #2), which in turn would lead to several attempts to resurrect both Krypton itself and Kryptonian society. Although this version of Krypton is no longer canon thanks to various revisions, the tale told is a strong background to Superman's homeworld.

Friday, 2 October 2009

From Crisis To Crisis

A note about From Crisis To Crisis.

Over at the Superman Homepage, two of their reviewers are conducting a five-year-plus Podcast project called From Crisis To Crisis. Their mandate is to cover mostly all Superman comics published between Man of Steel #1 and Adventures of Supeman #649, the final Infinite Crisis tie-in before One Year Later. This podcast is, to be honest, rather good. I have spent many hours listening to the episodes and enjoying their commentary and banter.

To say that this audio project has had no influence on me would be to lie. I am influenced by their efforts, but I have no desire to copycat or plagiarise their works. Yes, a lot of what will hopefully be covered by this blog will overlap with their mandate. However, by including the spin-off titles and appearances outside of the core Superman books (which, as of writing, is not part of their mandate), I hope to go beyond this. I will not be repeating their words on this blog (some of their episodes are two hours long and there's no way I'm transcribing all of that!).

What I will do on occasion is to use their podcast as a reference. Currently speaking, there are very few issue-specific resources on the internet, and their podcast is invaluable for research purposes. I am sure that at some point I will overtake their efforts (certainly not for a while though), and I will endeavour to reference them where necessary.

In the meantime, go subscribe to their podcast. It's great and if you're not listening to it then you're missing out!

Why this era?

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in Superman. In my early teens, I was fascinated by seeing the cover to Roger Stern's novelisation of the The Death of Superman storyline - The Death And Life Of Superman - displayed in bookshops, along with the relative popularity of Superman: Doomsday And Beyond radio series that was playing on UK radio at the time.

When I finally got hold of a copy of the novel, I was astonished at the depth of the universe contained within. Nothing was simple. Supergirl wasn't Superman's cousin, she was a shape-changing alien from an alternate universe where Superman had killed three alternate Kryptonian supervillains who had escaped into our own, gone crazy, become sane again, turned into Supergirl and shacked up with a young clone of Lex Luthor posing as Luthor's illegitimate son but with the brain of the original... wow, there was a lot more story out there than just the death and return of Superman.

On a subsequent holiday to America, I picked up my first comic book, an issue (sadly lost, and currently unidentified) from the build up to the Fall of Metropolis storyline from 1994. Diving into a storyline with multiple plotlines spreading back years might not seem to be the best way to start getting into comics, but again, the apparent complexity of the storylines had me hooked.

For most of the next decade, my exposure to Superman was limited to graphic novel reprints made available through my local library and bookshops, and dabblings through the internet to discover in more detail the stories that had happened before. Finally, in 2004, I took the plunge, and opened subscriptions to Action Comics, Adventures of Superman, and Superman, in the month that Chuck Austen, Greg Rucka and Brian Azzarello took over writing.

As much as I have enjoyed many of the stories published since I have regularly collected Superman, there is something that draws me to all the stories published since 1986. I think that a large part of it is the total reboot of everything that has come before. There is a definite starting point for Superman that require no previous knowledge of anything published before the Man of Steel miniseries. John Byrne and Marv Wolfman, along with the many writers who have contributed since their runs, were free to pretty much do what they wanted with the characters, and the fact that those who have come along since built upon their work for many years only strengthens everyone's work.

As I read these comics for the blog, many of them will be a second read for me. I have read them all at least once, and certain storylines have been reread many times thanks to their inclusion in various trade paperbacks and collections. Many issues, however, have never been collected. (DC are slowly getting there, thanks to their Man of Steel series of trades, but due to the constraints of the publishing industry, these are not being released as quickly as many would like.)

Many of the events within these comics are new to me. I knew, for instance, the ultimate conclusion to the alternate-Zod/Matrix storyline, but almost none of the details and, indeed, the whole section of the plot regarding Matrix's first appearance on the 'right' earth, or even the Time-Trapper, Legion of Super-Heroes, and pre-Crisis Superboy's involvement.

I'm looking forward to documenting my reactions to these comics, and I hope you'll enjoy reading them.

Welcome To The World Of Superman

Hello there, and welcome to the Word of Superman. This is an attempt to review and chronicle the adventures of Superman and his extended family in the DC Universe created in the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In general, this will follow core Superman titles - Superman, Action Comics, Adventures of Superman and Superman: Man of Steel - along with the relevant volumes of Superman-featuring titles, such as JLA. As this blog progresses, I hope to cover spin-off titles, not only including ongoings such as the various volumes of Supergirl, Steel and Superboy, but any relevant one-shots and mini-series as and when they occur. Next, where the storyline from the Superman comics crosses over into other titles, either as a direct continuation, or where Superman or a member of his supporting cast plays a prominent role, those issues shall be covered. Also, there are several periods where larger events strike the DCU, the revered (and feared) company-wide crossover. In theses cases, I will cover the core issues of the crossover, even if Superman's role is a minor one in the grander story.

For a long period of time, the core Superman titles led into one another on a weekly basis. A story started in Action Comics would continue in Superman, follow on into Man of Steel, and progress further in Adventures. For these periods, the publishing order of the comics (and, where present, the triangle numbering featured on the covers) will be followed. At other times, each title, while supporting its fellows, would forge its own story for a few issues. At these times, I will follow that story through to its conclusion, or to a convenient break point in the narrative.

I am looking to place these stories in a reasonable chronological order. This may result in times when I am reviewing comics from many different publishing periods, especially, for instance, during the early years of Superman's career, where events depicted in the Man of Steel miniseries are expanded on in titles such as the Year One series of annuals, or the 1999 World's Finest miniseries.

As for what I will do with these issues... there will be a brief précis of each issue's plot, followed by a review. These will be my honest reactions to the issues. I harbour no agenda to glorify or denegrate creators, storylines, characters, crossovers, or anything else. I have a genuine interest in this era of comics and want to explore these, many of which have not been reprinted, and where the more notable trades are now out of print.

I'm looking forward to getting into these books, and I hope you'll come along for the ride.