The Threshold

Spotlight Sunday 9.17.17

No clear winner this week, so I’m casting the tie-breaking vote, and, of course, I have no choice but to grab hold of my…

Man-Thing by R.L. Stine
Writer: R.L. Stine
Artist: Germán Peralta
Cover: Tyler Crook
Rated T+
Marvel

This past week we lost a legendary figure in comics, the brilliant writer and editor Len Wein. Though I didn’t know Mr. Wein personally, he was always a presence in the comics I loved most as a kid; sometimes in the form of cameos in the comics themselves, but mostly through the quality of his work.

If he had accomplished nothing else – and he accomplished so much – his place in comics’ history would be assured by two major editorial decisions he made: hiring Chris Claremont to write X-Men, and hiring Alan Moore to write Swamp Thing.

The latter point is why I mention Wein here, as he hired Moore to take over the writing of a character that – with the late, great Bernie Wrightson – he had co-created.

Appearing on newsstands more or less concurrently in the early ‘70s – though Man-Thing got there first – there are a great number of similarities between the two plant-like swamp-dwellers.

Both were scientists who, working in isolation in a swamp, developed secret formulas that, because there wouldn’t be much of a story if they didn’t, ended up causing their creators to undergo monstrous transformations.

However, whereas Dr. Alec Holland, who would become Swamp Thing, was working on developing a means to help the world through creating a bio-restorative formula that could “make forests out of deserts,” Dr. Ted Sallis, who would become the Man-Thing, was working for the Army, attempting to replicate the super-soldier serum that made puny Steve Rogers into the Nazi-punching Captain America.

(As an aside, a great number of stories and characters from Marvel revolve around attempts to replicate the super-soldier serum.)

The other key difference is that while Holland retained his intelligence – though it was difficult for him to speak – and spent much of his time dwelling on the horror and tragedy of his current state, Sallis became a truly mindless monster, incapable of speech or self-reflection.

I haven’t actually read a lot of Man-Thing stories, but that limitation on the character – not actually talking or thinking – has an obvious impact on the kinds of stories that one can tell about him; from what I’ve seen, they tend to lead to stories that happen around the character, with the focus on other characters, and Man-Thing left serving as something of a POV character who merely observes, without understanding, the action.

Frequently, those stories involve people who are up to no good, engaging in shady activities in the dankness of the Everglades that serve as Man-Thing’s habitat.

One of the odd attributes of Man-Thing, apart from his appearance and mental state, is that, in the presence of fear, he secretes a substance that causes people to burn, hence the tagline, “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!”

And while Man-Thing doesn’t think, he does have a kind of sensitivity to the emotion of fear, and is drawn towards its, and agitated by it, inevitably compelled to touch – and burn – its source.

Thus, in a typical Man-Thing story, we might see some murderer on the run, hiding in the Everglades, possibly just missing an encounter with the observing Man-Thing, adding some new victims to his murderous tally along the way, and seemingly escaping from justice until, at last, the Man-Thing inevitably steps forward, like a deus ex machina – or maybe that’s deus ex muckina – to deliver some instant, smoldering, but ultimately impersonal justice.

When not in the presence of fear, Man-Thing tends to be docile and easygoing, and has often been something of a companion to other characters who spend time in his neck of the woods, which people of a certain type tend to do, given that his part of the swamp is home to the Nexus of All Realities, a mystical doohickey that connects, well, all realities.

Before I go any further, it occurs to me that I haven’t been mentioning up-front that my rambling recaps contain spoilers. But they do. So consider yourself alerted.

Given that one of the key characteristics of Man-Thing is that he doesn’t have a thought in his head, it’s strange to start off the story with some thoughts. In his head.

Yes, Man-Thing is thinking, and, as he himself notes, even over-thinking, as he faces off against some strange, wise-cracking, smack-talking monster.

As the Man-Thing claims victory over his opponent, we pan out to find that we’re on the set of a movie, and his enemy – a big centipede kind of thing – is actually several little people in a costume. So it seems that it was a trick, and that Man-Thing wasn’t really thinking, it was just an actor in a costume, right?

Nope; we soon learn that Man-Thing, through some continuing concerted effort, has actually recovered his original human personality, and, in fact, has even regained the ability to speak.

And like any swamp-dwelling, muck-encrusted monster would do, he made his way to Hollywood.

…wait, is that really what any swamp-dwelling, muck-encrusted monster would do? Maybe not, but that’s how Ted Sallis rolls.

Or tries to. Apparently, stardom for someone who is a smelly, dripping abomination who makes test audiences vomit just isn’t in the cards, and so a forlorn Ted wanders through Tinsel Town, trading jibes with the taunting crowds on the mean streets of La La Land and struggling to figure out his next move.

His next move is decided upon for him, as another Man-Thing – the old-school, unspeaking, unthinking version – appears and attacks Ted.

It’s unclear as to whether this is actually happening – honestly, it’s unclear as to whether any of this is happening – or if it’s simply a manifestation of the internal struggle between the man who was Ted Sallis and the Man-Thing he became. Is it both? Ted seems to think it is, as he realizes that the other Man-Thing is attempting to drag him back to his old life.

The Man-Thing prevails, and Ted suddenly finds himself back in the Everglades – a sudden cross-country voyage that further adds to the unreality of the situation – and while he has retained his ability to think, he’s no longer able to speak.

Throughout the story collected in this volume, Ted does a lot of thinking, mostly in the form of strange wise-cracks and one-liners.

As he surveys the familiar surroundings of his swampy home, he stumbles upon a woman being menaced by a giant alligator. The woman, whom he rescues, turns out to be an old flame of his, and a brilliant scientist in her own right. Ted attempts to convey his identity to her, in the hopes that she can help him restore his humanity (and then maybe help him put that humanity to good use once it’s restored), but before she can do that, she’s hauled away by a couple of giant pythons.

Instead of pursuing her – though it’s unclear as to why he thinks that there will be time to save her later – he realizes that there are a whole lot of strange things happening in the swamp beyond the giant alligator and the scientist-abducting snakes, and heads off in search of the Oldfather, a mystic being who guards the Nexus of All Realities and maintains the natural order of the swamp and the world at large.

Finding signs of a struggle, but no sign of the Oldfather, Ted steps through the Nexus to continue his search.

From there, he has an adventure in another world, finding himself shifting – at the most inconvenient times – back into his normal human form, in a world where the reality is even more fluid than what we’ve seen so far.

He squares off against the evil Queen Irena, who has decided to eliminate the Oldfather and sow chaos on Earth simply because she’s bored. Having turned back into Ted, Irena has him locked in a dungeon, where he tries turn back into Man-Thing, or to return home, using the little talisman he had picked up – hoping that it would somehow anchor him to Earth – from the Oldfather’s home before entering the Nexus.

Neither happens, but he does suddenly get a visitor in the form of the woman he failed to rescue back on Earth. The woman, Lily-Ann Millard, says that she had known it was really Ted all along, and she’s there to save him – after a kiss.

Of course, it’s a trap, and it turns out to be one of the giant pythons in disguise, and Ted is promptly swallowed whole. Fate intervenes, and before he can be digested, Ted transforms back into the Man-Thing, and the violence of the sudden case of fatal indigestion knocks down the wall of his cell.

Next, Ted encounters Irena, who says she’ll send him home, but first, she wants him to meet one of her minions, a guy called The Eye, who hypnotizes Ted and forces him to execute the Oldfather.

Returning to his senses after that brutal act, Ted seeks his revenge, and, grabbing hold of a fearful Irena, demonstrates why they say that “Whatever knows fear…”

Well, you know the rest.

With the Oldfather dead by his mossy hands, it’s something of a hollow victory for the Man-Thing however, but, as luck would have it, the Oldfather is only mostly dead, and isn’t about to let a little thing like decapitation interfere with his duties. Before the two can, er, head off in search of Oldfather’s body, Irena’s heretofore-unseen brother shows up looking for revenge.

Ted takes him out as well, and he and the Oldfather find the Oldfather’s body on display in a literal body shop, where, after a scuffle with some of the other headless bodies, Oldfather’s head and body are reunited and it feels so good, and soon they’re back in the Nexus and on their way to Earth.

However, there’s no easy way to navigate the Nexus, so they may end up lost for all time. Ted offers the talisman to Oldfather, who says that it will serve as a compass that will provide a path home – for him. As Oldfather vanishes, Ted finds himself still stuck in the Nexus. He sees two portals ahead of him, and decides to simply take his chances and hope that one of them leads home.

He chooses poorly, and finds himself on a world that is very much like Earth, with the notable exception being that everyone there looks just like Man-Thing.

And that’s where our story ends.

While I haven’t read a lot of Man-Thing stories, I’ve never read any stories by R.L. Stine. By the time they hit, I was already much older than the target audience for his Goosebumps books. I can’t speak to the quality of his work there, but, based on this, his first work writing comics, I don’t think I would have ever been the target audience, at any age.

In his introduction to the volume, Stine talks about how much he loved comics as a kid – particularly, and somewhat obviously, those of the horror variety from EC – and it’s clear that those comics of his youth had an influence on his work here.

Specifically, this comic is in many ways a throwback to a much earlier time, and is a solidly old-fashioned comic, filled with thought balloons, expository captions that tell you what the art is supposed to be showing you, while also providing some editorializing and cracking wise.

From something of a nostalgic perspective, it was interesting to see some of vintage, no longer in vogue storytelling techniques, particularly given some discussion I was following on Twitter initiated by writer Kurt Busiek about the impact that the loss of thought balloons and captions have on modern comic book storytelling.

In my recent rereading of “The Judas Contract,” I found myself thinking about that Twitter discussion and the ways in which captions had been used in so many comics, often filled with hyperbolic commentary and little bits of metatextual jokes that served as a contrast to and a leavening agent for the drama unfolding in the art and dialogue.

Those old storytelling devices would be extremely out of place in a modern, serious comic, but in my youth, and clearly in Stine’s much-earlier youth, they were an integral part of the overall experience, appearing in every kind of story.

Beyond the anachronistic storytelling style, the other aspect of the book that makes it feel old-fashioned is in the constant barrage of jokes, one-liners, barbs, and insults spouted by every single character. While Stine mostly avoids the kind of horrible puns of the Crypt Keeper, the jokes tend to be very much in the spirit of the old EC horror-comedy style. Despite their content, with modern-day cultural references to things like Netflix, or the meta-commentary on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, complete with a joke about Ant-Man, they just have an old-fashioned structure.

Setting aside the pop culture references, they seem like the kind of jokes that would have killed in the Catskills back in the ‘50s.

(It’s worth noting that, unlike me, Stine doesn’t work blue; he avoids the obvious, overused “Giant-Size Man-Thing” jokes.)

It makes sense; I’ve long believed that there is considerable overlap between the comic sensibilities of modern-day children and the audiences of the stand-up shows of yesteryear. (With no insult intended toward either.)

If I were a kid reading this…well, I probably still wouldn’t like it that much, as it just isn’t the sort of thing I liked when I was a kid, but I can certainly understand why Stine has had such success writing for children who aren’t like me. Or like I was as a kid, I guess.

While I wasn’t particularly taken with the story, I did enjoy the artwork by Germán Peralta. I found it reminiscent of the work of Butch Guice, albeit someone cleaner and more simplified.

The art conveys a kind of dampness and humidity that really pulls you in to the setting.

In some areas, the storytelling is a bit, er, murky; there are some panels in which the captions describe the action, but absent the captions, what’s described wouldn’t have been my takeaway from looking at the art.

That is, perhaps, a result of the overwritten nature of the comic, which may have, er, muddied things.

(I’m sorry, but the swamp-related puns aren’t deliberate and are difficult to avoid.)

The book is rounded out by a collection of short stories – which I assume ran as back-ups in the individual issues – from “R.L. Stine’s Chamber of Chills,” with the art chores taken on by various artists.

Like the jokes throughout the main story, the stories contain some modern references, but feel very old and tropey, and remind me less of the classic EC horror stories and more of the “Scary Door” segments on Futurama.

There’s one story that has potential – about a member of a neighborhood watch group in a town beset by “werewolf” attacks – but the potential satirical bite is a bit blunted by the brevity of the story. A member of the watch, on edge as he’s on the lookout for a lycanthrope, inadvertently kills an innocent man. To cover up his crime, he mutilates the body and passes it off as a werewolf attack. Later, he encounters another member of the watch who has uncovered another victim, and, unable to live with the guilt, confesses his crime, only to learn that he’s not exactly in the minority; that exact scenario is what’s been happening all along. There never were any werewolves.

Like I said, there’s potential for a stronger bit of commentary on the current state of things, but here, the story pulls back a bit and ends without providing any deeper exploration of the real-world paranoia and racism that could serve to make this a stronger parable of our times, adding an extra level of horrifying verisimilitude.

Another somewhat-decent story, “The Perfect Boyfriend,” features a young suitor being tortured by his paramour’s father, and has a twist ending that is more suited to a gag in MAD than a straightforward horror comic (though given that MAD was originally an EC comic, that seems appropriate).

Overall, art aside, this comic was very much not my thing, though I will admit that I am tempted to pick up the collection of older Man-Thing stories by the late, great Steve Gerber that is advertised on the inside front cover (see Recommended Reading below), so it’s got that much going for it.

It’s not a bad book, certainly, just not my (man) thing, and others, who have more of a penchant for non-stop wisecracks and a loose, freewheeling narrative style might enjoy it more.

Recommended Reading:

Man-Thing by Steve Gerber: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 – Marvel’s melancholy muck-monster, by the man who knows him best! With the Nexus of All Realities as the ultimate staging post,prepare for the wildest journeys of your life in this first volume of a complete collection of Steve Gerber’s Man-Thing tales! Join the most startling swamp-creature of all in encounters with the Thing, sorcerers Dakimh and Jennifer Kale, and the most far-out fowl ever created, Howard the Duck! Plus existential angst, clashes with the modern world, and the death of a clown!

Swamp Thing: The Bronze Age Omnibus Vol. 1 – Now, all of the Swamp Thing’s early adventures are collected for the first time in SWAMP THING: THE BRONZE AGE OMNIBUS. This hardcover edition features work from comics legends Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson, Nestor Redondo, Martin Pasko, Tom Yeates, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben and more!

The EC Archives: The Vault of Horror Volume 1 – The terrifying opening of the Vault of Horror! This ghastly grimoire collects issues #12-#17 of the classic horror series, including unforgettable stories from the all-star artistic lineup of Al Feldstein, Johnny Craig, Bill Gaines, Johnny Craig, Harry Harrison, Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, Graham Ingels, and Jack Kamen. Featuring a foreword by legendary horror writer R.L. Stine.

That’s it for this Spotlight Sunday. Thanks to everyone who voted, and be sure to come back for the next Weigh In Wednesday.

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).  And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!




Weigh In Wednesday 9.13.17

The end of an arc, the beginning of another, a celebration of 25 years, a new take on a classic Kirby character, some Brubaker and Phillips awesomeness, and my Man-Thing will give you Goosebumps! Pick your poison!

Which comic should be featured in this Spotlight Sunday?

  • ACTION COMICS #987 (DC) - “THE OZ EFFECT” part one! The story that began in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 begins to end here! (40%, 2 Votes)
  • MAN-THING BY R.L. STINE (Marvel) (TPB) - Marvel's melancholy muck-monster as you've never seen him before - courtesy of beloved author R.L. Stine. (40%, 2 Votes)
  • HARLEY QUINN 25TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL #1 (DC) - Celebrate twenty-five years of Harley Quinn with this collection of stories by some legendary Harley talent and some who’ve never drawn her before! (20%, 1 Votes)
  • WONDER WOMAN #30 (DC) -“Heart of the Amazon” finale! Wonder Woman may be a warrior, but she’s nobody’s weapon—as the mysterious cabal that’s been trying to manipulate her is about to learn! (0%, 0 Votes)
  • MISTER MIRACLE #2 (DC) - “There are master magicians performing here. Their names are Tom King and Mitch Gerads. And like the best magic trick, with MISTER MIRACLE you’ll never see it coming.” (0%, 0 Votes)
  • KILL OR BE KILLED #12 (Image) - It's Dylan vs. the Russians, with the whole city caught in between! Things continue to heat up in BRUBAKER and PHILLIPS’ multiple Eisner-nominated hit! (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 5

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TPB = Trade Paperback, a volume containing a longer original story, or collecting multiple issues of a regular comic.

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).  And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!




Spotlight Sunday 9.10.17

Superman #30
Writer: Keith Champagne
Artist: Ed Benes, Tyler Kirkham, Philip Tan
Cover: Dough Mahnke
Rated T
$2.99
DC

What is Superman afraid of?

Or, perhaps more to the point, what could Superman possibly be afraid of, given that, you know, he’s Superman?

What do you fear when there’s virtually nothing that can hurt you, when you can leap tall buildings in a single etc., and you’re one of the strongest beings in the universe? Under those circumstances, is it even possible to be afraid?

Fear has been at the heart of this two-part storyline in which a search for missing children leads the Man of Steel into a confrontation with the fear entity known as Parallax.

For the unfamiliar among you, Parallax was the name originally taken on by Green Lantern Hal Jordan, after he made a heel turn and became a super-villain. Later, in a redemptive arc by writer Geoff Johns, who has been the architect of most of what’s happened in the various Green Lantern comics in the last decade-plus, Parallax was revealed to be an ancient creature that had taken possession of Hal, and was shown to be the source of the inability to affect anything yellow – the color of fear – that had once been the sole weakness of a Green Lantern’s power ring.

I’m not really up on the happenings in the Lantern side of the DC Universe, but I do know that there is an “emotional spectrum,” with every sentient being’s emotional states emitting a sort of background radiation that can be drawn upon as a power source, and in addition to the Green Lanterns – whose rings draw on the “Will Power” part of the emotional spectrum, despite the fact that, as has been pointed out many times, “Will Power” isn’t an emotion – there are other ring-wielders who each derive their power from a different emotion. Collectively, they are the Rainbow Lanterns.

In any case, when we left off last issue, Superman had tracked down the missing children after Jimmy Olsen mentioned that every time he took photos of the children’s parents for the ongoing series of articles running in The Daily Planet they came out with an odd yellowish cast. This clue led Superman to use his super-vision to seek out traces of the yellow radiation of Fear, and he found the children being controlled – and fed upon – by Parallax. To safe the children, Superman offered himself as a host for Parallax.

One could argue that this was a dumb move, as there is a greater danger posed to everyone by a Parallax-possessed Superman than there is to a handful of kids being tormented by the fear entity. Superman, however, doesn’t have time for that kind of moral calculus. These terrified kids are in danger and their parents are similarly-consumed by fear as they anxiously await any news on their missing children – and that latter point, which we’ll get into in a bit, hits Superman where he lives – and so something has to be done. Without any other options, Superman makes the only call he can, and has to trust that he will find a way to do what needs to be done to deal with this latest development.

And to go back to an earlier question, is it even possible to be overconfident if you’re Superman?

What comes next, though, is the arrival of Sinestro, a disgraced former Green Lantern who has embraced the power of fear, and led a corps of Yellow Lanterns known, not-so humbly, as The Sinestro Corps.

Sinestro, it seems, has been seeking out Parallax, hoping to re-imprison the creature inside of his ring. We started out wondering what Superman fears, but there’s also the question of what fear itself has to fear. It turns out to be that.

In a desperate bid to retain its freedom, Parallax/Superman attacks Sinestro, and very nearly kills its would-be jailer, save for the intervention of the Thunderers, the warrior class from the planet Qward in the anti-matter universe, a world which Sinestro rules. Using their thunderbolts, they render Parallax/Superman unconscious.

(It’s worth noting that the text also refers to the Thunderers as the Weaponers of Qward; traditionally, the Weaponers had been distinct from the Thunderers, serving as the ruling class on Qward prior to Sinestro’s takeover.)

Superman himself wakes to discover himself impressed in a cave somewhere, held in place by a large, monstrous construct created by Sinestro’s ring. Sinestro seeks to drive Parallax out of Superman so that he can capture it, and towards that end, he uses the power of his ring to force Superman to confront his fears, leading us to the answer to the question posed way back up at the top.

What does Superman fear? Well, Superman stuff, I guess.

There is, after all, more to being Superman than just outracing bullets and changing the course of mighty rivers. Superman never had an Uncle Ben, but that didn’t prevent him from realizing what comes with great power.

His primary fear, then, is failing to live up to those responsibilities. Nothing we see shows him ever fearing for his own safety or well-being. We see him failing to save the people who depend on him to keep them safe. We see him failing to keep his power in check and becoming a rampaging monster.

This is all to be expected, of course, and is a standard trope with the character, but there have been changes to the status quo that allow us the opportunity to see his fears about failing on a more personal level.

While it took an extremely convoluted path to get there, the current state of things as the result of the launch of “The New 52,” and the current “Rebirth” line-wide event, Superman is a husband and father, and we see his fears for his wife and son made manifest, and we understand why, in that moment, as he knew all-too well the fear and anguish felt by the parents of the missing children, he opted to sacrifice himself to Parallax.

Most notable are his concerns that his son, Jon, who, being half-human and half-Kryptonian, is unlike any other being in the universe, and as such, may find a difficult path to finding a place in the world, and his fear that he will not live up to the example of his human father – his son’s namesake – and will end up creating the monster that he himself fears becoming.

Sinestro’s efforts, it turns out, are for nothing, as Superman, who lives not in fear, but in hope, can’t be broken, and it turns out that Parallax has already moved on, taking possession of Sinestro’s paramour, Lyssa Drak, and then, once Sinestro turns his cruelty onto her, hopping out to take over the assembled Thunderers.

Sinestro attempts to deal with their “betrayal” with brutal efficiency, but even while imprisoned, Superman manages to protect them (via heat vision), a fact that does not go unnoticed by Sinestro’s servants turned would-be victims.

Sinestro takes the fight outside, leaving Superman imprisoned in the darkness of the cave, where, presumably, cut off from sunlight, he will eventually die. Of course, being Superman, he’s able to escape Sinestro’s construct, and make his way outside, where he finds Sinestro squaring off against a physically-manifested Parallax. It’s not going so well, and with Sinestro on the ropes, Superman swoops in and faces off against Parallax.

Who swallows him.

Inside of Parallax, Superman reveals that he yoinked Sinestro’s ring, and explains to Parallax that there is more to life than fear, and that Hope can hold all fear at bay. And, more to the point, it gives Superman the will to capture Parallax inside the ring, which he promises to deliver to the Green Lanterns, who will find a way to care for Parallax and ensure that it will never be forced to serve Sinestro again.

With that handled, Sinestro demands the return his ring.

That “Superman is a Dick” has been a humorous – and true – observation throughout the years. But sometimes, particularly when he’s being a dick to someone like Sinestro, that dickishness is fantastic.

After the standard “You have made a powerful enemy” speech, Sinestro beats a hasty retreat, with Superman getting in the sarcastic last word: “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

Drawing on the goodwill engendered among them by his efforts on their behalf, Superman asks the Thunderers Sinestro left behind as he bravely ran away to use their thunderbolts to send him home.

In our epilogue, we see Superman watching his son sleep, and we receive confirmation by way of Lois in an expository role that the missing children have all been returned home.

As for the fate of Parallax, well, you’d have to read about that in one of the Green Lantern books, so you’re on your own there.

While this was a very slight arc, and something of a filler as the Super-titles move towards solving the mystery of the enigmatic “Mr. Oz,” who’s been lurking in the background for quite some time and is connected in some way to the events that led to the New 52 and the current Rebirth events, it does a decent job of addressing some of the things that make Superman, well, Superman, and have accounted for the character being popular, in virtually every form of media, for nearly eighty years, despite the received wisdom that “Superman is boring.”

And while we don’t see much of the family dynamic that is part of the new status quo, we nevertheless bear witness to its impact on the character and his motivations. Would he have volunteered to take the place of the children if he weren’t a father himself? Of course; he’s Superman. But the fact of his fatherhood adds some nuance and greater depth to the decision.

That said, one of the shortcomings of the issues of late has been the lack of focus on Lois. Just as fatherhood marks some changes for Superman, motherhood does the same for Lois. Or at least, so one would assume, but there hasn’t been much time spent on exploring that, which is a shame because, 1. Lois is awesome and 2. Historically, one of the strengths of the Super-titles has been its deep bench of secondary characters and the narrative possibilities of providing them with some of the focus as something of a break from or addition to the main action. That’s really been missing in the Rebirth line, and is something that I hope is addressed in the future.

Ed Benes, along with Tyler Kirkham and Philip Tan, handles the art chores this issue. I’m not sure of the role Kirkham and Tan played – they seem to be responsible for some interior pages, such as the fear montage – but in the main, Benes’s style shines through. Benes is a skilled artist and storyteller, though if he as one weakness it tends to be his focus on T&A – well, frequently A more than T – which, even for someone like me who is a fan of both, goes well-beyond the borders of ridiculousness. (I actually wrote – and drew – something about it nearly ten years ago.)

This issue provides him little opportunity to go wild, which is why I’m surprised that he didn’t with the presentation of Lyssa Drak, who wears a skimpy outfit similar to the classic Cockrum/Grell-era version of Shadow Lass from the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Drak is a native of a world in the Talok system – Talok III – the same system for the homeworld (Talok VIII) that Shady hails from. Or rather, will hail from, as LoSH takes place in the 31st Century.

While her outfit is skimpy, there just aren’t any characteristically Benesian shots of her, which is not a complaint, but simply a somewhat surprising observation.

Recommended Reading:

Absolute All Star Superman – Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely present one of the most iconic takes on one of the most iconic characters of all time, in the iconic Absolute format.

Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter –  Though her history is often troubling, Lois’s journey, as revealed in Investigating Lois Lane, showcases her ability to always escape the gendered limitations of each era and of the superhero genre as a whole.

DC Universe by Alan Moore –  Collected in this volume are all of Moore’s Superman and Batman stories, including “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and so much more. (More to the point, it includes another great story with Superman as a father – “For the Man Who Has Everything.”)

That’s it for this Spotlight Sunday. Thanks to everyone who voted (or tried to vote), and be sure to come back for the next Weigh In Wednesday.

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).  And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!




Weigh In Wednesday 9.6.17

A relatively light week, with only two regular comics, a hardcover collection featuring fan-favorite former follower of Freud and flame of a famously flamboyant felonious funnyman fledermaus-foe, frenzied, frenetic, flighty, fun femme fatale (Phew!), the one-and-only Harley Quinn! And a trade paperback that includes the iconic Teen Titans story “The Judas Contract.”

Which comic should be featured in this Spotlight Sunday?

  • SUPERMAN #30 (DC) - “A MINUTE LONGER” part two! This looks like a job for...Sinestro?! Thrust into the anti-matter universe of Qward, Superman’s only hope is the former greatest of the Green Lanterns. (43%, 3 Votes)
  • NEW TEEN TITANS VOL. 7 (TPB) (DC) - Collects TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS #42-48 and TEEN TITANS ANNUAL #3. (29%, 2 Votes)
  • THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #31 (Image) - “IMPERIAL PHASE (II),” Part Three A nice lie-in. Everything continues to be lovely for the gods in “IMPERIAL PHASE.” (14%, 1 Votes)
  • HARLEY QUINN BY KARL KESEL AND TERRY DODSON DELUXE EDITION BOOK ONE (DC) - Terry Dodson and Karl Kesel’s original run on HARLEY QUINN is now in hardcover! (14%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 7

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TPB = Trade Paperback, a volume containing a longer original story, or collecting multiple issues of a regular comic.

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).  And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!




Spotlight Sunday 9.3.17

Darkseid Oversize Special #1
Writer: Mark Evanier, Paul Levitz
Artist: Scott Kolins, Ande Parks, Phil Hester
Cover: Chris Burnham
Rated T
$4.99
DC

What is the opposite of life?

Is it death? It might seem so, but ultimately death is a part of life. Death provides the shape and form of life, defining its boundaries, and directing its course, as life winds its way away from, around, and, inevitably, towards death.

Death may be an opposing force in life, but can something that is so essential and integral to life truly be considered its opposite?

Birth may be the Alpha, with death as the Omega, but while they exist on opposite ends, they are part of the same alphabet.

The bigger question, of course, is “What is life?”

We’re not going to swim too far out into philosophical waters as part of this recap and review of a comic book, but I will say that while much about life is defined and shaped by death, there are other essential components that add to that definition.

Freedom. Choice. Doubt. Love. Hate. Hope. Regret.

All the messy, joyous, horrible, wonderful experiences that result from being alive.

Take those things – both good and bad – away, and what do you have left? Do you still have Life, or do you have… Anti-Life?

As part of its ongoing celebration of the centennial anniversary of Jack Kirby’s birth, DC has published a series of one-shot specials featuring characters created by the King, combining new stories by current creators, and republished stories from Kirby himself.

One of the latest, and the comic in today’s Spotlight, features one of Kirby’s greatest creations, the villainous Darkseid, who is dedicated to discovering the Anti-Life Equation, a formula that will grant him total control of all sentient beings in the universe.

This is, of course, the reason for the remedial-level philosophical musings at the start of this post, as the concept of the Anti-Life Equation itself is one of the greatest aspects of Darkseid and the larger Fourth World saga, of which the stone-faced Lord of Apokolips is a major component.

All of those things I listed as being part of life? The Anti-Life Equation removes them. This is the key to its power; if you are not capable of making choices, or feeling regret, or love, or, well, anything, you aren’t really alive in any sense beyond the purely biological meaning of the word. You breathe, you walk, you eat, you do what you’re told, but you aren’t living.

If the Equation falls into Darkseid’s hands, you become nothing more than an extension of him, doing only that which he commands.

The Darkseid-like character Thanos over at Marvel, created by Jim Starlin, is a mad godling who is in love with Death, and seeks to offer untold billions and trillions of lives to his coy mistress as an act of courtship, which is terrifying enough, but somehow what Darkseid seeks is even worse.

I think that’s because, in some ways, what Darkseid seeks is appealing. There is the notion that, paradoxically, having all choice taken away from you sets you free. Your life, such as it is, has purpose, albeit not one of your choosing, with no room for doubt or guilt. Your every action is justified.

You can justify anything with Anti-Life!

Life will make you doubt! Anti-Life will make you RIGHT!

Certainly, people of an authoritarian mindset, who crave order above all other things, can understand the appeal, and it’s something of a twisted version of the expression “Let Go and Let God,” though typically that expression isn’t applied to the evil god of Apokolips…

It’s also very easy to draw parallels between the character and motivations of Darkseid and the politics of today, which is precisely what writer Mark Evanier does in the main story in this issue, in which we follow the desperate lives of three members of The Resistance living in hiding amongst the other Hunger Dogs who inhabit the Armaghetto.

For years, the three escapees from the orphanage of Granny Goodness have avoided capture by Darksied’s soldiers, attempting – largely in vain – to win others over to their way of thinking about the master of Apokolips, and engaging in simple acts of vandalism, such as writing “Tyrant” in blood and feces on a statue of Darkseid, which, in a world as tightly-controlled as Apokolips is a truly revolutionary act.

In due course, we lose one of our heroes along the way, after Darkseid deploys his Female Furies to do what his squadrons of Parademons could not, who betrays his comrades’ location to Darkseid before being destroyed by the deadly Omega Effect. (Which, in keeping with my earlier Alpha-Omega metaphor can restore any life it destroys, though that doesn’t come into play here.)

Eventually, the Furies find Makayla, the young leader of The Resistance, and bring her before Darkseid, leaving the remaining member, Lukas, who had followed Makayla out of love, free, or at least as free as anyone can be on Apokolips.

During her period of freedom, Makayla maintained a journal using a small Mother Box – a sentient computer – to record her observations, starting each entry with, “Entry: The last day of my life…”

She starts out that way because, in her words, “The high point of my day is just before sleep when I realize it wasn’t.”

As she faces what almost certainly is her last day, Makayla has a thought, and uses her not-yet-confiscated Mother Box to contact Lukas and tell him to stand in a specific spot.

Like any classic villain, Darkseid’s one weakness is his desire to monologue, and Makayla preys on that, expressing her belief that those who are obsessed with power and who rule through fear are themselves ruled by fear: the fear that those who cower before them will stop being afraid. Darkseid concedes that there is truth in this, which is all Makayla needed to hear. Or rather, all she needed to have her Mother Box record her hearing.

She tosses the Mother Box out the window to Lukas, who waits below, knowing that even if today truly is the last day of her life it will have been worth it to have proof that mighty Darkseid is afraid.

Unfortunately, the Omega Effect makes short work of the Mother Box before Lukas can reach it, but the momentary distraction is enough to allow Makayla to escape.

And so, on what did not turn out to be the last day of Makayla’s life, The Resistance marches on…

As has been the case with most of the Kirby One-Shots, the main story is a bit thin, but ultimately serves its purpose as a showcase of the underlying brilliance of Kirby’s work and the affection that the creators producing these loving tributes feel for them and the man behind them. Those latter points are especially true in this case, as Mark Evanier worked for and with Kirby, and called him friend.

It’s also been the case with each of the one-shots that Evanier provides a bit of a mini-essay in the back, talking about Jack, and some aspect of the creation of the specific character featured.

(This time around, one of the best bits is an anecdote that involves the pronunciation of Darkseid’s name: Dark Side. Evanier tells of a boy who was certain that it’s pronounced “Dark Seed,” and provided a rationale for that pronunciation. The boy seeks confirmation from Kirby, who, not having the heart to break it to the kid, agrees that yes, this is in fact the case, and adjusts his own pronunciation for the remainder of the conversation. This is why we call him King.)

That the story is overtly political, and applicable to the current state of things, is not in the least distracting or inappropriate; Darkseid was, after all, created during, and in response to, the Nixon administration. As Evanier mentions in the mini-essay, Kirby detested Nixon. And as we see parallels between the Nixonian era and the modern day, it’s almost impossible to avoid incorporating some amount of commentary when telling a tale of a cruel, authoritarian tyrant.

Nixon aside, the parallels with today would be unavoidable simply because of Kirby’s prescience, which is one of the many aspects of his work that make them remain so vital and timeless. Yes, there will be some cornball elements – they’re inescapable as you look back on comics from the past – but the underlying content remains relevant, even forty, fifty, sixty, seventy years later.

Not all of this is the result of Kirby’s skills at prognostication, of course, as history has an often-unfortunate tendency to repeat itself, and in his 76 years, Kirby, a man who fought actual Nazis, experienced – and absorbed and used for his own purposes – a lot of it.

The forces of Anti-Life have always been with us, and are with us still, but through the language of comics, and in their personification in the form of the ultimate super-villain, Kirby – and those who followed in his footsteps – provided a perfect encapsulation of the concept, and in giving us an understanding of it provided us the means to counter it.

My one quibble, beyond the overall thin plot, is that there is a lot of expository dialogue, in the stilted, unnatural “Hey, do you remember that time we…?” style. Most of Evanier’s work these days is in other media, or in less serious fare, so it reads very much like something written for an earlier era, or, as is actually the case, by someone who doesn’t do a lot of contemporary comic book writing. Still, while it’s kind of jarring to modern sensibilities, it is rather fitting.

Scott Kolins provided the art for the main story. While he’s become something of a fan-favorite, I’ve never really found his work especially appealing, personally. The problem, I think, is one of over-rendering. That is, there is just too much detail, and it’s exacerbated by the fact that the basic forms aren’t particularly well-rendered. Further, while he tries to work in a lot of small details, the problem is that they aren’t small; often the lines are thick and blocky, and they bring to mind the words of Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould, as related in this comic by Jay Lynch.

Worms!

To an extent, I can relate; I frequently resort to just dumping as much detail as I possibly can onto an image to make up for its other shortcomings and my inability to depict something with clean, simple lines. So perhaps my antipathy towards Kolins’s work is tied to my own self-doubt…

In any case, here, in a story set amidst the soot and ash of Apokolips, and featuring the cracked and craggy stony visage of Darkseid, it just…works. Some of the underlying issues with anatomy remain, but overall, this is some of the best work I’ve seen by Kolins. If I’d gone into it without knowing that it was Kolins, I might have thought it was drawn by a young John Romita Jr.

The storytelling is deftly-handled, and the inks and color work all contribute to an overall good-looking book.

The remainder of the Special contains a new, short story featuring OMAC, the One Man Army Corps, who is another personal favorite of mine. Paul Levitz, the former President of DC, handles the writing, and Phil Hester handles the art chores on this story which, much like the main story, focuses on resisting tyranny.

The Kirby reprints that round out the book are an old story from Tales of the Unexpected, which Kirby drew, but didn’t write, and two stories of the Young New Gods, that originally ran as back-up features in The Forever People, and don’t so much tell a story as they simply introduce characters and concepts and provide some background information. As Evanier points out in most of the mini-essays, it was frequently Kirby’s intention to simply launch a book, lay out the basic concepts, and let other creators take it from there. From the perspective of the DC management at the time, why get someone else to do it when Kirby can do it?

Still, that idea – that Kirby wanted to provide a springboard for others to dive from – is what makes these one-shots such a fitting tribute to the King.

Recommended Reading:

Fourth World by Jack Kirby Omnibus  – After co-creating comic book heroes such as THE FANTASTIC FOUR and THE HULK, legendary writer/artist Jack Kirby came to DC Comics in 1970 to write and illustrate four interlocking series known collectively as “The Fourth World.” Now, as part of the celebration of the 100th birthday of Jack Kirby, DC collects Kirby’s entire runs on these four series–THE NEW GODS, THE FOREVER PEOPLE, MISTER MIRACLE and SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN–in a single volume. These comics spanned galaxies, from the streets of Metropolis to the far-flung twin worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips, as cosmic-powered heroes and villains struggle for supremacy, and the world-conquering Darkseid adventured across Earth for the deadly Anti-Life Equation.

Kirby: King of Comics (Anniversary Edition) – The story of the King, as told by Mark Evanier. First issued in 2008, it has been revised and expanded for Kirby’s centennial.

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga (Deluxe Edition) – Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen provided one of the greatest Darkseid stories ever told, and, not coincidentally, one of the greatest Legion stories ever told.

That’s it for this Spotlight Sunday. As a programming note, this week’s Weigh In Wednesday may be a Weigh In Thursday, as the Labor Day holiday might introduce a delay in the arrival of new comics.

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).  And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!




Weigh In Wednesday 8.30.17

Going for a simpler, more streamlined approach this week. Vote below to select which comic gets featured in the Spotlight Sunday post.

Which comic should be featured in this Spotlight Sunday?

  • Darkseid Oversize Special #1 (DC) (50%, 2 Votes)
  • Wonder Woman #29 (DC) (25%, 1 Votes)
  • Jupiter's Legacy Book Two (TPB) (Image) (25%, 1 Votes)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer #10 (Dark Horse) (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Angel #8 (Dark Horse) (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Batman Beyond #11 (DC) (0%, 0 Votes)
  • The Black Racer Oversize Special #1 (DC) (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Deadman by Kelley Jones: The Complete Collection (TPB) (DC) (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 4

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TPB = Trade Paperback, a volume containing a longer original story, or collecting multiple issues of a regular comic.

Check back this Sunday to see which comic wins!

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).  And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!




100 Years of Kirby

Jacob Kurtzberg, better known to the world as Jack “King” Kirby, was born 100 years ago today.

While Jack left us in 1994, the unparalleled nature of his genius lives on and continues to inspire new generations of comics fans and creators, both in the comics he created, and in the adaptations of this creations in other media.

When comic book people, like me, talk about Kirby, we tend to do so in seemingly hyperbolic terms. There’s a reason for that; even the hyperbole can’t really do him justice.

Kirby’s influence on comics – and beyond comics – is immeasurable, and it’s impossible to overstate his contribution to the medium, both directly in his own work, and indirectly in the work of the countless creators he inspired and influenced.

“Genius” isn’t a good enough or strong enough word.

“Deity” comes close – and, indeed, some of those creators he inspired have cast Kirby in that role in their own work – but doesn’t quite cut it.

And so we settle for King.

If it had been just a matter of the work, there would be reason enough to venerate him. But Kirby was more than just a brilliant creator of comics. He was a husband and a father, of course, a veteran who fought in World War II, the son of immigrants who in so many ways proved the promise that America has, traditionally, represented. He was open and approachable, and served as a mentor who sought to nurture the talents of others.

I never had the chance to meet him, but I have been blessed with the opportunity to enjoy so much of the immense body of work he left behind, and what has been built by those who came after on the foundations he laid.

Kirby’s design concepts were used as part of the fake movie production that was a cover for a rescue mission in Iran, the events on which the movie Argo was based.

Looking at other media, it’s difficult to find an analog to Kirby. In popular music? Maybe The Beatles, but that’s not quite right. In film? I’m not sure that I could hazard a guess.

In any case, without Kirby, comics would not be what they are today, nor would the larger popular culture that draws from what Kirby, well, drew. (And wrote; that part should never be overlooked, even though the dynamism and pure excitement of his drawing is what catches the eye.)

I haven’t provided a lengthy list of the specific works Kirby is responsible – the Avengers, the Hulk, Thor, the New Gods, to name only a few – because it’s almost impossible to do so in full, particularly when considering how much his influence and impact extended beyond what he, personally, worked on.

Mark Evanier, who worked for and with Kirby, and called him friend, has much more to say on the subject, so I’ll leave the rest up to him.

Happy birthday, King.

And thank you.

Spotlight Sunday 8.27.17

Welcome to another Spotlight Sunday, in which I share my thoughts on a single comic, selected by you, the reader, from the week’s purchases.

As with the inaugural post, there was something of a paucity of votes on this week’s Weigh In Wednesday post, despite the fact that I added a polling option to simplify the voting process.

There were only two votes…and one of them was mine, done as a test of the poll. My vote only counts in the event of a tie, so that means that, with one whole vote, this week’s lucky book is…

RED SONJA #8
Back Roads
Writer: Amy Chu
Artist: Carlos Gomez
Cover A: Mike McKone
Cover B: Ben Caldwell
Cover C: Jonboy Meyers
Cover D: Cosplay Cover
Cover E Subscription: Mel Rubi
Dynamite
Teen +
$3.99

Red Sonja is something of an oddity. She’s considered a creation of writer Robert E. Howard – who is most notable for the creation of a certain sullen-eyed, iron-thewed barbarian – but to a much greater extent, she’s the creation of Roy Thomas. While working at Marvel, the company that, at the time, had the rights to publish stories based on Howard’s creation, Thomas essentially created a pastiche of two Howard characters and placed the resulting warrior woman in the Hyborian Age so that she could be a contemporary of Conan.

In time, the licensing for Conan and related properties transferred from Marvel to Dark Horse, but Sonja followed a different path, ultimately ending up at Dynamite.

(We won’t even get into the oddness of the 1985 Red Sonja movie, starring Brigitte Nielsen and Conan himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger…who played someone who was very much like Conan, but wasn’t Conan.)

Sonja is largely known for setting the standard in non-functional armor, going off on epic adventures wearing little more than a metal bikini. As originally conceived, she was also known for an origin that involved seeing her family and village slaughtered, being brutally raped, and then granted great fighting prowess from a goddess who extracted from Sonja a vow of chastity, compelling Sonja to swear that she would only lie with a man who could defeat her in battle.

In her current incarnation, the rape/vow of chastity components have been – correctly – jettisoned, but the skimpy outfit remains.

The outfit also remains a favorite of cosplayers – and fans of cosplayers – everywhere, to the extent that Dynamite publishes a variant cover for every issue featuring a photo of a cosplayer.

Which leads to another way in which Red Sonja is odd; even with the removal of the deeply disturbing rape and chastity vow origin – essentially, the point of the character was that after being raped she would only be willing to be with someone who could rape her – the character remains very much an example of some of the worst tropes of the Strong Female Protagonist, particularly in terms of her visual design.

And yet, despite these issues – and more besides – she remains popular with female readers, and it’s clear that not everyone is picking up her comic book adventures just for the skimpy outfit.

She’s also been something of a draw for talented women who want to write her stories, such as Gail Simone – as an aside, if you’re on Twitter and you’re not following Gail Simone (@GailSimone), you’re missing out on a lot of fun – who wrote the run that preceded the current series. It was actually Gail taking over the character that got me to add Red Sonja to my pull list.

Current series writer Amy Chu (@AmyChu) continues the woman-led scripting of Sonja’s adventures, and has taken the She-Devil with a Sword in a new direction, literally pulling her into the 21st Century.

As with last week’s entry, this comic isn’t really a great jumping-on point, as it’s the second issue in a new story arc, and follows on the heels of the events of a one-shot special issue and the seven regular series issues that precede it.

So, a quick recap: back in the Hyborian Age – roughly 10,000 years ago – Sonja confronted her nemesis, the evil sorcerer Kulan Gath, and in the course of their battle found herself transported somewhere else. Not just somewhere, it turns out, but also somewhen. Specifically, modern-day New York. A confused Sonja is left struggling to make sense of her new surroundings and to find Gath and force him to return her to her home.

Even in New York, a tall redhead wearing a metal bikini, shouting gibberish, and brandishing a broadsword is going to stand out, so eventually she attracts the attention of the NYPD, and meets a police officer named Max, who is the only person who can understand her ancient tongue, claiming that it sounds like a language his mother spoke when he was a child.

In due course, it turns out that Kulan Gath, who is immortal, is living as a wealthy billionaire in the Big Apple, and Sonja isn’t the only time-tossed inhabitant of the Hyborian Age, as Max is also from the Hyborian Age, having travelled to the 21st Century as a child, and arriving several years before Sonja. All of this was news to Max – though it did explain him understanding Sonja – as is the fact that he’s a wizard. Together, he and Sonja fight against Kulan Gath, but in the course of the battle, Max falls through a portal in time and is returned to his own era, but Sonja gets left behind.

Max’s partner, however, is continuing to receive an indication of the location of Max’s phone (which went through the portal with him), and it’s showing up at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where, notably, a big project just launched, a project funded by Kulan Gath in his mortal disguise.

So, with her trusty companions, Holly and Spike, two cosplayers/Hyborian Age fangirls, Sonja, hits the road.

Along the way, as Sonja continues to learn about her new surroundings, she has an altercation with a biker gang. After the brawl, she learns that members of that gang sold drugs to the son of the owner of the bar in which Sonja was wetting her whistle, drugs that killed him, and Sonja vows to deliver vengeance.

Sonja steals a bike and hunts down the bikers, and forces one to tell her who their leader is and where said leader can be found. The gang is led by someone named La Reina, who operates out of Amarillo, Texas.

And that’s where this issue picks up, with Sonja, Holly, and Spike making their way through Texas. While stopped at a diner to recharge and to assess their plans – with Sonja’s quest for vengeance threatening to sidetrack them – some members of the gang that Sonja is waging war against spot Spike’s (uncle’s) car in the parking lot and set it on fire, which leads to a brawl, which leads to our intrepid trio cooling their heels in jail.

As luck would have it, Holly’s father is a wealthy local judge, who gets the three of them released to his custody…much to his regret, as the next morning we see that the three have hit the road in a Lamborghini that Holly “borrowed” from her daddy.

We also get a couple of scenes of Max back in the Hyborian Age, where he’s made some friends of his own, and is off on a quest to find his way back to New York.

The other thing we learn in this issue is that Sonja is on the FBI’s radar as the result of her involvement in what they’re calling a “terrorist event” in New York (the battle with Kulan Gath), and because of the decapitated body of a member of the biker gang.

This is a sub-plot that remains a bit unclear; when we last saw Sonja interacting with that gang member – he’s the one who told her where to find the leader of their gang – his head was still comfortably attached to his shoulders, but at the end of the issue, the FBI was on the scene of his murder. It’s unclear whether Sonja killed him, as we didn’t see it happen, and killing him would be a bit out of character, as he was defeated and had told her what she wanted to know. It’s possible that she killed him for his role in the death of the bar owner’s son, but that sort of straight-up execution just doesn’t sit quite right. If she didn’t kill him, the obvious question of who did arises, which is why I suspect that someone else was involved, as it provides another plot thread, an idea that’s amplified by the final page reveal of the dead biker that adds a certain gravity and significance indicative of something bigger.

Overall, it wasn’t a terribly exciting issue, and I’m finding the role that coincidence plays in the plot to be a bit much, even in a sword and sorcery story featuring a buxom, bikini-clad warrior woman from the ancient past.

Speaking of bikini-clad, presumably, setting the story in the present provides an opportunity for Sonja to wear clothing made from additional materials, and that simply has additional material, but despite ditching the mail bikini, it’s apparently impossible to ditch the male gaze, so she continues to dress as though her life is a never-ending Maxim photoshoot.

This might be less of an issue, and would be in keeping with Sonja’s characterization over the years, but Holly and Spike opt for much the same style, and it is something of a distraction.

In contrast to Gail Simone’s run, in which Sonja was presented as someone who was completely uninhibited with a lust for life who was as far from the chaste Sonja of old as possible, Chu’s interpretation, so far, has been largely sexless. Yes, other people think she’s sexy, but she has evinced no particular interest in the pursuit of pleasure (beyond some heavy drinking).

Not that wearing revealing clothes equates to being promiscuous, but it just seems odd (which is a word that keeps popping up), and, again, is distracting. Chu’s Sonja isn’t inhibited, exactly, but she seems more pragmatic and blunt than anything else. I suppose it’s a subtle difference, but it’s one I’ve noticed.

Ultimately, I suspect, and am only speculating here, that there are certain editorial requirements, or at least a tacit understanding on the part of the artist, about how Sonja dresses, and delivering what the fans want on that front.

In terms of the art, Carlos Gomez has a style that is reminiscent of much of what was prevalent in the ‘90s. Specifically, it’s like something you might see from rising artists who rushed in to fill the void at Marvel after the Image exodus. It’s not bad, certainly, but, perhaps fittingly for the current storyline, it does seem a bit displaced in time.

The storytelling is a bit uneven – it’s well-executed in a scene set at the FBI headquarters, but in the action sequences there’s a too-rapid escalation from mundane multi-panel sequences of relative calm to explosive full-page action shots, in which, really, there’s isn’t that much action.

One final sticking point I have is the attempt at social commentary that seems a bit too tacked-on. To be clear, I’m not complaining about the presence of social commentary, but I’d prefer that it flow a bit more organically, or barring that, actually addressed rather than simply expressed.

As presented, the complaints about “Big Pharma,” immigration, gender inequality, and the criminal justice system expressed by Spike just fall kind of flat, and rather than being an informed, passionate advocate for progressive values, Spikes comes across as a parody, the kind of extreme, insufferable straw-liberal that audiences are conditioned to hate. It’s just…odd. Additionally, the one aspect of it that might have led to some narrative pay-off – a woman in the cell with Sonja and company overhears Sonja’s musings, in response to Spike’s comment about drugs, that these women might know something about the biker gang’s leader, and begins to offer information, but is cut off by the arrival of Holly’s father – is just dropped.

I’ve actually been on the fence about continuing with this series. I had originally had Red Sonja added to my pull list specifically because of Gail Simone taking the helm, but with Gail gone, I’ve kind of lost interest, and have only continued with it out of habit, and because the comic shop keeps auto-adding anything Sonja-related.

I’ll probably give it to the end of this story arc, and then see whether I want to continue. I like Sonja a lot, but like I said, she’s odd, and, with the exception of Gail’s run, I honestly like the idea of her more than I like most of her stories.

One of the fun aspects of the current run, though, is the standard fish-out-of-water story – which we get two of, between Sonja in the present and Max in the past – and seeing Sonja adapt to her surroundings. I mean, Sonja as bad-ass biker? Sonja trying out a gun but rejecting it for what she knows? It all works, but isn’t quite enough to make up for the other areas in which the story kind of drags.

So we’ll see what happens.

Recommended Reading:

Red Sonja Volume 1: Queen of Plagues – Collecting the start of Gail Simone’s tales of the She-Devil with a Sword.

Frank Thorne’s Red Sonja Art Edition – Celebrate the seminal work of legendary fantasy illustrator Frank Thorne with this gorgeous hardcover collection, presenting for the first time the actual storyboard artwork from his complete 1976 run of swords-and-sorcery icon Red Sonja’s appearances in the Marvel Feature comic book series. Scanned in high-resolution color and printed at original size, Frank Thorne’s Red Sonja Art Edition preserves every detail of the artist’s meticulous skill and hard work, while simultaneously presenting a complete storyline for the enjoyment of longtime She-Devil fans.

Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death – Before Red Sonja, Amy Chu wrote the adventures of another, very different redhead.

That’s it for this Spotlight Sunday! Check back – and vote – on the next Weigh In Wednesday!

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).  And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!




Weigh In Wednesday 8.23.17

It’s New Comic Book Day, which means it’s time for this week’s Weigh In Wednesday!

Here’s what I bought this week, in no particular order:

BETTIE PAGE #2
Bettie takes on Hollywood as the B-Movie Queen of the Space Commies! Bettie gets in over her head with the shadowy Sky Science cult! Bettie unleashes chaos at the Griffith Park Observatory!
Writer David Avallone and artist Colton Worley are your tour guides through the thrilling second issue of The Secret Diary of Bettie Page!
Cover A: Joseph Michael Linsner
Cover B: Scott Chantler
Cover C: Photo Cover
Dynamite
Rated Teen+
$3.99

GENERATIONS: THE UWORTHY THOR & THE MIGHTY THOR #1
HER HAMMER, HIS AX: A WORTHY APOCALYPSE. When a battle goes south, Thor finds herself in ancient Egypt – facing a young Odinson! A misguided party of Vikings has bitten off way more than they can spear. But when the prince of Asgard answers their cries for help, he ends up in a fight no axe alone can win! And Apocalypse is not one for mercy. Can a not-yet-worthy god and a time-lost hero take on one of the world’s most powerful mutants at the height of his empire? And what does their encounter mean for the future of two Thors
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Marvel
Rated T+
$4.99

ACTION COMICS #986
“EVE OF DESTRUCTION” part two! The inhumanities of Earth put even Superman’s trust to the test as he and Lex Luthor begin to see a pattern emerging that points to Mr. Oz and his agents. When Lex confronts Mr. Oz alone, one walks away changed forever.
Writer: Rob Williams
Artist: Guillem March
DC
Rated Teen
$2.99

MANHUNTER OVERSIZE SPECIAL #1
Big-game hunter and private detective Paul Kirk has marshaled his skills to fight crime as the masked vigilante known as Manhunter. But now crime has reached epidemic proportions that may push him to the limits—and draw the attention of the Golden Age heroes Sandman and Sandy! Plus: a short story featuring Etrigan the Demon by writer Sam Humphries and artist Klaus Janson and a Golden Age reprint.
Writer: Sam Humphries
Writer: Dan Didio, Keith Giffen
Artist: Nicholas Bradshaw
Artist: Klaus Janson
Cover: Bruce Timm
DC
Rated Teen
$4.99

THE KAMANDI CHALLENGE #8
After the chilling ending of the last issue, Keith Giffen and  Steve Rude transport us to a land where the Grecian sheep and the Wolf Garibaldeks are on the brink of war! Will a visit from Kamandi, now mistaken for their folk hero Odysseus/Ulysses, bring peace? Or will he bring forth an age of destruction?
DC
Rated Teen
$3.99

RED SONJA #8
Buckle up for a wild journey as Sonja treks across America looking for a way back to Hyrkania. But as she heads further West, all she seems to find is trouble…
Writer: Amy Chu
Artist: Carlos Gomez
Cover A: Mike McKone
Cover B: Ben Caldwell
Cover C: Jonboy Meyers
Cover D: Cosplay Cover
Cover E Subscription: Mel Rubi
Dynamite
Teen +
$3.99

CONAN THE SLAYER #12
Jehungir Agha’s plan to ambush Conan in the dead city of Xapur goes awry when his men encounter the enraged demon Khosatral Khel, who seeks the Cimmerians blood. But Agha’s plight may be the break Conan needs to turn the tables on the Devil in Iron!
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Dheeraj Verma
Cover: Phroilan Gardner
Dark Horse
$3.99

Which comic should be featured this Spotlight Sunday?

  • Manhunter Oversize Special (50%, 1 Votes)
  • Red Sonja (50%, 1 Votes)
  • Bettie Page (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Generations: The Unworthy Thor & The Mighty Thor (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Action Comics (0%, 0 Votes)
  • The Kamandi Challenge (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Conan the Slayer (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 2

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Spotlight Sunday 8.20.17

Jon Maki, President and Publisher

Welcome to the first-ever Spotlight Sunday, in which I focus on one comic from my Wednesday purchases! In theory, the comic in the Spotlight is selected by you, the theoretical reader, based on a listing of the week’s purchases that I provide in the Weigh In Wednesday post.

I can’t say it’s entirely unexpected, but there wasn’t a whole lot of voting going on this week: one official vote in the comments on the Weigh In Wednesday post, and one on my personal Facebook page.

Given that they were votes for two different comics, it falls on me to be the tie-breaker.

(I will note that neither one was what I would have chosen to write about.)

Ultimately, I have to give it to The Mighty Thor #22 as that one was an actual official vote (Sorry, Teen Titans: Earth One Volume Two).

Spoilers ahead.

The Mighty Thor #22

A Fistful of Brimstone

JASON AARON (W) • VALERIO SCHITI & RUSSELL DAUTERMAN (A)

Cover by RUSSELL DAUTERMAN

32 Pages

Rated T+

$3.99

This issue isn’t exactly an ideal jumping on point for the comic, as it’s the second part of a new story arc, and it follows on the heels of several years’ worth of development, both in this comic – don’t let the low issue number fool you; Marvel has a tendency to frequently reset the numbering, periodically opting to relaunch a series with a new #1 – and in others, some of which I haven’t read myself.

If you only know Thor from the movies, or haven’t picked up an issue of the comic in the past few years, and haven’t paid attention to comic book news, you’re likely to find yourself very confused by this issue.

And so, let’s catch up at least a little.

Some time ago, Thor, God of Thunder, Son of Odin, and worthy wielder of the mystic hammer Mjolnir, found that he wasn’t.

Worthy, that is. His hammer fell from his hand, and he was no longer able to lift it. For the Odinson, the loss of the hammer that had, in large part, defined who he was for centuries was akin to losing his arm. (Which is a thing that also happened; he now has a magic left arm made from a metal similar to that from which Mjolnir was forged.)

Shortly thereafter, a mysterious woman picked up the hammer, and proving worthy, she gained the power – and the name – of Thor.

(The words engraved on the hammer setting the terms of gaining Thor’s power rewrote themselves to read, “Whosever holds this hammer, if SHE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”)

In time, this mysterious woman is revealed to be Jane Foster, a woman who had known the Odinson during the time in which he was living a dual life as the God of Thunder and a mortal doctor known as Donald Blake.

Once a nurse, and later a doctor, and then a Senator, representing Midgard (Earth) in The Congress of Worlds, a representative body for the Ten Realms (up from Nine), Jane is dying from cancer, and refusing to allow herself to be treated with Asgardian magic. To make matters worse, making the transformation into the Goddess of Thunder is undoing the more conventional treatment that she is receiving. Her divine form drives the “poison” from chemotherapy out of her system, but, as the cancer is part of her, it can’t remove that, and so, every time she picks up the hammer, she brings herself that much closer to death.

Given that there is a war going on across the Ten Realms, led by the evil Malekith and his compatriot Loki – brother to the Odinson – Jane finds herself lifting the hammer more and more.

And it’s the war that brings us to where we are in this issue. While on a humanitarian mission to Nidavellir, the Realm of the Dwarves, to aid refugees from Alfheim, Realm of the Light Elves, a delegation from the Congress of Worlds bore witness to a devastating attack launched from Muspelheim, the always-burning Realm of Fire.

During that attack, Volstagg, the Senator from Asgardia, and a god whose heart is nearly as big as his appetite – and there’s pretty much nothing in all of the Realms as big as Volstagg’s appetite – finds himself protecting a group of Alfheim children, children who, tragically, are ultimately claimed by the fire raining down on Nidavellir.

The trauma leaves Volstagg broken, and he begins to wither away, oblivious to those around him, his unfocused eyes seeing nothing other than those children burning before him, and hearing nothing but their cries.

Well, almost nothing. There is something calling out to him, something that responds to his desire for vengeance, and offers him the opportunity to claim it. There is another Mjolnir, one of the last remaining artifacts of a dead universe. It is a Mjolnir without a Thor, waiting for someone to wield it, waiting for its own opportunity to claim vengeance.

With hammer in hand, the once-jovial Volstagg is now the War Thor, a grim and driven god of storm and fury. After extinguishing the fires in Nidavellir, the War Thor makes his way to Muspelheim with the intent of drowning those fires and ending the life of Sindr, daughter of Surtur, the first of the Fire Giants, who is also known as the Queen of Cinders.

When the War Thor arrives, Sindr is meeting with her allies, Malekith and Loki, who are taking her to task for failing to deliver what they wanted: a burning Nidavellir. Sindr doubts the veracity of their claim that Nidavellir no longer burns, but begins to believe as rain starts to fall on Muspelheim.

The obvious trope, echoed in the story’s title that conjures images of the standard haunted gunfighter of Spaghetti Westerns, holds true for the War Thor’s quest for vengeance; his attack, in the name of the innocent victims of war, is creating nothing but more victims. But the single-minded War Thor is heedless to this, and it falls on Thor, who arrived in the War Thor’s wake, to save the lives of Muspelheim’s children, children who, while already burning, due to their nature, are just as innocent as the children who burned before Volstagg’s eyes.

(As something of an aside, it’s worth noting that Aaron makes frequent allusions to Westerns and their tropes throughout his run. It makes for an interesting mix with the allusions he brings in from established continuity and mythology.)

Transporting herself and the War Thor to a location where he can do no more harm, Thor tries to reason with the former Voluminous one.

That…that doesn’t exactly work out.

This issue served primarily to set up the conflict between Thor and the War Thor, so while it had some strong action sequences, there really wasn’t much to the story. War Thor shows up and attacks, ends up on the ropes, but refuses to quit. Thor gets him out of there.

However, there was further insight into what’s happening in the broken mind of Volstagg, and it raises questions as to how much of what he’s doing is actually a decision he’s made, based on the guilt and trauma, and how much of it is Mjolnir itself simply using that guilt and trauma to drive Volstagg to achieve its own ends.

We’ve seen similar questions raised about what motivates Jane to put her life at risk to fill the role of Thor, as it’s clear that her Mjolnir has its own agenda as well, so it seems to be something of a thematic element that will be explored in-depth as we progress.

It’s amusing that the primary artist – while Dauterman provided the cover and the first page, he’s absent for the remainder of the issue – is named Schitti, as the art is decidedly not that. The fiery Realm of Muspelheim and its burning inhabitants call for some interesting and dynamic design work, and Schitti delivers on that front. The one area of weakness, though, is in the storytelling. That is, the flow of the images from one to the next to drive the narrative. The panel composition, consisting largely of overlapping panels rather than something more traditionally grid-like, particularly in the action sequences, does not have the best flow, and is sometimes unclear what happens when.

Still, those complaint aside, the issue does what it needed to do, and I eagerly anticipate the Thor vs. Thor battle that is to come.

In closing, I want to address a specific comment made in the vote for this issue: the fact that Jane calls herself Thor (and for that matter, that Volstagg is the “War Thor”).

After all, Thor isn’t a title, it’s a name. Specifically, the name of the Odinson.

This isn’t something that’s been ignored in the actual comic – or in fandom; while there were far too many people who objected to an icky girl having the hammer, most fans had confidence in Jason Aaaron’s writing and objected only to the use of the name – and it has been addressed, both directly and indirectly.

From Jane’s perspective, she’s wielding the hammer, she’s the Goddess of Thunder, defender of Midgard, Asgardia, and all the other Realms. What else would she call herself?

Beyond that, as the Odinson himself recognized, while Thor is the name he was given, throughout his life it has come to be something more, and from his perspective, a Thor without a hammer is not a Thor.

The idea of treating the name like a title isn’t exactly without precedent. When he briefly wielded Mjolnir, Beta Ray Bill was sometimes referred to as Beta Ray Thor.

And while their story is incredibly convoluted, because comics, a mortal man named Eric Masterson, who later went on to be known as Thunderstrike, wielded Mjolnir and called himself Thor.

There was also Roger “Red” Norvell, who, in yet another convoluted “because comics” story, took on the role and name of Thor.

Finally, when he was first introduced, Thor himself wasn’t really Thor. The physical transformation that Donald Blake underwent was not initially a restoration of his true form; he was simply a mortal who had gained the power of Thor, and took on the name. That changed, of course, and quickly, but, again, the transfer of the name itself as if it were a title is not exactly something new.

Your mileage will vary, but there is at least a rationale, and one that I, personally, find reasonable.

Recommended Reading:

Want more Thor? Here are some suggestions

Thor by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman – Collecting the issues that mark the beginning of Jane’s career as the Goddess of Thunder.
Thor by Walter Simonson, Volume 1 – Collecting the start of the legendary Walt Simonson run on Thor, the gold standard against which all Thor comics are judged.
Ragnarok Volume 1: Last God Standing – A very different take on a very different Thor by the aforementioned Walt Simonson.

Thanks for (theoretically) reading, and be sure to check back on the next Weigh In Wednesday!

You can support me, and, more importantly, OpenDoor Comics on Patreon. Do it! Nobody else is, and you want to be an iconoclast who marches to the beat of a different drum, right? Give in to that hipster urge!