End of The Year Miscellany

Jon Maki, President and Publisher

I hope everyone’s holidays are going well so far, and while I mentioned in my last post that I was stepping out of the Spotlight for a bit, I thought I would pop in just to say hello and to talk about a few things.

The original intent of The Threshold was for it to be an official blog for OpenDoor Comics, serving as something akin to the old “publishorials” that DC used to publish, or the later “Meanwhile…” columns by the late Dick Giordano, or a combination of Marvel’s “Bullpen Bulletins” and “Stan’s Soapbox.”

That is, it would be a place for news about happenings here at ODC and commentary about the comics industry in general.

Somewhere along the line I got a bit sidetracked, with the majority of the content here consisting of the Spotlight Sunday posts and little else.

The Spotlight isn’t going away, but I do hope to start mixing things up a bit with additional content in the new year. Stay tuned. (Or, more accurately, become tuned.)

In the meantime, I want to just throw a few things out there that are not necessarily related to ODC but may be of interest to some of you.

I mentioned “Stan’s Soapbox” earlier, and in all of their comics this month, in celebration of the life of “The Man” – who would have been 96 today – Marvel has reprinted this classic:

Excelsior.

If you haven’t seen Into the Spider-Verse yet, do so. It’s fantastic.


If you haven’t seen Aquaman yet, consider it. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s fun, and making things that are fun is something that DC should definitely be encouraged to do.


Did you know that Comicsgate is a hate group, one that is, like most of the “-gate” movements that have preceded it, being used as a recruitment tool by nationalist, white supremacist, misogynist, homophobic and transphobic organizations? Well, it is. It’s also profoundly stupid.

And finally, I did something nerdy and, I think, anyway, kind of cool.

Anyone who’s read the Spotlight is likely familiar with my fondness for a certain fictional Ace reporter for a fictional major metropolitan newspaper. I remain annoyed that DC didn’t see fit to recognize that this year marked the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Lois Lane just as it did that of her husband.

At a minimum, there should have been a month of line-wide Lois Lane variant covers.

At a minimum.

In any case, while thinking about Lois – which is a thing I often do – I stumbled upon an idea. I’m sure others have done something similar – and probably did a better job of it – but here’s the result of that idea: a composite image comprised of nine woman who have portrayed Lois on TV and in the movies, as well as the woman who modelled for Lois Lane’s co-creator Joe Schuster (and who married the other co-creator), Joanne Siegel.

I thought it might be fun to share the results here. I was probably wrong about that, but here they are anyway.

Composite Lois is not at all like the Composite Superman.

In this photo we have Joanne Siegel, Noel Neil, Phyllis Coates, Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher, Dana Delany, Erica Durance, Kate Bosworth, Amy Adams, and Elizabeth Tulloch (the most recent Lois).

I left out quite a few others, mostly because I wanted to keep it manageable and limit myself to some of the most notable portrayers. (Some were left out just because I couldn’t find a suitable photograph.)

There are undoubtedly other methods and tools that would yield better results, but this is what I was able to do quickly and relatively easily in Photoshop. (It’s very difficult to find pictures of so many different women that are suitable for being aligned with each other in this fashion – many actresses concern themselves with capturing their “good side” – so that presented the biggest challenge. Dana Delany was especially difficult to fit in, as I discovered that she’s usually smiling broadly in photographs and sort of leaning back.)

I tried to align the images centered on the eyes, though that wasn’t always possible.

Using that image, I went on to draw my own interpretation, kind of averaging out some of the features, and also, I think, with a bit of an unconscious bias for one Lois in particular:

Here are some more of the combinations I played around with.

Lois in 1978

This one is made up of the women who had portrayed her by 1978 (with Joanne Siegel included): Margot Kidder, Phyllis Coates, and Noel Neil. I find it interesting, as it does look rather a lot like Lois did in the comics of the era.

Movie Lois

Movie Lois is Noel Neil, Margot Kidder, Kate Bosworth, and Amy Adams.

TV Lois

This one didn’t line up very well. I probably should have, technically, included Dana Delany, but…I didn’t. Noel Neil (again; she played Lois in the movie serials before reprising the role years later on TV), Teri Hatcher, Erica Durance, Elizabeth Tulloch.

Lois in 2006
Teri Hatcher and Erica Durance

I personally think that the best blending – some of the alignment issues aside – is of two of the TV Lois Lanes, Teri Hatcher and Erica Durance.

There were several other permutations I played around with, but these were the most interesting. I may revisit this in the future, bringing in some more Loises from some of the other animated offerings, or even do something similar with images of Lois by different artists.

That does it for this random year-end post of randomness. I’ll see you in the new year, with new Spotlight posts and other posts besides (but probably not posts like this one).

Happy New Year!

Supporting OpenDoor Comics is a thing you can do, by whitelisting the site in your ad blocker, by purchasing something from the Supply Closet or the OpenDoor Comics Shop, by creating your own comics on the OpenDoor Comics platform, or through directly giving money via Patreon or PayPal.

Spotlight Sunday 12.16.18

The fact that, like it or not, it is that season, means there are spoilers ahead for…

Red Sonja Holiday Special
Writer: Amy Chu, Erik Burnham, Roy Thomas, Clair Noto
Artist: Ricardo Jamie, Frank Thorne
Cover: Leonardo Romero
Rated Teen+
$4.99
Dynamite

“This time of year, people try a little harder to help others. Peace on earth, good will towards all, you know?”
“I do not.”

Despite my general grinchiness, I thought I should probably make some acknowledgement of the season and take a look at one of the many holiday specials on the stands. I missed – though by some accounts, I suppose I should say “missed” – the offering from DC this year, and while I did also grab a Hellboy special, that particular red character made a holiday appearance last year.

But red is one of the colors associated with the season, so it was only fitting to pick instead one of the unlikelier specials. Unlikely, of course, because of the era in which the character lives – it’s rather like paradox of The Flintstones or the characters in the comic strip B.C. celebrating the birth of someone who, from their perspective, hasn’t been born yet – but the She-Devil with a sword has a distinct advantage in that regard, given that she engages in time travel on a semi-regular basis.

Thus, as she makes her way through the snowy woods and encounters a poor, hungry woman vainly seeking warmth, the color of the woman’s cloak reminds her of her visit to a future time and she is moved by the spirit of the season to offer the woman food, warmth, and the story of that memory.

Shortly after her arrival in modern-day New York, she and her friend Max – who later proved, unbeknownst to him, to be a time-tossed resident of the Hyborian Age – were rushing down the snowy Manhattan streets on Max’s motorcycle. Well, “rushing” is a relative thing – Sonja asserted that she could run faster than they were moving in the gridlocked winter traffic.

After a man in a red suit standing on a street corner laughs at her, or so she thinks, Sonja wants to stop to show the man the error of his ways, but Max explains that he wasn’t laughing at her, and as Sonja observes the New Yorkers gathering at “temples” (stores), and purchasing trees, she realizes that there is indeed much in this strange new world that she does not understand.

She’s especially confused when they stop at a diner and she sees the proprietor deliver kindness to a beggar rather than the beating she anticipated.

Max does his best to explain the holidays to Sonja, focusing on the diverse cultures clustered together in the city that never sleeps, and how virtually all of them have some kind of traditional winter holidays that occur around the same time, and that even those who don’t hold any of the beliefs those holidays reflect are often moved by the spirit to be a little kinder.

Sonja soon turns Max’s words against him, roping him into helping out a man who Max initially writes off as a nut and wants to just dump into the system (Max is a cop), but Sonja prevails upon the way of “the Santaclaus,” whose colors the man wears, to coerce Max into helping right now.

While we see that this little side quest actually connects to the larger story of Sonja’s time in the present, even in her telling of the tale Sonja is unaware that the man they’re helping – who was beaten for overhearing some mob types talking about their plans, and who lost his dog, Rudolph, in the process – has just had an encounter with her ancient enemy, the sorcerer Kulan Gath.

While Sonja initially pounds the stuffing out of the goons still pursuing the man in the Santa outfit, they eventually produce the “powerful magic” of guns, and the three are soon on the run, but are saved by…Santa Claus!

Shortly thereafter, the drunken and battered Santa is reunited with his Rudolph, and though Sonja is eager to join the revelry, Max insists they’ve had enough excitement and that he’s interested in having a silent night from this point on.

Back in the Hyborian Age, the telling of the tale comes to an end, though Sonja lets the woman know that there is a grander tale to be told, if the woman is interested in travelling with her for a time. She is, but she asks if Sonja ever thinks about trying to find a way to return to Max’s time.

Sonja admits that she does miss things like warm baths and cold beers, and Max, of course, but it is not her time. Still, telling the tale and honoring the ways of Max’s gods by engaging in an act of kindness at this time of year did make her feel close to him once more and provided a moment of peace and goodwill.

The special is rounded out with a reprint of a classic tale from the Marvel era, with art by legendary Red Sonja artist Frank Thorne.

This tale has no holiday connection, featuring a weary Sonja headed towards a city that she hopes will offer her a comfortable place to sleep, good ale to drink, good food to eat, and a minstrel to sing sad songs.

She is warned away from the village by a talking goat, but does not take the warning to heart, and, in time, learns that the whole city was an illusion created by Death himself as a means of trapping Sonja.

At least it’s three legs that the goat has, rather than three of something else…

Fortunately, while they didn’t dissuade her from entering the city, remembering the goat’s warnings provides the clues she needs to escape from Death’s trap.

This was a very slight comic in terms of content, with nothing really going for it beyond being connected to the season. It’s very talky, with not a whole lot in the way of action.

While the main story is connected to the recent events in Sonja’s regular series, it doesn’t really add much, or do anything to push the ongoing narrative – the last few issues of the regular series have mostly been one-off stories of late – so it’s mostly just…there. It’s not bad, and it’s a fun little holiday-themed diversion, but it’s nothing to write home about, or probably to even write a Spotlight post about, I suppose.

And yet, here we are.

The art in the main story is solid, with an especially good use of facial expressions, which is a bonus, given the aforementioned lack of action. However, the already-gratuitous nature of Sonja’s outfit seems even more gratuitous – and out-of-place, given the weather – here, particularly with some of the poses.

I mean…

But you can see what I mean about the facial expressions, right? (Yes, there are faces on that page.)

The “classic” story is exactly the kind of thin story you’d find as a back-up feature in the 1970s, but it is saved by the art of Thorne, whose work can also be called gratuitous, but he has the advantage of having achieved iconic status, and benefits from the nostalgia of olds like me, for whom Thorne’s Sonja was the Sonja.

So, yeah. ‘Tis the season and all that, even in a a harsh and brutal era in which “the season” did not yet exist as such.

Recommended Reading

Frank Thorne’s Red Sonja

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back next week to see what it shines upon.

As always, 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).

Supporting OpenDoor Comics is a thing you can do, by whitelisting the site in your ad blocker, by purchasing something from the Supply Closet or the OpenDoor Comics Shop, by creating your own comics on the OpenDoor Comics platform, or through directly giving money via Patreon or PayPal.

Spotlight Sunday 12.9.18

Another week of playing catch-up means that there are spoilers ahead for…

The Green Lantern #2
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Liam Sharp
Cover: Liam Sharp
Rated T+
$3.99
DC

Before we get started, I can announce the selection of a winner of the first (and only) OpenDoor Comics Peer Pressure Prize Sweepstakes. Congratulations to Seed of Bismuth! Thanks to everyone who participated, even though the prizes were enough to keep almost everyone else away. Will there be other prize giveaways in the future? Based on the "success" of this one...well, we'll see.

“Nurse, I’d call a doctor if I were you. But tell them this man killed 2.5 billion people. Tell them there’s no need to hurry.”

Given that most people who consume genre fiction in which a role can be passed along tend to favor the character who held the role when they first started consuming said genre fiction as “their” version of the character, Hal Jordan should be “my” Green Lantern.

While there were other Green Lanterns – and I don’t just mean the other members of the Corps; I mean people who were the main focus of the series – for brief periods, when I started reading comics, Hal was the Green Lantern living on Earth – on Earth-One, anyway –  and the star of the titular series.

I liked him well enough, I suppose, and there was a period during which I really liked the series* – it was at that same time that I came to really appreciate John Stewart, who, thanks to the DC Animated Universe, is a Green Lantern that an entire generation of fans view as “theirs” – but eventually I, and apparently many others, grew to find Hal a bit…tiresome. Bland. Boring.

It probably didn’t help that DC kept removing one of the corps core aspects of the character that made him interesting: the fact that he was part of something much larger, an entire corps of Green Lanterns spread out across the universe. The existence of the larger Green Lantern Corps provided a lot of narrative possibilities, but, sadly, those possibilities were rarely explored, and the stories tended to focus on the earthbound, generic adventures of Hal Jordan, to the extent that the larger Corps was thrown into disarray, and then, ultimately, ended, leaving just a handful of active GLs.

(I always found it amusing/revealing that the Green Lantern Corps persisted for uncounted millennia right up until a human became a member, at which point the whole thing just fell apart.)

Still, I wasn’t a fan of a the heel turn that Hal eventually took, but that did lead to the Green Lantern that I do think of as mine: Kyle Rayner.

As with Wally West – who is my Flash – I liked Kyle because I was there from, more or less, the start, able to watch him grow into the role, and to earn the name. (Also, Wally was a lot less bland than Barry Allen.) With Kyle, there was the additional aspect of working not only to live up to the role he found himself in, but to redeem it in the wake of his predecessor’s actions.

I honestly liked Hal more in his role as The Spectre in the series by J.M. DeMatteis and the late Norm Breyfogle. I thought it was a much better redemptive arc for the character than what came later with his return to ring-slinging.

In any case, Hal has been the Green Lantern again for a while, even if he is one amongst many, but I haven’t read any Green Lantern titles in quite some time, so I’m not really that up on the state of things.

That doesn’t appear to be necessary for enjoying The Green Lantern, however, as writer Grant Morrison is clearly doing his own thing with the title, with said “thing” being borrowing from different parts of the characters’ history, but leaning very heavily on the science fiction aspects of the Silver Age.

He’s also leaning into the whole “space cop” idea, which, from my most recent readings seems to be a popular approach, structuring the story as something of a police procedural, except in space.

Last issue – which is one I had intended to write about, but it was sold out by the time I got to the comic shop, and by the time I did pick it up there was something else that got my focus – we found an earthbound Hal on suspension. However, circumstances were such that he ended up being called back to active duty to investigate an assault on the member of the Corps that stemmed from an unsuccessful attempt by space pirates to steal a “Luck Dial” from the Luck Lords of Ventura.

The sponsors of the heist – a group of Blackstars, who are a sort of more extreme version of the Green Lantern Corps, run by the Controllers, who are related to the Guardians who run the Corps – referred to the dial as “Component One,” though what it’s meant to be a component of is not yet clear.

However, this issue opens with some Blackstars busting the villainous Evil Star out of his Guardian-imposed imprisonment.

Back on Oa, Hal is interrogating a captured space pirate to get to the bottom of what’s going on, not yet aware that there is any connection to another case being worked by the Corps that involves missing planets.

The pieces of the puzzle start coming together later, however, after Hal gets the pirate to talk, and we see the Blackstars take Evil Star’s “Star-Band” weapon – Component Three – from him, and leave him adrift in space somewhere near Earth.

The Blackstars, we learn, are using the Star-Band as the basis for a mass-produced weapon that can be incorporated into their battlesuits, and we see the Controller behind it offering the services of the Blackstars to the the Dhorian Slavers (the most famous of whom is Kanjar Ro) to provide security while the Dhorian’s go about their business.

Said business being stealing planets. Why are the Blackstars, who are more inclined to punish evil than abet it, helping them out? We’ll find out, though the Controller assures them that one day their time will come.

With the Blackstars’ backing, the Dhorians set about their latest planetary heist as Hal heads home after visiting the dessicated and decrepit Evil Star in a hospital and learning about the partnership between the Blackstars and the Dhorians.

Which, uh, which planet do you suppose the Dhorians decided to steal?

Green Lantern, particularly an incarnation that is in a more cosmic setting, is a good fit for Grant Morrison, who, for good and ill, is known for some of his more “out there” concepts. So far, the plot is considerably more straightforward than is typical for Morrison. His imagination is seems to be running with the characters and the settings more than with the narrative.

(I am kind of amused by having Earth being stolen be part of the story so close on the heels of a similar event happening in the current Bendis run on Action Superman.)

That cosmic focus is a good idea when you’re working with someone who is, frankly, as unappealing as Hal Jordan is often presented, as it draws attention away from his strange combination of skeeviness and blandness.

I have to wonder if DC, aware that there is a vast untapped potential with GL, is hoping that Morrison can build some real excitement and enthusiasm for the character that can translate into a cinematic effort that can undo some of the damage of the 2011 offering.

While I am excited by the prospect of what Morrison will do with Green Lantern – irrespective of the motivation – what really stands out so far is the amazing, meticulously-rendered artwork of Liam Sharp.

Just look at this:

Sharp also stands out in his character design, going wild with some of the alien Lanterns, such as Lantern Volk, who has a frickin’ volcano for a head.

It will be interesting to see when two immense talents who both have an obvious affection for the Silver Age will go with such a quintessentially Silver Age character and set of concepts. So far, we’re off to a promising start.

Recommended Reading

Morrison.

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back next week to see what it shines upon.

As always, 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).

Supporting OpenDoor Comics is a thing you can do, by whitelisting the site in your ad blocker, by purchasing something from the Supply Closet or the OpenDoor Comics Shop, by creating your own comics on the OpenDoor Comics platform, or through directly giving money via Patreon or PayPal.

*Those runs are, unfortunately, marred by recent developments involving the writer. It's possible, sometimes, to separate the art from the artist, but...damn.

Spotlight Sunday 12.2.18

The end of an informal moratorium and the early days of a new creative team mean that there are spoilers ahead for…

Wonder Woman #59
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Cary Nord
Cover: Terry and Rachel Dodson
Rated T
$3.99
DC

 “He? Who said anything about a he?”

Back when the comic featured in the Spotlight was selected by the votes of readers, I ended up doing along streak of Wonder Woman stories. It wasn’t a great time to be writing about the adventures of the Amazing Amazon, frankly. The comics weren’t bad, exactly,they just weren’t particularly interesting, and I was bothered by the fact that DC hadn’t had the sense to have a woman writing the series. Given how rarely that’s happened over the years, the period following the success of the movie seemed like the ideal time to correct that imbalance. There was a very brief run by Shea Fontana, but it was mostly filler as they prepared to have James Robinson take over the series.

Feeling a bit burned out, once things changed and I was the one making the selection, I opted to take a break from writing about Diana.

During Robinson’s run, however, it was announced that Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson would be taking over the writing chores towards the end of the year.

Now that her run is underway, I’ve decided it’s a good time to check in and see how things are going. The short answer, two issues in, is “Pretty well.”

Last issue found Diana having a prophetic dream about Steve getting in trouble while on a mission in another country and, despite the objections of Etta Candy, who had called to inform Diana that the dream from which she just awoke had come true, she rushed off to his rescue.

Meanwhile, on Themyscira, we checked in on the cell, deep below the ground, in which the Amazons held Ares captive along with his new cellmate, Grail, the daughter of Darkseid.

The two weren’t exactly getting along swimmingly,particularly given that his time as a prisoner had apparently changed Ares for the better, leading him to regret the manner in which he had lived his life prior to his imprisonment. Seeking justice rather than release, Ares asks Grail to kill him, and she obliges. The death of the God of War causes a great disturbance across Themyscira, a disturbance, Hippolyta fears, that will go well-beyond the confines of the island.

Back in Patriarch’s World, Diana travels to the war-torn country in which Steve is missing. An oppressed minority, led by a brutal warlord, is in conflict with the brutal dictator who rules the country, a dictator who is supported by the US of A.

Steve has been either captured or killed by the rebels,and though Diana finds the entire situation, and in particular, America’s support of the authoritarian leader, distressing, her primary concern is finding Steve.

Still, while she’s not there to intervene, she does stop government forces from murdering a young boy, and while those soldiers talk about “monsters”that they claim the boy is hiding – it’s clear that this isn’t simply a dehumanizing description of the rebels – she doesn’t have time to find out what they mean.

We learn, however, that the soldiers were right: the boy is hiding monsters, or rather, mythical creatures such as a satyr, who have found themselves far from their home in Olympus.

Diana, meanwhile, finds herself face-to-face with a reborn Ares, who declares that he has changed his ways and, like Diana, he wishes to fight for justice and protect the weak.

That’s were this issue picks up, as Diana and Ares find themselves in the middle of the conflict, and though Diana is uncertain as to whether she can take Ares at his word, she’s willing to accept his help in bringing the battle – which is, inconveniently, preventing her from finding Steve – to an end.

Unfortunately, she learns that what Ares considers “justice” doesn’t really align with her definition.

As the government fires a missile towards the rebels, she and Ares fly up to stop it. While she suggests redirecting it towards an empty field, Ares has a different idea, opting to drop it on a nearby inhabited village.

“To turn the weapons of a tyrant against his own people…is there any greater poetry?”

Diana attacks Ares, accusing him of lying to her and not changing at all. Ares, however, contends that he hasn’t told her any lies.

Their discussion is interrupted by the arrival of American fighter jets, which Ares attacks. Diana moves in to rescue one of the pilots and is in turn attacked by Ares.

Elsewhere, the boy has led the group of mythical creatures to some ancient ruins where other such creatures are gathered and are holding Steve prisoner.

Upon learning that Diana is there looking for him, Steve attempts an escape, but is soon recaptured, and a griffon informs him that they are going to take him to their leader.

The hiring of Wilson alone was enough to send the “anti-SJW”crowd into fits, and it amuses me greatly that in her debut on Wonder Woman she’s telling exactly the kind of story that will make them even angrier, addressing the complex and unsavory foreign policy practices of our government. The nonsense argument that “Comics shouldn’t be political” is not only historically illiterate, it’s a disingenuous lie from people who are really saying, “Comics shouldn’t be political…unless they’re espousing my politics.”

It’s a promising start, focusing on the contrast between a simplistic view of justice and one that’s more nuanced but which can be just as imperfect in its application as a more cut-and-dried approach. It’s especially interesting, given that in the last issue Diana was accused by Etta of having too simplistic a view of the way of the world.

I mostly know Cary Nord’s work from his run on the Dark Horse Comics Conan series – and, by the way, I’m eagerly anticipating the sullen-eyed, iron-thewed Cimmerian’s return to Marvel next month – and while he’s a good “get” for this title, I’m not sure he’s the right fit, at least for some of the more modern elements. His style works well with the mythical creatures and the pastoral landscapes in which we find them, but he doesn’t exactly excel at the rendering of the advanced weaponry or the scenes of modern warfare. It’s a minor complaint, and he does have a good storytelling flow, but this issue also seems a bit rushed compared to the last, with a very loose style that isn’t always appealing.

(I am loving the covers by the Dodsons, however.)

We’ll see where this goes, but I like it so far, and at the very least it doesn’t have Jason in it.

Recommended Reading

Go read last week’s post and enter the OpenDoor Comics Peer Pressure Prize Sweepstakes for your chance to win cool prizes. Then pressure your peers into doing the same to increase your chances of winning. You can also sign up using the form in the navigation pane to the left of this post.

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back next week to see what it shines upon.

As always, 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).

Supporting OpenDoor Comics is a thing you can do, by whitelisting the site in your ad blocker, by purchasing something from the Supply Closet or the OpenDoor Comics Shop, by creating your own comics on the OpenDoor Comics platform, or through directly giving money via Patreon or PayPal.

Spotlight Sunday 11.25.18

A light week at the comic shop means that at long last it’s here – A Very Special™ Spotlight Sunday!

The New Teen Titans: Plague
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: George Perez
DC/Keebler Company

The 1980s are famously associated with a lot of cultural trends. Parachute pants! Breakdancing! Shoulder pads! Big hair!

Alongside all of those artifacts of that bygone era, the “Very Special Episode” enjoyed something of a heyday, as normally goofy sitcoms would set aside a half hour every so often to “get serious” and tackle one of the problems of the day, whether it was Alex P. Keaton learning that his fun-loving uncle, portrayed by Tom Hanks, had a not-at-all fun drinking problem, Arnold and Dudley hanging out at the world’s worst bike shop, or, in a carry over to the following decade, Jessie Spano being so excited and so…scared, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting some message-heavy bit of TV programming.

(There may have even been an episode of Perfect Strangers that warned people not to throw rocks.)

Comics weren’t immune to this phenomenon, of course, particularly given that taking the approach of delivering a very important message was one of the only ways to address certain topics at all back in the days of Comics Code Authority. Sometimes, even that approach was not sufficient to earn the CCA seal of approval.

And, while some people forget, comics are a business, and most businesses look for ways to increase their exposure and market share, often through assorted gimmicks (*cough*), and by latching on to current trends. Sometimes the Big Two did that within the pages of their regular comics, working to push the boundaries of their medium, as with the O’Neal/Adams run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow in which Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy is revealed to be a drug addict – which is, of course, relevant to the comic we’ll eventually talk about – but while there was value in improving their existing products by exploring real-world issues, that didn’t always move the needle when it came to increasing sales and getting more eyes on pages.

So, in addition to the work they did within the pages of their regular books, Marvel and DC often partnered with other businesses and federal agencies to produce special editions that were often distributed to potential new readers via schools, using their recognizable characters to drive home a particular message. 

The earliest such Public Service Announcement comic I remember receiving in school featured Captain America teaming up with the Campbell Kids (as in Campbell Soup) to promote energy conservation. While somewhat informative, it…wasn’t good, nor was it particularly memorable or worthy of nostalgia.

Some time later, however, DC, partnering with Keebler, put out the PSA comic we’re here to discuss, featuring the characters from one of the hottest comics of the era taking up arms in America’s War on Drugs, with a little help from First Lady Nancy Reagan.

What makes this comic stand out from the crowd is that it was produced by the creative team behind the regular New Teen Titans comic, which, to be honest, was often extremely heavy-handed when delivering a “message” at the best of times, so despite some differences – which we’ll get to – it was almost indistinguishable from a comic you might plunk down $.75 for at the newsstand.

Almost.

In fact, not long before this comic made its appearance at schools across the country, there had been an arc in NTT that could have been pretty easily recycled and used as a PSA, although it would have required jettisoning some of the long-running story elements and sub-plots, such as the ongoing journey of Adrian Chase from being a suit-wearing Manhattan DA and family man to being the costumed, gun-toting Vigilante, and Dick Grayson’s struggle to get out from under the shadow of the Bat and find his own identity and destiny as a hero in his own right rather than as a sidekick.

Speaking of the Teen Wonder and leader of the Titans, Robin doesn’t make an appearance in this comic, or in any of the sequels, and is instead replaced by a rather generic new character called The Protector, who would later be added to canon in the regular comics, though I don’t recall ever seeing him anywhere other than in the 1987 update to Who’s Who in the DC Universe.

For one thing, by that time Dick had hung up his pixie boots and was no longer Robin, and had yet to settle on a new costumed identity.

Deleted scene.

For another, the licensing rights to Robin were then held by Nabisco.

(As an aside, some time before the comic was released to schools, I saw an item about it on the news, and when I saw him in the group shot from the back cover, I thought that The Protector might be the debut of Dick’s new costume and identity.)

The inside cover of the comic features a letter from Mrs. Reagan, and on the first page we get the first of several “confessional” pages, featuring a young girl named Debbie, who, despite her tender age, has been using drugs – she provides a long laundry list of the drugs she’s used – for three years. We learn some of the – ideally relatable – reasons that she was tempted to try drugs in the first place, and how her use of drugs has negatively impacted her life.

While it’s kind of a standard feature – especially in the era of “Reality TV” – I do kind of wonder if Tom King was at least somewhat inspired by this comic when crafting his confessionals for Heroes In Crisis, especially since Roy “Speedy” Harper has a confessional scene here, just as he does in HIC.

From there, we move on to the action, as the Titans bust up a drug distribution center, and we learn that Protector – Pro, as his friends call him – was invited along specifically for this mission. (Despite the occasional asides about his backstory, it’s pretty clear that Protector was originally written as Robin, especially given that the team defers to him as the leader, despite him just being a guest. I actually suspect Robin was physically in the comic and then just drawn over, as his combat moves are pretty much identical to Robin’s.)

After beating the snot out of the drug dealers, Raven has a bit of a freakout – Has she gone rogue and decided to try some of the product? – and the team determines the cause: a young, panicked boy hiding in the warehouse has overdosed, and Raven’s empathic abilities caused her to be overcome by his emotional state. The Titans get the boy to the hospital, but it’s too late.

However, it may not be too late for Debbie from the first page, who is also in the hospital after an OD. The boy who died was a friend of Debbie’s, and when her parents come to talk to the doctor about the boy and about Debbie’s chances, they meet up with the Titans.

The Titans then have an encounter with some of Debbie’s other druggie friends – including Anna, the sister of the boy who died – and decide that they really need to step up their game when it comes to tackling the part of the drug epidemic that they can handle. Namely, beating the snot out of drug dealers.

Donna, did you…did you just drive your fist through that man’s chest?

The rest, however, is up to the kids and their families, and while they have suggestions for things that can be done – using love and understanding, mostly – all they can really do is hope.

While the Titans tackle the drug distribution infrastructure, Anna shows up at her brother’s funeral high, but her parents harness the power of love and understanding, and decides to stop being a dope and give up on drugs, as does Debbie, after she comes out of her coma, and the rest of Debbie’s friends, inspired by these examples, and by the Titans, decide to do the same.

The comic is rounded out by various activities that the readers can engage in, such as visualizing the kind of futures they want to have, futures that would be impossible to attain if you give in to the allure of drugs, and others that reinforce a more general sense of responsibility. (These activities are presented by Ernie, the Keebler Elf.)

I didn’t get the two sequel comics when I was in school, and didn’t actually know they existed until relatively recently, but I remember being very excited about getting this one – I snagged multiple copies, as our tiny school got a lot more than we could ever possibly need – because hey, a free comic, that I’m supposed to read at school featuring one of my favorite super-teams, by one of my favorite creative teams. What’s not to be excited about?

The Titans were an ideal fit for tackling this subject, as they were within the same age cohort as the target audience, one of their own was a recovering addict, and the often heavy-handed, message-heavy nature of their regular series was rarely all that different from an earnest PSA comic anyway. (Don’t get me wrong; I loved the Titans – and even going back and rereading the old comics, I still do – but for all of their many strengths, such as fantastic art, compelling and complex storylines, and strong characterization, the comics were set at a level of earnestness that was several degrees beyond painful, and the morality plays at their core were anything but subtle.)

While there is much about this comic that is laughable and the message was in many ways simplistic, and with hindsight – though many of us saw it at the time – we’ve seen how the War on Drugs has been racist in its application and has been an expensive boondoggle that has in many ways weakened our democracy, it’s an interesting artifact of a bygone era, and one that towers above other examples.

For one thing, it presents a sympathetic and understanding view of kids who are drawn to drug use. The message isn’t “Users Are Losers” so much as it’s “Users are People…and people make mistakes and also life is complicated.” For another, while it doesn’t necessarily provide the most accurate view of drug use – or the typical behaviors of users – and reinforces the myth of pot as a “gateway drug,” it doesn’t give in to full-on Reefer Madness-style fearmongering either.

And beyond that, it features art by one of the greatest comic book artists of all time, with inks by the late, great Dick Giordano.

At the time, I also appreciated that it didn’t really dumb things down the way comics-related material designed for a non-reader mass market often was. There were stakes. People died. There were hard-hitting battles. This wasn’t some Saturday morning cartoon goofiness.

That said, some concessions made. The two big things that was most noticeable to a Titans fan, particularly one for whom puberty was well underway, was that Starfire was drawn in a much more modest fashion, in terms of her costume design, which featured a closed, cleavage-free front, and in the size of her assets.

And while never shown to be quite as busty as her buxom BFF, Wonder Girl was scaled down a bit as well.

That reminds me of another change to the lineup. In addition to the lack of Robin and the presence of Speedy – who, at the time, was not a regular member of the team – Terra was not featured in this, though that makes sense, given the nature of the character. She comes to mind mostly because of her tendency to make snarky comments about Starfire’s figure – she often referred to her as “balloon bod” – which would have been out of place (and inaccurate) here.

Similarly, Changeling’s general skeeviness was mostly absent, with the only sop to it being a singular instance of him referring to Wonder Girl as “gorgeous” rather than using her name.

It’s been a long time since I was in school, so I’m not sure if these sorts of PSA comics are still a thing. As mentioned, I never got any of the other Titans comics, and beyond that aforementioned Captain America comic, the only other one I ever got was one with Supergirl talking about the importance of seat belts when I was in high school. Other than that, I’ve only encountered the non-PSA comic-length ads for business, such as the ones from Radio Shack featuring Superman and Wonder Woman teaming up with the TRS-80 Whiz Kids.

However, in this, the Golden Age of Television, “Very Special Episodes” are fairly uncommon, so I imagine it’s likely that its time has long passed. Still, this was an entertaining trip down Nostalgia lane, and one that has inspired this Very Special™ Spotlight Sunday.

What makes it so special? Stuff! That you can win!

Use the form below to enter the first-ever OpenDoor Comics prize giveaway for your chance to win:

Your very own copy of The New Teen Titans: Plague!

A one-of-a-kind print of the “Deleted Scene” image above, defaced signed by the artist! Suitable for framing and/or recycling!

An OpenDoor Comics T-shirt, suitable for wearing, or wiping the sweat from your brow after you angrily toss that print in the recycling bin!

To improve your chances of winning, do what drug users do: utilize peer pressure! You can earn extra entries by referring a friend! 

The OpenDoor Comics Peer Pressure Prize Sweepstakes runs until Saturday, December 8th, so don’t delay!

The OpenDoor Comics Peer Pressure Prize Sweepstakes

This sweepstakes has ended.

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back next week to see what it shines upon.

As always, 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).

Supporting OpenDoor Comics is a thing you can do, by whitelisting the site in your ad blocker, by purchasing something from the Supply Closet or the OpenDoor Comics Shop, by creating your own comics on the OpenDoor Comics platform, or through directly giving money via Patreon or PayPal.

Spotlight Sunday 11.18.18

While there were several options to choose from, with the arrival of the end, there are spoilers ahead for…

Cover A by Nick Derrington
Cover B by Mitch Gerads

Mister Miracle #12
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Cover: Nick Derrington
Variant Cover: Mitch Gerads
Rated M
$3.99
DC

“I can always escape.”

I meant to get around to taking a look at Plastic Man upon the arrival of its final issue, and this week I managed to pick up The Green Lantern. There’s also the promising start to renowned writer G. Willow Wilson’s run on Wonder Woman that is worth of consideration – particularly given that DC is finally doing what I’ve been saying they need to do for a long time and having a woman write it – and I kind of hate to admit how much (despite the inevitable annoyances) I’m enjoying the Bendis run on Superman.

I could have picked any of those, but I still would havehad to write about this as the last remaining Bonus feature from the old days. In the interest of laziness, I opted to just focus on this one issue.

It was good. The end.

Okay, fine, I won’t get that lazy about it.

The ending that we’ve been waiting for/dreading has arrived for Mister Miracle. It’s been a long, glorious, game-changing run, filled with twists and turns and gut-wrenching cosmic and personal turmoil.

Can you spot all the celebrity – and in some cases “celebrity” – cameos?

So how does it end? Well…it doesn’t. Not really.

Sure, the book will not continue – though the last page’s teaser text speaks of other things to come – but the story, like life, has no conclusive ending.

A life may end, but life goes on.

Last issue found Scott and Barda adding a “not” to “Darkseid is,” and Metron appearing to inform Scott that, as Scott himself knew, and we suspected, he is not where he belongs, and showing him a glimpse of his real home.

Yet this issue opens with Scott going on about his life as if that never happened, with the only significant change being his decision to shave his beard.

The question of where Scott is, if he’s not where he belongs, remains ambiguous, but one thing remains clear: he did not escape from death back when this whole thing got started.

Is he in hell? The ghost of Bug seems to think so.

Is he in heaven? Orion’s ghost would have us believe that, and that being in heaven is worse than being in hell.

Scott just plain does not give a shit what the ghost of his father tells him.

It’s Oberon’s ghost that he pays attention to, leading Scott to decide that wherever he is, he’s with Barda, and their son, and the daughter who’s on the way, and it’s where he belongs. At least for now.

After all, he can always escape.

(Or can he?)

Everybody Loves Barda.

As annoying as it may seem, such an ambiguous ending is a good fit for a series that has been less about the plot and more about the moments that make the plot a story. I said early on in my first Spotlight post about the book that the story is, essentially, only part of the story, that the real value of the book is in experiencing it. I could tell you, in meticulous detail, everything that happens in it, and while you might think “That sounds cool!” or “Hard pass,” and any reaction in between, you wouldn’t really get it until you hold the book in your hands – as a physical book or a digital version – so I’ll sum things up by encouraging you to do just that, either by picking up the individual issues, or by grabbing the trade when it comes out in January (ideally doing so via a link I’ll provide when the time comes).

Mister Miracle has been one of the best comics I’ve read in decades, and it deserves all the praise it receives, so I’ll close out by extending a heartfelt congratulations – and thank you – for this stunning achievement to Tom King, Mitch Gerads, Nick Derrington, Clayton Cowles, DC Comics, and, of course, The King.

So…What Were the Other Options?

Catwoman #5
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina TPB
Domino #8
Electric Warriors #1
Exiles #10
The Green Lantern #1
House of Whispers #3
Plastic Man #6
Superman #5
Thor #7
Wonder Woman #58

Stan Lee 1922 – 2018

We lost a legend last week, in many senses of the word.While Stan’s legacy is complex, there is no question that it is significant. Stan left his mark. As I saw someone say on Twitter, he may get more credit than he deserves, but deserves credit for more than most people could ever dream of.

He was Stan Lee, and to much of the world he was comics.

‘nuff said.

Recommended Reading

Excelsior!

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back next week to see what it shines upon.

As always, 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).

Spotlight Sunday 11.11.18

Hitting the shop several days after New Comic Book Day means there are spoilers ahead for…

The Wicked + The Divine: The Funnies #1
Writer: Various
Artist: Various
Cover: Jamie McKelvie
Variant Cover: Margaux Saltel
Rated M
$3.99
Image

“We also asked Chip.”

If things had gone according to plan, you’d most likely be reading about The Green Lantern #1 by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp, which I had planned to pick up even though I don’t normally read any GL titles, because, well, it’s by Morrison and Sharp.

Things didn’t go as planned, however, as I didn’t get to the shop until yesterday, by which time they were completely sold out.

Which doesn’t suggest that this WicDiv special is an inferior second choice, it’s just not what I anticipated choosing.

With the final arc of the series coming up and a little bit of space to fill, the creative team decided to release a one-shot special, and as the previous specials had filled in all of the relevant history, they opted to go with something fun, and that would make fun of them.

And so, as is explained in an opening foreword, they asked some of their talented friends – and Chip Zdarsky – to contribute some lighthearted tales.

Most of the very short stories are written in a very knowing fashion that toys with the actual story told so far in the regular series while also gently – or not-so gently – ribbing the creators behind theseries. The Pantheon in “13 Go Mad in Wiltshire,” by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris, which places the young gods in something of a Scooby Doo milieu, is especially adept at combining the conceit of the parody with the details of the story its parodying. It also features the young gods travelling in a tour vehicle styled after The Mystery Machine known as “The Vantheon.”

If you’re not a WicDiv reader, most of the in-jokes won’t mean much to you, though in fairness it seems as though there are a lot of in-jokes that only the people involved would understand, so I’m not going to dive in and talk through each one, but there are some highlights that even those unfamiliar with the book can appreciate.

In particular, the opening story, “The Wicked + The Canine,” by Kieron Gillen and Erica Henderson will appeal to dog lovers, while also providing a mounting sense of horror as the story unfolds. As with the regular book, Ananke is there to tell us – although not in an entirely honest fashion – what’s going on.

With their time on Earth at an end, Ananke ensures the good dogs that they will go to “Doggy Heaven,” which is on the other side of a river, and to get there, they have to all climb into a big sack. And they each have to hold a brick. You know, for momentum.

But hey, don’t get too worried. After all…

I especially liked the Buzzfeed listicle-style “5 Things Everyone Who’s Lived With Sakhmet Will Understand,” by Hamish Steele.

Chip went a bit meta with his story, “The Lost God,” which finds a pair of failed musicians in Pittsburgh viewing the news of the return of the gods, with one of the members realizing that he’s part of the Pantheon. Before this unlikely god can make his way to London to join up with the others, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie – presented here as something of a soccer hooligan – show up to deliver the bad news. This other god isn’t quite on-brand, and doesn’t match the stylistic preferences of Kieron, who fancies himself something of a tastemaker and trendsetter. Kieron delivers the requisite finger snap, though it doesn’t quite have the traditional explosive effect. Still, as a signal to Jamie to beat the piss out of the man, it’s reasonably effective, although it does leave one loose end.

I’ve grown fairly tired of origin stories lately, especially when they’re origin stories for mundane things – one of the worst offenders in recent memory was on season two of Jessica Jones in which we got “The Secret Origin of How Jessica Got Her Leather Jacket” – but the origin story that closes out this issue is an important one that had to be told.

We find pre-godhood Laura (Persephone) standing on a street corner getting increasingly annoyed as she looks at Kieron Gillen’s Twitter feed, filled with his truly awful puns, and we see the inevitable result.

We’ve all been there, Laura.

Like I said, this isn’t a comic for everyone, but it’s a lot of fun if you’re a WicDiv fan, which I haven’t spoiled for you here.

There are stories by a bunch of very talented people.

There’s also a story by Chip.

If you’re a fan of WicDiv, check it out. If you’re not a fan of WicDiv, rectify that, then check this out.

And? Did You Buy Anything Else?

I did. Here’s the list.

Adventures of the Super Sons #4
Asgardians of the Galaxy #3
The Dreaming #3

Recommended Reading

I mean, it should be pretty obvious…

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back next week to see what it shines upon.

As always, 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).

Bonus gratuitous dog picture.

Supporting OpenDoor Comics is a thing you can do, by whitelisting the site in your ad blocker, by purchasing something from the Supply Closet or the OpenDoor Comics Shop, by creating your own comics on the OpenDoor Comics platform, or through directly giving money via Patreon or PayPal.

Spotlight Sunday 11.4.18

The work of Brubaker and Phillips being my drug of choice means that there are spoilers ahead for…

My Heroes HaveAlways Been Junkies
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Cover: Sean Phillips
Rated M
$16.99
Image

“I mean, what young lovers don’t secretly want this? Tojust be bandits on some lost highway…running until it all burns down?”

I’ve gotten off to several false starts as I sit here writing this, as the subject at hand is one that is intensely personal to me, and while I tend to be rather open about my recovery – as “open” as I’m capable of being, at any rate – even after eighteen years of sobriety there are times in which it’s difficult to articulate my thoughts.

The bare facts are this: I used to drink. A lot. Not every day – circumstances simply didn’t allow it – but most days, and on those days, I more than made up for the days I’d missed.

People talk about “struggling with addiction,” but for me it wasn’t a struggle. It was easy, because I had surrendered to it. To a very real extent, I chose it. It was a path I chose to walk, a raging river that I dove into. I knew that, ultimately, it would lead to my destruction, and that was the whole point.

Unlike “Ellie,” the narrator of this story, I didn’t romanticize it – not all the time, anyway, though there were times in which I fancied myself something of a “doomed poet” – I recognized the ugliness and futility of it, and I went along with it anyway, because it seemed as though it was better than the alternative. Life was unbearable, and while drinking made it worse, there were those moments – and they were little more than moments – in which it made it bearable, and those times in which it made it seem so much worse, in some ways, felt like progress. Progress towards what? The end. I believed that it had to get worse before it would get better, and that the faster my life fell apart, the sooner it would all be over.

Obviously, my way of thinking changed, otherwise I wouldn’t be here writing this, but sometimes, especially when I encounter something so familiar, I remember those thoughts clearly, and while I don’t have any interest in going back to that life and that way of thinking, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a kind of loss for that sense of purpose, and for that paradoxical feeling of control. Yes, control. I felt as though I was fully in charge of my life, and though I was swerving wildly along the road – figuratively and literally – at least I had my hands the wheel and my foot on the gas.

That feeling was an illusion, of course, but it felt real.

While it’s not listed on the trade dress, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies is identified as part of the Brubaker and Phillips line of titles known collectively as “Criminal,” a set of loosely-interconnected stories with a noir theme that focus on the darker parts of life and the people who live and love in the shadows.

Our story begins – after a brief prologue – in a rehab center in which Ellie is, internally, calling bullshit on a story being told by one of the other residents during a group session. She knows it’s bullshit – the guy telling a harrowing tale of his life as a heroin addict is not even a heroin addict; he went into rehab as a cover to avoid his real problems – thanks to Skip, a handsome young member of the group to whom the speaker had confessed his deception.

Skip, Ellie notes, is into her.

Ellie, however, is not into getting sober. She’s there because her “uncle” dragged her there, and she’s just barely going through the motions of what’s expected of her.

In dark gray flashbacks we learn a bit of Ellie’s story, and about her obsession with substance abuse and substance abusers, which was the result of an early childhood shaped by her parents’ experiences of addiction, recovery, and relapse, and by a mix tape she found after her mother’s death.

The tape – made for Ellie’s father to listen to while in prison – is an eye-opener for young Ellie, not simply because of the amazing, new-to-her music she hears, but because of the discovery she makes after the fact: every performer on the tape was a junkie.

This sets Ellie on a course to become something of a scholar of addiction, or at least the addict lifestyle, tying some of the greatest artistic and intellectual accomplishments of all time to being high. Her entire view of life is shaped by this belief in the power and glamor of drug abuse, and given the litany of accomplishments, it’s difficult view to argue against, honestly.

At least, if you ignore the enormous toll. How many of the people she names are still among us? She would dismiss that, of course, by pointing to the people who got clean and seemed to lose much of what made them great as a result, but even that is a rather reductive view of causality and ignores the subjective nature of such judgments.

As things progress, Ellie comes to realize that she is also into Skip and being the “bad influence” that she has always found herself to be, their rehab romance comes to its inevitable moment of crisis after she and Skip sneak out after lights out, get high, get caught, and are compelled to take a drug test.

Skip has secrets that he hasn’t shared with Ellie – though given her talent for breaking and entering, which allowed her to read the patient files of everyone there – it seems likely that she knows what she knows what those secrets are.

(In fact, that she does know is one of the secrets we will eventually learn about “Ellie.”)

Those secrets mean that it will be a disaster for him when the drug test comes back positive. But if there’s one thing Ellie knows, it’s how addicts think, and she uses that to do what every addiction does: pull the addict deeper in with the promise of a greater high by moving on to get an even bigger, stronger fix.

Ellie steals the key to the faux-heroin addict’s Mercedes and the two young lovers go on the run, ditching the flashy car along the way for something more low-key (and without Lojack), moving from town to town, favoring the kind of Rust Belt towns that are at the center of the opioid epidemic – the kind of towns that have fully-stocked pharmacies that they can raid – and spend their days in a fog.

Eventually, and I’m not going to spoil the end, both of their secrets catch up with them in a truly horrific way – this is a “Criminal” story, after all – that brings it all to the only end that’s possible for a life lived in the “completely free” way that Ellie longs for.

I was late in getting to this story, as my dealer ran low on supply and didn’t anticipate my need for a fix. Which is to say, the week it came out, it was already sold out at the comic shop by the time I got there and it hadn’t been auto-added to my stack, so I had to have them order a copy for me.

This is a complex, morally gray – which is echoed in the grayscale coloration of “Ellie’s” childhood memories – as are most stories by Brubaker, and it walks a very fine line between taking an honest look at addiction and its allure and glamorizing the lives of addicts. For the most part, I think it walks that line, and in the moments when it seems to lean towards glamorization, the words are belied by what we’re seeing on the page and by what’s really going on in the lives of the characters.

For as much as Ellie talks about ignoring society’s rules and walking away from all of the bullshit, she fails to recognize that there are rules to the life she’s chosen, and that she is simply trading one kind of bullshit for another. (And that’s before we even get into the “Criminal” aspects of the story.)

Life is life, whether you’re sober or not, and is filled with highs and lows and grand pronouncements about how to live that life, and post hoc justifications for all of the stupid, selfish, and senseless shit we do.

It’s messy and rarely stays within the lines, or at least the lines we can see, which is what made the color work so impactful. Like life, it’s messy, and rarely stays within the lines, but that messiness adds a richness and fullness that is quite striking, and gives it a much different look than what we’re accustomed to seeing from the clean, spare color work of Elizabeth Breitweiser, who typically does the color work on Brubaker and Phillips stories.

Here, the color chores are taken on by Jacob Phillips – Sean’s son – and the youthful exuberance and psychedelic nature of his colors are an excellent fit for a story about the hazy lives of two young people. Having kids changes people and apparently having your kid color your artwork changes your style. It’s a unique look for a Brubaker/Phillips book, though it’s not necessarily one that would work with any other story.

Again, I felt a personal connection with this, as it brings a kind of wincing nostalgia for times that have – thankfully, for the most part – passed. (Though I will say that the rehab experience presented here was a bit different from mine. For one thing, my experience was, by design, a total sausage fest, and for another, it wasn’t at some high-end, resort-style place.)

For a little more on the story behind the story – along withsome other interesting items of note – check out this interview with Ed Brubaker.

The Rest of This Week’s Fix

(No links because I am lazy.)

Black Science Volume 8: Later Than You Think
Barbarella #11
Heroes In Crisis #2
Nightwing/Magilla Gorilla #1
Superman/Top Cat #1
The Terrifics Annual #1
What If? Magik #1

Recommended Reading

Brubaker/Phillips, of course.

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back next week to see what it shines upon.

As always, 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).

Supporting OpenDoor Comics is a thing you can do, by whitelisting the site in your ad blocker, by purchasing something from the Supply Closet or the OpenDoor Comics Shop, by creating your own comics on the OpenDoor Comics platform, or through directly giving money via Patreon or PayPal.

Spotlight Sunday 10.28.18

In another reality, I made a different selection for the Spotlight, and you can ponder the question of what that other reality is like – what this reality might have been like – but in the reality in which I made this choice, there are spoilers ahead for…

What If? Thor #1
Writer: Ethan Sacks
Artist: Michele Bandini
Cover: Marco Checchetto
Rated T+
$3.99
Marvel

“In the stories, does not the noble hero always vanquishthe monster? Well…this is not one of those stories.”

Yeah, I know – two Thor comics in a row. But this one just seemed a bit more fertile for discussion than some of the other comics I bought this week.

I’ve written before about “Imaginary Stories” and “Elseworlds”over at DC, and in writing about them have mentioned Marvel’s similar What If…? comics, but I’ve never actually taken a look at any of them here, even though some of my favorite stories have been told in the pages of those comics.

As I’ve talked about before, while in their non-canonical, outside of main continuity stories start from the same basic premise – asking “What if…?” – in DC’s case, generally, the resulting story was one that didn’t necessarily have any connection to any specific events.  They were just simple high-concept ideas, like, “What if Batman was around in the late 1900s and fought Jack the Ripper?” or, as was one of the more commonly-answered questions, “What if Superman married Lois Lane?”

Marvel, on the other hand, would use an existing story as a starting point, asking the question of what might have happened if at some pivotal moment things proceeded differently than they had. Thus, you had stories like “What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?” or “What If Spider-Man Had Joined the Fantastic Four?”

The other difference was that, for a time, What If…? was a regular, ongoing series, whereas “Imaginary Stories” were just one-offs that, by the time I started reading comics, were a thing of the past, and didn’t start popping up again – rebranded and reformatted as “Elseworlds” – until the late eighties.

Interestingly enough, by that point Marvel had long-since cancelled their ongoing What If…? series, but the time seemed to be right to revisit the idea of alternate realities, and Marvel launched volume two. The new series had its moments, but it was more misses than hits. For example, in “What If the Punisher’s Family Had Lived?” the answer ends up being that they eventually get killed anyway and Frank Castle becomes the Punisher in all but name. So…there was a slight delay, and he wore a different outfit. Not quite the same stakes as the entire universe being destroyed, as was the case with the earlier “What If the Avengers Had Become the Pawns of Korvac?”

After that series ended, Marvel – as they’re doing this month – would occasionally revisit the concept with a series of specials, which brings us the question posed here: What if Thor had been raised by the Frost Giants?

It was an intriguing notion, at least in theory, though the execution leaves a bit to be desired, but that’s what we’re here to talk about.

Our story begins with the well-known – I mean, if you’re familiar with Thor comics or the Thor movies, at any rate – tale of the battle between Odin, the All-Father of Asgard, and Laufey, the king of the Frost Giants. In the normal state of affairs, Odin defeats Laufey in single combat, demoralizing and driving away Laufey’s armies. On the battlefield, Odin finds Laufey’s infant son, a runt named Loki. Odin takes pity on the child and brings him to Asgard to raise as his own, as a brother to his son Thor.

Loki grows to become the God of Mischief, and an eternal thorn in the side of the God of Thunder.

But…what if Odin had lost?

That is, of course, the idea at the core of this story, which finds Laufey eventually leading the Frost Giants to the conquest of Asgard, where they slaughter everyone except Freyja and Thor, who is a young boy at this point. Laufey views it as a fitting revenge, believing that Odin will know no peace in Valhalla while Laufey holds Odin’s wife prisoner and raises his son as his own.

Besides, the son of Odin is much more likely to be a fitting heir than Laufey’s own son, the tiny – by Frost Giant standards – Loki, who has no interest in the pursuit of war and conquest.

In Jotunheim, Loki shows kindness to his new brother, giving Thor a necklace featuring a – poor – carving of a Jotunheim beast, to symbolize their brotherhood, and to remind Thor that no matter how cold and cruel his life may be in that frozen realm, he’s never alone.

In time, Thor adapts to his new life, and becomes exactly the kind of son Laufey wanted – and that Loki could never be – and despite his love for his brother, resentment takes hold Loki’s heart. After failing in an attempt to use magic to defeat an actual Jotunheim beast, resulting in Thor, the Prince of Winter, having to save his – worthless, in Laufey’s view – hide, Loki is cast aside entirely by Laufey, and left to his own devices.

Which, with Loki, is never a good thing. While off having a good sulk, Loki happens upon Freyja’s cell, and the two become friends. Throughout the years, Loki frequently visits Freyja, who is glad of the company, and she instructs him in the way of magic. However, in that time, Loki never tells Freyja about Thor, nor does he tell Thor about Freyja.

From Freyja, Loki also learns about the Bifrost, and a Realm called Midgard, and he speaks often of the two of them making their escape to the world of mortals.

That plan gets put into motion when Thor informs his beloved brother that their father wants both of his sons at his side as he leads an invasion of Musphelheim. This holds no appeal to Loki, who helps Freyja escape her cell and the two make their way to burned-out husk that is Asgard, where Freyja sets to work on repairing the Bifrost.

However, Laufey is no fool, and had been paying more attention to Loki than seemed to be the case, so he and Thor – who is armed with the hammer Ice Crusher, a family heirloom that Laufey passed down just as his father passed it down to him – are there waiting. Thor is confused as to why they’re in Asgard, but Laufey asks him if, now that he has returned to his former home, he feels any connection to it. Thor asserts that he feels none, that Jotunheim is his home, and Laufey is his father.

That loyalty is put to the test when they find, as Laufey intended, Loki and Freyja attempting to escape to Midgard. Thor begs Laufey to show Loki mercy, but he has none to give. Laufey makes a fatal error in allowing Loki to get too close, getting a knife jammed into his brain for his carelessness.

Though he loves his brother, Thor cannot allow this treachery to stand, and sends an icy blast at Loki, but it’s intercepted by Freyja, who jumps in its path to save Loki. As she dies, she hears Loki cry out Thor’s name, and realizes that in attempting to save the man she loved as if he were her son, she lost her life to her real son.

Thor, too, realizes what has occurred, and though he is angry, he can’t bring himself to kill his brother. Thor tells Loki to leave, and that he never wants to see him again, and then returns to Jotunheim to take his place as the king of the Frost Giants.

The story ends with a bit of an epilogue on Midgard, where we see a father wrapping up the telling of this tale to his children, mentioning that Loki went on to become a great champion to the people of Midgard. His storytelling is interrupted by his wife telling him that getting more firewood is more important than telling stories, and as thunder rumbles, he steps outside and we see that the father is, of course, Loki, and he finds the necklace he had given Thor lying in the snow.

As I was reading the story, I felt like it was moving too quickly and just felt sort of…off, as if something were missing, though I couldn’t say what. It was only as I began writing this that I realized that after all these years I’m not accustomed to reading one-and-done stories that aren’t decompressed and paced for trade. It was especially noticeable, I think, because this was a regular-sized comic rather than over-sized special.

It’s just odd to think that this is what comics used to be like, but I’ve become so accustomed to the current narrative approach that it felt…wrong somehow.

Mostly it was that it felt rushed, and I would have liked to have seen a bit more time devoted to the early lives of Thor and Loki. I did like that, as is the case with the best stories of this type, the writer allowed the characters to remain true to the core of who they are, to be recognizable, despite the very different circumstances in which we find them. Thor is Thor, and Loki is Loki, it’s just that Thor and Loki are Thor and Loki in a completely different environment that requires that their essential selves manifest in novel ways. Thor is noble and focused on doing the right thing, but the “right” thing for Frost Giants isn’t quite what we’d normally think of in those terms. Loki is mischievous, but cautious, given that there’s an even greater likelihood of being killed for his mischief in Jotunheim that there would be in Asgard.

Ending with a cliché “The End?” hints at the possibility of further explorations of this alternate reality, but I guess we’ll see.

The art is fine, and has a good storytelling flow, but I was most taken by the simple, clean color work of Matt Milla, and though I seldom mention it – for which, shame on me – I also liked the lettering by Joe Sabino. Lettering is one of those things that you – or at least I – tend not to notice unless it’s done poorly, but this is an instance of being done well, and being an aspect of the overall production that I should mention.

The old What If…? stories used to have a framing sequence that featured Uatu the Watcher, telling the audience about how watching just one Earth gets boring sometimes, so like Rick & Morty with interdimensional cable, he’ll occasionally change the channel and see what else is on, following the divergence that occurs at some pivotal decision point and seeing how it plays out and telling us about what he saw.

I had wondered if, now that Uatu is gone, the Unseen – formerly Nick Fury – would take on that role for these specials, but that wasn’t the case.

I think doing these specials on occasion is the better approach to having any sort of ongoing series, but Marvel could probably benefit from doing them somewhat more regularly. Still, we do have one of my current favorites, Exiles, to scratch that alternate reality itch (and that does feature the Unseen).

What If…I Had Written About These Other Comics I Bought?

Action Comics #1004

Batman Beyond #25

Bettie Page Halloween Special One Shot

Books of Magic #1

Red Sonja Halloween Special One Shot

The Terrifics #9

Wonder Woman #57

Recommended Reading

What If…?

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back next week to see what it shines upon.

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