The Threshold

Spotlight Sunday 3.10.19

An additional data point in favor of my long-held theory means that there are spoilers ahead for…

Conan the Barbarian #4
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Gerardo Zaffino
Cover: Esad Ribic
$3.99
Marvel

“Come, you ignorant beast! Try and kill me so I can live again!”

I was reluctant, as per my nebulous rules for writing about comics, to tackle an issue of Conan again so soon, but this issue provides further evidence for my pet theory that, as an archetype, Conan is a character who can be slotted into any kind of story with ease.

While the character has in many ways defined the genre with which he is associated, his outsized characteristics make it impossible to keep him caged within the confines of a genre.

Mystery story? Conan can do that. Romance? Sure, why not? Make Conan a masked vigilante? Well, we’ll see how that works with this issue. (Spoiler: It works very well.)

I mentioned that it’s impossible to cage him, and that was a deliberate choice, as a kind of imprisonment – or an attempt at such – is at the core of this story in which we find Conan in the early days of his reign as king of Aquilonia.

In a case of “be careful what you wish for,” Conan finds that achieving his lifelong dream isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and while he knew, intellectually, that there was more to being a king than just sitting on a fancy chair and having people defer to you at all times, he didn’t feel it in his gut. He is, however, feeling it in his gut now – quite literally.

The king becomes violently ill, but will not allow any healers to attend to him, because he understands the nature of his ailment. He’s got a case of “Civilization Flu,” the result of living a life not marked by war and the constant struggle to survive.

Unfortunately, now that he’s a king, he can’t return to the life he once led, and so he must find some other outlet for the instincts that refuse to be caged.

To help himself find the balance that he needs, as so many people do, he seeks out a therapy animal.

Well, what passes for one for a man like Conan, at any rate.

The lion had been a gift to the new king, and had killed three men in its capture. Conan hopes that a life-or-death struggle with a wild animal will cure his malaise, but things don’t quite go according to plan, as the animal senses a kindred spirit, and the two end up becoming bosom companions rather than mortal enemies.

Denied that particular outlet, Conan hatches a scheme as his advisers give him his daily briefing, telling him about a group of Argossean kidnappers who are holed up in a particular location and the plans for the Black Dragons – the king’s elite, personal guard – to deal with the hostage-takers.

Knowing that the Black Dragons will likely move on the Argosseans in the morning – when the kidnappers will be too drunk or hungover to put up much of a fight – the king decides to slip out into the night and take matters into his own hands.

Recognizing the need for discretion, Conan covers his face and heads out to make short work of the kidnappers.

Who was that masked barbarian?

He continues in this manner for a while – those around him are puzzled by the fact that his illness seems to have manifested in physical wounds – steering all of his daily briefings towards focusing on crime, and sneaking out into the night.

Eventually, having achieved what he needed to, the king takes a trip to Kush, where he releases his lion friend into the wild. Upon his return, he goes on to have a successful and prosperous reign as a good king, right up until the day on which he disappears…

I like the narrative approach that Aaron is taking so far, moving around to different periods in Conan’s life, telling seemingly-unrelated stories which will ultimately lead us to where we left off at the end of the first issue, with King Conan being hauled off to be sacrificed to a god who attempted to claim his blood decades earlier.

In many ways it reminds me of the old Savage Sword of Conan, which usually contained stories from different eras in Conan’s life in each issue, seldom in a serialized fashion. Even when the stories were serialized, they didn’t always run in sequence; in one issue you might have part one of arc and then not see part two until several issues later.

(Funnily enough, the new Savage Sword has, so far, taken a more standard serialized approach.)

I like the heavily-inked style of Zaffino, which perfectly suits the Conan presented here, with the hatching lending a weightiness to our hero, showcasing the scars and missing pieces that have resulted from a lifetime of struggle.

This was a fun little diversion while we wait for the culmination of the story that was set in motion back in #1 and it’s a good example of Conan’s ability to thrive in any setting while still remaining true to the core concept of the character.

Recommended Reading

I haven’t done the RR in a while, because no one is making use of the links anyway, but let’s give it one last shot.

Programming Note

I’m going on vacation tomorrow, and next Sunday I will just be returning at around the time I normally start writing these posts and will not have been to the comic shop for the week, so there will be no Spotlight next week.

There may not be one the week after, either. Or the week after that.

I’m not calling it quits on writing them – at least, I don’t think I am – but I am going to take a bit of a break. I’ve mentioned before that while these are (sometimes) fun to write, they’re only tangentially-related to the purpose of this site, and I feel like it’s become too much of the focus.

And, frankly, it often feels like too much effort with too little reward.

Regardless, I have a huge stack of trades and hardcovers that I need to finally get around to reading, and, having completed book one, I want to spend some time focusing on what’s next for Worldtamer, and also on figuring out a way to build OpenDoor Comics into what it was intended to be.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by, and we’ll see what the future holds for the Spotlight. In the meantime, I will periodically stop by and post things that are more in line with what I originally envisioned for this editorial blog, and, if nothing else, keep you posted on the latest Worldtamer developments.

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 3.3.19

Familiar faces in somewhat-unfamiliar places mean that there are spoilers ahead for…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #2
Writer: Jordie Bellaire
Artist: Dan Mora
Cover: Matthew Taylor
$3.99
BOOM! Studios

“How many times must I remind old dudes that I’m 16?”

This was one of the heavier weeks at the comic shop, meaning that I had a lot of books to choose from for the Spotlight which can, sometimes, be a bit of a problem, what with the paralysis of choice and all that, particularly with the sometimes opaque – even to me – selection process I use which doesn’t have any sort of set rules, but does have some guiding principles.

For example, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #2 was, in many ways, more interesting than #1 – with some particularly cheeky digs at Watchmen – but I’m disinclined to do two issues in a row for any given series. There were some big developments in Heroes in Crisis #6, but I don’t want to overload this feature with books by Tom King. And it felt a little too early to write up another Conan comic.

So, while I had some misgivings, based on a lot of different factors, I ultimately decided to take a look at the new Buffy series, in large part because of one character and the changes introduced in this reboot.

That’s what this is, by the way: a reboot. For something like twenty years, Dark Horse Comics held the rights to Buffy – though for a time they didn’t have the rights to Angel – but the rights recently moved to BOOM! Studios.

With that move came the opportunity for a fresh start. While the Dark Horse series was a canonical continuation of the TV series, this new series goes back to – more or less – the beginning, and brings the Chosen One and her friends and foes into the modern era, taking the old and making it new.

I say “more or less” when it comes to going back the beginning, as this starts with a Buffy who is a bit older (by a matter of months) than young Miss Summers was at the start of her series, and, of course, the TV show itself didn’t really start at the beginning.

In any case, Buffy is a new arrival in Sunnydale, and is also the newly-selected Chosen One of her generation, with the strength to defend humanity against the forces of darkness.

As it happened before, she befriends two locals, a girl named Willow and a boy named Xander, and her Watcher, the member of a group tasked with providing guidance to the Slayer, works in the high school as a librarian.

But this new series deviates a bit from that basic setup right from the start. Here, we find a Willow who – because it’s 2019 – is already out and proud and has a girlfriend, and find Buffy toiling away in part-time job at a fast food restaurant.

In the first issue, Buffy had an encounter with a vampire who refused to let a little thing like a stake through the heart turn him to dust. The vamp escaped, kicking off a mystery for both the Slayer and the reader. The vamp was wearing some kind of mystical artifact that provides full immortality and protection from harm, which he picked up from a local magic shop run by Anya, whose exact nature and role is unclear to us. (After the vamp returns to the shop to confirm to Anya that the artifact worked as advertised, Anya puts the artifact back into storage and tricks him into drinking holy water.)

The mystery for Buffy, of course, is where the artifact came from and how it works. She’s not the only one interested, of course; the last issue ended with Anya getting an unwelcome visitor in the form of a much-more-lucid-than-is-traditional Drusilla.

This issue opens with Buffy having one of her prophetic dreams in which she has failed her newfound friends and her Watcher.

After she wakes from her dream we learn that her mother’s boyfriend has recently moved in with them, and that he and Buffy don’t have the best relationship.

At school, she meets up with Giles who is attempting to find out what he can – which isn’t much – about the stake-proofing magic and lectures Buffy, yet again, on what her role is and what his role is in relation to her – she basically wants him to make her decisions for her – and we encounter another familiar face: Cordelia Chase.

Cordelia, from what we see in this issue, seems to be one of the more interesting departures from her original depiction. There is some amount of passive-aggressive snarkiness to her, but she doesn’t seem to be the full-on “Mean Girl” of old. Her niceness seems genuine and sincere – or at least sincerely-attempted – with her filling the role of foil not by being the condescending and self-centered jerk, but by being too annoyingly perfect.

It may just be a facade, and I would hope there’s something deeper going on, but it was interesting to see her not being as overtly jerky as she was in the early days of the show. She’s a bit more like the Cordelia that TV Cordelia eventually became. I suspect it’s not – entirely – a facade, simply because we do encounter her on her own and she behaves in the same manner even without anyone around to watch.

I mean, could you imagine early Cordelia actually caring about a balloon getting away from her and chasing after it so that it doesn’t hurt a baby bird? This one does, and it leads her to an encounter with another familiar face.

Throughout this, Drusilla is busy trying to pry information about the artifact from Anya, and is indiscriminately smashing some of the merchandise in Anya’s shop to try to force her to talk.

This doesn’t work out so well.

Checking in on Buffy, she meets a cute boy during P.E. We’ll see where that goes.

The other narrative element threaded throughout the book is the quiet Incel pain of Xander Harris, who harbors a resentment that is not outwardly-linked to horniness towards Buffy and Willow because they each have their own “thing” and each has someone they can trust and rely on, while he’s got nothing.

Pulling the teen versions of the characters into the present day presents a lot of storytelling opportunities, and one of the biggest opportunities is taking a better approach to Xander, one that more honestly examines some of the toxicity of the character – now is an especially strong cultural moment in which to do so – and provide real growth.

I certainly hope that’s what’s going to happen, otherwise putting a focus on him this early in the run would seem like a missed opportunity and a waste of panels.

Overall, I think this reboot is off to a promising start, providing a good mix of new and old that makes it familiar and comfortable enough that even the most minor changes seem novel and exciting and make you wonder where they’re going to lead. (I mean, Joyce having a live-in boyfriend can’t lead anywhere good, right? This is Buffy, after all…)

Also while we’ve met a lot of familiar faces, there is one sometimes-bumpy face that is so far absent, and while it’s only the second issue, it does lead me to wonder if Angel is lurking in the shadows anywhere.

Granted, there was the opportunity to shake things up even more, and one could argue that this approach is too safe, but I think it works, and I’m hopeful that the story will take advantage of the cultural milieu in the same way that the TV series did, with the issues facing modern teens writ large as shadowy, supernatural forces.

Writer Jordie Bellaire is mostly known – to me, at least – for her award-winning work as a colorist, so I’m interested to see how she develops as a writer. So far she’s doing just fine.

She’s also known for starting the “Comics are for everybody” initiative, which is, of course, an idea that I can get behind, given that it’s only the whole point of this site…

I really like the work by Dan Mora here, managing to find a balance in which the characters are recognizable but are not too obviously reliant on photo references. They look like who they are without perfectly capturing the exact appearances of the actors who portrayed them.

If you’re completely burned out on Buffy, well, this probably won’t change that, but if you still harbor some affection and want to try a fresh start, this is the book for you.

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 2.24.19

For the sake of mixing things up every so often, I’ve decided to do something a bit different today. Instead of talking about one of the latest comics I’ve bought or one from my existing library of comics, I want to talk a bit about an interesting bit of comics-related social media reminiscing in which I participated.

At the very core of this site is a love of comics, and a desire to share and spread that love and to help it grow, to help spark an interest in the medium that may, ultimately, lead others to not only consume comics but also create them, and, ideally, do that creating here.

It’s why I frequently point out that these Spotlight posts aren’t really reviews, they’re conversations, albeit of a rather one-sided nature. I talk about comics I like and/or think are important, and about why I like them – in general and specific terms – in the hopes of inspiring others to check them out, or to find other comics that they might like. I think that – if they ever found an audience, which is a separate issue – it’s an approach that is a little more interesting than giving a score or star rating or whatever.

Not that reviews – or ratings – are bad, it’s just that there are plenty of other options out there if that’s what you’re looking for, and I prefer taking a more personal, often meandering, approach. The personal aspect is important, because, like I said, this site is about love. In these posts I’m not a comic book reviewer, I’m your comic book geek friend (or casual acquaintance; I don’t want to be presumptuous) who’s telling you about some comics that he digs.

In any case, to get to the social media part of this, on Valentine’s Day, Alex Segura, writer and Archie Comics Co-President, tweeted out a request for people to share:

  1. Their first comic
  2. The comic that hooked them
  3. One (or two or more) comic that is important to them

As more and more people participated, it grew into #ComicBookDNA with pros, fans, and even celebrities, sharing their love.

My contributions – made early, before the hashtag became a part of it – were the following:

Superman Family #171
Action Comics #500
Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld #1

In my tweet I provided a little bit of background, but I wanted to use this space, which, for good or ill, is not limited to 280 characters, to expand on that.

The copy of Superman Family #171 seen above is hanging on my wall even as I type this. It’s not the specific copy of that issue that was once in my possession many, many years ago, which has been lost to the ages – and didn’t have a cover when I got my hands on it – but is a gift I received for my birthday several years ago.

I don’t remember when I got my tiny hands on it, but I know I was probably around four years old at the time (the comic was released when I was two or three). I don’t even remember how or where I first saw it; when I was very young, there were comics lying around our house, purchased to entertain my older siblings and me during car trips or whatever, but as I examine the memory, I seem to recall seeing it at someone else’s house. (None of my siblings, who are all older than I am, developed the kind of abiding love for comics that I did, and by the time I came along they had all mostly moved on from having any interest in them.)

But while I don’t recall those details, that comic is one of my earliest, most vivid memories. (For the record, my very earliest memory is of standing up in my crib in the dark and yelling to my mother that I needed my diaper changed. “Ma! I need a new diaper!”)

In the late ’80s I read somewhere that the four most universally-recognizable fictional characters were Mickey Mouse, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, and Superman.

Based on that kind of cultural osmosis, when I looked at the comic, I was at least dimly aware of who Superman was, but I had no idea who Supergirl was – I recall thinking that she must be his girlfriend – and as I looked at what was happening on the pages, fascinated by the imagery, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on based on the pictures alone, and I realized that if I wanted to know what was happening, I was going to have to learn how to read.

I didn’t, of course, miraculously learn to read on the spot, but over the course of whatever amount of time passed between that moment and starting kindergarten, I did teach myself to read at least a bit, mostly by following along as others read to me. (Well, not when my brother Stuart read to me, because I knew that, just because it was Stuart, what he was saying to me wasn’t what was written on the page. Mostly because of the swearing.)

Unfortunately, by the time I was able to read, that comic was no longer around. Whether it got thrown away, or if, as I suspect, I saw it at someone else’s house, I didn’t have access to it, I can’t say. But I never forgot it.

Decades later, I did some internet sleuthing – “It was a big comic and it had Supergirl in it, so it was probably an issue of Superman Family, and it involved a bunch of heroes throwing her into the water…” – I managed to track down which issue it was, and then add it to a birthday wish list, and…well, now it’s on my wall. (Thanks yet again, Scott!)

I’d love to be able to say that the story that inspired me to learn to read is one of the greatest stories ever committed to the page, but…yeah, it’s not.

Still, it was an important component of my Comic Book DNA.

I continued reading comics from that point on – thanks to the TV series and a friend who shared my love for the character, I really liked the Hulk, but I was baffled by the big differences between the show and the comic – but I wasn’t fully hooked until…

This comic had the added effect of getting me hooked on Superman as well.

It also made me realize that, for me, comics > everything else, solidifying a feeling that had been developing thanks to the aforementioned differences between the story of a certain jade giant on the page and on the screen, as well as the differences to be found between Wonder Woman on TV and Wonder Woman in the comics.

This is another comic that was lacking a cover when I got it, and which I identified – but have not yet re-acquired – years later based on its contents.

The comic came out, and ended up in my possession, after I had seen Superman: The Movie, and I remember being annoyed that the movie wasn’t more like the comic, which I found to be much more interesting and imaginative. I had loved the movie when I saw it, but I loved this so much more.

In those days, going to the movies was kind of a rare treat, and we only reliably pulled in one channel on TV, so that likely plays a part in why comics became my entertainment medium of choice, but beyond that I developed a sense that comics were capable of telling stories that couldn’t be told in any other format, or that at least couldn’t be told in quite the same way. It may be inaccurate to call this the comic that “hooked” me, but it was certainly the comic that made me decide to remain hooked.

Amethyst is important to me not because I loved the comic – though I did and do – but because it represents something of an achievement in my comic-buying life.

I’ve mentioned before that my access to new comics was spotty, at best, given that where I grew up a “Local Comic Shop” might as well have been a unicorn.

My comics-reading habits when I was young were somewhat eclectic, not because of any inherent flightiness on my part, but because it was often impossible to buy any series with any real consistency.

Amethyst marked the first occasion on which I did manage to be consistent; I picked up all twelve issue of the maxi-series as they came out.

This might not seem significant to you, but it was to me. It felt like I had accomplished something.

It’s especially significant because Amethyst almost marked the end of my comic-reading habit, as #8 was the first comic I picked up that reflected the jump in price from 60 cents to 75 cents. When my mother saw that, that was almost the end.

Ultimately, she gave in with a “Don’t tell your dad,” but for a moment there as we stood in line at the grocery store and she looked at that price it was a genuine Crisis on Earth Jon.

Also, as I noted over the course of maxi-series of “Nostalgia Reviews” on my old blog, Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld has a lot more going for it than just being the first comic I ever collected every issue of as a kid. (Technically, the Tales of the New Teen Titans mini-series was the first, but that was only four issues, which was less of an accomplishment. One-third as much.)

In any case, that’s a closer look at my Comic Book DNA. Check out the hashtag to see what others have to say on the subject, and maybe add your own DNA – without even having to do a cheek swab – either on Twitter, or here, in the comments.

You can also consider looking at the hashtag as the Recommended Reading this time around.

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 2.17.19

The fact that you can’t judge a book by its cover means that there are spoilers ahead for…

Thor #10
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mike Del Mundo
Cover: Mike Del Mundo
Rated T+
$3.99
Marvel

“I do hope you didn’t kill the Dwarves. I’m running low on hammers.”

I hadn’t wanted to tackle another issue of Thor so soon, given how frequently the Spotlight shines on it – if I’m honest, I didn’t really want to tackle anything today, but here we are – and while there were some other good choices, such as an issue of the new Criminal series from Brubaker and Phillips that involves the comics industry, and the second new Conan comic from Marvel, this issue is the one that stood out the most.

It’s interesting that one of the other books I considered looking at – Criminal – features work by a father and a son (Jacob Phillips, son of Sean, performs coloring duties), as the book I did choose focuses so heavily on father/son relationships. (Which also figured prominently into the story contained in the last issue of Criminal, and does in this issue as well, albeit with more of a focus on a father figure.)

The first such relationship examined is the one between Loki and Laufey, and it’s exactly as bad as one might expect, with Laufey disappointed that while you can take the Frost Giant out of Asgard, you can’t take the Asgard out of a Frost Giant. How you gonna keep ’em down in the ice cave after they’ve seen the Realm Eternal and all that. While Laufey sees Loki as being useful in the War of the Realms, it’s clear – after Loki turns a Frost Giant who mocked him into a frog rather than slaying him with his bare hands – that Loki will never be the son that Laufey would wish for.

Malekith, meanwhile, recognizes, as anyone sensible would, that Loki is not to be trusted, and forms plans to deal with the God of Mischief once his usefulness is at an end.

The main event, however, is the relationship between Odin Borson and Thor Odinson, which is, in its own way, just as dysfunctional as that between Laufey and Loki.

Despite what the cover shows, there is no reconciliation or mending of fences – or Rainbow Bridges, for that matter – between father and son. Mostly the story focuses on the two of them beating the shit out of each other.

Part of the examination of the relationships between fathers and sons that Aaron undertakes here focuses squarely on the problem of toxic masculinity, which is, I suppose, a theme that runs through all of the books I considered talking about this week, though it’s much more explicitly centered here.

I know many bristle at the mention of toxic masculinity. “Oh, so you’re saying that masculinity is inherently toxic?”

Uh, no. If that were what being said there would be no need to add “toxic” to it as a qualifier. Masculinity isn’t toxic, but, well, toxic masculinity is toxic.

What is toxic masculinity? Well, we get some very good examples of it from Odin, right from the start of the issue, as we find him, drunker and surlier than usual, brooding in what’s left of his great hall in the ruins of Asgard, which is currently home only to himself, Heimdall – who was blinded by the Mangog – and some Dwarves who are whiling away the hours making hammers for Thor.

It’s also home to Cul Borson, the God of Fear, and the once-banished older brother of Odin. As he reflects on the mistakes he’s made in his long life, mistakes that have brought him to this point, Odin assigns a mission to his brother, sending him to Svartalfheim to gather intelligence that can be used in the War of the Realms that is soon – in two months, as the cover tells us – going to come to a head.

Cul agrees, but asserts that once it’s all over, he will be the one wearing the crown. For his part, Odin isn’t so sure that would be so bad, all things considered.

Odin is brooding not only on the ways in which he’s failed as the All-Father, but the ways in which he failed as a father, thinking about all the things he should have said to Thor throughout the years, and all of the tings that he did – unfortunately – say. He realizes that he is as bad at being a father as his own father had been.

After a recent adventure with another of Odin’s damaged children – his long-lost sister Angela – Thor returns in search of more hammers, as he’s been going through hammers at a breakneck – in some cases literally – speed, only to find a very drunk Odin and a bunch of passed-out Dwarves.

At the sight of his beloved son, Odin thinks about all of the things that he should say. How he should tell him about Cul’s mission, about all of the millions of things that a father ought to say to his son, but, of course, he doesn’t, and…well, like I said, beating the shit out of each other.

The timely intervention of one of his other sons – Balder – saves Odin from getting what he thinks he wants, and Thor flies away.

As anyone who has gone through recovery can tell you, the first step is admitting that you have a problem. When your son has almost beaten you to death, at your prompting, that…that seems like a good time to admit that you have a problem. It’s also a good time to reach out to someone and ask for help, someone who might have some idea what you’re going through.

One of the more interesting aspects of comics in recent decades has been taking some of the subtext of long-running books and making them text.

For decades, even if it didn’t reflect authorial intent, it was clear that Odin was a shitty father. But that shittiness was rarely remarked upon, and everyone – readers and characters alike – accepted the illusion of normalcy, pretending that things were fine, everything is fine, in the way that dysfunctional families so often do. We were all one big dysfunctional family, plastering on fake smiles and ignoring the rot behind the facade.

I will go to the cremation furnace believing that the Simonson run on Thor is one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of this medium I love so well. It was fantastic at the time, and all these decades later, it’s still fantastic.

But.

It was part of that facade, propping up the illusion of Odin as the wise and loving – if stern – father, and Thor as the devoted son, who harbored no bitterness towards his abusive ass of a father.

In that regard, what Aaron has done in his run, which will also rank very high in my esteem all the way to the end, is like the scene in Thor:  Ragnarok with Hela destroying the veneer that was painted over the real history of Odin and Asgard.

This issue is a powerful exploration of the ways in which we, as men, fail each other, of the traps that we fall into, the way we do the exact opposite of what we know we should do, the way the toxicity seeps into every aspect of our lives, and the way we pass the toxins on.

There is one way the cycle can end – the way that Odin wanted it to end – and that is, too frequently, with too many innocent victims, the way it does end.

But as we see with the step that Odin takes, that doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, the way it ends.

This is exactly the kind of “SJW” comic that the Comicsgate crowd would rail against, but it’s exactly the kind of story that we need. People lost their shit when a razor blade manufacturer humbly suggested that we, as men, need to do better. But the razor blade manufacturer was right.

We need to do better.

If even a one-eyed jackass like Odin can see that, well…

Over the past few days – and this will likely be true no matter when you you read this – we have had multiple instances of mass shootings. As is almost always the case, the shooters had histories of domestic violence.

Having a history of domestic violence is the most reliable predictor of mass shootings.

At the root of all of that is toxic masculinity.

We need to do better. We can’t hope that, as it did for Odin, things will still somehow manage to work out.

We need to get the toxins out. We need to say what we need to say, take the time to listen. Be open. Be honest.

We need to ask for help, and we need to offer help.

As for the rest of this issue, Aaron provides the standard excellent mix of action and humor, and continues to build the momentum for the upcoming crossover event.

I do have a continuity-based quibble, however. I haven’t seen any overt reference to this bit of history being changed, and, in fact, I’ve seen other indicators previously that it has not, but while she raised him and is his mother in every meaningful sense, Freyja did not give birth to Thor, and Thor was not born on Asgard.

Canonically in the comics, his biological mother is Gaea – manifesting at the time as the goddess Jörð – and he was born on Midgard, so it makes no sense for Odin to talk about not being in the hall (or being too drunk to remember being in it) when Thor was born there, because he wasn’t born there.

(Of course, the No-Prize explanation would be that Odin was too drunk to remember the details.)

(And yeah, I know, there are those who would complain that Marvel generally gets the Norse myths wrong in a lot of ways, though I would argue that this presupposes that humans ever got it right in the first place, and I would also point out that we don’t live on Earth 616. )

Anyway, that is a thing that’s been bothering me for a while now, and it really jumped out at me here. If it has changed, well…okay, I guess, but I haven’t seen any indication of it being anything other than forgetfulness or a willful disregard of continuity. I’m not necessarily the biggest stickler for continuity, but I also don’t fall into the “Continuity stifles all creativity!” camp.

I’m guessing it’s the latter option (disregarding for the sake of the story), but there have been other, documented, changes to Thor’s history during Aaron’s run, so I’m mostly just curious.

Really like Del Mundo’s work here. Great storytelling flow and solid line art, and page design. The page shown above with the panels in the hammer was phenomenal.

However, my existing complaint about the colors stands. It’s a good style, but it’s not the right style here. I would love to see Matt Wilson, who was the colorist on the previous series, brought back in. He would complement Del Mundo’s line work perfectly.

Still, it’s a good-looking book, and I’m eagerly-awaiting the arrival of The War of the Realms.

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 2.10.19

There was a lot to choose from this week, but the publication of a “lost” story means that there are spoilers ahead for…

Man and Superman #1
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Claudio Castellini
Cover: Claudio Catellini
Rated T
$9.99
DC

“I was wrong. Ma and Pa were wrong. I can’t do this.”

Back in the Aughts, DC published a series called Superman Confidential, featuring story arcs by different creative teams that focused on telling untold tales of from different periods early in the career of the Man of Steel.

As explained in the foreword to this volume, then Editor-in-Chief approached Marv Wolfman in 2006 to tell one such tale.

Unfortunately, while the story was completed and ready to run, Superman Confidential was cancelled before the tale ever saw print, and so, as a story that didn’t really “fit” anywhere in the ever-shifting continuity, it languished, unused, for nearly a decade.

Ultimately, in this sort of free-for-all, anything goes era of continuity, the finished story was release from the vaults and repackaged in a single oversized volume rather than the four separate monthly issues it was originally created to be.

Honestly, the continuity problem really doesn’t seem like that much of a factor, as hewing to the established history hasn’t really been a priority for decades, but regardless, while the details might not have aligned with whatever was happening at the time – indeed, it doesn’t really fit with what was happening back in 2006 – the core themes and overall narrative have an applicability that are unconstrained by the need to mesh perfectly with what was considered canon.

With this story, Wolfman decided to focus on the earliest days of Clark Kent’s arrival in Metropolis, leading up to his public debut as Superman.

As an origin story, it doesn’t spend much time on the basic facts we already know – Doomed planet. Desperate scientist. Last hope. Kindly couple. – choosing instead to explore the false starts, missteps, and moments of doubt that Clark Kent experienced on the path to becoming the world’s greatest hero.

That said, the details do differ considerably from what was considered canon at the time – which was a mix of the story told in Byrne’s Man of Steel and Waid and Lu’s Superman: Birthright – as we find a young Clark of indeterminate age arriving in Metropolis directly from Smallville.

(It’s very unclear how old Clark is meant to be. Is he fresh out of high school? Out of college? He’s referred to as a “recent grad” a couple of times, but there’s no mention of any kind of post-secondary education, which seems…odd. I mean, no matter how confident you are in your abilities – and even when it comes to his super-abilities, Clark still lacks some confidence – it doesn’t seem likely that you’ll try to land a job as a reporter at one of the world’s most respected newspapers without at least an undergraduate degree.)

In Byrne’s telling, Clark travelled the world for years, operating in secret, before finally settling down in Metropolis, and it was his intention to keep his good works secret. That plan got derailed when there was a need for him to operate in plain sight, which ultimately led to putting on the cape and tights. Here, the intent was always for him to – eventually – make his existence known, complete with a colorful costume. Or, as Ma and Pa keep referring to it, a uniform, with the idea being that, much like the uniform a police officer or firefighter wears, it would serve as a visual clue to let people know that he’s there to help.

Throughout most of the story, the costume remains packed away, unworn, as Clark isn’t quite ready to take that step, and after a few missteps he becomes certain that he’ll never be ready and ships the costume back to Smallville.

I’m not going to dwell much on the specifics of the story itself, but, in the broad strokes, some terrorist organization is blowing up buildings in Metropolis, and there are calls for bringing in the National Guard and instituting martial law. That happens, but only leads to more explosions, and, ultimately, the city capitulates to the terrorists’ demands.

Shortly thereafter, Lex Luthor returns to Metropolis after a five-year absence, which leads to another, larger than ever attack, which forces Clark to operate openly, and which ultimately leads to the discovery that Lex was behind the whole thing, planning to use the attack as an opportunity to showcase the powerful new defense systems that Lexcorp would very much like to sell to the military.

Clark’s intervention in the attack outshines the contributions made by Lex’s defense systems, which, of course, adds a personal animosity towards the flying interloper on Lex’s part, and for Clark’s part, while he knows that Lex was behind it all, he can’t prove it, and so we end up with what has been the typical status quo for the past 30+ years.

I’m avoiding getting into the details of the story not because the story is bad; it’s not. It is, however, somewhat by-the-numbers, but that’s a deliberate choice, as the plot isn’t really the point of the story being told, and exists largely to serve as the engine that drives the real action, which is the story of how Clark Kent learns to be Superman while also learning how to be Clark Kent.

It’s an interesting notion, one that has always been there, but has never really been explored in depth or stated explicitly: when he became Superman, Clark Kent didn’t take on one new identity, he took on two. The Clark Kent who exists as the counterpart to Superman is, in many ways, a very different Clark than the one who existed before he put the cape on for the first time.

Marv Wolfman was involved in the relaunch of Superman back in 1986, contributing the idea of Lex Luthor as a billionaire tycoon, and, for a time, writing Adventures of Superman, the new series that launched alongside Byrne’s Superman and Action, and which took on the numbering of the original Superman series.

Part of Marv’s Luthor concept, per Byrne, involved Lois being his girlfriend, and – according to Byrne – being something of a capricious power groupie who dumps Lex as soon as someone more powerful comes along. In the stories that saw print, the relationship between Lex and Lois was a bit more complex and one-sided, with Lex doggedly pursuing Lois, and Lois mostly blowing him off.

Here, there is talk of Lois and Lex having dated in the past, but the capricious groupie angle is, mercifully, absent.

I judge the quality of most Superman stories on how well they handle Lois, and in that regard, this story works well, with Marv working to show what it is about this particular LL that captures Superman’s attention.

For a big part of the story, Lois is something of an unseen presence, mentioned in either reverent tones, or derisively by jealous – male, of course – colleagues who speculate that her success as a reporter and her access to sources have more to do with her legs than her legwork.

For his part, sight unseen, Clark develops a respect for Lois based on what he sees of her work and what he overhears said about her, and develops a positive point of view when it comes to Lois Lane. He was not, however, prepared for the actual view of Lois Lane.

While Clark had been thinking about moving on – he had bungled some things and thought for certain that coming to Metropolis was the biggest mistake he ever made – Lois proves to be the key to keeping him there. Not just because she’s beautiful – though that doesn’t hurt – but because he realizes that she’s the person who can win the people of the city over and realize that he’s there to help.

The bungling he did led to a “flying man” getting spotted and becoming associated with the terrorist bombings in a way that led people to think that he might be behind them. Lois, with her strong instincts, wasn’t so sure. As he listens in on some discussions between Luthor and his assistant, he starts putting some of the pieces together and brings what he has to Lois, who says she will look into it, and, if it pans out – and he can write – she’ll help him land a job at the Planet.

While she ends up not being able to definitively prove Lex’s guilt, she does get a story out of it, and she’s impressed by the story Clark brings her – an interview with the flying man – and is true to her word.

This is a major reworking of the Lois and Clark dynamic that Byrne established, with Lois hating – but respecting – Clark after he scoops her with the Superman interview. Here, the dynamic is one of friendly(ish) competition, with Lois relishing the idea of having someone around who’s (almost) as good as she is to serve as the inspiration to drive her to be even better.

With all the pieces in place, all that’s left is for the flying man to get a proper name.

In his foreword, Marv talks about wanting to explore some ideas about Superman that he’s never seen anyone tackle, though he notes that in the years since he wrote it, as is the nature of the business, other writers have done so, albeit in very different ways (which is also the nature of the business).

As mentioned, there is the exploration of the idea of creating two new identities, which builds on the experience we all have of moving into adulthood and figuring out who we are and where we fit in while adding some super-complications to the mix, but there’s another element that I particularly liked: a deeper dive into why Clark wanted to be a reporter.

The standard explanation has always been that working for a major metropolitan newspaper allowed him to be close to the action, to have his finger on the pulse of what’s happening and to determine where he’s needed. That’s still there, but Marv adds another detail that I found interesting.

While they help him with some of his information-gathering, and the speed at which he can complete assignments, his powers don’t really give him any advantages as a writer. Super strength and the ability to fly don’t really contribute much of anything to formulating ideas, to finding the emotional core of a story, or putting the words together. It’s the one profession in which, to some extent, at least, he’s forced to struggle just like any other mere mortal.

It’s a neat idea, and one that I don’t know that I’ve encountered before.

There’s not a lot for me to say about the art that the images I’ve included don’t say for themselves. It’s beautiful work, with clean lines and dynamic action and a good storytelling flow. The comic is rounded out with a few pieces of commissioned work from Castellini.

Marv refers to this as the best Superman story he’s ever written. If I were to argue against that it would only be because Marv has written a lot of great Superman stories over the years.

Whether or not this is the best, I’m glad that after years of being “lost” it’s finally been found.

Recommended Reading

Marv Wolfman!

(Also, the Mister Miracle trade comes out this week. After you buy some stuff by Marv, you can use the handy search field above to find and buy that, too. Just sayin’.)

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 2.3.19

The fact that I’ve got “Thunderstruck” stuck in my head means that there are spoilers ahead for…

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Caspar Wijingaard
Cover: Sean Phillips
Rated Mature
$3.99
Dynamite

“The continued existence of people is the only hope for something other than your culture.”

I don’t recall a time in my life in which I saw comics published by Charlton being sold individually on store shelves or spinner racks.

DC, Marvel, Archie, Harvey, even some Gold Key; all were available for purchase as new comics. But Charlton? They were, for me, solely in the in realm of the mystery packages of damaged, unsold comics that made up so much of my comic collection as a kid.

Even then, the Charlton titles that would occasionally pop up were almost entirely horror comics.

However, as anyone who has a “thing” – some defining characteristic that is easily-identifiable – can attest, inevitably, you begin acquiring items related to that “thing” from other sources.

My ex-wife’s thing was cows. She liked cows. Thus, our apartment was filled with cow-related items, some of which were self-selected, but most of which were given as gifts, whether for a specific occasion, or as the result one of those “I saw this and thought of you” spur-of-the-moment purchases by some friend or family member.

My “thing,” of course, was comics, and I got a lot of my comics through a similar set of circumstances, the most notable of which was when my parents went out of town for something and in one of the stores my mom found a big bundle ‘o comics. (Of course, in that case there was an additional, financial motivation, in that it was a lot cheaper to buy a big bundle of random-ass comics than individual issues that cost $.50 – 1.00.)

Said bundle contained a bunch of Charlton comics, and it served as my first exposure to their line of super-hero comics, introducing me to characters such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and Judomaster.

A few years later, I would meet those characters – and more – again when they popped up in Crisis on Infinite Earths, as Charlton had gone out of business and much of their intellectual property had been acquired by DC.

It was in Crisis that I first encountered Peter Cannon AKA Thunderbolt, a man who had, as the result of training by a secret group of monks, unlocked his full potential, becoming stronger, faster, smarter, and just plain better than even the finest athletes and scholars.

In the ’90s, he got his own short-lived series at DC, but my only familiarity with it was via DC house ads and the poster in Darlene’s bedroom on Roseanne.

I don’t know the full story behind it, but at some point the rights to the character reverted to the estate of his creator, Pete Morisi.

I did check out the brief series that Dynamite published several years ago – which also featured some characters who were very clearly Captain Atom and Nightshade with the serial numbers filed off – and learned a bit more about the character, but then I kind of forgot about him until seeing the announcement of this new series written by WicDiv scribe Kieron Gillen, which was enough to catch my attention, and which we, finally, will start talking about.

One of the most notable aspects of all of the Charlton characters is that in his initial pitch for Watchmen, Alan Moore had planned to use the recently-acquired Charlton characters. However, the late Dick Giordano, who had worked at Charlton, convinced him to use original creations instead, as the story Moore intended to tell would have, in Giordano’s mind, destroyed DC’s ability to use the characters in other contexts. And so, Moore created new characters, though they remained analogous to the Charlton characters that inspired them.

In that original pitch, Peter Cannon filled the role that later went to Ozymandias.

Here, Gillen leans into that bit of comic book history in the story he tells, which opens with a group of international heroes appealing to Peter Cannon for assistance. The Earth, it seems, has been invaded by aliens, aliens who have already destroyed an entire city.

The appeal isn’t going well, as Cannon seems to have no interest in saving the world. However, he is interested in saving people, and so he relents and invites the heroes to make themselves comfortable while he consults the sacred scrolls containing all of the accumulated wisdom of the monks who bequeathed them to him, and which are the source of his amazing abilities.

With Cannon’s assistance, the heroes make short work of the invading aliens, and while the loss of an entire city is tragic, the silver lining to this very dark cloud is that it has united the nations of the world who now see that there are some things larger than our petty ideological and political differences, and that we must all come together in the face of a common enemy.

Sound familiar?

While Watchmen probably isn’t included in Cannon’s sacred texts – though it is included in mine – it sounds familiar to him, too. After the invasion is dealt with, Cannon reveals to Tabu that the whole thing is a hoax, a trick designed to unite a divided world.

Further, Cannon realizes that there’s only one person who could pull off such a monumental – and monstrous – prank: Peter Cannon. However, given that he didn’t do it, the obvious conclusion is that some other Peter Cannon, from another dimension, did.

We cut to a fortress in some frozen location where a mysterious figure is watching, and musing that it was inevitable that someone would figure it out…

I have been…allergic to the follow-up work that DC has done with Watchmen, as I feel that it’s a singular work that stands alone and it serves no purpose – no creative purpose; obviously it serves a financial purpose – to keep going back and trying to build on what it accomplished. I know others disagree, and I understand their perspective. I simply don’t share that perspective, and, frankly, I seen no point in arguing about it, because no one is going to convince anyone of anything through some fruitless debate. (I’m also not particularly interested in having a conversation about the critical reevaluation of Moore and his work, or about his general grumpiness.)

But.

I have no objection to others doing their own thing with the basic themes and ideas presented in the book, and using a character who served as the original springboard for the idea is a clever twist.

There’s no reason it shouldn’t – and a lot of reasons why it should – be viewed as a source of creative inspiration, but where I do object is with simply rehashing the same themes, and reusing the characters, and diving into unnecessary backstory as part of a shameless cash grab.

This is not that.

There is a fine line between “homage” and “rip-off,” and this first issue walks it pretty well, dropping in some knowing winks – such as the opening caption accompanying the scenes of devastation that tells us that this takes place “35 minutes in the future” and noting that “our heroes are impotent” – but very much managing to be its own original work. Gillen pulls off the trick of giving us something familiar as a means of introducing us to something new.

Even when using the visual language of Watchmen, the book adds its own accent and idioms, as with this scene:

You’ve been…THUNDERSTRUCK!

It’s a nine-panel grid that recalls the layout of Watchmen, and presents an action sequence that is similar to some famous sequences contained therein, but does so in a way that is not derivative, mixing in both classic elements of graphic storytelling that the original eschewed – the “action” lines – while also utilizing more modern elements in terms of overall style and composition, such as the gradient backgrounds and the modern coloring techniques.

It’s worth noting that the previous series from Dynamite also leaned into the Cannon/Ozymandias connection. There, Cannon was using his mental abilities to project the illusion of an enormous dragon that appeared at random, and then jumping in to fight it off, building up a reputation as a hero as a means to establishing a reputation and a level of celebrity that would allow him try to sell the world on his vision of how life should be lived. (Perhaps that Peter Cannon is the antagonist here?)

I’m not familiar with Caspar Wijingaard, but I like what I see here; there are echoes of Gillen’s frequent collaborator Jamie McKelvie, but also – particularly in the battle scenes with the aliens – hints of Bryan Hitch’s work on The Ultimates. As with the overall Watchmen homages in the book, though, the art has its own unique identity despite the familiarity.

It’s an interesting and auspicious beginning for a new series, with a lot happening in a single issue, and I look forward to seeing where it goes, and hopefully learning a bit more about some of the other heroes whom we meet very briefly.

Recommended Reading

I should probably recommend some work by Gillen, or some Peter Cannon-related titles, but instead I’ll simply point out that the trade collection of the Mister Miracle is available for pre-order.

You know how much I love it, so why not give yourself the opportunity to love it when it becomes available later this month?

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 1.27.19

I can’t spoil “The Biggest New Mystery in the DC Universe,” as it’s only the first issue so we don’t know what the mystery is, but there are spoilers ahead for…

Naomi #1
Writer: David F. Walker, Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Jamal Campbell
Cover: Jamal Campbell
Rated T+
$3.99
DC

“Actually, yeah.”

I was as uncertain about what would be in the Spotlight this week as I was about picking up the first issue of the second title in the “Wonder Comics” line, as it was a relatively light week and I try to avoid clustering related titles too closely together in time, but ultimately I decided on this simply because it’s a beautiful-looking comic.

Our story opens with a page that seems like it was designed to up the ante on the nine-panel grid layout of Mister Miracle, bringing the total up to twelve, with each panel containing a different talking head, though they’re all talking about the same thing.

But who can blame them? These (young) people live in the kind of sleepy town where nothing ever seems to happen. At least, that had been the case until this happened:

The battle between Superman and Mongul only lasted for seventeen seconds, but it had a huge impact on the town, in terms of property damage and the collective psyche of the town’s residents.

As the town deals with the physical and psychological aftermath of the events, one person in particular – a young woman named Naomi, who actually missed seeing it happen – is grappling with the repercussions, asking questions of all of her friends who were there for it. Said discussion involves some complaints about the fact that despite making a mess, Superman hasn’t come back to help clean up the mess he left, which prompts a question about whether or not any of them would like to trade places with Superman, who is probably too busy dealing with “Superman stuff” to come back, which prompts a response from Naomi that is quoted above.

Despite being busy with “Superman stuff,” the Man of Steel does return, and this time, Naomi doesn’t miss it.

We start to learn a little about Naomi. She’s seventeen, she’s adopted – which we learn during a therapy session in which her therapist suggests that the core of Naomi’s fascination with Superman stems from the fact that Superman was adopted as well, which also clues us in on the fact that Naomi is in therapy and has been for quite some time – and she has a very inquisitive personality.

That latter point comes to the fore in the course of some discussion with her friends about how the single most interesting thing that’s ever happened in their town isn’t in the news anywhere else. It’s during this conversation that Naomi learns that this may not have been the first time something like this has happened.

This sparks an investigation by Naomi that mostly yields no results, as no one seems to remember the event that allegedly occurred years earlier.

It seems she’s reached a dead end, until, on a whim, she decides to check with a local auto mechanic who looks like he could be Mongul’s lovechild. He admits that something may have happened, but says that he wasn’t there when it happened and doesn’t like to talk about things that he hasn’t seen himself.

He does, however, provide her with one especially pertinent piece of information. Namely, when, exactly, it happened.

This is a great-looking book. Campbell has a lush style that is a visually-interesting blend of realistic and cartoonish and infuses each character with a distinct personality.

Sadly, the substance is no match for the style. While there is a mystery at the center of the story, there is no real tension to be found in it, as there is too much of a division between the place-setting and the revelation that there hidden truths waiting to be discovered. That is, we get a bunch of pages introducing us to Naomi and to her friend, and then, suddenly, in the last few pages, we learn that there’s some secret.

You start out wondering where this is heading, but, cover blurb aside, you don’t get the sense that it’s heading towards some mystery, you just wonder if it’s going to get around to telling any kind of story. You might assume that there is a mystery to be solved, given the “every sleepy little town has its secrets” trope, but the story lacks the necessary slow build up to that reveal.

While there have been many stories that have done so, exploring the impact that the adventures and misadventures of super-powered beings have on the lives of ordinary, non-super people remains fertile storytelling ground, so I would hope that the mystery at the heart of this story takes advantage of the opportunity.

I won’t beat a dead horse, but I will mention that this is a book that has a bunch of young people engaged in conversation, so it provides ample opportunity for Bendis to be Bendis.

This issue also has a preview of the next title from the “Wonder Comics” line, Wonder Twins. I’m probably not going to check that out, as I just don’t have it in me to be interested in any iteration of Zan and Jayna. The premise seems to involve the alien twins adjusting – poorly – to life on Earth and learning how to live like ordinary teens while simultaneously working with the Justice League.

As for Naomi, I may check out the rest in trade form at some point, but for right now…meh.

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 1.20.19

While there were some good books in my stack this week, I have to admit that nothing really jumped out at me as Spotlight material.

There was, however, some significant industry news this past week, and so I decided to do a little something different, so today the Spotlight shines on…

George Pérez

In a recent post on his blog, Mark Evanier noted that the word “legend,” and derivations thereof, gets thrown around a lot lately, diluting the impact of the sentiment the word is meant to express.

However, when talking about George Pérez, the word and all its permutations is hard to avoid. Thus, the big news this week is that the legendary artist and writer has announced that he is formally retiring from working in comics.

It’s impossible for me to point to any one person who is responsible for my love of comics. There have been so many creators who have contributed so much to what has been a lifelong obsession for me that it would be both unfair and foolish to even try to find just one.

But.

If pressed, there is no question that George Pérez is the one I would select. Pérez is the first artist whose style I learned to immediately recognize on sight as a kid, the first artist whose work I actively sought out, the first artist who made young Jon want to make comics someday.

I am not, by nature, an especially positive individual, tending to accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive. It’s served me well professionally, in some ways – finding problems is often at the core of the work I do – and less well personally, but there’s no denying the truth of it.

That said, here, I try to work against my natural impulses and focus on the positive, which is why the Spotlight is typically less in the way of a review or critique of comics and more of a conversation. I’m trying to do my small part to share the joy of the medium, to find some way to impart the kind of love for comics to others that George Pérez did to me through his work.

As a veteran of both major publishers and of many of the smaller companies as well, George Pérez has left his mark on so many comics, and on the adaptations of those comics in other media. His work on The Avengers, The Justice League, and, in particular, Wonder Woman has shown up on screens both big and small.

If all he had ever done was his work on The New Teen Titans, his place in the pantheon of greats would have been assured. But he did more than that. So much more.

For years he was the go-to artist for any major “event” comic, such as JLA/Avengers, which provides the image above, and with one particular image from such an event becoming especially iconic and frequently homaged.

*Sniff* Shut up, YOU’RE crying!

The news of his retirement was not a complete surprise, of course, as many were aware of some of the health issues he’s experienced and of just how sparse his output has been in recent years.

But while it’s sad news for fans and friends, the good news is that he’s able to do so; enjoying retirement is not something that most comics pros are able to look forward to, as working in comics doesn’t always result in the kind of financial stability that makes such a thing possible.

That Mr. Pérez is able to do so is both a testament to his singular talent and his enormous body of work and something of an indictment of the system that leads to so few similar outcomes for all of the other creators who have contributed so much to the medium that we fans love so well.

All of the above – and more – is why I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Pérez for all that he’s done throughout the years and to wish him a happy – and long – well-deserved retirement.

I’ll close out with a plug for the Hero Initiative, which does good work to help the creators who need it – I have a complete set of Crisis on Infinite Earths signed by Mr. Pérez (and his ideally-suited partner in comics, Marv Wolfman) thanks to the Hero Initiative – and encourage you to pitch in to help (and maybe get something cool in the process).

And now enjoy some accolades from some of his many fans and friends, and some of his stunningly-beautiful comic art.

…and that’s just a very small taste.

Recommended Reading

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

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 1.13.19

A bit of corporate synergy means that there are spoilers ahead for…

Young Justice #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Patrick Gleason
Cover: (Superboy Variant) Jorge Jimenez
Rated T+
$4.99
DC

“You know, I’ll take that sass from just about anyone else in my life…but not from Zeus’ granddaughter!”

One of the things I was most eagerly anticipating in 2019 was the return of Young Justice.

The animated series, that is. After years of demand – and high viewership numbers of the existing seasons on Netflix – the addition of a third season to the much-beloved series prompted a great deal of enthusiasm and excitement for fans of the show…until it was announced that it would be exclusive to yet-another-streaming-service, a sign of what increasingly seems to be a move to recreate cable TV on the internet.

One of these days I’ll probably write up something about the DC Universe streaming service, but now, I’ll just mention that the new season of YJ has so far proven to be worth the wait.

Of course, right now we’re talking about the return of the comic on which the animated series was based, which is something else fans have been demanding for years. Since before the animated series ever launched, in fact.

So, how does it stack up?

Well…

It’s not bad! While Bendis is much more like himself here than he has been in Superman and Action in terms of some of his tics as a writer showing up on the page, it’s a perfectly fine start to a new series that walks the line between introducing something new and acknowledging what came before.

With Young Justice: Outsiders – the animated offering – the action can pick up right where it left off, as that “universe” has essentially been in stasis since the second season ended. With the comic, that luxury isn’t available, as it’s been a longer stretch since the last series ended and the larger universe in which the team existed has undergone significant changes.

I’ve mentioned many times before that it still remains unclear, post-“Rebirth,” what is and isn’t in continuity, or at least – as here – how what is in continuity manages to fit. We don’t really get any answers – and I wouldn’t necessarily expect to in a first issue – but we do get some more questions. However, there is some acknowledgement of the fact that history is a bit wonky right from the start.

Said acknowledgment occurs at the beginning, as we open on another world where a man who says he was born on Earth is talking to his father about the current state of their world and how it is tied to Earth and the many – seven, by his count – history-altering crises that the Earth has undergone.

The world in question is revealed to be Gemworld, and the man from Earth is Prince Carnelian, speaking to his father, Dark Opal.

From there, we move to Metropolis where a young woman who’s been driving a rickety old pick up truck all the way from Texas is pulled over for a broken tail light. The young woman explains that’s she’s packed up her life to move to the Big Apricot, as is evidenced by the – rather suspicious – pile of junk just barely held in place in the bed of the truck by a tarp.

Before the cop can investigate further, they’re both reminded that they’re in Metropolis, where crazy things – warriors from the twelve houses of Gemworld demanding that Superman show himself, in this case – drop down out of the sky on the regular.

While the Action Ace is a no-show, Robin (Tim Drake) happens to be in town, and does what he can to help contain the situation. He gets an assist from the young Texan, whose name is Jinny Hex. While he appreciates the help, Robin’s not thrilled by her use of lethal weapons, which prompts Jinny to dig through her junk pile and produce some kind of fancy ray gun.

We get a bit of a flashback to a few minutes earlier when Tim had a chance encounter with Cassie Sandsmark, AKA Wonder Girl, who tells him that she feels like she hasn’t been doing what she should be doing and has moved to Metropolis to attend school and sort things out, believing that being in a city under the watchful eye of Superman would be more relaxing.

That’s when the invasion happens, but despite Tim’s suggestion that they team up, Cassie insists that she needs to sit this one out.

Fortunately, as the battle rages, she changes her mind and joins the fray, as does Bart “Impulse” Allen, who happened to be running to Canada at the time (as a bit of a meta-joke, Bart says that he was heading there to join Alpha– the thought is cut off before he can complete it).

(We get another meta-joke in the form of a cameo from the two young women who popped up in the preview of The Man of Steel in Action Comics #1000, who were in the diner that got trashed, and are in that same diner with a “Not again!” as it gets trashed here.)

Another hero shows up as well, a “sort of” Green Lantern, hidden inside a ring-construct mecha, going by the name “Teen Lantern.”

Bart believes it’s fate and that Young Justice is together again, though Tim asserts that can’t be the case without Conner. As the Gemworld warriors decide to retreat, our young heroes find themselves caught in an onomatopoeia storm, and we follow two of them as they wind up in different locations.

Tim’s welcome to wherever he is isn’t exactly the warmest:

Bart, however, does get a much friendlier greeting:

Anyone who knows me well and has paid attention knows of my fondness for Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, and will likely understand why I’m very leery of seeing the character’s return.

From what little we’ve seen, this seems to be a mixture of the original, which I loved, and the version introduced as part of “The New 52,” whose title was one of the earliest casualties of that initial group, which I was considerably more ambivalent about.

(I will say that Gleason did a fantastic job with his rendering of the evil Dark Opal, echoing the style of original Amethyst artist Ernie Colón without aping it.)

I was initially concerned that Cassie’s reluctance to join the fray was going to be some tired “I’ve lost my powers” thing, but I’m glad to see that wasn’t the case and am interested in finding out what’s up with that.

One other area of concern for me is Impulse, as he represents something of a nightmare scenario for Bendis to Bendis up the whole thing as far as dialogue goes. As it is, in his brief appearance here, Bart is already a bit much.

Gleason’s art is a good match for the story and characters, and he does an especially good job with the frenetic scenes with Bart quickly bouncing around Metropolis, though I will say that there are times when even the slightly slower action is a bit hard to follow.

I’m also impressed by the bright and vibrant color work from Alejandro Sanchez.

I’m not sure who is part of “DC Lettering,” but the lettering is crisp and clear, and the sound effects in that onomatopoeia storm were especially well-done.

That said, after checking out this first issue, I’m probably going to trade-wait on this series.

I understand the need to appeal to new readers, fans of the old series, and fans of the show, but I think that it would make more sense to put the thumb on the scales in favor of the animated series a bit more, at least in terms of some of the characters, or the characterization of the characters, but we’ll see how it goes.

There is definitely some potential – enough to keep me interested – but I keep insisting to myself that I’m going to do more trade-waiting but failing to do it, so this will be a good test.

YJ is the first title from a new line of new-reader-friendly and teen-focused comics curated by Bendis. “Wonder Comics” will see other titles such as Wonder Twins and Dial H for HERO joining the line-up later this year.

We’ll see if it pays off, and as I mentioned, it would probably be smart to align things a bit more with some of DC’s properties in other media, where they get much more exposure, but for right now, it’s a decent start. I’ll close out with one of the other fantastic variant covers, this one from Evan “Doc” Shaner.

Recommended Reading

Young Justice.

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 1.6.19

Conan the Barbarian #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Cover: Esad Ribic
$4.99
Marvel

“Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world, like blue mantles beneath the stars…”

The Nemedian Chronicles

The “Welcome Back” video at the top of the post, is of course, a reference to the return of the Spotlight after an end-of-the-year absence, but more importantly it refers to the return of a certain black-haired, sullen-eyed thief, reaver, and slayer with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirths whose sandaled feet have trod back to where they belong.

To be clear, I have greatly enjoyed the continued adventures of the wandering Cimmerian published by Dark Horse Comics over the years, but to me, Marvel feels likes it’s Conan’s home. It was Marvel that first introduced me to the character when I was a kid, and one of the things I’ve treasured most in recent years is the addition of the reprinted volumes collecting Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan that I’ve added to my library.

As much as I’ve loved the original stories by Robert E. Howard, and the assorted novels written by others who followed in his footsteps, Marvel Conan is my favorite Conan.

Sometimes in life you find that there is something you never knew you wanted, but then, when you have it, you can’t imagine how you ever lived without it. Jason Aaron writing Conan is one such example. My exact words when I learned that this was happening were “Fuck yes.”

And with this debut issue, as is to be expected, this perfect pairing does not disappoint.

Aaron’s Conan is exactly the Conan I wanted – needed – in my life: a straightforward yet sardonic savage who, in his way, is more civilized than the urban sophisticates among whom he so often finds himself.

With Conan, Aaron takes a narrative approach that is similar to one he’s used to great effect in Thor, telling a tale that takes place at different points in the life of Conan, with a young Conan making an enemy who later returns to haunt the older King Conan.

After a brief introduction, which includes a montage of images of Conan at Marvel throughout the years, and shows us his birth on the battlefield in Cimmeria, and the end of his life as the king of Aquilonia, we find a young Conan doing what he does best in a fighting pit in Zamora.

The melee ultimately leads to just two remaining combatants, Conan, a giant of a man, even larger than the Cimmerian. The audience favors the larger of the two, but an attractive young woman puts her money on the Northman, and while it initially appears that she did not gamble wisely, Conan soon rewards her faith in him.

The men who took the woman’s bet are less than eager to pay what they owe, and are instead intent to take her money and whatever else she has to offer. That works out about as well for them as fighting against Conan did for the corpses in the pit.

As Conan enjoys the fruits of his labor – he took half of his winnings in gold, and the other half in wine – the mysterious woman approaches him and he turns on his patented Cimmerian charm.

Sullen-eyed and iron-thewed, but not-exactly silver-tongued.

Still, because he’s Conan, one thing eventually leads to another, and the two make their way someplace a bit more private.

And because he’s Conan, that one thing eventually leads to another, and the woman turns out to be a hideous old crone in disguise who poisons him and drags him down to a subterranean alter that is older than even Atlants or Acheron to sacrifice him to the elder god, Razazel, the Red Doom.

(This is why I don’t date anymore.)

After a quick test to make sure that Conan is Mr. Right – unlike the corpses of all the Mr. Wrongs that are strewn about the place – the witch learns that Conan’s blood is to her god’s liking and that, as she saw in a vision, the Cimmerian will die in this place, but before she can provide the rest of the blood and finish raising the god, Conan breaks free, and after battling his way through the reanimated warriors he separates the witch from her head and makes the long climb back to the surface.

We then jump ahead in time as King Conan surveys the damage on the battlefield after Aquilonia put down an attempted invasion by Turan.

He’s distracted by a couple of weird kids who are loading up a wagon with corpses.

Conan approaches them to tell them that collecting corpses is a weird thing for kids to be doing, but is soon interrupted by a familiar face – the Crimson Witch who tried to sacrifice him to Razazel, While her head is once more – somewhat precariously – attached to her body, she is considerably less chatty, but no less fearsome, swiftly killing King Conan’s guards, and managing to fend off his deadliest blows.

The king makes the mistake of turning his back on the weird kids and gets two knives in the back for it, and we end with the kids preparing to load him on the cart and haul him back down to the subterranean temple to finish what was started so many years before.

The issue is rounded out with the first installment of a serialized prose novella by John C. Hocking. I haven’t read it yet, but its mere existence is a welcome bit of nostalgia, as this was the sort of thing that was often done in the Marvel years, particularly within the pages of SSoC.

Speaking of which, Marvel has big plans for Conan, which includes two additional Conan titles: a new Savage Sword and an Age of Conan mini-series starring Conan’s one true love, the Pirate Queen Bêlit.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I love most about Conan is that, as an archetype, he’s a character who can work in almost any kind of story, not limited to the confines of his specific genre. Marvel recognizes that, and is busy reintegrating him into the larger Marvel Universe, which was always a big part of the appeal for the character in his previous tenure at Marvel. Conan – and the Hyborian Age – will be making an appearance in the mini-series Avengers: No Way Home, further establishing his triumphant return.

Another reason I love having Conan back at Marvel – and, again, I have nothing but love for Dark Horse’s efforts; they kept the torch burning, after all – is that so many tremendous artists lent their talents to the telling of his tales during that time. John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Alfredo Alcala, Ruby Nebres…the list goes on and on.

That tradition continues with the fantastic art of Mahmud Asur, who brings a dynamic – and brutal – approach to the storytelling, with explosive action and deft rendering of the handful of quieter scenes. I particularly love the wildness in the eyes of his Conan that makes it clear that while he may appear calm, this savage Northman is anything but tame.

As he always does everywhere, Matt Wilson knocks it out of the park with his brilliant colors, making every page feel blood-soaked and adding a visceral grittiness to the art.

To my eternal shame, I seldom focus on the lettering when I do these Spotlight posts, even though I know from experience just how important having a good letterer is. Travis Lanham does a phenomenal job here, helping to make this book the triumphant return it is (and I needed it to be).

The cover by Esad Ribic captures the feel of the classic covers from the novels and serves as the ideal wrapping on this perfect gift from the gods*.

I don’t know that there’s any need for me to say anything more about the story from Jason Aaron. It’s Conan. It’s Jason Aaron. ‘Nuff Said.

This is a great start to something that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, and I’m eager for 2019 to be the Year of Conan.

Recommended Reading

Conan!

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.

*Most likely just, like, Mitra and maybe Ishtar. Definitely not Crom. Crom isn't one for gift-giving.