Naked big bad wolves and princesses... oh my!

I may have just been talked into reading the entire Fables series by two who shall remain nameless. I’ve always heard good things and I’ve been so deep in Legion comics lately (finished the Magic Wars at about 2AM last night… moving on to L.E.G.I.O.N. and the Five Year Gap next), I need a good non-super-hero palette-cleaner. Since I’ve made this decision, I thought maybe an interesting experiment would be to see how fast I can actually read this. And I don’t mean as in skimming 100+ issues+Jack of Fables+Cinderella+Literals+Last Castle in an evening, but reading the main series (with relevant crossover issues), uninterrupted at a normal rate and seeing how many nights it takes me to finish. This may involve some live-tweeting for milestones/impressive moments, which I’ll hashtag with #SRFables.

And if it kills me, you can blame you-know-who…

If anyone else has any ideas for other Speed Reading features, let us know! What are the books you love that you think EVERYONE should be reading?

The Greatest Comic Series of All Time?

Four Legionnaires face the immensely powerful Time Trapper at the End of Time

I’m going to go ahead and make a declaration: the Legion of Super-Heroes (in all it’s various incarnations, with all it’s various spin-offs) is the greatest comic of all time. Some who read this may know that I’m in the middle of reading all the Legion books, from their first appearance in Adventure Comics 247 in the late 50s on. It’s been on and off, and slow at times, but I’m now approaching the end of Paul Levitz’s second run, the end of the 1984 Baxter series. I was just floored by Keith Giffen’s return as co-plotter and penciller in issue 50, the gigantic battle against the Time Trapper. WHAT AN EPIC BOOK! I can’t believe this isn’t on lists for epic battles/storylines.

The plot is great: after Superboy’s death at the machinations of the Time Trapper (a long story for another time), four Legionnaires secretly swear an oath that they will find a way to get to the end of time and kill the Time Trapper in revenge, despite the moral and legal implications. The conspiracy slowly unfolds over several issues until, finally, it’s revealed. The Legion as a whole agree to go and take on the Trapper, a being of immense power, in his domain. It appears to be suicide. At the last minute, Brainiac 5 takes the rest of his conspirators into the future, leaving the Legion behind.

The battle seems hopeless, the Legion is bounced around by the Trapper, there are casualties and revelations, and when all looks lost, Brainiac 5 reveals his secret weapon: he’s taken the brain-dead body of Jaxon Rugarth (a man who was once sent through the timestream on an infinite loop, becoming the powerful and tortured Infinite Man) and recreated the experiment, forcing Rugarth to again become the only being capable of taking out the Trapper. The Trapper, the embodiment of Entropy and the destruction of all things at the end of time, finds himself dragged from the end of time into the beginning of time by the Infinite Man, seemingly killing them both.

That alone is worthy of applause. I was stunned by the scope of the story and the scale of Giffen’s art. I kept reading to the next issue, 51, expecting a nice epilogue. Issue 51 revolves around the Legion’s trial of Brainiac 5, not for conspiracy or even for the murder of the Time Trapper, but for the apparent murder of Rugarth. Polar Boy prosecutes, Saturn Girl defends and Cosmic Boy presides as judge (if you’ve followed the series to this point, these are perfect roles representing their personalities in the Legion). It was argument back and forth, written well enough, but nothing spectacular… until Brainiac 5 decides to forego a defense and make a speech:

Brainiac 5's statement... powerful dialogue

If you’re not a Legion fan, I’m sure you’ve heard over and over again how great it is from Legion fans, but I’m also sure you’ve heard all about the roadblocks for reading it (complicated continuity, cheesy code names creating a perception it’s corny and hacky, gigantic cast of characters, too much soap opera, etc.). I hope this post serves as an example (relatively small in comparison to all the others I could give about how awesome the Legion is) as to how good the Legion can be. One thing I’ve also always found is that the people who do take the time to get into it always end up absolutely loving it. And if you used to read it and gave up on it, well, the old adage applies: once a Legionnaire, always a Legionnaire! There’s no better time than now (with Paul Levitz back on the book and the original Legion back in continuity) to pick up the new issues, or at least do yourself the service of reading one of the trades.

You’ll hear more from me from time to time on the Legion, that’s for sure.

REVIEW: Action Comics #895 – The Black Ring, Part 6/Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week, Day Three

Action Comics #895, Cover Art by Pete Woods

If you’re not reading this book, you are missing out. Paul Cornell has taken one of the most complex characters in comics (and also one of the easiest to screw up) and is handling him masterfully. In case you’re unaware, while JMS is putting people to sleep with Superman’s walkabout, Cornell has made Action Comics Lex Luthor’s domain. Following his taste of the Orange Lantern’s power in Blackest Night, Lex has become obsessed with regaining actual power to go along with his political, social and financial power.

Lex’s quest for power has taken the form of Black Lantern energy left over after Nekron’s attack. The energy has collected into a series of spheres around the Earth. The past issues have taken Lex from Metropolis to Antarctica, Uganda, Australia, deep within his own psyche and even (temporarily) into the afterlife. He’s fought Mr. Mind, Deathstroke and Gorilla Grodd and even met Death herself (the Lois Lane robot Luthor travels with remarks “–That’s gotta be a hallucination. Your ‘Death’ didn’t even have skis!”). Note this makes Luthor only the third mainstream DC character to meet Death, after Element Girl and Captain Atom.

Death, fresh from her tanning bed, helps Captain Atom through purgatory

Luthor’s encounter with Death leads him convinced that, because major powers are watching him, major power will soon be his. His plan is very quantum mechanics: by scanning the black energy spheres, he’s changing their nature. As soon as he scans all of them, he’ll unleash their power. While Lex plans to scan two spheres relatively close to each other, we see in flashbacks that Vandal Savage has had a premonition about Luthor’s quest and has been planning to get in on the action for hundreds of years. We even get a nice use of previous comics where Luthor and Savage happened to be near each other as Savage tries to subtly convince Luthor they should team up: Flash 124 (1997), Salvation Run and a scene where Vandal teaches his daughter Scandal about the premonition just before he goes on to try and kill Aquaman (obviously this is “behind the scenes” as Scandal is a newer character, but if anyone knows the issue with Savage and Aquaman, drop a comment!).

I won’t give away the ending, but, needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to the next issue. Cornell has clearly made this the best, currently published DC Universe book, trumping (in my mind, at least) Morrison’s Batman books, Simone’s Secret Six and even Sterling Gates’ Supergirl. Pete Woods continues to operate at the top of the art game, with a clean, almost-cartoon approach that still looks very realistic.

But wait, there’s more! The backup reveals DC’s best kept secret: Jimmy Olsen comics are fun!

The Jimmy Olsen backup has been a throwback to classic Jimmy “Mr. Action” stories but set in the modern continuity and with Chloe Sullivan (of Smallville fame) in the Lucy role. The plot is simple yet fertile: Jimmy’s girlfriend Chloe is stolen by a young Lexcorp executive, Sebastien Mallory, and while Jimmy is trying to think of a way to get her back, aliens invade. Pretty hacky, huh? Except the aliens aren’t invading, they’re here to party (apparently the oxygen acts as alcohol for the aliens). So Jimmy is trying to get the scoop while he’s reigning in an alien starlet (think Paris Hilton with Na’vi ears) and her five-hundred pound brother.

This time around, Jimmy’s plan is to show the aliens that Metropolis is a really dull, quiet, Smallville-esque place, and they should settle somewhere else. Some good scenes with Supergirl, Perry White and Martha Kent occur. It’s quite funny and the art from RB Silva and Dym fits the mood perfectly. The slightly alien lettering Rob Leigh uses for their dialogue adds a nice touch to lines like “Later, dorkballs!”

Another one of the modern Kara Zor-El's dark secrets is revealed...

One of the nicest things about the Jimmy backups is that they’re fairly episodic. Some backups are so serialized that by the time the next month’s rolls around, you’ve forgotten what happened the previous month. The Atom backup in Adventure comes to mind (as much as I like Jeff Lemire’s writing). Or, even worse, they take a page (1/10th of that month’s story) to recap, so even less happens issue to issue. Nick Spencer does a great job of making self-contained stories that also work well as an over-arching plot. I’ll be sad to see to see this “Second Feature” end.

The only downside to both these stories is the lack of Superman. Lex and Jimmy have proven to be more than interesting enough on their own to carry these books, but you definitely do notice a Superman-shaped hole in Metropolis. For years, I’ve been lamenting the lack of use of the Metropolis cast as there’s been a Superman/Lois focus since about 2003. Now we’re getting a lot more of the supporting cast (though still no Pete Ross, Professor Hamilton or Bibbo, I sadly note) but it’s only because Superman’s tied up boring us to death by walking around the country. I certainly hope that when Grounded ends, we don’t see the needle flip all the way back to the Superman side.

This book: straight 10/10 for me.

REVIEW: Batwoman #0 – “Beyond A Shadow”

Batwoman 0, cover by Amy Reeder

So obviously, this site is still pretty new and we’re still figuring out what works and what doesn’t. As far as comic reviews, we’ll be posting reviews of our pull list and then any other comics that catch our eyes. These will be both new and old comics, but we’ll do our best to put reviews of new books up on Wednesdays in case anyone wants to use the review to help them decide what to pick up or not. We’ll also be using a 1-10 scale for review. Some of that may change, and we welcome constructive feedback, so comment away!

Our inaugural review is DC’s Batwoman #0, from the creative team of J.H. Williams, W. Haden Blackman, Amy Reeder and Richard Friend. As you may recall, DC announced a few months ago that they were proceeding with a Batwoman on-going but without the guiding hand of Kate Kane’s original writer, Greg Rucka. The announced replacement writer? None other than the artist who created the beautiful look of Batwoman’s run in Detective Comics, J.H. Williams. If you missed that run on Detective, go get it! It’s collected in trades and, while a little overly goth-looking, is completely gorgeous and a great story.

But enough about how great an artist Williams is, how does he stand up as a writer? Well, it’s worth pointing out that Williams (who is still the artist for “half” of the book… more on that in a minute) is co-writer with Haden Blackman, a noted Star Wars writer for Dark Horse. The credits don’t break down Plotter vs. Scripter, so it seems to be a joint effort from both of them.

The difference in style between Williams' Batwoman panels and Reeder's Kate panels

The book’s layout is remarkable, with most pages being half-Batwoman, half-Kate in her personal life. Williams continues his trend of artistically dividing the panels, such as jagged diagonal lines dividing the top half from the bottom. It’s these divisions that also alternate between Kate and Batwoman, providing contrast both in the art style and the story content (action vs. character).

The story itself is much what you’d expect from a zero issue. A recently returned Bruce Wayne is investigating Batwoman, trying to verify that Batwoman is in fact Kate Kane. As Batwoman battles the Religion of Crime at night, Bruce goes undercover to follow Kate about her civillian life. Be warned, the story itself is only 16 pages, with preview artwork of the upcoming issues and a Detective preview taking up the remaining pages. Still, the cover price is down to $2.99, so it’s on par with most DC/Marvel these days.

Williams and Blackman write a convincing story with good dialogue (the majority of it is Batman voice-over as he investigates). Batman’s on-character and Batwoman’s history is retold in a smooth way that never feels like exposition. Williams’ artwork is as good as ever, highly stylized and interestingly laid out. Reeder and Friend’s artwork is also stylized though in a more traditional comic book style, but is similar enough to Williams’ style to provide contrast without looking like completely different characters (for instance, she draws a pale, fairly goth-looking Kate but still makes her work in a world of more traditional-looking characters).

On the topic of Kate in general (if you’ll indulge me in some grousing), I’m still a little disappointed that they decided to make Kate such a “gothic doll” back in Detective. When she first appeared in 52, she was a long-haired, tan, super-model-type. Yes, this depiction of Kate makes more sense for her character and Rucka did write in a scene explaining why she looks so different now, but it still kind of irks me that it’s such a jarring change. I’ll balance that fairly minor gripe with this praise: I can’t think of a more identifiable and realistic lesbian character in comics. I think the thing that makes her work so well is that her being a lesbian is almost never brought up and not the sole focus of her stories, unlike so many LGBT characters. Remember when Judd Winnick brought in that gay assistant for Kyle when he was writing Green Lantern? The kid had no reason to be there except for Winnick to get up on his high horse and beat us over the head with his heavy-handed pro-gay message. I have no problem with comics teaching socially-conscious messages, but they should do it with more skill than a below-average after-school special. And I think the way they handle Kate is superb: she’s gay, but that’s the least of her notable traits.

As far as this issue goes, I give this an 8/10: a great catch-up with gorgeous art, but definitely a preview of things to come rather than a good story on it’s own. With DC’s lax editors and catering to artist’s demands, I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams’ combining art and writing chores delay this series from time to time. Hopefully Blackman handling half the writing will allow them to make deadlines. Even if not, the occasional delay is probably okay with me if the quality of the art remains up to the high standards Williams has already set.

For further reading:

  • Batwoman: Elegy: The collected edition of the run in Detective Comics I mentioned above. The first time we really get into the meat of Batwoman’s character.
  • DC 52 vols 1-4: The first appearance of Kate as Batwoman and the introduction of the Religion of Crime. There’s a lot going on in this 52-issue mini-series, and while all of it is good, Batwoman’s story comes in and out.
  • Crime Bible: Five Lessons of Blood 1-5: Doesn’t appear to be collected in trade, but this 52 Aftermath mini-series was written by Rucka and gives further detail on the Religion of Crime and involves The Question (Renee Montoya) and Batwoman
  • Final Crisis: Revelations: While Darkseid conquers Earth with the Anti-Life Equation, the Religion of Crime finds an exemplar in the form of Vandal Savage. A great story featuring The Question, The Spectre and Batwoman

    Also of note is the Chase series from the 90s. Most people will point you to Morrison’s Seven Soldiers as a great example of Williams’ artwork, but I think his work on Chase deserves a second look. I believe there’s a trade coming out of the first few issues, or maybe a DC Comics Presents reprint. Check it out if you can’t track down the original issues.

  • Who I Am. How I Come to Be.

    It begins...

    Hello.  How are you?  So happy to see you.

    Welcome to the headquarters of Comic Planet Industries, purveyors of all thoughts comical.  This is the mandatory introduction blog post.  Enjoying it so far?  If you’ll stick with me through what may be a shaky launch, you’ll find a wealth of interesting posts about comic books past and present, comic book news, the comic book industry, comic book fans, my history with comic books, comic book movies and TV shows.  In other words, all things comic books.

    I’ve been reading comics since I was 8 and I’ve been reading regularly for about 16 years.  I grew up reading comics in the so-called Dark Age, when comics hit their big boom in the 90s.  This was the age of chrome covers, poly-bagged comics (with trading cards!), 5 regular Superman books (one each week), 4 monthly Spider-Man books, about a dozen monthly X-Men-related books and obsessive collecting of anything with Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld art.  The prevalent wisdom among comic companies seemed to be if you gave massively muscled men guns, impossibly-bodied women revealing clothes and replaced all of the heroes with younger and/or darker versions of themselves, you could basically print your own money (with glow-in-the-dark ink and holographic pictures of the presidents posing with Lobo).  Nowadays, I feel people look back on this time as laughable, pathetic or just plain wrong.  But I think those people tend to overlook one important fact:  it sold through the roof.  I’m not justifying those decisions and this blog is not about claiming this or any other era of comics is better than another, but I think the Dark Age gets a bum rap.  If you look past the over-the-top trappings, you can find a lot of good stories and attempts at innovation in what was a fairly static genre for the previous 20-something years.

    In my teen years, I worked at a local comic shop here in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA.  Boy, what a revelation that was.  I was introduced not only to the history of DC and Marvel in the form of the back issues on hand in the store, but also a whole new world of comics and companies I never knew existed.  From horror comics to western comics to Vertigo to Dark Horse to newspaper strip collections of Bloom County and Doonesbury, I got a real education into the comics I was missing.  I read as many old comics as I could get my hands on, learning the stories referenced in modern day comics, and then the stories referenced in those old comics and so forth.  I eventually graduated and went to the cloudy fields of Happy Valley, attending Penn State for a degree in Information Sciences.  While I was there, I took so many literature and sociology classes about comics and pop culture I practically had a minor in Media Studies.  Am I an expert?  Of course not, but I like to think I at least know enough to not sound like an idiot.  You be the judge.

    Now I find myself in the modern day of comics, the general theme of which seems to be restoration.  The older comics companies are obsessed with bringing back the older characters and ideas they threw aside in the 80s and 90s, thereby undoing the “mistakes” of those decades.  The irony here is that basically the same ideas are being employed: rewriting the canon of their characters and pasts and taking the current characters and replacing them with different ones.   Same idea, different decade; nothing’s really that different.  The smaller and newer companies are branching out from the superhero genre altogether, producing more horror-based comics (especially zombies and werewolves).  Sounds a lot like the Gaines books in the 1950s after the Golden Age ended to me.  Again: nothing really changes in the comic industry.

    So now that you know a little more about me, your friendly Comic Planet Industries rep, what can you expect from this blog?  Well, hopefully the previous few paragraphs are a little taste in and of themselves.  I’ll be discussing trends in comics and my thoughts on them, reviewing new comics and my picks of the week, sharing my thoughts on new comic movies, checking out local comic shops and sharing some pictures: basically, talking about comics in general.  And I welcome discussion, be it in the form of comments on these blogs, or Comic Planet Industries Facebook posts or tweets over at Twitter.  Please feel free to share your thoughts, agree or disagree, but let’s all remember to be civil with each other:  there’s no such thing as a dumb opinion.

    So sit back, get your M.M.M.S. song at the ready, polish your flight ring and pull your underwear over your pants:  Comic Planet Industries is in your orbit!

    Wait, that sucks.  How about “Comic Planet Industries is going to plummet into your singularity’s gravity!”

    Terrible.  Maybe “Comic Planet Industries is going to dump it’s non-EPA approved toxic runoff all over your soft tissue!”

    Call me an old softie, but I think that one’s a winner.


    Comic Planet Industries Founder, CEO, CIO, CFO, OFC, SOB, President and Dictator-For-Life

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