Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Why Aren't You Reading Superwoman?

We're officially six months into DC's Rebirth project, a line-wide publishing initiative meant to restore the sense of legacy and the bonds between characters back to the DC Universe.   With a mission statement like that, one might almost think that the entire thing would be full of older characters from decades past, but Rebirth has come up with a nice mix of both new and old heroes (and villains!) to give the line the variety it needs.  And right now, for a couple reasons, there are few better new heroes (or comics) coming from DC right now than Superwoman.

Bottom of the Pile - December 21st, 2017


Alters
This could've easily been an overly saccharine moment, as our lady hero Chalice comes out for the first time to her brother, but the combination of dark levity and keeping things focused on other things like being hunted by an insane supervillain cannibal helps to make this the most heartfelt moment of the week for me. 

The theme with"Alters" seems to be that superpowers just can't fix everything.  At the end of last issue a fellow superhero, Morph, got injured during Chalice's first run-in with Matter Man. This issue, we discover that despite being a shapeshifter--the damage done to his spine is seemingly permanent and will leave him unable to walk or use his powers again.  If this were DC or Marvel, I'd be pissed at the idiotic limitations placed on someone who should in theory have complete control over his body--but the sense in Alters is that powers don't always help, sometimes they just complicate. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bottom of the Pile - December 14th, 2016

This was initially going to be a much, much longer article, but Blogger lost my initial draft and I honestly just don't have it in me to start them ALL over again.  So this is an approximation of the best material of the original, before I move on to last week's comics and then THIS week's comics.

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows
 

If you were wondering how Mary Jane as a superhero is going, well...here you go.  Renew Your Vows #2 shows the same day from issue one, only from Mary Jane's perspective.  By doing so, the writer re-frames your entire view of the character, erasing the sort of flighty, flaky girl you're used to and revealing her to be this goals-oriented, driven woman who only seemed flighty because her mind was on a billion things at once.   Showing her as a woman who splits her time between running a clothes shop, a fashion blog, being a mom AND a superhero, Mary Jane is basically the opposite of Peter--she doesn't take pictures or tell jokes, she just punches bad guys in the face and webs off.   Sure, her new name (Spinneret?  Yuck.) needs work, but by the end of this issue Gerry Conway had made MJ seem a strong enough character to justify this book basically being about her.


Detective Comics

This is quite possibly the strongest Batman/Tim Drake panel, ever.  Set just before the start of James Tynion's arc and Batman's formation of his "Gotham Knights", Tim clues Bruce into the true potential of Batman's wide-reaching influence.   What's most fascinating about people who attempt to poke holes into the idea of Batman is how often people bring up that his fortune would be better spent on philanthropic efforts, ignoring that: a.) he already does that, and b.) people do that in real life and the world hasn't magically transformed into a utopia, and we don't have nutcases like the ones in his rogues gallery running around.

But in a comic book that's been consistently great from the moment Tynion started his run, this scene pushes past great and reaches excellence.  It (unintentionally, I'm certain) hints at the eventual DC One Million end of Gotham, which saw the city turned into a crime-free beacon of hope.  Secondly, in just a single two-page splash it encapsulates the entire point of Tim and Bruce's relationship.  The only reason Tim Drake ever donned the cape and mask in the first place is because he believed Bruce needed the light to balance out the darkness of Batman.  And here he is, being that light for Bruce's path into a better tomorrow.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps
If I was trying to downplay how good Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps before, I've got to give it up now.  In a single issue we've reintroduced my favorite Lantern Kyle Rayner, saw him bring back Hal Jordan to life, and made restoring the Blue Lantern Corps (the Hope Lanterns) a major priority going forward.   And that's without even discussing the killer last page reveal.

Since returning from the last universe, the Lanterns have been zipping across creation attempting to re-establish their place as the premiere force for peace and order in all 3600 sectors.  But after a mission on Xudar goes wrong, the team ends up captured on the planet by what initially seems to be Brainiac...until eventually we see the robot hoarder talk about his "master", something that seems initially puzzling until its revealed that Brainiac now serves Larfleeze of the orange light of greed, who realizes he's captured not only whatever exists of the GLC, but the remainder of the Sinestro Corps as well.   It's such a delicious twist and delivered so perfectly that I can't help loving it.

We're truly building up not only the space corner of the DCU, but reviving all these great Corps that were inexplicably torn down not long after Geoff Johns left GL, and it feels awesome.

 Wonder Woman
As I correctly predicted, the eventual twist to the chapters of Wonder Woman set in the present revealed that Diana not only could no longer return home to Themyscira...but that she'd never been.  A fact that was highlighted when she attempted to do so only to meet a version of the Amazons and her mother Hippolyta that were entirely unfamiliar to her.   This means that a lot of the memories Wonder Woman has had since the New 52 began are potentially false, highlighted by the excerpts from future issues that see several of Wonder Woman's villains taking advantage of her weakened mental state, not the least of which being Veronica Cale, Greg Rucka's genius scientist that's meant to be the Amazonian Princess' version of Lex Luthor.

Where am I going with all this?  Well, it's never made sense to me that Wonder Woman was a god(dess) of war, and now this issue of WW seems to agree: Diana explicitly states that Ares is not a patron god of the amazons, even though other comics had very plainly stated she'd taken over Ares' job.    It's not that Diana can't be a goddess--she was the goddess of truth for a brief time in the late 90's--but the desire to bring peace to Patriarch's World that's almost hardcoded into Diana's DNA both in-universe and creatively means that for her to be the goddess of war isn't just weird, it's almost antithetical to her existence.  Having said all that, and seeing this panel here, it's possible we're approaching a point at which it's revealed Diana was never the goddess of war at all.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Uchuu Sentai Kyuuranger: Just when I thought I was out...

(Forewarning: This is going to be more of a rant than a structured post.)

Dammit.  I was done!  Done, I tells ya.  ToQger had a similar appeal to me it'd have to an anal-retentive English teacher: this name looks stupid, get it away from me. Ninninger tried, but ultimately the neat design and ties it had to all the previous ninja-based tokusatsu series couldn't quite compare to how idiotic its main character and how frustrating their teacher both were.   (The rest of the characters besides MomoNinja were just too milquetoast for me to have much of an opinion on.)

And Zyuohger?  The name feels unoriginal, the furries are somehow less cool than Doggy Kruger even though we're a full decade-plus removed from Dekaranger, the suit design is lackluster and the mecha continue to suck almost worse than it usually does, and lately mech design has been lacking with very few exceptions.


Bottom of the Pile: December 7th, 2016

Avengers



Much as I hate to admit it, the second issue of this series isn't nearly as strong as the first.  Last issue, in an attempt to take out his rage on the Avengers for kidnapping his infant self, Kang (and his alternate, paradoxical self the The Scarlet Centurion) went back in time and murdered all the Avengers in their cribs, wiping them out from time.  Well...all except for Hercules, who Kang either considered beneath his notice or was unable to locate at birth.   
This issue, we discover a future version of Kang who discovered the error of his ways basically snatched the Avengers out of time before they could be erased from time, leaving them stranded until a battle with a time-protected Hercules allows them to return for one final battle with Kang.  One in which, despite being Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the group kind of gets smacked around like a bunch of chumps.  They made such a big deal out of having the six of them be enough but honestly it really looks like they could use an Iron Man and maybe a Scarlet Witch or a Quicksilver.  

In any case, it really just feels like not much happens this issue.  Vision realizes they'll only be free of Kang if they return the baby back to his birthplace, but then that just raises the question of: why did we do this at all?   Vision's plan just seems poorly thought out and not really worth the trouble of raising the ire of Kang since they weren't prepared to fight the guy in the first place.  Except Hercules, who had Kang attempt to drain years from his life only to end up backhanding him so hard he got knocked outside reality.

Even the art has kinda lost its appeal to me--last issue it looked mythical, this time it just looks kind of "abstract".  Which is almost certainly appealing to many readers, but given this is a story about on time travel and looks to be visiting the future very, very soon--I'd prefer something a little more concrete, with a sleek style that could embody the futuristic tone things have been going after the team took out that ice dragon in issue one.

Still, I'm onboard for the long haul.  Mark Waid's a genius and I'm certain he's got a few tricks to surprise me before this story's done.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Anime Observations: Nanoha ViVid and ViVid Strike!


Welcome to Anime Observations, a new column on JiH where I take an anime series I've watched and point out a theme or idea that might (or might not) have passed you by on first viewing, and expound on it.  Or if you haven't seen the series, hopefully by reading this you'll take an interest in it and give the show a try.  I tend to pick less popular series, and I'm always happy when a show I liked a lot gains new fans.  For our first installment, we'll be looking at the magical girl series Nanoha ViVid and it's sister spin-off, ViVid Strike!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bottom of the Pile - November 30th, 2016

Since this week is short, I figured I'd take care of it first and go back and knock the others out later.

Batman Annual

I've never been a fan of dogs.  Some can be cute, downright adorable, but I'm still more of a cat person.   Still, this new origin of Ace the Bat-Hound in this year's Batman Annual is the kind of thing that makes you type in all caps 'cause the story is just so cute you can't stand it.

Found after one of the Joker's...weirder escapades, Ace was one of many attack dogs Joker was using until he got bored of them...and stopped visiting, or feeding any of them.  By the time they were found, they'd all attacked and killed one another with only Ace surviving.  Because amongst other things Batman is chiefly a story about taking in broken things and making them less broken, Ace gets adopted by Alfred, who ends up training him to be more obedient and taming his violent instincts.  Over the course of several months, Alfred tirelessly works with Ace---even after the point where freaking Batman gives up on the dog.   But finally, he pulls it off...and weeks later Ace is so nice he's licking Batman's wounds after a particularly nasty night. 

BAM!  Turns out, it's been a gift from Alfred the whole time!  When you really think about it, Alfred's an adoptive father who could only keep Bruce from losing it entirely by indulging this insane crusade of his.   He's not just a dutiful butler--he's been the guy who kept Bruce human.  Long before there was a Lark or a Nightwing or a Robin, there was Alfred--making sure he ate, making sure he slept, making sure there was someone that cared about the man behind the mask.  So what do you get the Man Who REALLY Has Everything for Christmas?   Well.  You've never gotten him a puppy.

I've said it before, but: Tom King GETS Alfred.  And that might sound like a small thing to some of you, but fuck that.  Alfred fucking rules.

Direct Currents
DC Direct Currents is a free magazine meant to update everyone on the status of the post-Rebirth DC.   And it's a genius idea done in the style of the old Wizard comics that you should totally pick up if you wanna see where your favorite characters are and what they'll be up to in their source material.  Just a thought.
Inhumans vs. X-Men
Do not buy this.  I just wanted to point out that the wa they've been written lately, the Inhumans are terrible, awful people.  They aren't anything less than villains at this point, and none of their story has unfolded in a logical fashion since the second Marvel decided these guys should replace the X-Men.   They're trying to normalize something that would've totally been a villainous plan in any other story: a group of super-powered individuals releasing a potentially dangerous cloud onto the ENTIRE PLANET that will forcibly change you into one of them if you have even the tiniest trace of shared DNA with them?   Isn't this the plot of some Avengers story?  And shouldn't the Avengers be punching them in the face, like as we speak?  They're even a militarized monarchy, so no matter how they try to spin it this looks like an act of aggression.
Moreover, any argument that they deserve the right to keep the Terrigen cloud goes out the window the second it's proven (and it's PAST proven at this point) the cloud is utterly fatal to mutants.  I'm sorry, but you don't get to increase the standing of your own people at the cost of another. Emma Frost might be a little insane right now, but it seems like she was a hero for wiping one of the two clouds out in Death of X. 

This prologue to Inhumans vs. X-Men sees Hank try to discover the cure to M-Pox, the Terrigen-originated virus du jour that's killing mutants, but with this issue we discover the only way to cure it would be individual cures for each mutant--a near impossibility to create.  After revealing this to Medusa, she further confirms her villainy by pointing out eventually the X-Men will want to *do* something about the fact that the Terrigen clouds are sterilizing and murdering them, and wants to make sure the Inhumans are united in attempting to crush them for it.  So....yeah.  Awful, unreasonable dicks that I literally just realized are either directly or indirectly responsible for killing my two favorite Marvel characters.  

Ms. Marvel
This is on the pull list because Ms. Marvel is consistently one of the best cape comic books on the stand--G. Willow Wilson has done an excellent job of making Kamala Khan into one of the most likable new characters in the post-Civil War era of Marvel, placing her on a path of fairly constant, consistent progression that's seen her grow from taking down D-List villains to being bad-ass enough to do triple duty between her family, her school life, and being an Avenger.  She knows exactly when to show Kamala succeeding or failing, so things never grow stale from too much success or depressing from too much failure. 

That said: This issue is the kinda on the nose storytelling that's all too common lately and frustrates the crap out of me.  Allegorical stories are usually thinly-veiled ways of talking about a political issue...but at least there's a veil.  This is literally an issue where Kamala learns a member of Hydra is tampering with votes through gerrymandering and expecting to win because most people won't care enough to vote, so she goes out and beats the streets to achieve a (no seriously) 100 percent voting rate to save New Jersey. 

 She goes around and lectures people and explains how voting works in a fashion that feels so rehearsed, I'd almost think it was a two-page ad in the style of the old superhero Hostess mini-comics. If I didn't have an idea as to how comics worked, I'd be weirded out that someone basically came up with their fantasy of how Donald Trump should've lost...except I do, so I know this was scripted out months in advance.  It's cute that they kept rhetoric to a minimum but...ugh.  Even as a liberal this comic made my head hurt--it just felt less like a story and more like being lectured to.  But this isn't common for the comic--Ms. Marvel (and Ms. Wilson) are both much, MUCH better than this--it's usually a much more nuanced comic.  Everyone has an off month.

New Avengers
Writer Al Ewing is one of those creatives that has kinda been around forever but didn't really make an appearance onto the main stage until a few years ago--but from the moment he's been here dude has made an impact.  His Loki was genius meta storytelling, while New Avengers and Ultimates have both been the kind of next-level super-science insanity that cape comics DESPERATELY need in order to stand at the forefront of creativity in comics.

This particular incarnation of Avengers was the result of former X-Man/New Mutant Robert DaCosta buying out AIM and re-purposing it into Avengers Idea Mechanics.  Employing a variety of young heroes including Wiccan, Hulkling, the new Power Man and Max Brashear (the Blue Marvel's formerly evil son) as well as a number of scientists like Toni Ho (granddaughter of Yinsen Ho, the man who helped Tony Stark build his armor)--New Avengers was mostly about the various plans and back-up plans and side gambits played between multi-billionaire entrepreneur Robert DaCosta and an evil version of Reed Richards known as The Maker, along with trying to outmanuever SHIELD, who still believed A.I.M. was just as evil as before, simply with a different Supreme Leader. 

But The Maker was taken out last issue, which just left them with convincing SHIELD once and for all that none of them had turned traitor.  So this issue features DaCosta enacting the ultimate plan for the series' final issue: faking his own death to lure out the final members of the old AIM and shut them down once and for all.  The issue has a lot of hilarious moments as each member of New Avengers finally chooses to go their own separate ways (while beating up left-over factions of SHIELD) as we set up for the next incarnation of DaCosta's team, the USAvengers.   

This was actually one of my favorite comics from the ANAD era for including so many lesser-known new AND old characters--the plotline that saw Robert DaCosta (Sunspot) and his buddy Cannonball become the new Beast and Wonder Man of the Avengers pre-Secret Wars was one of my favorite, and to have this comic pick that up was great.   All too often, the A-List heroes like Cap or Spidey or Iron Man can never really experience that much growth and change, but the B and C-Listers have plenty of freedom for that...if they can ever get the focus.   The growth we've seen from DaCosta from his stories in the late '80's until now is incredible, and I hope they let him keep a title for the forseeable future.



Totally Awesome Hulk
When Bruce absorbed a fatal dosage of radiation as the Hulk, it was Amadeus Cho who found a way to both relieve him of that radiation and his powers as well, choosing to take on the powers of the Hulk himself.  And we've been following the adventures of Amadeus Cho over the past few months as...the Totally Awesome Hulk, as Cho and his sister Maddy tool around America fighting monsters and putting them under control, helping to make everyone see the Hulk as the hero he's always been.

If you've been keeping up with Civil War II, you know that recently Bruce Banner was killed by Hawkeye after a vision by the Inhuman Ulysses "revealed" that Bruce was going to Hulk out in the future and murder most of the superhero community.  Empowered by the abilities of the Hulk, for the last few issues Amadeus has been hunting for Hawkeye/Clint Barton, only to have SHIELD, Captain Marvel, and the Black Panther get in his way--though to little effect.  There's also a story about a monster that feeds on emotion and Cho being abandoned by his sister in this issue, but the first one's just so we can get a little bit of superhero punchy-punchy, and the second thing is something that will play out in later issues.  The real meat of this issue however, is Cho finally getting to confront Banner's killer. 

As unconvincing as it's sounded over in the actual mini-series, Barton was indeed told by Bruce that if he were to ever lose control again that he needed to be stopped, and Clint was the only one of the heroes that would've had both the ability and the guts to go through with it.  Setting aside whatever problems you'd have with the plot behind that--Clint's not a heartless dick, and Banner was his friend.  So he maybe has the steel to go through with it, but what does taking the life of a close friend of yours do to you in the aftermath?  And the very existence of Cho as Hulk is a sign that your judgment might have been wrong and you killed a normal human can only compound the guilt. 

As for Cho--earlier in the issue, after his ego gets the better of him and he rushes off against his sister's cooler head, she points out rightly that he's not a bad person.  When he found Hawkeye he was never going to kill him--but this page came as a bit of a shock to me.  Two men bonding over the loss of a friend.  And yeah, how the whole thing played out is twisted and fucked up, but the life of a superhero is often twisted and fucked up.  I just appreciate Greg Pak for allowing the bombastic actions of Civil War II a stage for the emotional conflict that should follow to play out.