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From the Archives: Superman #650

superman0650Up, Up, and Away! (part 1)

Writers: Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns
Artist: Pete Woods
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Associate Editor: Nachie Castro
Editor: Matt Idelson
Cover Artists: Terry & Rachel Dodson
Cover Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

It’s been a year since Superman apparently disappeared, and the fine folks of Metropolis have moved on, though many take an evening to revisit the past, watching a retrospective on the life and times of their favorite son. Among the spectators are Lois Lane and Clark Kent, who discuss the authenticity of the retrospective with a couple different viewpoints. Shortly after, other familiar elements of the Superman story are reintroduced–Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, Perry White. A familiar "villain" is introduced here as well–one that may be familiar to older readers, but I’m not sure this character has appeared in the Superman comics since the mid-80s reboot. As this villain is attended to, we as readers are clued into at least part of why Superman has been absent for a year.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this issue. I’ve been concerned at the idea of "my" Superman–that is, the character (re)introduced in Byrne‘s Man of Steel mini-series–being shuffled off to the side in favor of yet another/different reimagining of the character. While this is only the first of an 8-parter that re-establishes the character post-Infinite Crisis, the writing team of Busiek & Johns has assuaged some of my concerns as several aspects that have defined the character and supporting cast for the last 18+ years are re-established here. However, there seem to be a number of minor or subtle shifts that distance things from the past, settling the characters very much in a sort of "timeless" present.

Busiek wrote my favorite Superman story in 2004’s Superman: Secret Identity. Johns on the other hand has written some other very compelling stories that I have really enjoyed over the past several years (including pulling me into following The Flash for 30 issues after never previously caring for the character). That said, both writers have a lot to live up to in my eyes, and for the moment, I’ll cautiously advance the idea that yes, they have lived up to those high standards.

The writing here is clear and definitely gets across the idea first of the broad strokes of Superman’s history that just about anyone will be vaguely familiar with (whether you know the character solely from last month’s issues, the Christopher Reeve films, Smallville, Lois & Clark, a parent/grand-parent’s stack of older comics, or just picking up on elements from years of the character’s suffusion of popular culture. If this is the first-ever comic starring Superman that you’ve read, you’ve got yourself a good starting point. If you’ve been following these comics for 20 years, you’ve got a good read that revalidates the character for the present, showing that both the old and newer elements can come together in a single well-written manner that gives us a story of Superman.

Offhand, I am unfamiliar with Pete Woods‘ art, but this issue makes for a good introduction. Everything seems nice and clear/clean–reading along with the story, the art shows exactly what is going on and pretty much just does it’s job of enhancing the written word to contribute to the overall look and feel of the issue. The art’s not perfect–but very little is. The main quibble I have is the depiction of the S-shield; it comes across a bit too "shiney" or metallic for my own tastes.

However–whether in Woods‘ art itself or the coloring (or both)–this issue somehow has a "brighter" feel to it than a lot of recent DC issues–by design or not, this lends itself to this being an upbeat, bright start to a new "generation" of Superman.
I very much recommend this issue, whether you are a new, old, or an on-the-fence reader.

superman0650_blogtrailer

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Zero Hour Revisited – Legion of Super-Heroes #61

90srevisited_zerohour

legionof_superheroes_0061End of an Era Finale: Borrowed Time!

By: Waid, McCraw, Immonen, Boyd, Pinaha, McAvennie, Carlson
Special Thanks to: Kurt Busiek
Dedicated with Respect and Admiration to: Binder, Siegel, Shooter, Levitz, Giffen and The Bierbaums
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

OK…now THAT is the sort of thing I was expecting!

This issue sees the remaining LoSH members and Legionnaires united, and learn the truth of the Time-Trapper. It’s not just their "now" and such being threatened by the time issues…it’s all of Time itself! And it’s revealed that there’s nothing that can be done here/now to STOP entropy from engulfing everything…but for there to be ANY chance of Time being put right, a duality, the existence of both the older and younger Legion folks–must be resolved. This is by having the young doppelgangers "merged" with their older, original selves…even as the older selves are also about to fade out. And so it ends…lives given, a heroic sacrifice, for even the CHANCE of an eventual positive outcome.

The story is rightly called End of an Era, and this felt enormous.

Unlike the other Legion tie-ins to Zero Hour that were also chapters of End of an Era–this one I felt the enormity, the significance, that sense of this being a pivotal moment–not just for what it has to do with Zero Hour (not much, directly) but also for what it is to the history of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legion is a definite blind-spot for me…but I’ve often been "aware of" their presence with occasional interactions with other stuff I’m reading. And I know there have been a number of "reboots" and such, just as I recall the "5 Years Later" and the younger Legionnaires…because even though I didn’t follow the series, I DO recall getting that first issue–Legionnaires #1–because hey, it was the ’90s, it was polybagged with a card, and most importantly–it was a #1 (then still a rare thing compared to modern comics).

I actually enjoyed this issue. I don’t know all the names–but most were "familiar," both in general and from earlier chapters read recently. And I recognize Thom as a character who was involved in JSA stuff during Geoff Johns‘ run–at least around the time of Thy Kingdom Come, a few years back. Though this was read in a vacuum (if somewhat LESS of a vacuum for reading the Legionnaires and Valor chapters already, plus stuff in Zero Hour itself), it was enjoyable and worth reading. I’m genuinely interested in at least "looking into" more Legion stuff (if only via Wikipedia), and curious about how long both this version of the Legion title and Legionnaires actually ran…but not quite enough to look it up while typing.

I’m a bit mixed in feelings on the visuals…I’m not entirely thrilled with them, but the art worked well here. Particularly seeing Immonen‘s name, I feel like I should enjoy the art, and there’s that part of me that wants to say something proactively positive about it, but flipping back through the issue, I’m not really struck by anything overly stand-out about it. It is not bad, but it’s–as with most comics–not one that blows me away with some sense of singular awesomeness. The story is definitely gotten across, and here perhaps more than on other related issues, the fade-to-white is extremely effective both visually and in serving the LoSH story while also tying it concretely to Zero Hour.

Though this does not directly move the plot of Zero Hour forward, it is certainly a worthy tie-in, and one of (continually, surprisingly) few to carry the crossover banner that seems to have been justified in doing so.

Zero Hour Revisited – Valor #23

90srevisited_zerohour

valor_0023End of an Era part 5: Infinite Valor

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Penciller: Colleen Doran
Inker: Dave Cooper
Letterer: Bob Pinaha
Colorist: Dave Grafe
Assistant Editor: Mike McAvennie
Editor: KC Carlson
Partners in Time Travel: Mark Waid and Tom McCraw
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

Of the books I’ve been least-familiar with and had never read before, Valor #23 does quite well as something I didn’t feel terribly lost in the reading…at the least, it was easier to follow along than the Legionnaires issue, given this has a smaller cast (by far!) to juggle, and I already had a bit of expectation from having read the Superboy issue that referenced this one in a footnote!

We find Valor and his wife traveling to meet up with the Legion, though as they travel they’re dealing with the changing, shifting winds of time, with neither past nor future holding steady one moment to the next. As a sort of "side story" within the issue, we also follow an encounter/conversation between the Time Trapper and Rokk–who was trapped in a cosmic archive, reading for years and gaining in knowledge of all Time. While Valor and Tasmia link up with the Legion and join the ongoing fight with Mordru and Glorith, Rokk learns a great deal from the Time Trapper about the nature of this Legion and the Legionnaires as well as the Trapper himself….and Trapper references his experience from Zero Hour #4, which proved an instigating moment for his actions now in End of an Era. Amidst the Legion’s battle, another figure pops into existence–Superboy–playing into/around/with the Zero Hour stuff as well as general Time-stuff because this is a Legion story. And with the conclusion of this issue, we have the conclusion of the series.

I was surprised to see Busiek’s name on this…I either had never realized or never made the conscious connection of his ever having touched this title. Reading stuff in the Letters pages I saw reference to Mark Waid…and I start to suspect that if it was Waid and Busiek on this book, that could be why I’ve only come across the occasional issue in bargain bins! I recall both this title as well as the Eclipso title "spinning out of" the Eclipso: The Darkness Within Annuals event to a bit of fanfare, but never really seeing much come of them, as neither series quite lasted even two years (yet by modern standards they were actual, FULL runs, on par with anything Avengers or Spider-Man or X-Men related!).

Since the focus in this issue was on Valor, and the Rokk/Trapper stuff, even though I’m not overly familiar with the characters, it was easier to follow along than trying to make sense of numerous characters/relationships and interactions. As such, I definitely enjoyed this a lot more, and there’s something about reading a "Final issue" of something that doesn’t exactly have a hard end so much as it ends individually while leaving stuff open for the character(s)/story to continue elsewhere.

The art is a bit wonky to me in places, particularly the opening page, with perspectives and faces and such seeming a bit inconsistent and proportions a bit "off" somehow. There’s also a sketchiness to the linework that isn’ entirely appealing to me, and gives a much different appearance than other artists. That said, for what we get here, everything’s quite follow-able, and I imagine the visuals are consistent with prior issues and would not be quite as noticeable as they are in this if I was reading the Valor series itself and not an isolated issue at the end of its run.

So far I get the feeling that the Legion side of the DCU is dealing with a double-pronged Time crisis…the Zero Hour related one as well as wonky time anyway due to time travel and such. I’m sort of curious about the actual Legion issue, where-ever it falls now in the Zero Hour month’s worth of books, given TWO of the three chapters of End of an Era fell on the same week. As the final issue of that initial week of releases (based on some checklist I’d used to organize by stack of the complete Zero Hour Event), this provides a lower than ideal point, but definitely not at the bottom of the list. It’s easy to write off events as not having much of an effect on books, but I do recall the JSA and the Legion being quite heavily impacted by Zero Hour, whatever other characters were hit.

Astro City (2013) #3 [Review]

astrocity003Mistakes

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
Lettering & Design: John G. Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Color Art: Alex Sinclair
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Assistant Editor: Jessica Chen
Executive Editor: Shelly Bond
Published by: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

I’ve always quite enjoyed stories set in a superhero universe that focus on the “regular people” in the world; how they are affected by the mere EXISTENCE of the super-heroes; how their lives are different from ours, for that “reality.” And I’ve found no series more consistent at delivering that than Astro City, whoever’s publishing the title at the time.

While I thought #1 was starting a single ongoing story, it seems that was either a red herring or something to be revisited later, as last issue gave a whole different story, which is picked up again in this issue.

After realizing her mistake and what she seems to have set off–a huge war between Honor Guard and the Skullcrushers–that’s resulted in much collateral damage and loss of life, our heroine first goes home sick, before resolving to take action…self-imposed penance, essentially. She takes it upon herself to use what resources she has access to, to try to assist those negatively impacted by her mistake, though this leads to another unintended result for her…and inadvertently proves her worth to those she most assumes sees none in her.

The art is clear and consistent as usual, the coloring and overall tone maintaining “the look and feel” I associate with Astro CityRoss‘ cover and ANDERSON’S interiors both.

The story feels like a “typical” sort, for this title in whatever its iteration (Wildstorm, Vertigo, etc)…which is to say it doesn’t blow me away in the way that, say, the #1/2 issue did from all those years back, but this is still darned good stuff!

This issue IS the second of a 2-part story, so while there’s plenty of context to “get” what’s going on in this issue, it’s likely far more appreciable if you at least snag #2 as well and read this in context of that…though you do not need to go all the back to #1.

Definitely recommended!

Astro City (2013) #2 [Review]

Astro City (2013) #2Welcome to HumanoGlobal

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
Lettering & Design: John G. Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Color art: Alex Sinclair
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Assistant Editor: Jessica Chen
Published by: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

$3.99 sucks. I’m really, really very tired of this price point. I think I’m going to keep making sure that’s extremely well-documented in these reviews and other blog posts until I eventually give up on new comics altogether.

That said, if you’re going to pay $3.99 for a single issue of a comic, there are few better series out there than Astro City. Even when you don’t know what the issue will be about or it deviates from the previous issue or whatever…it’s hard not to look back on a given issue without a bit of a smile and some disbelief at how much it was enjoyed and sheds different light on superhero stuff typically taken for granted or outright not often considered.

This issue focuses on a new employee of a hotline–said hotline turns out to be for a call center that weeds out the truly important calls for the Honor Guard, and in other cases outright makes connections allowing Honor Guard to be sent after villains/terrorists before they have a chance to enact plans that would otherwise leave the heroes reactive rather than proactive. We see bits of her training, the sorts of calls she takes, and the excitement with her teammates when they manage to catch a big call and be part of the overall “process” that leads to the saving of so many lives. Though they largely have to keep the true nature of their work secret from family and non-work friends, they find certain perks within their work…but also learn that one mistake can be very costly.

The art is strong as usual for an Astro City issue; everyone who should look familiar does, and those that don’t still look quite good. While the story itself isn’t your usual fare, the sequences with superhero action look as one might expect (if not a bit on the higher end quality-wise) while the normal people look…normal.

Story-wise, this is another great outing, showing that Busiek knows his stuff–and does very well giving us a look at the human side of things, as “normal humans” interact in a world filled with super-powered beings and threats, and how the culture itself is impacted by their very existence.

While I missed this issue on Wednesday and thought “oh well” I quickly realized that no, I actually really wanted to read this, and it became the entire reason of going back to a comic shop Friday rather than simply waiting and picking it up with next week’s books. There really aren’t many series that do that for me.

Provided you have any background at all with Astro City–I’d especially recommend the first TPB Life in the Big City (there’s even a new edition out now)–you’d actually be fine jumping in on this issue without even having read #1…which is another strength of this series: there are a lot of short arcs and done-in-one issues, rather than the “standard” fare from DC and Marvel necessitating 4-6 issues’ investment just for a single story.

I’d largely prefer to hold off for the collected volumes, but for now, this return of Astro City is such a welcome thing, I’m likely to keep going with the single issues for at least a few more months.

Astro City (2013) #1 [Review]

Astro City (2013) #1 [cover]Through Open Doors (Part One)

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
Lettering & Design: John G. Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Color Art: Alex Sinclair
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Assistant Editor: Jessica Chen
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

I’m pretty sure it’s been a few years since I’ve read Astro City. The last I recall, I left off during the Dark Age saga: as I’m typing this, I don’t even recall why I never finished. Might be I’d grown bored; maybe I was “protesting” a cover price if they were $3.99, whatever.

This new #1 is $3.99, but since it seems EVERYTHING is $3.99…I’d really have to just give up comics entirely, now, to “protest” the price point (and I am a lot quicker to find any “excuse” to outright “drop” a title as a result).

But Astro City! The series is back–after awhile under Image/Homage, then the Wildstorm banner and limbo when Wildstorm was terminated, I’d wondered where we’d see the series pop up. And now it’s under Vertigo, which while I wouldn’t consider this a title exactly fitting with Vertigo (moreso that I wouldn’t limit this series to the older crowd) means it’s still under DC, which is what it is. And as a new #1…I’ll bite for the first issue…particularly given the nostalgia factor and that I’ve generally enjoyed Astro City stuff that I’ve read.

We open with a strange man speaking to us of some looming threat, and we’re introduced to American Chibi, a sort of “overlooked” heroine of Astro City (that when you focus on the big ones, obviously some are going to be missed). We’re re-introduced to some familiar faces as well as new; see the city introduced to some powerful new alien, and a “common citizen” chosen to befriend him and be his guide to understanding the Earth. And finally, against his protestations, we learn a potentially disturbing fact about our narrator that can cast the whole story in a new light.

The creative team behind this issue is quite familiar, lending a continued consistency to the title as it’s been bounced from imprint to imprint: the cover logos may change, but the story, the art, the characters–those remain constants, creatively.

As the art is “standard” Astro City art by Anderson, everyone who should look familiar does, and I had no trouble following along…and there was no weird anatomy to throw me off with anyone (well, no weird anatomy that shouldn’t be there), no weirdly constructed pages/panels to leave me scratching my head. Basically, the visual side was a smooth ride all the way through the issue, with nice detail and all the right “touches” I expect of an Astro City comic.

The story left me a bit hesitant at first, but quickly drew me in. I quickly found myself first thinking of this narrator in terms of Doctor Who, which (to me) was rather amusing in a way, and then another sort of familiarity set in, and just when I felt I was getting to “know” the him, the end of the issue changes things rather dramatically.

Overall, the issue does what I’d want in a first issue, especially one like this where it’s an older, continuing property, but the RETURN of that property after several years’ hiatus. We get new characters and old; and we get the details pertaining to the story, that we need, in the story. Having a “history” with Astro City, I pick up on allusions to other stuff, other characters–but even so, I haven’t read any of those in years myself, so I’m foggy on details. But that in no way hinders this story; if anything it just makes me want to go back and re-read some older Astro City stories.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a great return to the series’ existence. I’d originally thought to just try this first issue, “for old time’s sake,” and let that be that…but I’m pretty likely to actually go ahead and snag the next issue.

The ’90s Revisited: Spider-Man Team-Up #7 (featuring the Thunderbolts)

Old Scores

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Sal Buscema, Dick Giordano
Lettering: Comicraft’s Team Dave
Colors: Tom Smith
Cover: Steve Lightle, Mark McNabb
Assistant Editor: Glenn Greenberg
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99
Cover Date: June 1997

I remember the hype around the whole Heroes Reborn thing. After the Onslaught event (which began as an X-Men “event” and spread to the wider Marvel Universe), the Fantastic Four and the more prominent Avengers (specifically Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man) were shunted to another universe and “our” Marvel Universe was left without its heroes–just mutants more hated and feared than ever before.

And I remember learning of some new super-hero group, the Thunderbolts. Without researching and lacking 100% memory, I want to say they first appeared in an issue of The Incredible Hulk, and were going to be seen around the Marvel Universe, filling in a bit of the void left by the other heroes’ disappearance. Then I learned they were getting their own series. Cool…an actual brand-new super-hero group. And of course, thanks to (most probably Wizard) I was “spoiled” as to their Great, Dark Secret–though it would be a few months after Heroes Return when Hawkeye left the Avengers to go insert himself as leader of the Thunderbolts that I started buying their title–I actually, truly followed Hawkeye FROM the pages of Busiek‘s Avengers to Busiek‘s Thunderbolts.

So though I was aware of them, it was a good way into the run that I started with Thunderbolts–it’s only been in the years since that I’ve gradually been acquiring their earlier appearances–the Hulk issue(s?), and even the early issues of their own series. And when I saw this issue in a bargain-bin recently, it hit on some interesting buttons for me, just from the cover and concept.

For one thing…it’s a ’90s bargain-bin issue…to me, you can hardly go wrong getting a ’90s comic for only 25-cents (or less, even, with the right bargains or bulk-purchases!). For another, this is an early appearance of the Thunderbolts (I believe their own #1 is cover-dated May 1997, this is cover-dated June ’97). So this would be within the earliest concept of the Thunderbolts characters–before they were “outed” to the world for actually being the Masters of Evil (not really a spoiler, it’s been 15+ years AND it’s detailed within this very issue). And as a bonus, ’90s Spider-Man long before any talk of One More Day or a Brand New Day (and as I found out reading this, no talk of clones, either!)

I often lament contemporary comics’ high prices–hating the $3.99 price point and wishing for the previously-lamented $2.99-from-$2.50-or-less as $2.99 by comparison is much preferable. And here, this comic from 15 years ago is carrying a $2.99 cover price…but it’s a 38-paged issue (easily $4.99 or $5.99 and an “Annual” at that, these days!). Reasonably-priced at $2.99 with the extra pages, putting it well enough in line with $2 cover prices for 20-22 pages at the time.

The story itself is at once simple and cliched as well as nicely layered. When a guard at a warehouse is killed, a survivor sees a figure making a getaway that can only be Spider-Man! The mayor’s office reaches out to the Thunderbolts, to track Spidey down and bring him in for questioning…a task some on the team are all-too-thrilled to take on. The ‘bolts split into three groups to take on different aspects of their task–looking into the crime site, specifically searching for Spidey, and keeping an eye on a potential target-site. Continue reading

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