Category Archives: comics

And the Goodreads Challenge score is…

31 out of 52! Well, I’ve learned that these things can be very valuable once you let go of self-flagellation if you don’t make it. Because the thing is, you end up achieving more with an ambitious goal, even if you fall short of it, than if you aim low. I’ll keep it brief here, since I haven’t done an update in a while. The final books were:

When The Past Is Present  (David Richo, 2008, 224 pp.)
A friend recommended this to me two years ago or so, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. David Richo uses conventional psychology, Jungian psychology and Buddhist concepts to explore how issues from childhood and past relationships can cloud our present relationships, and how we can learn to recognize and process them so we can be truly present. If I hadn’t already done A LOT of this kind of work in the past few years, this book would have landed on me like a thunderbolt. It strongly affected and challenged me as it was. Recommended for anyone who has had issues with unresolved issues from the past affecting the present. In other words, everyone.     

Sliver  (Dave Morrison, 2008, 108 pp.)
Here’s the deal: If you’re a 40ish former rock musician from New York & Boston who currently lives with your wife in my dreaming-of-living-there state Maine, and I run across your book during a trip to Portland, Maine just as I’m ready for a new volume of poetry, I’m going to get it. As it turns out, in subject matter and sensibility, Morrison is my kind of poet even if the form of his poetry doesn’t always work for me.   

Foundation Trilogy  (Isaac Asimov, 1961, 678 pp.)
We’d read several things by Asimov in my late great Sci-fi Book Club, but we never got around to this, widely considered to be one of his masterworks. About the only thing I can say about it that isn’t superlative is that the dialogue ends up sounding a little dated (1950sish, in fact) at times. Otherwise, you have an epic sweep of future history, political intrigue, twists and surprises, and, as always, Asimov’s shrewd and compassionate understanding of how people are.    

Powers: Roleplay  (Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming, 2001, 110 pp.)
If you have a fondness for superhero comics and you haven’t read Powers yet, I highly recommend it. The series centers upon a pair of cops (one of them with an intriguing secret past) who investigate crimes involving super-powered individuals. In this volume, they’re investigating the murders of a group of college kids who were role-playing superheroes. Bendis is a superb writer, Oeming is a superb (though highly stylized) artist, and the whole thing is just fun. Get on board!      

Ultimate Spider-man Ultimate Collection II  (Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley, 2009, 308 pp.)
And here have Brian Michael Bendis’ second appearance on this list, in a volume that brings together issues 14-27 of Ultimate Spider-man. Marvel’s used-to-be-great “Ultimate” line took characters from Marvel’s mainstream Universe and retold their tales in a setting stripped of the main continuity’s decades of story-line, giving things a chance to be fresh and new again. So here we get Peter Parker back to his roots, a teenager learning the ropes as Spider-man while also dealing with crushes, bullies and high school, and in a more modernized setting. Good clean fun all around, including the most realistic portrayal ever of what would really happen if the totally-human Kraven fought the strongly super-powered Spider-man. My only complaint is that the teen love melodrama got a little needlessly thick at the end. Ah well, kids. What can you do?      

JLA Vol. 1: New World Order  (Grant Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell, 1997, 93 pp.)
Let’s not dodge the truth: for a lot of the 70s and 80s, DC sucked. Then, starting in the 90s, several creators stepped in, remembered that they were dealing with the world’s greatest heroes, and started to have fun with them again. Grant Morrison’s work with the JLA was one of the signposts of this, and here we have the first volume of his run as writer for the group. The artists, well, let’s just say they haven’t quite caught up yet (that will come later in the series), but the tale is solid good old-fashioned fun.   

Superman/Batman Vol 6: Torment  (Alan Burnett, Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs, 2009, 160 pp.)
I do love my Superman/Batman. They’re both such icons, and there’s so much that somebody who understands how to bring out the contrast between them can do, purely in terms of characterization, to make a great story. Throw in some cosmic shenanigans and great artists, and you get a grand tale here. It’s marred a little bit by tie-ins to the most recent grand Universe-shaking hullabaloo that DC was doing at the time, but otherwise is a rollicking good time.    

So there we are for 2012. And what’s on the docket for 2013? (But first, let’s pause here for a second to say, “Holy crap! It’s going to be 2013! How did that happen? And are there flying cars yet?”) I don’t think I’ll be doing the Goodreads challenge again, instead I’ll be challenging myself to read the collected works of two of my muses, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. To whit, Ginsberg’s collected poems 1947-1997, and all the works Kerouac published in his lifetime, plus two published after. More description to follow…

And Happy New Year! See you in 2013!

Review: Ultimatum, Superman/Batman: Enemies Among Us

As I believe I have mentioned in this blog once or twice, in my old age I’ve found myself becoming more than a little Bi. No, no, no, no! What I mean is: while in my youth I was a Marvel purist, I’ve developed quite a fondness for DC over the last few years. These days, I can swing either way. So, appropriately, here are reviews for trade paperbacks from both publishers that I recently finished. 

Ultimatum (Jeph Loeb/David Finch, Marvel, 2010, originally Ultimatum #1-5)

What a sad, ignoble end to one of the most noble creative ventures Marvel had launched since the early 80s. When I got back into comics again following separation and divorce in the early 00s, I discovered the “Ultimate” line that Marvel had launched, and it was a beautiful thing- They basically took their flagship characters and started a whole new Universe around them. One where powers were more limited, the world was more realistic, and decades of twisted storyline were erased, bringing the characters back to their essence. I wasn’t the only one who loved it, so much so that there was talk for a while of the Ultimate line replacing the “regular” Marvel Universe. Then sales for the “Ultimate” line of titles started falling toward the end of the decade, and Marvel decided, along with cancelling the series involved, to more or less destroy the whole damn world they were set in. And man does this series do that! Now, one could imagine an interesting, perhaps even revelatory, take on that. What you’ll get here, though, is just a ham-fisted bloodbath that seems keen on delivering shock, and totally uninterested in substance. As a result, all your favorite characters, and everything new and fresh that the Ultimate line delivered is lost, and nothing is gained. What a waste! I could go on about other defects of this series, but instead I’d like to point you to something more worth your time: read the first 6 Ultimate X-Men trade paperbacks, the first few Ultimate Spider-man ones, Ultimates Volume I and II and the Ultimate Galactus trilogy. This will remind you what a great thing they had going before they decided to take a dump all over it, and how disappointing it is that they couldn’t give it a more fitting swan song.           

Superman/Batman: Enemies Among US (Mark Verheiden/Ethan Van Sciver/Matthew Clark/Joe Benitez, DC, 2007, originally Superman/Batman #28-33)

I’m glad I was reading both of these at the same time, as this helped wash the bad taste of Ultimatum out of my mouth. I’ll go spoiler light and just note a few things that fancied my fancy about Enemies Among Us. Since Superman/Batman spent the first twenty-five some-odd issues on what was essentially one through storyline (collected in Public Enemies, Supergirl, Absolute Power & Vengeance), this volume had to be about something new. And it was! The storyline deals with aliens (and the irony that Earth’s greatest defender, Superman, is himself an alien), and in the process rolls out some of the great aliens of DC past and present. The entire story is also narrated by Alfred the Butler, Batman/Bruce Wayne’s ubiquitous manservant, which proves to be a nifty framing device. Beyond that, it’s just fun! Writer Mark Verheiden explains in the afterword how he deliberately sought to evoke the spontaneity and unselfconcious “anything goes” spirit of Silver Age DC. He succeeds beautifully in a way that nevertheless works with the more darkly nuanced storytelling of current comics. About my only complaint would be that having four artists in six issues does undermine the unity of your storytelling a little. But two of those four (Ethan Van Sciver and Joe Benitez) are excellent, one (Matthew Clark) is extraordinary, and the fourth, well, they only subject us to 8 pages of him. All in all, this trade paperback takes you on a ride I can heartily recommend.   

Review: Superman/Batman: Vengeance

Superman/Batman: Vengeance (Jeph Loeb/Ed McGuiness, DC, 2006, originally Superman/Batman #20-25)

Dearest Blog, I don’t know if we’ve ever discussed this before, but I am a comics collector from way back. Probably this is not news to you, given my other proclivities, but just for the record, there it is. 

In my earliest form, in the halcyon age of those spinny metal wracks in supermarkets, I was a fan of horror comics. I would load up every time my parents went shopping. As I got a little older, I became an acolyte of Marvel. This was in the early-mid 80s, when they were really the shit- The X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor, Spiderman et al were in the midst of some of their best runs. Except for following writer/artist John Byrne’s run on Superman when he went to DC from Marvel, and Frank Miller’s work on Batman, I wasn’t very interested in DC. Compared to Marvel’s attempts at psychological and physical realism, DC was just a little too cartoony, too hokey, with the fake cities (Metropolis, Central City, etc.), unlimited god-like powers, silly weaknesses like kryptonite and the color yellow.

As with many things that had been a key part of my life (writing being front and center on that list), I put down comics when I went to graduate school in the mid-90s. My soul went into hibernation and life got more and more off track. After recovery and separation and other major life changes, I began to pick up things again (writing being front and center!) in 2002. And so comics have returned to my life, fueled by the collections of storylines into big softcover trade paperbacks that has become one of the major distribution modes of the 2000s.

I’ve caught up with some great stuff this decade. And to my surprise, I’ve found that in my old age I’ve become a big fan of DC. In part, it’s certainly because younger writers and artists have shaken up the formerly staid world of DC. But I think it also reflects my own ability to connect now, after a lot more of life’s twists and turns, with the basic, archetypal legends that DC has to offer. They deliver comics myth-making in its most elemental form.

None are more archetypal than Superman and Batman, two golden oldies still running strong after 70 years. Each has several monthly series devoted to them, but they also co-starred during the 2000s in Superman/Batman. I have dearly loved it for how it takes the two biggest toys in the DC Universe, presents them at the peak of their careers, and spins an ongoing storyline involving the two of them but liberally drawing on heroes and villains from all over DC. 

This is the fourth collection from that series, and it’s a doozy! I’m allergically opposed to spoilers, so I won’t give away much that you don’t learn in the first few pages: Superman and Batman find themselves crossing paths in a parallel universe with the Maximums, a wonderful parody/homage of the “Ultimate” version of Marvel’s Avengers. This could be a throwaway concept in the wrong hands, but the Maximums are very well done, the kind of loving forgery that shows as much affection as cattiness toward Marvel. Along the way, alternate Supermans and Batmans galore enter in, as do Bizarro and Batzaro. The series also draws in threads from almost everything that’s happened in issues 1-19. You should probably read the other three collections first (“Public Enemies”, “Supergirl” and “Absolute Power”), but once you’re done, this volume delivers international, intergalactic and interdimensional fun in a way that only DC can get away with.