28 February 2017

Review: The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Volume 2 by James Roberts, Alex Milne, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2012)
Acquired August 2014
Read December 2016
The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Volume 2

Written by James Roberts
Art by Alex Milne & Nick Roche
Colors by Josh Burcham & Joana Lafuente
Letters by Shawn Lee & Chris Mowry

Even when reading a good Transformers comic, I still struggle. I guess I'll just have to accept this as a fact of life. But seriously, it is hard to tell robots apart when they don't have voice actors to provide you with another dimension of recognition. The problem with volume 2 of More than Meets the Eye is that the first two issues here are part of a story about medical robots-- and most medical robots are colored red. So keeping track of which guy is which was very taxing, and sometimes I made bad identifications that hampered my enjoyment of the story. The third story here introduces a group of scrappy Decepticon deserters, an idea I fundamentally enjoy, but man if keeping track of a whole new set of characters is just a bit too taxing for me. On the whole I didn't like this as much as the first volume, and I think it might be because of those factors; it's hard to get emotionally invested if you can't remember which robo-guy is which!

However, there's still a lot to enjoy. I do like Ratchet, the Lost Light's chief medical officer, a lot, and there's even a nice throwback to the Furman-written -ations series when Ratchet manifests his holomatter avatar, which I (like the characters) had totally forgotten about. Plus the way Ratchet gets his hands back is awesome and unexpected and dark.

The second story here was very good-- it's a hostage tale, where Rung the unassuming psychoanalyst is captured by Fortress Maximus, and the crew has to figure out a way to liberate him (as well as Whirl, Rung's current patient). A recurring theme of More than Meets the Eye is how psychologically damaged all these bots are by years of unremitting war, and this story brings a lot of that to the surface. My favorite moments are often those where the characters forge real connections between themselves, like when the hostage situation causes Whirl to confess something he never would in years of sessions with Rung:
Aw, poor Rung.
from The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye #6 (art by Nick Roche)

And like I said, though I found all the new characters hard to keep track of, I was predisposed to like a tale of Decepticon failures (the Scavengers) working to avoid the Decepticon Justice Division coming after them for desertion. The story is simultaneously dark and hilarious, something I'm quickly learning is a trademark of both James Roberts in general and this series in particular. Take for example this exchange:

27 February 2017

Review: Bringing Down Gaddafi by Andrei Netto

Hardcover, 302 pages
Published 2014 (originally 2012)

Acquired June 2014
Read February 2017
Bringing Down Gaddafi: On the Ground with the Libyan Rebels
by Andrei Netto

I now know more about the Libyan Civil War of 2011 than I did before, which is good, but I don't think Netto told his story as well as he might have. (Though, of course it could always be the fault of his translator.) Netto spent some time with Libyan revolutionary forces during the Arab Spring, and his firsthand experience is valuable, but sometimes I felt like I was drowning in dull details. Periodically, though, a striking event or image manages to break through the monotony: the actual death of Gaddafi, Netto's own time in a Libyan prison (and the events leading up to it), time spent in an overwhelmed hospital after the revolution (the description of how the hospital's pool changed color as people started to bathe in it will stick with me), the discovery that Gaddafi's daughter (supposedly killed in American airstrikes in the 1980s) was alive and well and working as a doctor. A lot of interesting tidbits, but not as interesting an overall package as I'd hoped.

24 February 2017

Well, if you can't get a tenured professor, why not just hire the next guy to break into your headquarters?

My wife and I must be watching tv unusually briskly, because it's been less than a month since we finished series 2 of Primeval, and we're already done with series 3.

It's just not the same without him
saying "anomalies" in his Scottish accent.
You know how television programmes go off the rails sometimes? Just, like, they totally abandon what kind of sense underpinned them? Series 3 of Primeval is like that. You may recall that it's about a crack team of evolutionary biologists hunting temporally displaced animals. Well, one of those biologists (Steve the Sexy Postdoc) died at the end of series 2. Another one (the professor and team leader) dies in episode 3. This leaves just Connor and Abby as the biology experts on the team-- and Connor, I should point out, has suffered the kind of character drift that takes someone from "knows a lot about dinosaurs and Star Trek" to "knows how to hack things and build incredibly complicated technological devices." I mean, he looks geeky, obviously he can do anything the plot requires.

Do military officers really carry
shells on them at all times?
There's a whole sequence of tumultuous cast changes during the series. At the beginning of series 3, Captain Hilary Becker debuts, replacing Steve the Sexy Postdoc as the Sexy Man of Action. Only I could never even remember his name, so nondescript is his character, and generally just called him "Captain Sexy." They make a joke in episode 10 about how he's obsessed with guns and nothing else-- and the joke doesn't land at all because his characterization doesn't even rise to the level of "obsessed with guns and nothing else," as mostly he just stands there.

Danny Quinn first appears in episode 2 of series 3 as a policeman who doesn't play by the rules-- he then forces his way into the team's adventure in episode 4 and ends up becoming the new team leader. Look, I know Primeval was never a sophisticated television show to begin with, but it's completely impossible for me to take seriously. Like, this guy's only credential is that he's a stereotypical television cop, and you're just like, "sure, this guy's suitable for replacing a professor of evolutionary biology as the head of our crack animal-hunting team." In his second episode, he steals a helicopter and fights a Gigantosaurus rex with it. And he's hired! I can't say I ever really warmed to Danny.

Even if you give her a gun, she's still
just too dang nice.
At the end of series 1, Primeval did something genuinely clever: because of a timeline change, Claudia Brown was erased from history and replaced by a new character, Jenny Lewis, played by the same actress. The characters were intended to contrast, I think: Claudia was a mild-mannered civil servant, warm and supportive, while Jenny was a sparky P.R. specialist focused on glamour and with a disdainful attitude toward the team's scientists. Unfortunately, Lucy Brown is, I suspect, just too dang nice, and it never comes off quite like it should, no matter how many times they dress her up in power heels and pencil skirts. By series 3, they seem to have given up on the Claudia/Jenny differences completely, as Lucy Brown is just basically playing the same nice character she played in series 1. Additionally, her role as the team's interface with the lay world seems to have been completely forgotten-- she's just another character. She leaves in episode 5 in any case: the third main character departure in six episodes, meaning the show is down 50% of its original cast.

Sitting around: the only power of the historian.
There's one more new character this season: episode 1 introduces Sarah Page, an Egyptologist who is brought onto the team to help them identify anomaly openings in the historical record. She promptly spends five episodes staying at the base contributing nothing at all, and only one of the ten episodes makes any use of her historical abilities (an almost decent episode where a medieval knight comes through to the present day). I really don't get the point of her character, as she builds almost no rapport with the other team members until the last couple episodes. It's like the writers added her to the team and then forgot about her. Partially I think this is because of the death of Nick: Nick spends the first two episodes of the series obsessing over this time map he's creating with her help, but it's destroyed when he dies. I feel like something was being set up there that was derailed by the unexpected departure of the actor who plays Nick.

The post-Nick team never really clicked for me, and series 3's background plot is terrible. It partially rehashes series 2's, in that the team is up against a conspiracy led by an evil civil servant, but her goals make no sense, and seemingly significant actions have no consequences. In one episode, she actually takes over the ARC, abusing her authority... at the end of the episode, everyone just takes their old jobs back! Like, she ordered them killed on a flimsy pretext, and everyone laughs it off and goes back to work. Long-running villain Helen Cutter completes her descent into irrelevance as well. Early in series 1 she seemed to be working to some kind of mysterious agenda not necessarily contrary to Our Heroes'; by series 3, she just does random shit that's evil (including building a clone army!?).

My wife pointed out that while series 1 and 2 had a succession of exotic locations, series 3 seems to have a succession of interesting vehicles: we have a racecar episode, a dirtbike episode, a helicopter/airport baggage train episode.

Couldn't get their money's worth out of this cast shot, huh?
I guess what I'm saying here is that the third series was not very good. I mean, how many times does their impregnable top-secret facility get broken into?

23 February 2017

Review: The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

Trade paperback, 428 pages
Published 2007

Acquired July 2014
Read October 2014
The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
since his death my Granddad had become more a collection of scenes than a real man to me. (79)
When I was assigned to teach The Modern Novel, I wanted to teach a novel about being a book-- in the physical sense. Novels are often books, of course, but in this electronic age they don't have to be. My students were pretty split on the far-out ideas Hall advances in The Raw Shark Texts-- some thought the book was baffling in the extreme, others thought it was the coolest thing they'd ever read. I'm okay with such a contradiction.

We read the book in the context of what N. Katherine Hayles in Writing Machines calls the "technotext": "When a literary work interrogates the inscription technology that produces it." (An "inscription technology" is a device that initiates material changes that can be read as marks, e.g., print books, computers, telegraphy, video and film, basically any technology that produces interpretable, linguistic information.) When a print book calls attention to the fact that it is a print book, it is a technotext, and Hayles argues that you should look at technotexts not just to see what the text "means," but how that meaning interacts with the material form of the text. (Hayles has actually written about The Raw Shark Texts herself, but ended up going in a different direction than what I'm going to do with her ideas here.)

The Raw Shark Texts is preoccupied with inscription technologies and how we're remediated through them: there's the quotation I opened this review with, but also: the idea that when a person dies, they leave an afterimage in the machinery they set up to run their life, which slowly runs down and dies itself (101); "I think we’re going to wear away from the world, just like the writing wears off old gravestones in the aisles of churches" (229); the narrator, Eric, reading the guidebook of Clio, a woman he supposedly had a relationship with but doesn't remember (266); Eric's admission that the journal we're reading is incomplete: they were never that witty or cool, Clio wasn’t always sexy, and all he has now is stories: "well edited tall tales with us in the starring roles," as the characters in the journal aren’t the two of them but actors regurgitating Hollywood clichés (412-13). And of course The Raw Shark Texts itself is a life remediated through an inscription technology: we only know what happened to Eric Sanderson because we have this book to tell us.

The book ends ambiguously. Did Eric die? Was anything Eric experienced even real? My students wanted to say "no" to the latter question, that he was hallucinating to cope with grief, but I reject that interpretation on the grounds of it not being very interesting. As for the first question, I think it depends on what you mean by "die." As the book emphasizes over and over again, we are the marks we make on the world. We are the scrapbooks, the gravestone inscriptions, the journals, the stories we wrote down about ourselves. Eric Sanderson didn't die fighting the conceptual shark, and we know this because we're holding Eric Sanderson in our hands. The Raw Shark Texts records his very existence. He is the sum of the inscription technologies used to mark his place in the world, much as we all are. The postcard at the end of the book-- another inscription technology-- shows that he continues to exist, that he hasn't worn away from the world yet.

22 February 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXIV: Futures End: Five Years Later Omnibus

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2014 (contents: 2014)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2016
The New 52: Futures End: Five Years Later Omnibus
by Daniel H. Wilson, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Dan Jurgens, Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, Sean Chen, Mark Irwin, Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, Jed Dougherty, Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Ray Fawkes, Juan Ferreyra, Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, Philip Tan, J. M. DeMatteis, Len Wein, Jason Paz, Andrew Guinaldo, Walden Wong, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Scott Hampton, Charles Soule, Jesus Saiz, Tom Derenick, Francis Portela, Phil Winslade, Martin Coccolo, Aaron Lopresti, Igor Lima, Ruy Jose, Rodney Buchemi, Geraldo Borges, Justin Jordan, Diogenes Neves, Marc Deering, J. Calafiore, Cullen Bunn, Tom King, Tim Seeley, Stephen Mooney, Sholly Fisch, Pat Olliffe, Tom Nguyen, Scott Lobdell, Scott Kolins, Christy Marx, Robson Rocha, Oclair Albert, Julio Ferreira, Gail Simone, Javier Garron, Marc Andreyko, Jason Masters, Eduardo Pansica, Amanda Conner, Chad Hardin, Derek Fridolfs, Brian Buccellato, Scott Hepburn, Cliff Richards, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Scott Snyder, ACO, Greg Pak, Jack Herbert, Vicente Cifuentes, Sean Ryan, Andre Coelho, Scott Hanna, Will Pfeifer, Andy Smith, Keith Champagne, Rags Morales, Jose Marzan Jr., Matt Banning, Bart Sears, Frank J. Barbiere, Ben Caldwell, Tony Bedard, Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, Pascal Alixe, Lee Weeks, Moritat, Will Conrad, Steve Lightle, Stephen Thompson & Ron Frenz

Five years before the "present," the New 52 version of the DC Universe came to life in Zero Year; now, five years after, it comes to an end. The Five Years Later Omnibus presents endpoints for the 52-ish comic books of the New 52. The future in which these stories take place is somewhat obscure: the back cover actually gives the history of a world thirty-five years later, and talks about Batman Beyond, who appears in literally zero of the issues collected here. The blurb ends by saying "Learn how all this and more could come to pass," but the book is actually very poor at filling in backstory; it took me around half the book to piece together that the Prime Earth had been overrun by refugees from Earth-2, and that Darkseid's forces had invaded at some point. I'm not sure if more things happened to create the dark timeline we see, though. Plus, some of the stories aren't consistent with one another: Justice League Dark: Futures End #1 claims that Etrigan is trapped in the House of Mystery outside time and space, but Etrigan also appears in Gotham City in Batwoman: Futures End #1, where he is killed.

Unlike the previous New 52 omnibi, this one isn't subdivided, so I'll just be reviewing the stories en masse, first with some comments on the overall set-up and then hitting up some specific stories. Of the three New 52 omnibi I've read, I found this one the most frustrating. Even though none of the stories in the first omnibus came to an end, they were all designed for new readers; most of the stories in the Villains Omnibus were easily grasped one-shots. But despite being set five years into the future, most of the stories here seemed really embedded in the continuity of the ongoings they span out of-- so too bad for me if I haven't been keeping up with Aquaman and the Others. I pick on it here because it was one of the first stories in the book, and it's filled with characters I knew nothing about, depicting alterations to a status quo I'd never seen before. Unfortunately a lot of the early stories in the book are like this: Flash, Green Arrow, Infinity Man and the Forever People, Star Spangled War Stories were also virtually impossible for me to understand.

I do feel like the artistic quality was higher across the board in this one-- take this nice linework and coloring as Billy Batson talks to Lois Lane, for example.
from Superman: Futures End #1 (script by Dan Jurgens, art by Lee Weeks)

The best stories, I found, drew on nothing more than the basic premises of their characters, meaning that I could be oriented without much effort. For example, the Phantom Stranger tale didn't really depend on me knowing anything particular to the New 52 version of the Phantom Stranger-- it worked as a standalone final Phantom Stranger story, as the Stranger (who you may know better as Judas Iscariot) is called up for judgement a second time, but the jury is made up of the worst demons Hell has to offer. I enjoyed its spooky, weird, mythical tone, even though the last Phantom Stranger stories I read were from his Action Comics Weekly feature back in the 1980s.

21 February 2017

Review: The Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Volume 1 by John Barber, Andrew Griffith, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2012)
Acquired August 2014
Read November 2016
The Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Volume 1

Written by John Barber
Art by Andrew Griffith
Additional Art by Casey Coller
Colors by Josh Perez
Letters by Shawn Lee

While the Lost Light gallivants through space having wacky space adventures, Bumblebee and the other Autobots have to figure out how to rule after the war is over back on Cybertron. The real strength of both these Transformers series is their strong character focus, but each writer takes a different approach to get there. While James Roberts's More than Meets the Eye is all about the dialogue, John Barber in Robots in Disguise uses narration; each issue is narrated in the first person by a different character, giving us a particular perspective on the events unfolding from Bumblebee, Starscream, Wheeljack, Prowl, and Ironhide in turn.

We get murder investigations, terrorist threats, ancient Cybertronian systems coming back to life, assassinations, and political machinations. Probably Starscream was my favorite character here, as he makes the ultimate power play: deciding to genuinely, actually, nicely help the Autobots... so that he can come out on top as always. Also he has a sense of humor, which always helps:
Megatron never cracked jokes this good.
from The Transformers: Robots in Disguise vol. 1 #2 (art by Andrew Griffith)

The real heart of this series is the question of when the war actually ends. Bumblebee is an idealist, and now that the fighting's over, wants to do things without compromising, as ethically as possible-- hence his forming a government that includes representatives for both the Decepticons and the non-aligned Cybertronians. Prowl, on the other hand, doesn't believe that the war can ever end, and is determined to be as cunning and manipulative as ever. Most of the other Autobots are somewhere in the middle, as Wheeljack's narration here indicates:
The ends justify the means... but how do you know when you've actually got to the end?
from The Transformers: Robots in Disguise vol. 1 #3 (art by Andrew Griffith)

I also really liked the ongoing saga of Dirge, a Decepticon who was abandoned by both sides when he escorted Autobot prisoners across the space bridge during All Hail Megatron and got stuck on Cybertron, where his partner was killed by the Insecticon swarm. He survived alone on Cybertron until the end of the war, and now wants nothing to do with either side, but every attempt he makes to build a new life is doomed to failure. Those he reaches out to die, but going it alone doesn't work either when he's perpetually a victim of others' machinations.

Poor guy.
from The Transformers: Robots in Disguise vol. 1 #4 (art by Andrew Griffith)

This book is not quite as good as the first volume of More than Meets the Eye, mostly because I had a harder time keeping track of all the characters, especially in action scenes, where I had to spend too much time attempt to decode significant events. (Thank God for the Transformers wiki.) I look forward to seeing where this goes, because Barber has the foundation here for a whole new kind of Transformers storytelling.

Next Week: Meanwhile, back in space, the Lost Light discovers the terrors of a space plague that's More than Meets the Eye!

20 February 2017

Return to the Threeboot: A Review of Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Manifest

Yours truly has a commentary up on the Torchwood 10th anniversary special over at USF this weekend. Every Torchwood character you loved, plus ones you didn't even remember!

Comic hardcover, 141 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 2008-09) 

Acquired and read September 2016
Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Manifest

Writer: Jim Shooter
Pencillers: Francis Manapul with Rick Leonardi and Ramon Bachs
Inkers: Livesay with Dan Green and Mark McKenna
Colorists: JD Smith
Letterer: Steve Wands

It's not like the Legion of Super-Heroes run of Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul, and Livesay is terrible or anything. It's a competently made superhero comic book. But it just doesn't hold a candle to what Mark Waid and Barry Kitson did before it. Waid and Kitson's run felt like it was bursting with ideas-- too many ideas, sometimes, because the title often felt like it wasn't giving all the ideas the focus they deserved. Shooter and company don't really capitalize on any of these ideas (the backstories ascribed to Sun Boy, Element Lad, Triplicate Girl, and Phantom Girl are never brought up), and many of them they outright contradict (Brainiac 5 says time travel isn't possible even though he arranged for Supergirl to travel to the past in The Quest For Cosmic Boy, and he gave her a message designed to save the life of his ancestor according to R.E.B.E.L.S.; the massive camp of Legion followers that defined the tone of the Waid/Kitson stories never turn up in this story, and then all of a sudden tons of superpowered underagers are auditioning for the United Planets Young Heroes, which doesn't really make any sense to me at all*). Shooter does at least remember that the Legion used to read 20th-century DC comics in this volume; Phantom Girl reads Princess Projectra an issue of Action Comics about the original Brainiac.

I wasn't always won over by the Legion's new uniforms either, especially given they were supposedly designed by some twelve-year-old kid. Apparently a twelve year old who loves cleavage and side panels.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #46 (art by Francis Manapul and Livesay & Mark McKenna)

As I read more superhero comics, my growing hypothesis is that you can get away with this kind of thing if what you do is the same level of interesting (or, even better, more interesting) than what you supplant, but Shooter and co. fail this test. This volume sees Princess Projectra suddenly become a villain, and then moves into weird freaky-deaky incomprehensible mind stuff as she battles Brainiac inside his own mind-- the plotline alternates between farfetched and banal. The big overarching story that's driven this whole run, about mysterious aliens being deposited from across the universe, who are then followed by a whole planet, never really has the hooks to be interesting. It's a bunch of faceless goons, which is one of the least interesting kind of comic book villains. There's also some relationship melodrama, but because these characters don't really feel like the Waid/Kitson characters, it's difficult for me to invest in who Saturn Girl should be in love with. (Plus, Saturn Girl is portrayed as a bit of a sad sack, not the strong version of her I loved in the classic days of the Legion or in Abnett and Lanning's Legion Lost.) And I don't really care for M'rissey, the Legion's "business manager" who solves all the main characters' problems for them.†

Shooter's version of Saturn Girl sort of rapidly alternates between unlikable hard-as-nails invasive telepath, and unlikable spineless sobber.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #46 (art by Francis Manapul and Livesay & Mark McKenna)

Francis Manapul is a decent artist, but still developing-- I like the later work I've seen from him on The Flash a lot more than this very anime style. And the way the script but especially the art insists on sexualizing these underage characters is a little uncomfortable. Like, there's nothing wrong with the Legionnaires being sexy, but here it mostly comes across as crude.

I know Invisible Kid was one of the younger Legionnaires, but I didn't think he was meant to be eight.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #50 (art by Ramon Bachs & Livesay)

Shooter's run was curtailed; the last issue here resolves many things far too easily (the massive threat of the past dozen issues is defeated with nine seconds of hacking from Brainiac) and leaves others entirely unaddressed (we never learn what happened to Cosmic Boy or the other Legionnaires who traveled through the time portals to the 41st century). If I had invested in the ongoing stories of this era, I'd be angry, but as it was, I was just kind of relieved. I am angry that the "threeboot" was dumped in favor of the "deboot," however, probably the most retrograde and harmful move in the long history of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and one that I would argue that leads directly to the fact that it's no longer published today, for the first time in five decades.

* Like, wouldn't people like this already be in the Legion? And surely they wouldn't want to work for the man!
† Actually, isn't a bit weird that Shooter introduces a slew of new Legionnaires here but ignores the new ones introduced by Waid and Kitson, like Dream Boy? I never really got the point of Gazelle.

17 February 2017

Review: Batman: Year 3 by Marv Wolfman, Pat Broderick, John Beatty, et al.

When I did my big readthrough of all of Batman's "Year One" stories (and related tales), there was perhaps one very notable omission: Batman: Year 3 by Marv Wolfman, Pat Broderick, and John Beatty, which was originally published in issues #436-39 of Batman vol. 1 in 1989. This is because Batman: Year 3, unlike Batman: Year One, Batman: Year Two, or indeed spin-offs like Batgirl: Year One and Two-Face and Scarecrow: Year One, has never been collected.

When you read it, though, it's easy to see why. Year One and Year Two were both interruptions to the ongoing narrative of Batman. Even though they originally appeared in issues #404-07 of Batman vol. 1 and issues #575-78 of Detective Comics vol. 1, respectively, they had nothing to do with what preceded or followed them-- they were sort of miniseries within an ongoing series. Year 3 is different: it was published between A Death in the Family and A Lonely Place of Dying, and has a frame story set during that time, with Batman dealing with the emotional fallout of the death of Jason Todd (Robin II) at the hands of the Joker.

"Frame story" is actually kind of misleading, as I would estimate that probably more of the story is set in the "present" than the "past." Year Three is when Dick Grayson's parents died, and he became Robin; the present-day storyline partially deals with the fact that Dick's parents' killer, Michael Zucco, is about to be released from prison. The flashbacks we see are primarily to provide context for this: the death of the Graysons, the hearing where Bruce adopted Dick, Dick's introduction to the Batcave, Dick's training and debut as Robin, and so on. (Much of this would later be re-depicted in Dark Victory and Robin: Year One.)

This means the bulk of the story focuses on Zucco's imminent release, and a gang war occurring in Gotham at the same time, which Batman handles with much more brutality than is typical. Part of the purpose of flashbacks is to show how parterning with Robin caused Bruce to soften from the Frank Milleresque way he was depicted in Year One-- and how now that a Robin is dead, his old brutality is reemerging. Wolfman is very good with the characters of both Bruce and Dick, and between this and A Lonely Place of Dying, I would definitely read more Batman stories by him.

But Wolfman's success with this is probably also the reason this story hasn't been collected. Batman: Year 3 is a good depiction of how Batman started to fall apart following the death of Jason Todd, but despite its title, it's not a very good standalone adventure in the early years of Batman: it's no Year One, that's for sure, but it's not even a Year Two. It ought to be collected, but not on its own. Better would be along with Wolfman's A Lonely Place of Dying, as it sets up Batman's need to always have a Robin, and Tim Drake (who becomes Robin in Lonely Place) even puts in a cameo at the circus during the flashback to the death of the Graysons.

Batman: Year 3 originally appeared in issues #436-39 of Batman vol. 1 (Early Aug.-Late Sept. 1989). The story was written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Pat Broderick, inked by John Beatty (#436-38) and Michael Bair (#439), colored by Adrienne Roy, lettered by John Costanza, and edited by Denny O'Neil.

16 February 2017

Review: Dreamworld and Catastrophe by Susan Buck-Morss

A few recent audio drama reviews at Unreality SF: the Doctor and Benny try to save Christmas in "The Hesitation Deviation"; the Doctor submits funding applications (not as good as it sounds) in Vampire of the Mind; and two Masters meet in, well, The Two Masters.

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published 2000
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2013
Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West
by Susan Buck-Morss

I liked the first chapter of this book a lot. It sets up a lot of interesting ideas: that there is an intimate connection between the state and violence (1) (shades of James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State), that state violence against noncitizens is more acceptable than that within the civil state (8, 16), that revolutions are simply wars fought in civil society for the control of time rather than space, i.e., the future rather than territory (22, 29), and that revolutions sacrifice the present to bring about a better future (29). Once Buck-Morss set up these basic principles, however, I found the rest of the book much less compelling; it was one of those critical books where I just kept flipping pages, hoping to find something insightful, but to very little avail. As always, this doesn't necessarily mean it was bad, but it certainly wasn't the book I was looking for.

15 February 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXIII: The New 52 Villains Omnibus

Comic hardcover, 1168 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 2013)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2016
DC Comics: The New 52 Villains Omnibus
by Greg Pak, Paulo Siquiera, Netho Diaz, Marguerite Bennett, Ben Oliver, Cliff Richards, China Miéville, Mateus Santolauco, Carla Berrocal, Riccardo Burchielli, Liam Sharp, Jock, Tula Lotay, Marley Zarcone, Brendan McCarthy, Emma Rids, Emi Lenox, Jeff Lemire, Frazier Irving, David Lapham, Carmen Carnero, Sloane Leong, Kelsey Wroten, Michelle Faran, Annie Wu, Zak Smith, Alberto Ponticelli, Dan Green, Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates, Manuel Garcia, Rob Hunter, Matt Kindt, Sam Basri, Keith Champagne, Bit, Derlis Santacruz, Tom DeFalco, Chad Hardin, Edgar Salazar, Ann Nocenti, Dan DiDio, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Tom Derenick, Philip Tan, Jason Paz, Tony Bedard, Geraldo Borges, Ruy José, Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Aaron Lopresti, Art Thibert, Brian Buccellato, Chris Batista, Tom Nguyen, Francis Manapul, Scott Hepburn, Andrea Sorrentino, Charles Soule, Jesús Saiz, Marv Wolfman, Cafu, Corey May, Dooma Wendschuh, Moritat, Angel Unzueta, Robson Rocha, John Ostrander, Victor Ibañez, Brian Azzarello, Michael Alan Nelson, Mike Hawthorne, Ken Lashley, Raymund Bermudez, Sholly Fisch, Jeff Johnson, Andy Smith, Steve Pugh, Pascal Alixe, Scott Lobdell, Dan Jurgens, Ray McCarthy, Aaron Kuder, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Robert Venditti, Rags Morales, Cam Smith, Jim Starlin, Howard Porter, Stefano Landini, Dale Eaglesham, Andy Kubert, Andy Clarke, Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Jeremy Haun, Frank Tieri, Christian Duce, Peter J. Tomasi, Graham Nolan, Guillem March, James Tynion IV, Jorge Lucas, Tim Seeley, Francis Portela, Gail Simone, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jason Masters, John Layman, Georges Jeanty, Derek Fridolfs, Javier Pina, Neil Googe, Szymon Kudranski, Scot Eaton & Jaime Mendoza

The Book as a Whole
This book ties into Forever Evil, an event where the Crime Syndicate (i.e., the Evil Justice League) temporarily took over the Earth. As a result, most of DC's monthly titles were "taken over" by supervillains-- like, Action Comics #23.2 featured General Zod. Yes, there were decimals in the numbering. Some series were taken over four times, some just once. One presumes this was in proportion to popularity; it's easier to get someone to buy four extra issues of Action Comics than of Swamp Thing. These vary in type: some show what the villain in question was doing during Forever Evil, some show random other adventures of the villain, some show the origin story of the villain, some do more than one. I'd guess that more than half aren't even stories, but just set-up: leading into Forever Evil itself, or a Forever Evil spin-off, or just leading into a forthcoming issue of an ongoing where said villain is going to turn up. Like when I reviewed The New 52 omnibus, I'm going to tackle each individual grouping of issues, since there are too many to look at each on its own.

That's the kind of casual, fun attitude I like my international spies to have.
from Justice League of America vol. 3 #7.3 (script by Tom DeFalco, art by Chad Hardin)
Justice League (Darkseid, Lobo, Dial E, Secret Society, Deadshot, Killer Frost, Shadow Thief, Black Adam, the Creeper, Eclipso, Black Manta, Ocean Master, Desaad, Solomon Grundy, Grodd, Reverse-Flash, the Rogues, Count Vertigo, Arcane, Trigon, Deathstroke, the Cheetah, First Born)
If I learned anything from this section, it's how few people should be allowed to touch the New Gods: to stories featuring Darkseid and Desaad are so mundane as to completely miss the point of the characters. Darkseid doesn't need an origin story, he's "the Tiger-Force at the core of all things! When you cry out in your dreams-- it is Darkseid that you see!" How can such a character have a youth and a backstory? It makes him mundane to give him a motivation, and Darkseid should never be mundane.

14 February 2017

Review: The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Volume 1 by James Roberts, Nick Roche, Alex Milne, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2011-12)
Acquired August 2014
Read November 2016
The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Volume 1

Written by James Roberts & John Barber
Art by Nick Roche and Alex Milne
Colors by Josh Burcham
Letters by Shawn Lee

This is one of those books that you keep laughing aloud at, and your wife is like, 'what's so funny,' and you're like, 'um... it's a Transformers comic?' The new status quo for IDW's Transformers is that the Autobot/Decepticon war is over, and both sides have returned to Cybertron, along with the "NAILs," the nonaligned Cybertronians who fled the chaos of the war. So there's a lot of conflict between these three sides. The Autobots don't know how to exist in a world without war, the Decepticons are all in prison right now but that can't possibly be sustainable, and the NAILs don't see the Autobots as having any more legitimacy than the Decepticons. The first issue here sets up the basic conflict, which seems very ripe with storytelling potential, and it ends with Optimus Prime abandoning Cybertron, his argument being that he's a living symbol of the war, and peace can never truly come to Cybertron as long as he hangs around.

He's not wrong, you know.
from The Transformers: Death of Optimus Prime (script by James Roberts & John Barber, art by Nick Roche)

This leaves the remaining Autobots conflicted about what to do. Rodimus wants to hunt down the mythical Knights of Cybertron and implore them for guidance; Bumblebee wants to make a go of it on Cybertron, mending the conflict between the three sides. So once Rodimus's Lost Light takes off, the book essentially splits, with More than Meets the Eye following the Lost Light and Robots in Disguise staying on Cybertron.

13 February 2017

Return to the Threeboot: A Review of Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Rising

Comic hardcover, 192 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 2008) 

Acquired and read August 2016
Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Rising

Writer: Jim Shooter
Pencillers: Francis Manapul with Aaron Lopresti, Sanford Greene
Inkers: Livesay with Matt Ryan, Nathan Massengill
Colorists: JD Smith with Nathan Eyring
Letterer: Steve Wands

With Supergirl gone, the "threeboot" Legion returns to its original title, though it gains a new (less attractive) logo in the process. It's always odd when a new creative team takes over a title with a very distinctive voice, especially if that new creative team doesn't have any interest in aping what came before. Jim Shooter's writing is not really like Mark Waid's at all, nor is Francis Manapul and Livesay's art anything like Barry Kitson's. Though you might argue that the Waid/Kitson Legion never lived up to its potential-- the revolutionary idea was downplayed more and more as the series went on, and they seeded so much character stuff in the first twelve issues that they never came back to as Supergirl and the Dominator plot took over the focus-- I'm not convinced the solution was to basically throw all that out. The idea of the Legion as an inspiration to the youth of the galaxy, and the face of a wider moment, is completely gone here: we never see the crowds outside Legion H.Q. anymore. Even the DC Comics spinner racks are gone from H.Q.; when we do briefly see Phantom Girl with some comics, they're drawn as generic books, not as recognizable issues of DC Comics as they would have been during the Waid/Kitson run.

Ah, yes, I too really enjoyed the classic book Comics.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #43 (art by Francis Manapul & Livesay)

Plus Shooter introduces future space cursing to the title, which is... terrible, to put it mildly. I don't remember anyone using any of that stuff during the Waid/Kitson run, other than "grife," which works because it's basically "grief." But under Shooter, suddenly everyone is saying "florg." People are "florged" and bad guys are "florgging." It's a desperately terrible word that needs to go; it throws me out of the story every time I read it. Florg florg florg florg florg. It's not real! It doesn't even sound like it could be real!

Like, how can I take dialogue like this seriously?
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #38 (art by Francis Manapul & Livesay)

Putting aside all my change-of-creative-team kvetching, how was Enemy Rising, which collects the first half of Jim Shooter's run, before the "threeboot" was inceremoniously dumped for the "deboot"? Basically, it's okay. Shooter has the Legion being overstressed with crises popping up across the solar system and the galaxy, while Lightning Lad-- the new leader-- struggles with United Planets bureaucracy. The bureaucracy was fun at first, but the longer it goes on, the more irritating it gets, because it's the same thing again and again, as Lightning Lad gets more calls than he can handle, pisses someone off, and the Legion gets a new restriction slapped on it, repeat ad nauseam. I kinda felt like he deserved a better portrayal of his leadership than he got, and based on the way this subplot is seemingly resolved at the end of the book, I don't think it was worth the eight issues spent on it. (Plus, does it make sense that the United Planets would be anti-Legion again in the wake of the Dominator War?)

Other than that, the Legion is fighting mindless aliens that are popping up across the galaxy. Brainiac sets up a minor mystery about them, but other than that, they're not very compelling foes. The minor enemies the Legion encounters, like Science Police officers, aren't very interesting either. And was it really necessary to have a group of space pirates turn up to threaten our teenage heroes with sexual coercion? Ick. His Legionnaires seem more bickering than Waid's, too. Not that Waid's didn't argue, but it usually seemed to come from principled beliefs; these guys are just mean to each other a little bit too much.

The whole premise of this series is that she's underage, you know.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #37 (art by Francis Manapul & Livesay)

I liked Francis Manapul's later work on The Flash, but here he doesn't do a ton for me. It's not bad, but the sort of anime-influenced style he uses is a little generic. I really liked Aaron Lopresti's fill-in, on the other hand-- his characters were very expressive, and I loved the playful stuff he did with Chameleon throughout the issue.

If I was a shapeshifter, I'd be making my fingers into miniature people when I was bored, too.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #41 (art by Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan)

I guess I'll see where this all goes, but for now it comes across as a sort of action-adventure epilogue tacked onto the Waid/Kitson run. Nothing wrong with it on its own, but I felt that Waid and Kitson were reinventing these characters and concepts, whereas Shooter is just using them somewhat generically in a widescreen story.

10 February 2017


courtesy Lego Grad Student

Last week, I attended a meeting of the Nineteenth-Century Studies Association. It was my first time going to that conference, and my first time going to any conference in almost a year. Something that I want to change but haven't yet managed is that I almost never repeat conferences-- there are a lot of conferences I've just gone to one meeting of. Maybe someday, but logistics always seem to get in the way.

NCSA is sort of a mid-sized conference-- not the massiveness of the MLA or even one of its regional affiliates, but not the small intimacy of the Thomas Hardy Association or the Science Fiction Research Association. It's interdisciplinary and trans-regional as well-- unlike, say, the Victorians Institute, it attracts people doing nineteenth-century studies focusing on all kinds of countries (e.g., America, Britain, Italy, France) and across all kinds of disciplines (literary studies, history, art history, architecture).

That was probably both its strength and its weakness. When panels are arranged right, there's a kind of synergy: one of my colleagues from English was on a panel about performance and race with someone who studies theatre and someone who studies film-- there were neat correspondences and connections with their papers, and interesting questions from architecture-minded folks in the audience!

Though I enjoyed my co-panelists' presentations, things lined up a little less well there. You had my paper on three science fiction novels (The English Revolution, Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe, and When All Men Starve), a paper on a digital edition of Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, a paper on fan participation in a YouTube version of a Jane Austen novel, and a paper on a nineteenth-century pastel artist who used proto-photographic techniques. Supposedly these were united by being about technology, but the uses of technology were so varied as to render connections difficult or impossible. What do my future-set books have to do with insights gleaned into Sartor Resartus by thinking about it as hypertext?

People seemed to like my paper, though, and I found my co-presenters' interesting, too. Unfortunately, I went on the second-last session on the last day! So I wasn't able to parlay that into much of anything.

Maybe next year I'll actually go back? I liked it enough to make that worthwhile, I think.

09 February 2017

Review: Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos, Annie Di Donna, et al.

Comic trade paperback, 347 pages
Published 2009 (originally 2008)

Borrowed from a friend
Read February 2015

Concept & Story: Apostolos Doxiadis & Christos H. Papadimitriou
Script: Apostolos Doxiadis
Character Design & Drawings: Alecos Papadatos
Color: Annie Di Donna
Inking: Dimitris Karatzaferis & Thodoris Paraskevas
Visual Research & Lettering: Anne Bardy

This book was okay. It's a comic that straddles historical fiction and biography, providing the life story of Bertrand Russell as well as some background in developments of logic in the early twentieth century. It's occasionally interrupted by pages where the creators of the comic discuss creating the comic. These moments I found twee and not very insightful. The main story is fine, though not very deep, and I was irritated at the number of things the creators outright made up yet still ascribe character significance to-- the whole book is driven by a dichotomy between madness and logic in Russell's life that has no basis in reality.

08 February 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXII: The New 52

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2011 (contents: 2011)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2016
DC Comics: The New 52
by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Dan Jurgens, Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellatto, J. T. Krul, Freddie Williams II, Gail Simone, Ethan Van Sciver, Yildiray Cinar, George Pérez, Tony S. Daniel, Philip Tan, Eric Wallace, Gianluca Gugliotta, Wayne Faucher, Paul Jenkins, Bernard Chang, Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Rick Bryant, Jesús Merino, Scott Lobdell, R. B. Silva, Rob Lean, Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Mahmud Asrar, Dan Green, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Ryan Winn, J. H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman, David Finch, Richard Friend, Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, Judd Winick, Ben Oliver, Guillem March, Kyle Higgins, Eddy Barrows, J. P. Mayer, Duane Swierczynski, Jesus Saiz, Kenneth Rocafort, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna, Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham, Batt, Peter Milligan, Ed Benes, Rob Hunter, Mikel Janin, Yanick Paquette, Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman, Alberto Ponticelli, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Andrea Sorrentino, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Ferndando Dagnino, Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves, Oclair Albert, Miguel Sepulveda, Nathan Edmondson, Cafu, Jason Gorder, Ron Marz, Sami Basri, Joe Bennett, Art Thibert, Adam Glass, Federico Dallocchio, Ransom Getty, Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Moritat, Mike Costa, Graham Nolan, Ken Lashley, Ivan Brandon, Tom Derenick, Jonathan Vankin, Phil Winslade, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Scott McDaniel, John Rozum, LeBeau Underwood, Sterling Gates, Rob Liefeld, Ig Guara, Ruy José, Fabian Nicieza, Pete Woods, Paul Levitz & Francis Portela

This book is unpaginated, but as it collects 52 issues, and most single issues these days are 20-22 pages long, it must contain around 1,000 pages of comics, making it nearly unreviewable, especially given that this book isn't one big story (like some other DC omnibi I've read, such as 52) but rather the beginnings of 52 different stories. Still, I'm going to try, and I'm going to do it by speaking to 1) the book as a whole, 2) the continuity issues involved, and 3) each subsection of the book. So please bear with me. Each of the issues is a #1 issue, published in the wake of Flashpoint, which reset the DC universe.

The Book as a Whole
To be honest, it's not a very satisfying reading experience. I think it could have been, but that would require a totally different way of approaching the single-issue comic than is normal in the 2010s. None of these are done-in-one stories, a format that still exists, but is probably avoided in the first issue of a series more than anywhere else, given that you want your readers to pick up issue #2. That said, I don't think they needed to be as formulaic as they are: I'd estimate the 75% of the stories here have the same structure of fight scene→bit of personal life or backstory→dramatic last page appearance of someone. Sometimes the order of "fight scene" and "bit of personal life or backstory" is swapped. As I kept on reading, I just got tired of seeing this cliche over and over again. I'd say that it was unsatisfying to not know the end to the fifty-two different stories begun here, but in actuality, I don't want to know the end of the fifty-two different stories begun here, as most didn't do enough to grab my interest in their twenty pages. Some dude turning up on page twenty does not a hook make if you haven't laid an interesting groundwork first.

The Continuity Issues
Sometimes I think people overestimate how much continuity contributes to the reading experience of a book. I've seen a lot of complaints about the New 52 that it's hard to get invested in characters when you don't know what old stories count and what ones don't. But Crisis on Infinite Earths did the exact same thing-- it was ages before the "past" of the new, integrated DC universe was completely built up, and I think people forget how piecemeal it was at first. The pre-Crisis Wonder Woman and Superman continued to appear for a year or two because George Pérez and John Byrne's reboots weren't done yet! The pre-Crisis Superman, for example, turned up in an Omega Men storyline that was explicitly post-Crisis, yet there's no way it could happen with the post-Crisis Superman. So things are going to be a bit muddy when you introduce a new shared universe all at once, and I think that's okay.

That said, I'm not sure why DC didn't got full clean slate with more of these characters. For example, we're told Animal Man has been a hero, retired from heroing, and is now returning to heroing-- but this doesn't add anything to the story when he could just be a recently established hero. Too many of the characters here have semi-complicated backstories because bits of their pre-Flashpoint backstories have been retained, but nothing is done with these backstories. Arsenal and Starfire apparently worked together on a team of teens before, but not in the Teen Titans because the Teen Titans #1 here is about the first Teen Titans team coming together. So they were just on... some team? But it doesn't really matter because they don't act like they know each other at all. Why not make it their first meeting then? Though the idea of there being a bunch of former teen sidekicks is weird anyway given DC's compressed the timeline down to five years. Like, you can have everything be fresh and new, or you can have a bunch of legacy characters, but it seems to me you can't have both. (And yet there are four different Robins!)

Like, this is neat because it gives you enough to go on if you don't know Deadman, but also upends the formula with a genuinely expected yet interesting final-page reveal.
from DC Universe Presents #1 (script by Paul Jenkins, art by Bernard Chang)
Justice League (Justice League, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Captain Atom, Firestorm, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Mister Terrific, Deadman)
Only three of these stuck out to me in a good way: Wonder Woman is slickly drawn, a surprisingly dei noir take on an old character. I read the first few issues of this run on Comixology back in 2011, and though I forgot to keep reading, this reminded me of what I enjoyed then. Everything I've ever seen of Francis Manapul's take on the Flash has been solid, so I ought to pick it up someday, though this one I liked more for the art and layouts than the story (it definitely fits into the cliche #1 format I mention above). I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the take on Deadman here. Like, this had great ideas and amazing artwork. On the other hand, the new Justice League #1 is almost embarrassing, and Justice League International is the perfect example of the kind of comic book you just can't do in a brand-new universe-- none of these also-ran character have backstories now!

07 February 2017

Review: Infestation v.2 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Erik Burnham, Casey Maloney, Gary Erskine, Kyle Hotz, and David Messina

Comic trade paperback, 117 pages
Published 2011 (contents: 2011)
Acquired February 2013
Read October 2016
Infestation v.2

Written by Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Erik Burham, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning
Art by Casey Maloney, Gary Erskine, Kyle Hotz, and David Messina
Colors by Luis Antonio Delgado and Dan Brown
Letters by Chris Mowry and
Robbie Robbins

In this volume, the zombie infestation spreads to two more universes, those of Star Trek and Ghostbusters. Turns out that I don't give a crap about Ghostbusters (saw the first movie when I was a kid, enjoyed it, haven't really thought about it since and don't care to, and Kyle Hotz's artwork made the characters difficult to distinguish), but Star Trek-does-zombies is just perfectly nailed by the Tiptons, Casey Maloney, and Gary Erskine. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and two security guards end up stranded on a Federation colony that's been infested by zombies, and have to stay alive long enough to make it to their shuttle and/or send off a distress signal. It's a perfect little slice of the zombie genre infused into the Star Trek universe, down to this predictable but utterly satisfying moment:
No he's not!
from Star Trek: Infestation #1 (script by Scott Tipton & David Tipton, art by Casey Maloney & Gary Erskine)

And guess which of the five Starfleet characters end up as zombies?

Add in computers with reel-to-reel tape decks, and a comedy robot, and you basically have everything I could want out of this kind of tale. You even get Captain Kirk fighting zombie with a wrench and Doctor McCoy with a zombie-cure-serum gun.

You know, in the alternate reality where Paramount actually did make Phase II in the seventies to get some of that sweet Star Wars/Battlestar Galactica money action, this guy probably would have joined the main cast.
from Star Trek: Infestation #2 (script by Scott Tipton & David Tipton, art by Casey Maloney & Gary Erskine)

And I don't really understand what's up with the sexy vampire lady who appears in all four realities-- but when her form adapts to the Star Trek universe, it's of course in the form of a woman in a TOS miniskirt:
I guess miniskirts and go-go boots are an intrinsic property of the Star Trek universe.
from Star Trek: Infestation #2 (script by Scott Tipton & David Tipton, art by Casey Maloney & Gary Erskine)

I had thought that the finale issue would involve all the different series coming together in some way, no matter how small, to provide a final solution. Like, I didn't expect Captain Kirk, Optimus Prime, Bill Murray, and whoever the hell leads G.I.Joe to meet, but I did think all four side stories would somehow contribute to the end of the story. Well, they don't; all there is is a single shot of the four universes through a portal. Instead it's a bunch of tedious supernatural nonsense to wrap it all up, and I don't care. But at least this misbegotten mess gave me a good Star Trek zombie tale.

Next Week: Back to The Transformers universe to figure out what's been going on there, surely something More than Meets the Eye!

06 February 2017

Return to the Threeboot: A Review of Supergirl and the Legion of Superheros: The Quest For Cosmic Boy

Given that in reading Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's run on the Legion of Super-Heroes, I had read five of the eight volumes of the so-called "threeboot" Legion, it seemed like the thing to do was just go ahead and read the remaining three. So here is the first of three reviews of what was done with Waid and Kitson's distinctive Legion after they left:

Comic trade paperback, 138 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 2007-08) 

Acquired and read August 2016
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: The Quest For Cosmic Boy

Writer: Tony Bedard
Artists: Dennis Calero with Kevin Sharpe/Robin Riggs
Colors: Nathan Eyring
Letters: Travis Lanham, Jared K. Fletcher, Steve Wands

Cosmic Boy vanished in the final issue of the Waid/Kitson run, Dominator War, apparently taken into the future. The Quest For Cosmic Boy sees a new Legion leader, Supergirl, begin a search for him under the advice of Brainiac 5. This essentially gives us three substories, each of which is the focus of two issues or so: Star Boy, Sun Boy, and Mekt "not Lightning Lord" Ranzz go to Mekt's home planet of Winath; Supergirl, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad explore the Gobi Rainforest; and Timber Wolf, Shadow Lass, and Atom Girl must stop an attempted assassination on Lallor, the planet where the Legion fought a bloody battle back in Teenage Revolution.

I want to see more of this guy, but I suspect we never will.
from Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #32 (art by Dennis Calero)

Of these, the Winath one is the most successful. For most of the story, it's a fun and complicated adventure underground on the dangerous planet of Winath, especially thanks to a United Planet judiciary member who's come along to arrest Cosmic Boy if they do find him, so that Cos can attend a hearing on the genocide of the Dominators. Tenzil Kem, the judiciary officer, is Matter-Eater Lad in some other continuities, and here he's good fun, eating tons of stuff (including a finger!) but also with lie-detecting sunglasses. Unfortunately, it all fell apart at the end for me, when we learn that Mekt's people telepathically implanted the impulse to commit genocide in Cos, completely undermining the end of Dominator War, and replacing moral ambiguity with black-and-white simplicity. Mekt's Wanderers had previously had the same goals as the Legion, but somewhat more dangerous methods; now they're just evil folks. I was really disappointed in this change, and it cast a pall over the interesting story Bedard had been telling up until that point.

And no one ever mentioned him ever again. Even after he told everyone he used to be on the team.
from Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #34 (art by Dennis Calero)

The other two stories are considerably less interesting. The Lallor story adds Wildfire to the Legion in a somewhat too complicated fashion (he was apparently on the team before the first volume, but seemed to be killed), and it's not as though the Legion really needs more members-- the roll call in the front of the book lists nineteen active, full members, and there are so many story and character hooks for them that Waid and Kitson set up in the first five volumes that still haven't been followed up on. The Gobi story is mostly there just to get Supergirl out of the way, returning her to the 21st century for the events of World War III and whatever it was she did in her own book after the Infinite Crisis.

I imagine his tenure as Legion leader will go off without a hitch.
from Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #36 (art by Dennis Calero)

The idea of Supergirl as Legion leader has promise, given she's instinctively nice and selfless, but also new to this time and place, but Bedard's story gives her almost nothing to do in this capacity except take orders from Brainiac 5. And though I like Brainy, he overshadows the other characters a bit too much with his complicated machinations (taking after his ancestor in L.E.G.I.O.N., except that that Brainiac was a lead, whereas this one is supposed to be an equal member of an ensemble). I found myself pretty dissatisfied with the thrust of Bedard's brief run on the title. I'd like to see more development of the characters that Waid and Kitson set up-- there are lots of Legionnaires we still know so little about, including Cos's cofounders, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad!

I should say that Dennis Calero does a pretty good job on art. I'd hate to be the guy with the job of following Barry Kitson as artist on anything, but Calero does a good job on action. On the other hand, his figures and faces look a little too posed at times, especially when he seems to be tracing a facial expression that just doesn't look at all appropriate for the situation.