Wednesday, July 27, 2016
The third entry in Adventure(s) Time is now up, exploring Paul Dini's follow-up to "Harley and Ivy" in the pages of Batman & Robin Adventures. Check out the lovely Rich Burchett art...
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
CAPTAIN AMERICA #375 - No double-sized anniversary here.
Witness the scourge of drug trade menaces Jerkweed and Ground Chuck.
Also witness Captain America steal a plate of spaghetti from the Kingpin while resisting Typhoid’s subtle advances.
Gru is writing Cap as an utterly delusional zealot who’s going to violently take down the drug trade singlehandedly.
The story’s explanation is that Cap was unwittingly exposed to Ice, so now he’s hopped up on the junk he’s trying to stop.
I assume Gru was going for something deeper; Cap reads as a parody of every anti-drug action hero of the era.
When someone mentions societal issues that might lead someone to turn to drugs, Cap shuts down that hippie talk.
So Gru’s writing an action-packed anti-drug story…as a response to action-packed anti-drug stories?
Finally, in the back-up, a captive Battlestar is advised not to strain too hard and “bust a nut.”
Is there a variation of this expression that I’m not aware of?
CAPTAIN AMERICA #376 - The Red Skull returns for his 495th shadowy scheme.
The Spirit’s “I’m not on drugs!” catchphrase from his movie never caught on. Can Cap sell it this issue?
Apparently, it’s Daredevil’s fight with Crossbones that leads to him developing amnesia in his own book. Never made that connection before.
Funny to think that Nocenti had Daredevil brainwashed into becoming a Marxist by a young bohemian -- while Gruenwald was doing this rather odd take on the War on Drugs with Cap.
Marvel was very mainstream, but also quite strange during this era.
The back-up has Battlestar facing a villain who’s grown so muscular, he needs a “hover-harness” to move.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #377 - Bullseye vs. Crossbones is pretty great.
Loved this fight as a kid. Hero guest spots are nice, but it’s also fun to see villains pop up in unexpected places.
This is the issue that has Cap officially losing his Super Soldier Serum through a blood transfusion.
During the operation, he hallucinates his origin story and remarks that the Dr. Erskine’s needle resembles a junkie’s.
As ridiculous as this is, Gru does introduce an intriguing question -- what is Cap without the Super Soldier Serum?
CAPTAIN AMERICA #378 - Yeah, Cap vs. Crossbones is cool…
…but the real highlight is Kingpin and Red Skull wrestling in their underwear to determine who runs New York’s drug trade.
Gru is working under the assumption that Cap will maintain his muscle tone after losing the Serum -- which enables him to battle Crossbones successfully and declare that he doesn’t need the Serum again.
Gru thought it was important that Cap of all people “Just Say No” and not use the Serum as a crutch, but this doesn’t work.
The muscle tone that Cap enjoys today exists because of the Serum. Even if he never takes it again… …and works to maintain his physique, Cap still has the physique BECAUSE of the Serum.
So regardless of everything Gru’s tried to do, Cap still has abilities thanks to “drugs.”
The back-up story, meanwhile, has Battlestar happily accept “augmentation” to revive his super-strength.
Clearly, Gru ran these stories simultaneously for a reason, but it also works to undermine his point.
Are we to believe that Battlestar is “less” of a hero for accepting pseudoscience as the means of his strength?
Or is the Powerbroker’s strength augmentation process somehow morally superior to Dr. Erskine’s treatment?
If so, since Cap has suddenly developed a moral issue with the Serum, why wouldn’t he just go to the Powerbroker?
Meanwhile, in the backup, we learn that USAgent has changed his identity from Johnny Walker to…Jack Daniels.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #379 - The rare issue that required a fill-in for Ron Lim.
Introducing Nefarious, the blond version of Count Nefaria.
Nefarious gained his powers through an experiment much like the one that granted Cap his powers …Gru is exploring the consequences of people so easily gaining powers through these experiments, presumably to emphasize just how heroic Cap is for rejecting the Serum today. I don’t personally buy it.
I can see where Gru’s coming from, but dwelling on the moral implications on a fictional serum that has no side effects, and connecting it to steroids is just reaching for a moral quandary.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #380 - More fun with the Serpent Society.
The Society refuses to believe that A) he’d ever touch supervillain trash like her, and B) that she hasn’t sold out their secrets.Diamondback is on trial, due to her relationship with Cap.
I always loved the Serpent Society as a kid; just villainous snakes constantly turning on each other and endless in-fighting.
Meanwhile, Cap’s reunited with his old girlfriend Bernie Rosenthal, written out by Gru years earlier.
Bernie’s graduated law school since her last appearance, indicating old Marvel’s resistance to a stuck timeline.
This means that students can graduate from school, couples become parents, and even (gasp!) Spider-Man grows up.
The USAgent back-up stories are by Mark Bagley. He captures Agent’s barely restrained fury quite well.
Gru was probably thinking about steroids even before Streets of Poison.
USAgent always seemed like a roided-out version of Steve Rogers to me.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #381 - Paladin appears to creep things up.
I’m going to assume that Paladin’s gimmick of constantly hitting on female heroes has been dropped by now -- lest Marvel tempt the wraith of The Dreaded Social Justice ThinkPiece That Might Eventually Lead to a Hashtag.
Diamondback turns to Cap for help, but he can’t promise that he won’t arrest her two remaining friends in the Society.
So, she hires Paladin instead, who keeps reminding her that he wants more than cash as his payment.
The way Gru writes the Society continues to impress me. Most of its members are conflicted about turning on Diamondback -- but they’re also loyal to their leader, King Cobra, and believe that the Society is their only real shot in life.
There’s real drama during the fight; it’s character vs. character instead of sadist vs. sadist.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #382 - As much as I liked Lim’s CAP, that shield was occasionally off-model.
The Cap/Diamondback/Serpent Society arc ends, and I have to gripe about one dropped plot.
Last issue, Diamondback was terrified that she’d killed Bushmaster by accidentally tossing the wrong diamond down his throat. This issue, Bushmaster is fine and the acid-bomb he ingested last issue is never mentioned. Disappointing.
Even though Gru introduced the Society fifty issues prior, this is the first conclusive victory Cap’s had over them.
It’s a shame the Serpent Society never caught on. They would’ve suited most of Marvel’s “street level” heroes.
Remember when the Circus of Crime kept popping up in the late 90s? Just imagine the Society getting some of those roles.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #383 - Cap officially enters the ‘90s.
Although Gru is back to channeling Silver Age DC -- using Cap’s anniversary as an excuse for him to meet figures like Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed.
I’ll be honest; I’ve never liked this logo change. I realize it’s the classic logo to many people -- but I prefer the more solemn logo that doesn’t scream “comic book.” Think it fits the tone of Gru’s earlier issues well.
Maybe the logo change is signaling an intentional change of direction? Less political intrigue and more high-adventure?
CAPTAIN AMERICA #384 - Deceptive cover alert.
Iceman is certainly not in this issue, although Jack Frost is rendered as his twin, right down to the briefs.
Gru reveals this issue that Jack Frost was also frozen in the arctic at the end of WWII and is only now being revived.
Jack’s frozen *again* during the climax, but Gru does throw some theories out regarding his origin -- and reveals that D-Man is *also* frozen up there in the cold.
But the real significance of the issue is Gru simply giving up on the “Super Soldier Serum is a drug” plotline.
Cap learns that there’s no way the Serum can truly leave his blood, so he’s stuck with it, regardless of his feelings.
Cap shrugs his shoulders and declares that comparing the Serum to recreational drug use was kind of silly. The End.
I wonder if Gru would’ve backtracked if he received as many letters criticizing his stance against Cap working as a commercial artist.
The idea that Cap would have a deep moral conviction against drawing toothpaste ads always seemed ridiculous to me.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #385 - The Watchdogs fight against that raunchy rap music of 1991.
While one of Cap’s old neighbors joins the Watchdogs, Cap tries to reconcile his feelings for Bernie and Diamondback.
I remember one of the letter pages from the Waid era questioning if CAP lends itself to these romantic subplots.
Waid’s Cap was very much an icon, the character everyone in the book stands in awe of. Gru tends to avoid this. Cap’s legendary status is occasionally given a nod, but Gru is more interested in writing Cap as a man.
Diamondback stars in the back-up, creating Bad Girls, Inc. with two other Society members.
It’s actually kind of amazing that Marvel didn’t publish a Bad Girls, Inc. comic circa 1995.
Can’t you just see it, with a Mike Deodato, Jr. cover? Broken back poses everywhere…
CAPTAIN AMERICA #386 - Party on, USAgent.
For the first Cap/USAgent team-up, there’s not a lot of USAgent here. I would’ve expected more of an “event.”
Given the grim tone of the original Watchdogs arc, I’m surprised that Gru’s writing this as a more traditional action arc.
The early Watchdogs story seemed incredibly edgy to me as a kid; this one is much safer.
The Watchdogs have gone from firebombing adult book stores to kidnapping artists and brainwashing them into loving mom, baseball, and the American flag.
The Diamondback story has Dan Panosian penciling and inking, now in the style of regular back-up artist Mark Bagley.
Unfortunately, it ends in a cliffhanger -- and it’s the last regular issue reprinted in the book. Next story is an unrelated annual story.
I think these Epic collections are great, but I wonder who’s served by only printing single chapters of annual crossovers.
I’d much rather have four additional monthly CAPTAIN AMERICA issues in place of the two annuals.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
I'm still working my way through the work of television writer David Milch on the Gentlemen of Leisure site. My final entry on the forgotten series Brooklyn South was posted today, and if you're interested in Austin's take on the early '90s era of the X-Men titles, he's well into the madness of the Chromium Age.
Monday, July 4, 2016
Don’t know if I’ll make it to Capwolf, but I am glad these trades exist.
Leaving Gruenwald’s Captain America run out of print for so long was always a glaring oversight on Marvel’s part.
I realize his run ended during an era Marvel would rather erase entirely, but that doesn’t mean you throw the whole thing out.
Gru’s Cap is just so MARVEL to me, at least Marvel of this era. It sums up the late ‘80s/very-early ‘90s so well.
Streets of Poison is, famously, Gru’s attempt to address the drug problem, which was essentially THE issue of the day.
Not sure if things ever really changed, but the media’s attitude towards drugs has certainly lightened up.
Drugs are either a casual joke, a source of phony “edginess,” or usually just ignored in the press today.
Can’t imagine a comic devoting a multi-part story today to the issue. Gru’s writing from the POV that Cap just HAS to address the topic.
So, the first chapter opens with Cap discovering that Avengers lackey Fabian is using the new street drug Ice.
He forces Fabian into treatment, but is floored when Fabian suggests that Super-Soldier Serum is just another drug.
“Floored” not because it’s such an inane comparison, but because Gru just decided one day that the Serum was essentially steroids.
Cap decides to wage a war on drugs. Meanwhile, Bullseye escapes from prison in a fantastic scene.
Ron Lim doesn’t emphasize the grit, but it’s easily something you could see Miller doing. Teeth work just as well as paperclips, apparently…
The backup story stars two of my favorites from this era -- USAgent and Battlestar.
Battlestar wants to know why Agent didn’t tell him that he faked his death earlier. Agent has no idea what he’s talking about.
And when ‘Star mentions Agent’s dead parents, he breaks into a psychotic rage and tries to kill his friend.
I’ve always been intrigued by Gru’s take on USAgent…on paper, it sounds like every cliché that I normally hate.
But I seem to recall Gru pulling it off. The friendship between USAgent and Battlestar was the center of the book for a few months -- and I’m glad he hasn’t kicked the guys out of the series, even if the “replace a hero” arc is long over.
The backups were often the highlight of this book. Love the way Gru turned the book over to villains, bit players, & washed-up replacement heroes…
CAPTAIN AMERICA #373 - Hey, Diamondback had her own logo.
Last issue, Cap narrowly escaped an explosion triggered by Napalm, he of the wifebeater & shoulder-length mullet.
Cap’s invasion of the drug trade has somehow convinced Napalm’s men that the Kingpin is moving in on their turf.
Leading us to Kingpin’s introduction into the arc. He hires Bullseye to find who’s running this rival drug trade.
As Bullseye points out, he’s not a detective. He just wants to kill people. He needs a job, though.
Meanwhile, Cap’s acting oddly after escaping death, and Diamondback & Black Widow have a misunderstanding fight.
60-ish Peggy Carter is in the background, watching Cap cavort with his new girlfriend, who’s around her granddaughter’s age.
Diamondback’s sporting that half-shaved look that came back into style 4-5 years ago. Peggy must’ve been thrilled.
Not only is Cap dating someone 1/3 his age, but she’s a hipster cat burglar with an obnoxious hairstyle.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #374 - continuing the unofficial crossover from DAREDEVIL #283.
Not sure if the details match; DD didn’t return to his old identity after only one day in his book.
Even Cap isn’t sure how he ended up in upstate NY in that story, either. If only both books shared the same editor.
Oh, wait. They did.
It’s nice to know why Cap was out of character in that DD issue, though. He absorbed Ice during the warehouse explosion.
That means…Cap’s on drugs!
Now, his friends are secretly keeping an eye on him, when they’re not busy dodging drive-by fire.Diamondback goes undercover by wearing a different diamond-themed outfit. (Okay, and a wig.)
Monday, May 30, 2016
The second entry in my Batman Adventures/The Animated Series retrospective was posted today. Discover just how unlovable one Batman foe turned out to be. Any feedback is appreciated; I've wanted to discuss this specific incarnation of the character for a while now, but this is the first attempt I've made. I'd like to find an angle that doesn't just repeat what we already know -- that these stories are pretty great Batman stories.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
My new, somewhat regular, feature on Comics Should Be Good! debuts today. I'm examining Batman: The Animated Series, and its sister title, Batman Adventures. I'm open to suggestions on which issues to cover, so just let me know in the comments section. More Adventure(s) Time will follow sometime in the future...
Monday, April 25, 2016
DETECTIVE COMICS #486 - Early John Workman lettering!
O’Neil is back to Maxie Zeus already, even though he was hinting at an ongoing League of Assassins arc.
Nothing remarkable about the story, but it’s a fine showcase for Don Newton.
Newton’s Batman is eerily similar to Alan Davis’ Batman in the ‘80s.
Both are influenced by Neal Adams, but it’s amazing how close Davis came to Newton at times.
Newton also evokes that gangly, odd Gene Colan anatomy at times, although I think Colan is years away from Batman at this date.
BRAVE & THE BOLD #156 - “Corruption in the police force? Impossible!” says Gordon, unaware of what the ‘80s will bring BATMAN.
(And having forgotten the details of Robin’s very first origin story, apparently.)
A murdered cop makes a deal with a demon to avenge his sullied name -- sounds dark and disturbing, but really it’s more Silver Age goofiness.
Somehow this leads to the GCPD being possessed by demons, all out for Batman’s blood.
And the dead cop’s name? Donald Sterling. (Not distracting at all when read today, of course.)
Newton has a chance to channel Ditko for a few pages here.
Another connection to Alan Davis -- both have Neal Adams and Ditko as influences, even though they’re nothing alike.
DETECTIVE COMICS #487 - Are you ready for Ma Murder?
Even though O’Neil’s known for taking Batman back to his roots, he never shies away from silly villains.
And his Batman always has a since of humor. The stories themselves aren’t jokes, but Batman himself isn’t so grim.
He’s willing to sneak up behind a villain in a movie theater and swipe popcorn out of her bag, for example.
Or the famous “BOO!” panel that John Byrne loves so much.
DETECTIVE COMICS #488 - Guest writer, Cary Burkett.
I admit I’m not that familiar with Burkett’s work, but he does a great job here.
Burkett delivers a high concept, a murder mystery, and numerous action scenes into just 17 pages.
The story involves a death row murderer writing a book about his encounter with Batman--which is such a hit, his publisher is arranging to have him freed to make room for a sequel!
Bruce Wayne is also dating a reformed Selina Kyle in these days, although none of the stories reprinted so far have shown this.
Bruce’s personal life seems pretty much non-existent during this era.
DETECTIVE COMICS #489 & 490 - So Ra’s had a bulky, bald henchman named Lurk, not Abu, in the ‘70s?
Interesting to see O’Neil address his issues with violence even in these kinda silly old stories.
The Sensei’s master plan for this storyline -- “Assassination by earthquake!”
I’m 208 pages into this book, and only now do I see the first period.
Crazy to think DC waited so long in following Marvel’s lead and finally embracing the period.
I realize some production issue prevented the period for years, but Marvel addressed it in the early 70s, I believe.
DETECTIVE COMICS #491 - Oh, c’mon - Maxie Zeus again?
I love how Batman is still hiding his cowl and ears under human masks - in 1980!
Was surprised to see Batman confront a corrupt Irish cop named O’Hara this issue.
O’Hara was still in the comics in the 70s, so I didn’t know if perhaps this was O’Neil’s way of writing him out.
Turns out the TV cop is Clancy O'Hara and this guy is Bernard O’Hara. Still, it’s surprising that he’d use the name.
You wouldn’t have Batman encounter a corrupt cop named Gordon, would you?
DETECTIVE COMICS #492 - The return of Cary Burkett - and Batgirl!
Burkett seems to be one of DC’s best writers of this era.
He understands the shock value opening house style, but also brings more characterization & depth to his stories.
Burkett also uses captions sparingly, and isn’t afraid to let the artist carry the story.
Aside from the numerous exclamation points, this reads as something that could be published today.
Somewhat surprised this issue wasn’t adapted as a Batgirl-themed episode of TAS.
Gordon, Batman, & Batgirl all have nice moments, and the deadly military toys seem like something Timm would like.
And the villain, Gen. Scarr, could’ve been replaced with ‘90s villain The General from ROBIN.
BRAVE & THE BOLD #165 - Starring Man-Bat and his sick baby.
Batman quickly discerns that a truck is running drugs -- because they don’t have a front license plate.
More obscure DC continuity -- a Dr. Dundee, Bruce’s parent’s doctor, knows Bruce’s secret & patches him up when he’s injured.
Seems like both Alfred and Leslie Tompkins have taken Dr. Dundee’s place since the ‘80s.
Also weird that Bruce demands Dundee never ask him questions, when he already knows Bruce’s secret.
And, wow, does Marty Pasko write a talkative Batman. He’s more of a motormouth than Spider-Man in this issue.
I assume the point of the story is to return Man-Bat as a villain, using his sick baby as the motivation.
I like the idea that his baby can’t sleep because she’s inherited acute hearing from her parents.
I’m going to assume the baby was wiped from continuity, or something just horrible happened to her.
You’re a baby in a superhero comic…unless your name’s Franklin Richards, you’re not gonna make it, pal.
DETECTIVE COMICS #493 - Batman teams with the Swashbuckler, who I assume has been killed off by now, for the first time.
Swashbuckler has an interesting design -- full-face masks and sinister, Ditko-esque eyes were in style at this time.
One great thing about Newton’s art is how on-model it is. Batman and Riddler just look “right” throughout the issue.
DETECTIVE COMICS #494 - A guest issue by Michael Fleisher, who is absolutely not “certifiable.”
Crime Doctor is another forgotten villain from this era that was revived for Batman: TAS -- although the cartoon’s plot has nothing in common with this issue. The cartoon focuses on elderly supporting cast members & is dismissed by many as a dull episode. (“The Seniors Chase Each Other Around A Table” episode.)
The comic is a silly story about a bored doctor who decides to plan heists for extra money, which he donates to charity.
The story ends with Batman & the Crime Doctor trapped in an explosion, and it’s resolved -- after a totally unrelated story is reprinted, due to DC’s nutty reprint policy.
BATMAN #328 - An early Marv Wolfman BATMAN story.
Seems as if DC writers still believe each story has to open with a gimmicky high concept that’s dismissed by issue’s end.
This issue -- Alfred believes the Batcave is haunted!
Somehow, Jim Gordon’s first case from 35 years ago ties into this, and we learn that there’s no ghost at all -- just a nonsensical explanation that I’m sure Jim Shooter would’ve loved to drive holes through.
DETECTIVE COMICS #495 - Back to the Crime Doctor.
This arc is undeniably silly, but Fleisher generates some real tension this issue.
Crime Doctor has discerned Batman’s secret ID, & Batman spends the issue agonizing over whether or not the Doc has revealed it to anyone.
Meanwhile, the Crime Doctor just wants to get out of town and start over, terrified of both Batman and the mob.
Batman ultimately saves Crime Doctor from the mob, but not before he’s poisoned --a poison that conveniently leaves the Crime Doctor a human vegetable.
That’ll learn ya not to discover a superhero’s secret ID, ya dumb punk doctor.
DETECTIVE COMICS #496 - Featuring the original Clayface and his floppy hat.
The story opens with Batman swooping in to rescue a woman from a falling dinosaur statue -- a sequence that must’ve taken a full minute, given the amount of dialogue spouted by four different characters.
From there, Clayface escapes from Arkham and seeks his revenge on a Hollywood producer who’s snubbed him.
The plot’s very similar to the later Batman: TAS episode with the aging model as a villain. And is just as engaging.
Clayface is a pretty nasty villain, though. Not only does he kill anyone in his way, but he carries literal napalm bombs into battle.
DETECTIVE COMICS #497 - Exiting on a high note…
An early Gerry Conway Batman story, inspired by Will Eisner. Best installment in the trade.
Conway follows the DC formula of a dramatic opening, but never cheats the reader with some lame copout later.
It’s also one of the few stories in the trade to do real character work, and present a theme deeper than “good conquers evil.”
It’s a story of a wounded Batman entering a seedy Mexican saloon, its residents all facing different disappointments in life.
Batman touches everyone’s life just by being there, even though some people still stubbornly refuse to learn a lesson.
Also, Batman hurls a gas canister at a Rolls Royce and blows it up real good, so it’s got that going for it, too.