KC Column: This & That (APR 09)

 height=by KC Carlson

Many thanks to all those who have sent along good wishes after my recent mini-stroke. They were all much appreciated and have helped a lot to keep my spirits high. My physical recovery is going quite well. I feel like I'm about 98% of normal in terms of being able to physically function at the levels I was at. I'm now concentrating on regaining strength and stamina. Mentally, I still have good days and bad days, but the bad days are getting fewer and farther apart, and I feel confident about being able to get past them fairly soon.

One thing I've had plenty of (maybe too much!) in the last few weeks is downtime, so it's been nice to catch up on watching DVDs and reading comics. Of course, I have some random thoughts about what I've read recently:

I caught up on all the Batman titles. I've pretty much read everything except the two Last Rites issues of Batman written by Grant Morrison, because I've heard that they are really more concerned with Final Crisis. I'm not quite ready to finish reading Final Crisis yet. (I just had a stroke and I don't really want another one!)

I don't have much to say about Grant Morrison's run on Batman, mostly because I think those issues are going to require another re-read (this time all at once), but I was greatly amused that Grant used so many 1950s-early 60s Batman stories as inspiration. This pre-"New Look" Batman era is not particularly beloved - it's full of really bad sci-fi Batman stories, with lots of out-of-character time travel and robot stories and doofy stories where Batman changed his costume (Rainbow Batman!) seemingly every issue! The early Batman Annuals and 80-Page Giants of the 1960s pretty much reprinted all the great stories from this era, and DC has been loath to reprint many of them since. Notably, the Showcase Batman collections skipped this era completely, although you can find a few stories in the Batman in the Fifties, Batman in the Sixties, and the Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told volumes.

All the time I was reading Grant's new Batman stories, I was thinking DC really should do a collection of all these original stories - what a surprise to find out they are! Listed last month (and shipping in June) was Batman: The Black Casebook, a brand new-collection of vintage Batman stories that inspired much of the last year's worth of Grant Morrison stories. Plus the book features a new introduction by Morrison and a cover by Alex Ross to boot! Much recommended! (And if you like those, you should also check out the upcoming DC Comics Classic Library: Batman - The Annuals Volume 1, reprinting the first three Batman Annuals, which features many of the best Batman stories from the Forties and Fifties. It's pricey - but good!)

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After seeing the first wave of Battle for the Cowl books, I'm glad this stunt only lasts for three months. I wasn't fond of the idea in the first place - it seems more like a sandbox game played by young boys with their action figures ("I'm Nightwing! Batman's gone and I'm gonna be the new Batman!" "No, you big butthead! I'm Robin and I'm gonna be the Batman!") than a good idea for a comic book. Obviously, it's just marking time until the real Batman comes back, right? Although if Grant Morrison's writing it, it might be more like "I'm back! But now I'm RAINBOW Batman! Beware!" I guess we'll find out in June!

Gee, only a few issues into Battle for the Cowl and we already have two decapitations, one in Azrael (reasonably tastefully done) and one in Oracle: The Cure (not so much). I was originally going to complain about gratuitous violence, but ultimately decided I wasn't going to lose my head about it.

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I'm very much enjoying the new Dark Reign-era of comics over at Marvel, mostly because it seems to have brought back a certain level of unpredictability which has long been missing in super-hero comics lately. With recent events in some of the Avengers books, Ms. Marvel, and Secret Warriors, it seems that there's a newfound "What's gonna happen next?" feeling again, at least in some comics. Although, kids, keep in mind that the "Dark Reign" designation is less an actual story title than a blanket marketing-based designation covering a very wide range of super-hero titles (maybe too many - like with Secret Invasion). And while I'm sure that Marvel would love you to collect them all, you don't really have to. Some of them (as with virtually every kind of promotion like this) are just not that critical to the main gist of the storyline. I've discovered recently that cutting back a bit at reading and collecting the same old titles I've been getting out of habit has allowed me to look at some newer titles and concepts that I normally wouldn't have tried (as well as being able to pick up the occasional classic reprint collection!). It's not so much that I'm cutting back on comics - it's more re-focusing my attention to books that actually make me happy to read. Here are a few of my faves (so far):

 height=I was quite bemused by the juxtaposition of Dark Avengers #1 hitting the stands the day after Barack Obama's inauguration. Not to get all political here, but it seemed very weird to read such a dark book on the day following such a historical and filled-with-potential day for the U.S. The book itself wasn't that dark, but it certainly was the beginning of leading the Marvel Universe (at least the Avengers-oriented part of it) down a very dark road. While I was reading about Norman Osborn, I was thinking Dick Cheney, which made me think that the Dark Reign stunt probably couldn't run too long (as Marvel traditionally likes its Universe to reflect ours for the most part), and because Cheney is pretty much done here (although his legacy lingers on) and people want change. I have to grudgingly admit that Brian Bendis (never one of my favorite writers, until recently) probably knows what he's doing. I, at least, owe him thanks for saving the Avengers franchise from the hell it was in several years ago in the post-Kurt Busiek/George Perez era. I haven't read past Dark Avengers #1 yet (I'm waiting for my Westfield box, just like most of you guys!), but I'm very interested in how it will all play out.

 height=I'm also quite bemused that Thunderbolts is now in the spotlight, especially since it wasn't all that long ago it abandoned its "Super-Villains trying to be good" roots in favor of a sort of underground ultimate fighting book which was quickly forgotten after six issues. It will be interesting to see how this title manages to co-exist with the Dark Avengers book (for reasons which I'm kinda tap-dancing around here, in case somebody doesn't know the secret). I wasn't as impressed with the "big secret" this time around, as it wasn't as big a shock as the original Kurt Busiek "big secret" that was the origin of the series in the first place. But I was impressed with Warren Ellis (again, not previously one of my favorite writers) and Christos Gage's run on Thunderbolts, which inspired Bendis to pick up on how best to use Norman Osborn in Secret Invasion and beyond. If you haven't read them, pick them up the collections: Faith In Monsters (Vol. 1), Changed Angels (Vol. 2), and Secret Invasion (Vol. 3). Although I gotta say that they're kinda violent here and there.

There are a lot of new concepts coming out of Secret Invasion/Dark Reign that are worth looking into, including Secret Warriors. These were the characters from Secret Invasion that Nick Fury hand-picked because they were unknown quantities (and therefore, probably not Skrulls) during SI. Many of them are the sons and daughters of existing super-powered Marvel heroes and villains. I actually didn't really care much about these characters going into the book (but realize that they do have a lot of potential, as well as their origins and background providing for a lot of upcoming mystery and conflict). I'm also not crazy about what looks like another top-secret cabal-like gathering here in issue #2. Aren't the Illuminati and the uh... Cabal enough? Too many times to the well, I think. However, I'm recommending this for two reasons: First of all, Nick Fury (hands-down, my favorite classic Marvel character) is back, baby! And he better be back to stay, because this fan is pretty tired of having him constantly written out of the Marvel Universe for the last decade or so. (I'm pretty sure he'll be sticking around, since Marvel Studios just offered Samuel L. Jackson - who played Fury in Iron Man - an 8-picture deal to play Fury.) Second, there's a major spoiler in issue #1 that completely changes the way we think about the way espionage works in the Marvel Universe and who's really in charge of things! And it's done with charts and diagrams! I love spy stories! Bring back the Barber Shop!

 height=Jeff Parker (one of my favorite writers) has cleverly figured out how to bring his quirky Agents of Atlas team back to the MU under the auspices of Dark Reign in a very clever way. (The first page of #1 made me laugh a lot! Jeff does the best recap pages in the comics biz.) Also, didja know Wolverine appears in #1? And who doesn't love Wolverine? (Especially this year!) By the way, you can now read the original 1950s adventures of some of the team members in the Marvel Masterworks' Atlas Era Heroes series (Marvel Boy is in Vol. 1). Plus, Jimmy Woo is featured in the Yellow Claw stories in the upcoming Black Knight/Yellow Claw volume. But I'm holding out for a volume (or two) of Venus, one of the quirkiest series ever. What was unusual for the series was that its genre changed every few issues from super-hero to sci-fi adventure to horror and even romance. Check out this cover gallery at the Grand Comics Database.

 height=Some unanswered Secret Invasion questions are also being addressed during Dark Reign, especially the fates of Elektra (Dark Reign: Elektra), Mockingbird (New Avengers: The Reunion), and Spider-Woman and Echo (the now-delayed Spider-Woman series). But some very old plot threads (reaching back to House of M) may be unfolding in the pages of Mighty Avengers, where writer Dan Slott (Avengers: The Initiative) may (or may not) be looking into the long-unresolved mystery of the Scarlet Witch! Look for a lot of Avenger-y goodness in Mighty Avengers.

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DC's recent Origins & Omens stunt was an odd beast. These were short (usually five pages) back-up features, all of which were "narrated" by the recently disfigured Scar (clever name, that), one of the Guardians of the Universe who will most likely be an important part of the upcoming "Blackest Night" event. Blackest Night was recently upgraded from a Green Lantern-centric thing to a much larger DC Universe crossover after Final Crisis didn't really end with the Bang that DC expected (it was more like the sound of air rushing out of an untied balloon). So, DC is pushing Blackest Night like crazy, and Origins & Omens are part of the first wave of that.

Part of every O & O story I've seen (haven't seen 'em all yet - still waiting for my box!) includes a sort-of flash-forward storytelling gimmick that DC is obviously in love with right now, as they've also used it in a couple of DCU promo posters for Infinite Crisis as well as Justice League of America #0, the finale of the Sinestro Corps War, and another couple of places which are slipping my mind right now. In O & O, the storytelling device manifests itself on the last page of each story, where vignettes of the supposed future of each book/character are revealed.

Back in the day, the flash-forward device was best used in a story of the Adult Legion of Super-Heroes written by a very young Jim Shooter and published in Adventure Comics #354 & 355. In short order, it became one on the most popular stories for Legion fans and a combination of fertile future story ideas as well as kind of a millstone for every Legion creative team that followed Shooter.

Shooter's story was popular in that it speculated that many of the then-current romantic pairings would indeed consummate in marriage. Further, a commemorative galley of monuments to deceased Legionnaires - many of which were not actual Legionnaires yet - also fueled imaginations. Fans also used the story to speculate by omission. Some Legionnaires who weren't married as adults were considered as leading candidates to possibly be gay. Shooter himself "created" one of the dead characters - Shadow Lass - about a year after this story. Her Adult Legion legacy - to "die saving the Science Asteroid" was never told in any version of the LSH.

Another future "deceased" character was Quantum Queen, who was later introduced as a member of the Wanderers, also in a story written by Jim Shooter. She did eventually die - with her entire team - in the finale of an ill-conceived spin-off series. She did not die according to her "adult Legion" destiny.

Another deceased member, Reflecto, was ignored for so many years that he became a sort of inside joke among Legion fans. Eventually he did turn up, 14 years after the original Adult Legion story, in one of the more convoluted Legion stories of all time. He was not a real character at all. He was actually Superboy, possessed by the consciousness of an apparently dead Ultra Boy, while also suffering some sort of post-hypnotic amnesia. (It actually hurt my fingers to type that.)

Sometimes it's dangerous to mess with the future.

 height=Finally, so many years had passed since the original Adult Legion story that many contradictions to it had crept into continuity. In 1983, writer Paul Levitz decided to deal with the long legacy of the Adult Legion story in the memorable Legion of Super-Heroes #300 (although the thing probably most-remembered about that particular issue was the "jam" cover of all the Legionnaires by dozens of different artists). In the story (recently reprinted in the Legion of Super-Heroes: 1050 Years of the Future TPB), it was revealed that the Adult Legion story was actually a alternate world mind-construct of Douglas Nolan, brother of deceased Legionnaire Andrew Nolan (Ferro Lad). At least I think that's correct, although even Brainiac 5, Rond Vidar, and Chronarch Circada Senius admit in the story that they do not actually know what exactly transpired. So, 16 years after the original Adult Legion story, it was finally laid to rest.

Even having a series set in the future was fraught with problems when the Universe in the present was ever-changing. When I was editing the Legion in the 1990s, one of my most frequent questions from longtime Legion fans was "whatever happened to Rond Vidar?" who was, briefly, a covert Green Lantern in the 30th Century during the original Hal Jordan era. The simple answer was that during the time I was editing the book, Hal had gone nuts and killed almost all of the entire Green Lantern Corps and its Guardians. At that point in the DCU, the GL Corps no longer existed - and by extension, potentially would never exist again, especially in the 30th Century. So, as when John Byrne changed Superman continuity so that there was no Superboy (and who never joined the Legion), the Legion's continuity was screwed up beyond the control of the Legion creators. Rond was never a Green Lantern, I was told. (Of course, now that the GL Corps has been reestablished in the current DCU, Geoff Johns is having fun with a GL Rond Vidar over in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds.)

At one point, I was even asked to remove all references to the Daily Planet in the Legion books (we were doing Daily Planet Omnicom pages in the books at the time) by the Superman editor who felt that he could never do a "Daily Planet goes out of business" story because of the Legion's use of the Planet logo 1,000 years in the future. I successfully argued that the use of the Planet was an important touchstone to help readers remember that the Legion was, indeed, still a part of the DCU, especially since we were not allowed to do anything with a Superboy or Supergirl character. I also reminded them that prestigious magazines, like Life, would often come and go (thank you, DC Parent Company!). Fortunately, I didn't have to mention that said editor was being a poopyhead over such a trivial thing. But such was life in the 30th century.

The use of flash-forwards can be a very effective tool - but only if you remember to pay them off within a reasonable amount of time. Looking back at the flash-forward sequences of JLA #0, I see the foreshadowing of Jonathan Kent's death and funeral, which happened last year. But I also see the wedding of Hal Jordan, plus implied marriages of Bruce Wayne (isn't he dead?) and Diana Prince and a stated second wedding for Donna Troy juxtaposed with a comment about Dick (implying they're the happy couple). Later, it's stated that Diana gives up her immortality to be with her intended and Batman also gave up something for his wife. Then there's that shot of a crazed Lex Luthor, wailing on the Trinity, apparently over the death of Lex's son. What's that about? Plus there's that scene in the "new" satellite where Superman is cursing Bruce for not showing up at a pre-arranged JLA meeting (and implies that Diana didn't show up either, possibly because of him). Also, the scene of Superman and Wonder Woman discussing Batman's death isn't about the most recent "death" (because of the "he went underground for years" comment). They're talking about Batman's much-future death, although the going underground bit may be about the current situation. We'll soon find out. Plus, there's that discovery of a second earth, which looks a lot like the DCU of the Silver Age and not so much like the since-destroyed Earth-51. How many of these things do you think will actually play out as described here? Hopefully, we won't have to wait more than a decade to find out!

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 height=Looking through the newest solicitations (for June shipping), it looks like the super-hero book of the month is Captain America #600 (obviously, like the recent Thor, the title is reverting back to its original numbering), with contributions by past Cap greats Joe Simon (Cap's co-creator), Roger Stern and Mark Waid (possibly reprints), and an alternative cover by Alex Ross. There's also a new, regular, story written by Ed Brubaker. After months (years!) of skepticism on my part about Steve Rogers really being dead, this series is so well-written (and Bucky/Cap being more and more fully integrated into the Marvel Universe as a whole - he's back in the Avengers and they're all living in Steve's old brownstone!) that it makes me finally think that maybe Steve Rogers is never coming back. Maybe he really is dead! But then again, maybe that's just where Brubaker wants me... From the solicitation: "It's the anniversary of the day Steve Rogers was killed, a day of reflection and mourning in the Marvel U... a time to look back on the things Steve did and what he stood for... or is this issue actually the beginning of the most wicked plot twist since issue 25? Yeah, actually it's both." Uh-oh...

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I'm sure that pet-lovers everywhere have already heard of the upcoming Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers miniseries, starting in May and starring Marvel's favorite critters in all-out action! (The fur will fly!) But are you ready for the Marvel Pets Handbook, out in June? No, sadly, it's not a care and feeding how-to book. (Although that would be cool... Just how big are Lockjaw's poops anyway? I mean, how big a baggie does Black Bolt need when he has to walk him?) Sadly, it's just another Marvel Universe Handbook tie-in. Do we really need to find out how much Lockheed can bench-press, anyway?

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I was loving Justice League of America until I read the most recent issue, #31. I will try to stay away from plot details since many of you probably haven't received it yet. It starts out with a classic bonehead mistake on Page One. Zatanna is supposed to be talking to Dinah (Black Canary), as indicated by context and two word balloons, but the artist has drawn Wonder Woman (Diana) instead, in a large close-up headshot. The writer obviously meant for it to be Black Canary, because she is the central character in this issue, who is talking to all the JLA members throughout the issue. The issue goes downhill from there.

The gist of the story is that the JLA is in disarray because of some (to us) upcoming event, a miniseries called Justice League: A Cry For Justice, which a helpful footnote tells us will not be published until July. Wha-?! We don't get to find out why the JLA is falling apart for four months? Plus, it happens outside of the JLA's regular book? Sorry, folks, it's great that you are actually acknowledging continuity outside of your own title for a change, but shouldn't the stories line up a little bit better? And (here's the spoiler, although I don't think anyone's going to be surprised) they are taking the big guns out of the book again. This is not the current team's fault - it's DCs fault! But hey, the team will probably break up (again) during Blackest Night, so they'll cancel the book (again) and re-start it (again) with a new #1 (again). I wonder why this wasn't in the JLA's Origins & Omens story? DC Comics: True innovators in repetition!

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 height=No, I don't hate everything DC is doing. It's just that it seems like most everything is floundering post-Final Crisis or marking time like the current Batman books. DC seemingly delayed a lot of the better projects originally planned to coming out of the FC event (after its tepid reception from many - but not all - fans) and have moved them back to launch nearer to the upcoming Blackest Night storyline. I'm very excited about the Flash relaunch (first issue is out the day after I turn in this column). I'm a big fan of the current GL series (and have said so many times here), although with the current mania for color-based concepts I have to wonder if Rainbow Bright is joining the GL Corps soon. I'm hopeful about the Legion relaunch, hopefully later this year. And I am cautiously optimistic about the new Batman books. I still love Secret Six and Wonder Woman and the Superman books (although I'm tiring of the Kryptionions, which doesn't bode well for the new maxi-series). Plus, I'm very excited about a couple of future projects that haven't been announced yet (and that I can't talk about) including George Perez's next project for DC (after the amazing Legion of Three Worlds project.). DC just went through a whole wave of cancellations (including some of their quirkier but low-selling books) and are just in one of their occasional periods of transition. I hope.

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We hear that our pal Krafty Kathryn Immonen (Patsy Walker: Hellcat) will be taking over the writing of Marvel's Runaways. Cool!

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Best Ofs:

Best Batman story of 2009 (so far): Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert's Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? I am anxiously awaiting Part Two, but I've already decided that I'm springing for the Hardcover as soon as it comes out.

Best Thor story of 2009 (so far): Welcome Back Thor from Thor #600 by Chris Giarrusso (although the lead story was pretty nifty, as well). Giarrusso's Mini-Marvels mini-epics are the biggest giggle-fests around and generally the highlight of any book he is in. I also get tremendous pleasure from imagining the steam coming from the ears of the takes-comics-way-too-seriously sector of the Marvel audience when they read these. (I need to get out more.) Also recommended: Giarrusso's Mini-Marvels: Rock, Paper, Scissors Digest. (Although it might be out-of-print already. That's dumb.)

Best Lettercol: Steve Wacker's Amazing Spider-Man texts are often like out-of-body experiences! Although he doesn't have much competition here (mostly because he does them out of the goodness of his own normally-evil heart). And while you're checking out the letters, try reading Mark Waid's recent Spidey stories (ASM #578-579 & 583) as well as the recent Character Assassination storyline (ASM #584-588) by Marc Guggenheim and (mostly) JR Jr. Good reads, all.

Biggest Disappointments (so far):

The Oracle: The Cure miniseries. Was very disappointed that it devolved into a "boy's club" peek-a-boo T & A project, because many elements of it showed real promise.

The return of Milestone's Blood Syndicate in Justice League of America #27-30. It was going great for the first two issues, until they got shoved aside for - Starbreaker and the Shadow Thief? Really? Hopefully we won't have to wait forever for a return visit. Meanwhile, over in Teen Titansville, Static has gotten lost in the tedious Fight Club storyline. C'mon, DC - the Milestone characters deserve better than this!

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KC Carlson is not related to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt (although he always wanted to be). Also, somebody's probably going to be along here soon to tell you that my opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Westfield (Westfields got opinions? What's a Westfield?) or the lizards who live in the rafters in the Westfield warehouse.* In reality, my opinions are actually stolen from my identical cousin's doppleganger from a parallel (or perpendicular. I forget.) world whose name actually is John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.

Good thing nothing happened to my brain when I had that stroke.

*No. You took care of that for us.

Got comments or questions about this column? You can contact KC at AuntieKC@WestfieldComics.com

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