The Great Debate: Marvel vs DC Part 2

I prefer DC.

Thirteen year old me would be flabbergasted by that statement. Never in a million years would I have ever thought that I would like DC more than I like Marvel.

Here's the thing about Marvel, and I'm sure many will disagree: there became a point where their need to be relevant, to be the "real world" got in the way of their own universe. Instead of embracing what they were, they constantly attempted to graft on to the world around them. That was a winning philosophy in the 60s and even in the 70s, but by the 80s it no longer made sense and, to be honest, Marvel had stopped doing it. That's why the New Universe was created.

Sad to say, but I think it was 9/11 that ultimately led to Marvel wagging the dog. From that point on, real world issues became a focus for Marvel comics even if that focus made no sense. It would eventually lead to Civil War and the beginning of Marvel's relentless stream of events. 

DC has never had to concern itself with, well, being "with it." It's never been "with it." I mean, don't get me wrong, they made the effort. Bob Haney alone brought more hip lingo to the comics than an army of writers. DC tried to play Marvel's game on a regular basis and almost always failed. But the fact that they failed meant that no one expected it from them. DC was never going to be the cool comic book company and it took them decades to figure that out.


What DC had was scale. DC was where epics lived. That was their bread and butter even if they didn't realize it. DC had legacy. It had fictional cities. It had history. It was able to fully embrace all the insanity that shared superhero universes create. 

Since it was a part of a large corporation (unlike Marvel until they were bought by Disney a few years ago), it often seemed like DC didn't care about sales. They were much less focused on chasing trends, it seemed, at least post-Crisis. Before 1985, they'd spend twenty years trying to come up with way to be more like Marvel. But after Crisis, it seemed like cooler heads prevailed, at least for every character but Superman.

Even during the extreme 90s, DC tempered their books with the Vertigo line, not to mention Helix, Impact, Milestone, Paradox Press, and even Pirhanha Press, which was still publishing books at the beginning of the decade. DC's output has always been all over the place in both content and format.

And this began not long after Crisis on Infinite Earths. For example, in October of 1987, besides their traditional superhero comics, DC published Doc Savage, Hellblazer, a mature readers Question, Sgt Rock, the Shadow, Silverblade, Slash Maraud, Sonic Disruptors, mature readers Swamp Thing, Underworld, and Wasteland. You are probably going to have to Google most of those because they're not superhero comics, they are genre expanding experiments that DC has done regularly for decades. And all of this was after Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.

DC has never gotten the credit they deserve for pushing the medium forward, for taking chances on new concepts. Marvel had Epic, a line which didn't last long and hasn't been around for years. Every attempt at restarting or reproducing Epic has sputtered. But DC just keeps trying to the point of insanity, really, as their bottom line surely can't take so many failed comics.

I don't think it would be hyperbole to say that Marvel saved superhero comics. Even as I'm writing about my preference for DC, I want to make it clear that Marvel is vitally important and has published some amazing comics. I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for Spider-man and the X-Men. I would rather have Strikeforce Morituri and the Squadron Supreme on a desert island with me than The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. Marvel introduced me to Eflquest. I love Marvel Comics (although not much of what they're doing now).

But DC is iconic and it's a role they've embraced, often because they've paid the price when they don't.

The New 52 made more of an effort to "ground" DC's characters than had even been done post-Crisis, when DC was theoretically trying to make itself more like Marvel. But the post-Crisis DC maintained the iconic qualities of the characters, even if creators attempted to make those characters somewhat more relatable. The post-Crisis DCU also attempted to merge pre-Crisis elements, pulling an Earth-2 Justice Society into Earth 1's history, for example. The New 52 made no efforts like that. It was to be a brand new start.

It did not go well. And, as should have been no surprising, DC's return to form has been a roaring success.  Superman is Superman again and all is right with the world.

Fictional Cities

I am a sucker for fictional cities and there is no clearer line drawn between Marvel and DC than this one. Marvel has always hung its hat on being a reflection of the "real" world, so it doesn't have fictional cities (in America, at least, as the Marvel U. seems to have no problem with fictional countries).


I love Gotham. I love Metropolis. Hell, I love Opal City, Keystone, Central City, Star City, Coast City, Hub City, Fawcett City, Smallville, etc. I love them all. I love that they are based in our reality, but they are so much more. I love the maps of the cities, I love the stories that are built around these cities, and I love the characters that are dedicated to these cities. Nine times out of ten, a character who is connected to a city will win me over.

There's a lot of flexibility to a fictional city, a lot of room to flex creative muscles. Using fictional cities has also allowed DC to expand its characters beyond a single city. Marvel chose to locate itself in the real world and since the majority of Marvel's early creators lived in or around New York (where Marvel is located), that became the default location for their superheroes. It ends up being limiting, although I doubt it's a problem for most people.

I'm also a sucker for historical fiction and DC's cities have nothing but fictional histories.


And since these aren't real places, DC can (and often does) do drastic things to their cities, like destroying them and (sometimes) rebuilding them or grow a star shaped forest in the middle of them. No Man's Land is a fantastic Batman story, but it couldn't exist if the Caped Crusader fought crime in New York City.


If I remember correctly, Stan Lee was anti-sidekicks, an understandable stance if your goal is to make your superhero universe at least a little realistic. Putting a teenager in danger as a sidekick makes zero sense, but superhero comics don't usually adhere to sense. Captain America has never really had a sidekick since he was frozen in ice, yet Batman has had 5 (suck it up and finally admit that Stephanie Brown was a Robin, DC, you punks).


DC has a long history of teen (or younger) sidekicks, nearly as long as their superhero history itself. Those two things combine to create the perfect scenario for legacy characters.

Legacy characters can be problematic, I admit. Their existence suggests the passing of time, something corporately owned superheroes just don't do. But seeing characters age and evolve is one of my favorite things in comics and it happens very rarely. This is why I loved the original Earth-2 so much.

Legacy characters also allow DC to expand their lines organically. The original Robin grows up and becomes Nightwing and he gets his own book. Sidekicks get their own book and adult former sidekicks get their own book. And prior to Flashpoint, the original generation of heroes got their own books.

It's also a good (but largely untapped) option for modernizing depictions of characters. In theory, the current Robin has Middle Eastern ancestry, although you'd never know it from the comics. There was even a girl Robin! But, again, you'd never know it from the comics. Earth's Green Lanterns are a Latina and a Muslim! Kid Flash is black! Aqualad is black and gay! Blue Beetle is Latino! It's almost like superheroes are starting to reflect society or something.


All of that can happen without changing the characters that old white guys hold so precious.

The mere implication of legacy also means that DC has to at least move time forward a little bit, which has given us to of the greatest characters in recent memory: Damian Wayne and Jon Kent. Your mileage may vary with regards to the characters themselves, but Superman and Batman being fathers is everything I could have ever asked for. This is particularly true for Superman, given he's a responsible father figure.

Marvel will always hold a special spot in my comic book loving heart and it pains me to see the state they are currently in. But even if/when they finally turn it around, DC will remain my favorite.

The Great Debate: Marvel vs DC

I'll be honest, I kind of hate the "Marvel vs DC" battle. I understand it from a branding standpoint, sure, so, fine, that's what creators want to do to stay on point. But the fan involvement is strange to me. I just don't get it. Comics are comics and, frankly, neither company looks particularly good when you dig into their business practices.

Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a preference.

The first comic books I ever bought with my own money were Web of Spider-man #17 and Uncanny X-Men #207. I bought them off the spinner rack from my local Convenient store (it's fully name, at least now, is Convenient Food Mart, but the I went to when I was 11 is now a Shell gas station). I just now noticed that they came out in different months, so thank you outdated spinner rack.

It's easy to see why I picked these two comics. Aside from the fact that I knew who Spider-man was because of his cartoons, look at this cover:


Sure, it's a little wordy particularly given how exciting the cover is (note: it doesn't need all the words), but at least some of the words work: "Don't Dare Skip to the Last Page!" That was enough for me.

And while I didn't really know who the X-Men were, come on:


That has to be one of the best X-Men covers of all time. It's so harsh and gritty and I don't think Wolverine has ever look more cool.

It's aided and abetted by the classic Marvel floating heads box. Look at those faces! How could you not want to know more about those faces?

There were two DC comics that caught my attention, but that I ultimately passed on:


I would eventually end up going back and getting that Who's Who in the DC Universe #17, but I'll come back to that in a bit.

The beauty of those Marvel comics is that they contained a lot of in house ads or ads for comic book stores that were specifically pushing Marvel books. In other words, I got to see a lot of covers of a lot of other Marvel comics and they all looked really cool.

There were also, at this point, two other X-books (New Mutants and the recently launched X-Factor), so when I took a liking to Marvel's merry mutants, there were other comics for me to jump into right away.

Pretty quickly, I was a Marvel Zombie.

That's not to say I didn't dabble in DC books here and there, most notably the Who's Who series mentioned above. But for as much as I loved reading about the vast history of the DCU, those comics never motivated me to go out and by others. That's particularly strange given that my favorite part of any issue of Who's Who was the inside back cover where it showed covers of other DC books.

I was a complicated kid.

I had no idea that at the time I'd started reading comic books DC had just undergone Crisis on Infinite Earths, overhauling their entire shared universe so someone like me could just jump right into it. Even now I often feel like Crisis must have happened well before my time, which just isn't the case.

I spent a good five years as a Marvel Zombie I read all the X-books (an increasing number). I read Alpha Flight, West Coast Avengers, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and the New Warriors. I dabbled in almost every other title Marvel put out, from Power Pack to the Punisher. I was fully submersed in Marvel's shared universe.

But then something happened in 1990: I got over it. I got over the Marvel vs DC mentality.

I bought my first issue of the Legion of Superheroes.

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Legion of Superheroes (v3) #58 actually came out a year earlier, but for some reason it was still in the recent releases section of my local comic book store. I'd long had a fascination with the team, from seeing that issue on the spinner rack years before to those aforementioned covers in the back of Who's Who. Legion characters just seem so foreign, so different from standard superheroes.

I think I picked up this issue because I'd read an article about Keith Giffen's return to the comic in Comics Scene magazine. The art that accompanied that article featured strange characters in strange costumes. This look, in particular, piqued my interest:


Seriously, what the hell is even going on there? Is that some character who shoots things out of his face? And that hood looks awesome. How could I not want to learn more?

Back to the point at hand, I started buying comics from both Marvel and DC (and eventually Image, which is as far as I would go until I decided to quit comics all together not long after going to college, only to be drawn back in but Stray Bullets and Strangers in Paradise, decidedly NOT Marvel and DC). And for many years I never really picked a side. The idea that there even WERE sides seemed silly to me.

But surely I must have a preference, yes?

Yes. And my preference is DC.

But that's another post entirely.


9, 19, 29: Comics I Read Long Ago, February 2018 Edition

You would never know that I was a Marvel Zombie for the first few years of my comic book reading life, would you?



Amazing Spider-man #316

The McFarlane Years march on. I wonder if these stories were tailored for McFarlane, given that Venom seemed like the only real reoccurring story.


DP7 #32

Stuck with this one all the way to the end.

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Justice League Europe #1

Funny enough, this is when I really got into the Justice League. I'd read an article about the new JLE book in an issue of Comics Scene and figured I'd give it a shot. I loved it so much that I went back and picked up all the old issues of Justice League and Justice League International. In some ways I liked JLE better because it wasn't QUITE as silly.

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Justice Machine #26

I am a sucker for indie superhero comics, I think because they can do things that corporately owned superhero comics won't. I really liked the core cast of characters in the Justice Machine, but the stories weren't particularly compelling and eventually it just kind of faded away.


New Mutants #76

This was the beginning of a down period for the New Mutants, assuming you think that the road to X-Force was an up period (which I totally did). There seemed to be a new artist every few issues until Liefeld came on board. At this point, I was probably reading this out of obligation more than anything else.


Psi-Force #32

This is a fantastic final issue. Not only does it set up an imaginary (I guess it's all imaginary) new status quo for the team, but it fills in some back story and gives hints at what's to come. And it's a complete story. Psi-Force is probably the New Universe book I miss the most.


Punisher War Journal #6

I am sure I bought this because Wolverine is in it, just as I'm sure that I didn't really know who Jim Lee was even though he'd been drawing Alpha Flight, a book I'd been reading. You know who I was a fan of? Carl Potts. Seriously. That guy did a lot of great work in the 80s.


Uncanny X-Men #245

I didn't know what Invasion was at this point, so an issue that pokes fun at it didn't do much for me. This was probably my first exposure to Rob Liefeld's art, not that it made much of an impression. Claremont liked to do these one off humor stories after longer, dramatic arcs, but I don't know that I ever found any of them particularly funny.


West Coast Avengers #45

John Byrne continues reshaping the WCA (soon to be AWC) by removing the Vision's humanity. There was a period of about ten years where Marvel seemed to regularly give Byrne books in hopes that he'd turn them around (remember when he took over Spider-man post-Clone Saga?) but they never went anywhere. Legend has it that Byrne left after a disagreement over the Scarlet Witch.


X-Factor #41

Guest art by the amazing Arthur Adams! Didn't Alchemy come back recently only to be unceremoniously killed off?



Avengers #15

Busiek and Perez had a nice run on the Avengers, although this arc was problematic for me, mostly because the new black character (Triad) was ultimately revealed to be a spy for a crazy cult. He got over it and stuck around in the end, but during the story it just seemed like a bad idea to do this to one of the very, very few black characters in the Avengers.

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Avengers Forever #5

I couldn't tell you a single thing about this series other than a) it looked great and b) it featured some really interesting possible future Avengers line-ups.


Batman #564

I really jumped into the Batman books with No Man's Land, an unbelievable story line presuming you can ignore the ridiculous core concept. I was a big fan of Devin Grayson's Bat work and Dale Eaglesham drew a creepy Scarecrow.


Batman Chronicles #16

Greg Rucka and Jason Pearson on a Renee Montoya story? I didn't even realize how great that was when I bought this, but now I know. I can't even explain how much I miss pre-Flashpoint Renee.


Batman Legends of the Dark Knight #116

A continuation of the story from Batman #564...


Batman Shadow of the Bat #84 is this issue.


Black Panther #6

I think this was the first issue in this series that didn't have art by Mark Texiera, but Joe Jusko was an excellent choice for fill-in. I've been re-reading most of Priest's bibliography recently and his work really turned a corner in the late 90s, first with Steel, then Quantum and Woody, then Black Panther.

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The Invisibles #12

And the countdown began with this, the first issue of the last volume of The Invisibles. While I'd discovered the series early in the second volume and had aggressively tracked down volume 1, so by this point I was completely submerged into this trip.


JLA #28

The Morrison/Porter era of the Justice League is probably my favorite. The only thing to come close recently is the current arc by Priest and Woods.


Legion of Superheroes #114

I'm as surprised as anyone that I was still reading this series. The post-Zero Hour Legion was fantastic for the first year or two, but when the teams were split in two the series just dragged on.


Legionnaires #70

See above.


Planetary #1

I have generally tried everything that Warren Ellis has written, both in comic book and prose form, and the art on Planetary was just so good that I knew I'd be on board for the long haul. This is still one of my favorite Ellis books, if not number one.

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Titans #2

As I mentioned above, I enjoyed Devin Grayson's writing and I really liked the way she set up this team of Titans, taking the core team and having them all pick "alternates" of a sort to always be available to fight the good fight even when they're not. Some of the choices were a little weird (Donna Troy has zero relationship with Argent, yet picks her) but it made for a nice mix for the team.

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Transmet #20

I have not read this series since the last presidential election because I think it might tip me over the edge.



Adventure Comics #0

I am, and always will be, a sucker for the Legion of Superheroes.

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Agents of Atlas #1

Agents of Atlas and the various iterations of this books and team are some of my favorite comics to come out of Marvel in the last ten years. The hardcover collection of the original limited series is fantastic and yet I'm still going to fork over the ducats for the complete collection which begins in May.


Batman #686

The post-R.I.P. story written by Neil Gaiman was right up my alley: it featured a blurring of the lines between the pre- and post-Crisis DCU. I love pre-Crisis DC because it's sprawling and crazy and touching on it here, after Morrison had spent the last year incorporating pre-Crisis Batman stories into modern continuity, was perfect.


Detective Comics #853

The conclusion of the Gaiman story from above. The cruel irony of the New 52 is that DC was actually publishing a lot of really great comics leading up to it.

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FInal Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #3

One of the problems with the modern day version of the Legion of Superheroes is that there are no definitive stories to point to, so more often than not this series is it. And while I appreciate making the original Legion the one, true Legion again, there's a lot of death and destruction going on in this comic given it's about a team that personifies optimism. Great art by Perez, though.


Godland #26

Godland was a joy to read. It was pure stream of consciousness, Starlin era cosmic Marvel with Kirby style artwork. I bought this monthly in hopes of keeping it around.



No other comic shaped me the way Elfquest did

In January of 1986, I went with my parents to visit my great grandmother in Warren, Ohio. Now, aside from having a founder with perhaps the coolest name in the history of founders (Ephraim Quinby), Warren is your run of the mill, small Midwestern town. In other words, there's not much to do there. So my parents, realizing they needed to keep their then 10 year old son occupied, took me to a bookstore to get something that would entertain me.

I remember very clearly that the bookstore in question (I think it was a Walden's) had two comics, both of which were on a shelf behind the counter, as if they were pornography. One was a Carl Barks duck comic (so, clearly it had to be kept out of the hands of youngsters). The other was the Epic Comics edition of Elfquest #6. I had to choose one. I went with the elves because I'd already started playing Dungeons & Dragons by this point in my life.

I had no idea what an impact that decision would have on me.

Elfquest debuted in 1978, three years after I was born. It was the creation of artist/writer Wendy Pini and her writer/editor husband, Richard. The series is currently being published by Dark Horse, and when I say currently, I mean all new material by the original creators featuring the original characters 39 years later. Try to think of another comic that can make that claim – there aren't many.

Or think about this: both Marvel and DC have published reprints of Elfquest comics. These were reprints of a creator owned series; Marvel and DC don't own the rights to these stories. And yet Elfquest was so important, had such a following, that they agreed to publish them anyway. I don't think there are any other comics that can claim to have been published by both of the Big Two.

The issues that Marvel and DC were reprinting were almost exclusively from the twenty issue series the Pinis published under their WaRP Graphics imprint (Wendy and Richard Pini: WaRP). The series, which is often referred to as the Original Quest, is one of the most reprinted comic book stories ever produced. Aside from Marvel's single issue reprints, the collected editions have been published in 5 different editions from 4 different publishers.

So what is it about this series that inspires such devotion from its fans?

That's easy: love.

There's plenty of action and adventure in Elfquest. There are (obviously) elves, trolls, humans, and even (at a certain point) aliens. There are plenty of battles. There are epic struggles of good versus evil, but in almost every case that evil is never cut and dry. Elfquest is too complex for that. There's also an incredibly detailed history that is introduced from the very start, so that the world of EQ feels layered as soon as we enter it.

But ultimately it's love that keeps us coming back to Elfquest, a deep, complicated love that permeates every element.

The first elves we meet are the Wolfriders, a tribe of elves who have bonded with wolves. The Wolfriders have the ability to "send," or communicate with each other telepathically. This "sending" opens a lot of doors for the relationships these elves have. As if being able to talk to each other mind to mind weren't enough, each elf has a soul name, the epitome of who they are as an individual boiled down to one, powerful word. It's a sacred word that holds incredible power.

Soul names are the basis for Recognition, which is basically what happens when one elf looks at another elf and suddenly knows his or her soul name. To a certain extent, it takes all the guessing and drama out of finding that one true love. It is love at first sight made real.

But it's more complicated than that. Recognition can happen between two people who don't want to be together, but have no choice to consummate their union (and have a child). They experience physical pain if they don't, at the very least, attempt to reproduce with the other person. It's biological imperative with physical punishment.

Elves in love can choose to tell each other their soul names, which is a huge decision, particularly if the other person doesn't do the same. Recognition can even occur between friends, as is the case with Wolfriders Chief Cutter and his "brother in all but blood," Skywise.

For a sensitive kid on the cusp of puberty, all of this Recognition and sending business was like water in the desert. I was already a hopeless romantic back then, and Elfquest spoke to that part of me. The fact that this overwhelming love extended to family and friends made Elfquest seem like some kind of paradise where everyone loved each other (sometimes literally, as the infamous orgy scene towards the end of the first series will attest).

Wait, what was that? Yes, there's an elven orgy in Elfquest. It happens before a whole bunch of them go off to war with the trolls. I could hardly believe my (what must have been at that point) twelve year old eyes. There's no graphic nudity or even graphic sex, just a bunch of half-naked elves embracing in suggestive ways…and in large groups. But, in many ways because of Recognition, an orgy wasn't a big deal. The elves loved each other, but were able to distinguish that love from what they had with their life mates. The Wolfriders weren't sharing their soul names with the other elves in the orgy.

But that idea, that there is a name that is the distillation of who you are – it was such a wonderful idea for a neurotic kid who still didn't know himself very well. I was still looking for my soul name; I just didn't know that's what it was called.

Adding to the romantic notion of Elfquest is the wonderful art by Wendy Pini. Picture Al Migrom via Disney. Her characters are beautiful, but unique. She deftly makes a distinction between those that are delicate and those that are rough. There's a range to the Wolfriders, as some lean closer towards the traditional appearance of porcelain elves, yet others are more feral, closer to their wolf counterparts. The mix is a good representation of the story itself.

But perhaps the greatest gift Elfquest has given to comics has been gender equality. While Richard Pini edits and helps write the series, the creative powerhouse is Wendy. It's her art that first brings people to the series. It's her vision that keeps people reading. And it's a vision that features strong, intelligent female characters who are every bit as complex as their male counterparts, and who also aren't defined by those men.

Yes, Cutter is the main character, but his quest doesn't start until he meets Leetah, his lifemate. And as their twin children get older, it's a given that his daughter, Ember, will one day be chief, not his son, Suntop. It's a decision based upon their personalities, not their gender. After all, three of the ten chiefs preceding Cutter were women, and the Wolfriders were formed by a woman (the High One Timmain).

These fully realized female characters had a big impact on me. Between Elfquest and Claremont's X-Men, it never occurred to me that
female characters should be anything but equal to male characters.

The original Elfquest had a definitive ending – a perfect one, really. The Pinis went back to the well for two more series, both of which did a nice job of picking up earlier threads, while still being their own stories. Once these stories were done, though, the entire Elfquest universe had drastically changed.

Elfquest (and Warp Graphics) ultimately fell victim to the '90s comic book mark. They brought in new writers and artists to create Elfquest stories. They expanded the line to multiple titles. And while many of the creators and stories were quite good, a lot of the charm of Elfquest was lost. The Pinis owned Elfquest. It was a labor of love for them. Bringing in others to work on these characters seemed to diminish that. Eventually, the titles would collapse into one anthology, and then even that ended.

But Elfquest is never gone from the shelves for long. DC came calling and they signed a huge deal to reprint the original series in multiple formats. They also published brand new material. The scope of the deal was impressive. They used the digest format for much of the reprints, which suggested they were trying to tap into the manga market, which seemed like a good fit for EQ, although I wonder how the orgy scene went over in the local Barnes and Noble.

These days, you can find every Elfquest story online, for free, at the official Elfquest site. You can also read Elfquest: The Final Quest from Dark Horse., the last issue of which will be arriving this month.

If this is truly the final quest for Cutter and the Wolfriders, it will be a sad one. Despite the ebb and flow of the series, it's meant an awful lot to me and always will.

End of the Line: Acclaim/Valiant 2.0, Part 2

In part one, I gave a general overview of the Acclaim/Valiant line, may it rest in peace. But I don't want to undersell what were some very, very good comics that fell under the Acclaim umbrella. The line didn't fail because the books were bad, in my opinion, but because there was no market for them.

So let's dig into the comics that made Acclaim/Valiant memorable.

Quantum and Woody

Yes, I'm starting with the obvious one but, honestly, it's only obvious because it got the most press and it only got the most press because it was freaking fantastic.

I have to guess that at this point Q&W is known for the fact that it talked about race, albeit as a side story. And that can't be understated. But Quantum and Woody was set up in such a way that not addressing race would have been a disservice to the story and the characters. It wasn't created to talk about race, but Quantum was black and Woody was white and they were brothers, so it would have been impossible to tell this story without discussing race.

In fact, the early issues of Q&W included the N-word, which was later replaced with "noogies," as the lawyers at Acclaim apparently got nervous about dropping the N-word in a comic book. To their credit, creators Christopher Priest and MD Bright (along with inker Greg Adams) rolled with these punches, as I'm sure deep down they never expected to be allowed to use the N-word in these comics to begin with.

Actually, I should let Quantum and Woody explain it:

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I think the fact that these are the first few pages of the 4th issue should give you an indication of what this book was like. It was self-aware and self-deprecating. And it dealt with race.

But it was much more than that.

MD Bright deserves a lot of credit for penciling this series. His work is absolutely essential to the series. His story telling chops are second to none. He is a master of timing and his ability to pull off jokes that required deliberate pacing is phenomenal. Only a true professional could have given life to this series, truly done it justice. This books would have failed without him.

For all the stories that Christopher Priest wrote both as Jim Owsley (his birth name,which he legally changed in 1993) and as Christopher Priest, it was Quantum and Woody that made him a cult favorite. He would go from this book to a much loved run on the Black Panther. The fact that he was also helped write the bible for the Milestone universe only added to his legend.

Priest's had the freedom to embrace his narrative style which was built around strong characters, intricate plotting, and non-linear story telling. While reading individual issues written by Priest is fulfilling in and of itself, it's the long term payoff that sets his work apart. One line from an earlier issue can come back with huge consequences a year later. Priest's style isn't made for publishers who are quick with the cancellation trigger. Hiring Priest means giving him the time to work his magic.

Quantum and Woody would be one of the few Acclaim books to come back after the entire line was ended, albeit briefly. It is, so far, the only original creation from the Acclaim run to return with the current Valiant Comics.


Solar, Man of the Atom

Here are a few names to consider: Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, Jim Krueger, Patrick Zircher, Christopher Priest, and Chriscross. That's a pretty hefty line-up of creators and I didn't even mention the likes of Jimmy Palmiotti and Romeo Tanghal. These are the people who put together a series of interconnected comics about Solar, Man of the Atom for Acclaim and it was phenomenal.

Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, and Larry Mahlstedt lay the groundwork with the Man of the Atom one shot and it's exactly what you would hope for from this team on this character. Ellis drops some deep science and some creepy religion and Robertson makes the whole thing dark and intense. It ends with twin siblings Frank and Helena Seleski one step closer to their goal of finding God.

Fitting, then, that Jim Krueger would write the next one shot, entitled "Revelations," as Krueger (according to Christopher Priest) is a theologian.  While the first one shot introduced the original Valiant Comics Solar into the Acclaim universe, this comic gives some background on that while building a future for a new version of the character.

In the simplest sense, the Valiant Solar created the Acclaim universe while trying to change HIS universe. In the end, he gives his powers to the Seleski twins who become the new Man of the Atom.

Priest gets twice as much space as Ellis and Krueger to tell his Solar story; instead of a single, double sized one shot, he writes a four issue mini-series. Patrick Zircher comes over from "Revelations," although this time he's joined by layout artist Chrisscross and inker Romeo Tanghal. The series is called "Hell on Earth."

It's a big event comic, but never feels like it, in part because it doesn't crossover into a dozen titles each month. But X-O Manowar, the Eternal Warriors, Turok, Magnus, and, of course, Quantum & Woody all appear in this series. Priest makes most of that seem relatively natural.

"Hell on Earth" looks great and reads like Priest pushing the envelope of non-linear storytelling, something made easier given Solar's powers. Priest also introduces a backstory for Frank and Helena that wasn't there from the start, but which gives added depth to both the characters and their motivations. It's a very dark story, but it gives us a better idea of why these characters are behaving the way they do.

That said, Solar is forever changed by the end, and we are left with two halves of the Man of the Atom, one whose morality is questionable by his actions, the other who, over the course of the series, has become the personification of love. To a certain extent, Solar has become a merging of good and evil, of the devil and God.

And the God portion is a black lesbian.

God bless you, Christopher Priest.



There are so many reasons why the Turok books (mostly one shots) are great that it's hard to know where to start. I'm going to open with a perhaps less articulated reason: how many comic books starring Native Americans can you name?

Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air to read a book whose lead wasn't a straight, white dude. And the fact that Turok aka Josh was Native American was essential to both the character and the story.

Turok was a familial mantle, passed down from generation to generation, and it worked well with a Native American family, better than it would have with a white family, that's for sure. Because Josh Fireseed is already at odds with his family simply on a generational level, without Turok being thrown in.

Honestly, the Turok quarterly one shots and the few issues of the regular series were got (there were only four) were just really entertaining comics. Josh and his roommate Barry are great characters and the stories are filled with equal parts angst and humor. You know all the things you loved about Fabian Nicieza's work on the X-books? It's all here in Turok.

But, really, you only need one reason to read these comics: Rafael Kayanan.

I would fail at describing how great Kayanan's art is, but suffice to say that the person who drew Captain Atom and Firestorm for DC kills it on Turok. These are gorgeous comics.

They're also a lot of fun. Yes, there's plenty of family drama, but Turok is also an adventure comic -- he's fighting dinosaur people, after all. It offers a nice balance to the hijinks and social commentary of Q&W and the philosophical issues of Solar. Really, if someone somewhere could start a new shared superhero universe with these three concepts, it would be amazing (and, yes, I realize that's next to impossible at this point in time).

I bought all of these comics when they first came out, but I would imagine they can be found for fairly cheap at your local comic book store. I highly recommend tracking them down. The Quantum and Woody issues can also be found in a series of trade paperbacks and one, complete, hardcover omnibus.

End of the Line: Acclaim/Valiant 2.0, Part 1

Acclaim Comics/Valiant Heroes happened at the perfect time for me.

I think I was reading two books from Marvel, Thunderbolts and Untold Tales of Spider-man. And I think I'd jumped ship on the Superman books, but was still holding on to the Legion of Superheroes and Legionnaires. So my Big Two spending was at a low point. Image had yet to expand to become the well rounded publisher they are now, but I was reading Stormwatch, as Ellis was in the middle of his big revamp of that corner of the Wildstorm universe.

I was reading some indie books, as they are what brought me back to comics from my brief hiatus, but as far as superheroes went, I wasn't reading much.

And I've always loved new lines of comics.

Plus, Fabian Nicieza was the EIC of Acclaim and he was one of my favorite writers. How could I not jump on board?

I was in college, so I couldn't buy every title in the line like I wanted.

Obviously, books written by Nicieza were going to make the cut. That meant Troublemakers and the quarterly Turok books. And the Turok books were drawn by Rafael Kayanan? Sold and sold.


The Solar quarterly books were also an easy buy, given the first issue was written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Darick Robertson. I used a bit I learned in that first issue in an American Lit paper I wrote that quarter.

I was actually late to the Quantum and Woody party, but the house ads won me over and I tracked down the first few issues. I've been a zealot for the series ever since.

Trinity Angels was another no brainer. Maguire was one of my favorite artists.

Writing it out now, I realize that most of my purchases were titles that didn't carry over from old Valiant. Even Turok and Solar were fairly drastic re-imaginings of those characters. But my main focus was on new books, like Troublemakers, Q&W, and Trinity Angels.

Valiant 2.0 never published more than 8 or 10 books a month, and if they were around now I'd probably be buying all of them, the way that I do with the current Valiant. I love lines of comics are contained to a relatively small number of titles and companies that seem content with that.


Looking back on it now, the line-up of creators was fairly impressive: books by Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, Warren Ellis, Priest, Garth Ennis, Jamie Delano, Kevin Maguire, Darick Robertson, Rafael Kayanan, Sal Velluto, MD Bright, Mike McKone, Charlie Adlard, Dale Eaglesham, and a bunch more. It was a line made up of quality, professional creators during a time when both quality and professionalism weren't really necessary to create a best selling comic.

Besides the fact that I genuinely enjoyed a lot of their books, part of what made Acclaim/Valiant so appealing was that I was getting in on the ground floor. They accepted emailed letters for their letters pages! And I had some published! I felt a connection to the publisher and the content in a way I never did with Marvel and DC, because by the time I got around to reading comics, they were already giant businesses.

Acclaim's books also spoke to my 90's sensibilities in a way that the "extreme" comics coming out from other superhero publishers didn't. Turok felt like a kid I could relate to and he also happened to be Native American. I'm as white as they come, but an actually non-white character being the focus of a title was a big deal, even in the supposedly progressive 90's.

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Shadowman was black! The main characters in the 2nd Solar series were lesbians! The Trinity Angels were women! Acclaim was certainly no Milestone, but they were far more diverse than Marvel or DC.

And Quantum and Woody addressed race head on. Turok didn't shy away from it, either.

The books just felt like they were riding the better part of the 90s wave. While other books were roiding out, Acclaim's books were more focused on good stories than flashy visuals.

But while its footing in the 90s made the Acclaim/Valiant books appealing, bit was also ultimately its downfall. Launching a new line of superhero comics in 1996 was a horrible idea. The comic book industry was a disaster, and while some might think that meant that a new company could challenge Marvel and DC, what it really meant is that the medium was bleeding readers.

And the readers who stuck around couldn't have cared less about Valiant, be it the old version or the new.


The Acclaim/Valiant line was so focused on telling good stories that it neglected to follow the trends of the day; there was no big crossover until the entire line was about to be canceled. Even in the late 90s, crossovers were king, yet Acclaim/Valiant decided to let their books grow on their own. And while I appreciate that sentiment, big, shiny events were what kept comics afloat.

Acclaim didn't really indulge in the "extreme" comics of the period, either. You could probably make a case that Bloodshot fell into the big guns, big muscles group, but there wasn't a lot of T&A. There wasn't much in any of the books, really, even Trinity Angels.

But the 90s were hard enough even for the Big Two, let alone new companies trying to get into the superhero game. Eventually Acclaim cut back the line until it was mostly just comics that tied into Acclaim video games. They did attempt to keep Quantum and Woody going a few times, but it never really worked out.

Ultimately, Acclaim's greatest claim to fame is that they were the middle step that would lead to the current Valiant Comics.

Next: The best of the best of Acclaim/Valiant 2.0.

10, 20, 30: Comics I Read Long Ago, January 2018 Edition

I realize that this is probably only interesting to me, although I also know that whenever I see anything like this, I read it, as I am a sucker for nostalgia...which is probably why I'm writing this.

Anyway, here are the comics I was reading 10, 20, and 30 years ago this month.



Alpha Flight #58

Man, I loved Alpha Flight. I just love superhero comics that are set aside from the mainstream, although I realize referring to any comic published by the Big Two, let alone one featuring a team that debuted in the pages of X-Men, as "aside from the mainstream" is a stretch. Still, AF had its own tiny corner of the Marvel Universe and it was more or less allowed to exist there.

A few notes about this issue: 1) Jim Lee! Jim Lee penciled this comic! Alpha Flight was, I believe, his first regular assignment 2) Jim Shooter's legacy lived on during the course of this arc, which featured AF living a nomadic existence. Why do I say that? Well, every single issue began with a recap of their situation. Even at 12 year old, this got on my nerves. 3) We meeting the Dreamqueen in this issue, a villain who would play a large part in AF's story for the next few years.

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Amazing Spider-man #300

I had actually stopped reading Amazing Spider-man by this point, but came back because it was an anniversary issue, not to mention the return of the red and blue costume. The issue itself was fine, but I was immediately sucked in by Todd McFarlane's art, to the point that I was back on board reading Spider-man again.


Captain America #341

Oh, yeah, The Captain era!  This issue features not one, not two, but three stories! In the first, The Captain returns the shield Tony Stark made for him and we get Cap vs Iron Man one more time. In the second story, the world meets the new Captain America and his sidekick, Battle Star! And the final story is the start of the civil war within the Serpent Society. Just great stuff all around.


DP7 #19

This was just after the New Universe had been cut in half and switched to better paper stock, more pages, and a higher price. I'd been reading DP7 from the start. The series wouldn't last much longer, but it was enjoyable up until the end. There were a lot of problems with the New Universe, that's for sure.

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New Mutants #63

This was more or less a fill-in issue, back when they had fill-in issues, even though it was plotted by Chris Claremont and scripted by Louise Simonson (the regular writer). I remember this issue annoying me for the aforementioned reason and because it was a second month in a row that didn't focus on the main team, who had just lost one of their own during Fall of the Mutants. I was anxious to get back to that story, particularly since the team now had cool new costumes.


Power Pack #37

At some point the character introduced in this issue was referred to as Light Tracker, but for the life of me I don't know when. Maybe I dreamed it. Anyway, this was a stand alone story, but I liked it, if only because I really wanted the Power Pack team to expand and this was another kid their age with powers. They were really poorly thought out powers. She could teleport to bright lights, although she couldn't control it, so she wore dark glasses wherever she went. How did they even figure that out? How did she not teleport into the sun when her powers first manifested? Anyway, I was hoping she'd stick around, but I don't think I've read a comic about her since.


Psi-Force #19

See? I told you I was still all in on the New Universe. For as much as I loved DP7, Psi-Force was my favorite New Universe book. Fabian Nicieza and Ron Lim were doing great work, giving the team real personalities and upping the stakes. This issue gives us a better look at the Medusa Web, an international organization of paranormals. Nicieza would have a long history of making his comics global and introducing his audiences to characters from other countries and that's what he does here, in one of his earliest works. Lim's designs are great, particularly Skybreaker and Relampago (Spanish for Lightning). This is another great issue of a run that would become epic.


Starbrand #13

I was never a big fan of Starbrand, but the cover to his was cool so I gave it a shot. I don't really even remember much about it. I think a baby with superpowers was born. And I think it literally shot out of its mother. John Byrne wrote and pencilled this book, I believe, and he was a fitting replacement for Jim Shooter. Take that as you will.


Strikeforce: Morituri #18

This is one of my favorite series of all time. Srikeforce: Morituri is on my desert island list. This series started in 1986, the same year the first Squadron Supreme limited series ended. I would hold those two books up against Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns any day of the week. They are that good. I think the Squadron Supreme has started to get the recognition it deserves, but it seems like Strikeforce: Morituri will forever be under the radar.


Uncanny X-Men #229

I know that the Claremont/Byrne era is supposed to be the gold standard for the Uncanny X-Men and that Claremont/Cockrum gets a fair amount of love, as does Claremont/Lee, but for my money there was no better period that Claremont/Silvestri. And maybe I'm just trying to be a contrarian, but there were some dynamite issues during Silvestri's time as penciller, including this one, which introduced us to the Reavers and set up the X-Men in their new Australian HQ.


Web of Spider-man #38

Those who followed the Spider-man books in the 80s know that Web fell apart pretty early on. I don't know if it ever had a regular creative team beyond a handful of issues. I'd stopped reading it well before this point for that very reason. But I bought this issue because I was bored and I had a few extra bucks. And it was fantastic. Spider-man fights the Hobgoblin which doesn't sound all that interesting, except that Peter is drunk. Some solid Alex Saviuk art, to boot.


West Coast Avengers #32

You know, the West Coast Avengers was not a particularly good comic. I can say that now, of course, but in 1988 I thought it was great. My understanding on how messed up Mockingbird's storyline with the Phantom Stranger was reflected my age. But everything seemed to be high stakes with this group, which I liked, and by the time it slowed down they'd added Moon Knight, which was more than enough for me to stick around.


X-Factor #28

Oh, man, the Simonson and Simonson era of X-Factor was some great stuff (and let's not forget Bob Wiacek's inks which were perfect with Walt Simonson's pencils). Really, from Louise Simonson's first issue as writer (#6) through Walter's last issue as penciller (#39), this was a great comic. It lost its way after that, though, in part because it had always been about the evolution of the individual characters, and by #39 they'd all evolved.



Action Comics #742

I love the Triangle Years of the Superman books, but even I can admit that they had a few dry spells and this was one of them. It's not that I don't appreciate the updating of the Superman Red/Superman Blue story, but I just didn't care about any of it. It seemed like the Superman books, at this point, had moved from good, solid superhero stories to a gimmick, and that was unfortunate.


Avengers #2

Busiek and Perez make a heck of a team when it comes to superhero teams and I am a sucker for stories that lead to new line-ups being formed, as this one did. It was ultimately a more traditional line-up than I would have preferred, but the New Warriors fan in me loved the addition of Justice and Firestar.


Harbinger: Acts of God #1

I was full blown into Acclaim/Valiant at this point, so much so that I bought this one without really knowing anything about it. I honestly still couldn't tell you anything about it.


JLA #16

And speaking of stories that lead to new line-ups, this issue is the debut of Morrison and Porter's expanded JLA roster: the original seven plus four more, with an open seat for a twelfth member as missions dictate. For this arc, the final spot would go to Catwoman, but thankfully it was only for this arc. The roster would actually expand to three more spots when the New Gods decided that Orion and Big Barda needed to be on the team as a first line of defense and when Batman brought in Oracle as their main source of intel. 

As the story goes, Morrison wanted the JLA to parallel the pantheon of Greek gods. That was fine if a little forced. And using Huntress as the Artemis stand in was strange given the existence of Green Arrow, particularly the new Green Arrow who had been in earlier issues. I don't think genders had to match (particularly given that the gods are usually gender fluid).

It's too bad these issues had to incorporate electric blue Superman.

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JLA: Paradise Lost #3

The rebirth of the JLA had made anything with those letters on them an instant buy for me. This was a a perfectly fine story about Zuriel coming to Earth. It's probably most notable for being written by Mark Millar.


JLA: Year One #3

Another attempt by DC to explain exactly who formed the Justice League, necessary because for some reason they didn't want the Trinity to be a part of the team from the start. I have no idea why they kept fighting this idea.

This is a good series in its own right and gives some quality screen time to the lesser parts of the Big Seven as well as the stand-in for Wonder Woman, Black Canary.


Legends of the Legion #2

It's hard to believe there was another Legion series being published at this time given that the two regular books were fizzling out. But I'm a devout Legion fanboy, so I bought this, even if I don't remember much about it.


Legion of Superheros #102

The Legion had finally reunited its two teams in issue #100 and I honestly don't remember much after that aside from Saturn Girl and Livewire finally getting together. I do know that I only stuck with these books for another couple of issues, which is funny given that they'd end in the next two years.


Legionnaires #58

See above.

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Quantum and Woody #12

Such a great series.

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Starman #40

I've never been a fan of Captain Marvel, so this entire arc was somewhat lost on me.


Superman #133

See my comments about Action Comics.


Superman: The Man of Steel #77

See my comments about Action Comics.


Superman: Man of Tomorrow #10

Oh, hey, see my comments about Action Comics!


Thunderbolts #12

Man, remember Thunderbolts? Remember how great it was? Remember that reveal? That could have been the last great comic book twist, if only because the internet didn't have the reach that it does now.

Thunderbolts was great beyond the initial concept. It was such a deeply nerdy book, even after Busiek left and Nicieza joined Bagley. This series mined Marvel history and didn't really care if it brought back diamonds or shale, it found a way to make it work regardless. For a series about a bunch of criminals, it was unabashedly joyful with regards to superhero stories.

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Transmetropolitan #7

Still a part of the Helix line! I love Transmet. I should reread it, but I'm afraid it will ring too true now.


Troublemakers #14

I enjoyed Troublemakers, although I admit that it's not the best of what Acclaim published. It's definitely a Fabian Nicieza book, as you can see threads from Psi-Force and the New Warriors playing out, which was great for me, as I loved both of those books.


Turok: Tales of the Lost Land #1

Again, I was on board the Acclaim train and the Turok books were some of the best.


X-Force #75

Bought this on a whim, as I often do with anniversary issues. I liked Polina's art. I liked that the New Mutants -- sorry, X-Force -- were acting like twentysomethings. I don't think I liked it enough to start buying the book, though.



Batman #673

I just can't read comics written by Grant Morrison in the collected form. I mean, I can, but only after the fact. My initial read always has to be the monthly format simply because I think he does enough non-linear things that getting them at that pace allows for more freedom of the format.

Plus, it's hard to wait.

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Suburban Glamour #3

I'm a big fan of Phonogram so buying Suburban Glamour from Jamie McKelvie was a no brainer. I think this his first writing work and while it wasn't the most complicated comic on the stands, it was an enjoyable series.


Teen Titans Lost Annual #1

So, a story of the original Teen Titans, written by Bob Haney, drawn by Jay Stephens, Mike Allread, and Laura Allred, plus sketches from Nick Cardy? No way I was passing this up.


Youngblood #1

I'm a big Joe Casey fan (I'm working on a series of posts about his work, because clearly I know what drives traffic) which is the main reason I bought this. I also bought it because Youngblood is such a ridiculous title. It has been through so many different permutations, each one supposedly making it a "legitimate" comic. And every one fails.

This one did, too. I only bought the first issue, but I'd eventually buy the rest of Casey's run in trades.


It is amazing to me that I went from buying 13 comics in 1988 (when I was still getting an allowance, no less) to 19 comics in 1998 (when I was paying my own way) to just FOUR in 2008. But I was doing a lot of trade waiting by the time '08 rolled around. And a month later, I would be engaged. Four months later, I'd be unemployed, so money had to start going elsewhere.

Still, it's a pretty good indicator how the comic book market has changed.

25 Years Gone: October, 1992 Comics

God, 90s comics were amazing, weren't they?

Listen, I know that mainstream superhero comics in the 90s get a bad rap and I fully admit that it's well deserved, but goddamn if I don't love them, anyway. Most of them are just insane, but usually in a bad way, as opposed to, say, 70s Marvel comics, which were insane in a good way. No, 90s superhero comics were so far over the top that they circled back around to the bottom.

So what was a newly 17 Kyle reading during these glory days?

Adventures of Superman #497 wasn't my first Superman comic, but it was pretty close. I (like everyone else at this point) knew what was coming and this was the start of it -- the first appearance (well, full appearance) of Doomsday.

Doom Patrol #61 - Hey, I was a teen with eclectic tastes. I'd jumped on to the Doom Patrol with #37 and had been sucked in by this absolutely crazy comic. It was completely different than anything else I was reading. I had no idea then who Grant Morrison was.

Justice League of America #69 - The tie-in to The Death of Superman. I had stopped reading the Justice League books when Giffen/Dematteis left.

Legion of Superheroes #36 and #37 - I LOVED the 5 years later Legion. LOVED them.

New Titans #93 - Maybe the Titans could have become a brand like the X-Men again (they were neck and neck in popularity back in the early 80s), but a complete editorial failure prevented this period from really picking up steam.

Superman #74 - More Doomsday. More movement towards the big death.

Superman: The Man of Steel #18 - I really did start buying the Superman books a few months before the Death of story. They were fantastic and would continue to be fantastic up until the turn of the century.

Timber Wolf #1 - Like I said, I LOVED the 5 years later Legion.

Titans Sell Out Special - No, seriously, this was a period for the Titans in which anything seemed possible, but nothing ever really happened.

Avengers #357 - The oft maligned "X-bookification" of the Avengers totally worked on me. The Harras/Epting/Palmer run was probably the longest I'd ever read the Avengers, at least this version (I read the West Coast flavor for a while).

Incredible Hulk #400 - I dropped this book either just before this or just after, but I'm a sucker for anniversary issues either way. I did love the merged Hulk.

New Warriors #30 - Easily my favorite comic at the time, now with Darick Robertson on art!

Uncanny X-Men #295
X-Factor #85
X-Force #17
X-Men #15 - The X-Ecutioner's Song! Check out that beautiful Jae Lee art on X-Factor! I love the post-Image X-book line mostly for all the eventual big name artists that replaced the then big name artists. Brandon Petersen took over Uncanny, the aforementioned Jae Lee on X-Factor (short lived), some guy named Greg Capullo on X-Force, and Andy Kubert on X-Men.

Cyberforce #1 - I basically bought the first issues of each Image title by the founders, but didn't stick with any of the books besides...

Wildcats #2 - All things considered, Wildcats was probably the best of the founders' titles if you were looking for fantastic art and a decent amount of story.

At this point in my life, I was still all superheroes, all the time. That would lead me to eventually quit comics all together, but I would lured back by the siren song of Strangers in Paradise, Stray Bullets, and Bone.

Review: Wonder Woman Earth One is the essence of the character

In honor of pretty much everyone telling James Cameron where to stick it and, of course, the recent release of Wonder Woman for home purchase (I would say Blu-Ray but I can't wrap my head around the fact that people still buy physical copies of things), I present my review of the highly anticipated, strangely controversial Wonder Woman: Earth One.

I was prepared to hate Wonder Woman: Earth One.

The early commentary online wasn't kind. Grant Morrison seemed to be setting the bar awfully high for himself in his interviews, and Yanick Paquette is an artist whose work has always had a cheesecake element to it. How would they avoid the pitfalls of two men writing about an island full of beautiful lesbians? How does this not turn into a male fantasy when Morrison has been very clear about embracing Wonder Woman's bondage past? I can't imagine even attempting such a thing, particularly given how scrutinized it's sure to be. We're talking about two men attempting to tell a story of empowerment featuring the most famous female superhero in existence.

Early copies slipped into the world and we saw images of chains and women captured by men and an overweight character seemingly mocked for her appearance. It had all the makings of not just a train wreck, but an offensive train wreck.

Instead I read the best origin of Wonder Woman that I have ever seen.


First, a caveat of sorts: there are a few moments in this graphic novel that aren't as clear as perhaps they could or should be, which then lend themselves to being what I would consider misread. I think there is textual support for my reading and I'll get to that as I go through the book, but these moments are there and should be acknowledged.

But let's start with a high level look, because I have a feeling that's going to trip up a fair number of readers.

Traditional storytelling structure is based on the male orgasm: there's the build-up, the climax, and the denouement. This is a simplified version of Freytag's pyramid, which features five storytelling beats: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. It's perhaps easier to view as set up, action, climax, fallout, ending. Freytag's theory was meant to be applied to Greek and Shakespearean drama more so than modern drama, which has simplified it to three parts, ala the three act play. The vast majority of stories follow this pattern, even if it's modified a bit. It is the standard by which stories are judged by publishers, agents, movie studios, etc. In many cases, a lack of a three part structure automatically disqualifies a book or script.

This is a Wonder Woman story, and a story about the Amazons, so Morrison smartly denies the traditional structure. There is no real single climax to be found here. The focus isn't on a specific, determined path from point A to point B. Instead, we have several moments that all seem equally as important. It makes for a completely different kind of reading experience, but one which carried me quickly through the book. This was less a single big story and more a series of connected events with one, overarching theme. It could be the most important decision Morrison made when writing Earth One, as it sets the tone of the entire book. It's composition is at odds with traditional, patriarchal stories.

Along those same lines, there's very little violence in Earth One. There are roughly ten pages of actual violence in this entire, 144 page comic, all of which happen at the beginning. Not surprisingly, that violence is the result of the actions of men. The fact that less than 10% of this comic features violence is staggering given the content you'll find in a traditional superhero comic. But this is a Wonder Woman comic and she's an ambassador of peace. That is her goal, even if she also happens to be the ultimate warrior. That's part of what makes her so interesting: she's a highly trained, very powerful warrior who is trying to inspire peace.


The structure of the story and the lack of violence are essential because they reflect the main character. Instead of trying to force the ultimate female hero through the prism of the male adventure story, we get something that is true to Wonder Woman, true to the environment that created her.

That male lens would also dictate that this story be filled with scantily clad supermodels in suggestive poses with other scantily clad supermodels. And it's not unreasonable to expect at least some level of cheesecake given that Paquette draws attractive women. I think part of this reputation comes from his work on a books like Codename: Knockout, but that book featured both cheese and beef cake, and was specifically created to feature titilating poses of men and women. The ability to draw attractive people shouldn't be an issue here, really, so much as whether or not they're being drawn in way that seems unnatural for the sake of appeasing the male gaze.

But Paquette avoids that. Yes, his Amazons are beautiful, but they're also Amazons: it's part of the initial concept, that they're subjectively perfect in every way. But at no point are they placed into positions or drawn from angles that would serve to exploit their attractiveness. There are no typical comic book panels of just the posterior and no one wears a skirt that happens to be a bit too short. Yes, Diana's anatomical proportions seem to defy nature, but she and the Amazons wear clothes you would expect a group of active, trained warriors to wear. Their outfits aren't just practical, they're clearly informed by their Greco-Roman roots.

Paquette embraces those roots. He incorporates that cultural aesthetic into all aspects of the Amazons, going so far as to intersperse the initial scene with the types of images you'd find on the walls or on pottery in ancient Greece. The suggestion here is that the Amazons are, from the very start, immortalized in Greco-Roman history, something that would come up again later in this book.

Paquette also makes every single character in this book look unique. It's a stunning accomplishment, really, if you just consider the overwhelming number of Amazons he has to draw. But all of them, from their faces to their hair to their attire, are distinct from each other. I can't even fathom the amount of time that had to have been spent on even background characters in order to pull this off; it's unbelievable. It makes Themyscira seem like a place where everyone is free to express herself however she may choose. It emphasizes the fact that this culture is far more advanced than our own.


For all the credit that Morrison is going to get for this book, it's just as much Paquette's. This is career elevating work for him; it might be for Morrison, too, if that's possible.

If Morrison owes much of the success of this story to Paquette, then Paquette owes much of the success of the art to colorist Nathan Fairbairn.

There's a very clear, very obvious trap lurking in WW: Earth One with regards to the colors: the book is split between two worlds, that of the utopia of Themyscira and that of our modern day real world. This is a trap because it would be very easy for any colorist to simply portray the former in bright, positive colors and the latter in dark, dreary colors. But Fairbairn has made a career on telling stories with his colors. Neither world is as simple as being all light and all dark. There are degrees at work, degrees which make these worlds fully realized, even beyond the words and the line art.

While Themyscira contains darkness, there's a subtle difference. The colors are softer and more distinct; even the hunt that takes place at night has a playfulness and calmness that underscores the Amazonian society. This is a place where everyone is treated fairly, a virtual utopia, where the night is dark, but not scary. The colors during the day are bold and bright, but complimentary, both creating a sense of individual freedom while embracing unity. There's a thematic cohesion to Paquette's designs and Fairbairn takes that to the next level with his colors.

On the other hand, our modern day world isn’t just starkly dark and depressing. Yes, it’s not as bright as the world of the Amazons, but this isn’t the Sin City movie, for example. Man’s world has variation, but unified by a roughness, as if it hasn’t completely fallen into darkness. And that, of course, is the point: man’s world can be saved, it just needs someone to save it. And while Wonder Woman is painted in relatively muted tones when she initially arrives, when she returns at the end of the book she is as bright and bold as we would expect. She's here to save the day.

That isn't to say that WW:E1 is perfect. There are two problems in particular that, to their credit, stem from an overreach on the part of Morrison and Paquette.

The first is Steve Trevor. While changing his ethnicity raised many eyebrows, there's a very clear reason for it within the story. Wonder Woman goes to America and finds a country that has marginalized all but the straight, white men. To prevent Trevor from being a part of the very institution that WW would be facing off against, he could no longer be white. His gender and orientation are somewhat essential to is role (as he is a man setting foot on Themyscira and he is attracted to Wonder Woman), but his race makes no difference. This new iteration changes that and to good effect.

The problem, then, is in making Trevor African American. The only goal is to make him something other than white. The choice to make him black is loaded with problems, if only due to the imagery involved. On Themyscira, submission to another is considered a form of trust, of love, but to ask the sole black character in this book to wear bondage gear seems tone deaf. I wouldn't go so far as to call it offensive, but the idea is never really addressed or fleshed out, so we simply have Diana trying to convince Steve to wear clothing meant to evoke images of slavery. On one hand it speaks to Diana's ignorance of this new world and Steve's place in it, but that's as far as it goes. And given that Steve could be any ethnicity other than white for his new role to work, it's hard to understand why Morrison decided he should be black.


At the very least, it kicks you out of the narrative, just like the introduction of Etta.

Etta is, compared to every other female in this book, overweight. And while her introduction to the story is when she gives her testimony at the trial of Wonder Woman, chronologically her first appearance comes on a bus ride with her sorority sisters to South Beach for spring break. It comes with one of her sisters suggesting that she ate the food they had gathered to feed the less fortunate. In other words, it feels like she's being body shamed.

Fortunately, Morrison quickly undercuts this. Etta isn't fat, not in her eyes, and those are the eyes that matter. In fact, she isn't shy about how perfect she thinks her appearance is; she is full of self-confidence, even when one of her sorority sisters is insulting her. It doesn't matter to her. Etta is above it. She knows herself and she's happy with who she is. This initial introduction wasn't an indictment on her, but on the other women, on how they treat those who don't conform to society's ridiculous notions of beauty.

Even Wonder Woman herself gets in on the act: "Oh, what has man's world done to your bodies..." But in the panel before that we don't just see Etta, we see the typical comic book (typical magazine) female form: beyond petite and not at all healthy. Wonder Woman isn't commenting on Etta alone, but all of the sorority girls.


But commenting on female beauty standards is going to be a tricky situation even when not written and drawn by men. There's just too much to unpack to adequately address in a entire graphic novel, let alone a few pages. The fact that Morrison and Paquette don't shy away from the issue is commendable, but they were never going to really be able to do it justice. On the other hand, ignoring the issue would have been equally as problematic, so they were painted into a bit of a corner no matter what. This is the price you pay for deciding to tell a story about the most recognizable female super hero in the world.

Ultimately, though, Wonder Woman: Earth One is an ambitious retelling of the origin of one of the world's greatest superheroes. It succeeds far more than it fails, and even when it does falter, you can appreciate the attempt. I appreciate the fact that Morrison and Paquette took chances on this book and it's clear from the work that those chance energized them.

Let's hope we get a second volume so they can do more.


The Idiot's Guide to the Legion of Superheroes (and why I love them)

The Legion gets a bad rap.

This stems mostly from a long history that involves two reboots and one major retcon that ultimately took years to fully resolve. As a concept, the Legion of Superheroes became synonymous with convoluted continuity that was constantly trying to fix itself. The Legion was supposed to be the most inacessible comic around.

But here's the thing: the rest of the DCU has caught up to them.

The DC Universe as a whole has now seen two reboots (Crisis and Flashpoint) and one major retcon that took years to resolve (Zero Hour). And most of DC's main characters have been around longer than the Legion. So to hang your hat on the "Legion is complicated" bit as a reason to write them off is stupid; they are no more complicated than any other title DC publishes (which, granted, is a backhanded compliment).

No, the problem that most people really have with the Legion is that they exist outside of the mainstream DCU continuity. Their book takes place one thousand years in the future, which means that whatever happens in Rebirth or Metal will have no impact on them, as any impact it had has already been seen.

More than ever, people want their superhero stories to "count." The Legion just isn't that book, although it can be.


The Originals

The Legion first appeared in Adventure Comics #247 in a Superboy story. They were created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino. The team allowed DC's creators to tell even more fantastical Superboy stories by placing the adventures in the future. And, by and large, the stories were fun, Silver Age nonsense.

The team would eventually co-star in Superboy's book before pushing him aside. They became a staple of the DCU, joining the Teen Titans in launching two titles, one created especially for the direct burgeoning market. The early 80s were good to the Legion.

The problems began when Crisis on Infinite Earths happened. DC decided that Superboy no longer existed, and Superman didn't don the costume until he was living in Metropolis. This is actually a solid idea; thinking that no one would piece together Superman's identity simply by figuring out which Smallville resident moved to Metropolis was silly.

But if the Legion had formed with Superboy as their inspiration, how could they still exist?

The solution was to create an alternate Superboy, one whose adventures still happened and who still inspired the team. But this Superboy could't exist in the mainstream DCU. That then begged the question: why had the Legion been palling around with an alternate universe Superboy all this time?

The answer as that major Legion villain, the Time Trapper, had been manipulating them all this time. He'd created this pocket universe and every time the Legion went into the past, he redirected them to his creation.

This was actually a pretty great twist. It allowed Superboy to remain a part of Legion history while creating a devastating secret that shook the team to its core. The pocket Superboy ends up sacrificing himself to save the Legion, because he couldn't exist any more.

But while Superboy had been removed from the Legion's future, he was still a part of its past. Years later, no doubt because of the ongoing lawsuit between DC and Superboy's creators, Siegel and Schuster, Superboy had to be erased completely. So Legion history was rewritten. Their inspiration become a new version of an old character, Mon-El, known in the 20th century as Valor.


The Archie Legion

The Legion didn't technically need to be rebooted during the Zero Hour crossover, but the original version of the team had been pushed to its end. A jump five years into the future had seen to that. While there were still places creators could have taken the team, DC decided to instead start all over again. This led to the creation of what is affectionately known as the Archie Legion.

This reboot happens not quite 40 years after the Legion had been introduced, so this idea that the Legion was regularly being recreated has no merit.

In fact, this new version of the team lasted 10 years, across two titles for most of that time. The series was like any other long running superhero comic: it had its good moments and its bad. But the book was basically an optimistic Ultimate universe update that kept the core concepts of each character in tact. It didn't feel like a reboot so much as a remodel.


The Threeboot

Dwindling sales convinced DC to reboot the team again, no doubt in part because it was being spearheaded by a writer with a following, Mark Waid. This team was known as the Threeboot, which was a bit of a misnomer. This was the third version of the team; a third reboot would have made this the fourth version.

This version was more of a departure from the original concept than the Archie Legion. Waid and artist Barry Kitson attempted to give a rational explanation for why the Legion would be a group of teenagers. They also tried to introduce new villains and diversify the team. Their success with each of these aspects varied and this new version was undermined when Geoff Johns brought back the original team in the pages of Action Comics. This new Legion would eventually come to end after 4 years.


All For One

The originals returned from an early point in their history. The original group had jumped forward 5 years for some radically different stories which, while considered top notch now, were polarizing when originally released. Johns decided to use the team that existed just before the 5 year jump, leaving that future as a possible one, but not the present.

The return of the originals was a big deal, as such things always are in comics. No one loves a return to an old concept more than comic book fans who have lived through new iterations.

But present day DC characters had interacted with both the Archie Legion and the Threeboot version. How could that work if the originals were back?

During yet another crossover, Geoff Johns declared that the originals were from the future of Earth-1, the main reality. The Archie Legion was from Earth-247, although Johns had established that in the Infinite Crisis series. Unfortunately for the Legion, Johns had also destroyed that Earth. Luckily for the Archie Legion, they had been banished to limbo before that happened, which is where they were pulled from for the Legion of 3 Worlds.

The Threeboot Legion, it turned out, were from the future of Earth Prime, birth place of Superboy Prime, a polarizing character who was the main villain of 3 Worlds. Making the Threeboot Legion a part of Superboy Prime's universe is a little messed up, considering how awful Superboy Prime was, but I suppose it connected the story together. The main problem is that the Threeboot Legion were inspired by real life superheroes, yet Earth Prime's whole concept is that Superboy is the only super powered character there. Given that Superboy Prime is an incredible d-bag, implying that he somehow inspired the Legion comes off as a really sneaky way of saying the Threeboot was filled with jerks.

The original Legion survived Final Crisis and would also make it through another DC reboot without being touched. This time it was Flashpoint and the launch of the New 52. The Legion got two books, the second, called Legion Lost, took place in the present. It was a solid theory on how to bridge the gap between the Legion and the rest of the DCU.

Both books were canceled after less than 2 years.

The Final Tally

So let's break it down so we're all clear:

Original Superman                                    Original Legion
Post-Crisis Superman                                Archie Legion
New 52 Superman                                     Threeboot Legion
Rebirth Superman

In other words, there have been just as many reboots of Superman as there have been of the Legion, more, since we don't know what the Rebirth version is like just yet. Yet the idea that the Legion is overly complicated persists.

So with all these strikes -- both perceived and real -- against them, why do so many people love the Legion?


One of the frustrating things about being a fan of corporately owned superhero comics is that they tend to maintain the status quo. Even if there's drastic change, you know full well that it's temporary, as the intellectual property much always remain the same. We all knew Superman would return from the dead, just as we all know that Captain America will stop being a Nazi, just as well all know that Wolverine will be back. That's just the way it is.

My favorite superhero stories are the ones that buck that trend. Grant Morrison gave Batman a biological son and, despite the odds, he has stuck. More recently, Superman has returned and he's married to Lois Lane and the two of them have a son. It's phenomenal. Suddenly, the imaginary stories of the 70s, the "Super Sons" is now a reality, because comics have actually moved forward.

This is rarity, though, and in some ways only applicable to Superman and Batman. The latter has always had a teen sidekick, so making one of them his biological child wasn't that much of a change. And Superman is Superman; if any character could make being a good family man work, it's the Last Son of Krypton.

In other words, change is hard to come by in superhero comics, so when I find it, I am drawn to it. It is one of my most favorite things.

Enter the Legion of Superheroes, a comic about a group of teen superheroes in the far future. Their adventures are not bound by shared continuity or intellectual property concerns.

As I mentioned above, the Legion's appeal is also one of the reasons it's a hard sell. Fans don't want to buy a comic unless they think it's going to be important to the grand tapestry of the DCU.

It looks like the Rebirth version is going to be connected to the present. The first appearance of the Rebirth Legion has Saturn Girl as a patient in Arkham Asylum.

Saturn Girl Rebirth 2.png

This is problematic for me on a couple of levels. First and foremost, using Saturn Girl would suggest that she's no longer a retired, married, mother of two, and I really liked her as a retired, married, mother of two, just as I really liked Lightning Lad as a retired, married, father of two.

The other issue is that connecting the Legion to Batman seems insane. Connecting them to Superman makes sense. But there is nothing about the Legion that should connect to Batman. More to the point, the idea that Batman would have any kind of a legacy remaining after 1,000 years is a huge stretch; there are just too many other superheroes running around.

Besides, the most recent history of the originals had Superman actually going on adventures as Superboy, albeit in the future where he didn't risk exposing his secret identity. I'm not entirely sure when that idea was first introduced or who came up with it, but it's brilliant and I'm a little worried it might go away.

Regardless, the return of the Legion can only be a good thing. They offer a version of superheroes that we don't normally get to see: ones that change. And that's great.

Batman #29 is what is wrong with Batman

I've had this percolating in my head for a while now, as evidenced by the fact that Batman #32 is already out. But it's yet another interlude issue in an event that has no steam and never will. Besides, #29 isn't just another bad issue, it nicely encapsulates what's been wrong with Tom King's run from the start.

The issue opens with Bruce Wayne hosting a dinner for the Riddler, the Joker, and their respective supporters. His goal is to broker some kind of peace to end the war raging throughout Gotham. The dinner is something his mother used to talk about.

It is, of course, ridiculous to think that any of the villains pictured here would join up with either the Joker or the Riddler. How does dinner even come about? Why would either side agree to it? Why would Bruce Wayne even think it would be a good idea?

At one point the Joker asks the Riddler about having to cut off someone's head while the person is still alive, to which the Riddler admits he's had to do. Then the Joker throws a knife at The Riddler, but he catches it between his palms, ninja style.


As with every other villain in the Bat universe since the Snyder/Tynion/King group took over, the Riddler has been reduced to just another psychopath. He's cutting people's heads off now? And since when does he have ninja skills? What the fuck is going on here?

What's going on is that King had an idea, a really good idea, if you think about it, but one which has little to do with Batman. And that's been the case for this entire series. It is filled with some really great ideas that are forced into a Batman shaped box. Nothing about the run has been organic.

The framing sequence in this issue is a solid idea. Using each course of this fancy pants meal to connect these moments is interesting. But it's the kind of thing that would work when the involved parties are trying to outwit each other. It's the kind of thing you'd expect to see Lex Luthor do with a couple of rivals. It makes no sense with these characters.

And that's the issue.

Look at the initial arc. The big idea: give Gotham Superman-level heroes. Okay, fine. But there's no reason to believe that would impact Batman at all. He's used to interacting with characters with powers like that. So what's the issue for him? That one of them dies and the other one is driven insane? We've just met these characters, so why are we upset by any of that? And, again, what does it have to do with Batman, aside from giving him a Supergirl he can call whenever he wants. Is that it? To make him look like he's using yet another person?

"I Am Suicide" isn't any better. This is clearly the "Batman's Suicide Squad" bit, which is fine, but his entire plan involving that Suicide Squad attacking Bane makes no goddamn sense.

First, it's dependent upon Bane not killing him. It's then dependent upon him un-breaking his own back, apparently. Then it's dependent upon Bane being stupid enough to trust Catwoman, which he does because...? Then the Ventriloquist is necessary to capture the Psycho Pirate by knocking him unconscious, something anyone could do just by sneaking up on him or throwing something at him, but it's not like anyone on the team is sneaky or anything.

The next big arc is the "I Am Bane" story. The idea here is pretty simple: Bane vs Batman. More specifically, the idea is that an overwhelming force is coming to Gotham and Batman has to prepare for it. This is the darkest hour, the biggest fight of Batman's life, or at least it's supposed to be. So naturally he tells his former Robins to leave town.

Aside from that point being debatable, Batman is awfully selective in who he protects and who he doesn't. He wants to protect his sidekicks, but what about his other allies? What about the people who helped him? Why, for example, is Gordon left out to dry?

And just what the hell is up with the end of Batman #16? Red Hood, Red Robin, and Nightwing are all hanging from nooses with blood running down their bodies. Even if you accept that they are actually still alive, why would they be? In the very next issue Batman says that they went after Bane. Why would he leave them alive?

This arc also introduces one of King's favorite Batman devices, the framing sequence. Here it's juxtaposing Bane's life with Bruce Wayne's. It's somehow supposed to convey that these two characters are similar or perhaps victims of circumstance, I'm not sure. It doesn't make their big fight any more compelling. What it does is go to the dead parents well yet again, something I'll address more in a bit.

After that Bane fights all of Batman's villains because Batman has freed them and armed them (Alfred's words) and for some reason they've all decided to just stay there and fight Bane as opposed to, say, escaping, because Batman told them he'd get them more conjugal visits or something.

We get another framing sequence when Bruce talks to his dead mother as he's facing off with Bane. Again, I'll get to this in a moment.

But first, let's talk about Kite Man.

It's not unusual for new writers of corporately owned superhero characters to dig up an obscure character to rework. It's something of a tradition, really, and I'm all for it. Kite Man's first real moment to shine comes in Batman #23, but he gets the spotlight in Batman #27, perhaps the most infuriating issue in an already infuriating run.

The "War of Jokes and Riddles" (ugh) is underway and Batman decides to force Charles Brown to be a spy for him. Brown used to work for the Joker, so Batman forces him to set up a meeting that, in theory, he can crash. But the Riddler captures Brown and forces him to reveal the location of the meeting. Then Batman shows up again and Brown tells him that the Riddler knows. And then the meeting happens and everyone shows up and there's a big fight and the Joker escapes with Brown. Brown eventually comes clean to the Joker.

The Joker then wires Brown with what Brown believes to be bombs and sends him to meet Batman. They are not really bombs, but Brown only discovers that after trying to set them off.

How does all of this end? Well, the Riddler poisons Brown's son to get back at him. His son dies. He dies because BATMAN FORCED HIS FATHER TO BE HIS SPY. Batman swears he'll bring the Riddler to justice, but that's it. There's no mention of what he did. The little boy is dead because of Batman. Period.

Batman's complete disregard for his role in the child's death is made worse by the fact that he was supposed to be protecting the boy while making the boy's father help him. Really, Batman? You couldn't find anyone else who'd ever worked for the Joker to help you? Maybe someone without a young son that would be vulnerable to attack?

Yet again, we have a Batman with a horrible, stupid plan. It's just made all the worse this time around because it results in the death of an innocent, yet Batman doesn't seem to care.

Yes, maybe this is the "very bad thing" that Batman did that Riddler attempts to hold over his head later, but it would still be a very bad thing even if Batman showed some remorse. And it's still a god awful plan.

Edit: It is NOT the "very bad thing" as #31 tells us. So there goes that.

Young boys do not fare well in this series, be it Brown's son, the emotionally young Gotham, Batman's many sidekicks, young Bane, or Batman himself. I understand why this would be a source of emotional turmoil for a parent; it's something I can't even bring myself to write about now that I have a son. The problem is that there's little emotional resonance, with either these stories about bad things befalling young boys or anyone else in this series.

This is because the stories aren't organic to the character. But in an effort to make them organic, to form some kind of emotional connective tissue, King regularly goes to the dead parents well. At one point I counted it up and the Waynes had been mentioned in over half of this Batman run so far. I understand that his parents' deaths were the pivotal moment in Bruce's life, but not every story is about them, nor should they be. But what's the easiest, clearest way to make a story that seems to have little to do with Batman, a Batman story? Bring in his dead parents.

There are some great stories being told in this Batman run, the problem is that none of them are about Batman and, worse, don't fit Batman's world. It's jarring to read, in part because you can tell there's something good here, yet it's not working. And it's not working because these are stories that should be told elsewhere.

King is one of my favorite current writers. I honestly can't believe Marvel hasn't collected The Vision into a single, hardcover collection, just as I can't believe that DC hasn't collected Omega Men into a single, hardcover collection. And that Grayson omnibus almost makes me reconsider my hatred of the omnibus format. Almost.

But the current Batman book is not good.

Perhaps, though, it's necessary. As long as King is making money on a big IP, he can afford to write books like the aforementioned Vision and Omega Men or the Babylon books.

It's probably a fair trade.


End of the Line: New Universe, Part 2

After the first year, half of the New Universe's original 8 titles were canceled. The titles that survived weren't necessarily the ones that had the most potential, at least on paper.

The fact that Star Brand made the cut was probably more due to the fact that it was the signature book of the line. That didn't stop Marvel from cutting it back to a bi-monthly title. John Byrne came on board in an effort to save it, so the bi-monthly schedule was also, in theory, an effort to give Byrne time to write and pencil the book.

DP7 was far and away the best of the line at that time for a good reason: It had a regular creative team. Writer Mark Gruenwald and penciler Paul Ryan had worked on every issue through the first year and would work on every issue until the book was canceled.

Justice somehow stayed alive. Maybe it was the name. It was completely overhauled, though, as the first year was written off as a dream that the main character had while he was in a coma. Just like the Old Man from Star Brand, it was revealed that Justice was, in fact, human, and not an alien. His new mission was to punish paranormals who misused their powers.

Psi-Force stuck around perhaps on strength of concept alone. Teenage superheroes always had the potential to sell and Psi-Force actually had a diverse cast, something of a rarity in 1986. It irregularly featured early work by Mark Texeira, which meant it was one of the better looking New Universe books.

Cutting the line down to four books meant it was easier to solve the main problem that I've mentioned over and over again: the lack of regular creative teams.

Star Brand lived out its run under John Byrne. Peter David and Lee Weeks took over as the regular team on Justice. Fabian Nicieza took over as the writer on Psi-Force, joined initially by Ron Lim, then later by Rodney Ramos. And DP7 continued under the guidance of Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan.

Sure, aside from Byrne, the rest of the writers were Marvel staffers who no doubt got the gigs in part because of their other jobs, but David, Nicieza, and Gruenwald were all talented creators who put their unique stamps on these titles. David and Nicieza would go on to write some of Marvel's top books, while Gruenwald was already entrenched in his classic run of Captain America.

Of the four books, Psi-Force probably had the best overall run post-culling. Byrne would take Star Brand into some interesting areas with regards to what actual super beings would be like in our world, and then into what unlimited power could really do to someone. The evolution of Ken Connell and the introduction of Ken's child were well done, but the bi-monthly schedule meant that when it was over and done, not much ground had actually been covered.

DP7 probably suffered the most after the line was cut down. While the book had never been laser focused, it still had some through line in its first year. The series became a book about a road trip of sorts, and the cast kept expanding and expanding. Gruenwald and Ryan were great to give each of their characters depth, but that meant veering into the George RR Martin realm of plot, where each character could have held their own series. The cover for the final issue pokes fun at the unwieldy cast, so the creators were at least aware of the problem.

The new version of Justice was substantially better than what came before, but that was a very low bar. But Justice's new goal to police paranormals was a good turn for the character, and allowed him to crossover into other books. It also allowed David and Weeks to dig into the various corners of the New Universe as John Tensen went about his business.

Side note: Of the original 8 New Universe titles, 3 of them starred characters named, respectively, John Tensen, Keith Remsen, and Jenny Swensen. And you will never guess which one of those was Nightmask (hint: Nightmask was about dreams).

But Psi-Force came together better than any of the other books. In Nicieza's first issue as regular writer, he dug into each character, both physically and mentally. He deconstructed their powers and turned them into a very powerful, anti-establishment group that was constantly at odds with governmental agencies. While he may have gone to the well one too many times with the "group is scattered and must find each other" bit (it happens twice in the span of a little over a year), he does so to keep the team evolving. Characters die, characters leave, and new characters join and end up being essential. In the end only one of the first five is on the team; you actually felt like there was a real journey with this title, not just lip service.

Eventually, The New Universe would have to resort to a ploy that most doomed lines of comics would try in an effort to boost sales: drastic upheaval.  Since the mainstream Marvel U had to remain somewhat stagnant, the theory was that this alternate universe was not bound by continuity, IPs, or sales, so they creators could really alter the landscape. For the New Universe, the first step was a double-sized one shot called The Pitt.

Ken Connell, current bearer of the Star Brand and fictional stand-in for his creator and original writer, Jim Shooter, decides to transfer a portion of his power into an inanimate object, much the way that the Old Man did with an asteriod, which in turn led to the White Event. But Connell's plan backfires and he ends up destroying Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his home town and, of course, the home town of Jim Shooter.

Shooter had left Marvel a few months earlier and Marvel basically nuked his home town and made him the cause.

This was in the late 80s, so the U.S. government of the New Universe came to the same conclusion the U.S. government of OUR universe would have: the Soviets did it.

This wasn't the case, but it was motivation enough to start rounding up paranormals to see if they could work as a military unit. This led to the next New Universe one shot, The Draft.

You can probably see where this is headed.

When the line was canceled with issue #32 of the monthly books, a handful of characters would continue on in The War, the final chapter in the thread that had started with The Pitt and run through The Draft. This was an odd way to end the line, as it featured a group of characters who had been shuffled off to the side for months. Aside from the timely intervention of Ken Connell's child (who would disarm the world in the finale), none of the main characters from the New Universe played major parts in what was supposedly the climax to the imprint. On one hand, it was nice that we didn't have to see characters we enjoyed from the main books continue on under the ink and pen of other creators, but at the same time it didn't feel like a proper send off.

The original New Universe characters would pop up here and there in the Marvel Universe proper, pulled in by their former writers. Peter David brought Justice into the world of Spider-man 2099. Mark Gruenwald pulled a handful of characters into the book he was writing at the time, Quasar, as well as ultimately pulling the New Universe into the Marvel multi-verse.

Marvel would later attempt to revise the line with newuniversal, a series that had even less success than the original line, mostly because it was published at random times and never actually finished.

The New Universe's most prominent impact, aside from showcasing new talent that would go on to have impressive careers, would be on display when Jonathan Hickman took over the Avengers. He incorporated the Star Brand and Nightmask, giving both larger, cosmic purposes, and hosts who existed on the Marvel U Earth. The two even received their own, short lived series.

Most recently, James Robinson and Leonard Kirk introduced a new version of the Squadron Supreme to the Marvel U. This team featured orphaned characters from universes that didn't survive Marvel's Secret Wars. Included in their number is Blur, formerly of DP7, a fairly clear indication that the New Universe as we knew it no longer exists.

The New Universe was destined to fail from the start; the fact that even three of its concepts/characters continue to exist in some form 30 years later is amazing, and a testament to the fact that the Big Two will never let IPs completely die.

End of the Line: New Universe, Part 1

I wonder if the New Universe had launched the way it was supposed to, with top of the line creative teams and more support from Marvel, would the superhero fans of 1986 have embraced it? These days “continuity” may be a dirty word for business development executives at the Big Two, but it’s magic for the average superhero comic book reader.  DC is relaunching their entire line yet again because of those average comic book readers who hold continuity to be the be all and end all of superhero stories.

But has it always been this way? The demise of the Ultimate line supports my statement above, but it’s relative longevity suggests that there was a point where stories didn’t have to “matter” to us. Maybe that’s true. Maybe the superhero comic book audience has shrunk over the years, leaving just those of us who are crazy about continuity, that go online to argue why Spider-man couldn’t possibly be a member of the Avengers or that Tim Drake really was Robin once.

The audience for comics in 1986 was substantially larger than it is now, so it’s not unreasonable to think that a fully polished, quality product that existed outside the proper Marvel universe could have done well for a number of years. Unfortunately, we’ll never know, because what we got was nothing like that.

As the story goes, Marvel Editor in Chief Jim Shooter wanted to do something big for Marvel’s 25th anniversary. His initial idea was to reboot the entire thing, starting over with modern versions of the same characters.  The people above Shooter, who saw how well the current version of the Marvel U was selling, shot down his idea, so he came up with a new one: try to repeat the magic of 25 years ago, but with a twist.

This new universe would hem closer to the real world, focusing on one single moment in time that changed everything. The White Event would imbue a finite number of people with fantastic abilities, but that would be it. There were no gods, no monsters, no alien races. And all of this would happen in real time: a year’s worth of stories would cover a year of time.

These are interesting ideas for shared universe superhero comics, but the initial conceit was undermined by one of the inaugural titles (Justice was an alien from another dimension) and the books didn't last long enough for the real time aspect to matter.

The New Universe was supposed to launch with heavy financial investment from Marvel. But Marvel's owners at the time were int he process of trying to sell the company, and it's much easier to sell and company when its profits are high. Investing in an unproven line of comics was too risky of a move, so the big budget for the New Universe was drastically cut.

The end result was creative teams made up of Marvel staffers, newcomers, and veterans that had been pushed out by the Big Two. Even worse, few of the titles had consistent creative teams. It wasn't just the art teams, either, from issue to issue you never knew who was going to be the writer. It's hard to generate any kind of coherent narrative when different people were putting the stories together every month.

The eight titles that formed the New Universe were:

Spitfire and the Troubleshooters

Since the New Universe was supposed to stick with technology that was relatively close to what existed in our world (in 1986), a comic about an Iron Man-style power suit was going to be problematic. Yes, it was bigger, bulkier, and less advanced that Iron Man's armor, but it was still well beyond anything that actually existed in the non-fictional world. As will be a reoccurring theme, the book was plagued by meandering stories due to rotating creative teams. It went from being about a college professor, her students, and a super suit, to that same professor and the government organization she now worked for (the the name change to Codename: Spitfire with issue #10).

The book also had 10 different artists, which included legendary artists like Herb Trimpe and Marshall Rogers, as well as early work by some guy named Todd McFarlane. Both the Spitfire armor and it's original pilot, Jenny Swensen, would play big parts in the New Universe even after their title was canceled.

Star Brand

The flagship book and explanation for the White Event, the Star Brand was the name of the tattoo that gave Ken Connell super powers. It was given to him by the Old Man, who originally claimed to be an alien which, again, went against the core tenet of the New Universe.

There's a fairly entrenched belief online that Star Brand was actually good, but having no re-read it multiple times I can state without a doubt that this isn't true. Is it better than most of the others? Definitely, in part because it has a regular creative team, at least for the first six months. The art by John Romita, Jr. goes a long way to making the uninspired story by Jim Shooter more enjoyable.

Star Brand is similar to Roy Thomas' run on Infinity, Inc. in that it's a story about relatively young people by a writer who is not. There's an attempt at edginess in Star Brand that falls flat every time. You get the impression that we're not supposed to find Ken Connell's flaws problematic, we're supposed to think they're cool. His biggest flaw is that he's unable to stop sleeping with attractive women. He has a girlfriend (who has two kids) and a friend with benefits (who is dependent upon him to an unhealthy degree), yet he still ends up sleeping with random women whenever he can.

He's not just an asshole, but an idiot, to boot. He is every guy that ever shoved a comic book reader into a locker and for some reason we're supposed to be interested in what happens in his life.


Short for Displaced Paranormals 7, DP7 is the story of a group of people trying to deal with their new conditions, specifically by signing up for an institute that claims to be able to help them either control their new abilities or remove them.

The actual best book of the bunch (at least through the 1st year), DP7 had the advantage of having a regular creative team in the form of Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan. It also featured a relatively diverse cast for the time, something it did not shy away from: race was foreground in the series towards the end of the first year. The characters were also a variety of ages and came from varying social and economic backgrounds. Simply from a stand point of life experience, this was as diverse as they came in 1986.

This was also a series that regularly denied its readers a happy ending. There were few concrete climaxes to these stories, because there couldn't be. These seven characters were living with strange conditions that weren't going away. And this was the New Universe, the "real world," so simply putting on a costume and fighting crime wasn't a realistic option.


Justice is the aforementioned alien from another dimension (where everyone looks like a human and speaks English) who can't get home so he decides to fight evil on our world.

This series had a regular creative team or even, apparently, the slightest idea what it was really, which makes the fact that it would ultimately be rebooted after its first year completely understandable. John Tensen aka Justice had a strong visual look, or at least the beginning of them. His powers looked great, but most of the time he ran around in horrible 80s clothes fighting other people in horrible 80s clothes. And he often fought drug dealers, which made this perhaps the most "of the moment" of the New Universe titles.

Kickers, Inc.

Super powered former football players! Honestly, this concept was surely doomed from the start, regardless of the fact that it had 7 different writers and 6 different pencilers over the course of just 12 issues. Apparently, Co-creator Tom DeFalco wanted to do a book more like Challengers of the Unknown, but Jim Shooter wanted a sports comic, which is what Kickers, Inc. became. This was another title that went against one of the basic tenets of the New Universe, in that it featured futuristic science which gave Kickers, Inc. leader, Jack Magniconte, his powers.

Mark Hazard: Merc

Hard to believe, but this was about a mercenary named Mark Hazard.

The initial crux of this series was that of the titular character trying to balance his professional and personal lives, the latter prominently featuring his ex-wife and son. Hey, it's not easy to make it to a soccer game on time when you're busy killing people for money. That angle was mostly put on the back burner after original writer, Peter David, left the book, replaced by Doug Murray, who focused more on Hazzard's merc adventures. The series had 7 artists over 12 issues and an annual, with the legendary Gray Morrow handling the art for five issues, so at least those are nice to look at.


One of the more thoughtful titles, Nightmask could slip into people's dreams to help them recover from trauma. It made for some trippy stories, although it mostly just dabbled in slightly modified fantasy and horror tropes. Again, the quality was all over the place because the book had 5 different writers for a 12 issue run. Even more impressive? There were 11 different artists! Only Mark Bagley drew more than one issue.

Nightmask would go on to make regular appearances in other New Universe books after his ended.


If Star Brand was the critical darling (for some reason) and DP7 was actually the best book from the get to, Psi-Force had the most potential, although it wouldn't realize it until well into its second year. It's the story of five teenagers with psychic powers, hunted by various government organizations, hiding out in a halfway house in San Francisco. Oh, and they have the ability to merge together into a creature called Psi-Hawk, who looked somewhat like the man who brought them all together, Emmet Proudhawk, although he died pretty early on.

The essential core of the Psi-Force story wasn't the hackneyed "five merge into one" aspect, which was, thankfully, done away with eventually, but the anti-establishment sentiment running through the team. There was a righteous anger towards authority in these characters that made you wonder why the X-Men were so lax about the fact that they were feared and hated. These kids were feared and hated, too, but they were pissed off about it.

The cast was great, too.  You had a white trash kid, a rich Asian girl, a nerdy white boy, an African American jock, and a Russian girl. Yeah, that was weird, the Russian girl, but it gave the title a global feel. The other characters, though, felt like intentional stereotypes, brought together for the purpose of up ending those ideas. And it worked. The white trash kid became the leader, the spoiled rich girl became the muscle, the African American jock was the heart of the group, and the nerdy white boy...well, he left, actually. The stereotype that no doubt hit closest to home with both the creators and the audience was also the one they couldn't undermine.

This was the punk rock X-Men. Even though it had five different writers over the course of the first year, it managed to feel cohesive. This was in no small part thanks to Mark Texeira, who handled the art for half of that first year. His work was a big reason why Psi-Force managed to survive into year two.

It was clear early on that the New Universe was doomed. A lack of editorial guidance and rotating creative teams made it impossible for any of them to build up any kind of momentum with fans. After the first year, half the line was canceled.

What remained was actually pretty good...

The End of the LIne, an introduction

I have thought about this series of columns for years.

I have a bizarre obsession with lines of comics like, for example, the New Universe or Comics Greatest World or First Wave. I love imprints of interconnected superhero books that ultimately fail. I love tracking down every issue of the line and then reading all of them in the order in which they were released.

It's pathological.

Why do I love these defunct groups of comics so much?

First, the fact that they are no longer has a lot of appeal. They've ended, so I can read them as if they're a single story, even if they're not. And there's something satisfying about being able to read an entire line of comics.

It's also fascinating to watch a pattern unfold with each of these lines. It is always the same. There's enthusiasm to start, the line expands, sales diminish, the line cuts back, there's some big event meant to generate interest, the line is remade (not always relaunched) after said event, it still gets canceled. This happens every time. It's amazing to follow.

I also love what each line of comics says about the time when it was published. They are often a snapshot of what was popular in comics at that time, as a publisher tries to cash in on the latest trend.

So what can you expect from The End of the Line?

Here's what I have set aside to write about so far:

Broadway Comics
Comics Greatest World
Continuity Comics
DC Focus
First Wave (DC)
Marvel 2099
New Universe
Project Black Sky
Shadowline Saga
Tangent Comics
Valiant (original)

That above list is a starter. You should also note that reviewing the Ultraverse may not happen, as I recently tried to reread those books and Gerard Jones' name is on so much of it that it was really, really hard for me to stomach (Chaos Comics has the same issue).

I'm also open for suggestions of other lines of comics, so let me know what you'd like to see.

As for HOW I'm going to write about these comics, right now I'm thinking I'll do it chronologically, covering each year that the line was alive in a different post. Most of these didn't last more than a few years at a time, so that shouldn't run on forever.

I have no idea what kind of appeal this will have. I can't imagine that, say, a review of the entire Razorline oeuvre will draw in many readers. But it should be something fun to write about after a glass of whiskey.

Next week: The New Universe!


Knightfall and the evolution of 90s event comics

Denny O'Neil, who was the Batman group editor at the time of Knightfall, has said a number of times that plans for the event were well under way before the "Death of Superman" story happened. It's fairly easy to confirm this, if you consider the introduction of Azrael to be the first part of a long story, and you believe that his introduction was always meant to be the start of Knightfall. But even if Knightfall had been created without influence from the Superman offices, it was part of the collective superhero hive mind that would see variations on a theme get more and more ridiculous.

Knightfall was the next step.

To O'Neil's credit, what makes Knightfall work is all the set up. Jean-Paul Valley is introduced a year earlier. He becomes Azrael. He quits being Azrael. He gets trained by Batman. He's in the background as the battle against Bane unfolds.

In fact, the main story heading into the show down with Bane has nothing to do with Azrael, it has to do with the fact that Batman is starting to lose it. He is working himself too hard. The physical damage he does to himself night after night is nothing compared to the mental damage. Robin is worried. Alfred is worried. The audience is worried. Batman is burned out, but he keeps working.

And that's an important point. It establishes that Bruce is perhaps not at his best when Bane gets a hold of him. It also supports his initial decision to give up, to hand the cape and cowl to Jean-Paul Valley. Batman never loses and he never gives up, but he does both in Knightfall, so the creative teams had to make sure he was in a place where that would happen.

Bane is almost secondary. Were he anyone else, Batman would have chosen to go on hiatus. Bane basically forces him to.

What's interesting is that what leads Batman to this point does not, at least initially, have anything to do with Bane. He first starts showing the wear and tear of the job while trying to stop Black Mask; Batman gets beaten down by Black Mask's bodyguard, a character we've never seen before. This would become a theme.

While still physically spent from stopping (yet not capturing) Black Mask, Batman faces off against a new character named Metalhead who is, frankly, a pretty awful creation. But Metalhead also gives Batman a good beating, although Batman eventually wins out. But these back to back beatings are enough to wear Batman down and the physical abuse begins to weaken him mentally and emotionally as well.

Given Batman's history of putting up with a lot of abuse, it's hard to believe that these battles in particular would be wearing him down, but we have to take them with a grain of salt, just like we have to look past the fact that for some reason he's decided to shut himself off from everyone around him. One of the key factors in Batman's downfall is that he doesn't let Robin (Tim Drake) help him. He continually relegates Robin to back-up.

The problem is that by the time we get to Knightfall, Tim Drake has become a fairly proficient vigilante in his own right, and Batman knows it. In the publishing world, Tim had been Robin for a few years at this point and had even had three separate series. His abilities at this point should have been unquestioned.

To make Batman's cold shoulder somehow more believable, Tim is regularly written out of character. It doesn't seem like writer Doug Moench ever has a grip on who Tim is and more often than not this Robin comes across as the last Robin, Jason Todd. Moench writes the bulk of the first few issues, but thankfully Chuck Dixon eventually takes over, and say what you want about Dixon, but he understood who Tim Drake was from the start.

It's not just Tim Drake that's an issue, though. By this point in his history, Batman has a family. Knightfall is a story that would have worked much better before there were so many branches of the Bat family tree. The idea that Bruce would hand over his mantle to Jean Paul, let alone that he'd be allowed to be Batman, is a stretch, and this is coming from a guy who LOVES No Man's Land.

Knightfall is overly long and logically inconsistent, but still kind of enjoyable. What's interesting is that, like the Death of Superman before it and the Clone Saga after it, the ultimate point of Knightfall is that 90s style superheroes don't work. It is refuting what is going on in mainstream superhero comics while also indulging in it. That's an impressive line to walk.

Still, the event has problem that it's predecessor (The Death of Superman) didn't. It was overly long, it involved many titles that didn't normally interact, and there weren't consistent creators.

The art, in particular, is uneven across the event. The main Batman books are more or less stable, but bringing in other books, some of which had very different aesthetics, was jarring (I'm look at you, Catwoman).

Just like the Death of Superman and the Clone Saga, Knightfall seems designed to show us why the original is better than the knockoff(s). In this case, I don't think Knightfall fully succeeds, in part because Azrael is set up to fail, but also because Batman operates in a grey area. The idea that a more violent version of Batman would somehow be the antithesis of the usual Batman is flimsy. The line for Batman is constantly moving.

There's also nothing about Bruce Wayne, in particular, that makes him the only person who can be Batman. Jean Paul Valley is a bad example because, again, he was created to go off the deep end. But the final arc of Knightfall involves Dick Grayson stepping in as Batman, a role he could pull off just as easily as Bruce (and does, when Bruce "dies" in Grant Morrison's brilliant run on the Batman books). In many ways, Dick is more qualified that Bruce because he's more emotionally stable. Even with all the sidekicks and partners, Bruce still has a martyr complex, while Dick is a team player.

This isn't how it plays out, of course, during Knightfall. Just as Tim Drake is pushed aside, Dick Grayson is made to be less than who he really is, all for the sake of showing us that Bruce Wayne is the one true Batman.

He doesn't have to be, of course, which makes Batman different from other iconic heroes. There is only one Superman, one Spider-man, one Wonder Woman. They may be replaced, but their origins are unique, their powers specific to those origins. Batman's origin isn't that unique; even if you decided that, to become Batman, a person HAD to see their parents die in front of them, I'm sure there are a handful of people who could qualify. Expand that search to the entire world and I'm sure that number would get pretty big, pretty fast.

Bruce's abilities were learned. He's not a superhuman. His money has obviously made becoming Batman easier, but Daredevil has done relatively the same thing without it.

All of that is to say that an event built to show why the main character is special doesn't hold up when it has to go to great lengths to make that case, and even then isn't definitive.

At this point, what makes Bruce Wayne unique as Batman is his history. The cape and cowl carries so much baggage at this point that there's really only one person who has the knowledge and experience to pull it off although, again, Dick Grayson could make a reasonable claim. At this point Tim Drake probably could, too.

Knightfall is entertaining, don't get me wrong. It's far too long and the quality is erratic, but there are some solid adventure stories sprinkled throughout. And while I've never cared for Bane, he's clearly become an iconic villain, so in that regard Knightfall was a success.

But as far as 90s events are concerned, Knightfall doesn't hold a candle to the Death of Superman.


That scene in Wonder Woman (spoilers)

My wife and I both have full time jobs and a three year old son, so the only movies we watch together are the ones you can rent and pause every twenty minutes. If either of us manages to make it to a theater to see a movie, we usually end up doing it without the other one.

This is why, while I saw Wonder Woman a few weeks ago, Nicole just say it recently. Her initial reactions, based on the texts she sent me when the movie let out, were a perfect reminder of how great she is and how great we are together.

Her first comment was that she really liked it.

Her second comment is that she could have done without all the speed bumps, which is a reference to something involving how parts of the movie were filmed and which totally confused me.

Funny enough, my first comment after the movie was that I really liked it and my second comment was about the music, which is a good contrast between the two of us. Nicole will always have a better eye for film and I will always have a better ear for music.

We shared the same third comment: We both wished that a particular scene had never happened.

The scene in question is after the first major battle for Wonder Woman after leaving the island, the battle at No Man's Land. Afterwards, everyone is celebrating the liberation of the town and she and Steve Trevor are having a moment while they dance. The scene then moves upstairs to a room in the hotel, where Diana and Steve share their first kiss. The camera then cuts to the exterior of the hotel and the scene ends.

The implication is that this was the sex scene and, if that's the case, it's incredibly out of place.

It should be noted that the scene itself seems to be intentionally ambiguous. One of the people I saw it with was convinced Diana and Steve did NOT have sex and I chose to go with her interpretation.

The scene isn't necessary. They didn't have to have sex to be in love, yet that's the implication given at the end of the movie. And while that's a lovely reversal of a traditional puritan narrative, it's also still messed up.

And it suggests that this is the only reason we know they're in love, despite all the other moments in the movie. It also suggests it's the only reason that THEY know they're in love, which opens up an entirely creepy door, behind which we find sleazy Steve Trevor. If sex was required for her to know she was in love, then she's more naive than the entirety of the movie would suggest, and perhaps Steve having sex with her isn't exactly as charming as we're supposed to think.

It would have been interesting if Steve only believed she loved him because they had sex, though, while Diana loved him and they had sex.

But given the length of the movie and the amount of time Steve and Diana spent together, isn't even claiming they were in love a bit of a stretch? And is that the type of story we'd see in movie with a male lead?

We're also shown throughout the movie that Diana's brashness is due to her devout belief in her cause. She might be plunging headlong into the unknown, but she's willing to do so because she believes only she can stop Hades. She's willing to put up with a lot of strangeness in this new world for the good of her quest. But I don't know how sleeping with Steve would fit in there and it seems like a complication she would want no part of. And that's not specifically an emotional complication, it's just the idea of introducing something new to her when she's been so focused on her goal.

From that respect, I don't know that she would initiate sex and if she didn't it brings us back around to Sleazy Steve cutting a hole in the bottom of his bucket of popcorn.

I'm sure there's a valid argument somewhere out there for why this scene is not just perfectly fine, but essential to the movie. But I haven't found it and I can't imagine what it would be.

Besides, Hollywood, if your goal is to let us know that Wonder Woman is a sexual being then you know exactly what you have to show us and it doesn't involve a man.

We'll see if Warner Brothers accepts that challenge in the sequel.

The Death (and Return) of Superman is the best

It's easy to look at the resurrected Superman's hair, those handful of panels with him in black and holding big guns, or even the version of Superboy that came out of this event and think "this is a crazy 90s stunt event comic." But it's not remotely like that, although to be honest it's partially responsible for the crazy 90s stunt event comics that came after it. In fact, while the coming years of superhero comics would become a insular, repetitive messes, Death of Superman was more externally 90s than internally 90s.

Those external forces are clear in the elements I mentioned above. Beyond that, the story itself was impacted by the Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman television show that was airing at the time. As the story goes, the creative team on the Superman books in 1991 had hoped to marry Lois and Clark in the pages of the comics the following year. But DC nixed the plan, as any marriage involving those two characters was to be saved for the television show.

With the wedding no longer an option, the creative teams decided to kill off Superman, instead. It should be noted that they also decided to bring him back.

The Death of Superman has a number of things working for it that would be questionable for other, similar events later in the 90s.

  1. It was well planned. The collected editions lay it out pretty clearly: there were four chapters to this story. Superman died in the first. The world mourned in the second. We met the new version of Superman in the third. And the real deal returned in the fourth and final chapter. There were no left turns made in an attempt to drag the event out. The sales department didn't deliver any orders for chromium covered one shots or relaunched titles. This was a story that was driven by the creative team.
  2. The creative team was made up of some of the most talented professionals in the industry, none of whom were really big names. That's not say that fans didn't know who former X-Factor writer and Cable co-creator (you heard me, Liefeld) Louise Simonson was, or who long time DC writers and artists Roger Stern, Dan Jurgens, and Jerry Ordway were. But none of them were big the way that creators were becoming big in the 90s. This meant that they were professionals aka the comics actually came out on time. It also meant that the storytelling was clear.
  3. The Superman books had already been interlinked. One of the problems with later events is that they incorporated a line of comics that weren't usually dependent upon one another. The Bat books, the Spider books, even the X books all had their own stories going on at any time. But the Superman titles had begun the "triangle period" a year earlier: each issue of every Superman book featured a triangle with a number on it, which reflected the order in which the comic should be read among all the other titles. In other words, the triangle would show up on 48 (and eventually 52) comics a year, connecting all four Superman books. It was a lot like reading a weekly Superman comic, although each title had some room to do its own thing. In other words, if you were already buying all the Superman books, you didn't have to add more titles to your list (okay, fine, one Justice League comic).
  4. It matters to people when Superman dies.

So I left that last point unexplained because I think it's the crux of why the Death of Superman works far, far better than any other replacement hero story, be it the clone, Azrael, Kyle Rayner, or teen Tony Stark. The public doesn't know who any of them are. Maybe they know Tony Stark is running around as Iron Man again, but he's still a guy in a suit and that's the extent of what they care about.

Superman dying had impact on the world and part of the reason this story worked is because the creators were smart enough to embrace that. The second arc is entirely about how the world responds to no longer having a Superman. This could have been something they simply wove into the bigger story line of the imposter Supermen, but it was too important.

And this focus made the rest of the story that much better. After we see how much the world is hurting after Superman's death, it's understandable, then, when they convince themselves that any one of the four Supermen is the Superman reborn.

Let's talk about those four possible Supermen. I really love the idea that each is based on a title that has been given to Superman over the years, although I had honestly never heard anyone refer to him as the Metropolis Kid until this event.

The Last Son of Krypton - The Eradicator initially appeared in a Superman annual three years earlier, which was keeping in the general marching orders of the Superman offices at the time: incorporate things from Superman's glorious history in a new way. He ultimately become an anti-hero of sorts, even joining the Outsiders.

The Metropolis Kid - And speaking of things from Superman's past, the original Superboy had been written out of DC continuity by this point, mostly because it was an extremely problematic concept. Hey, look, Superboy fights crime in Smallville! Hey, look, years later there's a SuperMAN who fights crime in Metropolis! I wonder who he really is? there anyone in Metropolis who used to live in the small town of Smallville? You can see the problem there. So if Superboy couldn't be a young Superman, then the creators had to come up with the next best thing. If you guessed the son of Superman, yes, that would make sense (and go read the current Superman comics). But since they couldn't even get Superman married, they certainly couldn't give him a kid. And so we got Connor Kent, a clone made up of Superman and Lex Luthor, the love child we always knew they'd have.

The Man of Tomorrow - The story of Cyborg Superman is amazing in how it merges various elements of Superman's life. Not only was he originally introduced two years before this story, he's only in his predicament -- and only hates Superman -- because of something Superman did with the Eradicator. How perfect is that? That's part of the brilliance of all of these Supermen - they didn't just pull elements from the past, they set up stories for the future.

The Man of Steel - Steel was easily my favorite of the four Supermen. While his initial stories were somewhat questionable from a representational standpoint (there are an awful lot of unfortunate cliches at work), Steel stood out not only because he truly wanted to do good, but because he made no bones about the fact that he was not Superman.

The introduction of these four Supermen was an incredibly smart move. The death of the real Superman had put interest in the comics at an all time high and no readers were getting the first appearances of brand new characters. This wasn't just great for the regular audience, but played on the speculator insanity of the time. It was also brand building at its best.

The final chapter of the Death of Superman story establishes that the comics and the character will be at odds with the comic book trends to come.

Cyborg Superman reveals himself to be the villain of the story. He teams up with Mongul (not willingly) and they destroy Coast City, a nod towards the "big screen" destruction that would become commonplace in superhero comics in the years to come.

Fighting Cyborg Superman and Mongul is just extreme enough for the Eradicator to join in, allowing him to maintain his anti-hero status which is a characteristic we'd see an awful lot of during the 90s.

Superboy adds in the edgy attempt at being cool that was so prominent as comics tried to keep teenagers from leaving them for video games and Steel represented the long over due, still underwhelming, attempt at diversifying the DCU. I actually wonder how much Steel's success may have influenced DC's decision work with Milestone.

There are a few moments towards the end when it looks like Superman might fall to the dark side: the all black costume, the terrifying panels in which he's holding a machine gun in each hand. But in the end he saves the day by being the same Superman we've always loved, albeit now with a mullet.

(The mullet is awful, yes, but also baffling, as they explanation is that it grew while he was gone...yet he doesn't show up with a beard.)

The Death (and Return) of Superman wasn't just a great event, but a statement on who Superman is and will always be. There is a purity that will never go away, not if they kill him off, split him into two characters, or reboot him over and over again. The true Superman always finds a way back.


Spider-man: Homecoming is a perfect reboot

If Spider-man: Homecoming has one major problem it's that the titular character can't possibly match the main villain, not in fisticuffs, but in pure gravitas on the screen. Michael Keaton is phenomenal as the Vulture, a bad guy who might be the best we've seen from any Marvel movie, not that the bar was particularly high.

I don't know if it was the writers writing for the actor or the actor taking liberties with the script, but there's a depth to the Vulture that we've never seen from other MCU villains. And his origin story is so beautifully anchored in the ground level reality of the MCU that he becomes possibly the first bad guy whose birth actually makes sense.

This version of Spider-man clearly uses Ultimate Spider-man as its blueprint. But, just as Ultimate Spider-man updated concepts from the original, Homecoming updates concepts from Ultimate Spider-man. The fact that it's an inspiration of an inspiration allows the movie to make more drastic changes to the original, all of which seem natural.

In fact, I had an overwhelming desire to read Spider-man comics after I got out of the movie, but found myself at a loss for what to read. I appreciate the older comics and I enjoyed the Ultimate version, but neither really satisfied this particular craving. There's just no Spider-man comic out there that feels as current as this movie does, at least none that feature Peter Parker (my issues with the Miles Morales comic are different and can be saved for later).

And it's not just that Spider-man: Homecoming feels current, it feels fresh. As much as I loved Ultimate Spider-man, it never felt that way to me, perhaps because it was a reflection of the times, while Homecoming feels like it's leading the way.

Look at the cast. Homecoming has a diverse cast. Granted, the hero is still a straight white guy, but surrounding him with non-straight white guys makes the movie seem real in a way that few other superhero movies (or movies in general) do. This feels like a real high school in NY.

And these feel like real kids at a STEM high school. That change, it should be noted, is perfect. Teenagers will always have cliques and a hierarchy, but here there's a thread that runs through all of them. Peter isn't an outcast because he's smart. He's an outcast because he's socially awkward and a flake, the latter of which can at least be attributed to his other life.

The new versions of classic Spider-man teenagers are vastly improved upon in almost every way. Ned is clearly ripped from the pages of Miles Morales and the idea that Peter Parker has a best friend in high school is wonderful. I'm sure in 1962 it would have seemed at odds with Peter being a lovable loser, but these days it's entirely possible to be an outcast with a friend. Lovable losers can find each other.

Liz actually has character, something that couldn't be said for her in the 60s. The Ultimate version of her also got the short shrift, playing a one note "I hate mutants oh my god I AM a mutant" bit for years. This version was interesting even before the big twist.

Flash is, well, Flash. But this version is just a rich, popular jag vs. the jock bully in his original incarnation and the abused tough guy in the Ultimate version. At the very least, there's potential in this new Flash.

Outside of Peter and Ned, though, the character who gets the best moments and clearly has the most potential is Michelle. I have no idea who Zendaya is or why there was a scandal of some kind when she was announced as being in this movie, but her portrayal of Michelle was just about perfect. She was able to walk a fine line of disinterested outsider and sly, witty peer. I say "peer" because that's exactly what she is: she's Peter's match. It's implied that she's just as smart as Peter. It' also implied that she feels just as alone, although she's able to mask it better than Peter does. She also seems to have a greater understanding, if not appreciation, of the larger world, something that often escapes Peter.

The high school stuff was great and the Vulture was great and Tom Holland was great. Were there any problems?

Well, for one, Aunt May needed more screen time. The relationship between Peter and his aunt is hinted at, but never shown, not to the extent I felt it needed to be. There's clearly a unique dynamic between them, something different from a traditional mother/son relationship. There are hints, don't get me wrong. Peter breaking down about the Stark internship is a solid scene, although I think May is smart enough to have realized that Peter didn't really give her an explanation for where he'd been. Peter running to May as soon as he gets a date to the Homecoming dance is fantastic. But I could have used more of that, something to make May a more central figure to the movie.

Along those lines, Tony Stark's involvement never worked for me. I don't know why, but he felt out of place. I think a big part of it is because he makes every thing in the movie overstated. Peter would have felt awful about the battle on the ferry on his own. It would have shaken him, made him question his purpose, particularly given that the FBI seemingly had it under control. It's easy to imagine that he would have quit being Spider-man after nearly getting dozens of people killed. And it's easy to imagine he would have picked it up again after discovering who the Vulture was.

None of which needed Tony Stark to happen. But Stark spelled everything out in capital letters for us, and I suppose some people needed that.

Sure, the bits with the suit were funny and certainly helped explain some things, but the degree to which Stark was involved wasn't necessary. He detracted from Spider-man to the point where I actually thought that the big thing the movie was missing was more Spider-man.

Along those lines, it would have been nice to see Spider-man fighting crime. Again, I understand that showing him bored out of his mind and webbing innocent people is funny, but he's in New York. He can't find any crime to stop? And when he does, it involves alien technology?

It's entirely possible to have Spider-man fighting real criminals and also wanting to do more Avengers type stuff. The extremes don't need to be there. He can consider stopping a bank robber small potatoes when compared to the things the Avengers do. He can be eagerly waiting for that call while actually doing some good.

And because he's never shown doing much of anything, we never see much of the Spider-man wit. Say what you want about the last two movie versions of Spider-man, but they were both witty. There was very little of that from this Spider-man. And while I understand that this is meant to show how overwhelmed he was, you can't have him bored to tears and overwhelmed at the same time. Plus, the constant jokes are supposed to be a representation of who Peter can be when he's wearing the mask. It distinguishes Spider-man from Peter Parker.

Honestly, had they cut 75% of the Stark scenes and split the remaining time between Aunt May and Spider-man actually doing something, this movie would have been close to perfect.

Even so, it was exactly what I wanted from a new version of Spider-man. It was the essence of the character distilled into a modern version, and it didn't even require an origin story. For as much as I enjoyed Homecoming, I'm looking forward to the inevitable sequels even more.

Side note: The inclusion of the Prowler has me hoping that Peter Parker gets a trilogy and that the post-credits scene of the third movie introduces us to a boy named Miles Morales...

Squadron Supreme > Watchmen

I recently got the Squadron Supreme Omnibus, which collection the original limited series (and tie-in) and the follow-up OGN. In honor of this wonderful addition to my bookshelves, I thought I'd re-post my column about the Squadron Supreme.

It was a groundbreaking superhero story.  It took archetypal characters to their organic extremes.  Every action had consequences.  Change was real and long lasting.  These were sophisticated stories featuring complex moral and philosophical issues, told through the genre of brightly colored super beings.

It wasn't Watchmen.

The comic in question was The Squadron Supreme, a 12 issue limited series written by Mark Gruenwald with pencils by Bob Hall, John Buscema, and Paul Ryan, and inks by an all star cast.  It debuted in September of 1985, a full year before Watchmen.  There are a lot people (including me), who consider it an unsung classic, deserving of the type of recognition that Watchmen gets.  So why is it overlooked?

A Brief History of the Squadron Supreme

The Squadron Supreme were created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema, although it would be fair to say they were actually created by Thomas and John's brother, Sal.  See, the Squadron first appeared in Avengers #85 in 1971 as good versions of a team that Thomas and Sal had introduced just two years earlier in Avengers #69: the Squadron Sinister.  Each team had the same four members (although the Supreme version had an additional four), but they weren't the same.  One was bad, one was good.

If you're confused by that, you're not alone.  Even Marvel's own production office couldn't keep the two teams straight, advertising the "Squadron Sinister" on the covers of two issues of the Avengers that actually featured the Squadron Supreme.

Anyway, both teams were created as analogs for DC's Justice League of America.  The common members of the two Squadrons were Hyperion (Superman), Nighthawk (Batman), Whizzer (the Flash), and Doctor Spectrum (Green Lantern).  When the Squadron Supreme first appeared, their line-up also included Lady Lark (Black Canary), a different character named Hawkeye who would later go by Golden Archer (Green Arrow), Tom Thumb (the Atom) and Cap'N Hawk (Hawkman).  It's kind of interesting that those were the additions, as opposed to versions of the remaining Justice League founders (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter).

The Squadron Supreme would make a few more appearances in the Avengers, as well as showing up in an issue of Thor and Spider-man.  But their big story line would come with an extended arc in the Defenders.  The ranks of the team would fill out here as well, with the additions of Power Princess (Wonder Woman), Amphibian (Aquaman), Arcana (Zatanna), and Nuke (Firestorm).  Missing from the ranks is the Skrullian Skymaster (the Martian Manhunter) who would be briefly shown as a founding member in the first issue of the Squadron Supreme series, but would only be revealed in the Squadron's entry in the Marvel Handbook (at least until the follow-up to the follow-up of the Squadron's series).

Now, a word about Nighthawk.  Nighthawk is Kyle Richmond.  On our world (the 616 Earth of the Marvel U), he was a Defender.  But here's the thing: the Defender known as Nighthawk wasn't actually of our world!  He was, in fact, the Nighthawk from the Squadron Sinister who switched sides and ended up joining the Defenders!

I know, right?

But it's the Squadron SUPREME's Nighthawk that is important.  In the Squadron's next appearance, Kyle Richmond had become president of the United States of the Squadron's world.  He was soon taken over by the Overmind, who used Richmond to turn the U.S. into a paranoid police state.  The Overmind himself was under the influence of Null the Living Darkness, but that's neither here nor there.  The important bit is that the Overmind also took over the Squadron.  The Defenders managed to free the Squadron and together they defeated Null.

And that was it.

Because No One Demanded It

In the sixteen years since the Squadron Sinister first appeared, the Squadron Supreme had only made a handful of appearances in the Marvel U, none of which had any lasting impact.  It's hard to imagine there was much of a fan movement to get them their own series.

There also wasn't much from the Defenders story that would suggest a Squadron Supreme story needed to be told.  They'd been taken over by a supervillain, but what superhero hasn't?  But if there was a core idea behind the Squadron's series, it was to extrapolate the bigger picture from something small.  Gruenwald took the germ of the Defenders story and turned it into a virus.  The Squadron had been controlled by the Overmind for quite some time, and they'd been busy.  They'd helped to build the United States into a fascist country that then spread across the globe by invading and occupying the rest of the world.

But then the Overmind went away and oppressive order turned into complete chaos.  The world hadn't actually ended, but the Squadron Supreme's earth was about as post-apocalyptic as you could get.

With the world in shambles, the Squadron Supreme decided to get proactive.

But this isn't The Authority style proactive.  No, the Squadron decides to set themselves up as a super power.  Federal governments remain, but in reality everyone answers to the Squadron.  The Utopia Project initially focuses on feeding the world, building homes, bolstering the economy, and dismantling the military.  After all, what good are stealth bombers or even nuclear bombs when you've got Hyperion, the stand in for Superman running around?

In a world full of superheroes, there are always supervillains, they always seem to escape from whatever prison they're locked in.  So to break this endless cycle, the Squadron Supreme come up with the Behavior Modification Process.  Basically, it's a machine that changes a person's mind, removing their criminal impulses and replacing them with a desire to do good.  Before Zatanna, Dr. Strange, and Nick Fury began mind wiping, the Squadron Supreme was altering people's brains.

And then they got rid of death, or at least created world wide system to put people into deep freeze until they could be cured or brought back.

Not every member of the Squadron is on board with their program, though.  Nighthawk leaves the team from the start, determined to find a way to stop is former compatriots from ostensibly taking over the world, even if they have the best intentions.  He argues that they should be helping humanity, not commanding it.

The series ultimately follows two narratives: The Squadron's efforts to create a Utopia and Nighthawk's plans to oppose them.  The two story lines come to a head in the finale which was, at the time, one of the most brutal comics I'd ever read.

Name a political issue and there's a reasonable chance the Squadron Supreme limited series dealt with it.  And each issue featured actual change, be it a new development in the Squadron's plans, the death of a character, or the escalation of a moral dilemma.  This was a big time ideological battle taking place in the pages of a superhero comic.  It may have lacked the subtlety of a certain other 80s comic that rewrote the rules of superheroes, but it was just as deep.

I'm not doing the series justice, in large part because this lacks context.  Superhero stories like this just didn't exist back in 1985, even though they would become all the rage after Watchmen was released.  But the Squadron Supreme series came first, yet isn't showing up on a Time magazine list any time soon.

The Watchmen Factor

The thematic similarities between the two series are striking.

Both books feature superheroes taken to their extreme ends.  In the case of Watchmen, it's breaking them down to the fragile human beings that they really are.  As many of said, it's a deconstruction of not just the characters, but the genre.  If anything, Squadron Supreme is pumping the characters full of steroids, taking the idea of superheroes to the other end of the spectrum, where they place themselves above the rest of the world.  In Watchmen, they are down in the gutters with the rest of us, manipulating events in the background.  In Squadron Supreme, they are overt, taking over the country and forcing their will upon us.

These behaviors carry over to the way the story is told.  Both comics feature secret plots to prevent horrible events from happening, but in Watchmen those plans are kept secret from both the characters and the reader; we only as much as they do.  In Squadron Supreme, we see it all.  Nothing is hidden.  And why would it be?  It's the actions that are important, so we need to see them, as opposed to Watchmen where the driving force is the mystery.  If we had all the information in Watchmen, it would lose momentum.

Even these secret plans are set opposite each other.  Ozymandias' goal is to prevent the world from falling into chaos brought by a third World War, a nuclear World War.  Nighthawk's goal is to prevent the world from becoming imprisoned by the extreme order brought by the Squadron Supreme.  The beginnings are the same way.  When Watchmen opens, there's a certain status quo, one that involves all (but one) vigilante having retired and Richard Nixon serving yet another term as president.  The death of Comedian up ends all of that, introduces chaos into the equation, chaos that eventually pushes the world to the brink of WWIII.  In Squadron Supreme, the world has already fallen into chaos, but the Squadron Supreme decides to create order.

It's also interesting to note that both books deal with analogs of other characters.  Moore wanted to use the Charlton superheroes, but was famously told to create new characters instead.  Moore wanted to use recognizable characters so that the opening had some emotional resonance.  DC obviously didn't want to ruin their newly acquired IPs.  It was an odd decision, though, given that Watchmen doesn't take place in the mainstream DCU, or even on an alternate Earth, as by this point DC had done away with such things.  Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, et al. would have been perfectly fine in the DCU even if Moore had used them.

The fact that Watchmen took place in its own reality, set aside from the DCU, at a time when DC had gotten rid of alternate realities, increased the profile of the book.  This must be something special if DC were willing to create a superhero book that was completely removed from the rest of their line.

By that same token, Squadron Supreme was firmly entrenched in the mainstream Marvel U, even if the series took place on an alternate Earth.  It had roots in the Avengers.  It was seen as just another Marvel comic.

 Opposite Ends of the (Doctor) Specturm

Ultimately, the Squadron Supreme and Watchmen are as different at the two men who wrote them, Mark Gruenwald and Alan Moore.

By the time Squadron Supreme debuted, Mark Gruenwald had been working for Marvel for 7 years.  He was initially hired as an assistant editor and had moved up the ranks quickly.  He was perhaps best known as the editor of the Avengers line of comics, although he would later become synonymous with Captain America, a title he wrote for 10 years.  Gruenwald's run on Cap would feature incredible highs (everything leading up to #350, really) and incredible lows (the newly returned Captain America armor, for example), but the length and depth of his time on the book would ultimately make him one of Captain America's premiere creators.

Gruenwald wrote superhero stories.  He edited superhero stories.  He was known as the guy who knew every piece of obscure continuity in the Marvel universe.

Leading up to Watchmen, Alan Moore had made a name for himself in the U.S. with his impressive run on Swamp Thing.  He'd also penned the classic Superman stories "For the Man Who Has Everything" and "What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" but the bulk of his work had been on a sophisticated horror title that had parted ways with the Comics Code Authority and would eventually be labeled "Suggested For Mature Readers."

To say that Moore was coming at Watchmen from a different direction than Gruenwald was approaching Squadron Supreme is an understatement.

The two publishers were in very different places as well.  Marvel was being run by Jim Shooter, who had hammered the company into a well oiled machine of family friendly superhero fare.  Marvel wasn't in the habit of taking risks at this point in its history. The fact that the Squadron Supreme even happened was impressive, but the fact that it took place in an alternate reality made that possible.

DC, on the other hand, was being run by Jenette Kahn, who had already broken new ground with Frank Miller's Ronin and the Dark Knight Returns, not to mention the new direction Moore had taken Swamp Thing.  Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC seemed focused on publishing a variety of content that appealed to a wide range of ages.

So when DC, hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns, announces that the guy who rejuvenated Swamp Thing would be releasing a brand new limited series that was meant for mature readers, people take notice.  The same could not be said for the guy who writes Captain America releasing a new series starring minor characters from an old Avengers story line.

Squadron Supreme is pure superhero story and embraces those elements; everyone runs around in spandex and capes like it's perfectly natural.  There are big, bombastic battles.   No one will ever think this is anything other than a superhero comic, even if it's a truly phenomenal one.

Watchmen simply has some superhero dressing.  It's not the story of supremely powerful beings living among us.  It's the story of regular humans doing insane things for a variety of reasons.  It's just as much a murder mystery and political thriller as it is a superhero story.  It's science fiction.  Watchmen stands out from the metric ton of superhero comics being published by the Big Two every month.

Watchmen made its characters less super; Squadron Supreme made them more.  They appear to be diametrically opposed, yet did so much to change the way superhero stories are told.

The Post-Gruenwald Era

This September marks the 30th Anniversary of the original Squadron Supreme series.  I would imagine that Marvel will release some kind of collection to commemorate the anniversary, or at least I hope they do.  It's going to be hard to top the last edition, though, as it was printed with ink that actually had Mark Gruenwald's ashes mixed in (seriously).

After the Squadron Supreme limited series, Gruenwald and artists Paul Ryan and Al Williamson abused the Squadron some more with the "Death of  Universe" OGN.  This particular adventure took place in space, and somehow on their return trip, the Squadron ended up in the mainstream Marvel U.  They kicked around for a bit before the Avengers finally sent them home.  Sadly, they returned to a very 90s universe in "New World Order."  They would eventually appear again in the Exiles series.

There was also an attempt at creating another version of the team, spear headed by J. Michael Straczynski.  The goal, it seemed, was to make them more realistic.  It didn't turn out too well.

The team's highest profile member is Hyperion, would play a major role in Jonathan Hickman's Avengers run, although Hickman has stated that this is yet another version of Hyperion and not the "Gruenwald version," as he called it. That's unfortunate, as this Hyperion is the only survivor of a destroyed Earth, and there's a part of me that would like to see the Squadron's earth wrapped up for fear of anyone doing any more harm to the team.

But the original Hyperion did eventually pop up, part of the fall out from Secret Wars. A new team is formed consisting of characters who have lost their alternate realities. The concept in and of itself is fine, but the series was uninspired and ended after less than two years.

The Squadron Supreme had their moment to shine in a complex, epic limited series.  If you love superheroes, you owe it to yourself to track down this truly groundbreaking run.


Why are people obsessed with the Spider-man Clone Saga?

I ask that because I think I can answer it and I think I can answer it because I am one of those people. I didn't even really read the thing when it was coming out and yet every couple of months I come back to it.

I think part of it is that it so perfectly encapsulates 90s superhero comics, 90s Marvel in particular. It was a germ of an idea that was supposed to be a finite story until the non-creative, business types got involved. It was initially devised as a way to imitate the success of DC's "Death of Superman" story. It's everything we've come to expect from corporately owned comic books.

That, in and of itself, is fascinating, particularly when you consider the wonderful information you can find online, specifically on the fantastic Life of Reilly blog. You can really get an inside look at how it all worked and where it all went wrong.

I don't think that would have been enough to suck me on its own, though. No, my weakness is for stories that have a glimmer of goodness that was somehow suffocated by horrible execution. That's what gets me. That's when I start rewriting things in my head, as if I could go back in time and fix it all.

I think that's what a lot of people miss about the Clone Saga: there was a solid idea in there, even if it was poorly planned from the start.

Let's get this out of the way first: the Spider-man books were in something of a rut leading up to the reintroduction of the clone. At one point, one of the main story lines was that Mary Jane had started smoking, so not exactly edge of your seat type stuff (unless you actually believed that Peter's parents had returned). So Spider-man going to a dark place wasn't necessarily a bad move, particularly given the trend in superhero comics at the time. But that angle only works if something brings him back to where he was before.

Ben Reilly aka the clone aka possibly the real Peter Parker could have been the perfect thing. But even from the start, the creators botched it.

The initial plan, according the Life of Reilly blog, was to have Ben revealed as the true Peter Parker, ostensibly allowing the books to reset and make Spider-man relatively pure again. This was to happen after only 7 months, if you can even imagine that.

It was crazy to think that anyone would have been okay with Ben replacing Peter, let alone handling the logistics of giving Ben Peter's life. I mean, even the impact on the IP would have been an issue at some point. Spider-man is Peter Parker; that's the way it will always be.

Using Ben as a reflection of Peter to pull Peter back from the brink is a solid story idea. It actually could have been something great, particularly if Ben was, say, de-powered but remained a part of the cast, one of the few who knew that Peter was Spider-man.

At various points they toyed with the brother angle with Peter and Ben and it was very nearly great, but it was abandoned too quickly and handled poorly when it did come up.

But much the way that giving Buffy a sister in season 5 of her show, giving Peter a brother would have led to all sorts of potential stories, particularly given that his brother had once had the same powers and, well, basically looked exactly like him but with blonde hair.

Secret twin brother! It's so gloriously soapy.

And this is the frustrating thing about the Clone Saga: that it could have been so good.

I also really liked the Clone Saga because it would have been given us some actual change in a superhero comic. The issues after Peter leaves and Ben becomes Spider-man are some of my favorite because I was completely on board with the idea of a new Spider-man. I though the initial idea of replacing Peter was a bad one, but once it had been done, I was all in. Had the creative teams been all in as well, then perhaps something great could have come from the new status quo. As it stands, they were simply treading water while trying to figure out how to bring Peter back.

And, yes, I know, only a crazy person expects actual change in a corporately owned superhero comic, but it does happen. Not often, mind you, but enough so that I keep waiting for it to come again.

The true beauty of the Clone Saga is that it will only get better with time. That's not to say the stories themselves will actually seem any better, but the idea becomes more appealing. The willingness to try something bold and to stick with it well beyond reason becomes more commendable.

It will forever be the most bizarre corner of the triangle complete by the Death of Superman and Knightfall, an essential piece of crazy 90s superhero comics that we can't live without.