Justice League of America: Zatanna’s Search

I’m always excited to read about a character that I have no prior knowledge of.  In this day and age, it’s so easy to have something spoiled for you before you get the chance to enjoy it for yourself.  Comics, and especially comic book characters, are notorious for this.  Even the most devout non-fan knows what happened to Bruce Wayne’s parents, or what substance is Superman’s weakness.  It’s a rarity to go into a comic completely blind, but when you’re able to it’s an entirely unique experience.

The next trade I  tackled from “the shelf” centered around a character I knew almost nothing about: Zatanna.  I had had a brief encounter with her in DC Bombshells #2 a month ago, but her appearance there was very brief and didn’t provide any information about her origin or the real extent of her powers.  All I knew from her short scene in that issue was that she was able to perform magic; nothing more.

I opened this trade eagerly.  After all, this is only the second female-centric trade I’ve encountered on the shelf so far (Wonder Woman Chronicles: Volume One being the first).  Wonder Woman has made various appearances throughout the Justice League and trades, and characters like Black Canary and Hawk-Girl will make an occasional appearance, but I was very excited to read an entire collection of stories focused on a brand-new female character.

To my great enjoyment, Zatanna did not disappoint.

The central plotline of the stories collected here is that Zatanna’s father, Zatara (a minor Golden-Age comic book character) disappeared twenty years ago and hasn’t been seen since.  Zatanna has made it her mission to locate her missing father, and enlists the help of various Justice League members in her quest.  Each story pairs Zatanna with a different JLA member and she searches various worlds to discover the mystery of her father’s disappearance.

The stories themselves are engaging enough to keep me interested, and I was especially happy to see that a single storyline was being carried throughout numerous comic publications.  It must have been exciting at the time, never knowing when or where Zatanna’s story would continue.  Her tale is woven throughout a random assortment of comics spanning more than two years.  It may not be finely polished, but Zatanna’s story definitely hints at a more complex form of storytelling that could (and it’s my guess, will) permeate comics in the decades to come.

Now, if only for my own selfish reasons, I must turn to Zatanna as a character.  I still find myself skeptical of female superheroes.  I constantly worry that they’ll be depicted in a stereotypical fashion that I’ll find distracting and even downright annoying.  I really ought to banish those fears from my mind, because every time it seems that they’re unfounded.  Zatanna is no exception.  In fact, depending on where her storyline goes and how her character develops, I could easily see her becoming one of my favorite superheroes.

Even labeling her as a superhero feels like a misnomer.  I’m not questioning her abilities in any way; she’s an eerily powerful magician who seems to practice the strongest forms of magic almost effortlessly:

wpid-wp-1443568454720.jpgIn this scene, The Atom has shrunk Zatanna down to a sub-atomic size.  He warned her that it was impossible to return her to her normal size after that, noting that every single attempt to do so with another object in the past had resulted in the object’s destruction.

Zatanna miraculously returns to her former size, not only unharmed but seemingly unfazed by the whole ordeal.  She’s waiting patiently while The Atom is completely dumbfounded.

No, her powers are not in question here.  I hesitate to call her a superhero though, simply because she seems to embody an entirely different type of character.  Whereas other characters are all about over-the-top displays of their strengths, Zatanna is more of the calm, cool, and collected sort.  Her powers don’t explode out of her; they’re more of a slow burn, extremely powerful but in a quieter, more reserved way.  This makes me like her character even more.  She provides a nice balance to all of the flashy behavior of some of the other heroes, and I already suspect that of all of them she may just be the most powerful.

Question her abilities?

wpid-wp-1443522807810.jpgThis is just one instance of Zatanna calling out members of the JLA, acknowledging that she knows their secret identities.  Luckily for them, she chooses to use her powers for good rather than evil. If she really wanted to, I get the feeling Zatanna could put up a good fight against all of the Justice League combined.

Not only is she a total badass, but she’s given actual emotions in her stories, breaking up the monotonous righteous heroism that seems to be the only acceptable emotion given to superheroes in this time period.  She cries, she despairs over ever finding her father, and when met with happy news, she expresses her joy in the best way possible:

wpid-wp-1443570890893.jpgBecause who hasn’t wanted to grab a superhero and squeeze them silly after a happy ending?!

…No? Just me?

I suppose I should have written *Spoiler alert* before that, but honestly, these comics came out over 50 years ago and are well-established facts of the DC universe.

(Hey, look at me talking like I know stuff.  I should make a second blog called “Mistah J’s Footnotes” in which I list all of the interesting factoids he fills me in on, because honestly, I’d be a bit lost without that extra help.)

Anyway: Yes, the trade ultimately ends with a happy reunion between Zatanna and her father, as the members of the JLA who helped her in her journey look on happily.

wpid-wp-1443572136180.jpgIt’s not a surprising conclusion: these Silver Age comics tend to heavily favor the happy (though sometimes open-ended) ending.  Knowing that it took over two years for this reunion to take place, however, makes the ending that much sweeter.  I’m enjoying seeing the progression away from open-and-shut single-issue stories into more complex, multi-issue storylines.  I’m finding that tracking the progression of character development as well as methods of storytelling is equally interesting, and makes me double excited to keep reading.

I can only hope that Zatanna and her impressive powers make repeat appearances in trades to come.

-Jess

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Crisis on Multiple Earths

As I continue my exploration of the DC universe, I’m gradually being introduced to the concept of multiple universes all existing simultaneously with one another.  Okay, it’s less of a gradual introduction and more like an instantaneous, paradigm-shifting shake-up.  If the comics had said, “Everything you knew up until now is wrong,” it would have been easy enough to follow. Just forget everything you knew and start fresh.  Nope, that’s not how these comics work. Instead they tell you, “Not only is everything you know right, but it’s all happening at the same time and oh yeah, there’s a bunch of other stuff happening too that you didn’t know but now you need to know.”

Pardon me while I go sigh exasperatedly in the corner.

This trade features a collection of Justice League and Justice Society team-ups.  The stories begin with either Earth-One or Earth-Two being in some sort of danger, and the heroes from the other planet stepping in to lend a hand.  Simple enough.

Then the stories decide to get more involved (just when I was starting to get a handle on the Earth-One and -Two thing).  Now we see the introduction of Earth-Three (on which everyone graced with super powers is a villain) and Earth-A, an “alternate” version of Earth-One where the Justice League never existed.

Each Earth has its own distinct cast of characters, both heroes and villains.  I should probably create a chart to keep track of all of them.  Then again, some are pretty easy to remember:

wpid-wp-1443461425348.jpgHere we see the villainous “Crime Syndicate of America” from Earth-Three (I’ve decided that is simultaneously the best and worst name ever for a group of super villains).  Each character bears a striking similarity to their other Earthly counterparts, but therein lies the genius in the concept.  With Earths One and Two, we were introduced to characters that we had already known.  With Earth-Three, we are given a brand new set of characters who, while very similar to those we know, differ just enough to be interesting.  The possibilities for other versions of Earth with their own unique twist on characters we know are virtually endless.

Before addressing the stories themselves, I must point out how happy I am to see the evolution panel layouts.  For many of the earlier trades I’ve read, the pages have been laid out in a fairly straightforward manner, generally with a series of uniform rectangles reading left to right.  This is the first trade I’ve read so far to consistently vary the panel design, incorporating splash pages and varying panel sizes:

wpid-wp-1443485371803.jpgI had never given much thought to page design before, but seeing the progression from the standard “newspaper comics” layout to a more artistic representation adds to the overall story more so than I would have imagined.

As for the stories themselves, I can’t say I wasn’t interested.  The storylines are only becoming more intriguing as I keep reading.  Characters are making repeat appearances, the life and death stakes keep getting higher, and superheroes are joining forces to overcome the forces of evil.  One aspect I’m glad hasn’t changed, however, is the inclusion of superhero or villain logic that completely baffles the mind:

wpid-wp-1443460258331.jpgYes Doctor Alchemy, with the power to transform my enemies’ planes into anything, I too would have gone with winged bucking broncos.  After all, what’s world domination without a bit of whimsy?

I’m still trying to decide if these random bits of absurdist humor are intentional, or if I should just chalk it all up to the fact that these comics are from the 60’s, and there’s no way drugs didn’t at least play a small part in some of the stories.

wpid-wp-1443486875390.jpgJust a bad guy put under a spell doing an involuntary “watusi”.

THERE IS NO WAY DRUGS WERE NOT INVOLVED IN THE MAKING OF THESE COMICS.

Moving on…

I’m still surprised to see how excited I get whenever another classic Golden-Age superhero makes an appearance.  Sandman was a character that I didn’t find particularly engaging when I read the All-Star Comics trade, and yet when he made an appearance in this collection, I was actually happy to see him.

wpid-wp-1443486716631.jpgI don’t really think I can be nostalgic for a character I didn’t know existed two months ago, but there’s a part of me that’s happy to see these characters plucked out of limbo and given a second chance.  Although some of the early characters didn’t go on to the fame afforded Superman or Batman, they still played a key role in the development of the comic book medium.  Even if some of these super heroes fade away after the Silver Age, I’m glad to see they were shown due respect for their role in paving the way for future generations of characters.

The stories in this trade culminate in “Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two” and “The Bridge Between Earths”, from Justice League of America #46 and #47, respectively.  In these issues our heroes are met with an unprecedented number of obstacles, dealing with the fallout of people mysteriously being transported between Earth-One and -Two, facing off against Solomon Grundy and Blockbuster, The potential collision between one of the Earths and Anti-Matter Man, and the seemingly inevitable collision of Earth-One and Earth-Two!  Unable to rest for even a moment, the Justice League and Justice Society must band together to solve all of these problems at once.  No longer do the heroes have the luxury of dealing with one problem at a time.  Now they are being thrown multiple issues and forced to juggle them all, or risk the complete and utter destruction of their worlds.

The overall story arc in this trade seems to be completely changing the tone of the comics.  I realize the issues collected here span three years and certainly don’t represent an immediate shift.  This book seems to be laying the groundwork for stories to come.  I don’t know exactly what happens, but Mistah J has let slip that a major event occurs in the DC multiverse in the 1980’s, and I have a feeling everything I’ve read in this trade will play some part in that story.  Gone is the linear method of storytelling that permeated the Golden Age.  This new era of comics brought with it updated writing, artwork, and overall direction.  Good is still triumphing over evil, but in these stories we start to see the first hints that that may not always be the case.

Knowing the little that I do about what’s to come, I’m both eager and hesitant to continue reading.  I know the storytelling will only improve as I continue, but I have a feeling I might start to miss the straight-forward battles between good and evil, with good always standing victorious.  Although more realistic, I think I’ll miss the idealism of the Golden Age.

Luckily there’s still plenty of material waiting out there for me in case I get nostalgic.

-Jess

Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups

Being one month and eleven trades into “the shelf”, I was feeling pretty comfortable with the overall story progression.    I had read about many of the main DC characters by this point, and was at least passingly familiar with each character’s general storyline.  I had already read about the Golden Age version of many of these characters, seen their popularity decline in the 50’s, only to have new versions of the characters reappear in the early 60’s.  Although it seemed strange that the early versions of the characters would just disappear, I was drawn to the newer stories and was looking forward to expanding on that knowledge.

Aaaand then DC had to throw a curve ball in the mix.

We learn that there is actually more than one Earth in existence.  On Earth One live the Silver Age characters, Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, etc, while on Earth Two reside the Golden Age superheroes, such as Jay Garrick and Allen Scott, as well as characters who are unknown on Earth One, such as Hour-Man and Dr. Fate.

Two distinct universes, each with it’s own collection of superheroes, each group forming it’s own crime-fighting club (Justice Society on Earth Two, Justice League on Earth One).  On top of all this, the superheroes discover a means of traveling between universes, so that they may interact with one another.

Confused yet?  Me too.

With two universes (I’m blatantly ignoring Mistah J’s confirmation that there are actually infinite universes with even more characters. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it) we are met with numerous crossover possibilities.  Characters from comics-past could now interact with their modern-day counterparts, with a host of possible results.

wpid-wp-1443054194090.jpgBarry Allen looks like he has zero patience for Jay Garrick in this picture, and I absolutely love it.

My biggest question when I first learned about these multiple earths was why would they choose to do this?  The current versions of these characters were already exceedingly popular.  What made the writers want to bring back these former adaptations?

In a word: nostalgia.  As the comic universe was set at the time, all of the Golden Age heroes had basically been wiped out.  Names and powers were altered, and the original characters faded away.  Given that the modern versions of the characters wouldn’t exist without these predecessors, it seemed a shame to leave them by the wayside. A creative solution solved that problem: create a separate universe in which the Golden Age characters can exist at the same time as the Silver Age heroes while still inhabiting their own separate world.

My summation fails spectacularly.  Luckily the comics present it in a much more accessible form.  We see the return of many Golden Age characters who hadn’t appeared in comics for a dozen years or more, characters who find themselves suddenly drawn into much more complex, exciting storylines than we’ve ever seen them in before.

The first instance of characters crossing between universes is in The Flash # 123, in which Barry Allen unwittingly travels to Earth Two and comes across Jay Garrick, a name he is already familiar with:

wpid-wp-1443054697265.jpg   As this exchange shows, on Earth One, Jay Garrick was The Flash in a popular comic in the 40’s and 50’s (sound familiar?).  Instead of simply creating two separate universes, the comics tie the two worlds together in a unique way.  Not only this, but the writers had enough sense to include this reference, since in the very first Barry Allen-era Flash scene, Barry is seen reading one of these older Jay Garrick Flash comics.  I was surprised that these details were so well thought out; it truly enriches the story and makes the revelation of Earth Two seem natural, not forced.

As well as nostalgia, I can only imagine that one of the driving forces behind this decision was the desire to see old and new characters team up and, more excitingly, even battle one another.  There must have been readers at the time who questioned who would win in a fight: Seasoned veteran Green Lantern Alan Scott win, or would Hal Jordan be victorious as a “new and improved” Green Lantern?  For the first time, it was possible to put these questions to the test, and the writers did so with alarming frequency.  Practically every issue featured in this trade contained a fight between two superheroes, often due to their being mind-controlled or under some outside influence.  Sadly, the age-old question of “Who would win in a fight?” is often left unanswered, as many of the entanglements end in a stalemate or are broken up before their conclusion.

wpid-wp-1443137802364.jpgStill, it’s pretty exciting seeing two superhuman forces duking it out for no reason.

Reading this trade even left me with a slightly nostalgic feeling (ridiculous given that I was first introduced to many of these characters a mere month ago), happy to see characters that I thought would never appear again. I can only imagine how well these stories were received at the time of release.  Parents and children could bond over characters they both grew up with while still experiencing new, exciting stories together.  This was a guaranteed success, and they way in which the stories are presented makes it impossible not to keep reading.

On a less central point, I have to bring up the character of Black Canary.  I hadn’t come across her in my Golden Age reading, but was quite excited to see another female superhero appear. I was even more excited when I saw that, much like Wonder Woman, she was portrayed as a pretty badass fighter.

wpid-wp-1443145151581.jpgI’m always excited to read about women kicking butt, and the fact that it seems there were not one, but at least two female crime-stoppers in the Golden Age makes me very happy.  I don’t know much about Black Canary, but it seems she doesn’t have any “super” abilities.  She’s tough all on her own. This makes me love her character even more, and makes me want to go read her earlier adventures (Mistah J, take note. We’re expanding your collection).

This trade presents the dawn of a new age within the comic universe – now a multiverse.  The stories presented here supply the foundation for what I can only imagine is going to be a pretty epic storyline, and one I’m anxious to read.  I enjoyed all of these characters’ individual stories; I have a feeling I’m going to love them as a combined force.

PS: Special shout-out to Hour-Man for being the first superhero (that I’ve read) to reveal his secret identity to his girlfriend!

wpid-wp-1443140791240.jpgThis made me giddy for some unknown reason.

Actually, it’s not so unknown: I’m just a sucker for happy endings.

-Jess

Batman: The Black Casebook

After delving headfirst into the worlds of The Flash and The Green Lantern, I’m glad to be back on familiar ground with another collection of Batman stories.  This is a more specific selection than others I have read so far.  Collected here are stories that inspired Grant Morrison’s award-winning run of Batman comics (I have Mistah J to thank for that bit of information.  He’s very excited for me to get to that period of Batman).  I was given the preface that although these stories seem a bit random, they will become important later on in the series.  I love a good foundation, so I happily picked up this book and began reading.

(Side note: This particular trade, while technically on the bookcase otherwise referred to as “The shelf”, is not on the top shelf with all of the other trades I’ve read so far.  This is in a separate section, grouped together with Grant Morrison’s other Batman books.  Given that Mistah J thinks it will take me a year to finish the top shelf of his comics, and I disagree, I’m convinced he’s attempting to thwart my progress by throwing in other random books.

Okay, I don’t really think that, but come on. I’m making good progress, only to find out that nope, those thousands upon thousands of pages aren’t enough, here’s some more.  *sigh* I’m quickly learning a comic reader’s library is never complete.)

Anyway, back to the trade.  The cover alone was enough to draw me in.  It’s simple but fits the Batman motif quite nicely, and the concept of the “Black Casebook” was very intriguing.  The thought of reading a collection that would all be tied together by a later storyline was more than enough to make me devour these stories.

One of the featured issues that really stuck out to me was Detective Comics Issue 235, “The First Batman”.  In this story we learn that Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas Wayne, had previously donned a Batman costume while attending a masquerade ball, was subsequently kidnapped by a criminal for medical attention, fought his way out, and had the crime boss brought to justice.

wpid-wp-1442969507828.jpgWith the costume bearing a striking similarity to Bruce Wayne’s own Batman costume, he realizes the image of his father wearing it must have been in his subconscious memory.

Even more intriguing about this issue was how it delved deeper into the mystery surrounding Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murders.  For years, Bruce Wayne believed Joey Chill, being the gunman, was solely responsible for his parents’ deaths.  This issue reveals, however, that a criminal by the name of Moxon, the same criminal whose plot Thomas Wayne foiled many years prior, had made it his mission to destroy Thomas, and had hired Joey Chill to commit the crime.  The comic even goes so far as to explain that Bruce Wayne was left alive that night so that he could testify that Chill committed the crime.

wpid-wp-1442969785383.jpgThe issue ends with Batman confronting a now-aging Moxon while wearing his father’s old costume.  Moxon, remembering the image, flees in terror out into traffic and is struck dead by a passing truck.  The story seemed to have a mild “justice will prevail” theme, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Batman at the end of it.  The truth had come to light, but he was no better for it.  This was one of the first Batman stories I’ve come across with a truly dark tone about it, with a problem that wasn’t neatly tied off with a bow at its completion.  This story felt ever so slightly more sinister  than those before it.  This was no longer an open-and-shut case.  Long-held beliefs were questioned as new evidence came to life, completely changing our perspective of past events.  It’s easy to see how Grant Morrison could have drawn upon this motif to create a newer, darker vision of Batman.

Another instance of a Batman comic changing tones occurred in “Robin Dies at Dawn”, originally found in Batman #156 and also featured in this trade.  The story begins with Batman being mysteriously transported to another planet, where he stumbles upon Robin before being chased by a giant stone creature.  The duo defeats the creature, but at a heavy price:

wpid-wp-1443047747537.jpg

Robin’s untimely death greatly affects Batman, and he sinks into a serious depression and eventually falls into a hysteria, before it is revealed that it was all a simulation Batman agreed to partake in.

However, the effects of such a profound shock are lasting on Batman, wracking him with guilt.  The psychosis goes so far that he begins to hallucinate while chasing after criminals:

wpid-wp-1443047994160.jpgAlthough the effects wear off and Batman is eventually cured,  this particular issue is still quite moving.  For the first time we see Batman as being truly vulnerable.  He is no longer the unbreakable beacon of strength and justice; he has a weakness.  I can only imagine how many criminals to come will eventually exploit that weakness over him.

Based on the two stories mentioned above, it seems only natural that Batman would eventually become a darker comic.  The early seeds of the darker tone to come are presenting themselves in these stories, and I find the gradual progression absolutely fascinating.

Although developing this darker tone, these are still earlier Batman stories, and so there is still plenty of humor to pick through.  The other stories in this trade each had their own unique twists, many of which I couldn’t help but giggle at.  For instance, in one issue we see the appearance of Bat-Mite, a dwarf-like creature from another dimension who wants to join Batman and Robin as a crime-fighter:

wpid-wp-1443030158133.jpgI’m torn between who he reminds me of more:  Incredi-Boy from The Incredibles or Kazoo from “The Flintstones”.  You be the judge.

This is one of those instances where having knowledge of future comics is maddening.  All I kept thinking while reading about Bat-Mite was, “How in the hell does Grant Morrison draw upon this for his comics?!” I don’t know much about his image of Batman, but what I do know doesn’t really jive with a mini-Batman running around and wrecking havoc.  I’m curious to see if he draws upon this issue for inspiration in a literal sense, or just uses the vague outlines to create an entirely different story.

Another point I have to make mention of: Ever since I was a child I had been hearing homo-erotic jokes about Batman and Robin, people snarkily commenting that Robin was more than just Batman’s ward, etc etc.  I always just thought people were taking things to extremes, creating innuendos that aren’t present just for the hell of it.

And then I read this:

wpid-wp-1442967146470.jpgMy eyes bugged out a little when I read that.  There is no way my mind is the only one perverse enough to take that the wrong way.  I mean come on people.  This is just way too easy.  And yes, I realize that’s not Robin, but if they can make these references once, they can (and I’m sure do) make them again.  I’m oddly intrigued to see if these oddly-placed comments appear more or less frequently as the decades progress.

Overall I thought this trade was an excellent collection of Batman’s more oddball tales.  There were certainly some stories I liked more than others, but all had their merits, and all were entertaining.  Knowing that these particular stories inspired Morrison only made me want to pay closer attention to the details, picking up every little point to see if it resurfaces in later issues.  I know I’m still years from Morrison’s run, but I feel as though I’m reading the prequel to his comics, and it’s made me eager to get to his stories.

If those presented here are any indication, I have a feeling I’ll greatly enjoy them.

-Jess

Superman: The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen

The next trade on “the shelf” makes a departure from the plethora of Green Lantern and Flash stories I’ve been reading, focusing instead on the Superman universe, specifically Superman’s friend and Clark Kent’s Daily Planet co-worker, Jimmy Olsen.  In this trade, a number of stories about Jimmy Olsen are collected, focusing on the various shenanigans Jimmy gets into upon being spontaneously transformed in some way.

My posts generally take an analytical approach, noting themes and motifs that are telling of the time period the stories were written in, or addressing how the storylines in question affect the overall universe in which they exist.

This post will be a little different, because there are just way too many crazy scenes in this trade to discuss and laugh at.

The stories compiled in this collection are random to say the least.  Each is a fairly self-contained tale with the same basic plotline: Jimmy Olsen goes through some sort of physical transformation, antics ensue, usually he runs away to join the circus as some point, eventually he’s returned to normal, and all is well.

This entire collection could have been prevented had Jimmy used just a little common sense.  For example, in on issue Superman brings a box of ancient artifacts to The Daily Planet for cataloging:

wpid-wp-1442533784353.jpgBased on the very nature of these stories, this doesn’t bode well for Jimmy.  I assumed one of the bottles would accidentally spill and its contents would get on him somehow, causing some sort of transformation.

Nope, instead Jimmy thinks it’s a brilliant idea to drink whatever’s in one of the bottles,  just to prove it won’t have any affect on him:

wpid-wp-1442533723728.jpgYes Jimmy, it’s a brilliant idea to drink the mystery substance that’s been stewing in a bottle for hundreds of years.  Nothing bad could possibly come from that.

Seriously, given Jimmy’s complete lack of self-preservational instinct, it’s amazing he’s still standing.

I will concede that I can see the appeal to these types of stories.  They’re funny and they’re certainly visually entertaining.

wpid-wp-1442511816990.jpg

How often do you see a guy lighting another man’s cigar with his fire-breathing powers?  That’s not something I’ve come across before, even in reading comics.  For their originality, I give the stories a 10.

For their humor, I’d rate them even higher.  This trade has some of the weirdest lines I’ve come across by far.  A few of my favorites:

wpid-wp-1442535100932.jpgThere is so much going on in that one picture that I can’t even comprehend it.  Why is Jimmy a giant crazed turtle-man? Why is he literally stuffing submarines into the mouth of an active volcano?  Why are these even questions that have to be asked when reading a comic book??

On the plus side, usually Superman’s speech bubbles are filled with random jibber jabber meant to inform the reader of what’s going on in the scene. In this instance though, he’s posing some pretty valid questions.

Just to prove that the above wasn’t an isolated incident in this trade, I present exhibit B:

wpid-wp-1442537607057.jpgIn which a giant gorilla shave a giant Jimmy by using ice cream and a helicopter blade.

Who wrote this and what were they smoking?

I will say, it was fun to see progression within the Superman universe.  There were a number of references to characters and events (that I assume occurred in Action Comics and Superman) that luckily I was previously familiar with.  We see the introduction of Supergirl, the bottle city of Kandor, and even the world of Bizarro.  I was happy to see that the Superman stories had evolved beyond the typical “Superman captures a bank robber” trope.

Perhaps the strangest occurrence in this trade was when Superman and Jimmy Olsen journey into the bottle city of Kandor and within the story it is revealed that the two characters sometimes moonlight as Batman and Robin-esque characters:

wpid-wp-1442596885857.jpgThere wasn’t enough backstory given to explain why Superman and Jimmy serve as masked superheroes in Kandor, but my curiosity is piqued.  I’d be curious to go find older issues of comics and read up on the origins of Nightwing and Flamebird.

Overall this trade was an odd mix of stories, all with a unifying theme but all uniquely absurd in their own way.  Although I’m not sure how these issues will tie into the DC multiverse as a whole, I’m sure they will in some weird way.

When they do, I’m secretly hoping giant mindless turtles stuffing subs into volcanoes plays into the story in some way.

-Jess

The Green Lantern Chronicles: Volume Two

As I sit here typing this blog, I’m experiencing a sense of deja vu.  I feel as if I was just sitting here, typing up my thoughts on a Green Lantern trade yesterday.  Maybe that’s because I was.  I finished Volume One a mere two days ago, which goes to show how much I’ve been reading.  I’ve powered through four trades this week alone.  I guess you could say I’ve been enjoying myself.

I was particularly looking forward to this trade, excited to see where Green Lantern would go after Hal Jordan splashed onto the scene.  A part of me was hesitant, worried that the issues featured here wouldn’t provide much new content and would be entertaining, but wouldn’t add much to the overall story.

Note to self: just stop making guesses and assumptions as far as comics are concerned. You’re always wrong.

This trade, compiling The Green Lantern issues 4 through 9, exceeded even my high expectations.  Every time I finished an issue, I would decide that that was my favorite and would be the focus of my blog…and then the next issue would come up and throw me for a loop.  Every story in this trade was not only interesting, but contributed something to the Green Lantern mythology that had otherwise previously been unknown to readers.

The stories here are an equal mix of classic monster movie and science fiction, with a healthy dose of humor spread throughout.  I laughed out loud more than once, sometimes at the expense of The Green Lantern:

wpid-wp-1442446701366.jpgI mean, come on.  The Green Lantern, the emerald gladiator, protector of the universe, bested by a falling tree limb.  Making this point even more absurd is the fact that there were literally dozens of machine guns trained on him at this moment.   Helpful tip, bad guys: you don’t need bullets to take out The Green Lantern, just let the local flora do it for you.

While the comedic aspects were highly entertaining, I was more impressed with the character development seen in these issues.  Upon reflection, my favorite issue in this trade is Issue 6, containing the story, “The World of Living Phantoms”.  In this story Hal Jordan is summoned to help a neighboring sector of the galaxy.

wpid-wp-1442447113810.jpgIt’s a bird! It’s a fish! It’s an alien!

Actually, it’s Tomar-Re, a fellow Green Lantern who called Hal Jordan for aid.  While Tomar is busy fighting a giant monster, he asks Earth’s Green Lantern to help with a problem on a neighboring planet, where an entire race of beings remains in a state of suspended animation while their “thought images” live out their lives:

wpid-wp-1442446944225.jpgI wasn’t aware the Matrix was invented in the 60’s…

As Green Lantern fights the rebellious thought images (a story that is so well-developed I could picture it being released today) and eventually teams up with Tomar to defeat the monster, the reader is graced with action-filled scenes, inventive dialogue, and intriguing scientific principles.  Even more exciting is the fact that through Tomar we learn more about the Green Lantern universe as a whole.

Tomar provides Hal with information about the Guardians of the Universe, the powerful beings who control all of the power batteries and oversee justice in the universe.  In addition, Tomar also makes reference to Green Lanterns existing in other sectors of the universe, some of whom he has been in contact with.  For the first time in these comics (and indeed in any of the comics I’ve read so far) a greater universe is not only hinted at, but described and actually pictured.  I know eventually these characters will eventually progress to existing within a multiverse, so it’s exciting to see the early stepping stones that will eventually lead there.

The most exciting occurrence in this trade has to be the first appearance of Sinestro, a Green Lantern-gone-bad.

wpid-wp-1442448672433.jpgSinestro had been banished from this universe by the Guardians.  Unfortunately, they sent him to live with the Qwards, a race of evil creatures and enemies of The Green Lantern.  As was bound to happen, Sinestro devised a plan to regain a power battery and once again be unstoppable.  The Green Lantern foils the plot and defeats Sinestro, but only two trades we see him reappear.  Green Lantern prevails yet again, but it is clear Sinestro will be a recurring villain for some time.

(I admit I already know Sinestro ends up being a pretty important character, for no other reason than that Mistah J has made reference to the Sinestro Corp.  I don’t know any details beyond that, but I like to think I would have figured out he’d be a pretty major character on my own.  After all, he’s a bad Green Lantern.  There’s so much you can do with that!)

One rather awkward moment I can’t overlook occurred in issue 6, when Green Lantern is discerning why the aforementioned thought images were rebelling in the first place.  He noted that the thoughts of two sleepers became entangled, and made the following diagnosis:

wpid-wp-1442447872333.jpgDid anyone else think of one very specific thing when he says they’re, “unable to do anything about it”?  Honestly, why not just write, “They want to have sex but can’t because their thought-images have no corporeal forms” and then provide some really awkward editor’s note explaining the human libido?  Violence was a no-no back then but veiled sexual references were okay?

…Or maybe my mind just lives in the gutter.

As a closing remark, I have to make note on all of those editor’s notes that crop up throughout the comic.  At first they felt repetitive and unnecessary.  However, they’re actually quite helpful to anyone who hasn’t read the comics.  I realized that someone could pick up any Green Lantern issue and read it without confusion; the notes provide all of the necessary details required to understand, even referring readers back to older issues where characters appear or events transpire.  Gail Simone recently tweeted out her thoughts on this very subject, noting that many comic writers don’t provide enough context for their stories, often leaving readers confused as to what’s happening.  She praised those who are able to include context and backstory without having it intrude into the story, and I kept recalling her words as I was reading this trade.  Yes, the notes given are repetitive, but based on where they occur it’s fairly easy to figure out what they will refer to, and so if you’re familiar with the story you can just overlook them.  As a new comic reader, I’m grateful that writers take this into consideration.  This was always one of my biggest concerns about starting to read comics, and it’s a relief to see that some writers take this concern into account.

I feel like a broken record, but this trade was terrific.  I’m compelled by this recent run of great stories to delve even farther into this world, to continue my way along “the shelf” and see where the stories take me.  So far I’m thoroughly enjoying the comics of the 50’s and 60’s.  I can’t wait to see what the next few decades bring.

-Jess

The Flash Chronicles: Volume Three

I’m twitching slightly as I write this. It bothers me more than it should that there is no entry for Volume Two (a shrink could have a field day with me, I’m sure), but sadly Volume Two is not part of “the shelf” due to its utter lack of availability (trust me, I looked).  My completionist side dislikes this gap in the storyline, but alas, I will persevere.  Luckily Misah J is a veritable cornucopia of knowledge, so if I happen to come across any characters or references later on that I don’t understand, he’ll be able to fill me in.

Okay, back to business.  This collection of Flash comics continues in much the same vein as Volume One (and I assume Volume Two).  We see The Flash in a number of stories, continuously switching between slightly absurd exploits and adventures involving a heavy science-fiction overtone. I’m torn as to which I prefer.

wpid-20150915_130648.jpgHere we have The Flash bouncing to great heights on a pogo-stick in a circus tent, trying to apprehend a high-flying criminal, because why not?  I can’t be the only adult to find this highly entertaining, so there is no doubt in my mind that children in the early 60’s were thoroughly enjoying this as well.

I love me some Batman, but it’s this type of silly fun that seems to be missing from many superhero comics.  I’m not too cool to admit I really enjoy this comedic style.  It’s peppered throughout The Flash enough to keep me entertained, without being so pervasive as to make the comic feel overly childish.

Another one of my favorites: the introduction of Winky, Blinky, and Noddy, clearly an homage to The Three Stooges:

wpid-20150915_195419.jpgThe issue noted at the end of their first appearance that they would be appearing in future issues.  Although I can imagine the gags getting stale after a while, I’m curious how often these bumbling, well-meaning fools appear in The Flash before falling to the wayside (unless I’m somehow wrong in my guess and they actually end up standing the test of time. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see).

On the other side of the coin are stories more heavily grounded in science and pulp science fiction.  Perhaps one of my favorites in this trade involved the reappearance of the gorilla Grodd, who I first encountered in Volume One.  In this appearance, he is imprisoned and seeking a means of escape.  His solution:

wpid-20150915_133730.jpgGrodd decides to fake his death so his consciousness can be transferred to another living creature.  His plan is a success, and as he comes face to face with The Flash again I was riveted to find out how the encounter would end. So many of the stories in these issues feel like they were pulled right out of an old sci-fi movie; I can’t help but wonder if the movies influenced the comics, or vice versa.  Perhaps it was a bit of both.

This trade also saw the emergence of new side characters, the most notable being Kid Flash.  When Kid Flash, aka Wally West, first appeared, I was a bit thrown, as he was an accepted member of the Flash universe already.  Luckily, My confusion subsided thanks to a well-placed recap:

wpid-20150915_132902.jpgThe fact that the exact same freak accident happened twice makes me think Barry Allen really ought to store his chemicals someplace else, but that’s besides the point.  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about Kid Flash.  After all, his powers are identical to The Flash’s, so any stories featuring Kid Flash could just as easily have been told with the original Flash.

As I kept reading though, I began to see the importance of the character.  While The Flash is a mythical hero, far removed from the world of children, Kid Flash serves as a bridge between the two.  Yes, he has super powers, but he still goes to school and deals with every day problems like any other kid.  He laments about being teased that he likes a girl, he suffers through initiation into his school’s prestigious fraternity.  These issues would have been much more relatable for children, as opposed to Barry Allen’s romantic woes.  I can’t say I know for sure yet whether Kid Flash will be a continuous character or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he stuck around for a while.  I can see the appeal.

And now, because this was the early 1960’s and apparently incorporating scientific learning into comics was the thing to do, let’s pause a moment to address The Flash’s contribution to educating America’s youth.

wpid-20150915_192759.jpgThese educational “editor’s notes” seem to appear much more frequently in this trade.  Although once or twice they were used to reference a backstory, more often they are explaining the scientific principle behind one of The Flash’s amazing feats.  With these notes appearing in both The Flash and Green Lantern comics, I’m left wondering why the writers felt it necessary to include these.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that there’s a little lesson thrown in.  I just wonder if the writers felt they had to provide an explanation for these events rather than just allowing them to be an extension of the super power.  I doubt that comics today provide similar explanations.  Characters have special abilities that go beyond explanation, and that’s that.  I’m curious to see if and when this trend of explaining the hero’s amazing feats with science dies out.

I believe I’m well ensconced in the silver age of The Flash and Green Lantern, and at this point certain undeniable themes are emerging.  Science-fiction stories are heavily favored, and there is a move towards more elaborate storytelling.  There also seems to be a shift away from the more violent aspects of earlier comics.  Although I can’t say definitively as I haven’t gotten to any Batman or Superman comics from the silver age, based on my reading of these past few trades I think it’s safe to say that the especially violent images and deaths that infiltrated the earliest comics have been replaced with more comical scenarios and less untimely death.  In fact, looking back I don’t believe a single character, good or bad, has died in these last few trades.  They certainly feel more kid-friendly than the comics of the 1940’s.  I know this form of storytelling won’t last forever, as trends and styles change over time.  The themes will eventually change again, moving towards those of the more modern comics of today.

I thoroughly look forward to tracking that progression.

-Jess