doublearticulation

SPOILERS ABOUND: an occasional digest of reviews, notes, and rants

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2006 at 4:07 am

Vol. 2, No. 3
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

In this issue:
reviews of All-Star Superman #2 and JSA #82 / notes on One Year Later, Frankenstein/Swamp Thing, goatees in Green Arrow, Alpha Flight, Moon Knight, and more Quizilla nonsense / rants about buttons (yes, you heard me: buttons)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

reviews

All-Star Superman #2 (DC Comics)
Grant Morrison (Writer) / Frank Quitely (Penciller) / Jamie Grant (Inker and Colorist) / Phil Balsman (Letterer)

A brilliant follow-up to the first issue—but you knew I’d say that, didn’t you?

There is, surely, enough patented Morrison/Quitely-style “wonder” in Lois’s tour of the Fortress of Solitude to seduce even the sternest critic of Morrisonian future-nostalgia. As always, Morrison’s imagination thrives on breathtakingly simple “hey-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that?” contrasts of scale that make us gasp precisely because their grandeur seems so elemental. The page on which Superman makes like Hephaestus at the forge to create miniature suns on a cosmic anvil to feed his baby Sun-Eater, for instance, is magnificent. Pure magic.

The heart of this issue, though, is not Superman’s god-like stature (he makes little suns to feed his pet!), but his newly discovered mortal dilemma: how to tell Lois that he is dying from his exposure to the heart of the sun in issue #1. His dinner with Lois aboard the real Titanic—that ultimate symbol of hubris brought low—picks up on the Icarus motif of the first issue and obviously symbolizes Superman’s own impending doom as he tries once again to convince Lois that he and Clark Kent are the same person—to no avail. This is, of course, only a half-confession, pointing in the direction of that ultimate confession that he is, for all intents and purposes, no longer a superman, but merely a man.

The scene where a slouchy Clark Kent looks at his buff Superman reflection in a mirror epitomizes this melancholy situation. “Superman” is now just an image in a glass—only mortal Clark Kent is real.

Superman’s birthday surprise of a temporary power-granting supersuit for Lois is thus particularly touching. Already on page 4, Superman is talking about sidekicks and telling Lois, “I always wondered if I should have taken a partner.” In a very real sense, of course, Lois herself already is Superman’s partner. But this isn’t quite what he means, and we can understand why, even under the best of circumstances, Lois might have some difficulty imagining a “partnership” with Superman that did not seem distressingly unequal. (Under the influence of the paranoia-inducing alien chemicals from Superman’s lab, Lois imagines that he has brought her to the Fortress “to be the mother of a race of deformed superhuman horrors.”) What Lois doesn’t realize yet is that the dying Superman’s handiwork on a super sewing machine with diamond-tipped needles has made it possible for her to be a more genuine partner to Superman (at least for 24 hours). This gift also hints that Superman’s own fantasy is that Lois might one day serve as his replacement. “One day some future man or woman will open that door with that key,” Superman tells Lois on page 9, shortly after Lois has found herself unable to lift the half a million ton key made of “super-dense dwarf star material.”

Lois could well become that future woman, though she would do so, ultimately, as Superman’s heir, not his partner. What we might be watching over the course of the issue is a superman making the first tentative preparations for passing on his legacy in the face of his own impending death. For this reason, (from Superman’s perspective) his presentation of her birthday gift is limned with sadness. He will get his partner—but only for a brief time.

Of course, we may not feel the pathos of this situation viscerally because the story is told mainly from Lois’s perspective, and through this expedient, Morrison and Quitely keep the tone marvelously light. As a reading experience, “Superman’s Forbidden Room” is a sort of ironic variant on the Bluebeard story in which the heroine is lured to a castle owned by a powerful patriarch, given the run of the entire fortress, but forbidden to enter one secret chamber, where she will discover both terrible knowledge and her ultimate fate. (Marc Singer pointed out the Bluebeard connection here.) In the Bluebeard fairytale, as everyone knows, the heroine is the patriarch’s new wife and Bluebeard himself is a sort of homicidal serial monogamist who kills every woman that he marries; the secret chamber contains their severed heads mounted on the wall, and his newest wife is of course unable to resist transgressing the fatal interdiction not to enter.

(Keys abound in that story to signify the protagonist’s acquisition of forbidden knowledge—just as they do in this one.)

In Morrison and Quitely’s version, however, female “transgression” is rewritten as “initiation” so that meaning of events is reversed: Lois is not married to the patriarch but independent and capable; the patriarch’s own power is on the wane and up for grabs (indeed, he sews magical garments, like a postmodern fairy godfather!); the forbidden room is not the location where the heroine will risk losing her life by being beheaded, but on the contrary will be reborn (it is Lois’s birthday) to possess the patriarch’s power. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber hardly does a better job of amplifying the feminist content of the classic Bluebeard fairytale in her own brilliant narrative of female initiation and empowerment!

This is the best series that DC is currently publishing, and Morrison and Quitely will no doubt be remembered as one of the best creative teams on Superman of all time. How’s that for courting controversy?

JSA #82 (DC Comics)
Paul Levitz (Writer) / George Perez (Penciller) / Bob Wiacek (Inker) / Tom Smith(Colorist) / Rob Leigh (Lettererer)

JSA #82 was a real treat. Paul Levitz and George Perez on JSA? Bring on the old guys!

In his generally favorable review of this issue’s return to “traditional” comics storytelling, Paul King of ComicBloc Forums writes:

I want to impress you with something: There are 161 panels in this issue and one splash page. Compare this to Superman/Batman #13 drawn by popular artist Michael Turner which has 73 panels and 4 splash pages. Perez gives us almost three times the story without feeling cluttered. This goes back to my point of being ‘traditional without being antiquated’. Where Perez’s art lacks in dynamics it makes up for in craftsmanship. Each line feels planned with depth and purpose. I long for more modern comics with this level of storytelling on every page.

While I can’t agree that Perez’s art lacks “dynamics” (sacrilege, Paul!), I heartily endorse the sentiment that JSA #82 is an object lesson in the virtues of a high panel-count and “traditional” storytelling more generally. The ten-panel opening page, depicting the city at night as the “camera” gradually zooms in on the JSA’s headquarters, entering through an open panel on the roof and surprising Ma Hunkle on the stairs is a classic and classy way of establishing the story’s setting and tone. The darkness, the storm, and the seemingly violated mansion/sanctuary establish just the sort of “dark-and-stormy-night” atmosphere necessary for the ghost story that is at the heart of the Golden Age story-within-a-story in this issue, featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Flash battling Gentleman Ghost (one of the most visually perfect of DC’s older villains) . The rainy opening also establishes the emotional tone of the frame-story in this issue, in which Power Girl struggles with the terrible dilemma that Superman and Superboy Prime have placed on her shoulders in Infinite Crisis #3: whether or not to help replace the current Earth with the “original” Earth 2. The storm in the opening scene is a symbol of Kara’s own turbulent emotions, just as the rain anticipates the tears of the story’s final frame.

Both the frame-story and the Golden Age tale are about strong women—Power Girl and Lois Lane—who face difficult decisions. Levitz and Perez make nice contrasts between them, establishing Lois as a tireless truth-seeker and Kara as a someone for whom the very issue of truth (which is the “true” earth? Does the “truth” even matter if it means killing millions of people?) has become a moral muddle, or at least an impossible burden.

In Infinite Crisis, it is the Golden Age Lois (not Superman) who is emerging as the dying and far-seeing “spirit” or moral center of the 1950s DCU, and Power Girl is emerging as a more troubled, untested embodiment of the penetrating moral vision that Lois displays in JSA #82. “You were never too good at knowing the difference between what’s real and what’s not, dear,” Lois thinks, tellingly, about her Golden Age Clark, at the same time that she is writing her “last exclusive” about having dwelt for so long in the false “heaven” Luthor created for himself, Lois, Superman, and Superboy at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths: “this impossible place” where “everything around us is a phony [as] Mr. Mxyztplk’s tricks…just cotton candy illusions in our minds.”

One suspects, therefore, that Lois’s illness in Infinite Crisis is not due to her new proximity to what the Golden Age Superman calls the “corrupted” Earth 1, but is either simply a natural process of dying with which Lois herself is already making peace in JSA #82 (“We’ve been in this impossible place for so long that when I die, I’ll be ready for heaven or hell….I’m content Clark. Content with my life, and with facing the truth…even now”) or a symbol of the corruptions inherent in her own Superman’s black and white Old Testament morality—i.e. it is ironically his actions, spurred on by Luthor, and not the “corrupted” post-Crisis Earth 1, that are (literally?) killing her.

My own current theory is that Infinite Crisis will turn out to be the final nail in the coffin of the four characters left floating on a space-rock at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths, an extended meditation on the need to acknowledge the finality of death and the necessity of mourning. The leitmotif of “legacy” in nearly all of Geoff Johns’s work is not unrelated to this theme, for “legacy” is a secular version of the afterlife that rejects metaphysical consolations like “heaven” as so many “cotton candy illusions in our minds.” Infinite Crisis, in other words, will perhaps provide a more genuinely secular ending to the Golden Age Superman and Lois Lane than Wolfman and Perez provided in the original Crisis. (Though one could also argue, conversely, that Johns and his crew will provide a more religious ending than Wolfman and Perez did, substituting the possibility of a “real” heaven for a fake one.)

At any rate, JSA #82 adds new layers to these and other questions raised by Infinite Crisis, in addition to providing a rollicking good tale of ghostly skullduggery. The scenes where Batman scuffles with the ghost in Bruce Wayne’s library is a highlight, as are the interactions between bumbling Clark and long-suffering Lois.

Oh, and one final point about Lois Lane’s steno pad and the shorthand “code” that Ma Hunkle deciphers for Power Girl. I love the prominence that DC is giving to its female characters in this story. Wonder Woman’s murder of Max Lord brought boos from some quarters, but I loved it, and I love even more the emergence of Power Girl as a major new character and the recuperation of Lois as both the heart and head of an earlier DC era. As Ma Hunkle muses near the end of this issue, “Lois was right. The men. They never get it. For all the battles, all the world-saving… We understand life and death, Karen. And what matters.” Levitz may be accused of a kind of paternalistic romanticism or hollow feminist piety for writing lines like this, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t make for powerful storytelling. How wonderful, then, that this issue is built around the conceit of a secret yet utterly public female “code,” the “secret code” of secretaries, a role, as Ma Hunkle observes, that, once upon a time, extended to Hippolyta herself! (“Imagine, Wonder Woman as Secretary [of the JSA]!” she says on page 4. “Good thing she had a sense of humor, back before she met Gloria Steinem and signed onto that movement of whatever it was.”) Through the use of shorthand, Levitz evokes the paradoxes of female power, historically, in the DCU, and points to the way in which one of the most important gestures of feminist thought has been the recuperation of a powerful feminist tradition that existed avant la lettre, so to speak. Hippolyta as both Wonder Woman and secretary epitomizes the way that powerful superwomen were contained by the sexism of the genre (a paradox that once applied to the Golden Age Lois as empowered reporter/girlfriend-victim as well). However, Lois’s “coded” steno pad turns this old paradox on its ear: not only is this Golden Age Lois an empowered and tireless truth seeker, she writes this truth in a semi-public code that is only interpretable by other women. What Levitz is doing in JSA #82 is glossing (and to some extent reinventing) a buried feminist tradition in DC comics. This is great storytelling, and it is great fun to watch.

notes

DCU OYL: Let Me Get This Straight…

As if the engrossing, wallet-emptying Infinite Crisis weren’t enough, over the next few months I will be enjoying:

The weekly 52 series, written by Geoff Johns (!!), Grant Morrison (!!), Greg Rucka (!), and Mark Waid (!), with Keith Giffen (!) helping with plot and doing breakdowns, illustrated by Joe Bennet (!), Ken Lashley, Chris Batista, Don Kramer, Shawn Moll, Dale Eaglesham (!!), and Eddy Barrows, with covers by J. G. Jones (!).

A huge JSA arc by Paul Levitz (!), Rags Morales (!!), and Luke Ross, with covers by George Perez (!!!).

Justice League of America by Brad Meltzer (!!) and Ed Benes (!).

James Robinson’s (!!) 8-part Batman/Detective Comics crossover, followed by Grant Morrison (!!!) becoming the regular writer on Batman.

Geoff Johns (!!) and Kurt Busiek’s (!) Superman/Action Comics crossover.

Gail Simone’s (!!) new Secret Six series spinning out of my favorite mini from last year, Villains United.

Greg Rucka’s (!) new Checkmate series whose characters include Fire, Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad (!!).

An ongoing Shadowpact series written and drawn by Bill Willingham (!!).

Kurt Busiek (!) and Butch Guice’s (!!) salmon and sorcery series, Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis.

A reinvigorated Teen Titans in which Geoff Johns (!!) promises a new, more character-driven approach to writing the team and Tony Daniel promises a more polished, realistic style of art (!).

More Birds of Prey by Gail Simone (!!).

All this and a gorgeous-looking, shrouded in mystery, all-new Flash series?

Am I dead? Is this fanboy heaven?

Frankentstein vs. Swamp Thing: Red Mars/Blue Heaven (DC/Vertigo)
Grant Morrison and Alan Moore (writers) / Doug Mahnke and Rick Veitch (artists)

DC’s greatest monsters go head-to-head in a battle for supremacy over monochromatic planets and other, nebulously defined metaphysical stakes. Four issues. Prestige format. Tell me this isn’t gold.

Some Kind of Goatee Measuring Contest? Green Arrow #59

I may be reading too much into things, here, but I find it curious that our goatee-sporting hero is locked in a death match with not one but two villains with ’stacheless Norris Skipper or “petit” goatees.

Is Winick implying some connection between ’stacheless goatee styles and criminality? Is there something “unbalanced” about Merlin and Dr. Light’s naked upper lips that hints at a more disturbing imbalance within?

Alpha Flight: Poised for Takeoff?

Joe Quesada’s weekly (daily?) spin sessions at Newarama usually aggravate the hell out me (exhibit A), but like the proverbial traffic accident bystander, I cannot look away. This time, at least, there was some good news:

Well as you know, Alpha Flight had a little bit of trouble in the most recent issue of New Avengers. Heck, I hear that the entire nation of Canada has declared war on Brian Bendis. Anyway, just so Alpha flight folk don’t spend the entire weekend bummed out, don’t worry too much because there are big plans in the works for our Canadian super team. I think when it all comes to fruition; all our Marvel faithful north of the border are going to be thrilled.

I’m always fascinated to see how Canada looks when viewed from the south, but even more than that, I just flat out like Alpha Flight. In its first couple of years the original title showcased some of the best work of John Byrne’s writer/artist career (certainly some of his best covers!), and the series went on to become one of my favorite second-string Marvel super team books (in the tradition of the Defenders and the West Coast Avengers). I hated—in fact, loathed—the “comedic” Alpha Flight revamp of a few years ago, so I’m very happy to hear that there are plans afoot for a relaunch. Of course, it could always end up being a giant cock-up. Fingers crossed.

Here’s a great Alpha Flight fan site for anyone who shares my excitement.

MKMK: The Moon Knight We Never Knew We Wanted?

And while I’m on the subject of exciting Marvel relaunches, let me just note that I’m eagerly anticipating the new Marvel Knights Moon Knight series by Charlie Huston and David Finch. At first I was disappointed that David Finch was leaving New Avengers after such a short stint, but when Bendis’s writing on New Avengers took such a harsh nosedive I could only think that Finch had dodged a bullet. I’ve never really followed Moon Knight’s previous adventures very faithfully, but I (like everyone else) love the character’s look. (Perhaps his blankness makes him more amenable to our fanboyish projections and pretensions to, uh, y’know…badassishness.) Normally, I don’t go in for the kind of mean streets bone crunching that Huston is promising, but this new series looks too damn cool to resist. For more, check out this interesting interview with Huston at Buzzscope.

More Quizilla Nonsense

Which Peanuts Character are You?

Rerun
You are Rerun!

Which Peanuts Character are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

How Will “Jim Roeg” be Defined in the Dictionary?

Jim Roeg —

[adjective]:

Extremely extreme!

‘How will you be defined in the dictionary?’ at QuizGalaxy.com

I have charm?

rants

Button-Crazy

I went crazy this weekend. Button-crazy. I’m still not entirely sure what happened.

A kind gentleman from Blogflux sent me a link to their free button-maker some time ago and I ignored it quite happily for several months. But then, I was bored and clicking around, and all of a sudden, I was making buttons. Crazy numbers of buttons in every sort of color and design. Once I started, I found it difficult to stop. I set a challenge for myself: to make buttons for all the links on this site. Buttons that would ape the basic color-scheme of the site to which they were attached (something that proved to be more difficult than it seemed as Blogflux’s color choices are not as extensive as Blogger’s). It was a fun process, rather like painting on a grain of rice, I expect. There is something extremely enjoyable about trying to be creative within a fairly narrowly prescribed set of parameters, and working with Blogfux’s button-maker was a prime instance of that. My hope was that, by the end, I would have a set of links that were easier to navigate because the colors of the buttons would remind me of the sites to which they led.

Another part of this reorganization of my links was a switch from listing sites by title to listing them by the blogger’s name. I am, at best, a sporadic visitor of other blogs—mainly because I’m already burning the candle at both ends and never seem to have enough time. I am, unfortunately, a binge visitor rather than a regular reader. I also have a terrible memory. Consequently, except for the very few sites that I do check out on a semi-regular basis, I’m always forgetting whose site is whose and even what each site is about. The switch from titles to names combined with the color coding of each button was designed to identify each site more distinctively and to embed each blog more firmly in my memory as well as in my sidebar.

On the whole, I think the new scheme is working, though with somewhat mixed results aesthetically. The colors are a bit brighter than I’d like, and I will no doubt return to Blogflux to redesign some of the buttons at some point. More talented people than I have also shared some of their own self-designed buttons with me—notably Neil from Neilalien who designed a really cool button for his own site some time ago. (Thanks Neil!)

The main problem with my new scheme is that group blogs get short-changed in the name department: there isn’t room for two names on a single button, so I am forced into a cruel decision: either I must sacrifice the fundamental principle of the new order (names instead of titles) or I must design anywhere from 2-12 buttons for a single group blog to represent the name of each blogger who contributes to it. This would be no problem for a Blog like John Jakala and Ed Cunard’s The Low Road, but would be a nightmare for, say, Snark Free Waters. And what would be the point anyway, since the links are merely supposed to be functional, not actually an index of individuals? For me, this was one of those unusual situations in which my deranged system-building impulse and fascist aesthetic sensibility were actually smashed into submission against the brick wall of common sense. I went with option A and sacrificed the cornerstone of the new regime, resulting in a blogroll made up of a messy combination of the names of individual writers and the (often abbreviated) titles of group blogs. I’m still smarting from this compromise, but learning to live with the pain.

The ultimate appeal of the buttons, for me, is their orderly appearance. I love the symmetry of those two straight lines of buttons in the same way that I love reorganizing the kitchen cupboards or my filing cabinets or my list of Favorites. Real life may feel like a chaotic mess, but at least I’ve got buttons.

And there are more to come. Oh yes.

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