Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spider-Man Noir (comics)

Writer: David Hine, Fabrice Sapolsky
Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Collects: Spider-Man Noir #1-4

The last time I read a Marvel Noir title, I was struck with the feeling that the line might have been losing its way a bit. To Marvels credit, they haven't tried anything as ridiculous as "Thor Noir" or "Captain America Noir", but I'm still left believing that they didn't think this thing through enough. Most of the miniseries utilize Marvels most popular characters, whether they fit or not.

This one only adds wood to the fire.

Peter Parker, socialist extraordinaire, is taken under the wing of newsman Ben Urich. Peter wants to take down the Goblin, a man he's certain ordered the death of his uncle Ben. Not an easy goal, but he's helped along the way by a spider bite that gives him superhuman agility and silk webs he can fire from his wrists.

Look, I'm no noir expert, as I've said in the past. I have a passing interest in it, but well versed in the tropes I'm not. But I know enough to realize Spider-Man is not the best fit for it. Peter Parker is, in almost every continuity, a guy who rolls with whatever punch is thrown is way, which is a clash with a genre known for messy, ugly, dirty tales of betrayal and loss where everyone is bought and no one can be trusted. How do you make a guy like that work in a setting like this?

Turns out you kind of don't. Peter and his relatives are re-imagined as socialist crusaders in Depression era New York. Socialism being kind of a dirty word to most; some things never change, it seems. As pointed out in-story, it's a hell of an optimistic dream; everyone works together and things will get better. Even when faced with the ugliness, it's something Parker doesn't give up on. It's true to the character of Peter Parker in almost any universe, but it's kind of a clash with this genre.

An element of the supernatural also finds its way in. As always, Peter's bit by a spider. In this universe, it connects him to some spider god or a spider totem. Something like that. Regardless of what it is, the end result is Peter gaining superhuman agility, a Spider-Sense and webbing. I don't know enough about noir to truly say one way or the other whether it fits, but something about an element like this in a story striving to be noir seems off to me.

It's to David Hines credit that it doesn't just fall apart. It's readable and even fairly enjoyable. I'm just not sure it feels like noir, even with the betrayals, darkness and shadows. David Hine proves himself more a capable, dependable writer every time I read one of his comics. One of these days I hope to read a project of his unencumbered by flawed concepts or necessitated structural gaffes.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

A fairly decent read, even if Spider-Man and noir isn't exactly a match made in heaven. I wouldn't recommend an outright purchase, but it might be worth a look. Depends on how much you like the idea of Spidey chillin' in the shadows and smacking around carnies. At least it's a better read than X-Men Noir.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ultimate Spider-Man: The Death of Spider-Man (comics)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mark Bagley
Collects: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #155-160

The Ultimate line of books lost its way real early. Originally, it was supposed to be a continuity free, familiar, accessible take on Marvel favorites. Only Ultimate Spider-Man really stuck to that. Ultimate Fantastic Four made a go of it, but The Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men seemed to be in a race to see which team could become the bigger group of unlikable assholes. Most Ultimate Marvel books - even Spidey at times - then seemed to get their jollies on putting new, different spins on old classics. The line kind of floundered, which was obviously worrying; keep in mind that the Ultimate line generated a lot of positive critical buzz and sales in the early days.

At this point they made the idiotic decision to give the line to Jeph Loeb, who proceeded to infect the line with the comic book equivalent of gangrene; by this point they figured the only option was to "cut the rot", meaning kill off half the heroes in Ultimatum and hope a clean slate could save it.

The overall goal now seems to be to make the Ultimate line as different as possible, making it an interesting alternate universe. This is the volume where it catches up with Ultimate Spider-Man. I used to collect Ultimate Spider-Man regularly and - insistence on Mary Jane being his one true love aside - there wasn't a thing I didn't like about it. It was a great Spider-Man book at a time when the regular Spider-Man was knee deep in a twenty year rut that seemed like it would never end. Brand New Day changed all that and kicked regular Spideys quality level up to eleven, at which point Ultimate Spider-Man, while still good, started to feel redundant.

So I dropped it. Call me a sucker for hype if you want, but the only reason I really came back was for this. I guess I wanted to see how it ended for a version of Spidey that was, for a time, THE Spider-Man to me.

It's an effective story, but not in a bombastic "event" sort of way. It feels a bit more... subdued, I guess, for a story where things are exploding left and right. Norman Osborn is back and he's rounded up several of Spideys rogues; his ultimate goal is to kill Spidey. This is a bigger deal for this Spider-Man; he's only a teenager and, while very resourceful, we're talking about six super powered goons coming at him. He receives enough warning to get his Aunt and Gwen out of dodge, then ends up getting shot. From that point on, it's a fight for survival; you can guess how it goes.

For most of the book, it feels like it could have been a normal arc without leading to his death, which I think is a strength. Ultimate Spidey has faced tall odds before; even with a gunshot wound, you still feel like somehow he could pull it out. But this time, he doesn't survive the end of the fight and dies in the line of duty, having saved everyone he loves and the neighborhood in general. It feels like a "normal" ending to someone who picks a line of work that deadly; sort of like a police officer, there are times someone won't get to go home to his family.

Part of what leads to the death stems from a crossover to the final arc of Mark Millers Ultimate Avengers. I'm of two minds about it. On the one hand, it's a little pointless; it doesn't play any huge role in the story and is relegated to "stuff happening at the same time". So "why bother" is a fairly legitimate question to ask.

On the other, it adds background detail and desperation to Spideys last fight. Sometimes, you just expect big fights will overlap. In this case, Spideys biggest foe has escaped on the day the Ultimates are busy fighting Nick Furys black ops Avengers squad. When he goes to try and help, he's shot for his trouble. To make matters worse, it ensures just about anyone who could provide backup is a bit preoccupied with the gigantic brawl in the middle of New York; Spidey's left on his own, bleeding out from a gunshot wound and trying to fight off five guys. It's the definition of the desperate struggle.

Overall, I think it worked out pretty well, but it doesn't stick the landing entirely. Bendis has a few moments where he gets a little cutesy; I audibly groaned when he had a character actually say "come with me if you want to live". Also, some of Spideys logic is a little screwed up; he suspects that if he hits the hospital for some treatment for the gunshot, his secret identity is blown. So he figures, well, why the hell not just show up back at the house with his mask off and fight everybody that way. Everyone is going to know anyways.

Absolutely retarded; all he'd have to do if he wanted to hit up the hospital - and he could have, since his family evacuated ahead of time - was switch to civvies and say he was hit by a stray gunshot. I mean, there is a huge fight going on. Who's going to call shenanigans when two super teams are beating the crap out of each other in the middle of New York? Hell, he could even say he was the victim of a mugging gone bad. It's not like anyone was around when Spidey came to; the warring super teams were in another part of the city by then and there weren't exactly any news crews nearby to see that Spider-Man was shot. Oh, and while we're at it, why exactly did that truck explode at the end of the book? That was terribly unclear.

So yeah, it's not a complete slam dunk, but I'd say it's a good two point shot.

Mark Bagley returns to Marvel after a stint at DC that wasn't exactly the big hit everyone hoped it would be. Bagley's overall strength is that he's fast and reliable; he's a workhorse with fairly decent art. That said, he's far from the best; even here, there are a few odd panels that are hard to suss out and an occasion or two of patented Liefeldian knife-feet. Still, his presence helps the book feel as though it's come full circle. Bagley was there at the beginning and stuck around for over a hundred issues. It's only fitting he'd illustrate the ending of the story.

While this is the swan song for Ultimate Peter Parker, this isn't the end of Ultimate Spider-Man. The title is relaunching, with a new, ethnic teenager taking on the identity. It's been making some waves and I've heard some good things. I may stick around for it; the book might not feel so redundant if we're following a new kid carrying on in the name of the old.

The Score: 8 out of 10

The story works, but it's a bit flawed. Still, it's a fairly memorable death and clears the deck for Marvel to do something really different with the Ultimate Spider-Man property. Not an instant classic, but a good send-off for this version. If you've been reading all along, of course you'll pick this up. If you, say, dropped the book after Bagley left, I still think it's safe to nab the hardcover and roll with it. I haven't read Ultimate Spider-Man in years* and I didn't have any major problems. Recommended.

* I think the last one I read was that one with Black Cat and a bunch of other guys. Pretty sure Kingpin and Ultimate Elektra were involved. I recall Pete really wanted to bone the Black Cat - because duh, she's incredibly hot and he's a horny teen - and she puked on him when she realized he was a teenager. Fun stuff, but by the time I got around to reading it - a couple years after its publication - I was kind of falling off the train when it came to the book. Pretty sure it was an arc back when Bagley was still on the book full time.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Light (comics)

Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Artist: Brett Weldele
Collects: The Light #1-5

I picked this one up largely because the striking cover caught my eye and I figured what the hell.

Story's pretty simple. We meet a welder who had just lost his job. He's pretty far from a good person; apparently, when his life went to hell, he went all Chris Brown on his wife - which is why they separated - and he's also an alcoholic. His teenage daughter lives with him and his mother for some odd reason - dad's rarely get custody, even if they're the most fit to raise them, which this dude definitely isn't - and it's all set up quickly in the first half of the first issue.

At this point, his old boss comes screaming in the dead of night about lights coming on and people spontaneously combusting. Then a street light comes on and he spontaneously combusts. Our "hero" is saved by his welders goggles. Figuring this is probably not the time to be hanging around the suburbs, he grabs his daughter and blows dodge, because despite the fact that he's kind of a scumbag he does love his kid.

From the opening setup, it's pretty straightforward up until the end. Standard apocalypse scenarios; get supplies, try to find family members at such and such place, bickering and infighting, you know the drill. It's mostly about the father, despite being an asshat, wanting to save his kid and the lengths he'll go to do it. It feels fairly realistic - his teenage daughter borderline hates him and doesn't respect him, which, you know, is understandable considering he smacked her mother around - and the two define dysfunction. There's little else to the book though.

Edmondson takes the Robert Kirkman route of not bothering to really explain what's going on, letting the questions just hang in the air. It's a pretty fair choice, but at the same time the concept is a bit out there and could use a bit of definition. He tries to establish some ground rules - apparently, the light has to hit the eyes or something and the effects only come from something that receives its power from the power grid - but it's mostly for the purpose of giving the dad an option to try and stop the crisis in the immediate vicinity to save his kid. None of that really explains why looking at a light will make somebody burst into flames. Doesn't make much sense to me; probably why he wanted to dodge explaining it.

Given the simplicity of the overall story, I think five issues was kind of pushing it. Obviously Edmondson needed time to establish the father-daughter dynamic, but there are parts where I got a bit of a feeling of killing time. If compacted a bit more - say, three issues - I think the story might have been a bit more punchy; you know, goes in, gets the job done and leaves with a bit of an impression made. As it is, the book is a brisk, fast paced read, so it's not particularly glaring, but I can't help but think it went on a bit too long without anything really "happening".

There's a text piece in the back where Edmondson gives his thoughts on the story and what he was aiming for. He was gunning for tension and horror through use of the fact that we're all connected these days; he probably should have gone with the internet for it, but I suppose power lines do the job. It's a fairly neat concept, for sure, but it's a bit of a minor theme; I think if it were played up more in the story instead of being mostly explained in the text piece this book would have stood a bit taller.

As it stands it's a breezy read with some nice art that's a perfectly acceptable way to kill an hour.

The Score: 7 out of 10

I think this book had more potential, but it's still a decent, inoffensive read. You could skip it and not miss a whole lot, but you won't feel lesser for checking it out. Give it a read if the concept interests you.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Captain America: Patriot (comics)

Writer: Karl Kesel
Artist: Mitch Breitweiser
Collects: Captain America: Patriot #1-4, All Winners Comics 70th Anniversary Special, What If #4

One of my favorite things about Captain America relates to the retcon* they did; when he came back in Avengers #4, we learned he had been encased in ice since the end of World War II. Instead of scrapping the numerous Captain America comics in the intervening years from continuity, they had a better idea. As the retcon goes, after Caps final mission - when he and Bucky were assumed dead - the government decided the spirit and symbol of Captain America needed to be kept alive. So other men wore the uniform in the years prior to Steve Rogers return.

The end result is a stretch of time where numerous men tried to live up to the legend of Steve Rogers; a concept with a lot of potential to it.

This miniseries is about the second man to wear the uniform after Rogers went missing, Jeffery Mace. Inspired by Captain America during the war, he took up his own heroic identity of The Patriot. After the war came to a close, his peers began to drift. But eventually he discovered the truth; the original Captain America had died at the end of the war and another took his place. Realizing Cap was a symbol the world needed, Jeffery Mace took on the identity of the man he patterned himself after to carry on in his name.

It's a moving, effective story; we see Mace struggle to come to grips with the uniform he wears and what it means. Unlike Steve Rogers, Mace had no Super Soldier Serum to power him up; he was a regular man trying to carry on the mission of the ultimate man. What he has is heart and a mind of his own; like Rogers would prove to be time and again, Mace is not just some government stooge. This is the story of a man who stepped into the boots of a legend and not only lived up to the legacy, but kept to the same ideals even when it might have cost him.

Generally, the stories of the replacement Captain Americas end badly. One died while the 50's Cap went insane thanks to a flawed Super Soldier Serum and would become a bit of a recurring nuisance. Jeff's the only one who got to walk away from the costume intact and it's an ending that feels earned. This is the definitive story of the third Captain America, using continuity properly as a structure for the life story of Jeffery Mace to be wrapped around.

I can't say enough about what an enjoyable read it is. It's a great story coupled with art that has that perfect balance of looking kind of old fashioned while feeling distinctly modern. On top of the four issue miniseries, the All Winners special Karl Kesel wrote - featuring an adventure with the All Winners Squad we didn't see in the mini proper - is included, as is the original What If** issue that first gave us the events that led to Mace's tenure, which we saw snippets of in the main miniseries.

Overall, a nice package.

The Score: 8.5 out of 10

I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed this. The story of a man who fought to live up to the name of Captain America is a winner. Well worth adding to your bookshelf.

* A lot of folks decry retcons, but some are for the better. This is one of them. I think it ended up adding a lot to the Cap mythos and that's a win any way you look at it.

**As you probably know, Marvel's "What If" series essentially asked the question of what might have happened had a key event in a story gone another way and then let us see how that change might have played out. Several of the ones I've read were cute but disposable - some of them tended to end up in the same place the regular story did, only going along a different sequence of events - and just about every one of them are out of continuity tales, hence the "What If". This is one of the only - and may be the only, I'm not a hundred percent sure - "What If's" to actually be rendered in continuity, since it filled in a few gaps in Caps history.Link

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Holy Terror (comics)

Writer/Artist: Frank Miller
Original Graphic Novel

Is there a single person who actually wanted this book to come out? I think this was the one project everyone came together and agreed should not happen. How or why was irrelevant.

Unfortunately, the book is finished and out in the wild. The world is just a little bit worse for it. It really is as racist and insulting as you expected.

It's a typical night in Empire City. A slow night, even. The Fixer chases Natalie Stack across rooftops, engaging in their usual flirtatious game. Suddenly, explosions. Suicide bombers. It's at this point that The Fixer decides that killing a bunch of terrorists is about as good a response as any. Stack tags along and guts a few dudes herself.

It's no secret that this book was originally meant to star Batman. Halfway through, Miller realized this probably wasn't a story that fits the Dark Knight. The remains of its original intent are still there. Even with the minor changes he made, Batman stand-in The Fixer and Faux-Catwoman are dead ringers for the originals. Fauxwoman even moves like her DC counterpart, with heavy emphasis on catlike poses and movements. So yeah, you can tell, but it's a good thing Miller decided to change it; I can't picture Batman shooting terrorists in the head and I get the impression Miller didn't want to settle for mere broken bones.

The ignorant racism on display here is the thing that sticks out the most. It's not like Miller is subtle with it. At one point late in the story Fauxwoman infiltrates a mosque; the only caption on the entire page is "the night wind blows away seven centuries". Fauxwoman declares that she's sent a man to his "seventy two virgins" in the afterlife. Everything is "infidel" this and "infidel" that. The Faker muses about how likely it is your random terrorist is named Mohammed. How could you miss it?

As expected, there's no flip side of the coin to be found. Anyone identified as a Muslim in this book is a terrorist. Not that I expected a fair and balanced portrayal. At some point in the last ten years Frank Miller morphed into something resembling a flag waving, government worshipping tool that would probably fit in working at Fox News. He's displayed ignorance of Islam in interviews and will look for any excuse to talk about what a major enemy we're at war with here and "wake up pond scum" and all that. He almost comes off like a parody of hardcore neo-Cons.

Which is an astounding turnaround, because this is the guy who wrote Batman inciting revolutions and the sequel to Robocop, the latter being one of the most anti-conservative films to ever hit the silver screen.

All for what? This piece of propaganda is about ten years too late. If this came out about a year or two after 9/11, maybe the anger would be understandable. Maybe the populace, as confused and easily led as we were, would've bought into it. As it is, we're currently a little over a decade removed from that day; in that time, we've fought several wars that destroyed our economy and even caught the head honcho of Al Queda. Said terrorist group was not even the focus for about seven of those years. The irrational hatred is still around - just the same as racism in general never truly dies - but the slow process of moving past it started a while ago.

So the question is, what the hell is this even for? Nowadays terrorism isn't much more than the boogeyman our government uses to take away our rights while claiming it's to keep us safe. What, do we wage war on Islam and all who practice it? Miller seems to think every one of them is a terrorist, so maybe that is indeed what he's suggesting. Regardless, it's stupid, mean-spirited and misguided in every way. Thanks man, the world really needs more fuel on the fire.

The art is... well, it's definitely Millers work. He's still a master, even if ignorance has taken root in his mind. It's far scratchier than I like. But that's me; I also felt the art kind of struggled to hold together in some scenes late in DKR, which is his magnum opus, so grain of salt. Regardless, he's still pushing boundaries. He works with the landscape format again - the one he used for 300 - and it suits his art well. It's a lot of real estate to draw on and Miller is not afraid to use all of it, whether we're talking four panels a page to eight to twenty four.

Such a shame his talent is wasted on such xenophobic garbage.

My Opinion: Burn It

This was a waste of time, space and energy. It's stupid, racist and embarrassingly wrongheaded. On top of that, the story is so basic that there's little worth here outside of the artwork, even if you're a big Miller fan. Scientists have yet to discern whether or not this book is brain crushingly stupid enough to cause a tumor, so play it safe and treat this book like radioactive sludge. Shit like this should not be encouraged.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command (comics)

Writer: Haden Blackman
Artist: Rick Leonardi
Collects: Darth Vader and the Lost Command #1-5

We don't get many stories that focus on Darth Vader himself, do we? Kind of a rare treat. This miniseries does not disappoint.

We start about a month removed from Revenge of the Sith and Vader has since begun his campaign to wipe out the remaining Jedi. But before long the Emperor has a fetch mission for him. Seems the son of the future Moff Tarkin has up and went missing on a mission to a backwater part of the galaxy. Naturally, Vader's got to clean the mess up. He's even given a shadow because the Emperor's an idiot; why he was shocked Vader tossed him over a railing to his death in Return of the Jedi I'll never quite get.

What we have is a rounded portrayal of the iconic Sith lord. Haunted by visions of what could have been, we catch the occasional glimpse of that spark of humanity his son would one day revive. The rest of what we get is a Vader that is as deadly as we've ever seen. It isn't long at all before we see just how ruthless, cunning and vicious he could be. While the Vader of the films was fine with getting his hands dirty when necessary, it was never to the extent we get here. He actively participates in a brutal, efficient takedown of a city, orders survivors drowned, tosses civilians into hot tar pits to get information from a hostage and has no qualms about sinking an entire city.

Dude doesn't play games.

The story is engaging and moves at a brisk pace. It's helped along by a Darth Vader that feels authentic*, if younger and a bit more brash than we saw in his later years. Even his fleeting moments of sorrow over his lost wife work; the few scenes we get are more believable than the entire half of Episode II dedicated to building that "love story". Even if you give pause at the slightest bit of self loathing or regret, know that Blackmans got you covered; by the stories end, Vader proves himself every bit the evil prick we've always thought he was. Maybe even worse.

I don't have a lot to say about the art other than it's pretty decent. Leonardi uses another style to differentiate the visions of what could have been from reality. It works pretty well. That he can draw a mean Darth Vader certainly helps.

The Score: 8 out of 10

Even if you're not a fan of the prequels, this is well worth the money. It bridges who Vader was and who he has become better than the films ever thought about. We also get a hell of a reminder of just why Darth Vader is one of the best villains to ever hit the silver screen. If you need some of your faith restored, this should do the trick.

*The dialogue passes my general litmus test for this kind of thing. Meaning I could imagine Darth Vaders voice reading his lines.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

30 Days of Night Omnibus (comics)

Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Ben Templesmith
Collects: 30 Days of Night, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, 30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow

Some comics have such great ideas; some of those ideas you end up kicking yourself for having never thought of. The high concept of this book relies on the fact that during the winter, Alaska has a solid thirty days straight of night; some vampires get wind of it, think "holy shit, I need to get some of that action" and it's off to the races. The town is quickly turned into an all-you-can-eat buffet for all participating vampires.

This omnibus edition collects the first three miniseries of this franchise. The initial story is the original tale of Barrow, Alaska and its thirty days of hell. The second is a direct sequel, showing the spiral of the heroine of last volume as she desperately tries to prove to the outside world that vampires are totally a real thing. The final brings us back to Barrow, where the remaining residents have learned to fight; see, the vampires aren't very happy about the fact that there are survivors that know of their existence, so during those thirty days they wage war on the now fortified Barrow.

There are further stories past this, but if you wanted to stop here with this omnibus edition, you could. The three stories collected generally wrap up the core stories of Barrow and our protagonists from the first story by the end of the third. We're left in a pretty good place to stop, but should we choose to continue partaking in this world there is the option.

Writer Steve Niles does a fine job of making vampires the horrific creatures we know they can be. A lot of people blame the Twilight novels for de-fanging the vampire concept, but while those asstastic novels didn't do the vampire any favors as a concept, the sterilization had started way before that. I love the suave, manipulative, charming take on the vampire as much as anyone, but somewhere along the way we lost a counterpart. Being a vampire was essentially shown to be cool and rarely terrible; much of the bite or terror of the concept was lost as a result of years of this dilution.

Niles gives us two sides of the coin. On the one hand, they are very much the monsters of your nightmares in this world. Once turned, most of them lose their humanity and get right to the whole feasting thing. Hell, once a group catches wind of Barrow and its lengthy night, they roll in like a bulldozer and lay waste to the entire town. In contrast, there are also the vampires who are more sophisticated; they're still very monstrous - the main case in the first story, even if he's pissed about the whole situation, orders any survivors to be killed and the town to be burnt to the ground so not a hint of their existence is left - but they're far from idiots.

What we're left with is a series that strikes a fine balance, bringing some semblance of terror to a monster that hasn't been all that scary for a while.

The art, then, is rather unfortunate. I'm of two minds on Ben Templesmiths art. On the one hand, it conveys the twisted, horrific nature of the story fairly well and he does improve as time goes on. But on the other, sometimes the art is unclear and confusing. The art style also has its merits but I don't care for it much. Hit or miss, overall; I think the art brings down what's otherwise a great trilogy of horror comics.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

I dock some points for the art, but otherwise this is a very strong comic series. It could probably have been a classic. Hard to tell. As it is it's very good, but the art drags it down a few notches. Hopefully there will be a second omnibus; I'll likely pick it up, as I'm down for more of this world, as long as it continues to be a sharp read.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (comics)

Writer: Alan Moore
Artists: Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons
Collects: Superman #423, Action Comics #583, Superman Annual #11, DC Comics Presents #84

Alan Moore is a guy I don't like to talk about much. Part of that stems from the fact that much of his body of work is filled with what are widely recognized as classics. They've been thoroughly dissected over the years. There's nothing more to say.

The other part comes from the fact that I don't think highly of him anymore. He very much reminds me of John Byrne; bitter, angry and holier than thou. At some point, it's so bad you don't even want to think about them anymore.

But occasionally, you read one of those "classics" and start to feel like everyone is seeing something you're not.

The lead feature of the book is Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow. This is considered downright legendary. I've seen nothing but praise for it over the years. Yet, now having read it, it kind of pisses me off.

Essentially written from the start to be the last story of the Silver Age Superman - you know, the guy who regularly engaged in Superdickery - Moore takes that premise to a deadly extreme. As always, this is well written, because Moore is just one of those guys who could write in his sleep. But well written and well thought out aren't always mutually exclusive. For a capstone of the Silver Age version of Superman, it feels so utterly out of step with those sensibilities. It's so utterly dark in every way.

One look at Silver Age Superman tells a pretty simple story. It's the time period where Superman would randomly get a new power. One that shot rainbow beams that make a miniature Man of Steel. Or when he'd play cruel pranks on his friends. Or the occasions he'd back in time with Batman only to accuse him of being a witch and nearly get the guy killed because that's just what best friends do.

This story? It's like a pall has been cast over it. Everything in Supermans life has come full circle, almost as if to say goodbye. This is about the point where everyone starts dying.

Yeah, Alan Moore pretty much slaughters Supermans entire supporting cast in this, which is one reason it's almost baffling no one ever raised an eyebrow. There's the admittedly heartbreaking scene where Krypto dies defending his master from the Kryptonite Man. Lana Lang snaps Lex Luthors neck right around the time she learns Superman could never love her. Lana and Jimmy Olsen both die because why the hell not? Even Mr. Mxyplkt gets all up in the murderin' business. The goddamn interdimensional imp.

This all, of course, meant to close the book on a guy for whom a regular adventure consisted of trying to trick Jimmy Olsen into thinking no one knew him.

By the end, all the doom and gloom that seems to signal that Superman is going to bite the big one is for nothing, really. Superman gets his happy ending. Which he absolutely should; there's no other way the book should end. But why the hell did everyone tangentially connected to Superman need to become so much worm food to do it? Why does a story soaked in the blood of beloved characters feel it can get away with a cutesy wink and nod?

Short version is that it feels inauthentic. Like an endgame suited better to some cynical, 90's take on the character. Not the guy who wiped out crime and ended up with so much free time he basically had fun pranking people half the time. The craft is there, of course, but I'm not sure I see what everyone else does. Maybe it was just a sign of the times; looking back, a fair number of the most popular work from this time period seem awash in cynicism.

All that said, damn if Curt Swan doesn't draw the hell out of it. He's considered one of the definitive - if not THE definitive - Superman artists for a reason. This was, I believe, his last major project on Superman and he goes out with a bang.

Much like the Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader collection, this edition collects the writers other stories on the character. This includes a story depicting Swamp Things first real meeting with Superman. The other is another Moore story everyone considers a classic, "For the Man Who Has Everything".

Despite essentially being extras, these were the stories that made the slog worth it. While I don't feel WHTTMOT is all it was cracked up to be, For the Man Who Has Everthing was every bit as great as I expected. I recall the Justice League animated series did an adaption of this one, sans Robin. Turns out it was pretty faithful. The Swamp Thing story is very good as well, though not quite as remarkable.

I guess if you really like Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, you should definitely get it in this format. You won't find better. Me? Yech. I know most people feel differently, but, well, I call the scoring section "My Opinion" now for a reason.

My Opinion: Skip It

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Captain America: No Escape (comics)

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Butch Guice, Mitch Breitweiser
Collects: Captain America #606-610

Baron Zemo is back, only now he knows the new Captain America is none other than Bucky, the death of whom was Baron Zemo Sr's claim to fame. So Zemo is just a wee bit pissed, but as it turns out, not necessarily for the reasons you might think. Zemo then proceeds to pull Buckys life out from under him.

We've dropped the heavy political undercurrent from last volume; this time, we're back in the thick of Buckys ongoing story, which has been as central to Brus run thus far as anything involving Steve Rogers. The hook is admittedly pretty smart on its own, but Bru takes it in a direction you might not expect. The result plays off of Zemos own history as well as putting Bucky in the meat grinder over his time as the Winter Soldier.

Spoiler alert
for the following paragraph or so, so skip to the end of you don't want spoilers.

Turns out, Zemo's not upset over his fathers one accomplishment being deep sixed. No, he's a bit more pissed off about the fact that Bucky's gained something of a free ride towards redemption. While Bucky has gone through quite a few trials and tribulations, the world at large is unaware that he's still alive, not to mention his past as the Winter Soldier. So Zemo throws Buckys life in a blender, leaks EVERYTHING to the press, smacks Bucky around a bit and says "here, now earn your redemption".

Not only does it make for good drama - you just know there's going to be a reckoning now that the world at large knows his past - but it's the sort of action I can picture for Zemo. Unlike his old man, who was an unrepenant Nazi, Zemo's toed a fine line over his history, with his time in the Thunderbolts softening him into a more heroic figure, if not exactly a full white hat. He has had a lot to make up for and redemption doesn't come easy; hell, he never really was fully redeemed or trusted. Meanwhile, his fathers greatest nemesis has a past as an assassin for the Ruskies and manages to just sweep it under the rug. You can sort of see why he might be a bit pissed.

It's a bit stronger a volume than Two Americas was. We're coming full circle with Brubakers run up to this point; we started with the revelation of the Winter Soldier and now we're dealing with it once more, only this time Bucky will have to face the public as well. I'm looking forward to it.

The Score: 8 out of 10

We're closing in on the endgame of Buckys time as Captain America. Next volume will be the last. Another good volume in Brubakers extended run. Hopefully the conclusion of this stage of Bucky's life will be as strong.