07th Nov2011

Adventures West Coast: RED TPB

by Will

I shouldn’t have watched the movie first! I did that with V for Vendetta, and I did it again here. It’s not what you think, though – most people say “The book is MUCH better than the movie”. Of course, I’m not most people. In both cases that I mentioned, I enjoyed the movies immensely, while I found the direction of the books to somewhat lackluster. Again, I’m not sure if it would’ve made any difference in which order I read the book/watched the movie, but I still came away enjoying the movies more. If you’ve ever really wanted to examine the process of how source material gets “Hollywooded” on the way to the theater, you can’t find a better example of that than RED.

I’ll admit that I never had much desire to read RED before I heard there was a movie coming. There had been some buzz when the comic released, mainly due to its creators, Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. I’ve never been a huge fan of either, so the initial release just slipped under my radar. Once the trailers started to hit for the movie, however, I thought it might be worth checking out. I think I would describe the movie as “Grumpier Old Men Meets The A-Team“. It’s got a surprisingly impressive cast, including Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, and John Malkovich. It’s a wildly enjoyable film about retired spies who, when forced out of retirement, prove that they’ve still got it. Oh, and the title? It stands for “Retired Extremely Dangerous”, which is the official status of Bruce Willis’s character, Frank Moses. The movie’s got humor, it was action-packed, and it was a nice little guilty pleasure film. The book, not so much.

RED follows Frank Moses, a former CIA agent who’s trying to get used to living the retired life. Outside of phone calls with his handler, he really doesn’t seem to have much contact with the outside world. Once a new director is appointed to the agency, he discovers Frank’s file and is appalled by all that he learns. After all, the Old CIA got its hands a lot dirtier than it does today, and the director feared what might happen if details of those old missions got out via a FOIA request or something. So, for some reason, he feels the need to order Frank’s assassination. This part was odd to me, as it would probably be easier to just destroy the files. I mean, maybe the director didn’t like knowing such a skilled killer was out in the world, but surely Frank wasn’t the only one, right? Is he just going to start assassinating any former agent with a pension?! Anyway, agents stage an ambush on Frank’s house, but he ends up killing them and going on the run. Up to this point, the movie and book were aligned pretty well, but things were about to get a LOT different.

In the movie, Frank tracks down his handler, played by Mary-Louise Parker. He kinda, sorta abducts her, but she wanted to go, as she was somewhat enamored with his former lifestyle. On the run, they gradually meet up with his old friends and associates, and hilarity ensues. In the book, however, when he meets his handler, he almost kills her. It’s only a last second decision to leave her alive. He gains access to the agency, and the three-issue story ends as he begins a shootout within the CIA.

First off, the book is DARK. There’s no humor, and it’s got little meat to it. Basically, old agent gets mad and then kills those who made him mad. I’ve read Wolverine stories with more depth to them. If anything, the movie could only be said to be inspired by the book. While reading it, you can kind of see how the Hollywood process might take over and stretch things around, and that’s exactly what happened. Because it’s such a short story (three issues), there’s a lot of wiggle room that allows you to expand on parts. As it’s written, RED would’ve made a decent online short for the Warner Bros site or something, but there’s not much for a full film, which is probably by WB passed on the project.

Also, I feel the biggest letdown is the fact that the supporting characters simply don’t exist in the book. Sure, they change the tone of the story, but they also helped to make it much more enjoyable. You know how Ted’s the most boring character in How I Met Your Mother? Well, the same could be said for Frank Moses. The real story is how he’s sort of the eye of this crazy, espionage-filled hurricane – he’s interesting because of the people and circumstances surrounding him. Now, around the release of the movie, DC did release some prequel one-shots focusing on the newly added film characters, but I’m not sure if they were worked into the mythos in an organic way, or if it was merely a cash grab. The bottom line is that they were not part of the original story that served as the inspiration for the film.

So, my final thought? Skip this book. It’s not really worth the money, seeing as how it’s 3 issues and some supplemental stuff. In all honesty, the story felt rushed, like it was going to be cancelled due to low sales or something. It could have easily been 4-6 issues, but I guess Ellis and Hamner felt they had told the story they set out to tell in those three issues that we got. If you want a fully enjoyable experience, loosely based on the RED universe, then hit up Redbox or Netflix for the movie.

 

21st Oct2011

Adventures West Coast – The Flash: Rebirth

by Will

I’ve been putting this one off for some time, but there’s no better day than today to get this out. You see, earlier today, I was tweeting about how I didn’t understand the appeal of a certain guy who makes old school rap about Marvel characters. I was nowhere near as mean as you know I can get, but he still found out and decided to retweet it to his followers. Why he did this, I do not know. Maybe he wanted to rile up his army or something. In any case, I ended up getting 3 @replies from fanboys & girls who were defending his honor. Well, this led me to think back to another time I was talking trash about comic folks on Twitter.

A little over a year ago, I was talking to my good e-pals over at OAFE, and we were talking about Geoff Johns’s love of Silver Age concepts. The discussion turned to Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, who had been “dead” in real people time (RPT) since 1986. Well, Johns was bringing Allen back to assume the mantle of The Flash, despite the fact that nobody wanted this to happen. By this point in time, everyone had pretty much settled on Wally West (Barry’s former apprentice, and current Flash) as THE Flash. I mentioned how Johns wasn’t going to stop until the current DC Universe looked like it did during the Silver Age of the 60s.

Now, I’m usually good about covering my tracks. I knew not to include Johns’s actual twittername, as I didn’t necessarily want him in this discussion. OAFE, however, had other ideas, and Johns’s username was inserted in one of the replies in our discussion. I noticed this, but thought nothing of it and went to sleep. When I woke up, I had a DM from Geoff Johns, where he said that he really wanted me to give the book a chance. He included his email address, and asked me to send him my mailing address. Well, when the Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics beckons, you answer! I quickly drafted an email, thanking him for actually appealing to me, while sheepishly backpedaling on what he’d probably read from my discussion thread. About a month later, I received a box containing The Flash: Rebirth HC, as well as signed copies of The Flash #1 & 2. A better person would’ve jumped right into these books, and changed his tune about what he’d said. I, however, am not a better person. I sent Geoff an appreciative thank you email, and then I proceeded to put the books on a shelf for the next year. After finishing up Flashpoint, and realizing that Rebirth was actually kind of the start of it all, I thought it might finally be time to check it out. So, the other night, between Family Guy and China, IL, I finally got through it.

I should’ve had a disclaimer at the beginning, but the most interesting part of the whole saga was HOW I obtained the book. The story itself, not so much. You see, while The Flash: Rebirth is a decent enough story, it relies WAY too much on prior knowledge of The Flash. This series was not written to introduce Barry Allen to a new generation of comic fans; it was written to change the minds of the current generation of Flash fans. Did I confuse you there? It’s like this: if you never gave a shit about The Flash and his franchise, this book isn’t going to change that. At all. It relies on the reader to already know who Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen, Liberty Belle/Jesse Quick, Jay Garrick, and Max Mercury are. That’s a whole lotta speedsters! Plus, it makes reference to the fact that Max somehow disappeared, Liberty Belle at some point had some attachment to the speedsters, and Bart “came back” from somewhere, and I can’t remember if it’s from a trip to the future, or the time that he “died”. Then, there’s the whole matter of the Speed Force, which is where all of the speedsters draw their power. It was already as convoluted as Star Trek: The Next Generation technobabble, but then they had to throw in the idea of a Negative Speed Force. Plainly put, it is NOT a great introduction to the world of the Flash. It’s an “Everything but the kitchen sink” approach to the franchise, which isn’t great for the casual reader.

As the story starts, Barry Allen is trying to get used to how the world has changed since he’s been gone, while everyone around him is preparing to celebrate his return. Through the magic of decompression, this whole thing is told over the course of 6 issues. Basically, he runs really fast (’cause that what The Flash does), and he ends up finding a bunch of other speedsters within the Speed Force. Some good, some bad, but they all seem to die when he touches them. It turns out that it’s all the work of The Reverse Flash, or Professor Zoom, or whatever he’s called now. For the sake of clarity, we’ll call him Yellow Flash. You know he’s bad because his suit is ugly (even though the “hero” basically dresses like a hornless devil, but that’s a debate for another time). Then, through a whole bunch of flashbacks, we also deal with the fact that Barry was constantly driven by the desire to clear his father’s name for the murder of his mother. I don’t know if this is true or a retcon, as Barry died shortly after I became my parents’ happy little “surprise”. Haven’t read very many Barry stories, and that’s not a Flash Fact I’ve seen printed on Underoos and cereal boxes. In any case, he wants to solve his mom’s murder. In the present day, he gets possessed by the Negative Speed Force, making him EEEVVVIIILLL! It’s because he hates the modern world, and wants to go back to the comfort of The Speed Force. Remember in Shawshank Redemption how the dude couldn’t handle the outside world and hanged himself? Yeah, kinda like that. I’m gonna cut to the chase: Yellow Flash killed Barry’s mom. Like you didn’t see that coming. But here’s the real kicker: it turns out that Barry’s family had actually grown old and lived a long life together. Yellow Flash wanted to torment Barry, so he went back in time and killed the mom. So, the mom’s death was an in-story retcon. Mindfuckery! Yellow Flash can’t kill Barry because he needs him in order to eventually exist, but that don’t mean he can’t kill the people around Barry! In the end, Barry realizes that his wife, Iris, is his “anchor”, and he decides he wants to LIVE! The world celebrates his return, and Yellow Flash is abducted by some other Flash villain that I guess I’m supposed to know.

I’m not gonna be your typical internet fanboy and say “that fucking sucked!” Honestly, I can’t say that. All I can say is that it wasn’t written for me. I have a friend who worships at the altar of The Flash, and I’m pretty sure he might enjoy it when he gets around to reading it. I just don’t have enough history with the franchise for it to resonate with me. It’s like a giant speedster family reunion, but you really need to know about all of them to really grasp the weight of it all. I went into it thinking that the point of the miniseries was to make me care about Barry, but instead it seems to be intended to make the reader care about The Flash Legacy. This would all be well and good if they hadn’t done away with all of that in the New 52. As far as we can tell, Wally doesn’t exist, Jay doesn’t exist, Jesse & Max may not exist, and Bart is kind of a different person. We know Yellow Flash existed up to Flashpoint, as that was all his fault, but I don’t know about post-Flashpoint. So, in a lot of ways, it could also be seen as a farewell love letter to the speedsters. Whatever it was, I don’t think it was for the casual fan and, as a casual fan, it didn’t leave me with the feeling that Barry Allen was the rightful speedster to bear the mantle of The Flash. He spends most of Rebirth, telling those around him that he didn’t need to come back. You would think that would force the story to prove that he is, in fact, needed in this world, but i don’t think it accomplishes that task. Anyway, since he’s The Flash of the New 52, it’s not like we really have a choice. So, I guess I’ll have to learn to like him. In closing, it was totes awesome (I got that phrase from my pal over at The Robot’s Pajamas) for Geoff to reach out to me like he did, and I only wish the story could’ve resonated with me the way that I think he felt it would. Honestly, I think that’s what makes me feel the worst about this whole thing.

12th Oct2011

Adventures West Coast: Complete Strangers In Paradise (Pocket Edition)

by Will


Oh, Strangers In Paradise! This is one that I’ve been dreading for some time. I’d always wanted to read the series, as it was THE indie darling of the 90s. Most of all, it was always at the top of all those “Which Comics Would My Girlfriend Would Love?” lists. A few years back, the series was collected in a bunch of digesty “Pocket Edition” books, so I saw that as a great time for me to give them a shot.

(courtesy of Comics Bulletin)


Strangers In Paradise, by Terry Moore is really structured like a sitcom. It’s got a supporting cast of zany characters, there are 6 volumes (just like 6 seasons of a sitcom), and it’s got a will they/won’t they? love story. However, for all my TV knowledge, I can’t figure out which network would air this thing. The title isn’t a clever play on words, so it couldn’t air on USA. It’s about lesbians, but not the hot kind, so no Showtime. The plot kinda goes off the rails at points, in Nip/Tuck fashion, but it’s too gyno-centric for F/X. I guess we’ll just throw it on Lifetime between some Meredith Baxter Birney movies.

Here’s the deal: Francine Peters and Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski have been friends since childhood. Francine’s chubby and has low self-esteem, so she dates douchebags. Meanwhile, Katchoo had a rough childhood, so she’s grown into an empowered feminist who doesn’t live by society’s rules. Right there, you’ve got a Thelma & Louise situation, and Katchoo struggles to make Francine see how wonderful she is. Then, you begin to see that there’s more to Francine & Katchoo than just “sista girl empowerment”. A couple of times, they get close but Francine pushes away because she wasn’t raised to think that was OK. Enter David: a struggling artist who falls madly in love with Katchoo, but she’s having none of it, as she’s just not into nice guys. So, there’s our love triangle. David loves Katchoo, Katchoo loves Francine, and Francine loves Katchoo, but won’t give in to those feelings. Simple enough, right? Brace yourself for what’s next.

See, it turns out that there’s more to Katchoo than simply an abusive father. She moved away from Francine during high school, and the details of those years had been a mystery. It turns out that Katchoo was a high class escort, working for madame/businesswoman Darcy Parker. Katchoo was Darcy’s best girl, and they’d even become lovers for a time. Darcy only pimped her girls out to politicians, which earned her a bit of political clout. One night, Katchoo and another call girl decided they’d had enough, and they plotted a way out of Darcy’s empire. They stole some money, and a politician ended up dead. Fast forward to the present: Darcy has figured out that Katchoo stole her money, and sends a bunch of muscle after her to get it back. At this point, Katchoo’s trying to live a normal life as an artist, while trying to figure out if she loves Francine or David. Then, we find out that David is *spoiler alert* Darcy’s brother, who actually knew about Katchoo’s past. Oh, and the muscle sent after Katchoo? It turns out to be her own twin sisters, Tambi and Bambi – sired by the same abusive father. Yeah.

Then there’s some kind of weird flash forward thing, where Francine & Katchoo are now Camryn Manheim & Melissa Ethridge, raising their two adult daughters in a log cabin or something. One of the daughters is trying to be a writer, and she decides to write about the love story of her “2 moms”. So, then the story basically turns into the series finale of Roseanne (remember that? Dan DIED?! Becky actually married DAVID?! Of course Jackie was gay!). So from this point on, it’s not clear if the events are actually happening, or is they’re just the result of creative license being taken in order to make the book-within-a-book more interesting.

I could get into all the side characters, like Casey and Freddie, but they’re just the comic relief, and I’d hate to spoil the INSANITY they bring to the table. Basically, when the story starts to get too heavy, Casey gets a boob job or Freddie gets emasculated by a woman. Haha!

The beauty of all the characters is that they’re flawed. Even a guy like Freddie has a sympathetic side, and you start to understand why he is like he is. I will say, however, that the series is uneven. It goes from Three’s Company to Twin Peaks at the drop of a hat. Not to mention that it’s too damn long. Indie books don’t have to keep the same schedule as Marvel and DC, as there’s more involved with the production of a self-published book. That said, it felt like Terry Moore just got to the point where he was just writing the book to write it; it stopped feeling like it was headed anywhere. There’s even the false ending in volume 5, where you learn that Francine & Katchoo are happily together, with kids. So, why the reset button? It’s not like they had a time machine or anything, so why get temporal with things? The last 2 volumes don’t really make the reset seem worthwhile. We end up with more out of place characters, like Francine’s husband Brad, and his rock star brother, Griffin. If SiP is a sitcom, volume 5 is the season where the main couple have a baby and/or Cousin Oliver/Pam/Seven comes to live with the family. It just wasn’t necessary. Oh, and David gets a brain tumor.

Due to the way that the story ebbs and flows, it almost feels like the periodical isn’t the right format for the book. Its pacing lends itself better to the world of the newspaper strip, akin to Funky Winkerbean or something. I guess it was groundbreaking to tackle a soap opera like this in the comic format. Sure, there had been romance comics in the early days of the industry, but those stories were typically done-in-one tales. This was a multi-year, multilayered story that’s really impressive in scope when you look back at it. I do, however, feel bad for anyone who read this in sequential form, as the story tends to gain and lose momentum almost without warning. In all, it was an impressive experiment to build an indie series around such an intense, soap operatic format, but I don’t know if it resulted in an even, well-rounded story.

24th Mar2011

Adventures West Coast: How I Made It To Eighteen GN

by Will

Oh…where to start with this book? Normally, I use this column as an excuse to get snarky, but this is the rare occasion where I can actually “talk shop”. You see, How I Made It To Eighteen is reminiscent of the kind of submissions that started coming in near the tail end of my time at Diamond. For those of you just tuning in, I used to be a brand manager for Diamond Comic Distributors – the largest comic book distributor in North America. Basically, my department decided which books ended up in comic shops. Well, let me rephrase that: my department decided which non-DC, Marvel, Image or Dark Horse comics ended up in shops; based on their contracts, those publishers can put out whatever the Hell they want. So, basically, I was assigned to what’s known as “the small press”. I worked with sizable publishers, like Fantagraphics, IDW Publishing and Oni Press, but I also worked with a lot of one-man shops. It wasn’t a very “happy” job, as I was constantly crushing someone’s dream. These people had wanted to create comics all their lives, and here I was telling them that they weren’t good enough for widespread exposure. Who was I to judge them, ya know? It’s just that over time, you start to see a pattern in what sells. A lot of the time, these comic hopefuls had great ideas, but just didn’t have a good marketing plan worked out. They felt that just getting into the Previews catalog would be enough publicity, as it would get them in front of the eyes of the country’s comic retailers. Sadly, a Previews blurb is NEVER enough. If they had just taken more time plotting their attack, they might’ve had a better shot on the stands. In other cases, the book just wasn’t what we felt would move in the “direct market” comprised of comic shops. How I Made It To Eighteen would fall into the latter category.

How I Made It To Eighteen, by Tracy White, is a semi-autobiographical tale about “one girl’s struggle with depression and addiction.” I got that from the cover blurb. Before we tackle that, let’s back up for a minute. Prior to reading this book, I had no frame of reference for the writer. According to Ms. White’s included biography, she’s been making webcomics since 1996. While that’s an impressive length of time (this book was published in 2010), it could be argued that the audience for webcomics and that of published comics are two different animals. Not everyone can crank out a PvP or a Penny Arcade, so you often find that people follow webcomics because they’re free, but wouldn’t spend their hard-earned cash on a print collection of them.

One thing the book had going for it was the fact that it came from a book publisher and not a comic publisher. Roaring Book Press doesn’t really have much of a track record in the comic industry, but as an imprint of Macmillan, it has some clout in the “real book” world. Had this been submitted by a first-time creator, who was storing inventory in her garage, it probably never would’ve made it into stores. Diamond’s primary focus is on the +3500 comic specialty shops in the US, and this wouldn’t have appealed to many of those accounts. A book like How I Made It To Eighteen isn’t going to make waves in most comic shops, but it’ll do alright in a Borders, which is what I think to myself every time I see a copy of it on the shelf as I’m looking for the latest volume of Jack of Fables.

Ignoring the subject matter of the book, the art is the main reason that How I Made It To Eighteen wouldn’t appeal to your “typical comic shop”. This is a little known secret, but we rarely read the books that were submitted. There were just too many of them. If the art was good, the book could sell. If it was bad, the book couldn’t. However, in the rare case that the art was mediocre, that’s when we’d read it so that we could see if the writing tipped the scales in the book’s favor. Otherwise, you’re left to sink or swim based on your art. After all, comics are a visual medium – if it doesn’t look good, maybe it should be prose. To look at the art in this book, it’s clear that it came from a webcomic background. It’s rough and rushed – fine if you’re trying to keep some sort of consistent online schedule, but nowhere near polished enough if you want people to pay. Then again, what is “art”? It’s all subjective, so maybe it’s not my cup of tea, but it may appeal to someone else. With that in mind, let’s talk about the story itself.

How I Made It To Eighteen is somewhat based on the author’s life, though events and names have been changed to protect other people. The main character, Stacy Black, is a recent high school graduate who has found herself at a crossroads. She doesn’t want to go to college, but she doesn’t exactly have a plan for her life. She’s obsessed with her emotionally unavailable, yet controlling, boyfriend, and she has a strained relationship with her mother. Through a series of events, she finds herself checked into Golden Meadows Hospital, and the book follows her struggles with depression, addiction, and eating disorders. Now, let me say that I get the draw of this premise: on paper, this should be a great book to share with young women who might be going through similar circumstances. By no means do I wish to belittle Ms. White’s experiences, and many young women might be able to relate to her struggle. It’s for these same reasons, however, that I feel the book is a letdown. Considering the heft of the subject matter, it might be unrealistic to expect everything to be neatly wrapped up in a little bow by the end. That said, I did expect to get more out of the book than I got. The book doesn’t indicate that it’s a part of a series, but it feels incomplete – almost as if the entire story isn’t presented here. If this had been a documentary, we would’ve just been forced to digest the information that was captured, and we’d have the understanding that the footage was edited the best it could be, given what was available. Here, however, the author is in control of the narrative, but it doesn’t feel as if she realized it. The book travels at a somewhat slow pace, but it feels like the ending was thrown together in order to satisfy a deadline. Has the character of Stacy made any progress by this point? Yes, but the reader isn’t given enough information from which to draw any conclusions. I guess the editor felt the same way, as the book ends with a tacked on epilogue page, which has as much substance as those movie end credits that flash a character and say “Bobby went off to ‘Nam. He never came home.”

This is the kind of book that comic snobs LOVE, as it shows you can do more with the comic medium than just feature capes and boobs. Well, you can use comics to tell autobiographical tales, but the successful ones are a lot better than this. The book has promise, but it doesn’t stick the landing. I can forgive the art, as its minimal, rough look doesn’t mar the narrative in any way. What I can’t forgive is the fact that it just doesn’t seem like it was mapped out before it was put on the page. As I said before, a lot of small press books fail because the creators don’t seem to be thinking long-term. Ms White might be skilled in the webcomic format, but I’m not sold on her printed work.

12th Jan2011

Adventures West Coast – Haunt Vol. 1

by Will

I really shouldn’t like this series. All signs point to why this should be a bad idea. The designs are by Todd McFarlane, it really just plays like Albino Spawn, and it looks ’90s as Hell. That said, I found myself really enjoying this book. In fact, I was even buying it in single-issue form; I only got the trade because someone gave it to me. Let’s take a closer look at what this series is all about.

Haunt‘s origins stem from a publicity stunt from 2006’s San Diego Comic Con. Robert Kirkman had been evangelizing to creators about the benefits of only working on creator-owned projects. During a panel, Kirkman called out Todd McFarlane, and challenged him to return to comics. Todd had spent the last few years fending off lawsuits, making toys, and playing with his expensive balls. Nobody expected Kirkman to be the one to bring Todd back to the comic world, but Todd later accepted the challenge. Kirkman eventually became an Image partner, but nothing was mentioned about their collaboration for quite some time. Then, Haunt was announced.

Haunt is the story of Father Daniel Kilgore, a Catholic priest who seems to have lost all faith in the church. He’s got a regular weekly date with a hooker. His estranged brother, Kurt, actually stole his girlfriend and married her – the event which initially drove Daniel to the priesthood. That same brother still comes around for weekly confession. You see, he’s a black ops agent who feels the need to atone for the actions he’s forced to take in the field. As the story opens, Kurt is telling Daniel about a recent mission, where a doctor had been conducting genetic experiments on human subjects. While Kurt’s mission was to rescue the doctor, he was so appalled by what he found that he killed the doctor and rescued the test subjects instead. Apparently, the doctor kept a notebook of his experiment, but Kurt didn’t know about it. Unfortunately for Kurt, he’s immediately kidnapped and tortured to reveal the whereabouts of the notes. When it becomes clear that Kurt either doesn’t know anything or won’t cooperate, he’s killed. That’s when shit gets real!

Not only does Daniel start seeing Ghost Kurt, but when they “touch”, Daniel is overcome by a type of symbiote which forms a suit around him. This, in effect, makes him White Power Spawn. With Kurt’s murderers targeting his friends and family, the suit becomes quite the defensive weapon, cutting them down in gruesome fashion. Eventually, Daniel is taken in by Kurt’s former organization, and becomes Agent Haunt. If you’ve ever seen an episode of 24, then you know that every covert organization has a mole, so that gets dealt with. Also, Haunt kills more thugs with his symbiotic tendrils. I won’t spoil all the twists and turns, but the end of the arc finds Daniel quitting the church, and actually looking forward to a life using his new-found powers.

As I said in the beginning, I shouldn’t like this book. Sure, I like Kirkman’s work, but I don’t like all of his stuff. This book, from the look to the subject matter, could’ve come out in 1994. To be perfectly honest, that’s probably why I bought into it to begin with. As we’ve covered in the past, my mom was a bit of an evangelical, and most of my X-Men comics were seen as “demonic”, so there was no way in Hell that I was gonna be able to bring Spawn into the house! So, considering that this, at least from a visual perspective, just seemed like a retread of that idea, I guess I saw it as my second chance.

While Haunt Vol. 1 only collects the first 6 issues, I can tell you that I’ve already read the next story arc in the series. While I enjoy the character of Daniel, I don’t feel like there’s a ton to do with him. I think the problem with a lot of comics is that they don’t know when to quit. Vertigo has a good model where they know that most series are going to top out around 60 issues. This concept could’ve been wrapped in 12. Issue #12 does provide a nice bit of closure to things, though there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. I feel that the book and characters have pretty much already achieved what they set out to do. Sure, there are always “bold new directions”, but that’s not the best move for every title. I think Haunt is a nice little trip down Image Memory Lane, but it’s only a nice place to *visit*. It’s so derivative of other things that it’s only a matter of time before storylines and characters start to look familiar. Considering that the series was the product of a challenge, I guess it’s only fitting that I challenge them to prove me wrong.

10th Jan2011

Adventures West Coast – The Archie Wedding: Archie In “Will You Marry Me?”

by Will

The beauty of writing these things when I do is that I get to miss the hype that accompanies the initial release. At that point, everybody’s writing about it and you run the risk of having your own opinion tainted by what you end up reading in those reviews. I read a lot of articles dedicated to this particular storyline, but luckily I no longer remember most of them. What I do remember is that most people hated the story, which sounds about right seeing as how most comic fans hate everything.

The Archie Wedding: Archie In “Will You Marry Me?” collects the eight-part headline making storyline where the ambivalent teenager finally puts an end to the 70 year old question: “Betty or Veronica?” The catch, however, is that he chooses both. Using a plot device that finds Archie walking up Memory Lane instead of down, he ends up getting a glimpse of his own future. Framed around Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, Archie first chooses the path on the left, which shows him what his life would be like if he were to marry Veronica.

The Veronica Marriage turns out to be nowhere near as bad as I would’ve thought going into it. Considering Veronica has behaved like a spoiled bitch most of her existence, I expected her to make Archie’s life a living Hell. Instead, however, it seems that the marriage and partnership between Archie and Ronnie turns her into a kinder person, and they become a stronger unit for it. Mr Lodge sees potential in Archie, giving him a prestigious corporate job. Archie and Ronnie have twins. Archie, who next to Dick Clark is America’s oldest teenager, *gasps* becomes a responsible husband and father.

The thing I found funny about the whole affair is that up to the very point of proposal, the entire town had no clue which way he would go. Even Archie’s own parents only figured it out because the bank called to verify the amount of the check he had cashed to buy the ring, which indicated to them that he had chosen Veronica. There’s no indication that their relationship had really grown in the “missing years”, and it had the same impact as if he had simply proposed in high school.

After putting his twins to bed, Archie takes another stroll up Memory Lane, and ends up taking the other path. At this point, he finds himself back at the day of his college graduation, and he realizes that his future with Ronnie hadn’t (hasn’t?) happened. Here’s where things seemed a bit fucked up to me. You see, at the graduation afterparty, all signs point to Archie choosing Veronica. He even pulls her aside to talk with her, but she blows him off because all she can talk about is the European trip she’s about to embark upon. It’s at this moment that he realizes he’ll never fit into her jet set world. So, he slinks away from her only to cross the room and promptly propose to Betty. See, in the Veronica story, he was genuinely in love with Ronnie, but in the Betty story, he’s still in love with Ronnie, but *settles* for Betty. What a great foundation on which to build a marriage!

Archie’s parents seem bewildered by his choice. They were excited when it was Veronica, but freak out when it’s Betty. I think Mr & Mrs Andrews might’ve been a bunch of golddiggers. Also, Archie and Betty have no money, so their wedding is a small affair at Pop’s, while he and Ronnie had a media circus of a wedding. Once the festivities are over, Archie finds himself jobless, while Betty has a jr executive position waiting in New York. They move to the Big Apple, where Archie becomes a struggling musician, while Betty succeeds in the corporate world. He’s pretty miserable, which is only made worse one night when he’s berated by one of Betty’s superiors. Standing by her man, she tells off her boss, quits her job, and they move back to Riverdale. Gradually, things get a little better, as Betty begins teaching at Riverdale High, where Archie becomes the new music teacher. They both flourish in their new roles, and go on to have twins.

There are a lot of problems with this storyline, but the main one is that it’s simply not fun. Now, I realize that times have changed. While the comics do quite well in Europe, American children no longer grow up regularly reading Archie. That said, the books are still being published for that audience, yet this particular series clearly wasn’t written with children in mind. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to know who is the target audience for the book. The general tone of it is “adulthood sucks”. There’s no real silver lining, nor is there an awesome ending. Give this thing to an emo teen, and he would promptly commit suicide, as its view on life is pretty bleak. If the book was geared towards adult Archie fans, then it’s still a slap in the face, as it serves as a mirror of their own mundane lives. It’s Archie’s lowest creative point since the time when he was featured in those Spire Christian Comics.

I now realize the story isn’t over, as this miniseries just served as a set-up to continued over time. There’s a new Life With Archie: The Married Life magazine which follows the adventures of Married Archie, both with Veronica and Betty. I just don’t know who would want to read more. It’s depressing, almost like certain Family Circle or Funky Winkerbean strips. For example, it’s just been revealed that Ms Grundy will succumb to cancer in an upcoming issue. Why?!! That’s like giving Mr. Belding Alzheimer’s?! Who the fuck wants to see that? This story is tailor made for the same people who always watched those Brady Bunch reunion movies. You know, where Bobby has a race car accident and Jan’s getting separated from her husband? It’s continuity porn for the mundane, and it never needed to exist.

I LOVE a good future tale, especially if there’s a chance that it might be the “definitive” future, but you use that format as an opportunity to take some chances! Say that Archie and Veronica tour the world as a Sonny & Cher-esque spin-off of The Archies. Say that Archie and Betty are saving pandas or some shit. Do NOT give Archie a 9 to 5 and a minivan!

I’m sure somebody out there was glad to see this, but I’m certainly not one of them. Then again, I want to think there’s more a more colorful future for Archie than the boring-ass shit depicted in this story. I did, however, like that Archie seemed to choose Veronica in both cases. Sure, it’s not balanced, but everyone loves a good bitch. Plus, you just know that Betty gets fat.

22nd Apr2010

Adventures West Coast #11: Marvel Zombies HC

by Will

Adventures West Coast #11: Marvel Zombies HC

Oh, Marvel Zombies! The series with the punny title that just wouldn’t die. I’m not sure if it’s still common today, but there was a time when fanboys only supported one of the Big 2. You were either a DC guy or a “Marvel Zombie”. “Marvel Zombie” had a bit of a negative connotation, as it implied that you would mindlessly consume anything that Marvel put out, regardless of quality. Well, just like when minorities want to “reclaim” slurs, Marvel decided to have a little fun with the name themselves.

Created by Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips, Marvel Zombies is the story of an alternate Marvel Universe where a plagued has broken out, turning everyone into zombies. The story actually began as a Mark Millar-written arc in the low-selling Ultimate Fantastic Four. I’m not sure if it was designed to bring readers to the book, or if it was felt that they could get away with something so weird since nobody was reading the book anyway. In any case, that story arc shows Ultimate Reed Richards discovering a gateway to all universes, and he receives a distress call from Reed Richards of yet a different alternate universe. It’s all a trick, however, as distressed Reed was just trying to summon more food for him and his fellow zombies. As odd as it sounds, that was one of the more successful storylines in the Ultimate Universe – so successful, in fact, that Marvel decided to spin the zombie universe off into its own miniseries.

As the story opens, the events pick up where the Ultimate Fantastic Four story ended. Magneto had sacrificed himself in order to destroy the portal that the zombies might’ve used to travel to other universes. Unfortunately, he finds himself at the feet of the zombie Avengers. Magneto puts up a good fight, but he’s simply the victim of teamwork and zombie-level hunger. The zombies tear him apart in gruesome, panel-by-panel manner. Since there wasn’t exactly enough to go around, the zombies are still hungry and start bitching at each other. That’s pretty much how the rest of the story goes: the zombie Avengers are hungry and comically bitch at each other while in the pursuit of food.

Every now and then, the heroes’ humanity will shine through, as they express disgust at what they’ve become. Otherwise, it’s a different take on what qualities the Marvel characters would retain if they somehow suddenly became monsters. Cap’s still a leader, Spider-Man’s still a smart-ass, oh, and Hank Pym is still a wifebeater. In fact, he does one better by biting off her fucking head and then spits it out. I swear, that guy needs a new agent. The “Hank Pym as misogynist” thing happened ONCE, but he’s never been able to shake it. If he were a real celebrity, he’d go to Wife Beating Rehab and we’d be expected to forget all about it. Not in the Marvel Universe, I guess. In any case, the zombies notice the Silver Surfer high in the sky, and he becomes the new target of their hunger.

Meanwhile, there are some human survivors. Magneto had been a survivor of this world, and we find out that Hank Pym has Black Panther stashed away. Since food is scarce, is been snacking on BP gradually, unbeknownst to the rest of the Marvel Zombies. Unfortunately for Black Panther, he’s still alive while all of this happens, under the influence of a mild sedative.

Silver Surfer finally deigns to speak to the zombies, telling them to prepare, as the coming of Galactus is near. In case this is your first time here, or you’re not a comic person, Galactus is a big ass alien who eats planets. Silver Surfer is the guy he sends to the planets beforehand, just to relay the message that their asses are about to be eaten. The zombies don’t really care what he has to say, as they only see him as food. So, just as with Magneto, they assemble and try to take him down. Finally, zombie Hulk bites off the Surfer’s head, while the other zombies feast on the body.

While that fight was going on, Black Panther managed to escape capture, along with the Wasp’s head. He feels that there’s some piece of his friend left, even if she’s just a zombie virus-riddled head. They encounter Magneto’s old disciples, the Acolytes, who are searching for their master. Black Panther tells them that he’s been killed and, following a fight, convinces them to take him and Wasp’s head with them to Asteroid M, Magneto’s space base outside the range of the virus.

Galactus finally arrives, and the zombies just see him as a big-ass meal. The zombies still seem to have some intelligence when focused on a goal, so Tony Stark develops a weapon that can actually hurt Galactus. At this point, it’s revealed that the zombie villains have stuck together just as the heroes had. It then becomes as battle as to who should get to dine on Galactus, and the scene turns into a classic throwdown between zombified “heroes” and “villains”. The heroes have the upperhand, however, as all of the ones who had eaten a piece of Silver Surfer acquired a portion of the Power Cosmic. This is what they use for their final assault on Galactus, which ends in the same gory panel-by-panel evisceration as the Magneto scene at the beginning of the story. As the story ends, the Acolytes and Black Panther return to Earth 5 years later, finding the planet deserted. They don’t know where the zombies have gone, but all planetary scans indicate that no one is left. That’s when we see the zombies, floating through space with the powers they’d acquired from Galactus.

I was surprised at how quick of a read this book was. I mean, when you get down to it, it’s really just Fight-Eat-Bicker-Repeat. It also helps that most of the groundwork had been laid in the Ultimate Fantastic Four arc, so there wasn’t much of a need for set-up. Even if you hadn’t read that story, all you needed to know was that this world was filled with hungry zombies. That’s it. At last count, they were currently up to Marvel Zombies 5, so this has been quite a moneymaker for them, even if many folks tired of the concept some time ago. After all, this led a bit of a zombie renaissance, where EVERY company jumped on board with projects, none of which were as well-executed as this one.

My own personal bone to pick is the exposure that this gave Arthur Suydam. One of the selling points of the series was that each issue issue featured a cover by painter Arthur Suydam, where he reimagined a classic Marvel cover in a zombie motif. Remember the cover for Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle? Well, now see it ZOMBIEFIED! It was a concept that got old FAST, considering the multiple printings on the issues and collected editions. He even started making zombie variants for books that weren’t even tangentially related to the zombie phenomenon. There was a period between 2006 and 2008 where Suydam was unnecessarily EVERYWHERE, and I got to a point where I wanted to punch him in the face should he ever cross my path.

Anyway, it’s a fun book. That’s really all I can say. It’s a good way to kill 45 minutes, and it’s nice to see Marvel poking fun at itself, which isn’t something that its Distinguished Competition would feel comfortable doing. Marvel looked to all of those people who laughed AT all the little Marvel Zombies, and gave them something to laugh ABOUT. Ain’t nothing wrong with that!

15th Apr2010

Adventures West Coast #10: World Without A Superman TPB

by Will

Adventures West Coast #10: World Without A Superman TPB

World Without A Superman is one of those books that had a time and a place. For me to review it now is almost unfair, as its resonance and importance is dependent upon the death of Superman, an event that took place about 15 years ago. While this could be considered the beginning of the death/resurrection gimmick (sure, it had been done before, but it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today), we currently live in a comics world where “dead” simply means “We don’t really have any stories to tell for that character right now”, or better yet “We’re finalizing our editorial and marketing plans for 3rd quarter 2011”. Seeing how the death of Superman was such a major production, this trade focuses on the downtime between the death and the road to resurrection. Before I can really get into the story, let me take a moment to explain how things got to this point.

Death of Superman is one of those stories that meant a lot more to me as a young fanboy than it does now, as a former member of the industry who knows a bunch of the backroom dealings. Of course, it would be easy to look back and say that they killed Superman because they knew it would make a shitload of money, but that wasn’t exactly the case. I’ve often said that licensing is the worst thing to happen to comics. In the old days, licensing only extended as far as putting Superman on a backpack, or Batman on a t-shirt. In a more modern sense, however, licensing has come to mean those same lunchboxes, slot machines, and, most importantly, movies and television. The latter is where problems can occur. You can’t keep Steve Rogers dead because there’s a Captain America movie coming, and the man on the street is more familiar with Steve Rogers than this Bucky Barnes fella. Sometimes there are misses: the X-Men comics were more of a mess than usual when the first movie came out, and Marvel missed out on a lot of potential new readers, due to lack of accessibility. Well, the death of Superman was another case of licensing governing storylines.

DC had planned to have the wedding between Clark Kent and Lois Lane, only to find out that the TV show, Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman, was building up to the same thing. Due to licensing, the comic couldn’t get to that point BEFORE the show (even though they were only related “in spirit”). This created a problem for DC, as they had to come up with some way to stall, seeing as how the TV wedding was about a season off. Killing Superman was just an idea that had been thrown around during a brainstorming session, but nobody really expected it to stick. As they tossed it around, they began to develop it, but they never expected it to be such a blockbuster, as there really hadn’t been a precendent for that sort of thing. So, the word got out and media outlets just ran with it. You were always seeing interviews with some old codger born in the 40s who couldn’t believe they were killing his childhood hero. He’s not real, Cletus! Anyway, it was decided that Superman would fall by the hand of a mysterious threat named Doomsday. The Superman books were weekly at that time, so Doomsday got closer to Metropolis with each passing week. The final battle occurred in Superman #75, where Superman died in Lois’s arms. To really capitalize on things, there’s even a collectors edition of the book, bagged with an obituary, black armband, etc. Considering this was just a gap-filler, DC went ALL OUT once they realized what they had on their hands. Once Superman was dead, what next? That brings us to World Without A Superman.

At its core, World Without A Superman is really an exploration of what Superman had meant to the world around him. The actual banner on the books was “Funeral For A Friend”, as the world tries to get back to normal after losing its greatest champion. Nothing really happens, as it’s just a bridge between the death and return, but there are some great character moments, as well as emotional beats. For example, Action Comics #685 contains a moving scene where Superman fan, Bibbo, prays to God, asking why Superman had to die instead of someone who wouldn’t have matter as much, like Bibbo himself. It also dealt with a lot of questions that would naturally arise from such an event: Who would get custody of Superman’s body? Who would fill in for Superman as the hero of Metropolis? Should Lois and the Kents go public with the identity of Superman? We also see the public funeral, complete with a cameo by Bill and Hilary Clinton – one of the rare times that DC has acknowledged that the DCU has the same sitting President as the real world.

The second half of the book is where the action occurs, as Superman’s body goes missing from his tomb. Who has it, though? Is it archenemy Lex Luthor? Is it super secret science agency Project Cadmus? Supergirl eventually reclaims the body, which had been taken by Cadmus for cloning experiments. Before the story ends, Jonathan Kent suffers a heart attack, where he is seemingly reunited with Superman in the afterlife. It’s here that Jonathan’s war memories seem to shape the landscape of the afterlife, as he’s forced to fight for the spirit of his son. Superman tells Jonathan that he has to go back, it’s not his time, yadda yadda, but Jonathan’s not leaving without his son. As the story ends Jonathan comes out of his coma, just as reports of Superman sightings begin to surface. Lois visits the tomb, only to find it empty again. Where’s Superman? Is he really back? Well, that story takes place in Reign of the Supermen, and I don’t have that book 😉

Growing up, I was on the edge of my seat for the death, as well as the return, but I had missed out on most of these issues. One only has so much disposable income at the age of 12, so I had to make some sacrifices! Looking back, however, I can see how this really served to compliment the saga as a whole. Unlike comics today, it didn’t jump right into another big event, which could lead to “event fatigue”. Sure, you were probably interested to see where things would go, but you didn’t HAVE to read these stories. As far as anyone knew, Superman was really gone, so a lot of people took this as a jumping off points for the books. After all, why read a book called Adventures of Superman when that character isn’t even present? For those who stuck around, this was a great ramping up point for Reign of the Supermen, which was not only nonstop action, but also led up to the actual return of Superman, albeit with a mullet. Don’t worry, though – he loses the mullet when he becomes an energy being, and splits into two people. Huh. Guess it was all downhill for a while after that death…

13th Apr2010

Adventures West Coast #9: Witchblade Vol 1

by Will

Adventures West Coast #9: Witchblade Vol 1

Can I be fair to this book? That’s the ultimate question here. You see, as my girlfriend, family, and enemies will tell you, I don’t forget anything. As I result, I have a hard time grasping the notion of “forgive and forget”, as I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. This also carries over to the realm of entertainment. For some reason, I can never forget an actor’s first role, and if it’s a bad performance, I can’t forgive it, either. For example, I don’t care how sexy and successful he may be, George Clooney will always be the guy from The Facts of Life. Some days, I might let that slide, but he’s still Booker from Roseanne. In any case, it took him a bit to get his career on track. That’s a lot like Witchblade. It seems like it’s on the right track, but I can’t forget what came before. This is ultimately going to be more a review of packaging and presentation than the actual plot itself.

The cover might say “Volume 1”, but that’s a lie. You see, Witchblade existed for about 80 issues prior to those collected in this volume, and that’s not counting all the one shots and miniseries. At launch, it was really just a mystical T&A book, which describes most of the early Top Cow output. I mean, this is a company that had a headlining character named Sexbot. That’s just who they were, and I can’t really shake it. It tends to cause problems, as I consider the current publisher of Top Cow to be friend. That said, I don’t think he likes me very much in an online capacity, as every bit of PR he puts out about a Top Cow product triggers some snark on my part. It got to the point where I simply unfollowed him on Twitter because I felt that it was probably for the best. I commend them on the desire to take the book in a less cheesecake direction, but it’s such a guerilla tactic to just act like those prior years never happened. I almost wish they had just cancelled the original series and relaunched with this. Sure, this is all just numbers and things printed on covers, but it would’ve seemed more…pure to me. You just can’t collect a storyline that takes place at #80 of a 13 year old series and just decide, “OK, this is gonna be Volume 1 from here on out”!

I had actually read some earlier Witchblade issues, published during the brief period in the mid ’90s when Top Cow broke away from Image in order to be their own company. That didn’t last long, and I was done with the book by the time they returned to the Image fold. Back then, at its best, it was a tits & ass book set against a supernatural backdrop. It never quite knew if it wanted to be NYPD Blue or Poltergeist: The Legacy. It followed Sara Pezzeni, a New York City detective, who finds herself in the possession of a mysterious weapon known as the Witchblade. She doesn’t know why she has it, let alone what it means. She’s a cop, but when she “witches out”, she looks like this:

Yup, just a regular old cop who kills demons in a thong made of supernatural thorns. Apparently, the Witchblade also provides good cup support! Well, that art made a household name of the late Michael Turner, who went on to create his own company, Aspen Entertainment. In any case, that’s the gist of the character for the first 80 issues or so. That’s YEARS worth of comics. Then, a funny thing happened: as is common with comic properties, Witchblade was turned into a TV series for TNT. Yancy Butler (Drop Zone, Brooklyn South) starred as Sara, in a weekly series where Sara tries to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Witchblade. Despite the fact that Yancy didn’t run around half-naked, the show was actually a success. The only reason production stopped was because Yancy went to rehab for substance abuse. Anyway, during the run of the show, Sara/Witchblade looked like this:

Pretty conservative, huh? Well, in a lot of ways, the TV show was ahead of its time, as it was the first appearance of what Sara would come to look like after the bold new direction of issue #80:

As this story opens, Sara wakes up in a hospital bed, with little to no memory as to how she got there. At her side is her partner (work, not banging), Jake McCarthy. Anyone familiar with prior issues know him as the other half of the “will they, won’t they” dynamic of the book. In walks Special Investigator Patrick Gleason, who’s been sent to getthe details on what happened to Detective Pezzini. Immediately, this sets off a dick measuring contest between the 2 guys, seemingly setting up a potential love triangle.

Patrick Gleason’s a really good character. Not only is he fairly likeable, but he also serves as “the eyes” for new readers. Once Sara comes out of the coma and jumps into her investigation, Gleason’s right there at her side, trying to get answers. Whenever something supernatural happens, it’s old hat for Sara, but it’s all completely new to Gleason. It’s a pretty nice dynamic, which also helps for a bond between the two characters.

So, the plot. Well, the only real witness to the events surrounding Sara’s coma was her childhood priest. Upon further investigation, she finds out that he’s part of an ancient sect of the Catholic church that dabbled in the dark arts. An event is coming that would allow some pretty major demons to pierce the veil and destroy our world. The sect wants this event to come to pass, but they want Sara dead, as the Witchblade has the power to stop them. She was to die the night she ended up in the coma, and the prist was ordered to finish the job. Instead, he’s killed by the Witchblade, but partner Jake gets injured in the process. Sara and Patrick team up for the final act, as he creates a diversion, while she uses the Witchblade to give those priests the old what for! In the end, Patrick and Sara find their relationship changed by the experience, while Jake clings to life in a hospital bed.

My biggest gripe of the collection comes down to packaging. You see, it was offered at the low, introductory price of $4.99. I’ve been working around comics long enough to know that some corners may have been cut in order to pass savings along to the consumer. In my case, the binding was shit. The pages just started falling out near the end of the book. I’m not sure if this was a common problem with the print run, but it certainly marred my experience.

Prior to reading this collection, I’d been sampling Witchblade via more recent issues, especially those leading into the Broken Trinity event. It’s at that point that Sara and Patrick are first entering into a real relationship, so it’s nice to see how they first met. I like what Ron Marz has done with the series, and it seems like the book had just been waiting for him to come along. He seems to have a plan, and it’s not the same old stories of “Sara goes undercover as an escort and poses a lot” that we seemed to have in the ’90s. Stjepen Sejic’s art is pretty nice, and quite reminiscent of Clayton Crain (X-Force) before his work got all muddy (Necrosha). I can be a cruel man, but I also believe in giving credit where it’s due. Witchblade may have a bit of a checkered history, but I think this collection signals the beginning of a promising future.

11th Apr2010

Adventures West Coast #8 : Superman/Gen13

by Will

Adventures West Coast #8 : Superman/Gen13

Superman/Gen13 was a 3-issue miniseries by Adam Hughes and Lee Bermejo that I’d always known about, but never got around to actually reading. It was released near the end of Gen13‘s first heyday, at a point when I felt Wildstorm had told all of the stories about them that could be told.

For those unfamiliar with Gen13, it was originally launched as a part of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Universe that he founded under Image. All of the titles were interconnected, as most of the heroes in WildC.A.T.S. Stormwatch, and the other teams all had ties to a Cold War era group called Team 7. Well, Gen13 were the teenage kids of the old Team 7 members. Based on experiments that Team 7 had undergone, their kids ended up with powers, and the shadowy organization behind all of it, International Operations (I/O), were desperate to get their hands on the teens.

The main Gen13 series followed Fairchild, Freefall, Burnout, Grunge, and Rainmaker as they were on the run from I/O. To say that Gen13 was quite entrenched in the culture of the 90s would be an understatement. For God’s sake, they had characters named “Grunge” and “Burnout”! Once the decade ended, it seemed that the team’s relevance went along with it. At its height, the team boasted 2 ongoings and several one-shots and minis. At the end of the ’90s, Lee sold Wildstorm to DC Comics, where the team was “retired” around 2002.

In any case, as Superman/Gen13 begins, the Gen13 team is about to set out on a “field trip”. In the original series, they have a chaperone in the form of John Lynch, a former agent of I/O who learns the error of his ways and helps the kids escape from the I/O compound. They all set up shop in La Jolla, CA (conveniently, the actual homebase for Wildstorm Studios), but he allows them to go on occasional trips to “see America”. This time, team leader Fairchild has decided that they’re going to Metropolis, much to the chagrin of the rest of the team. They gripe the entire trip, not realizing that Fairchild chose Metropolis mainly because she’s got a crush on Superman. The moment they set foot in town, they find themselves at the scene of a fight between Superman and a giant cyber ape. Fairchild runs to get a closer look, and ends up in the middle of the fight, getting knocked unconscious in the process. When she comes to, she has amnesia, her teammates are nowhere in sight, and she’s clutching Superman’s cape as a blanket. She wanders into the street, where she’s hit by an oncoming fire truck. Forgetting her own super strength, the fact that she survives, combined with the fact that she has Superman’s cape, leads her to believe she’s actually Supergirl. The next time we se her, she’s fighting crime in a Supergirl costume that she’s gotten from somewhere.

In the meantime, the other Gen13 kids have been searching for Fairchild since she got lost during the ape fight. They briefly speak to Superman, who tells them that he can be reached through his friends, in case they need any help finding her. So, the team ends up at the Daily Planet, where they meet Lois and Jimmy. Clark shows up, and everyone listens to Gen13’s account of how they lost Fairchild. While they’re doing this, they also take a few swipes at Superman, saying how they don’t want to go to him for help because they don’t want to be seen in public with him. Mainly, Superman would harsh their cool factor (they’re a ’90s concept – of course they’d say some shit like that). It’s funny because the more shit they talk, the more offended Clark is getting, but it’s not like he can say anything. Their words do seem to hit home, as he finds himself doubting his own cool factor. It wouldn’t be a ’90s Superman comic if he weren’t doubting himself. Ugh…

As the story progresses, Superman and Gen13 search for Fairchild, while she realizes that she makes a pretty shitty member of the Superman Family. Each time she tries to stop a crime or save a life, she unwittingly ends up making things worse. She shakes a kitten down from a tree, but the tree ends up falling on a townhouse. As she continues to sully Supergirl’s reputation, the real Supergirl gets fed up and decides to track her down. As Gen13 accompany Superman, they end up taking random detours to help him avert some sort of disaster. Each time they actually see him in action, another member of the team comes to truly respect him and what he does.

They end up tracking down Fairchild by visiting local costume shops. It’s a running gag in Gen13 that Fairchild’s clothes seem to rip any time she gets in a fight (see images above), so her Supergirl costumes have been getting destroyed rather frequently. Since they’re not the real deal, she’s had to replace them at the various costume shops in town. At this time, a psycho armed with a nuke comes after Superman. Once Metroplis gets wind of this, it causes mass hysteria downtown. Not only does Superman calm down the crowd, with the help of Gen13, but he also takes the nuke into space to detonate it safely. It’s this moment when the Gen13 kids realize just how badass Superman can be, and that they had been wrong about him. Supergirl finally shows up, and pissed off at Fairchild, she suckerpunches her, which results in the return of Fairchild’s memory. Before Fairchild can realize she’s in the presence of her crush, Superman flies off. On the trip home, all of the Gen13ers are comparing stories about how awesome Superman is – except Fairchild, who’s depressed that she can’t remember her time in Metroplis. When they get home, Fairchild’s mood changes, as she finds that Superman has sent her an official S cape along with a personalized note.

Superman/Gen13 is a funny story, as the primary gist of the book is to show that Superman is a timeless hero who still has a thing or two to teach the new generation of heroes. It was successful in that regard, as I’ve always seen Superman as outdated as the milkman and war bonds. The entire book, the Gen13 kids see Superman as some old-fashioned, out of touch hero, but they come to respect him in the end, as did I. What I found more glaring, however, was how much the book serves to show Gen13 as the out of touch characters. This book was written while their original series was being published, so DC apparently thought the property still had legs. To read it now, however, after countless reboots, revamps, and retcons, I realize just how much of a “flash in the pan” concept Gen13 was. The miniseries contains some of the best characterizations of the characters, but that’s the problem – even at their best, they’re still just the Best Comic of 1994. They come from the era before the bottom fell out of the market, so it’s not like there was a ton of quality there. It was a fun tongue-in-cheek series, reminiscent of the original X-Men, but with a lot more T&A and fart jokes. It made a household name (fanboy households, at least) of artist J. Scott Campbell, but can you name a more ’90s artist than Campbell or Rob Liefeld? After reading this, I feel that Gen13 currently works best in a miniseries capacity where you play them off other characters. I’d be all for Batman/Gen13, Flash/Gen13, etc. I just don’t feel there’s enough to warrant DC trying to continue them in some ongoing capacity that doesn’t work. They are just as 90s as slap bracelets and Hypercolor, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. There’s a time and place for everything. I just feel that this mini marks the last time that a good Gen13 story was told.

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