Friday, May 27, 2016

DC Rebirth #1: More an Essay Than a Review

This preview art is a big step in the right direction. 

So everyone is having their say about DC Comics’ Rebirth special, and why should I be any different? Like everyone else, I picked it up on Wednesday, and like most other people, I think I had a mostly positive reaction to it.


So basically, Geoff Johns uses Rebirth to bring back Wally West, a much-missed character that never really appeared in the New 52. (I guess a more TV-ified version made it in, but I haven’t read too many DC books for the last few years so I’m not sure.)

Anyway, Wally has been trapped in the Speed Force for the past few years of comics time and he’s been unable to return to the DCU. In addition, like the characters we’ve actually been reading about, he de-aged about 10 years, although Wally still remembers the crazy stuff that happened to him.

Wally spends the issue bouncing around the DCU and either peeking in on characters who are about to get a push or actually making brief contact. From this, we know that Batman, the Legion, the JSA, Blue Beetle(s), Dr. Fate, the Atom, and more are all going to be featured by DC Comics. Even better, we see that they are all looking a lot more familiar, as Johns’ talented crew of artists undo a lot of the horrid New 52 design work and make these heroes look more like how we all picture them.

Some of the more standout moments include Batman realizing there are three Jokers, all of which seem pretty different. Aquaman and Mera are getting engaged to be married. This is a big deal because one of the well-publicized rules of the New 52 was that no heroes could be married, because then they’d be “too happy.” If you didn’t care for the armored, extra-bland New 52-Superman, you’re in luck, because this issue checks in with a Lois Lane-married, older Superman who seems a lot like the one we lost before Flashpoint. Heck, he even has Jonathan Kent with him (the Rebirth-era Superboy).

It also comes out that Wonder Woman has a twin brother. I’m pretty sure he gets namedropped as “Jason,” so my money is on Jason Blood (Etrigan the Demon’s alternate self) being Wonder Woman’s bro. It doesn’t really hurt either character and could be fun.

As Wally makes heartbreaking contact with his closest relations, it seems everything is doomed, but Johns does a great job concluding Wally’s dangerous state. I found myself very invested in Wally’s fate, even though I haven’t cared for DC Comics at all over the last few years.

After Wally is reunited with an old friend, Wally starts going on and on about how someone was WATCHING. How someone brought DARKNESS into the DCU and took away all the hope, love, and light that used to make heroes so great. Is that someone publisher Dan DiDio or Geoff Johns? Because they are the ones who created all these abysmal stories for the past 10 years. Nope, it’s way more meta than that.

It seems that the Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan, after the close of that magnificent series, infected the DCU. We even get some recycled Watchmen dialogue about how Dr. M wants a chance to create some life himself. So Dr. M either CREATED the DCU, or he heavily influenced it for the past 10 years or so. That would make Dr. Manhattan, not the actual DC Comics publisher, responsible for aberrations like Identity Crisis, Countdown to Infinite Crisis, Flashpoint, and the New 52. That is one ballsy move!

Clearly, DiDio and Johns were influenced by those “adult” stories in the mid-80s. Watchmen truly did change the course of the books DC Comics published. But in the world of the DCU, Dr. Manhattan actually floated out of his world and into the main publishing line. How insane is that?

So Dr. Manhattan is in the DCU. And I don’t think he came alone. It seems pretty clear that Johns has been planning this awhile, because Dr. Oz from some recent Superman stories sure reminds me of Ozymandius. Who else laughed at non-funny things besides the Joker? The Comedian, maybe?

Lots of folks have expressed dismay about the reuse of the Watchmen characters, but to be honest, for me, that ship sailed when DC published the Before Watchmen stuff a few years ago. DC Comics is clearly desperate. With their sales plummeting and interest in their comics waning, they had to do something big. And Rebirth qualifies. This is a grand, desperate attempt to court long-time readers and convince them that they can still read about a recognizable DCU.

And you know what? For me, it worked. The characters looked like they were supposed to. They sound like I expect. The mission statement of hope, love, and cooperation in the face of danger certainly sounds like what I want from DC. So I’m going to give them a chance. I’m planning on getting Batman, Superman, Blue Beetle, and Aquaman. I might be convinced to try JLA too, if I hear good things about Bryan Hitch’s writing.

[I asked my 11-year-old daughter, a pretty big comic fan, to read the issue and see how much of it resonated with her. She had zero understanding of any Watchmen bits, but overall still liked the book. She liked both Flashes, Blue Beetle, and mentioned that Superman needed to shave off his beard. She also liked the art in almost every chapter. She seems most excited about the upcoming Blue Beetle comic, proving that she truly is my daughter.]

So you did it, DC. You got me to give you another chance after I was long gone. I really don’t want you to mess it up.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Lost Character: American Eagle

Bad ass and modern!
For many years, Jason Strongbow, the American Eagle, wasn’t much more to me than a generic Marvel Universe Handbook entry. With his somewhat generic and possibly insulting costume, there really wasn’t anything there to make him a fan favorite character.

That all changed when Warren Ellis wrote him in Thunderbolts during the Civil War crossover. Suddenly, the Eagle’s boosted strength, speed, and limited invulnerability seemed AWESOME. If you have not read it, seek out Thunderbolts #115. It is an excellent issue with multiple cheer-out-loud moments. The upsetting thing is after this star-making performance thanks to Ellis, the American Eagle has done relatively little since. It is a pity; American Eagle has the potential to be one of the most popular Native American characters in comics.

Not a bad costume, but it might be offensive.
The original costume had its problems, but the updated look is simple and bad ass. With a modified motorcycle helmet and leather jacket, the new suit is less “super” but way cooler. This would be easy for cosplay, although the lack of a clear symbol might make the suit a bit hard to recognize.

American Eagle is still alive, and I believe still serving as a police officer on his reservation. That limits his long-distance storylines a bit, but as a guest star he’d be wonderful. A status quo change (maybe making him an FBI or SHIELD agent) would give him the opportunity to be a world-wide hero.

With an origin involving rare isotopes and Klaw’s sound beams, I think morphing American Eagle into an Inhuman would be easily retconned.

Costume: Lack of a symbol hurts a bit (+15)
Power Set: Fairly generic tough guy (+15)
Importance of Death: Still alive (+20)
Really an Inhuman?; Easily Retconned (+20)
Cosplay Chances: The helmet would the hardest part (+15)

Return Total: 85
One of my all-time favorite comic fights. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Lost Character: Clea

That is a pretty sweet costume. 
Let’s take a look at Clea, one of the top sorcerers of the Marvel Universe and Dr. Strange’s main squeeze.

Clea was Dr. Strange’s student and eventual wife, giving her lots of valuable historical ties to important parts of the Marvel universe. She is basically another spell caster like Strange; magic users have vague enough powers that there is plenty of potential for variety and innovation. She has appeared in a ton of comics over the years, including whole runs where she was a supporting character. With Scarlet Witch currently starring in magic-based book, she could pop up there pretty easily. The most natural spot for a return is in the main Dr. Strange title, of course.

Her costume could be more dynamic, as the purple swimsuit over leggings is not very exciting. Some artists have given her some nice additional flair that jazzes it up though. Leggings, shoulder pads, pouches and body armor could all make her more unique looking. She’s also sported a cape on some occasions, which never hurts.

She can do anything Dr. Strange can do!

Clea actually isn’t dead, but is currently leading the resistance in the Dark Dimension against Dormammu. A clear opportunity for future stories!

Clea’s costume would be fairly easy to create and could be as racy or conservative as the cosplayer desired. With her white hair she could be easily recognizable as well. In fact, there was a Clea cosplayer at C2E2 this year!

Costume: Inoffensive (+15 points)
Power Set: Lots of Potential (+20 points)
Importance of Death: Still Alive! (+20 points)
Really an Inhuman?: Would be hard to retcon (0 points)
Cosplay Chances: Good (+20 points)

Return Total: +75

Good enough for Spidey? Good enough for me!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lost Character: Orka

The killer whale who walks like a man!
Let’s start off with the big man himself. Orka.

Orka is a genetically engineered Atlantean warrior who got his power boost to better fight Namor the Sub-Mariner. I remember him best from his short battle with the Heroes for Hire in the late 90’s when he was pummeling Luke Cage. Cage responds with something like, “Christmas, that man punches like a howitzer!” Anyone who garners that reaction from Luke Cage must have potential.

Now, it seems that Orka died in Heroes for Hire #8 in 2007. He’s remained dead since that time. After going and researching his death thanks to Marvel Unlimited, I will judge that this does seem to be a fairly definitive death. But he was killed by the Headmen! That can't stick. And c'mon, he's a whale man! Surely some healing powers make sense...

You can’t tell me that in this Blackfish-aware world that there isn’t a more prominent place for Orka in the Marvel universe. As an environmentally-focused villain or simply as hired muscle, Orka’s design and power level make him perfect for a return.

More people need to punch like howitzers.
Cosplaying as Orka would require body paint and a big physique, putting it outside the realm of possibility for many cosplayers.

Costume: Great costume. (+20 points)
Power Set: Generic super-strength and swimming kind of hurt. (5 points)
Importance of Death: Quite inconsequential (+20 points)
Really an Inhuman?: Definitely (+20 points)
Cosplay Chances: Poor (0 points)

Return Total: 65/100

The muted colors don't pop as nicely as his original design. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Lost Character: DC Comics

I'm going to avoid being too snarky and say something like "I really miss this guy!"

(Don't worry, I'll do DC characters too.)

Remember him?

Digging Up Lost Characters with the Energy Analyzer

The Prowler appearing in Amazing Spider-Man!

Sometimes, Energy Analyzers rediscover lost treasure.

We are in a golden age for lower tier characters from Marvel and DC comics. When I was a kid, one of my favorite things about the greater comic universe was the endless depth chart when it came to guest stars and villains.

These days we have D-Man appearing in Captain America: Sam Wilson. We have Cassie Lang taking on the name of Stinger in Ant-Man (along with Grizzly and Machinesmith!). We have Gilgamesh appearing in Hercules. Doctor Druid, Modred the Mystic, and Thundra are getting quality airtime in Squadron Supreme. Heck, James Robinson even used Sleepwalker in his recent Fantastic Four run! I’m sad to announce that my fave Black Knight’s book was recently cancelled, but at least he headlined for a few months.

(I will say that while I enjoy seeing Gilgamesh appearing in Hercules’ current book, I really miss the fantastic redesign that Daniel Acuna used in the most recent Eternals series.)

Look at Deadpool’s Mercs for Money; it has Stingray, Terror, Foolkiller and more. And Nightwatch was a big part of the recent She-Hulk series. Talk about obscure…

Since every character is just a spit-and-polish away from being an interesting supporting character or possible lead, I’m going to point out some characters that haven’t been used for years and years. I’m going to try to avoid folks who appeared in recent storylines, even if I miss them greatly. Folks like Richard Rider/Nova and Darkhawk fall into this category.

Gilgamesh's short-lived costume.
I’ll lead off my character profiles by making some observations about the characters Costume and Power Set. Unique costumes and great powers will earn more points than generic abilities and boring looks. Characters like D-Man and Amazing Spider-Man’s Prowler prove how easy it is to revamp a character’s look for modern sensibilities. I LOVE that Prowler redesign!

Take note, I will also not let myself be dissuaded by little problems like the character being dead. Comic companies forget who is alive or dead on a constant basis. And if the character was killed off in a little-read book or so quietly that a big nerd like me missed it? Well then that character should pretty much be alive anyway, right? If the character is currently dead, I will decide on the Importance of Death. If no one read it, why should it “stick?” How many times has Grim Reaper been killed off only to show up with no comment? Take note, this will hurt dead characters like Nomad or Black Goliath, who died during widely read runs or crossovers.

D-Man triumphant!

For Marvel characters, I’ll also make a judgment on how easily the characters’ origin could be rewritten to find out if he or she is Really an Inhuman. With inhumans overtaking mutants as the focus of the line, the difference between languishing in obscurity and a triumphant return might come down to whether or not Marvel can retcon the character’s genes!

Finally, we all see that Cosplay Potential is an important part of any character’s popularity these days. Gwenpool, Gwenom, and more are all actual characters basically because of cosplay. So how likely are people to latch onto this forgotten character as a con feature?

The final categories for judging the characters return will be the following. Each category can earn the character up to 20 points towards his or her Return Potential.
Power Set:
Importance of Death:
Really an Inhuman?:
Cosplay Changes:

So follow @MrTimbotron on Twitter as I’ll be posting new characters along with a few thoughts as I find them. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

12 Days of X-Mas: Uncanny X-Men #330 (1996)

Now this is some Ninja Scroll anime action! Dressed like characters in a film, Archangel and Wolverine team up with Gomurr the Ancient and Dr. Strange to obtain a sip of the Crimson Dawn. The one mystical medicine that could save Psylocke before she dies of her Sabretooth-inflicted wounds.

And let me just point out, I find it hilarious that Psylocke is all bandaged back at the X-Mansion with only her face and a large swath of cleavage left exposed. Just like the real doctors do! Ha!

Her rescuers fight their way through an assortment of mystical type bad guys, including the well-named Undercloaks. They are another set of generic bad guys, but they look a lot cooler than the mist men from last issue. The heroes also face the odd Tar, who seems pretty petty and vindictive for a super-powerful mystic deity. He zaps Gomurr just because he's lonely.

In the end, Dr. Strange somehow pulls a Psylocke min-fig out of Archangel's heart and plunges it into the Crimson Dawn. This representation of their love allows Psylocke to survive in a burst of mystical energy. Not sure how that works, but at least it wrapped up in two issues!

One weird thing is the way Wolverine constantly calls Archangel "kid." I mean, I guess it makes sense chronologically, but Angel has been around a lot longer than Logan. I don't think of Archangel as an inexperienced hero. I am enjoying the slow degradation of Archangel's metal wings. This is leading up to my favorite incarnation of Angel, the one with faint blue skin, blonde hair, and feathered wings. It seemed like the best of both worlds in the '90's and it still does now.

I hope you've enjoyed this year's 12 Days of X-Mas, I know I did. For all the hate that Scott Lobdell gets these days, these old X-Men issues are very readable. They aren't all classics, but they have well-laid subplots, decent action, good guest stars and an interesting mix of villains. Classic foes like Juggernaut and Sabretooth show up interspersed with folks like the Gene Nation and Tar. This isn't exactly a golden age of the best X-Men comics ever, but overall, they have been