Archives for posts with tag: comic books

swampthingnerdtrivia

For the past couple of months I’ve been hosting Comic Book, Etc. Nerd Trivia at My Parents Basement Comic Book Bar in Avondale Estates, Georgia. In a short time, the game has grown quite popular and I’ve had the chance to reconnect with some old friends and meet plenty of news ones. I’ve been hosting general trivia games with Outspoken Entertainment for a couple of years and I’ve sneaked a fair share of Batman questions here and there, but I’d always had a larger comic book game in the back of the mind. One of the owners and an old friend Tim approached me over a year ago about asking some trivia questions at their Dollar A Pound Comic Book Yard Sales that they held leading up to and to raise money for the opening of the bar. These yard sales were fun affairs with beer, barbecue, music, and of course, comic books. I’d set up a table, sell some art (not much (sad emoji)), and ask a few questions and folks could win bags of comics. When they opened the bar last summer (2015), the response was tremendous. I have a ‘comic book’ news alert on my Google news and every day there was a new article about my friends’ comic book bar. After a few months of continued success, Tim thought they were ready for trivia and I hosted the first game on December 1, 2015 to three teams made up of employees- not a great start, but not uncommon for a bar’s first game. I was a little worried, especially since conventional trivia knowledge dictates that winter is the worst time of year to try to start a game. My worries have since subsided as our last game hinged on standing room only. I think everybody that has come so far has had fun and will keep coming back.

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The spot is actually in the old building of the James Joyce Pub and can be found just outside of downtown Decatur near the set of Scream 2 and the Waffle House Museum, just past the Avondale Estates border. Firstly, there’s a lot of nice things to say about the bar itself. The parking situation is divine and if you don’t drive, it’s a short walk from the Avondale MARTA Station. They have a phenomenal patio, which is where I host the games. It’s actually quite toasty in the winter thanks to modern science. Inside, the decorations are special, many one-of-a-kind treasures and something new every week. I can’t speak to the food as I haven’t eaten it, but some of it smells really good. Their beer menu will impress your friends if your friends are into beer menus. I drink their craft root beer every week and I love it. It’s syrup-heavy and light on the bubbles. The owners are wonderful. All of the staff that I’ve dealt with has been beyond delightful. Having hosting games all over Atlanta and its surrounding villages, I’ve been witness to how many restaurants and bars operate and this one is special. They actually save the discarded golf pencils from the week before and give them to me when I return. That’s just one example of their courtesy. From what I can tell, they’re kind and courteous to the customers, each other, and me. As far as trivia locations go, every place will give the winners a gift certificate to the restaurant. I’ve hosted a few $100 games too where my company puts up some cash to drive excitement. However, My Parents Basement does something different. In addition to gift certificates to the spot, they also give tangibly fun prizes like comics, funko pops, beer coozies, wall art, key chains, and more.

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I write the games themselves and we’ve had a few theme games. The week that the Force Awakens awoke, we hosted a Star Wars themed game. On December 23, the categories were themed around Christmas Carols, but the content remained comic book, etc. nerd subjects. In honor of Alan Rickman’s passing, I created a round based on his characters in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Harry Potter films, Alice in Wonderland, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The February 9th game will contain elements to celebrate Spring Festival. On February 16th, I’m excited to host a game that celebrates the contributions of black creators and the adventures of black characters for Black History Month. Similarly, I look forward to hosting at least one game for Women’s History Month in March (along with a Batman v. Superman game, of course!). My enthusiasm might surprise you because I’m not black or a woman, but you forget that I’m an historian and I love history months! As I put together the game for Black History Month, I’m reminded of the embarrassing lack of characters of color in mainstream nerd media. I think creating such a trivia game would be a good exercise for the editors and executives that oversee the modes of production. It would be impossible I think to create a meaningful trivia game about transgender characters for a mainstream audience at this point in our history and it’s still pretty difficult to do it for black characters. I remember Daniel Amrhein  did some exhaustive research about representation in the big superhero teams over the course of a year at Dragon Con a few years back. He did his best to quantify how different characters of different races, genders, and maybe sexual preference or religion compared in terms of appearances in big titles like X-Men, Justice League, and Avengers. He kept having to qualify his findings by pointing out that “yes, Wolverine is non-American, but he’s white non-American” or “technically four women heroes appear in fifty-something panels, but they only say a combined three and a half sentences.” As I put together the games, his remarks resonate with me as the difficulty isn’t simply having characters of color, but having characters of color that matter. (If you ever get a chance to hear Daniel speak, he puts together a really good presentation and provides ample evidence for his conclusions.) One way to gauge how a character matters is to see if a general audience can answer a trivia question about them. Luckily, the players of my games aren’t a general audience. These folks are pretty clever, well-read, well-watched, and well-versed. The players have gotten into any fights or shoot-outs or orgies or anything; pretty civilized.

swampthingnerdtrivia

If you find yourself in the Atlanta area on a Tuesday with an urge to show off whatever wisdom you’ve siphoned from a lifetime of watching cartoons, reading comics, and shouting at video games, I welcome you to join us for a game. You might win something, see a celebrity, fall in love, who knows? If you find yourself in the Atlanta area on a Wednesday in a similar mood, I hear there’s a geek trivia game in Sandy Springs that I haven’t check out yet, but maybe you and I could go together. We’d probably make a great team. If it’s Thursday, I think you’ll have to find something to do, but Tuesday will come quicker than you think. Before you attend, you may want to go and ‘like’ the facebook page because I give away an answer every week. While you’re on that darn facebook, you should go ahead and like the page for this site.

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Yesterday I received the Baby Nightsoil Series 5 Stickers in the mail. This batch is even bigger than Series 4, making it the biggest batch yet. A complete set would include 8 stickers. You may notice somewhat a return to pandas in the batch after exploring other critters in Series 4 and Series 3. This series contains a panda tribute to the recently deceased Hot Rod Rowdy Roddy Piper, a throwback from the Super Mario calendar, and some lovely panda ladies. This series also includes a sticker that will only be available for the next four days while supplies last during Atlanta’s notorious science fiction/fantasy convention Dragon Con, a send up of Jim Jones of the People’s Temple and J’onn J’onnz the Martian Manhunter, founding member of the Justice League of America. If you’re interested in any of these stickers and you’re attending this year’s convention, there are two easy ways to track me down: 1) Go to the Art Show between 3pm and 8pm and look for the most overwhelmingly handsome volunteer which will be me. 2) Attend the DC Comics an Cultural Studies panel on Monday at 2:30pm in Hanover F (the Comics track room) at the Hyatt. I like to trade stickers for art, comics, and pictures of cosplayers.

Here’s a look at the Series 5 stickers in all their glittery glory.

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sendforthesuicidesquad

The Suicide Squad have been in the news a lot lately, especially since the release of the trailer for the 2016 film. As I put together my presentation for this year’s Comics and Popular Arts Conference, I’m becoming more and more entrenched in the lives of Task Force X as my presentation tries to place the Suicide Squad within the timeline of modern discipline and punishment as put forth in Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. As I go through the source material, I’m also reading a lot of what people are writing online about the upcoming movie and I notice a dearth of articles written about the movie by people who have much experience with the actual comics. In an attempt to bring comic books back into the discussion of comic book movies, I thought I’d put together a few interesting tidbits about the Suicide Squad as they appeared in the comics.

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1. The Suicide Squad is older than the Justice League…sort of.

When the Suicide Squad first appeared in DC Comics The Brave and The Bold #25, they weren’t a chain gang of super-villains, but rather of a state-sponsored group of everyday heroes having not-so-everyday adventures. None of them had any superpowers and none of them had criminal notoriety. In many ways, they barely resemble the Suicide Squad in the comics today or the Suicide Squad as its been portrayed in popular media (Smallville; Batman: Assault on Arkham; the upcoming Suicide Squad film). What connects the original Squad to the contemporary Squad are the memberships of Rick Flag- a character who hasn’t been on the Squad in the comics for a long time- and Karin Grace- a character that, excepts for a few issues in the first revival of the Squad, has largely been lost to comic book history. Still, that old Suicide Squad of scrappy superpowerless do-gooders appeared in the pages of The Brave and The Bold before the Justice League, which made its debut in The Brave and The Bold #28.

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2. Those thugs were first assembled to defeat Darkseid.

While the Suicide Squad mostly goes on sketchy espionage missions to serve the interests of A.R.G.U.S. or Checkmate, they were first brought together to defend the planet against the terrible tourist from Apokolips, Darkseid. In his usual fashion, Darkseid has attacked the Earth on many fronts- physical, social, and psychological- which has made ordinary folks despise ‘heroes.’ Superheroes become unable to perform their basic function and villains are brought in to do the hero work. This may remind readers of how Lex Luthor, Captain Cold, and others came to perform heroic feats in the recent Forever Evil storyline when the Justice League was incapacitated by being locked up in the ever-unstable Firestorm matrix motel.

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3. They are a group of predominantly white super-powered convicts being bossed around by a high-ranking government official, an out-of-shape and overweight black woman.

In the United States, we haven’t had a black female president yet. We haven’t had a female president and it’s arguable that we’ve only had half of a black president. In our most female-filled congress of all-time, only 20% of the elected officials serving in the legislative branch are women. Only half of the fifty United States have ever elected a black person to the House of Representatives. There’s only been nine black senators ever and only one of them was a woman. Still, overseeing the Suicide Squad isn’t really the responsibility of an elected official, so we can assume Amanda Waller wouldn’t have to campaign for votes. Well… no CIA director has ever been black nor female. The same is true regarding directors of the NSA, FBI, and ONI. Carolyn Payton was black and a woman, but she was just served as the Director of the US Peace Corps which seems like a job that would bore Amanda Waller. Growing up in poverty, it seems strange that Amanda Waller would also have the social connections to end up in such a position. Likewise, it’s not until Amanda Waller is skinnied up in the New 52 that she has any real military experience as part of her background. Sure, the US  government is racially biased against black women in terms of promotion and Amanda Waller lacks the necessary background and physical fitness to perform her job, but we find Amanda Waller directing the affairs of the Suicide Squad, literally holding their lives in her hands- such is the unlikely magic of fiction.

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Are we finished with ways that the Suicide Squad narrative does not accurately reflect the way racial tribes manifest their power through our social institutions? Worry not, because despite the fact that nearly half (1 million) of the entire US prison population (2.3 million)  is black, nearly all of the members of the Suicide Squad are not black or were not black during at least part of their history- Bronze Tiger, for example, or Deadshot who has never been black until the casting of Will Smith. While short-time Squad member Black Adam has black in his name and is literally African, he’s got lighter skin than Betty White. While blacks and other ethnic minorities account for significantly less than whites in Suicide Squad membership, such disparity is not uncommon among super-teams as the superhero genre suffers famously for its lack of diversity. On the other hand, women consistently make up a larger percentage of the Suicide Squad than most super-teams (looking at you, Justice League/Avengers….), which is a little odd since men make up over 90% of the US prison population.  As statistically unlikely as the Suicide Squad’s roster would be in the real world, it is essential to the dynamic of Suicide Squad because who is the Suicide Squad?

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4. Amanda Waller is the Suicide Squad.

The Wall wasn’t part of the original Suicide Squad from the B&B days- there weren’t a lot of black female characters in 1950s comic books. She didn’t arrive on the scene until the Legends mini-series that introduced the world to the Suicide Squad as we understand them today and she’s been with them ever since. While the Squad certainly has its usual suspects (Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, Enchantress, Plastique, King Shark, Killer Frost, Count Vertigo- to name a few), the only constant is Amanda Waller. As a character, Amanda Waller remained pretty consistent during her tenure in the DC universe. She’s operates from some shadowy government organization (Checkmate, ARGUS), monitoring and managing the world’s ugliest secrets. She doesn’t take shit from anybody, even presidents. Her existence is kept somewhat a secret, but she’s got connections everywhere. Physically, she’s short and heavy-set. Her figure distinguishes her from the bombshells that make up most female characters in the superhero genre. Her weapons include the power of persuasion and the ability to circumvent bureaucracy.

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Following in the 2011 film Green Lantern, Amanda Waller is portrayed by the lovely Angela Bassett- a casting decision that would have significant effects on the character. While the actress retained Waller’s authoritarian attitude, she did nothing to portray the character’s physical attributes and turned Amanda Waller not only into a sex symbol, but a much more physically violent character. Bassett’s portrayal heavily informed the way Amanda Waller would appear in the New 52, the company-wide overhaul that occurred in September 2011, the same year that the Green Lantern movie came out. In the New 52, Amanda Waller is a former member of Team 7 and actually joins the Suicide Squad in punching up the bad guys. The military background, weapons mastery, and martial arts expertise give Amanda Waller new strength, but at the cost of the original character. While I miss the original Amanda Waller character, I must admit I really enjoyed the New 52 Suicide Squad. The storylines related Waller’s past came across as very fresh, but I wonder if they couldn’t have created a different character- one skinny ex-military bad-ass and Amanda Waller instead of one skinny ex-military bad-ass as Amanda Waller.

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5. Belle Reve is the official Suicide Squad prison.

The inductees of the Suicide Squad Hall of Fame come from the halls of Belle Reve prison in Louisiana. Amanda Waller is the on-again off-again warden. The prison first appeared in Suicide Squad #1 back in 1987. It shares the same name of Blanche Dubois’s lost estate in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and translates roughly as “beautiful dream.”

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bigbadsupes

For trade readers, April has seen a lot of action along the fringes of the Superman meta-narrative. Elseworlds, alternate Earths, alternate timelines, clones, and adaptations- we live in a time of many Supermen. I’ve written previously on how Batman is preparing us for travel through the multiverse and today I’m going to discuss how Superman’s multiple existences in the multiverse allow us to confront and cope with some of our fears- or rather, just one fear: evil Superman. (bad Superman?)

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This month saw the publication of three trades that deal with an alternate Superman and each of these alternate Superman are more evil than the Superman archetype. Each of these titles stand among some of the best DC is publishing- compelling stories that twist the Man of Steel into a reflection of the terrors associated with absolute power and nigh-invulnerability.

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In Earth-2 Vol. 5: The Kryptonian, a Superman under the control of Darkseid has come to post-Apokolips Earth-2 to bring about a revival of Apokoliptian terror. The fear that our greatest heroes will come under the power of tyrants is not an irrational fear and Earth-2 is full of deceitful authorities coming from all angles.

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The heroes of Earth-2, including a Red Tornado Lois Lane, attempt to use Clark’s adopted parents Jonathan and Martha Kent to bring Superman to his senses. This strategy is common when trying to calm Superman down. It seems very natural to us because we believe that humanity is what makes Superman good which is all sorts of problematic, but it comforts us to think that our way of life could keep a god from doing terrible things, which is odd in itself as many comfort themselves by worshiping a god that does in fact do terrible things and swear allegiance to an employer who might not care if they live or die.

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In Justice League 3000, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Batman have been resurrected alongside Superman in a morally questionable experiment completed by the Wonder Twins in the distant future.

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These Wonder Twins differ greatly from the original Wonder Twins and that can be said for all of the members of the Justice League. Of these not-exactly-cloned clones, Superman falls the shortest of his legacy.

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Here, Superman is a sex-crazed blood-thirsty idiot who keeps forgetting that he no longer has the power to fly. This depiction of an imbecilic Superman preys upon the same fear that perpetuates the dumb jock stereotype and inspired so much protest against George W. Bush’s presidency. We are afraid of the stupid and the powerful. Being powerless in the face of mediocrity can feel worse than being powerless in the face of brilliance- here, there is no respect for the fool leading you, no hope.

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In Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Two, the story of a Superman driven to vengeful murder and then obsessive fascism continues as more and more DC Comics characters try to make sense of this totalitarian Last Son of Krypton. I’ve really enjoyed Injustice. When it first came out, I avoided it because I didn’t want to read a comic book based on a video game, but when I heard Mike Miller, one of the artists, speak about it at Dragon Con (and then subsequently found a copy of the first trade for $5), I decided to pick it up. Immediately I was impressed at how well Tom Taylor grasped the characters. I should mentioned that Tom Taylor wrote about this fascist Superman and also wrote the Earth-2 Darkseid-controlled Superman. Maybe he has an irrational fear of Superman and his therapist suggested he work through those issues by bringing his fears to their absurd conclusion. In Year One, Superman ended war. In Year Two, Superman must figure out a way to keep the peace. To do so, he needs an army and Lex Luthor has developed a pill that will allow normal humans to rock and roll all night while simultaneously partying every day. The pill even let Alfred beat up Superman.

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Superman’s motivation towards absolute rule comes from the Joker tricking him into killing Lois Lane, their unborn child, and the entire city of Metropolis. Superman just wants to keep everybody safe. This motivation creates a very different totalitarian Superman than the classic Red Son where Superman’s drive towards a one-world government-dictatorship is more philosophical than emotional. All these stories of Superman going over the edge really make me want to reread Red Son. In both cases, Batman is there to oppose him. In Earth-2 and Justice League 3000, alternate Batmans prove to be the voice of reason in the face of a radically imperfect Superman.

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All of this evil Superman stuff just off the heels of Forever Evil, a storyline than spanned nearly the entire New 52 universe and featured Ultraman, the Crime Syndicate’s answer to Superman, as one of its main villains.

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As well as Superman works as a metaphor for absolute good, he also works quite well as a metaphor for absolute evil.

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With the release a few weeks ago of Wonder Woman Vol. 6: Bones, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s spectacular run on Wonder Woman is now available in full in trade format. The story, told over 35 issues and a few annuals, is compiled in six volumes each sporting a one word title: Blood, Guts, Iron, War, Flesh, and Bones. I imagine DC will release the run in a more concise form- maybe two volumes? omnibus? In its current state, you’ll want to read all six volumes as it is one complete story with suspense constantly building to a very classy plot twist.

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Tasked with rebooting Wonder Woman for the New 52, Azzarello and Chiang made the bold decision to alter her origin story- exposing her origins from clay as lie told to Diana by her mother Hippolyta to keep her own affair with Zeus a secret from Diana and more importantly, Hera, who have demanded retribution for another woman sharing a bed with her husband as is the custom among Olympians. This change to Wonder Woman’s origin story brought forth scores of fantastic characters, a true pantheon of pun-masters. The scripts for this story possess a wit rare in comics or any other medium- a wit that perhaps can only perform in the medium of comics and a wit unabashedly fond of puns.

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I spoke at length about Wonder Woman’s introduction to her extended family tree at last year’s Comics and Popular Arts Conference at Atlanta’s Dragon Con. With each issue, Wonder Woman becomes more acquainted with the citizens and standard operating procedures of Olympus. Hephaestus, Hades, Eros, Dionysus, Aphrodite, Cassandra, Artemis, Apollo, Demeter, Strife, War, and a Wesley Willis-inspired Milan are just a small sample of the colorful characters Wonder Woman now finds herself related to. The whole family adjusts not only to Wonder Woman, but other surprise family members come in to shake things up- particularly the one known only as the First Born.

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Because Wonder Woman has her hands full with all of this family drama, the rest of the DC universe stays largely off the pages of these books with the exception of regular appearances by Orion of New Genesis (not old Olympus). Readers who follow Superman/Wonder Woman know that Superman’s absence from the adventures outlined in this story has left the Man of Steel with some feelings of inadequacy.

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The lack of other DC superheroes is a bit of a blessing. Readers can read this run without feeling the baggage of an entire universe’s continuity. The series has since the New 52’s inception been a title that non-superhero readers could digest more easily than more continuity-rich titles like Green Lantern, Superboy, or any of the Trinity (War or Sin) related titles. Because of this, I highly recommend the collection as a gift for beginner readers. While the book contains a healthy bit of violence, some sexual content, and an intrinsic critique of religion, I believe the book is not only appropriate for young readers, but particularly valuable to a younger audience as it introduces them to Greek mythology as well as sophisticated story-telling elements in a way that’s more enjoyable than formal education.

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As the New 52 comes to a close, this run on Wonder Woman will be remembered as one of the best elements of the reboot. Unlike other great runs (Manupaul and Buccellato’s Flash, Williams and Blackman’s Batwoman (especially), Johns and Reis’s Aquaman) that have ended, this series demonstrates a more perfect overall architecture. As I read the final pages, I feel more satisfied as the story came to its conclusion. The only other run from the New 52 that comes to mind that demonstrated the kind of forethought seen here is Morrison’s Action Comics but the creative teams behind both titles approached rebooting two of DC’s biggest titles. I don’t include Snyder and Capullo’s Batman here because their run hasn’t ended (and hopefully won’t end for a good long while)

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With the announcement that the New 52 would be coming to an end, DC Comics also announced 24 new (or at least variations of previous) titles that would be debuting in June and the creative teams that would be working on them. Of the titles, a few stand out to me- Cyborg with art by Ivas Reis and Joe Prado, a couple of Robin-related titles, a Midnighter book, to name a few. Similarly new creative teams on current titles were announced and I’m intrigued to see how American Born Chinese and Boxers and Saints writer Gene Luen Yang taking over Superman– an author who writes about alienation writing about my favorite alien. In honor of the new titles, I’ve thrown together a few ugly bits of fan art. In addition to the Bat-Mite image up top, you’ll find renditions of Black Canary and Starfire.

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After weeks of ambiguity regarding the fates of their titles after moving their offices from New York to California, DC Comics cleared things up somewhat with a statement this week. The simple answer: The New 52 is dead! Long live the New 52! The truth: DC Comics is removing the label New 52 and making continuity less of a concern if favor of greater diversity in story-telling. DC is not simply shedding the label, but also an ideological commitment to an experiment. The experiment? A new (err..rebooted) and thoroughly connected (err…though filled with holes) universe (err…multiverse)! Originally planned as 52 titles a month published in sync, following a universal timeline, the New 52 was a lofty ambition. For the experiment to work, creators had to work within a tight framework not only in narrative, but in artistic style- prompting the oft-used terms “DC house-style” or “Jim Lee house style.” These rules allowed a pretty cohesive fictional universe to thrive, but also alienated many creators and readers who wanted stories outside the framework of the larger experiment. By abandoning the New 52 and their ideological commitment to the New 52 experiment, DC Comics will be opening itself up to new, smaller experiments. The publisher’s lineup will be more chaotic this June not only because many titles will leave and many new titles will arrive, but those new titles and even the continuing titles will draw from a larger creative arsenal- new creators, new styles, new impressions on the characters, and new impressions on what super-hero comic books can do. To be fair, DC Comics continued to publish an assortment of books outside of the New 52 such as Lil Gotham and all those video game-related titles. Now new books like Bat-Mite and Bizarro promise to approach comics without the baggage of the New 52 experiment. The official word from DC suggests the end of the New 52 is motivated purely by creative ambitions, but it’s obvious to most readers that DC has found an awkward but workable solution to several concerns: 1) the move to California 2) the stress of managing the big continuity 3) the desire to attract more casual comics readers (the ones reading Image titles) 4) the New 52 is destroying itself.

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That 4th one can be broken down to specific problems within the New 52. I believe the beginning of the end came when the original creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman left Batwoman over creative differences on whether or not Batwoman would marry. While this was not the first dispute-driven departure of a respected creator during the New 52, this departure, unlike George Perez leaving Superman, shook up something that most people believed the New 52 was doing right. Fans and critics alike couldn’t say enough nice things about the work being done on that book. The rush to replace Williams and Blackman with not only a talented creator, but one with a little LGBT cred to ease PR concerns, left Batwoman in the hands of Marc Andreyko and the book got noticeably worse. After Geoff Johns and associates completed their run on the Green Lantern titles, DC found a new creative team, but things fell apart and they again found themselves scrambling the fill some roles. Luckily they found a sort of dream team to take over those titles. Most problematic about the Green Lantern creative team shift, Geoff Johns wrote an epilogue in his final issue of Green Lantern, an epilogue whose authenticity would come immediately into question as the new creative team found ways to destroy all the love stories in that blossomed in that epilogue. Other books saw transitions. The success and failures of titles in transition were surprising. I really expected Chew’s John Layman to write a better Detective Comics while Jeff Lemire wrote a Green Arrow story unlike anything else he’d ever written, reinforcing what his run on Animal Man had suggested- the guy who draws those creepy picture book also has a visionary take on the super-hero model. Another reason why I see the Batwoman shift as the beginning of the end can be seen in the fifth collected volume of the title-  an inconsistency that runs along the spine, singling out the volume among all other New 52 titles as the unmentionable yet obvious stain on the whole endeavor.

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Look at that tiny little five! How embarrassing that must be for Batwoman Vol. 5: Webs! The other book that sticks out in a complete New 52 collection is Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family because it’s white instead of black. While it may still drive the obsessive and compulsive a bit mad to look at, the change is obviously intentional. The tiny 5 on Batwoman Vol. 5 appears to be a Freudian slip, a subconscious expression of shame in ruining one of the New 52’s best titles.

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Since the official announcement of the New 52’s end, I’ve tried to figure what the New 52 really has been. Despite all the Convergence hype, it feels like the experiment is going out with more a whimper than a bang. There’s no real story to tie up as far as I can figure. So the question remains what was the New 52?

Here are 52 things I think made the New 52:

1) The Court of Owls

2) Wonder Woman’s new origin story

3) introduction (and reintroduction) of Vertigo characters into the DC universe

4) Superman-Wonder Woman love story

5) Triumphant revitalization of Aquaman (Throne of Atlantis arc)

6) Titles created just to foster the continuity experiment (Blackhawks, Team 7, OMAC, Threshhold)

7) Crime Syndicate and Forever Evil

8) Darkseid’s destruction of Earth-2 and Superman’s subsequent reign

9) Death of Damian Wayne

10) Skinny Lobo

11) Rotworld arc

12) Justice League Dark formation

13) Central role for The Phantom Stranger

14) Central role for Pandora

15) Future’s End

16) Joker cut off his face

17) Muslim Green Lantern

18) Gay Green Lantern

19) Young Green Arrow

20) Walking Barbara Gordon

21) Brother-killing Batgirl

22) Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham

23) Penguin takes control and loses control and regains control of Gotham criminal underworld

24) Catwoman takes control of Gotham criminal underworld

25) The Riddler brings Gotham to its knees

26) Batman Eternal and Jim Gordon’s blues

27) The most sophisticated Mr. Mxyzptlk story in DC history

28) Guy Gardner became a Red Lantern

29) The Guardians of the Universe were replaced by new Guardians of the Universe after proving themselves fascist tyrants one too many times

30) Kyle Rayner continued to become more messianic

31) Hal Jordan became the leader of the Green Lantern Corps

32) Superboy was a clone of Superman’s wicked son Jonathan Lane Kent from the future and also there were other Superboys

33) Cyborg Superman is… Supergirl’s father?

34) Lucius Fox’s son becomes Batwing

35) Harley Quinn did it with Deadshot

36) H’el on Earth (and Krypton)

37) The Culling of Teen Titans and Ravagers and a general feeling that Scott Lobdell was going to end up writing every title in the DC universe

38) Short lives of good titles (I, Vampire; Voodoo; Mr. Terrific; Captain Atom; Dial H)

39) Huntress and Power Girl, the World’s Finest of Earth-2, arrived on the primary Earth

40) Daniel West is the Reverse-Flash

41) Bad futures depicted in Justice League 3000, Future’s End, Superboy, Teen Titans, and the Legion of Super-heroes

42) Aimless movement from the Legion of the Super-heroes

43) Two heavy-handed comics nobody liked (The Green Team and The Movement)

44) Martian Manhunter with Stormwatch, Martian Manhunter without Stormwatch

45) The return of Lyssa Drak and a Sinestro-led Sinestro Corps

46) Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE and other Dark titles

47) Trinity War

48) Lights Out, Relic, and the draining of the emotional spectrum

49) Trying to figure out what to do with Darkseid

50) Trying to figure out what to do with Deathstroke

51) The Rogues with super-powers

52) Company-wide campaigns particularly in Septmember- 3D covers, MAD variants, Scribblenauts, Robot Chickens, Zero Year, etc.

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I recently embarked on an intense reading/rereading mission. Throwing myself into the Green Lantern narrative as I had never before, I set off to read the entire GLC chronology up to this point beginning with Hal Jordan becoming a Green Lantern again in Green Lantern: Rebirth. For GL fans, this ambitious reading project is something similar, on a much smaller scale, to the Islamic rite of the Hajj. As Muslims fulfill their religious duty by making their pilgrimage, modern Green Lantern fans owe it to themselves to familiarize themselves with as much of the story as possible and while it isn’t possible to read the entire story in one sitting, I believe there is something special about reading it all at once.

Light reading

Light reading

My motivation for this spurred from my wife giving me the Brightest Day omnibus for Christmas. I had read much of the story out of sequence and I had picked up a few trades at conventions- saving them for when I had amassed a complete set. With the introduction of the Brightest Day omnibus, I went ahead and filled in the rest of the holes though I did miss a few- I haven’t read the Teen Titans trade associated with Brightest Day and I’d really like to because the Black Adam/Isis family from 52 is one of my favorite storylines in DC history.

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As an active member of the comic book internet community, I intended to write about the experience as I went along. I considered starting a twitter account and live-tweeting as I read, but I ending up just getting lost in the narrative. It’s hard not to. This run on Green Lantern is extremely well-executed- a sophisticated narrative with a reaching stories that attempt to take the notion of a universe controlled by tiny blue fascists to its ultimate absurd conclusion. During the first few trades, those leading up the Sinestro Corps War, I found myself constantly impressed with Geoff Johns forethought. The seeds of the Blackest Night and all the new Lantern corps as sowed in the very first issues where Johns brings Hal back. The integral roles played by Mongul, Cyborg Superman, and the Manhunters in the arrival of the Blackest Night and the writing of Atrocitus into Hal Jordan’s origin story all demonstrate such solid planning I wonder how much Johns had planned when he first began writing the character.

pucca-starsapphireWhile Johns’s master plan is certainly apparent, reading the whole story together allowed a chance to see how characters and concepts developed. The voices of certain writers who joined Johns become easily recognizable- primarily Dave Gibbons, Peter Tomasi, Tony Bedard, and Peter Milligan- and the end of Johns run is not only noticeable, but the final issue is included in the collected trades of every GL title published at that time. The creative teams that followed that crew brought their own voices as well. Though the art is largely consistent, both following and creating the DC house styles of their time. Some characters are drawn wildly different from artist to artist. None more so than Arisia Rrab- Reis gives her an adorable pixie face, Gleason makes her a hideous troll, and all the other artists find themselves somewhere in between. The female lanterns of all the applicable Lantern Corps often find themselves most easily distinguished by the nature of their scanty uniforms, but even that changes over time. When Rob Vendetti took Johns’s place as the guiding hand of the GL legacy, female characters in nearly all of the GL titles found their uniforms had become more conservative or at least less revealing. Green Lanterns like Arisia Rrab and the Star Sapphires received more modest outfits, but Red Lantern Bleez kept her trademark skeleton wings and black thong- which I’m happy about it. I can’t really imagine Bleez without some sort of overwhelming sexuality- it’s part of her origin story to some degree that she be sexually desirable and hostile to sexual advances. Sinestro Corps member and hot librarian Lyssa Drak actually sports a more conversative garb in the Sinestro series, but rocks her more traditional barely-there attire in the Sinestro issue published as part of Villains Month and in the Sinestro: Future’s End issue. It could be intentional, but I suspect disrupted communication as the likely culprit.

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When I first read Blackest Night, I read a digital copy that put every issue in chronological order. Unfortunately DC hasn’t collected the event that way. Instead, they separate the trades by title. To recreate the single issue experience, one would need to carry a lot of books with them, juggle them intermittently, and do their best to keep their bookmarks from falling into the wrong hands. If you don’t want to do that, I’d recommend reading the books in this order and split a few of the books in half.

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps

1/2 Blackest Night

1/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1

1/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps

Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns

2/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern

2/2 Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2

2/2 Blackest Night

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Both Blackest Night and Brightest Day require the reader to know a bit about the DC universe, both contemporary and historical, to fully appreciate all the ins and outs. In the Blackest Night trades, they’ve provided blurbs about how each character rising from the dead to become a Black Lantern originally died, which I definitely appreciate.

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Beyond the White Lantern of it all, Brightest Day actually has much less to do with the Lanterns than it does the rest of the DC universe. The affiliated GL books are actually quite strong though. I particularly like the story line of the Weaponer of Qward and his quest for vengeance against Sinestro from the Green Lantern Corps title, which depends entirely on Deadman creating a net out of White Lantern light in Brightest Day. The Brightest Day overlaps with the War of the Green Lanterns through a limited series called Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors. The War of the Green Lanterns peters out through the Green Lantern titles and a small handful of limited series. In the aftermath of the War of the Green Lanters, the arrival of The New 52 is very apparent. The trade War of the Green Lanterns: Aftermath ends with two single issue stories that suggest heavily their authors were simply waiting out the clock before getting the emotional spectrum involved in any new crises. The shift from pre New 52 to New 52 is weirder for the Green Lantern titles than any of the others (even Batman) as so much of the Green Lantern story depends on a character-rich past. Rebooting Superman makes Cyborg Superman’s destruction of Coast City hard to explain. Similarly rebooting Green Arrow makes his friendship with Hal Jordan patchier than an early puberty beard. Johns, Tomasi, Milligan, and Bedard do their damnedest to balance the demands of the Lanterns with the demands of the New 52 reboot, but one character comes off really weird: J’onn J’onzz. Before the New 52, he’s one of the Brightest Day twelve while in the New 52, he’s a virtually unknown agent operating in odd stealth. Newsarama recently published a list of queer doings afoot in the New 52 and Martian Manhunter featured prominently among their findings

J'imm J'onzz

J’imm J’onzz

In addition to reading all the texts, I also watched all the films and must regret that DC has pursued more Green Lantern animated movies. I liked the television series okay, though it paled in comparison to the superior series Beware the Batman!, which suffered the same cancellation fate, but the tv series was a bit more childish than the animated movies. I stand by my earlier contention that outside of the comics, the best use of Green Lantern in media is Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham.

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…And somehow this all felt relevant because something big is coming for the Green Lanterns as DC is cancelling most Green Lantern titles in the coming months. With that knowledge, I spent much of my time reading also speculating.

 

 

 

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2014 was an interesting year for comic book covers. Some Vertigo titles experimented with putting the first panels of the story on the cover. Independent publishers like Image Comics, Top Shelf, and Oni Press drew inspiration from wells outside of traditional comics to unleash some phenomenal design and the Big Two continued to offer loads of variants while still ruining covers by filling them with ads for movies and TV shows. Convention floors, the blogosphere, and comic book shops had readers and creators discussing the merits of covers while speculators looked for hidden Easter Eggs and social activists looked for opportunities to progress a higher discourse. Two covers in particular stirred more conversation in 2014 than all others. The re-reboot of Teen Titans and a reboot of Spider-Woman faced resistance specifically from critics for whom the representation of women is elemental to their comics critique. Here I will discuss both those covers and the cover of the second volume of the Justice Society of America omnibus. Before I begin, let me just admit that my white male privilege allows me to write this article without fear of rape or death threats. It’s disgusting that we live on an internet where a noticeable portion of its populace respond to ideas they find threatening with threats of physical violence. The fact that such behavior finds a home in discussions about comic books is especially sad- what would Superman say if he saw you writing rape threats to a stranger because of her opinion on a comic book cover?

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For the first issue of their latest Spider-Woman reboot, Marvel recruited the talents of Milo Manara, an Italian comics creator known for his hyper-sexual style. Full disclosure: I’m not a Marvel reader and don’t have any emotional ties to Spider-Woman as a character. I am however a fan of erotic art and have an appreciation for low brow art. I also appreciate the long standing tradition of sequential art itself as a marginalized art form. When I heard an esteemed erotic artist would provide art for a mainstream variant comic book company, I thought it sounded like a cool idea. I love diversity among artists and believe comics generally benefit from outside influence. For example, I think the Scribbenauts variants and most of the Robot Chicken variants that DC’s been using look pretty dumb, but I appreciate that such distinct styles are been experimented with and I like to see a wild mix on the comic book shelves. Still, much of the controversy had little to do with those few defenses I just offered, but rather focused on the use of such an artist to promote a book that had been admittedly targeted towards women and on book about a character that many female readers had identified as an example of progressive representation. A lot of male readers and the creators responsible for creating it took the criticism very personally.

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Some readers found humor in the controversy.

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Some readers got scientific.

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News operations outside of the world of comics like TIME magazine even picked up the story, reporting on the cover controversy and supplying Marvel with a bit of free publicity.

mostoffensivecomicbookcoverever

The other cover that drew a great deal attention is the first issue of the re-rebooted Teen Titans. Unlike Spider-Woman, the Teen Titans are characters that I do follow and for whom I have developed some sentimental attachment. The controversy over this cover began when former Bat-title editor Janelle Asselin wrote an article about its cover where she described it as “not just a terrible comics cover, it’s a prime example of how even the most corporate comic book companies can make basic mistakes regarding the potential audience for a book.” I have a little trouble with her describing it as a “prime example” as it seems as if she picked it arbitrarily. Her critique of the cover is largely valid; I just think it can be applied to scores of other covers that supply greater evidence to support her criticism. You can read her original article and you won’t find anything too confrontational. You might feel a little bad for Kenneth Rocafort being singled out for a trend and tradition in comics that is much larger than his own contribution to the medium, but Asselin articulates pretty clearly in her article that her intention is not to attack the artist.

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Asselin’s complaints are in some ways more justified than those made against Spider-Woman and in some ways less. For example, Spider-Woman is a variant cover and this Teen Titans cover is the official cover. On the other hand, the Spider-Woman cover is explicitly sexual while the Teen Titans cover more subtly directs attention towards Wonder Girl’s breasts. Both Asselin’s critique of this cover and the general complaints about the Spider-Woman cover made specific points about how the two books are targeted somewhat to female readers. In that instance, the real criticism is “hey comic book companies, you’re marketing your books poorly!” not “hey comic companies, you’re perpetuating a hate crime!” Disgustingly some of the public responded the criticisms as if they had been the latter “hate crime” accusation by responding themselves with very hateful speech and even threats of physical violence. Coupled with the species-wide embarrassment that was Gamergate, geek males looked really bad in 2014. Not simply because they acted like monsters towards others, but they demonstrated such resistance to advancing the mediums they purport to love. Of course, this demented vocal element of the comics reading community represents only a small portion of that community. Neither the critique against Spider-Woman nor the one against Teen Titans were revolutionary nor were they particularly sophisticated, but they absolutely belong in our discussion of comics which makes the toxic reactions so absurd. I find Asselin’s critique to be somewhat arbitrary and forced. I find the controversy over Manara’s Spider-Woman a little dumb because 1) it’s a variant cover, not the official cover 2) it’s painted by an erotic artist with the intention of being hyper-sexual, so being upset with it parallels hating ice cream sandwiches for being delicious. Still, both critiques have value. Now I would like to present a critique of the cover used for the second volume of the JSA omnibus that requires less nuance to explain.

First, let’s look at the cover:

JSA Omnibus volume two two two two

For the cover of the omnibus, DC Comics decided to use the wrap around cover from JSA #50, an iconic cover featuring most of the primary players in the series. In terms of aesthetics, I think DC could have used better images for both volumes, but this isn’t a discussion of aesthetics. As you can see, the characters that appear on the front cover are Green Lantern, Dr. Fate, Wildcat, Captain Marvel, the Flash, Dr. Mid-Nite, Sands, and Hawkman. These are all important characters though some are more prominent than others. Two things that the characters all have in common are their race and gender.

Second, let’s look at the full image from JSA #50‘s wrap around cover to see what other members of the Justice Society appear on the back:

all those heroes with so few pockets

Here we see the rest of the team: Atom Smasher (white male), Power Girl (white female), Hawkgirl (white female), Black Adam (middle eastern male), Mr. Terrific (black male), Jakeem Thunder (black male), Hour Man (white male), and Stargirl (white female). As you can see, all of the women and minorities have been placed on the back cover. Because this image is originally from the fiftieth issue, what we are seeing here is DC Comics deciding to make the same offense twice. None of these offenses- Manara’s Spider-Butt, Rocafort’s Wonder-Boobs, or the JSA’s occasional instance of segregation- are end-of-the-world problems, but they ought be discussed while creators and readers alike consider the vulnerability of the medium and the value of constructive criticism in order to produce higher quality art and tell more compelling stories. While conventional wisdom tells us not to a judge a book by its cover, we should recognize the role the cover plays in determining the reception, reputation, and overall destiny of the book.

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While the first installment of the gift guide served as a starting point for fans of The Flash, Man of Steel, GothamSmallville, and the Batman:Arkhamverse/Injustice crowd and the second installment aimed to help readers looking for strong female characters and fans of the creepy comic book shows Constantine and The Walking Dead, the third installment deals (mostly) solely with (mostly) independent (mostly) non-superhero comics.

ALL-AGES ALTERNATIVE HISTORY: Buying something for a new reader? I’m a huge fans of using comics to both teach language and provoke the reader’s historical imagination. One book that I’ll giving this year is Van Jensen and Jose Pimienta’s The Leg: The Remarkable Reappearance of Santa Anna’s Disembodied Limb, which tells the story of the remarkable reappearance of Santa Anna’s disembodied limb. The book wanders around 20th century Mexican history with a few surprise guest appearances. The language and subject matter is age appropriate without being boring and an added bonus: strong female lead. Other alternative history tales for new readers can be found in the Crogan Adventures series by Chris Schweizer, Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang, and Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis Wiebe. That last one borrows pretty heavily from Peter Pan, so it makes a good gift for a Peter Pan enthusiast as well.

MORE LITERAL HISTORY, LESS ALL-AGES CONTENT: Two books that really knocked my socks off that I came across this year are Jim Ottaviani’s Feynman and Li Kunwu’s A Chinese Life. They tells two pretty different stories, but both offer incredibly human faces for incredible phenomena.

LITERAL & ALL-AGES? March Book One– stick a copy in the stocking of every young person, which bring me to…

COMICS FOR ANGELA CHASE AND JORDAN CATALANO: If you’re shopping for angst-ridden teenagers, may I suggest the Morning Glories series, Deadly Class Vol. 1: Reagan Youth, and One Model Nation?

COMICS FOR PERVERTS: Is there a better way to put a smile on a pervert’s face than by giving them a comic book gift? Probably, but comic books are good too. There are some classic filthy books like Grant Morrison’s The Filth, Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, and just about the entirety of early underground comics, but there are some really special titles you may not have heard of that will surely give the pervert on your list something to smile about while also challenging their long-held beliefs concerning the nature of the universe. These books include Sex Criminals, which tells the story of people who can stop time with their orgasms; Girls, an invasion parable from the Luna Brothers; and The Pro, a hooker with a heart of gold and superpowers. Also I’d recommend checking out the adult section of your neighborhood comic book shop if they have one- it’s fun to thumb through a few dirty pictures books, catch a glimpse of the zeitgeist and probably some pubic hair. Also the eye-candy offered by Cassie Hack of Hack/Slash might please the pervert on your list, depending on their tastes.

WORTHY CROWD PLEASER: Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staple’s Saga continues to be the best book on the shelves. With the recent release of an omnibus collecting the first 18 issues, you’re sure to make just about any literate person happy with such a collection. If you know they already read (and love) Saga, I also encourage you to look at some of their earlier work. Staples adds her artistry to Mystery Society, a book that while well-written does leave the reader longing for Vaughn’s enigmatic writing. Vaughn’s previous stuff includes Y: The Last Man, a very long story about the last man on earth and his monkey; Pride of Baghdad, a tale of lions that escaped the Baghdad zoo; Ex Machina, a post 9/11 story about a mayor than communicates with machines; and Runaways, which is not indie, but Marvel and would make a good gift for the angst-ridden teenagaers mentioned earlier in the list.

 

 

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