Archives for posts with tag: Forever Evil

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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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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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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.

Spoiler alert: Slade Wilson shoots his eye out!

Spoiler alert: Slade Wilson shoots his eye out!

Welcome to second installment of the World’s Second Greatest Detetective’s 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide! In the first installment, I offered suggestions to those shopping for fans of the television programs The Flash, Gotham, and Smallville, the video games in the Batman: Arkham-verse and Injustice, and the film Man of Steel as well as some suggestions for a person’s individual fancies regarding Superman. While I enjoyed writing that list and believe it could come in handy for a handful of holiday shoppers, I felt quite embarrassed when I got towards the end (blogger’s exhaustion as it were) when I realized I had compiled a list almost exclusively contained heterosexual white males. This is 2014 and while heterosexual white dudes still dominate comics in both content and the industry, there are plenty of interesting characters and talented creators who have overcome the default settings that always inhibited Western media. I’ve included a mere fraction on this list.

COMICS FOR A LESBIAN WHO LIKES BATMAN AND HAS AN ELEGANT TASTE IN DESIGN: Batwoman has consistently been one of the most beautiful books in the past decade. Like Batwoman’s costume, the book’s art has experimented heavily with black, gray, and red to create a superhero book that looks more like a haunted luxury hotel than a comic book. You have two options really: before the New 52 or in the New 52.

BEFORE NEW 52: Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s run on Detective Comics has been collected in Batwoman: Elegy. This book stands well by itself and costs less than $20, but if you really want to impress…

NEW 52: I’d recommend the first 4 volumes of Batwoman. J.H. Williams III sticks around and is joined by W. Haden Blackman. Their departure from the series was a small controversy and the story told in these volumes came to an underwhelming conclusion in the first issue contained in the fifth volume, but don’t let that discourage you.

COMICS FOR A LESBIAN WHO ALSO LIKES BATMAN BUT PREFERS CRIME NOIR: I suggest you take a look at Batwoman and if you think the person on your list would like it more if there were less skulls, you need not worry. Renee Montoya, one of Batwoman‘s ‘Eskimo sisters’ and a supporting character on television’s Gotham, is another prominent bad-ass lesbian in the DC universe. Her appearances in the New 52 have largely been limited to the background of the various Bat-titles, but prior to the New 52, Renee Montoya was kind of a star. I recommend Batman: War Games, any of the Gotham Central collections, and The Question: Five Books of Blood. Having made those recommendations, I should admit that I believe 52 is the best Renee Montoya story ever told, but I do not recommend you purchase 52 for a novice DC Comics reader. Much like I wouldn’t suggest Crisis on Infinite Earths for a fan of The Flash television program, 52 requires a good bit of background knowledge to fully appreciate.

COMICS FOR COWGIRLS: Without thinking too deeply on it, I’m going to declare Pretty Deadly as the best current title featuring a female main character, strong female cast, and predominantly female creative team. While I haven’t read everything out there, I feel pretty confident in my assertion because few artists provide layouts that can compare to Emma Rios’s pages and her style works so well with the story Kelly Sue Deconnick has written.

There’s only one collection of Pretty Deadly available, so if you really want spoil the cowgirl in your life, I recommend your pick up all the volumes of The Sixth Gun, a slightly brighter tale than Pretty Deadly with a significantly less creepy art style. The Sixth Gun is also appropriate for a wider age range than Pretty Deadly.

COMICS FOR READERS WHO WANT HISPANIC CHARACTERS AND ARE CAPABLE OF SHRUGGING OFF PATRONIZING STEREOTYPES: In the New 52, there are two characters that I consider guilty pleasures- actually that’s true, a lot of them that are guilty pleasures that require a suspension of  some of my values in the hope of developing a sophisticated world-view beyond good and evil- whether my affection for scantily clad superheroines, ultra-violence, or a bit of racism, something about reading comics makes me lower my ethical guard and it is in this state that I fell in love with the lovable gay Mexican undocumented immigrant Bunker of Teen Titans and to a lesser extent the Detroit-born Latin cheeseball Vibe, appearing in various titles including a his own short-lived title series. I’d recommend the collection of the Vibe series, titled Justice League of America’s Vibe: Breach, to people who like the fashion in Joel Silberg’s cinematic masterpiece Breakin’. There’s plenty in Vibe that worthy of being subjected to the harshest of structuralist, post-colonialist, deconstructionist, etc. critiques- have a friend writing a thesis on representation of Hispanic Americans? This is the book!

However, I find Bunker much more enjoyable than Vibe. Heavily defined by his sexuality, ethnicity, and geographical origins, Bunker comes across as a bright-eyed bundle of sunshine optimism. Everything in the US is awesome! Everything about being a superhero is awesome! Teen Titan Friendship is awesome! I’ve written before about the Othering of the Bunker character and in that post, I focused primarily on Bunker’s portrayal as an immigrant more than as a Mexican gay man and I still believe it is the most heavily contributing factor to his characterization.

COMICS FOR FANS ON THE CONSTANTINE TELEVISION SHOW: If the person on your list likes Constantine, I suggest you go the source material and start at the beginning of the Hellblazer titles. Most of the volumes are priced at $19.99 and can be found cheaper in the rainforest. Each collected volume is about 300 pages, so a single volume is a pretty hefty gift. If the person on your list likes Constantine but wishes John Constantine ran into Superman and Swamp Thing on a regular basis, I’d push you towards the New 52 Dark titles like Justice League Dark (soon to be a major motion picture…maybe), Constantine, The Trinity War, or perhaps the Forever Evil: Blight collection (but that only really works if you also pick up Justice League Vol. 5, Justice League of America Vol. 2, and the Forever Evil main collection…well, maybe not…)

COMICS FOR FANS OF THE WALKING DEAD SHOW WHO EITHER ALREADY READ THE WALKING DEAD OR FIGURE THEY’VE SEEN THE SHOW AND DON’T REALLY WANT TO GET WRAPPED UP IN THE COMIC: There are so many zombie comics out there now and many of them are pretty good. Want a funny zombie book? Try Last Resort. Want a zombie story set in wartime Afghanistan? Try Graveyard of Empires. Prefer the Vietnam War? Try ’68. Is the zombie enthusiast on your list like to be one step ahead of  the crowd (a good move during the zombie apocalypse)? I’d recommend the collection of the digital comic iZombie or the animal zombie tale The Other Dead as both will coming to the small screen some time soon. Still, my top recommendation for zombie books is Revival. It’s a small town tale that does it’s best to reconcile the humanity of their reanimated loved ones with the terrifying implications of the dead coming back to life.

Blogger’s exhaustion has hit again. I should return to present the 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide pt. 3. If you have a comic fan that you’re having trouble shopping for, feel free to send me a description of their interests to waynexiaolong@gmail.com or leave some info in the comments below. Feel free to do so after the holiday season has passed- I’m happy to consult on gifts for any occasion. If one of your celebrity friends had their nude photos leaked by hackers, you might not want to give them a copy of The Killing Joke.

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“And the Justice League is dead,” announces Ultraman in the first issue of Geoff Johns and David Finch’s mini-series Forever Evil, the main book of the DC Comics event of the same name that resurrects the Crime Syndicate. “And Jesus wept,” John recalls as he tells the resurrection of Lazarus. If the DC Universe died when the New 52 initiative began, Forever Evil is a way of telling those bemoaning the reboot to stop weeping because that old universe has come back to life. The event certainly shook up the New 52, but has only left the universe stronger for it. Remember that Lazarus lived an additional 30 years after his resurrection and that was spent mostly signing autographs and trying not to laugh.

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Forever Evil tells a great threat to our world and features a lot of villains. The great threat is employed to expose the more intimate natures of DC Comics fan-favorite villains. The threat comes from the Crime Syndicate, an alternate and “evil” version of the Justice League, with a roster of villains that correspond to members of the Justice League.

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The Crime Syndicate comes from Earth-3, a parallel Earth that resembles Earth-1 but lives under the thumb of the Crime Syndicate. An over-simplified assessment could describe Earth-3 similarly to the original conception of Qward, a place where evil is law- right is wrong and wrong is right, but the narrative of Forever Evil shows the impossibility of such an idea by showing how the villains of Earth-1 themselves are beyond good and evil. Earth-3 is not the opposite of Earth-1, but rather an Earth where those in power care even less for the people than those in power in ours. While the spirit of the Crime Syndicate is nastily selfish and sadistic, the people of Earth-3 are quite aware of the boot stamping on their face- forever (evil).

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The Crime Syndicate hope to recruit the villains of Earth-1 but encounter some resistance. This resistance comes from major villains like Catwoman, Lex Luthor, Black Manta, Black Adam, and the Rogues. More minor villains like Blockbuster and Parasite have an easier time towing the line. The Crime Syndicate do a few things that irk the villains and it’s hard to say if these actions are even evil based on their motivations and the villain’s reactions. For Ultra-Man’s survival and strength, he blocks the sun with the moon, something that pisses off most Earth-1 residents and particularly Poison Ivy. Black Manta opposes them because they “killed” Aquaman and his anger does not come from grief for the “fallen” Atlantean, but because the Syndicate robbed him of the chance to kill him. It is the autocratic imposing of their will upon the nations and people of Earth-1 that angers both Lex Luthor and Black Adam- two individuals who pride themselves in their abilities to impose their will on others. The Rogues initially consider joining the Crime Syndicate until the Crime Syndicate orders them to destroy their own home towns, the Gem Cities. The Rogues, of course, have long been known to stick to a no-kill code and their motivations clearly financial, so their repulsion at the thought of decimating Central City and Keystone City makes perfect sense. Two-Face’s response is typically loyal to the outcome of his coin flip.

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The Forever Evil story has been published in trade form over the past five or six weeks. As with most big events, the choices made by DC Comics in publishing the collected event cause a Groundhog Day-like disruption of narrative. The action of Forever Evil can be found in many places throughout DC’s catalog. Events unfolded in the Forever Evil mini-series itself, Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S., Forever Evil: Arkham War, Forever Evil Aftermath: Batman Vs. Bane, Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin: Pandora, Constantine, many of the “Villains Month” titles, and a scattering of other titles. Some events and even panels repeat in different issues- the Rogues breaking Trickster out of Iron Heights, for example. What DC Comics generally does when there is a major event like this, they publish the trades based on the title rather than the timeline. This makes the reading experience for the trade reader (myself) distinct from the experience of the issue-reader who sees each piece of the story unfold simultaneously, much safer from spoilers. I’ve heard and read trade readers complain about this and admit some discontent myself. The phenomenon hits Green Lantern fans repeatedly. Another curse is that in collecting the trades, you end up with multiple printings of the same issue as experienced in Throne of Atlantis and Rotworld events. The Forever Evil: Blight trade contains issues that readers of Justice League Dark, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin: Pandora, and Constantine will find already in the collected trades of those individual series. It’s a bit of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-dont-paradox that leaves comics readers either missing out on chunks of story or buying multiples printings of the same material. As DC has spaced out the release of each trade, there is an implied order to reading them. Forever Evil: Arkham War and Forever Evil: Blight actually works pretty well independent of the main Forever Evil series, but Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S and Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion are entirely dependent on the events of the main series.

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For those readers who are considering only one additional Forever Evil beyond the main series, here is a breakdown of what you can expect:

Arkham War is obviously written with Batman fans in mind despite having very little actual Batman in it. It’s written by one of my favorite writers Peter Tomasi and I believe they picked the worst possible picture for the cover. The art within is so much better than the close-up face-off of Bat-Bane and Batman. It is predominantly a Bane story, but features a whole slew of Batman’s enemies including Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Penguin, Killer Croc, Man-Bat, Pyg, and Clayface.

A.R.G.U.S. centers largely around Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, making it a book for Wonder-Woman fans despite the fact Steve Trevor hasn’t really appeared in the pages of Wonder Woman. It is more closely related to Justice League, Suicide Squad, Justice League of America, and the secret agent-y government-y titles. The major villains are Killer Frost, Cheetah, and Deathstroke. Among the lesser villains, Cheetah leads a cool-looking pack of anthropomorphic antagonists. While it tells the back story of an important plot point to the greater Forever Evil narrative, it is probably the weakest, in both story and art, of all the Forever Evil subplots.

Rogues Rebellion is a story for Flash fans, obviously. It features the usual lineup of Captain Cold, Trickster, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Heatwave, and Glider. Classic Flash baddies Pied Piper and Gorilla Grodd appear as well. Several character more normally associated with Batman makes appearances; the Rogues find themselves transported to Gotham where they encounter Victor Zsasz, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, and Black Mask.  In addition, there are quite a few second-stringers like Black Bison, Parasite, and the Royal Flush Gang making appearances. This book more than any of the others, including the main series, celebrates the community of villains operating in the DC Universe.

Blight is a Pandora story that stars John Constantine. It is readers who have been following the Dark family of titles and have familiarized themselves with the Trinity War event. This story is important to the entire plot mainly because Pandora’s box is what enables the Crime Syndicate to come over to Earth-1. It retains the feel of Justice League Dark and if you like that, you’ll like this book. If you’re expecting some Vertigo-eqsue tome, you will be disappointed and I recommend you read Rotworld for something closer to that experience.

All in all, I see Forever Evil and titles like World’s Finest and The Multiversity in the same way other comics speculators have already said: DC Comics is gearing up for an infinite crisis of infinite proportion. I’m excited. I feel I’m much better prepared to understand it than I am to understand Infinite Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is a book for its time. Will my generation’s crisis overdo the crises of the past? If Forever Evil is any indication, I believe it will.

 

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For the second year, the World’s Second Greatest Detective presents an assessment of the comics I’ve read, awarding accolades to books that impressed me. Like last year’s list, this one comes at the beginning of September because my comics year begins and ends with Dragon Con in Atlanta. A lot of titles that I mentioned last year continue to turn out great work: Saga, Revival, Batman, Manhattan Projects– but I’d rather steer attention to titles that didn’t make last year’s list either because of my ignorance, their slow creep to trade, or the fact they didn’t exist last year. There will also be some categories this year. For example:

Best Comic Book Character portrayed in an animation

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Katana in “Beware the Batman”

I should remind you that I don’t read any Marvel books, though the announcement that Charles Soule is leaving all his DC titles and the particular temptation of his Death of Wolverine has me eying the other side of the fence a bit. My decision to abstain from Marvel Comics is sort of arbitrary, but not totally without reason- limits on time and resource do not permit me the luxury of reading every comic book, so I picked one of the big two companies and don’t read the other at all. Though I do read a lot of independent comics and that’s really where my heart belongs. I picked DC over Marvel because of many reasons, but the simplest is Batman.

Not all of the accolades will categorized. Nor may all those mentioned really be ‘comics of 2014’ in the truest sense. For example, thanks to a generous donation by Oni Press to the WonderRoot Jackie Ormes Comic Book Library. I had the privilege to read two series that knocked my socks off:

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Courtney Crumrin is the fun story about a misanthropic little girl who lives a society worth hating, but luckily finds an uneasy friendship with her witch uncle and a few easier friendships with netherbeasts. It’s a clever book and the content is acceptable for most age levels.

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The Sixth Gun is an epic story set in a very Wild West, shaped by all sorts of occult and heebie jeebie ghost stuff. Cullen Bunn and the other creators of The Sixth Gun have moved onto other things and the news that DC would cancel All Star Western saddened me a little. East of West is still kicking around, but 2014 has  introduced a Western title that I may enjoy more than all three of those titles.

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Pretty Deadly contains some amazing art. Much like the best work of J.H. Williams III or Francis Manpaul, Emma Rios’s artwork stands out for her creative use of the medium. Panels and pages work together to create a fantastic pace. As Kelly Sue Deconnick’s writing takes the story in and out of stories and timelines, the art and especially the coloring distinguish the different parts of the whole quite well. Deconnick opened the Comics and Popular Arts Conference at this year’s Dragon Con with a rousing talk touching on a variety of subjects such as how we learn publicly and with record in a fast-paced technological society and how that empowers a ‘gotcha culture’ which in turn hinders our ability to learn; the use of the white male as the default character; the futility of overly emotional and aggressive responses to opposing ideas; and comic books. Her husband writes a pretty good comic too.

doing it and doing it and doing it well

Sex Criminals is a twist on Bonnie and Clyde, Robin Hood, Out of this World, 9 Songs, the Matrix, A Dirty Shame…and yeah, it isn’t. It’s an incredibly original story about a girl who stops time when she orgasms and a boy who also stops time when he orgasms. They discover this shared ability during the act of coitus and put it to good use, robbing banks to raise money for a library under attack by a viciously greedy bank that the boy happens to work for and where he poops in his boss’s office plant once a day.

Another catergory?

Worst Comic Book Character portrayed in an animation

For the video game-inspired animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham, a bit of a revolution for the animated superhero movie with its Guy Ritchie-like pace, excessive profanity, explicit sexuality, and a level of violence exceeding even last year’s The Dark Knight Returns, DC made a Suicide Squad movie under the guise of a Batman movie. One thing I like about it is how they retained the original physical attributes of Amanda Waller instead going for the Angela Bassett model. One thing I didn’t like is how they turned King Shark from this:

Joker lipstick on a shark

King Shark in the comics to:

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King Shark in Batman: Assault on Arkham

He looks a cross between Bane and Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me. Their motivation for desharking the shark is unclear to me. I also don’t understand why David Goyer wants to demartian the Martian Manhunter.

Best Comic Book Companion to a video game

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Injustice: Gods Among Us begins before the video game’s storyline. In the simplest terms, Joker has tricked Superman into killing Lois Lane who is pregnant with Superman’s baby. Superman gets so mad that he kills the Joker, beginning the fascist reign of Superman and a doting Wonder Woman. Because it is an Elsworlds story with so many DC characters involved, the opportunities for bringing the essences and flaws of these characters abound. Tom Taylor wastes none of them. The Bat family is especially well-done is the book- particularly Alfred and Catwoman.

Best Art in a Superhero Comic Book

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Jae Lee did some of the best work of his career during his time on Grag Pak’s Batman/Superman. Of all the superstar artists from the 1990s that have continued in comics, I think the development of Jae Lee’s work has been the most interesting to watch. If you haven’t seen his work on Before Watchmen: Ozymandias, I highly recommend that one too. Batman/Superman is a dreamy book, but it is not without a strong sense of character and expression. This collaboration between Pak and Lee stands out as a triumph in comic storytelling.

Second Attempt That Makes The Most Sense in the New 52

Giving Deathstroke another chance at having his own title. Also looking forward to Gail Simone returning to her Secret Six roots later this year.

Second Attempt That Makes The Least Sense in the New 52

Why are the Teen Titans starting over again with issue 1?

Best Volume 3 collection of the New 52

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Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics fulfilled its own prophecies in Vol. 3: At The End Of  Days. Morrison’s writes for the long haul and sometimes it works really well (Seven Soldiers of Victory, All-Star Superman, the epic story of Damian Wayne, Doom Patrol, Filth). His eighteen issues on Action Comics is separated into three acts, best illustrated by their separate trade collections. Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel comes off as a pretty typical superhero comic- it’s action-packed and reintroduces many classic characters from Superman’s mythology such as Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Metallo (Metal-Zero), and Brainiac. There are few weirdo moments, typical of Morrison’s work, but don’t overpower the straight-forward superhero elements. Vol. 2: Bulletproof is pretty weird, more distinctly Morrison. The story is all over the place, referencing itself, making the most out of the queer moments from Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel, as well as introducing a Barack Obama doppelganger named Calvin Ellis- another dimension’s Superman. Finally, in Vol. 3: At the End of Days, all the kookiness starts to make sense and the details of Clark’s arrival in Metropolis in Vol. 1 become enriched by a Myxlplyxian plot that satisfies the patient reader.

Best Vol. 4 Collection(s) of the New 52

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While The Flash Vol. 4: Reverse, Wonder Woman Vol. 4: War, and Batwoman Vol. 4: The Blood is Thick all continued runs by outstanding creative teams, it is books like the Green Lantern family of books, Justice League Dark, and Green Arrow that have seen new creators come in and take the books in different directions to which I’d like to draw your attention. Much praise has been tossed to Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Green Arrow, collected in Green Arrow Vol. 4: The Kill Machine. The art distinguishes itself from the unofficial DC house-style and the writing invigorates Oliver Queen as a character. I do think that in praising Lemire and Sorrentino’s work, a lot of undeserved criticism has been thrown Ann Nocenti’s way. Her depiction of Oliver Queen as an Ugly American in the People’s Republic of China is one of my favorite instances of seeing China portrayed in a superhero comic. Jim DeMatteis has seemingly inherited the Dark family of DC titles, emerging from his run on The Phantom Stranger. In Justice League Dark Vol. 4: Rebirth of Evil, he takes over for Lemire- moving the story from Trinity War to Forever Evil territory. The little demon Constantine‘s are great, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more Frankenstein, my favorite member of the Justice League Dark. With the announcement of Charles Soule signing an exclusive contract with Marvel, I expect DeMatteis may take over Swamp Thing, which had a good, but short Vol. 4: Seeder. Matteis does interesting things with the character in Justice League Dark, but if I was going to pick the new writer of Swamp Thing, I’d go for either Tim Seeley, Kurtis Wiebe, or Angelo Tirrotto. To write an Animal Man title despite his joining Justice League United, I’d recruit Corinna Sara Bechko or Joshua Ortega with the instructions to keep Animal Man dark. Finally, the new slew of Green Lantern creators gave the ring-slingers an exciting year. Ranked best to least best: Red Lanterns, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians. Outside of those Vol. 4s, I was disappointed with the Larfleeze title, but look forward to Cullen Bunn’s Sinestro.

Best Non-Picture Book Author to Write a Picture Book

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Toby Litt on Dead Boy Detectives

When I lived in Ireland, I discovered the work of Toby Litt, an author whose work was not available in the United States, and absolutely fell in love with it. Deadkidsongs, in particular, left me creeped out and inspired. When I heard he would be rebooting the Vertigo series Dead Boy Detectives I waiting in hefty anticipation for the trade to be released. While I was not disappointed, I must admit that Litt has not taken to the medium as quickly as the likes of Brad Meltzer who blew the comics world away with Identity Crisis. I do however see great potential in the future comics work of Litt as he adapts to the medium. Reading the trade, you can see him become more comfortable and, in turn, more capable.

Best Superhero Live-Action Movie

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X-Men: Days of Future Past, like its predecessors, stands well above the rest of the Marvel movies (with the possible exception of Captain America: Winter Soldier). Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, and the rest of the classic mutants put on a great show and new arrivals like Quicksilver brought energy to the film. This and X-Men: First Class are my favorite of the X-Men movies. They somehow managed to make Fan Bing Bing look terrible, which is my only real complaint about the film.

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In conclusion, I’m looking forward to more great comics this year though I have some concerns about a few creative teams at DC (Wonder Woman) and will miss some of my favorite creators and titles as they disappear from the shelves, hopefully replaced by new books of splendor, wonder, and ideas.

 

 

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