Archives for posts with tag: Superman

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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Dragon Con was a blast and I felt like the DC Comics and Cultural Studies panel went well. I’ve had a few requests so I’ve posted my paper “Discipline & Punish: Michel Foucault & the Suicide Squad” here. Hopefully I’ll get around to posting my paper from last year some time soon, but until then, enjoy this one.

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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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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.

 

 

 

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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As the holiday season approaches, I thought I’d lend my expertise to those gift-givers out there with comic book fans of varying levels on their shopping list. Unlike a lot of the comic book gift guides I’ve seen around the web, this list is strictly books to be read- no etsy crafts, no action figures, no lingerie, no DVDs- just graphic novels and collected editions.

This list is set up to help you give the perfect gift, but giving the perfect gift involves two parties: the giver and the receiver. This list focuses on the receiver, but the true treasure of the gift should be that it came from you. (Actually that’s not entirely true: giving the perfect gift involves three parties: the giver, the receiver, and the producer of the gift- which is why independent comics make especially good gifts! Most items on this list, however, are not independents.)

Right now the comic book world is filled with comic book fans who have actually read very few comics. They may avidly watch TV shows, wear T-shirts, and rush to the movies, but they’ve had little contact with the source material.

CLASSICS: There are a few comics that critics insist belong in everyone’s collection. These can be dangerous gift purchases as these titles are pretty popular and may appear in even the mildest comic book fan. These books include works by Alan Moore (Watchmen; V for Vendetta; League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; The Killing Joke), works by Frank Miller (Batman Year One; The Dark Knight Returns; Sin City), and works by Grant Morrison (Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth; The Invisibles). These books are all well and good, but they’re pretty old and their iconic status means they might be in the person’s collection already. Another thing these books all have in common is that they’re not appropriate for young children. My advice is steer clear of these titles as gifts even though they’re all pretty great reads.

COMICS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE VIDEO GAMES: A lot of superhero video games are based on movies and those games are largely terrible. Some of the Spiderman games are good as is LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, but largely Marvel games have been duds. I can’t speak to the Disney Infinity stuff because I haven’t played it. Games based on DC properties have proven somewhat better- I’m a particular fan of the under-rated Batman: The Brave and The Bold, but the obvious ones are the Batman Arkham-verse games and Injustice: Gods Among Us. If you know that the person on your list loves playing the Arkham-verse games, I highly recommend the accompanying graphics novels (Batman: Arkham Asylum-The Road to Arkham; Batman: Arkham City; Batman: Arkham Unhinged; Batman: Arkham City-End Game; and Batman: Arkham Origins). While those books are good, the books that accompany Injustice: Gods Among Us are amazing. The collection hardcovers are also beautifully printed.

COMICS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE THE FLASH TV SHOW: The Flash can be an overwhelming character and Grant Gustin’s Flash on the show doesn’t exactly fit with any specific Flash story. The main storyline of the television show has been the murder of Barry Allen’s mother and some ambiguous Reverse Flash foreshadowing. The best Reverse Flash story is probably Flashpoint, but it comes with a lot of baggage that might be frustrating for the newcomer. To truly do Flashpoint justice, one should probably start with Flash: Rebirth (the return of Barry Allen) and then read The Flash Vol. 1: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues!, followed by The Flash Vol. 2: The Road to Flashpoint. After reading those three volumes, your Flash fan should be more than prepared to encounter Flashpoint, but to get the most of that story, they’ll want the accompanying World of Flashpoint collections. They don’t need to read every WoF story, so you might want to pick one that speaks most to your relationship or particular interest of the giver. I do recommend that you at least give a couple of World of Flashpoint The Flash along with the Flashpoint graphic novel. Below is a list of the collections that I’ve ranked based on personal preference:

1) World of Flashpoint Batman

2) World of Flashpoint Wonder Woman

3) World of Flashpoint Superman

4) World of Flashpoint Featuring Green Lantern

The truly generous Flashpoint gift set would include a total of 9 books and that can be pretty expensive, so you may want to get this Flash fan started on the New 52- start with The Flash Vol. 1: Move Forward.

Good indie option for Flash fans? The Manhattan Projects

COMICS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKED SMALLVILLE: The obvious choice here would be to further the Smallville universe in the Smallville Season 11 series. If you want to provide them with a Superman story that evokes the same emotions as Smallville, I’d recommend Superman: Birthright or even Kurt Busiek’s Elseworlds story Superman: Secret Identity. One nice thing about both of these Superman books is that they don’t require the reader to have too much background knowledge and are self-contained stories.

Indie option? Invincible

COMICS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKED MAN OF STEEL: Man of Steel centered largely around Kryptonian concerns, which can really be hit-or-miss in the comics and enjoyment depends largely on how the reader imagines Krypton themselves. Good Kryptonian reads include: Last Stand of New Krypton; Krypton Returns; H’el on Earth; Last Son of Krypton; and a lot of Supergirl stories. Another good choice that contains a lot of elements of Kryptonian lore, but takes place largely on Earth (and the Phantom Zone) is Superman for Tomorrow- great writing and great art.

Indie option? the rebooted X-O Manowar

COMICS FOR PEOPLE WITH REFINED TASTES WHO LIKE SUPERMAN: Personally, my favorite Superman stuff strays from the beaten path a bit. Considers these gift sets:

SUPERMAN + COLD WAR: Red Son asks what if Superman landed in the Soviet Union instead of the United States. The New Frontier posits Superman and other DC heroes in a 1950s atmosphere of McCarthyism, arms and space races, and a changing American dream.

SUPERMAN+FINE ART: Batman/Superman Vol. 1: Cross World and Vol 2: Game Over feature some of the dreamiest superhero art you find by master Jae Lee. Likewise Alex Ross has made significant contributions to raising the bar of superhero art with works like: Kingdom Come; Justice; and one of my personal favorites and a book that truly captures the Christmas spirit is The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, which unfortunately is out of print. If you can track down that last one, you might be a comics reader hero.

SUPERMAN+FREAKOUT!: Sometimes Superman gets downright psychedelic as authors let their freak flags fly. This is especially true whenever Grant Morrison gets his hands on the Man of Steel. The first three volumes of Morrison’s run on Action Comics (New 52) would make a mind-bending gift for your Superman fan or his All-Star Superman if you only feel like giving a single book. Many Superman Elseworlds stories like The Nail, Metropolis, Kal, and those I’ve already mentioned (Kingdom Come, Red Son, Secret Identity) all challenge the reader to expand their understanding of the last son of Krypton.

COMICS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE THE GOTHAM TV SHOW: Gotham Central was a series by Brubaker and Rukka that focused more on the cops than the bats in Gotham City. Without this comic, there might not have been a Gotham TV show.

The recently released first volume of Batman Eternal is a great Jim Gordon-centered drama. It’s big and fat and wonderful.

COMICS FOR BATMAN FANS WHO FEAR THE NEW WORLD ORDER: The Court of Owls and The Night of Owls are Batman books from the New 52 that introduce an Illuminati Golden Dawn Skulls Freemason Rotary Club called the Court of Owls. Scott Snyder’s writing and Greg Capullo’s art are the current Batman standard. These books are complimented by the New 52 titles: Nightwing, Talon, All-Star Western, and Birds of Prey and to a lesser extent, Detective Comics, Batwing, and Catwoman.

That’s a good start to flood a comic fans stocking with a bunch of comics starring white male heroes, but trust me- there are many great books out there that don’t focus solely on muscular white dudes getting their science fiction on!  If I have time, I’ll try to post some on those as well as suggestions for fans of the Constantine show in the next installment of the World’s Second Greatest Detective’s 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide.

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With LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham coming out in the US in just a few days (November 11, 2014), I picked up its Bizarro version LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. As longtime readers of this blog know, I am much more a DC Comics fan than a Marvel Comics fan, which speaks more to my fondness for DC properties than for any love lost between Marvel and I. If I had all the time and money in the world, I’d probably read Marvel Comics too…and I’d probably read them while traveling the world by boat and train. However my clock and pocketbook have limits, so I’m a Marvel fan like the majority of Marvel fans- I’ve seen the movies and I watch Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD every week. I also dabble in the Marvel video games, which, like most comic book video games, are hit and miss. Captain America: Super Soldier? Hit. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer? Miss, but Silver Surfer serves a central role in the LEGO game and it works really well.

I’m a believer that certain superheroes produce better video games than others because of their powers. Because of the limitations for characters like Batman and Captain America, they make for better games than more powerful heroes with more complicated power sets like Superman and Green Lantern. Flying characters bring their own problems and their success lies in the gameplay- is it easy to control Iron Man’s suit? how fluid is Spidey’s swinging? Wolverine is a unique character because of his famous healing factor. Characters with hyper-developed mental abilities like Jean Grey and Professor X (or Maxwell Lord and Hector Hammond, if you like) also present challenges for video game platforms. How do your remotely control a metahuman brain with less than ten buttons and your meager human brain? Other characters with power sets that overwhelm almost any situation like Magneto or the Sentinels require the player to forgive a necessary weakening of the character in order to make them playable.

In the case of Magneto, LEGO lucks out as LEGOs are not magnetic, making a LEGOverse a severe handicap to Magneto. The LEGO approach to superhero gaming actually works incredibly well and not just for Magneto. Some characters suffer, but their suffering is presented in a way that 1) recognizes its limitations and 2) tries to soften it up with humor. Two particular characters come to mind. In the DC universe, we find Green Lantern being able to assemble a few green legos that no one else can assemble and while that’s a far cry from being able to create unlimited light constructs, LEGO makes reference to the classic Highball Hal Jordan’s repertoire by having him build boxing gloves and bowling balls. In the Marvel universe, Mr. Fantastic is only able to take advantage of his stretchiness when certain triggers in the game allow it. When standing on a 4 platform, he turns into situation specific shapes- something I imagine we can expect from Plastic Man in the LEGO Batman 3– and most of them are humorous. Similar he can slip through grates as long they’ve been clearly marked as passable grates.

Humor is a huge element in the LEGO games and LEGO Marvel really brings it. All of the LEGO games have the player building ridiculous things for ridiculous reasons. Because LEGO has chosen such content rich franchises as Star Wars and Harry Potter, they’ve been able to integrate into their games many in-jokes for fans of those franchises. While the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones franchises have a great deal of content to draw from, those franchises pale in comparison to either Marvel or DC in terms of source material. Even as a modest Marvel I was able to pick up on many of the game’s jokes such as Stan Lee drinking a contaminated soda a la The Incredible Hulk. Being only a Marvel novice, I’m sure I missed plenty of winks, giggles, and Easter Eggs. Several characters appear in the game that I don’t recognize and I think that’s great. I hope hardcore Marvel fans really appreciate all the little details put into the game. As a hardcore DC fan, I’m expecting a sophisticated awesomeness from LEGO Batman 3 and the pre-release hype has got me pretty excited. Some of my favorite more obscure characters have already appeared in promotional materials- Frankenstein, Detective Chimp, Swamp Thing, and so many Lanterns including my two favorite Red Lanterns Bleez and Dex-Starr. You’ll also be able to play as real like folks like Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Kevin Smith, and Adam West- maybe in the fourth installment you’ll be able to play as a real-life woman. Maybe the adorably rad Tiffany Smith from DC All Access or iconic refrigerator inspector Gail Simone.

In LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, you can wear lots of Iron Man’s suits including the original, War Machine, Iron Patriot, and even Pepper Pots. Costumes from different points in the lives of the Fantastic Four, Spider-man, and certain X-Men are available. You can even choose between the Mandarin from the comics and the Mandarin from Iron Man 3. With LEGO Batman 3, the creators actually have less cinema to draw from than the Marvel folks, but they have a longer comics history, an expanding television universe, and a long string of brilliant Elseworlds tales to draw from.

In signing off, let me just mention that Batman: The Brave and the Bold is an underrated console game.  I’m bummed Arkham Knight isn’t coming to Wii U. I want to see Cheetah in Injustice 2, I’m really enjoying the Injustice comics, and I don’t understand why the Mortal Kombat series have to be in the Injustice games at all. I don’t know how I feel about having a Joker in the Suicide Squad movie, but then again, I don’t how I’d feel about a Suicide Squad movie without Harley Quinn. The whole thing just tears me apart like a string of LEGO blocks.

 

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