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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.

greenlanternbeyondgotham

A few weeks ago I reviewed the LEGO Marvel video game. While I enjoyed playing it, I’m not a Marvel Comics reader and imagine a faithful Marvel reader would have enjoyed the game more than I did. Alternately I’m a very loyal DC Comics reader and a pretty big Green Lantern fan. After playing through most of Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, I’d say that this game is the best non-comic book piece of Green Lantern media available. While Batman is the major hero and the major villain is traditionally a Superman enemy, the various Lantern Corps provide the props, setting, and support cast for the game. The game is littered with little treats for the GL fan- my favorite of which is when Sinestro utters a relatively new classic from the end of the Geoff Johns run- “That’s the tragedy of all this, we’ll always be friends.”

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While the Green Lantern elements are strong, the creators put a twist on the Blackest Night storyline where all sorts of classic characters end up with Lantern rings. In the comics, Lex Luthor ends up with an orange ring, Wonder Woman with a violet ring, The Flash with a blue ring while in LEGO Batman 3, Lex Luthor ends up filled with feelings of compassion while Wonder Woman is filled with rage and the Flash is driven by the insatiable greed associated with Larfleeze. As the LEGO Batman world is already a caricature of the DC Universe, the emotional spectrum of the Lanterns provides a good bit of fodder for humor.

Rather than an open world Gotham like LEGO Batman 2 (or New York City as in LEGO Marvel), LEGO Batman 3 has a pretty divided open world with menu stages in the Batcave, Watchtower, and Hall of Justice as well as worlds corresponding with each of the Lantern corps, a Moon Base, and a Hall of Doom. As this walking around takes a bit of time, especially the teleporting, one can become nostalgic for the single city worlds that functioned more smoothly in earlier LEGO superhero games.

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The game also looks heavily towards the old Batman ’66 television program for material. More surprising is the representation of characters from the Dark family- Zatanna, Frankenstein, Swamp Thing, Etrigan- and the absence of Constantine, a fellow who may soon very well be absent from television screens as well. There’s a ton of content shoved into this game and the downloadable content looks like it will be coming for a while. After a month of playing both LEGO Marvel and LEGO Batman 3, my interest is fading a bit, but they’re both far superior to the cheesey freemium games so popular among people too cowardly to become addicted to heroin or sports betting. I recommend this game to DC Comics fans of all ages.

 

beyondgoodandevil

“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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While WXL is officially a comic book blog, it’s been a while since I addressed an comics-related issue. I’ve been rereading the Green Lantern/Green Lantern Corps, starting with Rebirth. I’ve just finished The Sinestro Corps War and will probably stop after the other Lantern Corps are introduced, but before Blackest Night goes into full swing. It’s hard to read this material without considering the impact that Geoff Johns has had on the Green Lantern and the DC multiverse in general. When Johns and his various and very talented partners-in-crime brought Hal Jordan back as a Green Lantern, he had been possessed by both Parallax and the Spectre, spent a bit of time with the Phantom Stranger, and played a role in bringing about the destruction of both the Green Lantern Corps and his hometown Coast City. In the books leading up to Blackest Night, the GL creative team resolved the matter of Parallax’s infection of Hal somewhat, enabled Hal to shed the Spectre, returned the ring to Hal’s finger, reestablished the Corps and established additional colors, and brought Coast City back from its ashes.

Please don’t take this article too seriously.

Coast City is traditionally depicted as a California city- sometimes it feels like San Diego and sometimes like San Francisco. Its creation fills a void left by Gotham City and Metropolis’s similarities to New York City and Chicago, Star(ling) City’s similarity to Seattle, and the Gem Cities’ similarities to the Twin Cities. In the Silver Age, Coast City embodied much of the essence of California as understood by the American imagination- a little more laid back than the East Coast, but on the edge of the future, cowboys living better through chemistry. More than Metropolis, Coast City was the city of tomorrow. As the 20th century progressed, California dreaming changed its tone and the American imagination adapted, crafting a new vision of what California meant. This new vision reacted to the rise of new subcultures that became closely associated with California- the Beats, hippies, the Manson family, pornographers, Black Panthers, Scientologists, Silicon Valley, People’s Church, Church of Satan, the out gay community, United Fruit Workers, and other strong personalities that informed both California and US identity. Coast City still somewhat resembled San Diego minus the Hispanic population, but it hardly resembled San Francisco by the time it was destroyed in the 1990s. I see Coast City more like Detroit, incredibly optimistic in the Silver Age and ruined largely by outside factors. Detroit came to mind initially because it’s the hometown of Geoff Johns.

Let’s look at what destroyed Coast City and what destroyed Detroit. Once the Oa of automobiles, Detroit’s contribution to US culture and its international reputation has largely been overshadowed by its economic decline. Can you imagine the American experience without Motown or MC5, much less without the automobile? The economy of Coast City when it is first introduced centers around Ferris Aircraft, which isn’t the automobile industry, but both employ machinists, mechanics, and engineers, if you know what I mean. These two industrial cities are destroyed from within and without.

The destruction of Coast City is generally attributed to three individuals:

Mongul loves yellow

Mongul

Is it just me or are there some underlying racial issues with this character? He is a yellow-skinned villain bent on world(s) domination through dynastic rule. His name is one letter away from Mongol, shorthand for Mongoloid (if you subscribe to the antiquated theory of three distinct races (Negroid, Caucasoid, Mongoloid)) which refers to people with ancestry from Asia. He’s built much more like a Mongolian than a Japanese person and his name is likely inspired by the notoriety of the Mongol Empire. In the late 20th century, the failing communist nation of Mongolia posed little threat to Detroit. Japan and its robust automotive industry, however, posed a significant one and that idea continues to find a captive audience. Manufacturing in Asia has only grown as a go-to scapegoat for a decline in US manufacturing. The nations of Japan and Korea developed economically, achieved legitimacy, and consolidated regional influence largely on the backs of their automotive industries. Their rise came at the cost of Detroit.

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Cyborg Superman

As his name implies, Hank Henshaw is a half-human half-robot version of the Man of Steel. In a dangerous partnership with Mongul, Cyborg Superman transforms Coast City literally into an Engine City. Coast City is replaced by an exponentially more industrialized version of itself to serve the ambitions of the foreign power Mongul. Much like Detroit’s woes, there is an undeniable John Henry overtone to the terraforming of Coast City. It’s man vs machine and machine wins.

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Hal Jordan

The legacy of Coast City’s destruction is best characterized by its effect on Hal Jordan. Left so distraught by his hometown’s demise, Hal Jordan allows himself to fall victim to Parallax or what FDR might call “fear itself.” The decline of Detroit has certainly taken a toll on the will power of the people of the city and perhaps in some of their darker moments, people have embraced fear over optimism.

When Geoff Johns brings Hal Jordan back to the Green Lantern mantel, he also brings Coast City back into existence. By doing so, I believe Geoff Johns is communicating a hope for his hometown to persevere through difficult times and eventually revitalize itself. In one of this last moves as Green Lantern kingpin, Johns introduced the character of Simon Baz in his native Detroit, providing a much less nuanced role for his hometown than any parallels that could be brought between Coast City and Detroit.

I like when creators represent, whether it’s Johns placing Simon Baz in Detroit or Robert Kirkman setting the Walking Dead in Georgia. Comics can capture physical and spiritual geography in ways unique to the medium such as Strange Attractors, Deogratias, and Palestine. Of course, the Marvel Universe approaches real-life geography in a way distinctly its own.

In conclusion, I would welcome Aquaman to Atlanta. He’s gonna love the fountains at Centennial Park.

Ten Best Comics of 2012 2013

Like US military intervention in Syria,  Dragon Con looms in the very near future. Feeling less informed on Syria than comics, I present what I hope will be an annual tradition for Wayne Xiaolong. I present my list of the best comics of the year. These are comics that I read between last year’s Dragon Con and this year’s Dragon Con, so rather than mark the year from New Years to New Years, we’ll be marking the year from Labor Day to Labor Day.

THE BEST COMICS OF THE YEAR (in no particular order, but the first one is the best one)

Saga

In my opinion, Saga is by far the best comic book of the year, if not the best comic book ever. Saga continues to amaze not only with each issue, but with each page and in every panel. The dialogue will make you think, laugh, and smile. This book compelled to read most of Brian Vaughn’s back catalog and I highly recommend you read  Y: The Last Man in its entirety and also check out Pride of Baghdad. He’s also producing “Under The Dome,” which is starting out interestingly enough. Fiona Staples’s art is amazing and I am drawing much inspiration from her style on some of my own projects.

Pinocchio Vampire Slayer

This is a fun book put together by two creators slated to appear at Dragon Con, Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins. It was announced at Comic Con that all of the volumes of Pinocchio Vampire Slayer will be collected in an omnibus edition, which is probably the way to read it because the individual volumes are quick reads that leave you wanting more.

Batman

The whole Bat-family of books has been a joy to read since the launching of the New 52 despite the death of my favorite Robin of all-time, which happened in Batman Inc. not Batman. Batman has carried the weight of the two major crossovers in the Bat-family of books, “The Night of Owls” and “The Death of the Family.” Both have been really creepy. Greg Capullo’s art compliments Scott Synder’s twisted imagination to create an almost fatty macabre noir. Really great stuff. Seriously though, all the Bat-books are worth reading- Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Nightwing, Birds of Prey, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Detective Comics, etc.

68

68 is a zombie book that takes place mostly in Vietnam during the late 1960s. Rich in historical reference and detail, overflowing with sophisticated humor, and filled with consistently creative art (which is often difficult for a war comic), 68 continues find value in an idea that lesser creators would turned into a dull gimmick.

Revival

Like 68, Revival is a book about the dead coming back to life, however the walking dead in Revival retain a lot more motor function.

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The Flash

The Flash puts the science back in science fiction. The art in The Flash is arguably the best in the New 52.

Batwoman

Remember when I said the art in The Flash is arguably the best in the New 51? Batwoman is the reason for the argument.

Strange Attractors

Nearly all the books on this list use the comic book medium in new, exciting ways specific to the medium. Perhaps most so in The Flash and Strange Attractors. Strange Attractors actually makes me want Charles Soule and Francis Manipaul to team up- the whirring lines in both books almost create a new dimension in the format, elements of movement that challenge the medium but also echo Silver Age Flash as well as the Family Circus. This book is a great gift for anyone from or who lives in New York City. There are a lot of great lines in this book.

The Manhattan Projects

This book is crazy and crazy in a well-researched and incredibly creative way. Hickman’s writing is absolutely top notch and nearly overshadows Patarra’s incredibly innovative art and approach to story telling as well as the book’s sleak overall design.

Lost Cat

More greatness from Jason.

No Place Like Home

I love this creepy spin on the Wizard of Oz and can’t wait to learn what’s really going on.

Hopeless Maine

Tim Burton should direct this comic book. If you like Coraline or similarly creepy stories with assertive young girls facing physically impossible odds, you’ll appreciate this spooky story of orphans and friendship.

Anyway, that’s the list. I better get to bed as I’ll be volunteering all day tomorrow for Dragon Con- figured I’d get as much of my volunteering out of the way on Thursday, so I can enjoy the actual Con. I’m looking forward especially to “Gender, Race, and Identities in Comics” on Friday; the parade, post-parade brunch, Amanda Connor, Darwyn Cooke, Neal Adams, and some Bootie mash ups on Saturday; Jimmy Palmiotti on Sunday (and of course, my own panel “Comics Through a Socio-Political Lens”); and being able to still stand as I do my last volunteering on Monday.

It’s going to great weekend, Atlanta. Maybe it’ll even be a great year.

 

 

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