Archives for posts with tag: Wonder Woman

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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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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.

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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

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J’imm J’onzz

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

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

 

 

 

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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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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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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As previously mentioned in the World’s Second Greatest Detective’s interview with Actor Matt Myers, Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre  will be presenting Carson Kreitzer’s Lasso of Truth, a play about Wonder Woman and her creator William Moulton Marston. The play opened on September 26 and will run until October 19, 2014 at the Synchronicity Theatre’s new location at Peachtree Pointe 1545 Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia. Here I’ve had the privilege of asking the scribe herself Carson Kreitzer a few questions about the play and her interest in Wonder Woman. Kreitzer has written several plays, many inspired by peculiar characters from history like Marston.

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WXL: What originally attracted you to the story of William Moulton Marston and the character of Wonder Woman?

CARSON KREITZER: Well, I was a Wonder Woman fan from way back.  Lynda Carter was huge for me. Then, a few years ago, I was writing a play that involved a scene with a lie detector.  (1:23, which was produced by Synchronicity in 2009)  I was doing some research on the lie detector, and came across all this information about William Marston and Wonder Woman.  And bondage.  And polyamory. And the two women living together after Marson’s death, raising the children in sleepy little Rye, New York in the 1950’s…. -that detail still just blows my mind.   And I thought, Holy Cow!  That’s my next play.

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WXL: Marston’s original vision for Wonder Woman has undergone significant change over the years. These changes came about through the collective efforts of writers, artists, and the general public. Do you believe this democratic participation has strengthened or weakened the character?

CARSON: It’s gone up and down. She went through some terrible times after Marson died, in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  But then, the writers who picked up the mantle of her true strength and feminist core have been awesome.  Trina Robbins and Phil Jimenez are the ones I’m most familiar with, but I know she’s had lots of amazing talent creating her stories. I loved the Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang/Tony Akins Wonder Woman New 52 relaunch, Blood, Guts, and Iron, which I read as we were rehearsing for the first production in Marin in February. Lasso of Truth is a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, with productions at Marin Theatre Company, Synchronicity here in Atlanta, and Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City.  Like the ancient greek myths the story is rooted in, many bards step in to tell the tales.  It seems fitting.

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WXL: Despite suggestions from certain magazines, Wonder Woman couldn’t legally become President of the United States because she was born in Themyscira. Is there an eligible superhero that you’d like to see in the White House? For our purposes here, you can assume younger American superheroes would wait until they were old enough to run.

CARSON: I guess I’ll say Rogue. Though Zephyr Teachout sounds like a superhero name, don’t you think?  With the ability to withstand the corrupting influence of money? Actually, I’m gonna say Elizabeth Warren.   She’s a superhero.

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WXL:  I’ve never seen a play about Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel, or Joe Shuster. How is that you’re able to bring Wonder Woman to the stage, and in a sophisticated and challenging way, before DC Comics can bring Wonder Woman to the movies?

CARSON: Actually, there’s a bit of a movement going on with Comic Book plays!  There is a wonderful, heartbreaking play called The History of Invulnerability, by David Bar Katz, about the creation of Superman.  And there was just a play in New York called King Kirby, which I didn’t see, but it got great notices.  (Bob Kane may still be waiting for his play…)  And I don’t know why they can’t get it together for a Wonder Woman movie… although I do have empathy.  I think Lynda Carter left some pretty big red boots to fill.  She’s so indelibly connected with Wonder Woman, at least for anyone who grew up with the TV show.  I actually had no idea how much Wonder Woman had disappeared from the popular culture until I started working on this play. She was everywhere when I was a kid- TV, lunch boxes, the whole deal. It was shocking to audition actresses, and find that they had not had Wonder Woman to look up to, to emulate, as little girls.  It is definitely time for more Wonder Woman!

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WXL:  What comics are you reading these days?

CARSON: I’m a bit more of a graphic novel buff, myself. Art Spiegelman’s Maus got me hooked, let me know what was possible with pen and ink and words.  Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home is one of my favorite works of art in any genre whatsoever, and I’m so thrilled she just won a MacArthur Genius grant!  I love Stitches, by David Small.  The combination of words and images is so potent, in some ways so like theater… But it’s also very personal and internal as an experience: you create all the voices in your own head, and you can linger on any page or image to fully take in the detail or the moment, or rush image to image as you race to find out what happens.  My mother actually just sent me Jules Feiffer’s Kill My Mother, which is pretty funny of her.  That’s what I’m reading as soon as I get home from Atlanta.

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Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre  will be presenting Carson Kreitzer’s Lasso of Truth, a play about Wonder Woman and her creator William Moulton Marston. The play will run from September 26-October 19, 2014 at the Synchronicity Theatre’s new location at Peachtree Pointe 1545 Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia. The World’s Second Greatest Detective asked Matt Myers, one of the actors performing in the production.

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WXL: Briefly describe your role in Lasso of Truth.

MATT MYERS: I play Guy, who is the owner of a comic store in the 90s. He’s an artist himself, having learned to draw partially from reading Wonder Woman comics, and partially from going to the Rhode Island School of Design. He’s minding his own business one day, when in walks a girl bent on owning the first appearance of Wonder Woman (All-Star Comics #8), and thus his life is changed forever.

It’s a really interesting take on Wonder Woman’s origins and some pretty cool storytelling elements in there. And I get to play a comic shop owner who is not like Comic-Book Guy on the Simpsons.

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WXL: What are some of the differences between theatre and comic books as story-telling mediums?

MATT: The luxury of comic books is that you can accentuate things with closeups and angles and using the visual language of comics to convey information very quickly. No closeups in theatre, unless we run at the audience suddenly, or angle changes unless we move the stage. I’m only half joking on that. But theatre has its own conventions to fall back on. Music, sound design, lighting; that can make it a more visceral experience. Both mediums have their own ways of letting you into the minds of the characters, thought-bubbles versus soliloquy. Comics are (generally) a one reader at a time experience, while everyone is experiencing theatre together, so both offer there own types of intimacy with an audience. Honestly, I think they’re more similar than different, though, just from pacing and the types of stories we tell and the types of people who are drawn to them.

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WXL: Personally I’ve grown very attached to Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s work on Wonder Woman and feel nervous about the Finches taking over the title. Azzarello and Chiang had Wonder Woman standing nearly outside of the DC universe and the Finches intend to tie the title more closely with events with the DC universe as whole. Likewise Wonder Woman will make her first appearance on the silver screen in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Do you prefer Wonder Woman as a stand alone character or as part of the larger DC universe? How do you see her involvement with the larger DC universe affect her and her strength as a character?

MATT: For total transparency, I haven’t really read Wonder Woman since John Byrne rebooted her, and before that, George Perez. Guess I’m dating myself there.

We were discussing at rehearsal the other night why Wonder Woman is a difficult character to write. She’s not only Iconic, but Symbolic. So you can tinker around with the iconic characters (and Lord knows they have) but her symbolism and significance makes it hard to do as much with her. Folks get ticky when you deviate too far from form with her. Look no further than David Finch saying they weren’t focusing on the feminism of Wonder Woman. Folks get upset. Even folks who may not have read Wonder Woman recently or ever. She’s that important, Symbolically. And someone has to keep that torch lit.

So all of that to say, I think it’s important that there’s a Wonder Woman in the DC universe and that the other characters show her reverence.  It’s a small but important thing. If Batman and Superman treat her as their equal and not like an equivalent to Aquaman (sorry, Aquaman fans) or the JLA admin (sorry, Flash fans), it’s better for the character. There is no other female character in comics with her kind of cache and power. Still, I understand wanting to give her some distance from the rest of the universe because that frees her up from some of that baggage.

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WXL: When the New 52 launched in September 2011, Azzarello and Chiang received a lot of flack for changing Wonder Woman’s origin from daughter of clay to daughter of Zeus. Many critics felt a certain degree of her essence came from her fatherless origins. Having worked with the character’s real life origins and Marston’s own challenges to gender meaning for Lasso of Truth, how important is this detail of Wonder Woman’s origin to you?

MATT: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Never really thought about it. But you know, since you brought it up, I think it is important to the character that she didn’t have a male authority figure. It keeps her from having to kowtow to a man, for anyone to have sovereign over her. Zeus is the big boss and all the mythological guys have to bow to him, but Hippolyta seemed a bit more of a guiding force, rather than a vindictive one. In theory, I preferred their relationship. Granted, all of these characters could be much different now than I’m remembering them, as the characters continue to evolve whether I read them or don’t, but I imagine they’ve stayed similar. Wonder Woman bows to no man.

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WXL: Do you believe Marston’s ideas are still present in the character of Wonder Woman?

MATT: Absolutely. She is the standard-bearer for female superheroes. In any incarnation of her, they always have her strength, fortitude and force of will. These are key to her. He wanted to show that strength and femininity are not at odds with each other and she does that.

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WXL: Which DC Comics superhero do you believe is best suited to play Hamlet?

MATT:  I guess the obvious answer is Batman. The death of a loved one causes them to become single-mindedly focused on vengeance, taking their own sanity into doubt at times, and using cunning to defeat the wrongdoers. Maybe Green Arrow? Both of those guys can dwell in the dark places that Hamlet has to go. I guess that makes Claudius Ra’s Al Ghul.

Ooh, I would add that Essential Theatre did a show called Bat-Hamlet a few years ago, that focused on exactly that.It seemed to lend itself more to the Adam West Batman but it followed the train of thought you’re talking about.

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WXL: What are you reading?

MATT: I’m reading She-Hulk, Nightcrawler, Afterlife with Archie, Astro City, and Saga. I go in and out of reading Walking Dead and Invincible and have lately mulled over catching back up on Fables. It’s hard for me to keep up with single issues so I mostly do trades these days.

 

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