Apr 17, 2019

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1513: Adventures of Superman #600, March 2002

Sorry I've been behind. Getting some stuff ready for the Fan Expo and Fairy Tales festival. I'll try to keep on top of things from here on.

A big one today! Though the series is titled Adventures of Superman, this is actually the original Superman series that debuted in 1939. The title was changed when John Byrne rebooted Superman in the 80s and started up a new eponymous title. It, too, must be coming up on a 1000th issue, though Action got there a little quicker by way of a weekly series for a while.

The last few issues have been parts of larger events, hence my reluctance to write about them. We make our way through "Our Worlds At War," the epilogue of which does deserve a moment's attention. The comic, #596, arrived in stores the day after September 11th, 2001. Chillingly, the second page features a panel of Lex Corps twin towers in ruins, victims of an alien attack. The similarity to the tragedy in New York was chilling. The comic was made returnable, and for a little while there was a ghoulish speculator interest in the issue. These days I think it pulls in about the same as any other issue from this run. Following that was a crossover issue with the "Joker: Last Laugh" event. It was good, but somewhat anticlimactic without the denouement of the main series.

After today's issue, the story becomes much more self contained, as far as I can recall. One of the things that does remain throughout the Super-titles is the problem of Lex Luthor as President. That's the subject of today's story, as it's revealed to Superman that Lex has been missing for three weeks. Superman finds him, sort of, and some very interesting things are revealed about the Man of Steel's nemesis. There's also a lovely retelling of his origin in full-page pin-ups, a fitting tribute to this iconic tale.

Superman's adventures always continue. He'll be around long after any of us are gone. He'll be telling the same kinds of stories, inspiring the same kinds of people, growing more and more legendary as the years, centuries, pass. Ironically, we're going to take a break from them for now. I've recently added some interesting things to the collection, so I'm going to poke about at those, and then we'll come back for another chunk, and I think the superior chunk, of Joe Casey's Superman.

"Once upon a time, a strange visitor came to Earth..."

Giant Box of Occasional News: “Black Super Hero Magic Mama” debuts at the Geffen Playhouse

(An occasional column. This was my application piece for CBR.com, though they didn't want to run it on the site. I'm going to try to find the little news stories for this column.)

A new play using superheroes to deal with the consequences of racially-motivated police shootings premiered at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles on March 13th. Written by Inda Craig-Galvan, a staff writer for ABC’s The Rookie, and starring Kimberly Hébert Gregory, best known for her role as Dr. Belinda Brown on HBO’s Vice Principals, the play follows a grieving mother in the wake of the police gunning down her 14-year-old son, Tramarion.
            Accordingto The Hollywood Reporter, Craig-Galvan was motivated to write the play in response to what she saw as Samaria Rice’s (mother of Tamir Rice, shot by police in Cleveland in 2014) inability to simply grieve the loss of her son. The play addresses the politicisation of such events, through media and popular discussion, and the effect this politicisation has on those for whom the event is not political or social, but personal.
            The play eschews the political aspect of the crime by having Hébert’s character Sabrina play out her superheroic adventures as Maasai Angel on a metaphorical or metaphysical level. The removal of the superhero from the “real world” allows Sabrina to use Maasai Angel, a hero created by her son, as a way of coming through her grief, “retreat[ing] into a fantasy world of superheroes and arch villains.” But in asking the question is there a “mother who refuses to do the things that are expected by the media and by society” in the wake of such tragedy, some critics note that play “becomes mired in…imagination.” Sabrina’s superheroic journey recasts real world figures from her life as villains she must battle but largely avoids confronting “racist policing and an unjust criminal justice system.” In so racially-charged a social climate, the absence of this discussion strikes some as glaring.
            Other reviews note that the play “deals with anger and violence and the brokenness of our world but doesn’t get so caught up in those things that it loses the humanity of its characters,” something that Craig-Galvan prioritized in composing the play. The questions that remains, however, is whether or not the political aspect of such crimes should be removed from public discussions of racially-motivated shootings. Jordan Riefe, in The Hollywood Reporter, notes that while no one should have to grieve in public, or not be allowed to grieve in private, a play like this also has the potential to “be every bit as engaging and as relevant” in its discussion of the wider, public problems that lead to these private tragedies.

From the Geffen Playhouse:
Sabrina Jackson cannot cope with the death of her son by a White cop. Rather than herald the Black Lives Matter movement, Sabrina retreats inward, living out a comic book superhero fantasy, played out on stage. Will Sabrina stay in this dream world or return to reality and mourn her loss?

Black Super Hero Magic Mama, written by Inda Craig-Galvan and starring Kimberly Hébert Gregory ran March 13 to April 14, 2019, at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.



Apr 11, 2019

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1507: Adventures of Superman #594, September 2001

I've never been a fan of Doomsday, or his role in the death of Big Blue. Big as the story might have been, and earnest as its writers might have been (watch Louise Simonson talk about it in Secret Origins - she was broken up by this), I've always found this story to be a bit too contrived for my tastes. Granted, it was the early 90s, and comics were very different back then, but to me Superman shouldn't die in a punch-up. That's beneath him. As is this creature.

That said, it's full of beautiful art, and of excellent commentary on the extraordinary measures countries will go to while they're at war, regardless of the cost once peace has been "won."

But it's also the middle of a crossover that I have no interest in following. I think tomorrow's comic is the last part that impinges upon Adventures, so hopefully the alien bad guys will be defeated, and Superman will come out on top.

"Once freed...it was...primal...brutal...now I understand how it  could've done...what it did...to you..."

Apr 10, 2019

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1506: Adventures of Superman #593, August 2001

I forgot to mention yesterday that we didn't actually skip an issue, jumping from #590 to #592. There was a four part crossover called "Infestation," penned by Marv Wolfman, that I didn't track down as I was grabbing up all of Casey's Superman. I may go back to it, though, as I've recently read some of Wolfman's old Action Comics, and they're really good. And thinking back to Crisis, his work with Superman in that title is also pretty great.

Regardless, we're jumping into another crossover, though I won't be reading too much of this one. "Our Worlds At War" may have seemed an appropriate storyline in the early 2000s (remember, this is pre-9/11), but these days I wonder why we have to have so many stories about interstellar war. I think it reveals a really deep-seated fear that anyone, or anything, that we eventually encounter out in space will be so much like ourselves that we'll inevitably go to war with them. Isn't that depressing?

The crossover delves much more deeply into the issue faced a couple of days ago by the Man of Steel, that of President Luthor. It must irk Superman so much to have to be on the side of his greatest rival, but it also speaks to the idea of the common threat uniting all of humanity. My great fear is that it's only in the face of a world-ending event that we can actually come together as a single people, finally. Though, given the state of climate change, perhaps even such an event isn't enough to bring us together.

Humans really do suck sometimes.

"I vill reduce your alien flesh to protoplasmic slime!"

The Faces of Glory - Alan Moore's Glory #2 [Finch Variant, Avatar Press]

Another cover that really hearkens back to the 90s for me. It really does have to be Finch's artwork, and the formative effect it had on comics at the time. But that's not all I should be talking about with this picture. There's a reason David Finch is considered one of the top illustrators of that era, and it's because he makes a character move. Have a look at the first couple of issues of New Avengers v.1. The sense of motion, of giant bodies in small spaces, of bodies flying through the air (both of and not of their own volition). The same, I think is true of this picture. Where Glory is coming from, and where she's landing, we don't know, but we definitely know that she's moving between places.

This might seem like a small thing, but there's plenty of artists out there who draw figures as if they're frozen in place, and the human body never is.

This is the David Finch variant of issue #2 of the Avatar series. I really do think Finch manages to mesh the two costumes, original and current, really nicely here.

Apr 9, 2019

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1505: Adventures of Superman #592, July 2001

It was quite a shock when Mike Wieringo died in 2007. My main exposure to his work had been his extremely (ha! pun!) brief time illustrating Alan Moore's Youngblood. That title's link to Supreme made it stand out for me, though his art certainly grabbed my attention as well. On his Wikipedia page, Wieringo notes that his philosophy behind his art is to keep things fun. And his art certainly does this.

One of the ways of discerning a great comic from a merely good comic, or a great artist from a good one, is to look at backgrounds. While the focus of the story is always the characters, the actions they're undertaking, those characters and actions are not, for the most part, the only things happening in the shared world. Unless, I suppose, it's one of those Flash stories where he's moving really fast and no one else appears to be doing anything.

When we look at the backgrounds in this comic, be they Metropolis after the EMP or Jimmy Olsen's apartment, there is something going on. There is acknowledgement from the creative team that the main character is not the only character in the world, even if they are the focal character in a panel. I truly appreciate this. There's a lot of talk about realism in superhero comics, mostly these days from Zack Snyder, but I don't think realism has to have anything to do with grittiness, necessarily. Sometimes it has to do with acknowledging that a world is a constantly moving place with many moving parts. It's seeing those parts, the background bits that readers, were they characters, are really more likely to be involved in. If the superhero (and I dispute this) is really wish-fulfillment, the background action is the reality upon which the wish is founded.

One other thing. I'm not going to put a sentence in today, since the one I want to use really needs the panel with it. I know it's perhaps unintentional, but doesn't it look like Clark's about to wake up Strange Visitor by grabbing her ass? And from her reaction in the next panel, I'm not sure I'm wrong!

Apr 8, 2019

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 1504: Adventures of Superman #590, May 2001

Did I mention that this is the era of Superman in which Lex Luthor was President of the United States. Having a villain in that role is far less amusing or intriguing now than it might have been at the time. Though Lex is definitely a smarter president than the current Villain in Chief.

The question of what Superman will do when his drives and ideals mesh with Luthor's, as President, is a very interesting one. A part of the American, or perhaps the nationalist, psyche that I've never been able to wrap my head around is respect for an office that transfers to those who hold the office and may not be all that respectable. One of the questions raised by Luthor's ascendancy to the Presidency is whether or not one should be listening to someone who holds high office even if they don't agree with the holder. For those of us in the general populace, it's not really a pertinent question. I disagree with many things that our leaders do, but in my personal and public lives, I'm not beholden to these leaders, really. But someone like Superman, who's sworn to obey the laws of the land, and knows he has the ability to completely ignore them, has to make this choice. Does he listen to Luthor, and obey Luthor, given their history together?

The action of today's comic takes place alongside the conversation that Superman and Luthor have about this very topic. Superman does in the end do what Luthor asks him, but very much on his own terms. It's an interesting moment where we see two diametrically-opposed characters come to an agreement about a particular situation. As Squirrel Girl teaches us, there's always moments of commonality. We just have to be open to finding them.

(Of course, I write this as the UCP is set to take control of Albertan politics, and I don't think I've seen a campaign with quite so many racists and homophobes plainly on the ticket. *sigh*)

"I don't care which office you hold...I will never be your errand boy. Remember that."