OMG, DC: Justice League Quarterly #5

Justice League Quarterly 5

I’ve written about Justice League Quarterly before. The book ran for almost half a decade (from 1990-1994) and was by no means a perfect comic: I enjoyed issues #1, #3, #5, and #8 (and #8 only because seeing Qwardian versions of the Justice League was pretty neat – at least back then, now it’s old hat) and the rest were pretty take-it-or-leave-it material.

I’m singling out issue #5 because it contains the best Ice story I’ve ever read. Not coincidentally, it also feels like the only Ice story I’ve ever read: it was the first (and last?) time she functioned as something more than Guy Gardner’s romantic interest, Fire’s caring and supportive friend, a girl with a crush on Superman, or one of the more inessential members of the Justice League.

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In Justice League Quarterly #5′s “Be Careful What You Wish For!” Ice is faced with an emotional quandary – succumb to insecurity and go home to Norway with her tail between her legs, or continue with the JLA and feel worthless – she learns, almost by accident, that she’s both valued by her teammates and, above all else, genuinely wants to help people.

Schmaltzy? Sure. But at the risk of spinning a broken record right off the table: DC just doesn’t publish stuff like this anymore. The Ice of 2014 has a punk rock haircut and surly demeanour, and her function in comics these days appears to be as foil to Guy Gardner, a freshly-minted Red Lantern whose jerk with a heart of gold days are long gone. “Be Careful What You Wish For!” was a heartwarming tale of hope and optimism, full of adventure, and featuring characters that were easy to like. The New 52 features a teenage girl running around with the Joker’s severed face strapped to her head.

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“Be Careful What You Wish For!” has two openings: the first shows a friendly woman conversing with the mailman. A small parade of determined-looking men in sunglasses (who henceforth shall be known as the Men in Black) march past, then reveals that the mailman’s a robot:

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The other opener features an assortment of heroes – Geo-Force, Valor (a.k.a. Mon-El), and Red Star – collapsing in the presence of the Men in Black. Blue Beetle and Guy Gardner lounge on the JLA headquarters’ roof, reading about another hero – Rebis (a.k.a. the version of Doom Patrol’s Negative Man that was a hermaphrodite combining Larry Trainor, the Negative Spirit, a lady doctor, and some random dude) – suffering a similar fate, before the late ’80s/early ’90s Will Payton Starman crashes into the building:

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In addition to being, as Metamorpho states, “some of the most powerful Joes on the planet,” these five are also a Who’s Who of Unrealized A-List Heroes for DC in the ’90s:

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But I digress.

Martian Manhunter learns that Ice is looking to quit the Justice League:

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But like the movie cop with one day left until retirement, Ice decides to go on one last mission: accompanying her temperamental beau Guy Gardner and Power Girl as they try to eradicate the Men in Black, a plan that promptly goes to hell as Power Girl and Guy almost immediately have their powers stolen and get knocked out, respectively, leaving Ice to make do on her own.

Through the magic of being a sweetie pie and some good old-fashioned wishing, Ice suddenly finds herself with a shiny new Green Lantern ring:

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She follows the Man in Black to an island in the Atlantic that’s a simulation of small-town America, where Justice League villain Professor Ivo is now later-period Marlon Brando-sized, with a mutilated face, and is gathering an army of super-powered robots for reasons I won’t reveal here:

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The rest of the Justice League shows up, and at one point Martian Manhunter uses a train as a club:

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And Blue Beetle getting a building thrown at him:

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Does he live? Does he die? (Spoiler alert: yes, in the pages of Countdown to Infinite Crisis).

I won’t say how “Be Careful What You Wish For!” ends, but if you really want to know you should check out my WTF, DC? Ice entry which lets the cat screaming out of the bag.

The rest of Justice League Quarterly #5 contains a vastly entertaining Global Guardians story (note how the opening frame mirrors the opening frame of Keith Giffen’s Justice League #1 from 1987), a cutesy but pointless tale starring General Glory and Ernie (themselves cutesy but pointless pastiches of Captain America and Bucky), and a second tale starring Ice and Fire in which Ice is unfortunately written overly girly and slightly dumb:

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Unfortunate because “Be Careful What You Wish For!” just spent so much time making the case for her intelligence, strength, and caring as a woman. Otherwise Justice League Quarterly #5 is aces.

 

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NON-DC: Marvel NOW! An Unmitigated Success in Attracting New Readership

I’m about to turn 34. From the age of nine (1989) through just recently (2011), my comic book purchases were almost exclusively DC. A few times a year I’d buy something from Marvel or Dark Horse or Image, but DC has always received the lion’s share of my hard-earned cash.

Part of the reasoning behind this was that I’d put so much time and energy and money in the DCU – getting to know its characters and its mythology for 22 years. It was a big investment, big enough that I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing with another company. It would’ve been too much work.

Then the New 52 happened, and suddenly Tim Drake had never been Robin, Barbara Gordon was walking, Superman was making out with Wonder Woman, and everyone from Terra to Superboy to the Question bore little resemblance to their previous incarnations. Other characters were missing completely: Donna Troy, Elongated Man, Cassandra Cain. It was a whole new gimmicky world, but it contained just enough pre-New 52 elements to be an utterly frustrating experience for longtime readers.

Meanwhile, Marvel was busy launching its Marvel NOW! initiative, resetting existing titles to #1, bringing on new creative teams, and introducing new books. The Avengers became the third-highest grossing movie of all time, while the Green Lantern film reinvented suck. It became evident that it was time for a change. Here is a list of the Marvel NOW! (or Marvel NOW!-ish) books I’ve either checked out (by which I mean more than three issues) or have consistently picked up since I started buying Marvel:

Avengers Arena: Murder World

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I read every issue of Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker’s Avengers Arena: Murder World, which is sort of a Battle Royale/Hunger Games for the teen superhero set.

Here’s why Avengers Arena: Murder World worked so well as an entry point to the Marvel universe: half of these characters were pre-existing, the other half invented solely for this book. I’d only heard of (and read the adventures of) X-23, the rest were new. Going back and researching Red Raven, for example, and discovering she’d been around for 20 years and was the third Red Raven to exist, or looking up Mettle and learning about the Avengers Academy, made the experiences of these kids on Murderworld pretty gripping even for a newb, and got me rolling on learning about Marvel history.

The follow-up, Avengers Arena: Avengers Undercover, also by Hopeless and Walker, finds the same group of kids tracking down one of their fellow survivors for reasons I don’t want to spoil.

FF

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I’m going to admit that I didn’t spend as much time with FF as I could’ve (about four issues) but that I was thoroughly entertained nonetheless. As an entry point, I don’t know that FF really works: the storyline’s a bit involved, and with only the basics of the characters down, I got a bit lost almost instantly.

The title refers not to the Fantastic Four, but rather the Reed Richards-created Future Foundation, an oddball collection of heroes (Ant-Man, Medusa, She-Hulk, and others) serving as mentors and teachers for an even more oddball collection of youngsters.

Matt Fraction’s involved, charming stories and Mike Allred’s playful art make this a book I’ll go back to when the chance presents itself (or when I know enough about the Marvel U to just dive right in).

Wolverine and the X-Men

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Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men follows the students of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning as they come into conflict with the Hellfire Academy, some students defecting from one school to the other, Wolverine’s brother making an appearance, Mystique making a throwaway “women in refrigerators” joke, and more.

This was an entertaining book, and very easy for a new reader to get into. I already knew, but had to investigate nonetheless, why it was the Jean Grey School rather than the Xavier Institute. I didn’t know what had happened to Nightcrawler, but I enjoyed all the little Bamfs running around.

Recently reset to #1 with Jason Latour taking over writing duties, and picking up where the last incarnation left off.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man

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I knew absolutely nothing about any of these “superior” foes of Spider-Man, and I wasn’t required to: Superior Foes of Spider-Man follows some endearing, comically sad C-listers as they navigate their own journeys through half-assed supervillainry. I’m sure some of the jokes would be more rewarding if I knew who these people were, but Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s book is so well-paced, so comically sad, and so inventive that it is pretty much a perfect way to get into Marvel if you aren’t already (I’d vote Hawkeye accomplishes the exact same feat slightly better and in a more serious way, but I’ll get to that in a bit). You’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not picking up Superior Foes of Spider-Man.

Daredevil

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Daredevil is a unique case in the sense that I’ve always followed Daredevil (dating back to when I was nine) but never with the interest and dedication as I did with Mark Waid’s recently-ended (and relaunched) series.

Chris Samnee’s art reminds me of Mike Allred’s on FF, but a bit darker. And Matt Murdock’s struggle with outing himself as Daredevil while agonizing over the declining health of his best friend Foggy, added a new layer of urgency and intrigue to the standard “blind guy lawyer with baton fights crime” story (which was already pretty damn interesting on its own).

Same team is now working on the new Daredevil series, which follows a disbarred-in-New York Murdock as he attempts a new career in San Francisco. I kind of hope he’ll return to New York, though, since Daredevil swinging around a crime-laden Hell’s Kitchen/Manhattan always seemed so cool. I’m sure I’ll learn to love SF.

Moon Knight

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My only exposure to Moon Knight prior to this was his appearance in Marvel Super-Heroes Spring Special #1 in 1990, but I knew he was a popular character and the book was being written by Warren Ellis (whom I’ve praised the virtues of before) so I wanted to check it out.

This is a pretty newbie-friendly book – Ellis handles exposition really well. There was a throwaway line about Moon Knight ripping off a guy’s face, which led me to read about Moon Knight’s poor nemesis Bushman getting the ol’ Joker treatment, and…well.

First issue was appropriately dark and bizarre and I expect great things from this book.

Ms. Marvel

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Kamala Khan is a teenage girl struggling with her faith (Muslim) and race (Pakistani) in the face of tolerant non-tolerance (in her case, the faux-concern of her high school’s predominantly white A-crowd) and oppressive parents. After being granted powers by a green-fogged hallucination of Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), Khan suddenly finds herself rescuing her enemies and discovering yet another reason to feel alienated and misunderstood.

Ms. Marvel is a good jumping-on point for new readers because the title character is herself completely new to the Marvel universe. And the Buffy Summers-ish teenage-girl-struggling-to-balance-teenagehood-with-superhero-life is a winning formula.

She-Hulk

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Taking its cues from Hawkeye, She-Hulk follows Jennifer Walters in her civilian life as a struggling lawyer, with her superhero-ing coming second to real-life adversity. The first issue was great, the second merely okay, but I’m going to stick with this series because the vibe is so overtly Hawkeye, and because Charles Soule is such a dependable writer. Also, I dig Hellcat (She-Hulk’s new partner in crime fighting).

As for non-Marvel NOW! books:

Hawkeye

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Hawkeye is a near-perfect book. I’d say it was perfect, except the title occasionally refers to Kate Bishop (the other Hawkeye) as she makes her way in Los Angeles. Kate’s cute, don’t get me wrong, but Clint Barton (the original Hawkeye) shrugging through his life as a landlord in Brooklyn is so good that it’s a pain when the focus shifts elsewhere. Unless it’s Pizza Dog, who is utterly fascinating. Kate Bishop and Christmas cartoons, not so much.

As the title page states, this is what Clint does when he’s not being an Avenger and wow, it’s good. The colour palette, the facial bandages, the way four issues can view the same incident from different angles. This is a book that rewards you (handsomely) for paying attention: note the discarded sneaker on the sidewalk.

And that Matt Fraction – so handsome!

Scarlet Spider

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“All of the power, none of the responsibility” was the tagline for the recently-ended Scarlet Spider book, in which reformed villain (and Spider-Man clone) Kaine makes up for his bad days by being a reluctant superhero in Dallas. Reformed villains turned reluctant heroes can be some of the most interesting characters in the business, and Kaine is amongst the best. Plus his outfit is so cool. Plus, he’s Spider-Man! But not!

The series recently came to an end, but Writer Chris Yost is now writing New Warriors, so you can check out Kaine’s adventures in that book (co-starring Speedball, also awesome).

 

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NON-DC: A brief word about Joshua Hale Fialkov’s Elk’s Run

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Elk’s Run had an interesting publishing history that I was able to experience firsthand (more or less) as a consumer. In…lemme see…2005 or 2006 I was in a comic book store, looking at the independent publishers’ rack (probably looking for Brian Pulido’s Nightmare on Elm Street books for Avatar, come to think of it). My eye landed on Darwyn Cooke’s cover for the Bumper Edition of Elk’s Run; collecting issues #1 through #3, it had a slightly-tougher softcover (think of the recent DC Comics Presents collections for an idea), and the last few pages contained a mini-lesson on Noel Tuazon’s art and Scott A. Keating’s colouring (a combo I originally wasn’t crazy about but then grew to love). Cooke’s cover for the Bumper Edition wasn’t too far off from regular cover artist Datsun Tran’s work:

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Now that’s a cover! And going against conventional wisdom (not judging a something by its something or other…I forget), I picked up Elk’s Run without only the briefest of flip-throughs. The story had a compelling hook: set in Elk’s Ridge, West Virginia, a town cut off from the rest of the world so that its adult population can raise their kids free from the corrupting influence of modern society. You can imagine how well that turns out; before you can say Lord of the Flies, the population is taking it upon themselves to dole out death sentences to friends and neighbours after a botched escape attempt results in a tragic accident.

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The action is told through the eyes of a group of Elk’s Ridge kids, who mostly resent their parents for their imposed isolation, and a few adults. And there’s some stuff about the war that’s meant to show how a bunch of shell-shocked PTSD veterans would be motivated to willfully cut themselves from the rest of the planet.

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After purchasing the Bumper Edition, I found the floppy of issue #4, and spent a number of months fruitlessly searching for #5. Eons later, I walked into a different comic book store and the clerk said to me: “You looking for anything in particular?”

I said, “Elk’s Run?”

He looked at me with a blank expression. “Do you know who publishes it?”

I said, surprised I could even remember the publisher’s name since I’d never read anything else by them, “Speakeasy?”

He frowned. “Speakeasy went out of business months ago.”

So no more Elk’s Run, I guess. I’d experience a similar heartbreak with Fell within a couple years.

And then at some point in 2007 or 2008 I was on Amazon looking for something unrelated and stumbled upon the trade for Elk’s Run. It contained all the issues I already owned…and the previously-unpublished #5, #6, #7, and #8! Hooray! I was finally able to find out how the damned story ended (not well, or really well depending on how you look at it). The only downside of the trade being the intro by Moon Knight writer Charlie Huston, which, and I’m more than willing to admit I might not “get” Huston’s style, but it comes off as pseudo-Chuck Palahniuk minimalist-y and weirdly macho (especially in light of the book it’s introducing).

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A couple years later I found the floppies of #1, #2, and #3 in the dollar bin of a comic book store in Vancouver, thinking I was getting away with something and fearing the clerk would look at what I was buying and say, “Hey, wait a minute! How did those get in there?!” (he’d said something similar when I picked up some issues of Bone that had landed – allegedly by mistake – in the $0.25 bin). So I now have all Elk’s Run-related material it’s possible to buy (far as I know).

I can see Elk’s Run not being everybody’s cup of tea, but if you like a relaxed, subtle backwoods tale of war-induced paranoia, suffocating small-town adolescence, or stories that emphasize character over action and unfold at their own pace, this might be the book for you.

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OMG, DC: Earth-Prime in the Pre-New 52 DCU

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Earth-Prime first appeared in 1968, within the pages of The Flash #179. It was the “real” world – where no superheroes existed, and Batman, Wonder Woman, et al, existed solely as comic book characters.

About 17 years later, DC Comics Presents retconned Earth-Prime to have a super-powered resident named Superboy, who would join Crisis on Infinite Earths that same year to fight the Anti-Monitor and later be shuffled off to Alexander Luthor’s utopia alongside Earth-2 Superman and Earth-2 Lois Lane (and, well, we all know how that turned out).

Part of Crisis on Infinite Earth‘s overall design was to make Superman the sole survivor of Krypton’s destruction. This meant Supergirl had to die. It also meant Superboy had to be erased from existence as well, so that Clark Kent could, as an adult, make his debut as a hero while preventing a space plane from crashing into Metropolis in 1986′s Man of Steel #1.

This caused a significant continuity problem: one of DC’s enduring and popular super-teams, the Legion of Super-Heroes, had, as part of its origin, the founding teenage members (Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad) creating the Legion out of admiration for Superman’s adventures as a teenaged Superboy. So, in theory, no more Superboy should’ve meant no more Legion.

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Writers Paul Levitz and John Byrne came up with a workaround: the Time Trapper, in his continued efforts to screw with Legionnaire’s minds, created a “pocket universe” and populated it with exactly one superhero – Superboy – and rigged it so that whenever the Legionnaires travelled back in time, they were actually being shuttled off to the Pocket Universe rather than Earth-1:

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The Superboy from Earth-Pri…I mean the Pocket Universe…made his post-Crisis debut in “The Greatest Hero of Them All,” a storyline that ran through Legion of Super-Heroes, Action Comics, and Superman in 1987. (Comixology lists it as “Superman: Future Shock” for those buying their comics digitally). It involves time travel, Superman’s first encounter with the Legion, and a nifty idea/retcon that might’ve actually worked had anyone ever been interested in using it aside from Levitz and Byrne.

There was also the Supergirl factor. While the Superboy/Legion stories of years past were explained by the Pocket Universe’s existence, Superman’s cousin had also spent a significant amount of time as a Legionnaire in the 30th century. Yet there was no Pocket Universe Supergirl to fill that role. Except there totally was a Pocket Universe Supergirl, introduced a year after “The Greatest Hero of Them All,” first in one-page teases in various Superman books, and then full-on in “The Supergirl Saga,” which found Supes travelling to the Pocket Universe to help save Earth-Pri…er, the Pocket Universe Earth…from destruction.

20131230-095047.jpg20131230-095753.jpg Superman arrives after the planet’s Superboy is long dead, and Pocket Universe Lex Luthor, a benevolent, long-tressed redheaded scientist, has created a Supergirl (a concept post-Crisis Superman was unfamiliar with) out of a gooey purple protoplasm and modelled her after his deceased paramour Lana Lang. Pocket Universe Earth has been ravaged by Pocket Universe General Zod, Pocket Universe Faora, and Pocket Universe Quex-Ul, up to their old (new?) tricks.

“The Supergirl Saga,” aside from being fun, interesting, and frequently-confusing, is notable for its conclusion: after Zod, Faora, and Quex-Ul murder literally everyone on the planet aside from Superman and Matrix Supergirl, Superman totally kills the shit out of them. On purpose. Take note, everyone who claimed the ending of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was inaccurate and unprecedented: 20131230-095806.jpg20131230-095811.jpg Aside from making Superman a murderer, the whole Legion/Supergirl problem was now solved! Except it wasn’t. Matrix Supergirl didn’t fill in the gaps left by the deceased pre-Crisis Kara Zor-El in post-Legion continuity. That job went to Laurel Gand, a.k.a. Andromeda, introduced in the pages of Keith Giffen and T&M Bierbaum’s controversial “Five Years Later” run on Legion of Super-Heroes in 1990. Laurel Gand is distant relative to Lar Gand, a.k.a Mon-El (Superman’s Big Brother), and both are Daxamites, Kryptonian descendants with similar powers. So now the deal was that Lar Gand and Laurel Gand occupied the “Superboy” and “Supergirl” parts of Legion history (and Laurel Gand would have a flirtation/romance with Braniac 5, similar to pre-Crisis Supergirl).

A decade later, the real (old?) Kara Zor-El Supergirl would arrive and Infinite Crisis would clean up the whole mess by re-introducing the multiverse and having Supergirl…get into a cosmic accident that split her into two, sending half of her 1000 years into the future while the other half stayed behind in the 21st century. But let’s get back to Earth-Prime, which, post-Infinite Crisis, now existed again.

As did Superboy-Prime. Except instead of being an earnest do-gooder, as depicted pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths, the new, post-Infinite Crisis Superboy-Prime was now an evil prick, driven murderously insane by DC’s continuity problems (understandable). The Jon Lane Kent of his day, Superboy-Prime was a petulant, entitled jerk. Writers mined this for comedy rather than drama, so it was hard to take him seriously, but a few good storylines came out of this: the aforementioned Infinite Crisis, Legion of 3 Worlds, and Superboy-Prime’s two-issue Adventure Comics crossover with Blackest Night.

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At the time of Legion of 3 Worlds, the Legion had their pre-/post-Crisis on Infinite Earths version (which would eventually become the dreaded 5YL version), the post-Zero Hour version meant to clean up the mess caused by the 5YL version, and the 2004 “Threeboot” version, later joined by Supergirl post-Infinite Crisis. Legion of 3 Worlds explained that all of these version existed but came from different realities: the Threeboot team, specifically, was told they were from Earth-Prime.

Alternate versions of established heroes offer a chance to see the road not taken: Kaine’s Scarlet Spider to Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 to Earth-1′s Justice League, Faith the Vampire Slayer versus Buffy. Back in the early ’90s, the Wally West Flash had an alternate-timeline counterpart in Walter West, who arrived in the mainstream DCU as part of “The Dark Flash Saga” to take the place of Wally (who Walter believed was dead) and get a second chance with his love Linda Park (who was dead in Walter West’s world).

Walter caused a bit of trouble, fell in love with crime scene investigator Angela Margolis, and learned he would destroy reality by staying in Wally’s world rather than his own. So he fled into hypertime and found himself in…

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Earth-Prime? It’s not said outright, but it’s obviously meant to be Superboy-Prime’s turf, and having Walter West land there is a nice callback to The Flash #179.

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OMG, DC/NON-DC: Kurt Busiek’s Glorious Astro City

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Part of why I whine so much about DC is that I love long, involved, complex mythologies and I really love complaining when what’s considered “canon” gets abused and tossed around like its the New 52 version of Starfire or something.

A TV show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer rewarded long-time viewers by having, say, seventh-season Buffy slap a slowly-disappearing girl back into existence as a nod to an episode that aired six years earlier. You didn’t need to see the latter to enjoy the former, but the viewing experience was greatly enhanced if you had.

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Kurt Busiek’s masterwork, Astro City, offers something similar. You don’t need to have read the earlier issues to jump into the new 2013 series that’s currently on shelves: most Astro City books are standalone single-issue tales or short miniseries, and though they all take place in the titular metropolis, each tale usually focuses on a different (often non-superheroic) character. So you don’t need to know the history of Silver Agent to appreciate the character, but if you do know the history of Silver Agent, you’ll probably get a giddy thrill every time he appears.

As Busiek writes in the afterword to the most recent Astro City #1, “Despite that crisp-looking number 1 on the cover, this is actually the 60th Astro City issue … don’t get me wrong, we want you to buy all the earlier stuff, but we’d rather get you to buy it by making you want to read it, not by making you feel you need to read it.”

On top of the winks and nods to previous issues, Astro City is a bunch of really good stories. Busiek generally focuses on two subjects: the downside of being a superhero and what it’s like to be a normal person living amongst these costumed gods. With the exception of a single dud – that’d be Astro City #21′s “Where the Action Is”), every issue has been an A+ piece of storytelling.

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My favorite tale is Astro City: Local Heroes #1′s “Newcomers,” in which a hotel concierge directs tourists to prime superhero-sightseeing locales around town while recalling a couple of his own misadventures in the city:

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The above is the Confessor’s brief appearance in this issue, and if you haven’t read Astro City: Confessions you might not have much appreciation for the character beyond a vague feeling of witnessing a two-page cameo from a Spectre/Phantom Stranger pastiche. If you have read Astro City: Confessions (and you should, it’s awesome), you’d probably be pretty excited to know who’s under that cowl and how he got there.

Astro City has been published erratically since its debut in 1995, owing to both Busiek’s other work commitments (Superman, Avengers) and health concerns, but it’s now a monthly title from Vertigo (after spending time at both Image and WildStorm) and it’s well worth the $4 cover price.

Aaaaaaand it’s got one thing going for it that no other DC book has: consistency. Since day one, Busiek’s been scripting, Brent Anderson has been handling interior art, and Alex Ross has been painting the gorgeous covers that adorn every issue. If you’re looking to get into comics, or looking to get someone else into comics, Astro City might be a good place to start.

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WTF, DC? What the fresh hell is Joker’s Daughter #1 supposed to be?

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A few eBay sellers have the balls to be asking for upwards of $130 (shipping included) for the 3D variant cover of Batman: The Dark Knight #23.4, a.k.a. Joker’s Daughter #1. I guess it’s rare. And it should be – it is seriously one of the most abominably terrible books ever written.

I’m not overly familiar with Ann Nocenti’s work, but judging by this issue, I’m not sure comic book writing is really the career for her. It’s baffling how someone at the top of their game (writing for DC or Marvel) can put out something this abysmal. If you ascend to the ranks of scripting for a Big Two book, you should be at a Gail Simone level of skill, not Felicia Henderson. And if a company is going to ask people to fork over $3 or $4 for one of their products, those products should, decidedly, not be complete flaming piles of shit.

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Simply put: there is no excuse for this. DC, there are a whopping TWO big-time comics companies in the world and you’re one of them. Stop peddling garbage. Hook Jeff Lemire up to a machine, feed him intravenously, keep him awake using artificial light and have him write 24 hours a day if necessary (though I partially suspect this might already be happening). I get that taste is subjective, but Joker’s Daughter #1 is objectively awful in every way.

Before I get into Nocenti’s script, let me discuss what I’d like to call The New 52 Approach to Characters, which involves inventing a completely new superhero or villain and slapping a familiar name on them: skinny, sexy Amanda Waller, non-Hank Henshaw Cyborg Superman, and whatever the hell anyone who’s ever appeared in Teen Titans is supposed to be post-Flashpoint.

Joker’s Daughter, a.k.a. Harlequin, a.k.a. Duela Dent was never a beloved character, as far as I can tell, but she was an enduring one. Appearing, in the past decade, as a member of Deathstroke’s Titans East, and as the corpse whose pointless death kickstarted the equally-pointless Countdown to Final Crisis. When she started she was a teenage girl version of the Joker with a single personality trait: she claimed everyone from Joker to Two-Face to Wildebeest was her father (despite her name, the Harvey-Dent-as-father thing never quite stuck).

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Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Joker’s Daughter occupied that same bizarre space Bette Kane/Flamebird occupied: a remnant of a bygone era in comics history that inexplicably continued to exist in the present. Editorial intervention prevented her from making Team Titans an interesting read in the early ’90s, around the same time Harley Quinn crossed over from cartoons into mainstream comics continuity, rendering Joker’s Daughter redundant in addition to irrelevant.

And while this Joker’s Daughter appears to be named Duela, she bears little resemblence to her predecessors.

Joker’s Daughter #1 concerns a world beneath Gotham City called The Nethers, the remains of a town flooded to create the Gotham Reservoir. The idea of The Nethers existing beneath Gotham is an intriguing idea Nocenti completely wastes by making it a society filled with rat-eating alpha males and their abused wives.

Here are the many ways in which the story doesn’t work:

1. Revenge plots only work when someone’s actually getting revenge – Joker’s Daughter arrived literally seconds before seeking vengeance on a bunch of complete strangers.

2. How long does a severed face last, exactly? How long could it survive in water without marine life or the environment tearing it to shreds? I skipped much of Death of the Family, but was there an explanation provided that the Joker’s face was injected/covered in some sort of sealant? Is it mostly plastic now?

3. And if one of the character’s most important traits is that we never see the face behind the mask, why does literally every flashback show the face behind the mask? What’s the point of keeping it hidden in the present?

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4. Sure, Joker ran things in Arkham, but certainly when someone shoves a searing hot iron scythe in your face for the purpose of mutilating you, a basic human aversion to pain would make you slightly more resistant than this:

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5. And does every evil male in The Nethers happen to just be standing next to a collection of hot coals, or is Joker’s Daughter’s makeshift cow brand just really really good at retaining heat?

6. A society of men built on dominance over women instantly, without a second thought, throws their hands up and lets a woman take over? It’s just that easy?

7. Flashbacks showing that crazy people are crazy is repetitive and unnecessary and comes off as the padding that it quite clearly was meant to be.

8. Who the hell are these people supposed to be? Even the art makes no sense.

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9. The ugliness-versus-beauty schtick doesn’t really work since there is no genuine beauty in The Nethers (the cards being stacked so heavily against the men means even the tribe’s leader, despite his handsomeness, is already fundamentally “ugly.”)

10. If this was meant to be a spin on the oft-quoted Lysistrata – why, even after the men have submitted to Joker’s Daughter’s rule, are the women still portrayed as sad-eyed weaklings?

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In summary: Joker’s Daughter #1 is the worst comic I have ever read. And I have read Rob Liefeld.

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NEW 52: Those 3D Villains Month covers…

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Though I loathe DC’s endless supply of gimmicks (the New 52 itself being the worst of them all) and I’m not crazy about the idea of Villains Month in general, I have to say – now that I have a copy of Aquaman 23.1 and Green Arrow 23.1 in my hands – those 3D covers are pretty slick. And, sure, if you stare at them long enough you’ll go cross-eyed and start feeling sick, but they’re pretty rad for whatever duration of time you can stomach them.

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