Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Zack Snyder's Justice League!

Now this is the Justice League movie I was waiting for. Despite a number of minor flaws, not the least of which is the excessive length, the Justice League are gathered and fight against the immortal threat of Darkseid and his agent on this Earth Steppenwolf with the appropriate seriousness of purpose and the proper attitude to exerting mayhem. Having said that I don't wish to suggest that I want my heroes bloody, but neither do I want my heroes to turn away from what needs doing in the moment it needs that doing. Heroism is doing what is hard in hard times and all too often in narratives we feed our heroes easy outs to allow them to keep the stains off their colorful garments. 

Now about the length of this beast, I'd say it's best to approach as do the creators and think of hit as a mini-series. This one has six parts and an elaborate epilogue and there's plenty of meat in all the episodes, enough really for any normal movie most likely. This is story with a heavy lift and needs to introduce seven heroes at the very least, get them together in a somewhat reasonable fashion, feature them in fights in which they both lose and win before they ultimately win the day, if it is only the day. And to be heroes they need a proper villain and at long long last Darkseid has come to call and he's fucking magnificent in this screen treatment, glowering and deadly and every creepy dire thing I always imagined him to be. Lex Luther and Joker are chaff in the wind next to the likes of Darkseid and it's best the heroes know it. 

Some will anguish that much of the lighter banter which highlighted the previous version of this story is missing and truth told I missed a few funny bits here and there, especially Aquaman's lasso confessions, but when I grokked what Snyder was doing, making these heroes, even the light-hearted Flash, a tad darker I accepted the changes as necessary. So many fans want these DC movies to be just like the Marvel ones, and sure the Marvels have found a secret of success, but I've always cottoned to the darker tone of the DC films and when they veer off into a lighter zone something usually falls a tad flat. 

It was treat to see the Martian Manhunter and to realize I'd been seeing him for some time was nifty as well. Trying to capture all the action in the "Age of Heroes" battle when Darkseid was first repelled was a job in and of itself. So much goes on there that it could feed out to several movies. And that's the greatness of this material, the density of the universe in which the drama is played out has grown and evolved for over eighty years and the richness is when handled deftly is like good wine. I wish this movie was considered canon, and maybe in time it will be. I know that I'd love to have a copy of it when it ever becomes available in my area. 

And that wraps up my month-long look at all things DC. DC won't be going away in the month of July, but will be joined by a wide range of other comic book companies and characters. Looking forward to it. 

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Classic Crisis #31 - New Gods For Old!

My revisit at the classic Justice League of America and Justice Society of America crossovers concludes with what turns out to be the final work of one of the great comic book artists ever. Dick Dillin suddenly passed away at the age of fifty years old while working on this very trilogy. I well remember reading the blurb announcing his passing while waiting in the grocery store to buy the second part of the story.

Ironically it was a death that struck me quite hard, in that one of the most reliable things in my world at the time was that Dick Dillin was going to draw the latest JLofA adventures. His loss touched then and still has an effect now that I'm older than he was when he passed away. It's a reminder that our time is always limited, though we go to great pains to forget that most of the time.

This crossover returned to the classic pattern and had the heroes meet up with a new bunch of characters. This time the mined the vast trove of material left behind by Jack "King" Kirby when he unleashed his Fourth World on the world. His rich and evocative worlds of the New Gods changed the way comic book stories were told, and his creation of Darkseid gave the DC universe a villain worthy to take on the whole of their heroic academy. Orion, Metron, and Highfather of the New Gods and Scott Free, Big Barda, and Oberon of Mister Miracle are tapped to appear in this trilogy. Not in evidence are the Forever People, nor does Lightray make an appearance.

"Crisis On New Genesis or Where Have the New Gods Gone?" is written by Gerry Conway and drawn one more time by the great Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin. The cover is by Jim Starlin. The story begins briskly as the JSofA and JLofA decide to recognize their annual event by sending representatives to both Earths One and Two. Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and new Leaguer Firestorm head to Earth-2 and Dr.Fate, Huntress, Power Girl, and Wonder Woman head to Earth-1. But neither group gets where they are headed, instead both teams find themselves on New Genesis also called Supertown home of the New Gods. While Superman explains what the place is and how he visited it once, Firestorm brashly heads off to explore and encounters Orion in a foul mood in his more savage state. The combined heroes hear Firestorm's call for help and fly to his aid and attack Orion but the battle is stalled when Metron appears with Mister Miracle, Big Barda, and Oberon ast his side. After Orion uses his Mother Box to regain his calm facade, Metron explains that he brought them there to help the New Gods look for the missing population of New Genesis, and apparently the Injustice Society is involved. The scene shifts to Apokolips home of the deceased Darkseid. Once there Metron divides the heroes into four teams. Batman, Huntress and Mister Miracle head to the Imperial Palace as scouts. Power Girl, Firestorm, and Orion go to investigate a huge building project. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Big Barda go to the orphanage of Granny Goodness. And Green Lantern, Dr.Fate, and Oberon check out a a trooper barracks with an unusually heavy force. As Batman's team skulk through Apokalips backstreets, Miracle explains how Darkseid seemingly was destroyed some time before by his own forces. Oberon is caught by guards only to reveal that Lantern and Fate are disguised as guards and rescue him and infiltrate the barracks. In the lair of Granny Goodness Superman and Wonder Woman follow Barda as they rescue children being abused by Granny's servants and Orion, Power Girl and Firestorm find the missing citizens of New Genesis under the spell of the Fiddler building a vast machine which is revitalizing Darkseid himself.

"Apokalips Now!" is again written by Gerry Conway, but with the sudden death of stalwart artist Dick Dillin, the pencil chores are taken over by George Perez with Frank McLaughlin still on inks, and this team also handle the cover art. The action begins with Power Girl, Firestorm, and Orion attempting to stop the Injustice Society (Fiddler, Shade, and Icicle) from using slaves from New Genesis to revive Darkseid. The defeat Shade and Icicle but Fiddler is able to subdue the heroes and continue to rouse the tyrant. Superman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda follow the girl they rescued from Granny Goodness to a deep hideout where children have gathered to oppose Granny's work. They are led by a girl with fiery red hair named Crimson. Another child named Playto, gifted with vast mental powers reveals how Darkseid had allied himself with the Injustice Society and arranged for them to bring him back to life. Led by Crimson, the trio of heroes go to find and defeat Granny Goodness. Dr.Fate, Green Lantern, and Oberon find Izaya, Highfather of the New Gods in the barracks and free him. Batman, Huntress, and Mister Miracle breach the Imperial Palace and learn that Darkseid's ultimate plan not only calls for his resurrection but the removal of Apokolips itself to the very orbit of Earth-2 meaning the latter's utter destruction.

"Crisis On Apokolips or Darkseid Rising" is by the same creative team of Conway, Perez, and McLauglin. Jim Starlin and Bob Smith handle the cover chores. Metron muses about the action so far and then the scene shifts to a revived Darkseid who coniders the huge block of ice imprisoning his son Orion, Power Girl, and Firestorm, then the tyrant imprisons his former associates the Injustice Society ostensibly for defeating his own flesh and blood. Batman, Huntress, and Mister Miracle see this action and move to free their comrades. Meanwhile Izaya, freed by Dr.Fate, Green Lantern, and Oberon presses the attack to escape the bowels of Armageddo. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Big Barda follow Crimson and the child army to overthrow Granny Goodness. She thinks she has escaped her foes but Barda finds her. Batman's team has since free the captives of Darkseid and Orion rages to press the battle against Darksied. The scouting team continues into the prison and frees the Injustice Society. The battles rage then on all fronts with Orion challenging his evil father but it is Firestorm who uses his own powers to turn Darkseid's Omega Force against himself, defeating the tyrant. Then ray intended to destroy Earth-2 fires but has been sabotaged by Metron and instead strikes Darkseid reducing him again to atoms. The heroes then reflect on the battles and what it will take to rebuild.

This is a pretty good and tightly constructed story. The action gets going right away, and Metron is very effective in getting the teams set up. Once they are established their missions work beautifully to keep the plot moving very well with time still available for bits of character. The elements of the story flow exceedingly well together right up unto the last few pages of part three where things get too cramped. The story seemed to have needed just a few more pages to claify some of the action, but short of that it's pretty dang good. Perez is to be commended to coming in and knocking out the second chapter in such record time after the untimely passing of Dillin. Perez is still a pretty fast artist by modern comparisons, but back in the Bronze Age he was incredibly fast. He was the ideal choice to take over the title and he stayed with it for quite some years, though no one has ever come close to challenging Dillin's dozen years on the title.

(Richard Allen "Dick" Dillin --December 17, 1929 – March 1, 1980)

I dedicate these reviews to the memory of the great Dick Dillin. I hope at some level you've enjoyed them. It's a great deal of fun to tear into these comics and read them so closely after all these years, though I never anticipated thirty posts on them. I learn a lot from this process, and hopefully it's not been too tedious. Until next time. 

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Monday, June 28, 2021

Classic Crisis #30 - The Death Of Fair Play!

The 1979 Justice League of America and Justice Society of America crossover was very different in tone and character than any that had preceded it, save perhaps for the the single story about Sandman and Sandy some years before. It was a small story, without any heroes from any other sources coming into play. This story was in many ways a locked-room murder mystery, save that the room was the Justice League satellite.

 "The Murderer Among Us: Crisis Above Earth-One!" is written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin. The cover is by Dillin and inked by Dick Giordano. The story begins with the two teams, the JLofA and JSofA having their semi-official annual meeting on the League satellite to compare notes and threats and whatnot. The new chairperson of the JLofA Zatanna presides over the meeting. After the official matters are settled, the two teams go to the satellite rec room to eat, drink and be merry. Terry Sloane, the hero called Mr.Terrifc the Master of Fair Play tells the two Flashes about his encounter with an old enemy named The Spirit King and says he's been able to track his old enemy. Jay (Flash)Garrick wishes Terry had come to him since he'd also battle the Spirit King, but Sloane a man who had just come out of retirement again is miffed and storms off and says that soon one of the assembled guests will be branded a traitor. Soon after a terrific explosion occurs and the satellite decompresses. The heroes race to mend the problem but Superman finds the savaged and slain body of Mr.Terrific. Zatanna inspects the wreckage mystically for clues. She is struck down and goes into a coma and the two Flashes then search the satellite for intruders but find none. The truth then is evident, that the murderer must be among them.

 "I Accuse..." is again by the Conway, Dillin and McLauglin team. Dick Giordano handles the cover art alone this time. After a reprise of last issue's events, the heroes have Dr.Fate and the Green Lanterns work together to seal the heroes within the satellite. Then Batman and the Huntress are assigned as dual detectives to discover which of the assembled heroes murdered Mr.Terrific. There investigation ruffles some feathers, but when Huntress attempts to use the satellite computer to follow up some leads from Earth-2 it explodes and she is seriously burned, but Dr.Fate is largely able to heal those wounds. Then Batman reveals that he knows who the murderer is and indicates it had to be the one hero assembled who had also battled the Spirit King, the Flash of Earth-2. The Spirit King appears ecotplasmically out of the form of Jay Garrick and confesses that indeed he had used the Flash to infiltrate the meeting, but that he'd become corporeal long enough to strangle Mr.Terrific and he'd hoped the heroes would then blame Jay Garrick for the crime. The possessed Flash then races to the transmatter machine the League satellite uses and escapes. The JSofA follows him taking the body of Mr.Terrific back home where the case will be resolved finally. The League then discovers that they are still trapped on the satellite behind the mystical shield, which gets a laugh even at such a critical time.

This was intended to be a crossover of a different kind, a smaller scaled character piece, and I'd have to say it was reasonably successful. The interactions of the heroes are pretty good and while the ultimate mystery was a little less complex than I'd have preferred, it holds up well enough. The artwork is a bit darker this time, giving the story an appropriate mood. I think Dillin's cover for the first half of the story is the best he ever did for the series. Alas they never had him do too many of them. Having the whole story set on the satellite was exceedingly cool indeed, though that the heroes forget to block the transmatter machine is a bonehead move of epic proportion.

Adventure Comics offers an after-the-fact look at Mr.Terrific's funeral with no info on how things were resolved. Sadly this was also the final JSA story of the run and it would be the end of Earth-2 before they'd have their own series again. All in all this was a good change-up in the format, but I'm glad all of the crossovers weren't like this. We wrap up this whole crossover shebang next time. And tragedy strikes. Be here. 

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Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Bronze Age Of DC Comics!

The Bronze Age of DC Comics 1970-1984 by Paul Levitz from Taschen finally documents my primetime DC era. While I technically joined the ranks of comics fandom in the waning days of the Silver Age, it was in the Bronze Age that I flourished and found so many of the characters that I adore to this very day. And no small few of those were DC. 

As in the previous two tomes this one begins with an interview, this one with Denny O'Neil. He talks about his origin story in comics as "Sergius O'Shaugnessy" for Charlton and how he migrated to DC as part of the merry band that Dick Giordano brought over from the "Action Heroes". He seems to have a keen understanding of how he impacted the form and unlike some others a notion of his strengths and weaknesses. I was surprised to learn that he and Neal Adams were developing a friction in the latter days of their partnership, but that they parted before hostilities broke out.

DC in the 1970's was a company on the run. At first Marvel was hot on their heels with the new Marvel style capturing the fancy of the older readers while DC's stable staff of veterans were more and more out of step with the times. New blood, eager and doubtless less expensive came to the offices of DC and brought with them new ideas and concepts. Some of those ideas, such as exploring race in the pages of Teen Titans proved too much still for the company and others such as becoming somewhat less sanguine with the Vietnam War found some purchase. But the wave was inevitable as modern comics were forced to strip off their Silver Age garb and dress in the modern clothes drenched in politics and social change. The Justice League was called upon to confront pollution while Green Lantern and Green Arrow confronted racism in sundry forms. The old DC was a land of shiny white hats and rugged black hats, but now those distinctions were muddied with characters such as Jonah Hex, Manhunter, and even Batman himself who returned to his grim dark beginnings, fighting crime with fear as much as gimmicks. The big blast that began it all was the arrival of Jack "King" Kirby who landed on the DC shores chock full of big ideas and eager to unleash his pent-up visions on the comic reading world in formats heretofore unexplored. He met with resistance and sales early seemed weak but eventually proved strong enough to have continued. Truth was he was a maverick creator in a company not yet used to such antics and while he was also a reliable talent who more than met his obligations, he was nonetheless eventually allowed to wander off. His ideas stayed and have injected new much needed adrenaline into the line even all these decades later. Despite clever efforts to package comics such as the 25 cent books and 100-Page Spectaculars, DC lost its position as number one, but that seemed only to make them try harder and I for one enjoyed the effort. 

Here are some of the covers featured in this volume. You might notice a lot of the work of Neal Adams in this gallery and that's not me picking them, but reflects how Adams dominated this volume. 

The Bronze Age closed when a Crisis on Infinite Earths in an act of grand bravado swept away much of the lore that had informed the DCU for decades. All good things come to an end they say. 

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Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Multiversity!

I pretty much stopped buying new mainstream comic books in 2007 after forty years of dutiful allegiance to some combination of Marvel and DC with a few Indy breaks thrown in. The dollar to entertainment ratio in the mainstream Marvel and DC books was becoming unsustainable and frankly the incessant rebooting allowed me to comfortably sever my longstanding following of venerable storylines and characters. But just as I was adamant that I wouldn't slavishly follow any comic book company again, so was I adamant that such a decision would not blind me to something which seemed especially tasty when it hit the stands. And that was certainly the case with The Multiversity

I was already a tremendous fan of Grant Morrison from his stellar run on JLA, so anything he hit the road with got my attention if not my money. The Multiversity with its wild abandon and ferocious support of alternate universes was just my cup of tea. Also it featured my beloved Charlton "Action Heroes" all duded up in their Watchmen-like finest in one of the issues. I bought that one when the series was rolling out and made up my mind then and there that I'd get the collected edition. I did and read immediately, though I think this is the first time I've discussed it here.  The first installment of the framework two-parter is a lusty introduction filled to the top with Morrison invention as well as some almost familiar faces. That rough and tumble Captain Carrot is a hoot and a half. 

In between the two frame stories there are several one-shots which nonetheless tie into the main plot. The device is a metatextual one in that it is by means of comic books themselves that the myriad universes within the vast multiverse communicate. Just as Barry Allen was inspired by the comic book adventures of Jay Garrick in the role of the Flash, so in this storyline comics serve as a means of coummnication as well as other things.  In Society of Super-Heroes we get a tasty pulp version of a superteam with members Doc Fate, The Atom, Immortal Man, Abin Sur the Green Lantern and Lady Blackhawk and her all female flight wing. They fight the predations of Vandal Savage who invades from another universe. All of this handsomely drawn by Chris Sprouse. 

The struggle then shifts to another universe in which heroism has fallen on hard times thanks to the valiant efforts of the previous generation which made the world safe. With the work of the superhero made obsolete on "Earth-Me",  the sons and daughters of the super types are given great power but no responsibility and live wasted lives filled with  self-aggrandizement in the form of feckless fashion, pointless parties, and endless gossip. The world of The Just as they dub themselves is much too much like our own world for my tastes. 

Pax Americana is what brought me to this wonderful project and it is the best of the lot. On this universe the Charlton heroes such as Blue Beetle and Nightshade fight for the benefit of the world and the United States. The President of the United States carries a powerful secret concerning the number "8" and when his bodyguard The Peacemaker shoots him down, we must learn what that secret is. Captain Atom is the only hero with powers and these make him aloof from mankind, able as he is to see the future as well as the past and present. Frank Quitely artwork in this story is simply magnificent.

Almost as good looking is Cameron's Stewart's artwork on Thunderworld Adventures which features Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family as they battle the latest scheme from the deadly Dr.Sivana. And if you think one Sivana was bad wait until you behold a veritable legion of Sivanas from across the multiverse drawn together for the ultimate evil plot. 

The Multiversity Guidebook is the most peculiar of the entries, being at once an adventure story featuring a science fiction of Batman come to a world in which little kid versions of the DC heroes prevail. We also meet Kamandi and his gang as they seek the answers in their own universe. In the middle of this book though is a map of the sprawling Multiverse as well as a guidebook to each of its "52" individual components. It's a whopping fun read this one is. 

Much more grim is Mastermen, the story of a universe in which the Nazis come into possession of the power of Superman thanks to a little rocket ship from Krypton. We see Hitler at his most primitive and we behold a world shaped according to his mad desires which lives for generations though Uncle Sam and his Freedom Fighters do eventually rise up to challenge their overlords. The artwork by Jim Lee is very well suited to this adrenaline-laced misadventure. 

Ultra Comics is the weirdest of the weird in that the comic book is also the hero. We've seen this comic appear in other universes and is presumed to be haunted. It's at once the means by which we encounter the adventure between its cover and the hero who proceeds with that adventure. It's as if Morrison as writing a sentient comic book in real time. It's weird but as drawn by Greg Mahnke quite handsomely done. 

The amazing saga wraps up in The Multiversity #2 which brings the story to a close of sorts as the enemy The Gentry are confronted as is their master. Heroes from across the broad Multiverse are drawn together to battle the menace and by the end we meet a new super team called "Justice Incarnate". It's a fund and rather exciting ending if one typically dense with Morrison's blend of text and meta-text. I heartily recommend The Multiversity -- you've never read anything quite like it before. I promise. 

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