Action Comics #7

Action Comics 7

Action Comics #7; DC

Grant Morrison.

I read Action Comics #7 twice and decided to give the issue 4 stars – in spite of it having been written by Grant Morrison. Or, maybe, because of being written by Grant Morrison. I just cannot tell.

Okay, so first of all, it’s difficult to believe we are already on the seventh issue of The New 52!  The Batman title has, more or less, been seen as the greatest success for DC, with most readers finding it to be the best of the whole lot. Sure, some people like what has been going on with Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman – but those titles will never have the powerhouse appeal that Batman does.  Now, where does Action Comics fit in with all of these?  It has always been the flagship Superman title.  DC handed this title over to Grant Morrison, who is probably one of the most talked about creators in comics.  It seems that readers either love or hate Morrison – and usually flip their opinion with every issue they read.  Most of the time, it seems Morrison is, at least, frustrating.

I’ve commented on Morrison several times in this blog. He is known for cryptic details, non-linear storytelling, and daring unorthodox character developments. So, is Morrison really a good writer or does he just know how to get talked about? Is he a good writer or do people just enjoy the “difference”? I kind of wish Derrida were around to comment on Morrison.  And since I’m imagining a little forum of writers, I’d like to add China Miéville to the mix. This would be a good round-table group.

I read Action Comics #5 and shrugged. So did Zarathustra. I read Action Comics #6 and hated it. In fact, I purposely left it off of my comic subscription list at my local comic book store. I was ready to be done with Morrison. I had high-hopes at issue #2, but I hated #6 so much that I could not stand the idea of reading any more Morrison nonsense. I was prepared to write an “enough-is-enough” rant about the madness and drivel that Morrison gets away with publishing.

And then I read #7 and, though it had it’s frustrating-Morrison-moments, I really liked it. After #6, I brought a lot of negative with me to #7, so for me to say that I liked #7 rather pains me. Okay, it contained things that I like about Superman comics, viz. the Bottle City of Kandor and Brainiac.  Maybe I just have too much love for Lilliput or something.  I love the concept of a bottle city.  And then there is Brainiac.  Of course I love Brainiac. I love Brainiac the villain and “Brainiac” 5 of the Legion of Super-heroes. So…. there’s just a lot here that I love on principle.

This issue does have the typical Morrison-style in media res stuff.  However, it’s not as “bad” as in other issues. Somehow, I was able to follow along fairly-well and be drawn into the story. (Who knows if Morrison will continue this storyline anytime soon?) There’s Superman being confident and Lois being abrasive and Lex being two-steps ahead of everyone else.  There’s armor from Krypton and Superman is wearing an airtank when he gets to space (the eternal:  how does he breathe in space aporia).  But Brainiac is updated a bit:  collector of worlds, internet, computo, et al. This is good stuff:  perfect for The New 52.  This is what should be going on in the DC titles.  The artwork is solid (I cannot imagine what drawing for/with Grant Morrison would be like).

….Grant Morrison….. What to do with this guy? I guess I’m all in for a few more issues of Action Comics.

4 stars

Action Comics #2

Action Comics 2

Action Comics #2 cover

 One of the most popular pulls from the DC New 52 titles is the Action Comics series.  There are several main reasons for this, the most significant being the renumbering and rebooting of Action Comics.  1938 – 2011 saw 904 issues of the absurdly famous DC title that features Superman. It’s a shame that we probably will not get to see a 1000th issue of this title, but I do understand that after 900 issues, it may be time to reboot and re-examine. Of course, on such an epic reboot DC wanted to place a really big name writer. They chose Grant Morrison.

For several years, Morrison has been one of several writers to be credited with expanding, renewing, and repopularizing comic books. I’ve read several of his storyarcs and they are indeed different than the standard comic book fare.  Many readers love his work, many dislike it – I think that in general, the best thing Morrison has done has been to bring comic book storytelling into the 2000′s with fresh ideas, intriguing writing styles, and a whole lot of attitude.  I have not fallen in love with his writing, but I do recognize that his efforts are powerful within the industry. I feel he’s a bit of a showman, so I was hesitant to get too excited about him writing Action Comics.

The first issue was okay. We are introduced to a young Superman and a world which is just beginning to recognize him. He’s a bit brash and wild, he wears jeans and boots with his cape, and his powers have been trimmed down from the God-like status that the DC Universe seemed to grant him after the 1980s. However, I was still wary and unsure as to how I felt about all these “changes.”  I was very hesitant to jump on the bandwagon with this title.

Issue #2 starts off where #1 left off.  The first page is the young Superman strapped into a chair. There are all sorts of restraints and wires attached to him.  His muscles look tense, his teeth are clenched, his eyes are glowing red. We discover that Lex Luthor has captured Superman and is torturing him. Doctor Luthor, Doctor Irons, and General Lane (of the US Army), are all in a nearby room watching as Superman is shocked with electricity. There are people attempting to take a blood sample. In a room nearby, similar “tests” are being run on the apparently indestructible cape.

I was unsure as to what to expect before and after reading issue #1.  I was leery and wary. However, this issue starts immediately by presenting a scene, developing the roles of the characters in that scene, and giving the scene tension and purpose. So far, yes, Morrison is doing a good job writing. Things are a bit new and unfamiliar in the New 52 universe, so I am not certain where all the characters stand.  The Doctor Irons from the old continuity was John Henry Irons – also known as Steel. In that continuity, Doctor John Henry Irons was a brilliant weapons engineer for AmerTek Industries, who eventually became disgusted when an energy cannon he had designed fell into the wrong hands and was used to kill innocent people. The company would have coerced him to retain his services, so John faked his death and eventually came to Metropolis. John Henry Irons has no superhuman abilities; however, he is an exceptional inventor and engineer, and wears a suit of powered armor which grants him flight, enhanced strength, and endurance. Obviously, the creators of Doctor Irons pulled many characteristics from the American folklore hero John Henry.  In this new Action Comics, we meet a Doctor Irons dressed in shirt and tie. Irons becomes very upset by Luthor’s torturing of Superman. Irons condemns Luthor’s actions and storms out of the facility. I am rather excited to see more of Irons because I think he’s always been a great character and I am hoping he has a strong role in the new Action Comics.

Luthor is very Luthor in this issue. I know in the old continuity, almost every possible iteration of Luthor seemed to have been worked through.  But this Luthor that Morrison is writing is very classic Luthor.  He appears dispassionate and completely in control. He is clearly calculating and arrogant. The artist, Rags Morales, draws Luthor with an expert understanding the character. When Irons leaves, Luthor makes a snarky comment as if Irons was a mere annoying insect. Morales nails the facial expressions.  Again, this is a young Luthor and it’s actually nice to see Luthor without his creased forehead and crow’s feet. Luthor stubbornly refuses to address Superman as anything but “it” or “the alien,” thus dehumanizing this young fellow who many in Metropolis have begun to see as a hero – particularly, Lois Lane.

Superman breaks out of his restraints and tears up a lot of the facility, but Superman is just as clueless as everyone else, because he seems unclear as to his own origins.  Still, this Superman is brash, active, and a bit unseasoned – which comes through nicely in both writing and art. I realized, I am liking this new take on Superman. I like this slightly wild, slightly impulsive dude wearing jeans and a cape. This is a good Superman for 2011 and I am ready to be a fan of Action Comics for good.

The ending scenes show us that Morrison has some definite plans for the storyarc and he is not just freewheeling.  Some readers speculate that we Luthor is being helped by the entity Brainiac. It’s really cool to watch as the threads that tie Superman, Luthor, Brainiac, and Lois together are being pulled together. It’s exciting to visit these “youthful” times of Superman and Morrison is doing what the New 52 is supposed to be doing – breathing life into a character that has been around since 1938.

Also, this issue is $3.99 because of several pages of sketches and quotations from Morrison and Morales. The quotations describe what and why the changes and ideas are in the new Action Comics. Some readers were grousing about having to pay for these pages – I was thrilled to have them. I found them interesting and helped me get comfortable in the New 52.  I think I am starting to trust what Morrison and Morales are doing with this major character. And I like it.

5 stars

Batman #675

Batman 675

Batman #675 cover

 Batman #655 started writer Grant Morrison’s “run” on the title Batman.  Issues from #655 until this issue (#675) have run the gamut from unique, bizarre, bad, and awesome.  Material has been pulled from older Batman stories, new characters have entered the panels, and Batman has had all sorts of trouble to deal with.  I liked Morrison’s “Batman & Son” storyarc. I wanted to adore the “Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” storyarc, but instead I just sort of muddled through it.  Issues #672 – 674 were…. odd and not altogether pleasant.  However, this issue here seems to have taken most of the threads that Morrison was developing and it sort of brings together some of the mess. On the other hand, if you’re a critic, you could say that Morrison is dragging out these threads beyond their expiration date. I think to make a judgment you have to read beyond this issue and see where Morrison is going with this stuff.

This issue brings us the return of a thread we first met in issue #656, Jezebel Jet.  She’s Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend and she is having supper with Bruce.  She begins to express her frustration at Bruce’s disappearances and evasive personality. Suddenly, she flips out and starts hollering at him. To his credit, Bruce just sits there and patiently takes her emotive outburst. Jet wonders what Bruce is hiding and even accuses him of “being into S&M.”  The panel that shows Bruce’s face when she says this is priceless – well done!  It made me laugh out loud.  Bruce cancels the tempura course of the meal.

I like the art throughout the issue. Its good dark, angular stuff. It does not impede the story and none of it is confusing or jumbled. However, something was bugging me as I read along. I thought it was the “art,” but I could not assert that because I actually liked the art. Then it dawned on me: its the inking.  I really dislike the inking in this issue. It was done by Saleem Crawford.  I haven’t really noticed his work before, but I really didn’t like the way he inked Bruce in this issue. There are other panels, too, that bugged me. It took away from the quality of Ryan Benjamin’s frames. I have to say that I rarely have much to say about inking – good or bad, so it was surprising to find that I disliked it this much.

Anyway, the background “narration” is given to us via Nightwing and Robin – who are conversing about Batman’s mental state and recent events while they chase down baddies.  Its a fun aspect of Batman comics to witness serious conversations taking place during acrobatic aerial chases. I am glad Morrison and Benjamin give us this element. I never really know what to make of Nightwing and Robin, but I am developing a better familiarity of these characters as I read along.

Elsewhere, Talia is complaining about Bruce and Jezebel Jet’s relationship. Her tone is mocking but also contains hints of genuine sincere emotion. She has a few lines that amused me; for example “Why is he always so obvious? All these ridiculous women he woos and discards, along with their Bond Girl names.”  Witty line, Morrison.  Anyway, one might be led to believe that it is Talia’s men who interrupt Bruce and Jezebel’s supper – but its someone else, not following Talia’s orders. Damian, conversing with Talia, once again comes across as a wise adept young man when he says: “Someone is out to get my father.”   Of course, Bruce fights the men who attempted to kidnap Jezebel. Finally, after beating the lead-criminal in the kitchen of the restaurant, he turns on Jezebel.  Bruce snarls at her, displaying all the frustration and anger that he had previously succeeded in hiding and controlling.  Seeing all of this, Jezebel “sees the light.”  The last page of the issue is obviously one of those “this will change Batman comics” pages.  Jezebel makes the connection:  Bruce Wayne is Batman.

Finally, this, I feel, is the Grant Morrison greatness that a lot of readers are praising.  In this issue, Morrison’s writing is witty, emotive, and storybuilding. He’s carrying several threads from previous arcs, giving us an enjoyable issue, and delving into the characters’ relationships.

The cover is one of those very good covers that at once shouldn’t surprise anyone and yet has that timeless, classic Batman-feel to it. Dark, raining, scowling image. With the smallest drop of blood on Batman’s knee. It’s a pin-up cover – one that if you see it in the store makes you want to buy the comic to find out what’s inside.

5 stars

JLA: Classified #1

Right now, in August 2011, DC Comics is about to restart their comics….again… but this time, there are going to be all new 52 issues that start at number 1. Anyone who is a fan of DC Comics is probably used to so many crises and reboots, that they think their name is Heraclitus because everything is definitely in flux. And that is the one constant.  DC Comics were my first comics – back when I was a wee small child, I read DC. For several years, I was aware of comics only peripherally.  Well, since 2006, I am really back into reading comics and I am grateful to be reading along. One of my amusements has been to start trekking through the mess of DC universe crises / reboots. I read Zero Hour and OMAC and Infinite Crisis and am currently reading issue #27 of 52.  One series that I have amassed a respectable number of is the 2005 series JLA: Classified.  This series was intended to contain random stories, would-be one-shots, and other stuff that didn’t fit in with the Justice League main title. JLA: Classified was to have a revolving creator group. Recently, I read issue #1.

JLA Classified 1

JLA: Classified #1

The first issue of this series is written by Grant Morrison.  A few days ago I had read and written some thoughts on Morrison’s work on Batman #663.  I read the issue twice through before I felt that I had sorted out who was doing what why and when.  The story starts out in media res, and honestly, I had no idea who the characters were. Obviously, this could be entirely due to my hiatus from comics, but I do think the artist (Ed McGuinness) is a bit to blame here.  Frankly, there are not a whole lot of readers that are familiar with characters like the UltraMarine Corps.  I figured this much out:  Gorilla Grodd is doing something bad, the members of the JLA are AWOL, and there’s some sort of powerful universe-in-a-cube.

Squire was monitoring the good guys (whomever they may be) from somewhere else. Batman receives a call on the “hot line” from Squire who seems to hastily explain the situation. Batman dips into his special equipment  to get a flying saucer (no kidding) and zooms to save Squire. Squire and Batman then use Boom Tube Technology to zip through spacetime to a secret JLA lab near the once-planet Pluto.

Batman informs Squire that the members of the JLA are “lost” in the universe-in-a-cube, which we are told is called “The Infant Universe of Qwewq.”  Squire is tasked with trying to communicate with the JLA in the universe-in-a-cube while Batman works on making sure no one notices that the JLA members are missing.

Parts of this issue are really interesting. Parts are very poorly done. I can’t tell what’s happening. I don’t know who is who. I don’t understand what’s going on. At other times Batman is drawn very well and Squire is a fun character. I am starting to think that this is really what Grant Morrison stuff is like. Its not really good, but one tends to suspect it might be good just because one is so unused to his style, tone, and elements he uses to tell the story.

Here’s one problem:  its 1:25am and Batman is plopped in the Batcave. (Wouldn’t he be well aware that Grodd is destroying stuff in Africa?)  Alfred brings Batman a tray with the “hot line” phone on it. Batman seems way more concerned with how the speaker got the number and what it means for them to have the number than dealing with the actual reason for the call. In other words, Squire is having an emergency and Grodd is destroying a city and the JLA are AWOL and Batman is concerned that Squire dredged up his secret “hot line” number.

Batman #667

Batman #667 cover

Starting in Batman #667 (2007) , Morrison wrote an arc that involved the International Club of Heroes. This refers to the “Batmen of All Nations” characters that first appeared in Detective Comics #215 in 1955.  Knight and Squire (as seen in the JLA: Classified issue) have been associated with and have a history with this Club of Heroes. Finally, in 2011, Morrison created and became writer for the series Batman Incorporated. Batman Incorporated is considered, by Grant Morrison, to be a second re-installment of the team known as the Batmen of All Nations.  In theory the team was formed by Bruce Wayne and brought together by Batman to stop all crime in the nations from which members were chosen.

Apparently, Morrison has been playing with this same concept since, at least, 2005 in this first issue of JLA: Classified. Morrison seems to really want to use the characters of the Club of Heroes.  Morrison is not an American, so maybe some of this is just a deep hearted desire to have International Batman.  I know Morrison wrote the Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul:  the story arc which develops Damian, Batman’s son. However, it seems like Morrison (from what I have seen so far) is but a one-trick pony.

There is a funny in the issue, though. After arriving at Pluto, Squire asks Batman:  “Are you really Batman?”  He responds:  “No, I’m Goldfish Man. Can’t you tell?”   I guess its amusing to see the normally stoic and somber Bats showing a little sarcasm.  Even if it is in space.

2 stars

Batman #663

Batman #663

Batman #663

This is the April 2007 release for DC Comics’ major title, Batman. It was written by Grant Morrison, penciled and inked by John Van Fleet, and the cover was done by Andy Kubert. I suspect from the period 2005 – 2010, this issue is one of the most read, discussed, and puzzled over issues in comics.  If you are not familiar with this issue, you probably should rectify that.

Allow me to give a brief introduction to what this is all about:  Grant Morrison is a Scottish writer who began writing the Batman title with issue #655.  It has been said that his writing is known to portray nonlinear narratives and counter-cultural concepts. The first few issues of Morrison’s run on Batman begin a far-reaching storyline involving Batman’s son, Damian Wayne.

655. BUILDING A BETTER BATMOBILE (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
656. MAN-BATS OF LONDON (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
657. WONDER BOYS (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
658. ABSENT FATHERS (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG

After a short interruption for the very good arc “Grotesk,” Morrison’s run continued with this issue #663.  The most significant items of this issue are (1.) the issue is a prose short story, not quite utilizing the typical comic book criteria; (2.) the dark, violent, and heavy tone/style of the work. After the “Batman & Son” issues and then this issue here, readers sat up and took notices of Morrison, helping him to become one of the biggest names in comics. He’s won several Eisner and Harvey Awards.

The title of the issue is “The Clown at Midnight.”  The story consists of ten “chapters” written in prose which are written among a smattering of art frames on each page. Hands down, without a doubt, I insist that the artist did a spectacular job. I believe it must have been exceedingly difficult to create the art for this story in this format. The artwork, if you take the time to look at each frame, is actually excellent. The format is, actually, interesting and somewhat exciting. However, there is a distinction between comic books and short stories – that Morrison tries to blur that distinction is interesting, but ultimately a fail. There are specific reasons people buy comic books and specific reasons readers by novels. While one could make the argument that traditional formats can become stale and hum-drum, there really is a necessity to remain within the accepted demands of the medium. Overall, I am not opposed to this relatively unique format (although it does bear some resemblance to the work of another English writer, Alan Moore), but I think it should remain a rarely used format and not make it into mainstream comics.

That being said, the problem I have with the issue is actually Morrison’s writing. If one wants to write prose, then one has to be judged in that category as well. And this puts Morrison’s efforts in the same category as science-fiction / fantasy / literature writers like Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, Frank Herbert, et al.  And compared to these writers, Morrison’s prose in this issue doesn’t measure up. The prose is metaphoric, adjectival, and descriptive. It does present the dark, mystical, psychological facets of Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn, but it does so with a lack of true grace and panache. This sort of prose, a play-by-play narrative is difficult to write. Its not the past-tense with which the majority of prose is written. So I give Morrison credit for maintaining that style throughout the issue. The story is not my cup of tea, but I can judge stuff even if its not my style. The psychological horror tone used in this issue depicts the really dark and scary side of the characters; but writing qua writing, its not that good.

In other words, Morrison is (at the point of this issue) an interesting novelty, but there’s nothing that compels me to any adulation of Morrison as a creative writer. I much preferred the previous “Batman & Son” issues.

2 stars

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