Friday, February 28, 2014

What the Hell is up with Forever Evil #5?

Man, I am really not into David Finch, I don't think I've mentioned that, but jeez, man. Anyway, last issue ended with Sinestro showing up and menacing Power Ring. Let's see what's up with that plot thread.

And, see, the yellow border serves as an ironic statement about how fearful he is, when he's running from the leader of the Lantern corps that is powered by fear! I feel sorry for anyone who actually finds this clever, and yes this includes Geoff Johns himself. Power Ring's pitiful retreat from Sinestro has some boring Luthor narration over it, when we cut back to Luthor and his Legion of Doom (along with Batman and Catwoman) staring down a Syndicate hit squad led by Deathstroke.

A fight breaks out, duh, and Luthor spends a lot of time courting Batman's favor for some reason, as if having Batman as his enemy right now would mean anything when he's got friends like Black Adam and Bizarro. Then we spend a little more tine with Sinestro/Power Ring, for character bullcrap with Power Ring's ring insulting him and ordering him around. 

Luthor is so sweet on Batman right now that I'm sure thousands on tumblr are trying to reconcile it with their obvious shared lust for Superman. Another sudden cut to the Sinestro/PR fight, which seems to be pretty back-and-forth so far...

I'm still not sure I get why Sinestro is even here -- is it just because of the connection to Hal Jordan, does he care about Hal that much? Is Hal such a bewitching personality that his greatest enemy's every thought is devoted to him? I just remembered who is writing this comic, so probably. Back at the Luthor plot thread, Deathstroke's hit squad is taken care of one by one, until Luthor manages to convince Deathstroke to turn on the Syndicate and save Batman.

Oh, so I guess he couldn't actually handle Copperhead? I can't really say I buy Batman almost getting killed by a C-Lister like that. Hell, Copperhead clearly had him on the ropes and would have finished him off without Deathstroke's intervention. I'm all for a vulnerable Batman, but generally speaking I'd say he actually should be able to take out Copperhead single-handedly.

Also, Geoff, copperheads are venomous snakes, they don't constrict their prey, they just bite it. Although I guess bats don't exactly throw boomerangs, so maybe I'm nitpicking. Also note that Copperhead can't help but lovingly refer to Luthor's brains as "big" - nice character shilling there, Johns.

Anyway, the scene cuts back to Sinestro vs Power Ring. The fight doesn't last much longer, as Sinestro gets as tired of Power Ring as I am.

Geoff Johns really did the de-arm-ifying spot again. Power Ring's ring reports irreparable damage and flies off in search of a new host, evidently unaware that he has a spare arm handy. Sinestro finishes him off, but he dies happy because the asshole ring is finally gone oh boo hoo. Sinestro joins back up with the main Legion of Doom and they start talking truce with Batman. Bats is cowed by all the big-league powerful villains, but seems to convince them to go along with his "Rescue Dick Grayson" plan.

Meanwhile, the Crime Syndicate is at the Batcave, rooting through Batman's stuff. Apparently Ultraman was interested in Batman's kryptonite ring, which is, according to Owlman, the last remaining Kryptonite on the planet. I really think removing Superman's weakness from existence is a bad idea in a lot of ways, especially in a narrative sense. It turns out the Syndicate had no idea Batman was still alive, so they actually believe/d that they killed the Justice League. Then they get word of Power Ring's death, and then...

Yes, he really did the Fleischer Superman thing again. The interesting thing in the sky is some kind of whatever that killed their own reality BUM BUM BUUUUUM

There's not a lot to like about this comic, at least not in my opinion. I find all the characters obnoxious at best. The writing, the plotting, is uneven and even schizophrenic in places. I'm just a regular consumer, too, I'm not an expert and this is the vibe I'm getting:"Dull and idiotic". 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Big Bang Presents: The Whiz Kids

After the end of the monthly Big Bang title, Big Bang characters continued to appear in a series of one-shots. There were only a handful of these: two each starring Ultiman and the Round Table of America, one Summer Special featuring the Knights of Justice, and this right here, the Whiz Kids. The Whiz Kids, as you might remember, are the Big Bang equivalent of the Teen Titans, and this issue has stories featuring both an Original-Titans style story and a New-Teen-Titans style one.

Starting with the Titans Classic, the Whiz Kids are chilling at their swingin' pad. The writing is intentionally hokey, with the Whiz Kids mostly talking in song lyrics. The art is shaky, and this is clearly not intentional, sad to say.

Anyway, the Whiz Kids head to Florida to Moray's beach house on her invitation, with Moray having retired to attend school full-time. She also has an asshole boyfriend that Cyclone doesn't get along with, a former Navy SEAL and underwater demolitions expert called the Aquamarine. Oh and there's been a rash of shark attacks featuring a huge black shark.

Cyclone survives an encounter with the beast, and the Whiz Kids soon divine that it's actually a robot that looks like a shark. Moreover, it doesn't eat people, it takes them to an underwater plantation where they slave away under the tyranny of a creep called the Great Black Shark. It's a Black Manta thing, and they really go the whole hog here with that theme.

I don't think Manta was ever a black supremacist, at least not to this degree, but let's all agree that enslaving whites isn't the way to make the world better for black people. GBS is one of very few black characters in all of Big Bang, incidentally, but that's a byproduct of BB's focus on adapting the notoriously whitebread Silver Age. Anyway, the action-packed conclusion is a little muddled and clumsily-excecuted, but they trick the GBS into blowing up his own underwater city and get all the prisoners out by way of the mechanical sharks. Moving on...

Above are the new Whiz Kids, or as the team would come to be known with their membership, the Whizzards (I know, awful). In this story, drawn by none other than Chris Samnee (!), the Whizzards face down a threat from Captain Nemo. This guy's backstory is boring enough to not bother you with, but as minor as his role in the story is I think he's one of the more interesting parts.

Gargoyla, Sheborg, Black Power, and (not pictured) Hot Pink join Cyclone in foiling his evil plot. Totem is somewhere else for all this. We get a look at these new characters, their powers, their personalities. They're all basically what you'd expect - Gargoyla is a shrinking violet, Hot Pink is a flighty showoff, Sheborg is cold and rational, etc. 

Yeah, "pep pills", sure. Black Power is half the Cyborg of the team based on appearance and demeanor alone, but his powers seems to come from that alpha-belt he wears, with which he can punch in various combinations to get different powers -- sort of like a voluntary Hero Dial. This strikes me as making him a little overpowered, but whatever. The Nemo plot thread is resolved fairly quickly, but internal strife (and the death of founding member Bubbles the chimp) take a toll on the team's veterans. Ultimately, this causes leader Cyclone to tender his resignation. This is the real "meat" of the whole issue, Cyclone talking about how stupid and awful he feels; I certainly care more about this than the Great Black Shark's white slavery ring.

Around this point it's revealed that, in case you were wondering, the founding Whiz Kids (and Thunder Girl) are nearing 30, though Thunder Girl's powered form still looks like the idealized version of her old teenage self. Cycolne nominates Sheborg replace him as leader, and after saying his goodbyes (and lamenting the missing Moray), Cyclone takes his leave. On that melodramatic note, the issue ends, but not without promise -- Thunder Girl and Cyclone leave together, though TG remains with the team

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Senses-Shattering Saga of the Metal Men! Special Edition -- Justice League #28

I figured this would be a great way to get back into the Metal Men groove -- with the first New 52 appearance of the team. Being a Geoff Johns joint, I'm going to try to rein in any inherent negative bias and take a look at this in the most impartial way possible.

The story opens during Forever Evil; Cyborg is consulting Dr. Will Magnus about bringing the Metal Men in to fight the Syndicate and save humanity. Doc isn't sure about this plan, and a flashback to six months ago tells us why...

In some military complex, a general and the Secretary of Defense are picking on the misanthropic agoraphobe Doc, a twentysomething super genius who hates human contact and thinks robots are cool because they're so logical and obedient. He refuses to talk to them or let them into his lab because this is the start of his character arc and that means he has no redeeming qualities yet.

Doc goes about his business, finally ready to put the finishing touches on his Metal Men. He dips the responsometers he developed into vats of pure metals, and what comes out is... surprisingly emotional and full of personality.

The Metal Men are basically the exact same characters they've always been, except for tweaks to Platinum (getting to that in a minute) and Gold. Gold, who I think we can all agree was a rather flat character before, is here characterized as narcissistic and uber-confident. He gave himself hair, for crying out loud. His status as the leader is justified by having him appoint himself to the position, reasoning that he should be in charge because gold is obviously the best metal. Not 100% sold on this, but I don't hate it. Anyway, the rest are very much recognizable -- Tin stammers, Lead is dim and speaks haltingly, etc.

They even do the "talking about the properties of their metal" thing from their earliest appearances. Oh, and I give special mention to Iron, whose personality is the same as ever but comes on a lot stronger

That left panel was like 3/4 of the page before I cut it down, practially a full body shot, just in case you couldn't tell what she was getting at. Two awesome things about the new Platinum: 1. She clearly likes Doc but isn't a goddamn lunatic about it or anything 2. She's called "Platinum". I always hated the nickname "Tina", I mean really. Doc is baffled by all the emotions, unique personalities, and distinct physical appearances the Metal Men exhibit -- this wasn't part of the plan at all. He eventually lashes out and gives us an old-Doc chestnut: "You're robots, you can't feel anything!"

Things go downhill from there; Doc quickly reconciles with the Metal Men but his military employers bust in and demand he fork them over. When it's clear that the military wants to use them as assassins instead of rescue workers, they bust a move and get out of there, only to resurface in Doc's apartment. And then Chemo shows up.

As Do says, Chemo was created with a stolen prototype responsometer. It's not clear who was behind this, but they clearly knew about Doc's work so it was likely someone at the military compound. The Metal Men burst into action immediately, focusing their efforts solely on clearing the area of civilians before anything else. Ultimately, they rely on a Metal Men classic strategy -- a suicide attack -- to take care of the menace.

Doc was touched by the selflessness of their actions - they saved a lot of people from Chemo without ever considering their own safety, and gave their lives to bring an end to Chemo's rampage. In the present, Cyborg pushes Doc about his reasons for not wanting to bring them back -- in the brief time he'd known the Metal Men, Doc had come to care about them, and he isn't willing to lose them again.

I think that's pretty cool; old Doc usually didn't think much of popping everybody into the Metal Recovery Chamber, though the Metal Men themselves tended to act as though every death was final. Anyway, Cyborg manages to convince him to help out because it's what the Metal Men would want.

All told, I'm very happy with the New 52 incarnation of the Metal Men. They're all essentially the exact same characters (except Gold, who let's face it didn't have much of a character in the first place), they do the same things, act the same way, and have the same relationships with one another. The new Doc grated on me at first because I thought he'd stay the misanthropic asshole he was at the start, but we ended up with a version of Doc who thinks of the Metal Men as his only friends and family, who cried when they sacrificed themselves to stop Chemo. In a lot of ways I think it improves on the group as previously depicted -- Platinum seems interested in Doc but is absolutely not a weirdo about it, for instance, and while I admit I'm not crazy about Gold the preening narcissist it's better than the dull "standard sci-fi hero" personality he had before.

I could go on forever -- this incarnation of the Metal Men is the best yet. It's very faithful to everything I loved about the Silver Age version, with all the stupid parts (Crazy Platinum, the nickname "Tina", Doc's awful treatment of Platinum, Doc's paternal detachment from the group, boring Gold, and, most of all, 'Nameless') surgically removed. I'm very surprised at just how much I enjoyed this issue, and I really love what Johns and Reis did with these characters. I know Geoff Johns isn't much-beloved these days, but after this and his great Aquaman run, I'm reconsidering hating him so much. Reconsidering.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Peacemaker: Why Peace, Love, and Understanding Seemed Funny

I'm no expert on Charlton comics, I have fairly limited experience with their material and even most of their characters -- most of my knowledge comes directly from Who's Who. Not that that's much help in this case, as the Peacemaker had two profiles, one pre- and one post-Crisis, that are completely at odds with each other. His big claim to fame, as with most of the more notable Charlton heroes, is that he inspired a Watchmen character (namely the Comedian)

The thing about the Peacemaker is that, as a kid, I thought the concept as lined out in Who's Who was pretty laughable; a guy who digs peace and thus fights for it. It doesn't help that he has what is in my opinion the most unenviable costume in comics, bar none, with special mention going to the toilet bowl-esque helmet. I'd go so far as to say he was the world's lamest superhero until DC's Bloodlines event introduced a whole score of new crappy all-stars.

Peacemaker is Christopher Smith, a US peace envoy living in... Europe... somewhere, who is always solving trouble caused by never-named Soviet states (usually vaguely implied to be Eastern European or one of the Soviet -stans). His origin is all but non-existent, but check out hisr. arsenal of weapons.

First off, let's make this clear -- the Peacemaker is not a pacifist, and isn't even close. He basically never shoots anyone with a gun, this much is true, but he's culpable in hundreds of deaths by the end of his five-issue run. He knocks a frogman out and breaks his breathing apparatus before leaving him to drown; he uses his forehead-mounted laser to block off a rocky mine passage only to cause a massive explosion that kills dozens.  He even intentionally ruptured a nuclear sub's reactor, dooming most of its crew and all sea life within a 50 mile radius. There's nothing this man will not do in the interest of peace; he'll attack you in bed, he'll use chemical weapons... He's the worst peace-lover ever. 

His primary weapon is the laser mounted on his stupid helmet, as well as a jetpack on his back. None of that other crap in the diagram above is ever used, though he has an annoying habit of pulling just-the-right-gadget out of his Peace Cavity (such as a knock-out pellet intended for sharks, or a freeze gun). The laser is the worst peaceful weapon of its kind since Dr. Venture's Oo-Ray -- in the first two issues both times he uses it there are massive casualties

Peacemaker is an odd duck because he was clearly created in response to real-world fears of World War III, but his adventures quickly turn fantastical -- in the final issue of his series, he's fighting lava monsters and sporting an even worse helmet.

And, I'm just noticing, a different chest insignia. I suspect this was some attempt to retool Peacemaker into something other than a murderous, jackbooted thug; the villain of that piece was, after all, a more direct supervillain than any of the characters he'd faced before. Alas (or who am I kidding, thankfully) 'twas not to be. Peacemaker went on to make zero appearances of note in DC, except I hear for one of the Final Crisis Aftermath minis or something. Which is just as well, since nobody was clamoring for an encore with this guy.