Comics Review: Doom Patrol v5 #1-13

Doom Patrol v5 #1-13
Written by Keith Giffen
Art by Andy Clarke

Almost simultaneously Marvel and DC introduced bizarre misfits teams in 1963. Marvel brought the world the X-Men, led by the wheelchair bound Professor X. DC Comics presented Doom Patrol, led by the wheelchair bound Chief. As you well know, only one of these two concepts skyrocketed into great success. That’s not to say Doom Patrol hasn’t been a perennial favorite in the decades that followed. Since the late 1980s, there have been four separate shots at resurrecting the Doom Patrol idea. The most successful was spearheaded by Grant Morrison who took over the second series and brought into the mature readers imprint Vertigo. He injected bits of dadaism and surreality into the series and created a critically acclaimed run. But it didn’t last for much longer after he left. Now Keith Giffen and Andy Clarke are tackling the characters with yet another new angle.

The premise of the Doom Patrol revolves around Niles Caulder aka The Chief. Caulder was a reclusive scientist who had bitterness towards the world. In the interest of his own scientific interests, with a side interest in helping the world, he gathered together three individuals transformed by freak accidents. Pilot Larry Trainor was blasted with strange radiation, forced to wear specially treated bandages to contain his radiation, and could projects hard light version of himself from his body. Rita Farr was a movie actress on the set of her latest picture when she accidentally bathed in mysterious waters and found she could shrink and grow at will. Finally, Cliff Steele was a race car driver fatally injured in an accident. Caulder witnessed it and helped transfer Cliff’s brain is a massive robot body. This trio were often the reluctant aides of Niles Caulder.

In the current series, the Doom Patrol have relocated to Oolong Island, a locale in the DC Universe most recently used as a haven for various mad scientist supervillains. The Island has been “legitimized” and Caulder brings his team in and uses the newly founded nation as his staging ground for illegal experimentation and missions. The trio of members underneath him are completely mistrustful of him and Rita is especially angered when she learns Caulder has brought her ex husband, Steve Dayton along. Dayton is a telepath who originally used his powers to convince Rita to marry him, they even adopted the Teen Titans’ Beast Boy as their son. Once Dayton’s ruse was revealed the marriage fell apart. Now Caulder uses Dayton to attempt to control Rita.

The plots have been pulled into joining the Blackest Night story running through the books as well as delving into dense Doom Patrol continuity. I can’t see someone who hasn’t read the last twenty years of Doom Patrol stories being able to understand this series. There’s a villain reveal in one of the more recently issues that will fall with a thud for anyone who didn’t read the Morrison run. Though Giffen attempts to provide recaps for new readers: there’s a single issue spotlight on Larry Trainor and another on Rita Farr, 32 pages is simply not enough to create an understanding of these vastly difficulty histories. Despite my love of the strangeness of these characters, I have a feeling we will being seeing the cancellation of the series soon. Its odd because DC attempted a complete reboot in 2004 and it failed miserably as well. I will defend the concept of these characters, and I believe they can work. I just have no idea what it would take for them to lead a successful ongoing series.


Comics Review: S.H.I.E.L.D.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1-3
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver

Remember reading in the history book about how Galileo fought back the invasion of Galactus on Earth? You probably don’t, as such stories have been hidden in the shadows by the cabal of S.H.I.E.L.D. This mysterious organization operates from the catacombs of Rome, in the city of Urbis Immortalis. They have discovered how the world will end and fight those forces that seek to bring it about too early. In addition they push humanity’s evolution forward by giving support to all the great minds through out history. In the opening of this series its 1953 and a young man named Leonid is recruited by Agents Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark.  Leonid learns his father was a super being named the Night Machine who has been in battle with S.H.I.E.L.D. for years. Night Machine causes Leonid to question the true purposes of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the first issue ends with the young man meeting Leonard da Vinci, who has traveled through time to deliver a mysterious device.

S.H.I.E.L.D has all the trappings of a great Grant Morrison comic and these first few issues have already made me think of series like The Invisibles and Morrison’s Batman. These are comics where you have an avalanche of ideas in a single issue, that force you to re-read just to make sure you got each and every little concept. The original premise of S.H.I.E.L.D, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the group was created by  Nick Fury as a espionage version of the United Nations that worked in the shadows. Hickman’s series purports to do a little retroactive continuity work (retcon) by establishing that the organization was around long before Fury. It remains to be seen if this series in the greater continuity of the Marvel Universe, or its own little pocket, but it does seem to feature cameos by a lot of mainstays.

Why S.H.I.E.L.D stands out so strongly from the rest of the Marvel titles may be because it was originally a creator-owned idea. Hickman hadn’t tied to the MU until his work on Secret Warriors and Fantastic Four gained him acclaim at the company. He’s managed to create a little corner for himself at Marvel and for the incredibly nerdy-minded of us if you pay close enough attention you see references in one book to something going on in the other. Smartly, these are not details that hinge on you understanding the plot, but make you grin when you realize the connections. Its outstanding work from a writer who is still early in his career. Very excited to see what Hickman gets up to in the coming years.

Comic Quick Hits

Brightest Day #7 (of 26)

This is the “spine” of the DC Universe for the next year, following characters resurrected at the end of Blackest Night. And this particular issue has been hyped as the “every thing is revealed” moment. Former spectral hero Deadman aka Boston Brand comes in direct contact with the mysterious White Lantern, and when he does all the resurrected heroes and villains hear a voice telling them why they were brought back. Of course this voice is vague as hell, but the most interesting for me was Maxwell Lord seeing that his destiny is kill a character whose book is coincidentally on the ropes for cancellation. As a stand alone story, it wasn’t too great, but for the overall narrative it does set an interesting direction for things.

Superman:  The Last Family of Krypton #1 (of 3)

DC returns to its Elseworlds imprint, a focus on “What If?”, parallel reality type stories. The conceit here is that the entire El family (Jor, Lara, and little Kal) escape Krypton and arrive on Earth in the 1970s. Jor immediately uses his alien technology to make life better for humanity, while Lara pushes the philosophic belief of Rao-ology. Lara is the focus here and becomes concerned about Kal’s isolation in the world, so she begins interviewing Earth family’s to find one he can live with in disguise to learn what it is to be human. Guess who she picks. There’s some sub plot threads involving Jor and his Jorcorp, a company developing household devices using Krypton tech, and the child prodigy Jor hires (said prodigy is a very familiar figure in the Superman mythos). What I really enjoyed was a big divergence from the standard Superman story that centers around Lara and has me looking forward to the rest of the series.

Shadowland #2 (of 5)

Marvel’s urban NYC event continues. Daredevil, still inexplicably wearing this new costume, is confronted by old friends Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, and Spider-Man. Meanwhile, The Kingpin and Lady Bullseye summon a very familiar Marvel comics character to help in their fight. I’m most intrigued about Moon Knight’s involvement in the story. He gets himself captured by Daredevil’s forces and locked up in the Hand’s prison. Moon Knight has always been a great premise to me, like a completely insane Batman with multiple personalities. The mini-series  is keeping me hooked, which is quite an accomplishment, as it features characters I have never clicked with. Definitely much better than Marvel’s last big event book, Siege. I think it works in part because its keeping the scale small and local.

Page to Screen: Batman – Under the Red Hood

In Page to Screen I look at comic books adapted to film.

Batman – Under the Red Hood (2010, dir. Brandon Vietti)
Adapted from Batman: A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo, Batman: Under the Hood by Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke
Starring Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, John Dimaggio

I’m never one to be against resurrecting comic book characters. It does happen way too often now for the impact of it to amount to much, but if done well it can make for some brilliantly interesting development for the characters affected by the return. In 1988, through a rather callous and cynical phone-in vote, the fans voted for the second Robin aka Jason Todd to be killed off in the current story arc of Batman. Todd was a polarizing character, who started out simply as a blank slate replacement for Dick Grayson. As time went on, Todd was revamped into a counter to Grayson, a rebellious teen who didn’t listen to the advice of Batman. It was a much more interesting take on the Robin character than Grayson had ever been, frankly. But the fans at the time seemed to balk at this brazen rebellion towards the Dark Knight and got young Jason beaten to death by The Joker. Fifteen years later, a new criminal figure appeared in Gotham, calling himself The Red Hood, a blatant reference to the costumed identity the man who would become The Joker wore on the night of his transformation. As Batman investigated further, he would learn The Red Hood was tied to what he saw as his greatest failure.

This latest from DC Comics high end animated film department takes the very end of the Death in the Family story and merges it with a “greatest hits” compilation from Winick’s run on Batman. I was surprised that some more esoteric elements were included, particularly, Batman and Nightwing’s battle with the super android Amazo. In the original comics, that story was tied to both The Red Hood and plot development for Infinite Crisis, the big event at the time. Winick, who handles scripting duties here as well, reworks the moment as a part of the more condensed plot of the film. He also takes his epically long struggle between Red Hood and Black Mask and turns into a much more satisfying and shorter story. Despite the film’s length of 75 minutes, it feels like we got at least a treatment for what could be a longer live action film story.

This is the first true solo Batman comic story since the animated series ended. In a lot of ways, it could be shoehorned into The Animated Series continuity; in TAS we eventually got Tim Drake as Robin and Grayson as Nightwing. It could be said this story takes place in between the Fox version of TAS and the WB follow up, a sort of untold tale of the lost Robin. The voice acting is very well done and Bruce Greenwood sounds so much like Kevin Conroy (Batman in TAS) I thought for a second it was him. Neil Patrick Harris does an excellent job providing comic relief in the first half as Nightwing, but it was disappointing that the character sort of vanishes from the story. John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) tackles The Joker and reminded me how strange it is to not hear Mark Hamill’s voice coming out of the animated villain. He’s good, its just a different style and laugh than I suspect myself and my peers are used to. Jensen Ackles rounds out the cast as Red Hood and does a decent job.

What I saw here was how two stories that are important to the canon, but have always felt poorly executed, can be retold in a way that shows its all about the craftsmen behind the scenes. I’ve been surprised by Judd Winick twice in the last week, first by the latest Justice League: Generation Lost issue and now this. I suspect when he is made to really collaborate with others we see the weaknesses in his storytelling diminish. Instead of these stories coming off a cynical and mean, which they do on paper, a lot of redemptive qualities are brought to the front in the animated film. Where Batman and the other characters are left at the end of the story is a very interesting place and serves as a reminder as to what separates Batman from the gun-toting vigilantes that followed in his footsteps. It’s also nice to see a Batman affected by mistakes, something we rarely get in any medium he shows up in. To see Batman as a vulnerable and human figure, a father wracked with guilt, provides an incredibly deeper picture of the character.

Between the Panels: REBELS v2

REBELS v2 #1-18
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Andy Clarke and Claude St. Aubin

DC Comics has been building a rich science fiction mythos since the 1950s with characters like Captain Comet and Adam Strange. In the 1960s, we were given the futuristic teen team the Legion of Super-Heroes. In the 1980s, elements from the present day DC Universe and alien races introduced in Legion stories came together in an event called Invasion! In this story we were introduced to Vril Dox and a group of aliens all imprisoned by beings bent on invading the Earth. By the end, Dox and company escaped and would go on to form LEGION (Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network). These galactic peace-keepers would eventually be usurped by Dox’s rapidly intelligent newborn, Lyrl and form the REBELS (Revolutionary Elite Brigade to Eradicate L.E.G.I.O.N. Supremacy). The entire series met with cancellation in the mid-90s, though the characters would continue to pop up from time to time. Recently, the concept was revived and it is hitting on all cylinders, making sure to avoid the mistakes of its predecessors.

The new series opens with Vril Dox being chased to Earth by his soldiers that used to work for him in LEGION. It’s quickly revealed that the majority of planets under LEGION’s protection have been taken over by the Star Conqueror, a parasitic species of starfish parasites that attach themselves to humanoid hosts and communicate collectively. Dox goes about recruiting aliens who have escaped the infestation, including his now adolescent son, Lyrl. The group works to defeat the Star Conqueror through schemes developed by Dox. Along the way he recruits Captain Comet, Adam Strange, Starfire, and many obscure alien species. The entire first year of the series is taken up by the battle with the Star Conqueror and, while that seems like a long time to stretch a story out it is very entertaining.

Vril Dox is one of those anti-heroic characters that is so much fun to read. He’s the son of Superman villain Brainiac, but instead of going for galaxy conquering through mechanical beasties like his pop, Dox has opted for using diplomacy and backroom deals to conquer. He does offer peace for the systems that get LEGION protection, but there always seems to be an interesting catch. More often than not, his schemes involve putting his closest comrades in the path of destruction without them being aware til the moment has passed. He also possess zero sentimentality, as exhibited in the way he doesn’t hesitate to turn on his equally nefarious son Lyrl.

Because the series is part of the shared DC Universe, its inevitable that big events will crossover. During Blackest Night, where black rings were resurrecting the dead, Dox encountered the deceased mother of his child, Stealth. The issue plays with some of the ideas Geoff Johns has developed with various colors of the Universal Spectrum, and Dox ends up in possession of a yellow Sinestro Corps ring for a short time. Another bit of fallout from the Green Lantern comics is that the Vega System, an area of space that was allowed to be autonomous for millenia is now opened up, and Dox quickly swoops in and gets involved in an arranged marriage with matriarch of Tamaran, Komand’r to bring the planet under the umbrella of LEGION. The most recent storyline finds Dox’s father, Brainiac being placed in a prison on their home planet Colu, but of course escaping and this time going after his offspring.

If you are looking for a fun space faring series that focuses on one of the smartest villains in DC this would be your thing. In addition to Dox, there was some interesting work done with Captain Comet recently. He was a superhero in the 1950s, who left earth in the early 60s, and returns to visit the graves of his family. There’s some interesting things being said about the cost of immortality when those around you aren’t, and it makes me hopeful to see the development of that character in the series as well.

Comic Quick Hits

Action Comics #891

Paul Cornell delivers yet another awesome issue of his run on Action. Instead of focusing on the adventures of Superman, Cornell has opted to make Lex Luthor the focus of the series. Its hard to pull off villain-centric books by Cornell plays into the whole super scientist aspect of the character. There’s even the incorporation of long time Captain Marvel villain Mr. Mind, which makes me instantly love the issue. When you can have a mind controlling Venusian caterpillar in your story you have won me over. This has quickly become one of my read as soon as a I can books.

The Flash #4

A decent fun issue that continues building towards something. I can’t help but feel Johns is stretching the story a lot here. What’s gone down in these first four issues could have been told in two. With hints towards the next storyline, “Flashpoint”, this can come off as feeling like killing time till then. Its well written though, and the future Rogues of the 25th Century are interesting, in that they model themselves after villains but are police in their era. We get some interesting info about a possible path for Flash’s wife, Iris, and I wonder if this is something Johns will carry through on. Francis Manapul’s art is amazing though, he’s one of the best artists I have ever seen on this character, really captures speed on the page.

Green Lantern #56

Green Lantern just can’t fail. With Geoff Johns’ development of the other colors in the universal spectrum it has really made the Green Lantern mythos absolutely riveting. This issue spotlights Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern, whose power comes from greed. There’s a brilliant bit where Larfleeze has learned of the Santa Claus myth and has plans to force the fat man to give him every thing he desires. It’s just one of those clever little bits that makes the comic so much fun. Long time GL baddie Hector Hammond also plays a major role and it has me anticipating next month and the continuation of this story. Also, Doug Mahnke’s art is spectacular.

Green Lantern Corps #50

There’s some interesting things going on in the GL Corps. This issue we learn that the Cyborg Superman is back from the dead and, because he is a machine, is invisible to death. He believes the answer lies with the robotic Alpha Lanterns who police the Corps. At the same time we get some info about the mysterious figure who is plotting behind the scenes. My guess is that is Appa Ali Apsa, one of the Guardians of the Universe who went crazy years ago. The mystery here, and also popping up in the solo Green Lantern book definitely has me hooked.

Justice League: Generation Lost #6 (of 26)

Just when I was beginning to tire of this series, Winick and Giffen deliver an awesome issue! The majority of this issue jumps back to #1 when Captain Atom left Earth’s atmosphere to release an atomic explosion he absorbed. The way his power work are he absorbs the explosion, gets displaced in time for a few hours, and then ends up back in the present. The place he ends up in reveals some things about the effects of Max Lord’s plan if he and the League fail to stop it. It’s also one of the first times I’ve clicked with Captain Atom character. Conceptually I’ve always liked him, but never seen an applied version that I enjoyed. After reading this, I’m really hoping Cap plays a bigger part in the story.

It Should Be A Movie – Girls

Girls (2005-2007)
24 issues, Written and Illustrated by Jonathan and Joshua Luna, Image Comics

In the 1970s there was a renaissance period for both horror and science fiction. Of course there was still schlock being made but there was also a lot of thought provoking speculative fiction presented to the movie going public. These films used the facade of the fantastic to talk about modern day issues and challenges. Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth looked at how fame corrupts once noble endeavors. Mad Max dealt with the fears of lawlessness. A Clockwork Orange chose to examine the ways in which society seeks to erase the individual by examining the most despicable element. A film adaptation of Girls would follow in the footsteps of these films as a picture looking at relevant social issues in a fresh inventive way and it would haunt the audience for a long time after.

In the fictional locale of Pennystown, USA the young Ethan Daniels is tossed out on ass after getting drunk and causing trouble at the local bar. Stumbling his way home, Daniels comes across a naked young woman who appears to not be able to speak. In his alcoholic haze he brings her to his house where he tries to get her to talk, instead she forces herself on him and they have sex. In the morning, Daniels gets the authorities but when they return to his home they find she has laid several eggs that hatch into full grown duplicates of herself. These strange women wander the town, killing any woman they come in contact and attempting to mate with any male. The townspeople attempt to leave Pennystown but find it surrounded by an opaque white  dome that has cut off their communication with the outside world. In addition there is what appears to be a giant sperm in a field outside town. Tensions build as the women begin to see the men as weak and pathetic, as many of them succumb to the strange women, only exacerbating the problem and creating more of the savage creatures.

In a country where we hear permissive sex being blamed for all society’s ills, the Luna Brothers examine that idea more closely by sequestering these townspeople and discovering how they behave when sex becomes weaponized. While the actual science fiction elements don’t have a tight wrap up (things are left fairly ambiguous) , the story is a springboard for fascinating character interaction. The townspeople are variety of races, ages, and sexualities. One character is revealed as being gay in a rather gruesome way. This is comparable to films like Lifeboat or Cube, where you have people thrown into a pressure cooker and we sit back and watch how all the tension and building violence plays out.

The look of the comic is so crisp, clean, and symmetrical I was reminded of the way Kubrick would frame a shot. That in mind someone like a Paul Thomas Anderson would be already adept to film this. Even more than that, I see Duncan Jones, who brought us the minimalist science fiction masterpiece Moon being tailor made for a project like Girls. With Moon he showed us that the climax we expect for a film is not necessarily the one that is appropriate for the story. Throw in Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Ethan Daniels and think you would have a very fascinating film on your hands. In many ways it would be the opposite of Pandorum, released in 2009, where a awesome sci-fi premise was abandoned in favor of thoughtless action. So while we wait for Hollywood to greenlight a Girls film, do yourself a favor and pick up the collected volumes.