Friday, January 29, 2010

Essential Showcase Of Masterworks 5

Green Lantern/Green Arrow by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams

This book marks a turning point of sorts for DC Comics. Since revitalizing the superhero genre in the late 50's and early 60's, DC played catch up to their innovative competitor Marvel Comics. Being the old hand, DC was less open to change and began to pay the price for it at the...umm...newsstands. As Marvel heroes gained popularity due to their "flawed" heroes and "realistic" stories, DC's prim and proper perfect heroes lost popularity.

To compete DC would have to change.

Enter in one of the titles that DC had revitalized the genre with, Green Lantern. Following the adventures of test pilot Hal Jordan who inherits an alien power ring that can create an energy field into any shape he can imagine. He becomes part of an intergalactic peacekeeping organization. Sagging in sales and with long time artist Gil Kane leaving, it was headed for cancellation. A perfect (and frequent back then) opportunity to experiment.

DC handed the title over to Denny O'Neil who had some success on Justice League Of America and Beware the Creeper (created and drawn by Steve Ditko). O'Neil had made some dramatic changes to other characters recently. He had stripped Wonder Woman of her Amazon powers and turned her into an Emma Peel type super-spy complete with "mod" new outfits. O'Neil also had turned Green Arrow from a bored millionaire who moonlit as a superhero to a champion of the forgotten and oppressed by having Oliver Queen (GA) lose his inherited millions. This last change would directly influence the Green Lantern title.

While O'Neil had reworked Green Arrow's character, artist Neal Adams had revamped his costume to fit a gritty urban Robin Hood in the pages of The Brave And The Bold. Adams had previously been teamed with Roy Thomas on the also soon to be canceled X-Men title (it went into reprints instead) at Marvel and had followed Carmine Infantino on Deadman for DC.

O'Neil decided that Hal had been in space so long that he had forgotten what it was like to be on Earth. The now liberal outspoken Green Arrow would make a nice foil for the conservative spacecop GL on his quest to reconnect with the common man. Added into the mix would be one of the Guardians (the GL's bosses) themselves to give a totally alien perspective. This quest would take the trio (and Black Canary who joins up with them) through America's west and on to other planets, all the while exploring many social issues that are still relevant today.

Race, overpopulation, pollution, cults, religious fundamentalists and drug addiction are just some of the topics O'Neil addressed.

One of the most famous comic covers and stories was the two issue arc in which Green Arrow discovers that his ward and partner, Speedy (ironic?), has turned to drugs and become a heroin addict. Following the Spider-Man story that involved generic "pills" that was printed without the Comic Code Authority seal, it was the first to come out and name a specific drug. Not only is the story about the effects of drugs, but the toll and consequences of addiction.

The second biggest event in the run was the creation of the John Stewart character. With the reserve GL Guy Gardner in a coma, the Guardians tell Hal Jordan to find another. The ring selects an activist and "angry black man" John Stewart. Initially adverse to the idea of serving the "Man" he realizes that he can accomplish a lot with the power of the Green Lantern. John Stewart would go on to become a big part of the Green Lantern mythos. He became the Green Lantern of the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited TV series.

O'Neil and Adams followed their run on GL/GA to a backup feature in the Flash and later teamed up for DC again for their famous run on Batman introducing Ra's Al Ghul and Talia. Adams had a run on the Avengers during the Kree/Skrull War and did many covers for both DC and Marvel. Adams also was instrumental in broadening creator rights. O'Neil became the editor of the Bat titles for most of the eighties.

The run was reprinted in the late eighties as a mini series that had new cover art by Adams on high quality paper. In 2000, DC came out with a hardcover complete with slipcase featuring all new coloring for the art. This in part led to the Adams Batman and Deadman runs being collected in to similar hardcover volumes.

Friday, January 15, 2010

This Week's Comic Stack

This time it's actually for this week:

The Good:

  • The Power Of Shazam! #48- Poor Osiris gets to be a hero once again. I don't know Eric Wallace but he does a good job here. The art by Don Kramer gets a strange watercolor look to it. I don't know if that's his art work, the inker or colorist. It's not bad, just loses the style and lines that I've enjoyed in JSA, Dr Fate and his other work.

  • Secret Six #17- Continues the showdown between the Six and the Squad. Great action, great character bits and that's before the Black Lanterns show up.

  • The Marvels Project #5-The Angel runs into Captain America on his first mission. Nice mix of history, mystery and action with great art.

  • Invincible Iron Man #22- With Tony's mind still MIA and the Ghost after his body, Dr. Strange is consulting. Although nothing big happens, the mood set up is a good lead in to next issue.

  • Adventure Comics #6- Superboy learns how bad Lex Luthor is. Geoff Johns bows out of the title

The Alright:

  • Realm Of Kings: Imperial Guard #3- While the team scouting the Fault tries to repair the Starjammer, Gladiator regrets his assuption of the throne. Then, a face from the RoK one shot shows up...Quasar. But he's followed by some of the H.P.Lovecraft "Old Ones"so next issue is gonna be fun. This series is really picking up now.

  • Strange #3- Dr. Strange vs kid beauty pagents (they're diabolical)

  • R.E.B.E.L.S. #12- The Starro story continues after the break for BN crossover. This is a great title, good thing the first trade is out next week as I didn't pick up the initial issues.

  • Action Comics #885- Mon-El tries to stop the SP and the military from fighting over taking Nightwing and Flamebird into custody.

  • Booster Gold #28- Booster makes sure Hank Henshaw goes into space while his sister finds out she's in the doomed Coast City. And Blue Beetle's suit takes over and starts the Reach's evil programming.

  • Catwoman #83- Selina has to save her sister from BL Black Mask. Harley and Ivy help out.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

This Week's Comic Stack

I'm behind with the blog again.

First last week....

The Good (and the Only):

  • Blackest Night #6- Geoff Johns does it again with the creation of the "deputized" lanterns. Inspired!

And now....This week...

The Good:

  • Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2- expands upon BN#5's WW vs Mera fight and the transformation of WW into a ---- -------.

  • Suicide Squad #67- this resurrection title leads into the Secret Six BN crossover

The Alright:

  • Superman: World Of New Krypton #11-some nice filler until the conclusion next issue

  • New Mutants #9- The team gets used to Doug being back and Emma Frost learns who/what Illyana is

  • The Siege #1-Norman Osborn finally makes the nutso mistake we've all been waiting for...he attacks Asgard.

The Bad:

  • Weird Western Tales #71- just a bunch of cameos of DC western characters, plus the Ray (selling out) and Simon Stagg

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Essential Showcase of Masterworks 4

Daredevil: Born Again

Frank Miller made himself an established "name" with his run on Daredevil in the early 80's. Eventually, both writing and drawing the book became too much and David Mazzuchelli was brought in. Miller had introduced Elektra, expanded the character of Bullseye and took the Spider-Man villain Kingpin and set him up as DD's arch-nemesis.

But, this arc would push the character to the brink.

The story opens up with a desperate woman selling a secret for some drugs. The woman, former secretary/girlfriend of Matt Murdock. Her secret, the identity of the vigilante Daredevil. Page left NYC (and the title) to become an actress. Not hitting the big time she fell into drugs and with no money sold the only thing left besides her body.

This news gets to the Kingpin, who tests it out by making life hard for Matt Murdock. Using all his influence to get him investigated on trumped up corruption charges and interfering with his finances. When observation convinces the Kingpin the information is correct he begins tracking down all those who had knowledge of it and having them killed. This trail leads all the way back to Karen Page. Saved from a hit by sheer luck, not knowing who wants her dead or why she begins to work her way to the one person who can protect her, Matt Murdock.

The frame-up escalates when a "good" cop is revealed to be the main witness. Matt's reporter friend Ben Urich tries to uncover the real story behind the charges. Ben is about to get the cop to admit that he was making up the allegations to get treatment for his sick son when an enforcer beats up the cop and breaks his hand as a warning. Realizing that the true target is Daredevil not Matt Murdock, Ben faces a choice. Do the right thing and help his friend, or do the "smart" thing.

Meanwhile, Matt himself becomes more and more aggravated as the conspiracy against him grows. Becoming paranoid he isolates himself from his girlfriend, Gloria O'Breen, and his best friend, Foggy. After losing his brownstone to an "accident", he is homeless and with his assets frozen because of the investigation, penniless. Driven near insane with rage and exhaustion he confronts the Kingpin. And is beaten and left to die in a submerged taxicab. Escaping a watery grave, he is stabbed when attempting to stop a mugging. He drags himself to his father's old gym and collapses.

While recovering, Matt recalls getting his powers and a mysterious woman who helped him adjust. He awakes to a nun who seems very familiar. He asks her a big question. She answers and although she lies (his built in lie detector tells him), he is given hope by the answer. [You'll have to find out the question by reading it].

Karen's story and Ben's story converge with Matt's, as the Kingpin plays a dangerous card to eliminate Matt Murdock. He sets a drugged, deranged "Super-Soldier" loose on Hell's Kitchen to draw Daredevil out. This gets the attention of Captain America, because of the connection to Project:Rebirth and this "Nuke" wears the flag.

At the end of the story Matt/DD is in a totally new place and mindset than from the start. Although some of the old supporting cast remains the relationship that they have with Matt is changed. This is one of the most successful tearing down and rebuilding of a character ever done in comics. The Bendis/Brubaker jail storyline being a close second.

The artwork has some amazing imagery as well as some great action sequences. Very few artists can do both. There are some real horrific moments as bad things happen to people. What really sells those moments though are the reactions to them in the expressions of the characters faces. There is some great "acting" in this story. The plot is exciting and suspenseful without ever going over the top. Dialogue is crisp and clean, very natural and not too melodramatic. If there were to be a sequel to the Daredevil movie (or even a new one)this would be a good starting point.

Miller and Mazzuchelli would reteam for DC doing Batman: Year One. [Which will probably show up in a future installment of ESoM] Sadly, DD would pretty much flounder around for years till Kevin Smith relaunched the title and then take off when Brian Michael Bendis became the writer.

Some highlights/quotes:
-"There is no corpse"-- Kingpin musing on Murdock's supposed demise
-"..I have shown him that a man without hope, is a man without fear."--Kingpin on learning Murdock is still alive
-"Don't say the name. Don't even think the name."--A scared Ben Urich warned away from defending Matt Murdock
- " I thank you for listening Mr. Urich."--Enforcer "Lois" as she made Ben listen to her kill someone
-"A heartbeat can tell you a lot. Hers just jumped. She's lying."--Matt after he asks the nun the "question" she answers no to
- A soldier with a voice that could command a god--and does.--Ben describing the arrival of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man to the aftermath of the Hell's Kitchen battle
-"What's it to you?" "He wears the flag." "I hadn't noticed."--Cap and DD talking about Nuke, a little joke as DD is blind, but Cap takes it seriously
-"My name is Matt Murdock. I was blinded by radiation. My remaining senses function with superhuman sharpness. I live in Hell's Kitchen and do my best to keep it clean. That's all you need to know."--Matt (duh) giving the last line of the story and the new mission statement of the series almost.