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Friday, May 23, 2008

Justice Society Revival - From 1999


I recently commented on DC Comic's revival of the Justice Society of America. Part of the buildup has been both in new continuous series and short series. Some are better than others.

The most elaborate so far is a three issue series, Doctor Mid-nite, written by Matt Wagner and drawn by John Snyder. (In some places, the name is spelled Midnite. (Why publishers persist in these illiteracies has always puzzled me.)

Since the original Dr. Midnite perished in DC's Zero Hour series, a new version comes as no surprise. This version is far more grim than the 1940's character, but the original's pet owl has been reinserted. Fans of the original should consult The Justice Society Returns for an explanation of Dr. Midnite's fondness for such an odd mascot.

The original Midnite reappeared in 1964 in a Justice League-Justice Society story. Those new to the character were astounded to learn that there had been a blind hero long before Marvel's Daredevil. The characters were not that similar and Marvel stated that no one there even remembered Dr. Midnite or copied him.

At $5.95 each, this title seems pricey, but it will be essential for those who collect anything related to the Justice Society.



On a lighter note is Stars and ST.R.I.P.E., a reworking of the Star- Spangled Kid and his chauffeur Stripesy. (Were any characters ever more poorly named?) The original Stripesy now uses the S.T.R.I.P.E. robot to supervise a female version of the Kid. Issue 0 has sections in a cartoonish style and others in a traditional superhero style. I'll suspend judgment temporarily, but that robot has to go.

Closely connected to the revival of the Justice Society is Hourman. This android version of the 1940's hero resembles Marvel's Iron Man and Vision. The first four issues are very complex and use time travel paradoxes rather freely. Tom Peyer, the writer, may have to broaden Hourman's activities.

Hourman and Doctor Midnite get A's; a B- for the Kid.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter

Heart of Empire


If incredible, insightful' and junk are synonyms in your dictionary, you will not agree with this review of Heart of Empire, a nine issue reprint of a "classic" English comic book.

Why? Because its art is incredible, its prose is insightful and its content is junk, and those words are decidedly not all synonyms for wonderful.

Heart is a complicated, layered dissection of history, society, religion and politics from many British eras. Both visually and verbally satirical, it requires a solid grounding in English lore to catch all the humor evident in almost every phrase and pen stroke.

It is fascinating, farcical, fantasy, friend.

Along with being extremely well written tightly plotted and timed with believable and witty dialogue, the characters in Heart are fully developed and intriguing.

That is a blessing.

The art is incredible. Distinctive, clean, visual storytelling is further strengthened by accurate anatomy, real variety in faces and body types, and some of the best, wildly imaginative and yet reality-based city scenes in any comic since the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. It can best be summarized by one word.

Wow.

What? Are these not the standards by which Suspended Animation recommends the best in comic books and strips to adults?

Well, two out of three ain't bad. But the third standard is content, and three really stinks.

And that is not a blessing.

Heart is an "adult" comic book in the best and worst sense of adult. At its best, it explores the complexity of life as an adult in a very complex world At its worst, it exploits graphic nudity, perverse sex, drugs, violence, a juvenile obsession with body functions, and lies and profanity.

It exploits the worst in human nature to sell itself while satirizing the worst in human nature.

Boo.

Reviewed by Michael Vance

Deity II: Catseye #3 - From 1999


"At the dawn of time, a great machine wove a magnificent tapestry consisting of a thousand words orbiting countless stars throughout a billion galaxies. This was the birth of the Universe. The object empowering the great machine of creation was the Catseye. For ages, good and evil have battled for control of this power source and its primordial energies. Now these forces are converging for a final battle to obtain this priceless object, and wield a power reserved for a God."

So begins the premise for Deity II: Catseye, and the great question: if Suspended Animation recommends comics that adults will enjoy, why review Catseye? It is not one of those unless you are an avid comics reader. It is reviewed because Catseye is one of those if you are young or young at heart and really enamored with Japanese comic books.

It is one for the young and young at heart because its art is outstanding, owing much to a dynamic and appealing colorist and an artist who knows how to incorporate color into his work. It also uses clean, visual storytelling strengthened by a well-delineated and imaginative setting.

Everything is heavily influenced by Japanese comics art.

Subtle but disappointing for adults is a cast full of perfect bodies. Some variety in body type would be welcome.

It is not one for adults because the plot is simply an excuse for an epic war, and that has been overworked in comic books. In addition, the characters in Catseye, although well defined, are predominantly teenagers. Most of the adults are sinister villains. Most adults are not sinister or teenagers, making it difficult for old codgers to identify with this title.

That is an observation, not a criticism.

By the way and in critical passing, there in not "a God" but rather One God.

Reviewed by Michael Vance

Deity II: Catseye #3/22 pgs. & $2.95 from Hyperwerks/written and drawn by Karl Altstaetter/ includes a brief preview of another Hyperwerks title, The Kosmic Kat Activity Book/sold in comics shops.

Comic's Legend: Frank Willard - From 1999


Creator Frank Willard's comic strip, Moon Mullins, was first published in the Chicago Tribune newspaper in 1923, in part as response to the syndicate's success with another strip, Barney Google. As Moon developed its cast of characters including Lord Plushbottom, Kayo and Emmy Schmaltz, Willard also created his own style. Moon gained popularity and became a classic of visual storytelling.

Born in 1893 in the Chicago area Frank Willard decided to become a cartoonist at an early age. His broad humor and simple art were character-centered and drawn with a heavy line.

None of Willard's characters faired well in polite society. In one story, Moon and Emmy get embroiled in a stolen car scheme and are thrown in jail. Moon turns imprisonment into slapstick comedy. In another continuity, Moon and cast travel to Florida when Lord Plushbottom opens a night club. Emmy's attempts to get the Lord to marry her also ends in comic 'tragedy'.

At Willard's untimely death in 1958, Ferd Johnson continued Moon Mullins as a one-a-day joke strip.

The adventures of Moon were published in comic books including: Large Feature Comic #29, 4-Color #s 14, 31, 81 (Dell Comics, 1941-'45); Moon Mullins #s 1-8 (American Comics Group, 1947-'48); Popular Comics (Dell #1-, 1936--), and Super Book #3 (Western Comics, 1944?).

Cupples & Leon published cardboard bound editions of Moon from 1927 to 1933 that were precursors of comic books. Dover re-published two Cupples editions as an excellent collection of strips in 1976 in trade paperback form. The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics also features a section on Willard's rakish family of characters.

The work of Frank Willard is highly recommended for all ages.

Some older comics are expensive and difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comic shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are best sources. Prices vary: shop around for the best values.

Michael Vance

Elseworlds Revisited - From 1999

I often review DC Comic's Elseworlds series in which alternative versions of major characters or incidents are explored. In the 1950's and 1960's, these were known as "imaginary stories," e.g. a story in which Lois Lane might marry Bruce "Batman" Wayne. I have usually been favorable to Elseworlds.

Most Elseworlds stories have been based upon DC's most popular characters. A three issue series, Conjurers, is a definite change.

The major characters are based on DC's mystical heroes and villains, but the resemblances are often in name only. Some are easily recognizable such as Boston "Deadman" Brand. Others, such as Zatana, are very different from their better-known originals.

It took me a while to grasp that this Deadman had a widow and that she was the daughter of Travis Morgan, the Warlord. Readers unfamiliar with this part of DC's lore could become frustrated.

Another character comes from an old DC humor series, Stanley and His Monster. This version is anything but humorous, but there are whiffs of the original concept. Chuck Dixon's script is complex and stands up nicely to multiple readings. Eduardo Barreto's art is good as is Lee Loughridge's coloring.

For those who need a super hero, there are appearances by Ted Kord, an inventor frustrated in a world where magic overrides the laws of physics and makes technology useless. Kord is, in DC's "normal" continuity, the Blue Beetle, a character rarely seen these days.

The conjurers are opposed to an other-dimensional race that reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft's "Great Old Ones" in his "Cthulhu Mythos". Dixon's use of Lovecraftian monsters is more restrained than that of most comic book writers and thus more effective.

Lovecraft's stories are probably familiar to comic book readers. Those who are intrigued by the idea of a Universe governed by magic rather than science might track down the Lord Darcy stories by Randall Garrett. At lease one anthology has been published and is currently available through the Science Fiction Book Club.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter

Project Superpowers, published by Dynamite Entertainment, 32 pages, $2.99












As seems to be popular these days, Dynamite Entertainment has “resurrected” several Golden Age comic book heroes for a series entitled Project Superpowers. But this project is far more than simply an attempt to cash in on a trend.

The plot is by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, and involves heroes of W.W. II interacting in the modern world. Readers are treated to the story of a hero who has to make a difficult choice, visiting what he sees as a lesser evil upon his comrades in order to put a halt to a larger one. But, was his decision the right one? That’s the question that is addressed, against a background of intriguing characterization, a looming global threat, and the growing anticipation of confrontations, not just between good and evil, but also between degrees of righteousness.

Additionally, any time a writer sets up a vexing “who do you trust” dilemma in a story, it’s a good thing. (Yes, I want to be vexed by storylines; it means I’m invested.) Ross and Krueger are quite successful in that regard, as Bruce Carter, aka “The Fighting Yank,” is torn between two would-be advisers; the ghost of an ancestor and a mysterious apparition called the American Spirit. This helps keep readers guessing, and glued to the story.

Carlos Paul handles the interior art, which fairly explodes with drama, action and intensity when called for, while ably portraying more subdued scenes as well. All the while, his style is grounded in reality, steeped in detail, and made all the more enjoyable by the choices of colorist Debora Corita.

Alex Ross supplies the covers for each issue, which, while not adding anything to the actual story, makes for a most attractive “wrapping” for this gift to comics fans.

Project Superpowers is well worth your time and investment, and will probably appeal more to teenage and adult readers. Find it at comics shops, online retailers and auctions, and at www.dynamiteentertainment.com .

Mark Allen