The Watchtower

My boyfriend is the cutest. I just read your column. Watchtower is also the name of the Jehova’s Witness magazine that tells them about their savior and whatnot. I bet when people google Watchtower, your column comes up and Jehova’s Witnesses get very confused. They’re like “When did Green Lantern get into the Bible?”

Yes, those were the comments of my lovely girlfriend, Megan, after reading one of my columns for the very first time last week. At first, I was just going to start this week’s column with that little quote since I thought it was cute and funny, but now that she’s a budding internet superstar thanks to last week’s Roundtable, I realized fast that Megan=ratings. Of course the minute I joked with her about signing an exclusive contract with our site to come back and do some more Roundtables and stuff she said “I’m going to go work for that place that thinks you stole the Pulse name from them if they’ll actually pay me;” ah, my little negotiator”¦

Incidentally, if somebody brings a digital camera to my Graduation party (oh yeah”¦I finally finished my summer class and officially graduated college, woohoo!) this weekend, perhaps myself, Tim and Megan will think of a Nexus gang sign to replace the woefully outdated (but timelessly brilliant) 411mania one myself, Tim and Jamie came up with in San Diego (I invited Jamie to the party but he just laughed, sighed and said “Ben, you know full well I’ll be far too shitfaced by noontime to try and drive from New Jersey to Massachusetts and not end up in Canada.”).

Also, I’d like to thank all the folks who read and sent nice e-mails my way re: the one night only return of The Mean over in wrestling; a lot of people requested a permanent return, but my heart is really in this section right now”¦sporadic columns are not out of the question though.

And with that bit o’ business out of the way, I think it’s about time for this week’s”¦

OFF-TOPIC SPORTS TANGENT

Since the Red Sox seem to be in wild card purgatory at the moment and the Patriots still have a few weeks before they begin the inevitable march to back-to-back titles, I’ll take a moment to talk about how my fantasy football draft went this past weekend.

I had the twelfth pick out of sixteen in one of those zany drafts that snake around and give the people on the ends two picks in a row. Since most of the top level Running Backs were gone by the time my turn came around, I employed the exact same strategy as last year: pick a QB while everybody else is picking Running Backs; I also picked the exact same player in Donovan McNabb. I know what you’re thinking: “Ben, you’re a handsome man, but why would you waste such a brilliant plan (even more brilliant in the fact that nobody would see it coming once let alone twice) on McNabb when guys like Daunte Culpepper or Peyton Manning were still available?” The answer to that is more complicated than figuring out why Marvel overturned Grant Morrison’s decisions re: Magneto and Xorn and yet for some ungodly reason are letting Tony Bedard spotlight Beak in Exiles each month. Firstly, I hate Peyton Manning and his whole whiny family and none will ever see the light of day on my team. Beyond that, Culpepper and some other fellas are good solid QBs, but I picked McNabb first last year and probably would have won the league”¦had I had faith in the man.

He had a slow start and I panicked, trading most of my big money players (Deuce McAllister, Joe Horn) away to get Steve McNair; I couldn’t trade or drop McNabb, so I had two great QBs and not much else. McNair ended up going down so I started McNabb again and realized had I just left him in the one spot and held onto my other guys”¦well, the rest is history. Besides that, when it comes to fantasy numbers, nobody performs like Mr. McNabb, putting up quality points for both passing and rushing. So this year myself and Donovan have another chance to make the wrong things right.

Coming back around I was able to snatch Corey Dillon as my ace Running Back, meaning I get to have that extra added enjoyment whenever I watch the games of my two favorite teams this year (the Eagles and the Pats). In round three I grabbed Laveranues Coles and then”¦it all fell apart.

I’ll admit, I’m not the kind of guy who watches SportsCenter every day; I listen to sports radio, but all they ever talk about was the damn Red Sox. So while I knew not to draft Ricky Williams or David Boston, I didn’t have up to the minute injury reports, thus I blew my fourth pick on Anquan Boldin”¦who will be out for eight weeks; I spent the rest of the draft playing catch up.

Still, I’m fairly happy with how I made out. In addition to Dillon, I’ve got T.J. Duckett (another stalwart from my 2003 team), the solid Tennessee defense, and what I feel will be my late round sleeper pick: Colts Tight End Dallas Clark.

As the season shapes up, I will be sure to keep you all informed (FUN FACT: Tim Stevens signed up for the 2003 Naked Trojans Fantasy Football League but no-showed the draft and then gave up his team to our friend Taylor after only a few weeks! What a pansy! And he’s bald!)

As always, the Off-Topic Tangent is brought to you in honor of Eric S., who now plugs this column on Thursdays and I thus return the love.

OTHER STUFF WORTH READING

-Daron & Chris did a fantastic job of covering WizardWorld Chicago, and following me and Tim is an act tantamount in difficulty to scaling Everest in a speedo while trying to rationalize why Gunfire doesn’t have a regular title. Check out their Day One coverage, follow it up with Day Two and wash it down with Day Three.

-If you haven’t read Jamie’s new column Diner Talk yet, you’re missing something really cool and unique. There is no other interview column like this anywhere on the web; if you love just shooting the shit about comics and are curious how guys actually in the business do it you need to read this.

-Matt is actually quite a brilliant satirist and I have to say I agree with most of the points he made this week in Looking To The Stars.

-Finally, check out the aforementioned Roundtable if you haven’t already, featuring the debut of internet sensation Megan Sherlock.

THE COLUMN PROPER

And this week, after a month and a half or so off due to San Diego and unforeseen site changes, we return to my multi-part guide to my Trade Paperback (TPB) collection. For the full story, you’ll have to hit the other site for my archives unless they’ve been moved here already.

I’ve decided to make this a bi-weekly (assuming that means every two weeks and not twice a week) feature for the remainder until I wrap it up; so this week, more TPB talk, next week, something else.

And much as I spotlighted the JLA in a previous edition of the Guide, this week it’s the Man of Steel’s turn to shine, so let’s go”¦


THE MAN OF STEEL
Reprints: The Man of Steel #1-6
Writer(s): John Byrne
Penciller(s): John Byrne
Extras: Introductory articles by Ray Bradbury and John Byrne
The Story: 3
The hard truth: I’ve owned this book for over two years now and have barely touched it since I put it down the first time. Skimming over it now, it’s a good, solid story, and it’s fun, but there’s just nothing so outstanding about it that has made me reach for it when I’m bored and want something to read in the last two years. I think the main problem is that what this book is was not designed to stand the test of time; it’s an introduction to Superman, who he is, what he does, where he comes from and the people around him after Crisis changed everything and Byrne was given carte blanche. It’s full of cool moments that would no doubt have had me flipping pages frantically in 1986, but now, nearly twenty years later, any comic book fan worth their stuff knows all this stuff by heart, so you can see it all coming. Seeing Superman fly onto the scene and save Lois for the first time is certainly a neat thing, but it’s a scene I’ve seen a hundred times in flashbacks by now (not to mention it’s a lot cooler to watch Christopher Reeve do it). I can’t knock this book too much, it deserves to be recognized as a classic and Byrne does a great job on both the art and writing ends. The new dynamics for Lois, Luthor and especially Batman are very cool. But at the end of the day, this isn’t an amazing story, it’s set up so that Byrne and others know where they stand and can go on to tell amazing stories. In this case, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.
The TPB: 3
Ray Bradbury writes a good introduction, but it’s difficult to place what exactly it has to do with Superman; Byrne does a much better job.
Overall Grade: 6


SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL VOLUME 2
Reprints: Superman (v2) #1-3, Adventures of Superman #424-426, Action Comics #584-586
Writer(s):John Byrne & Marv Wolfman
Penciller(s): John Byrne & Jerry Ordway
Extras: Introduction by Marv Wolfman, Who’s Who profile pages
The Story: 4
And this is where Byrne & co. take the great set up from the Man of Steel mini-series and start using it expertly. This is a great collection of stories that run the gamut from action to horror to sci-fi. The energy of Superman’s revitalization at Byrne’s hands is still quite tangible as you read these stories two decades later. Highlights include the introductions of Metallo, Emil Hamilton and Cat Grant, team ups with the Teen Titans (in a very different kind of story) and the Phantom Stranger (who it’s always fun to see paired with the big guns just because he confounds them as much as he does us) and a huge three part epic involving Darkseid and the other New Gods with Superman leading a rebel uprising on Apokolips with a surprise twist as part of the Legends crossover. All these are classics, but the highlight of the collection by far is Superman #2, Byrne’s focus on the new post-Crisis Lex Luthor. If you ever want to see Luthor at his villainous best, to understand why a normal guy is so damn scary for nothing else but his brains and ruthlessness, and yet at the same time see why his arrogance will always foil him and prevent him from being a villain, buy this book; this is the stuff of legends.
The TPB: 2.5
Marv does his best to cover for the two intros of volume one, but good as he always is, he doesn’t have much to say here.
Overall Grade: 6.5


SUPERMAN: PANIC IN THE SKY
Reprints: Action Comics #674-675, Superman: The Man of Steel #9-10, Superman (v2) #65-66, Adventures of Superman #488-489
Writer(s): Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, Dan Jurgens & Jerry Ordway
Penciller(s): Bob McLeod, Jon Bogdanove, Dan Jurgens & Tom Grummett
Extras: Introduction by Roger Stern, chapter introductions by the writers, afterword by Mike Carlin
The Story: 3.5
A really good crossover that comes close to being great on so many occasions but never quite pulls it off. The main drawback is, ironically, the reason for the crossover itself: the Superman writers (in particular Dan Jurgens, who was taking over Justice League America and planned to base it around Superman as the leader) wanted to show that Superman was capable of leading the DC Universe into battle. As a result, you have every hero in the DCU that was available crammed into Superman’s four books playing second fiddle as the Man of Steel saves the day time and time again. Superman does indeed come off looking like a prince, but the rest of the DCU comes off like a bunch of second-rate losers, and that hurts the believability factor of the story. The Flash, Guy Gardner, Deathstroke and a few others all get their moments now and again, but you’re just waiting for them to drop the ball for Supes to pick it up; if you’re going to use this many characters, make sure you have stuff for them to do (ala any good crossover) or it all falls apart. On every other front, the series stands up pretty well. The art is excellent; I’ve never been a huge Bognadove fan, but he does decent work here, and McLeod turns in good stuff as well, while Jurgens and Grummett are both excellent as always. This is the definitive post-Crisis Braniac story as well, and it does him justice, he comes off as a grade A villain. The integration of the new Supergirl into Superman’s world is well done as well, though Draaga’s story feels quite rushed (again because of the need to focus on Superman). Maxima is shoved down our throats (again, because Jurgens’ JLA was coming), but she doesn’t taste that bad. But as good as all those elements were, it had the feel of just being a story crammed together to make a point (Superman is the bomb) and you can never shake that feeling while reading it.
The TPB: 4
Talk about a book that goes above and beyond to give you the whole scoop on what went on behind the scenes; I only know all that junk I just criticized because DC themselves told me so in this trade. The chapter introductions are outstanding and Carlin’s afterword is even better, with priceless post-it outline of the story included.
Overall Grade: 7.5


THE RETURN OF SUPERMAN
Reprints: Action Comics #687-691, Superman: The Man of Steel #22-26, Superman (v2) #78-82, Adventures of Superman #501-505, Green Lantern (v2) #46
Writer(s): Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel & Gerard Jones
Penciller(s): Jackson Guice, Jon Bogdanove, Dan Jurgens, Tom Grummett & M.D. Bright
Extras: Prolog from Adventures of Superman #500
The Story: 4
Without a doubt, the death and return of Superman was the best story to ever emerge from a cheap sales-boosting stunt. The Death of Superman was powerful, Funeral For a Friend was poignant, but The Return of Superman was where the writers really got to have some fun and explore some truly intriguing possibilities. What if Superman were just a kid raised in the 90s? What is Superman acted without remorse? These were questions fans had asked for years and they finally got to see them explored. The best part was that you really didn’t know who was Superman; sure in the back of your mind you were pretty certain it wasn’t actually any of these four (and when number five showed up, well, you were really certain), but the writers threw in some great curveballs to keep you guessing just enough (my favorite was the inference that John Henry Irons, the one who openly admitted to in no way being Superman, had possibly gotten Superman’s soul when he died”¦that just seemed like a cool way to throw another twist into the story for me). Back when I read this as a kid I was constantly intrigued to see where the story was headed next and as an adult (ahem) it reads really well as a collected work. It’s a fantastic action story that really kicks into high gear once the truth starts getting revealed (and it’s a slow reveal, not all at once”¦and it all makes sense) with a great eye for continuity by the writers (the use of the Eradicator and the Cyborg), truly frightening villains (nobody scared me quite like the Cyborg, I wish he had stayed gone after this storyline because he could have been a true classic) and regardless of how people feel about “Emerald Twilight,” a chilling scene that makes you stop reading for a moment with the destruction of Coast City (and this may have been the beginning of the end, but Hal Jordan gets one hell of a sendoff making Mongul into a punching bag). But beyond the story, it’s an examination of what Superman is as a concept; why he must be certain things and can’t be anything but that. The art is also from a period when the Superman books were having a really good run on all cylinders (well”¦three out of four ain’t bad, I told you I never cared for Bogdanove). This story would have sold no matter what, so it really makes you appreciate the work of the people who put it together when you dissect it and see the truly fine craftsmanship (and how cool is it that Superboy is still a vital character in the DCU!).
The TPB: 2
You could probably track down all these issues for a reasonable price, but there’s a ton of them, so why would you want to?
Overall Grade: 6


SUPERMAN: CRITICAL CONDITION
Reprints: Adventures of Superman #579-580, Superman: The Man of Steel #101-102, Action Comics #766-767, Superman: Metropolis Secret Files #1, Superman (v2) #158
Writer(s): J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Schultz, Joe Kelly & Jeph Loeb
Penciller(s): Carlo Barberi, Pascual Ferry, Kano, Doug Mahnke, Mike McKone, Cary Nord, Pablo Raimondi & Duncan Rouleau
Extras: None
The Story: 2.5
This collection can be divided into two distinct sections: four excellent (somewhat) standalone tales and then a crappy four-parter from which the book takes its title. The first half has an absolutely hilarious story re-introducing The Prankster (and making him kinda cool) by DeMatteis (with great art by McKone), an intense story of a sick Man of Steel desperately seeking the missing Lois Lane by Schultz, a great forensics crime story by Kelly (guest starring Batman) and finally, the highlight, a funny and intriguing rare spotlight on Lex Lutho’s bodyguards Hope & Mercy, also by Kelly. Then”¦we truly do hit critical condition. The Atom shrinks Superboy, Supergirl and Steel so they can take a lame trip through Superman’s body, facing such devious menaces as anti-bodies, in hopes of curing him of Kryptonite poisoning. Deathstroke is put to possibly his worst use ever as the principal villain and the crappy Encantadora character gets way too much face time. The twists are confusing and the conclusion comes out of nowhere. The first half of this collection (and Loeb’s work elsewhere) shows that these writers are capable of better.
The TPB: 1
Gets a point because it gives you the Hope & Mercy story without forcing you to buy the rest of Superman: Metropolis Secret Files, but that’s all.
Overall Grade: 3.5


SUPERMAN: PRESIDENT LEX
Reprints: President Luthor Secret Files #1, Action Comics #773, Adventures of Superman #581, 586, Superman (v2) #162-166, Superman: The Man of Steel #108-110, Superman: Lex 2000 #1
Writer(s):J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Kelly, Jeph Loeb, Greg Rucka, Mark Schultz & Karl Kesel
Penciller(s): Ed McGuinness, Duncan Rouleau, Paco Medina, Doug Mahnke, Dale Eaglesham, Carlo Barberi, Tony Harris, Matthew Clark, Dwayne Turner, Mike Miller, Todd Nauck, Mike Wieringo, Paul Pelletier, Humberto Ramos, Rob Liefeld, Art Adams, Ian Churchill & Joe Madureira
Extras: None
The Story: 2.5
Some very good stuff is crammed in here, but the flow of the overall story is pretty much killed dead by the horrible cut and paste job and arrangement of material included. I had a lot of trouble following the chronology of Lutho’s ascension to office, how it plays into the other stories in the TPB and the fact that so many stories had segments lopped off was very annoying. Any of the stories that feature Luthor as the lead character, particularly the one in which he recruits Talia, are excellent. The Aquaman two-parter is decent in places (particularly when Young Justice shows up). The story with Steel and Luna is wretched (and takes up too much space that could have been filled with more quality Luthor stuff). The Jimmy Olsen-Bizarro story is hilarious in its, well, bizarre way. The JLA Christmas story is a great treat with an awesome artists jam. The Earthquake story is a crappy way to conclude it. All in all, some of the two or three page stories from the Secret Files and Lex 2000 special are quite good, but they’re too jarring to the overall collection.
The TPB: 1
Again, a point for collecting good Secret Files stories.
Overall Grade: 3.5


And that’s our look at Superman collected, hope you enjoyed it.

Next week, I will be off as I am heading to the bright lights and high stakes of Las Vegas, home town of Mathan as well as my girlfriend”¦which one will be accompanying me?

In the mean time, thanks for reading.