Welcome back. This week I am continuing my discussion of the best stories, in my opinion from various characters. I’m mostly staying within the framework of an actual ongoing series, with a couple of possible exceptions. Last week I discussed Marvel. This week I’ll do DC, and next week I’ll run your responses on this subject, as well as a new “interactive” question for you armchair creators like myself to sink your teeth into. I gotta admit, DC is a little harder for me. I enjoy several of their titles but my first comics exposure was Marvel, and I’ve almost always found myself more interested in the darker, grittier subject matter there. Outside of Batman, DC has always seemed a brighter, more optimistic place. And I suppose all of those years in between the end of the Golden Age and roughly “The Watchmen” where Superman was saving Lois and kittens from trees while Spider-Man was accidentally killing folks like Gwen Stacy sort of put the idea in my head that DC tends to throw softballs while Marvel brings the hard stuff. Man, that’s a terrible sentence. I blame listening to sports radio personality Chris Dimino on the way to work today. He talks with about a half-dozen parenthetical asides and run on sentences. If you read transcripts from his programs they would probably be some of the worst sentences you ever read. So thank you, Chris Dimino, for your staccato deliveries and worming your way into my head. Now what the Hell was I talking about? Oh yeah, DC greatness. Let’s roll.
Aquaman: “The Peter David Years” – Peter David has done more for Aquaman than almost any other writer has done for almost any other character, ever. The guy can swim and talk to fish, and that was incredibly useful on the old Superfriends cartoon, but didn’t make for great comics. By exploring Arthur of Atlantis through a lens of Arthur of Camelot, Aquaman ceased to be a joke and became a credible sovereign. Some of you Peter David fans may know he also writes novels – he’s well known for his contribution to the Star Trek series of books – but he’s also the author of a series that explores the return of King Arthur in modern America. It’s a fun series, in some ways similar to Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” though the first book in Peter’s modern Arthur trilogy, “Knight Life,” came first, I believe. Both books are great, and the point I’m trying to make is that there are few authors who have such a good grasp on Arthurian legend and can present it in an everyman fashion to create the successful formula used on Aquaman. And it never hurts to have Marty Egeland or Jim Calafiore around either. I’ve always enjoyed their art. Anybody know what ever happened to Marty?
Flash: “Terminal Velocity” – I actually like Jay Garrick the best of all the Flashes, so this was a tough one. But there’s a lot to like in Mark Waid’s “Terminal Velocity” arc. There’s Jay, there’s Jesse Quick, there’s the new kid on the block with the now dead Impulse, and there’s Max Mercury, who cracks me up for some reason. Might be the high collar. The story really sets the stage for Wallyâ€˜s evolution from sidekick to full-on bad-ass (as Daron would put it). I personally don’t care much for Wally–he whined for WAY too long about not being worthy of Barry Allen’s legacy, but he certainly isn’t the worst to take over for a silver-ager. If it was up to me, I’d have made Jesse Quick the Flash. No reason we can’t have another good female character leading her own book. And using her as the new Liberty Belle–since One Year Later both Hourman and Liberty Belle have become oddly irritating. I would like to point out that despite my general disinterest in the Flash, I love me some Rogues! They could do a regular ongoing series with Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Piper, Trickster, etc. and I’d be first in line every month assuming quality creators, of course. And speaking of quality creators, the final chapter of this arc features, get this: Mark Waid, Salvador Larrocca, Jose Marzan Jr., Carlos Pacheco, Mike Wieringo (who is sorely missed), Oscar Jimenez and Sergio Borjas!
Green Lantern: “Cosmic Odyssey/Emerald Twilight/Made of Wood” – Ah, here’s where I really stir the hornet’s nest, if having a picture from Detective Comics leading the Green Lantern segment hasn’t already. Let me just say it first and get it out of the way: Kyle Rayner is a gimp. I could not care less if that guy ever appears in another comic. G’nort was a better Lantern than Rayner. So I’m going to give a story for my favorite Lanterns. Let’s start with John Stewart, who has sadly become the “token” of the DCU animated universe. John is great because he’s humble. Hal was anything but humble. Kyle was a ‘tard and Guy was an ass. John was pretty full of himself too, and then he blew up a planet. Yup. John thought he was the shit, took off without Martian Manhunter to do battle with an aspect of the Anti-Life Equation, was thwarted by the color yellow — “Aw man….” — and then KABLOOEY! Cosmic Odyssey is great for a lot of reasons, but the top two would have to be Mignola and John Stewart making Alderaans out of Xanshi. Next we have “Emerald Twilight,” which probably raises some eyebrows. Yeah, I know, O’Neil and Adams “Hard Traveling Heroes” with Green Arrow was socially conscientious and a very worthy pick. But besides being passionate about comics, I’m also a wrestling fan. And when somebody with a long history of being a good guy does a “heel turn” and becomes a bad guy, that can be really strong drama. I guarantee you, NOBODY saw Hulk Hogan turning against Sting and the Macho Man at Bash at the Beach ’96. That was incredible, incredible stuff, even for jaded fans. Now Green Lantern might not be the Hulk Hogan of the DCU but he’s still a hero with a long history of being a reliable good guy that other up and coming heroes would look up to. And for him to turn on the Corps. and his friends was pretty damn good stuff at the time. Speaking of looking up to someone, I would like to wrap up this section with a Batman story of all things. Detective Comics # 784-86 features Batman helping Alan Scott — THE BEST GREEN LANTERN — working an old case from the ’40s that comes back to haunt him. We discover that even Batman has warm regards and much respect for the original Green Lantern. When you can make Batman remotely human you are the MAN! Speaking of “The Man,” does it surprise anyone that this arc was written by The Brubaker?
Wonder Woman: “Sacrifice” – Wonder Woman kills Max Lord. But…heroes don’t kill, right? Well I have always wondered why the Hell not? Not all of them should. I don’t need Tim Drake driving little “R” shurikens into some thug’s brain. But there are those villains who are so far gone, so evil, they shouldn’t be allowed to live. And yeah, I realize it makes since to have a really diabolical character escape his Hellish fate as often as possible to return again and sow havoc in our hero’s life. But everyone and I mean EVERYONE has a breaking point. At what point will Batman finally protect Gotham with some efficiency and end the menace of the Joker? He claims to love his town, but he never takes down Joker permanently, and Joker doesn’t just attack Bats, heck, he usually kills a few dozen just to get Bruce’s attention. That ain’t great protectorin’ I reckon. How many times is the Green Goblin going to threaten the lives of Peter’s family and friends? Captain America has killed his share of Nazis, but he’s never handed the final sanction down on the Red Skull. At some point, enough is enough. Now Max Lord isn’t exactly a typical Wonder Woman rogue, but she killed him, on television (thanks to OMAC), to free Superman from Max’s mind control. Batman did not approve. Even Superman did not approve. That’s a nervy tale to tell, and it takes some of the “prettiness” off of Wonder Woman and showed her to be a more driven warrior than we’d seen for a long, long time. By any means necessary is a notion you wouldn’t expect from Wonder Woman, and that what makes it so great.
JLA: “Tower of Babel” – Mark Waid followed a very good Grant Morrison run on JLA with a story that made me smile from beginning to end. Batman, you see, is a bit paranoid. He had (and probably still has) a database of way to destroy every member of the Justice League of anyone should ever pull a Green Lantern and turn evil like Hal did. The thing is, if you let it fall into the wrong hands, say, Ra’s Al Ghul, even the best laid plans of Bats and men sometimes go awry. I found the shock of Batman being responsible for the League’s demise positively delicious and his subsequent lost of trust a nice dessert.
Starman : “THE WHOLE GODDAMN SERIES!!” – Is this a cop out? Is this a case of the Nightmare In Chief being indecisive? Perish the thought. I simply believe that while yes, there are arcs within this series, you cannot read just one arc and really appreciate how wonderful James Robinson’s magnum opus is. The entire series is available in trade, and if you haven’t read it, shutdown whatever device you’re viewing my column on and go get ’em. If someone asked me to pick ONE single story recommend to ANYONE, comic reader once, now, or never, I’d hand them the stack of trades and say, “Here, this is a masterpiece and it’s really just one big story that DC was nice enough to bind in separate packages so you wouldn’t get a tired arm lugging them around. HOWEVER, if anyone in DC is reading this, WE WANT AN OVERSIZED STARMAN OMNIBUS!! Christmas is coming, I’m just sayin’.
Superman: “World Without A Superman” – Oh yes, the greatest Superman story ever is the story without Superman. Ironic, ain’t it? Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday? Kinda lame, though not as weak as the animated feature that just came out. Superman’s rebirth with the Reign of Supermen? Mmmm…OK, that was sorta fun. But the raw emotions, the depth of feeling that comes from all of the supporting characters and superfriends as they try to cope with the passing of Big Blue and the awesome task of filling his shoes, that was some fantastic stuff. I was particularly touched by the issue where the heroes attempt to answer Superman’s mail at Christmas time. Despite my not liking Superman much, I can’t help but give him credit. Only he and Captain America are capable of telling some great stories with the title character being dead.
Batman: “Year One” – This tale gives me everything I REALLY want from a Batman story. It’s gritty, it’s got crime, it’s got a great supporting cast, it’s NOIR. I’m not going to go on and on about it because it’s got a lot of company at the top. Dark Knight. Arkham Asylum. Killing Joke. The Cult is somewhat unheralded but damn good. Even Death In The Family, for giving fans a direct way to impact the direction of the story, was pretty good. And I always get a sick kick out of the Joker raining that tire iron down on Jason’s head. Then again, DC couldn’t let the guy stay dead which sort of invalidates the vote, doesn’t it? I’d hate to ever have to be in a position to ever recommend one and only one Batman story, but if I did I think it’s have to be Year One. It’s got the broadest appeal in my opinion. The Cult and Dark Knight can be a little rough for people of gentle constitution and Arkham is sorta nuts, no pun intended. Killing Joke is magnificent, but I don’t think a novice would quite comprehend the madness of Batman laughing at the joke. Year One goes down smooth.
And that all for this week. Keep sending your suggestions and opinions and I’ll share them next week, along with a interactive idea for you, my loyal readers, to play with. And I’ve got a nice surprise coming soon! Until then I have TMJ, allergies and a 6 day work week to look forward to.
Welcome To My Nightmare.