Comic Review: Martian Manhunter #1

MARTIAN MANHUNTER #1
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
WRITER:
Steve Orlando
ARTIST:
Riley Rossmo
COLORIST:
Ivan Plascencia
COVER PRICE: $3.99

J’onn J’onzz aka The Martian Manhunter is a superhero’s superhero. Since arriving on Earth in Detective Comics #225 (1955), this red planet native has helped save his adoptive blue rock time and again, earning him a place on the Justice League as well as the respect of champions from around the globe.

The newest maxi-series from DC Comics is bringing one of the greatest unsung heroes of their Multiverse to life: The Martian Manhunter! This first of 12 issues gives us a horrific look at the detective’s life on Mars through a series of flashbacks as he investigates a homicide scene in Colorado with his human partner, Diane. The memories seem to connect with his current investigation, however, and the parallels trigger something similar to a PTSD event with a detrimental outcome. Something has him rattled – the presence of “fright foam” on the Earth.

The publisher has done a terrific job of forcing their readers to question what they thought they knew about the straight-laced Martian Manhunter up until this point. Insinuations that J’onzz may be a corrupt cop on the take push against the grain of our psyche in a way that any telepath would pick up on from a block away. Depictions of J’onn dealing with the seedy underbelly of the Sehne’mhoo’t slums will further congeal the crooked visage of our hero. We find an egocentric Manhunter shaking down drug peddlers, doling out beatings to the insolent with no apparent restraint. Implications of prostitution, betting on illegal fights, money laundering… the narrative does not leave much of a good name to besmirch.

The intimate look into martian home life shows us that families mean the same thing on Mars as they do Earth. J’onn tries to leave the darkness of his career outside the walls of his home, but when you hail from a telepathic species your wife knows when you’ve blocked her out of a section of your mind.

The mastery of Rossmo’s artistry becomes apparent in this book. Not just in the subtle dichotomy of the subdued tones and vibrant colors, but his ability to bring entirely alien concepts to life. The jaw-dropping, face-squinching scene of J’onn making love to his wife M’yri’ah in the kitchen is straight out of a horror film. And it’s freakin’ awesome!

Make no mistake, the book finishes asking more questions than it answers, but the questions are far more exciting than the answers you received. Orlando’s creativity is expertly executed by the pacing of the story. He doesn’t let you wade too far into the waters of uncertainty, throwing you just enough line to get you back to the next “what the heck” moment. If the first issue is any indication, this series is going to build up to some amazing stuff.

SCORE: 10/10


Just because Harvey owns The Multiverse doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about. Most of his good ideas end up as silly songs he sings for his kids once before being lost forever. Whatever’s left, well, ends up here.

Shazam #1 Banner

Comic Review – Shazam #1

Shazam #1 Cover

When it comes to superheroic alter egos, Billy Batson may have the most confusing real-world history of any comic book character in existence. Originally created as Captain Thunder for 1940’s Thrill Comics #1, his origin story was reworked and he was renamed Captain Marvel for Whiz Comics #2, later that same year. For a time Captain Marvel was the most popular superhero in America, until the declining popularity of superheroes and a copyright infringement suit from the owners of Superman led to Fawcett Comics ceasing publication of Billy’s adventures in 1953. Despite this, Captain Marvel still had a major influence on American culture, inspiring both Gomer Pyle’s catchphrase and Elvis Presley’s stage costumes.

Marvel Comics would later acquire the rights to the name of Captain Marvel in 1967 and DC Comics would license the Captain Marvel characters at about the same time. For the better part of four decades, DC Comics published the comic book adventures of Captain Marvel but was forbidden from using the title Captain Marvel, with all the comics of the time sporting titles like The Power of Shazam! This led to an entire generation of casual readers growing up thinking that Captain Marvel was called Shazam, even though that was the name of the wizard who gave Billy Batson his magical powers – not Billy’s code name.

In 2011, DC Comics decided to embrace the popular misconception, and created a new origin for Billy Batson as part of their New 52 revamp of the DC Comics line. The new origin changed very little of the key details, beyond modernizing Billy Batson’s background to reflect the modern reality of foster homes over orphanages and a more involved history regarding the magicians of the DC Universe. Apart from that the story was exactly the same. Billy Batson was a good-hearted orphan, chosen by a wizard to inherit a measure of his power and use it to fight evil and protect the innocent.

Thankfully, new readers do not need to know any of this going into Shazam #1 and I mention it only so as to educate you dear readers so as to prevent the confusion that is likely to erupt in early 2019 regarding both Captain Marvel movies.  Everything you need to know is explained within the first three pages of this book, along with the events of the original Shazam mini-series, which inspired the upcoming film. That would seem to make this comic series a sequel to the movie that isn’t out yet but new readers shouldn’t have any trouble regardless.

There’s two stories within this issue, both written by Geoff Johns, who organized the original Shazam reboot. The first story reintroduces us to Billy and his foster family and sets up two big mysteries for the series to explore. The second is a more personal tale focused on Mary, the oldest of Billy’s new siblings, and how she came to enter the foster care system and form a family with the rest of the kids in their foster home. Both stories are engaging and Johns proves to have a real gift for writing child characters who act like real kids. (i.e. arguing only seconds after seemingly getting along just fine.)

The artwork for this issue is as great as the story. Dale Eaglesham handles the first story with colorist Mike Atiyeh, presenting a heroic style that still allows for fluid slapstick and comedic expressions along with classic superheroic action. Those who are familiar with Eaglesham’s previous work on Villains United, Green Lantern and JSA will find themselves in familiar territory. The second story features artwork by Mayo “Sen” Naito and sports a shojo manga style well suited to Mary’s story. I dare say that should DC Comics decide to take another stab at producing original manga again, they would do well to have Naito illustrate a solo series devoted to Mary’s adventures as a superhero.

The Bottom Line?  Whether you’re a fan of the classic Captain Marvel, know Billy Batson as Shazam, or are a total newbie when it comes to the magically empowered superheroes of the DC Comics universe, this first issue of the new Shazam series will get you up to speed. It’s a darn fine book and family friendly to boot, though younger kids may need help with some of the bigger words. Still, whatever your age, this is one magical read!

10/10

Shazam #1 releases on December 5, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Titans Episode Review S01: E08

After watching Episode 8 of Titans — titled “Donna Troy” — I can only ask myself one question. Where has this quality been all season? Why have we been flip-flopping between “plot episodes” and “character episodes” when, as made clear by this week’s episode, an effective combination of the two could be so easily accomplished?

After some much needed recouping from the hell that was the Asylum, the team has to move on from squatting in Batman’s safehouse. Dick is feeling a little lost at this point, so he decides to head off on his own for a little while, with the rest of the group migrating to a house that may or may not belong to Rachel’s birth-mother. From there, the story is divided between two paths — one in which Dick pals around with Donna Troy and one in which everyone else is stuck on a train for the majority of the episode.

Character-building is the best it has been all season with everyone getting something concrete and interesting added to their identities. Even though Gar gets the short-stick again, the subtle nuance in his body-language and mood is a prime example of the old adage, “Show don’t tell.” It’s executed so effortlessly that, again, it’s a shame it’s so underutilized. Rachel’s development is a tad stagnant, but it’s exploring what seems like an earnest relationship between her and her birth-mother. This will most likely end badly for Rachel, but the show is investing time into that relationship to make that eventual turn much more effective — you know, how you should generally build character dynamics.

Conor Leslie as Donna Troy is great, and her friendship/ confidante-role with Dick is something new for the brooding hero. The main issue with Dick’s character so far is that it’s pretty one-note; beyond being angry or sad, we haven’t seen Dick really be a person. Donna helps show how much of a character Dick can actually be. He’s inquisitive, he’s vulnerable, and — gasp — funny. There’s a throw-away gag about a well-known Batman villain that not only had me chuckling but also further illustrated Dick’s inability to just live life. He’s constantly in “vigilante-mode” due to Bruce’s own obsession, and this kind of multipurpose story-telling is littered throughout the episode. It’s simply a breath of fresh air.

This leads into Kory’s portion of the episode, and on it’s own, it’s a fine internal character struggle. I derided her treatment in the last episode as serving no purpose, and I’ll be the first to admit that some patience would have benefited my viewing (though the show has mustered very little goodwill in that department). We do see that Kory has by no means escaped her torture unscathed, with the experiments sort of unlocking PTSD-laden memories from her past. Kory struggles with these new, painful memories that exacerbate her worst tendencies — paranoia and violence — and that makes sense. It’s when her seemingly unrelated  narrative coalesces with Dick’s that everything really clicks. It’s bit of a deus ex machina, but it ultimately serves the a purpose and is, frankly, fun.

Episode 8 is, so far, the best Titans episode to date. It expertly weaves plots, character motivations, and relationships that would normally all be relegated to separate episodes. It’s exactly what a show about a team should be — all of our heroes being connected even when they’re apart. It’s a little late in the game to say this will be the turn-around for the show as a whole, but it’s a shining example of what Season 2 can aspire to be.

9/10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!

The 30th Anniversary of The Sandman

The 30th Anniversary of The Sandman

By Dave Whiteman

On November 29, 1988, the first issue of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman went on sale from DC Comics. Soon to be published under the new DC Vertigo imprint, The Sandman received critical acclaim and was one of the first graphic novels to be featured on the New York Times Best Seller list. Although originally advertised as a horror series, the comic would go on to break boundaries in the dark fantasy genre and would set the standard for mature-themed comics and graphic novels for years to come. Then a relatively unknown writer, Neil Gaiman started out writing articles for many British magazines, but after forming a friendship with comic book writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), Gaiman started writing comics including Miracleman and Black Orchid.

Gaiman had proposed to revive the 1970’s Sandman character by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (after they left Marvel) but he soon created a new treatment for the character that would evolve into the series that we know. With unconventional cover artwork by Dave McKean, the series featured a variety of artists, including as Charles Vess, Sam Keith, Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg and Jill Thompson, which allowed for an assortment of styles and talents. The main character was Morpheus, also known as Dream, who was one of the seven Endless that personified certain aspects of existence, including his siblings Destiny, Destruction, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and of course Death. Death herself became equally popular among fans, especially women as she would heavily influence the Goth culture as well.

“We of the Endless are the servants of the living — we are not their masters.
We exist because they know, deep in their hearts, that we exist.” – Dream

The series featured a variety of stories which involved complex, multi-genre stories that even included references to William Shakespeare, one of which became the only comic book ever to win a World Fantasy Award. While The Sandman became a cult success for DC Comics, it also attracted an even larger audience, many who had never read comic books before. It would soon launch Gaiman’s highly-prolific career in both comics, graphic novels, novels, television and film. Although the original series lasted only 75 issues, concluding in 1996, the series would spawn a number of spin-offs, long-running series such as The Dreaming and miniseries, including titles under the newly released The Sandman Universe.

The legacy of The Sandman has surpassed all expectations of the comic medium and has earned many awards and soon would find its way into the mainstream of not just comics, but in the literary world as well. What makes the series stand the test of time and to be revered all over the world, is its uniqueness and its ability to address a diverse range of mature topics and darker subjects that comics had never addressed before. In a world dominated by superheroes, The Sandman became the flagship title for Vertigo Comics that would inspire other writers and artists to experiment with many themes and stories, to which has gone on to today.

 


Dave “Chernobog” Whiteman is a life-long comic book collector, metalhead, part-timer writer, Funatic and a die-hard Star Wars fan!

Comic Review – DC’s Nuclear Winter Special #1

DC Nuclear Winter Special #1 Cover

An anthology collecting stories involving the end of the world and the holidays may well be the strangest concept for a comic book I’ve seen in my many years of reading illustrated fiction. Yet the idea has an odd merit, as one could draw parallels between the mindless hordes of consumers and the desperate masses warring over resources in the face of nuclear Armageddon, as we ponder what is truly important in life.

Given that, it’s surprising none of the tales in DC’s Nuclear Winter Special #1 involve Black Friday shopping. In fact, some of them don’t involve the holiday season and some of them don’t really involve the Apocalypse so much as they involve alternate futures and potential endings of different characters’ stories! And while I may be a bit of a Grinch for pointing this out, despite their appearance on the cover neither Harley Quinn nor Wonder Woman have stories in this special book. Thankfully, all arguments over the subject matter aside, DC’s Nuclear Winter Special #1 is no lump of coal.

Mark Russell (The Snagglepuss Chronicles) and Mike Norton (Battlepug) handle the frame story for the issue, in which Rip Hunter: Time Master finds himself cornered by cannibal tech geeks in the ruins of Silicon Valley while recharging his time machine. To stall for time, Hunter entertains the cannibals with stories of the many superheroes he’s worked with in his journeys across time and how they survived various end-of-the-world disasters and how those tied into the holiday season. Because it just so happens to be Christmas Day.

As with most anthologies, your enjoyment of DC’s Nuclear Winter Special #1 may ultimately come down to how much you like the characters, artists and writers involved. For instance, if you don’t care much for Kamandi, you probably won’t get much enjoyment out of Phil Hester’s story centering around The Last Boy on Earth and how the stories of Hanukkah and Christmas are remembered and honored by the intelligent animals ruling the Earth following The Great Disaster. It’s a darn good story with great art and a worthy tribute to Jack Kirby but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

It is worth mentioning that Aquaman fans will want to check this issue out, as it features a story that it says will be continued, despite being set in a dark apocalyptic world. Fans of the Injustice series will also want to pick this book up for Tom Taylor’s Supergirl story, which could be seen as an unofficial conclusion to the Earth of that reality. There’s also stories involving Batman 666 (the future version of Damian Wayne who sold his soul to the devil) and the future of DC One Million, though that particular story may be confusing to those who haven’t read the original event.

Despite this, most of the stories here can be enjoyed by anyone. Chief among these is “Last Christmas” – a Firestorm story written by Paul Dini with art by Jerry Ordway. Seemingly set in a darker version of the reality of the Justice League Action cartoon, the story pits Ronnie Raymond and Professor Stein against The Nuclear Family in a surprisingly touching story of togetherness and putting aside differences in the name of peace on Earth and goodwill towards all men. And robots.

Personally, my favorite story in the bunch is the last – “The Birds of Christmas Past, Present And Future” – and I can think of no reason for this other than it is a Green Arrow story. And not just any Green Arrow but a story involving an old-school, aging-hippie, George Carlin-with-a-bow, Old Man Ollie, who – in this reality – quit the Justice League, broke up with Black Canary and spent most of the last five decades trying to save society while the Justice League degenerated into a bunch of spoiled kids. I won’t say more beyond that, save three things – I want writer Dave Wirlgosz on the monthly Green Arrow book, the artwork by Flash artist Scott Kolins is perfect and you should have Dan Fogelberg’s Same Old Lang Syne on in the background as you read it.

So is DC’s Nuclear Winter Special #1 something you want stuffed in your stocking? On the whole, I’d say yes. Despite not all of its stories fitting its theme, there’s not a dud in the lot. At worst, some of the stories are inaccessible, being based on other books you might not have read. Still, there is far more good than bad here, making this book a wonderful holiday treat.

7/10

DC’s Nuclear Winter Special #1 releases on November 28, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.