Here’s a secret, mainstream comics publishers: if you publish something that’s already complete, I won’t even think about waiting for the trade paperback. For example: self-contained one-shot specials, like this Superman 80-Page Giant. It will probably never be collected in any trade because it’s already a collection of short stories -- a format I’m a big fan of -- and nobody who reads superhero comics wants to buy a trade paperback of a dozen stories of varying quality. But, a reasonably priced collection of five or six short stories? I’m so there.
I wish Marvel would do the same with their anthologies. I’ll buy an 80-Page Giant of Girl Comics, but I’ll wait for the trade if it’s a three-issue mini.
Either way, I’m going to run through this handful of stories one by one and review them and also rant about vaguely relevant topics.
Jor-El in “First Time for Everything” by Beau Tidwell and Cafu
Having grown up with back-issues of John Byrne Superman comics in my collection, I can’t help but think of Kryptonians as inert, genitalia-free scientists clad in ornately decorated full-body condoms. Plus, in the movies I thought Jor-El was a dick for trapping his son in a cave for ten years instead of letting him live his own life and figuring out how the world works. Maybe I’m old fashioned.
Former comics journalist Beau Tidwell has either been assigned to or decided of his own free will to write a comic about Jor-El, who, even despite my above reservations, always struck me as more of a tool than a character. Brilliant, scientifically superior protagonists are a difficult nut to crack, but there are ways. Jonathan Hickman gave Reed Richards the edict to “Solve Everything,” and with Jor-El, Tidwell explores the burden of always being right about everything -- sometimes you wish you were really, really wrong. He makes that idea an entertaining comic story by framing it around Jor-El being chased by the military. There’s also a great moment where the famously doomed scientist remarks “I despise irony,” which amuses me because many a brilliant scientist seem suffer an ironic fate.
Cafu’s a great artist (please, for the love that’s all holy, go buy T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents) and draws some incredibly striking panels here, including some cool angular elevator shots. At first I was going to write off Cafu’s depiction of Krypton as a bit bland, but I realized that underground industrial complexes aren’t meant to be visually striking. Thankfully, Cafu and Tidwell manage to fit in one view of the Kryptonian cityscape.
Perry White in “Old Men Talking in Bars” by Neil Kleid and Dean Haspiel
Wildcat is such a lovable character. A tough, aging boxer who dresses like a big kitty? Christopher Priest’s self-aware gags about T’Challa’s style of dress back in his sadly forgotten Black Panther run seem better suited for Ted Grant, whose costume is much sillier. Here’s how much I love Wildcat: I want the non-supernatural old-timers of the Justice Society to be dead except Wildcat. Wildcat should be around always.
But this is a Perry White story, as written by Xeric winner Neil Kleid and drawn by Emmy Award Winner Dean Haspiel, who both threatened with “cataclysmic legal action” if we neglected to preface their names with awards they’ve won. And Perry White just doesn’t get enough screen time in comics. Usually he’s just yelling at somebody to remind readers that Clark Kent has a day job when he’s not openly neglecting it by being dead or walking across America, so seeing a story where he’s at the forefront is refreshing.
This is essentially a “two strangers meet in a bar and relate over their similar problems” kind of story, which always makes for good short stories, but Xeric winner Kleid plays to the weird, small-world nature of the DC Universe by flashing back to this one time that a young Perry White and Wildcat beat the crap out of Intergang during a boxing match between Wildcat and the Guardian. Which satisfies a need for a big superhero fight scene AND a superheroes competing in sport story (Wildcat. Guardian. Boxing match). This 10-page story has more content than most comics of twice that page count, but doesn’t feel crammed. It just feels complete.
AND there’s still room for Perry White and Wildcat to relate over fatherhood issues. Bravo.
Let’s not forget that Emmy Award Winner Haspiel draws a man in a cat costume and boxing gloves punching oldtimey gangsters with big sci-fi bazookas. I love comics. He also draws some great layouts, like one where the panels take the shape of the edges of the bar counter surrounding it. This story alone is worth the price of admission.
“Quarter-Life Crisis of Infinite Jimmy Olsens” by Abhay Khosla and Andy MacDonald
I knew I was going to love this Jimmy Olsen story when the top tier of the first page emulated the many Silver Age covers that depicted Superman being uncharacteristically cruel to Jimmy Olsen, but did it as a weirdly non-diegetic story sequence, not as a blatant cover homage. Which is not only brilliant, but it signals exactly what kind of story it’s going to be.
It’s great to see more people doing fun Jimmy Olsen stories after Grant Morrison and then Nick Spencer reminded us that Jimmy doing entertaining things was the whole point of the character back when people actually read comics, and this one features an extraordinarily silly premise -- clones of Jimmy Olsen running amuck all over town while Superman and Jimmy have to track ‘em all down!
Because I’m a shit comics journalist, I had no idea who Abhay Khosla was until I Googled him just now. It turns out that he, like Beau Tidwell, is a comics journo. It also turns out that he’s fucking hilarious, which shows in this story’s great sense of humor, often in reference to other Jimmy adventures: “I was once engaged to a cannibal witch-doctor for three months to get a story . . . Mbongu and I could have been very happy together.”
There’s also a surprising amount of pathos, which I think Khosla was counting on to surprise the reader, most of whom I assume are only like me in the sense that they were expecting a silly Jimmy Olsen story. Instead, Khosla brings out the depth of the story -- you’ve got dozens of clones of you running around, each of whom is doing one of the many things you could be doing with your life before they inevitably croak. Presented with all these possibilities, wouldn’t you feel like you were wasting your potential doing what it is you’re doing right now?
Oh, and Andy MacDonald’s art is great in that straight-faced Philip Bond-ish cartoony style. MacDonald and Khosla create lots of great mini-sequences within this short story: that magenta 4-by-3 grid where clone Jimmy wines and dines and engagement rings a yoga instructor, the panels of weird possibilities (marrying a gorilla, stabbing Santa Claus with a trident) surrounded by scissor-friendly dotted lines.
Comics NEEDS to see more work from both of these guys.
Bizarro in “No Go Away Glad, Just Go Away!” by Steve Horton and Dan McDaid
Bizarro opposite-speak will never be not-funny to me.
So, as you might imagine, this story had me giggling the whole time as Bizarro people greeted one another with “Goodbye!” and showed appreciation with “No thanks!” And then Bizarro Lois hung out of a helicopter to ask Bizarro for a “nonexclusive” and I fell over.
Oh, and Bizarro Supergirl kicks Bizarro in the nuts. And the dumpsters all have fine china in them. This is amazing.
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time writing about this one because you just need to read it to appreciate it and I’ve got three stories left to write about and this goddamn article is already like 36,000 words long. So I’ll just say that “No Go Away Glad, Just Go Away!” is really, really funny and Dan McDaid draws a Bizarro World story exactly how a Bizarro World story should be drawn.
Also, I just found out writer Steve Horton has a webcomic called Spinning to Infinity where he does one-page micro-stories with a different artist in a different genre each time. Wow.
Supergirl in “The Bloodsucker’s Moxie” by Joe Caramagna and Trevor McCarthy
Supergirl’s constantly exposed navel irritates me. Not on a Women’s Studies kind of level (well, maybe a little), but mostly on a fashion level. Outside of Halloween, sensible young women like Kara Zor-El don’t really dress in the skimpiest crop tops and tube tops they can find. And don’t tell me that Supergirl’s fashion decisions are influenced by her alien upbringing, because Krypton doesn’t fucking exist and they wear full-body condoms with big Ss on them, so what do they know?
Having said that, I love the rest of what Trevor McCarthy has Supergirl sporting, namely a sleeveless (and thus nonfunctional) hoodie, cutoff jeans and boots. And glasses, oh my. Every superheroine should wear glasses in their secret identity. And not just because I wear glasses. Also, because I like girls who wear glasses.
The story itself fairly simple but enjoyable enough: Kara finds herself hanging out with some major D-bags at a carnival who, by virtue of being D-bags, accidentally unleash a giant tentacle monster that was hitherto sitting in a freak show jar. In the process of fighting the thing, she scares away the non-D-bag she came with, who likened Kara to a girlfriend-type-thing, but simply can’t deal with her constant, sudden disappearances. I don’t know what kind of guy does this outside of CW dramas, but I’ll allow Caramagna this bit because it further cements Supergirl’s alienation on this strange planet.
What I won’t, cotton to, however is the absurd number of Supergirl panty shots Trevor McCarthy manages to slip into a 10-page story. What’s an absurd number of Supergirl panty shots? ANY number of Supergirl panty shots.
I thought DC had a rule about that.
Lois Lane in “Credit Check” by Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover and Amilcar Pinna
Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover having a story in this special was certainly a selling point for me. I had no idea it would be about Lois Lane and Lana Lang trying to solve a mystery. The end result is kind of reminiscent of that first Chris Roberson “Grounded” issue as far as the dilemma of not publishing a story for the sake of one’s subjects. Except this time it’s more clear-cut. Which is fine -- the mystery is the point of the story, not the ethical dilemma.
The impetus for the story -- Lois finds a lost bank card on the sidewalk and Lana convinces her to investigate and find the owner instead of just walking over and giving it to the bank -- threatens to cross the line of believability, but Lois is, as Lana says, “a world-class investigative reporter.” So, the idea of Lois using those skills to do something as simple as returning a lost item is actually quite attractive. And how do you resist the urge to show off to your husband’s ex-girlfriend?
Ultimately, this story makes me wonder: what should a Lois Lane story be? In a world where the costumed members of the Superman Family lift heavy things and fly around and Jimmy Olsen goes on weird adventures just to get a story, where does Lois fit in? Should she be a counterpoint to the other characters, investigating more down-to-earth, realistic stories that can’t be solved by punching Metallo?
I guess what I’m saying is that Lois needs her own series, but I’m not sure what it would/should be like. I’d be very excited to find out, though, so somebody make this happen. Maybe you can get Tobin and Coover on it.
Superboy in “Bad Moon Rising” by Aubrey Sitterson and Eddy Barrows
I wish Aubrey Sitterson spared us the pretense and just titled this “The One Where Superboy Fights a Werewolf.”
It’s actually a bit like the Supergirl story, now that I think about it. It establishes the premise of the character -- Supergirl is a teenage alien trying to fit in but feels like an outsider, Superboy is a clone of Superman and Lex Luthor who’s a bit bored living with Ma Kent in Smallville -- and then there’s a fight scene, a denouement and it’s all over and let’s move on to the Flashpoint preview.
Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad story. Sitterson concludes the fight scene in an amusing way that relates to the story’s themes, even though the werewolf guy does a complete 180 from “I’m gonna kill you!” to “Wanna go grab a cheeseburger?” On the plus side, Eddy Barrows drew it and Ma Kent gets to use the phrase “get your ya-yas out.” Which sounds really dirty.
Superboy really needs a costume change, by the way. Remember when he was a little shit who dressed a bit like King Mob? Now he just wears a T-shirt that anyone in the DCU could buy at the store. How do you live in Smallville, go to high school with Connor Kent and then see the same guy running around in a different T-shirt and go, “Yep. That guy is Superboy.” Are Smallvillians stupid, or just incredibly polite? Why does someone who’s supposed to be a clone of Superman have such an undynamic, boring costume?Also, have any glimpses at future versions of Superboy had him flying around as a bald Superman? Those Luthor genes gotta manifest somehow.
And why exactly did Superboy and Wonder Girl start out looking distinct from Superman and Wonder Woman only to suddenly transform into characters who vaguely look like their parent characters?
Superboy really sticks in my craw.
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