Did Wizard World bore anyone else to tears, or was it just me?

Think the close proximity to the San Diego con is just washing everything out for me, and while the smaller more intimate environment is much more conducive to some of the things I did manage to accomplish, there is something to the overwhelming atmosphere of SDCC. There’s always that sensation that if you don’t move fast enough something incredibly critical will be missed, whether it’s a high profile creator appearance, or an unbelievable project announcement. Hell, I was there every day but Sunday and there was always a reason (or three) to visit the news sites once we made it back to the hotel. Chicago had its share of significant news, but it was mostly Marvel, with a little DC sprinkled in, and almost nothing from the independent publishers, several of whom didn’t even make the trip out. The hottest panel of the entire show could only be accessed with wristbands, which while quite cool, is never that much of an issue when you have cavernous auditoriums that can hold eight thousand people. Wizard World does everything they can with what they’ve got, but this year the feeling that this was the “little brother” of the big summer cons was hard to conceal.

Best moment for me was on Friday afternoon, after I’d made my way over to the Marvel booth and met up with Mark Millar not five minutes after I’d hit the con floor. Been two or three years since we’d seen each other in person and since I was fortunate enough to catch him on the tail end of his Civil War signing, we just hung out until he had to head over to his Wizard Q & A. Most of you probably know the history here, but Mark is my “Jedi master” of sorts, since we started corresponding back during this column’s first year and he was later kind enough to call me out as an emerging talent. Without his constant endorsements along the way, I likely wouldn’t have accomplished very much in this quest of mine, so I owe him the most incredible of debts.

But we were able to catch up on everything, what he has coming, what I have coming, and how I should go about maximizing my DC experience. Ton of it is unprintable naturally, but this was easily the highlight of the entire show for me and it happened in the first afternoon, so most things that came after aren’t worth much mention. Still, one other highlight was Nate Lee, Craig Mack and I putting on our dream team hats and reshuffling the creative teams on a ton of DC titles, adding in some new ones, and doing our very best editorial impersonation. Don’t know why stuff like that is always so much fun, but suppose it all boils down to that age old question that starts off all cool things…what if?

Hope that Wiz World jumping the circuit and scheduling their show a few weeks before San Diego will give them both enough separation to feel like two completely different entities, which companies both large and small are able to support. Chicago was the convention that introduced me to conventions, and it’d be nice to reclaim some of the manic thrill I had towards it back when I was a bit younger.

And now for a couple of reviews before heading into the aforementioned super, surprise ending…

Batman #667 (Grant Morrison/J.H. Williams)
This weekend The Black Glove settles the age-old question once and for all. Which is strongest? Good? Or evil?”

All hail the wonderful strangeness of this story. Commenting on the weirdness of anything Grant writes is almost plain silly at this point, but please indulge me for a bit as I attempt to convey the greatness that is the first chapter of “The Island of Mister Mayhew.” On the surface, it appears to be nothing more than a modern murder mystery, a collage of unlikely persons convened in a seemingly abandoned manor only to learn that the man who brought them there has been horribly murdered and everyone there is a potential suspect. But this is Grant Morrison we’re speaking of, a writer whose work can seldom be labeled typical, so it’s no surprise that this quickly turns into one of the strongest moments in his current Batman run.

Fantastic as the writing here is though, what really makes this story come alive is the artwork from J.H. Williams. From the blood-stained cover to the final fire-engulfed page, Williams puts on an incredible show and proves (once again) that there’s no other artist in comics quite like him. He complements everything Morrison’s story calls for, and then skillfully escalates it with some manner of unbelievable visual. On page one, the haunting, terrifying monologue of the villainous Black Glove is punctuated by a glistening scalpel, a roulette wheel, and a man hanging from the ceiling, all before everything morphs into a rain of bats at the bottom of the page that seamlessly transitions to the next with the Bat-plane being pelted by watercolor rain. When the other members of the Club of Heroes are introduced, they are depicted in the styles of other artists, a technique used by Williams most recently in the final chapter of Seven Soldiers. I suck at recognizing that sort of thing, but even I was able to spot some Ed McGuinness and Howard Chaykin amongst the cast. My man Craig Mack thinks he saw some Toth in there as well. But again, what other artist could even attempt something like this and have it work so well?

Just when you think you’ve seen the coolest page, or the most interesting visual, Williams hits you again with moments like the grand appearance of Batman, or the horrifying message from the Black Glove, or the exploding planes trapped within the hollowed fingers of a giant hand, or the brutal knife attack that is almost unbearably creepy. As impressive as Andy Kubert’s high octane pencils have been, this issue is enough to make you wish that Williams was on art chores the entire time, because his contribution to the atmosphere and tone of this story is unmatched. And consider that there are actually two more issues of this to look forward to…seriously, how cool is that?

Powers #25 (Brian Michael Bendis/Mike Avon Oeming)

And now hail the power of creator-owned comics. With this latest installment comes a new format and a new price, but for the people who believe (and rightfully so) that this book is and always has been Bendis’ most entertaining and consistent work…it’s simply more of the same. More of the incredibly unpredictable, highly nuanced character study that it’s always been, trained with a laser-like focus on the continuously evolving relationship between Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim. If you’ve been keeping up you know that Walker and Pilgrim have been gradually pulled apart for several months, all because of the secrets they’ve been keeping from each other. Secrets that if exposed could probably be addressed without too much trouble, since they’ve got the history and emotional foundation to survive them. But where’s the drama in that? Where’s the reality in that, more importantly? We’ve all harbored some secret from someone we care about, which only made things far worse for ourselves and our relationships when it was finally discovered.

At the close of the last issue, Deena and Christian finally came face-to-face, the former finally working up the nerve to seek help about the powers she’d contracted that were slowly destroying her life. What she found was a Christian Walker (who once swore to her that he no longer had powers) not only with powers, but with a bright costume to go along with those powers. The only assumption possible at that point was that Christian had powers all along and lied about it from the very beginning. Her best friend in the world, the only person she could trust to help her was a liar and not to be trusted. This moment of revelation and betrayal was something Bendis had been building to for months, and instead of picking up his story from that fantastic long-awaited confrontation, he pushes the status quo eight months into the future.

Everything is completely different. The details of that meeting between Walker and Pilgrim are unknown, but what is known is that Deena Pilgrim is currently missing. Powers are now being transmitted from person to person with destructive results, while a mysterious figure is doing everything she can to protect innocent people from the spread. Walker is still serving as a representative of the Millennium Guard and his responsibilities are now arousing suspicion with his superiors and co-workers. He’s also been assigned a new partner named Enki Sunrise. And before the chapter closes, former partners Pilgrim and Walker have yet another confrontation, with the power and revelation dynamic now entirely flipped.

Bendis has done this before mind you, traveled back and forth across time for dramatic effect, but it displays just what is possible when the only thing a creator has to consider is his own story. Appropriate as it may be, Ultimate Spider-Man will never arbitrarily jump ahead eighteen months, because there’s always the chief concern of character ages in modern superhero fiction. Powers started with a little girl being held hostage, who is now a teenaged hero that Christian is now training…or at least he was eight months ago. This book looks and behaves almost nothing like it did when it was initially launched, and it’s that undeniable fact that once again hammers home the appeal and viability of concepts and characters that have only creative limits. Every year or so, Powers mutates and gives you slightly different reasons to pick it up, and what comes next is pretty much guaranteed to do the same.

Wanted to thank all of the people that have written (and posted on the Ambi. message board that I no longer have my password to) to welcome me back to SBC. Your continued support means a great deal and the kind words are always, always appreciated. Who knew I’d be missed?

Closing things out this week with a gift from the good folks at DC: the first five b/w pages from my issue of Robin, available in stores October the 24th. Artwork is by Freddie E. Williams II, who I think has delivered some of the most astonishing, action-packed work of his entire career. Special thanks to editor Mike Marts for giving the green light to reveal some of this stuff, and be sure to pre-order with your local retailer. Much more to come (including a full commentary with myself and Freddie) but this should whet the appetites a bit.

Back soon.



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