Bendis vs. Johns: Conquering the Big Threat

June 10th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

I’m one of those comic fans who tries not to allow himself to be dragged into the whole Marvel vs. DC argument based purely on the characters and being loyal to them. It’s all about the writers and the quality that comes with it. Sure, there are many times when the scale is skewed immensely, such as pre-Flashpoint when I was only reading a couple DC comics compared to now, but that’s on them. For the past 6-7 years, when you compare Marvel and DC, there’s no better writer sample size than Brian Michael Bendis and Geoff Johns. These two are the butt of a crazy amount of jokes about how they each write 80% of the comics of their respective companies.

Hell, I’m guilty of this myself. If they ever brought back Amalgam Comics, every issue would be written by Geoff Bendis.

They both have their strengths and weaknesses. I dropped all the Bendis Avengers books after growing impatient and realizing that the only reason I was reading them in the first place was because of enjoying what he used to write. At the same time, I’m really loving Ultimate Spider-Man and the whole Miles Morales experiment. With Johns, I lost complete interest in Justice League shortly after the origin arc, yet I eat up his Green Lantern and think his Sinestro is the most compelling character going in DC. Not that that’s hard, considering he has a head start over 95% of the New DC cast.

This isn’t so much a simple Bendis vs. John post, but more a comparison over something Johns does that I’ve always dug about his work and really helps earn him his spot as “that DC Comics guy”. It’s also something that I’ve found Bendis to almost get, only to drop the ball and go the opposite direction.

What I’m talking about is setting up a threat, usually in the first act, that allows the readers to say out loud, “These heroes are absolutely screwed.” This is a lot better as a selling point to a comic than “it’s important.”

I’m going to focus on the event storylines, since these are the ones given more emphasis and put under such a microscope that the two writers have to make extra sure that their threat is something that can’t simply be waved away.

I’m also going to skip over Avengers Disassembled and Green Lantern: Rebirth, since I don’t even really see those as events as just gigantic plot points meant to set up the next several years of storyline. Disassembled is something I read years after the fact and found it to be kind of a mess in terms of storytelling and Green Lantern: Rebirth was a big mess of retcons and reveals meant to pave the way for Johns’ lengthy run on the Lantern corner of the universe.

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Work Formerly In Progress: Rebutting Sims & Uzumeri on Justice League

March 20th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Originally, I wanted to write a rebuttal to a couple of reviews of Geoff Johns & Jim Lee’s Justice League that David Uzumeri and Chris Sims wrote. I disagree Justice League is in any way emblematic of everything wrong with comics, or even most things wrong with comics. Somehow, I also disagree with Uzumeri’s point that it shines with strong characters. I think there are good character moments in it (each character gets a chance to shine, which I greatly enjoyed), but the characterization is light. I made a joke about going at Sims and Uzumeri on Twitter, Laura Hudson called my bluff, and I started work on the post in earnest for ComicsAlliance.

To make a long story short, I burned out on modern cape comics in a major way partway through this essay. More specifically, I burned out before I got a chance to talk about Justice League at all. I’d had this grand (not really) structure planned–I’d point out why Jim Lee and Geoff Johns were the only people at DC who could do the Justice League relaunch justice, then I’d talk about how the series is structured like a posse cut (this didn’t appear out of thin air, it was going to be integral before I realized I wanted to write about posse cuts more than comical books), and then break down exactly why it didn’t need to be a heartbreaking work of incredible characterization to succeed as a Justice League comic. (“Don’t let me do it to ya, dunny, ’cause I’ll overdo it” is basically how I approach writing, I guess.)

But to make a short story longer, I lost the thirst for it partway through. I liked Justice League 1-6. If I had to give it a letter grade, I’d say “I spent four bucks on each issue and didn’t feel bad about it” and then condescendingly explain to you why I hate grades. (They try to quantify the unquantifiable.)

So to make a long story even longer than it should have been, below the bar is my nearly unedited draft. It’s a little over a thousand words about Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, and who they are and how they came to be. It’s a little cleaner than how I usually work — I usually throw in a lot of placeholder sentences and stuff to get back to later, as well as admonishments and “What is the point of this paragraph, stupid?” — but all that stuff at the top is notes for stuff I’d intended to get to or wanted to structure the essay around. Hopefully you like reading it.

(Keeping with my uncontrollable habit of biting rap songs for titles, “Allow me to reintroduce myself” has its direct origins in Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” and “Back For The First Time” is a ref to Ludacris’s first [major label] album.)

allow me to reintroduce myself: justice league 1-6
back for the first time

geoff johns is the superhero guy. bendis is his only competition.
jim lee is the superhero guy. hitch took a stab, but lee is that guy who has shifted cape comics twice–with x-men #1 and batman: hush

it’s about big moments, it’s a blockbuster
it’s The Expendables, it’s Fast Five

The Posse Cut
Point: This isn’t an introduction. It’s a reintroduction.
Point: This is a blockbuster.
Point: Every character gets a moment to shine.
Point: This sets the foundation for relationships in broad strokes, leaving plenty of room for growth.
Point: It ain’t perfect. (lee’s art, johns’s dialogue)
Point: This Is Fast Five

Jim Lee and Geoff Johns are an interesting choice to relaunch Justice League for a wide variety of reasons. The number reason is probably that Lee and Johns are among DC’s biggest moneymakers, and combining the two is pretty similar to printing money. It makes sense financially, but I think it also makes sense from a creative point of view, too.

Jim Lee, love him or hate him, has had a tremendous effect on modern comics. He’s had indirect effects, like publishing Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics or selling Wildstorm to DC and enabling the creative renaissance of that line, but in terms of direct effects… he’s hard to beat. His X-Men #1, written by Chris Claremont, sold over 8.1 million copies. It was the height of the X-Men boom, I think, and the X-Office spent some time chasing that dragon. Later, he co-founded Image and co-created the late, lamented Wildstorm Universe. Ten years after that, he teamed up with Jeph Loeb to create Batman: Hush, a twelve-issue story that was a shot in the arm for the character and returned Lee to the top of the sales charts.

Lee’s spent a lot of time doing work in other media over the past few years, but he’s an undeniable superstar, and possibly the artist in cape comics. His style helped redefine the X-Men, and through the X-Men, superheroes in general. Lee and Rob Liefeld get dinged a lot for pouches, but the people who trot out that tired old joke don’t realize that their styles were a shift forward. It was a move toward real-world utility, a way to increase the realism of comics without sacrificing the technicolor fever dreams that make cape comics so much fun.

Lee’s style incorporates the advances that John Byrne, Frank Miller, Art Adams, and Neal Adams brought to cape comics and pushes them a little further. The X-Men wore gear that was more like uniforms than costumes. Physiques became more chiseled under his pen. He sought out that sublime space between realism and fantasy and sold eight million comics off the back of his style. That’s impressive, and I think it’s turned Lee into one of those quintessential superhero artists. Kirby defined capes for our fathers and grandfathers. Jim Lee redefined them for us.

Geoff Johns has had a different (and shorter) route to the top, but he’s still a very significant player in the cape comics field. He’s the guy who spins straw into gold. With a diverse array of artists, Johns has revitalized, or been largely responsible for the revitalization of, Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, the Justice Society of America, Barry Allen, Aquaman, the Teen Titans, and several other characters besides.

Johns is the king of cape comics right now. His only real competitors in impact and quality are Grant Morrison, whose work has been limited largely to Batman for the past few years and the ongoing reboot of Action Comics for the past few years, and Brian Michael Bendis, who is currently in the process of wrapping up his almost eight-year stewardship of Marvel’s Avengers titles. Morrison is telling a sprawling, messy story about Batman that has lasted almost six years, and Bendis has never been able to match Johns for sheer bombast and scope.

Johns has found a formula for cape comics that works, and probably owes more than a little to Stan Lee’s approach in the ’60s. Rather than being a victim of Silver Age blinders that a lot of people think he is, Johns is actually firmly enmeshed in the Bronze Age. The level of violence in his comics tends toward the gory, which is definitely a hallmark of the modern era of DC Comics, but he has consistently managed to find an angle to approach a character from that resonates with readers. There’s no greater proof of that than the fact that Aquaman, his reboot of the Paul Norris character with artist Ivan Reis, is a top ten seller in the Direct Market.

“Aquaman sucks” is a long-running joke, and Johns turned it into the engine that makes that series go. These type of nerd in-jokes are generally grating — see also any “Glasses are a stupid disguise!” joke in comics — but for some reason, the series works. And I’m not even close to the target audience for that series, but I bought it, month-in, month-out. It’s not a particularly deep work, but it works on a basic superheroic level. You get Aquaman, he behaves like a hero should, but it doesn’t come off hokey or fawningly Silver Age. It’s a modern Aquaman, and I don’t mean modern in the sense of gritty. I mean modern as in suited for today’s day and age, post-Die Hard, post-Matrix, and post-The Fast and the Furious. It’s appropriate for 2012.

Modernizing characters is a tough row to hoe, but Johns has pulled it off time and time again. I got heavy into his first run on Flash when I was getting back into comics, and the Johns/Kolins run remains one of my favorite runs in comics. Sinestro Corps War was a great tale, and I’ve never been a Green Lantern fan, really. There’s something about his approach, the way he marries personal stakes (a thing that reminds me of Marvel-style heroes, actually) with superheroic stakes (Sinestro is gonna do _______) and gleeful violence (almost always on the part of his villains, his heroes remain almost squeaky clean, even after being given permission to use deadly force) that really strikes a chord.

long story short DC chose the best two people to work on the relaunch and the result was a book I enjoyed a lot, despite being sometimes clunky (“you’re the world’s greatest superheroes!”) and the army of inkers they brought in toward the end

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Brave New World; Bold New Direction: Week 1

September 6th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Sometimes I get identified on this site as being a Marvel guy as compared to Esther being all about DC and while I’d like to argue against it, my latest buying habits in the past year don’t back me up. I seem to skew more on the Marvel side with only a handful of DC stuff on my plate. It wasn’t always that way. I seem to remember that in the mid-00’s, I was either pretty even with it or maybe even more on DC’s side. Thinking back, things were actually pretty exciting during the lead-up and follow-up of Infinite Crisis. It was really Countdown to Final Crisis where the company started to slope downwards in my regard.

As of a month ago, the comics I was reading under the DC banner were as follows: Batman and Robin, Batman Inc., Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Booster Gold and Secret Six. And you know what? I didn’t even like Secret Six that much by the time it ended. I liked the promise more than what happened. There’d be a good one-shot story in there every once and a while, then it would go into six issues I didn’t care about. At least it gave us the happy-go-lucky characterization of King Shark. At the same time, I feel guilty reading that when I should have gotten off my ass and started reading some of the series that I kept hearing were good like the latest run of Detective Comics, Batgirl, Action Comics and Doom Patrol.

When I first heard about DC’s reboot/relauch I raised an eyebrow and initially had the same, “Can they do that?! HOW CAN THEY DO THAT?!” reaction as everyone else. I just used my inside voice. Then I looked back and decided that maybe this is for the best. Oh, sure, it can and may be a failure in the long run. That’s their problem and the problem of whichever readers got screwed over by the big change. Me? I was only reading six comics by them. 52 new comics are being thrown against the wall and if even seven are still there when gravity kicks in, who am I to hate? Yes, this could definitely work out for the best.

I think back to when we got One Year Later and how enjoyable it was, despite how a lot of it returned back to the status quo. While it did turn me onto a couple good comics I wouldn’t have otherwise read, it did also allow me to join in and laugh at some of the stupider moments with the masses, like everything in that first Nightwing comic. Hey, remember when Nightwing is fighting this guy and he kicks him and practically shits himself while going, “Y-you’re a *gasp* m-metahuman…” as if he had only heard of such a thing before and never met one? Ah, man, that was the dumbest thing. I think the balls-out drive behind this new initiative can lead to an interesting six months at the very least.

So since I’m genuinely interested in this editorial stunt and I owe my comic guy for always having me at his place for wrestling PPVs and never having me pay for the show or food, I decided that I’d go headfirst into the new 52. I’m reading every single one of those fuckers. Yes, even the Liefeld one. Every week, I’m going to give my thoughts on them and decide whether I’m going to stick or drop it. Since these are all supposed to last six issues at the least, I’m going to try and keep going throughout that time so we can see what I’m still reading by the end of February. Who knows, by then I might just be doing an update about what I thought about that week’s issue of Blue Beetle because it’s the only thing left I care about. Though in the beginning, I’m giving every #1 a fair shake. You have my attention, DC. Wow me.

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DC’s New 52: Are You Ready For The World That’s Here?

August 30th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

This is the week that DC throws everything at the same wall simultaneously and prays that at least 75% of it sticks. This means there are 52 new(ish) books hitting store shelves in September. You can check the list here. I went through and pulled out what I’m willing to pay cash money for and which I’m open to the idea of maybe someday reading.

Figure this might as well be an open thread for the New 52 in the comments too, huh? Discuss amongst yourselves. Do people still say that? Talk about your hopes and gripes or whatever for this New 52, unless they have to do with Wonder Woman’s pants (or lack thereof), in which case, please don’t.


Art by CAFU
Cover by CAFU and BIT
On sale SEPTEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The DCU’s most wanted man stars in his own series!
Cole Cash is a charming grifter few can resist. And yet he’s about to be branded a serial killer when he begins hunting and exterminating inhuman creatures hidden in human form – creatures only he can see!

Can the biggest sweet talker of all time talk his way out of this one when even his brother thinks he’s gone over the edge?

I like Grifter, and Nathan Edmonson’s the writer behind Who Is Jake Ellis? with Tonci Zonjic. That book gives him a lot of leeway (Zonjic is a problem and the script is pretty good, too). CAFU I’m not as keen on. His art can be a bit pedestrian and stiff, which isn’t really what I’m looking for in… well in anything ever, really. See that Thunder Agents book? Hopefully this isn’t that.

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
1:25 Variant cover by DAVID FINCH
RETROSOLICITED • On sale AUGUST 31 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US RATED T • Combo pack edition: $4.99 US
Comics superstars Geoff Johns and Jim Lee make history! In a universe where super heroes are strange and new, Batman has discovered a dark evil that requires him to unite the World Greatest Heroes!

This spectacular debut issue is also offered as a special combo pack edition, polybagged with a redemption code for a digital download of the issue.

It’s Jim Lee, stupid. Lee’s great, still one of my favorite guys. Seeing him on some new familiar faces will be interesting. And Johns’s only competitor for big action writing is Mark Millar, and Johns has twice the heart that guy does. I think this’ll be a pretty good read.

Art and cover by SCOTT McDANIEL and
On sale SEPTEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The brilliant, slightly awkward high school student Virgil Hawkins transforms into the cocky electromagnetic hero Static!

A mysterious tragedy forces the Hawkins family to relocate from Dakota to New York City! Virgil embarks upon new adventures in a new high school and a new internship at S.T.A.R. Labs!

As Static, he dons a new uniform and establishes a new secret headquarters! But is he ready to take on the new villains who lurk in New York City’s underworld?

John Rozum and Frazer Irving’s Xombi? Yeah, best DC comic of the past year. Maybe the past two or three years, frankly. It beats the pants off the Rucka/JHW3 Batwoman, Morrison’s Batman… pick your favorite comic and I’ll call it crap to drum up interest for this book I really want to do well. I trust Rozum, but I go back and forth on McDaniel. The past few years have seen me sour on him, but his art for this book looks to be in something of a new style, or at least a twist on his old style. I’m open to seeing where this one goes, and believe in it enough to put a few bucks on it.

Art and cover by CLIFF CHIANG
On sale SEPTEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The Gods walk among us. To them, our lives are playthings. Only one woman would dare to protect humanity from the wrath of such strange and powerful forces. But is she one of us – or one of them?

Wonder Woman is boring, but Azzarello is the truth, and Cliff Chiang is, too. Probably gonna be the best book of the relaunch.

But yo, those booty shorts they’re making her wear? She looks stupid without pants, and being in her underoos don’t make her more of a Wonder Woman than any other take on the character. Fans are terrible, and that was a stupid thing to bend on. Ugh.


Art and cover by MORITAT
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T+
Even when Gotham City was just a one-horse town, crime was rampant – and things only get worse when bounty hunter Jonah Hex comes to town. Can Amadeus Arkham, a pioneer in criminal psychology, enlist Hex’s special brand of justice to help the Gotham Police Department track down a vicious serial killer? Find out in this new series from HEX writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, with lush artwork by Moritat (THE SPIRIT)!

All of these guys go a long way with me. Moritat just recently knocked The Spirit out of the park. Gray and Palmiotti did real well on Jonah Hex for a bunch of years. This sounds like more than that, swapping Jordi Bernet with Moritat. Good deal.

Problem: the price tag. Four bucks? Ehhh. Prices of DC books drop after a month, so I may pick this one up then.

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The superstar creators from BLACKEST NIGHT and BRIGHTEST DAY reunite to take AQUAMAN to amazing new depths!

Aquaman has renounced the throne of Atlantis – but the sea will not release Arthur Curry so easily. Now, from a forgotten corner of the ocean emerges… The Trench! A broken race of creatures that should not exist, an unspeakable need driving them, The Trench will be the most talked-about new characters in the DC Universe!

I want to like Aquaman.


Cover by RYAN SOOK
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The witch known as The Enchantress has gone mad, unleashing forces that not even the combined powers of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg can stop. And if those heroes can’t handle the job, who will stand against this mystical madness?

Shade the Changing Man, Madame Xanadu, Deadman, Zatanna and John Constantine may be our only hope – but how can we put our trust in beings whose very presence makes ordinary people break out in a cold sweat?

Is this going to be the Mixtape Milligan, or are we gonna have to sit through another Carter IV? I’m a little iffy on Mikel Janin’s art, too. It looks too CG. It’s not terrible really, but it definitely looks like 3D models posed and placed on a background. Drives me crazy.

The thought of the Mixtape Milligan writing John Constantine in the DC Universe is pretty funny, though.

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Variant cover by GREG CAPULLO
On sale SEPTEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for more information.

The red-hot GREEN LANTERN team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Doug Mahnke introduce an unexpected new Lantern.

Sinestro might be just the shot in the arm this series needs. Mahnke drawing aliens and mayhem is always fun, too.

Variant cover by ETHAN VAN SCIVER
On sale SEPTEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Be here for the start of a new era for The Dark Knight from writer Scott Snyder (AMERICAN VAMPIRE, BATMAN: GATES OF GOTHAM) and artist Greg Capullo (Spawn)! A series of brutal killings hints at an ancient conspiracy, and Batman learns that Gotham City is deadlier than he knew.

Snyder’s run on Detective Comics was incredibly unsatisfying (imagine biting into a really nice piece of cake and slowly appreciating every bite, only then Dan Didio rushes into the room and tells you that you gotta wrap it up so we can relaunch the cake, so you rewrite your icing so that the is-he-or-isn’t-he-a-serial-killer-creep mystery turns into “oh he just chopped off all of someone’s limbs and is giving crappy speeches out of B movies about the nature of evil” showcase, aren’t you glad that two good artists were wasted on this comic book?), but had a solid start. Capullo’s cartoony style looks pretty cool, too. Hopefully this is a good Batman story?

Art and cover by JESUS SAIZ
On sale SEPTEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
One is wanted for a murder she didn’t commit. The other is on the run because she knows too much. They are Dinah Laurel Lance and Ev Crawford – a.k.a. Black Canary and Starling – and together, as Gotham City’s covert ops team, they’re taking down the villains other heroes can’t touch. But now they’ve attracted the attention of a grizzled newspaper reporter who wants to expose them, as well as a creepy, chameleon-like strike team that’s out to kill them.

Don’t miss the start of this hard-hitting new series from mystery novelist/comics writer Duane Swierczynski (Expiration Date, Cable).

I dunno, I like Swierczynski’s novels and his comics are sometimes pretty okay. He definitely did well on Iron Fist. Maybe this’ll be good? Despite my prejudice against the very idea of pro-active covert ops superheroes, I mean.

Cover by J.G. JONES
On sale SEPTEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The world’s third-smartest man – and one of its most eligible bachelors – uses his brains and fists against science gone mad in this new series from Eric Wallace (TITANS) and Roger Robinson!

Michael Holt is the head of a successful high-tech corporation and an institute that recruits and encourages the finest minds of the next generation to excel. As Mister Terrific he inhabits a world of amazement few others know exists, let alone can comprehend.

I talked myself into really wanting this, and then DC went and replaced the artist on the next few issues (which is crap, the series just started) and everyone I know who has read Eric Wallace comics reminded me that he’s writing one of DC’s dumbest books (perhaps #2–Outsiders is pretty atrocious) and that maybe Final Crisis: Ink wasn’t as good as I thought it was.

I hope this book is good.

O.M.A.C. #1
On sale SEPTEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The all-seeing Brother Eye satellite has unleashed a new beast upon the DC Universe in this smashing new series! Kevin Kho has become an unwilling participant in a war between Checkmate and Brother Eye as he is transformed into the One Machine Army Corp known only as O.M.A.C.!

Yeah, crap, I–so Didio is trash as a writer, right? We’re talking bad, not incomprehensible bad but “writes comics that aren’t worth reading” bad. Bad enough that I completely wrote off his pet series. But the thought of Keith Giffen drawing Kirby, which is sure to be great–yeah, you know what? Never mind. As much as I want to see Giffen’s Kirby, this is probably going to be awful. Sorry for making you read these sentences. Maybe they’ll publish it unlettered.


Art and cover by ED BENES and ROB HUNTER
On sale SEPTEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
Atrocitus and his Red Lantern Corps return in their own series, battling against injustice in the most bloody ways imaginable!

Ed Benes is comics poison. I like Milligan, but this comic will be unreadable. I just wanted to remind you not to buy Ed Benes comics, no matter how tempted you may be.

There are others I might be open to trying. Maybe Levitz’s Legion will convince me to finally like that series (probably not, even Waid and Kitson couldn’t make me stick around). Flash will be pretty, I’m sure. Oh yeah, I like Mahmud Asrar, the artist on Supergirl, and that writing team is pretty solid. Simon Bisley is going to be drawing a bit of Deathstroke, so I’ll probably roll through for those issues. Nobody beats the Biz, right?

Right. I don’t even really know what people mean whey they say something is metal, but I bet that’s it.

I just don’t feel a driving need to check out anything past the ones I already want to buy, and that’s… that’s not good, is it? The rest of my list is basically “Would buy it if I got bored and heard good things about it from friends and if the price were cheaper” and “Would buy it if I got bored and somehow ran out of the other comics I read,” then.

But before this, I was buying exactly one DC Comics (Xombi) and now I’m buying four. That’s in addition to Hellblazer and American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest. So four definite and eight possibles on top of that? Probably a pretty good run for someone like me.

Anybody else want to talk out their New 52 interests?

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I’ve Got So Much Trouble On My Mind: Race & Cape Comics

December 29th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I wanted to start this post about race and comics with this:

because, cripes, that’s Hypno Hustler, hands down my favorite obscure comics character and Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta brought him back. It’s also a funny macro for black characters in comics. Do you get it? Next would be this:

Black Batman: Bruce Wayne won’t franchise in urban markets
Black Panther: Stuck in dumb, unforgiveably boring comics
The Boondocks: Gone forever
Brother Voodoo: Brother Who?
Chalky White: Not given nearly enough screen-time, inexplicable fascination with not building bookcases
Garterbelt: Drawn with stereotypically huge lips, pedo priest
Menace: Tragic Mulatto, single mother
Lebron James: Worse than Hitler
Luke Cage: Would rather hang out at prison than with his White Wife and Mixed Baby
Power Man: Does Dominican count as black?
Robin: Still not black
Storm: smh
Turk: Needs to stop snitching
War Machine: Who cares?

But, the thought of pretending like I care that Brother Voodoo bit it in some comic I didn’t read gives me a migraine and I’m all out of jokes. Instead, though, I’m going to do this:

was a hero to most

I can’t get into Will Eisner’s The Spirit. I’ve tried a fistful of times. I bought a trade, thinking that putting money down would force me to plow through it. It didn’t. I can’t get past Ebony White. He’s a roadblock that I can’t get around.

I get the excuses and explanations. It was the humor of the time, Eisner didn’t know any better, he didn’t really mean it, Ebony was actually helpful, he was heroic in his own way, and a credit to his race. Blah blah blah. Eisner is a legend, and you don’t really want to tar his past with accusations of racism, do you? The Spirit is a classic, a titan in the medium! It’s hugely influential, so surely you can let this minor issue pass? It’s not really racism, is it?

But if it talks like a duck and looks like a pickaninny and drives Miss Daisy? Then it’s a slap in the face, and who consents to being slapped?

The issue of Ebony White is minimized in favor of the ongoing stature of The Spirit. It’s obviously an issue, since the two most recent relaunches of The Spirit have adjusted the character to be more palatable. Miller didn’t even put him in the movie, presumably because he knew that Ebony was a hard sell. Brian Azzarello turned her into a sassy black girl for the First Wave books. (Better “Nuh-uh nigga I ain’t going in there you better ask somebody else to do that nuh-UH” than “Yessuh boss whateva you say, boss.” That’s progress, innit?) But Ebony, the character, is minimized in favor of The Spirit, the classic. Don’t let racism ruin this great thing.

puffin newports ’cause life’s a bitch, and it’s too short

You can see maximization in the cases of OJ Simpson and Mike Vick. You’d think those two guys were the second and third coming of Charles Manson the way the news and society keeps on about them. Their crimes are maximized to the point where Tucker Carlson can say on tv that Vick should’ve been executed for his crimes. America: where you do the crime and do the time, or get acquitted, and then you keep doing the time because you’re a filthy, filthy convict.

Unless you’re Johannes Mehserle, who got to shoot an unarmed father in the back, get sentenced in November, be eligible for release two months later, and be hailed as a hero and victim of… something.

everything is everything, what is meant to be will be

When I first started writing about race and comics, I feel like I focused on characters. I wanted to celebrate these characters I’d grown up enjoying or learned to enjoy as an adult. “Look! We exist! And we’re not awful!” Time went on and I started to point out the problems. This kind of tone deaf, “this is how black people act in movies, not in real life” sort of thing. I later learned to focus on context. Here is why this bit is good, here is how it relates to real life. Finding the way verisimilitude makes stories better. This year, I tried to focus more on the people creating the comics.

Next year is another Black History Month. Right now, I feel like if I approach any of it from the position of black characters in mainstream comics, I’ll be making a huge mistake. Storm, Black Panther, and Luke Cage can be a useful lens for thoughts about race and comics at times, but by and large? I don’t care any more. What matters are the people who make the books, not these dusty old trademarks.

The problem with superheroes and black folks is that superhero comics used to be children’s comics. The in-text morals and structure are still leagues behind everything else. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a military family, but “heroes don’t kill” is an absurd positon to have and borderline insulting. Plenty of heroes kill. Some of our favorite Americans have killed dozens of people. But, the childlike morality stuck around, so we’re stuck with it. A side effect is that characters have to be very easy to understand.

Superhero comics don’t do nuance well. They do twenty-two pages of fights, yelling, and basic romantic drama well, but subtlety? Nah. And if you expect to be represented as a person, you’re going to need a certain degree of subtlety.

the violence in me reflects the violence that’s around me

It’s not all strange fruit and Al Sharpton in cape comics. Fred Van Lente and Mahmud Asrar’s Shadowland: Power Man was a breath of fresh air, and it’s actually kind of sad that that’s true. Regardless, Van Lente and Asrar knocked the book out of the park, cleverly working in socioeconomic and racial issues that enhanced the story, rather than distracted from the tale. They treated certain things as a given and created something worth reading.

The more I think about it, the more that Bendis’s Cage strikes me as an amalgamation of various black dudes in movies. It’s like an impersonation. A good one, but just off enough to be noticeable. He takes stands that don’t make sense, is bad with money, and is seemingly written as a Strong Black Man. You know how writers do that, yeah? Like there’s a checklist? Stands by his crew, loves his family, would die for his kids, on and on and on.

Jeff Parker’s work on Thunderbolts consistently impresses me, though. Like Van Lente and Power Man, he writes Cage in a way that clicks for me. When he busts out the black dudeisms like “What’s my name?” it’s not just an empty boast or black braggadocio. There’s a point to it. The bluesman in the Shadowland tie-ins was on point, too, and so was the way Cage deferred to him. It rings true in a way that Cage refusing Captain America’s money doesn’t. It’s about Cage, but it’s bigger than him, too.

These should be the rule, not the exception, but it is what it is.

take sun people, put ’em in atlanta snow

Chris Sims wrote an essay a few months back he called “The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling”. To sum it up, and I hope I’m not doing him a disservice by paraphrasing his argument, DC’s thirst for nostalgia has had the unintended side effect of scrubbing some of the non-white characters out of their universe. I think Sims has a point in there, but I don’t know that I agree with the why.

I don’t think that DC is working of nostalgia at all, especially not for the Silver Age. The Silver Age, running from the ’50s up to the early ’70s at the latest, was a time when superhero comics turned soft and transient. Characters changed shape, gimmick, and styles issue to issue. The Silver Age is generally viewed online as being wacky and out-there, super weird and goofy. It isn’t known for Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and Ray Palmer so much as for that time Superman had an ant head and Jimmy Olsen married a gorilla. Jordan, Allen, and Palmer date from those times, yes, but they aren’t emblematic of those times.

If you skip across the street to Marvel, there’s an interesting parallel. Over the past ten years, several characters from the ’70s have made a return. They haven’t replaced anyone, but Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Werewolf by Night, Moon Knight, Spider-Woman, Nova, Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Shang-Chi, and even Howard the Duck have made returns, no matter how completely unmarketable they may be. Does that count as nostalgia for the ’70s?

I don’t think that either situation counts as nostalgia. There is certainly someone’s fond memories of a character involved in the process, but nostalgia is a yearning for, and sometimes emulation of, the past. Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is a love letter to blaxploitation films. The casting of Pam Grier, the soundtrack, and all the overt references to blaxploitation is proof positive.

If you look at Bendis’s Cage or Geoff Johns’s Hal Jordan, and I mean really look at them, you’d see how they aren’t really fueled by nostalgia at all. The stories aren’t even remotely the same. They star the same characters, sure, but casting Pam Grier alone does not a blaxploitation movie make. Johns’s Green Lantern is deadly serious and never boring. The goofy ring structures, the giant boxing gloves and baseball bats, have largely given way to airplanes and detailed rifles. It’s realistic, rather than whimsical. His Flash comes a little closer to emulating the Silver Age style, but even then, he’s taking one part of the past (the Flash Facts/science) and applying it to something new (giving us stories that let Francis Manapul show us how cool superspeed is). The characters are old. The stories aren’t.

I haven’t read the recent stories with Ray Palmer and Hawkman, but I imagine that those are the same. Old characters, new stories. I know Hawkman in Brightest Day is caught up in some kind of insane recap/readjustment of his history, like Grant Morrison’s “Every Batman story is true” mandate. That doesn’t sound like nostalgia to me. It sounds like cape comics. It sounds like entropy. And with the way the comic industry is right now, it’s inevitable.

Cape comics are a closed system at this point. They cannot grow. This means that the only place left to go with these characters is to flip them. We’re in the remix era of superheroes, and we have been for years, probably ever since Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. Morrison took every crappy old X-Men concept, from sentinels to the Phoenix to Magneto to the New Mutants, and made it brand new. Superheroes have to take a page from William S Burroughs and create cut-up comics. Take this bit of history, match it with the other bit, and make something new. The fanbase is fiercely conservative and only want known quantities.

Disagree? Look at Paul Cornell’s Action Comics, Morrison’s Batman, Johns’s Green Lantern, Bendis’s Avengers empire (especially Prime and whichever one JRjr was drawing), Brubaker’s Captain America, Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, and Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men. All of those are pulling ideas that are thirty, forty, sixty years old into the modern day and telling new stories with them. Taking the past and remixing it, updating it for a new era.

Cut-up Comics! The cover of New Gods 1 with “Kirby Is Here!” scratched out and “DJ Premier Is On The Wheels of Steel!” written in. Spider-Man twisted and turned through a new lens! Watch as the past is reinvented by way of public execution on the comics page!

This is something that only cape comics can do. If you take Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and try it, do you know what you get? Re-hash. It’s too small, too new, for that to work. Superheroes, though, are perfect for it. It’s the only way they’ll survive. Consumers don’t want new heroes. The market has proven its hostility to books that don’t fit within a certain shape. Fine–play with what sits inside that shape. Four walls can be a prison or a lab. Choose one.

y’all probably done forgot about her. but i ain’t gonna ever forget.

Remember earlier this year when the new Aqualad was announced and half the online commentary was, “Oh, so now we get BLACK Aqualad? Blaqualad?” and the other half was “Oh, so he’s AFRAID OF WATER, huh, he CAN’T SWIM? Is that how it is?”

Yeah. I see you. Do better. Be better.

a colored life still ain’t worth but a few ducats

Right now is still the best time to be black in cape comics. Cage is headlining a couple of books, Black Panther keeps getting tries at bat, Steel is kicking off and probably dying in an event next year, DC’s new Aqualad seems cool (he was dope on the show and pretty straight in the comics), Black Panther’s little sister has her own miniseries… things don’t suck. They could be better, though.

I got a letter from a third-tier company’s PR rep a few months back. Not a personal one, just your usual PR crap. It mentioned that there had been criticism online about there not being enough “diverse characters,” so they were launching a series starring a black guy.

Point: Cool, someone’s trying to listen to what people are saying.
Counter-point: Man, it’s all just business in the end, isn’t it?

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The Cipher 09/09/10

September 9th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I picked up Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge yesterweek. It’s Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins following up on the run that got me into the Flash.

Here’s something I liked from it:

Bastard cape comics are weird. On the one hand, you can watch Captain Cold in cartoons on TV. On the other, he murders people as needed. There’s such a weird disconnect there, but I think I’m done trying to reconcile it. Who cares anymore, right? Love it or leave it alone.

Amazon stuff: Not much this week. I messed around and ordered Gotham Central one and two on a whim. Went back an hour later to cancel them since I already have the trades and whoops too late, son. I ordered them because I don’t have all of the trades, so I figured the HCs would be a good pickup. Then I realized that I could just buy the trades I’m missing, which is a functional, if less handsome, solution, but c’est la guerre. The end result is that my mom’s getting more books by Greg Rucka free of charge. She likes Queen & Country, and she likes mystery/cop novels, so maybe these will float her boat. (I should start charging her for all the books I give up, this is just absurd.) But yeah: uncharacteristically light Amazon week for me.

Me: A bit of talky-talk on DC Comics, a preview of the new Charlie Huston/Shawn Martinbrough Punisher joint, and an exclusive (clue clue clue) ten-page preview of the next volume of Adam Warren’s Empowered. I’ve read it already, and I need it to come out and all of you to buy it, please. I want to talk about it with somebody. It’s great. The comments section on that post is great, too, Empowered fans rule. If your shop doesn’t carry it or you forgot to order it, check Amazon.

Not me: Kalinara reacts to something I wrote with some points I can’t really deny, Cheryl Lynn talks out her buying habits (I like seeing people talk about why they buy what they buy/don’t buy, have you noticed?), and Tucker Stone delivers the reviewing equivalent of a blunt laced with bubble kush and PCP. Go on. Get wet.

@hermanos: Amazing Spider-Man 641, Amazing Spider-Man 642, Punisher Max: Hot Rods of Death 1, Weird War Tales
@estherschmester: Definitely: Batgirl 14 Maybe: Batman #703, Batman and Robin 14, Doc Savage 6, Red Robin 16
@Gavin4l: Batman And Robin 14, Booster Gold 36, Green Lantern 57, Justice League Generation Lost 9, Welcome To Tranquility One Foot In The Grave 3, Daken Dark Wolverine 1, Deadpool Corps 6, New Avengers 4, Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 2, Irredeemable 17

Anybody reading Shadowland? You want to do me a favor and quit that? You’re only hurting yourself.

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Previously, in the Future

August 27th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

One minor thing in comics I’ve been digging in the past couple years is the “This Year in _____” pages that come out of the first issue. We haven’t had too many of them, but they’re pretty memorable when we do get them. For instance, Batman and Robin #1 featured a final page that depicted such things as Damian leaving in a huff to work on his own, Red Hood with a new sidekick, Batman and Batwoman fighting it out while Bruce Wayne Batman rises from the Lazarus Pit and a foreboding image of Doctor Hurt holding up the keys to Wayne Manor. All of these happened, as should be expected.

It’s probably one of the coolest concepts Geoff Johns has brought to the table in recent years and I say that knowing full well about his space cat that pukes acid blood powered by hate. When you start out a new series, it’s tough as is. Even if you have big plans several issues down the line, you have to win over the reader with both the first story and – more importantly – the contents of the first issue. This is more of a pitfall of Marvel, as their series tend to get cut to pieces by the fifth or sixth issue. Sorry, Jeff Parker. I think the teaser pages could really help some comics succeed in the long run. DC gave Magog a full twelve issues before finally cancelling it. It wouldn’t have hurt to get Giffen’s opinion on four developments planned that could have been exciting enough to bring up. Like a panel of Magog… uh… teaming up with the Shield? And the time he… um… Wait, I got this one. When he… Did I mention the Shield team-up? Okay, as much as I liked the series, maybe Magog isn’t the best example, but you know what I mean.

As far as I know, there have been four instances of the teaser pages, but feel free to correct me. There’s the aforementioned Batman and Robin #1 as well as Justice Society of America #1. I don’t read JSA, so I’m not going to talk about it in-depth, but I’ll touch on a little something later. The other two come from the same book, Booster Gold. Now that it’s moved to its latest creative team, I think now’s as safe a time as any to look back at what we were promised by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz. Here we go, looking at the past about the future that’s become the past about a new future of a character from the past who came from the future. Sorry, what were we talking about?

This page comes from the end of Booster Gold #1.

Read the rest of this entry �

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4×4 Elements: Flash: Blitz

July 30th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The Flash: Blitz. Words by Geoff Johns, pencils by Scot Kolins, inks by Doug Hazlewood, letters by Ken Lopez, colors by James Sinclair, further art by Phil Winslade and Alberto Dose.

I didn’t like Flash as a kid. It’s probably more accurate to say that I barely knew he existed. The TV show was here and then gone and he wasn’t in any of the few DC books I picked up. I thought he was okay in the cartoon, but I didn’t really get him until I picked up a trade of the Johns/Kolins run on Flash. Flash: Blitz is the end of their run, and they go out on a high note. Here’s four reasons why this story that made Flash finally click for me works well.

The threat in Flash: Blitz is deeply personal. The closest Batman comes to a relationship like this would be his relationship with Harvey Dent. In Blitz, Hunter Zolomon is a good friend of Wally West. After being crippled by Gorilla Grodd, Hunter begs Wally to use the Cosmic Treadmill to go back and fix his life. Wally refuses, and attempts to explain that you can’t just play with time like that. Hunter takes his explanation poorly, and decides that Wally simply doesn’t understand how tragedy can change a man’s life.

After circumstances have gifted Hunter with powers that allow him to move extremely fast, he takes the name Zoom and decides to teach Wally tragedy, and therefore turn him into a better hero. A hero that understands tragedy is a hero that understands stakes, and a hero that understands stakes is willing to do whatever is necessary to protect his people. Zoom forces Wally’s wife to miscarry, ending the life of their twins. When that doesn’t make Wally break Zoom’s neck, he decides to up the ante and goes directly after Linda.

Zoom is Wally’s Green Goblin. They have a deeply personal connection, and their relationship isn’t as simple as hero and villain. They are former friends, and Zoom believes that what he’s doing will cause Wally to grow as a hero. He’s clearly a villain, but his motivations aren’t of the world domination variety. He’s focused on the Flash, and more specifically, on Wally West.

Zoom isn’t just a generic villain. He’s specifically engineered so that only Wally West can stop him. Superman can beat the Joker. Batman can beat Lex Luthor. I guess Cheetah is Wonder Woman’s top villain? Anyone can beat her. Zoom? No one can beat Zoom but the Flash. Not a Flash, mind you–the Flash. Wally West. And even then, Wally needs help from his friends to even be able to compete.

There’s always a danger of making your villains too dependent on your heroes when creating new stories. Joker’s dependence somehow turned into a story point, but for most, it just looks kind of pathetic. For some reason, maybe due to the way their relationship was set up, Zoom works because of his dependence. He makes his entire reason for being turning the Flash into a better hero.

If Superman could just pop along and throw him into the sun, he wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective. Shared superhero universes tend to introduce cracks into stories. “Why didn’t Batman just call Superman to use his X-Ray Vision to find the Joker?” is a very good question. In this case, though, Zoom is specific to Flash’s abilities, and those abilities take both of them away from anything but speedster-based help.

So the stakes become Wally’s, and Wally’s alone. His buds in the Justice League can’t help. He can’t wait around looking for a solution. He has to handle it, and he has to handle it himself.

Well, not entirely alone. Blitz also sold me on the idea of the Flash Family. There are a lot of Flashes, or Flash-like characters. Jay, Barry, Wally, Bart, Jesse, John Fox, Max Mercury, and maybe one or two others. Their legacy spans some seventy years at this point. They all have the same power, more or less, with only the magnitude of their abilities separating them.

They work as a family, too. Jay is the wise old grandfather. Barry is the first success story. Wally is following in Barry’s steps. Bart is the rebellious teen. Jesse is the black sheep. John Fox and Max Mercury are the weird uncles from out of town who are probably crazy from the war. They have their own specialties, for better or for worse, and when it comes time for the big showdown, they all have a role to play, whether that is donating their powers, giving advice, or simply figuring out what to do.

Flash has a pretty large supporting cast, and they all have a role to play. There’s his aunt Iris, Detectives Chyre and Morillo, Jay and Joan Garrick, the Rogues (to an extent), Bart Allen, Jesse Quick, and his wife Linda. They all get a moment to shine in this story, and it helps to both turn Flash’s world into a fully-realized one and show exactly how high the stakes are.

When the cops are guarding the hospital where Linda is staying after she was attacked, and one of them complains about how Flash brought all of this upon himself, Morillo and Chyre set him straight. When Wally can’t figure out what Zoom’s deal is, he goes to Jay. When Wally and Linda get together to announce their upcoming parenthood, they call the whole family.

Having a supporting cast that is made up entirely of superheroes or just close family can be toxic. JMS reduced Spider-Man’s cast to Mary Jane and Aunt May, and the book suffered for it. Batman rarely interacts with his civilian friends. It’s like when heroes never stop to eat or take a shower. You may not exactly notice it, but it makes them less than human. Having a variety of friends and family, be they human, superhuman, or otherwise, is valuable. It creates the illusion of a world outside of the comics pages and characters who have genuine relationships outside of their superhero lives.

The fact that everyone shows up in this arc, save for one or two minor characters, is notable. It shows that this is a big deal, but it also shows that Flash has a support system of friends and family standing behind him. It means that Zoom is wrong. Heroes don’t need tragedy to be effective heroes. Sometimes, all they need are friends and a strong sense of what’s right.

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7 Artists: Doug Mahnke

July 10th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Doug Mahnke does one thing better than everyone else, and that’s draw Wonder Woman.

The biggest reason why he draws the best Wonder Woman is easy: the hair. It’s this very straight, wet, flat look that looks so good it should’ve become part of her official look.

He does another thing better than most people, and that’s depict action.

Violence in comics is weird. When it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and it just looks stupid. This is particularly true of the post-Lee artists, guys who draw in the remnants of one of your typical early Image Comics styles. That sort of overly built, action figure style really doesn’t lend itself to a proper portrayal of violence. It looks like action figures moving across a page while an unseen child goes “Pow! Pow!”

Comics art tends toward clean. Bryan Hitch, Stuart Immonen, John Romita Jr, Dan Jurgens, Mark Bagley, whoever whatever, they tend to draw these really neat scenes, clean lines, so on and so on. The action follows. It’s pretty clean and simple, and when people get bloody, it’s a very reserved kind of bloody. It’s not really that brutal. Mahnke, though. Everything this guy draws looks like it’s had a belt sander taken to it not five seconds before, and when he draws an impact, he draws it like it’s the only thing that matters on the page. You don’t even really need the sound effects at all.

Mahnke’s work isn’t interesting because of any particular attention to detail, I don’t think. It’s interesting because of how he approaches his subject matter. Some artists go for detailed draftsmanship and scale (Bryan Hitch), some for body language and realism (Frank Quitely), and some for photorealism (any artist with Photoshop and a host of garish filters). Mahnke… I think the key to his work is restraint.

He draws his characters very muscular, just on the far side of ripped, but not the usual steroid case you expect to see in comics. They tend toward the slim, but filled out. They’re just big enough to be superhuman, but not so big that they look overdone. It’s clear that they aren’t normal, but they aren’t so abnormal that they look ridiculous. They’re just right in that sweet spot between human and super. They work so well on the page because they’re believable.

But that’s all beside the point. When Mahnke draws people fighting, it looks good. The gritty way his lines end up, the slim but powerful figures (with real weight), and his ability to capture the perfect mid-action panel are just a few reasons why. David Aja does choreography, Jack Kirby did bombast, and Mahnke is good at finding just the right moment to freeze the frame.

It’s all about that right moment in time. Aja captures it fluidly and about as close to “in motion” as you can get on a comics page. Mahnke doesn’t have the same style or approach to comics as Aja does, but I don’t think that his is any less effective. There’s a page from Batman: Under the Hood where Jason Todd is beating the Joker with a crowbar. The final panel on that page, where the crowbar is in direct and intimate contact with the Joker’s face, hurts. It’s that moment after the impact, after the Joker’s head has started to turn, but before Jason’s completed his swing. It’s ugly, and that specific moment might be the ugliest.

You can see it in other books, too. Kyle’s limp form as Manitou Raven stabs him in the chest in JLA: The Obsidian Age. The part in Green Lantern where Carol Ferris has Sinestro’s arm blocked and is working her way around his throat. In Final Crisis, Frankenstein taking the head off a dog while his giant wolf thing chews through Wonder Woman.

Panels are always specific moments in time. That moment has to convey whatever feelings or actions are required to create a fully realized story. Creating the perfect panel is probably pretty tough, considering that you’ve not only got to draw well, but capture a specific moment in a scene.

If you’re too late, there’s no impact, no juice. If you’re too early, it’s all still just potential energy. Getting it right… that’s something to be respected. Some artists manage to miss that killer moment almost every time. Their art is just passable, just short of acceptable, but it gets a book on a shelf so I guess it has some value to someone. With Mahnke, though… I’ve never felt like that. His gunfights (as in Team Zero), his superhero battles (Justice League Elite), his brutal hand-to-hand (Batman), and even this sci-fi magic wishing ring stuff he’s doing over in Green Lantern… all of it looks right. It looks like it hurts.

(And honestly, if Doug Mahnke were the only person allowed to draw Wonder Woman and Lobo, I’d be a very happy camper.)

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Fourcast! 43: Superboy vs Marvel Boy

May 3rd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-Continuity off!
-Esther has Superboy.
-David has Marvel Boy.
Reign of Supermen, Young Justice, Superboy, Teen Titans, Adventure Comics.
Marvel Boy, several series David doesn’t bother to name, Dark Avengers
-Wow, this one went bitter in a hurry, didn’t it?
-Reading material: Marvel Boy by Grant Morrison and JG Jones and Superboy: The Boy of Steel by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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