What I’m currently reading – Comics: Epilogue

My epic summary of all my favorite comics has now concluded.

I shall now epilogue this blog series with a simple post about what I am currently reading.

 

In the end, I hate to say it, it’s still kinda about Marvel vs. DC.

Consider that both mainstream superhero comics are simultaneously promoting very similar continuity-rebooting crossovers about alternate universe locales being stolen away and various versions of characters fighting each other: Secret Wars and Convergence.

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I got a free preview for Secret Wars. Now all the universes are dying, and the Ultimate and 818 will combine! Or something. I do like Jonathan Hickman and followed his Avengers run, which all led up to this. Guess I’ll do the graphic novel eventually…

 

Convergence is interesting, in that it’s less of a big deal but it includes callbacks to DC eras I once enjoyed and now miss. Specifically the pre-52 DC of the 90s and 2000s! I do love that Wally West is the Flash and has a family, and Clark Kent is married to Lois Lane (by Dan Jurgens no less). What can I say? I’m sappy that way sometimes.

Also, I’ll definitely be reading New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and Nightwing/Oracle by Gail Simone.

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Speaking of DC and parallel Earths, Grant Morrison on Multiversity. I finally completed the story with the final issues and they are very, very good. Not Morrison’s best, but what could ever be that brilliant? Fun cosmic action as only he can do it, of course with many metafictional elements. One of the best things is that it’s self-contained without requiring endless crossovers to tell the story of Ultra and multiple Supermen against the archetypal hordes of cynicism. Perhaps there will be a sequel but I hope it doesn’t take too many years to come out.

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Speaking of brilliant, the highly literary League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil. I want to round out the Nemo trilogy with River of Ghosts. It’s already been out but I haven’t gotten the chance to purchase it yet. Damn you Hong Kong comic shops last week! After tthis hat, perhaps no Moore comics for another decade. So story of Captain Nemo’s daughter in Nazi South America better be good.

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Speaking of acclaimed British authors, Neil Gaiman. Sandman Overture, the late update to the 90s classic, has been coming out very slowly. The incredible art by J.H. Williams is worth it, but I may be regretting already buying the individual issues and not waiting for the inevitable reprint. Dreams, dreams, dreams.

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And speaking of Vertigo: Fables. The long-running series about fairy tale people hiding out in modern New York — the greatest currently published by DC/Vertigo — is ending after all these years. The trade paperback editions actually sell more than the magazine issues, so the final issue 150 will apparently also be a full graphic novel volume 22. That’s an amazing idea. But will take until late July to be completed by artist Mark Buckingham.

Whatever will happen to Snow White and rivalrous sibling Rose Red and the Camelot metaphor? I’m dying to know. Writer Bill Willingham hasn’t been apprehensive about killing off a lot of major characters; anything could happen.

So good, I even got my girlfriend to become a Fables fan.

Meanwhile, I’m catching up on spinoffs like Fairest.

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Can’t leave out my favorite Shonen Jump manga One Piece! By the hilarious Eiichiro Oda, Volume 74 has been released for over a month, how can I be so late?! Super stretchy pirate Luffy in the tournament and fighting against warlord Doflamingo must be one of the great all-time manga climaxes. Dressrosa, what a country. I heard a certain guy from Luffy’s past isn’t dead after all. I. Need. To. Read. Now.

All you people reading the scans are way ahead and even the anime is past that, yet I still insist on supporting the official Viz translation.

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And that’s it. Those are the comics I currently read.

(At least the ones I buy. No comment on pirated online and such.)

Thanks for following along with my blog, all you comics fans out there! It was fun sharing, and even if you aren’t a fan I hope I introduced you to some possibilities of new reading materials. Read and read alike, it’s good for you 🙂

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Geoff Johns – DC Comics 2000s

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Met at comic shop opening L.A. Comic writers are always such nice guys.

Geoff Johns largely WAS the face DC Comics of the 2000s, in my twenty-something resurgence as a hardcore comics geek I basically read every single one of his books that entire decade.

 

Note: Goodreads Shelf: Geoff Johns — that 68 at last count

 

Johns is not going to win any big literary awards and change your life, and that’s not the point. He is a great entertainer, a great storyteller, never dumbing down and utilizing the best aspects of the superhero genre. Throughout the 2000s, he was particularly skilled at taking complex continuity and streamlining into a way that pleased hardcore fans and newcomers alike. Nowadays is a different story, but that’s what it was like at the time.

I remember first discovering the former screenwriter’s first published Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. at the very beginning, a certain humble 12-issue series about the Star-Spangled Kid, an update on old Golden Age retired heroes. It was the perfect start. Nothing grim and gritty (although later I’d learned the main character Courtney Whitmore was based on Johns’ deceased sister), just fun comics with respect towards history.

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This also concerns Starman. Written by James Robinson in the 90s, Starman was one of DC’s finest works. Another legacy comic about a modern take on the Golden Age, Starman was very different from the norm. Jack Knight might be called a hipster hero today. His dad was the original Starman, and he was a normal, cultural guy with tattoos and good taste in movies, forced into the life.

Ultimately James Robinson ushered in the new JSA: the Justice Society of America. Thanks must also go to the success of the JLA at the same time, and DC was trying harder with classic team books.

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Geoff Johns wrote from issue 5 and up to the end, and it was something special indeed. Unlike previous incarnations of these characters in Infinity Inc., the new book was ambitious and quickly became the centerpiece of the DC Universe. Arguably more crucial than the Justice League themselves. The society saved the world, introduced new mythos, let the original Flash and Green Lantern and Wildcat mentor the next generation, and not to mention a return to glory for Hawkman.

 

As for solo heroes, Geoff Johns took over The Flash…

This was back in the Wally West days, not Barry Allen like the new show currently airing. Barry had died way back in the Crisis on Infinite Earths event in the 80s, long replaced by his now grown sidekick. Wally was more of an everyman hero, without a secret identity, but still very much in the mainstream superhero scene.

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Flash already had very high standards, thanks to the extremely talented Mark Waid, and Johns – joined by artist Scott Kollins – focused on Wally as a sort of working class hero in a pseudo-Detroit. The villains were given the utmost important, with the Rogue’s Gallery often being the stars.

The Flash became my favorite hero of all.

I still really miss Wally West…

 

Geoff Johns was gaining traction, and got noticed by Marvel Comics. He had a brief run over on the flagship title The Avengers, as well some other miniseries such as The Vision and The Thing. He did as well there as expected – he was perfectly suited to Captain American in particular. Sadly, it was over all too fast and Johns signed on to be exclusive with DC and the run abruptly ended after a mere 20 issues. Avengers after that became New Avengers  by Bendis and I was no fan; that was point I cut off all Marvel and focused only on DC.

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Geoff Johns kept going. Teen Titans debuted, fusing the 80s Titans fused with Young Justice. I didn’t love the art and I kinda missed Peter David, but it was very much worth reading. Robin, Superboy (now revealed to be… spoiler ahead… Lex Luthor’s clone!), and Impulse took up the mantle of Kid Flash.

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This would not be a post about Geoff Johns however, if I did not speak of his epics of epics: Green Lantern!

(Note many of the pics below I simply took myself, as I thought these comics worth saving in my China apartment right now)

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DC Comics – 1990s

Previous: Marvel Comics – 1990s

DC vs Marvel, the original nerd debate…

First of all, I grew up on Marvel. The House of Ideas, “Stan Lee presents…” all that. It sustained me during my awkward adolescence. And then, I grew out of it.

By the middle of my high school years, I was still very much obsessed with comics but my standards were higher. While Marvel always focused on art, DC focused more on writing. It’s a fact you can look up: in comics scriptwriting there is a style called the Marvel style in which the author makes a brief outline, and the artist effectively tells the story (like a film director) and afterwards the author fills in the dialogue. It evolved from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby doing a dozen comics a month during the Silver Age in the 60s.

DC is more traditional. They do scripts with all the panel layouts and details written in, and depending on how visual a thinker the writer that can include a lot of detail. Think of a film/TV script except the writer actually has authority. So while Marvel had all their famous artists  and had all their editorial-controlled characters in endless crossovers, DC had far more literary stories. Especially back in the 90s. Marvel always outsold the latter, but DC won awards and eventually even created the Vertigo imprint for more mature, adult-oriented work.

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For me, it mostly began with the seminal Death of Superman event. Remember that? Doomsday, the four replacements, the post-resurrection mullet. It was awesome! Like many casual readers, I ate that up. Unlike many others, I stuck around and went backwards and learned all about such histories as the Eradicator and so on.

However, an important character like Superman will soon get his own post. Batman as well. Then Vertigo, and various authors. This post is simply about DC in general in the decade.

Starting from that jumping point, Dan Jurgens was one of the main architects of the Superman mythos in the 90s and he was also briefly in charge of the Justice League. If you remember from the Death of Superman graphic novel, there was the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, Fire & Ice. That actually goes back to the 80s Justice League. (80s post next. It’s tricky writing these things going backwards chronologically.)

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Dan Jurgens was also unfortunately responsible for writing and illustrating the 1994 crossover Zero Hour. It was itself a pale shadow of the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths of the 1980s – again, next post – and frankly it wasn’t that good. Green Lantern turned out to be the villain, they tried to fix some continuity problems, and they released special issue number “zero”s with new origin stories.

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Some of the tie-ins were good, some weren’t. I read many of them. In doing so, I realized I had a lot of work ahead of me to master this new universe. Exciting times for an escapist teen… I proceeded to go to my local bookstore, back when Borders was a thing (RIP Borders!) and read all the graphic novels I could. I did my usual thing of searching for discount back issues at used markets. On Wednesdays I filled up my pull list with the best of DC.

Yes, the teenage me of the mid-90s really wanted to focus all his attention on learning about the DC Universe. Seemed like a good idea at the time, seemed I had nothing better to do. I am glad I did. The fondest memories of that age.

Let’s continue with writer Mark Waid and the Flash.

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Looks like the Flash is already getting some new buzz with the TV show. I heard it’s good. I’ll binge-watch it later.

The Flash does in fact have one of the greatest rogues gallery in comics, right up there with Batman in Spider-Man, and they’re called the Rogues. Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold, the Trickster, Grodd. There were many Flashes in fact, and my incarnation will always be Wally West the former Kid Flash. I loved that he had no secret identity, that he grew up in the community of superheroes. I enjoyed the generational and family elements with all the different Flashes. There was time travel, speedster ninjas, all you could want. None of that lame dystopianism that other superhero comics faked in bad attempts to be relevant; Mark Waid always knew how to write with heart and respect to the genre. Waid made Flash a must-read comic, added the Zen-style “speed force” to it all, and also created Impluse.

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Mr. Waid’s true opus was the 1996 miniseries Kingdom Come, brilliantly painted by Alex Ross of Marvels fame. While Marvels was about the past, Kingdom Come was about the future. With much commentary about bad 90s comics, the plot concerned an aging Superman coming out of retirement to save a bitter, cynical world from violent antiheroes.

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Every page contained a thousand references. This kind of story must be studied to be fully appreciated. I also liked the less-acclaimed followup, The Kingdom, which further fleshed out the setting of tomorrow.

Peter David was a fine writer, let me reiterate. While I first came across his writing in the X-Men spinoff X-Factor, and of course the Hulk, my favorite of his work was Aquaman (Also Supergirl, but about that later Superman post…)

Aquaman has always gotten an undeserved bad rap, damn you Superfriends cartoon! It was the 90s, they had to make him “badass” with the hook for hand and long hair. But I think it worked. I enjoyed the mythology of Atlantis, the politics of his being a king, and the revamped origin story in which he was raised by dolphins.

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Mid-Autumn Festival short story

I wrote this short story a while back — a short short or flash fiction really, and posted on Smashwords — to commemorate the Mid-Autumn Festival in China and to speculate on how mooncake plus the story of Chang’e going to the moon would be celebrated on a future Lunar colony Chinatown. More a premise than a narrative, I explore these ideas and more. Seemed to go over well for most people. Do enjoy:

 

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In Lunar Colony 01111001, Mid-Autumn Festival is a special time of the year. Especially so in the colony’s festive Chinatown. One of the four great holidays of the ancient Chinese tradition, for the colonists now living where Chang’e once flew, it has become the highest day of all. The irony is lost on no one.

Parades of Chang’e robots and glittering jade rabbits adorn the streets. People take a break from their mining and export duties, children have no school, and people the moon over enjoy eating mooncake.

Mooncake manufacture is a good business to be in. Wang Xing, the owner of the largest gene-splicing grain and proteinstuffs factory in the colony, and has subdivisions in lotus seed splicing as well. Yet he finds he spends most of his time in Chinatown with his family in the humble bakery where he started it all, mentoring his niece and expanding relationships with the Lunar elites.

Guanxi is very important, he would explain to young Xiao Yue, a first-generation Lunar and smallest of his family.

– Uncle, I’m very bored I want to play computer games! she scoffed.

It was the night of Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncake sales were very high. A full Earth was up in the sky, and trading vessels carrying ingredients and life-giving essentials were flying in. Wang Xing had diversified investments in eggs, sugar, chocolate, and icings; vertical integration as they call it in the business community.

Many customers were Chinese, of course, the labor class and their ilk. But in a tightknit community of interlunar expats and the growing importance of Luna-themed holidays for the new culture, the bakery had a diverse cast of clientele. Mooncakes were a commodity with ever-growing popularity. One customer of particular concern was an American consulate representative, Wang Xing’s most important contact. As everyone knows, America as first flag-waver boasts official colonial sovereign power over all Luna and any influence (in business and otherwise) must be fostered through certain friendships…

– Valued customer, what would you like? asked Wang Xing.

– Hello Mister Wang, said the American consulate representative. – You are always so kind. A box of your finest iced cakes sir.

– It is my pleasure, good sir.

That was all. The American left, their brief acquaintanceship to be refurbished for another day.

– Pay attention, Wang Xing said to his niece, – this relationship is like a seed. One day it will grow enormous fruits of wealth, of contracts and trade and untold fortunes, but in this early stage of growth only just the right amount of water and sunlight is needed.

– What is a seed?

– Oh my dear niece, your generation gives me worry.

That night, the family gathered to the roof of the dome and watched the full Earth. They ate the highest quality mooncakes, and though the burning of incense was forbidden due to high oxidation, it was still as nice a Mid-Autumn Festival gathering as Wang Xing could have hoped for.

– Uncle, asked Xiao Yue, ever precocious and curious, – why is this day called ‘Mid-Autumn’?

– Because we celebrate the middle of Autumn, the turning of the seasons, for the sake of the farmer’s calendar. That is of the ancient calendar, which is in fact Lunar, and ties so into our peoples’ history. And we celebrate this day here on the colony because we blessed to live in such times that we can enjoy being upon the moon itself.

– But I still don’t understand, she said. – What does ‘Autumn’ mean?

He paused for a moment, and thought of what to say. – You poor youths these days. I keep forgetting. Autumn is a cyclic time on the Earth that signifies when the leaves fall from the trees, and we transition from the hot days of summer to prepare for the frigid nights of winter. The seasons change, and every year we have our accompanying rituals.

– But what are seasons?

– Something that only exists upon the Earth. Scientifically, it has to do with the axis of the poles in proportion to the rotation of the sun, and every revolution brings a cycle of temperature and weather patterns.

– I see.  And all the Earth has these ‘seasons’, and we here in 01111001 just follow the pace?

– Not just the pace of the Earth. Because even what time is night and day varies across the Earth. Here in our Chinatown abroad, of course, we go by Beijing Shijian.

At this time Xiao Yue was no longer paying attention. Apparently satisfied with the answer, she found herself distracted with video consoles. Wang Xing sat, sipped at his rice wine, and looked at the Earth, his mind filled with the memories when he was her age.

– Why don’t we have our own festivals Uncle?

Xiao Yue pleasantly surprised him, and he suddenly awoke from his nap and turned to her. – A wise question, my niece. I presume, because we are an early culture still, we must wait for the culture to grow in its own time. For now, it is more prudent to respect the Terran past that has already been long-established.

– Uncle, I have another question.

– Yes, my niece. The old uncle was infinitely patient.

– Is Chang’e real?

– Pardon?

– Is she real?

– Yes I think so.

– But how can that be that Chang’e and the jade rabbit truly come up to the moon four thousand and five hundred years ago?! I was made fun of at school, all the other kids said it is impossible! They said that was before jet propulsions, and in class they said the American Armstrong was the first in Luna. Why do we say Chang’e was here first?

– In a sense, Xiao Yue is real and not real.

– What? But where is she now? Over in Colony 01101101, or on the dark side? Does she live in Tycho Crater? I think that would be a great hiding place!

– Xiao Yue, she is not hiding in the Tycho Crater.

– Oh, she said with disappointment.

– Listen to me. There are many kinds of truths, many kinds of places. Cheng’e is true, but somewhere else. Wang Xing smiled to her and tapped at his head. – There are scientific facts, of which you must study carefully and make good marks. And there is, in another sense, the metaphoric truth of mythology and dreams. I hope you can believe in symbols just as well. It is important. But it may take you a long time to realize this.

– Oh.

– Do you understand? he asked, knowing that she probably didn’t.

Xiao Yue confidently answered, – I understand.