Previous: DC Comics – 2000s
It’s been said that the comics scene — American superhero comics specifically, at least –is too much of a boy’s club. There are some legitimate criticisms in that, and I hope the field will prove more inclusive in the future.
I did like Louise Simonson’s 80s X-Men spinoffs, and Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi in the more indie vein. I grew up with Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2 as for Japanese manga. Japan has always had plenty of female-friendly markets, and independent comics are surely more diverse.
Yet I have to admit that throughout the 2000s, the largest bulk of my reading centered on mainstream comics (mostly DC) by these authors: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Mark Waid.
Do allow me to add one more to the list: Gail Simone!
And I hope I’m not coming across as too affirmative actiony here, I really am a big fan.
Ms. Simone started out gaining prominence in the scene with her Women in Refrigerators blog, making the point that violence against women is often a plot point to motivate the male protagonist. And that’s not a very cool thing if you want to get more readers of the other 50% of the population.
She started writing Deadpool for Marvel, though I never read it I have heard good things, helping to build up the popularity of the character who is getting a movie. Deadpool is dark comedy, which is one of Simone’s best styles.
She truly has a brilliantly sick sense of humor.
For me, it began with Birds of Prey by Chuck Dixon. The series was great, as previously mentioned Barbara Gordon had become crippled and turned her talents towards being a sort of superhero tech operator. She mainly sent Black Canary on Bond-esque missions.
Gail Simone took over the writing, and Oracle was further joined by Huntress and Lady Blackhawk. The series actually became even better.
There was a hiatus, and at the Brightest Day event she returned to Birds of Prey with a new number 1 and it was most certainly on my pull list. Although that only lasted 12 issues, because of Flashpoint. See why I don’t like reboots?
I enjoyed Birds of Prey plenty, and then I became a rather hardcore fan during the Villains United minseries as as part of Infinite Crisis crossover.
The premise was that all the villains were teaming up into a grand secret society, with an inner circle led by Deathstroke, Black Adam, Lex Luthor, and Talia al Ghul.
Villains United wasn’t actually about the society, it was about a ragtag group of villains who wouldn’t play along. Deadshot, from the old Suicide Squad I loved, and a re-amped Catman, Rag Doll, Bane, and the new character their leader Scandal Savage — the daughter of Vandal Savage They became the mercenary group Secret Six (I’d list all six, but it wasn’t stable as some died and were replaced).
I knew something awesome was in the works. Best antihero villains-themed cover ever. The Six eventually got another miniseries, and then a long-running series that I followed to the bitter end. More below.
Simone wrote Wonder Woman for a while there by the way, and it was very well-received. So rarely is the character done right, a lot of those mythological epics are hard to do well. The new mega-villain Genocide was introduced. With a tweaked origin and a barbarian saga in mind, ’twas no George Perez but still quite good.
And then I moved to China in late ’08.
I continued to read Secret Six throughout my time in China. I brought all my back issues with me. Bought the new ones at my comic shop in Hong Kong.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
I was so young then…
In 2005 or 2006 I met comic book writer Grant Morrison at a music festival in Los Angeles. It was an odd event in Echo Park, with many experimental bands playing at various stages, and at the same they had a workshop on the occult. Sadly, most people weren’t concerned about the workshop part.
I was ecstatic to hear that Grant Morrison would be there. He gave a fascinating interview. Seriously, you must youtube some videos of him immediately. Low-key event that it was, we got to chat personally for a few and he was nice enough to take a picture with me. I met his wife too.
I met him at Comic Con the following year as well, at events far more crowded, and he was still very nice. I won’t inundate with more pictures, however, I’m not that much of a fanboy.
For more here’s an particularly awesome video from 2000’s DisinfoCon introducing the tenants of chaos magic and how to do a masturbation sigil:
Note he’s Scottish.
And now my blog begins. Presenting the master of the Postmodern Superhero. The punk rock star of comics. My personal all-time favorite.
First things first, comparisons with Alan Moore are inevitable. They are both absolutely brilliant. They are both magicians. They both deconstruct the nature of the superhero like no other.
Yet, one is a mess of hair and the other is bald. One seems to be a misanthropic old man, and the other apparently has lot of fun as a writer. One hates all things mainstream, and the other is just fine with utilizing corporate characters as tools to tell the important stories.
Unfortunately, if you’re a Grant Morrison fan then you must be an Alan Moore fan as well but the reverse isn’t necessarily true. There’s a lot of overlap in themes, yet if you want to be an anti-mainstream purist you can skip Morrison. I think you would be missing out if you did that.
Anyhows, I am a great fan of both so what’s wrong with that?
As for me, I personally first came across Grant Morrison in my teens (though the story gets more interesting in my twenties), because of the huge phenomena that was JLA in the 90s. I was marginally interested, being that I followed everything important that was DC at the time, and the first volume was okay. Superman with a mullet notwithstanding. When I got to the Rock of Ages graphic novel, I was astounded. Then the following arc about the 5th dimensional beings left me well and truly mindfucked.
To me, the peak was the One Million crossover about time travel to 853rd Century. Great high-concept science fiction.
Grant Morrison has since further written Superman in such titles as All-Star Superman, Action Comics, which you can see my opinion thereof by following that link .
One of the random things I was into seeking back in the day was Flex Mentallo, a strange Vertigo piece about a corny superhero. I found issue 3 at discount, and spent years hunting down the full story.
It had everything: deconstructionism, metafiction, with groundbreaking art by frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely.
I contend that Flex Mentallo is superior to Watchmen. It takes a dissection of the superhero genre even further. And it’s funnier, wittier, with treatises on childhood trauma and cosmic abduction, and contains the classic line “Fredric Wertham was fucking right!”
It was so hard to get all four issues. The problem was that Flex Mentallo was a satire of the ‘hero of the beach’ and with republication risked getting sued by those old strongman ads. DC wouldn’t reprint a graphic novel for years. Back then, I bit the bullet and paid high prices on ebay and it was well worth it. Now, of course, there’s a trade.
Let’s go a bit more backwards, with Animal Man. The saga of Buddy Baker was one of Grant Morrison’s first forays into DC during the 80s British Invasion. This obscure hero was given a modern reboot, that quickly went from an essay on animal rights to some weird routes onto the nature of fiction. Combining Wile E. Coyote with Native American mythology, by the end it went full on metafiction. Most haunting of all was when Animal Man broke the fourth wall and looked directly at the audience, shouting “I can see you!”
Concurrently, Doom Patrol was a very interesting take on outcast heroics. The patrol were always a bit odd, a tad off, and Grant Morrison knew how to play to the strengths of that. Robotman as eunich, transgendered street characters, and most of all were the villains based off art history. Brotherhood of Dada anyone?
Not to mention Flex Mentallo first appeared in Doom Patrol.
These were all well and very, very good. However, Grant Morrison’s true opus came in the 90s with the Invisibles. By the time I got caught on, well after it was completed, I was generally getting into more esoteric subject matter. I was reading P.K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson. I was collecting Disinfo books. I was coming across these strange interviews with one Grant Morrison comic writer, on the subjects of chaos magic and higher consciousness. It was time to read more.
I ordered the entire set, and read on. Then I read them again, and a few more times at differing stages of my life. I’m about ready for a reread again.
The Invisibles is an epic take on Gnosticism and conspiracy theories, through the lens of an action comic, published by Vertigo. About a team of anarchists fighting the good fight against the forces of control in this world. It incorporated all kinds of references to psychedelic mythologies. All came to a head in that Singularity futuristic year of 2012.
It felt somewhat cathartic that my burgeoning spiritual path was overlapping with my love of comics and superheroes. I was doing it right all along. Much can truly be learned about human growth via the metaphor of the Superman. Thanks, Grant Morrison.
And, I may share that reading interviews on how Grant Morrison took LSD and other various chemicals for the sake spiritual experiences, that had an impact. Helped to encourage me with my own experiments utilizing psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine, legal or otherwise, rewiring some synapses within my nervous system in some arguably positive ways.
As always, reading books (and comics) can be such a bad influence!
I like to share. Over the course of this blog, I’ve shared my writings, some of my taste in music, and yes my love-life. However, one aspect that I consider very important to my identity has been rather neglected. I speak of my biggest hobby of all, my first love. Comics. There are many facets to the complexity that is me Ray, but if anyone is interested in truly knowing the core of my being then you must know that I am ultimately.. a bigass comic geek. I used to go to the comic shop every Wednesday. I used to scour for good deals at used bookstores and comic conventions. I collected thousands of periodicals across all genres, and filled my various bedrooms with dozens of boxes. At last count, I had about 40 boxes. They contain over a hundred issues each, do the math. I have less now, that’s another story, but still a ton of these back in my dad’s closet in Indiana of all places.
To introduce this series detailing my great interest in the sequential art form, let me begin with profile links from my extensive Goodreads:
According to my Goodreads shelves, I have read over 1000 graphic novels (I think it’s more, that’s just what I recalled to list)
There are all kinds, all genres. But I must admit mostly superhero- https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=superhero
Split into DC and Marvel (I’m more into DC, least I used to be) https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=dc https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=marvel
Also, quite a lot of Japanese manga
Such as the fun volumes of Shonen Jump https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=shonen-janpu
The “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka
I do, of course, contend that comics are as literature as prose books Noting DC’s adult imprint Vertigo
Indie as well, all that which defies classification https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=indie
My favorite authors:
I like to think that my life is just a collection of in-between stuff that doesn’t count, while the times that I travel are when I am truly alive.
Or is that my real life is simply peppered with the travel episodes, which are more like fill-ins that don’t count towards the greater narrative arc?
In any case, after some unimpressive hookups, I was ready. So ready. Travel.
America (plus Canada)
My biannual trip back home. Every other year, that’s plenty for me. And, my best friend was getting married!
I was the best man. It was a big deal.
I seem to always travel for weddings these days. That’s cool; it’ beats funerals.
So, I flew to Seattle. My first time in the Pacific Northwest. Over the next few weeks, I would travel to Portland and Vancouver as well (being my first time in Canada). As well as stopping by my hometown Cincinnati, of course. It was right at the cusp of 2012 and 2013, and it was damn cold. I saw winter snow again after years on end in the tropics, and I’m not quite used to it. For the most part, like the last time I went back to the real world West, it wasn’t that big a deal reacclimating.
Seattle seemed surprisingly average. I expected it to be more liberal and crazy. I don’t mean grungey stoners everywhere, but a few more rock show flyers and headshops would have been nice. Mostly it was average white people and average suburban settings, the kind the world imagines from American television.
My best friend picked me up and I proceeded to stay at his place in Tacoma. We went out to bars there, bars in Seattle, as I met his lovely fiancé and social group as we traveled around Pike Place Market, home of the world’s first Starbucks, and further lame tourism.
We celebrated New Year’s watching fireworks explode atop the Space Needle among the office workers. 2012 had come and went and the world did not explode as much as I’d hope. Sure the world is always evolving, however slowly, yet cosmic paradigm-shifting Singularities may be asking for too much.
Going to my hometown to see my family was uneventful. I took a week out to fly to Cincinnati, Ohio to see my mom and dad and sister and brother and several old friends. Ate food. Saw live music. Went to more bars. Some of which in Northern Kentucky which is still greater Cincinnati. The old friends who stayed in Cincinnati tended be the kind of people who just never leave home…
Remember Gwen? It was nice to see her again. She drove me around and invited me to her house and we caught up. Hung out with her growing son… And then met her new boyfriend. I sure didn’t have the confident swagger I had back in 2010. But good for her. Since then she isn’t the most active Facebook user to keep in touch with, but I have heard that she moved to the West Coast and I support her for that.
When traveling back home, it’s all about the people you meet. Still, when traveling back home, for me, a lot of it involves bookstores. To be more specific, a lot of it involves reading comics at booksstores. One of my favorite things to do in America is to simply go to Barnes & Nobles and sit down and catch up on graphic novels.
Naruto, One Piece, 20th Century Boys, and more manga. Transformers, the classic sort. I started to get into Judge Dredd. Fables, for Vertigo fix. Justice League & Aquaman by Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder’s Batman, Wolverine & the X-Men as authored by Jason Aaron. The indie masterpiece Habibi by Craig Thompson was a favored read.
Then I flew back. The wedding was underway. My friend immediately took me to Canon Beach, Oregon. Famed for that scene in the Goonies. A beautifully scenic beach town, though too bad it wasn’t the summer. We took residence in the hotel and rehearsed and set everything up, met some familiar faces and many more new ones. It was weird to see his family in Oregon, his mom and sister who were mere background when I was a teenager and we played video games in his house. It’s weird to meet your friend’s parents when you are an adult. I never know whether to call them by their first name or not.
It was good as weddings go. I can totally rock a suit, it’s a shame I wear a tie so seldom. There was the big party. Dancing. Photos along the shore. High-pressure afterparty. Staring at the stars at night. I made a brief speech, as my duties pertained. Now, according to movies, weddings were supposed to be a good place to meet girls. Let us just say it didn’t work out that way at all for me. I was not at all at the time of my so-called game. I’m not complaining, simply taking note.
And that was about it for Canon Beach. There was another old friend in town for the wedding, a great ol’ companion who followed me to Southern California and the place ended up suiting him more than it did me. He’s still there, living the good life.
While in Oregon, me and old friend decided more travel is always a good idea and went out to explore Portland. There was the proper super-liberal town I was waiting to see. Vegan donuts and graffiti and homeless people. I really loved Powell’s Books! Funny thing about Portland, it has the highest per capita of strip clubs of any city in America. Strip clubs where couples go and girls enjoy having a drink and it’s like a normalized bar-restaurant. With naked lady dancers. Contrast that with the gay bars there; while everywhere else I’ve lived has gay bars full of hip straight people, in Portland the gay bars are for real gays only. That’s the core of what I made of the city: strip clubs full of women patrons and gay bars with men only, and I found that odd.
Moreover, don’t you love the show Portlandia?
An interesting anecdote crossed my path. At a certain strip club, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a face that I swore I recognized from the news. It was MCAFFEY, the antivirus entrepreneur who was accused of drug-crazed murder in Belize and had recently escaped back to the United States. I was so starstruck, and I freaked out. It’s one thing to see a random B-list celebrity on the street in Los Angeles, it’s another thing to see someone fromthe news in real life. My friend made fun of me for shrieking and making such a big deal about it. I didn’t go up and ask for a selfie together, and that may have been a bad idea considering he had probably recently killed a man. Or he would’ve hacked my phone or something.
McAfee really was in Portland in January of 2013. Look it up.