Sunday, March 13, 2011

What If The Joker Went Straight?

Okay so The Joker isn't exactly an analogue for Max Damage, but I figure what The Joker represents makes sense.  Plus the Clown Prince of Crime is certainly a more recognizable name than if I had written "What if Black Adam..."

ANYWAY,  I just wrapped up reading the 15 issues of Mark Waid's "Incorruptible" that have been printed to date so I figured why not blog about it like I did about "Irredeemable" when I finished that up.

See "Incorruptible" is a sister title to that book, taking place in the same reality in which The Plutonian lost his mind and went from the world greatest hero to its greatest villain.  But in this book, the situation is's a story of what happens when the villain attempts to redeem himself.

The villain in this case is Max Damage, a man who had stood toe-to-toe with The Plutonian in the past and survived, a man who was essentially The Plutonian's arch-nemesis.  Super strength & invulnerability are Max's power set, but they come with certain trade-offs that, while not a major spoiler, is something I found clever enough to not want to ruin for the unfamiliar.

Max, along with his underage female sidekick Jailbait, were a duo capable of anything, most evidenced by his last near-crime that would have seen a plague unleashed upon the world.  In the moments before said plague was about to be released, The Plutonian unleashed hell upon the Earth and everything changed.  In that moment, something different opened up inside Max Damage and his path towards heroism began with a vengeance.

Essentially what Damage knows about being a hero is this: don't do what he did as a villain.  That is the credo he begins with and it leads to a rather intense sequence inside his underground lair.  The initial supporting cast is intriguing: an elderly cop & the barely legal sidekick, but it allows for two very different perspectives on Max's change.  With Jailbait there are number of questions: Is there redemption for a man who pulled a 16 year old girl into his life and, for lack of a better description, turned her out?  What kind of man does that?  How does she adapt to this new life of Max's? Is she even capable of following his new path?

And with the officer, Max has a parallel of sorts.  The cop, Armadale, seems to be a man undergoing his own life change.  Newly sober, apparently trying to tread the straight and narrow as a cop, he is a man who can understand the desire for change that Damage is experiencing.  In addition, he also seems to have some back story that is of yet unexplored.

As for Max, the biggest challenge is obviously convincing anyone that he is a different person.  When a man has committed the atrocities that Max has in the past, it's difficult...if not accept he is now a "hero".  It's almost the same situation as with The Plutonian, but in that case, it was impossible to believe the avatar of good had now become the poster child for evil.  For every good moment that set The Plutonian into his position, there was an evil moment on behalf of Max Damage.  Yin and Yang I suppose, and Max is best defined at one point as "...dangerous because he'd do things just to create fear, no other motive. Modeus was smarter, but Max was more threatening, because his anger was indiscriminate."  How does the average person possibly grasp the idea that a man like that has suddenly stepped into the light?  Is that even something comprehendible to the average man?

That is the story of "Incorruptible" more or less.  The story of salvation and change, but not just for Max, it's also for the people around him and how they too are capable of becoming something...more, something better.  Given that this is taking place within the same world as "Irredeemable" there is crossover with the characters & events taking place in that book.  Alana Patel, The Paradigm, certain aliens, they all make appearances in this book and some of the specific story points spill over as well.  The two books certainly feel tied to one another, but each has its own sense of identity...not just a case of reading the same story from two different perspectives.

"Incorruptible" is much more the street-level story, the tale of what happens to the common man in the wake of The Plutonian snapping.  This book shows how the rampage of the most powerful being on earth impacts the cities and the world in which "Irredeemable" takes place.  The rise of a White Supremacist movement in Plutonian's name, survival in the remnants of Sky City, the government, the businesses, just the reaction of the common man to the events happening in their world.  Yes Max Damage is a super-powered being but he is on the streets not floating in the sky above it all.  He's driving/running on the roads, not teleporting across the world, so the effects of The Plutonian's turn are in his face much more than in those of The Paradigm. 

This is a book that fleshes out the world around the super powered heroes/villains and adds another layer to The Plutonian story that there just isn't room for in "Irredeemable".  And even though he hasn't made a single appearance in this book, The Plutonian is still a constant presence hovering over all the events that take place in Max Damage's corner of the world. 

I'm excited to see how the story of this book plays out, of how much of the world will be explored as the saga of Max Damage progresses.  I think my interest is not, as of yet, at the level of my interest in "Irredeemable" but it is still quite high.  The impact Max has already had on the lives of people in his short existence as a hero has been quite sudden, particularly on the characters of Headcase & Alana, and with the way the most recent issue closed, that impact is only just beginning. 

Will Max Damage ever be embraced as a hero?  Is he even looking for that public acceptance? Those are just a couple of the questions that I eagerly anticipate the answers to as Mark Waid unfolds his story.  I certainly recommend this book to any readers who may have picked up "Irredeemable" already but have yet to look into "Incorruptible".  I initially thought the idea of "bad guy goes good" wouldn't be as interesting as its opposite, but I'm happy to see that Mark Waid has proven me wrong.

To pick up "Incorruptible" yourself click here: Incorruptible on Amazon, and for more info on the series head on over to the BOOM! website via the link over there on the side.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

All Star Superman: The Comic/The Movie

Eisner Award winning for "Best New Series" & 2-time "Best Continuing Series".
Harvey Award winning for "Best Artist" & "Best Single Issue"
Eagle Award winning for "Favourite New Comic book", "Favourite Comics Cover", & "Favourite Colour Comicbook - American" Eagle.

"All Star Superman" netted all those industry awards, and I'm sure plenty more, during a run that lasted twelve issues, intended as a bi-monthly release, but in typical Morrison/Quietly fashion, took just a little shy of 3 years to release (Jan. 2006 - Oct. 2008).  Thankfully I didn't pick up the book until it had already been traded...

The setting of "AS Supes" is one in which Grant Morrison plays in a world totally seperate from DC continuity, and seperate from the similarly established "All Star Batman & Robin" that ran around the same time frame. 

And Grant doesn't waste anytime with origins & establishments.  One brilliant, beautiful page lays out the origin story in 4 panels with two words each ("Doomed planet, desperate scientists, last hope, kindly couple.") followed by the image I chose up above for this blog.  Those words, and accompanying images, work so wonderfully because Grant embraces the idea that EVERYONE knows who Superman is, and EVERYONE knows how he got here.  I think it's safe to say that that isn't far from the truth...

The reader is dumped straight into the middle of a rescue mission, the thing Supes does best, and in a location only he could possibly survive unaided: the middle of the sun.  The art is stunning, the dialogue fantastical, but the content marks the doom of the big blue boyscout.  As is slowly revealed, Lex Luthor has essentially used Superman's own nature against him in order to bring about the Last Son of Krypton's ultimate demise.  A trip to the sun caused his body to absorb more solar energy than it could possibly contain and as a result his cells are literally bursting with an energy his body can barely contain.  Everything about Superman is amplied three-fold, but eventually it will burn him out and he will die.  That's your story for the 12 issue run of "All Star Superman", and Luthor's sad motivation for the elaborate game: to rid the world of Supes so he can finally use his genius to save it.

The Lex Luthor presented by Morrison/Quitely fascinated me like no depiction before him.  This Luthor is a classroom bully but he could also teach the class, he is the captain of the football team who ends up with a full scholarship based solely on his academics, he is a man not content with just being a mental paragon, but he apparently also must be the physical embodiemnt of perfection as well.  I belive the quote, as Luthor insists the bumbling Clark Kent squeeze his bicep, was "It's easy to be strong when you just happen to to have come from the planet Krypton! This takes hard work!"

Lex has frequently been depicted as a man jealous of Superman, of a man stifled by Supes very existence, but I think "AS Supes" is the absolute perfect depiction of the faults of this potentially great man.  He blames Superman for his lack of effort in improving the world.  He states that every man feels inferior to the alien, even tries to suck Clark into this train of thought by using Lois Lane; that if not for Supes: "...perhaps cool, cruel Lois Lane might actually have noticed good old Clark sighing faithfully there in the corner."  The statement Clark makes that Superman and Lex could have been friends couldn't seem more impossible because this is a Lex obvlivious to the inherent faults in his arguments

Then there is Lois Lane.  In this world, much like the "real" one, Lois is the target of both Clark & Superman's affections and there is that moment where Clark reveals himself to Lois.  Big difference here is that Lois refuses to believe this is anything more than Superman tricking her.  She even confesses to earlier attempts at proving Clark was Superman but she met with no success.  This Lois doesn't want to believe no matter what Superman says, and it lends a touch of humor to a book that has great sorrow at its core.  Still the romance between the two characters, whirlwind as it is, features some truly touching moment including an awesome lunar spin on the classic Supes/Lois flight over the city as well as Ms. Lane playing Superwoman for a day.  The relationship between the two of them is as iconic in 12 issues as it has been over the last 70+ years.

That's just a look at the three core characters of this story.  There are wonderful Jimmy Olsen moments, including an entire issue devoted to his "day in the life" takeover of a CADMUS-type science project called, well, P.R.O.J.E.C.T.  There's Doomsday, Bizarro, the Bottle City of Kandor, and Parasite just to name a few of the staples of the Super-Verse that show up in Grant's world; as well as a certain pet villian of Grant's.  There are the labors of Superman (a la Hercules) that play out across the whole of the series in ways that are subtle and in ways that are loud.  But the most touching issue was certainly the flashback one detailing the Smallville relationships of Clark Kent, his interaction with future Supermen, and the best game of fetch every played!

That same issue also features one of the saddest, most emotionally intense pages of the series...maybe even comics in general.  But it all matters....

See the way the story unfolds is masterful, with each moment feeling important in light of the impending doom Superman, and the reader, know is waiting with each turn of the page.  And when it all ends, it really couldn't end on a better more appropriate note.  This is how a run comes full circle with the beginning having a direct correlation to the end, and a Lex Luthor who may finally get it.  Funny thing though, I don't think there's a single moment where Lois calls Superman "Clark". 

Still the power of the arc, hell the strength of Superman as a character, is best summed up by another man who I just wrote about, Mark Waid, in his foreword to the Vol. 2 Hardcover..."Gods achieve their power by encouraging us to belive in them.  Superman achieves his power by believing in us."

Now on to the 2nd part of this review, a look at the "All Star Superman" animated movie...  

The Blu-Ray was released on February 22nd but I finally got the time to sit down and watch it just today.  Suffice to say that I thought it was visually brillant, capturing the look of Frank Quitely's unique art as perfect as could be expected.  The voices were spot on, the dialogue pulled straight from the page, with a few moments extended or added to enhance the story.  At 70 minutes, the movie fit in as much of the source content as it could without sacrificing the absolute essential plot moments, but there is still a great deal of material that doesn't see the screen.  Some of those moments being the most powerful.

There is no film version of the flashback issue nor the super-cool Jimmy Olsen issue.  There is no room for the Bizarro story, which is a damn shame because that would have been an amazing thing to see animated.  A lot of the details of P.R.O.J.E.C.T are sacrificed for time so the viewer doesn't get to see the awesome uniquely Morrison scenes that make up that scientific world.  None of the omissions detract from the overall story, but they offer the finer points to the tale that only could have been included with another 10-20 minutes tacked on to the film.  And I wish a certain moment from issue 10 would have found it's way on-screen because it truly shows Superman at his most...human.

The biggest complaint I have with the movie is its treatment of Lex Luthor in the closing of the film.  Without playing spoiler too much, what animated Lex has to say after Superman tells him "You could have saved the world years ago if it mattered to you, Luthor." is not something comic book Lex would have EVER stated.  And the very last Luthor moment, the moment of redemption, is so far out of character for what has been established that, if it wasn't for the actual close, it would certainly sour the end of movie.

"All Star Superman" has been one of my favorite stories in recent memory and it was very cool to see it brought to life in another form. All told, the movie is a worthwhile buy, especially given the sneak peek at "Green Lantern: Emerald Knights", the couple Superman animated episodes, and the awesome Grant Morrison "Making Of" documentary.  There's also a commentary track with Grant that I have to go back and rewatch the movie with.  If you're fan of the book, you will enjoy the movie and I hope anyone who watches the movie without reading the book goes on and picks it up. 

"You're much stronger than you think you are." - All Star Superman #10
(another amazing moment missing from the movie)

If you're interested enough to check them out, here's the links to both comics & movie (I don't get anything for these links):

And if you're interested in reading Grant Morrison's proposal that eventually became "All Star Superman" check this out:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What If Superman Went Nuts?

I was recently introduced to a wonderful piece of comic book work known as "Irredeemable".  A creation of, and written by, Mark Waid,  largely drawn by Peter Krause, it's published by BOOM! Studios which also puts out Stan Lee's current creations, many Disney tie-ins, as well as books by Phillip K. Dick, Howard Chaykin, Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, and many more.  It's a publisher with a very eccentric line of books from "Darkwing Duck" to "Muppet Sherlock Holmes" to "Irredeemable" and its companion book "Incorruptible".  Now I haven't read any of the other titles from this publisher, but just based on subject matter alone, it's safe to say that BOOM!  has something for everybody.  Which brings me to "Irredeemable"....

The title of this blog is essentially the premise for this series: what would happen if a being as powerful as Superman went nuts?  What if Kal El decided he no longer cared about humanity?  What if he decided that humanity had to be punished?  Whatever visions those statements stir in your mind...that is what happens when The Plutonian reaches those points.

"Absolute power brings with it absolute responsibility. And the pressure Plutonian felt to never make the slightest mistake for fear he'd hurt people and lose their love was incalculable. It finally broke him...and when it did, it unleashed in him a lifetime of pent-up rage and frustration." - "Irredeemable" Special #1

See The Plutonian is a Superman-esque character, but his specific origin is still unknown.  Alien? Mutant? Science experiment?  At this point it's anyone's guess, but what is known is that he was a foster child passed around from family to family as soon as the parents found out about his powers.  Eventually he settled on a name, Daniel Hartigan, and blended. 

The story is told from the perspective that Plutonian has already flipped his wig, decimated Earth, and murdered millions.  The surviving members of the team he was once a part of, The Paradigm, are left to put together the pieces and figure out just what went wrong with the most powerful man on the planet. 

I won't play spoiler for this story because, for something like this, it would completely ruin the moments that dropped my jaw or caused me to utter "holy shit" as I read.  That is something I would not want to rob a person of if they know nothing of this story.  It wasn't done to me, and it would be unfair to do the same to another unfamiliar reader.

Suffice to say that as this story unfolds, the moments that drive The Plutonian over the edge are completely understandable because, obviously on a much less cosmic scale, I think it's safe to say every person has had a moment where they so completely disappointed themselves or the people depending on them.  The question becomes what does one do in that moment?  Do you curl up into a ball and cave in? Do you suck it up and solider on? What do you do when something catastrophic happens to your life?

On the other hand, how would you react if everything you do is meant with some level of grumbling disapproval if not disdain?  How does a cop feel as he attempts to apprehend a suspect but is greeted with disrespect & taunts from the very people he is trying to help?  Is it insecurity that causes the saved to resent the savior? Or does the courage of a man (or superman) risking himself to help others merely point out the failings of those being helped?  For example, there is a moment where The Plutonian saves a baseball game under attack from a giant robot, and while the majority cheers, a man with super hearing can pick out the insults and mockery littered throughout.  At what point do those jeers become louder than the cheers and become more than a man can handle?

It's these sort of questions that are truly at the heart of "Irredeemable", along with the idea of whether or not someone is ever beyond the point of salvation.  For this reader, looking at this character and everything he has done, I find it almost impossible for him to ever be redeemed.  He truly lives up to the title of this series, and although there is no one in reality that could ever perpetrate the horrors The Plutonian does, it's almost a necessary question to ask yourself while reading if the same idea crosses over into real life.

Maybe I'm extending the ideas of the series farther than intended, but I think the idea of a person being beyond salvation is something that may pop into your head as well while reading this.  Take out the ideas of genocide on a global scale or Irredeemable's own Coast City moment, and minimize it down to a man responsible for multiple homicides or, and I know this is a touchy subject, a sex offender.  Our judicial system operates under the idea that man can be rehabilitated, that man can be saved, that someone can pay a penance (be it years in jail or holy confession) and come out a "better" person. 

Whether or not that is true...I believe it's something that operates on a case by case basis, there is no simple solution or tidy package in which to wrap up the answers.  Every person is different and whatever works for one person, likely won't work for the other.  There will always be someone who thinks the offender can be saved, fixed even, and there will always be their counterpart who believes there is no redemption, that some crimes, and their perpetrators, are absolutely unforgiveable. 

Both POV's are represented in "Irredeemable" through the various members of The Paradigm, as well as the opportunity to see how the (re)actions of the group play into successive situations.  What happens to the psyche of a man who finds a way to stop the unstoppable? What do you do when you find out one stupid moment of weakness unraveled it all? 

The questions this book asks of the players on the page, as well the readers, are ones least for me...extended beyond the pages.  This series is something highly recommended...something I think I would put on par with the best of Grant Morrison, the best of Geoff Johns, something that has a true resonance to it and...well I will close this with a quote from Grant Morrison's afterword in Volume 1 that really sums it all up...

" dares to look directly into the demonic churn of recrimination, fear, entitlement, and rage that drives our media discourse.  Its spits venom across the you're-too-thin, too-fat, too-clever, too-stupid, too-old, too-young, too-flawed, too-human black hole of self-loathing judgement that spins at the centre of our culture and threatens to devour us all."

Pick it up here: "Irredeemable" on Amazon