Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Captain America: Winter Soldier Part 2 (yup spoilers here too)

In case you can't find it on here, here's a link to Part One of this blog for your perusal: Winter Soldier Part 1.

Now to pick up where we left off as Winter Soldier is definitively revealed to be Bucky, and then he blows up a part of Philadelphia.  What a way to make an impact huh?

So we start up this volume with a one page flashback to the moment where a certain Russian military man named Karpov (see it all ties in) first hears the news that the Germans had blown up Captain America over the Channel Islands.

Back to present day as Steve Rogers is forced by Nick Fury & Sharon Carter to face the truth...that Bucky is the Winter Soldier, and that he is one bad dude.  It's not surprising that Steve refuses to accept the truth, despite all that he has experienced and seen, as he also refused to accept the truth about Red Skull initially.  Steve Epting manages to perfectly capture the emotion of the moment in such panels as when Sharon is holding her head in her hands, or Cap, his eyes closed, says to Fury "You expect me to believe that Bucky is still alive...that he's working for the enemy...that he's responsible for what happened in Philadelphia last night?"

This marks the transition to last night in Philly as the reader sees the fallout from the explosion at the end of Volume One.  It's this sort of transition in the script/art that I have really appreciated in Cap thus far.  It's almost cinematic in nature and just feels...different...than your usual comic book cut from present day to flashback.

The initial look at the Philly scene is wonderfully rendered, as much as utter destruction and chaos can be, and strongly demonstrates how on the edge Cap is when he encounters the AIM squad (one of who just executed a husband and wife, "No witnesses").  And there is just something so telling about the series of panels that include this one:

(couldn't find the page solo, just this card version)

Cap stands there, surrounded by a squad of MODOCs, and simply utters the words, "All right...let's go", before we return to the debriefing in SHIELD HQ.  The Steve Rogers that Ed Brubaker presents to the audience is a hardcore, bad ass personality who exudes a confidence in his abilities that belies his humbleness as a person.  He firmly believes in a set of ideals and will do anything to protect those beliefs, and defend his country.  This is a Captain America that I never knew existed, and quite frankly, I'm not sure existed prior to Ed Brubaker getting his hands on the character. But I digress...

In the debriefing, Fury elaborates on the history of the Winter Solider that had largely been considered Cold War myth save for a handful of photographs over the decades that showed a man, despite all the time that passed between, only aging a small number of years.  But despite the photographic evidence, despite everyone else connecting the dots, Steve Rogers still refuses to see the obvious.

Back to Philly as Fury essentially asks Steve what he saw with his own eyes, but before that happens, we get a dynamically rendered Steve Epting fight scene between Cap & the MODOC's.  The fight ends, Bucky saves Cap, and we get this...

It's amazing, as we come back to reality, how unwilling Steve is to accept what he witnessed for himself.  "I don't know what I saw..." is all he has to offer before taking one more look at the photo evidence and lashing out at the monitor.  SHIELD's hunt is on for Lukin, as he's the suspected culprit behind Philly, but you know Steve only has Bucky on his mind.  And speaking of, we get a flashback to that first page of the Volume as Karpov hauls "something" into his sub...that something turns out to be the one-armed apparent corpse of Bucky.

The 2nd chapter of the volume (ish 9 for those keeping track) marks a moment that will go on to haunt the Marvel U for many years to come as Crossbones breaks into a government Re-education Facility to abduct some girl.  Who you ask?  Well I had no friggin' idea when I read this the first time so I'm holding back that information for a bit...

As we get back to Cap, Sharon, and SHIELD the reader gets another example of how well Brubaker uses flashback to flesh out the story...it comes off akin to watching the memories of these characters unfold before us rather than being told what happened.  Not sure if that makes sense how I'm explaining it but, as I said before, the flashback scenes as Brubaker writes them just feel different.  And the back-to-back flashbacks from Steve & Sharon to Steve & Fury just flow so well with the couple page "in the moment" bridge between them. 

This whole sequence though really demonstrates the relationship between Fury & Cap, the respect inherent in their relationship despite Fury's shadiness, as Nick risks an international incident to, in part get after Lukin, but in truth to allow Cap to get his hands on the man who may be steering the Good Ship Bucky.  The assault allows the reader to get another look at how close to the edge Cap is, and lets us see just how deep Lukin has his hooks into the US Government AND ROXXON which one of the major corporations in the Marvel U.  Lukin is insulated by these relationships, and with the Cosmic Cube in his possession, he also has the power to protect himself.

Before we close out this chapter, Brubaker takes us back to Crossbones and that random girl he kidnapped.  Turns out she's not so random, she's Synthia Schmidt...the Red Skull's daughter...Sin of "Fear Itself" infamy.

Page one of the next chapter, issue 11, is the reader's first real insight into the effects the Cosmic Cube has on its holder. Lukin is talking to someone but the second panel clearly show there is no one else in the room though, and the 5th panel gives you a jagged little bubble to indicate his secretary on the phone, so his conversation wasn't a speaker phone one.  His look at the Cube as he wonders "...what have you done...to me...?" about sums this page up.

As for the rest of this chapter, well it is info dump time for the benefit of the reader and Steve Rogers as well.  See the Project: Winter Solider file that Lukin was looking for on page one has somehow found its way to Cap's apartment so the whole of this issue is devoted to Cap's reading of that file.  This entire issue is made by the art of Epting; the text from the file is written as doctor's notes so it's not a dry read, but nevertheless it is still a giant info deposit into the brain bank and that has the potential to be boring even in the pen of the most talented scripter.  It is the art that truly makes this come to life for the reader as Epting depicts the blank slate of Bucky that came out of the water sans his left arm and brings to life his (de)evolution to the Winter Soldier.  The brutality of the Soldier is contradicted by the moments where Bucky goes walkabout in the United States and Epting depicts a man who looks lost in familiar surroundings.  Bucky has this look on his face in one panel that's like he recognizes his environment but isn't sure WHY he knows it.

The dialogue accompanying the file switches from the doctor's notes to the personal journal of Karpov, the man who found Bucky in the water, circa 1983.  This is the first time the reader gets an insight into the machinations inside Karpov's mind and an answer as to why he had done to Bucky what has been done.  Karpov wrote, "It will never make up for what he and his people did to me in the war, how they shame me in front of my own men, but even after all these years, it still makes me msile to see Captain America's partner serving Mother Russia."

And with one last entry from 1988, we see the intended final fate of the Winter Soldier as Karpov instructed he be decommissioned, a fate he probably would have lived out forever if not for Karpov's protege Lukin & the Red Skull back in issue 1.  And the kicker to the whole issue?  Steve's flashback to a night at the movies with Bucky back in the 40's as they see a newsreel of themselves in action.  The more light-hearted Bucky attempts to liven up the moment but the ever-serious Steve isn't having it.  We see the turth depth of Bucky in this memory, but we also get to hear a crushing line of dialogue from Bucky that really sinks it home just how hard this is hitting Steve..."Sometimes I think if you didn't have me, there wouldn't be a single person in the world who really understood you..."

Lukin and the Cosmic Cube hit NYC as he looks to auction one of the most powerful artifacts in the Marvel U, an artifact that Cap, Sharon, & Fury don't realize he even has at this point. They think the fact that the file ended up in Steve's apartment and that the gun used to shoot Red Skull was so easily found are just examples of Lukin playing mind games.  The truth with Luking seems to be something more...sinister, but the truth about Bucky is actually hopeful.  The information in that file gives weight to the idea that Bucky was not in control of his actions as the Winter Soldier, but Steve sees it as something more tragic.  He sees a man trapped inside of himself repeatedly fighting to get free...that though also gives us a flashback to the moment that Steve & Bucky first met.

Back to the auction as it takes a turn for the frightening when Lukin basically says to hell with the auction and uses the power of the Cube, when asked for a demonstration, to create contracts from thin air and influence the men present to sign over their respective corporations to Lukin's Kronas Corporation.  Oh, and then he beats his assistant with a table for trying to touch the Cube.  Stable huh?

Steve makes his way across town, arguing with himself all the way about Bucky, and sparking a memory about a moment in 1944 where they encountered what were essentially zombified American soldiers who had been lobotimized by the Nazis.  Bucky's reaction to the horror, and to how they men weren't in control of themselves as they attacked fellow American soldiers, is the key here.  And we close with another friend, probably Steve's closest since his rebirth, making his arrival on scene:

Now aside from reading the "Captain America: Disassembled" trade, I really have no idea of the history between Sam Wilson & Steve Rogers.  But I feel comfortable making that assertation about their relationship because of how intimately Brubaker writes them.  I mean of all people for Nick Fury to call when he thought Steve needed a friend; it wasn't Iron man or Black Widow or some other Avenger, it was The Falcon.

And the conversation between those friends is wonderfully juxtaposed by Lukin in the medical facilities at Kronas with his firned that he just beat the life out of in a psychotic fit of rage.  The shots of the blood on Lukin's hands are wonderful, as is the very telling phrase "This cannot continue".  Something is slipping within Lukin, especially went contrasted with the man who was very joyless in his execution of Red Guardian in issue #1.  Sam & Steve on the other hand try to figure out how to handle the Bucky situation while expressing their fears about the Cube being in Lukin's hands.  Sam makes note of how the Cube tends to negatively effect the users while Steve ignorantly talks about how Lukin's been flawless so far.  In truth, it doesn't even seem like Lukin is in control either.  Not with the Winter Solider file ending up in Steve's hands for one example.  That was obviously not in the plan......which leads to Lukin having Winter Soldier take the Cube away while that little voice from before tells him "It's a big mistake".  There's a little moment during the Winter Soldier/Lukin exchage as well where orders are questioned...seems the programming might be getting a little sketchy at this point.

Iron Man joins the party for an assault on AID (Advanced Ideas in Destruction, an AIM Splinter Group) in which the trio gets the knowledge on how to track a Cosmic Cube (there's multiples of this thing???), but Tony Stark can't stay with the party for the raid.  Business concerns and what not, stuff Steve readily understands.  And as the penultimate chapter of "Winter Soldier" closes, Bucky lines up both Cap & Falcon in his sights, and a shot is fired...

...at Falcon.  Bucky misses, the shield flies, and the assault begins.  In short order Falcon deals with the grunts while Cap runs off in search of Bucky, and we finally get the man-to-man fight between these old friends.  As the fight begins Cap states, among other things, "I can't fail you again..."

The fight continues on as SHIELD arrives but when push comes to shove, and Steve challenges Bucky to just shoot him, the Winter Soldier fires a shot but one Steve easily evades.  A toss of the shield knocks the Cube from its bag, Steve picks it up, and with the words "Remember who you are"....

...It all comes back...

Bucky remembers, calls Steve Cap, and uses the Cube to apparently remove himself from the premises.  Sharon thinks he committed suicide, Cap knows better, and as we quickly see, Bucky has returned to the very place where he first met Steve Rogers.  But the game isn't quite done yet, one last visit to Lukin as this Volume ends, and we find him in mid-conversation once more. Only now, as the conversation progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious just who Lukin is talking to...

The friggin' Red Skull is trapped inside Lukin's head?!?!? WTF!?!? That is some seriously crazy shit, but completly plausible given the extremely unpredictable nature of the Cosmic Cube & the expressed fact that nothing good every comes to the user.  And this is where Brubaker leaves us as Volume Two ends....

I must say, these two volumes are one hell of a ride, especially for someone like me who never found any interest in Captain American prior to these issues.  It was a character I found visually cheesy, and my limited exposure to him via random Avengers issues did nothing to really get my into Mr. Rogers.  Brubaker turned that all around very quickly with wonderful characterization, an easy to follow yet engrossing story that wasn't any less impactful when I didn't know the history, and having an artist at the level of Steve Epting illustrating your work certainly doesn't hurt.  His is the measuring stick by which I compare any Cap artist now, and Epting also gave me a definitive take on the Red Skull in only the first issue.

And the true beauty of this story for me is how it lays groundwork, whether intentional or coincidental, for stories that would go down years later.  There are repeated allusions to SHIELD psych evaluations which become a major part of Brubaker's mega-story following Cap's death, the  (re)introduction of Sin in this volume has long term repercussions that are being felt now with the "Fear Itself" event currently rocking the Marvel U, and even the off-hand reference to Red Skull existing in a clone of Steve Rogers actually plays into the "Reborn" arc a few years down the line.  If this are things that were planned, absolute genius, even if they weren't planned but rather a story that just unfolded as Brubaker wrote, even more impressive. 

Even now, reading this back several years later, and probably for the 15th time (if not more) I am still amazed at how emotionally invested I can get in a story so familar.  I know the outcome, I know the beats, but each time I feel like I'm finding something new.  Never really picked up on the whole psych evaluation thing until this time out for example.

So for anyone who is a fan of Ed Brubaker but hasn't read his Cap, or for someone who saw the movie and now wants more Cap, this is the story arc for you.  It's a perfect jumping on story, and it is the foundation for the stories that continue to this day in the Captain America comic.  Do yourself a favor, buy these trades, the Omnibus, track down the back issues, whatever the case may be, just read it and read it soon.  You won't regret it....

As for the future of Cap after "Winter Solider", well I'm still debating on whether or not to continue thru Brubaker's run with the "Red Menace" trades that followed, or if I want to move onto something else.  Either way, get those too as it really evolves the Crossbones/Sin/Red Skull/Lukin story into crazy territory and we begin to see what the future holds for Bucky.

As for the long term stuff, well I am currently in the process of trading in my issue-by-issue collection of Brubaker's "Captain America" for the Omnibus & Hardcover offerings so my individual books are now up on Ebay: My Captain America Auction. 

If you'd like to me to keep going with Brubaker's Cap, let me know through e-mail, blog comments, facebook posts, or twitter.  I'm currently reading the "Red Menace" and "Cap: Civil War" trades for my own pleasure, so it wouldn't be too much to keep on going....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Captain America: Winter Soldier (SPOILERS AHOY)

I was never a Captain America fan growing up. I'm not sure why exactly, no specific reason I suppose, he just wasn't a mutant, not an X-Men, so I didn't particularly care.  Probably the same reasons I never got into Daredevil, The Avengers, Hulk, or any of the numerous X-Gene devoid characters permeating the Marvel Universe.  I did have one random issue of Cap though, something my Grandmother picked up at a garage sale probably.  If I like one comic I must like them all being the mentality I suppose...

At least it had a mutant connection of some sorts with Magneto's involvement, too bad it turned out to be a robot (hope I didn't spoil that for anyone 20 years post) but at least it had some Ron Lim art (big fan of that when I was younger). 

So suffice it to say when I wandered into my usual comic shop (Bagged & Boarded RIP) in late 2006/early 2007 the last thing I expected to buy was a Captain American trade.  But on recommendation from a guy whose opinion I had come to trust despite him being born yesterday (thanks Kevin, you haven't steered me wrong yet), I picked up the first volume of Ed Brubaker's "Winter Soldier" arc.

Now between Brubaker's writing, and the pencils of Steve Epting, I figured I was in for at least a decent read with some great art.  I knew Brubaker from "Batman" & "Gotham Central" with DC as well as "Uncanny X-Men" & "X-Men: Deadly Genesis" from Marvel, and had always liked his writing.  As for Epting, well he had long been one of my favorite artists from his work on "X-Factor" and "The Avengers"...

So I entered into these uncharted waters with two trusted guides, and suffice it to say that I was blown away with in a matter of just a few pages.  There's no build-up or origin gaga to tread thru to get to the meat of this story, oh no, Brubaker throws you into deep waters from page one with a Red Guardian eating a bullet in the first two pages, establishing The Red Skull & General Lukin as your central antagonists immediately, and giving the big mystery of "what's in the jar" within the first 5 as well.  Brubaker does not mess around with this one!

And Epting's Red Skull...

...wow is the word that best sums it up.

 As I've said, haven't read a lot of Cap comics, but I have seen many depictions over my years of reading comics, and more often than not, to me, The Red Skull looks like a mask rather than a face.  There is not mistaking with Epting's art that The Red Skull is a skull.  One panel of Skull drinking wine and it just pouring all over his lip less face is just...perfect.

The story jumps from the Skull plotting his destruction of NYC in order to fuel a Cosmic Cube over to Steve Rogers (Cap's civilian guise for those who don't know) working out with Sharon Carter (aka Agent 13) looking on.  As a newbie to the Cap-Verse, I had no idea about the history between these two characters but it didn't matter.  The most vital facts of their history ooze off the page with the dialogue Brubaker writes and the body language Epting draws.  The sole action sequence of the first issue does an equally amazing job of conveying Cap's current state of mind via the art and with maybe 30 words of dialogue tops.  He's becoming reckless, a bit self-destructive, and all due to the Red Skull being free.  The allusion Steve makes to his dreams, the statement "I still dream about Bucky. Him and all the others I couldn't save." tells the reader a great deal about what to expect in the next few months, without the reader even knowing it in the moment...that's the beauty of reading things collected instead of month-to-month I suppose.  But just as you think you know what's what....

Like I said, no messing around with this era of Captain America...Brubaker & Epting are going hardcore.  So the 2nd part of the story drops you into another of Steve's dreams about Bucky, followed up by the revelation (or reminder depending on your knowledge of Cap history) that Red Skull's body was a clone of Steve Rogers.  Now as someone with no awareness of this factoid, I was quite blown away, especially by Steve's very...stoic...reaction when Sharon admits she forgot, "Yeah...I hadn't."

Nick Fury makes his presence known, we get a flashback to the first time Rogers found out about the Skull, and a bit of a revelation as well that Cap feels he was essentially created because of the Skull.  Now for anyone who doesn't know Fury, or his penchant for revealing the barest of minimum details about anything, Brubaker does a great job via the dialogue between Cap & Sharon to make the reader aware of his super-spy ways.  Oh yeah, we also get to meet Crossbones for the first time in this new volume & find out that Skull had a Cosmic Cube in his possession.

Real quick-like for those who don't know... (from Marvel.com)
"Few items in the universe could ever compare to the sheer power of a Cosmic Cube. The power within the Cube allows whoever wields it to literally reshape reality around him. Virtually anything is possible, from the raising of mountains and commanding the power of the elements to opening dimensional portals and transforming your enemies."

Ish 3 begins to see these "memories" really have an effect on Steve as he doesn't seem to be with-it so to speak.  A cameo from the British equivalent of Captain America, Union Jack, is a nice nod to the worldwide effect the symbol of Cap has had, and the action scenes depicted in ish 3 are another gorgeous one from Epting.  But what is really touching, and really shows the strength of Brubaker as a writer is the quiet moment between Steve & Sharon in Paris.

Brubaker takes a simple flashback scene to the first memory Rogers has of being in France and turns it into a deep look into the type of man Steve Rogers is & really demonstrates why he was the perfect choice to be Cap.  Steve's compassion for his fellow man, his humbleness at his accomplishments, his recognition that he isn't alone in seeing death, that Sharon too has experienced the horrors of war...it all adds up to a unique man, uniquely suited for this task.  But the moment can't last as we get another meeting with another part of Cap's supporting cast, the former Bucky & Nomad Jack Munroe.  Long story short, he was a Bucky once, then he was Nomad, then he was Scourge, and then someone put a bullet in him as he drowned his sorrows in a bar in PA.  Just like Sharon said in Paris, "It's just the beginning isn't it?"

Part 4 and General Lukin reenters the picture on the cusp of taking over energy conglomerate Roxxon.  Cap gets a phone call from Fury sending him one way while Sharon gets pulled another way, intentionally keeping them apart.  Sharon gets informed that the gun that killed Red Skull has been conveniently found with Jack Munroe's fingerprints all over it.  In the meantime, Cap is in Arlington Cemetery to find that the graves of two former Captain America surrogates have been desecrated.  Both men served as Cap during Steve Roger's "death" and this is most definitely a personal shot at Rogers.  A series of memory assaults leave Cap victim for a beat down from Crossbones while Sharon Carter ends up on the receiving end of her own beating from a metal fist that has made a cameo in every issue thus far.

Ish 5 sees the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place for Rogers, and the reader, as we discover just how General Lukin is tied into Cap's history.  A town decimated by the Red Skull in 1942 turned out to be the home of Lukin and, as its apparent sole survivor, Lukin was taken under the wing of a Russian General by the name of Vassily Karpov.  Karpov & Rogers worked together...more or less...on the mission that resulted in the destruction of Lukin's home.  See it all makes sense doesn't it?  But that's not the only thing from Cap's past that's coming back to haunt him.  Nick Fury has a secret file with the label "Classified: Winter Soldier" emblazoned on the cover and closes out the issue by telling his assistant that he didn't show Steve the file because... "I want to be one hundred percent sure about this before I destroy his (Steve's) world...", damn that Fury and his cryptic nature!

Ish 6 brings the first chapter of this saga to a head as Sharon is kidnapped and an oblivious Cap travels to the site of his & Bucky's death, suffers another attack from the Cube when he battles Nazi soldiers & Baron Zemo that aren't really there, and we get Cap almost reconciling different takes on his origins by wondering if anything he remembers is wholly accurate, or if he's just filling in the blanks based on the various reports.  It's an interesting way to make sense of any differences that may exist in Cap & Bucky's origin stories over the years.  As a newbie to Cap, I don't know what varying origins there may be, I just know the bare bones "a rocket blew up killing Bucky & knocking Cap into frozen waters" story. 

Anyway, Cap departs the island only to be hit with another blast from the Cube as he's taunted with a vision of Sharon held hostage.  Cap arrives on scene, and we finally get our first look at the man with the metal hand... 

One thing that picture is missing from the upper right corner though, is Sharon's statement..."I think, I think it's Bucky!"

The next panel is a look at a shocked Cap as seen thru the scope on Winter Soldier's gun, an awesome shot if you ask me...which you did since you're reading this.  Solider blows up a part of Philly, killing one of Sharon's ex-boyfriend's in the process, and as the story closes we get to see that General Lukin has the Cosmic Cube in his possession. 

That bring the first phase of "Winter Soldier" to its close but one issue remains in this trade, and in that 7th issue we finally get to see just what brought Jack Munroe to the bar where his life ended.  It's a sad tale of a hero breaking down mentally & physically, and in a sad, twisted way it is almost a mercy killing when Munroe is murdered.  His mind is gone, his body is failing him, he is assaulting innocent people, and has no intention of seeking help...or rather he has absolutely no idea he is in need of help. It's a tragic ending to a character that, while I'm not particularly familiar with him, is very well defined in a short time by Brubaker.

So with "Captain America: Winter Soldier" Vol. 1 coming to a close we have Winter Soldier in place, the question of his identity on the table, Lukin in control of a Cosmic Cube, and Steve Rogers perhaps on the verge of a breakdown of his own.  Red Skull is dead, Jack Munroe is dead, Philly has been blown up, and Nick Fury knows a lot more than he is letting on (typical ground for Fury).

Where do we go in Vol. 2? Well that's to explore in my next blog where I will look at the remainder of the Winter Soldier arc and how it set the stage for everything that has come since, including the groundwork for Marvel's current mega-arc "Fear Itself".

Or if you're impatient, you can go out and buy these trades.  Hell I'd go buy them no matter what!

Oh yeah, and you can hit up my eBay auctions! They aren't up yet, no camera on hand to take the picture, but I will be putting up the issues of Ed Brubaker's run from #25-619 (the numbers reverted at #600) as well as the mini's of "Captain America: Rebirth" & "Fallen Son".  I only have the trades myself for ishs #1-24 so they will not be included in the auction. That auction is NOW available here: Captain America Auction

Thursday, July 7, 2011

DCU Concerns...

This isn't going to be a lengthy blog, and it isn't one about anything in particular, just a random collection of thoughts I had while reading Flashpoint #3 and my concerns about the post-FP world and how it will effect certain characters. 

As any one reading comic books knows by now (and as I pondered in an earlier blog (52 Number Ones...), DC is bringing a whole batch of #1's to the buying audience in September following the close of Flashpoint, and starting with a Geoff Johns-penned & Jim Lee-drawn JLA book (hence the image above).  Regardless of my thoughts on putting two paragons of timeliness on your flagship book (that's sarcasm btw), it is a whole lot of exciting craziness going in on the DCU and it is prompting a lot of speculation, the most prominent fear I would say being the potential demise of Superman & Lois Lane's marriage. 

Honestly, about that, I could care less....I'm a Batman guy, have been for a long time now and nothing is going to change that.  I trust in the creative teams behind the various Bat-books to craft a story that doesn't insult the fans like me who have been reading for decades and may bring some new readers to the pages of this character I have come to treasure so much.  With each additional piece of information that is put out there by DC regarding this reboot, reset, restart, or whatever you want to label it, my initial fears of total disregard for history have been mostly assuaged.  And despite that fact that Grant Morrison will NOT be helming a single Bat-Book for the first time since 2006, I think it will still do okay.

It's not the story I worry about, rather it is the fate of a certain batch of characters that I have grown attached to but who have yet to be named in any of the solicits for September's relaunch.  The first:

Batgirl IV aka Stephanie Brown

I think Stephanie Brown has benefited from the post-"Death of Bruce Wayne" world moreso than any character in the entire Bat-Corner of the DCU.  It's been cool as hell to see Dick Grayson step into the cowl but largely he's been the same Dick (laugh it up) that he's always been for the most part.  The Red Robin identity of Tim Drake has been an interesting growth process as he's taken all the best, and some of the worst aspects of Bruce, Dick, & Jason Todd, incorporated them into his own identity. Damian has been an interesting little snot since his debut at the start of Grant's opus and his growth has been one of the high points of the last several years, but I stand by my belief that no character in the Bat-Family has become more beloved (by comparison to where she started) than Stephanie Brown.  Bryan Q. Miller's handling of Steph has evolved her from a character most fans hated, or at least were indifferent about, and turned her into a well-rounded adult who is atypical of any other character in the Cave.  Steph is the only character attempting to have a real life, to go to school and have friends, she still has to lie to her mom, but is now finally being pulled into her "Batman Inc." role hinted at months ago.  No longer is she defined by Tim Drake, or the whole death/resurrection thing, but rather she has grown into her own character capable of carrying a book on her own.  Steph is the star, despite the, basically every issue, appearance of Oracle, or the occassional dip into the pool filled up with the rest of the Family.  Who would have ever thought the Cluemaster's daughter, the friggin' Spoiler would be that character.  Major kudos to Miller for crafting this character and to DC for allowing him the opportunity. 

It is because of all those reason that I worry for Stephanie Brown's future in light of Barbara Gordon's return to the Batgirl tights.  There's no mention of her in any Bat-books, nothing in Birds of Prey, so I hope that all the work put into building her up hasn't all been for naught in the DCnU.  In the vein of Batgirl, my other worry is....

Batgirl III aka Cassandra Cain

...Steph's predecessor as Batgirl, Cassandra Cain.  The formerly mute daughter of the assassin David Cain who became Batgirl following Huntress' failed tenure during "No Man's Land" and who would go on to rock the house in my opinion.  I always thought she was a great character, and one with loads of potential that was only barely tapped when the decision to turn her bad was made.  Buuuut as if that wasn't damaging enough, the decision to then have her be all mind-controlled by Deathstroke only did more damage to Cassie.  Then she became a good guy again after being freed from Deathstroke's mind control, was recruited to The Outsiders by Bruce, disappeared when he "died" but not before passing her costume off to Stephanie, and is only now...after several years off the radar...coming back into the Bat Family.  Retroactively Cassie's whole disapperance was part of Bruce's post-mortem orders, but it was Tim Drake who kept in contact apparently and traveled to Hong Kong to offer her a costume.  In the past couple months, Cassie has adopted the name of Black Bat, begun serving as a Batman Inc. operative, and is now back in Gotham during the "Gates of Gotham" mini-series. 

Just like Stephanie, there doesn't appear to be a place for Cassie in this post-FP DC Universe as of yet, and just like Stephanie Brown, I am hoping that is only a short term thing as I fell like she would be a perfect fit for this new "Red Hood & The Outlaws" series.  I want her to remain viable, and visible, not because there has been some tremendous work to make her relevant, but rather because I see so much potential for the character after so much time away from the spotlight.  Cassie Cain hasn't seen monthly appearances in years, she fits the bill perfectly for DC's diversification initiative (a mute asian, female), and is another character who offers up something fresh to the Bat-World.

My next worry isn't just one characters, it's 6...or 7....or 8 depending on the issue...

Gail Simone's "Secret Six"!  I've written about my love for this book in the past (Secret Six Blog) and now with no sign of its survival, I am a sad puppy.  I won't go into the detail I did in the blog (see that's an internal plug right there), but suffice it to say that the characterization, the stories, the interpersonal relationship developed by Simone have done wonders for a lot of characters that were going nowhere, had lost their way, or were just plain useless to most.  New life has been breathed into Bane and Catman, Ragdoll has been turned into an amazingly rich character, as have Scandal Savage and Deadshot, and a fucking Shark has been the highlight of the past year.  He's like Groot for the S6 or something (read the most recent incarnation of "Guardians of the Galaxy" for Groot). 

So while it warms my heart to see a couple of these characters still kicking around in the new "Suicide Squad" book, I am saddened to see that they will not be a unit, and I am hoping that Bane in particular is not relegated once more to just being the guy who broke Batman's back once upon a time.  The relationship between him and Scandal has been a highlight of the run, and I would love to know where Simone was heading, if she even had an idea for the culmination.

And that's probably the thing that hurts the most with the entire new 52 relaunch, all of the unfinished work.  I'm sure it wasn't a terribly difficult thing for a writer to wrap up a short term story in time for the September renumberings, but I'm just as sure that most writers had long term plans for their books that just got squashed by this relaunchbootstart.  Which brings me to my biggest story concern stemming from this....

...the whole concept of Batman Incorporated.  See this was the brainchild baby of Grant Morrison, and the supposed culmination of years of planning.  Well now we've got Grant shifted over to "Action Comics", leaving the Bat-Franchise without him for the first time since he started "Batman & Son" in 2006, and that Batman Inc. title on hiatus until sometime in 2012.  Now to say that putting a Grant Morrison book on hiatus is just begging for it to never be completed would be an understatement given his history of delays, false starts, and never weres, but I hold out hope regardless. 

My concern, given that we've been led to believe Bruce going public still happened & Batman Incorporated is still in existence, is that the whole idea of Batman Inc. will ultimately fall by the wayside.  Aside from the "Batwing" comic (a barely touched on character I just don't get giving a book to considering the amount of time they spent establishing Nightrunner), none of the new books seem to embrace the concept.  Hell, "Batman Inc." is the only one of the current books that really employs the international flavor as it is...well "Red Robin" to a lesser degree, a much lesser degree. Without Grant to explore the idea of corporatizing Batman, where will this leave Batman Inc. as a concept?  I'm hoping it doesn't just fizzle out, especially not before Grant wraps up his Leviathan arc in 2012, and that Scott Snyder & Tony Daniel (I honestly don't give a damn about David Finch) continue to incorporate...Incorporated...into their future.

Well that ended up a lot longer than I thought it would be....not really shocking given how wordy I tend to be.  Anyway, I guess in September we will begin to see what the future holds for our favorite imaginary friends...and Batman too.  He's real.

Oh yeah, and I know I tend to avoid wrestling related stuff here, but check out my friend Eric Santamaria's Wrestling Roundtable when you get a chance...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Green Lantern: Rebirth

Well after starting at "Blackest Night" and working backwards to "Sinestro Corps War", I'm now back to where it all started for Geoff Johns epic: "Green Lantern: Rebirth".  It was here that Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, and Prentis Rollins laid the groundwork for everything that was to come over the next several years and in many ways rebuilt the foundation for the GL mythos.

On a side note, after seeing Rollins & Van Sciver in person at Wizard World Philly, I can say that EVS is one funny dude.  Rollins had a pretty dry sense of humor too that played well off of EVS and Shane Davis who was also on the panel.  Another random side note, Rollins & EVS worked on "New X-Men" together during Grant Morrison's epic run...

Welcome back from that commercial break and welcome to my look back at "GL: Rebirth" where everything started anew for Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps!

So for a little backstory for ya'll when this mini-series hit the stands, Hal Jordan was dead but "living" on as the host of the Spectre (a biblical Spirit of Vengeance) as a way to redeem himself for the evils committed as the villain Parallax. 

For even more backstory, Hal's hometown of Coast City had been obliterated during the "Return of Superman" story arc by the Cyborg Superman & the alien Mongul.  This led directly into "Emerald Twilight" where, driven by grief, Hal attempted to use his ring to recreate the city.  The Guardians stripped him of his power, he flew off to Oa, murdered several Lanterns, destroyed the Central Power Battery, killed Sinestro whom the Guardians had released from banishment, and flew off while Kyle Rayner was chosen as the last GL.  Hal then tried to recreate the world to his liking in "Zero Hour", sacrificed himself to reignite the sun in "Final Night", and was selected as the host for Spectre in "Day of Judgment".  Whooooo, maybe all that backstory is why DC is jumping back to square one...but then again half the fun for me was back issue digging.  Story for another day....

Well in the trade format we jump into "GL: Rebirth" with a short prelude from "Wizard X" entitled "The Day Before", pretty self explanatory for when it takes place.  Kyle Rayner saves an alien planet whose inhabitants keep chanting something the ring translates as "Parallax is coming". During this little adventure, Kyle also throws out a seemingly innocent mention of how Sector 3600 was wiped out a long time ago.  Meanwhile Hal, in his human guise, watches an airshow which nearly turns into a disaster until the new Spectre saves a plane from crashing.  A little bit of internal argument between Hal as a GL & Parallax ends with The Spectre stating how this union is "...for the good of not just us, but the universe itself."  Then, with a close up on The Spectre's eye which looks like Parallax's face, he mutters "This pathetic fear-filled universe.".  And off we go...

Enter Chapter 1 and a scene very reminiscent of Abin Sur's (Hal's predecessor) crash on Earth as another space ship crash lands on Earth, only this time it contains a panicked Kyle Rayner telling the people who find him "Don't be afraid"...kind of funny coming from a GL really.  He can't use the ring, or rather won't, is accompanied by a coffin, and refers to himself as "the first GL to know what fear really is".  It's a statement that implies Kyle has felt fear, and in his continual need for self-deprecation, Kyle believes he is the first Lantern to do so.  But as the story goes on the reader will learn that it really means something deeper than that.

We get a look at Carol Ferris, Hal's past love interest, as she walks the abandoned airfield once owned by her father while talking to her husband.  Of course she stumbles on Hal's old plane.  This one page managed to convey everything a new reader needs to know about Carol's history, and the art in the last three panels also tells the reader all they need to know about Carol's connection to Hal Jordan.  EVS draws a perfect look of shock on her face as she stumbles on the plane and wipes away the dust.

That same art/dialogue combo nails it on the head as John Stewart (the 2nd Earth GL) & Guy Gardner  (a former Earth GL) are introduced into the story for the first time.  The meticulous detail of Stewart's construct, the look on his face as he says he used to trust Hal, it all gives you an idea of just who John is.  Guy's cocky (though false) self-assurance that John trusts him, the fact that he wears a shirt with his own logo on it, his tight "show off my muscles" t-shirt all give you an idea of who Gardner is as well.  The friendship between this two is immediately evident as well as they engage in a discussion, albeit one-sided, about Hal, the Green Lantern Corps, and all of John's shortcomings.  Guy can see all of John's faults but is oblivious...or lying...about his own. 

Enter: Hal Jordan as he joins John & Guy at a baseball game.  A perfectly normal, everyday, human thing to do...the problem though is that Hal isn't human anymore.  His mere presence provokes the entire audience, including Guy, to confess their sins (In my head, I always hear those last 3 words in Antonio Banderas' "Desperado" voice) to the Spirit of Vengeance. 

Jump on over to Green Arrow & his female sidekick Mia (not as random as you'd think) as the villain Black Hand bursts in looking for something using some kind of tool as a tracking device (for more on this read "GL: Secret Origin" & see how beautifully Johns mapped this out).  His target: a GL ring that Hal gave to Oliver Queen.  Black Hand, whom Ollie refers to as a loser, ends up with an arrow in his hand just in time for Hal (as The Spectre) to enter the room full of righteous vengeance.  The Spectre burns off the hand of Black Hand (see more planning ahead there from Johns), before departing with omnious words to Oliver...

Could not find an image that wasn't cut off, but in the missing panels Hal utters "It's getting hard to focus Ollie. I...there's something wrong.  None of this should've happened.  This isn't me.  This isn't who I am."  Freaky indeed...

Back to Guy & John at Gardner's bar called...egotistically unsurprising...Warriors.  There the discussion about Hal continues, with both men praising him in their own way (hell Guy has a statue of Jordan in his bar).  During the convo, Gardner has an attack of some kind and explodes, taking the bar & John with him while over on the left coast, a certain decimated city apparently returns from the dead! 

A seemingly random jump to Hector Hammond in Belle Reve Prison bridges the gap to the JLA Watchtower where Guy is being looked at by Martian Manhunter & Doctor Mid-Nite whilst Wonder Woman & others investigate the remains of Warriors.  The only thing left intact...that statue of Hal.  Alan Scott, the mystical GL, isn't feeling so hot and the Flash (Wally West) is speeding around the partially restored Coast City only to find, alongside Aquaman, one building whole: Hal Jordan's old apartment building.  All of this is enough for Batman to declare Hal has returned to his evil ways...that the jump from Parallax to The Spectre was planned as part of some larger scheme.  Unsuprisingly John Stewart is the man standing up for Hal as he nails the whole problem on the head...

As the first issue closes, Hal restores one last part of his past, Ferris Air, while Carol stands in the midst of the wreckage.  We also get the title of this first story, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it's entitled "Blackest Night".  Hot damn is that a lot of ground covered and that's just the first issue! It's like the first chapter of "Sinestro Corps War" in that Johns dumps damn near everything into the first issue to get the reader hooked in.  It certainly leaves the reader with that "what happens next" feeling...

The 2nd issue starts just as crazy as a green energy bursts forth from the GL battery on Oa with the words "Find him. Find Kyle Rayner" as it shoots off into space.  Oh yeah, and it trashes a Hal Jordan statue as it erupts from the battery.  Kyle is still out of it on Earth, being watched over by two guys who were trolling the New Mexico desert for aliens, while his internal dialogue continues to debate on whether or not to use the ring. A ring that keeps repeating "Parallax, Parallax is coming" by the way...

Back to Hal & Carol at the airfield where we get a flashback to the first day they met as children, the fateful day that Hal's father died right in front of him after passing his jacket down to Hal; the same jacket he has been wearing in the story thus far.  Hal elaborates to Carol essentially what he hinted at to Ollie, that something is clouding his judgment and making him doubt himself, making him afraid...

Up to the Watchtower where the JLA/JSA are looking for Hal, Alan Scott is getting sicker, and Batman is being Batman.  Zatanna locates The Spectre energies, the JLA heads off to confront Hal and find him still at the airfield.  Upon confrontation, John Stewart freaks out and blasts everyone standing on the airfield!  He goes hardcore, blasting Superman in his eyes with green energy as John's ring now begins to repeat the mantra "Parallax is coming".  At the Watchtower, GA's ring duplicates itself and the new ring bonds to Guy Gardner...

That ring also keeps repeating the same phrase, as is Kyle's when we cut back to him finally recovering as he starts to explain that the yellow impurity has a name just in time for the future Drill Instructor of the GLC Kilowog to make his appearance.  Obviously acting...wrong, Wog is encouraging Kyle to use the ring, making the connection that this unusual behavior from John, Guy, and Wog is linked to ring usage.  The big cliffhanger hits when that green energy from the start of chapter 2 finally finds Kyle and is revealed to be Guardian Ganthet!  Not only that, but we find out that contained within the coffin Kyle came to Earth with is: Hal Jordan!

Chapter 3 opens with Ganthet trying to convince Kilowog to stand down as Kyle provides the info dump for the uninitiated as to the little blue guy's background.  One sentence pretty much sums it up: "Ganthet could crack the planet in half with a thought."  This stand-off also gives us what is for me the absolute coolest image of Kilowog ever put to paper:

The display of power from Ganthet as he fends of Wog is only a fraction of what the Guardian has to offer, but more importantly, Kyle finally uses his ring.  During that one page we begin to understand why the last GL hasn't used it thus far, "It's reaching into my soul again.", but what "IT" is isn't something quite known yet.  This....IT...also gives Kyle a look at what's happening with John Stewart at that moment and allows the reader to see what's gone down without devoting pages to it.  Nice touch...

Jump to Coast City & Hal Jordan as he's walked away from the JLA/JSA battle with John and finally gets an idea himself of what's really going on here.  A visit to his old apartment, a look at an old Lantern Battery, and the reflection of Parallax in the green tell him (and the reader) some of what we need to know.

Back to Kyle & Ganthet as they continue to fight the only GL whose ring makes noise (you didn't forget Kilowog already did you?), while the Guardian explains to Kyle that his ability to know fear, his "flaw", is the only thing keeping him from ending up like 'Wog & John. 

Kyle takes Hal's body and heads to the Watchtower where he assumes they will be safe while Hal battles for his very sanity with Parallax & The Spectre.  Kyle, greeted by a recovering GA, offers an explanation to Ollie (and to the reader) for what is really going on here, and we get our required massive info dump. First the truth about Parallax:

A yellow fear-eating creature traveling the universe that The Guardians eventually captured and stored within the Central Power Battery on Oa.  Over time Parallax became known as nothing more than the yellow impurity.  The Fear Entity's presence within the battery made the rings weak against its corresponding color. I actually think this is a brillant explanation for what essentially was a case of the ring being too powerful thus needing a weakness built-in (like Supes & Kryptonite essentially).

It's also the primary reason why a person with a GL ring must be a being capable of overcoming great fear in order to master the little green circle.  But nothing can last forever, and Parallax used the ring as a conduit to slowly poison the "Greatest Green Lantern", Hal Jordan, and it first showed in the white hair Hal had in his later days as a GL before Coast City (another great way to explain what came before!). 

The clincher was obviously Coast City's destruction and it was reinforced by Hal's assault on Oa, and murder of fellow GL's, not to mention snapping Sinestro's neck when the Guardians released him from his prison inside the Central Battery to fight Hal (another important story beat from the past).  Essentially Parallax is an entity latched onto Hal's soul, and even his death to reignite the sun didn't save him from Parallax.  As the next few pages show, it ultimately just gave Parallax access to the Spectre...and the big question, what woke Parallax up in the first place?

And that is how we close the third chapter!  Ain't this dude dead?!?!?  Well the first page of part 4 essentially consists of Kyle (who has largely been our narrator throughout) explaining how much of a badass Sinestro is...the only one of Hal's old enemies that Guy Gardner doesn't mock.  Sinestro honestly admits...while he's trashing the Watchtower...he never understood his yellow power until the Guardians imprisoned him alongside Parallax, essentially making him the master of fear, and setting the wheels of their own fate into motion.  Makes me wonder if the Guardians were essentially fulfilling the prophecies of the Book of Oa simply because they were prophecy?

Back on Earth, Parallax assaults Ganthet as he battles the possessed Lanterns but the owerwhelming power of the Guardian frees them from fear's control, and gives time for the collected heroes of Earth to join the fray.  At the Watchtower, Kyle & GA battle Sinestro and I think this may be the first "alley rat" reference from Sinestro towards Kyle but don't quote me on that. This little fight offers up another awesome moment after Ollie tries to charge up a GL ring...

Not only does that awesomeness happen but in the follow-up panel Ollie asks if the exhaustion and confusion he feels after using the ring...barely...is what Kyle feels like when he forces his willpower into the ring.  Kyle's response of "Every time" tells the reader more about how using the ring actually feels than any story before it, and Ollie's "Damn" is pretty much how the reader feels after seeing it.  Again, recognition must be given to EVS and crew for the bang-up artistic job on these panels.  Lesser artists would not have been able to convey these facials and all the emotions wrapped up in it...

On Earth we get the JL(S)A battle with Parallax along with the little bit of information that the reason Alan Scott was feeling sick was because the fear entity was trying to worm its way into his life as well but the differences between the GLC & his ring made it difficult.  Finally the Spectre helps Hal fight the Parallax influence, freeing them both, leaving Spectre free to find a new host and Hal...well Jordan is dead after all, he's off to somewhere.  Parallax, on the other hand, is still quite alive and hops into the body of Guardian Ganthet!  As for Hal, well the ring he left with GA comes in handy as Jordan's soul finds its way to the body on the Watchtower, and the "greatest gl" is restored!

And with the penultimate issue it is on!  Hal Jordan vs. Sinestro on the freakin' moon and we get the core (no pun) of what will drive this story for some time ahead.  Free will(power) vs. rule of fear...and one of the coolest things this chapter offers is a flashback to the first day Hal & Sinestro met.  Now I can't double check my "Secret Origin" HC to verify this because it is currently in the hands of a friend, but I do believe this exact pair of pages is part of the "SO" story...

In just a few pages Hal Jordan manages to show everyone why he was considered the greatest as he takes it to Sinestro AND verbally berates Sinestro for his disrespect of Kyle.  We also get the moment that scarred Sinestro forever as Kyle returns to the fight and embeds a ton of arrows into the wannabe dictator's back in the shape of the GL ring.  Sinestro escapes to the Anti-Matter Universe as the fight closes and we get another moment as a free Hal Jordan officially meets Kyle Rayner.  Tried to find an image...got this...

Kyle doubts himself, but as John & Guy said when this all started, Hal is the type of man to make you believe even in the most dire circumstances.  And the situation certainly is as we head back to Earth where Parallax has possessed Ganthet.  But before we get anywhere, Bats has something to say but so does Hal's fist...

The fight rages on and in the midst Johns' give us a wonderful description of just how all four Earth Lanterns & Kilowog function as GL's, how their personalities come out in their constructs, and how they all empower each other.  This fight is where the rebirth of the Corps begins.

Parallax is resecured inside the Central Battery, the Guardians return on Oa, Guy Gardner admits he missed it all, and Batman leaves well enough alone (for now at least).  We return once more to Hector Hammond as he deliver some ominous warnings about the future, Hal meets up with Carol to tell her he has plans that don't involve Ferris Air, and most importantly Hal & Ollie reconnect while Jordan reconnects with his lantern and that Oath GA can't quite remember...

So wow...just wow.  No wonder this was such a high selling book (the first issue went through four printing & sold a total of 156,975 copies; the second issue went through two printings & sold 122,221 copies. The subsequent issues sold 106,523, 108,077, 115,006, and 114,354 copies, respectively...thanks Wiki!), and so critically well received.  It set the foundation for everything that has been delivered the last few years in the GL-Verse from "Sinestro Corps Wars" to "Blackest Night", it laid down the base of the emotional spectrum, and gave explanation for elements of the past that didn't quite fit or just weren't ever given detail.  I think my favorite little throwaway line was Ganthet, the eventual creator of the Blue (Hope) Lanterns stating that "Hope is meaningless against fear...willpower is our only weapon."  See even the Guardians can grow...maybe not physically but emotionally, psychologically if they want to.

This is a trade that comes with the highest recommendation from yours truly.  Prior to reading this book my only knowledge of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern was his involvement in "Return of Superman" and the "Emerald Twilight" story arc.  Kyle Rayner was the GL that I knew and read, the one that I grew somewhat attached to while Hal Jordan was the hero turned villain trying to "fix" the world. 

The sheer power of Johns' writing and the beauty of EVS' art in this 6 issue arc are what drew me to Hal Jordan.  When I was given this trade as a gift, it was just as Sinestro Corps War was beginning I believe so I quickly got all the other trades I could find and took advantage of a big sale at my local shop to get the first 5-6 parts of "SCW" thatI had missed.  I don't regret it for a second and trust me neither will you.

So if you found your way here because of the movie, or if you're just curious about Green Lantern's history, this is the place where it all started again: "Green Lantern: Rebirth".  It's the place where it could all start for you too...


For my other Blogs on the GL-Verse check out these:

And if you're interested enough to buy them (I don't make any money): Green Lantern on Amazon