Pick of the week: Aug. 31st: Justice League of America #9

Justice League of America #9

Writer/Pencils: Bryan Hitch

Inks: Daniel Henriques

Colorist: Alex Sinclair

Justice League of America (not to be confused with the current Bryan Hitch Justice League) picks up where it left off in the New 52. The reader is viewing three separate timelines at one. Past Rao on Krypton, the Flash at the Stones of Eternity (brought there after fighting the Parasite from issue 1), and the present where the Justice League of America stands over a presumably dead Superman. In the Flash timeline we see the tone going berserk “singing” that “they” have arrived. The Flash and Co. are confused as to who they are speaking of. At that time Rao arrives on the scene to announce that the Stones of Eternity have arrived, and that both sets of stones are now communicating w2ith each other. In the past timeline of Rao on Krypton, we see a Green Lantern who is being held prisoner by time traveling future Rao. Time traveling future Rao has somehow disconnected the Green Lantern from his power ring. Rao that lived during that pat timeline (keep’em straight come on) is on Green Lantern’s side after he has a philosophy battle with time traveling future Rao. Past Rao realizes the evil that he ha become. However, past Rao is powerless to stop time traveling future Rao. Past Rao explains to Green Lantern, that future Rao has had centuries more time with the stone of life and there fore they are under his control and granting him power that past Rao can not match. Past Rao encourages Green Lantern, who is distraught about what he can do, by telling him that “single drops of water can erode mountains”. This gives Green Lantern hope to keep fighting against Rao’s power and attempt to reconnect with his ring. In the present timeline we see Diana trying, unsuccessfully, to revive superman The rest of the league tells her it’s time to give up but Diana refuses to let Superman die. In her last effort she strikes Superman with the lightning bolt of Zeus, trying to jump start his heart. The result is……Successful (Surprise!). Superman stirs and asks where Rao went. Its then the time traveling Rao emerges with……..Well I’ll let you read that for yourself. I will say though that the surprise twist at the end of the issue provides a threat that the reader can actually believe will be a threat to the Justice League.

The idea of telling the story in three different timelines could have been disastrous. As it’s almost like its’ trying to get the reader confused. However, Bryan Hitch handles that delicate tasks beautifully. He manages to craft the story telling on three levels and bring it all back around by the end of the issue. I am really excited that he is continuing this series even with the Rebirth reboot. Hitch is an excellent story teller and this issue just cements that for me. The character work between part Rao and Green Lantern is especially stunning as he manages to humanize a character who out God’s Superman himself.It’s also nice to know that thy have something resembling a coney dog on Krypton:

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The dialogue when the Justice League themselves talk is the only real weak point. As I feel it was supposed to come off as funny, but rather just seemed corny.

The art for the issue was very good. I think having Daniel Henriques take over the inks has helped with the completion of the issues and has freed up some extra time for Bryan Hitch to work on the script. The colors by Alex Sinclair are most excellent. The palette used by Sinclair for world build helps carry the story forward and helps the reader keep the three timelines separate from one another. The colors used to convey energy, such as the lightning coming off of the stones of the electricity springing from Zeus’ bolt, feels real and powerful.

Overall, this issue is solid with very minimal problems. I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and will be saddened by its’ absence in my pull list. If you haven’t read any of it I’d highly recommended you remedy that. In the gallery below is all of the covers the issue shipped with.

Rating: 8/10

-Andrew

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The Fleischer Bros. Superman Shorts (1941-1943)

Every Comic Book Movie (Ever) is an ongoing series which examines the long-standing relationship between comic books and film through individual works as well as groups of works. While it is likely impossible that a single person could write about every single comic book film ever made, the series hopes to provide insight that ranges widely across eras and styles of filmmaking – covering acknowledged classics, hidden gems, huge disasters, and relatively unknown works with an empathetic and critical eye.

 

This being the first installment of the series, I thought I would write about a film (well, a group of short films) that is both a personal favorite, and something of an unimpeachable classic. Hence, the Fleischer Bros. Superman Shorts.

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Fleischer Studios Logo

Max and Dave Fleischer began making shorts in the late nineteen-teens after Max Fleischer invented, patented, and sold the rotoscope. Starting work at Bray Studios, they eventually created their own studio (Fleischer Bros., Inc.) where they would go on to create original characters like Betty Boop and define pre-existing comic book characters like Popeye and, you guessed it, Superman. Without going too deep into the history, the Fleischers were, for a time, considered

the only real rival to Walt Disney’s animation dominance. In fact, the rotoscoping technique created by Max was used by Disney to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Unfortunately, the studio was plagued by financial troubles and, by the time Superman was being produced, was mostly owned and run by Paramount.

Despite this, Max and Dave were still heavily involved with Superman. They had just come off their first feature, Gulliver’s Travels, and were working on their second when Paramount, hoping to adapt the extremely popular at the time Superman, approached the Fleischers about bringing the character to life. They weren’t interested. But instead of saying no, the brothers told Paramount they could only make Superman for roughly ten times the amount of their previous shorts, expecting Paramount to balk and leave them in peace. Instead, Paramount negotiated an agreement for roughly half that much and Superman went into production as one of the most expensive animated shorts of that time.

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The Fleischer’s Man of Steel

The expense shows. Few animated films, from that time or any other, look as dynamic and lavish as the shorts the Fleischers produced. The first (titled “Superman,” but usually referred to as “The Mad Scientist”) pits Superman against what would become a common enemy in these shorts: a rogue scientist using advanced technology for nefarious means. The short introduces a number of iconic elements, beginning with a brief prologue explaining Superman’s origins and the classic invocation: “Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” The story begins when Lois Lane sets out to track down a man who has been sending mysterious threats to Metropolis. She takes a plane to a towering, gothic mountain atop which sits the scientist’s laboratory. He promptly captures Lois (with the help of his henchman, a ruffled vulture/raven hybrid) and begins attacking the city with a massive death ray. As the destruction of the city begins, Clark Kent slips into a supply closet and, as the iconic score plays, rips of his tie and hat to reveal his identity as Superman. He begins his battle with the death ray, swooping (not quite flying) through the city, saving citizens and preserving the Daily Planet building as it arcs elegantly and destructively toward the ground.

In the end, he rescues Lois (and, importantly, the evil scientist) from the destruction of the death ray and the laboratory. Lois writes a front page column and Superman disappears into the ether until the next crisis. Meanwhile, Lois asks Clark where he was the whole time.

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Lois and Clark, after the crisis

The shorts all follow this same basic formula, the first four especially. Lois jumps right into the thick of it, Superman is nearly defeated, but overcomes the villain, rescuing everyone in the end. It establishes a template familiar from the comics while adding a few of its own signature elements. One of those is the reliance on music to tell the story. There is little spoken dialogue in the Fleischer shorts, so the music does a lot of the heavy lifting. It helps to tell the story, creating drama and tension, while also serving as an all-purpose source for sound effects. When Superman punches the bullets from the death ray, the music turns to sharp stabs in unison with Superman’s powerful fists. The shorts alternate between heavy sci-fi plots where mad scientists or monsters are unleashed on the city and lighter sci-fi fair, where criminals use slick, new technology to rob trains and vaults.

What is most striking about these shorts, to me, is their audacity of design. They dwell in a kind of retro-futurism where contemporary architecture and automobiles exists alongside impossibly tall buildings, high mountain labs, and enclosed crosswalks which stretch from building to building somewhere around the 95th floor. The lines recall both art deco and early Soviet propaganda, while the lighting draws from noir; everything is rendered in gothic proportions. The Fleischer’s Metropolis and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis do not dwell far apart from each other. This is perhaps the most enduring influence of these shorts. Bruce Timm consulted them in designing the Gotham of Batman: The Animated Series; Brad Bird looked to them when building The Iron Giant; Hayao Miyazaki stole more than a few tricks from the Fleischers for Castle in the Sky and other films.

The Fleischer’s Metropolis Bruce Timm’s Gotham

In later Fleischer shorts (like The Bulleteers), the formula modulates slightly, moving into to a light serialization. Lois and Clarks relationship noticeably progresses at the end of each short, but the action is still the meat of these. Clark and Lois travel to a volcano where Superman saves everyone from an eruption. They travel to a carnival where he saves them from a giant gorilla. But by this point, a year into the Superman shorts, Max and Dave were no longer on speaking terms and Paramount was worried.

Dola Gang from Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky Bulleteers from Superman

After Terror on the Midway, Paramount dissolved Fleischer Studios and reorganized its few remaining elements as Famous Studios. They continued to make Superman shorts, but these were markedly different than what came before. It was the end of 1942 and the U.S. was on the war path. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor almost a year earlier and every movie studio in the country was playing their part in the escalating war effort. Paramount and Famous Studios were no exception. The rest of the Superman shorts serve as pretty standard fair propaganda. The animation quality drops noticeably with the absence of the Fleischers and the plots are clunky, often involving saboteurs and peddling nasty racial stereotypes of the Japanese. The Superman of Famous Studios is the ultimate warrior of U.S. interests abroad. Trapped in Japan with Lois, Clark sneaks out at night to wreak havoc on the Japanese war effort. He destroys bridges and air bases and battleships. Where Superman used to rescue his adversaries, here he destroys them when they aren’t looking. A night watchmen on a ship undoubtedly dies when Superman pulls the vessel underwater until it explodes. The same fate is met by countless soldiers crossing a bridge at night when Superman annihilates it.

Still, these do not impinge on the revolutionary, earlier shorts of the Fleischers, which still stand today as one of the great achievements of not only animation, but filmmaking itself. With their dynamic and singular animation style, the Fleischer Bros. Superman shorts remain one of, if not the definitive comic-book adaptation.

 

-Ian

Pick of the Week (Jul. 20th): Justice League #1

Justice League #1

Writer: Bryan Hitch

Pencils: Tony S. Daniel

Inks: Sandu Florea

Colorist: Tomeu Morey

Justice League #1 marks the beginning of the new Justice League after the events of Rebirth. This reiteration of the Justice League has many of it’s usual staples: Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern(s), Cyborg, Aquaman and The Flash. While this team may have familiar elements to previous incarnations, there are some slight differences. For example the Justice League now has two lanterns, Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, instead of just one. Another noticeable absence is the new (old) superman. The New 52 Superman died in the events leading up to Rebirth and his old pre-New 52 was found alive in the current timeline (if you think that’s confusing well…..you are right). However, Batman does not trust this new superman and has chosen to keep him at arms length distance for now. I am sure though that the events that transpired in this issue will lead to the Justice League accepting Superman back into the fold.

The issue opens up with Wonder Woman on what was supposed to be a peace keeping mission fighting rebels in Russia who ambushed her. Things quickly escalate as the ground rumbles in a massive earth quake that destroys Wonder Woman’s attackers. The Rebels blame Wonder Woman for the earthquake but it becomes clear that it did not originate with her. We then read a news report that states that the same thing has happened all across the globe. With all of Earths fault lines activating at once the Justice League is tasked with keeping civilian casualties to a minimum. The team is spread across the globe with the Lanterns in Asia, Cyborg in New York, Wonder Woman in Russia, Batman in Gotham(where else?) and The Flash on the West Coast of America. Just when it appears that the League has everything under control-ish, the civilians (and the dead? Maybe?) around them begin spouting philosophical speeches and attacking the League. They say that the heroes of this world have stolen their powers and that they are false Gods. They warn them that The Kindred are coming. While the League attempt to fight off the zombies(? maybe), Batman discovers that an alien ship has crash landed in Gotham and with it strange insect creatures that are attacking any humans within striking distance. While the league may be the most powerful beings on the planet are they a match against natural disasters and The Kindred? We will have to wait until next time to find out.

While the plot is interesting and well paced, it’s the art that really shines in this issue. The art team of Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Florea really bring the action in this issue. Moving from panel to panel at almost break neck speed. Keeping the reader entertained and breathless with frantic action and beautiful splash pages. The splash page featuring The Flash is a beautiful feat of art. In what is a busy two pages Daniel and Florea use panel arrangement to guide the readers eye and help the reader follow what’s happening. The color art by Tomeu Morey is spectacular. He uses a lot of earth tones to ground the scene and bright contrasting colors to make the heroes stand out above the scene. Really making the pop. The shading work he did during the subway scene with Cyborg helped add depth to what could have been a very flat scene. All in all Justice League #1 is a great soft reboot to DC’s signature team and another fantastic addition to the already stellar Rebirth initiative at DC. Below are the two covers this title shipped with.

Rating: 9/10

 

-Andrew

 

The Voice is All: A Manifesto (Of Sorts)

Hello Revuers. As I am sure you have seen already, there is a new kid on the block. That kid is me. I am that kid. By way of an introduction, I thought I should write a few brief thoughts on comics. What I think of them. What draws me to them (or not). What I look for in a great comic. My plan is that this post will set the tone a bit for my contribution to this site. Andrew (who was so kind as to ask me to write for DR) will continue all the great stuff he is doing – the week to week stuff, the interviews, the cons, etc. – while I will tend to gravitate toward the bigger picture, both literally and figuratively as I will be writing about comics, writ large, graphic novels (and trades), and about comic book films, which have turned what was once a throwaway entertainment to one of the most popular mediums in the world. This is my first post here, so thank you for reading this far. I’ll try not to lose you.

I would describe myself as a comics agnostic. I am not a zealot, and I do not think I am a heretic (though some may disagree). There is a ludicrous amount of comic books, and comic related films, produced each year. Some of them are good. Some even exceptional. Most of them are not very good. This is true of every artistic medium, especially in an age when we can create something and then release it to the world in mere seconds.

So here is what I love: Sandman, Calvin & Hobbes, Fables, Watchmen, Essex County, Blankets, The Long Halloween, Peanuts, Kingdom Come, Little Nemo in Slumberland, Persepolis, Marvel 1602, Hellboy, The Far Side, All-Star Superman, Tintin, Maus, The Dark Knight Returns, Bone, Garfield Minus Garfield.

I love Jacques Tardi. I love Sam Raimi’s Spider-man. I love Nolan’s Batman. I love del Toro’s Hellboy. I love Ang Lee’s Hulk. I love Donner’s Superman. I love Batman: The Animated Series. I love The Incredibles.

I love that Miles Morales is Spider-man. I love that Riri Williams is Iron Man. I love that Amadeus Cho is Hulk. I love that Jane Foster is Thor.

What unites these things, and what separates them from the many comics I have read and merely liked, or read and not liked at all, is the strength and singularity of their creators’ voices and their unwillingness to play by the usual rules of comics. They mess with tradition. They forge new territory. They take creative risks. Above all, they tell good stories. Comics as a storytelling vehicle works best when a strong, individual voice, meets a distinctive visual stylist. This is why Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther is so exciting and wonderful. It’s why things like a prominent essayist for The Atlantic writing a mainstream comic book should happen more often. Call it an auteurist theory of comics. Call it heresy. Call it whatever you like. I call it comics at their best.

Forget the canon. Forget what comics are “supposed” to be. Once we begin to reach uncharted waters, that’s when I start to get interested.

So that’s what I’m here to write about. And hey, if you know where to find more good stuff, I’m always looking for recommendations. I’ll be around.

 

-Ian

Superman #43

I really, really don’t enjoy Superman.

But I LOVE Superman. Or at least I have over the last three months.

The storyline we’ve been following thus far in Action Comics has been called Truth, and it’s been dealing with the fallout that a mostly depowered Superman has to experience after Lois Lane revealed his secret to the world. This was a major point of contention for a lot of people – no way would Lois Lane ever reveal the truth about Clark Kent! Why, Lois was never one to chase a story and publish something, damn the torpedoes and screw whoever got caught in the flotsam and jetsam!

This was a particularly fun argument to follow on Twitter, as people – before they’d read a panel of story – had jumped to several thousand conclusions about how this was going to ruin Superman and how they had well and truly broken the already fractured relationship between Lois and Clark.

I’m included in this, bee-tee-dubs. I went to the wild opposite end of the spectrum – screw the relationship, this was Lois Freakin’ Lane we’re talking about here! Intrepid investigative reporter – the woman who never let her feelings or emotions get in the way of the story! By God, if Lois Lane found out that Clark Kent was Superman (and they weren’t in a relationship), then hell yes she’d release the story! Burn it to the ground, Lois is awesome and she’s going to Expose. The. Truth.

It’s funny, because the storyline is called Truth – and the truth of the matter is, the truth actually falls somewhere in the middle of those two divergent beliefs.

While Action Comics has been dealing with the fallout of the big reveal, Superman has conversely been dealing with the lead-up to the reveal. We’ve met a new villain who has discovered Clark’s secret – Hordr_Root, and have seen Clark slowly start to lose his powers. Through this, though, we’ve seen the tightknit bond that Lois and Clark share – when she found out that Clark was Superman, she was rightfully angry – he’d been lying to her, after all, and she’d almost fallen in love with him. But, with time and space, she realized that Clark and Superman – no matter who was in front of her – were the same person. That even if he was born on another planet, he was at his core a Kansas farm boy raised by loving parents to make the right choice, even when it’s the hard choice.

Which Lois has to do in issue #43.

There’s some great character moments in this particular issue, and you can really sense the depths that the connections between Lois and Clark go. And, in the end, when Lois has to make that hard choice, there’s some great splintering of that relationship – with Lois delivering the ultimate verbal haymaker to Clark. In all honesty, this is as close to a classic Lois and Clark story as you’re to get in the New 52, and it’s a really strong take on the two characters. Dialogue wise, there’s no real misfires for the main players of Lois and Clark, though I’m not the biggest fan of the villain’s speech pattern, or the way Jimmy and supporting cast member Condesa interact. It feels a bit forced, but it’s most likely because it’s lined up against the verbal juggernaut that is the Lois and Clark issue.

From an art perspective, the Superman comics have been some of John Romita Jr’s strongest, and while I’m not usually the biggest fan of his work, I’m pleased to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last three issues. The inks are sharp and crisp, but where the book really triumphs from an artistic perspective is the coloring process – a lot of the colors feel almost water colored, with a lot of deep hues present to show shading and folds. It’s a small thing, but it adds so much depth to the page that the weight of each character, despite being flat paper, is felt and experienced.

Is this issue perfect? No. But when taken at with the rest of the Before Truth storyline running through Superman, it’s a strong placesetting issue that has a hell of a final act to set up where we go from here. This was a logical, well paced comic that really brings things into focus for the next arc – and, for the first time in decades, I can’t wait to read a Superman comic.

Up, up and away!

-Jay

Guest Review: Action comics #43 by Girl-on-comicbook-world

Today we have a special guest review from Girl-On-Comicbook-World. She consistently puts out great material, from comicbook reviews to movie reviews to Opinion pieces. I strongly recommend you go check out her blog. I made her name clickable and you can also click hereor here. Seriously, check out her blog, it’s in my weekly rounds. With out any further delay here we go:

Action Comics #43 Review
Writer: Greg Pak and Artist: Aaron Kuder

Action Comics #43 continues the adventures of the newly depowered, with a now public identity, Superman. Greg Pak continues to prove that he understands the heart of this character through this street-level story, which involves Clark teaming up with his neighbours in Metropolis…whilst they fight Shadow Monsters!!!

Now I know not everyone has been loving this new status quo that has fallen on Superman, and would prefer to be seeing the traditional Superman stories. But here’s the thing, sometimes you need to throw your character into new and different situations in order to deconstruct the character and find out who they really are at heart. And that is exactly what the “Truth” story arc has been doing so far across the Superman books.

The one thing that is imperative to understand about Superman’s character is how he see himself. He doesn’t view himself as a god, or somebody who has the answers to all of life’s problems. He views himself as a guy who grew up on a farm, one day found out he was an alien, and then suddenly had to deal with all the responsibility and expectations that came with that. And because Clark is inherently a good person, he was more than willing to accept his situation and embrace becoming Superman. But at the end of the day he is farm-boy Clark Kent, who would prefer to be hanging out with people, not hovering over them like some arrogant god.

The “Truth” story arc has stripped away what made him seem like a god, his powers, secret identity and costume, and forced the world and audience to see him for who he really is, Clark Kent. And Action Comics #43 explores that, as we see Clark face-to-face with the people of Metropolis, working alongside them.

The issue opens up with Clark punching a cop. Yupp, he punched a cop! But to be fair the cop is actually a Shadow Monster, so all good! But before realising that the cop was in fact a monster, Clark had a moment of struggle, he’s Superman, he shouldn’t be punching cops. But because the cop, Binghamton, was using extreme force on a peaceful neighbourhood, Clark snapped. And that’s the thing about Clark, at his core he will always strike to protect people, and with him being less powerful than he was before, he feels like he needs to overcompensate a little.

After his battle with Binghamton we see a beautiful moment with the people of Metropolis. Clark gives one of his classic inspiring speeches, telling everyone that together they can protect each other, because they’re all Superman now.
There are a bunch of twist and turns in the book, including a shocking revelation about what’s going down in City Hall. All in all Action Comics #43 is very much a character driven story that is deconstructing who Superman is at his core. Even if you aren’t a fan of the Superman character, I would definitely recommend picking up Pak’s Action Comics “Truth” run because it really has been a fascinating story, showing how both Clark and the world reacts when Superman has a public identity.
Kuder’s art as always is great and expressive (although sometimes Clark looks weirdly wide but ehh). The splash page featuring the neighbourhood really gave us a great sense of humanity and diverse community through the character designs and body language.

Overall Action Comics #43 was another great issue by Pak and Kuder, diving deeper into the humanity of Clark. Rating: 8/10.