Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Causality for Concern?

Recently, while discussing Marvel Two-In-One #50, I talked about Reed Richard's theory that any attempt to change the past via time travel inevitably leads to the creation of an alternate timeline. This rule came to be known (in Marvel comics, anyway) as the Conservation of Causality, or Kang's Third Law of Time. Here, this is easier:

Fantastic Four #553 revisits the theory, and Reed has to make some drastic revisions. Dwayne McDuffie’s all-too-brief writing stint on FF ended when a time-traveling Doctor Doom came back from 75 years in the future to stop Reed from implementing Idea #101. The elder Doom insists that in the future, Reed has become a power mad tyrant and therefore must be stopped from continuing to implement his list of ideas. The FF of 75 years hence arrive, still spry and more powerful than ever thanks to Reed's longevity advances. The centenarian Doctor Doom then demands asylum from “our” FF. Long story short, the two teams fight, reconcile, and have an appropriate parting with Doctor Doom. It’s a good story, as was the rest of Dwayne McDuffie and Paul Pelletier’s FF run. Ultimately, Reed has this to say about the Conservation of Causality:

This new development is quite a relief. I was worried that I was creating alternate timelines every time I had to choose between having a turkey or a roast beef sandwich. As stated, the timeline will remain the same regardless of my lunch choice, so that’s a load off my shoulders. Using Reed’s logic here, deaths can be undone, marriages can be never-were-ed, and origins can be re-written with impunity, provided they don’t mangle history so much that it creates a new timeline. So Harry Osborn can come back via magic devil trickery and the rest of the world “adjusts’ its collective memory and history to allow for his never having died. Of course, Harry may be doomed to die again, too. Mephisto also went back in time to alter the past so the Parkers were never married, and the timeline was robust enough to allow for that. In other words, had Mephisto gone back and killed Spider-Man on his wedding day, that would have been enough to launch a branching timeline, but this more subtle tweak kept the timeline intact, with minor alterations.

Of course, devil-powered time travel is magic, which has even fewer rules than science-based time travel, so that may be a poor example. My point is that from now on, time travel becomes a much more elastic concept. And of course, severe, transformative events are going to stick, even under the new rule. Presumably, the bigger the problem, the harder it is to change via time travel, as in Reed’s Lincoln example. The heroes may, for example, be able to go back and prevent Stamford from blowing up, and thus prevent the Superhuman Registration Act, but something else would happen to cause Civil War anyway.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Review: Justice League: The New Frontier

I've had an early look at Justice League: The New Frontier, and yes, it was excellent. Based on the original story by Darwyn Cooke, the film eschews most of the civilian and military characters in favor of focusing on a looming alien incursion and the tension between the mystery men and a suspicious, resentful public. Darwyn Cooke was consulted in this movie, and it shows. His graphic style dominates throughout, and it looks fantastic animated. Small wonder, since he cut his teeth on Batman: The Animated Series. Stan Berkowitz did a fine job of adapting the original, retaining the spirit of the original, while sharpening the focus to the Justice League. The animation is fantastic throughout, though I've come to expect no less from Bruce Timm and co. The voice casting was spot-on for the most part, and Andrea Romano continues to impress me as a person who not only knows what the characters should sound like, but what different incarnations of the characters should sound like. Great stuff, and recommended.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Remembrance of "Remembrance of Things Past!"

I’ve read thousands of comics. Tens of thousands in fact, so it should come as no surprise that I have a lot of “favorites”. Like any funnybook hoarding weirdo, I have favorite writers, favorite artists, and favorite characters. Amongst the superhero crowd, one ever-lovin’ blue eyed Thing stands above the rest. I started reading comics intently with Spidey, but over time Benjamin J. Grimm has proven to be the superhero I like the most, and most consistently. Which is to say, while some of our heroes aren't acting themselves, the Thing is (ahem) rock solid. Unless he's a Skrull.

With stories, though, it would be impossible to cite any one favorite. Again, even restricting our choices to the Marvel/DC axis, there have been many better stories than “Remembrance of Things Past” from Marvel Two-In-One #50 but few as all-out fun. I picked this up at the age of 10, in the misty past of 1979, and read it to confetti over the next few years. Back then, of course, I had no idea what was going to be in at the comic shop any given visit, and this issue was a complete surprise to my young self. John Byrne’s tale pitted the polished, modern Thing against his lumpen, grotesque early self, and to a ten-year old, that's golden.

Who am I kidding? I still love this story.

“Remembrance of Things Past” started as so many Fantastic Four stories do: in the lab of Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mister Fantastic. Once again, Reed has tried to cure his old friend of his rocky mutation, and once again, he has failed:

Reed leaves the lab, and Ben gets a brainstorm: if the cure could only work in the past, he’ll give it to his past self. “Borrowing” Doctor Doom’s time machine from the lab, the Thing travels back in time to shortly after the Fantastic Four’s debut. Narrowly missing a much younger Reed in the as-yet unoccupied Baxter Building, Ben sets out to his old neighborhood:

...Where he meets his younger, uglier, bitterer self, fresh from the cosmic ray shower and simmering with a miserable mix of resentment and self-pity:

I love the stiff, formal way Thing.0 speaks. Thus begins an impossible, time defying multi-page battle. I should mention that artistically, this was John Byrne at his best, with the amazing Joe Sinnott on inks. They did a great job making old skool Thing jarringly ugly compared to the “teddy bear” Thing Ben had evolved into. The two titans clash on and on:

Hey, modern-day Thing! What time is it?

Finally, present-day Thing '79 gets to do what he came to do. He feeds the unconscious proto-Thing Reed’s antidote, and heads back to his own era:

Of course, Things don’t always work out as planned, and Ben returns to his own time, expecting to see his human face, only to find:

And so that, it would seem, was that. Except it wasn't. Ben later returned to this timeline to find a Galactus-blasted husk with a few ragtag survivors being lorded over by the Red Skull. I can't remember why Galactus ate Earth, but I don't think it had anything to do with the Thing or a lack of same. It...wasn't very good.

Reed's theory about how a time-traveler can never change the past, just create an alternate timeline? Yeah, someone comes along later in the Marvel Universe and blows a big hole right through that little tidbit. Soon, here, you'll find out who, and why his discovery is good news for Harry Osborn.

For another look at this great, great Thing tale, go see Comics Oughta Be Fun's coverage of "Remembrance of Things Past!" from which I "liberated" a couple of the pix used above.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Review: glamourpuss #1

Having read the Cerebus phonebooks in their entirety, I'm already aware that Dave Sim is two parts genius and one part madman. His exquisite artwork (ably assisted by Gerhard, of course) on Cerebus was a constant even when the narrative went off the rails and into more difficult Reads. Suffice to say, you can always be sure of beautiful artwork in a Dave Sim comic, just as you can always count on a...highly unusual reading experience. Conceptually and tonally, glamourpuss couldn't be more different from Cerebus, but it is indeed a lushly illustrated, deeply strange and very much "Dave Sim" read.

My local comic store, Bargain Comics, was kind enough to let me read their copy of the Exclusive Comic Industry Preview Edition of glamourpuss #1, last week, and it is literally like nothing I've seen before. It is, in the main, a sketchbook; a working diary in narrative form. In the text, Sim is candid about his goals:

"When people ask me if I have anything planned after Cerebus, this is about all that comes to mind: Cute teenaged girls in my best Al Williamson style."

"Interesting, Dave. But what would the book be about?"

"I just told you. Cute teenaged girls in my best Al Williamson style."

"If I think of anything story-wise (which isn't likely to happen), I'll let you know."

Let that serve as the manifesto and the mission statement of glamorpuss. Sim spends his 30 pages practicing his best Al Williamson, Alex Raymond, and John Prentice* impersonations, explaining their use of delicate brushwork, how it was often lost in the crude printings the strip received, and his struggles to incorporate their styles into his own art. Mixed among that, we also get the deep, insightful, and altogether-too-fashionable ruminations of N'atashe, An origin of glamourpuss, Doctor Norm's candid, in-comic analysis of glamourpuss, and Skanko's Dating Guide, all of which are parodic looks at models, fashion, pop psychology, and other subjects that I'm equally unfamiliar with. Sim's notorious misogyny seems more-or-less in check, skewering at a target, the fashion industry in general and cold, imperious models in particular, that most can agree are equally fascinating and ludicrous.

So, recommended with an "if", or panned with a "but"? I recommend glamourpuss IF you have an appetite for well drawn pretty, impossibly fashionable girls served up with a heapng helping of art theory and a side of fashioniosta satire. Weird, but not bad.

*Sucessor to Alex Raymond on Rip Kirby after Raymond's unexpected death.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Secret Invasion Sneak Peek


On the comic gossip front, check out these covers and story synoses for upcoming Secret Invasion issues and tie-ins from Marvel. I found all of this in IGN's Secret Invasion: Revelations interview with Brian Bendis and Tom Brevoort. All of this, needless to say, is packed with SPOILERS, so don't bitch at me if you get SPOILED.

The Invasion is here!! The Marvel Universe is in shambles. The Skrull Empire's plan has birthed itself into perfection. It is hero versus hero!! Resurrections and reunions!!

Is Tony Stark a Skrull? And is that actually Captain America leading the heroes into a new era??

The Greek Goliath gathers the most powerful super-team ever assembled to counter-attack the Skrull gods! Face front, True Believers, and prepare for the pantheon-pounding premiere of... THE GOD SQUAD!

The invasion has started, and no one in the MU is safe, not even the First Family of Comicdom! Aware that some of the Earth's most advanced technology and weaponry is housed in the Baxter Building, the Skrulls have neutralized the building--by transporting it and its inhabitants straight to the Negative Zone!

With one member of the Fantastic Four M.I.A. and another "replaced," it's up to the remaining family members--not to mention Franklin and Val—to get back to our dimension, Skrulls or no Skrulls. But are any of our heroes who they think they are?

Sinister, isn't it?

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Zebra Batman!

Awhile back, I told you about the Black Casebook of the Batman, and among those weird Bat-tales was this little gem:

Well, over at Scans Daily, "Tsuki the Geek" was kind enough to scan most of the story of the one and only ZEBRA BATMAN. Now you can see what made Batman all stripey, and meet another forgotten Batman foe, the outrageous Zebra Man:

Go read "The Zebra Batman" now!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Oh Jeez, I Lost My Neez.

Son of a bitch. Steve Gerber has passed away.

Such a damn great writer, up to the very end. His last projects were as vibrant, intelligent, and off-kilter as his greatest hits. Howard the Duck is an all-time favorite, and I was enjoying his most recent work on Doctor Fate. He was ever-improving and experimenting and his unique world view will be missed.

Rest easy, Steve.

Archie's Pals and Gals and Severed Heads

Good Lord (CHOKE!) Archie's eternal dilemma seems to have driven the poor lad quite mad. Veronica or Betty? Betty or Veronica?!? The question scratches at his brain like a rat, as Jughead raids the fridge yet again,and Reggie prattles endlessly, maddeningly. Then there's the butcher block, with its shiny, shiny knives. Calling to him. Singing.

The living room carpet is soaked with blood now, and Reggie and Jughead's grisly severed heads serve as a horrific, albeit still-gamely-wisecracking testaments to the dark depths of Archie's madness.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Strange Schwartz Stories

I wish I could say I've been to a bunch of conventions in my life, but I've only major con I've ever attended was the San Diego Comic Con of 1998. Anyone want to see my awesome Garth Ennis Baytor-as-Batman sketch?

Julius Schwartz was another of the guests, and as I was slowly rebuilding my collection after a Navy stint, I had few Schwartz edited comics, only more recent stuff. I ended up bringing a copy of Ambush Bug Nothing Special #1 (1992), edited by and partially-starring Julius Schwartz.

In the story, Ambush Bug aspires to inherit the title of DC's goodwill ambassador from Julie, but the only thing standing in way is the seemingly immortal Schwartz. Ambush Bug travels through time and space only to find the editor waiting for him in various wacky guises. The Bug jumps to the Legion of Superhereroes' era only to find:

Bug jumps further ahead in time but cannot escape the omnipresent Schwartz. So I met Mister Schwartz, and after the customary star-struck babbling, showed him the book. He got a good laugh out of it, showed it to his nonplussed wife, and talked awhile about his time editing the Ambush Bug books. I had him autograph a page where he directly addresses the readers and tells them the truth about comics, which has only gotten truer:

Of course, he ultimately proved to be all too mortal after all, but I'm glad I had a chance to meet an industry legend.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An Elegant Gallery of "Hulk Versus Thing" Artistry

FF#25 cover by the immortal Jack Kirby, without whom there would be no Thing or Hulk

Once more, we at Again With the Comics attempt to elevate and enlighten you, the common rabble, through the display of modern classics of art. Even the basest vulgarians can appreciate the subtle elegance of the classic clash of two elemental titans: The HULK and the THING. Who can deny the sublime elegance of orange gravel fist shattering emerald chin or of jade knuckles shattering stony orange facial bones in a gory orgy of pulse-pounding ultraviolence:

I always root for the esteemed Mister Grimm in these unseemly brawls, but sadly, he usually comes out worse for the wear. That previous display of mayhem was courtesy of the talented Ryan Ottley, whose Invincible (with writer Robert Kirkman) is an excellent read. Next is a much more whimsical piece by Tiny Titans' Art Baltazar:

The esteemed Bruce Timm provided our next piece, set the very split-second before explosive violence:

Here's another, cartoonier look at the battling behemoths, courtesy Jim Mariano:

I vote for Hulk vs Thing in the next Fantastic Four movie:

We've always enjoyed Chris Giarusso's work. Now enjoy his take on Marvel's greatest rivalry:

A toy photo by "El Dave" casts an eerie light on the usual clobbering and smashing:

Mike Manley rounds out our display, with a classic take on this classic clash:

Finally, these two aren't fighting, but how could I resist these great Stan Lee Tribute exhibits from Alex Kirwan and Monster Factory?

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Ambush Bug History of the DC Universe!

While I was out last week, the biggest news was undoubtedly the announcement that Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming are making a return to Ambush Bug in July. If you've never read this bizarre, hilarious book, its not so much superhero parody as it is a look into Giffen's naked ID, with a mellowing influence by Fleming. I'm not really sure what these guys do, or how they do it, but the results are inspired. Plot logic takes a definite back seat to hilarity, and no target in the DCU is safe. The Bug got his start tormenting Superman and was rewarded with a mini series back in '85, setting the tone for Ambush Bug's later mad escapades. The third issue completely abandoned any pretense of being "about" anything, opting for a full-blown mockery of DC's Whos Who series, making this a perfect issue from which to cull some samples. Enjoy these choice selections from Ambush Bug #3, as he seeks out the likes of Bat-Mite, Bizarro, Egg-Fu, Wonder Tot, and the Green Team:

At the end, it turned out that the mysterious woman responsible for sidelining these wacky old characters was Jonni DC, Continuity Cop, who was in turn killed by...DARKSEID!! Giffen had a a running gag that ended each issue with a Darkseid cliffhanger, culminating with a knock-down drag out battle between the Bug and the Warlord of Apokolips (the Bug won). Damn, Giffen is great. And yeah, this probably isn't the last you'll see of Ambush Bug at Again With the Comics. More soon, pals!