Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Who Is Nekron?

If you’re reading this, you’re on the Internet, and if you’re on the Internet, you probably know by now that NEKRON is the evil force behind Blackest Night. Unless you are a complete comics obsessive like me, your response to this news was most likely “Wha? Huh? Who Nekron?!?”

Nekron is an old Green Lantern foe dating back to one of DC’s very earliest mini-series, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps (1981). It was actually one of the earliest DC series I ever read, though long since lost from my collection. Nekron rules the Realm of the Dead, a nebulously-defined region of cosmic real-estate that’s not quite Limbo, not quite Purgatory, where the souls of the dead await passage to either Heaven or Hell. Nekron was content enough to lord over the spirits in waiting until Krona arrived, opening a rift to the universe of the living. Krona was an immortal, so when he “died”, the paradox ripped open the wall between Nekron’s grim domain and the living universe:

Scans from Green Lantern Annual #7 by Steve Vance and Ron Lim

Peeking through the rift, Nekron decided he wanted some of that action, and sent Krona and an army of dead Green lanterns to kill the Guardians of the Universe and widen the rift to allow his escape. Hal Jordan and the living lanterns managed to beat back the invasion, but Nekron hasn’t been the same since. His appearances since then have been variations on the same “raise the dead to invade the living world” trick, and it seems that Blackest Night is his biggest, most ambitious plot yet.

The revolving-door nature of death in the DC Universe is itself a major theme of Blackest Night, so I suspect that Nekron’s ambitions are going to end up being the reason for that instability. We don’t know how or why he was made ruler of the afterlife, but for a time, he was only one aspect of death in the DCU. As told in some Captain Atom comics I last read 17 years ago and in Nekron’s Wikipedia entry:

“Captain Atom has a run-in with Nekron in the pages of Captain Atom #42 and #43 (June-July 1990), in which he is described as "Death as the Ultimate Opponent." Black Racer, also making an appearance, is coined "Death as an Inevitability," while Death (prominently known from her appearances in Vertigo titles) represents "Death as the Release, as Mercy, as Compassion."
Death and the Black Racer are both out of the picture these days, with Vertigo characters famously off-limits to the DCU and the New Gods characters having been exported to an alternate Earth, so that may leave Nekron as “the” Limbo/Purgatory gatekeeper. We can probably assume, then, that Nekron has a purpose; to process and usher dead souls into the afterlife. It appears he’s been hoarding the souls of the dead heroes and villains all these years, planning Blackest Night, and as a result, it’s been much easier for dead souls to come and go. If so, Nekron is a cosmic-level slacker who hasn’t been doing his job at all. Like a disgruntled worker surfing "" on company time, Nekron spends all of his time scheming to conquer the realm of the living, while letting his “IN” box fill up. I don’t know if he’s been doing the same piss-poor job with civilians, but all signs point to “Yes" at least as far as deceased supporting cast members are concerned.

This idea even fits in pretty well with publishing history, since the majority of Black Lanterns we’ve seen died after Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, which lines up approximately with Nekron’s debut (and discovery of the living realm) in 1981. In other words, so far, we haven’t seen any Black Lanterns who died before Nekron got ambitious and started paying attention.

Meta, isn’t it?

If so, his defeat (we assume!) at the end of Blackest Night could lead to a sacking and change of management in Limbo. Maybe the Spectre will get the job. Presumably, that would also lead to a slate of redemptive resurrections and/or passages to the afterlife. I could see a mass resurrection, with a few characters electing to go to their final reward peacefully, knowing that they will pass forever. I always enjoy seeing obscure characters get dug up and dusted off, and I actually have read all of his previous appearances, so I’m interested to see Nekron’s big push after all these years. Whatever happens, the metaphysical implications are pretty staggering for the DCU, and should make for good reading.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ghosts of Blackest Night in the 30th Century!

DC's latest epic crossover, Blackest Night has been pretty good so far, though the second issue seemed featherlight compared to the first, and told us nothing we didn't already know. Except, of course, that we've already been here. A couple of times.

In 1998, DC's JLA annuals were haunted by "GHOSTS", as the various JLA'ers were haunted by the dead from their pasts. (Note that by now, many of those "dead" have since returned.) I don't have most of these, but if the Green Lantern, Flash, and JLA Annuals I do have are any indication, it looks like the Bernie Wrightson covers were the best things about 'em.

Ignore that innacurate-but-excellent cover; Flash Annual #7 saw the Flash, haunted by the flickering, barely coherent speed force ghost of Johnny Quick. He finally has a heartwarming ghost-hug with Jessie Quick, but no point does Johnny become a zombie and attack Flash.

Green Lantern Annual#7 is a different story however, as Kyle Rayner finds himself meeting his fellow Green Lanterns for the first time, as hideous, undead revenants! You'll recall that in 1998, the Green Lantern Corps were still dead, Mogo was destroyed, and the Corps disbanded, leaving Kyle Rayner the sole Green Lantern. Nekron shows up, taking advantage of the supernatural forces behind the larger "Ghosts" storyline to elbow his way back into our universe, and sics the Lantern Corpses on Kyle, before being subdued. We'll be talking more about that guy soon.

No, the true force behind the haunting in the Annuals is revealed in JLA Annual #2. It turns out Felix Faust, in one of his many bids for immortality has awakened an ancient Egyptian wizard, Hermes Trismegistus, and angered him enough to cause all this mess with the ghosts.

All of this, indeed, all events in the story so far, is of secondary importance to the GHOST OF VIBE:

Yes, Paco Ramone returns, looking for his former team mate, Aquaman. The Ghost of Vibe is accompanied by eerie strains of old school electro Break dance music wherever he goes, and soon Ice, Steel, and other dead JLA members re-emerge as well. At the end, Vibe leads them to dog-pile on the evil-wizard-possessed Faust:

Five years earlier, in the 30th century, The Legion of Superheroes 43-48 (1993) saw a multi-issue saga that had the 30th century heroes caught in a struggle between Mordru and the White Witch. Mordru raised an army of the undead, among whom were such dead Earth heroes as Vigilante, the Justice Society, and Jason Todd:

As if that weren't bad enough, the Legion had racked up quite a body count by this time in this continuity, so eventually, all of the dead Legionaries showed up for a Live Legion versus Dead Legion showdown:

So yeah, DC has done the "Undead Heroes return" thing before, albeit never on the Scale of Blackest Night. It remains to be seen how Blackest Night turns out, but lets hope we at least get Black Lantern Vibe out of it, before we're through.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kevin O'Neill Draws Tales of the Bizarro World!

If there is any DC character Kevin O'Neill was born to draw, its Bizarro, and this Tom Peyer- written short from 1998 gave him full run of Bizarro world, despite that world "not existing" in canon at the time. Mister O'Neill's work is polarizing; you either love it or hate it. I quite like it myself, and hope you enjoy "BIZARRO MUST THINK", a tale of one monster's demented bittersweet fantasy:

Say it with me now:
Us do opposite of all earthly things.
Us hate beauty.
Us love ugliness.
Is big crime to do anything perfect on Bizarro world.

Poor, poor lonely Bizarro. But don't feel too bad for him - he did get his own version of Bizarro World, eventually.

"Bizarro Must Think"
Script: Tom Peyer
Art: Kevin O'Neill
Story scanned from Adventure Comics 80-Page Giant, DC Comics (October 1998)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sponge Worthy

If Jolly Jack Kirby be something ye wish, Then drop to the deck, and flop like a fish!

I had to share this most excellent Spongebob Superteam illustration I found over at Paul Conrad's Super Robot Monster Blog! He did this drawing for an issue of Nickelodeon Magazine, apparently one of the titles' last. Check out Paul's blog for more on that, as well as some great concept sketches, including Spongebob as...Arnim Zola?!?

ANY way, nautical nonsense indeed be something I wish, and my eight year old son and I have enjoyed many a morning chortling inanely at the antics of Spongebob, Patrick and the rest of the denizens of Bikini Bottom. Of course, as a grouchy old bald man, I most identify with Squidward. I also dig the legendary comic book art of Jack Kirby, as I've mentioned a few times before, so this mash-up of Spongebob and the cover of Fantastic Four #49 was appreciated by father and son alike!

I really like how Paul went the extra mile of reverse-Kirby-engineering the Spongebob cast, and thinking it through, rather than taking the easy route of simply drawing the cast in Fantastic Four uniforms. Patrick makes an ideal Thing stand-in, given that the Thing is basically star-shaped. Spongebob's hyper-helmeted design incorporates his beloved spatula, and ironically enough, Kirby's style tended towards square pants anyway, so that's a perfect translation. All the designs are great, actually. Heck, now I wanna see a whole comic with the Spongebob Superteam!


Monday, August 10, 2009

Bang-Up Thrilling Displays of Physical Strength and Power

I think it's a damn shame that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were treated so badly for so long by National/DC Comics. They really should have gotten their proper due as the creators of Superman, if only so Siegel could have spent more of his sunset years playing golf and fewer writing comics like Mr. Muscles:

Brett Carson is Mr. Muscles, a costumed strongman who begins "Man Vs. Beast!" hanging out at the Zoo showing off for the adoring crowds. The best I can tell by this issue, somehow Mr. Muscles makes a living by running a gym full of "pupils", wrestling, and, well, appearing at Zoos, apparently.

But not everyone is a fan. Meet the most embittered Zookeeper in comics:

Mister Muscles dazzles the crowd with such feats as: balancing himself on one thumb! Lifting weights on barbells! 81 whole knee-bends! The exhibition climaxes as Mr. Muscles meets his greatest challenge yet; a big bald lard ass climbing a ladder to cannon ball our hapless roid-case:

HOORAY MR. MUSCLES!!! Of course, the fat guy tumbles down the ladder to a shuddering heap on the cement below, dislocating several vertebrae, but who cares, he’s just some fat fuck! MR. MUSCLES!!! Every day is a rippling, glistening, corded holiday with Mr. Muscles around!

That evening, the worlds mightiest physical culturist instructs his pupils:

"Now, the trick is to let them know you're really trying to kick the drugs, but you need to sell these candy bars so you can go to the drug retreat at Disney World. Then you won't be stuck here and tempted back to drugs. We talked about what IMPLY means, Right?

Class: (mumbles agreement)

Mr. Muscles: Right! So you all gotta IMPLY that if they DON'T buy enough candy bars, you might be back! For money to steal from them! For drugs!! "

Give the man credit though, when he gets an emergency call from the zoo, he immediately jumps out the window. I'd like to see "the Fuzz" match that level of service:

Published by Charlton Comics, Mr. Muscles took over issues 22 and 23 of the defunct Blue Beetle series, so don't be fooled into thinking that Mr. Muscles lasted 23 issues! Charlton did this sort of numbering trick all the time to avoid paying mailing fees related to starting up a new title. So they might start out with Combat Action for issues 1-7, change to Western Action for issues 8-13, and morph to Undersea Romance Western for issues 14-24, before wrapping up the run with, say, Captain Atom's Tomb of Terror for issues 25 and 26. Modern readers will be heartened to know that Marvel has made great strides in challenging Charlton’s position as King of the fucked-up numbering mountain in recent years.

In other news, yes, an apparently nude "Kid Muscles" has just jumped into the Roadster....

A page later, the Evil Zoo Keeper has immediately knocked out the useless Kid Muscles and trapped Mr. muscles in the tiger cage. Between their special Fat Guy/Bodybuilder Stunt-Stravaganza and their deranged, Tiger-unleashing Zoo Caretaker, I'm thinking this Zoo has some serious OSHA issues.

I have no words for the TIGER MUSCLE ZOO ACTION that follows:

Then it turns out that the wicked Zoo Keeper was just jealous of Mr. Muscles! He was all skinny, and Mr.Muscles was all strong, and it just made him want to turn tigers loose on one guy and try to shoot another guy!

Then Mr. Muscles tells the inspring tale of how he overcame polio to perfect his body and strove for years to regain his mobility, then later to resemble a giant greased cauliflower. All is forgiven as our Don Knotts-esque Zooman becomes a physical and moral exemplar, rippling with muscles and mental clarity. I like to think that he went back to work at the zoo wearing just the wrestling shorts and his "Zoo Caretaker" cap.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Recommended Reading: Irredeemable

I've been meaning to recommend IRREDEEMABLE by Mark Waid and Peter Krause for some time now. Waid is one of my favorite writers, and his exploration of superhuman powers in the hands of someone decidedly lacking Superman's impeccable moral compass has made it to the top of my read pile each month. Peter Krause is a solid artist in the classic mold, his style slightly reminiscent of Curt Swan, and thus the perfect choice for a series with a cracked mirror approach to silver age morality and characterization. I've heard online grumbling to the effect that this is just another dark Superman story, but if so it's the richest, most absorbing "dark Superman" tale in ages. After years of serving as the world's greatest superhero, the Plutonian has gone rogue. Years of nursed grudges, petty human betrayals, and thousands of overheard insults have soured him and turned him on mankind. The first issue found him tracking his former team mates from the Paradigm as they had to hurriedly adjust to the shift (heh) in their circumstances.

The Plutonian seeks out the worst in an adoring crowd, in this scene from Irredeemable #1

Now that he's gone mad, his former teammates and friends are finding out just how little they really knew about him, as well as how vicious and dangerous he can be. The Plutonian is up to something big, and a scattered band of heroes search for a way to stop him, as a terrified mankind waits to see what doom their former savior holds for them. It's quite good, and you should check it out, so it sells well and I can keep reading it.

The Plutonian stages the perfect romance. From Irredeemable #2.

I'm enough of a Waid fan that I bought the monthlies as they came out, and I'm fine with that, since I don't wanna wait. If you want to catch up, the bargain-priced Irredeemable Volume 1 Trade Paperback comes out today for just 11 bucks! For more modest budgets, I'll also recommend the 99-cent Irredeemable #5,and raise you an online preview. Tell 'em Again With the Comics sent ya!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Marvel and MarvelMan

So Marvel owns Marvelman now. Oh shit. An insanely convoluted intellectual rights situation just got a whole hell of a lot crazier, and I'm sure this will all go just as smoothly as, say, the aftermath of Michael Jackson's death.

I’m not sure what, if anything was accomplished by Marvel’s deal with Mick Anglo, but it almost certainly had nothing to do with moving forward the reprinting of Miracleman. The list of people that may need to be placated in order to get those stories to print includes, but isn’t necessarily limited to: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Garry Leach, Dez Skinn, Alan Davis, Chuck Austen, John Totleben, Rick Veitch, Mark Buckingham, and Todd McFarlane. That’s a lot of money to throw around, and some of those folks are going to be difficult no matter what.

But lets be optimistic and suppose Marvel throws money in all the right directions. Everyone buys off, and they get all the Marvelman and Miracleman rights, and even Alan Moore just basically washes his hands of it. Everything’s hunky-dory, right? Not so fast. Just because Marvel has caught this fish doesn’t mean they know how to gut it, clean it, and cook it.

Let’s say Marvel gets it together somehow to get a deluxe edition Miracleman collection into bookstores: $150 deluxe multi- volume set collecting books 1-4 . Regardless of format, rest assured that “MARVEL” will take up approximately 40% of the spine. In BIG RED LETTERS. They will fuck up the presentation somehow, I assure you. Do you think this one will be a big enough deal to call in Arthur Suydam to do the Zombie Variant cover? Because there will be one.

Then there’s the innards. In all the rush to get this treasured classic, how many of the higher ups at Marvel have actually read Miracleman recently? I have, and it’s full of interesting things that they might recoil at when the rubber hits the road, and the book goes to press. For example, I can’t imagine Marvel Comics leaving the unflinchingly realistic four-page birth scene from Miracleman #9 intact, at least not in any mass-market printing. In the context of the story, Miracleman has just rescued his very pregnant wife Liz from Doctor Gargunza, when she realizes that its time to have the baby. They are far from any hospital, so Miracleman has to help her deliver right then and there, and Rick Veitch drew the whole graphic birth sequence, front and center. And why not? There are sure enough graphic deaths in comics. But I can't imagine Marvel printing the sequence uncut, especially in any mass-market edition. Imagine the howls of outrage then! It's the next big tempest in a teapot, I'm telling ya!