Monday, August 29, 2005

Infinite Crisis: the Crisis so far...

We're quite a way into the lead-up to Infinite Crisis, so without actually going back and re-reading the miniseries and tie-ins up to this point, these are my opinions off the top of my head.

The OMAC Project: Five issues in, and this remains my favorite of the minis. There's some great action, a good mystery, and enough suspense to keep me wondering what's going to happen next. The only problem I really have (besides the wholesale slaughter of JLI members) is that there's no way they'll be able to wrap up the story in the next issue, and it'll just bleed right into the Infinite Crisis miniseries.

Day of Vengeance: This story finally hit its stride, though it seems a little too late. We know very little about some of the principal characters (i.e., Nightmaster), and the long Spectre/Captain Marvel battle seems to have had little importance in the long run. This series has alternated between fast-paced and plodding, with the only common factor being the ever-witty dialogue and the fascinating cast. It's not as bad as I'm making it sound, but it's not my favorite series. Maybe I'm just wary of the "destruction of magic." Oh, and kudos to Willingham for finally characterizing the Spectre.

Villains United: Easily the most fun miniseries, I certainly hope some of the main cast members of this book translate into a new Suicide Squad. Cheshire's baby with Catman (if nothing else, a nice play on their respective codenames) is a neat angle, and I like the idea of idealistic antihero Catman being perceived as a sort of Batman-wannabe, which would further underscore his past relationship with former-Batman-wannabe Green Arrow. Simone's dialogue is top-notch, and the banter between the supervillains on both sides is fantastic. OMAC's my favorite for action, Villains is my favorite for characters.

Rann-Thanagar War: And R-TW is the forgotten red-headed stepchild of the bunch. I love the characters, particularly the Hawks, Kyle Rayner, and Adam Strange. I only have a passing familiarity with the Omega Men, Captain Comet, L.E.G.I.O.N., and Komand'r, but I recognize them all. I'm even a bit familiar with Onimar Synn. So why does this series leave me so confused? Is it because I don't recall the individual events of each issue from one issue to the next? I'm not totally sure. I expect this to make a lot more sense when I can read all six issues in a single sitting, but so far it's a jumbled mess. Considering that it spun out of the exemplary Adam Strange miniseries, that's a shame.

DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy: Hey, look! Donna Troy's screwed up again! When you go through origin stories, costumes, and powers the way other people go through socks, it's bound to mess you up in the head. Just look at Henry "Giant Man/Ant Man/Yellowjacket/Whatever else" Pym. I bought the "Who is Donna Troy" trade in hopes that it would make some sense out of all of this. Who was I kidding?

Sacrifice: I posted my feelings on Sacrifice before, but here's the short: the first two issues are unnecessary, Adventures and Wonder Woman are a pretty good read, and it all should have been nicely recapped in OMAC #4. But, easily one of the strongest tie-in stories outside of the miniseries.

JLA: Crisis of Conscience: You know, I don't care what your personal feelings are for Infinite Crisis or the Identity Crisis fallout, the fact is that this is the best JLA story arc since Joe Kelly left as the regular writer. After the hackwork of Claremont and Byrne pimping the latter's continuity-mangling Doom Patrol pap, and then the hackwork of Chuck Austen's moody, continuity-ignoring depressed-hero garbage, then the worst thing I've ever seen from Kurt Busiek, a convoluted, boring, anticlimactic story that couldn't reference half of the crossover it followed up on, after all that, it's nice to see an action-packed, intriguing story featuring the Justice League and an honest-to-god supervillain or eight.

Teen Titans: Raise your hand if you're not buying the new issue! Two bad reviews + Rob Liefeld + hit-or-miss Gail Simone = Not worth my $2.50. Maybe the next time my comic shop has a sale, I'll pick 'em both up for half-price. But the issues before it were pretty good. I liked the Superboy story stuff, and it was nice to see the fallout in Superman, where the Man and Boy of Steel commiserate over being mind controlled (less nice was the resurrection of that awful soul-vision garbage). Titans hasn't been sucked into the full crossover mode, but the teens have been dealing with aspects of it, and dealing in interesting ways.

JSA: A nice lead-up to Day of Vengeance in the book that deserves it, since the Spectre is still a card-carrying JSA member. I guess Eclipso sort of is too. And it was nice to see an OMAC finally laid out flat, and to basically confirm that Mr. Terrific outsmarted Batman.

Batman: I'm skipping out on War Crimes, but I'll come back when they start talking about Red Hood again. Does this tie in more than tangentially to IC? Got me.

The Flash: Johns is one of the architects of Infinite Crisis, but his books seem divided. Teen Titans and JSA are pretty well-involved in the crossover, but Green Lantern is way off on its own, and the Flash? Is Zoom in the Society? I really haven't been totally sure. Either way, Rogues War rocks, and it'll be a bit painful to see Johns go. Although his run between Ignition and the war left a little to be desired.

Are other books tying in? I know there's a bunch of "red skies" issues, though people promised there wouldn't be. Ah, well. That's all I have off the top of my head. Oh, and incidentally:

JSA: Classified vs. Supergirl: Geoff Johns is telling the origin story of a superpowered woman who may or may not be from Krypton, with a story that is full of heart, humor, and mystery. Jeph Loeb is telling the origin story of a superpowered young woman who may or may not be from Krypton, with a story that is full of battles and cryptic dialogue. Jeph, take a hint from Geoff. He does mysteries *much* better than you do.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Paging Amanda Conner...

Someone, put Amanda Conner on a Superman book, pronto. Pair her with Gail Simone--two of the finest ladies in comics working on its premier hero, that'd rock.

I say this because of Conner's recent JSA: Classified #2, where she did something totally different with her portrayal of Superman: she made him look like a normal guy.

Well, as normal as any guy looks in a cape and spandex. But he wasn't muscles-on-muscles in a skintight uniform, he was a little lanky, a little awkward, and he looked so down-to-earth...exactly how you'd imagine a farmboy from Kansas to look when in the big city, comforting a big friend.

No, the Fortress of Soliloquy is not above joking about Power Girl's breasts.

But man, that art...that touched a nerve in me. I've seen hundreds of artists' work on Superman over the years, and only a few stand out as totally unique. Amanda Conner's is among the uniquest.

Get this lady on a Superman book, ASAP!

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Death in Comics

In trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to articulate my feelings regarding Blue Beetle's death in response to the ever-talented Brian Cronin (of Comics Should Be Good and Snark Free Waters, I came across what I believe to be cardinal rules for character death in comics.

1. Characters die for two reasons: to further the plot, or to add emotional significance.

2. Characters who die in service of one or the other alone tend to not stay dead very long.

3. Characters whose deaths lead to better stories than their lives would have, whose deaths are justified, tend to stay dead much longer.

Guy Gardner died in one panel in Our Worlds at War. He's alive and kicking now. Barry Allen, Gwen Stacy, and Uncle Ben, however, are not. Their deaths have been justified by the stories that have been told as a direct consequence of their deaths.

Is Blue Beetle's death justified? The ramshackle reunion of the JLI in OMAC Project suggests that the writers think so. In the long run, only time will tell. How many years did it take before John Ostrander (in Martian Manhunter) and Kieth Giffen (in JLA: Classified) justified Ice's death?

More on this later. I promise.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

What the hell happened...

...to John Byrne?

Once upon a time, Byrne was a fine storyteller, both in terms of writing and art. His dialogue was often cheesy, his plotting was sometimes clumsy, but through his own work and the work of some top-notch editors, he managed some of the best-remembered runs in comics history. I haven't read much of the Fantastic Four or X-Men issues that really made him famous, but you can't deny how good the first year or three of Superman following the Crisis reboot (and the Man of Steel reboot, to boot!) were fantastic comics. Over the course of a few years and three separate series, Byrne and co. (with a healthy helping of Marv Wolfman, I know) put together the foundation for Superman as we know him.

And his art! Byrne's figures were carved from freakin' stone! Chiseled jaws, sturdy muscles--there's a reason they put him on Superman! Okay, so characters had a tendency to look alike, but I never said the man was George Pérez. You could distinguish Maggie Sawyer from Lois Lane, and that's really what counts.

Then, Byrne became the go-to guy for character revamps. "Well, ten years ago, the man did a fantastic Superman revamp, let's give 'im carte blanche to make Wonder Woman cool again." And I'll admit, it got me to read Wonder Woman for awhile (that, and a subscription deal at DC). I didn't come in at the beginning, though I would like to see some of those stories, with Darkseid and the like. But, what I read wasn't terrible--it reintroduced the "invisible" plane and gave us a new Wonder Girl, after all. But, it tended to be mediocre, up until it got downright incomprehensible. Byrne added an unnecessary new layer to Donna Troy's already horrendously confusing origin, then killed Diana, made her the Goddess of Truth, put her mother in the WW costume, and sent her back to the 1940s to iron out continuity problems that never really existed. Because Johnny thought there needed to be a 1940s Wonder Woman.

Okay, but JSA did some nice stuff with that in Our Worlds at War, and it hasn't really done anything to continuity, so I can't fault that too much. But what about the art?

This was where I learned that Byrne shouldn't ink Byrne. What was clear, crisp, and chiseled in 1986 under some other inker, now looked sketchy, blotchy, and overinked.

Then, there was the horror of Spider-Man: Chapter One. Somehow, I ended up with several issues of this garbage. Peter Parker and Doc Ock have their origins inexplicably connected--now, the explosion that grafts the arms to Octavius's body also engulfs Parker, and the spider-bite is insult to injury. His house gets robbed because he got a new computer, and...something. I blocked out the rest. Suffice it to say, Byrne's sledgehammer approach to the revamp missed the point of Stan Lee's subtle, insignificant spider-bite turning insignificant Peter Parker into a character who was anything but subtle. The art was worse than WW, looking sketchier and rougher than ever.

And then there was the Doom Patrol fiasco. And his funny ideas about Etrigan and Darkseid that favor rejecting thirty years of continuity to restore the characters to their Kirby originals. Shades of Chuck Austen. Anyone ever hear of "growth"? I happen to *like* that Etrigan rhymes. Especially when someone does it well, like Alan Moore or Joe Kelly.

But what I'm really talking about here is Action Comics. Since Simone and Byrne came onto the title, I've had a hard time getting excited about it. I've liked what little of Birds of Prey that I've read, and I like Villains United a lot, but only the newest issue really drew me in (and how! Damn if Dr. Psycho isn't a creepy screwball).

Yet, I've noticed that all the hard, chiseled features that define Byrne in my Brayne...er, brain, have been traded for proportions so poor that I can recognize how poor they are, amorphous faces, and wholly interchangable features. I didn't realize how bad it was until I saw the side-by-side comparisons of Byrne's pencils with the finished art over at Lying in the Gutters. People have been criticizing the inker, Nelson DeCastro, for changing Byrne's pencils, but take a look:


You know, the biggest complaint I have about the inks is that Superman's head is *way* too big in the second panel of the top image. And Byrne's messy hair makes Superman look a lot more stressed out than DeCastro's helmet-hair. But the pencils? In image 1, Superman has no forehead. In the first panel of that image, his eyes are too big, spaced too far apart, and his pupils aren't even pointing in the same direction. Superman has a super-lazy-eye. He looks like his face is melting. In the second panel, he should have a lot more head to accompany a face that big. It looks flat and deformed.
Besides that, Superman in the second image sure looks dynamic and imposing...from the waist up. What's he kneeling on? Why is he kneeling in the air? DeCastro did a little for the image, but there's no changing the fact that it's a bad pose that makes Superman look disproportionate, and makes his legs look stubby.
And then there's this:

Is she supposed to be one of the Joker's victims? Was Byrne penciling a Batman story? Because that crazy broad's smile sure as hell ain't natural. Her face is all skewed to the lower left. There's no way that's anything approaching a natural chin. And Superman's teensy forehead and lazy-eye return!

Once upon a time, John Byrne drew dynamic characters who looked strong and bold and imposing. They were proportionate to a fault and stylized, but they looked damn good. Now, his art looks lazy, rushed, and amorphous. It lacks the solidity and sharpness of his old work, and the people who would criticize an inker for trying to make his pencils passable, rather than recognize the failings of an aging artist, are blinded by his previous talent. Maybe Byrne is still capable of high quality work, but he certainly phoned in those pencils, and Nelson DeCastro did his best to make them work. Or, maybe John Byrne's artistic talents went to the same talent Valhalla as Chris Claremont's writing ability.

In a related note, Byrne asked that a reference to the Doom Patrol be omitted from the most recent issue of Action, for continuity purposes. Meanwhile, the whole of fandom requests that Byrne's Doom Patrol series be omitted from continuity for quality reasons. As far as I know, he still hasn't addressed his Doom Patrol's place in continuity, or why it's any more deserving of existence than the critically-acclaimed DP work by Grant Morrison. This is like shoving yourself into the second spot in a line and then bitching at the person behind you for standing so close. If you're going to wedge a series into a shared universe without explaining how it exists without upending decades of continuity, then don't expect anyone to pay attention to it.

Similarly, if you're going to ignore decades of continuity so you can return a character 'to his roots,' then don't complain when no one else shows the same selective disregard for history that you do. Etrigan's a rhymer, dammit.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Random Stuff

I only recently started regularly reading Brian Cooksey's Noetic Concordance, though that insanely catchy name has been popping up frequently in the random churnings of my brain. Mr. Cooksey's got some great reviews, a fantastic attitude, and oodles of other entertaining content that I really haven't had time to sit and actually devour.

So, imagine my pleasant surprise when he listed little-ol'-me as a cool blog he found in the Blogaround Challenge at Bloggity-Blog-Blog-Blog. He called me a "mensch," which makes me wish I knew the yiddish word for "totally awesome."

Also, he called "Fortress of Soliloquy" an "excellent name," which is about the opposite of how I felt when I coined it at 3 A.M. when I first started this blog. It really has grown on me, though, and I'm glad I've kept it.

As such, Noetic Concordance has made a long-overdue appearance in the links section, and I'm emboldened to provide good content on a more regular basis. First Brian Cronin chimes into the replies section, now Brian Cooksey...looks like the Fortress of Soliloquy is a magnet for the Brians of the Comic Blogosphere. Neat.

A release date was announced for the animated Superman Season 2 DVD set, December 6th, which puts it out just in time for my birthday! I'm a little disappointed that it's only 18 episodes, a little more disappointed that three of them are the "World's Finest" episodes that I already have on DVD, and more disappointed that there are only two commentaries. The commentaries on the Batman and Superman episodes, barring perhaps that distracting and repetitive video commentary on Batman Vol. 3, have been fantastic. Even so, I'll be owning it sooner or later, and I wouldn't be surprised if "Batman Begins" and the "New Adventures of Batman and Robin" or "Batman: Gotham Knights," whatever you call the WB Batman series, have release dates in a similar timeframe. Gonna be a nice Christmas for DVDs, methinks.

Why I love satellite TV: Law & Order SVU at 9, Daily Show at 10, Futurama at 10:30, Batman at 11, Superman at 11:30, Twilight Zone at 12, and Quantum Leap at 1. Throw Invisible Man and Gargoyles in there, and you'd have a decent soup of my favorite shows of all time.

Speaking of great television, here's an idea: the Superhero channel. Resurrect all those series that Sci-Fi and Spike own the rights to but don't care about (yeah, Sci-Fi, "Pterodactyl" is better viewing than "Invisible Man." Keep making your garbage C-movies, rather than putting out quality TV like you used to. At least Lexx is gone too). Mornings could be occupied by the classics of animation: Super Friends, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, the Iron Man/Fantastic Four hour, the FILMation Justice League and Teen Titans cartoons, Freakazoid, Earthworm Jim, and the like. Early afternoons bring Superman, Batman, Batman Beyond, and Justice League (and perhaps Static Shock, Teen Titans, and Zeta Project), and probably Spider-Man and X-Men too, just to round out the Marvel side of things. Primetime would be Incredible Hulk, Adventures of Superman, Superboy, Lois and Clark, 60's Batman, Green Hornet, Wonder Woman, The Flash, maybe even Swamp Thing. Heck, the Lone Ranger and Buck Rogers could easily fit in there someplace, as could Invisible Man, Greatest American Hero, and the like. Break out movies on the weekend, from the classic Batman and Superman serials to cheesy flicks like the Justice League of America live-action pilot and Barb Wire, to classics like Superman and the Hulk TV movies. There's easily a weekly schedule in there, all that's left is someone to fund it.

If Lifetime: Real Women can be a channel, why not Superhero TV?

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Gravitas

The always-talented Mr. Cronin, over at Comics Should Be Good, is discussing an unfortunately-worded quote from Judd Winick regarding the death of Blue Beetle:

We all threw around names of characters who would be the one to carry the story, knowing it's going to end with their demise. That's important that there's someone who discovers everything and dies for it. And in the very short list we kept coming back to Blue Beetle. And everyone in the room said, "I could do a great Blue Beetle series." And that's why he has to go, because he's actually the one who means something. And now he's gone and eleven years from now someone will bring him back and we'll be angry men about that. It's generational.

And the problem Brian has is that you shouldn't kill off good, useful characters. If there are more stories left in the character, then by all means, tell them.

My rebuttal? There are good stories left in every character. There's no such thing as a "good character." Before Keith Giffen came around and did JLI, who honestly cared about Blue Beetle? I've never read a single review of the character's series that wasn't "mediocre at best." I first came to know ol' Ted Kord through some of the post-Giffen JLI stories, mainly when he got put into a coma by Doomsday.

Now, anyone could have gotten pummeled by Doomsday. Lots of nameless extras did. But who took the real beatings?
*Superman--natch, he died.
*Supergirl--turned to goo.
*Booster Gold--lost his costume, and thus, powers in the battle.
*Blue Beetle--spent the next six months or so comatose.

Four guys took it on the chin in the Doomsday battle. Ted Kord was one of 'em. For someone who had been in absentia for years before Crisis, and really hadn't done anything noteworthy until Giffen's JLI, that's saying something. Until JLI, Blue Beetle's greatest contribution to comics was inspiring the Watchmen's Nite-Owl.

Before Giffen, Beetle *wasn't* a "good character." Giffen found a spin on the character that would allow him to tell stories that would elevate him up to first- or second-string status.

Before good writers got hold of them, who would have called Swamp Thing a "good character"? Jimmy Olsen? Prez? Animal Man? Snapper Carr? Brother Power, the Geek? Yet good stories have been told about them all.

So, why kill Blue Beetle? The fact is that Giffen *made* him a well-loved, fleshed-out, interesting character. Was some disrespect done to Ted or to Giffen by bumping him off?

I say thee nay. Beetle died pretty unceremoniously, but managed to prove himself (again) as an A-lister, as one of those heroes that people too often overlook. He's got no powers, he's not as rich as Batman, he's not as good a detective as Batman, he's not as good with computers as Oracle, he's just kind of second-best all around, and he's best as part of a buddy comedy. Yet he uncovered the grand conspiracy that existed under the noses of the greatest heroes in the universe, and did it all on his own. His death kicked off a pretty damn good storyline (even if you're not enjoying Infinite Crisis, it's still well-executed), and it's going to be remembered.

Would anyone have remembered if he'd just kicked it when Doomsday came rampaging through? Did anyone remember that Guy Gardner died (and then came back horribly mutated) in Our Worlds At War? Here, Beetle's death isn't just some one-panel impaling, it has meaning and repercussions.

Furthermore, let's say the Countdown meeting had gone differently. Someone says "Congo Bill," and everyone in the room agrees that they can't figure any other use for the character than cannon fodder.

What emotional impact does it have to kill off Congorilla? He's never had anything approaching an A-list status, or even C- or D-list. Who would care?

Maybe there'd be an emergency meeting of C.E.A.T. (the Congorilla Emeral--er, Emergency Attack Team), but that's about it. It'd say "hey, look, we're still afraid to make real changes to the universe! It's just another crossover!"

Killing off a character that people actually *like*, in whom people have an emotional investment, gives the story some emotional weight. It might be a little bit of a cheap trick, but they could have copped out by having him wake up the next issue. At least this way, he stays dead until someone decides there are more Beetle stories to be told.

And that's the other beauty of comics: you can always bring them back. Riddle me this, Batman: was Jason Todd a better character than the memory of Jason Todd? Was Gwen Stacy more important than her death? The Green Goblin? When you kill an important character and give it real impact, their death can become a continuity milestone. When Peter fights on that bridge, he always remarks how much pain the bridge has been party to. When Batman feels he's failed, he always looks at the glass case reminder of his greatest failure.

And yet, Jason Todd and Norman Osborn have both come back to menace their respective nemeses. Someone decided that they still had some good stories to tell, so they were resurrected.

Maybe Beetle's death will have some effect on the DCU that will justify it, just like Jason Todd's or Gwen Stacy's did. If not, he'll be back in one form or another within the next two or three years. If it does, we may have to wait the ten years that Winick predicts. Either way, Ted Kord's going to find out that the only permanent resident of Comic Heaven is Uncle Ben. Even Bucky doesn't stay dead anymore.

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High Five!

Over at Snark Free Waters, they've been doing a week of top five lists. As I continue to rip off--er, pay homage to other blogs' features, I've decided to do a couple of my own.

Top Five Most Disappointing Superman Story Arcs in Recent Memory
Not necessarily the worst ever, not even necessarily the worst, just the ones that seemed to peter out, or failed to live up to their hype, and the ones that spring to mind most readily.

5. Steven T. Seagle's Run
When "Batman: The 10-cent Adventure" came out, I ended up buying the whole Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive storyline. The whole thing. I hadn't bought a Batman comic in forever before that, but it was a surprisingly good crossover. Much better than, say, KnightFall/Quest/sEnd.

So, I had similarly high hopes for "Superman: The 10-Cent Adventure," which was supposed to kick off one of several "years of Superman" that DC has hyped to breathe life back into their flagship character. Unfortunately, it kicked off a year of absolutely awful Superman stories, but few were more awful than Seagle's own series (though Joe Casey sure tried). Seagle introduced a new, poorly-costumed Supergirl, mere months after Peter David's fantastic Supergirl series was cancelled, some forgettable villains, and a robotic Superman from the future, capping his run by apparently making the Birthright origin the official background for Superman.

But, the worst part? Every time Superman or Supergirl used a super-power, it was accompanied by a caption explaining said power. Ugh.

4. Ending Battle
Set smack in the middle of the most consistently bad year or two that Superman has seen in decades, Ending Battle was supposed to be some fantastic story that ended the trend. Instead, it was mostly incomprehensible and poorly-executed. It'd be ranked higher, but my expectations were already pretty low by this point.

3. Superman: Birthright
I've got a long tirade on Birthright that I'll finish some time, but for now I'll just say that, after Kingdom Come and JLA: Year One, I expected Mark Waid to do a 'revamp' that paid attention to character and continuity, that made revamping worthwhile. Instead, it was one of the most dragged-out, boring, uneventful Superman stories ever. And it's caused no shortage of idiotic flubs in continuity that have yet to be ironed out.

Plus, it (re-)introduced that stupid, stupid soul-vision that has only cropped up recently in continuity. If that's not the dumbest power Superman's ever had, then I don't know what is.

(I say re-introduced because, though it was never really in continuity, apparently it was the creation of Elliot S! Maggin in the novel "Miracle Monday.")

2. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Jeph Loeb built up the Lex Luthor presidency for years, telling some of the best Superman stories of the time at the same time. Teamed with fantastic artist Ed McGuinness to put the cap on the long arc, it seemed like it couldn't possibly fail. Yet, the cerebral drama of a manipulative Luthor in the White House ended with a battle and a giant robot, as well as Lex uncharacteristically injecting Kryptonite into his bloodstream (a man who lost a body to Kryptonite-cancer wouldn't go pumping it back into himself). Lex wasn't undone by Superman and Batman in the sort of well-planned scheme that allowed them to steal Luthor's Kryptonite ring. He was undone by an insanity that hadn't been a part of his character since the Fall of Metropolis. Mastermind Lex is and always has been more interesting than madman Lex.

1. Superman: For Tomorrow
Jim Lee on Superman? Awesome! Brian Azzarello? Well, his Batman arc was pretty good the second time I read it, and I hear 100 Bullets is pretty good. "For Tomorrow was supposed to be the most awesome title of the recent re-launch.

Too bad this ain't Superman. Azzarello managed to miss the whole point of the character in this moody, brooding story. He introduced pointless characters (another Zod? Yay! That's like, seven!) and even more pointless plot twists, while constantly confusing "unfinished sentences" and "cryptic dialogue" with "mysterious" and "interesting." Lee's art was wasted on this waste of a story, while Greg Rucka's underhyped Adventures of Superman consistently outshined it in every way.

Runners Up

Chuck Austen's Reign of Terror
Austen shined--shined!--on "Superman: Metropolis," but his regular Superman fill-in issues were awful. Too bad he didn't follow the Metropolis model when writing his incoherent opus. Thrill to Superman's epic battles with Doomsday, Gog, and...Repo Man! Azzarello's Superman was Batman with an "S" on his chest. Austen's was Spider-Man with a cape. If not for the warning signs of Austen's fill-in issues, I might have had high hopes for this abysmal arc. Thank goodness for small miracles.

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel
Such wasted opportunity. I'm pretty sure Brian Azzarello has never read a Superman comic he didn't write. If I hadn't been so underwhelmed by "For Tomorrow," I would have ranked this high in the top five. More on this garbage soon.

Coming tomorrow: Top Five Most Surprisingly Good Superman arcs!

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Special Thanks...

Just a quick post: first, I'd like to thank the fine folks at Comics Should Be Good for inspiring the "Comic Book Urbane Legends Revealed" post. "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed" is my favorite feature over at CSBG, and I think Urbane Legends might become a recurring feature 'round here.

Hm...what else? Thanks to whoever sold Tim's Corner a box o' comics, since they allowed me to buy a bunch of old Suicide Squad issues, including the whole Phoenix Gambit story. Haven't read 'em yet, but I've heard good things.

The books I picked up this week have been pretty good so far. I wish Invincible Vol. 3 had come in, but it'll show up by the next time I hit the shop.

Sorry 'bout the lack of posting of late. I've got posts in the making, but alas, dial-up Internet makes regular posting difficult.

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Comic Book Urbane Legends Revealed!

COMIC URBANE LEGEND: Freedom Fighter the Human Bomb once consumed a large quantity of Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola, which resulted in terrible indigestion and heartburn.

STATUS: False. It was actually former Teen Titan Damage.

COMIC URBANE LEGEND: So, a young Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson were making out up at make-out point in Manhattan's make-out district, when an emergency bulletin comes on the radio, warning of a psychotic hook-handed killer who was on the loose. Frightened by the news, Mary Jane told Peter to drive home, and along the way they heard a strange scraping sound on the driver's side of the car. They returned to MJ's house without incident, and Peter decided he should get those pebbles cleaned out of the wheel well. Cursed with a terrible case of blue balls, he drove back to his aunt's house, lamenting the ill-timed coitus interruptus news report.

STATUS: False. Peter never owned a decent car, there's no make-out district of Manhattan (make-out point is in the Bronx), MJ lived next door to Aunt May, so he wouldn't have driven home, and a poor geek like Peter, no matter what spandex he wears, would never get play with the hottest redhead this side of Jean Grey.

COMIC URBANE LEGEND: A friend of a friend of a former Robin once told me that Batman was driving the Batmobile through Gotham City, when he passed a car without its lights on. He flashed the Batmobile's headlights at the car, and it turns out that the driver was absentminded and had just forgotten to turn the knob, since he was used to driving cars with automatic headlights. Having been made aware of this mistake, he turned the lights on and drove safely home.

STATUS: True.

The driver, as it turns out, was actually famed actor Mel Gibson. And now you know...the rest of the story.

Good day!

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Who?

DC needs to bring back "Who's Who."

I'm not saying this out of some sort of nostalgia; I've looked at maybe two Who's Who issues in my life. Of course, it was through a cursory grade-school read-thru of a friend's random Who's Who issue that I was first exposed to the idea of Earth-2 and the fact that, somewhere, Batman and Catwoman were married. That rattled the ol' 3rd-grade senses a bit.

No, I'm saying this out of a realization at how incomplete the DC Encyclopedia is, and how daunting a task it would be to try to cram anything resembling 'complete' into a single binding. The DC Encyclopedia is itself an outgrowth of the Who's Who series, a periodical that had capsulized histories of characters, and offered updates as necessary, in an attempt to catalogue as many DC characters as possible. Returning to that format is not only a good idea, but it'd be a huge asset in this era of more cohesive continuity.

Ideally, Who's Who wouldn't be in comic form (as it has been in at least one incarnation), but would be loose pages, sold in packets, formatted to fit in a three-ring binder. This would allow for near-infinite expansion, while also keeping things easily organized. Instead of turning to update issues, updates could be placed directly after the original entries.

The packets would be organized by content (character, locale, storyline, group, species, etc.), then by faction (hero, villain, neutral), then by alphabetical placement. Each one would contain 20-25 full entries, and should retail at $3-5.

So, here's the solicitation:
Who's Who Binder
Includes full three-page character entries on Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, the Joker, and Darkseid; (three-page) group entries on the Justice League of America, the Green Lantern Corps, and the Secret Society of Super-Villains; (two to three-page) locale entries on Krypton, Apokolips, Mars, Metropolis, and Gotham City; (one to two-page) storyline entries on the Death of Superman, Knightfall, and Infinite Crisis. Binder is made of quality plastic with metal rings and can hold hundreds of pages.

Who's Who Heroes A-I Vol. 1
20-25 entries on heroes from the Atom to Ice. No character receives less than one full page, major characters warrant two or three.

Who's Who Heroes J-Q Vol. 1 and Heroes R-Z Vol. 1 follow the same pattern. Each packet should include 2-4 characters who were neglected in the DC Encyclopedia.

Villain entries would look the same.

Who's Who Locales Vol. 1
20-25 entries (mostly 1-2 pages) on the various planets, countries, and cities in the DCU. Definite inclusions would be Coast City, Star City, Keystone/Central, Gorilla City, Happy Harbor, Rann, Thanagar, New Genesis, Warworld, Oa, Earth, Earth (30th Century), Kandor, Arkham Asylum, the Fortress of Solitude, the Watchtower, Titans Tower, and the JSA Brownstone.

Who's Who Groups and Species, Vol. 1
20-25 entries on the JSA (original and current), the All-Star Squadron, the Teen Titans (probably original, "New," and current versions), the Outsiders, the Omega Men, Thanagarians, Rannians, Elementals, Martians, Kryptonians, Manhunters, Durlans, Coluans, Guardians, New Gods, etc.

Then, there would be storyline-centric packs, like:
Who's Who Crisis on Infinite Earths
25-30 entries on the storyline, the major Earths (1, 2, S, X, and Prime), several of the alter-Earth characters, Supergirl, Fury, Psycho Pirate, Harbinger, Monitor, Anti-Monitor, Huntress, and Barry Allen. Group entries would necessarily include the Earth-1 JLA, the Earth-2 JSA, and Infinity, Inc.

Who's Who Countdown to Infinite Crisis
20-25 entries on Checkmate, Max Lord, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, OMAC, Brother I, Jean Loring, Eclipso, the Shadowpact, Captain Comet, Hawkwoman, etc.

New volumes would be released quarterly, including new entries and updates (or maybe even just releasing updates separately).

Wouldn't DC be able to seriously cash in on this? It can't be any less cost-effective or popular than those "ultimate guide to" books. Come on DC, show us Who's Who!

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Dirty Pool and more

I don't remember exactly where I read the phrase "dirty pool" in regards to this, but it sounds good enough. Before going much further, here's the obligatory

SPOILER WARNING, TRUE BELIEVERS!!

So, I finished off "Sacrifice" today, the story arc that ran through the three Superman titles, Wonder Woman, and The OMAC Project.

Why today, you ask? Because in 1992 I saw a cryptic ad in a Wonder Woman comic featuring a large white silhouette over a torn Superman symbol, saying "Doomsday is Coming" and suggesting you should subscribe to the Superman titles. So I did. Thirteen or so years, and several locales, later, I'm still subscribed (with only a few hiccups, two of them related to the introduction of a character in the electric blue costume).

Back to the point, the nice thing about subscription is that I get the Superman comics at a discounted rate without ever having to drive to the comic shop or worrying about whether or not they're in my pull bag or sold out or whatever. Also, when the titles suck for a year or three, I don't feel like I'm actively wasting my money. Unfortunately, they rarely arrive on time. So, within a day or two after I bought Wonder Woman #219 and OMAC #4, the last two parts of the arc, I received the first two. The Adventures issue came today, two weeks after I bought the issues that followed it. Rabid fan that I am, I read the last three parts in one sitting as soon as I could.

Yes, I waited, and I'm glad I did.

Greg Rucka, writer of those last three parts (and probably the architect of the previous two), has been accused of playing dirty pool by having a key part of the OMAC Project's story occur in other titles. Rucka publicly apologized for that, and that's more than you can expect from most people. No one apologized to me when Green Lantern and JLA had key parts of the Death and Return of Superman storylines. I applaud Rucka for that move, continuing to prove what a nice guy Greg Rucka is (heck, OMAC #3 even had a blurb at the end telling you to buy Sacrifice before #4, though that's probably too little too late for retailers and such).

EDIT: Apparently, the blurbs in Previews oh-so-long ago included just that sort of solicit text, so you can't fault DC too much. I guess they should have made it big, bold, and flashing.

I already buy all those series, so it didn't affect me whatsoever. "Atlantis Attacks" could have crossed over into Action Comics, I'd already be buying it.

Dirty pool? Sure it was, for three reasons:
1. It turned OMAC into (ostensibly) a ten-part series.
2. It interrupted stories in two non-Rucka comics.
3. It forced fans to buy two issues which contributed almost nothing to OMAC.

And I think it's number three that's the worst. There's no denying that the Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman issues are vital to the OMAC story, but what's in the preceding issues? Wrapping up the previous plot threads in Superman plus some weird battle with Brainiac, and a ridiculous boxing match with Darkseid on Apokolips, along with the JLA coming after Clark. The only part of those two issues that has any real bearing whatsoever on OMAC is the last page or two of Action Comics, where we learn that Clark had beaten up Batman. I see how the hallucinations of the previous two issues went to show Clark's mindset and how screwed up he is, but it wasn't necessary to waste two whole issues on those, derailing any momentum Verheiden and Simone had on their plotlines and making OMAC into a 10-part series.

So, it's like The OMAC Project is an eight-issue maxi-series with two optional parts.

I really think a short recap at the beginning of OMAC #4 would have been nice.

Despite all that, it was a good story that kept me on my seat and has me anxiously awaiting the next issue. I hope the other series get to this sort of climactic event this quickly.

Also: more hate for the JLI-era league, as Rocket Red 7 takes a possibly fatal beating from an OMAC. Oh, and Max Lord gets his head turned around the wrong way, but we all saw that coming.

I don't think Rucka & Co. hate the Giffen-era league. In fact, I think the fact that they're giving the major characters such prominence speaks to how much they like them. I just think they might be equating "big changes" and "major deaths in high-profile series" with "reverence" a little too much.

And Blue Beetle stays dead because it's a good story? Shenanigans. If that logic worked, Superman would still be dead. When I get to DC, Ted's the first one I'm bringing back. Except maybe John Henry Irons as Steel.

Make it happen, folks! Get me into the DC offices! I gots ideas!

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I hate stupid people

So I get a phone call this morning.

Caller: Hello, may I speak to Thomas Foss?
Me: Junior or Senior?
Caller: Uh...I don't...know. Thomas John Foss?
Me: *Smacks forehead*

Traditionally, you add Junior or Senior to a name because the rest of the name is exactly the same.

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Shark-bait, ooh ah ah!

Aqualad
So, I caught an old Aquaman cartoon short after Superman on the Boomerang network tonight, which reminded me that Silver Age Aquaman called his sidekick things like "minnow" and "tadpole."

I guess "chum" would have been in bad taste...

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Making Jimmy Olsen Cool

So I've been reading the two collections of Jack "King" Kirby's work on "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen," the stories that introduce Kirby's New Gods, Cadmus, and Intergang to the DC universe.

Now, Kirby's not everyone's cup o' tea. F'r instance, the fine folks at The Absorbascon suggested trading the whole cast of New Gods characters to Marvel, where they fit in better. But I really came into the Superman mythos around the time of that character's death, which was in the midst of a long period where Superman stories focused, at least in part, on Kirby's contributions (something that continued in Superboy's title even after the Superman books distanced themselves from it a little). I really enjoy Cadmus and Intergang, when they're done right, and I think the New Gods, in general, rock.

But that doesn't have a whole lot to do with my thoughts on the stories in these collections. It's cool to see where the characters come from, and there's no denying that Kirby's a fine storyteller. There's a hiccup or two ("The Man from Transilvane" is a little goofy, and Goody Rickels shouldn't exist), but the enthusiasm of Kirby's prose and art is so palpable and so different from most other comics (not just modern age, either), it's really quite refreshing. The frequency of crazy ideas presented in Kirby's work is so great that, if you don't accept them outright, you really won't be able to enjoy it. Of course, I think that's a bit of a lampoon of how silly this corner of the DC universe has always been: how often can one kid drink potions that turn him into monsters, only to be saved by Papa Superman, before he learns? Kirby turned that on his head, made Jimmy a competent leader, and made Superman "the man," the old fogey who tries to be cool and fails miserably.

I'll admit, that's an oversimplification. Repeatedly, it's Superman who's on the ball, and Jimmy in the wrong, but here it's no longer Jimmy's boundless stupidity, it's his immaturity, and it's the more immature characters egging him on, while Superman swallows his pride and saves them anyway.

One of the most interesting things about these stories is how they lampoon Kirby's Marvel work. Much has been made of how the wrecked domain of the "old gods" in the New Gods series looks like Kirby's Asgard, or how Funky Flashman is clearly an effigy of Stan Lee, but it's all over the place here.

In the first issue, there's a character with a metal mask that sure looks a lot like Dr. Doom, the Fantastic Four's worst enemy. Jimmy freakin' Olsen knocks him out in one punch. To the jaw. Despite the fact that he's wearing a metal mask. Jimmy took out the F4's archenemy and barely bruised his knuckles. Then they fight a big green hulking monster who wants to smash things, and is a clone of Jimmy Olsen. The monster's finally defeated by a resurrected 1940s hero who carries a shield (and has not one, but five kid sidekicks). They coat Olsen-Hulk in ice so that he certainly looks a lot like the Silver Surfer. Then they meet a mutant telepath...named Dubbilex. Double-X. As opposed to Charles Xavier, who only has one X.

I haven't finished the second book, but I'd be willing to bet that Arin the Armored Man and his mustachioed creator are more than a little reminiscent of Tony Stark and Iron Man.

What does this say about Kirby or Marvel? You got me. I think Kirby was poking fun at his earlier works and getting a feel for how the DCU differs from the Marvel one, but I could be wrong.

But I do notice one cool difference between the universes. In Marvel, mythological heroes are superheroes. Thor, Hercules, and the like. In DC, superheroes are a mythology. Besides the New Gods and the DC Order/Chaos pantheons of heroes and figures, characters have dynasties and mythologies all their own. When Marvel wants a new iconic character, they often turn to mythological heroes. When DC does, they make up their own heroes with connections to mythology. Wonder Woman, Metamorpho, Captain Marvel, Hawkman, etc.

It's the mythological aspect of the DCU that makes sense of the epic scope of some o the characters and casts. Marvel doesn't have sidekicks and multi-generational heroes like the DCU. They simply wouldn't fit in. DC's characters are the mythology and pantheons of their universe. They're revered and they revere each other. You don't see much of that in Marvel.

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Intelligent Design and News

I'll contribute a bit to the Google bombing of Intelligent Design for the better education and general good of America. Also, note the new links to some cool science blogs.

Expect a post by me on Intelligent Design over at Jon Maxson's America in the next few days. It's 5 pages long right now, so I need to trim it just a skosh, and that accounts for the bulk of the delay.

As far as comic stuff, I re-read Waid's Legion of Super-Heroes so far, and I have some more detailed (and positive) stuff to say about the run as a whole. That should be coming very soon, as well as my examination of purple-and-green costumes, my rant on Birthright vs. Man of Steel, and some comments on the Kirby Jimmy Olsen comics, which I may actually post later tonight.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

So, what about Waid's Legion?

Looks like I've dropped the post categories (First Response, etc.). I guess that's a good idea. I'll probably keep them for the reviews.

I think it's just 'cause I hate being reminded of "Bloodlines." Shudder.

So, yesterday I talked about Waid's Flash run, and Brian Cronin of Comics Should Be Good assured me that the early run is infinitely better than what happened later on, when I started reading. I had a feeling this was the case, and that's why I keep eyeing the Flash trades ("Dead Heat" is next).

Naturally, I would have known how awesome Waid's early Flash run may be, had I not looked at the subscription charts and said "you know, I think I'll get [John Byrne's] Wonder Woman, that's got to be better than Flash, right?"

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Anyway, on to the only Waid book I'm currently reading, "Legion of Super-Heroes." I've got a soft spot for the Legion...when I first started reading my mom's old comics that were, inexplicably, hidden under the bed in the guest room, the Legion was among the few that had multiple stories in the scores of brittle brown pages (others, for whom I also have a special place, include Adam Strange, Metamorpho, Johnny Quick, and naturally, Superman and Batman). Back when I first decided to supplement my Superman subscriptions with something else from DC, I picked the new Legionnaires book. I lapsed after that subscription, particulalrly after I heard that Zero Hour brought a new (and probably much less confusing) reboot. The next Legion comic I bought was the start of the Foundations arc a year or two ago, because it involved Superboy. I may have only been on-board with that series for the last two or three arcs it existed, but I got to really enjoy that take on the Legion. When I heard it was getting a reboot, from hit-or-miss Mark Waid no less, I wasn't thrilled. The Waid/Kitson backup feature in the Titans/Legion crossover didn't endear me to the title either. But, I put the title on my pull bag and decided to give it a shot.

It ain't the Legion I grew up with, that's for sure. But I don't hate it. I think I might like the goofy antics of Matter-Eater Lad and the like a little more, but Waid's Legion acts a little more like believable teenagers than demigod superheroes.

I guess that's a complaint. It's NOT a Legion of Super-Heroes. It's a Legion of angsty teenagers who hate their unhip parents and just happen to have superpowers. These are runaways, juvenile delinquents, and the occasional youthful rebel, not the JLA. The big problem with that is that there's no real likeable character. You might empathize with Cosmic Boy for trying to cope with the pressures of leadership, especially leading people that would prefer not to be together in the first place. Brainy's an arrogant prick, Timber Wolf and Ultra Boy are gang leaders, and Sun Boy's parents are hippies. It might be nice to see more of Invisible Kid, since he's the one who seems most down to Earth, in more ways than one.

So, what am I saying about LSH? I've been thinking since I first heard about Waid's Legion that there's no harm in having multiple different contradictory Legion books. The only reason you wouldn't have, say, Waid's Legion book alongside Abnett and Lanning's, since they're both just possible futures, is that the market may not be able to support two books with similar characters and wildly different feels and stories (although people buy JLA and Supreme Power, so...). I like Waid's Legion, but I'd like to read new stories about a classic, "fun" Legion too.

Waid's Legion is a different take on the group. Rather than being more or less pro-establishment nice kids from around the universe, they're outcasts and rebels and angsty teens who ran away from their parents. That's interesting, that's making for some good characterization, if not necessarily a good plotline, but it's a very different Legion. I like it enough to keep buying it, I like it more than, say, the current Firestorm book, but I would like a "classic" Legion to go with it. Maybe even a cheap reprint book? That would be fun.

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Monday, August 01, 2005

I sort of liked Mark Waid's Flash

Comics Should Be Good recently suggested that people, when about to complain about a Mark Waid comic, tend to open with "I really liked Mark Waid's Flash, but..."

Not I. See, Mark Waid's Flash is what got me reading the character. I loved the "Return of Barry Allen" arc, liked seeing Linda and Wally get married, and even enjoyed "Chain Lightning" and the 'dark Flash' from a different Hypertimeline. In fact, after his work on JLA (specifically "Tower of Babel," the Id story, and "Terror Incognita," since Queen of Fables wasn't particularly good) and JLA: Year One, I'd say the Flash is my favorite Waid run on any book until the current Legion of Super-Heroes. I certainly enjoyed it more than, say, the abominably dreadful odifferous lump of fermenting elephant feces that is "Superman: Birthright" (an exaggeration, sure, but I'll post on that another time).

But, Waid's Flash run is plagued with a bunch of real problems, despite really building the Flash legacy and the family aspect. Problems like:

*Time Travel: Okay, how many Waid storylines relied on Time Travel? I don't have the whole run, but off the top of my head, "Chain Lightning," "Return of Barry Allen," that one with John Fox, and at least one or two others. That's a lot of time traveling, and it really amps up both the potential confusion with the book, and Wally's apparent power level. When a hero can travel through time under his own power, he shouldn't face many threats that he can't beat. That's a problem on par with Superman being able to blow up planets by sneezing.

*Barry's shadow: perhaps not ever-present, but Wally ostensibly came into his own following "Return of Barry Allen," but still seemed like he was feeling subordinate to Barry. He's earned the position, he deserves some self-confidence. He doesn't deserve repeatedly screwing up until Barry time-travels to pull his fat out of the fryer, like in "Chain Lightning."

*Barry's. Evil. Twin. What's the lamest, most soap-opera cliché you could possibly come up with? "Oh, Barry's got an evil twin brother who hates him for being the Flash, so he becomes a supervillain with his own dynasty, an evil one, so he can evilly kill all the good Flashes." Cobalt Blue has a terribly lame origin, more damaging to the past than, say, "Oh, Gwen Stacy had twins from an affair with Norman Osborn." I like Cobalt Blue, but Waid really phoned that backstory in.

*Did I mention time travel? How many Flashes appeared in Waid's run on the book? Sheesh, Wally was often barely even a supporting character in his own series.

*"The worst threat Wally has ever faced!" I mean, it's natural to see a series continually trying to one-up its last stunt, but when you have to kill the title character more than once in a series, you may realize that you've set the bar too high.

*Love will keep us together. Was it twice? Or was it three times that Wally and Linda, separated by time, space, Hyperime, whatever, were reunited by their bond of love? Once is sweet, more than that is sappy. And yet, it was Impulse who was unaffected by Abra Kadabra's spells of forgetfulness.

*The Rogues. Geoff Johns has proven that Flash has one of the best rogues galleries in all of comics. How does Waid use them? Well, after essentially getting rid of any future uses of Prof. Zoom early on, he creates and kills some new villains (re: Savitar), overuses Abra Kadabra, way overuses Cobalt Blue, mutilates Capt. Boomerang, and gives all the Rogues' abilities to an inconsistently drawn character called the Replicant, who would have been cool if he'd done more with his myriad powers. As for the rest...anyone seen the Folded Man lately?

*The Speed God. Okay, the Speed Force is a workable idea. It's a little derivative, but it has some cool applications. Still, Wally eventually became freaking powerful (speed force costume, stealing speed, lending speed, exploding stuff with vibrations, self-powered time-travel, etc.) and had to be portrayed as increasingly dull-witted to keep from using those abilities to their logical extent. Johns made a brilliant move in bringing Wally back down to earth, simply by using less time travel and more ingenuity.

*Speaking of ingenuity, maybe my memory's just a little selective, but despite giving Wally more powers, so he wasn't just a guy who runs fast, Waid did rather little in the way of innovative uses of speed.

So, it's not that I don't like Waid's Flash run. I think a lot of it was good, and it was a great idea to make Wally more powerful and give him a worthy supporting cast (even if it was at the expense of cool characters like Chunk and Piper). But, the constant time travel, the repeated use of the future Flash dynasty, the crappy new Rogues, and especially the godlike nature of otherwise blue-collar Wally West, really stand out as blemishes against an otherwise decent run.

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