Friday, October 31, 2008

Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #1, about which I write the following sentences: "The biggest problem with 'Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes' #1 isn't the content. It's the lack of content. At $3.99, you'd expect more than 16 pages of story, and rightfully so, but 16 pages is all you're going to get. To fill out the rest of the issue, Marvel provides Warren Ellis's script for this issue, but it's not particularly illuminating. It does little more than describe, briefly, the panels we've just read. Alan Moore, he is not (although at one point, Ellis writes, 'We're doing steampunk X-Men here. So everything is very lush with polished woods an leather and all, everything is extremely designed in that fin de siecle style. J#### C##### [sic], I'm turning into Alan Moore.' Hardly.)"

Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

When Words Collide: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Good news for WWC fans: Jonah Weiland, head honcho of Comic Book Resources, has given me the go-ahead to continue with my weekly column. You probably didn't realize this, but I was on kind of a three-month trial, and if readers weren't flocking to my once-a-week babble sessions, "When Words Collide" would have gotten yanked from the regular rotation.

But traffic has been very good and everyone is pleased and that means I get to keep writing, and you get to keep reading.

So, I thank you, regular readers! You are as awesome as everyone says you are.

This week's WWC is all about those embarrassing teenage comic book ideas we tend to have. The ones that seem like brilliant ideas for comics when we're 15, but, in retrospect, seem pretty terrible.

I even got heavyweights like Marv Wolfman, Matt Fraction, and Jason Aaron to weigh in on the topic, along with members of the Draper-Carlson clan.

Check it out: "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time," in this week's "When Words Collide."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

DC Universe: Decisions #4

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: DC Universe Decisions #4, about which I write the following sentences: "'DC Universe: Decisions' #3 ended with a shocking revelation: the villain behind the series of suicide bombings which targeted presidential candidates was none other than ex-Teen Titan Jericho. And it was shocking, because the character appeared out of nowhere, taking over the body of Hal Jordan. Jericho wasn't even a character in the first two issues from what I can remember, and that's the kind of series this is: random things happen without much reason, until it eventually comes to a crashing halt."

Read the entire review HERE.

Trinity #21 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Trinity #21, about which I write the following sentences: "If you read 'House of M,' you'll remember how stretched out it felt. 'Trinity' is like that, but over seven times as long and with way more word balloons and captions. The text-heavy pages don't add much depth to the story, though. They just repeat the obvious again and again. Ultimately, 'Trinity' might prove to be a complex diversion from the continuity-heavy DC mainstream, and the final victory of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman may illuminate the importance of those characters within their fictional universe. But as of issue #21, there's not all that much to recommend this series. At fifty-two issues costing three bucks each, 'Trinity' seems like a gigantic investment that's not paying off."

Read the entire review HERE.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Daredevil #112 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Daredevil #112, about which I write the following sentences: "As dark as this issue is, and it's literally very dark -- full of heavy blacks and plenty of night scenes -- 'Daredevil' feels more vibrantly alive than it has in a long time. This is a far cry from a light-hearted comic, but it seems to have shaken off the shackles of the burdensome melodrama. Brubaker and Lark have embraced the Frank Miller building blocks of this series, adding 50% more ninjas and giving Daredevil a mysterious new costumed foe who just happens to be a beautiful, and deadly, woman."

Read the entire review HERE.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch #1, about which I write the following sentences: "In addition, Spurrier's dialogue lacks the muscular wit that we see in Jason Aaron's comic book work. Danny Ketch says stuff like, 'I'm not hungy at all.' Pause. 'I'm starving.' And that's supposed to be an insightful comment on his inner turmoil. The whole issue is full of flat dialogue, oblique narration, and dry exposition. It feels lifeless and dull, even when the plot turns interesting and Ketch regains the Ghost Rider power temporarily. The sight of a smoldering, but not flaming, Ghost Rider is Saltares's best moment in the issue, and since the entire purpose of this series is to show how Ketch got his groove back, it seems to finally get interesting at that point. But it's all 'Hrn' and 'HaHa' and 'Yakkk' and onomatopoetics from Spurrier after that."

Read the entire review HERE.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Final Crisis #4 and Secret Invasion #7 Hit THE SPLASH PAGE

Last Wednesday brought us two Morrison-penned Final Crisis comics and two Bendis-penned Secret Invasion comics, so how could Chad Nevett and I not talk about them?

Obviously, we did.

And it's really a great opportunity to contrast Morrison to Bendis, DC to Marvel, Black Lightning to Noh-Varr, and, um, let's say bacon and Canadian bacon. Probably not the bacon so much.

But Chad and I do say some pretty insightful stuff about the structural poetics of both event books, laying out deep and meaningful theories that will probably end up as citations in scholarly papers for generations to come.

Just get over to the Splash Page and read it! You'll see!

Or, as per usual, click HERE.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bottomless Belly Button: Canadian Independent Cinema, on Paper

I finally got around to reading Dash Shaw's Bottomless Belly Button last night. I guess it's my fault that it took so long for me to sit down with this immense tome, but I've been eager to read it ever since I saw the first copies last year at the New York Comic-Con. But I didn't buy a copy there, because I didn't feel like lugging it around. "I'll order it online," I said out loud, to no one in particular.

I forgot to order it online.

And then I saw it again at MoCCA, and even though Dash Shaw was there, signing copies, I said out loud, to no one in particular, "Oh, I totally forgot to order that! I'll buy it now. But...I don't want to carry it around all day. I'll remember to order it online."

So, I did. Via I knew I should have gone straight through Fantagraphics, but that one-click ordering was too convenient, and I can't resist my free shipping.

I finally received my copy of the book yesterday. Quite a delay, eh? And I guess that's because the book actually had to go back to print already. So, I'm a few months late to the party, once again.

But Bottomless Belly Button is excellent. Definitely worth your time. Don't be intimidated by its size -- I read the whole thing in one sitting, and part of its charm is its swift pacing, punctuated by moments of painful awkwardness. Dash Shaw's style is a kind of measured primitivism, with the characters simply delineated and the panel compositions seemingly rudimentary. But what makes this book so wonderful is the accumulation of simple moments and simple images. I know it's perhaps too easy to compare alternative comics to independent cinema (and, alternatively, compare big-budget studio movies to mainstream superhero comics), but what Dash Shaw's work most reminds me of is a type of film embodied by the work of Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand.

In Arcand's 2003 feature, Les invasions barbares, a family assembles around a dying patriarch and the unfolding story is full of pathos, love, humility, conflict, humor, and competing ideals. Arcand's work has a more deeply political undertone than Shaw's 720 page comic, but the comic resembles the film in concept -- in Bottomless Belly Button, the Loony family assembles around the mother and father, who have declared divorce after 40 years of marriage -- in structure -- both Arcand and Shaw alternate between scenes of the parents and children, with the family members struggling with the world in their own unique ways -- and in tone. Shaw and Arcand ultimately celebrate life, embracing all of the pain and uncertainty that is part of the grand ballet of humanity.

I'm sure Bottomless Belly Button will wind up on more than a few "Best of" lists this year, including my own.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Final Crisis #4 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Final Crisis #4, about which I write the following sentences: "With a comic like this -- a story which derives its power less from Grant Morrison's dialogue than from the quality of its images -- it's too bad that J.G. Jones couldn't tackle all the work himself. Carlos Pacheco's fill-in pages aren't discordant with Jones's work at all, but they do lack the sense of foreboding that Jones imbues into every panel. Pacheco is a skilled but much more traditional superhero artist that Jones, and in a story that relies on visual storytelling to show the overwhelming evil, it would have been nice to see all Jones, all the time. Pacheco would have done a fine job with the Turpin-turning-into-Darkseid sequences, I'm sure, but Jones turns those few panels into a gritty, demonic struggle as this 'maggot of a man battles on alone against Anti-Life infection.' It's just a guy in a chair, hooked up to some tubes and wires, but Jones renders it as if the fate of the world depends on the outcome. And, in fact, it does."

Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When Words Collide: Sixteen Steps Toward a Superhero Canon

I've written about comic book canons on this blog a few times, but when Tucker Stone brought up the notion of an exclusively superhero canon, I couldn't help but take up the challenge.

Actually, that's not what happened at all.

Honestly, I wrote a few inventory columns this summer, even before the launch of "When Words Collide," just in case I got behind on any deadlines, and the second inventory column I wrote, way back in June, was "Sixteen Steps Toward a Superhero Canon." Guess what? I didn't have time to write a fresh, of-the-moment column this week, so you finally get to read my thoughts on a superhero canon. Just what Tucker Stone asked for. He could have come over to my house and giggled over it while we were hanging out, watching dvd recommendations from Nathan Rabin. But, I guess this way's easier.

As you'll see from my column, I approached a potential superhero canon as the game it is. And I made up completely arbitrary rules, because that's what I'm all about. And is Defenders Annual #1 canonical? Hell, yeah. In my world it is.

It's also a good thing I did such a weird approach to the canon, because right after my column went live, fellow CBR writer Steven Grant identified the "20 Most Significant Comics." And between us, we have absolutely no overlap. I'm sure we'll have a laugh about that when Tucker and Nina invite us both over for brisket.

Oh, you want a link to my column? Here it is: Sixteen Steps Toward a Superhero Canon!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Cure for the Superhero Blues Hits THE SPLASH PAGE

Last week, Chad Nevett expressed some discontentment with the state of the average superhero comic book. This week, we've decided to devote the Splash Page to discussing the possible cure for the ol' superhero blues.

We don't ignore superhero comics -- we discuss the ones that rise above the rest. But we also talk about other comics that snap us out of that nasty superhero funk readers can sometimes get into.

We actually had this discussion on Friday of last week, but I'm just getting around to mentioning it here because I, um, kind of forgot. Must be all those superhero comics making me go all brain dead.

Anyway, to cure your superhero blues, check out the newest installment of the internet's #1 source for the awesome: The Splash Page.

Or, click HERE.

Madman Atomic Comics #11 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Madman Atomic Comics #11, about which I write the following sentences: "Issue #11 actually begins to answer some aspects of the questions Allred has posed for years. It's not the first time Frank Einstein has discovered something about his origins, or his purpose, but Allred always seems to provide more mystery beneath the unrevealed layers. Here, Allred finally reveals the source of the black narrative captions that have appeared in previous issues. They belong to the ethereal Zacheous who says, to Madman, 'We were the best of friends in preexistence.' Zacheous, an obscure Biblical name, has specific religious connotations, but here he acts more as a messenger from the spirit world. Perhaps Allred's Mormonism directly informs this characterization -- I don't know enough about that specific belief system to comment upon it one way or the other -- but I see this character, along with all the others, not as specific manifestations of a single doctrine, but as archetypal characters who represent aspects of the human spirit."

Read the entire review HERE.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Uncanny X-Men #503 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Uncanny X-Men #503, about which I write the following sentences: "Yet it's certainly not the art that makes this issue worth reading, no. It's the clarity of the characterizations and the swift pace that make this story work. Fraction gives us a nice scene with Cannoball, Karma, and Mirage at a San Francisco bar which serves two purposes: it reminds us how stupid Sam Guthrie can be at times, and how much these young men and women have been through as New Mutants. After that, the whole issue basically alternates between an exploration of the Hellfire Cult's sub-basement and the chase scene with Empath. What Fraction does particularly well is to hinge the story on the character of Pixie. Pixie, a Kitty Pryde-type who offers a fresh perspective on complex X-insanity, becomes the unlikely hero here, coming to the rescue on her Vespa scooter. If this brief story arc has been about anything beyond setting up future stories, it's been about introducing the reader to Pixie and showing why she's such an important part of the team. She's a Joss Whedon dream character, a sweetheart who can kick some ass. And she's a great addition to 'Uncanny X-Men.'"

Read the entire review HERE.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Stinky Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Stinky, about which I write the following sentences: "This book came out at the end of the summer, but I finally got a chance to read it, and it's too good not to review. 'Stinky,' by Eleanor Davis, is part of the Raw Junior TOON Books line -- a series of young readers comics, in hardcover form, written and illustrated by some of the best independent creators around. As the father of a seven-year old son and a four-year old daughter, I'm always looking for good children's books, and I've found previous TOON Books offerings to be absolutely delightful. My kids love them, they're fun to read out loud, and they look great. 'Stinky' may be the best of the bunch."

Read the entire review HERE.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Booster Gold #13 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Booster Gold #13, about which I write the following sentences: "But with the Chuck Dixon two-parter, and now the beginning of a short stint by Rick Remender, the series is showing how easily it can all come apart at the seams. The problem here is that nothing matters. It's all just alternate realities and time ripples and everything's going to be solved by Booster going back in time and punching the right bad guy at the right moment. Since nothing matters and since there's little overall plot progression, 'Booster Gold' feels like a series of fill-in issues. Now, it has been a series of fill-in issues for the past few months, so that has, of course, accentuated the problem. But even fill-in issues don't have to feel like fill-ins. They can contribute to the overall narrative. These don't. They're just filler stories about time anomalies."

Read the entire review HERE.

Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge #3 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge #3, about which I write the following sentences: "Johns has become a master of the tightly-paced, character-rich superhero event, and 'Rogues' Revenge' is a worthy successor to his best 'Flash' stories of yesteryear. The only downside here is Scott Kolins art, which does a nice job capturing the energy of the story but looks sloppy in individual panels. As he's shifted away from his clear line style toward more crosshatching and thicker line weights in the past year or two, Kolins has actually ruined what made his work so interesting. All his new style does is emphasize his awkward sense of anatomy and adds a stiffness to his characters that wasn't as problematic when the texture was left to the colorist. Kolins can still compose thrilling pages, though, even if the single panels don't quite work as drawings."

Read the entire review HERE.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Grant Morrison's Doctor Who #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Grant Morrison's Doctor Who #1, about which I write the following sentences: "I'd never read any of these stories before, and I was curious about them for a couple of reasons: (1) Not being a Dr. Who fan -- at all -- would I find these stories interesting? (2) What do they reveal about Morrison's evolving style and continuing thematic interests? (3) How do these 20-year-old stories compare to the average comics on the shelves today?"

Read the entire review HERE.

Friday, October 17, 2008

R. J. Brande Was Actually the Martian Manhunter!

You may have missed this, but KC Carlson, former Legion of Super-Heroes editor during the Reboot era, stopped by and made the following comment after my recent annotations for Legion of Three Worlds #2:
BTW, did I ever tell you that, in the Legion reboot, our R.J. Brande was actually the Martian Manhunter? We waited too long to reveal it and then Dan Raspler (JLA editor) wouldn't let us do it because it might screw up J'onn.

At this late date, I'm not sure if it was a good idea or not, but we did plant some clues. (And don't forget, he was at Garth and Imra's wedding LONG before we ever got close to the book.)
That would have put an interesting spin on events, no? I would have loved to see J'onn J'onzz alongside the teenagers from the future.

Thanks, KC!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

When Words Collide: Lyga's Legion

Barry Lyga likes the Legion. I like the Legion. What happens when we e-mail each other about it? We get the newest installment of "When Words Collide," a column full of wit and wisdom and reflections on the Legion's past, present, and future.

How do we feel about "The Great Darkness Saga"?

What's better, the Five Year Gap or "Legion Lost"?

How much matter can Matter-Eater Lad eat?

These are questions we may or may not answer in this week's WWC: "Lyga's Legion."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #2 Annotations

I annotated issue #1 way back when, and so here I am again, writing whatever pops into my head and telling you what I know about the best of the Final Crisis spin-off books.

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #2: The Annotations

Once again, I bought the character-centric cover instead of the one with the ugly red bars on the side. This one's all about the Saturn Girl, as the Levitz-by-way-of-Johns SG thinks real hard and her two parallel selves pop out of her brain. Dave McCaig does a great job digitally painting these covers over the George Perez pencils, don't you think? (Correct answer: yes, you do think.)

Page 1: Ah, a "white-event." The Legion's had a few of those, and this one stuck for a while as the Reboot Legion got whited out once the Threeboot came into existence. This here's Shikari, the Dawnstar-esque character introduced in Legion Lost. (Hence the "lost again" reference by the off-panel Dream Girl.) Like Dawnstar, Shikari has super-tracking skillz.

Page 2: Sorcerer's World is actually Amethyst's "Gemworld," by the way, but in the future! And White Witch? She's a sorceress, and the sister of the Dream Girl from this reality. Not the Dream Girl from the Threeboot, who's dead, or the Dream Girl (or Dreamer, whatever) who's hanging out with Shikari.

Meanwhile, Superboy-Prime gives the evil Saturn Queen her very own "S-ring," and that looks like bad guy Lightning Lord's hand sporting the new jewelry as well. Geoff Johns likes his villains to sport matching accoutrements -- for more examples, see the Sinestro Corps War.

The purple cloaky guy is the Time Trapper. You can tell because he calls himself "The Time Trapper," and he traps time.

The great thing about his character, is he can be used to explain away any continuity problems ever. Even ones in Marvel comics. That's how powerful he is.

Page 3: "Mordru" is, of course, the super-evil-sorcerer who has imprisoned White Witch. And look who shows up to bust her out, the hot-headed Wildfire, the League-of-Super-Assassins-member-turned-White-Witch-bff Blok, and the super-tracker with the 70s Native American motif, Dawnstar. I think every Legion fan loves Dawnstar, don't they? She is awesome, and Wildfire agrees.

Page 4: Apparently Dawnstar's super-tracking ability lets her see metaphorical paths into the future, which is nice, because, really, if they have Google Maps, she ain't all that useful anymore, otherwise.

Page 5: The last Green Lantern (maybe), Rond Vidar! Son of Universo, the man with the monocle. Rond Vidar was a super-scientist and best friend of Brainiac 5, and then he died, but actually, no, he lived! Because he was secretly a Green Lantern! Why he would not ever use the ring before that, I have no idea. I guess he likes surprises. Well, surprise, he dies for real later in this issue!

That's Mordru with the beard and the purple goblin blasts.

Page 6: Glorith, Dragonmage, and Evillo are supporting characters from Legion history, all of whom have magic connections. Glorith was a former wife of Mordru, and she was also a pal of the Time Trapper, and sort of became a Time Trapper-esque character of her own (in one continuity). Dragonmage actually appeared after the Giffen Five-Year-Gap stories, which Johns seems to be ignoring otherwise, so his mention here shows how screwed up the 31st century timeline really is. And Evillo was evil. Oh.

Pages 7-8: Yeah, Mordru was White Witch's teacher and husband(?) at one point.

Mordru talks like Darth Vader a bit here, and later, Universo kind of does a Lord of the Sith kind of thing. I like to imagine that all of them sound like James Earl Jones throughout the comic. In fact, just imagine everyone in the future talks that way. Except Superboy-Prime. He sounds like Matthew McConnaughey.

Some people criticize Geoff Johns for his bloodthirsty streak, but it's pretty obvious that Mordru's the real crazy one, not Geoff Johns! Seriously, "make love bathed in your blood"? Dude, you're like a thousand years old.

Pages 9-10: The new Legion of Super-Villains, with matching rings! From left to right, top to bottom: Neutrax, Beauty Blaze, Zymyr, Ol-Vir, Emerald Empress, Grimbor, Validus, Tharok, Golden Boy, Tusker, Storm Boy, Sun Emperor, Esper Lass, Dr. Regulus, Universo, Lightning Lord, Superboy-Prime, Saturn Queen, Earth-Man, Hunter II, Persuader, Mist Master, Mano, Spider-Girl, Cosmic King, Micro Lad, Terrus, Lazon, Silver Slasher, Tyr, Black Mace, Echo, Radiation Roy, Chameleon Chief, Titania, Magno Lad.

This is basically the LSV from the early Baxter issues of Legion, plus the Johns Justice League from recent Action Comics issues, a few members of the League of Super-Assassins, the Fatal Five, and a couple of guys who usually work solo (like Universo and Dr. Regulus). In other words, its the most awesome team of bad guys ever.

They all sound like James Earl Jones.

Page 11: Flashback, to Infinite Crisis, written by Geoff Johns. Flashback to "Sinestro Corps War," written by Geoff Johns. Foreshadowing: Sodam Yat -- remember when you beat up a random guy that one time, S-Prime? Not really important right now, but by the end of the issue: important! Sodam Yat, btw, was a Daxamite (like Mon-El) with a power ring, and took the mantle of Ion post-Kyle Raynor.

Page 12: Legion HQ, in panel two, from left to right, top to bottom: bad stuff on monitors, Superman, Lightning Lad, Night Girl, Brainiac 5, Invisible Kid II, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Shrinking Violet, Polar Boy, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Lightning Lass, arrogant S-Prime holo, Chameleon Girl, Tmber Wolf.

The Legion has a code against killing. They also have a code against anyone over 18 joining the team, or at least they did. Changing codes is a slippery slope. Now look at them, all a bunch of long-haired hippie fascists.

Page 13: "gathered some magic," is a reference to Magic: The Gathering, the card game I used to play with all the free time I used to have not annotating comic books. Back when I was cool and hip.

Panel five features the first time in comic book history that "clubhouse" and "bastards" appeared in the same panel. Unless you count the obscure Silverwolf comic from 1987, "Clubhouse Bastards," illustrated by Tim Vigil, which I don't, because it doesn't exist.

Page 14: Superboy-Prime hates whiners! Take that, fanboys!

Page 15: You'd think, by the 31st century, they'd come up with a more elegant computer interface than just a keyboard with extra buttons. Must be the Time Trapper messing up the development of technology by making future tech slightly more annoying than it has to be.

Garth (Lighthing Lad) and Imra (Saturn Girl) are married. One of the old-timey Legion rules was that married couples couldn't remain members. They changed that one too. Seriously, besides the "no murder" rule, what's left? Might as well get rid of that one, too. I'm with the Lad with the Lightning.

Pages 16-17: See, "Lethal Force Enabled." That's what I'm talking about. The Green Lanterns got rid of their "no murder" policy a millenia ago, in a story written, not coincidentally, by Geoff Johns.

The Legion used Stargates way before MacGyver did.

Saturn Queen is all up in her Nurse Ratched mode here, but those black word balloons let you know that you're supposed to say the speech in a deep voice, like, you guessed it, J. E. J.

Pages 18-19: Universo, as Rond Vidar's dad, was Green Lantern once, maybe, or I could be totally misremembering that. But what I'm not misremembering is that the "snap" panel is an allusion to the Levitz/Lightle scene when Princess Projectra snapped the neck of Nemesis Kid after he killed her husband (Karate Kid). She did the deed off-panel, too.

Superboy-Prime is basically from our Earth, so he knows about Parker Brothers board games and their mascot. Although Rich Uncle Pennybags doesn't have a beard. Or mind control powers. As far as I know.

Page 20: "Human supremacist trash," is a reference to Earth-Man's xenophobic Justice League who convinced everyone on Earth that aliens were evil and that Superman was actually a human. Racists are bad guys, even in the future.

"Long Live OUR Legion," is a twist on the famous "Long Live the Legion," the rallying cry of the Legion of Super-Heroes and pretty much anyone who's ever sent me an e-mail about the Legion ever.

Page 21: Ah, the lightning rod from what seemed, at the time, to be a completely pointless Justice League/Justice Society crossover a few years back. You remember "The Lightning Saga," right? A speedster is stuck inside that rod! I wonder who it could be? If we take Brainiac's dialogue in the last panel, " SMART I really AM" and take out the letters h,o,w, s, I, r, e, y, a, m, and add a B and an "e" and an "n," I think you'll have a great clue! Geoff Johns is also smart, with his 31st century cryptography!

Page 22: Oa, former home of the Guardians, now kind of a downer. Note, this is Sodam Yat and his collection of jewelry. "Mogo" is the planet-sized Green Lantern, created by Alan Moore, and he was Yat's best bud. Before the dark times. Before the rebellion...

Page 23: Happy Harbor, former home of the Justice League of America, the Doom Patrol, and pretty much anyone who wanted to hang out. All you need is Aquaman's garage door opener to get in, apparently. Trophies on display include Despero's chess board, Abnegazar, Rath, and Gast class photos with accompanying wheel, jar, and bell. Prometheus's digital download helmet, and Dr. Destiny's Materioptikon. Also, some Amos Fortune playing cards, a giant Starro Heroclix, and, of course, that crystal ball that's not really a crystal ball. You may remember that from the first JLA/JSA team-up.

"Sub's satellite," refers to the Legion of Substitute Heroes, who have taken over the old JLA satellite after the dorkface racists got defeated, thanks to the Subs, in Johns's Action Comics issues earlier this year.

Page 24: The Time Institute! In the background we see Booster Gold's sis, Goldstar, Skeets, Rip Hunter, Time Master, and some other dude who I'm probably expected to remember. Time bubbles are good. For time travel.

"He's a Daxamite" is more Sodam Yat foreshadowing, for all you playing the at-home version.

Page 25: "red sky" is a reference to Crisis on Infinite Earths, or maybe Infinite Crisis, or Final Crisis, but definitely NOT Identity Crisis. "The Tornado Twins" are Barry Allen's kids who live in the future, and end up becoming Bart Allen's dad and aunt. Whatever adventure White Witch is talking about is the previous team-up between all three Legions that we still haven't seen. Stupid Time Trapper!

A "Legion Lost" joke. And a reminder from Johns that the Threeboot Legion is still being published. Buy your copy today!

Pages 26-27: Hoo-boy, at least the Threeboot Legion is on the left page, and the Reboot team on the right. Here goes, from left to right, top to bottom: Element Lad, Star Boy, Micro Lad (aka Colossal Boy), Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, Ultra Boy, Chameleon, Triad, M'Onel, Ferro, Triplicate Girl's legs, Invisible Kid, Light Lass, Atom Girl (aka Shrinking Violet), Karate Kid, Brainiac 5.1, Andromeda, Star Boy, Phantom Lass, Ultra Boy, Triplicate Girl, Lightning Lad, Lightning Lass, Cosmic Boy, Sensor, Timber Wolf, Violet, XS, Dreamer, Princess Projectra, Karate Kid, Chameleon, Timber Wolf, Kid Quantum II, Saturn Girl, Apparition, Triplicate Girl, Brainiac 5, Shadow Lass, Triad, Gates, Invisible Kid, Shikari, Element Lad, Gear, Wildfire, Kinetix.

Page 28: Threeboot Brainiac 5 is from the "Eat it, Grandpa" incarnation from the team. You thought "Long Live the Legion" was a catchy phrase? "Eat it, Grandpa" is the type of thing Matthew Elmslie writes essays about!

Page 29: Sun boy is very sad, as he drinks his SODA POP. Ever since he spent years hooked up to an evil machine that made him turn the sun red, in a story written by Geoff Johns, he just hasn't been the same womanizing douchebag he used to be.

Page 30: Superboy-Prime does have a history of scorching planets with giant space graffiti. His threats are not empty. I've read Countdown, so I know everything there is to know about pain and suffering.

Page 31: The power battery on Oa all black and spooky is a great image. Note to Geoff Johns: you might want to think about basing a huge event on that image next summer. Call it "Shadowy-est Evening," and you'll sell a million books. Mon-El and Shadow Lass make a nice couple, don't they? What a romantic getaway -- going to Oa with a corpse and all.

Page 32: Sodam Yat, I am not a fan of your haircut. But a man with the powers of Mon-El and a Green Lantern ring who hangs out on a planet with a bunch of dead guys is probably not really in the mood to listen to anything I have to say. When you read his final speech, remember that it rhymes with "This is CNN."

And that, my friends, is the greatest Legion story so far this week. Maybe ever.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Invincible Iron Man #6 Hits THE SPLASH PAGE

I reviewed "Invincible Iron Man" #6 yesterday, but Chad Nevett and I wanted to take a closer look at the issue, mostly because Chad kind of hated it, and I kind of didn't. Chad doesn't like a lot of superhero comics these days, and in our discussion we try to get to the bottom of that general sense of disappointment.

Is Chad wrong? Or are so many superhero comics really that lame?

Really, it's not even about "Invincible Iron Man" #6, except it TOTALLY IS.

Read what we have to say in this week's installment of the play-at-home version of the internet's largest and most comprehensive resource for passive aggressive chit-chat: The Splash Page.

Click HERE, if you prefer.

Green Lantern Corps #29 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Green Lantern Corps #29, about which I write the following sentences: "I don't usually read comics just for the characters. I don't necessarily feel an obsessive need to collect continuous runs if the creators aren't doing a good job. But I did stick with 'Green Lantern Corps' longer than I should have, just because I like all things Green and Lanterny, and I'm glad I did. The early issues of this series were fine, but nothing that made me eager to read more, and except for the Dave Gibbons-drawn Guy Gardner spotlight story, I didn't enjoy this series all that much. I liked the 'Sinestro Corps' crossover issues, though, and ever since Peter Tomasi has settled into the writer's seat I've been reading this comic more eagerly each and every month. Tomasi has turned 'Green Lantern Corps' into one of DC's best superhero comics, and I'm glad I stuck around to see it happen."

Read the entire review HERE.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Invincible Iron Man #6 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Invincible Iron Man #6, about which I write the following sentences: "'Invincible Iron Man' #6 isn't perfect, and it's not Matt Fraction's best work, by any means -- that would be 'Casanova,' which, as one of the best comics of the decade, would be hard to top -- but this is a good, solid superhero story. It works particularly well as the culmination of the first half-year of plot developments. On its own 'Invincible Iron Man' #6 is an extended fight scene, but as the climax of the Ezekiel Stane/Tony Stark conflict, it's a successful piece of storytelling. The fight scene does have its nice moments, like the cliffhanger from last issue where Iron Man's head is blown off, carried over here into an assault by a battalion of remote-controlled Iron Men. What would an Iron Man comic be without a multitude of different armor designs? Not as cool. Not by a longshot."

Read the entire review HERE.

Final Crisis: Revelations #3 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Final Crisis: Revelations #3, about which I write the following sentences: "Issue #3 details the confrontation between the three good guys (the Spectre, the Question, and the newly-introduced Angel of Mercy) against an extra-evil Vandal Savage and the anti-life equation (which basically means a bunch of zombies with red eyes). The new Batwoman shows up too, as a red-eyed minion, in a brief scene where she's nothing more than fodder for a magical blast o' Spectre. Vandal Savage, on the other hand, has the mark of Cain on him, and he's walking the Earth with his anti-life slaves, wreaking havoc like an old testament force of evil. If it's the DC Universe in flames that you want, this series has it, but its all 'Sumbit!' and 'Darkseid is My Will!' and spiritual doubt and artwork that looks like it came from a 'WildC.A.T.S. Strikeforce' back-up story circa 1994. Philip Tan's work was better on the first issue of this series, so I'm guessing that his work on issue #3 is rushed, but Renee Montoya has never looked so grotesque and the backgrounds tend to be nothing more than hasty brush strokes."

Read the entire review HERE.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Twelve #8 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: The Twelve #8, about which I write the following sentences: "Chris Weston should be a superstar artist by this point. His ultra-detailed rendering and skill at perfectly pacing a story make him one of the best artists working in the medium today. But because he so vividly de-mythologizes supposedly larger-than-life superhuman characters, he will never be one of those 'Wizard Magazine' Top Artists. He is Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland mixed together, but with a real physical weight to his figures, and an inherent sadness, and he is absolutely perfect for 'The Twelve.' Issue #8 takes magnificent advantage of Weston's skills, flashing back to highlight the 'true' origin of the Golden Age Black Widow and providing a few brief scenes of the other characters getting into various degrees of trouble. His depiction of the Blue Blade's selfish interest in the Electro robot is particularly stunning, and the finely rendered background details add a sense of tragic reality that few artists in the history of the medium could pull off as effectively. Weston is amazing."

Read the entire review HERE.

Recommended: The Secret Saturdays

I completely missed all advance press for the new Cartoon Network show, The Secret Saturdays, but I saw a brief commercial for it as my son was watching the channel earlier this week, and it looked like the greatest cartoon ever: Strange creatures. Costumed characters. A flaming sword. Invisible lizards. Tentacles. Airships.

I asked my son what it was.

"The Secret Saturdays," he said.

"It looks cool, is it any good?" I asked, since, at age seven, he knows everything about every show on Cartoon Network. Or so I thought.

"I don't know. I've never seen it. It does look cool, though."

So we set the DVR for a Friday night recording, and we watched what turned out to be Episode 3, "The Vengeance of Hibagon," yesterday morning.

And The Secret Saturdays IS, indeed, cool. It has a strong comic book connection too, as the brainchild of artist Jay Stephens, although its wikipedia page points out how much has changed since his original pitch. But he's still the art director on the show, and it's a great looking 22 minutes of animated television. It's pretty clearly a Herculoids meets Johnny Quest meets The Fantastic Four concept, both in visual style and content. Since we missed the first two episodes, we didn't get much in the way of character introductions or background info, which was fine with me, because it's a fully-realized world, and I like the mystery and implied depth of context.

"The Vengeance of Hibagon" felt like an update of those 1960's Hanna-Barbara cartoons, in its relatively simple story and visual delight, but it had enough modern bits to make it work today. I know my son was enthralled, and I certainly enjoyed it for its classic vibe and elegant character designs.

Check it out next Friday night, and let me know what you think.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Young Liars #8 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Young Liars #8, about which I write the following sentences: "'Young Liars' #8 continues the trend of the deranged and impossible, but the actual events of the issue are tempered by a narration that may explain something about the larger scope of the series. Or maybe not. It's impossible to say if Lapham is aiming for a true sci-fi world of wonder, or if these screwed up characters have lost all sense of reality. Is Sadie in a coma, dreaming about spiders from mars? Is Annie an agent of an alien power? Is there more to Danny than we ever expected? Lapham raises these questions directly, but makes us suspicious of the answers based on the context. He's created a series of unreliable narrators in 'Young Liars' -- which is no surprise, I guess, given the very title of the series -- but in doing so, he has created the kind of Vertigo series we haven't seen in years."

Read the entire review HERE.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Death of Pa Kent and the Darkness of Superman

In response to my recent Supergirl post, regular Geniusboy Firemelon reader Vanja asked a few questions that I thought deserved a whole post of their own:

WB studios have declared that they will reboot the Superman movie franchise and darken it, bringing it more in line with Nolan's successful Batman movies.

Now, the current issue of Action Comics features the death of a member of the supporting cast, that Morrison has too disposed of in his All Star Superman (to much effect, even though it was a point done in Pre-Crisis continuity too).

I want to ask, do you think that this is the direction the eventual Superman movie will follow? Not exactly spotlighting Brainiac per se, and strengthening his bonds as an arch-villain that crossed the line and went personal with Superman (thought that could well be the case, considering the lack of key Batman villains in the Batman Begins film), but the idea of that particular death.

Does that strike you as "dark" and mature enough, to be mirrored in the movie? Has DC found a way to make Superman grim and gritty and still keep their audience engaged on the big screen?
First, I'd like to address the death of Pa Kent. You're right, Vanja, that Morrison used the scene to great effect in All-Star, as the much younger Clark realizes that he can't save everyone -- a scene which takes place within an issue that features the past, present, and future Superman (and the golden Superman from the future did, kind of, save everyone). And I think Johns handled Pa's death in the newest issue of Action Comics well, using Superman's obsession with the rescued Kryptonian cities to contrast with the death of his all-too human father.

So, even though you're not really asking, I'm going to answer the question about whether or not the death of Pa Kent is a good idea -- does it help tell better Superman stories? I think it does. Since the Byrne reboot, Superman has been the only major superhero to actually have parents who are still alive and still important. I don't know why Byrne decided to keep both Ma and Pa Kent alive in his reboot, but I suspect it was a way to keep Superman a bit emotionally lighter, and to provide a sanctuary he could return to since the Fortress of Solitude was removed from continuity. Having Ma and Pa around could emphasize Superman's Midwestern values, and his simple, humble human origins, at least morally and socially (if not genetically).

But, as I said, no other major superhero has both parents still kicking around, playing such an important role. And there's a probably a reason for that. A deeply-rooted mythical reason having to do with the son replacing the father. Can Superman realize his full potential when the comics are really Superman and his Amazing Parents? Doesn't that diminish the character's scope? I don't know, but maybe it does. Maybe he needs to step up as not just a Super-Son, but as a Super-Man in his own right, and the loss of the father has historically been the most symbolic way to demonstrate the passage into adult responsibility. I'm just throwing these ideas out there, but they seem important.

The death of Pa Kent also adds that kind of tragic undertone that makes Superman realize his tenuous relationship to humanity all the more clearly. If Johns and company use Pa's death just to emphasize the frailty of homo sapiens compared to the Kryptonians who are due to overwhelm the Earth in upcoming DC months, then I think Pa's death would have been an excessive tactic. But if Johns and company build on the emotional cost of Pa's death -- of the loss of that moral beacon in Superman's life -- and actually give Superman the agency to struggle with his own dilemmas without running home for advice all the time (and Ma is still around, of course, but her relationship with Clark is different), then I think that makes Superman a more interesting character.

Basically, Superman can grow up a bit more now, and that's an important step for the character.

Does any of this relate to Warner Brothers' supposed plans for a "darker" Superman movie? I doubt it, and as anyone with a brain knows, a "dark" Superman movie is completely ridiculous. But after The Dark Knight and the inevitable success of Watchmen in theaters next year, I'm sure we'll see a huge push to make all superhero movies "darker" and "grim and gritty." It's like the late 80's, early 90's all over again, but on the big screen.

Yet a Superman movie should have pathos and danger and real emotional stakes. The death of Pa Kent might achieve such an undertone, but without establishing the importance of the character substantially, I don't know that it would translate within a two-hour movie. In Donner's Superman: The Movie, it works, almost, but the emotional stakes and sense of danger is totally shattered by the time-travel ending, which automatically eliminates any meaning to any action within the movie. And, honestly, I thought Singer's Superman Returns was pretty dark already, with the creepy-stalker Superman lurking in the trees, using his x-ray spy-o-vision.

So I hope we don't see a grim The Dark Superman movie anytime soon, but I do think that you can give substance and weight to the character by making things matter. The death of Pa Kent matters, and I know Geoff Johns didn't kill off the character for frivolous reasons.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

When Words Collide: The Best Graphic Novel You've Never Heard Of

In this week's edition of "When Words Collide," I take a look at Ben Balistreri's OGN, "Seaweed: A Cure for Mildew," which I hyperbolically declare to be "The Best Graphic Novel You've Never Heard Of."

Obviously, I don't know what you've heard of, and maybe you don't know about tons of other great graphic novels either, but I can't solve all of life's problems for you. I mean, really, put in some effort on your own. Educate yourself, right? Come on!

But "Seaweed" is a pretty good little book. Only it's not little. It's huge, like one of those oversized Chris Ware Acme issues. Except hardcover. And less sad.

So go read my newest column, and then, I don't know, do whatever you want after that. I'm not the boss of you.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Marvel Zombies 3 #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Marvel Zombies 3 #1 about which I write the following sentences: "Van Lente hits all the right notes here, as he balances the sick humor with an engaging plot, providing a few twists and turns in just a single issue. And Walker's art is streamlined an effective, with a kind of blocky Steve Dillon vibe that I haven't seen from him before. 'Marvel Zombies 3' #1 is just what the franchise needed: and injection of Van Lente, straight into the brain. It's continuity heavy without being the least bit inaccessible. It's sleek and violent and funny, and I can't wait to read the rest of the series."

Read the entire review HERE.

Terror Titans #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Terror Titans #1 about which I write the following sentences: "So 'Terror Titans' isn't going to astonish you with anything revolutionary. It's the kind of comic that you could put in a time capsule as a representation of a typical DC book, circa 2008. Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson represent the DC house style just about as well as anyone, and the comic's focus on a large cast of costumed characters who are all morally compromised sounds like the standard monthly fare under Dan DiDio's watch. That doesn't make it bad at all. I like what Bennett and Jadson do, particularly with the fight scenes, and I like the slightly sordid air permeating this subterranean superhuman world. But there's nothing here you haven't seen before, and if that's okay with you, it's okay with me. (For the record: it's okay with me no matter what.)"

Read the entire review HERE.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Ten Thoughts for Tuesday After Reading Supergirl #34

1. Maybe the eighth or ninth comic I ever read in my entire life was Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, featuring the death of Supergirl. I'd certainly never seen the character before that, but I knew that her heroic sacrifice was a big deal.

2. After that, once I discovered back issues, I read a few stories featuring Supergirl, and they weren't very good.

3. I rented the Helen Slater movie, and watched it on VHS. It, also, wasn't very good, but I had a giant crush on Helen Slater. Years later, as her career faded and she made coked-up late night television appearances, I became saddened.

4. John Byrne, I recall, brought Supergirl back -- sort of -- as a kind of Proty character, who had adopted the form of Supergirl, but wasn't really her. I did not follow the Superman titles for much longer after Byrne left, but I understand that the Supergirl of the 1990s was still that Proty thing, stuck in human (or superhuman) form. I could be completely wrong about that. I certainly never read an issue of her series in that decade, and I have no idea if it was any good or not.

5. I have since fallen in love with the Legion of Super-Heroes, and cherish her appearances in the 30th century and her sad, doomed relationship with Brainiac 5. Also, I own both volumes of the Supergirl Archives, because I now understand why the Silver Age Superman family comics are so utterly brilliant.

6. I have a Supergirl action figure from the Justice League Unlimited line, and my daughter loves to play with it. In fact, she insists on only using the girl figures. And Batman. She likes Batman.

7. When Jeph Loeb brought Kara Jor-El -- a new Kara -- into continuity in the pages of Superman/Batman I was not very interested. I read the issues, I said, "hmmm," and I seemed to understand that she was some kind of evil, faux-Supergirl in the end. Apparently she wasn't. Or she was, but then she overcame her evil. Or she wasn't ever really evil. I am easily confused by this character.

8. Mark Waid and Barry Kitson presented a much better version of the character in their Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes comic. Kara brightened up that series so much that I tried a few issues of her solo comic, and I thought they were some of the worst comics on the stands. I have no idea what happened, but about a thousand creative teams came and went in the first twenty issues, and I remember Mark Sable coming on for an issue and then not getting credit for the rest of the arc and it just seemed like a total car wreck for a while.

9. Like Grant Morrison, I thought the Supergirl story from the Bizarro hardcover was the best version of the character in a long, long time.

10. Supergirl #34 is a huge step in the right direction. Sterling Gates is part of team Johns, and that's a good thing, because Supergirl seems to matter more now than she has in ages. And in this one issue, Gates quickly establishes Kara's character, offers an in-story critique of her recent behavior, returns Lana Lang to prominence, and makes me want to read another issue of the series for the first time ever. I'm still not a fan of the belly shirt, but I think this issue points the way for a meaningful, fun, engaging Supergirl comic, and I'm looking forward to what Gates and artist Jamal Igle do next.

11. There is no number 11. Start reading Supergirl now.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Alcoholic Graphic Novel Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: The Alcoholic about which I write the following sentences: "Your tolerance for Jonathan Ames -- who's doing his first graphic novel writing here, after a pretty extensive career as a witty, but tepid, gonzo journalist and literary raconteur -- depends on how willing you are to embrace the contradictions within his narrator. I haven't read everything Ames has ever written, but I've read plenty of his short stories and his journalism, and he's always basically writing about himself -- or some version of himself -- getting into one weird situation after another. The contradictions come in when the narrator (in the case of 'The Alcoholic' a character not so subtly named 'Jonathan A.') makes cringe-worthy decisions even after establishing himself as an intelligent person otherwise. He'll say something smart, show a sense of self-awareness and introspection, and then sleep with completely the wrong person (or five of them, simultaneously). Or he'll get drunk, excessively so. It's like watching a flaming train collide with a bus full of orphans in slow motion. But with a sense of humor."

Read the entire review HERE.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Eternals #5 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Eternals #5 about which I write the following sentences: "'Eternals' is the graphic narrative equivalent of NBC's 'Heroes.' Sure, we see more costumed characters on the pages, but the way the comic jumps from location to location and from slow-as-molasses subplot to subplot feels just like the first season of Tim Kring's television show. I stuck with that show until the season one finale, but I don't think I'll be sticking with this comic book for that long. It's not just that so little happens, it's that what does happen seems imposed and unimportant. A character in issue #5 gets beaten to a pulp, and has his back broken, and we don't even really know why. Yet that's the only major event in the past five months of the series. Other than that, it's a lot of anxious characters talking about what's to come, and a lingering sense of doom that does nothing to illuminate the lives of these proto-gods in any way."

Read the entire review HERE.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Secret Origins Hits THE SPLASH PAGE

Tim and Chad talk about "Secret Origins," not the comic book pictured here on the left, but their own origins as comic book readers and critics.

After all this time, your questions will be answered:




All this and more in the internet's number one greatest two-man comic book discussion in the history of the universe: The Splash Page.

For the exact same link, click HERE.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Punisher War Journal #24 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Punisher War Journal #24 about which I write the following sentences: "Here's a strange beast: a 'Secret Invasion' crossover that has neither the word 'secret' nor the word 'invasion' anywhere on the cover. Instead, we get Alex Maleev's haunting image of Frank Castle behind bars and not even the slightest indication that a Skrull might rear its freakishly green head. Yet, this issue is absolutely full of Skrulls, and as much as I'm ready to take a break from the shape-shifting aliens after reading about them in every Marvel comic since the Spring, 'Punisher War Journal' #24 teaches an important life lesson: Skrulls are okay, folks. Especially when they're in the line of fire and Frank Castle is holding the arsenal."

Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Remember Baltimore?

Once upon a time, I went to the Baltimore Comic-Con with my bestest pal, Mike Phillips. Then I sort of wrote about it for CBR.

Because that's what I do.

Read "All Roads Lead to Baltimore" in the newest edition of the internet's very own "When Words Collide.

If I left you out of my narrative, I apologize. You obviously just didn't buy me enough beers.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"Batman R.I.P." Part V: Batman #680 Annotations

I've been annotating "Batman R.I.P." and discussing Morrison's Batman run nearly issue-by-issue since his "Clown at Midnight" story. Click HERE for all my relevant Morrison Batman posts, and comment below to tell me everything I missed. (Also, this issue seemed so straightforward, I almost thought about skipping the annotations on #680, but maybe I'll have enough to talk about once I get started...)

Batman #680: The Annotations

Cover: Alex Ross continues his metaphorical approach to covering "Batman R.I.P." as Batman wears a completely different costume here than he does in the issue. Also, he doesn't fight the Club of Villains. Also, also, he doesn't breakdance inside, either. I hereby label this cover, "go, Batman, go, Batman, go!"

Page 1: Bossu's minions lurk on the rooftops while Charlie Caligula's centurions provide valet service, apparently.

Pages 2-3: Dr. Hurt in the Thomas Wayne proto-Batman costume describes the "Danse Macabre" which is all about gambling with human lives. The red and black motif, so prominent in this arc -- and in Batman #663 -- continues with the table setting and the roulette wheel.

Page 4: This is a pretty straightforward Dr. Guy Dax-turns-into-Le Bossu sequence (and, honestly, I assumed the two characters were the same guy because they looked similar facially -- that's a knock against Tony Daniel's art, I guess, since his ugly faced guys look like ugly-face-with-mask guys). But, Dax/Bossu does have a line that links thematically to the notion of Batman's duality: "In order to give expression to the honest beast within," he says, "I am compelled to an elaborate process of disguise."

Page 5: Nurse Scorpiana stands over the body of Dick Grayson, who was institutionalized mistakenly a few issues ago.

Pages 6-7: Batman, still wearing the Zur-En-Arrh costume cobbled together on the streets, talks with Bat-Mite, and has two great lines about superhero fashion: "The colors demonstrate total confidence. Robin dressed this way for years and survived."

El Sombrero, master of death traps, has prepared Wayne Manor for Batman's imminent arrival, and tells the minions to assume their positions for the Danse Macbre, but the Joker, a force of chaos, has other plans as he butchers his way to El Sombrero. [Edited to add: this scene takes place at Arkham, apparently.]

Page 8: As he did in the previous issue, Batman calls Bat-Mite, "might," which seems to imply the possibilities inherent in the character, or possibly the concept of strength. Either way, Bat-Mite is part of Batman's psychic reboot, offering some guidance on his journey. "Who is the Black Glove?" is, of course, the big question for Morrison's Batman run, and this issue maybe answers it at the end.

Page 9: Batman refers to Bat-Mite as "soldier" here, which is what Frank Miller's Batman calls Robin. Perhaps it's a sign that he's regaining his sanity or at least his "normal" mental state, because all of a sudden Bat-Mite withdraws. I've proposed that Bat-Mite is just a figment of Batman's imagination -- part of his psychic reboot -- but I didn't expect Batman to come out and ask the question directly. Bat-Mite's response is typical Morrison: "Imagination is the 5th dimension." Oh, yeah. Why didn't I think of that?

Pages 10-11: Is there a precedent for all of these rich guys wearing masks as they attend the Danse Macabre? I don't know of one, but it's a pretty funny image, I think. And I love when the generalissimo whines, "Batman is cool! Batman wears black!" in protest for this weird Zur-En-Arrh Batman on the monitors. I don't know if this is exactly Geoff Johns-channeling-fanboy-rage like Superboy-Prime, but it's close enough to make me laugh.

"I own the keys to Batman's mind" seems to imply a hubris on Dr. Hurt's part, but maybe he has even more tricks up his sleeve still.

El Sobrero flies through the window, courtesy of the crazed Clown at Midnight Joker. Hurt seems to misunderstand everything about the Joker when he says, "you'll be disappointed by the way it messes with your pattern..." The Joker doesn't have a pattern. That's the opposite of the Joker aesthetic.

Pages 12-13: Wayne manor has been booby trapped by El Sombrero, but since he's clearly out of comission, I'm not sure who's talking to Gordon here, but I assume it's Dr. Hurt. The red phone hotline is an allusion to the Adam West Batman television show.

Damian, Talia, and a few of her League of Assassins peeps show up just in time. (And since Damian is surely to be the new Robin by next year, it's important to get him back into the action ASAP.)

Page 14-15: Batman's cat and mouse game with the Joker. His reference to the "Dead Man's Hand" is an allusion to the scene in DC Universe #0 in which Joker showed four of the five Aces and Eights. In their scene from that one issue special, red and black was the major motif, and since it's so pivotal to the climax in this issue, I really don't understand why it wasn't in the main Batman title.

Okay, so, Batman here is all about logic, and the Joker laughs at such notions. But when Batman says, "Cupid and the Devil" in connection with the red and the black, he's not wrong.

Page 16-17: "Love really is blind," says the Joker, giving Batman yet another (quite obvious) clue as to what's going to happen at the end of the issue, but Batman is too stubborn to pick up on it. And, let's be honest, it's tough to really take the Joker at face value. The red and black tiles are a callback to the floor pattern in Batman #663.

Joker even goes so far to say "jet-black irony" to clue everyone in that the word "jet" does indeed mean "black" just in case we didn't make the connection yet.

Oh, yeah, also the Joker slices his tongue because (a) he's crazy, and (b) it's the whole "forked-tongue" thing of the serpent who tempts humanity. It's a biblical allusion and all that. (Keep it in mind for later.)

Pages 18-19: "You think it all breaks down into symbolism and structure..." says the Joker. "No, Batman, that's just Wikipedia." Ha. My Morrison book is all about the symbolism and structure of Morrison's work, so the Joker must not be a fan. The Joker does get off a few more zingers here, dismissing everything Batman tried to do -- like the Dr. Hurt sensory deprivation experiment -- to get inside the mind of the Joker. Batman's "fatal" flaw was in trying to approach the chaotic and insane with a logical, reasonable plan.

The Joker's lines about "it's so simple," "it's all a big joke" reflect the specific situation Batman finds himself in, and the Joker's general worldview. As you'll note, if you've read Grant Morrison: The Early Years (a.k.a. the Joker's least favorite book), when I asked Morrison about his absurdist approach to comics, he said, "you should be able to make people cry and you should be able to make people feel emotions, but underneath it all, it's all bloody ridiculous."

Pages 20-21: The red and black poison petals (as seen in the previous issue) fall as Bruce Wayne struggles with his identity. Is he Batman? Bruce Wayne? The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh?

Page 22: Batman holds the Bat-Radia (which is just a plain old junky radio, actually), ineffective and useless. Clearly the red and black has overtaken the entire color scheme inside Jezebel Jet's chamber.

Pages 23-24: Jezebel Jet is revealed as the Black Glove. Well, she pulls on a literal black glove, and she's clearly working for the bad guys. I suspect, just as I proposed in my annotations for issue #679, that this is the devil incarnate. Although I didn't think Jezebel Jet was the Black Glove herself, it makes sense that the Devil would take the form of a temptress -- "Cupid and the Devil" as Batman said himself earlier in the issue.

"Now do you get it?" the Joker yells at Batman, and it's clearly a message from Morrison to the reader, too. Do you get it? The red and the black? The clues and hints? The devil is in the details.