Rand Bellavia is back to share his fond memories of decades of comic collecting and reading in this month’s Random Access Memory.

Author’s Note: Random Access Memory is me looking back at the specific comics that shaped my life. Each month I go back in time – in five year intervals – to examine key comics that came out those months. (The idea is that after five years of monthly columns, I will have covered an entire lifetime – in this case, fifty years – of reading comics.) I also list all the comics I read that particular month. This will afford readers the opportunity to chastise me for not reading specific comics, and/or laugh at the horrible, horrible choices I made in the past.

May 1977

Avengers 16

After soundly defeating the Avengers last issue, Ultron reveals his plan to bring his bride Jocasta to life by (of course) stealing Janet Pym’s brainwaves. Having left half the team in a death-like coma, the remaining Avengers attack Ultron, and Iron Man saves the day.

The idea of Iron Man being morally compromised – especially when compared to the ethically pure Black Panther – was revisited throughout Jim Shooter’s Avengers run, but never was given enough space to become a defining moment for either character.

Wonder Man’s self-doubt (and fear of death), however, was given much more panel time, climaxing with him conquering both in his hand-to-hand battle with the God-like Korvac in issue 177.

Henry Pym’s mental problems will continue to haunt him throughout Shooter’s run, and — likely — into eternity.

Other Comics I Read From May 1977

  • Creepy Things 3
  • Eternals 14
  • Godzilla 1
  • Invaders 19, 20
  • Marvel Premiere 37
  • Marvel Team-Up 60
  • Scary Tales 1
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 9
  • Spidey Super Stories 25
  • Star Trek 45

May 1982

Captain America 272

J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck give us a somber meditation on the toll the world can take on heroes. The story opens with Sam “The Falcon” Wilson finding out that his nephew has been shot.

Sam comes across a homeless child being beaten on the streets, and – overcoming his earlier cynicism – saves the child and takes him in. Later, Sam learns that the “victim” he rescued was also the “killer” who shot his nephew.

His near loss of control in the face of his own anger and disgust is mirrored by his partner, as Captain America fights Vermin, a new villain clearly designed to represent humanity’s least human qualities.

The story ends with both Sam and Steve receiving the good news they need.

As I reread these issues, I find myself more and more impressed with DeMatteis’ Captain America run. More than 30 years before “the new sincerity” these comics show us how super-hero narratives are meant to be written.

Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions 3

While it seems almost impossible to imagine, 1982’s Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions was the first mini-series published by Marvel. The concept was pretty simple, but also fairly broad in its scope. For three glorious issues, all of the heroes of the Marvel Universe were brought together to compete at the whim of gods. These gods, by the way, were the Unknown (we’ll find out who that is by the end of the issue — Spoiler Warning: don’t look at the cover) and the Grandmaster, who was the less popular brother of the Collector. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of him, but prepare to hear more about him soon, as Jeff Goldblum will be playing the Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok.

An interesting – and laudable – hook of this story is that as these cosmic gods were gathering the greatest heroes of earth (and not New York City, or even North America) much of the cast was made up of international heroes. This was a great (and largely wasted) opportunity to introduce a line of new multi-cultural super-heroes to the Marvel Universe. Sadly, most of these heroes have not been seen since the end of this series.

The final issue begins with a summation of what has gone on before:

The third contest ends with the Thing grasping the giant Terry’s Chocolate Orange Slice of Victory!

Now, let us be clear on this matter: As we enter the final battle, the Grandmaster has won two rounds, and the Unknown has won one round. (Feel free to check my work above.)

And then: The final round! Kindly note that Shamrock – guess what country she comes from? – is on the Unknown’s team.

Captain America has victory in his sight, but at the last second, Shamrock snatches victory from his grasp! So that means… Wait… Give me a second here…

Yeah. So, it would appear that Marvel somehow miscounted the votes. And they were counting to three. Now, this issue lists no less than three writers, plus a penciler, an inker, a colorist, a letterer, and at least two editors. That’s (minimally) nine pairs of eyes that saw these pages before publication. And none of them appear to have noticed that the Marvel Super-Hero Contest of Champions ended in a tie. And while I can understand why the Grandmaster might have kept his mouth shut had he noticed the error, his opponent (the mysterious “the Unknown”) was eventually revealed to be Death. Who knew that tricking Death was this easy?

What If 34

The infamous “humor” issue of What If. I swear I thought this was the funniest thing I’d ever seen when it came out. I mean, there’re some decent sight gags throughout. And “Spidey’s Intellectual Stories” is still good for a giggle or two, but what was I thinking?

Really, I thought all three of those were rock solid jokes. Of course, around this time of my life I also thought Odie barking Garfield’s face into a tray of lasagna was the height of visual humor.

Okay, this one is still kind of funny.

Other Comics I Read from May 1982

  • Amazing Spider-Man 231
  • Avengers 222
  • Cerebus 38
  • Daredevil 186
  • Ka-Zar 18
  • Marvel Team-Up 120

May 1987

Green Lantern Corps Annual 3

While this annual had several stories in it, the only one I remember was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Bill Willingham. The very interesting idea at the heart of this short story is “How would the Green Lantern ring work in a world without light?” It doesn’t take our Green Lantern long to figure the problem out.

Shifting from light to sound allows Moore to pepper the script with all sorts of dubious wordplay, but the real capper is his reworked oath:

True Story: I won a trivia contest at the Pittsburgh Comicon – against Mark Freaking Waid – by reciting this oath from memory. And my parents said I was wasting my life.

Justice League 4

More bwahahas, tight dialog, and amazing facial expressions from J. M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffin, and Kevin McGuire.

This is the issue where Booster Gold joins the League. His “audition” involved him fighting against the Royal Flush Gang, a group of super-villains who dressed up as… Oh, you can figure it out.

But the Royal Flush Gang has a literal Ace up its sleeve – well, the Ace is literal, but the sleeve remains metaphorical – who defeats the most powerful Leaguers pretty handily

Then Booster Gold and Blue Beetle team up and show everyone how it’s done.

The pairing of Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, first seen here, was the primary engine that drove this iteration of the Justice League through its initial run and several miniseries that revisited this era of the League’s history. It was all fun and games until Maxwell Lord shot Blue Beetle in the face.

Miracleman 11

Alan Moore strikes again. This was the first issue of Book Three of Miracleman, and the first issue to be graced by the astonishing artwork of John Totleben.

I was a fan of Miracleman from the first Eclipse issue, but was disappointed by some of the art choices in the second book. Chuck Beckham’s work was just okay, and Rick Veitch seemed super rushed on his issues. Totleben was my favorite comic artist at the time, so this was perfection. Plus, it was the first issue to feature Miraclewoman.

My anticipation for the issue was great, but I was surprised to find that my favorite part of the comic was to be found in the letters page, where the editors saw fit to include a portion of Alan Moore’s script from the previous issue. This lengthy description of a single panel – and an unimportant single panel, at that – mesmerized me.

I think my favorite part is the way the scripts clearly states that some of the stuff that Moore describes in vivid detail shouldn’t be able to be seen in the final illustrated panel. Okay, and the way he feels the need to name the boys and girls who – at some point in the distant past – had carved their names into the bench. All right, you got me. The best part is clearly his description of a National Front member (one who not only isn’t seen in this panel but doesn’t ever exist, even in the world of this comic) as a “brain damaged Paki-basher suffering from a deprived education and cutbacks in the welfare state.”

Swamp Thing 63

Yet another Alan Moore comic – and his penultimate Swamp Thing issue, at that. Knowing that the end of his over 40 issue run was approaching, Moore takes a moment to reintroduce some tertiary characters and wrap up some loose ends.

As the final issue is more of an epilogue, this one contains Swamp Thing’s triumphant return to earth. Because this was still ostensibly a horror comic, the first order of business was getting revenge on those who banished him from the earth in the first place. So, most of the issue is dedicated to Swamp Thing dispatching his enemies in a series of increasingly violent (and improbable) sequences, climaxing with this beauty:

Eventually, he remembers why he wanted to get back to earth so badly in the first place:

And the answer is Yes. Yes, I did intentionally use the phrase “loose ends.” Get it? See, “Loose Ends” was the title of Swamp Thing 20. Swamp Thing 20? The first issue that Alan Moore wrote?

[sigh]

Watchmen 11

Clearly, May of 1987 was a good time to be an Alan Moore fan, as this is the fourth comic he wrote that came out this month. And Watchmen was a 12-issue series, which means I get to use the word penultimate again.

This is the issue where Ozymandias reveals himself to Rorschach and Nite Owl as the villain of the piece. After monologing for several pages about his schemes, Nite Owl grits his teeth and swears that he will stop him.

And we cut to the New York City of the recent past.

Throughout the series, we have spent an unusual amount of time with every character imaged on this page. Moore shows us that in a world of infinite stories, there can be no minor characters. The issue ends with perhaps the most haunting use of the infamous shape that first appeared as a splash of blood on the Comedian’s smiley face badge.

Other Comics I Read from May 1987

  • Alien Legion 20
  • American Flagg 44
  • Avengers 282
  • Badger 27, 28
  • Cerebus 96, 97
  • Chronicles of Corum 5
  • Classic X-Men 12
  • Concrete 2
  • Detective Comics 577
  • Dr. Fate 2
  • Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters 1
  • Grendel 8
  • Incredible Hulk 334
  • Nexus 36, 37
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 129
  • Punisher 2
  • Question 7
  • Scout 19
  • Vigilante 44

May 1992

Doom Patrol 56

In pointing out Alan Moore’s apparent rape fetish, Grant Morrison claimed that he had managed to write hundreds of comic book scripts without including a rape scene. While Moore’s overuse of rape as a plot point in his comics is undoubtedly true, Morrison seems to have forgotten that the Doom Patrol Crazy Jane’s origin revolves around sexual abuse – and that the previous issue did, in fact, include a rape scene.

In this issue, Jane decides to face her deepest fears, first by remembering aspects of her past she had repressed:

…and then by jumping into the very well that her father so cruelly used against her.

Jane finding Harry is yet another example of Morrison exploring emotional depths using our primal connection to animals. And Jane responding to her own abuse by shifting into caretaker mode is spot on.

Eventually, Jane confronts her father.

Having entered the well, and turned off the hate machine, Jane forces herself to enter the hell that she was so often told lies at the bottom of the well.

 

And here we see the primary difference between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Alan Moore, for all of his prodigious talent, is primarily concerned with scratching the bright surface of super-heroic characters and searching for the darkness buried underneath, while Morrison is obsessed with digging through the darkness until he finds light.

That being said, this issue doesn’t end on a positive note, but with a rather shocking revelation as Robot Man discovers the corpse of fellow Doom Patrol member Josh “Tempest” Clay, as well as his murderer.

Spoiler Warning: That’s Chief Niles Caulder standing behind Robot Man, holding a gun. Chief Caulder was the Professor Xavier to the Doom Patrol’s X-Men. Right down to the fact that he was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. So, his standing there was as much a shock as his standing there holding a recently used handgun.

Hellblazer 55

One annoying aspect of popular culture over the last decade or so has been the confusion of “villain as protagonist” with “anti-hero.” Walter White is not an anti-hero. He’s a flat out villain, who just happens to be the protagonist of Breaking Bad. An anti-hero, as I understand it, is a reluctant hero. Someone who may be morally compromised, but – when the chips are down – always ends up making the right decision and serving the forces of good over evil. Chaotic good, in gaming terms. Han Solo is a great anti-hero. And so is John Constantine.

One of the clearest ways to establish an anti-hero is to place them in conflict with such pure evil that one has no choice but to side with the anti-hero, no matter how you feel about their less than angelic behavior. Garth Ennis was particularly good at this trick throughout his Hellblazer run:

This way, when Constantine grinds the knife a bit – by say, exorcising a demon from the Crown Prince of England and sending him into the guy who arranged the whole affair, so that he eats his second in command and them himself – we don’t mind as much.

Marshal Law: Super Babylon

Marshal Law was the original super-hero comic for people who hate super-heroes. Writer Pat Mills certainly appears to hate super-heroes, and artist Kevin O’Neill is more than up to indulging Mills’ most grotesquely violent fantasies. Basically an S&M riff on the Punisher, Marshal Law wanders his way through his comics, killing anything wearing primary colors.

The original six-issue series was a reasonably thoughtful meditation on what one might do when trapped in a world where ultimate power had corrupted ultimately, with super-heroes. Then things got a bit sillier. The follow-up one shot (Marshal Law Takes Manhattan) was certainly the funniest installment, and set the pattern for the future, as ML found himself facing obvious cyphers of the Marvel Universe. (The best bit is the “Mr. Fantastic” character constantly talking to his “invisible” wife, who clearly had left him years ago.)

After that, the series quickly degenerated into a series of “Marshal Law Kills Another Clearly-Recognizable-But-Visually-Distinct-Enough-to-Avoid-Legal-Action Super-Hero” one shots. Super Babylon pits ML against the JSA (the Jesus Society of America). We spend just enough time with them to see which character is supposed to be who, and then watch as ML kills them all. The End.

I suppose this sort of thing passed for edgy at the time, but in hindsight this sort of intentional misreading of super-heroics just seems silly and mean-spirited.

There is, however, one memorable gag regarding the Streaker, their version of the Golden Age Flash:

Other Comics I Read from May 1992

  • Animal Man 49
  • Cerebus 158
  • Flash 66
  • Incredible Hulk 395
  • Miracleman: Apocrypha 3
  • Peepshow 2
  • Robocop vs. Terminator 1
  • Sandman 39
  • Shade the Changing Man 25
  • Spectacular Spider-Man 190
  • Swamp Thing 121
  • X-Factor 80
  • Yummy Fur 28

May 1997

Invisibles 6

About half of this issue is spent giving us a glimpse of our heroes in the world of the future. This future stuff is lots of fun to see and read, and I recommend you seek it out – especially as the “future” of the story is now our recent past – but you’ll have to forgive me as I focus on the other half of the issue, which follows King Mob and Robin as they visit the Invisible College.

Expanding the Ichthus into a Venn diagram is brilliant enough, but claiming that the early Gnostic Christians used this image because it represented the true holographic nature of reality might be my favorite idea in the Invisibles.

And, speaking of predicting the future, check out this article from January 2017 that provides evidence that we do, in fact, reside in a holographic universe:

And, if we do in fact live in the cross-section of two overlapping holograms, then we exist in two-dimensions, and the third dimension is merely an illusion. This would mean that our reality – when seen from the outside – would very much resemble a comic book page.

Once King Mob is done showing off, he and Robin reflect on the battle ahead:

JLA 7

The fact that Grant Morrison was simultaneously publishing the Invisibles and JLA will likely be lost to history. But let us take a moment to silently consider that the previous mind-blowing issue came out the same month as this remarkably super-hero adventure.

Previously, the JLA met Zauriel, an honest to God Angel of… well, God. Following closely in his wake was a large group of rebel angels, Heaven-bent (?) on destroying the earth. Doesn’t take much more than that to get into a fight with the JLA.

Morrison’s ability to stage exciting action sequences while simultaneously providing solid character moments and entertaining dialog peaks with JLA, and perhaps with this issue.

Everyone loves and respects Wonder Woman. Check. Aquaman gets no respect. Check.

Flash says it all. Superman wrestles an angel. And yes, that blue monstrosity is (or was, at least) Superman. Interestingly, Superman’s change from his more traditional look and power set to the electricity-powered Blueperman occurred in the gap of time between when Morrison wrote the original script and artist Howard Porter illustrated it. Thus, Morrison had to hastily rewrite the story using Superman’s new powers. And it still works. Superman is Superman. (How are the DC movies managing to get these characters so wrong?)

Since they haven’t had much else to do, Green Lantern and Flash save the day. And get some great dialog along the way.

Preacher 27

In this issue we meet Amy, who is an old friend of Tulip and Jesse’s. Having another female character to bounce Tulip off of is nice, and I wish Ennis has seen fit to work Amy more prominently into the main story. Here she explains to Tulip why one should never date a writer.

Observant fans may recall that Amy’s views on the questionable ability of horror fiction to hold a mirror up to society are shared by Garth Ennis, who wrote an entire “On the Ledge” column arguing that point back in the early days of Vertigo:

“As for dealing with evil in everyday life, well, I had a quick flick through an issue of “Faust” recently and I’m sorry: I was still totally unprepared for the news that “Rape Camps” had been set up in Central Europe for ethnic cleansing.  Same went for a documentary on the Holocaust.  I can find the answers to all this in Nightbreed, can I?”

Later on, Tulip meets up with Cassidy, who drops a bombshell that will drive much of the third act of the story.

And where is Jesse during all of this? Handcuffed to a hotel room bed – by Tulip – as punishment for abandoning her on his quest to save Cassidy. When she returns to free him, Jesse expects a big fight, but is surprised to find Tulip in a very different mood.

Pride and Joy 1

It’s a shame that this four-issue series by Garth Ennis and John Higgins didn’t find a bigger audience, as it holds up surprisingly well. A tale of revenge set amidst a family drama, Pride and Joy is ultimately about masculinity, and – like most of Ennis’ best work – manages to critique it without condemning it.

Jimmy, our main character, is raising his teen son Patrick and tween daughter Rachel on his own. In a flashback, we see why.

Though we don’t see much of her, Sarah casts a huge shadow over the story, and – in what little time we spend with her – we can see why. She perfectly bursts Jimmy’s bubble of hyper-masculinity, but without belittling his anger or grief.

After some decent character work – Jimmy and Rachel have a very close relationship, while Jimmy and Patrick are worlds apart – the plot interrupts their lives, as some friends from Jimmy’s (darker than we had been led to believe) past show up to warn him that his life is in danger. Jimmy takes his family on the run.

And, because this is a Garth Ennis comic, the first issue ends like this:

Unknown Soldier 4

Fans of Garth Ennis really loved May 1997, as he ended his four-issue Unknown Solider series this month, as well. (He also put out an issue of Hitman in May of 1997, but I can’t natter on about *everything* the man writes.)

After three issues of political intrigue, most of this issue consists of an expository conversation as our two main characters sit in a freshly dug grave in a rainstorm.

Having sent Clyde, our protagonist, on a merry chase for three issues, the Unknown Soldier finally reveals his master plan:

Feeling compromised and let down by how own country, the Unknown Soldier can no longer perform his duty. Yet he knows that the work he does must continue, and thus cannot abandon his post until he knows that someone will replace him. But Clyde’s having none of it:

After this emotional exchange, we cut abruptly to the following morning

And, we end with an Ennis masterstroke

Reader response literary criticism maintains that art is not what happens when the writer writes, but rather when the reader reads. In other words, the intention of the writer is less important than the meaning read into the work by the reader. Of course, writers can espouse this theory and still produce brilliant work. In fact, great writers can use this theory to their advantage, as Ennis does here. Did the Soldier kill Clyde and continue to carry his burden, or did Clyde relent and take on the mantle of the Unknown Solider? The narrative is intentionally unclear, and the answer to the question is left entirely up to the reader.

Other Comics I Read from May 1997

  • Batman: The Long Halloween 8
  • Cerebus 218
  • DV8 7
  • Flash 127
  • Hellblazer 115
  • Hitman 16
  • Impulse 27
  • Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 7
  • The Shade 4
  • Spectacular Spider-Man -1
  • Starman 32
  • Stormwatch 48
  • Strangers in Paradise 6
  • Supergirl 11
  • Untold Tales of Spider-Man -1, Annual 1997

May 2002

New X-Men 126

Professor Xavier is trapped in the dying body of his twin sister, who swapped their brains and ran off with his body, and now she’s coming back to destroy the earth! What will the X-Men do? Well, for starters, Jean will partition her brain like a portable hard-drive

From a creative writing perspective this is an incredible idea, but practically speaking this is a terrible idea, and Jean eventually pays the price of attempting to cram another entire consciousness into her brain

But something else is happening here. The students of the Xavier School have had enough of watching their teachers fight to protect them. And, when Cassandra arrives to destroy the X-Men once and for all, they are ready for her

The premise that evil is an isolating force, and can never hope to triumph over kindness and solidarity –that empathy inoculates us against evil – is at the heart of most of Grant Morrison’s super-hero narratives, and finds an overt expression here.

Other Comics I Read from May 2002

  • 100 Bullets 36
  • Alias 9
  • Amazing Spider-Man 41
  • Authority 29
  • Avengers 54
  • Batman 603
  • Black Widow: Pale Little Spider 2
  • Cage 3
  • Captain America 2
  • Catwoman 7
  • Daredevil 33
  • DC First: Flash/Superman
  • Detective Comics 770
  • Elektra 10
  • Flash 186
  • Hawkman 3
  • Hellblazer 174
  • Hood 1
  • Human Target: The Final Cut
  • Incredible Hulk 40
  • JSA 36
  • Louis Reil 7
  • Lucifer 26
  • Marvel Knights Double Shot 2
  • Midnight Nation 11
  • Morlocks 2
  • Powers 20
  • Spider-Man: Blue 1
  • Spider-Man: Quality of Life 1
  • Transmetropolitan 56
  • Ultimate Marvel Team-Up 16
  • Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special 1
  • Ultimate X-Men 18
  • Ultimates 5
  • Wolverine/Hulk 4
  • X-Force 128
  • X-Men Unlimited 36

May 2007

Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America 3

Someone at Marvel thought it would be “cool” to have a five issue series focusing on the effect Captain America’s death was having on the greater Marvel Universe, with each issue mapping to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Jeph Loeb wrote all five of the issues, and – in a nice metaphor for his career – two of them are really great.
The Bargaining chapter (or, CW:FS:TDoCA:C3:B, as I like to call it) focuses on Hawkeye, who [heavy sigh]was killed by the Scarlet Witch during Avengers Disassembled, and was therefore dead during the Civil War, but then mysteriously came back to life (we’re still not sure how) to find Captain America dead and his friends at each other’s throats. Never one to waste a good crisis, Iron Man tries to convince Hawkeye to take over as Captain America.

Tony convinces Clint to wear the costume out of the store to see how it feels, where he is almost immediately confronted by Young Avengers Patriot and Hawkeye.

These legacy heroes help draw a clear line between honoring your mentors and replacing them. And, when Iron Man tries to arrest them, it’s suddenly clear what side Clint is on, and he tells Tony to shove Cap’s shield up his shiny metal ass.

Midnighter 7

The Midnighter is a riff on Batman whose gimmick is that he can literally see several steps ahead of everyone else. He is quite fond of describing his power set when confronting potential combatants, most famously with the words, “I’ve already fought our fight in my head a million different ways. I can hit you without you even seeing me. I’m what soldiers dream of growing into. I’m what children see when they first imagine what death is like. I’m the Midnighter. Your move.” Eventually he got tired of saying all that out loud and had it printed on business cards.

This is the only issue of Midnighter written by Brian K. Vaughan, and it’s a brilliant one. Plot-wise, it’s nothing special, but the hook of the story is that it’s told backwards – the pages intentionally printed in the wrong order. This does a reasonably good job of mimicking the Midnighter’s powers, so you can see the story from his enhanced perspective.

Of course, a very high level of craft is necessary to pull this off as anything other than a one-note joke. Check out this three page sequence, shown in the actual order printed.

Crucially, the pages read properly in both directions. (In proper context, the “most disgusting friggin’ thing I’ve ever heard” is Midnighter’s mention of making love to his husband (Apollo), but – assuming you didn’t understand the narrative trick in play – it also makes perfect sense for it to be the notion of Olivia defiling Midnighter’s corpse.

And, just in case you managed to get to the last page of the issue without figuring out what was going on, the final page is in fact an issue-opening splash page – complete with the issue title and credits bar – showing the Midnighter offering yet another description of his power-set, with an added layer of meta-narrative.

Lastly, Vaughan sees fit to title his story “Fait Accompli” a Latin phrase that refers to a deed that has already been accomplished. In common usage, the implication is that this deed is irreversible and nothing can be done to change it.

Other Comics I Read from May 2007

  • 52 52
  • All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder 5
  • American Virgin 15
  • Astonishing X-Men 21
  • Avengers: the Initiative 2
  • Batman 666
  • Criminal 6
  • Crossing Midnight 7
  • Daredevil 97
  • DMZ 19
  • Ex Machina 28
  • Exterminators 17
  • Fallen Son: the Death of Captain America 4, 5
  • Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears 4
  • Green Lantern 20
  • Hellblazer 232
  • Immortal Iron Fist 6
  • Incredible Hulk 106
  • Invincible 41
  • JLA 9
  • JLA: Classified 38
  • JSA 6
  • Madman Atomic Comics 2
  • Marvel Zombies: Dead Days
  • Mighty Avengers 3
  • New Avengers 30
  • New Avengers: Illuminati 3
  • Phonogram 6
  • Plain Janes
  • Punisher 47
  • Punisher Presents Barracuda 4
  • Punisher War Journal 7
  • Runaways 26
  • Scalped 5
  • Sensational Spider-Man Annual 1
  • She-Hulk 19
  • Stormwatch PHD 7
  • Testament 18
  • Thunderbolts 114
  • Ultimate Power 6
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 109
  • Uncanny X-Men 486
  • World War Hulk: World Breaker
  • X-Factor 19
  • Y: The Last Man 56

May 2012

Action Comics 9

The summer of 2012 was a more innocent time for Superman fans. The first teaser trailer for the forthcoming Man of Steel film was released, and it looked great. The footage was haunting and intelligent, and the voice over was a direct quote from Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman.

The gap between the promise of that teaser trailer and the actual film is mapped out pretty well in Grant Morrison’s Action Comics 9. Young, idealistic creators come up with a beautiful concept, and sell it to a corporation who immediately uses their creation for evil.

In this case, the creators are Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen:

And the beautiful concept is the very idea of Superman.

The Elvis Costello-looking man in the final panel makes the key argument: in a system of unfettered capitalism, money trumps vision every single time. It’s horrifyingly easy to convince those without money that the initial investment is worth far more than the idea itself. And, of course, once they own the idea, they can manipulate it to serve their needs.

And Superman is shifted from an idea meant to save the world to one that merely mollifies it.

Oh yeah, and this story takes place on an alternate world (Earth Subtle Metaphor) where Black Superman is the President of the United States.

Batman Incorporated 1

Batman Incorporated comes back for the final year of Grant Morrison’s massive Batman tale. Having spent the last year or so working with Dick Grayson’s Batman, Damien Wayne’s Robin is less than excited about working with his father, but his honesty is refreshing.

Chris Burnham really shines here, offering fight choreography that is reminiscent enough of Frank Quitely work to provide some visual continuity to the past while maintaining his own art style.

And Damien makes a major life decision, and gets a pet:

Grim Leaper 1

A few years before Rat Queens raised his profile a bit, Kurtis J. Wiebe was already doing great work. This four-issue mini-series manages to be interesting, entertaining, and genuinely romantic, while also bringing the ultra-violence.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt Fraction read this book shortly before creating Sex Criminals, as the high concept has a touch of similarity to it. Our hero finds himself dying and being reincarnated over and over again, at an alarming rate of speed, with increasing levels of violence. It’s a sad, lonely life/death. Until he bumps into a woman who is experiencing the exact same thing.

They bond over the shared weirdness of their existence, he saves her life, they make plans to meet up later, and she walks away – directly into an open manhole cover.

How they will find each other again – when they will soon both have different faces and names – is a matter for issue two.

Mind MGMT 1

If you’re not reading Matt Kindt’s work you’re really missing out. His best stuff tends to be what he writes and illustrates – though his rough art style is a turn-off for some – but the writing he’s done for Valiant (particularly Ninjak and Divinity) is well worth seeking out. Mind MGMT centers around a true-crime writer who in the course of her research uncovers a secret government agency of psychics and super-spies.

The first issue opens with an action sequence that is narrated by a very interesting question

The rest of this issue reads like an episode of Lost or the X-Files, with one insane, unexplained event following another.

No answers here, of course. But hopefully you’ll find the questions interesting enough to return for more.

Supercrooks 1

No one has ever accused Mark Millar of having complex ideas. But his stories work (both as comics and as films) precisely because of their simplicity. Most good stories elicit an “I wish I had thought of that” from other writers. With Millar, it’s more that you probably did have that idea, but didn’t imagine you could squeeze an entirely story of it. And I’m not knocking the man too hard. There is a particular talent in seeing the genius within the simple idea, as well as the clear understanding that a story needs a core idea to work.

As the title indicates, this is a heist story within a super-hero universe. The set-up is pretty familiar, with the added twist of super-powers.

Once we establish the need, we move on to a pretty familiar crime fiction set up: a retired criminal is goaded out of retirement to help a more reckless friend who is in deep financial trouble. And then, Millar reveals his core concept:

Other Comics I Read from May 2012

  • Activity 6
  • Amazing Spider-Man 685, 686
  • American Vampire 27
  • Animal Man 9, Annual 1
  • Aquaman 9
  • Avengers 26
  • Avengers Academy 29, 30
  • Avengers Assemble 3
  • Batman 9, Annual 1
  • Batman and Robin 9
  • Batwoman 9
  • Captain America 11, 12
  • Chew 26
  • Dancer 1
  • Daredevil 12, 13
  • Dark Horse Presents 12
  • Defenders 6
  • Dial H for Hero 1
  • Fantastic Four 605.1, 606
  • Fatale 5
  • FF 17
  • Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE 9
  • Fury Max 1, 2
  • Green Lantern 9
  • Green Lantern Corps 9
  • Hellblazer 291
  • Hulk Smash Avengers 3, 5
  • Incredible Hulk 8
  • Invincible 91
  • Invincible Iron Man 516, 517
  • Journey into Mystery 637, 638
  • Justice League 9
  • Justice League Dark 9
  • Manhattan Projects 3
  • Mighty Thor 14
  • Near Death 8
  • New Avengers 26
  • Punisher 11
  • Ragemoor 3
  • Saga 3
  • Scalped 59
  • Secret 2
  • Swamp Thing 9
  • Sweet Tooth 33
  • Thief of Thieves 4
  • Ultimate Comics Ultimates 10
  • Uncanny X-Men 12
  • Walking Dead 97, 98
  • Winter Solider 5
  • Wolverine and the X-Men 10
  • Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega 5
  • Wonder Woman 9
  • X-Factor 235, 236

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About Author

Rand Bellavia is half of the Filk Pop Nerd Rock band Ookla the Mok. They’ve been playing at science fiction and comic book conventions since 1994. Their clever, media-savvy lyrics, catchy melodies, and accessible power-pop sound have made them a cult-sensation with nerds everywhere. With song titles like Super Powers, Welcome to the Con, Arthur Curry, Kang the Conqueror, and Stop Talking About Comic Books or I’ll Kill You, it’s easy to see why. Rand and Ookla the Mok have won four Pegasus Awards, and the 2014 Logan Award for Outstanding Original Comedy Song. Ookla the Mok had the most requested song on Dr. Demento in 2012 (“Tantric Yoda”) and 2013 (“Mwahaha”). Rand co-wrote the theme song for the Disney cartoon Fillmore, and his vocals are the first thing you hear on Gym Class Heroes’ Top Five hit “Cupid’s Chokehold.” In his secret identity, Rand is the Director of the Montante Library at D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. He has lectured and presented at international conferences on the subject of comics and libraries. Rand is like the Internet, except he smells nice.

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