"And He Hasn't Yet Learned HOW to Lose!" COMICS! Sometimes You shouldn't Oughta Honk God Off!

Gil Kane. John Buscema. Superman. Mortality.  photo SBomAHeaderB_zps237de432.jpg

Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

Anyway, this… SUPERMAN: BLOOD OF MY ANCESTORS Pencils by Gil Kane, John Buscema Inks by Kevin Nowlan Plot by Gil Kane & Steven Grant Dialogue by Steven Grant Lettered by Ken Lopez Coloured by Noelle Giddings Separations by Sno Cone DC Comics, $6.95 (2003) Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

 photo SBomACovB_zps3a72bd91.jpg

Gil Kane! John Buscema! Big John! Garrulous Gil! Together at last! On Superman! No! It isn’t as good as Gil Kane and John Buscema delineating Superman should be! Which is a shame! But then it isn’t totally terrible either! So it’s not too much of a shame! I mean, c’mon, it’s still – Kane! Buscema! Superman! If you can’t wring any pleasure out of that then I hope your high standards are a comfort to you. And while Superman: Blood of My Ancestors may not exactly have been anyone’s finest hour it was, alas, both Kane and Buscema’s final hour. Kane died on 31st January 2000 before the book was completed and Buscema finished it off before he too succumbed to the inevitable on January 10th 2002. Since they were both in their seventies when they died we’ll leave any eyewash about cursed books where it belongs – in the Middle Ages. Now I’m in my own Middle Age I’ve quite warmed to the book but when I first read it I was a demanding little shit and it just didn’t come up to scratch. Mostly that was because it doesn’t really work, but there’s still magic to be mined from it.

 photo SBomAStrengthB_zpsbd0a848f.jpg

Image by Buscema, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

Dollars to doughnuts the concept for this book came from the brain of Gil Kane; rejigging a Biblically evocative tale with post-apocalyptic trappings is so Gil Kane it might as well have swirl of ice creamy hair and address everyone as “M’boy!” I refer the honourable reader to such prior exercises in friable buildings and flapping loincloths as Blackmark, Talos of the Wilderness Sea and Sword of The Atom. In order to sell his concept (I groundlessly conjecture) Kane had to stick Superman in it. Regrettably this apparent sop to commercialism makes everything a little less sense-making than might be desirable.

 photo SBomABootsB_zps707058be.jpg

Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

It starts off alright with “my” Superman (everybody has their own Superman but this one is mine; how can I tell? Easy, he says, "Superman doesn’t kill." Word!) swooping in to save lives against a big eye on tentacles (very Gil Kane) which is resorbing people. It’s even quite clever that bit, because the tentacle-eye is devouring their memories and when it starts tucking into Superman it finds his racial memories stored in his DNA and…cue the main story in flashback! By all known laws of North American genre comics this flashback should involve an ancestor of Superman facing just such a beast and defeating it, thus revealing its weakness to his descendent in the present. Kane (or Grant; but I’m guessing Kane) instead sidesteps into the true reason for the book's existence – a sort-of sci-fi scuffle with the Old Testament Samson story. Which is kind of really clever because if memory (Wikipedia) serves Samson is considered by academia as a derivation of the “Sun Hero” type a la Hercules; as is Superman (whom academia is probably slower to recognise). Unfortunately all the bits required to shoehorn the story into Superman’s mythos are the bits where it fails worst. Superman has his own mythology and part of that mythology isn’t that there was kryptonite on Krypton or that Superman’s strength and heroic nature are divinely inspired by Rao and also hereditary. Everyone (he said about to tempt fate) knows Kryptonite is leftovers of Krypton and that Superman is powerful because of the sun and that he is lovely because he was brought up properly by decent elderly white Middle American child stealers.

 photo SBomABeneathB_zps062d8868.jpg

Image by Buscema, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

But them’s the breaks; Kane clearly just wanted to do the Space Samson stuff which fortunately is pretty sweet even though he only got to draw it for a few pages before the world was denied his presence. As exits go it might not be inspired but it’s still pretty great. In the slight space fate allotted him Kane crams in all a Gil Kane Fan’s favourites – Power Amoebas©®, Back Flip Impact©®, Angst Akimbo©®,Body Cradling©®, Floating Head of Melodrama©®, Nasal Upshot©®, Turnover Boots©®, Crumbly Buildings©® and more. All of which might as wll be ©® Gil Kane. Yes, those are all things Gil Kane does all the time, but they are also the things Gil Kane Fans turn up for because he was so darn awesome at them. They were his moves. No one ever listened to Elvis sing Moody Blue and thought, well; I have now heard that song I need not ever listen to it again. No, everyone who listens to Elvis sing Moody Blue is forever after waiting to be blessed by that aural glory again. No need for thanks; poorly thought out and decidedly jejune appreciations of comic book artists is what I do. It’s important to note that the success of the art throughout the book is indebted to the sympathetic and fluid inks of Kevin Nowlan. Not only does he professionally finish Kane’s pencils but he’s also called upon to polish Buscema up and in the process provide a discreet visual continuity between the two. Which he does, because Kevin Nowlan is awesome.

 photo SBomAHeadB_zpsc1d56696.jpg

Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone Truly, it’s no mean feat Nowlan performs here either, as Buscema and Kane are hardly interchangeable. I can say that with some authority since this book shows both their essential styles side by side and even their unique interpretations of some of the same characters. Buscema’s a great fit with the book having spent a soul wilting span of years illustrating the savage shenanigans of Conan and such ill-bred sorts. Here amongst the rubble, the rabble, the swords, the sandals, the temples and the tempers Big John walks his last walk and he walks it tall. I didn’t mind the story but most of the fun was looking at Buscema and Kane’s art and then stating the obvious for you. Because looking at Superman: Blood of My Ancestors it’s clear that Kane was all fluid athleticism and Buscema was all burly sturdiness. Kane’s figures flare in their denial of gravity while Buscema’s bodies bow and bend under its burden. Weight is Buscema’s greatness while Kane’s is grace. Buscema’s work thunders with meaty drama while Kane’s shimmers with strident melodrama. Neither men are at the height of their powers here and they probably only look as good as they do because of Nowlan but, still, Christ, these guys. These goddamn guys...uh...shitshitshitdontloseitdontloseit..aw man, my mascara is running now…

 photo SBomAHominaB_zps7c5ba465.jpg

Image by Buscema, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

..Humph. Anyhoo, like Nowlan, Steve Grant pulls his weight and then some in a thankless role. I imagine he was called upon to ‘facilitate’ Kane’s vison hence his twin credits for script and dialogue. It’s probably due to his efforts the book reads as smoothly as it does. It’s still a bit of a bodge; the Krypton stuff never really convincingly meshes with the Earth stuff. But while he can’t quite make it work as a piece he does make enough pieces work well enough. Grant crams in plenty of characterisation too, so that while the villain, Utor(!), is still a villain he is at least a droll one and El (Samson) remains sympathetic even as his arrogance swells to God taunting proportions, but Grant’s best work is with Laras Lilit (AKA Delilah). She’s no one note femme fatale but a complicated and conflicted woman who shares in the redemption El’s ordeal offers. She even gets the best for while, in that endearingly Biblical way, El learns his lesson by dying (that’ll teach him!) she gets to live a life at peace with herself. Which is better than she gets in the original; God alone knows what happens to her in the Bible. Literally.

Superman: Blood of My Ancestors is a bit of a muddle; less satisfying as a comic than it is as a final chance to see two giants of the form in action. It isn’t a great comic but it is by some of comics’ greats so that makes it GOOD!

 photo SBomAGoB_zps9fb150ec.jpg Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

Out of the eater came something to eat. And out of the strong came forth – COMICS!!!

“The Weaving of Ornate Tapestries Glorifying Our Ancestors and Their Bygone Way of Life." COMICS! Sometimes I Treat You Like My Local Library And Continue To Patronise You!

This week I visited my library and took out and read a recent-ish TPB of some quite old Conan comics, 1982 or thereabouts. Then I tried to put my thoughts about ‘em into what them there clever folks call words. I think it worked out about as well as that usually does for me. Probably a lot less well for you. One thing I did discover was that the Hyborian equivalent of Occam’s Razor was Conan’s Rock:  photo ConanRockB_zps7e2816b4.jpg

Anyway, this… THE CHRONICLES OF CONAN VOLUME 20: NIGHT OF THE WOLF AND OTHER STORIES Art by John Buscema, Gary Kwapisz, Ernie Chan, Steve Leialoha, Bob Camp & Rudy Nebres Written by Michael Fleisher Lettered by Janice Chiang Coloured by Peter Dawes, Wil Glass and Donovan Yaciuk Conan created by Robert E Howard Dark Horse Comics, $18.99 (2010) This volume collects Conan the Barbarian issues #151- #159 (originally published by Marvel Comics), newly coloured, with all of the original series covers, a foreword comprising the first short part of an interview with Ernie Chan, and with a brand new pinup by Ernie Chan.

 photo ConanCoverB_zps18ef2f24.jpg

My first thought on seeing this book was to wonder who in the name of Belit’s water wings needed twenty Dark Horse volumes of reprinted Marvel Conan comics. My second thought, and one which ran so hard on the heels of the first it risked tripping it up, was how could I get every single one of all those twenty Dark Horse volumes of reprinted Marvel Conan comics. Seeing Conan comics on the shelves of my local library had transported me (sigh; yes, that’s right, figuratively not literally) back to the days when those Marvel comics were actually coming out and also back to the days when my reading erred towards quantity rather than quality. This is a point often overlooked when it comes to kids and reading; it doesn’t really matter how good the reading matter is, it only matters that there’s lots of it. Basically, the kids that do read, well, they really read. They really go for it reading wise, those kids that read, and quality doesn’t really come into it. They don’t even particularly have to be interested in what they are reading, they just have to not be disinterested in it. Which is why I find it baffling that Comics Companies act like the kids demographic is beneath them. First, nothing is beneath Comics Companies (nothing, I say!) and second, Kids would eat that violent crap they poop out up with a spoon. Or if you’re uncomfortable with the unfortunate and unintended mixing of kids and scat back there let’s say they’d read it with their eyes. After all, the young me read every Robert E Howard (REH) etc Conan book in the library but I didn’t actually care for them all that much. I didn’t dislike them or anything. I only really remember that the covers were the most exciting bits, they were published by Sphere (I don’t know why I remember that; I was boring even then?) and I enjoyed the Conan comics way more. Years after it came out I remember getting that Conan Treasury Edition (#4) from a market stall on a day trip to Blackpool; at the stately age of ten Barry Windsor Smith and Roy Thomas’ adaptation of REH’s Red Nails seemed like the most grown up thing in the world. Except for my Dad, anyway. Of course the twin hidden tragedies of this opening, digressive and purely warm up paragraph are that I no longer have that Conan Treasury edition and the young me is dead now. So, let’s see what the old me, in his bitterly truculent way made of some old Marvel Conan comics reprinted between two covers by Dark Horse.

 photo ConanSteveB_zps64ef650b.jpg By Buscema, Leialoha, Fleisher et al

It takes Michael Fleisher a couple of issues to get over his impulse to regularly update us on the state of Conan’s thews (e.g. in #159 they are “bronzed”), and this initially distracted me from noticing that the stories in here are pretty basic on the Conan Scale. Which is okay because, and I make no apologies for this, I don’t mind my Conan being basic. Your basic Conan story should involve a woman, a wizard, a monster and a horse. Conan should ride off on one of those carrying another after having have killed all the rest. Usually he’d ride off on the horse with the woman but we’re all more open minded these days so more permissive permutations may be indulged in the safety of your own skull. Michael Fleisher (with an assist from Buscema, see later) recognises that there’s still plenty of room to manoeuvre even within that format and gives us werewolves, demons in metal dungarees, flying people, Hyborian Age rohypnol and other things I’ve forgotten. To be honest Conan stories have a hard time holding my attention, mostly because of the made up names which just fail to gain traction in my head. Except when there is a wholly unintended comical effect. Such as when Michael Fleisher names his winged lady character Alhambra. Now, he may be doing so purely for the evocative sound of the name; he may even have in mind the famous Spanish stronghold built circa the 9th Century which remains a notable tourist attraction still worthy of the Moorish poets’ description of it as “a pearl set in emeralds” (citation needed); however, and alas, Alhambra also has a namesake in Bradford, West Yorkshire, which is a theatre built in 1913 which remains a notable attraction during the Christmas season for anyone wishing to subject their children to the sight of Christopher Biggins dressed as a woman and talking about the size of his pumpkins. Additionally and endearingly a lot of these stories contain a panel which seems to be an overly literal visual representation of a colourful but slightly unsuccessful imaginary sexual euphemism; see Conan strangle an eagle!; see Conan stab the Demon’s heart!; see Conan sup from the lady’s cup!

 photo ConanRudyB_zpseb4996b9.jpg By Buscema, Nebres, Fleisher et al

Of particular interest in this volume is the fact that John Buscema is allowed a few extra links in his artistic chains so he can stumble out of his inky illustrator’s cave and trespass for a few steps on the sun warmed ground usually earmarked for those weavers of dreams, the writers. What I’m saying is he gets to chuck some ideas and plots at Fleisher for a quick polish and a very nice how do you do to boot. Pleasingly the quality of the stories takes a swift upswing with Buscema trying to open things out of the established formula a bit with a lighter tone and a particular eagerness to get some expanded characterisation going in the vicinity of Conan himself. At times the barbaric One appears downright avuncular. This is dangerous ground Buscema is treading, however, as I personally believe that the occasions when Conan experiences emotions should be kept to a minimum; when he does feel something more than hunger, anger, lust or disgust at men who perfume themselves and live by words rather than actions (PAH!) he should always have a sort of slightly surprised air like a lion seeing a hot dog stand for the first time. But that’s just me, basically John Buscema does okay with the pen as well as the brush. Who knew?

 photo ConanGaryB_zps3535486a.jpg By Kwapisz, Fleisher et al

Gary Kwapisz provides the art for an issue and also a couple of covers, all of which are nicely done with promise aplenty; but I won’t lie I don’t really know who he is. I was just going to make a crack about how his name sounds like he probably left comics and went off to play chess in a tin foil hat but I realised that would be rude and dismissive which isn’t like me at all(!), so I Googled him instead and found out that he’s still active in comics; he recently illustrated a Chuck Dixon series about the American Civil War (as opposed to the English Civil War which I imagine Chuck Dixon finds somewhat less interesting). So, yeah, Kwapisz’s stuff here is nice, being sinewy as opposed to Buscema’s brawn. But this is Conan and so art wise this is John Buscema’s show. Or, more correctly Ernie (Chua) Chan’s show. For even a great noble beast of an artistic Shire horse like John Buscema must have been tiring by this stage and Chan’s inking works hardest of all the inkers present to bolster Buscema . Certainly as we join John Buscema here, several years into bearing most of the weight of both the colour Conan and the B&W Savage Sword of… magazine, his art is typified by body language, staging and character design worn into familiar patterns by the repetition inherent in his colossal workload and the insanity inviting narrowness of the subject matter. Were the “he” in question not John Buscema this would likely be a critical hit, but as it is even the most cursory of his pages retains a well-honed gift for flow and all the essential cues other hands would require to beef it up to presentation standard. Basically, on these pages John Buscema’s art is saved from the gauzy weightlessness of a harem dancer’s veil by the efforts of both the inking (mostly by Chan (Chan’s the man!) but also Leialoha, Camp and Nebres) and, surprisingly, the colouring by various hands. Now (spoiler!) I’m not usually a fan of modern comic colouring technology applied to old timey comics but here I reckon it works. Earlier Dark Horse Conan volumes disastrously swamped Barry Windsor Smith’s delicately evolving lines under all the technological bells and whistles available; a no doubt well-intentioned but ultimately ill-judged attempt at updating the art which ended up resembling only aesthetic philistinism (he said sputtering wildly). Here, however, the colours lend vigour and spark to art which, unlike Windsor-Smith’s, is open enough to accommodate all the technology Dark Horse can chuck at it.

 photo ConanColoursB_zps276cb788.jpg By Buscema, Chan, Fleisher et al

It can’t come as much of a surprise given its title that THE CHRONICLES OF CONAN VOLUME 20 showcases a series past its prime. But nobody herein disgraces themselves and every story between its covers is entertaining if not entirely sensible. It’s pulp fluff that was meant to entertain for the moment never giving a fig for posterity yet here it is in 2014 and I had a good time so I say THE CHRONICLES OF CONAN VOLUME 20 is OKAY!

And remember, what is best in life? COMICS!!!!

Wait, What? Ep. 146: Two:One

 photo cd623d0b-e897-4617-a675-57e064443ab1_zps857be47d.jpgMan. the stuff you could buy out of the back of comics.

Hey, everyone!  We're back with another  podcast.  You should download it and listen to it really loud while you watch the last episode of True Detective!  (Why? I don't know.  It would make the experience more cinematic, maybe?  I mean, I suppose I could've taken the time to craft some outrageously satisfying joke about, uh, hmm, see, now you know the problem I'm having with that one and really the joke -- even if I could craft one, which it is now clear I couldn't  -- would've only really truly been funny for a brief period of time, whereas failure is enduring and therefore timeless and therefore ever-timely and besides don't we just die in the end, anyway?)

<<jazz hands>>

Anyway, after the jump: "Show notes? I'll show you show notes, mister!"

00:00-5:28: Greetings!  I must say, we are off and running in this installment, although part of the reason why I can say that is my definition of “running” includes “arguing about Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco within a minute of starting the podcast.”  (This may be the reason my exercise regimens aren’t as successful as they should be.)  (Also, we complain about people who talk about the word “seekrits,” (instead of “secrets”) while at the same time having to admit that we currently have “seekrits” (the term which is somehow, we realized, more innocuous than “secrets,” which sound like they could, you know, get someone killed and stuff.))  Seekrits/secrets!  WE HAVE THEM AND HOPE TO SHARE THEM SOON (Oh, sure.  Now I'm going to not punctuate, after the hell that was trying to track all those parentheticals.) 5:28-27:38: As you may recall, a few months back, a Whatnaut gave Jeff a free hit of the glass pipe that is Marvel Unlimited.  Now (and by now, we mean, “through March 14”), anyone can get a month of Marvel Unlimited for only $0.99.

Graeme gave it a try on his Kindle Fire and here’s what he had to say.  (And for what it’s worth -- yeah, I know I'm going into "paren mode" on you again -- because that same Whatnaut spent the ninety-nine cents on me, I have MU for another month and it’s been all updated since we recorded to include Marvel AR and the Dynamic Audio and re-tooled up the interface (finally, when you get to the end of the issue, you can jump to the next one).  And I’d probably wax even more rhapsodically about it if it didn’t keep making me log out and back in because it suddenly randomly decides I can only see three page samples even though it says I’m a member. Once they get that fixed though…)  Also discussed:  Comixology getting hacked, Marvel’s possible future digital plans, we try to figure out exactly how quickly Graeme would be all over the DC equivalent for Marvel Unlimited, the recent digital sale from 2000 A.D., and more. P.S. Thanks, Matt! 27:38-31:36: Because of aforementioned 2000 A.D. digital sale, Jeff read Purgatory, Mark Millar’s lead-in to the Judge Dredd event, Inferno, with art by Carlos Ezquerra.  The extent to which Mark Millar has arguably managed to win at American superhero comics and yet lose at 2000 A.D. is a fascinating, fascinating thing…although not as fascinating for Jeff as finding out that the brilliant Colin Smith (from Too Busy Thinking About My Comics) has been covering Mr. Millar’s work in bewitching detail over at the Sequart site.  Most of you, like Graeme, were probably already in the know about this, but for those of you, like Jeff, who were not, that link is gold, Whatnauts.  Solid gold. Also? In case you didn't feel like counting? Seven commas, my friend. Suck it. 31:36-44:27: Here’s where you get to Rog!  If you want to hear Jeff and Graeme talk about the first issue of IDW’s Rogue Trooper by Brian Ruckley and Alberto Ponticelli, go to 44:27.  To hear Jeff and Graeme continue to talk about Mark Millar, including his amazing “exclusive” to Comic Book Resources and his first issue of Starlight with artist Goran Parlov, keep listening!  (Also mentioned:  Flash Gordon, John Carter, Up, The Incredibles, and like that.  Although, to be entirely honest, I don't think there is any other specific titles mentioned but I tried to cover that up by typing "and like that."  Why?? You're either on board with this show or not, right?  It's not like you're going to be reading these show notes if you're not listening, yes?  Unless you're just really bored and even though you haven't listened to the podcast before, you're deciding to skim these show notes to get some sense of the tenor of things...but even then, why would the final deciding factor be the number of other topics we bring up while talking about Starlight?  And if it was, why?  What's wrong with you that something so picayune could influence you? I don't have a problem, you have a problem!) 44:27-1:00:45:  Jeff and Graeme talk about the first issue of IDW’s Rogue Trooper by Brian Ruckley and Alberto Ponticelli, the appeal of Rogue Trooper generally, the character's greatest problem, and more.  No, really.  There's more. I'm not just saying that like I was right up there.  There really is. 1:00:45-1:07:43: Since we’re talking about 2000 A.D. so much, Graeme brings up a book he’s read an advance copy of that he enjoyed with that same sort of vibe, the first issue of Magnus, Robot Fighter by Fred Van Lente and Cory Smith.  That, by the way, is out this week from Dynamite, in case you're interested.  I said "advance" copy but I wasn't really specific at the time. Wasn't appropriate. Would've made that sentence even more grammatically fraught. Trust me. 1:07:43-1:14:34:  Afterlife With Archie #4!  Believe it or not, Graeme and Jeff are still digging this book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla (almost as Jeff likes talking about himself in the third person and writing in the first person plural.  Man, no kidding.  We still really like it a lot. It just never gets old.  I wonder why, though.  I guess, all those formative years reading SPY magazine? Although thinking about it:  what's wrong with me that something so picayune could influence me? You don't have a problem! I have a problem!). But! We are digging it a lot.  Like, a lot a lot.  We also talk about the recent news coming out of Archie [Comics, not Andrews], such as Aguirre-Sacasa being made CCO and Lena Dunham writing an upcoming story for Archie.  If you listen closely, you can tell how badly Jeff wants to talk about Girls, but perhaps fortunately for all of us, the topic is shelved for another time. 1:14:34-1:22:06: In The Days of the Mob!  Graeme finally gets his hands on the reprints of Jack Kirby’s amazing (and amazingly short-lived) crime anthology series from the early ‘70s, and we go on to talk about, you know,  JACK KIRBY. 1:22:06-1:26:00: By contrast, Jeff got his hands on Revenge #1 by Jonathan Ross and Ian Churchill…although it’s probably more accurate to say that he got it on his hands, if you understand what we're saying.  If not, don’t worry: it’ll become pretty clear as the discussion goes on. 1:26:00-1:30:02: Vandroid #1 by Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Smith, and Dan McCaid.  It is, in some ways, very much the same as Revenge, and in some ways very, very different.  Jeff also brings up Machete Kills by Robert Rodriguez, as if that movie could bridge the gap between Revenge and Vandroid, which… I don’t know. Maybe I’m overthinking it. I mean, not like the rest of this week's show notes. 1:30:02-1:44:26: Forever Evil #6!  Graeme has read it.  Does he overthink it?  He doesn’t!  It’s pretty much terrible and he tells us why.  Also discussed:  The status quo of the New 52, James Robinson, cognitive dissonance, and more. 1:44:26-1:49:34: By contrast, Graeme has read the Batman/Superman Annual by Greg Pak, Jae Lee, Kenneth Rocafort, and Philip Tan and quite liked it, although the fact that it retails for $5.99 does give one pause, doesn’t it? 1:49:34-2:00:02: Graeme tries to goad Jeff into a speed round to talk about the remaining books on his list and Jeff, like the good mule that he is, slows down that much more under the pressure.  But he does talk about the first two issues of Bob Fingerman’s rebooted Minimum Wage; The Fuse by Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood; Scooby-Doo Team-Up #3 by Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela; and the absorbing and superlative Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano, the latter of which Jeff just about goes breathless trying to think of enough good things to say. A truly amazing piece of work, and so incredibly worth checking out, I can’t even begin to tell you...although if you think about it, that phrase is 100% untrue in this particular instance, what with me telling you about telling you about it. Which, if you think about it, is literally how beginning to tell someone would play out.  (Sure, it's not the only way -- you can just tell someone, right, I get that -- but it is a way.) 2:00:02-2:11:56: And that should be the end of it, a wrap in just a little over two hours.  Except…what about The Avengers?  What about our read-through of the first three hundred issues of The Avengers?  Even though we tell you we’ll hold off and discuss a full twenty-five issues next time, we just can’t resist talking for just a few minutes about issues #51 through the mid-to-late sixties by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. And by "a few minutes," we mean "almost twelve." 2:11:56-end: Hey, my single, "My Single is Dropping," is dropping!  (It's not, but that's what writing all this made me think of.)  Closing comments!  Our comments thread is currently toast, but feel free to email us or contact us on Twitter (which, if you don’t know how or where to do so, you’ll find out in this segment).

Okay, there you go.  Man, I can't tell you how much I wish I had actually edited the lines "what's wrong with me that something so picayune could influence me? You don't have a problem! I have a problem!" into the podcast, that way when you were listening to it while watching the last episode of True Detective and Rustin Cohle turns to Martin Hart and says the exact same thing at the same time, you can come back to the opening of this entry, and be all "holy shit, this guy's good," and I'd be all "The Aristocrats!"

<<jazz hands>>

But, instead, what actually happened was I jumped into a separate browser window to make sure I was spelling Marty's last name right and nearly spoiled the ending of True Detective for myself.  Thanks, East Coast writers.

<<jazz hands>>

Anyway, episode is on iTunes or down below.  You know the score, Alan Moore. Get with the listening!

Wait, What? Ep. 146: Two:One

Wait, What? Ep. 145: Doublespeak.

 photo be52a2a8-2cda-462d-8263-5ac6f7464e2e_zps78ecd876.jpgIt's funny because it's true.

Hey there, everyone!  You miss us?  Well, good news, we're back--all three of us (Graeme, me, and my terrifying vocal echo that haunts much of this podcast).  After the jump:  show notes and promises to do better!

So, yeah.  there's a bit of an echo and we're damn sorry about it.  Steps are even now being taken to make sure it doesn't happen again.  I was pretty sure in this case it was caused by generous application of our good friend Levelator, but in fact I think it may be the volume in my headset.  Or Graeme's headset.  Or Graeme's head.  It's a thing we're working on, honest.

And because I want to get this to you as early as possible (which is, you know, an entire day early), let me get on those show notes...although before I do, let me remind you to jump over and check out Hibbs' analysis of the annual Bookscan numbers:  I'm always a bit stunned by the amount of sheer statistical elbow grease Hibbs put into the piece.  Although publishers and some bloggers are generally quick to poo-poo the accuracy of the results, I feel like there are very few places where people not on the publishing end of the industry get any chance to look at how the comics industry interacts with "the real world."  It's a helluva service (and even if Hibbs were getting paid big money to write it--which I doubt--that would still be mitigated by the amount of time it takes to do it).

Anyway, off the soapbox, let's get on with the vaudeville:

00:00-10:12: Greetings! We have simultaneous hellos, which may well be a first for us. Graeme checks to make sure Jeff is recording and then fills you in on what you missed with our lost episode:  super-quick coverage of Ms. Marvel #1, Loki #1, Empowered Vol. 8, The perils of being “neggo” (I think we passed on the “Leggo of my neggo” joke for reasons probably related to good sense).  There’s also beard talk!  Beard talk!  We actually compare notes about growing beards, voluptuous or otherwise. Thank god this thing we call the Internet was developed to allow two men in different states (in both the geographic and beard-growing senses of the term) to discuss their beards and allow people from all over the world to listen in.  Then we talk weather, Jeff’s snowaphobia, Dr. Who time travel sounds, all the usual stuff you’d expect.  You do expect it, don’t you?  You should.) 10:12-36:24:  Graeme was re-reading The Best of Milligan & McCarthy and has a question for us:  are we somehow past the point of non-ironic fun comics?  Under discussion: Archer &Armstrong, Quantum & Woody (more ampersands in this paragraph than I've typed in a month), and a significant chat about four books by Kyle Baker (Cowboy Wally, Why I Hate Saturn, You Are Here, and Undercover Genie) which leads us down a pretty deep Nostalgia-Hole where we discuss books like Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children and Wasteland.  As John Kane would say: Comics! Sometimes they are obscure and old (like the people who talk about them)! [Edit:  Someone brought to my attention an interview with John Ostrander about Wasteland conducted by Copra genius Michel Fiffe over at The Factual Opinion.  You should check it out!  I am doing so right this very minute.] 36:24-50:28: Since Graeme has already written somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty thousand words on the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer (this one being my personal favorite), Jeff decides to take advantage of that and get the man's impressions about it. 50:28-1:14:44: From new movies to old! Prometheus made its way to HBO so Jeff got a chance to see it and…hoo boy.  Fascinating enough that we are compelled to pick it apart, but don’t let this fool you into seeing it.  Oh no, please.  We don’t want that on our heads.  Mentioned: Buck Rogers, Tom Hardy, A Reverse Man Who To Fell To Earth, prequels, The House on Haunted Hill, a secret challenge to Sean Witzke, Smallville, Marc Bernardin’s take on Gotham, The Savage Hawkman by Tony Daniel and more. 1:14:44-1:21:32: Batman #28!  As the podcast’s current bat-nerd, Jeff has thoughts.  He also has thoughts on the last few issues of Batman & Two-Face.  Oh, yes.  Yes, he does. 1:21:32-1:36:48:  And we both have thoughts about “Titan,” the excellent Judge Dredd storyline by Rob Williams and Henry Flint that just wrapped up in 2000 A.D.  Graeme calls it “Trifecta-level quality” so that is very high praise. Jeff also loves it but actually feels the last few issues of the mag have been perfectly balanced and thoroughly enjoyable.  We talk more about the storyline, the mag, what’s happening in the Megazine, conflicting feelings re: singles v. trades, DRM v. non-DRM, and more. 1:36:48-2:05:35: Yes, we did keep up with our reading on Avengers…somehow!  So we talk about issues #26-50 by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Don Heck, John Buscema, George Tuska, a bunch of really good inkers, and others.  Also discussed:  the mysteries of Hawkeye,  story twists, terrible continuity, why Inside Llewyn Davis should have Hercules in it, and more. 2:05:35-end: Closing comments!  Hilariously, we talk about doing a closing section with added reverb, utterly unaware that for some reason Jeff’s voice has been doubled during the podcast to a truly terrifying degree.  This is a thing we vow to resolve! (Well, not in the podcast, we don't. I’m vowing it right now, here in the show notes. See? Watch me vow!)

Okay, so this is a thing that is up on iTunes and our RSS feed, but is also the sort of thing we'd be more than happy for you to listen to below, if you want:

Wait, What? Ep. 145: Doublespeak

Again, our apologies for the delay and we will see you in another fortnight!  We thank you for listening and hope you enjoy.

Wait, What? Ep. 121: Gilded View

 photo 5E3A629E-A54B-4884-98E6-1460BC90AC28-8923-000010541BE34CED_zps4e7b381d.jpgErroneously called 'Barbarian Romance' by Jeff throughout the hours that follow. Image, I believe, by Corey Lewis for Brandon Graham; Apologies if that link is a jerk.

Oh my god, it almost doesn't matter what hour of the day or night it is, my next door neighbors WILL NOT FUCKING SHUT UP.

After the jump: show notes just the way Thomas Hobbes would like 'em: nasty, brutish and short.  (Actually, just short.)

Sorry, I'm angry and terrified about the bombing at the Boston Marathon.  My best wishes and condolences to everyone involved.  It feels weird just rolling this forward but the show must go on, right?

0:00-2:32:  We go right from greetings to tech problems to Age of Ultron in under two minutes! 2:32-28:14: Comixology, Apple, and SAGAgate!  Our least favorite controversy ever? Maybe!  Our favorite issue of SAGA yet? Almost certainly! 28:14-42:24: Comics! Graeme has read the Avengers Assemble AU issue written by Al Ewing and has things he quite enjoys.  Jeff talks about Age of Ultron #5, but in more of a light overview kind of way and not in his standard "Haters gotta hate and god am I a hater" kind of way.  Graeme has recently reread Bendis's Siege event and compares it with  the AoU pacing… 42:24-48:59: Jennifer Blood #25, writing credited to Al Ewing but it's not.  (What the hell is up with that, Dynamite?) 48:59-1:01:22: Batman & (Red) Robin #19 by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason: the term Haney-rific is used. 1:01:22-1:07:16:  Batman #19 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo: the term "Cronenbergian body horror" is used (but lightly, which may not count).  The four page preview of Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark also gets some love from us. 1:07:16-1:07:37: Intermission One! 1:07:37-1:30:56: Jeff talks about how great the Whatnauts are. (Big props to Voodoo Ben!) Also, for those of you unsure about our status as hunters & gatherers.I'd like to say we smoothly segue from there to Archer & Armstrong #9 but it's not smooth even slightly.  Graeme has some information about reaction from Quantum & Woody's co-creator, Mark Bright. Also discussed: Tony Bedard, Joe Casey's Sex, and Dive Bar by friend of the podcast Dave Clarke which you can read online. 1:30:56-1:46:34: Finally, Jeff gets around to talking bit more about what he digs about the Hulk, a point that was supposed to have been made several podcasts ago -- so thanks for waiting!). We cover the concept of a character's iconic era; the return of the Marvel 700 giveaway; Ditko; Bendis; Abhay; and more. 1:46:34-2:01:38:  Also on Jeff's mind these days:  Barbarian Revenge (as Brandon Graham might put it).  More specifically:  The Chronicles of Conan and Thundarr The Barbarian. So of course, we talk about Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Kamandi, uggs, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby.  Is it any wonder Jeff is almost slobberingly rhapsodic at the end of it? 2:01:38-end:  Closing Comments! More Age of Ultron talking because -- well, honestly, I'm not entirely sure why. And Zeb Wells! And Richard Nixon! Also, this is the penultimate episode before a skip week so take note.

And, on the off-hand chance you read all that and want to listen to the podcast [Note to self:  put episode link above show notes?], well, it's probably on iTunes, fingers crossed, and you can also listen to it below:

Wait, What? Ep. 121: Gilded View

As always, we hope you enjoy and thank you for listening.

"The Cane Does The Rest." Comics! Sometimes They Are Butch!

So I managed to get an hour and I wrote this.  So, you know, it's hardly incisive or anything and certainly not structured but I hope it entertains. People like seeing other people fail, right? Tuck in! Photobucket PUNISHER: BARBARIAN WITH A GUN By John Buscema (Artist), Chuck Dixon (Writer), Tom Palmer, Klaus Janson & Art Nichols (Inkers), Kevin Tinsley (Colourist and Jim Novak (Letterer) Collects PUNISHER: WAR ZONE #26-30 (Marvel Comics, $15.99, 2008)


This comic features the character of The Punisher created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Snr and Ross Andru here presented in an adventure I was drawn to purchase by the title and the presence of John Buscema. Also - it was on sale at my LCS for a fiver. In fact I was initially misled by the presence of John Buscema and the title to expect Frank to be swept up by a Time-Space vortex and dumped into Hyboria where he would initially act like Conan but with a gun but upon exhausting his ammo would then turn his 'Nam sharpened reflexes upon the populace of the stinky primitive land before being hailed King. This does not happen. However, if there is a comic where this does happen (and how could there not be?) then I am all ears.


What the comic delivers is, I guess, the next best thing. On the trail of a drug dealing brother-sister combo Frank is soon removed from the civilised and hygienic milieu of lovely America to the stinky and primitive land of The Caribbean jungle. No offense to my Caribbean chums but that’s how it’s presented here. This is a tale from the time before The Punisher was taken seriously (if anyone can in fact take PUNISHERMAX seriously; which it appears they can) but after the time when he wore white disco boots. The boots have been ditched by this stage which is a shame because I always believed they were his dead wife’s and he wore them as tribute to her memory. Luckily he still retains several of the goofier elements that I always enjoy about The Punisher. In several scenes Frank is pictured in a nice Hawaiian cut shirt emblazoned with his TM skull motif. This suggests that either Frank, like myself, holidays in Whitby and is partial to frequenting the make-your-own design T-Shirt shop just back from the sea front or that he spends his free time sewing and indulging his passion for crafts. Also, early on in the story Frank adopts a disguise. Now, Punisher disguises are one of my favourite things being as they are so terrible as to inspire hooting. My favourite was in the Punisher/Ghost Rider/Wolverine one-shot HEARTS OF DARKNESS written by Howard MacKie and illustrated by John Romita Jnr. In that one Frank grew a pencil tache and slicked his hair back. Luckily Wolverine’s acute smell sense pierced this quickly. I think he used his smell-sense but in all honesty he could have just used his eye-sense. In BARBARIAN WITH A GUN Frank wears a brown wig of no fixed style and another mustache. This works out pretty well until he meets a woman who had earlier seen him shoot the guy he’s disguised as and was also physically pleasured by said guy. Oh, Frank undone by sentiment!


So. Yes, it’s one of those old timey adventures where Frank has all the moral complexity of a brick and just batters himself against the obstacles in his way until everybody who should be dead is dead and then he gets on with a nice bit of sewing. It’s pretty well done, too. Chuck Dixon is certainly a professional at this stuff. He’s certainly professional enough not to let his personality infect the work and thus Frank never spends anytime whatsoever worrying about what consenting adults of the same gender choose to do with their genitals. Dixon is also professional enough to deliver a satisfyingly violent action-adventure romp that takes itself seriously enough but never too seriously. He does a really smart job on Frank’s clipped narration which includes gems like, “Carbine goes Winchester on me.” and “He’s asking for mercy. Sorry. Fresh out.” I dig that stuff, that He-Man steak and taters stuff and it’s all over this one.


There’s no politics either despite the fact that the island of Porta Dulce is bursting into revolution more often than a teen’s face bursts into zits. The ruling class are corrupt and violent, the peasants are corrupt and violent, the Americans there to make a buck are corrupt and violent even the crocs are violent (but not corrupt). The nicest character is a pig that just ambles through and rescues our bunch of heroes with its unerring sense of direction. And it is a bunch by this point because Frank has called in Micro and Ice Phillips. This latter character is a new one on me but he’s obviously got some “juice” because the back of the TPB declares “Guest starring Ice Phillips from Marvel’s controversial series The ‘Nam!” (The ‘Nam was indeed controversial since (at least for a while when it was written by Doug Murray and illustrated by Michael Golden)  Marvel published it and it wasn't awful and was in fact quite good). So one for Ice Phillips fans here! There’s a great scene between the trio where Micro almost spills the beans on why Frank does what he does to Ice (who apparently thinks Frank is just doing it for chuckles or something) and Frank says, “Don’t tell him. Don’t ever tell him. He doesn't deserve to know.” Which is super-pissy of Frank. Then he just flounces off! Ooooh, get her!


Of course all this is illustrated by John Buscema. Or John “The Don” Buscema. Now John Buscema wasn’t really the paterfamilias of a crime family in much the same way as Gene Colan wasn’t the head of a faculty in a school or college but Gene was still “The Dean” and John will always be “The Don”. He was also referred to as The Rembrandt of Comics which means he was frickin aces. It’s important to remember that John Buscema was frickin’ aces because the production of monthly comics didn't do him any favours really. He was mostly relegated to pencils so they could get more of him out there but, man, he loved inking his own stuff. And if you see any you’ll love it too. BARBARIAN WITH A GUN is typically Marvel Buscema as here he provides pencils and as bare as they may seem they still display his talent for framing and generally getting the stuff that matters into the panel in a way that’s unfussy and pleasing. Oh, and he still got emough ink on his brush to draw smoking hot ladies that embody the word "fleshy". Mind you he’s not helped by the buggers muddle of inkers, sometimes there’s more than one of them having a pop at his pencils in one issue.


These comics were originally published in 1994, I think, and John Buscema died in 2002 so we're definitely looking at a Lion in Winter here or at least one that’s feeling the chill a bit. It’s all still there though, all the Buscematic bustle and muscular pop just a bit sticky with the ink of others. It’s a bit odd really because we’re talking about John Buscema here and you’d think he’d have been treated a bit better. It isn't as though Marvel were unaware of the importance of Buscema’s work in identifying Marvel as being quite good. In fact as far back as 1978 Buscema was chosen to illustrate the book HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY. His art was chosen as the template for the sausage factory. Not Gil Kane or Jack Kirby,no, John Buscema. Mind you Jack Kirby and Gil Kane would probably have told Marvel to take a flying f*** at a rolling doughnut by that point. Or at least have pointed out that How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way was to have sound legal representation at all times, never depend on verbal promises and remember that you might need money in the future. So, John Buscema’s value was clearly acknowledged by Marvel but at the end they have him pump out some books that have to have the heavy hands of others all over them in order for them to come out on time. Kirby forbid John Buscema be given time to do some stuff the way he wanted at the end of career. Nah, just get those books out, Buscema? Never heard of him, never did anything for us. Where’s my Punisher comics?!?


This lack of respect extends to the physical artifact itself. While the creative contents are fine, even managing to entertain despite the mish-mash of inking, the physical contents lack even cursory care and attention. The cover is a graduate of the school of Intern With Photoshop, the colouring in general is imprecise and wishy-washy and when blood is shown to fly from punctured bodies it is coloured yellow. Yellow. Maybe The Punisher fires harmless custard bullets? Maybe the people he kills are aliens? Maybe Kevin Tinsley needs biology lessons? Maybe Marvel don’t give a chuff? Which, y’know, is their prerogative and all but this costs $15.99 and I don’t think it’s whiny for someone handing over that amount of cash to expect a decent product in return. I hear your TPBs don’t sell so well, Marvel? Maybe that’s why.


Despite all that it is still a sound piece of hugely testicular entertainment which does its job well due to the professionalism of Dixon, Buscema et al. but the fact that it’s such a cheapjack package makes it only EH! If, however, you like John Buscema, daft violence and got it for a fiver it’s really GOOD!


And that’s it from me and now...back to the COMICS!

Favorites: Squadron Supreme

Squadron Supreme Mark Gruenwald, writer Bob Hall, Paul Ryan, John Buscema, Paul Neary, artists Marvel, 1985-1986 (my collected edition is dated 2003) 352 pages $29.99

I don't know what it is about Squadron Supreme, but I seem to read it only during times of great personal trauma. I first read the book in 2003, during my wife's hospitalization at a residential treatment facility for eating disorders. I have vivid memories of sitting at a nearby Panera Bread between visiting hours, slowly turning the pages. And as I reread the book over the past couple of weeks, an 11-month period during which my wife suffered two miscarriages was capped off by the news that one of my cats has a chronic immune-system disease, complications from which prevented him from eating; our other cat had a cancer scare; both of our cats required major surgery; and one of my wife's best friends lost her sister-in-law, her niece, and all three of her very young children in a catastrophic car accident that left three other people dead as well.

(More, and less TMI, below the jump.)

So it's entirely possible that as effective and affecting as I find Mark Gruenwald's magnum opus, my real life is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Certainly there are a couple of very different ways to read this, arguably the first revisionist superhero comic available to the North American mainstream. For some people, no matter how interesting Gruenwald's ideas are in terms of laying out the effects of a Justice League of America-type group's decision to really make the world a better place by transforming society into a superhero-administered utopia, the execution--art, dialogue, and melodramatic plotting all firmly in the mainstream-superhero house style--cuts it off at the knees. For others, it's precisely that contrast between the traditional stylistics of the superhero and a methodical chronicling of superheroes' disastrous moral and physical shortcomings that makes the book work.

Count me in the latter category. Squadron Supreme may have more in common with later pseudo-revisionist works like Kingdom Come than it does with Watchmen in that it obviously stems from a place of great affection for the genre rather than dissatisfaction with it. Heck, even The Dark Knight Returns, which is really a celebration of the superheroic ideal, earns its revisionist rep for a thorough dismantling of the superheroes-as-usual style, something Squadron Supreme couldn't care less about. No, by all accounts (certainly by the testimonials from Mark Waid, Alex Ross, Kurt Busiek, Mike Carlin, Tom DeFalco, Ralph Macchio, and Catherine Gruenwald printed as supplemental materials here) Mark Gruenwald seems to be working in Squadron as a person who loves superheroes so much that he can't help but try to find out just how far he can take them. That what he comes up with is so bleak and ugly--nearly half of his main characters end up dead, for pete's sake--is fascinating and sad. It's like watching Jack Webb do another season of Dragnet consisting of plotlines from The Wire Season Four: Against America's broken inner-city school system and grinding cycle of poverty, violence, corruption, and abuse, even Sgt. Joe Friday would be powerless.

Of course, in Squadron Supreme the heroes generally do prove able to conquer humankind's intractable problems. A combination of the kind of supergenius technology that under normal circumstances only gets used to create battle armor or gateways to Dimension X and the tremendous sheer physical power of the big-gun characters proves enough to end war, crime, and poverty, and even put a hold on death. (The book's vision of giant "Hibernaculums" in which thousands of frozen corpses are interred until such time as medical science discovers a cure for their condition is one of the book's great, haunting moments of disconnect between cheerful presentation and radical society-transforming idea.) Gruenwald and his collaborators seem to have no doubt that should Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, and the rest of the JLA (through their obvious Squadron analogues) be given the reins of the world, they really could solve all our problems for us.

It's the methods they'd use to get us there that Gruenwald has doubts about. A Clockwork Orange-style brainwashing for criminals; a Second Amendment-busting program of total disarmament for military, law enforcement, and civlians alike; a takeover of many of the key functions of America's democratically elected government--despite placing his beloved heroes at the center of these plots, it's no secret where Gruenwald's sympathy lies. (To return to the Hibernaculums again, a brief sequence involving "right to die" protestors features some of the book's most provocative ideas just painted on their placards, eg. "WITHOUT DEATH, LIFE IS MEANINGLESS!!!" Yes, there were three exclamation points on the sign.) Still, Gruenwald backpedals from condemning his heroes for their excesses outright: During the book's climactic confrontation, as bobo Batman Nighthawk wages a war of words with Superman stand-in Hyperion, the rebel leader reveals his biggest problem with the Squadron's "Utopia Program" to be his fears over what will happen to it when the golden-hearted Squadron members are gone and someone less worthy takes over their apparatus of complete control. (It's worth noting that the Squadron gets the idea for the Utopia Project as a solution for the damage they themselves did to the planet while under mind control by an alien tyrant.)

But parallel to the big political-philosophical "What If?" ramifications runs another, more affecting revisionist track. This one focuses on the individual problems and perils of the Squadron members. Some of these flow from the underlying Utopia Project scenario, and about those more in a minute, but other times--a Hyperion clone succesfully impersonating him and seducing the Wonder Woman character, Power Princess, in his place; little-person supergenius Tom Thumb (just barely an Atom analog) dying of cancer he's not smart enough to cure--Gruenwald simply takes a familiar superhero trope or power set and plays the line out as far as it'll go. In some cases, such as setting up a fundamental Batman/Superman conflict, making Superman and Wonder Woman an item, explicitly depicting the Aquaman character Amphibian as an odd man out, and dancing up to the edge of Larry Niven's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" essay on the dangers of superhero sex, I would guess Gruenwald was for the first time giving in-continuity voice to the stuff of fanboy bull sessions that had taken place in dorm rooms and convention bars for years.

While that's a lot of fun, it's the unique touches brought to the material by Gruenwald, shaped into disconcerting images by his rotating cast of collaborators (mostly Bob Hall and Paul Ryan), that get under your skin. Nuke discharging so much power inside Doctor Spectrum's force bubble that he suffocates himself. The vocally-powered Lady Lark breaking up with her boyfriend the Golden Archer under a suppressive cloud of giant, verbiage-filled word balloons. A comatose character's extradimentional goop leaking out of him because his brain isn't active enough to stop it, threatening to consume the entire world until Hyperion literally pulls the plug on his life support system. Power Princess tending to her septuagenarian husband, who she met when she first made the scene in World War II. Hyperion detonating an atomic-vision explosion in his semi-evil doppelganger's face, then beating him to death. Tom Thumb's death announced in a panel consisting of nothing but block text, unlike anything else in the series. Amid the blocky, Buscema-indebted pantomime figurework and declamatory dialogue, these moments stand out, strangely rancid and difficult to shake.

Perhaps no other aspect of the book gives Gruenwald more to work with than the behavior modification machine. There are all the ethical debates you'd expect--free will, the forfeiture of rights, the greater good. There's the slippery slope of mindwiping you saw superheroes slide down decades later, and far less interestingly, in Identity Crisis. But again, the personal trumps the political. The standout among the series' early, episodic issues is the one in which Green Arrow knockoff the Golden Archer (who has the second-funniest name in the series, after Flash figure the Whizzer) uses the b-mod machine on Black Canary stand-in Lady Lark to make her love him after she rebuffs his marriage proposal. She ends up unable to bear being away from him, her fawning driving him mad with guilt, and even after he comes clean about his deception and is expelled from the team, the modification prevents her from not loving him. Later, the device's use on some of the Squadron's supervillain enemies turns them into obsequious allies-cum-servants whose inability to question the Squadron, and moreover to feel anything but thrilled about this, does more to turn your sympathies against the SS than all the gun-confiscation scenes in the world.

Late in the book, another pair of behavior modification-related incidents ups the pathos to genuinely disturbing levels. When b-modded ex-villain Ape X spies a new Squadron recruit secretly betraying the team, her technologically mandated inability to betray the Squadron member by telling on her or betray the rest of the team by not telling on her overwhelms Ape X's modified brain and turns her into a vegetable. And when Nighthawk's rebel forces kidnap the mentally retarded ex-villain the Shape in order to undo his programming, his childlike pleas for mercy are absolutely heartbreaking, as is the cruel way in which the rebels repeatedly deceive him in order to advance their aims. The look of panic on his face as he shouts "Don't hurt Shape please!" is tough to stomach.

What it reminds me of more than anything is taking an adorable stuffed animal that you love and throwing it in the garbage. Do you know that feeling? This is not a sentient creature, it does not and cannot interact with you in any real way--and yet you love it. It never did anything to hurt you. Why would you want to throw the poor guy away? No, don't! By the time you get to the end of Squadron Supreme, a love-letter to the Justice League of America that ends with an issue-long fight that leaves half the participants brutally slaughtered, that's the feeling I get from the whole book. These superheroes never did anything but bring Mark Gruenwald great joy, he wanted to repay that by doing something unprecedented with them, but as it turns out the unprecedented thing to do was to throw them away.