Sunday, May 27, 2007

Review of Braniac 5, By Johnathan

Not really. As with all of the core Legion members, Braniac 5 would be wicked hard to review, just because there have been so many versions of all of them. This is a review of a specific iteration of Braniac 5, circa 1982 (or 2982), Legion of Super-Heroes #284, just about when Paul Levitz started writing the series. It's a pretty good yarn, featuring plenty of fight scenes, more than a few meetings of the Legion council or whatever and a bit of plastic surgery. All of this is immaterial, however. The really important part of the issue happens about halfway through. Let's watch:
Hey, Dungeons and Dragons! The Legion is composed of nerds! Now I'm pretty sure that TSR was doing one of its rounds of advertising in DC comics at the time, so this might just be some blatant product placement. I'm also pretty sure that I don't care: there's only so much character development that can be done with troubled romances and familial turmoil - after a while it all just runs together in the memory. This, though, this did more to humanize these guys in one panel than, like, the previous twelve issues. Check it out, they're doing basically what my friends and I used to do! Plus, character classes have gotten cooler over the course of a thousand years - that Four-Armed Cyclopean Barbarian would kick the ass off of my Half-Elven Bard. Wonder who's playing the Wee-Legged Lizard Man?

The reason that this post is focusing on Braniac 5 is that he's clearly more into it that everyone else, which makes sense. He's right about them not finishing, too. They get called away to fight this guy:
Who doesn't look so much like a giant teddy bear in the rest of the comic, more's the pity. Then, after they're done:

Haw! That's all he wants to do! I love it so. Braniac 5 as the Legion Nerdboy is to me far preferable to all the times that he was a Spock- or Data-clone. Or that time that he went insane. Hell, I like it better than I do the version on the cartoon, and he's the best Brainy there's been in years. From now on my mental image of Braniac 5 in his off hours is going to be him in a wizard hat, rolling up NPCs.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Review of a Reviewer, By Johnathan

Specifically myself. I had planned a review based on the cover of last weeks Countdown, seen here:

Which had reminded me a lot of Showcase '94 #1, shown here:

It was going to be about how I thought maybe the artist of the former had cribbed off of the latter, but once I looked at it: no dice. I do prefer the Showcase '94 Joker though, in that he has actual human facial features that have been composed into what I like to call an 'expression' rather than having a deformed perma-grin. I'm never impressed when an artist on a joker-containing comic goes the route of simply carving his face into a maniacal shape and leaving it at that - it robs him of some of his charm/versatility.

But this is about me. For not actually looking at both covers together before planning my review:


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Review of the Super-Human Detritus of the Thirtieth Century, Part 7, By Johnathan

Special "Last Fight For a Legionnaire" edition.

Ah, "Last Fight For a Legionnaire". This is another of those episodes in Legion History that I was tantalized by for years, thanks to Jeff Rovin and his Encyclopedia of Superheros. As with "The Super Stalag of Space", Appendix Q or whatever of this mighty tome was crawling with entries like:

Magno Lad (C)
Powers: Identical to Cosmic Boy; from the planet Braal.
"Last Fight For a Legionnaire," Superboy #211, DC
Comics, 1974.

Four or five of these minimalist entries and I was out of my mind with speculation - what was with all of these cats with the same powers as Legionnaires being in one story? Were they replacements? Trainees? I had no idea. Eventually, I found a scanned copy of this so-enigmatic of comics lurking on the Internets and since the statute of limitations on spoilers is only 30 years I'm going to deliver unto you a plot summary:

In a nutshell, six characters hailing from planets such as Braal and Bismoll, where the entire populations are superpowered, show up looking to join the Legion but are rejected because of a bylaw stating that each member must have power that is unique and does not duplicate that of any other Legionnaire. Bitter over their rejection, the six beat the tar out of their Legion counterparts before getting tossed out on their asses by Superboy. The Legionnaires accept a challenge to a second fight due to wounded pride and this time remember that when fighting a group of evil (or at least hostile) counterparts the only way for the good guys to win is to switch up opponents. They win and then Matter-Eater Lad gets drafted.

So that's the plot. Now here's the really important part: reviewing the characters and in most cases soundly mocking them.

Magno Lad:

Here's Magno Lad with a mild case of Different Colourist on the Cover Syndrome, in that his costume's not that dark normally. It is however that bad. As Blockade Boy so wisely reminds us, long sleeves and short pants do not a good combination make. Plus that loin cloth thing kind of looks like a big spray of pubic hair. Oh, not literally, of course. You have to use your imagination. And then cry.

In any case, I started with Magno Lad for a reason: the issue begins with him getting the heave-ho from the Super-Hero Club, because of the aforementioned bylaw. He's awfully sad that he doesn't get to be a noble hero, an inspiration to millions with his upright feats of righteous derring-do -

- and so he starts in on the vandalism. And not only is he smashing a statue because he's disappointed, he's smashing a statue of Ferro Lad, who had recently died to save the galaxy. You know, sometimes I think that the Legion's a bit too harsh on applicants, that they reject them for no reason, but sometimes they're right on the money.

Here's the first fight - turns out that he's a magnetic athlete - in the Magnetic Olympics, no less! Because of this, he's stronger and thus should replace Cosmic Boy in the Legion, just like how we in Canada recently replaced all of our police officers with professional hockey players. Due to their great agility and ability to swing a blunt object with much accuracy, our crime rates have never been lower!

Here's the second fight. The result? comeuppance! Chameleon Boy whomps him good while posing as a giant needle.

Final analysis? Magno Lad is a Grade "A" jerk in a lousy leotard. Though I'm impressed that he can say "Ch- Chameleon Boy?" while getting punched in the jaw, I'm going to have to say:


Chameleon Kid:

Chameleon Kid's from Durla, just like Chameleon Boy, and has a lousy imagination. Seriously, guy, if you're trying to stand out don't just change the last three letters of the other guy's name. Call yourself Toog the Transformer or Metamorphic Marquis or even Change-Shape Lad. Toog tries to justify replacing Chameleon Boy by pointing out that he's bigger and stronger, but it's a fair guess that he's also substantially dumber and more cowardly - check out his contribution to the big fight at the end:

He turns into a tree! He hides like a little, orange-skinned, antennaed baby until Matter-Eater Lad threatens to eat him. My guess is that his family all chipped in and sent him to the Legion tryouts to get him out of their equivalent of hair for a while. "I can shapeshift like you but I am stronger! Therefore I demand the last slice of cake!" "No matter what form you take I am mightier! Return my videos to the rental outlet!"


Phantom Lad:

Phantom Lad is special in a couple of different ways, and both of them are awful. First, he's another member of Club "Too Lazy to Think Up a Good Name" and stole his off of Phantom Girl. Secondly and most heinously, he also ripped off her costume design, if "take a white outfit and cut slots in it" can be called a design (kidding: I actually love Phantom Girl's Seventies duds, especially as compared to, oh, Saturn Girl's). He's a prime example of the rule that states that what works on a dame doesn't necessarily work on a dude. Plus he's grotesquely musclebound.

Phantom Lad's from the extra-dimensional world of Bgtzl, just like Phantom Girl. He's a big obnoxious oaf in a white singlet, which isn't quite as cool, frankly.

Plus he's a misogynist and a hair-puller! Seriously, "a Phantom Lad is better than a Phantom Girl"? What the hell is the justification for that? If it's physical strength, think again, bucko - your power is becoming immaterial. That means that you can't touch things, so having totally ripped glutes isn't really any help. Plus, the Legion is full of folks who could rip you in two, no matter how many Cosmo-steroids you shoot into your ass.

I have to admit: this was my favourite part of this comic book. POW! Right in the kisser. Plus we got to see the Shrinking Violet Growing Uppercut, which I always enjoy.

Phantom Lad, you are NOT APPROVED

Esper Lass:

Esper Lass chose her own name, which I like. Plus her costume, flimsy as it is, is still better than Saturn Girl's. However thanks to Magno Lad I'm conditioned to equate loincloths with pubic hair, so that's a bit disturbing.

It's not made expressly clear whether Esper Lass is from Titan, like Saturn Girl. She's got some mental powers, sure, and she can fire ovals from her head, but that's no proof of anything. Various panels that I was too lazy to cut and paste suggest that she's the leader of this little band of rejects, which suggests that she is a moron of some sort. I mean even if they beat their counterparts into comas, these losers are never going to get in to the Legion. They'll serve some time and then have to go door-to-door in any neighborhood they move into in the future, warning everyone with superpowers that they have a history of making ridiculous challenges.

She does have a wondrously ignominious defeat, though. Just look at her spin! For that and for being just barely better-dressed than Saturn Girl she's kinda-sorta


Micro Lad:

I think that Micro Lad and Phantom Lad must go to the same gym, that they've been talking about coming to Earth and beating up some ladies for a while. They both like the "Lad," they both stole their costume design; they're both lame. Micro Lad seems to think, like Phantom Lad, that physical strength somehow augments his superpowers, despite the fact that his power is to get very, very small. I would wager though that by knocking down Shrinking Violet he has won his first and last fight in shrunken form - I can't honestly see a bit of upper-body strength helping out when you're the size of a dust mite.

He even gets defeated like Phantom Lad. And hey, isn't that Magno Lad's haircut? Jeez, Micro Lad, I mean, come on. Make a decision for yourself, hey? Try one that doesn't make you look like a giant tool.


Calorie Queen:
We'll get to who Calorie Queen is in a second. First, though, I'd like to say that I like her costume - possibly because it includes bell-bottoms, or maybe because of the woad. In either case, she's rocking about a hundred times more style than anybody else on the Loser Brigade. Plus, Calorie Queen is the best name in the bunch. She does spend a lot of the issue flirting with Magno Lad, which is kind of sickening, but I'm predisposed to like her.

Okay, so she's from Bismoll and she's insulting Matter-Eater Lad...

... and she has a pretty cool power! She's like Matter-Eater Lad but with super-strength - my theory is that she was being lined up to replace ol' M-EL after he left the Legion - heck, he even recommends her to them - but that somebody said no at the last minute, which is a shame.

Another great defeat - Matter-Eater Lad chews down a flagpole and hits her with it, thus resolving a subplot wherein he was feeling like he wasn't good enough to be in the Legion, just in time for him to leave the Legion. Ah, well. Keep on eating, Matter-Eater Lad!

Hee-hee! She forgot Magno Lad's name.

I quite like Calorie Queen, especially as one of her few other appearances is in Legion of Super-Heroes No. 11 - "Tenzil Kem Takes a Bite Out of Crime" - as Senator Matter-Eater Lad's assistant. Since this is one of my fave comics of all time, anyone in it gets a


Bonus Material: some group shots which illustrate the rise and fall of this band of dumbclucks.

Here's everyone being disgruntled - that's Magno Lad's hand on the left.

Initial victory. Some points: Esper Lass appears to be kicking Saturn Girl while she's down, Phantom Lad and Magno Lad being asses.

The wind-up...

...and the pitch!

The second fight - Phantom Lad even runs like an idiot.

And the ignoble defeat/dose of moral superiority.

This issue was completely


Monday, May 14, 2007

Review of Showcase Presents, By Johnathan

Showcase Presents has lately been presenting some pretty awesome stuff, in the form of 500+ page reprints featuring comics of the 60s and 70s and I've been doing my part by buying a whole lot of them. It's time, I think, to pony up some reviews.

Showcase Presents: The Elongated Man

This was the first of these black-and-white beauties to cross my path and I was pretty glad that it had. It featured Ralph Dibny's start as a rival/partner to the Flash, followed by his marriage to Sue Dearborn and their subsequent travels around the world. Ralph's a very atypical 60s DC hero in that his identity is known to the world (and in that he's married instead of being in an extended engagement or flirtation). He and Sue encounter all manner of mysteries while being socialites, some of which are quite charming. Ralph also hits people with a disturbing array of pliable body parts. These early stories are a great illustration of the fact that even though the Elongated Man may have the same power as Mr. Fantastic or Plastic Man, the way that he uses it is all his own.


Showcase Presents: Superman Volumes 1 and 2

This is some pretty great Silver age ridiculousness right here. You've got Superman obsessing over his secret identity, kryptonite simply everywhere, more mermaids than you can shake a stick at, Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Clark Kent looking like Steven Colbert and plenty of aliens. Plus Volume 1 was one of the first of these bad boys out and so only cost $9.99.


Showcase Presents: Superman Family

This reads pretty similarly to just plain Superman, only with more Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy: a) has lots of different jobs. b) foils lots of gangsters. c) occasionally betrays/ is betrayed by Superman for dramatic effect. d) frequently develops superpowers - in one of the coolest stories he uses some of Superman's trophies to put together a super-powered crime fighting suit, then develops a 'best-buddies' relationship with a paper boy (who collects souvenirs of his exploits and summons him via a signal-pen).


Showcase Presents: Green Lantern

Another $9.99 wonder. With this one I got an interesting look at just how different comic book series used to be from one another. The Elongated Man dealt with really intimate little mysteries, while Superman lived in a world that hovered between soft sci-fi and fantasy, genre-wise. Green Lantern was by no means hard sci-fi but it drew from some of its conventions (and of those of the classic space opera) to create a comic that took itself a bit more seriously. Some good, solid, fun comic yarns here.

Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold

Bob Haney writes Batman and guest. This was a terrific read, with lots of Haney lunacy. The guests included Metamorpho (good), Plastic Man (dismal), The Metal Men (terrific - everyone goes to a robot convention) and Deadman (two times!). The best issue involved Batman having Wonder Woman and Batgirl pretend to fall in love with him as part of a plat to catch Copperhead, then when the time came to nab him they really had, such is the power of the Bat-charisma. Copperhead escaped in the kerfuffle, but was nabbed later on. Duh.


Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Volumes 1 and 2

Good solid Silver Age fun. The JLA whomp some aliens, Starro the Conquerer, more aliens, Dr. Light, and some aliens. Snapper Carr is surprisingly endearing, J'onn J'onzz is surprisingly pudgy. He also tends to use his "Martian Breath" almost to the exclusion of all of his many other powers, possibly to distinguish him from Superman.


Showcase Presents: Teen Titans

Another Bob Haney masterwork, featuring the sidekicks of various Justice League members. The Titans answer calls for help from teenagers across the world and so end up dealing with giant monsters, inter-dimensional invasions and submarine pirates. Also notable is Haney's mastery of contemporary slang (assuming that sixties-teens used 'fab', 'ginchy' and 'gear' in every other sentence) and creative use of nicknames (Kid Flash = 'Twinkletoes', Aqualad = 'Gill Head', Wonder Girl = 'Wonder Chick'). All this and the Mad Mod!


Showcase Presents: Legion of Super-Heroes

My thoughts on this topic are already known.


Showcase Presents: Metamorpho the Element Man

Bob Haney strikes again! This time out he's penning the adventures of Rex Mason, whose brush with an ancient meteor/artifact gives him a hideous appearance and the ability to change into any element found in the human body. This one's got great art, as well as my favourite Silver Age supporting cast: Simon Stagg, Rex's boss, famous scientist and so close to being a super-villain that his private security forces dress like Cobra Commander; his daughter Sapphire Stagg, Rex's fiance; Java, a formerly-frozen Neanderthal given a modern brain by Stagg - Java's in love with Sapphire and occasionally tries to bump Metamorpho off but is a colossal coward and so never succeeds; and Urania Blackwell, the Element Girl, Metamorpho's female counterpart. One sad thing: Metamorpho, like Aztek, had his comic canceled before its time and so you'll never learn just who it was that was plotting against the Element Man toward the end of his series.


Showcase Presents: The Phantom Stranger

I'm still reading this one, but so far it's great. The basic format involves a supernatural setup, followed by the appearance of both the Phantom Stranger and Dr. Thirteen, the Ghost-Breaker to lend a hand. The two squabble over the existence of the supernatural, then tell stories to illustrate their points. Then they solve the mystery. At the end of the story the Phantom Stranger disappears, which really ticks off Dr. Thirteen, and it seems to be cumulative, because in the last story I read he pretty much just punched the Phantom Stranger in the face as soon as he showed up. Also notable: four teenagers keep showing up and their names are Spartacus, Attila, Wild Rose and Mister Square.


Well, that's it for now. I'll almost certainly be getting more of these things and when I do I'll write about it on the Internet. I'm so cool.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Review of Shout-outs, By Johnathan

The above panel is from the very last issue of Aztek, by Grant Morrison, Ol' Idea-Man hisself. Now, Super-Groupie herself is a great idea, but Aztek was full of those: Aztek, Vanity City, that one technician guy, the Quizler probably. All of that got tossed out the window when the series got canceled and Aztek got bumped off in JLA. Patty Celeste, the Super-Groupie is only ever seen as a pair of legs and half a hand. Maybe she'll come back some day, maybe not. What really made me pay attention to this panel (and near bust a gut) was the shout-out to Jeff Rovin and his Encyclopedia of Superheroes (or its DC Universe equivalent). That, my friends, is just great. More folk should give Rovin props for his Herculean efforts in the field of cataloging things in very readable ways (and for helping me to Win at Nintendo Games, too). Here's to you, Jeff Rovin!


Review of Subtraction, By Johnathan

Not the mathematical activity (although all math that I can do in my head is automatically JOHN APPROVED) but the editorial activity. Confused? You should be, because I'm not making any sense. Read on, and (hopefully) be enlightened!

A while back (say, January, 1964) The Legion of Superheroes had gotten big enough that somebody felt the need to give people a scorecard and so produced "The Origin and Powers of the Legion of Superheroes" and stuck it into Adventure Comics No. 316. Now, I would love to Take each of the little images in this thing and deconstruct them in a humourous manner, but my fellow Haligonian and nerdboy Ben has done that job first (and so well!) over at Good Book Readin'.

Instead (Curse you, Ben!), I'll present you with an interesting bit of editorial decision-making, as well as my theories on how it came about.

Okay, first let's look at the original "Powers and Origins" page 1:

And now here's the same page from Adventure Comics No. 365, republished (and recoloured) after the Legion had been growing for a few years and people had begun to get confused again:

This second printing featured all kinds of new Legionnaires like Karate Kid and Ferro Lad, but what really stood out for me was the little change that was made to page 1. See, things had changed a bit since No. 316 Triplicate Girl -

- seen here surprising some suitor who obviously had no idea who he was asking out - got into a bit of a scrape with a murderous, box-shaped Computo and ended up one-third dead. So now:

Duo Damsel! Duo Damsel, who had the amazing power to... be two people! I know that it's a better superpower than I'll ever have, but if she hadn't been the very first person to join the Legion after it'd been founded she wouldn't have stood a chance.

My theory about why Duo Damsel's picture is the same as Triplicate Girl's: Though it could've been deliberate on the part of the DC editorial staff, part of an attempt to show how losing a whole third of her being wasn't affecting her sunny outlook on life and tendency to pull the same joke on all of her dates (or maybe just on guys who suffer from short-term memory loss, if that's the same nebbish), I'm betting that nobody noticed that they had one purple-suited Carggite too many and sent the 1960s intern-equivalent scrambling to daub carcinogenic correction fluid onto one of them. Or someone just did a really half-assed job.

Either way, the whole business is


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Review of Hellboy: Darkness Calls, By Johnathan

So normally I don't review comic books that were published in the last ten years. There are a number of reasons for this, including:

a) I don't own a scanner and I like to use pictures in my posts, thus forcing me to stick to comics that have been scanned already and left lying around on the internet for me to download.

b) I don't trust myself not to spoil things. Spoilers are NOT APPROVED.

c) My friend Rachelle does a much better job than I could of talking about the new comics over at Living Between Wednesdays.

Here comes an exception!

Today I picked up Hellboy: Darkness Calls No. 1, the first new comic to feature the World's Greatest Paranormal Investigator in a long time, and it was great! Mike Mignola is focusing mostly on writing these days, so it read like a dream. He did do the cover:

as he's been doing over at B.P.R.D., so that looked real pretty. They got this new guy named Duncan Fegredo to do the inside art, which of course had me worried - Hellboy Weird Tales had shown that not everyone could do the Mignola thing really effectively (not that it wasn't a generally great series - I'd love to see Evan Dorkin take another shot at Hellboy & Co.) but thankfully things worked out nicely. Where Guy Davis brings his own style to B.P.R.D., Fegredo hews a little more closely to Mignola's way of drawing Hellboy and his world. That's not to say that he's bitin' Mike's style, more like he looked at a lot of his art before starting to draw. Basically, another really great choice of artist.

The story's also terrific - lots of cryptic statements and references to earlier stories and a sea chantey. Hellboy gets into trouble and there are some cats. And in the letters page: news of upcoming Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien and Prof. Trevor Bruttenholm. Excitement!

So: that's why I don't write about current comics - I'm boring.

Hellboy and all series featuring him and everyone who works on them (shout out to Dave Stewart on colours!) are JOHN APPROVED.