World of Krypton

August 6, 2008

I’ve been reading the recently released “Superman: The World of Krypton” trade paperback, and it’s drawn into sharper relief some of the feelings I’ve had about how Krypton has been depicted over the years.

Krypton was mentioned for the first time in Superman #1 (1939), and for almost fifty years thereafter it was expanded upon, revisited, and revised until it was as vibrant and intricate as any fictional world had ever been.  You had the history of Kandor and its abduction by Brainiac; you had the invention of the Phantom Zone by Superman’s father, Jor-El; you had the destruction of Krypton’s moon, Wegthor, by the evil Jax-Ur and his subsequent imprisonment; you had wondrous places like the Gold Volcano and the Jewel Mountains; and you had the doomed love story between Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van that was surprisingly affecting given how comics were written at the time.  In fact, much of this embelishment came directly from Jerry Siegel, during the short period of time that he returned to work at DC in the 1960’s.

But then Crisis on Infinite Earths happened, and DC decreed that Superman should be the last survivor of Krypton.  No exceptions.  That meant no Supergirl, no Krypton, no Kandor, and no Phantom Zone villains.  Drastic as this was, it still would have been possible to accomplish without throwing out the entire history of Krypton, as it had been gradually built up for decades.  But John Byrne, who was tasked with reinventing Superman following the Crisis, decided to give readers an entirely new version of Superman’s homeworld.  Now, Krypton was a cold, emotionless, sterile place, where people lived forever but never interacted face-to-face, and where children were conceived in birthing matrices through no direct involvement of their parents.  Thus, when Jor-El sent his son to earth, he did it not just so Kal-El could escape Krypton’s destruction, but also in the hopes that Kal-El could live in a society that still had the concepts of love and joy.  Superman’s being sent to earth, in this interpretation, is portrayed as being a positive thing independent of Krypton’s imminent doom.

But the story doesn’t work nearly as well this way, in my opinion.  The destruction of Krypton is supposed to be one of the all-time greatest tragedies of the universe.  The death of Superman’s parents, whose love is so great but who die long before they deserve to, is supposed to be heart-wrenching.  And that’s how it was for decades, until Byrne gave us Krypton that seemed like it deserved to die, and a Jor-El and Lara who only met for the first time minutes before their deaths.

And then there’s the circumstances of Superman’s birth.  Originally, of course, he was born on Krypton, and lived there for the first few months of his life.  In Byrne’s version, though, Superman’s “birthing matrix” is what is jettisoned to earth, the result being that he is not actually “born” until Jonathan and Martha Kent find him in the cornfield.  As Superman proudly declares at the end of Byrne’s Man of Steel miniseries, that makes him a human and an American, not an alien.

But Superman is supposed to be an alien.  Sure, he was raised by humans and tends to think and act like us, but he’s not one of us.  That’s the great irony of the character, that an alien can represent the epitome of what humanity could be.  And that’s the great tragedy of the character, that no matter how much he wants to be one of us and finally fit it, he isn’t and he can’t.  He disguises himself as bumbling Clark Kent so that he can live among us, but he forever feels apart from us.

And, like almost all adopted children, Superman wants more than anything to know what it would have been like to grow up on Krypton with his birth parents, and live that other life.  Not that he wishes things had been different, necessarily; he loves the Kents and thinks of them as his parents.  But he forever feels the sense of loss that comes from being the last survivor of a great culture, and not really knowing what that culture meant or how best to carry on its memory.

That’s who Superman is.  And, thankfully, that’s the Superman that DC is giving is these days, as written by Geoff Johns, Kurt Busiek, James Robinson, and Grant Morrison.  The “Byrne Krypton” gave us a lot of great stories, but for my money, it missed the mark in the most fundamental ways.

New Comic Book Day (July 30)

July 31, 2008

Here’s what I picked up this week:


Blue Beetle #29

Catwoman #81

DC Special: Cyborg #3

Green Lantern #33

Huntress: Year One #6

JSA Annual #1

Reign in Hell #1

Superman / Batman #50

Teen Titans #61

Trinity #9


The Justice Society Annual was interesting for a few reasons.  On the surface it’s a pretty straightforward “you can’t go home again” story for Power Girl, as she finds herself back on the alternate earth (Earth-2) that was her home and that was presumed destroyed in the first Crisis.  And while it is that kind of story in many ways, it tackles that theme from so many angles that it makes for a deep, wonderful read.

Geoff Johns could have easily played Earth-2 as the happier, shinier earth where everyone was happy and untouched by the tragedies that have befallen their New Earth counterparts… and instead he opted to give us an Earth-2 that is a logical extension of the classic version, updated for today, with all the added complexity and drama that that entails.  Thus we get a Helena Wayne that is perhaps in a worse place emotionally than Helena Bertinelli of New Earth, who’s no picture of mental health herself.  This Helena Wayne is haunted by an aging, still-murderous Joker, and torn between her feelings for her long-time boyfriend and her feelings for Dick Grayson, who is, after all, practically her brother.  It’s an interesting extrapolation of the classic Huntress character, but Johns isn’t done yet.

Despite what the cover might lead you to believe, Earth-2 is not patrolled by classic members of the Justice Society, but rather by their children and heirs.  Al Pratt (for some reason) is the sole original JSAer to remain an active member of the team.  Johns therefore gives us the “classic” JSA earth, only for us to find that the classic JSA lineup is less represented here than it is on New Earth!  Johns seems to be wagging his fingers at the readers who have spend the last twenty-two years waiting impatiently for the return of the “real” JSA.  Despite what comic book readers like to believe, time can’t stand still, after all.

And then there’s Power Girl itself.  Her story could have gone down two very formulaic paths.  1) Kara returns to the earth she loved, it’s everything she remembered, BUT WAIT, now she’s being pulled back to New Earth and she’s all sad and mopey!  Or 2), nothing’s like I remember it, so I’d like to go back to New Earth now, please!  But Johns takes the story down neither road.  Earth-2 isn’t perfect, but it isn’t horrible, either.  It’s just different.  Time has passed, her friends have aged and matured, and the world has gotten a little darker, but these aren’t BAD things.  It’s just what happens.  It happens to everyone, everywhere.  And so of course Kara is happy to see her old friends, but it’s like she says to Helena: “I don’t feel like we’re friends anymore.  I don’t feel like I belong here.”  Like Helena and the others, Kara has grown up.  She doesn’t need to go home and be with her old friends any more because she has new friends.  She’s not the junior member of the JSA “Super Squad” any more, she’s the chairwoman of the Justice Society of America!  It’s no surprise, then, that Kara realizes fairly quickly — much faster than we, the readers, are likely to — that there’s no choice to be made here.  She has to go home, back to her real home, on New Earth.

It’s to Johns’ credit that this Annual is both a loving tribute to the old Earth-2 stories, and a cautionary tale about living in the past.  After all, surely this earth isn’t inherently better because Al Pratt is still the Atom, or because Ted Knight is still Starman, or because Jay Garrick is still the only Flash?  No, this earth just seems a little less special without Ray Palmer and Ryan Choi, without Jack Knight and Thom Kallor, and without Barry Allen and Wally West running around.

Earth-2 is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

SDCC Wrap-Up, Part Three

July 30, 2008

And finally, some miscellaneous SDCC news…

One cool announcement was that Paul Dini is going to be writing an ongoing Zatanna series starting, I believe, in January.  Dini’s a great writer; I’ve loved his stuff going as far back as the earliest episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, and he continues to do great work on Detective Comics… we’ll just forget Countdown ever happened, shall we?  Dini’s love for Zatanna is obvious, as he wrote the episode “Zatanna” for BTAS, he wrote the Justice League Unlimited episode that guest-starred her, he wrote a Zatanna one-shot a few years ago, he wrote her into his ‘Tec run a few months ago, and he essentially married her.  I don’t doubt he’ll do a great job with this new series.

Next up is big Batman: R.I.P. news.  Following the conclusion of Grant Morrison’s story in October, Detective Comics and Batman will cross over for two months for two special stories.  First will come a two-parter written by classic Batman writer and editor Dennis O’Neil that will examine whether Gotham city can survive wthout the Batman.  Following that, Neil Gaiman (Neil frickin’ Gaiman!), who should need no introduction, will write a two-parter with art by Andy Kubert entitled “What Ever Happened To The Caped Crusader?”.  The title is an obvious nod to the classic Alan Moore-penned “What Ever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?” that closed the book on the Silver Age Superman, which should give some indication of the importance of this new story.  Gaiman’s tale will span the entirety of the Dark Knight’s history, and serve as a sort of “final” Batman story.  At the same time, it will presumably help to set up the post-R.I.P. status quo, which might revolve around someone other than Bruce Wayne donning the cape and cowl.

Lastly, because I seemingly can’t let a post go by without plugging Geoff Johns, it was revealed that an upcoming eighth-season episode of Smallville will be written by (you guessed it) Johns, and will introduce the Legion of Super-Heroes for the first time ever in live-action!  Johns is doing great work revitalizing the classic Legion, and his love for the characters and respect for their history is obvious, so I have high hopes for this episode!  The classic Legion first appearance story should be fairly easy to adapt to Smallville: Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl appear in present-day Smallville with amazing powers and high-tech flight rings and tell Clark that he will one day grow up to become a great hero that will inspire a thousand years of human and alien achievement, and as a result they want to make him an honourary member of their team.  Together they will presumably have some kind of adventure, or, if Johns wants to make the Legion out to be huge jerks like they were in the original story, the Legionnaires will force Clark to perform super-feats to prove his worthiness to them.  Because, y’know, serving as a universal source of inspiration for an entire millenium apparently isn’t quite enough to get you into a superhero club in the 31st century.  It’s about standards, people!

SDCC Wrap-Up, Part Two

July 29, 2008

Moving along from Geoff Johns-related news for a minute, DC also announced two major initiatives to broaden the DC Universe by bringing in characters from other companies.


In the first case, upcoming issues of Teen Titans and Justice League Of America will see the introduction of characters from the fondly remembered Milestone Comics imprint of the ’90s.  The Milestone characters were created by Dwayne McDuffie and other African American creators to provide a welcome bit of ethnic diversity to the comic book marketplace.  While none of the series lasted more than a few years, one character — Static — was popular enough to spawn an award-winning cartoon that ran for several seasons.  While Milestone was its own entity and existed as its own continuity, the series were published by DC, and for years fans have been begging DC to work out some sort of deal whereby the characters could be brought into the DC Universe itself.

Now, that has happened.  Fortunately, McDuffie is currently the writer of JLA, and as such is in the perfect position to introduce DC readers to Icon, the “big gun” of the Milestone universe.  At the same time, Static will apparently be showing up in Sean McKeever’s upcoming Terror Titans miniseries before joining the Teen Titans soon thereafter.  This is great news not just for African American comics fans looking for more characters that they can identify with, but for all DC readers that enjoy cool characters.


Independently, DC also announced that the classic Archie Comics superheroes have been licensed by DC, and will appear in the DC Universe proper by way of upcoming issues of Brave And The Bold.  Despite what may pop into your head when you hear the term “Archie superheroes”, these characters are not the Riverdale gang dressed up in tights and capes, but rather actual superhero characters that first appeared in the 1940’s.  In fact, one of the most prominent heroes, The Shield, might look like another Captain America rip-off, but actually pre-dates Cap by a full year.  I don’t have much knowledge of these characters, but they look cool.  My only misgiving is that this deal doesn’t seem to have the permanence of the Milestone announcement, in that this is a licensing deal, not a full acquisition of the characters on DC’s part.  As a result, there’s always the possibility that Archie could decide to take the characters back as soon as they become popular.  While we’d still have (hopefully) gotten some good stories out of it, this would make the whole endeavour seem kind of pointless in retrospect…


Still, excited!  More later.

SDCC Wrap-Up, Part One

July 28, 2008

As I’m sure everyone with even a passing interest in comics knows by now, the San Diego Comicon has just concluded, after running from last Thursday to yesterday evening.  I’m going to take a few minutes and run down the list of exciting DC-related announcements.


At the top of the list has to be Flash: Rebirth, which is a miniseries by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver that will be debuting in January.  After Barry Allen’s shocking return in Final Crisis, Rebirth will pick up where that series leaves off and presumably reintroduce Barry as DC’s main Flash going forward.  Normally this is the kind of thing that would worry me, for two reasons: one, I’m a big fan of Wally West as the Flash, and two, Barry had such a great send-off in the original Crisis that I’d usually be loathe to see that undone.  But Geoff Johns is my favourite writer right now, and quite possibly my all-time favourite, so the idea of seeing him build up the Flash mythology like he’s done the Green Lantern mythology is tremendously exciting.  And since Johns is such a huge Wally West fan himself, I trust him to do well by that character too.  Hopefully the mini will leave the Flash status quo in a place similar to the GL status quo, with every Flash that readers have loved over the years viable and with their own unique place in the DC Universe.


Another exciting Johns-related announcement is the upcoming New Krypton storyline that will run through all three Superman books (Action Comics, Superman, and Supergirl) and introduce over 100,000 Kryptonians to Earth who would much rather conquer the whole planet and rename it “New Krypton” than live side by side with the inferior human species.  These Kryptonians will presumably come from Kandor, the city that Brainiac is responsible for miniaturizing and removing from Krypton shortly before its destruction.  Johns has been doing a great job reintroducing classic elements of Superman continuity into our post-Infinite Crisis “New Earth” continuity: Clark as Superboy, Superboy in the Legion, the Phantom Zone criminals including General Zod, Bizarro World, the different colours of kryptonite, and most recently the ultimate version of Brainiac with the original’s history of being an emotionless android that shrinks cities and imprisons them.  Now, following naturally out of the Brainiac storyline will come a reintroduced Bottle City of Kandor, and an entire population of Supermen and Superwomen on Earth.  I can’t wait to see where Johns, James Robinson, and new Supergirl writer Sterling Gates take this story!


More later…

More Reviews

July 24, 2008

Working my way through the July 24th stack…


Brave And The Bold was good fun.  I can kinda understand why Waid was disappointed in the series’ sales; in today’s market, anything that doesn’t tie into a BIG EVENT or have LASTING CONSEQUENCES is going to get skipped over by a lot of people.  As this is Waid’s second-to-last issue, it strikes me what a shame this is, as the book has always been fun, old-fashioned superhero stories with great art.  I’m a big fan of Scott Kolins, and he doesn’t disappoint here, but is it just me or does the colouring in this issue make everything look a little washed out?  Compare it to his Flash work, or even the last issue of BATB.


Justice League Of America gets dumped on a lot too these days, for similar reasons, I think.  It’s no longer the BIG EVENT book it was during, say, the Lightning Saga, but it’s not trying to be.  McDuffie (who I loved when he was writing for the JLU cartoon) is no longer playing second fiddle to Salvation Run and Final Crisis, and is getting to finally tell his own stories.  And they’re fun, witty, enjoyable stories.  The recent additions of Wally West and Firestorm, not to mention guest star Zatanna, make for a large cast but a diverse and interesting one.  I hope McDuffie won’t be kicked off the book to make way for another big name before he has a chance to build up a nice, long run.


Not having been familiar with Ambush Bug, I didn’t know what to expect from Year None, but I found myself laughing out loud several times.  Comic book satire can be hit-and-miss, especially when the character has been out of the public eye for a while and no one’s quite sure if his style of humour works any more… but Ambush Bug: Year None works.  I know that Giffen wants to keep the series accessible and so he doesn’t want readers to have to have read Identity Crisis to enjoy this issue, and he succeeds, but the IC jokes were so on-the-mark that I found myself wishing he had chucked that rule and gone all-out on Meltzer’s series.

Musings on Batman

July 23, 2008

So a little movie opened this weekend.  You maybe heard about it.  It’s about knights or nights, or something.  There’s something about the dark in there, I remember that much.

No, but seriously, “The Dark Knight” is out, and it’s clearly going to be the biggest movie of the year.  Haven’t seen it yet myself — hope to soon — but I’ve followed the production and the press surrounding it enough to know what kind of movie it’s going to be.  I can tell you two things with absolute certainty: it’s going to be really good.  And it’s going to be really dark.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course.  Batman was created as a dark character, he’s been written that way pretty consistently for the last twenty years or so, and he’s been portrayed that way in media since Tim Burton’s movie in ’89.  These days it seems like you can’t play Batman in movies or on TV, even in animation, unless your voice causes grown men to crap their pants with fear.

But my favourite Batman in movies or TV is Kevin Conroy, and he didn’t always play it that way.  Conroy’s Bruce Wayne was haunted and brooding, yes, but he was human.  Especially by the time the Justice League series rolled around, Conroy’s voice had evolved to the point where he didn’t sound like a gruff, growling loner, but rather a man — a hard-ass, maybe, but it never sounded like a put-on or an act.  Conroy’s Batman was a real person first, and a quote-unquote dark avenger second.

Christian Bale’s Batman, by comparison, barely sounds recognizable as a human being.


I’m reminded of these things as I see new promo art for the upcoming Batman: Brave And The Bold cartoon.  It promises to feature a kinder, more kid-friendly Batman, and the art style certainly seems to bear that out.  While I haven’t checked the message boards to see what fans are saying about the series, I would bet that very few of their comments could be repeated in polite company.  “Batman has to be dark!”, they would shout!  “He’s supposed to be a bad-ass!  He shouldn’t be nice to people!”


But this is the attitude DC Comics adopted for a while, and they eventually thought the better of it.  DC Comics superheroes — the big guns especially — need to represent the best of ourselves.  They need to inspire us, to make us want to better ourselves.  They should make kids want to become good, moral people that give of themselves and help others.  They’re our modern mythology, and myths are supposed to teach us things about our own lives and help us live them in better ways, after all.

I can’t see Christian Bale’s Batman accomplishing that, can you?

I’m reminded of what Denny O’Neil has often said about Batman: there have been many different versions of Batman, and all of them are correct.  Batman reinvents himself with every decade because he, like Superman, like Wonder Woman, needs to speak to all of us, now, in the present.  Every generations of kids needs their own version.  My dad had the George Reeves Superman, I had Christopher Reeve, today’s kids have Brandon Routh.  My dad had Adam West, I had Kevin Conroy, and today’s kids should be allowed to have Batman: Brave And The Bold.

If you try to shove the entirety of Batman into the square hole of the violent, vicious vigilante, you’re doing a huge disservice to a hugely important character.  If a kid wants to laugh with Batman a little, I think we should let him.

Even Bob Kane knew that Batman needs to smile.

New Comic Book Day

July 23, 2008

Here’s what I picked up this week:


Ambush Bug: Year None #1

Brave And The Bold #15

Green Lantern Corps #26

Justice League Of America #23

Legion Of Super-Heroes #44

Robin #175

Superman #678

Trinity #8


Preliminary thoughts: Superman was good, but is it just me or does James Robinson make odd choices regarding which words to emphasize?  It’s like he just picks them at random.  The art was great — did Guedes do the old-timey sections as well?  They were eerily Kirbyesque.  I have a feeling Robinson will start to play up the similarities and differences between Superman and Atlas as the story rolls along, inasmuch as they are similar in terms of ability and initial motivations but Atlas grew too attached to power once he saved his city and found it easier just to rule it permanently.  On the odd side: wasn’t Clark being kind of a dick when talking to Lois about Krypto?  He sounded like he was one minute away from accusing Lois of P.M.S.-ing!


Robin was decent; I’m loving Batman: R.I.P. so maybe I’m a bit biased.  It’s good to see Tim’s take on everything that’s been happening get fleshed out a little.  Continuity problems, though: isn’t Sgt. Harper supposed to be Officer Harper?  And didn’t Nightwing head back to Gotham to deal with Intergang before Bruce underwent the Thogal ritual?  Anyway, Nicieza is a solid writer, and I’ve enjoyed his Superman fill-in work and the stuff he’s done with Kurt Busiek, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the book once he can start his own storylines.


Haven’t read the rest yet, but I’m looking forward to taking in some lush Scott Kolins art on BATB.  Hope DC puts him on something after Rogues’ Revenge…


July 23, 2008

On the off chance that anyone is reading this, welcome to my new blog!

This site will provide reviews of new DC Comics releases, commentary on DC-related issues that strike my fancy, as well as any bits of news that you’ve probably already read someplace else but that I feel like repeating anyway!  I can’t promise the occasional non-DC post won’t make its way onto here every now and then, but I’ll try to keep that to a minimum.

At least for now there won’t be any kind of formal schedule for posts — it’ll just be when I feel like I’ve got something to say.  So check back often and you’ll hopefully see something new!