Wednesday, October 27, 2004

PS238 #8 - A Review

Written by: Aaron Williams
Penciled by: Aaron Williams
Inked by: Aaron Williams
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: Aaron Williams
Editor: Aaron Williams
Publisher: Dorkstorm Press

You ever notice how even though they it was a school, that until recently we never actually saw any classes being taught at Charles Xavier’s School For Gifted Children in all the X-Men books? Aside from all those real-world combat exercised in the Danger Room, of course.

We never got to see Scott Summers sweating it out over mid-terms. We never got to see Professor X having to get the school inspected for meeting all the state standards as an independent educational facility. And, seeing as how most of the students were practically adults or orphans, we never got to witness any parent/teacher conferences regarding little Billy’s failure to correctly use his powers when he snuck inside the girl’s locker-room while invisible. And while X-Men has usually been a fine comic in other respects, it has never accurately portrayed what a real school for super-powered youths might really be like.

For those of us who have ever seriously wondered what such a school WOULD be like, there is PS238. Taken from the imagination of writer/artist Aaron Williams, the comic offers up lots of laughs along with the occasional spoonful of sentiment.

This issue continues a theme from last issue, in which the students of the PS238 secret school for superhuman children had to do a group report upon a great historical superhero. While this might be an ordinary assignment, it is made extraordinarily easy when one of your classmates has the power to walk backwards in time and interview the subject of your report. This time, we get to see the report of a student named Lyle. Lyle has the rather unusual superpower of being a super-detective - able to see the synchronic connections between seemingly unrelated events.

Lyle is one of a handful of students registered in what is called The Rainmaker Program; a part of the PS238 school designed to educate and train children with super-powers that might not readily lend themselves to crime-fighting, such as being able to dig through the earth super-quickly or change inorganic material into food. Lyle’s report is upon the first subject of the very first Project Rainmaker: a young man who had the power to control the rain, and how he would wind up changing the course of history for superheroes everywhere.

Sadly, this issue of PS238 is nowhere near as enjoyable as the last few have been. The revelations about original Rainmaker Project are rather muted compared to the rather dramatic story told in the last issue. And the comedic moments are few and far between, with this issue apparently being the founding moment of some greater story to be told later on. So the usual elements that make me recommend this book - the humor, the sweetness and the satire - are sorely lacking this time around.

This is not to say that the book is not up to the usual high standard of quality. William’s art is as good as ever, perfectly capturing the cuteness of a bunch of eight-year-old superheroes but still capable of being serious enough when needed. And what few jokes there are in this issue are pretty good. In fact, that sums up the entire issue - it is pretty good. But when one is used to greatness, pretty good isn’t good enough.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Who Dun Et? - Part One

You'd think the past issue of Identity Crisis would have settled some of the big questions as to who the murderer is.

You'd LIKE to think that…

Truth is that as I write this, a day or so after the release of said comic, the message boards are still filled with more conspiracy theories than Florida come Election Day. But for the sake of voicing the opinions of the masses, as well as my own theories on "who dun et", I present the following list of suspects, motives and problems with the theories behind them.

But first, a quick review of the crimes so far…

Crime #1: Murder of Sue Dibny, wife of Ralph Dibny, a.k.a. The Elongated Man.

The cause of death is unknown so far. Her body was found, partially burned in her apartment. As of the end of issue #2, we find out (from Doctor Midnite, who was doing the autopsy) that she was dead before her body was set on fire, but no other means of death has been mentioned yet. Whoever the murderer was, we know a few facts from the text in issue #1.

First, the murderer had the means to enter their apartment without setting off the security system which is one of the most advanced on the planet. This would have required either the ability to teleport, the ability to walk through walls (aka phase) or a whole heck of a lot of electronic know-how. Or for the murderer to have been able to get through the security; i.e. be a Justice League member.

Second, the burning of the body was done with a flamethrower, but nobody knows this but we, the readers. The heroes investigating the murder are still running under the assumption that a fire-controlling villain is involved.

Third, the killer called her Sue. However, this means very little as her marriage and her husband's secret identity were a matter of public knowledge. Indeed, Ralph Dibny is historically recognized as the first masked superhero to out himself to the public in the DC Comics Universe.

Since then, we have learned (as of issue 5) that the cause of death is still unknown, but that Dr. Fate has ruled out magical involvement.

Crime #2: Attempted Murder of Jean Loring, ex-wife of Ray Palmer, a.k.a. The Atom.

This time, the murder was attempted with a different weapon: a hangman's noose. Superman (ever the Boy Scout) recognized the knot used as a bowline knot with a Dutch Marine twist. This was, it turned out, the trademarked knot of a villain called Slipknot, who specialized in tying nooses around the necks of his victims. The only thing that ruled him out was the fact that he was in prison, serving a ten-year sentence.

At this point, it is mentioned that Slipknot was a member of The Suicide Squad; a government program that sent convicted super-villains on missions too dangerous for ordinary troops. In the event that they survived, they would be given full pardons. If they were killed in the process, well… no small loss.

We also learn that the killer is definitely a man and wore brown work boots.

The killer was, again, somehow able to circumvent the advanced security system in Jean's apartment.

As the Atom has a public identity and his marriage was also public record, potentially anyone could have known how to find and attack her.

Crime #3: Threat of Murder, Lois Lane, wife of Clark Kent, a.k.a. do I REALLY have to say?

At the end of issue #4, Lois Lane received a letter which read…


I know who your huSband is.

You're next.

The S, in husband was written in red ink with a triangle around it; an obvious reference to the Superman symbol.

So whoever the killer is knows Superman's secret identity, which is NOT common knowledge.

Crime #4: Possible Murder of Jack Drake, father of Robin a.k.a. Tim Drake.

Before the murder, Jake receives a box with a note which reads... Jack DRake. Drake with a capital R with a circle around it in red ink; this being a very loose approximation of the Robin symbol. The box contains a note with a gun which reads "Protect Yourself".

Robin's secret identity is even more secret than Superman's.

Shortly after, Jack Drake is assailed in his home by the villain Captain Boomerang. While he is able to apparently fatally wound his attacker, Boomerang is able to throw one razor-sharp boomerang into Jack Drake's chest before collapsing.

We only see the two men bleeding in the last panels, but the suggestion is that both men are dead.

In the build up leading to the fight between the two, we see Captain Boomerang's newly found lost son (whom dad just spent the day with) checking his messages and finding a message from his dad saying that he should watch the news and "this time I'm leaving a calling card… OUR card."

Captain Boomerang, it might be noted, is wearing brown work boots as he kicks in the door to the Drake residence.

Now, for the list of suspects… with the most unlikely coming first.

Firestorm, a.k.a. Ronnie Raymond

How He Did It? With the power to change matter on the atomic level as well as phase through solid materials, he could easily have killed Sue Dibny without setting off the alarms. Is also a JL member, so he could have bypassed the alarms. Probably knew Superman's secret identity as a JL member.

Why He Didn't Do It? Doesn't know Robin's Secret Identity. Lack of a motive, other than just going crazy. He wouldn't have the resources to hire Captain Boomerang as a patsy. Also, he's kinda dead now as of the last issue.

Green Lantern, a.k.a. Kyle Rayner

How He Did It? A Green Lantern ring could EASILY allow anyone to walk through walls and set a body on fire. Also, he IS a JL member and could have bypassed the alarms. Definitely knows Superman's secret identity.

Why He Didn't Do It? Probably doesn't know Robin's Secret Identity. Lack of a motive, other than just going crazy. Also, he wouldn't have the resources to hire Captain Boomerang as a patsy.

Nightwing, a.k.a. Dick Grayson

How He Did It? Taught by Batman, he could probably disable a security system utilizing the technology of four different alien races. Also, is an honorary JLA member after leading the team during the otherwise forgettable "Obsidian Age" story. He IS just clever enough to pull off the rest of it off and WOULD have the resources to hire Captain Boomerang as a patsy. And he knows Robin's secret identity.

Why He Didn't Do It? Ignoring the fact that DC is unlikely to turn the original Robin into a villain, he really has no motive other than going totally crazy.

Elongated Man, a.k.a. Ralph Dibny

How He Did It? Could easily break into his own apartment. Is a JLA member, so he could have could have gotten past the alarms. Is a master detective, so he could easily have figured out all the secret identities he didn't know from his time as a JLA member. He would also stand to profit handsomely from his wife's death (insurance policy). Would easily have the resources to hire Boomerang as a patsy.

Why He Didn't Do It? No motive except the money, and he's already comfortably well off from his marriage to a wealthy heiress. Also, would totally ignore years of characterization concerning how madly in love he is with his wife.

Captain Boomerang, a.k.a. Digger Harris.

How He Did It? Was caught red-handed at the scene of the Jack Drake murder. Made reference to his son about "leaving a calling card this time". (What had he done before?) Wore brown work-boots during the Jack Drake murder, like Jean Loring's assailant. Had multiple motives, from striking back at one of the first heroes he fought against (Elongated Man originally lived in the same city as 'The Flash' and fought most of the same villains) to wanting to make a name for himself again to just wanting to make superheroes look foolish. He would also have been able to faked Slipknot's MO, having being a member of the Suicide Squad himself.

Why He Didn't Do ALL Of It? He would have needed a LOT of help to have done ALL the murders. While the evidence suggests he was responsible for the attempted murder of Jean Loring and was definitely the killer of Jack Drake, he probably has no clue about the secret identities of Robin or Superman. There's also the pesky matter of how he bypassed the security. Digger's a right bastich, but he's no security wizard. Odds' are he either had help or is a fall guy for a mastermind planning something bigger. In fact, it's highly doubtful Boomerang would have sent Jack Drake a gun in order to offer him a fair chance at defending himself.

The Calculator, a.k.a. Noah Kuttler

How He Did It? This silly super-villain turned super information broker has been manipulating characters right and left since issue #1, calling up other super-villains and hiring them for special jobs or getting them information they needed. He helped Captain Boomerang with tracking down his lost son but no price was ever discussed for the service. Could it be possible that The Calculator planned the murder of Sue Dibny for some unknown reason and then used Captain Boomerang as a patsy to perform the last two murders to make it look like one criminal with a mission was at work?

Why He Didn't Do ALL Of It? The only problem with Boomerang as the master-villain is that he would have lacked the information on how to get past the security on the first two crimes and he didn't know all the secret identities involved. While The Calculator might be able to get such information, there's no definite proof that he knows Robin and Superman's secret identities or would be able to hack the JLA security systems. Also, from what we've seen there's no direct profit for him masterminding such an operation… and he's all about profit. In fact, as some of the super-villains in this story have pointed out, the murders are making their business harder as the super-heroes are now out in force investigating everyone making their jobs ten times harder. So why go out of his way to rock the boat for so little gain? Unless he's getting paid to act as a go-between by someone else who is more concerned with profit as revenge?


How He Did It? A series of several robots programmed to duplicate the various powers and skills of any JLA member, an Amazo robot could have performed the Sue Dibny murder quite easily, excepting that it would have registered as a JLA member on their security system and as such, not a threat. Also, issue one started out with Elongated Man investigating the sale of an Amazo robot on the black market.

Why He Didn't Do It? We haven't seen hide nor hair of an Amazo robot yet. In fact, the crate that supposedly contained one actually held one of Lex Luthor's old battle armor suits. There's also the pesky issue of the robot being designed to go after JLA members, not their families. And the robot wouldn't know all the secret identities.

Lex Luthor

How He Did It? Last time we saw Lex, he swore their would be "a crisis". He has the motive to try and take down the superhero community at large just out of spite. He's got the smarts to take out the JLA security systems and could probably figure out Superman and Robin's secret identities. And assuming he managed to hide away some of his savings in secret accounts before his exposure as a master criminal (as opposed to a slightly dishonest businessman), he'd have the resources to hire Calculator and any other super-villain to act on his behalf.

Why He Didn't Do It? Aside from his armored suit being in a crate up for sale, we've seen hide nor hair of Luthor. And the only real suggestion we have that he's even involved in the story is some muttered words in Superman/Batman #6. Plus, we're assuming a lot that he has the resources and knowledge to pull this off.

Daron, The Dark Overlord

How He Did It? He has the resources. He could get the knowledge. He could very well mastermind the whole thing.

Why He Didn't Do It? Wrong universe, but even then I wouldn't put it past him.

Comments? Theories of your own? Some little detail I missed that could blow the whole thing open? Drop me an e-mail .

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. NEW Matt Website.

Fables #30 - A Review

Written by: Bill Willingham
Penciled by: Mark Buckingham
Inked by: Steve Leialoha
Cover Art by: James Jean
Colored by: Daniel Vozzo
Lettered by: Todd Klein
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

And so it came to pass, that a war-torn country approached election time. The choice before them was difficult. Though they had the option to write in votes for whoever they chose, most saw it as a choice between only two people. The incumbent was an optimistic and personable aristocrat, whom was well-liked in spite of his apparent incompetence as a war leader, and indeed, everything else. His challenger was another aristocrat, not lacking in charm himself, who ran upon promises to help the less fortunate under him and his reputation as a courageous fighter who had actually seen combat in the great war.

No analogies here. No no no…

In all seriousness, whether you see parallels in the on-going story of Fables and our current political climate or no, you cannot deny that it is one of the best books on the market today. Willingham effortless juggles a number of subplots here, depicting the events of an entire summer in a scant 22 pages. Among these are…

  • The Birth of Snow White’s children, the result of a tryst with Fabletown Sheriff Bigby Wolf while both were hypnotized.
  • Little Boy Blue’s injuries after the war. Will he ever play the bugle again?
  • The election for Fabletown Mayor between Old King Cole and Prince Charming.
  • The capture of Baba Yaga by the Black Forest Witch (aka the witch from nearly every child-eating witch story).
  • A reporter who, for some reason, is unaffected by the witches spells to erase memory of the epic battle between the people of Fabletown and the wooden soldier armies of “The Adversary”, who seeks to enslave all the mythological characters now living in Fabletown.

Mark Buckingham is one of the finest artists working today and every issue of this comic shows why he is a frequent nominee when the various awards are doled out. And this issue’s cover, showing a baby with a stuffed wolf wearing two campaign buttons, is typical of the aura of mystery that fills every cover for this comic. The cover always relates to the story, but it is often hard to say how it does so directly until after it is read. Small wonder then that Fables won the 2004 Eisner for best cover art.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Slap-Dash

I have a pile of comics to my right, a large cup of tea to my left and a keyboard in front of me. Sounds like the time for some quick reviews.

Aquaman #21

While I've never been one of his detractors ("He's useless. All he can do is talk to fish!), I've never been a big fan of Aquaman either. Will Pfeifer, in one story, not only shows Aquaman for the cool character that he is; he also creates a new villain for Aquaman who is, like him, underestimated by many but potentially deadly in the right environment. In this case, the villain is a psychic with the ability to mentally control large amounts of water. While a minor annoyance to Batman in the relatively land-locked downtown area of Gotham City, he proves quite the danger when armed with scuba gear and set upon the sunken California town of Sub Diego. Creating waterspouts at will and boiling the very water in a person's body are just a few of the tricks he uses. But Aquaman proves no weakling here, using his powers in equally creative ways, summoning a flock of poisonous lionfish (One spine can throw a healthy adult male into cardiac arrest) to corral a group of henchman. Shame he's leaving the title in 3 issues, as Aquaman hasn't been this well written since… well, ever!

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

Ex Machina #5

It's been neck-in-neck for a while, but this is, quite simply, my favorite book being published right now. Tony Harris does his finest work since the good ol' days on Starman and Brian Vaughan shows why he is one of the best writers working in comics today. The story of a man given a great power, who abandons superheroism for the greater responsibility of political office is one not often explored in comics and never to any great detail. This series promises to do just that and more.

Final Scote: 10 out of 10.

Hawkman #33

I wish I could say that this comic doesn't feel like a gratuitous plug for Jimmy Palmiotti's new series "The Monoloith"… but honestly, how else can you justify Batman, Mister "I Am The Lone Avenger Of The Knight" Himself, calling Hawkman and Hawkgirl into Gotham to help him track down a crime-fighting, giant stone golem? Still, the comic isn't a total wash. The scenes at the end with the two avian heroes going to a movie and talking about their relationship and where it stands is quite good and easily makes up for the cheap commercialism of the rest of the book.

Final Score: 5.5 out of 10.

JSA #66

There is nothing for me to explain in this issue after my profile of The Hourmen some weeks back. The tease we get of future issues here suggests I'll have quiet a lot to explain later about some other time-traveling characters. But since I don't have a time machine myself, we're all going to have to wait and see what I say about that. For now, go read this current issue and enjoy the here and now.

Final Score: 10 out of 10.

Knights of the Dinner Table #96

For once, the funniest parts of this magazine came not in the comics, but in the columns. This is not to say that the comics this time were not funny. Indeed, a new comic centering upon the self-devouring gamers of The Black Hands Gaming-Society and their latest attempt at a western-themed role-playing game is one of the best strips in recent memory. And another, parodying a recent gaming release (a gaming adventure titled "The World's Largest Dungeon", changed here to The Biggest Damn Dungeon Ever) promises a lot of humor in the next issue. But the funniest part of the magazine this time around came in a missive by Noah Antwiler, about why we can expect Star Wars, Episode 3 to do nothing to save the franchise by pointing out the numerous continuity problems that will have to be solved and the four ways in which Jar Jar Binks could be turned into a useful character.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Swamp Thing #8

It's funny how a writer can be so good on one book and so wrong for another. Case in point; while I loved his work on Aquaman, Pfeifer's two-part tale for Swamp Thing seems rather bland and lifeless. Mind you, it isn't an easy task following up the smashing introduction that Andy Diggle gave this book in its' first six issues. Still, after an epic battle with multiple elemental forces, a cameo by John Constantine and the announcement that his loyal wife was leaving Alec Holland/Swamp Thing, this issue demanded something special. This story, about a big game hunter hunting a mysterious swamp man, isn't it.

Final Score: 4 out of 10.

Ultimate Spider-Man #66

The cover title, "Even We Don't Believe This", says it all. Peter Parker and James "Logan" Howlett star in Freaky Friday. A grand story in the tradition of the old Lee/Ditko "The writer has gone insane and I don't want to draw this… help me" stories of the past, as Wolverine and Spider-Man trade more than spaces. It's hard to pick just one funny moment in this comic to share… so save us both the trouble and read it yourself.

Final Score: 10 out of 10.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. NEW Matt Website.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Amazing Spider-Man #131 - A Review

Written by: Gerry Conway
Penciled by: Ross Andru
Inked by: Frank Giacoia & D. Hunt
Colored by: P. Goldberg
Lettered by: Artie Simek
Editor: Roy Thomas
Publisher: Marvel Comics

It had been a hard few months for Peter Parker, even taking into account that he is Peter Parker and very rarely has easy months. His first girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, had been killed by the now just as deceased Norman Osborn. His best friend Harry, newly recovered from a drug overdose, had come to hate Peter for reasons he wouldn’t articulate and Peter couldn’t begin to guess at. He was fresh off an encounter with a new and deadly vigilante called The Punisher. Throw in the usual money troubles, the fact that most of the city hated his alter-ego and the fact that a gang-war between super-villains Dr. Octopus and Hammerhead is keeping all his free-time filled and it seems like things couldn’t get much more down for good old Spidey.

And if you honestly believe that, I’d like to welcome you to the outside world and congratulate you upon your escape from whatever dungeon you’ve escaped from. It’s Parker’s First Law: No Matter How Bad Things Are, They Can Always Get Worse.

This truism is proven once again as Peter rushes to the mansion now owned by one Dr. Octopus. Aunt May, having met the good doctor after he answered her advert for a room for rent after escaping for prison, moved into his dubiously acquired mansion to act as caretaker after he was once again incarcerated. After the most recent gang battle, Peter finds a letter that explains to him why Hammerhead and Doctor Octopus are fighting and why Doc Ock has been trying to keep Aunt May on his good side. And that is where this issue begins… with Doc Ock in a tux, his henchman formally dressed and standing behind him… and Aunt May in a wedding dress, looking blissfully happy as the pastor reads the ending of the wedding ceremony.

The cover features an epic scene of Spidey swinging down the aisle and webbing up the page’s of the pastor’s bible, as well as a bubble that boasts this is just the start of “The Greatest Action Ish Ever!” Well, it’s the start. But this is hardly the greatest action issue ever. In fact, this is easily one of the goofiest issues of Spider-Man ever, even ignoring the idea of Aunt May marrying Doctor Octopus. Consider how…

  • The wedding is disrupted by Hammerhead whose amazing power wasâ?¦ hitting things with his colossal and super-strong head.
  • It turns out the cause of their war is overâ?¦ a Canadian island with a nuclear reactor, which Aunt May inherited from a distant relative, which Doc Ock found out after opening her mail while living in her house. The whole wedding was a scheme for him to get legal ownership of the island.
  • Said island blows up with all the thugs on it after Hammerhead head-butts the reactor controls, with no adverse effects other than a big kaboom. (Fallout, anyone?)
  • And somehow, Peter Parker, who never learned how to drive a car is able to fly off the island at the last moment, thanks to a plane “modified so that even an idiot can pilot it!”

And then there’s a big whopping continuity error where Mary Jane leaves the same Christmas party twice in one comic… but hey, there’s no sense in being anal about this.

Still, it is funny how as much as some people insist that Gwen Stacy’s death instantly darkened the tone of Spider-Man, there was still a lot of just plain weird stuff that happened in the title. Still, one thing can be said for this book: at least it didn’t feature Peter driving the short-lived Spider-Mobile!

In all seriousness though, this book is enjoyable for what it is. And while it doesn’t live up to the promise of its’ glorious cover (Spidey isn’t even the one to stop the wedding), it does manage to move the story alone and provides the promised action. And the flaws I list above are obvious to me only after repeated re-readings. And even now, the flaws do nothing to detract from my enjoyment of what is at heart a very silly book.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Powerful Headaches - The Twisted History of Power Girl

So last week, while briefly (in so far as I can call one-page of a seven-page column briefly) trying to explain the troubled history of Supergirl, I said these words…

Power Girl had been a version of Supergirl from an alternate Earth BEFORE "The Crisis of Infinite Earths" and was now… well, even more confusing to explain than everything that came before this sentence.

This caused some of you to write back and demand an explanation for how the heck ANYTHING can be more confusing than the current history of Supergirl.

You people have obviously never read Hawkman…

Regardless, the fact remains that Power Girl's background is pretty confusing stuff and has got to be SOMEWHERE on the list of the top ten most convoluted back-stories of all time. What makes her all the more confounding is that more frequent exposure recently has made her origins, her strength levels and even her very powers suspect. Still, rather than turn this over to the folks over at Who's Who In The DCU , I will try and cover this in as complete and yet as simple a fashion as possible.

Power Girl Before The Crisis

Power Girl was Superman's cousin on the parallel Earth known as Earth 2.

Her name was Kara Zor-El and she was originally from the city Kandor on Krypton. Saved from the planet's destruction like her cousin was, the ship took a less direct route to the planet Earth. Arriving some 60 years after her cousin Kal-El's had, her ship had also been retrofitted with computers that slowed her ageing as well as giving her a basic Kryptonian education.

Unlike Kal, who had been found as a baby and raised as an Earthling, Kara landed on Earth as a fully-grown and educated, 20 year old Kryptonian woman. She took the name Power Girl so as to keep herself out of the shadow of Superman, who helped to get her into the Justice Society of America, the greatest superhero team of this Earth.

She would later develop a secret identity, thanks to a reporter named Andrew Vinson and Wonder Woman. The former would help her establish the identity of Karen Starr and secure her a "no questions asked" job with a computer company. The later would given Kara the knowledge of how Earth's computers worked by way of an Amazonian teaching device. This would all be covered in Showcase #97-99.

"Karen" would briefly team up with Infinity Inc, a superhero group made up of the children of the original JSA members. She would also partner up several times with The Huntress; a superheroine who was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman in this Earth's reality.

In short, she was Superman's cousin as well as his replacement in the later days of Earth II before The Crisis of Infinite Earths caused all the alternate realities to collapse into a single Earth. She was easily Superman's equal in terms of power level and versatility, having the super-speed, super-strength, super-invulnerability and super senses that made her su, er… powerful!

Power Girl After The Crisis

After Crisis, everything changed for Power Girl. She was no longer Kryptonian. She was no longer Superman's cousin. She had never been a member of the JSA. This was because in the new timeline of this Earth, the JSA existed during WWII, fighting Nazis and other menaces to America back in the Golden Age of heroism. And the editors of the Superman comics decreed that in an effort to reduce the number of Kryptonians in the universe (who were becoming more and more commonplace as having "miraculously" survived the explosion of their home planet) that Kal-El was to be the definitive only survivor. So where did Kara/Karen come from?

The short answer is Atlantis, some 45,000 years in the past.

Okay. Pick your jaw up off the floor and I'll give you the long answer of how she went from alien to Atlantean.

Secret Origins #11, published in 1987, would give us this origin. In the days when Atlantis was the most powerful of nations and still stood above the sea, it was ruled over by a wise and powerful magician named Arion. His granddaughter was Kara, a beautiful newborn blonde girl.

Sadly, Kara was to be denied the privileged life of an Atlantean princess. Arion's brother, the evil wizard Garn Daanuth threatened to possess Kara's body and use her as a tool for his own ends. To protect her, Arion used his magics to send Kara forward to modern times. He also tampered with her genetic structure, aging her from infancy to her late teens in route as well as giving her powers on-par and equal to those of Superman. This left her with a spotty memory of her past life, as she had no real past to remember.

Curiously, in the years following the Crisis, many writers seemed to forget the new origins. In some stories, Kara had flashbacks to life on Krypton and had memories of being cousin to a middle-aged Superman. Her entries in the 1987 and 1990 editions of DC Comics "Who's Who?" suggested that she actually did think she was Superman's cousin. Indeed, some of Gerard Jones' issues of Justice League Europe (which Kara joined) had throw-away references to this.

It would not be until sometime later that writer Roger Stern, then working on Superman, would point out that Superman started out ignorant of his Kryptonian heritage, not learning of his alien origins until well-into adulthood and certainly after Power Girl would have made her first appearance.

Stern tried to fix this in Action Comics #650, where Kara told her teammates of how she first met Superman on her way to a JLA/JSA meeting and how she was "a sort-of second generation member of the Justice Society". This story took place before Superman learned of his Kryptonian heritage and confirmed Kara's being an established heroine before that point. This issue only served to raise another problem: how was it possible for her to be a JSA member?

I have heard from others that a new explanation for this was given in the book JLA/JSA Secret Files #1, but I have yet to find a copy of said book for myself to verify this. Still, other problems remain besides how she came to become a hero and quite a well-connected one at that. We still have yet to learn exactly how Kara came to become Karen Starr, but we do know that she was on the path of heroism long before she discovered her Atlantean roots.

More recent issues, such as JSA #38, note that Kara founded a computer company called Starrware, but that she was not much of a computer whiz herself and just knew how to hire the right people. She sold the company and now runs a Starr Foundation that helps abandoned children. Her identity as a hero is public and she answers to Karen, instead of Kara. She is also, as of the events of JLE #9, much less powerful than she once was after a magical attack by The Gray Man. While she no longer seems to have the cosmic levels she once did, she is still "faster than a speeding bullet… more powerful than a locomotive" and able to fly.

Still, it is worth wondering just how much of the Justice League Europe days we want to hold as being a serious part of the past. It was in this same comic that it was discovered that Kara had a weakness much more serious than Kryptonite. According to then team member Dr. Light (the good Asian female one, not the evil Caucasian male one), paranormal powers could trigger certain rare allergies in superwomen. In this case, Kara developed a short temper due to an allergy to the artificial preservatives in her diet soda. (Justice League Europe #40)

I know… I know… just ignore it and it'll go away.

Even more perplexing is Kara's sudden pregnancy and birth of a newborn son during the pain-in-the-neck story that is known as "Zero Hour". This was later explained away as more interference by the wizard Arion and some other magicians. It seems that the Atlanteans had a prophecy that a great demon named Scarabus would threaten the world and that it could only be slain by the great-grandson of Arion.

Using genetic material from Scarabus himself, Arion magically impregnated his own granddaughter and used his magic to instantly age his grandson into the being known as Equinox. With the demon defeated, Equinoxed informed his mother (who now looked younger than him) that her purpose was fulfilled, her life her own and then he disappeared into Comics Limbo where he has not been seen since. (Justice League of America #107-111)

She rejoined the Justice League as a permanent member after that and remained a reserve member even after leaving the team. She later joined the superhero group Sovereign Seven, in Issue #31 of that book. However, issue #36 of that title suggests that the whole series was, in fact, a story within a story and not a part of the official history of the DC Comics Universe.

One issue later, in S7 #37, it was suggested that Power Girl's invulnerability was limited to certain forms of energy. To confuse things even further, she would team up with Supergirl (Issue #16) and get impaled upon an uprooted tree. Kara would declare here that her powers did not protect her from "any raw unprocessed natural material." So sticks and stones could break her bones, but high-grade American steel could do nothing?

I know… I know. Peter David has written a LOT better.

Thankfully, none of these stories have been referenced in any of Karen's appearances since then. She is currently a member of the JSA and most of her recent exposure has been at the pen of Geoff Johns. Recent stories suggest that her powers are once again the same as Superman's, even if she not as powerful as he is. Her past, such as it is, is made up more of blank spaces than bad memories of being manipulated by a grandfather she never really knew. Yet even with the last ten years or so being ignored, there is still quite a bit of mystery to Karen Starr.

For one thing, she made an appearance in Superman #189 helping Superman fight an element-controlling villain who was able to change himself into Kryptonite. For some reason, the green rock made Kara feel ill and unable to fight as well as Superman! Additionally, the results of her physical with JSA team doctor Dr. Midnite suggested that her powers were entirely physical, not magical as she had always believed.

Finally, in JSA #50, it fell to Karen along with the heroines Dove and Hawkgirl, to free the imprisoned soul of Arion. The wizard had been captured and used by the black wizard Mordru. Before passing onto the afterlife, Arion told Karen that he was not her grandfather and that what he had done for her was a favor for her mother. He passed on before Karen could ask more, but he told her that

Monday, October 4, 2004

Looking To The Stars: The Sky Is Not Falling

Quite a few major things happened this past week in comics. We saw the 200th issue of Hellblazer; the longest running title Vertigo Comics has ever had. The final issue of the second and current Green Lantern series was released. Michael Turner finally got the artwork for the 12th issue of Superman/Batman finished some two months after it was due. And to hear many Spider-Fans talk, J. Michael Straczynksi is the AntiChrist among us, doomed to drag us back into the era of disjointed artwork and third-rate writing.

This is far from the only controversy this week but it is the one the fans on the message boards seem to be screaming the loudest about. The end of Superman/Batman #12 also has people talking. And as always, the Green Lantern fans are grousing about something. Well, let me tell you all something. The sky is NOT falling. And ignoring the fact that it is all just a story, things are not quite as bleak as they seem as I will explain. Be forewarned: SPOILERS ABOUND AHEAD!

Amazing Spider-Man #512

For those of you who haven't been reading the Sins Past storyline, here's a quick catch-up.

Part One: Peter gets a letter in the mail from long-dead girlfriend Gwen Stacy. He and wife Mary Jane (also a friend of Gwen's when they were in college) recognize the hand-writing as Gwen's. The letter goes on to talk about something bad that Gwen is afraid to tell Peter about but has to. The letter then ends, suggesting a second page is missing. Peter goes to Gwen's grave, mulling things over and is attacked by two masked people in black, one man and one woman. Peter jumps away from them, hoping to do so unseen. But his in seen and in their conversation, we find that Peter's assailants wanted both him and Spider-Man dead, but had no idea that they were one and the same.

Part Two: Mary Jane notices imprints on the back of the letter that suggest something was written over it. Peter, as Spider-Man, takes the letter to a friend with the police and asks to have it analyzed. He then goes out looking for his assailants and is lured into a trap. Barely surviving the blast of the bomb that was set for him, Peter is told by his male assailant that he will take everything of value from his life before killing him. The female assailant just wants to kill Peter and get it over with, while accidentally letting their real names slip; Gabriel and Sarah. Peter returns to the police to find some words revealed from what must have been the second page of the letter. The basic gist of the words suggests that Gwen was pregnant, went to Europe and had twins; a boy and girl named Gabriel and Sarah.

Part Three: Peter, knowing that he can't be the father because he never slept with Gwen, sets about trying to see if what he's reading is true and explain way the other two big questions; did Gwen have children and if so, how can they be fully grown despite the relatively short period of time since Gwen's death? Taking a sample from the letter and Gwen's body, Peter as assaulted by Sarah at the lab he is investigating. He unmasks her to see that she is the spitting image of Gwen and barely escapes with his test results. The results confirm that whoever handled the letter is related to Gwen Stacy. As he goes to Mary Jane to tell her this and assure her that she isn't the father, he is surprised to learn that she read the letter and more, that she knows who the father is.

This brings us to Part Four and the major revelation that has a good number of the Spider-Fan community pissed-off. Since there is no gentle way to break this, I am going to come right out and quote the issue.

"I'd gone to seem him seven months earlier about something else and found him sad, upset, almost broken.... and I felt so badly for him, but at the same time under it all, there was this strength, this magnetism... as though there was the person I knew on the outside and deep inside this other person... so powerful, so mysterious. I didn't intend for it to happen. But it was as if there was something so strong inside him that was so strong... I couldn't say no... and the next thing I knew it happened and I knew... I was pregnant."

Months later, after she had the children safely hidden away in Europe, she confronted Norman over his refusal to take Harry Osborn to the hospital in the wake of his drug abuse. Norman feared what such a scandal as his son being a druggie would do the value of his company and Gwen promised him a REAL scandal if Harry didn't get help all the while saying that Norman would never get his hands on her children that Norman insisted were his by right. This conversation was overheard by Mary Jane, whom Gwen ran into in the hallway Gwen then confided in and then swore Mary Jane to secrecy.

I've seen a lot of angry messages about this, complaining of what was done here. And in principle, I agree with all of them. The idea of Gwen Stacy having sex with Norman Osborn is a very distasteful one. Despite that, I cannot fault the story for presenting me with a disturbing image. I cannot fault this story for being badly written. It isn't. I cannot fault this story for not knowing its' history. It does. I do not like the idea of Gwen Stacy having Norman Osborn's kids. It revolts me as much as it does Peter. But as Peter says, "It makes sense."

To all the people who say it is out of Gwen's character to do something like this, I say… how do we know? Gwen's death came about during a time when discussing superhero's sex lives was still verboten material. We were barely able to talk about drugs for educational purposes; scenes of Peter and Gwen getting to second base were right out!

And in this issue, it is revealed that even Peter doesn’t know if Gwen had any experience in high school before he met her in college. He gets sick thinking about the idea of Norman being Gwen's first time, but he doesn't know for sure. None of us know for sure because we've never seen a story about Gwen's life before she met Peter. Until this storyline, we never knew for sure that Peter and Gwen had never slept together. Just because it doesn't happen on the page doesn't mean it never happened.

And even if Gwen did lose her virginity to Norman, it isn't totally out of character. I've had friends in my past who had one-night-stands; friends who were morally upstanding people like Gwen, who I would never see doing such a thing in my life. I think that most of us have. It is entirely possible that Gwen did give Norman a pity-shag without thinking of the consequences. And despite what many fans out there may think… one night does not a "slut" make.

Incidentally, I find it interesting psychologically that many of the very same readers who are rushing to Gwen's defense are freely bandying about the S-word and the W-word.

Besides, we're totally ignoring the idea that there's more to the story than we're seeing here. Norman was a scientific genius who developed a formula that made him stronger and faster than a normal human; a formula that also gave him a superhuman healing factor. Who's to say he couldn't have created a pheromone or something? Gwen's description, as written, suggests that something was making her act towards that end in spite of herself.

And for all the people complaining about how J. Michael Straczynksi is ruining some perfectly good stories, I say phooey! JMS is building on some rather fractured history and, as much as I don't like the idea behind it, explaining away some things that have never been adequately explained. Why did Gwen so suddenly go on a trip to Europe? Why did Norman lay low in Europe of all places after his "death"? The current story explains away both of these points, quite brilliantly.

We still have one issue left. And one issue is a long time in comic books. JMS has caused similar rumblings before (remember the screaming over his "rewriting" Peter's origin some four years or-so ago?) and always managed an interesting story that respected what came before while giving us something interesting. That is really all I can ask for in a comic book writer.

Superman/Batman #12

Since the end of Crisis of Infinite Earths, where she sacrificed herself to save her cousin Superman, there has been a cry out for a new Supergirl. And lo, shortly after John Byrne said they were removing the Supergirl, Super-dog, Super-cat, Super-Horse, Super-Monkey and the entire rainbow of Kryptonites, there was a new Supergirl.

Granted, this Supergirl was a shapeless blob called the Matrix and was a telepathic shape-shifter who had been created by the heroic Lex Luthor of a parallel Earth to travel to our Earth and get help to fight against three Kryptonian Super-Criminals. But it was still the same Supergirl we all knew and loved. Except she then returned to our Earth, promptly fell in love with our Evil Lex Luthor and…

Well, it really isn't best thought of.

And lo, another cry went up; Give us a Supergirl who is a real girl that young female readers can relate to! And Peter David did appear to write a new Supergirl series, which began with a girl named Linda Danvers dying during a Satanic ritual and The Matrix giving itself up to save her life by merging with her.

And it was good; if you were a 40-something guy reading a book meant for young women. Any young female readers hoping to read about the adventures of a super-powered girl would have to wait a few years for The Powerpuff Girls to be created. And in a move that would have gone over like a lead balloon were Jerry Falwell as actively concerned about comic books as he was popular music, Linda became an "earth angel" with fiery wings and became romantically involved with a being who was a mystical merging between a horse, a handsome jockey and an African-American lesbian.

This also is really not best thought of.

And lo the fans said again "Give us a Supergirl who doesn't require a flow-chart to explain who or what she is!" And DC gave Supergirl a new costume, based on the one she was given recently in the Superman Animated Series.

And lo the fans said again "Give us the Supergirl who was Superman's cousin!" And lo, Peter David did work his magic and create a tale. A tale in which the rocket from Krypton, which carried Superman's cousin became lost in time, and landed some several years after it should have and was discovered by Linda Danvers. And lo the rocket did contain Kara Zor-El, the famed and much lamented cousin of Superman who was immediately adopted and introduced to Earth society and whom Linda set about trying to raise and train as her own younger sister.

Alas, it was not to be. For The Powers that Be at DC decided that this first part of what was to be a six-part introductory story did not sell as well as it should have and ordered the book canceled. And so Peter David was forced to backtrack from his original plans to turn Supergirl into a team-book akin to Birds of Prey, forming a triumvirate of Super-women ; Linda, Kara and Power Girl.

(Power Girl had been a version of Supergirl from an alternate Earth BEFORE "The Crisis of Infinite Earths" and was now… well, even more confusing to explain than everything that came before this sentence.)

In the end, Kara was sent back in time because her death was needed to keep Superman from dying and the universe from destroyed. Linda retired from being Supergirl, and just disappeared into comic character limbo. And Power Girl is currently in the book JSA, waiting to get a backstory.

And still did the fans cry for satisfaction. And lo, the Powers that Be at Warner Brothers demanded a Supergirl in the comics, that they might market many cutesy items to young girls. And provide a positive heroic female role model in a slightly more modest costume than what Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl wear.

And so Jeph Loeb, being a fan of all things Superman back in the good old days, set about penning a tale to bring Supergirl; the Supergirl we all know and love despite numerous continuity hiccups back into the mainstream history of DC Comics.

And so it was that a ship bearing Kryptonian writings crashed on Earth and was quickly recovered by Superman and Batman. As was the girl, who vacated said ship and accidentally caused some major property damage after being accosted by several ruffians who had less than pleasant words for a naked blond girl in the streets at night.

Thus did Superman aka Kal-El aka Clark Kent discover that he had a cousin. He was overjoyed and set about showering the girl with love as he now had a connection to the family and the homeworld that he had lost and never truly known. Batman was, as he naturally is, suspicious of such a girl appearing NOW and set about trying to prove that Kara was not who she said she was. And then Wonder Woman found out about the girl, and insisted she come to the Amazon's home island and be given a proper young lady's education… in so far as daily sword-practice and wrestling can be considered proper for a young lady to know.

Sadly, the Amazon island was attacked and Kara kidnapped by the forces of alien despot and long-time Superman enemy Darkseid, who intended to turn Kara into one of his prime foot-soldiers. Taking a dangerous mission to Darkseid's home world of Apokolips, Superman and Batman would (in this most recent issue of Superman/Batman #) rescue Kara. Batman would come up with a cunning plan that would result in the planet's destruction and received Darkseid's word that he would do nothing to strike against Kara again in exchange for not blowing up the planet. They returned home, freed Kara of Darkseid's brainwashing and sometime later, presented her with a gift- a costume modeled on Superman's, made of the same near-unbreakable Kryptonian cloth. And all seemed well and happy, for we now had the Supergirl we had all wanted for some 20 years.

Or so we thought. In the final pages of Superman/Batman #12, as Clark is flying Kara to his parents' farmhouse to introduce them, they are attacked at the door by Darkseid. Darkseid announces that his previous promise does not stop him from killing Superman. As he shoots from his eyes the dreaded Omega Beams, which can destroy anything completely with a gaze, Kara throws herself between Darkseid and Superman, apparently being disintegrated into fine ash instantly.

Fans are outraged, that after all this time Supergirl could be killed so callously, not three pages into her career as a costumed crime-fighter. But we have to ask ourselves: would we really go through this much trouble only to negate it all so quickly? Would DC really backtrack so quickly over such a major decision with so much popular demand riding on it?

Probably. But the fact remains that there is one issue left and we don't know for certain that Kara is really dead. As any student of DC Comics Villain Powers can tell you, Darkseid's Omega Beams CAN destroy a person completely. They can also teleport, time-travel or contain their life force to be restored at a later time.

A more sticking point is the fact that once an Omega Beam has been fired, it homes in on its' intended target. Unless Jeph Loeb has missed a major continuity point (which hasn't happened once in all the many continuity-heavy stories I've seen him write), then Darkseid must have been intending to hit Kara and was counting on her moving towards Superman so it would look like he was the target. Darkseid is an evil strategist and a bloody good one. And it would be just his style to teleport Kara away and make Superman think she was dead.

Of course, I could be totally wrong on this as well. Superman/Batman #13 will tell us for sure.

Green Lantern #181

Let's see. Did Kyle Rayner die? No.

Did he become a murderer and betray everything he stands for? No.

Did he give up being Green Lantern? Almost.

Faced with Major Force, the super-villain who killed his girlfriend and apparently killed his mother in the last issue, Kyle Rayner was fighting mad and ready for blood. Last issue closed with him blasting Major Force several yards and then saying to the downed military man turned super soldier, "Get up, unless you want to die on your knees."

It was an empty threat. Force was willing to bet that despite everything, Kyle was not truly willing to kill him. More, he pointed out that his powers (which bind him to the quantum field of reality) make it impossible for him to be killed without later being reformed. He tried, and almost succeeded in getting Kyle to give the ring up peacefully, pointing out that despite all the good he had done with it, the ring had done little to make Kyle happy on a personal level. It had cost him a girlfriend and indirectly caused him to lose another. But his poor choice of words in praising Kyle's removing the ring….saying that the ring would go to someone who was up to the job… that set Kyle off, prompting a battle that ended with Major Force being dragged into deep space by an angry Green Lantern.

In the end, Kyle told Major Force that while he couldn't die, "there are worse things than dying." To that end, Kyle beheaded Major Force, cauterized the wound instantly so the nuclear energy inside him wouldn't be dispersed, sealed his head in a bubble and then hit it into space with the help of a ring-created tennis-player. In the end, Kyle decides there is nothing left for him on Earth except his mother (who it turns out was not really dead) and that his presence will just put her in danger. He decides to return to deep space, hoping that maybe there he can find a place where he is needed and can belong.

What will become of Kyle? Perhaps Green Lantern: Rebirth #1 will have some answers. But based on what I've seen so far, it seems unlikely that the Kyle-haters will have their way and have a full-blown execution with full dishonors and removal of his JLA parking privileges.

Hellblazer #200

Actually, there's nothing much at all about this book that has the fanboys pissed off. I just thought I'd mention it on account of it being a bloody good read and well worth the mentioning. Give 'er a shot. And Cheers!

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. NEW Matt Website.