Monday, January 20, 2014

It All Started with the Big Bang! Part 18! (Issue #34)

This is the second-to-last issue of Big Bang Comics, and the last one with actual Big Bang talent behind it; #35 is a crossover with Alan Moore's 1963 by Jim Valentino, and while it sort of reads like a "JLA vs Champions of Angor/Avengers vs. Squadron Supreme" story, I don't think it's really in the same spirit as other Big Bang fare. Especially not this one.

See, Wonder Woman's Silver Age material is not so fondly remembered as Superman's or Batman's. Among other things, she had the most pitiable rogue's gallery imaginable, with luminaries like Mouse Man and Dr. Domino. The solution to that was to make Silver Age Venus more of an ersatz Silver Age Thor; this makes her, along with the Badge, one of only two recurring Big Bang characters based partially on a Marvel hero. There's also some New Gods smatterings -- Venus's sidekick Cupid, seen tangling with Venus above, is clearly modeled after Mr. Miracle's sidekick Oberon.

The story turns out to be a pretty standard origin deal, though since Silver Age Venus' adventures in the Golden Age are still in-continuity, it's a rare re-origin. The Roman Gods have long abandoned Earth after they stopped being worshiped, and now live in a new Olympus on Jupiter. Well, most of them -- apparently Jupiter's brothers Neptune and Pluto, as well as his son Mars, live elsewhere (but not on their own namesake planets/dwarf planet, oddly). 

For the goddess of love and laughter, for some reason we're introduced to Venus in a sparring match with her stepson Cupid, who is hilariously envisioned as a balding, white-haired, musclebound dwarf. Yes, her stepson; he was born to some magic double of her by her ex-husband Mars. I don't really know why she hangs out with him, though. Or why he would look so much older than her.

Mercury is so tight-lipped he doesn't even deliver the message, he just directs them to Juno, who reveals that Jupiter is ailing. Venus goes to her father, who tells her that the gods are all in peril of dying as he is, because man's belief in them has waned so. Neptune, Pluto, and Mars remain strong, as they are still revered by many, and they will seek to take over the Earth once more upon Jupiter's passing -- thus Venus is to head to Earth to raise the good gods' stature in the human consciousness. 

The scene cuts to Pluto and Mars, who are spying on Jupiter and see this whole exchange. Like I said, Venus is a little Thor and a little New Gods -- rather than a god acting the part of Loki, Pluto and Mars play the roles of Darkseid and Kalibak, the fiendish overlord and his brutish aide-de-camp. Although, looking at the cover again, you'd think the roles were the reverse of how they are in the comic -- check out Mars' confident arm-fold vs Pluto's primal rage face.

They exposit about how actively they've been manipulating the world of late -- spreading hatred, prejudice, racial tension, etc, and are firm in their belief that Venus cannot drive mankind to love and laugh again. Also Mars has a grudge against her for spurning him. You know, if he can just spy on her whenever, I think that's the solution to his problem right there.

The human she rejected Mars for was Jason Proudhawk, an American GI. She was heartbroken when he was shot down in Korea, and retreated to Olympus, where she's been moping about it ever since. Gee, I wonder if he's still alive?

 Despite Jupiter not really mentioning him being part of the plan, Cupid tags along on the journey -- partially to watch out for Venus, partially for beer and pizza. I'm almost buying Cupid as a cute comic-relief sidekick, except he's not nearly as annoying as a real Silver Age comic-relief sidekick.

If you're like me, you'd think "hey, so the story can finally start for real now!" at this page... but it ends on the next one (or two, it's a spread), as Venus and Cupid land in the middle of a Vietnam War protest, between angry protesters and riot police. Man, she never got to meet her Funky Flashman!

Still, it was a pretty cool story. The Kirby impression was fairly convincing, and you can't argue with how straightforward the plot was. You'd be surprised the kind of stuff I have to leave out or gloss over when I cover most of these stories.

Friday, January 10, 2014

It all started with the Big Bang! Part 17! (issue #33)

For the first time in what seems like forever, this issue is a Round Table of America joint. We haven't seen them in a team context since the Savage Dragon met them at the Coolidge Dam. This also means the lesser RTA members, the ones who don't rate solo adventures, get to take center stage however briefly.

Oh, and speaking of, after that we have the missing story from Big Bang #18, featuring the Whiz Kids (who I don't remember being mentioned in the text summary in BB #18, but whatever). Speaking of, that's another group we haven't seen in a while.

The RTA's changed since we last saw them -- the Atomic Sub is dead by this point, for one thing. Robo Hood, the loose equivalent of the Green Arrow, is on the squad. Oh, and probably the most striking difference: Mike Merlin, the annoying Snapper Carr counterpart who also has magic powers, has since been transformed into Miss Merlin, who acts as a more direct Zatanna stand-in.

Jon Cosmos is basically Adam Strange, though his costume makes him look like a forgotten Legionnaire. The story doesn't pull any punches -- the stakes are laid out right on the first page. Jon Cosmos contacts the Round Table of America to stop the Gas Giants of Jupiter before they destroy Planet Omega. Well, he actually home-invades their headquarters in person, not even bothering to call ahead. 

Other than Robo-Hood and the Hummingbird, who had guard duty, the rest of the RTA had to drop whatever they were doing to answer the call to the Hall of Heroes.  Then Jon Cosmos' Matter Transporter sends them to Planet Omega... except for one.

Miss Merlin proves to be the Rudolph of the RTA -- she's excluded from the adventure for a lame reason, and left at HQ to cry herself to sleep instead. She's not even one of the floating heads on the splash page above. The Knight Watchman also seemed a little unnerved by her, and isn't used to calling her "Miss Merlin" instead of "Mike". You know, she took the time out of her day to show up for this mission, and then you exclude her?

I don't know, something tells me this isn't an isolated incident and that the RTA (or at least the Knight Watchman, the speaker in the above panel) makes a habit of marginalizing Miss Merlin. That's a fairly dark note for a space adventure to start on, isn't it? And I don't even know what to make of it, all I got from that scene is "Wow, the Knight Watchman is an asshole."

Functionally, this turns out to be mostly a Jon Cosmos/Robo Hood/Mr. Martian story, as they're the ones who either set the plot in motion or directly resolve it. Just as well, since other than Miss Merlin they're the only RTA members without solo adventures. They have to shine sometime, after all.

The RTA splits up to combat one Gas Giant each, as the big guys lay siege to several key locations for Planet Omega, including a solar power plant and an air purifier. This place only has one of each of those? Must be a small planet.

Gas Giants can turn people into gas, as they did with the Hummingbird here and Jon Cosmos' wife Princess Odyri prior to the beginning of the comic. I dig Hummingbird and all, but I'm not exactly surprised that he didn't have a lot to offer in this situation. Ultiman himself falls prey to the Gas Giants' gas transformation; he and Hummingbird are brought to safety before they dissipate, though. Only the Jon Cosmos/Robo-Hood team succeeds in vanquishing the Gas Giant they set out to defeat, courtesy of a laser shot its armor. Robo-Hood is a real wisecracker in the Spider-Man mold, by the way, nothing at all like your typical robot hero.

Mr. Martian and the Knight Watchman follow electroscope readings to a hidden spaceship, where the Knight Watchman is knocked out cold by its owner, infamous space villain Black Corona.

Black Corona seems vaguely like Brainiac but by my estimate just generally represents your typical evil space guy. Anyway, Mr. Martian is subjected to an utterly textbook "we're not so different", "we could rule together" speech, based on the logic that he owes nothing to the people of Planet Omega. Black Corona's really accommodating, and gives him a few hours to think it over. Oh, and Corona also reveals his plan to hurl Planet Omega into the sun. Mr. Martian communicates the details of the plan to the rest of the RTA, who put the kibosh on it pretty quickly before infiltrating the ship and bringing Corona down.

 In the aftermath, the Gas Giants show up again, this time peacefully. Turns out Black Corona had enslaved them, encasing their true gaseous forms in huge armored bodies and using their attacks to distract the people of Omega from his real plan. They reverse the "turned into gas" process on those afflicted (well, on the three named characters known to have been afflicted). Faced with the knowledge that they'll never reach Jupiter without being stuck in these forms forever (not really explained why), they remove the armor and dissipate into the atmosphere. Mr. Martian seems oddly happy about the whole thing and delivers a closing monologue, like he's Captain Picard or something.

The long-promised missing story from BB #18, eeeh, would probably be better in that context. Without the novelty of the Dragon crossover's gimmick (shifting art styles reflecting the time period) it's a little stale, though the Perez imitation is pretty great.

The Whiz Kids themselves don't do much in this story, sadly, but I'm fairly sure this is the team from the Whiz Kids one-shot and that the 'extra' Non-Galahad/Cyclone/Thunder Girl members get all the appropriate backstory and focus in that one. Anyway, this leads into a huge Everybody vs the Time Being fight.

In the melee Dragon recognizes the Earth-B Blitz from a previous encounter, and notes that there are two of him engaged in the battle. Since this whole thing started when a guy met himself, Dragon thinks it's in everyone's best interest for the Blitz to help him finish the Time Being off by taking him back to where it all began -- which is accomplished via the Cosmic Treadmill, duh.

...which is where the story from Big Bang #18 picks up. I'm not gonna lie to you, this segment was not worth the wait, as visually impressive as the two-page spread of the fight against the Time Being is. Being that this is Big Band #33, there's only one more regular issue of note (#35 is a crossover with 1963, brought to you by none of the normal Big Bang writers or artists) before the one-shots and Big Bang Presents.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

What the Hell is up with Forever Evil #4?

Bada-bang, here it comes! Forever Evil #4 wasn't as bad as #2, which is thus far the low point due to excessive quantities of Johnny Quick, but it was still noxious as all Hell. Let me show you why and how.

We open in the Batcave, where I'm still surprised that Johns picked Batman to be the League's only representation in this series. He has a lot of pet characters in the JL, after all. Catwoman's there, too, and it's clear that this is the first time she's been in the 'cave.

I sort of get the Nightwing thing now, it was used to give Batman a stronger motivation for bringing down the Syndicate. Oh, and that's the wheel of a steam-powered motorcycle, by the way. It's not in running condition, illustrating that Batman is prepared but not, like, that prepared. Although a worldwide power outage wouldn't affect most internal combustion vehicles in the first place; didn't Johns ever play Devil Survivor?

Does she really think Batman needs a special toy to handle her? Anyway, he shows off his stuff -- a kryptonite ring, a yellow Sinestro Corps ring, that sorta stuff. We're really treading Infallible Bat-God territory here, but I'm letting that slide just this once because there's nobody else to challenge the Syndicate besides Lex's Legion of Doom.

Speaking of, there's an incredibly idiotic scene where Luthor compares himself to the members of his little team -- he talks about how people see him as a shark over a shot of Black Manta, for instance. 

Ultraman kills Metallo for his kryptonite heart in a fight that isn't even a fight. It was so worthwhile to develop Metallo in Villain Month just to kill him three months later, let me tell you.

Superwoman manages to sneak up on Ultraman and chides him for being paranoid, absorbing more kryptonite than he needs to because he's afraid of whatever destroyed Earth-3. She also reveals that she's pregnant and tries to stoke the Ultraman-Owlman feud by saying Owlman's plotting against the team. Geoff Johns has issues with women, is what I'm getting out of this.

As if Johns were punishing me for my continual disdain for the Power Ring character, he's once again the main Syndicate member in this issue -- Ultraman and Superwoman stop being relevant after appearing in two or three pages, and Grid puts in a token appearance that's still mostly dominated by Power Ring. Deathstorm abandons him and Ultraman charges PR with hunting down the Rogues himself. Power Ring freaks out and demands support from Grid.

The Doom Patrol, do they exist in the new continuity? I know Robotman was in My Greatest Adventure... Whatever, I guess they're established now if they weren't before. Meanwhile, for reasons not that clear, Luthor and his team break into Wayne Enterprises from the sewers. There's a 'cute' little moment between Bizarro and Luthor when it turns out Bizarro is afraid of the dark. And Luthor tells him a story to help him be brave. I stress that I am in no way joking, this is really what happens.

It's the feel-good story of the year! The zany but heartwarming adventures of Luthor and Bizarro! Bizarro finally got his name after hearing that he was called "B-Zero" and mangling it, which I admit was better than having some other character mishear it or something.

This seems as good a time as any to mention that Black Adam's jaw was broken by Ultraman last issue, and so his speech can't be understood by the other characters but is fairly easy for a reader to figure out by sounding out the words. It's mostly identical to how Johns' old Flash villain Murmur talks -- regular words and sentences with the vowels taken out. Apparently a broken jaw sounds the same as having no tongue and your lips sewn together. Or just trying to talk with your teeth clenched and lips half closed.

Luthor and Batman had the same idea, and they run right into each other in the Wayne building.

But before a real fight can break out between them, Power Ring shows up with an utterly random assortment of villains. He also says a cringe-worthy one-liner.

Wow, almost forgot that the Syndicate had every regular villain under their thrall. Especially since Ultraman's spent his last two meaningful appearances beating up regular villains. Incidentally, this is a fairly random assortment -- Deathstroke, Copperhead, Giganta, I think that's Blockbuster, and Shadow-Thief? The connection...? 

From a technical standpoint, you could argue that Power Ring is the perfect Batman villain, as he is nothing if not cowardly (jury's out on superstitious). Of course, it's practically bullying to both be Batman and a Yellow Lantern and go up against him. As a sidenote, Batman is 100% not evil, unlike every other person with a yellow ring besides I guess Nero -- Johns unwittingly pointed out a flaw in his own premise by showing a Yellow Lantern use his ring's powers for good, thus illustrating that the Sinestro Corps probably shouldn't be the mustache-twirling corps of pure evil.

It turns out that, oddly, Power Ring isn't vulnerable to yellow ring crap -- he handles Batman's constructs and even takes and destroys his ring very easily. And then Sinestro shows up.

I was surprised by Sinestro's appearance because I don't know what stake he could possibly have in all this. He probably doesn't care about Earth, for one thing, and I know he was a notable absence in the villain meet-up in #1. Most probably he's just there to help round out the Legion of Doom. That or Johns wants to do the "you killed my beloved -- er, arch-enemy!" thing he did with Black Manta again.