When Words Collide: Catching Up With Green Lantern, Ultron & More

Mon, March 18th, 2013 at 12:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

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I READ SOME COMICS: MARCH 2013 EDITION

Hey, I know what you're thinking: "That Tim Callahan guy barely reads any new comics anymore. All he does is write about old comics that may or may not have been very good. He doesn't review new stuff. He doesn't talk about new stuff on any podcasts. He just sits on his longboxes and Tweets about obscure-ish role-playing game experiences."

But it's not true! (Well, only sort-of-true!)

Because just this month, I have read dozens of new comics! And let me tell you about some of them, because I know you've been waiting to find out what I think about a few of these things before you, yourself, firmly commit to your opinions about any of them:

"Legion of Super-Heroes" #17 by Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish, and Javier Mena

On some relatively recent episode of "Wait, What?" Graeme McMillan describes the plot of this Legion issue to Jeff Lester, and though Graeme shows complete scorn for every choice made in this issue, there's a moment, after he's done describing the comic that Jeff pauses for the moment, and I got the feeling that he was undecided about whether or not to declare the summary "amazing" or "horrifying." He went with an expression of the latter sentiment, but I know, deep down, that Jeff Lester longed to read the comic. How could he not?

Here's a comic -- and it's the one where Keith Giffen comes back to draw the Legion and co-write the series and it's only going to last for a few months because as soon as he came back to the Legion he decided (or maybe was asked) to leave the book -- and, anyway, here's a comic drawn by Giffen in high-Kirby dynamics, in which a splinter group of Legionnaires has crash-landed on an alien planet and Sun Boy's head has been mashed by massive machinery and everything is going crazy and the Fatal Five are about to be reunited and it turns out the alien planet is actually a culture built on the floating corpse of one of the Promethean Giants.

It is everything that has been missing from the Legion over the past few years, crammed into one issue. It is a moment of crisis for the team because it is a moment of crisis for the series -- one that has been deadly dull and seemingly self-absorbed. The Levitz Legion has read like well-intentioned explorations of a fictional universe -- not dissimilar to, say, the Kevin J. Anderson "Star Wars" novels or something -- but none of it has felt like it meant anything, even within its own context. In "Legion" #17, everything feels bigger, more potent, already exploding into the kind of story worth paying attention to. There's no reason to hold back on a divorced-from-current-continuity book like Legion, and Giffen's return to the series holds that idea up as a beacon.

But soon he'll be gone again. At least we had this, and whatever tiny blasts of energy will follow before he leaves.

"Batman Incorporated" #8 by Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham, Jason Masters, and Nathan Fairbairn

Everyone has already focused on the death of Damian Wayne, and that makes sense because it's a major moment that acts as a marker for the end of Grant Morrison's super-long run on the Batman Family comics. Damian's death has the dual effect of being not-particularly-surprising (even if you ignored the "Hey, Kids, Superhero Death!" media coverage that may have spoiled this issue for some, early plans for Damian's death were discussed by Morrison many times in the past) but also viscerally powerful. Tragedy isn't just comedy plus time. Tragedy is also the unfolding of the inevitable. "Romeo and Juliet" opens with a declaration of what will happen to the star-crossed lovers in the end. And it adds weight to every scene in the play.

So when Damian speaks to Dick Grayson, cracking about "What would you do without me?" and earnestly admitting "So far I'd say you've been my favorite partner," it's laced with the sadness of the goodbye that will never be.

Many moments in the comic show how good Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham can be at something so many writers and artists seem to struggle with: making ridiculous fictional characters seem fragile and heroic. Making the reader care about what happens next. Batman trapped in the safe, raging at Talia. The savage battle between Damian and his monolithic, unstoppable clone. The shattered glass as Batman rides a Man-Bat down from the sky and Damian dies at the hands of his monstrous other self.

Tragic, that. Masterfully done.

"Phabula" #1 by Dalton Rose

I didn't know anything about this comic before I saw it as part of the Monkeybrain lineup when I was updating some things on my iPad. (The iPad isn't my preferred method of reading comics. I'll buy physical copies if given a choice, almost every time. But the Monkeybrain selections are worth checking out.) So I checked out the preview and immediately bought it because Dalton Rose's art looked amazing.

And that was the correct decision.

Three things work in favor of "Phabula": (1) Dalton Rose uses a clean line and bold colors and wide panels to make the comic visually engaging on a tablet, (2) It features a cat-eyed young girl with a sword butchering gigantic monsters, and (3) It knows it's a quest story, tells you it's a quest story, but doesn't make a big deal out of it being a quest story.

That's more than three things, of course, but Dalton Rose gives us a lot in a visually spare package.

I love this comic. You might too.

"Green Lantern" #18 by Geoff Johns, Szymon Kudranski, Ardian Syaf, Mark Irwin, Alex Sinclair, and Tony Avina

This month, I actually read all eighteen issues of the New 52 version of "Green Lantern" (well, twenty, I guess, because there was a zero issue and an Annual in the stack, too). So I suppose I'm not just talking about #18 here, though I'll frame it around that. But the bigger story is that this is all leading up to Geoff Johns leaving the franchise that he has rebuilt.

(I didn't realize it when I started writing this week's column, but with my talk of Giffen leaving something he just returned to and Morrison leaving something he's spent over five years working on and Johns leaving the series that helped to make his name in the industry, this is an age of departures. This is the end of a bunch of things. That it feels like an end and not an opportunity for a new beginning says something favorable about these few guys, but probably doesn't bode well for my enthusiasm for what's scheduled to follow.)

Anyway, I reread a bunch of Geoff Johns "Green Lantern" comics, and here's my conclusion: Johns is really good at writing superhero comics that have a foundation in allegory but he's not so good with superhero comics that comment on society more directly. When Simon Baz comes into the series, Johns doesn't seem to want to wedge him into the massive allegorical conflict between good and evil, life and death (and all the colors of the rainbow in between), so we get some sort-of-human level stories about this guy who is most notable for being part of a minority persecuted for 9/11. I'd say it's heavy handed, but it's a superhero comic about emotions-as-superpowers, so heavy-handedness is part of the flavor, but it's the particular direction of the heavy-handedness that makes it seem inert. Simon Baz is still a mere caricature and can't carry the weight of the story just yet, but the "death" of Hal Jordan has put Baz at the center for the past few months.

With issue #18, the balance shifts back to Jordan (and Sinestro), with Baz as the supporting player. This is an issue about death and rebirth and sacrifice, so it's prime Johns storytelling stuff. Big moments. Declarations. Posturing. But also honest moments of vulnerability.

It's hard not to read this comic -- the whole "Green Lantern" run -- as a shadow play of Geoff Johns' inner monologue. It seems more personal than his other comics. In the final panel, Hal Jordan stands over a black abyss, wondering what will happen if he were to jump. The end is nigh.

"Age of Ultron" #1-2 by Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Hitch, Paul Neary, and Paul Mounts

Is this Brian Michael Bendis's remake of "Days of Future Past," but set in the almost-present?

Is this Brian Michael Bendis's rewrite of "House of M," but set in the "real" Marvel Universe?


Maybe. But it's also a pretty entertaining start to an event.

I suspect that everything will be explained by the end, and we'll get the backstory on how Ultron or the Ultron force or whatever has completely devastated and/or controlled the civilized world. But for now, two issues in, none of that matters. This is a Marvel Universe in the grips of a post-apocalyptic event, and it doesn't matter how it happened. All that matters is how the heroes will fix it.

And they're up against impossible odds. Resources are scarce. Robots patrol the skies. Moon Knight has a gun. Captain America is sad.

It taps into the "Secret Wars" mojo a little bit, that primal idea of an array of mismatched heroes gathering together in a bunker somewhere, plotting a strategy. But it mashes that into some of the "Ultimates" oh-so-seriousness thanks to the pencils of Bryan Hitch, and it gives everything a bit of the grounded physicality that "Secret Wars" instead directed toward action figure sales. "Age of Ultron" is geared toward selling the Marvel Universe as a thing that has pathos and catastrophe. And heroes who struggle and succeed when it looks like they never will.

I'm sold. For now.

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

TAGS:  when words collide, brian michael bendis, geoff johns, keith giffen, legion of super-heroes, green lantern, age of ultron

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