Grant Morrison’s Action Comics

Who is the best writer currently at DC? I’ll give you a hint; tt’s not Geoff Johns. It’s Grant Morrison, and his re imagining of Superman in the new Action Comics is just another example. 

This isn’t the first time we’ve read a Morrison-ized version of Superman; we first saw that starting in 2005’s All Star Superman. In his latest project, he does something completely different.

The Clark Kent in Action Comics is more of an every-man than a superman. He goes around stopping criminals, ranging from low street level types to corrupt business and government officials. This mysterious alien vigilante–clad only in a t-shirt, jeans and cape–has caught the attention of a military, especially General Lane (Lois’ dad) who has allied himself with a kindred spirit in Lex Luthor. Both of them have their own reasons why a super powered alien is a menace to society.

All of that changes when a secret deal that Luthor made with Brainiac backfires, and the city of Metropolis is taken by the evil sentient alien. They have no choice to trust Superman. All the while, Clark is having a hard time making ends meet just starting out as a reporter in Metropolis.

What makes this all work is how everything makes sense. Luthor doesn’t want Superman around, as it exposes the deal he made with Brainiac. General Lane has is own reservations, especially since his daughter is following Superman around. Even the origin of the Superman outfit makes sense; Clark finds it (turns out, the suit is Kryptonian battle armor) on board the ship that sent him to earth once he recovers it from the government.

There’s some other shorter stories included in this volume. One of them is Clark Kent meeting the Legion of Super Heroes for the first time with art by Andy Kubert. I really didn’t get into this that much, but mostly because I’ve never been able to get into those characters. But its important to the whole Superboy and future of DC mythos.

Action Comics is just a lot of fun. It’s a different, more modern take on a classic concept. It reminds me a lot of the original Ultimate Spider-Man series. You should definitely check this out.

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Batman Incorporated: Volume 1

Wow. Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated was mind-blowingly fun. The story picks up with Bruce Wayne travelling the world to add to Batman Incorporated, his non-profit foundation that supplies/arms crime fighters that he feels follow his views on vigilante-ism: basically keeping the world safe without excessive violence/murder.

This collection has Batman travelling around the world to both recruit and follow-up on his charges. The first two issues takes Batman to Japan with Catwoman on an attempt to recruit the local hero Mister Unknown, only to avenge his death at the hands of Lord Death Man with the help of Unknown’s sidekick.

From that point on the story explodes into a Pollock-esque explosion of Morrisonian goodness. Batman travels through South America to meet with the Argentinian hero El Gaucho, leading to a global search with Batwoman, Batwing and the rest of Batman Incorporated leading them to find out that the new mysterious organization Leviathan, which is led by Batman’s enemy/baby mama Talia ah Ghul.

The best part of Morrison’s work here is that the story is so complex. I’ve read and reread this over, and I still find new clues and things that stick out at me. There’s a fun little subplot story with Batman teaming up with Chief Man-of-Bats.

There’s a lot going on here and it continues in the new series Batman Incorporated that just started. I’ll definitely be checking that one out.

Batman and Robin: Batman Vs. Robin

Everyone knows that Grant Morrison’s writing can be a bit overwhelming if you jump in during the middle. That’s precisely what I did with his Batman and Robin series by jumping on in the second collected volume.

World be damned, this was a very straight forward story aside from the Oberon Sexton subplot (that ran itself through this whole series…thanks Wikipedia) and some references to the “Return of Bruce Wayne” story line.

Mainly this deals with Dick Grayson (now taking the role of Batman) and Damian Wayne (Batman’s long-forgotten son) investigating the possibility of Batman not having died at the end of Final Crisis.

The first half of the book has the Dynamic duo heading over to England to team up with Batwoman, as well as Knight and Squire (imagine a knight themed, British version of Batman and Robin), to protect a Lazarus Pit that a bunch of local super villains are fighting over. Things take a turn from the worse when Dick tries to resurrect what he assumed was the remains of Bruce, but turns out to be one of the Batman clones that Darkseid had made during Final Crisis. This mistake winds up almost costing Batwoman and Damian their lives.

Once everyone gets back to Gotham City, Dick and Damian discover some weird bat references in some old Wayne family portraits and artifacts, wondering if Bruce is time travelling (they’re smart; that’s the whole basis of “Return of Bruce Wayne” is about). Because being a super hero is never easy, Damian’s body is controlled by nanotechnology by his mother Talia in an effort to kill Dick for two reasons:

  1. Dick’s been trying to convince Damian that it’s not his destiny to take his mother’s role as the head of the League of Assassins, and urging him to use his talents/skills to help people, a concept which Talia despises.
  2. She really hates him.

Obviously our heroes survive, as the series went on for a while. Morrison wrote a great comic. What he excelled at was making Damian such an interesting character, especially with his relationships with everyone around him.

Damian acts like a smart-ass to Alfred, who takes it in stride. You can only imagine how insufferable Bruce was as a child.

Damian also has this weird brother/father/mentor relationship with Dick. Even though Damian considers himself to be the superior of the two, you get the feeling that he looks to Dick for guidance and approval. Also, it’s a total flip of the usual Batman/Robin dynamic; Dick is the more relaxed, easy-going one and Damian is the intense brooding character. This works really well.

There’s also a series of weirdness that Damian has with his parents. Even though he’s only been briefly united with his father, he is convinced that he is still alive. Compare that to his dealings with his mother Talia, who is completely detached with him. At the end of the book, she disowned him for not wanting to follow her in the family business, going so far to let him know that she has a clone of him that has taken his place as her son.

I don’t think she’s getting a Mother’s Day card.

Anyway, I was glad I picked this up and look forward to getting the rest of the series. It’s definitely a Batman story (even if it isn’t the traditional Batman), but its very light and easy going in tone (yes…there’s violence and conflict, but its not  beating you over the head).

Good job, Mr. Morrison.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#20 Happy Canada Day!

Sasquatch and Wolverine belt out "Oh Canada"

Sasquatch and Wolverine belt out "Oh Canada"

So how does Canada Day count as something I like about comics? Canada is a very important part of the comic book world for many different reasons!

The first and most obvious way is that the comic book world has seen its fair share of prominent comic book creators! This goes back as far as Joe Shuster–one of the co-creators of Superman! Did you now that John Byrne, Todd McFarlane, David Sim, Stuart Immonen and Hal Foster are just some of the great comic book artists that the Great White North has produced? Just imagine how much less fun comic books would be without them.

Although there are many Canadian super heroes (and super villains), Marvel has the most elaborate Canada in comics thanks to Byrne, who is graduate of Alberta College of Art and Design in Canada. Byrne’s first high-profile work was on Uncanny X-Men with Chris Claremont, where he created Alpha Flight, a super hero team mostly made of Canadians!

Sasquatch is one of the many proud Canadian super heroes.

Sasquatch is one of the many proud Canadian super heroes.

Alpha Flight was a project of the Canadian Department of National Defence’s Department H. Although the team’s lineup rotated, it usually featured Aurora and her twin brother Northstar (the first gay super hero), Arctic tundra goddess Snowbird, the gamma-radiation created man monster Sasquatch, and the diminutive Puck. Alpha Flight was the best of Canada’s three government organized super hero teams, ahead of Beta Flight and Gamma Flight. To continue the flightiness, there was even an Omega Flight, which was a group of villains who wanted to take out sometimes Alpha Flight leader Guardian.

Alpha Flight has been a staple of the Marvel Universe since introduced back in 1979. They’ve had countless on going and limited series through the years. But that’s not the only way Canada contributed to making super heroes.

The Canadian government also sponsored the ongoing top-secret Weapon X program, which recruits (and sometimes forces) mutants and humans and genetically modifies them into living weapons. Some of the most popular Canadian Weapon X products are Deadpool, Sabretooth and Wolverine, definitely the most popular Canadian super hero and arguably one of the top five!

Wolverine would be a monster on the blueline.

Wolverine would be a monster on the blueline.

Just as the real world Canada is allies with the United States, the same goes for the two nations in the Marvel Universe. Weapon X is the Canadian branch of the Weapons Plus Program, an agreement between the two nations to create super soldiers that goes back to World War II.

Grant Morrison added this new wrinkle to Weapon X during his run on New X-Men in the early 2000s. On the American side, their biggest success was the creation of the Super Soldier Syrum which powers Captain America.

So let’s celebrate Canada Day by honoring the country’s great comic creators and characters! Crank some Rush, drink a Molson if you want and have a great day!

Looking for something to read at the beach?

I was asked to put together some recommended comics that are suitable for an adult audience.  Here is a list I put together, including four based on recent superhero movies and four that have nothing to do with super heroes.

If you went to the movie theater this summer, chances are you’ve seen that Hollywood has been making movies based on comic books! Comic books (or their more sophisticated cousin the graphic novel) are not just for kids. In fact, most comic books are written for adults! Not only that, but story wise there is much more to comics then just super heroes!

Here are some great books that were the basis for some of this summer’s biggest movies, as well as some of the most popular graphic novels on the shelves!

Thor and Loki: Blood Brothers
written by Rob Rodi
art by Esad Ribic

This cautionary tale shows family dynamics of the godlike brothers Loki and Thor from this summer’s blockbuster. Showing their lives infancy to adulthood, Loki is constantly reminded of his inferiority in comparison to his brother Thor, as well as not being able cope with the utter disdain his father Odin has for him. These strained relationships show give a glimpse on how a lifetime of sadness and self-doubt created a rift between the brothers.

We3
written by Grant Morrison
art by Frank Quitely

After three beloved pets are abducted and forced to become military weapons, all they want to do is return to their human families. When they find out they are going to be “decomissioned” (destroyed), they set out on a perilous journey to survive. Morrison created three extremely sympathetic characters, that remind you of your childhood pets. The book may have limited dialogue, but Quitely’s innovative page design and stunning artwork will fully capture your imagination.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow
written by Dennis O’Neil
art by Neal Adams

Green Lantern made his movie screen debut this summer, but this story from 1970 is his most compelling adventure. With his more socially conscious friend Green Arrow at his side, the typically space faring but somewhat naive Green Lantern goes on a cross-country journey of self exploration through Vietnam War-era America. Along the way, the pair encounter racism and bigotry, drug abuse, sexism and discrimination, and corruption; all subjects not typically shown in comics at that point.

Pride of Baghdad
written by Brian K. Vaughan
art by Niko Henrichon

Based on a true story, this graphic novel shows the life of four lions trying to survive their escape from a war-torn Baghdad Zoo in the early 2000. Much to the chagrin of the other animals, Zill feels that his pride can only survive by leaving the gutted zoo.  By humanizing all of the zoo animals, a story is an examination of the role off family and the cost of freedom.

FablesFables
written Bill Willingham
with various artists
Did you ever wonder what it would be like if your favorite fairy tale characters were real? Willingham explores this topic in the Fables series. The fairy tale characters you grow up with live amongst in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, dealing with real world situations like the nasty divorce of Snow White and Prince Charming due to his infidelity, the now human Big Bad Wolf trying to redeem himself for the transgressions of his youth, and even the strained father-and-son relationship of Gepetto and Pinocchio. Each part of the series is different in subject matter, falling into genres like crime, mystery, romance and even political suspense.

Magneto: Testament
written by Greg Pak
art by Carmine Di Giandomenico

As seen in  X-Men: First Class, the superhuman Magneto is a Holocaust survivor and this book tells the story of how he–then a teenager named Max Eisenhardt–loses his family and barely survives. All elements of super heroics are stripped from the character, leaving a compelling narrative. The art is moody and dark, creating a sense of drama and sorrow. The book also features a powerful short story by comics legends Neal Adams and Joe Kubert, chronicling the life of Auschwitz prisoner Dina Babbitt, whose artistic talents were exploited by Josef Mengele in exchange for him guaranteeing her and her mother’s safety.

Captain America
by Ed Brubaker
art by Steve Epting

This ongoing series chronicles the most recent adventures of Captain America, from the return of his long assumed dead sidekick, to him facing and overcoming his own mortality. Filled with espionage and mystery, as well as dealing with themes of personal loss and adapting to an ever-changing world, Brubaker creates an intriguing take on one of America’s most iconic characters.

The Walking Dead
by Robert Kirkman
art by Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard

Zombies have taken the spot of vampires as America’s favorite supernatural creature. This series is less about monsters and horror, as it revolves around small town sheriff Rick Grimes and the community he protects, trying to find a way to survive in a post apocalyptic world. This has been adapted to a popular television series on AMC.

These and other great comics can be found at your friendly neighborhood comic book shop. Don’t know where you can find one? Go here or call 1-888-COMIC-BOOK. If you can’t find one, try your local library or one of the fine book retailers in your town or online.