Monday, January 30, 2012

WGTB reviews Defenders, Uncanny, FF & F4, Captain Atom, Superman & Alpha Flight

Recently, while listening to another great podcast by John Sinuntres, Spider-Man writer Dan Slott mentioned how he knows of so many readers will rush through their stack each Wednesday just to get on the blogosphere or message boards to give their opinions. Admittedly, I've also done that -- but not this week. This week, I’m going to borrow a page from the ‘Dan Slott School of Savouring Comics’ and put up some thoughts about books from all of January. Just because I can...  
From DC's Captain Atom #5, March 2012
Defenders #2
I’m really starting to enjoy this comic. I have to admit, back in December I wasn’t as taken with the first issue as I thought I would be, but #2 was great and next week's #3 is certainly anticipated. Overall, I love the 'throw-back' feel to the story and layout and I think Fraction's developing a good story by giving this gifted group of superheroes a challenge befitting of their talents. The art isn't outstanding, but it does the job and because of that the books gets 4/5 STARS. 

From Marvel's Defenders #2, March 2012
Uncanny X-Men #3
Gillen’s writing gave me the loudest ‘lol’ moment of my reading this past week courtesy of Namor, a character who seems to be getting around the Marvel Universe. This X-Men continues to be good, but at the same time, I'm also pleased we seem to be moving on from the Sinister story. Don't get me wrong, I love Sinister -- but I also think the multiplicity aspect of the character was starting to wear thin. Overall, however, the book is going well and has an intensity to it that is very welcome, especially now that it appears this team has taken its rightful place as the preeminent team in the Marvel U. 4/5 STARS

LOL! Namor just doesn't get it in Marvel's Uncanny X-Men #3, February 2012
I've really enjoyed the art in Uncanny X-Men #3, February 2012
FF#13, FF#14 & Fantastic Four #602
Reading these three books this past month was very fun and it has really been great seeing the original Four back together. Jonathan Hickman continues to churn out stories that are big in scope, yet have the personal touch of family that has long been the hallmark of the Reed/Storm dynamic. I would also say that Barry Kitson and Paul Mounts artwork of #602 was outstanding and really seems to work with Hickman’s grand themes. This particular issue was very reminiscent of my old favourite TV program Babylon 5. I also seem to have noticed some Japanese mecha (specifically Robotech) influences which was fun. The FF title has also been a good story, and while I'm not as enthusiastic about it as F4, I’m especially enjoying the relationship between Valeria Richards and Dr. Doom. Being a longtime fan of the John Byrne run of the 1980s, it has been great seeing Hickman’s Von Doom become less of the caricature of the evil genius and become friends with the scion of his old nemesis. 4/5 STARS (Collectively) 
Kitson's art has had a Robotech-type influence in Marvel's Fantastic Four #602, March 2012
Epic space battles in Marvel's Fantastic Four #602, March 2012
More big ideas from Hickman in Marvel's FF #13, February 2012
Captain Atom #5
About mid-month, DC released the list of the New 52 that were being cancelled after issue #8 and I really felt this book was going to be on that list. My information was purely anecdotal, but Captain Atom just didn’t seem to be getting the same attention (and sales) as other books. Well, it wasn't and I am glad because I have been enjoying this book on the whole. That said, #5 didn’t especially grab me story wise: the pace isn’t as quick as it could be and a hero of nearly infinite power certainly can do more than battle giant blobs of organic matter. But where the story has been less inspired, I should say how the artwork of Krul and Williams II has been edgy and highly enjoyable. So, if I could offer these fellows some humble advice, it would be to take Captain Atom into outer space or give him a fast paced challenge worthy of his amazing powers and story. This would keep me enthusiastically slapping down my money and hopefully keep this title going well into the future. 3.5/5 STARS. 
The story was a little slow but the art from DC's Captain Atom #5 (March 2012) was outstanding!
Superman #5
In a similar vein to Captain Atom, I've been enjoying this new take on Superman, but also feel it is suffering from a pace problem. In this particular issue Superman battles an elemental and in the course of that, he inhales his enemy which changes his personality into a Draconian anti-crime near-criminal who starts to hassle Metropolis. Obviously, he is possessed but it seems this series has been too much 'establishing' and not enough real super-action. I know this lands me in a position where I'm critiquing George Perez, a comics legend, but I would like to see more of the great Superman myth and because of that can only give it a 3.5/5 STARS.

Great art from DC's Superman #5, March 2012
Alpha Flight #8
To conclude, we come back to Marvel with Alpha Flight #8, the last book of the eight issue maxi which started in the summer.  All in all, this was a good series, but has also been one of mixed sentiments. From FanExpo’s announcement of a continuing series, to the surprising announcement back to an eight issue maxi, this has been a fun yet turbulent ride for fans of Canada's superhero team. So although I liked the story, and enjoyed seeing my old favourite, Wolverine, I also felt it ended on an abrupt note which could have been played out a little longer. That said, it was a reasonably good series and it was good seeing the group back on the pages of Marvel. Pak and Van Lente did a good job at the story-telling and Eaglesham's art, while not the most innovative, did the job that a comic should.  
From Marvel's Alpha Flight #8, March 2012
At the end of the book Van Lente, Pak and Eaglesham each wrote a ‘thank you’ note to the supporters of the book and briefly addressed the FanExpo announcement; the economic factors that dialled it back; and possible future stories that include the Flight. Of course, I won’t tell you exactly what was said, nor will I include an image of the message (go buy Alpha Flight #8 if you want to see what they said) but all in all it was a nice message and you could tell the three enjoyed working on the book and were somewhat disappointed to see it end. But alas, that is the industry we love! 4/5 STARS for the series.

So there you are: some thoughts on the comics we've seen in January 2012. I'll be reviewing Winter Soldier #1 when it comes out this Wednesday, so stay tuned and thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The New DC Comics logo

I’m not sure. 

Part of me really likes it. It’s clean and modern, giving DC a mature look that should appeal to older readers. On the other hand, it doesn’t much look like a comic logo and that takes something emotionally from the corporate representation. So, sorry, if you’re looking for an opinion I can't yet offer one -- and will probably have to see it on Swamp Thing or Batman to really make the call.  

But let me know what you think. I'm not that conversant in the methods behind corporate logos, so please share your opinion. 

NB: I'll be back with some new blog postings soon -- including one I'm currently researching about copyright law and comics, along with the usual reviews, etc. Thanks for reading (and following!) and I will talk to you soon.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Spaceknights and Just Wars

One of my favourite comic book writers is Bill Mantlo. Bill started writing in the late 70s and was prolific: having fantastic runs with The Incredible Hulk, Spectacular Spider-Man, Alpha Flight, The Micronauts and one of my favourites, ROM Spaceknight. And while I’m not going to talk about what happened to Bill right now, I invite you to read his story here and do whatever you can to support him at this time.   
This comic is 30 years old this month. Marvel's ROM Spaceknight #26, January 1982
Recently, I went back to Bill’s enjoyable run on ROM and found myself absorbed in the 30 year old #26 and #27, a story called 'Galactus on Galador'. Like most of Bill’s work, I found this short story both enjoyable and provocative, raising some interesting ethical and legal issues with regard to the conflict the Spaceknights have with Galactus and their old enemies the Dire Wraiths. 
Marvel's ROM Spaceknight #27, February 1982
It begins with what one might call a borrowed story from Lee/Kirby's Fantastic Four ‘Galactus Trilogy’, but quickly evolves into something else. When Galactus and his herald arrive on Galador, (home world of the Spaceknight's people), the Spaceknights understand the looming threat and do their best to repulse Terrax. Meanwhile, ROM heads to Galactus’ ship to attempt a negotiation. During that parley a deal is struck: 
From Marvel's ROM Spaceknight #26, January 1982
Splash from Marvel's ROM Spaceknight #27, February 1982
From Marvel's ROM Spaceknight #27, February 1982
'Give up on this world and we will give you another' is ROM's proposal. Of course, this world is Wraithworld, home of the Dire Wraiths.
From Marvel's ROM Spaceknight #27, February 1982
Which provoked me: is this is a moral or legal bridge too far by the Spaceknights? In both this and earlier ROM comics, we learn of the Galadorians just and long-standing grievance with the Dire Wraiths, and I would say they have an absolute right and duty to defend themselves. This is the whole raison d'ĂȘtre of the Spaceknights to begin with.
From Marvel's ROM Spaceknight #27, February 1982
But by manipulating Galactus into obliterating the Dire Wraith home world, has ROM crossed the line into the illegal or immoral? The Dire Wraiths are unquestionably evil, but do they also not have a right to live? This is what got me thinking about Just Wars and how we humans have come to determine what is legal and illegal in war.
From Marvel's ROM Spaceknight #27, February 1982
While the idea of a 'Just War' goes back to Classical times, it was in 1625 that Dutch philosopher Hugo Grotius wrote De jure belli ac pacis (On the Law of War and Peace) which summed up the evolved Western thinking about just war, itself an idea descended from ancient and medieval thinkers including Cicero and St. Thomas Aquinas. Grotius’ list was fivefold:

1) There must be a just cause
2) There must be a right authority or legitimate sovereign initiating the war.
3) There must be right intention on the part of the parties using force
4) The response must be proportional
5) The force must be last resort

In the conflict between Galactus and the Spaceknights, it seems they are doing what is needed to protect themselves. But once they make an ally of Galactus and decide to use his overwhelming power against their enemy, have they crossed the line? No one would doubt the Dire Wraiths are evil and the cause against them is a just one. Moreover, the Spaceknights derive their authority from a legitimate sovereign and their battle is (mostly) fought with good intentions and is one of last resort. But by enlisting Galactus to annihilate the Dire Wraiths, are they being proportionate as per number four (and possibly number three) of the Grotius criteria? 

To determine this let's look at proportionality, a very important and pervasive concept in almost every legal system in the western world. Just like you might say in criminal law, the punishment should fit the crime, so too in warfare you might say that any just war would not include the absolute destruction of a nation, even if they initiated the conflict.  

But isn't this what ROM knows will happen if Galactus devours Wraithworld: the destruction of that place and the end of the Dire Wraiths? And is this a proportionate or well intentioned response? Personally, I’m not convinced. I know of Marvel villains, the Dire Wraiths are among the worst, but do they also not have a right to live?  

From Marvel's ROM Spaceknight #27, February 1982
In recent human history we need only look at the Nuremberg trials, themselves the precursors of International Criminal Court in The Hague as examples of proportionality in action. When even as great a leader as Churchill wanted swift, bullet-based retribution against the surviving Nazi leadership, President Roosevelt and later President Truman (thanks to persuasive arguments made by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the US and eventual Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Robert H. Jackson) decided that even these despicable men should have their day in court. This in turn, led to hastened reconciliation with the German people, who would eventually become an important pillar of the world community. Likewise in Japan, the similar Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal eventually let the Japanese move on and become another important contributor to the world community.   

From Marvel's ROM Spaceknight #27, February 1982
Of course, Galactus fails in devouring Wraithworld and I am now going well beyond the scope of a comic blog. (Nor do I think Marvel will ever publish a comic that has the Dire Wraiths putting the Spaceknights on trial.) But I do believe that ROM, by enlisting Galactus to destroy Wraithworld, went too far. Of course, this is just an opinion, but it's also a reason why Bill Mantlo's writing was so good and why I'd like to thank him again for using comic books to provoke thought. Although ROM Spaceknight #26 and #27 are thirty years old this month, they are just as interesting and enjoyable to read today as they would have been then.  

If you are interested in starting an investigation into just wars and the law, I highly recommend The Nuremberg Legacy: How the Nazi War Crimes Trials Changed the Course of History by California Judge Norbert Ehrenfreund. Ehrenfreund was a US Army journalist for The Stars and Stripes during the war and witnessed the main trial first hand. His book is an accessible primer for anyone interested in Nuremberg and its legacy. Further, as a law student, I do not claim to be an expert on these legal issues so if you think I've missed something important or would just like to offer a comment, please feel free to (respectfully) add one.