Monday, January 23, 2017

Back Issue Review: DC Comics Presents #56 - Maaldor

The Supergirl television show returns from its winter hiatus this evening with a much anticipated episode directed by Kevin Smith. The episode titled "Supergirl Lives" has Kara sent off world to a red sun planet where she apparently engages in combat. Knowing how big fan of comic books Kevin Smith is, I have been looking for to this episode for some time. But a little nugget was released last week which made me knowingly smile. Apparently there is a new aliens species on this episode called Maaldorians. here is a link to that small new site:

There is only one reason to name the species Maaldorians. It has to be arrest on the character Maaldor, a  villain from the late 80s and first seen in DC Comics Presents #56. has this issue also includes Supergirl analogue Power Girl as well as including the heroes participating in combat, I thought this would be a fun issue to review here.

I also find it slightly interesting that this cover from 1983, closely resembles the iconic cover of Crisis On Infinite Earths #7. It is a powerful image by comic legend Gil Kane.

"Death in a Dark Dimension" was written by Supergirl scribe Paul Kupperberg and drawn by Superman legend Curt Swan with inks by Dave Hunt.

I always looked forward to these two characters interacting and so bought this book when it was first on the spinner rack. I didn't collect All-Star Comics and so only read about Power Girl in the annual JLA/JSA team-ups. Given that the premise of this story is Maaldor looking for a challenge, I wish this book was a true free-for-all with both Supermen, Power Girl, and Supergirl all thrown into the mix. But I guess space limitations would make that impossible.

The issue opens up with this nice splash of Superman using his body as a shield to block a plasma beam from space targeted for the Daily Planet. It is unclear where the beam originates from but given the trajectory, someone with great power or technology must have sent it on so precise a trajectory.

Superman heads into space where a bunch of meteors seems to target him, changing course and enveloping him before some rift makes him disappear.

Meanwhile on Earth 2, Power Girl has to shut down an electrical plant which seems to have been the origin of the plasma beam. She knows that makes no sense but she deals with it. She then has to rescue a plane whose engine simply shuts down. After the rescue, she also disappears.

During all these challenges, there has been a sense that someone has been watching the Kryptonians.

We cut to another dimension where a seemingly omnipotent warrior Maaldor has finally conquered his entire universe. He is a fickle and impatient lord, killing his followers and enemies alike with a mere thought. But he finally admits that he is simply bored.

Superman and Power Girl arrive together and before they can figure out what is happening, Maaldor tells of his plight.

He needs amusement and he hopes the Kryptonians can give it to him. He is angry and insane because nothing can stop him or even give him a moment's pause.

This reminds me of the famous Twilight Zone episode 'A Nice Place to Visit' where a crook dies and goes to a place where he always wins at everything but never has a challenge. In the end, the place turns out to be Hell.

When Kal and Kara refuse to fight Maaldor so he can 'get his jollies', he reminds them that he has an entire universe under his thumb. With but a thought he could commit murder, genocide on a massive scale. If they are heroes, they will fight him.

It is the right threat to hold over Superman and Power Girl. They could never let millions die because of their inaction.

And it is a nice ploy by Maaldor. He knows they wouldn't stand down.

Suddenly, Kal and Kara find themselves in an old fashioned arena, armored and armed with melee weapons while Maaldor and a crowd watch on.

The two quickly ditch the gladiator garb. They won't need that. And as an opening round, Maaldor sets monsters against Superman and Power Girl, beasts they quickly dispatch.

I don't always know if Swan was great at fight sequences, but this splash page with different angles, gives it a nice feel of a wild brawl. No structure.

With the monsters defeated, it is time for the main throwdown, Kryptonians vs. Maaldor.

What I like is that Power Girl is the one who takes the initiative. She isn't going to wait. She wades in, saying she has faced bigger threats with the JSA, and really hammers him in the gut. Incredibly, Maaldor shrugs it off.

And then, using just his mind, he seems to kill Kara with a thought.

She really appears dead. And that incenses Superman. Superman really seems to fly off the handle, vowing the beat down Maaldor.

There are several pages of straight up combat between the two. And again, Swan gives us a non-paneled splash page, filled with energy. And I really like that we see Superman using all his powers to try to get an upper hand. This has a frenetic feel as arena fights should feel.

But you understand just how powerful Maaldor is. He defeats Superman, almost too easily.

Really nice art here.

But before Maaldor can land the killing blow, Power Girl re-enters the fray. It turns out that the Kryptonian physiology is a little different than Maaldor is used to. His death stare stunned her. For the first time in a while, Maaldor is down.

And this panel is very well conceived. The angle, looking up at Superman, gives our hero the 'high ground'. And Superman breaking out of the panel border accentuates that as well.

But how do you beat Maaldor? He might be down but he isn't out. And knowing the death stare isn't enough, my guess is he could still defeat these two.

Ahh ... but Superman gives Maaldor the ultimate challenge. Can he face himself? Looking into his own soul??

It seems a little bit of a deus ex machina. I think Maaldor would look inside himself and be pretty pleased.

But instead, when he looks inside, and sees his black soul, he implodes.

Maaldor defeats himself.

Seems a little bit of a cop out. But when you set up an omnipotent being, you need something omnipotent to beat them. And that isn't easy.

Nice page again, the overlapping faces and eyes add that layer of insanity.

I especially love the ending.

The evil and insanity of Maaldor was so great that he has created a new plane of pure madness. It is so vile that Superman cauterizes the rift so none can spill out. So even if Maaldor is gone, his evil is not. I very much like that something as omnipotent as this villain wouldn't simply wink out of existence. He would persist in some way.

This isn't the last we see of Maaldor. He appears briefly in Crisis on Infinite Earths. And there is another DCCP issue where Superman enters that mad zone.

Hmmm ... maybe Maaldor is the madness zone between Earth and Meta in Shade the Changing Man?

Will the Maaldorians on the Supergirl show be as evil? Will we see an arena? Maaldor himself? I can only hope.

As for this issue, it is a nice look at the dimensional super-cousins. And certainly worth the $1 you would spend when you see it in the bargain bin!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: Superman #15

Superman #15 came out this week, the second part of the sweeping Multiplicity storyline, pitting the Supermen of the multiple Earths against a common enemy who is hunting them. Even though we are only two issues in, this story has a huge scope and the feel of a company wide crossover. I have really been caught up in it and that is great news as a reader.

Writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason lean on Grant Morrison's Multiversity mini-series, bringing in the Justice Incarnate team to team up with the Superman of Earth 0. They showcase many of the 52 worlds that were laid out in the orrery of worlds. In fact, Tomasi and Gleason might be in charge of defining some of Morrison's unknown Earths. At least one is defined in this issue.

But there also seems to healthy dollop of Final Crisis: Beyond Superman mini-series as well. I feel I need to go back and reread that mind-trip to see if it adds anything here.

This issue is a quick read. Artists Ed Benes draws the bulk of the issue's pages and Ryan Sook, Clay Mann, and Jorge Jimenzez fill in some place,  providing "big art" here. We get near splash pages, splash pages, double page splashes, and wide screen effects over two pages. This is the very definition of big art. And yet, despite the speed with which I read this, I felt this material deserved this treatment. This really is a sprawling story and big stories deserve big art. And shockingly, Benes reels in the cheesecake, giving us iconic hero poses rather than butt shots. I love the cover by Ryan Sook as well. What is more Superman than protecting a depowered Captain Carrot bunny?

Lastly, there is a reveal here ... a nameless reveal ... but it does cross off one mystery. Who is the villain here?

On to the book!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Supergirl #6 Bengal Variant - Superman #233 Homage - Edited

A couple of days ago, Steve Orlando tweeted out this pic (from Comicosity), the Bengal variant of Supergirl #6.

If you know me at all, you can imagine how over the moon I was at this image.

Everything about this works - the smile on Supergirl's face as she smashes these chains, the links flying everywhere, the power in this pose! It is just perfect.

And it is even more perfect because it is clearly an homage to one of my favorite comics of all time!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: Superwoman #6

Superwoman #7 came out last week and was something of an overstuffed and semi-confusing issue. One of my compliments about this book is that Phil Jimenez (as is his style) tends to really fill his issues with story. Between scene changes, inset panels, and strong dialogue, a Jimenez issue often feels like two issues. It isn't coincidence that Superwoman tends to be the last review I do the week it comes out. It takes me that long to digest.

But this issue felt as if Jimenez tried to put a bit too much into the issue without as much explanation or discussion as felt I needed. Things seem to happen and we move on before we learn why what happened happened. So why does the Superwoman Bizarro break free? Why is that Bizarro inexplicably ripped in half in one panel but whole a page later? What did Lena learn from the Kryptonite Man? When did Natasha make an squadron of armors? Etc etc.

It also doesn't help that another aspect of this story is to build up Lena at the expense of Lex. I just commented in my review of Action that Dan Jurgens is making me rethink Lex as a possible hero. Here, perhaps to narrate a hot political topic, we learn that Lex takes credit for Lena's work, steals her ideas, and is only who he is because of Lena. And I don't know if I need that wrinkle in Lex's story. Why play out feminism issues in Lex's origin, something pretty firmly set? Why not use all that story for a different villain with less history? It is a good story to be told but maybe not with Luthor.

The art is a mix of Jimenez, Jack Herbert, and Matt Santorelli and they do well mixing in the action sequences and talking scenes.

But still, I left this issue a bit reeling. I don't necessarily know what truly happened here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: New Super-Man #7

Since its inception, I have been enjoying the New Super-Man book. This book is a sort of wonderful mix of political intrigue, teenage angst, humor, and action from writer Gene Luen Yang. Where was all of this in 'The Truth'? Last issue ended the first arc with the Chinese Freedom Fighters defeated and the new Justice League united in uncovering all the dirty secrets of Dr. Omen and the Ministry of Self-Reliance.

New Super-Man #7 starts a new arc and really kicks it off in a great way. Remember, we have been thrown into the lives of these characters. We have a very good understanding of the personality of the Bat-Man and this book's Wonder Woman. But we know nothing of their back story. We don't know all their motivations. And so with this next arc, it looks like Yang is going to flesh out this world.

It also looks like Yang is going to upgrade or modernize the character of I Ching, the guru from Denny O'Neil's runs on Superman and Wonder Woman in the 1970's. I really look forward to see where this plotline is heading.

The art on this issue is by Billy Tan and his take is a much smoother, polished take on this world than usual artist Viktor Bogdanovic. While I have enjoyed Bogdanovic's inkier, scratchier stuff, this issue really sparkles. I wouldn't mind seeing Tan on the book as an official fill-in now and then.

On to the book.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Review: Action Comics #971

When I first heard that Lex Luthor was going to 'star' in the Rebirth Action Comics as Superman, I cringed. I was yearning for old fashioned excellent Superman stories. Rebirth seemed like the right time to return to greatness. Why give Lex the title?

Well, it turns out my concerns were misguided. Superman is definitely the lead in this book. But Lex is definitely an important supporting cast member. Rather than a 'twice a year' villain with a new gizmo, Lex is part of Superman's life, part of Metropolis' elite, and out in the open.

I sometimes miss the days of the conniving, hiding Luthor biding his time to unleash something horrific. But I have to grudgingly admit that since Rebirth I have been interested in Luthor and his character. There are layers here ... whether onion or parfait ... and peeling him back to try to get to his core has been a very engaging read.

Action Comics #971 continued the 'Trial of Lex Luthor' storyline in which Luthor is being tried for crimes he has yet to commit. Hearing Luthor plead his innocence and seeing him hope for a Superman rescue has been intriguing. But this issue, we flip things on their head. Suddenly it is Superman that needs the saving. It is Superman who might be judging people too harshly. And it is Lex who has to stand up as the hero. And that is fascinating.

I live for the day when villains can all be villains and not have sympathetic back stories. But if I am going to be reading this sort of Lex, a character awash in gray areas, then I am glad it is being written like this.

The art on the book is by Stephen Segovia and I am impressed with his breadth. This issue flips from Metropolis to Nideesi to some unknown jungle world. That can't be easy.

On to the book.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: Supergirl #5

Supergirl #5 came out this week and was something of a statement issue for this new direction. Writer Steve Orlando fills this issue with scenes showing Kara's strength, resolve, and her sentiment towards her new world. If you want a primer on who this Supergirl is, you might start here.

One of my minor complaints about this Rebirth book has been the theme of Supergirl needing to recognize Earth as her home and say goodbye to Krypton once and for all. While that is clearly an important aspect of the character's life, it had been told already ... and recently.

I suppose DC might say that not enough people were reading the last title to have it be in the collective memory. After all, one point of Rebirth was to bring in new readers. But for someone invested in the character, some of the ideas bandied about here - Kara missing Krypton, unsure how much she likes Earth, even a little annoyed by the low-tech here - has been well trod material.

Still, I should be lighting a candle here. Based on the things Kara does and says here, it looks like this plot isn't going to linger. We know how Kara feels about Earth now and she sounds pretty resolute in her acceptance and love of the planet. I am thrilled.

Brian Ching brings a real energy to the proceedings too. I have to say I am slowly warming to his style. Some things still irk me a little. But overall, this issue really buzzed art-wise. There was a real dynamic feel that flowed. And there can be no denying that Natalie Dormer is his model for Supergirl. Look at every panel and see if you don't see Dormer there. Uncanny.

On to the book.