There’s more fucking than fighting in Midnighter #1 and that’s a very good thing

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Post Convergence, DC stands at an impasse similar to one they stood at in August, 2011. The publisher once again has the option to relaunch old titles and start new ones, correct the state of their recently tangled continuity, present characters in a new, fresh way and tell stories they haven’t been able to in years. This time, however, much of that correcting is mistakes made from their last relaunch.

Few properties suffered under the banner of the New 52 more than the acquired Wildstorm characters. Once champions of the ’90s creator-owned, anything-goes-as-long-as-it sells-aesthetic, characters from Stormwatch, The Authority and WildCats were left under a more controlled, less open publishing initiative where everything needed to work together. While there were successes, few characters and concepts suffered more than Apollo and Midnighter. The pair were forced into Stormwatch, arguably the least successful New 52 book because it was the least essential. In the New 52, a super brutal team watching the events of the world didn’t need to exist; it already existed in Geoff Johns’ inexplicably violent Justice League. As such, the pair were treated as little more than the Batman and Superman pastiches they were originally meant to parody and the role suited neither of them.

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The newest Midnighter series from writer Steve Orlando and artist ACO has a chance to show what makes Midnighter so much different than the character he was meant to pay homage to. Orlando takes the opportunity by taking Midnighter out of every comfort zone he has. He’s far away, physically and emotionally, from his ex and the manipulative Gardener and he’s trying to enjoy being a not-quite-hero as well as an out and on the prowl gay man.

You see, that’s the biggest risk Orlando takes in this issue and ACO sells that risk through bold, extremely modern choices. After an in media res opening, we see Midnighter’s Grindr profile and him on a date with the curious Jason. While he doesn’t appear in the issue, Apollo hangs over the book and clearly, the protagonist’s thoughts, but Orlando knows the value of keeping the character off the table. In a recent Comics Alliance interview, he spoke of the representative power of presenting Midnighter without his partner saying, “Often gay males are shown in mainstream media, but they’re coupled, they’re safe and chastened. And for a while, that alone was bold because gay men could be shown in mainstream media at all. But now that’s primetime family television.”

While allowing Midnighter to exist on his own, without Apollo and a support system puts the character in a new situation worthy of a debut issue, it’s the emotional move that’s more powerful. Midnighter is on his own, confident and on the hunt. He’s defending what’s his but he’s also looking for what he can have for the first time in a long time. When he and Jason have sex near the issue’s conclusion, there’s a real sense of the mix of desperation and desire that makes up the wild courtship this book is trying to sell.

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Where the emotions are wild and dangerous, ACO portrays the violence in Midnighter #1 as an exercise of practiced control. Both in the new issue and the 8-page preview DC released last month, ACO uses loaded, energetic panels as a way to put us in the protagonist’s head. Midnighter’s computer brain is constantly calculating options and the Andrea Sorrentino-esque layouts give readers the same sort of clear-cut, razor-precise framework we need to get inside Midnighter’s head as he deals with bounty hunters and a threat against his very identity at the issue’s conclusion.

More than anything, the comparison between precise violence and wild, passionate sex provides a mission statement for the book. The most dangerous, unpredictable thing Midnighter is going to face is going to be at the dinner table and in the bedroom, not on the battlefield where he is little-less than a god. As he says over dinner and drinks, Midnighter is always game for some “aggressive anthropology” and I’m ready to see exactly what all that entails, on the streets and in the sheets.

The Vulcan Quiche Awards: The Grand Finale

BatmanRobin-Zone-017-e1344659731947This is it, the best single issue of the year. Who’s got it? I guess you should probably read on and validate my crippling lack of self worth.

The Sarek Scramble: Awarded to the single finest issue of the year.

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There were so many truly incredible offerings this year that it was difficult to whittle them down. Grifter #8 made a case for Nathan Edmondson’s gritty, hyper-violent 90s style with plenty of heart as Cole faces off with his possessed brother and shows himself as the most dangerous man in the DCU. Batgirl #11 and Batman and Robin #12 both showed off what exactly makes the Bat-Family into a force to be reckoned with and showed the honor, compassion and skill of two of its most interesting members. Green Lantern Annual #1 crystalized the power of the unconventional pairing of Sinestro and Hal as they take on Black Hand with the highest of stakes. The Goon #39 nearly cracked the top 5 with a hysterical, biting take on crossovers, retcons, rebrandings and pretty much every comic book cardinal sin The Big Two have committed since the ’90s.

Fifth PlaceSAUCER6_1Saucer Country #6

What happens when fiction begins to determine how reality is viewed? What is the risk of building knowledge from constructed myth? Saucer Country’s expository issue on the nature of the UFO mythology and how popular culture such as “The X-Files” and competing tales of experiences with aliens has created a fiction that is believed and reported on so much that it has become the truth. Writer Paul Cornell masterfully weaves what could have been an expository bore into a conversation that doesn’t just make readers reconsider all they know about the series but everything we know about fiction.

Fourth Placebatman 10.1 - CopyBatman #10

The chant of the owls at the end of Scott Snyder’s epic is, appropriately, “who?” Who is behind the attack from the Court of Owls? Who is Lincoln March? Who knew Gotham better than Batman? In Snyder’s epic battle of wits between Bruce Wayne and his (maybe?) lost brother Lincoln, the answer is worth more than the fight. Snyder wove a tale of secrets, battles and vengeance into his impossibly brilliant Court of Owls that climaxes not with a fist fight but with a verbal jousting match between two forces battling for the soul of a tortured city.

Third PlaceManhattan-Projects-4-bannerManhattan Projects #3

The theme of Jonathan Hickman’s excellent Manhattan Projects has always been power and it’s in the exceptional third issue that power is seized by the cabal of narcissistic scientists. It’s a tense issue. As FDR dies, Truman is sworn in, only to face a decision he doesn’t have a say in. The nuke will drop, the war will end, the Manhattan Projects will seize power and become the main force in the future of Earth. As Truman becomes more and more frantic, the future is increasingly sealed in an issue that shows the power a single group of individuals can wield in the face of their last enemy.

Second Placetumblr_mbptso0lpg1qky2i3o1_1280Wolverine and the X-Men #18

Heroes fall. It’s a classic myth cycle. Innocents die in the face of overwhelming darkness. Weakness is punished. The best of us fall to inspire others. In the exemplary issue of Jason Aaron’s series, Broo is helpless to his feelings as Idie offers him a chance to escape the creature he struggles against being. While Wolverine makes his final struggle against a Phoenix-empowered Cyclops, the students of the Jean Grey Academy dance and surrender to impulses, leading Broo to an inevitable conflict with Kade Kilgore of the Hellfire Club. It’s a heartbreaking issue, one that makes readers reconsider the struggles of the alien who so desperately wants to be one of the rejects and the failures he faces. This is excellency in comic book storytelling and the power of the denouement gives the characters the honor and importance they deserve.

And the Scramble goes to…tumblr_mdbjg6Ke9M1qky2i3o1_1280Hawkeye #3

Things have gotten dark. DC has embraced arc based storytelling in an effort to sell more tie-in titles in an uncharacteristically dark style. Marvel hopes to recapture the sales they found during Avengers vs. X-Men with massive, universe spanning events. Comics weren’t fun in 2012. They were bleak affairs, filled alternatively with bad men doing bad things and heroes battling other heroes. What happened to the medium we loved, heroes being heroic, fighting for justice and goodness in a world that rejected such things? Matt Fraction’s exceptional Hawkeye dared to be that experimental. In the fantastic one-and-done, Clint Barton engages in a massive car chase throughout New York City, showing off all the goofy arrows that made his Silver Age representation a character to watch. What’s best is this is an issue that’s fun, one with humor and action, tension and characters we care about and want to succeed. In an industry that’d rather see its characters dragged through the mud in an attempt to find something unique about them, it’s revolutionary to see a hero show what it means to care about others and prove it.

“You know what a grifter is, flame face?” – Liefeld gives a solid issue of Grifter but is it enough?

I despise Rob Liefeld. I think he actively dumbed down comics, jump started the collapse of the industry in the ’90s and has never written or drawn an issue that’s worth reading. That’s what made him taking over Grifter such a shame for me. The first 8 issues were an intriguing Bourne-meets-alien invasion action series, filled with awesome shoot outs, great escapes and memorable character interactions. It wasn’t the best new thing out there but it was fun, different and a neat new series.

Liefeld’s takeover was noticeable. Suddenly, Cole Cash was shooting aliens upside down from snowboards, his psychic powers were suddenly at damn near Jean Grey levels of power and his supporting cast was suddenly filled with meat head gun nuts and  katana wielding girls in bikinis.

I don’t think issue 12 really assuaged my negative feelings about Liefeld’s direction for the series. There are a lot of sudden twists that don’t have any impact, the action sequences just aren’t much fun, the messy panels that are intended to make the sequences more intense give the book an unprofessional look and Lord Helspont’s plan still doesn’t make a ton of sense. I mean, isn’t Synge just an elite daemonite? Why would he work for Helspont?

Frank Tieri, who doesn’t get a credit on the cover for unknown and entirely unfair reasons, still rights some really great grizzled dialogue for the narcissistic killers that populate the book and I’m a sucker for the kind of escape sequences that take up much of the back half of the book. It makes for one of the better issues of Liefeld’s run on the series but it really isn’t enough. I’m sticking with Grifter to see what he’ll do in a second arc but how many options really are there?

Its really a shame what has happened to the most wanted man in the DC universe. What started out as a series about a low key hero having to do the impossible has turned into a universe spanning super hero tale where a guy with a gun has to fight an enemy that Superman couldn’t take down. For now, it might be time to start getting excited about Grifter joining up with Team 7 for the new Third Wave series and leave this one behind.

What if Bizarro took on Etrigan: 8 characters to bet on seeing in “Injustice: Gods Among Men”

“Mortal Kombat” developers NetherRealm Studios just showed off the first gameplay footage of their new fighting game, “Injustice: Gods Among Men,” a tournament brawler starring the heroes and villains of the DC universe. The original announcement of the game was greeted by mild excitement from fans but the recent gameplay footage has me worried. The game appears to be a bit too casual for hardcore fighting game fans like myself but does feature the heroes and villains that could make for an engaging and deep fighting game.

With only six characters announced so far, I figured it might be high time to start making some educated guesses, hopeful wishes and probably terrible jokes about which rogues and and defenders might be showing up. With those, we’ll also be giving predicted odds over whether they’ll be showing up and what their abilities could be.

1. Darkseid

The near all powerful lord of Apokalypse is certainly one of the most dangerous villains of the DC Universe and he’s had a long rivalry with Superman.  The multiverse has been a little too safe since his disappearance after “Final Crisis” and NetherRealm may cash in by bringing him back.

Vegas Odds: NetherRealm did develop a model for Darkseid for their game “Mortal Kombat vs. DC” and he could make a great boss character. That being said, he’s out of comic continuity and is a little on the overpowered side. Some work would definitely need done to make him work. I’ll give it 3:2 odds.

2. Grifter

One of my favorite heroes of the New 52, Grifter is the most wanted man on Earth. An ex-special ops killer turned mercenary turned criminal has aimed his trademark pistols at the invading Daemonite army. If he’s going to survive them, he’s also going to have to unleash his latent psychic powers and duel with the other heroes of the universe that want to take him down.

Vegas Odds: DC has been pretty proud of Grifter, despite the fact that the book hasn’t sold incredibly well. They are releasing a collectible bust of the character and has put a high profile but not particularly talented  writer on the title. Putting Grifter in the game may be a marketing push but his mix of gunplay and psychic powers could mirror Deadpool’s from “Marvel vs. Capcom 3.” That being said, he’s still not that well known of a character. I’ll give him a 5:1.

3. Elongated Man

The stretchiest character to ever serve on the Justice League, Ralph Dibny has always been one of the most human characters in the universe. He’s an incredibly intelligent, very humanistic hero who has mentored many others in what it takes to be a hero. His ability to stretch his body is a bit of a relic from the Silver Age but he’s an enormously fun character.

Vegas Odds: Dibny hasn’t really had much of an impact on the universe since he was one of the many innocent victims of familial homicide in “Identity Crisis.” He briefly appeared as a zombie intent on killing Hawkman in “Blackest Night” but he’s bound for a comeback. Even with that, Capcom’s intent at a stretchy character with Super Skrull in “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” was unpopular, despite being one of my favorite characters in the game. Its unlikely we’ll be seeing the poor widower so he’s getting a 10:1.

4. Deathstroke

The greatest mercenary in the universe has never come across a hero he didn’t think he could take down. He’s been at it for years and time has only sharpened his strategical genius. Deathstroke is always ready to reload, relax and get ready to draw blood from every man, woman and child who opposes him.

Vegas Odds: Things are looking pretty good that we’ll be seeing the Terminator in “Injustice.” He appeared in NetherRealm’s “Mortal Kombat vs. DC” and he’s still a pretty popular and dreaded enemy of the Justice League and the Teen Titans. He’s a pretty solid bet at 2:1.

5. Superboy-Prime

A Superman from a world that was never meant to have superheroes, Superboy Prime is another of the most dangerous forces the universe has ever had to deal with. He’s unleashed hell on the Teen Titans, battled Superman blow for blow and taken up the armor of the Anti-Monitor to unleash havoc on a world that didn’t understand him.

Vegas Odds: As cool as it would be to see a Superboy bereft of morals and capable of defeating nearly anyone but it is pretty unlikely that we’ll be seeing the villain. Like the Elongated Man, I’m giving him a 10:1 and hoping for more.

6. Nightwing

Dick Grayson, the former Robin and current Nightwing, has never struggled with the fact that he’s always been a hero in over his head. That’s never stopped him from doing as much good for Gotham and the world at large, joining up with Batman Inc. and serving time as the Dark Knight while Bruce Wayne struggled to return to his own time.

Vegas Odds: Nightwing is a popular character and all but I can’t imagine much of a way that NetherRealm would want to differentiate Grayson from Wayne and would just leave him off the list. We’ll give him a 5:1.

7. Atrocitus

There are few creatures as capable of rage as the Red Lanterns and only Atrocitus has the will and power to lead the group. His capacity for violence is legendary and he’s rapidly becoming one of the most prominent intergalactic forces in the DC universe.

Vegas Odds: Decently likely. The Green Lanterns have prospered under the rule of DC’s head scribe Geoff Johns and its drawn attention to the other Lantern teams. Atrocitus could serve as a useful and very neat bruiser to oppose the Emerald Knights. That’s worth a decent 3:1 spread.

8. Hank Henshaw aka Cyborg Superman

The almost-victor of the War of the Supermen, Hank Henshaw was briefly able to hold the role of Kal-El. He is also awfully contrived and terrible.

Vegas Odds: Thankfully awful. 15:1.