REVIEW: INCREDIBLE HULK VS. SUPERMAN

So the question becomes how does a person who runs a Superman blog express his over-the-top anticipation for the upcoming Incredible Hulk film?

Simple, you post an old review of one of the comics where the two characters meet.

Incredible Hulk vs. Superman

In 1995 the two heroes clashed in the High School Class Election of a comic event called DC vs. Marvel, but as my assessment of that book might suggest (I did enjoy it, but it was a popularity contest plain and simple though a fun popularity contest) it wasn’t the most dignified of meetings.

Four years later the two companies came together again to give us this very classy team-up.  These kinds of meetings are always dodgy propositions.  Sure the second Marvel and DC meeting, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (the first one in case you were interested was The Wizard of Oz) was great and some equally great stories followed, but for every Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man there are a couple of DC/Marvel: All Access type stories to muddy the waters.  Thankfully this story was one of the better crossovers the two publishers came together to produce.

The writing had a lot to do with that.  Roger Stern had strong ties to Marvel in the earlier part of his career before crossing over himself to DC and spending the better part of a decade charting the course for Superman along with Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson and Karl Kesel.  Stern knows both universes and both characters having written a good two year stretch on the Hulk’s book as well.  Actually it is hard to find a Marvel hero from the late seventies and early to mid-eighties that Roger Stern didn’t write.  He knows his history and it shows in his writing.  This story takes place sometimes after issue six of the original Incredible Hulk series and sometime during John Byrne’s Man of Steel mini-series.  It’s an odd mix of histories but Stern makes it works. 

There’s a lot of action and the fight between Superman and the Hulk played out nicely.  This is a meeting of a Post Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman and a Pre-the Madder Hulk Gets the Stronger Hulk Gets Hulk, so it wasn’t an insane clash of outrageously strong powerhouses.    The earth shook and mountains crumbled, but on a smaller scale.  This allowed more time for Stern to focus on the cast.  Bruce Banner, Clark Kent, the Hulk, Superman, Lois Lane, Betty Ross and Lex Luthor all “sound” like themselves and Stern really focuses on the tragedy of Bruce Banner’s plight and Superman’s humanity to it.  The two fight.  That had to happen, but only through a very Marvel style misunderstanding, the Hulk defending himself and Superman finally having enough.  In fact the only person that is even slightly out of character for the time period is General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, who didn’t seem as prone to ranting as he was in those early days of the Hulk’s life.

Steve Rude handled the art work on the story and he was a wise choice for the job.  Rude’s art may not reflect the Superman that Roger Stern wrote but that Hulk was all Jack Kirby.  The power the two characters possess is evident on the page and while I didn’t think that every character looked as good as he could have, particularly Lex Luthor, Rude still did a lot to infuse the story with action, character and a good dash of nostalgia as well. 

This book is well worth your time, attention and money.  I do not know if it is still in print but you should be able to find it at your local comic shop, any of the many online vendors or on eBay.  I find the claims that this book is rare rather dubious but at the same time I bought the thing new so I actually have never had to seek it out.  If you do manage to secure a copy read it, then click on the comment button for this post and tell the group what you thought.  There won’t be a test but extra credit is awarded for doing so.

REVIEW: ACTION COMICS #865- SPOILERS BELOW

Action Comics #865

Back in late 1993 I remember being somewhat shocked at what Dan Jurgens did with the Toyman in Superman (Vol. 2) #84.  It was a complete departure from what had come before.  Sure the Toyman had been a killer.  John Byrne set that up in the character’s first Post-Crisis appearance in Superman (Vol. 2) #13.  To Byrne’s mind  Winslow Schott was a brilliant toy maker from England but whose ideas on what children want were declared outmoded and after getting fired from the John Bull Toy Company he went a little crazy and went on a killing spree that started with Walter Dunhill (the man that had fired him) and continued on with other stockholders in the company.  The British super-hero Godiva got involved but proved to be no match for Schott’s deadly toys. 

Superman became involved when British Intelligence warned the Man of Steel that Schott might be in Metropolis to kill Lex Luthor because LexCorp owned John Bull Toys and Luthor had initiated the changes that resulted in him getting the boot.  Toyman and Superman never actually met in this story.  After dealing with an army of deadly action figures Superman tracked down Schott’s hideout and found that the Toyman was gone and signs of a struggle.  On the last page of that issue Schott wakes up and in confronted by a man in shadows who declares that Schott now works for him.  There was something glowing on the man’s hand, which made the audience think that it might be Lex Luthor in the shadows and that the Kryptonite ring he wore at the time was the glowing thing, but it turned out to be Morgan Edge and Schott went to work for Intergang.

Superman and Toyman faced off a few more times after that.  Schott hatched a plot to kidnap the children of LexCorp executives but ultimately let them go.  He also had a hand in building the Happyland Amusement Park but after discovering that the creature from Apokolips called Sleez had intended to harm the children from the park he teamed up with Superman to put an end to the monster’s plan.  Toyman even tried to blow Sleez up real good.

So the Toyman was a killer and he was a bit off when it came to kids but wasn’t bat @#$% crazy.

Until Superman (Vol. 2) #84, when he went completely insane, started hearing voices and killed Adam Grant, son of Cat Grant.

It was a real turning point.  Some have suggested that it was just a reflection of the dark times comics were going through at the time and there might be some truth to that, but Dan Jurgens was pretty upfront about the fact that he just wanted to give Superman something else to deal with besides bruisers and men in suits.  I didn’t have a huge problem with the transition.  It was very dramatic and put something into the Superman books that hadn’t been there before and in the overall soap opera it provided some solid character moments for Cat Grant. 

The character popped up a few times after that and at one point in 1999 Jurgens even tried to redeem that character in Superman (Vol. 2) #164 but mostly Toyman was relegated to the background.  He was brought back during the Up, Up and Awayarc that kicked off One Year Later for Superman and at first I was under the impression that Johns and/or Busiek had just revamped the character in the wake up Infinite Crisis. He looked a bit like the Toyman from Superman: The Animated Series, which was fine.  I wasn’t too put off by it because I liked that version of the character but the full story behind the Post-Infinite Crisis Toyman had not been told.

Until now.

Action Comics #865 was an incredibly well-written issue.  Geoff Johns has been knocking this title out of the park recently and the only stories he has written for the title that I have had issues with were the Bizarro story (just didn’t care for it) and the ending to Last Son, which was very dramatic but brought up too many questions regarding continuity, which is a minor quibble but one that is important to me.  Still, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes was great and the previous issue was very enjoyable.  I have written and said this before, but it is nice to be in a position where I’m looking forward to the next issue of Action Comics.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of Johns’ run on the Flash was his ability to take the Flash’s rogues gallery and really get into their heads.  Geoff would have these spotlight issues where he would re-tell the character’s origin from a new perspective.  When I read the Previews Solicit that he was going to be writing this Toyman themed issue of Action I was hoping that this was a sign that he would be doing the same for Superman’s villains and, hope against hope, that he would amp up Superman’s rogues to the level he did the Flash’s.

Well, all signs point to the fact that Superman’s enemies are going to receive some long overdue attention and as for living up to my expectations (shouldn’t everyone, he joked) Geoff gave me one of the most enjoyable single issue Superman stories in years.

Yes, years. 

I haven’t been this happy with a writer and Superman since Greg Rucka was on Adventures of Superman.

From cover to cover this was a joy to read.  It had a good amount of characterization and managed to use the supporting cast to good effect.  The opening scene between Toyman and Jimmy was handled well and the exact opposite of the recent Toyman story in the now-defunct Superman Confidential.  Geoff is good at sneaking in the fan’s perspective into his writing, such as having Superboy Superman Prime act like a petulant fanboy.  In this issue he brought up the whole, “What are you; a Superman fan or a Batman fan?” debate.  This brought up an interesting quirk to Toyman’s personality and something that could be carried over to other Superman villains.  As evil as most of these guys are there are probably some of them that like Superman on one level or another because that’s the feeling the character inspires.  Lex Luthor aside there are people who just plain like the Man of Steel and I can see some of his bad guys being in that camp.

The fact that Batman took him into custody at the end was a nice wrap-up to that theme.

Toyman’s origin was also handled well.  Given the state of Superman continuity, which is nebulous at best, it was amazing to see the John Byrne origin for Toyman get referenced, but there it was with the Geoff Johns tweak of bringing the wife into it.  The fact that John Bull Toys was a front for a weapons manufacturer plays into Byrne’s origin even more considering that LexCorp owned the company, so I can see Lex Luthor being behind getting Schott to come on board.  I also dug the hints that it was Walter Dunhill that was repsonsible for the death of Schott’s “wife”.  It made the man more evil in my opinion.

All of that aside the major revelation towards the end had me all kinds of happy.  Not only did it redeem the character by having the Psycho Toyman turn out to be a sophisticated robot but the fact Johns threw in every interpretation was awesome.  Sure there’s questions of how sophisticated were the robots and could they have fooled Superman but sometimes, just sometimes, you can overlook that if the story is good enough.  I didn’t even mind that the Hiro version of Toyman was a robot considering that not much was ever really done with him. 

Now normally I am not big on retcons of this nature, but Geoff Johns has continually gotten a pass from me on this because he does such a good job of handling them.  If a writer can come along and present a good enough case for the change and not completely undo the past I will buy into the new status-quo.  There was never a feeling here that it was changed because Johns didn’t like what Dan Jurgens did with the Toyman.  It is entirely possible he hated it, but I never saw that in the work and believe me there are times that writers can make their feelings known in their stories.  This story doesn’t negate the power that the death of Adam Grant had.  It also says that while there were some changes and the Byrne origin is no longer the “official” one there are bits and pieces that are still there and I like that.

So yeah.  This was a great issue.  The future is looking pretty good too with the Brainiac story coming up, James Robinson on Superman and the fact that the books are going to be linked soon for the big, huge, Sinestro Corps War type story that’s coming up.

All in all things are definitely turning around for the Superman books.

I hope.

SUPERMAN HOMEPAGE REVIEWS FOR 05/28/2008

I did two reviews for the Superman Homepage this week.  You can find them at the links under the covers.

Superman/Batman #48

Superman/Batman #48

Justice League #21

Justice League of America #21

The Superman/Batman review seems to be getting some good traffic, which is nice.  Too bad I pretty much hated the issue.  It seems some people enjoyed, which is cool.  I may have written this before but I actually like the fact that people dig on comics I hate because I know that there are books that I love that other people think are the sign that the fourth seal has been broken.  So if you liked this issue more power to you.  I thought it was ass.

Hope you enjoy the reviews and leave some comments here and/or at the Homepage.

More to follow…

REVIEW: ACTION COMICS #863

WARNING: The reviews presented on this blog are usually written a week or so after the book has been released to allow for the reader to have a chance to read it. However, in case you haven’t read the book consider this a SPOILER WARNING and know that all aspects of the issue will be covered and should read this later in case you don’t want it ruined. Thank you for your time and attention.

And now, on with the review.

Action Comics #863

I really need to hold off on reading other people’s reviews before writing my own.

Two thoughts that kind of stood out from the pack as I was reading this final chapter of “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” were:

“Wow, this turned out to be a Superman story after all.”

And…

“You know, I get where Geoff Johns is coming from and I respect him as a writer and I have been digging his run on Action Comics but I just don’t like the idea of playing Superman as an outsider.”

And my buddy Neal Bailey pretty much makes both points  over in his review of Action Comics #863 at the Superman Homepage and does it quite well as he is a fantastic writer.

Sigh.

See, if I hadn’t read his review than I could have written about both points with a clear conscience and not given the matter a second thought and if someone would comment, “Hey, Neal Bailey wrote the same thing over at the Homepage!  What gives?”  I could have replied, “Really?  I had no idea.”  But I can’t do that now and have to somehow work it into the review without looking like I’m ripping off a fellow Superman reviewer.

And I hope you enjoyed it.

At any rate, this was a very satisfying end to a very enjoyable story.  Sure there were times when it felt like this was more of a Legion story than a Superman story, but I am enough of a Legion fan that it didn’t bother me too much.  I dug the plot and I liked the themes that Johns explored, especially the correlation between Earth Man & the Justice League of the 31st Century and the Legion of Substitute Heroes.  Geoff Johns did what he does best; take characters that haven’t had a chance to shine in quite some time and have a small yet loyal following and make them freaking awesome

I mean the man made Polar Boy a bad ass.  That takes talent.

Superman took back control of his original book in fine style in this final chapter.  The pacing of Superman getting his powers back was so spot on and it gave me a charge that I haven’t had in a Superman book in quite some time, especially when Superman hovering above the ground after realizing his powers had kicked back in and then “standing up” while still in the air.  The look of awe on the kid and alien’s face sold the moment, which made the next moment (where Superman frees the alien, saves her from an overzealous law enforcer and announcing, “I’m for everyone.”) that much more powerful.  The fight with Earth Man was also satisfying on a level that can only be reached by Superman not getting to do all that much for the majority of the arc.  I wanted this fight.  I needed to see this fight and the two page spread of Superman revealing that the Legion had his back gave me another fan surge.

And you can’t beat Superman the Legion standing in front of the Earth and telling the various aliens who have come to start a serious ruckus that there isn’t going to be a war today.

It is great to be this excited about Superman.

The reason I didn’t have too much of a problem with the “Superman as outsider” theme is that Johns made it work, especially in the last scene.  The joy and relief Clark felt after returning to his present came through in the writing and art and the little touch of him wearing the costume was neat as well.  Sure I don’t agree with the whole “Superman as an outsider” thing.  Sure I think that Superman works best when he is confident in his duel heritage and primarily think of himself as human.  Sure, I think that the stranger in a strange land bit is something that past Superman writers have beaten to death.  Despite all of that I was still touched at the fact that this new version of Clark had finally found some friends he could talk and relate to in a way that he never could with Lana and Pete.

(There is also the matter of the costume that the young Clark is obviously wearing.  I have this theory that the current regime at DC wants to bring back the concept that Superman was at one point Superboy.  I think they are chomping at the bit for it but the legal quagmire they’re locked into with the Siegels prevents them from doing so at the moment.  I am willing to put good money down on the fact that if DC is allowed to utter the word “Superboy” again and the previously mentioned current regime is still in power that you will see a Kal-El Superboy at the very least put back into the history and at most a new Superboy title.  But maybe that’s just me.)

Gary Frank’s art is still taking some getting used to.  It’s not bad.  The man has talent and he really nailed the splash pages and big moments as well as the smaller, more emotional scenes.  My only problem is that for the most park all of his character appear to have just gotten off either meth or heroin.  They share this tired, “Man, I’m glad I got off the horse,” look that is hard to get behind.  It’s not bad and I hope he stays on the book for awhile because he has a wonderful sense of page composition and his art is rather good, but still…his style creeps me out at times.

Overall a great ending to a great story.  Things are definitely looking up for the Superman books as a whole especially with the books starting to kind of link again sometime later this year.  Then again I still miss the whole Triangle Numbering system so I am very biased in that regard.  Johns has a solid take on the character and I look forward to what he has in store, especially the upcoming Toyman issue.

More to follow…

REVIEW: ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #10

WARNING: The reviews presented on this blog are usually written a week or so after the book has been released to allow for the reader to have a chance to read it.  However, in case you haven’t read the book consider this a SPOILER WARNING and know that all aspects of the issue will be covered and should read this later in case you don’t want it ruined.  Thank you for your time and attention.

And now, on with the review.

All-Star Superman #10

A lot of people really like this title and believe it to be the best Superman book in ages.

I don’t think I’m one of them.

It’s not that I think the book is bad in any way.  The writing is good.  I’m not always thrilled with Frank Quitely’s art, but that’s because I don’t really care for his take on Superman, but I can’t say that it is inferior in anyway.  The storyline  is well thought and Morrison is obviously having a ball.

And yet I still don’t care for it all that much.

I guess it boils down to the fact that I don’t like this version of Superman.  Morrison is doing his own thing but he is still working in the Silver/Bronze Age framework with a heavier emphasis on the Silver Age more often than not.  I’m not a big fan of the Silver Age.  I don’t hate it, I just don’t prefer it either. 

Overall I did enjoy this issue.  It was interesting to see Superman getting his affairs in order before he dies.  On an emotional level I really got into “Neverending” and appreciated it on that level.

My problems rest in the particulars of the story.  I’m a pretty simple soul when it comes to Superman.  I like a grounded, down to Earth take on the Man of Steel.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the imagination involved in crafting the far out and cosmic flavored stories, I just don’t care for them.  I know, I know.  Superman has all of these fantastic powers so his stories should be fantastic as well.  I’m not down with that.  Then again I got into Superman during the late eighties and early nineties when his stories were a little more grounded, so that explains the bias.  I think the more real world the surroundings are the more super Superman appears.

So when Superman creates a whole new Earth as part of an experiment there is this involuntary eye roll.  It’s interesting, just not my bag so to speak though the bit at the end with one of the denizens of Earth-Q creating Superman in a comic book was a nice touch.  A little much, but a nice touch.

In the end while I had my personal quibbles I liked this book.  Sure Quitely still draws the cape too short for my tastes the writing and the art gel in this book and make it something special.  A lot of people seem to be responding to this story and that’s good.  Despite my overall feeling I do look forward to seeing how this particular storyline wraps up.

More to follow…