Two superhero things.

*New column. This one is about the Direct Market, as well as character actor Rondo Hatton. I didn't really almost crash my car, by the way - that's just in there for stupid humor, by which I mean 'the ecstatic truth of things.' Enjoy!

*The links aren't done yet, though -


Not a review, but an art-laden preview of a new Barry Windsor-Smith graphic novel, starring Marvel’s Ben Grimm. The project actually dates back to 1985, intended as a miniseries, but Windsor-Smith halted work on it after nearly 50 pages to pursue other things, including his now-famous Weapon X serial. Now the story has been finished, and Windsor-Smith is hoping to have it released as a single graphic novel, with plenty of historical notes, outtakes from across the work’s history, and other goodies. And Comic Book Galaxy has done a feature on the project, with some exclusive peeks at the art and story, and comments from various sources, myself among them. Give it a look; it’s attractive stuff.

Iron Man #5

Oh boy, origin issue! I was pretty nervous that this intermittently-released relaunch wasn’t going to take additional time out to regale us with its very own spin on the vintage Iron Man tale of birth, especially we’ve only got two issues to go in this storyline, but oh yes - three quarters of this puppy is devoted to sweet origin pleasure. But it doesn’t feel as badly padded as it ought to; chalk it up to the script’s coherency of motivation.

It’s an updated origin we get here, of course, although writer Warren Ellis actually sticks closer to the classic story than you'd think; save for bringing the saga forward in time and relocating it to the Middle East, the general structure of the kidnapping and mortal wounding of Tony Stark and his subsequent decision to encase himself in a body of iron remains quite familiar. Ellis’ main twist here is to revamp the character motivations to match the new status quo he’s set up in earlier issues of this book. So now, young Tony Stark’s intent in pursuing military contracts compliments the uncertainty we’ve seen in earlier issues - he’s only satisfying the concerns of violence in order to further scientific development of greater things, the joining of man and machine into a brilliant (if rather nebulously defined) future. The utilization of high technology in weaponry is a necessary evil, the military’s blood money subversively used toward promoting a higher calling for Iron Men everywhere.

Thus, Tony puts his plan into action while in captivity (aided, as in the classic story, by a fellow captive, though since it’s a Warren Ellis script the elderly doctor calls Tony “whitey” and gets to be moderately foul), and launches into several pages of rather gorgeous action in that bulky old gray suit - the setting of this sequence plays toward artist Adi Granov’s strengths, with plenty of walls of blank stone and convenient storms of sand to cover for the occasional drabness of his environments, and loads of fire and explosions and masks and things to obscure the plastic texture of his character designs. He’s good at the action itself, though - shots of people standing around firing guns look lovely, those repulsor beams are crackling hot, and he really makes that chunky old armor design work.

And then, we zip back to the present, in which Ellis gets to tie his new vision in the with freshly refurbished past. New powers! New weapons! “Maya, I can see through satellites now.” Finally, Tony achieves a greater union of man and machine, reams of technical dialogue pouring from characters’ mouths while cool tricks are performed (and here the artificial-looking skin texture of Granov’s designs work well, the coating of already antiseptic skin with millions of crawling golden cells itchily effective). Naturally, it’s meant to set Tony apart from the domestic terrorist villain of the storyline, a case study in the honorable use of the human/machine union vs. total irresponsibility. Sure, it’s going to boil down to a superhero/villain slugfest in all likelihood, and I’m not sure any of us (including the soon-to-depart Ellis) really expect to see Tony achieve any portion of his dream beyond finding better ways to smash attacking foes in self-defense or vengeance, but it’s a better excuse for action than usual.

It’s also a decent excuse for an origin issue.

Gødland #6

Now that’s the way to end the first batch of issues, as well as the upcoming trade - with a nice juicy exploding head. Really, if more new comics ended their initial collection with a quick cranium detonation, I think we’d see the revival of the sales mid-list mighty quickly.

But really it’s the first page of this issue that sums up the appeal of Gødland; we jump from location to location, peering in on average Americans checking out the high-profile trial of supervillainess Discordia, as everyone offers their opinions. Writer Joe Casey has some of them making reference to TiVo or My Name is Earl, while some of them use phrases like “Oh, this whole thing is bananas!” Artist Tom Scioli renders everything in his Kirby-informed style, with even lamps and televisions curved and shaded like high technology, men reclining in their underwear on easy chairs with their legs nevertheless jutting forward powerfully, as if they’re about to kick some unseen domestic villain in the shin. The whole book retains this unstuck-in-time, gently silly atmosphere, but always stays packed with energy. This creative team appreciates the comedy inherent to having lawyers darting around and striking iconic action poses in court while merely delivering argument, and certainly isn’t above throwing out an in-joke or two (Freidrich Nickelhead’s use of the classic Batman bon mot “Quiet or papa spank!” takes the gold cup here) but they’re also ready to apply their style to authentic cosmic adventure whenever the need arises.

This is actually one of the quieter issues of the title, and maybe a bit weaker than average - Casey’s observations on media circus trials and the pull of celebrity are pretty well-worn, and the cornier jokes (c’mon, Coupling?) do tend to grate when there’s more of them around. But we also get some tasty background on the book’s universe, including some hints at what the book's very title means, as our viewpoint darts around to cover pretty much every character introduced thus far in the series. It works pretty well as a ‘downtime’ issue, and neatly summarizes where we’ve been before, giving that all-important first trade a sense of sweep, though nothing is tied up (indeed, there’s at least three different cliffhangers going on at once here). But nothing is ever really tied up in this book; one of the more quietly impressive aspects of the series is its ability to perpetually bounce from story to story, with each issue offering something resembling an individual plot, though there’s always new things being introduced, cutaways to new characters. Nothing ever really stops, but it's still satisfying.

The same goes here, with Discordia’s trial dominating the issue, though Basil Cronus is still trapped in a jar next to Nickelhead’s popcorn bowl, Maxim is still filling the heroic Adam Archer in on his role in the universe, Adam’s ambitious sister Neela is still trying to make a name for herself out of her brother’s shadow, Crashman is still a mystery and kind of an asshole (and there’s nothing this book excels at more than suggesting larger stories going on off-page - I want to see the other superheroes of this world), and yet another fresh threat emerges - Luxembourg’s own The Tormentor, inexplicably accompanied by an army of anthropomorphic mice, some of them dressed in natty business attire and some of them clad in capes and tights. I’d say it’s kind of odd, but nothing’s really odd in this book, bouncing from cosmic secrets to superhero sex admissions to America’s secret space program (no, not NASA - this one’s a secret) to courtroom hi-jinx to that all-important climactic eruption of blood and brains. Nothing clashes here, though you’d think it would. Everything belongs, including your attention.