Dark Nights Metal (2018)

Hugely advertised and widely praised, it was difficult to resist Dark Nights Metal. I had planned not to pick this up until the collected volume was out. Every little taste in adverts and social media just kept tempting me. If the storyline hadn’t come out during an intensely busy period of work, I’d have likely brought every single issue of this and had to suffer the gap in between parts. However, with the deluxe volume of the main story in hand, and a little time free, it’s finally time.

Dark Nights Metal is a story that could only come from the team work of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Though while it’s written by Snyder, there are moments that feel more driven by Capullo. Particularly more musically driven moments. However, this being mixed with Snyder’s horror inclinations, this could be considered the ultimate collaboration between the two. A mixture of otherworldly horrors from another dimension, twisted versions of Batman and the Justice League. All blended together with hard rock iconography, a guitar playing Robin and Superboy with Alfred on drums.

Having now read the main series for Dark Nights Metal, I am glad that I am already a DC fan. There were a lot of threads running through the story that were allusions or references to older stories. The more obvious ones are those of Snyder’s previous stories. The Court of Owls and Endgame in particular. But it also extends to things such as Grant Morrison’s Batman run, Final Crisis, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and nods to Elseworld stories. The map from Multiversity is also included, though I am unsure how much the book is referenced here as I have not read it yet. I am unsure weather or not the book is worth reading honestly. Aside from here, I rarely hear anything of it.

In parts, Dark Nights Metal feels like a culmination of threads Snyder set up, pulled together with a few smaller details. So, the story at least feels as though it has a purpose and not just something thrown together for two celebrated creators. It flows well, and while there are some convoluted or almost ‘Deus-Ex-Machina’ moments, it’s still a very enjoyable read.

While the event was largely promoted as largely a Batman story. Batman comes off as more of a MacGuffin than the stories hero. It’s him that connects all the Nightmare Batmen (obviously). He needs to take in the last metal to open the portal. He has a connection to the dark god Barbatos. But once their goal is complete, and the darkness has been allowed to infect this world. The story largely shifts to Superman, Wonder Woman and Kendra. Batman doesn’t seem to play a major role again until the final issue. I suspect this is actually expanded upon in the tie-in media.

There is a lovely moment with Bruce and Clark discussing the real purpose of the Bat-signal. That it’s not just to make people aware that the Batman is on patrol, or that he is needed. But that’s really there to shine a light in the darkness. It’s a lovely moment at a bleak part of the story.

There are a few moments in the early issues, where the editors seem to want to butt into the story. While it does start off as helpful and amusing, first explaining much older references, it later feels intrusive. Thankfully this stops about half way through. This could have been used to greater effect if it had been stretched out more sparingly. Though the note of calling a shaggy, unshaven and beaten Nightwing, Jon Snow is rather amusing.  These comedic editor notes, as well as the occasional joke does lighten the tones at times. Weather or not this is a good thing will depend largely on your own preference and expectations.

Interesting and fun though wrapped in a bleak wrapper. Worth the read, though diving into some of DCs past and definitely the tie-in material will greatly improve the experience.

  • Morrison, G., Jones, J. G. & Mahnke, D. (2008) Final Crisis. DC Comics: Burbank.
  • Morrison, G. Et. al. (2015) The Multiversity. DC Comics: Burbank.
  • Snyder, S. & Capullo, G. (2012) Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls. DC Comics: Burbank.
  • Snyder, S. & Capullo, G. (2015) The Joker: Endgame. DC Comics: Burbank
  • Snyder, S. & Capullo, G. (2018) Dark Knights Metal. DC Comics: Burbank.
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Action Comics #1000: A Celebration of 80-years of The Man of Steel

The image of men running in terror. One fleeing from the scene, another on the ground in confusion, and the final running straight towards the audience with a face that can’t seem to comprehend what he’s witnessing. A crimson and yellow sky engulfs the scene while at the centre, the destroyed remains of a 1937 Plymouth hoisted up by a mysterious figure. Clad in blue and red, a flowing cape, boots and trunks, with an emblem across his chest that screams “I am here!”. This is the cover to Action Comics #1. Cover date June 1938 with a copyright date of April 18th. 80 years later we celebrate that mighty figure on the cover with the publication of Action Comics #1000 on April 18th, 2018. That figure:

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Action Comics #1000 brings together ten stories by all-star creators, three pin-ups and an array of glorious variant covers. Celebrating 80 years of THE premier superhero. The talent contained within these 80 pages ranges from industry favourites such as Brian Michael Bendis and Jim Lee, long time Superman creators like Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway, and current staples of the industry including Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason.

From The City That Has Everything:

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The book opens with one of the longer stories “From the City that has Everything”, a title nod to Alan Moore’s famous “For the Man who has Everything” issue. Written and pencilled by long time Superman creator Dan Jurgens. The city of Metropolis throws their own celebration for the Man of Steel. All the while Clark is on edge as he knows of an impending invasion from the Khunds. During the celebrations people come forward on stage to talk about the good Superman has done for them. Some are police officers, others are former criminals who Superman never gave up on. When Daily Planet Editor-in-Chief takes the stand, he tells the crowd:

“When I think of Superman, I think of what they used to say about the best fighters in the World. That they always answered THE BELL. For Those of you who don’t know boxing, answering the bell means that during a fight, in between rounds. When the bell rings, telling the fighters to get off their chairs and FIGHT some more. No matter how beaten and weary they are. They get up and FIGHT.

As Perry continues, Clark realises that something is wrong and that what he’s been tracking with his senses is completely off. As he takes off into the sky, Wonder Woman comes to stop him. Informing him that the threat he has been so worried about has been taken care of by the Justice league, wanting to give him this day off. The league appears on stage along with all the others grateful for the impact he has on all of them.

“Your father is the most understanding man I’ve ever met, Jon. He knows he shares a bond with Metropolis. And That every now and then, in appreciation for all he’s given them. The people get to return the gesture. That’s what makes him Superman.”

Never-Ending Battle:

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From the writer/artist team of Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. “Never-Ending Battle” is a wonderful tribute to the legacy and 80-year history of the character. Framed as Clark telling Lois and Jon about his day and how hard he had to fight just to make it to them in time. An encounter with Vandal Savage has him using time distortion and disruption against Superman. A fantastic plot device that makes full use of it’s premise in order to highlight and celebrate everything from the 1930s, the Elseworld outings and iconic scenes from both Kingdom Come and The Dark Knight Returns, right up to modern day and DC Rebirth.

“I want you to remember an old adage. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Staying true to yourself. Abiding by the morals and ethics ingrained in you by your mom and dad. Along with the lessons you’ll learn in your own life, can pull you through the DARKEST moments. But if even THAT’S not enough. Sometimes pure GUMPTION and WILLPOWER are all you need to get you where you want to go and be with who you want to be with.”

Combined with there 2-year long run on Superman, which saw it’s final issue release on the same day as this. Tomasi and Gleason prove that they know what Superman is and stands for. Gleason’s art is stunning and stylised. Making full use of entire pages rather than shifting to panels.

As Superman’s quest through time and reality comes to an end, we catch up with Superman together with his wife, son and dog Krypto. Calm and happy as the story concludes with a birthday cake. Complete with 80 candles and a lovely message to the Man of Steel from the two authors.

Pin-Up: John Romita Jr.

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 The first of the books pin-up illustrations, John Romita Jr returns to Superman after his run on the New 52 incarnation. Unfortunately, this maybe the weakest of any of the book. His style doesn’t fit the character in the same way it does that of Batman or Wolverine. The composition and framing is wonderful, though the choice of Romita Jr. over someone like Gary Frank or David Finch is a confusing one.

An Enemy Within

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As Super as he is, Superman can’t always be there. What makes it worse is that even when he’s rushing to one disaster, he can hear another. As Superman is on the other side of the world, trying to stop Brainiac’s latest scheme. He can hear it taking effect back in Metropolis. Causing a high school principle to snap and take his students hostage. As Superman is still in Japan, he can hear how the good people of Metropolis take care of the situation. Praising Maggie Sawyer’s strong but compassionate command. Superman’s actions do help as it’s Brainiac’s devices causing the insanity, but the story still uses Superman to praise the hardworking people that keep Metropolis running. Fantastically focused story by Superman veterans Marv Wolfman and Curt Swan.

“You can knock them to their knees and threaten them with any number of tortures, but even against overwhelming odds, they won’t long bow down to any master. Compared to the natives of other worlds, their bodies are fragile. But it always amazes me how strong they can be. And while human passions can be infuriating, their unstoppable will to ultimately do right, even under the threat of danger, is INDOMITABLE. And I’m the one they call SUPERMAN.”

The Car:

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Ever wonder what happened to that car? The one on the cover that started it all. In “The Car” Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Oliver Coipel explore the driver’s life. As he takes the car into a mechanic, tries to explain what happens and takes a long walk home, only to run into the man who stopped the car. Superman. He tells Superman all about his life. How his father was killed in the war, his mother died when he was thirteen and life in an orphanage was rough. He was stopped by Superman before in the middle of a crime. And yet instead of dragging the man back in, he leaves him with something to think about.

“You’ve had your fair share of knocks. And you can keep knocking the world back like you’ve done. Or you can make a decision. Today. It’s your life Butch. You can fix it, or you can junk it. it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”

A short but very interesting look at the part of Superman’s first outing we never saw.

The Fifth Season:

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Perhaps the most surprising of all the stories in Action Comics #1000. The team behind American Vampire as well as the iconic Batman writer, Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque give one of the most grounded and heartfelt looks at the relationship if Lex and Superman. Joining the pair in an observatory as Lex explains to Superman, unaware the he truly is the Clark he once knew. The talk about how Lex used to spend his free time in the observatory, trying to send messages to other planets. Wanting to contact intelligent beings. Feeling stuck in this small town and unappreciated. He confides in Superman that on one occasion he made a mistake and didn’t heat up the nitrogen in his experiment. He should have died. Through a change in perspective, we see the reason he didn’t was because Clark had stumbled in and used his heat vision when Lex was looking away. The story of the two of them there as children are wonderful parallels. Lex wanting to make contact due to feeling alone, and Clark possibly there for a similar reason, but instead of comfort, he wanted answers.

From a writer that’s more known for his darker takes, particularly with Wytches and Batman. This story feels so full of heart for them both. A fantastic surprise from a master of horror.

Of Tomorrow:

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A short but bitter sweet tale from the minds of Tom King and Clay Mann. A future where the Earth is degrading. Superman comes back every year to a world that’s almost fire and brimstone, talking to himself about how he needs to stop coming back. That it feels like this is the five billionth visit. That Jon is growing into a fine man. Lois is being kept alive with an eternity formula, though is growing to hate the taste. That ‘they’ would be proud of Jon on Lois, before finally turning away and leaving. Revealing the final resting place of Ma and Pa Kent.

“We’re all Stardust Fallen. And so, we look to the sky. And we wait to be reclaimed. Good-bye, Ma. Good-bye, Pa. And thank you. For everything.”

Clay’s earthy artwork fits the story beautifully but adds a whole new level of depth by drawing his Superman to heavily resemble the late Christopher Reeve. Another fantastic nod to the legacy and history of the character.

Five Minutes:

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Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway prove once again why they are legends when it comes to Superman. “Five Minutes” is a fantastic little day in the life piece of both Clark Kent and Superman. As Perry is shouting over that Clark has five minutes to finish his story while the presses are on hold. Clark hears a disturbance and hurries out of the building. The fantastically energetic and invigorating story shows everything that could possibly happen to him in those five minutes. As he manages to rush back to his desk and finish on time, Perry shouts over that the stories dead and that Clark needs to take Jimmy and go report on Superman’s latest outings.

“The rush! The focus! The fact that I’m helping people – sometimes even SAVING them. Superheroing. Reporting. They’re not so different if you do them right. Man, I love my jobs.”

Though short, it feels like we see the world through Clark’s eyes. How fast paced and to the bone his world can be, and yet just like the Man of Steel himself. We can’t help but love it.

Action Land:

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Perhaps the strangest, and most divisive story in the collection. Paul Dini and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez bring us a roller-coaster amusement park history of Superman. Already a strange concept, but when it’s revealed to be all the doing of Mr. Mxyzptlk, it feels like one big loving send up to the silliness of the silver age and all the fun Superman comics can be. An enjoyable story that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, heightened by Garcia-Lopez’s stunning artwork.

Pin-Up: Walter Simonson

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Industry legend Walt Simonson brings his classic and dynamic take to the Superman in this fantastic pin-up! While the style may not be to everyone’s liking. It’s dynamic and attention grabbing presence is undeniably Simonson.

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet:

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Brad Meltzer and John Cassidy bring up an interesting but heartfelt take on what it feels like to be Superman in an emergency. Flying as fast as he can, he can hear a woman in distress. He can hear the trigger on the gun as he cocks, and he knows that he’s going to get there a second too late. To his surprise, the woman does something that buys him those few seconds he needs. The short story shows not just how Superman inspires others, but how he is inspired by them. Their courage, ingenuity, and bravery. The final moments show how humble Clark is, as Lois is the one to point out that today, “he met a good one”.

Pin-Up: Jorge Jimenez

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The final and strongest of all the pin-ups. Jimenez continues to prove why he is one of this decades best Superman artists. Dynamic, strong, with an overwhelming presence, but completely natural. Embracing even the classically mocked trunks as symbol of strength once more. Jimenez’s use of lighting gives Superman and ethereal presence. A man who has fought for truth, justice and the American way but remains true to who he is. A symbol of hope.

The Truth:

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Finally, the last story in the collection had both the most to prove but brought the least. With art by Jim Lee, who’s style really doesn’t fit the character, and the Superman debut of Brian Michael Bendis, the story acts as a teaser for his upcoming run on both Superman, Action Comics AND his Man of Steel mini-series. The few pages lack substance. The focus should be on this new villain and his final page ‘reveal’. However, the most memorable parts are two women debating about Superman’s trunks, and Supergirl piledriving into the villain. It’s possible that due to this being Bendis’s first outing, this could be a result of nerves or pressure, but let’s hope with time he improves.

 

The companion Deluxe hard cover, Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman, puts Superman’s history on display for the world to see. Action Comics #1000 honours that history. With a mixed array of takes on the character and an all-star creative team, here’s to many more years of the Man of Steel!

Jor-El’s Golden Folly – Superman #233 (1971)

Superman 233-00Superman #233: The Fabulous World of Krypton – Jor-El’s Golden Folly.
January 1971
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Artist: Murphy Anderson

A back up story in Superman #233, the beginning of the infamous Kryptonite Nevermore. Jor-El’s Golden Folly is the first of the ‘Fabulous World of Krypton’ mini stories. Meant to build up and explore the world that Clark will never know and his own people. This first story follows Superman’s father, Jor-El, as well as showing his work and meeting Clark’s mother, Lara.

Jor-El and his friend Kim-Da find themselves with brand new assignments and are now separated. Splitting up the good friends and having to go their separate ways. With Jor-El being sent to the ‘Kryptonopolis Space Complex’ and Kim being sent to the ‘Kandor Observatory’. For the reader, we know that Kandor is the city that will eventually be shrunken down and stolen by the villain Brainiac. A city, and villain, that makes its first appearance in Action Comics #242. The final fate of Jor-El is obvious to us, as it’s a defining catalyst for Superman being sent to Earth in the first place. However, the fact that Kim-Da is sent to Kandor begs the question of weather or not he survived, only to be trapped within the bottled city. It’s a minor thought, especially with how little the character appears, but interesting none the less.

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As he arrives at the Space Complex, Jor-El is shown around by a man named Ken-Dal. The idea is explained to him that a major goal right now is to break free of Krypton’s gravity and reach the stars, the problem is that the science council has cut their budget. While showing him around, Jor-El sees Lara Lor-Van, his future wife and the mother of Superman, as one of the ‘test fliers’. He comments on her beauty within seconds of seeing her. Time passes, and Jor-El is experimenting with Anti-Gravity. Eventually developing an ‘Anti-Grav Belt’ and testing it by attaching it to a white dog and controlling where he floats with a remote control. Later, he demonstrates it on himself in front of both Ken-Dal and General Zod, another little Easter Egg for readers. They are both greatly impressed and allow him to continue with the next phase of his plan.

Jor-El’s next thought is to use his Anti-Gravity technology to help fly and stabilise a rocket ship. Due to its abundance on Krypton, he makes the decision to use gold in it’s construction. The idea that gold is such a common material on Krypton helps to re-emphasis the fact that this is not Earth. That we are watching a different civilisation entirely. However, due to the weight of gold. Those around Jor-El mock him for thinking that this gaudy, hunk of metal would ever fly. Nicknaming it “Jor-El’s Golden Folly”. The only person who does seem to believe in him is Lara, how offers to fly the ship due to her excitement at reaching the stars. Jor-El tells her that because they don’t even know if it will fly, so for this maiden voyage they will use the same remote-control system he had used before.

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When the big day comes, the ship finally flies. Taking off through the crimson skies. As they celebrate, a message comes through over the communicator. Lara is onboard the ship, seemingly forgetting the time and not getting off. How very Lois Lane of here. The ship eventually lands on a nearby planet, Wegthor, and since communication is lost it is assumed that the experiment failed and had crashed landed. As the higher ups walk away, laughing at Jor-El’s failure. Jor-El is informed that a cargo ship is leaving for Wegthor in a few days. Using the technology Jor-El had invented and an oxygen mask, Jor-El sneaks aboard the cargo ship hoping that Lara is still alive. When they finally land, Jor-El sneaks away and traverses this strange planet before final discovering the ‘Valley of Gloom’. At the centre, Lara. He ruses to find her and in a final panel they embrace. Ending with Jor-el saying; “My discovery may have been a failure, Lara… But it did have one success. Bringing us together!”

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  • Binder, O & Plastino, A. (1958) Action Comics #242: The Super-Duel in Space. DC Comics, New York: USA.
  • Bridwell, E. & Anderson, M. (1971) Superman #233: Jor-El’s Golden Folly. DC Comics: New York: USA.

World’s Finest – The Passage of Time and the Meeting of Batman and Superman.

Superman 76 CoverSuperman #76: The Mightiest Team in the World
May/June 1952
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: John Fischetti

When it comes to the icons that are Batman and Superman, the question that often comes up is ‘Who would win in a fight?’. When people ask for stories involving the pair, it’s usually stories of them at opposite ends. 1986 “saw the publication of Frank Miller’s historic miniseries The Dark Knight Returns [Miller.1986], with its revamping of the two heroes’ relationship. Since then, things have been a little strained to say the least between the two superheroes” [Anders.2005]. Miller presents an older Batman going up against Superman in the final act, as one is continuing illegal vigilante work, while the other is now a ‘lapdog’ to the President. Another notable example is Batman: Hush [Loeb & Lee.2003] which includes a notable scene of the pair fighting, while Superman is under the control of Poison Ivy. Even on a cinematic level, the first time the two met on the big screen, excluding animated outings, was in a film explicitly titled Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice [Snyder.2016]. It seems that our fascination with these two heroes when together, is that of conflict. However, this raises the question. Have they always been at each other’s throats?

While they had previously appeared in the same issue in 1941’s All Star Comics #7 [Fox, et.al.1941]. Batman and Superman first met face to face in 1952’s Superman #76 [Hamilton & Swan.1952]. Despite the cover depicting Batman and Superman almost fighting over who gets to save Lois Lane from an oncoming train. The two become fast friends in the 12-page story contained within. The closest to an argument the pair engage in, is one partly planned by the two and somewhat encouraged by Lois.

The story opens with a text box addressing this monumental issue. “Superman, might man of steel whose super-powers have conquered catastrophes and wrecked wrongdoers! Batman, hooded foe of crime whose flashing feats have crushed crooks for years! Are any two names in the world more famous than these? Yet these two mighty champions of the right have never met – until now! Yes, at long last Superman and Batman meet face to face on a voyage of peril – and strange and startling is the outcome when two legendary figures form… The mightiest team in the world!” [Hamilton & Swan.1952:01]. The issue follows Batman and Superman as they have both independently booked spots on a cruise in their civilian identities. Due to over booking, Bruce and Clark end up being bunk mates and both start to worry about the other finding out their secret identity. When a fire breaks out on the docks, the lights go out and they both change, but as light comes in through the window, their identities are discovered. They worked together to stop those that started the fire, and while they got away, it’s discovered that a diamond has been stolen. It’s believed that the criminal is on board the ship as one of the passengers. Batman and Superman decide to continue their cruise as their secret identities. Problem is that now Lois Lane has decided to tag along in hopes of getting a scoop from both Batman and Superman. The pair come up with different tricks and tactics to hide their switching places. Pretending Clark is sea sick and in bed, using port holes to sneak back in. Even Superman flying Batman back to Gotham overnight, so no one would notice that Batman and Bruce Wayne were not out of town at the same time once the heroes have supposedly left the ship.

The pair show a high level of respect and admiration for each other. Their level of trust and comradery feels natural. Even the final take down of the crooks, a sort of Superman/Batman “Fast Ball Special” ala, Wolverine/Colossus. Shows an incredible level of confidence and skill. While the pair do team up every now and then. There is always this notion that one doesn’t always trust the other. That it’s easy for them to bicker, or even be on opposing sides.

Looking back at their first team up is an incredibly refreshing experience. The thrill of seeing the two side by side when the issue originally came out must have been a dream come true for readers of the time. While we see them together often now, the spirit of this first meeting seems to have been forgotten.

 

  • Anders, L. (2005) A Tale of Two Orphans: The Man of Steel vs. The Caped Crusader. The Man from Krypton: A Closer Look at Superman. Benbella Books Inc. Dallas, TX. Pp.69 -75.
  • Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. (2016) Film. Directed by Zack Snyder. [Blu-Ray] Warner Bro. Studio: USA.
  • Fox, G, et.al. (1941) All Star Comics #7: Justice Society of America $1,000,000 for War Orphans. DC Comics, New York: USA.
  • Hamilton, W & Swan, C. (1952) Superman #76: The Mightiest Team in the World. DC Comics, New York: USA.
  • Hatch, A. (2015) Batman and Superman: Comparing Two Iconic Superheroes. [Online] May 12th. The Artifice. Available From: https://the-artifice.com/batman-and-superman-comparing-two-iconic-superheroes/ [Last Accessed: 05.04.2018]
  • Loeb, J. & Lee, J. (2003) Batman: Hush. DC Comics, New York: USA.
  • Miller, F (1986) The Dark Knight Returns. DC Comics, New York: USA.
  • Salmon, W. (2016) Every time Batman and Superman have met (for the first time) in the comics. [Online] March 8th. Games Radar. Available from: https://www.gamesradar.com/every-time-batman-and-superman-have-met-comics/ [Last Accessed: 05.04.2018]

The Iron Spider Costume – Comics and Infinity War

Superhero costumes are incredible. They say so much about the character through various details. Some are flashy and make solid statements, while others have the soul purpose of concealing identity. See Superman: Earth One for a good example of how a mask isn’t always necessary to conceal identity.

Spider-Man-Homecoming-Iron-Spider-Suit

When it comes to iconic characters, it’s interesting to see how over time creators will play with their iconography to create all new designs and costume. Spider-Man is no exception. Famously the black costume in particular made such a big impact that it even led to the equally infamous character, Venom. However, one costume that also left its mark, though in a smaller way, is the Iron Spider costume. Created by Tony Stark for Peter after his resurrection from a battle to the death with villain Morlun. The costume works like a fusion between Spider-Man’s classic design and Tony’s armour. Complete with a red and gold colour scheme and mechanical spider arms to help him manoeuvre. The costume appeared heavily during the time of Civil War, before Peter gave it up when he went on the run. The costume has its fans, particularly due to the mechanical legs, and its practical applications.

However. The costume shown off in the Infinity War trailers look far better!

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Thanks to toy releases before the film, especially the Funko Pop and Cosbaby lines. The suit shown off in the trailers is confirmed to be the MCU’s interpretation of the Iron Spider costume. What makes this version feel so much better, is purely down to the colour scheme. While the red and gold of the original makes sense due to it’s origin as Iron Man’s design. The blue with the gold accents of the Infinity War costume suites the character far more. It adds a lot more personality and makes the gold just pop. Rather than the overly gaudy look of the original suit.

While the film doesn’t open for another month. The look of this costume is already a point in the films favour. Hopefully, the MCU will take some of these older costume designs in the future and add to them in the same vain as this.

Bakuman Vol. 1 [Part 1]

When you search titles from Shonen Jump, you’ll find yourself confronted with mainly battle series. The likes of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto, My Hero Academia by Kohei Hirokoshi, or Blue Exorcist by Kazue Kato. Beyond the obvious fighting series, you also have other forms of battle like food fighting in Yuto Tsukuda’s Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma, battles of sport such as volley ball in Haruichi Furudate’s Haiku!! and American football with Riichiro Inagaki’s Eyeshield 21. From just an overview, it’s easy to classify stories published under the Shonen Jump title as battle series, of one kind or another.

In 2003, the team of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata brought the series Death Note to Weekly Shonen Jump. A series that ones again could be called a battle series, but one of minds and ideologies. The series became massively popular to the point that it spawned an animated series, a series of Japanese live action films, spin-off novels, and an American film adaptation on Netflix. The series was strong throughout, to the point that it’s highly regarded the world over, and while it was artificially stretched out with a longer second act just to keep making money. The series ending had one massive question from fans. What would these two creators go on to do next?

Enter 2008 and the release of Bakuman. The return of Ohba and Obata. After such a dark and strange series such as Death Note, Bakuman could be anything. It could be just as messed up, it could be just as polarising in terms of ethics.

Instead, Bakuman is the story of two 14-year-old boys as they try to find their place in the world, and get a series published in Weekly Shonen Jump, while the series itself ran in Weekly Shonen Jump. The series in an intriguing and meta look at the inner workings of not only the magazine, but the lives of those that work week after week in order to have their work published.

Chapter 1: Dreams and Reality

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The opening chapter introduces us to Moritaka Mashiro. A 14-year-old just entering the last year of compulsory education. Mashiro is a talented artist and strong-minded kid, but he knows what is expected of him, and resigns himself to an ordinary life.

“The normal path means getting into a good high school, a good college and a good company to work for. So I guess I’m just going to live a normal life. I don’t want to cause any problems for my parents. I don’t want to be called a shut-in. That’s why I go to school even though it’s so much easier to stay at home and sit in front of the computer or play video games. I don’t want to be called a freeloader in the future, so I’ll become a white-collar worker even though I don’t want to.”

Mashiro sits in his class, takes his notes, and quietly draws the girl he loves quietly. Since exams are going on, the class is allowed a half day to study. Upon getting home, he realises that he’s left his notebook in his desk and quietly walks back alone to get it. As he makes his way back to the classroom, he finds Akito Takagi sat at his desk. Akito Takagi, the smartest kid in school, and adored by all the teachers. Takagi reveals to Mashiro that he’s seen in his note book, he knows about the very detailed and well-drawn sketches of Mashiro’s crush, Azuki. Obata and Ohba even make a very casual nod to their previous series. When Takagi holds up the notebook, he notes the expression on Mashiro’s face and comments:

“Come on, don’t look so serious. It’s not like it’s a Death Note.”

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Mashiro, already resigned to just living an ordinary life, assumes that Takagi will tell him to back off on his crush. Takagi even follows up by making a comment about how she’s reserved but probably the cutest girl in school. However, he takes Mashiro by surprise by saying that she probably likes him too. Flustered, Mashiro asks how he knows that, and Takagi’s only real response is that he sits in the back of the classroom, so he watches everyone. Mashiro finally asks for his notebook back, but Takagi has one condition.

“I want you to team up with me to create manga.”

Mashiro is surprised that Takagi, a smart kid, destined for a bright future, is so dedicated to something like creating manga. Mashiro even breaks down to him how unlikely it is to succeed in that world. How much it takes from a person, and how the only ones that truly succeed are born geniuses. Comparing those foolish enough to try to gamblers. Mashiro’s thoughts on the industry at this point are very much the harsh reality. Ohba, the series writer, uses this opportunity as a chance to explain to the audience how he feels about it all. Using Mashiro as his mouthpiece for the moment, having him state:

“You’re a manga artist if you create one mega hit or several ones successful enough to live off of. Otherwise, you’re just a gambler. Even the author of Death Note wrote somewhere that he’d probably starve to death in five years if he didn’t keep working.”

Takagi, surprised by how well and much Mashiro knows asks why he has this opinion. And Mashiro reveals that his uncle used to be a manga artist for jump, drawing a small gag comic known as Superhero Legend. An artist that passed away largely unknown to the world but was still a big source of inspiration to Mashiro.

It’s speculated that the series author, Tsugumi Ohba, has been using a pen name for years, and is actually Hiroshi Gamo. An artist and writer who worked on a similarly styled Tottemo! Luckyman, and that the commentary in Bakuman about Mashiro’s uncle, is Ohba talking about his own previous career, and how hard that was for him. The theory comes from the pages between chapters that show Ohba’s doodles and notes to artist Takeshi Obata for each chapter, and the similarity between Mashiro’s uncle’s characters, and Gamo’s Luckyman.

Mashiro tries to leave, and Takagi asks what exactly does he want from life. Is he happy with just being an ordinary business man? If he going to ever use his natural artistic talent, or just waste it? Mashiro comments on Takagi’s persistence, and tells him that he’ll think about it.

Home, Mashiro sits trying to study for the upcoming exam, but just can’t get into the right mindset. He takes a break and starts playing a game, but Takagi’s words are echoing in his mind. He thinks back to the times as a kid where he would sit in his uncle’s studio, watching him work himself to the bone, and a story of why he does what he does. That he was in love with a girl from middle school and wanted to become rich and famous, so he could give her the life she deserved. That they exchanged letters back and forth since they went their separate ways, but by the time Mashiro’s uncle had gotten a series published, and it was about to become a TV show. They were both in their 30s and she had gotten married. He carried on what he was doing, getting published as much as he could, because the more he had his name published, the more she would be able to see his success. Something he wouldn’t be able to do as a regular salary man.

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Mashiro thinks about it all, still sat there, game system in hand. As his mother walks in and shouts at him for not studying. Asking if he even cares about his future. As she leaves, his frustration about everything is let out as he punches both his bed and the system. His phone begins to ring, as Takagi voice comes through, telling Mashiro that he’s going to Azuki’s house to confess. Mashiro is flustered, unsure of what he means, as Takagi asks him to come with. Reluctantly, Mashiro agrees and bikes to meet Takagi by Azuki’s house.

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As they ring the door bell, and the pair panic. Azuki’s mother answer’s through the speakers. Later bringing Azuki herself to the phone. Takagi asks if she could come to the door, and she agrees. Now face to face, upon seeing each other Azuki and Mashiro blush before looking away. Takagi announces to her that the pair are going to become manga creators, and they came here to tell her that. Takagi reveals that he knows Azuki’s dream is to become a voice actress. A flustered and panicked Mashiro is dragged into better view, and blurts out that Takagi will be writing, while he draws it. Azuki is greatly happy to hear this, and even comments that if the pair get published, and if that series is made into a tv show, then maybe she can voice one of the characters.

Mashiro’s memories of his uncle’s story blair through his head, and in a moment of passion, he shouts:

“So if that dream ever comes true, will you marry me?”

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Takagi and Azuki are shocked by his comment, and Mashiro suddenly realises what he had said. Azuki runs back into her house and closes the door. The pair are freaking out for a moment, before Azuki’s voice rings back through the speakers.

“Mashiro? Okay. I promise you.”

 

  • Death Note. (2006 – 2007) Directed by Tetsuro Araki. TV. [DVD] Studio Madhouse: JPN.
  • Death Note. (2006) Directed by Shusuke Kaneko. Film. [DVD] Warner Bros. Pictures: JPN.
  • Death Note. (2017) Directed by Adam Wingard. Film. [DVD] Vertigo Entertainment: USA.
  • Death Note 2: The Last Name. (2006) Directed by Shusuke Kaneko. Film. [DVD] Warner Bros. Pictures: JPN.
  • Furudate, H. (2012 – present) Haikyu!! Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
  • Gamo, H. (1993 – 1997) Tottemo! Luckyman. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: JPN.
  • Horikoshi, K. (2014 – present) My Hero Academia. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
  • Inagaki, R. (2002 – 2009) Eyeshield 21. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
  • Isin, N. (2006) Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases. Shueisha, Tokyo: Japan.
  • Kishimoto, M. (1999 – 2014) Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
  • L: Change The World. (2008) Directed by Hideo Nakata. Film. [DVD] Warner Bros. Pictures: JPN.
  • Ohba, T. & Obata, T. (2003 – 2006) Death Note. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
  • Ohba, T. & Obata, T. (2008 – 2012) Bakuman, Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
  • Toriyama, A. (1984 – 1995) Dragon Ball. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
  • Tsukuda, Y. (2012 – present) Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.

Clarissa by Jason Yungbluth

Independent comics are perhaps some of the most experimental you can find. With no publisher or financial backer to worry about, particularly in the age of the internet, an artist/writer can explore any themes or settings they wish without fear of loosing the ability to publish. The internet lets these creators express their ideas to the world openly and freely. This can range from slice of life type works where people chronicle their everyday worlds, to strange sci-fi and fantasy that’s simply too weird for a mainstream publisher to get in the first place. This freedom opens creators up to go as weird and nonsensical as they wish, or even to explore the darkest realms of humanity.

Enter Clarissa.

Created by Jason Yungbluth in 1999, Clarissa centres around a young girl and her almost anachronistic 50’s family. A seemingly perfect family, complete with 2.5 kids, a doting mother and head of the household father. Problem is, this is all just a cover up. Clarissa, the youngest of them all, is frequently the victim of sexual assault and rape at the hands of her father. The rest of the family is shown in fear of the father, and keeping up, above all else, the image of the perfect family.

The stories are mostly told from Clarissa’s point of view as we see the lengths she goes to at such a young age to avoid her pain, or even to get other people to understand what is going on in her life. Including her nursery school teacher or some of the kids around her. The series has this dark humour vibe running through it. Almost like it’s trying to make you awkwardly laugh while horror unfolds before you.

An example of this is the story Stuffed Friend. A five-page short story written and drawn in 2001.

The story begins with the mother calling Clarissa over saying that she’s brought her a brand new stuffed bunny. The mother’s appearance right before this exchanged shows her clearly drinking while she wears a coat and hat reminiscent of that of Jackie Kennedy the day J.F.K. was shot. The mother tells Clarissa not to lose THIS one. Implying that Clarissa’s toys have a habit of disappearing. Clarissa goes to bed, dragging the bunny behind her. At night, the bunny comes to life, jumping all around the room, trying to get Clarissa to play with him. Clarissa is unfazed throughout the entire event. The door begins to open, and the bunny comments that it will play possum till the coast is clear. The shadow of her father envelops the room and it’s implied that several hours pass. The father leaves, and Clarissa is shown with her clothes open, her frown now slightly shaken, and her hair out of place. The bunny comes back to life and comments “Holy Shit! That’s… Uh… That’s a little bit more than I signed on for”. The bunny jumps off the bed and towards the window, saying sorry to the young girl before jumping out of the window. The final shot shows a pile of stuffed animals all laying on the ground outside.

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This is not a one-off incident. This is routine in Clarissa’s life. A later comic Bath Time Fun! shows Clarissa’s painful and self-deprecating bath routine as she tells herself about how Daddy never keeps his promises to stop doing the yucky things he does. How she locks the door and doesn’t open it no matter how much money Daddy slips under the door.

The stories of Clarissa are fictional and short. But these stories can be all two true for many people around the world. Which Clarissa is written and drawn as somewhat of a dark comedy, it can indeed be a daily horror in reality.

The full selection of Clarissa comics, as well as Jason Yungbluth’s other work is available on his website here: http://www.whatisdeepfried.com/2000/12/31/clarissa/