Report what comic books you have read today--and tell us a little something about it while you're here!

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I read a book that I guarantee is not going to fly with most of you all, but just in case anyone might be interested, I want to talk about it anyway.

I read a book called Ant Colony and it was written and drawn by Michael DeForge. It's really hard to explain, but once you start reading it, you get into the existential angst of a group of ants in a colony. It really pulled me in and I couldn't come up for air until I had finished the hardcover.

The art isn't realistic at all, but that's a big part of the charm.

Pictured above is an epic battle between our "hero" black ants and a colony of red ants.

Do not read this if you are offended by depictions of sex and that kind of forbidden talk. I do have to say that, given the deadpan matter with which these things are discussed, it's not something that would ever excite a teenage boy. :)

As I said, this isn't something I would expect anyone here to enjoy, but I would be happy if someone did.

I haven’t been in much of a mood to read new comics for two weeks now. The one new comic book I read this past weekend, Atlantis Attacks, I shall get to anon.

FOURTH WORLD: I have decided not to launch a comprehensive discussion after all. For one reason, it’s been done here (twice) before, and for another, I’m already two volumes in. Third, I am reading them in my own preferred order, not in the order released/collected. It’s amazing to me how well the “Fourth World” material holds up to multiple readings, especially considering how much I hated it my first time through. I like the Jimmy Olsen material well enough, but, because of the Plastino redrawn faces of Superman and Jimmy, not, I have discovered, in conjunction with the three main titles, only by itself.

TOM CORBITT<: Cap, I read with interest all of your PSArtbooks reviews, even though I am so far behind I despair of ever catching up. Reading Tom Corbitt sounds, to a certain extent, like reading Flash Gordon comic books. They started out amazing bland, too (especially in comparison to Alex Raymond), but got much, much better (no doubt better than the best of the Tom Corbett ones) when Al Williamson took over.

ATLANTIS ATTACKS #1: This series came as a complete surprise to me when I saw it on the shelves last week. My first thought was, “What, again?” This series spins out of the most recent iteration of Agents of Atlas (of which there have apparently been two short series), not the Jeff Parker version fondly remembered by many of us here, but the version under the command of Amadeus Cho (who got a “call out” of sorts on last week’s This Is Us. But I digress.)

This version is based in the pan-dimensional city of, uh… “Pan,” which links all major Asian cities worldwide by means of mystic portals. But somehow the magic they are using encroaches on Atlantis, and Namor is understandably p*ssed. He honestly has a point, but I wonder if today’s writers have any idea how to write Namor heroically. I don’t know anything about these new Agents of Atlas (other than what’s revealed in the first issue), but following Namor’s story directly from the recently completed Invaders series, I wonder how he knows anything about them at all.

At the end of the issue, Jimmy Woo and his Agents of Atlas arrive on the scene setting up a three-way conflict.

Namor has been a bad guy since Illuminati, essentially. I hadn't thought about it, but you're right: That's long enough that a lot of writers and/or readers might not know him as anything else now. I keep thinking of it as an aberration where the pendulum will eventually swing back, but maybe not.

A jaunt to my friendly neighborhood library yielded three collections.

One was Batman '66 Meets Wonder Woman '77. I've read a few of these, most recently Wonder Woman '77 Meets The Bionic Woman. I've always felt that these TV show teamups-that-never-were are a cool idea but the execution is always lacking, mostly because of sub-par art. This one was no different. 

Also, Batman '66 Meets Wonder Woman '77 brought in a major villain from the comics: Ra's al-Ghul!  Ra's wasn't even a character when Batman '66 was on the air, and as far as I know never encountered Wonder Woman in the comics circa 1977 and certainly didn't show up on The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.

No matter; an ageless villain like him worked because this story spanned three eras. It opens in the 1940s, as Thomas Wayne hosts an auction of rare historical artifacts at stately Wayne Manor, in particular a two-volume set of books full of mystic lore. Yeoman Dinah Prince and Colonel Steve Trevor are hunting for possible Nazi spies among the buyers, and Ra's is there to get the books no matter who buys them. Things go sideways pretty quickly, and Young Bruce Wayne (who is about 10 years old or so at the time) helps Wonder Woman hide one of the books -- and discovers the Batcave while he's on the run from Ra's and his minions from the League of Shadows.

The story jumps ahead to 1966 and then to 1977, with Ra's still after the tomes, which reveal the location of Paradise Island. This conceit allows the story to cover both eras featured on the Wonder Woman TV series as well at the Batman TV show. To further the gag, Catwoman is there, as Eartha Kitt in the 1940s, Lee Meriwether in the 1960s, and Julie Newmar in the 1970s!

The characterization is mostly faithful to who these people were on their respective TV shows in the first two parts, but makes a bad misstep in 1977. Here, Barbara Gordon has become the Gotham Police commissioner (fine), Robin has become NIghtwing (okay, sure), and Batman has killed The Joker (wha--?) because he's Gone Too Far.

Did they really have to inject an unwelcome note of Grim 'n' Gritty™ into this? I cannot believe Adam West's Batman and Cesar Romero's Joker would behave in such a fashion. (13th Dimension says it as well as I would have here.)

Next was Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Invisible Mafia, which covers Action Comics #1001-1006 by Brian Michael Bendis. It's interesting, but not enough to bring me back to the Superman titles. The art is fine, and the Superman characterization is fine. Perry White is the gruff wise editor, which is okay, although he oddly has reporters who don't understand that they're supposed to do basic things like confirming their stories before they get into print.

Part of the storyline is about a band of high-tech thieves whose M.O. is to cause a distraction on one side of town -- like, say, a house fire -- to get Superman out of the way while they commit their heist on the other side of town. But they take it too far by blaming Superman for the arsons, which leads to investigations by the Metropolis fire chief and ace reporter Clark Kent. Then one of the crew gets killed, seemingly because Superman dropped him from a great height. 

There's a scene in which Perry White confronts the reporter with a page proof with the headline "SUPERMAN KILLS," and demands to know how this was possible when Superman was off with the Justice League when this murder happened. This was an argument that should have been had well before the story got onto the page proof.

Also, at one point Perry White calls Clark Kent "Smallville," which I never liked when Lois Lane does it -- it's supposed to be endearing, but I find it smug and condescending -- and like even less that other people feel free to do it. 

And then there's Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore!, which collects Superman (Volume 1) #232-238 and 240–242. I've seen the leadoff story -- the one in which all kryptonite on Earth is destroyed -- many times, but not any of the ones that followed. So after reading the Bendis version of Superman, it was a treat to read the Bronze Age version.

Unfortunately, the writer here is Denny O’Neil, who isn’t quite the right fit. After taking the radical step of eliminating all kryptonite on Earth – the in-story result of a science experiment gone wrong – he goes into an extended saga about Superman losing his powers. The science experiment made Superman crash land in a desert, and the sand in the divot where he lands comes to life like a golem and follows Superman around. Every time he is in proximity with the thing, his powers weaken and some of them cut out entirely.

O’Neil plainly subscribes to the “Superman is too powerful” school of thought. For my money, any time I hear a writer make that plaint, I take it as an admission that they aren’t up to the job and ought to step aside for someone who is.

Anyway, through these stories, Superman struggles through how to function with diminished capabilities, at first baffled as to how and why, and then realizing the “Sand Superman” is to blame. But his silicon-based doppelganger is mute through most of this tale. Eventually we learn he is a being from another dimension, and just wants to get home – even if it means Superman has to die to make it happen.

This was different than most Bronze Age fare in a lot of ways. This is a real story arc that covers several issues, instead of the done-in-one stories typical of the time. The leadoff story is the one in which Morgan Edge makes Clark Kent switch from reporting for the Daily Planet to WGBS-TV. It seemed odd to me that Clark didn’t have a camera crew, just some kind of portable camera rig. But actually, being a “one-man band” is how it’s done today at a lot of TV stations, so O’Neil was 40 years ahead of his time in that respect.

One thing we see throughout is thought balloons, which are welcome. I don’t know why it became a convention in today’s comics to write characters without showing their inner thoughts, especially because I think it’s stupid to take a tool out of your toolbox. But Superman’s characterization is a little off in one way: He is quite grouchy about rescuing Lois Lane, jarringly so. Which I think reflects on O’Neil as well.

There’s also an unexpected team-up with Wonder Woman, then in her Emma Peel non-costumed guise, and her mystic blind Chinese companion, I-Ching.

All of the stories are drawn by Curt Swan, and all but one are inked by Murphy Anderson; that odd one is inked by Dick Giordano, so they all look great.

It was interesting to see these stories, and I don’t know why I haven’t seen them before, but I think Cary Bates and Martin Pasko, who followed O’Neil, had a better handle on Superman’s character.

I read the Diana: Princess of the Amazons graphic novel. It's a fun story, but I think it skews young, even for its intended tween audience. Still, kudos to DC for reaching out to that audience. You know, the people for whom comics used to be written.

Denny O'Neil has often said that he wasn't comfortable writing Superman.

Philip Portelli said:

Denny O'Neil has often said that he wasn't comfortable writing Superman.

Yeah, he says as much in the afterword to the Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore collection. As O'Neil describes it, he was coming off stints on the Batman books and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, so editor Julius Schwartz trusted him to deliver, but Schwartz had to ask him several times before he agreed. 

I don't buy the "Superman is too powerful" plaint, but O'Neil complains such, and startes kryptonite had become too much of an easy story crutch as it was the only weakness for Superman that worked, and writers relied on it far too often. But after the story that turned kryptonite into iron, O'Neil now had a Superman with no limits on his power, and he couldn't think of anything better to do but depower him and show him struggling with the results.

It's a schtick he and Schwartz did to far better result on the Batman titles; there, they did without most of Batman's colorful villains or reinvented them (The Joker, Two-Face), limited the stuff Batman carried in his utility belt to just a few items (Batarang, rebreather, rope, small grenades), and made sure all the stories took place at night.

O'Neil also depowered Green Lantern in the "Hard Travelin' Heroes" stories, pointedly having the Guardians tell Green Lantern they were cutting his power in half and that the ring wouldn't protect him from mortal harm just when he was surrounded by a bunch of guys out to shoot him.

In those stories, O;Neil's clear sympathies are with Green Arrow, the loudmouthed liberal. O'Neil has commented that saw Green Lantern as a "crypto-fascist" because he was a lawman, and you notice that in every one of those stories, Green Lantern is on the losing -- and thus, "wrong" -- end of each issue's argument. 

O'Neil couldn't really do that with Superman; he's as establishment as it gets. Yeah, yeah, Superman was a Champion of the Little Guy in his first stories, a reckless crimebuster against corrupt politicians and abusive husbands, but that hardly reflected how Superman was 40 years later when O'Neil had to write him. But he did eschew Superman's regular villains, infused the stories with environmental themes like he did in Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and pared back the supporting cast to Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and Lois Lane. But as noted above, he wrote Superman like he hated Lois Lane or at least was always pissed off at her. 

Over in World's Finest, O'Neil also got rid of the Superman and Clark Kent robots. Following his environmentalist bent, he ascribed it to air pollution damaging the robots' mechanisms. I saw an article that noted that was pretty much the only change O'Neil made that really did stick. Everything else -- kryptonite, insane super-strength, working for the Daily Planet, Luthor and the regular coterie of villains -- all came back. 

O'Neil begged off the book before a full year passed. 

"I keep thinking of [Namor's characterization] as an aberration where the pendulum will eventually swing back, but maybe not."

His 100th birthday is coming up this year or next. (I wonder if that has occurred to Marvel...?) That woujld be a good time to address it.

Kelvin, I, too, was underwhelmed the first time I read the entire "Kryptonite Nevermore" storyline. I much preferred the post-Crisis retelling which distelled the key elements into a one-shot. The story and art by walt Simonson was a plus, too.

TALES OF THE BATMAN by ALAN BRENNERT: Someone was talking about Alan Brennert here recently and it occurred to me I wasn't all that familiar with his work. When i saw a still-shrinkwrapped copy of this collection for half price recently I snatched it up. Turns out I;m not familiar with his comic book work because there isn't all that much of it. I had read two or three of the stories previously, but they weren't necessarily my favorite ones. The stories range from "pretty good" at worst to "very good" at best.

I don't claim to have read any Superman comics in ages, but if they've established that Kryptonite and Magic are his only vulnerabilities, how does one write a story longer than two pages unless it's just about Lois, Lana, Jimmy and Perry? How did they justify Doomsday killing him? Is it a matter of charging him with a yellow sun and running out of juice? 

Richard Willis said:

I don't claim to have read any Superman comics in ages, but if they've established that Kryptonite and Magic are his only vulnerabilities, how does one write a story longer than two pages unless it's just about Lois, Lana, Jimmy and Perry? How did they justify Doomsday killing him? Is it a matter of charging him with a yellow sun and running out of juice? 

As our friend Randy always says, you write Superman stories that are longer than two pages by giving him problems he can't solve with his fists. Writers in the Golden Age and the Bronze Age managed that just fine. 

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