Sandman Deluxe Edition Book Three

This is a review of Sandman Deluxe Edition Book Three. You can read my reviews of the first and second volumes here and here. This is the midpoint of the Sandman series; it’s all downhill from here. The first storyline, A Game of You, deconstructs the chosen one storyline in fantasy stories. Barbie, a minor character in A Doll’s House, is a princess who visits The Land in her dreams. She is a visitor and not a resident, which turns out to be important.

In her waking hours, Barbie lives in an apartment complex in New York City that must be rent controlled. I say this because Barbie has no visible means of support except alimony checks from her ex. The shit hits the fan when Barbie’s loyal retainer from the Land – an enormous talking dog named Martin Tenbones – is shot down in the streets by the police while attempting to retrieve her, a not-so-subtle foreshadowing of the carnage to follow.

The Land is being threatened by a cuckoo, a diabolical bird that lays its egg in other bird’s nests. When the baby cuckoo hatches, it shoves the other hatchlings out of the nest where they die of starvation while the mother bird ignores them and feeds the intruder. Dream isn’t in this one much. He shows up at the end, to put a bow on things.

Brief Lives, the second storyline, involves Dream and his sister Delirium’s search for their estranged brother, Destruction. This is the longest storyline so far, or at least it feels like it. Their search takes them to a goddess working at a strip club; to the dreams of the cat goddess Bast; to Dream’s estranged son, Orpheus. This is the storyline that marks the beginning of the end, as Destruction is apply named.

I don’t quite understand Dream’s motivations in this one, as he seems aware of the potential consequences of his actions. Their path to Destruction is littered with the bodies of Destruction’s friends and lovers, which causes Dream to temporarily abandon his quest, but he resumes it and finds what he’s looking for, and I don’t know why.

Highly recommended.

Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor Volume One

I have been reading comics since 1978, and I’m here to tell you that there’s a lot of bad comics out there. By bad, I mean racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, full of clichés, nonsensical, and violent. Don’t get me wrong. There are also good comics, but Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor Volume One does not number among them.

Here’s the good: Jack Kirby drew some of these issues. That sums up the good. I rate Thor above the first volume of Iron Man, but that’s not a high fence to hurdle. Thor’s creators were still figuring him out as a character, which means his powers fluctuate according to the needs of the plot. In one issue Thor destroys half the earth, and in the next he’s laid low by a mobster. Thor’s personality is also in flux, in that he doesn’t have one. Sixty years later and he still doesn’t!                                                                                         

These stories reminded me of the first volume of Iron Man, a never-ending series of twelve page one-shots. The most memorable villain in this volume is Thor’s evil step-brother Loki, who gets chained up as much as Wonder Woman. Other villains include The Cobra, Mr. Hyde, a lone Lava Man, and The Radioactive Man. Most of the plots revolve around 1. Thor losing his mighty hammer and transforming back into Donald Blake, usually in the middle of a fight; 2. Thor mooning over Jane Foster.

Thor’s alter ego, Dr. Don Blake, can’t express his love to his nurse Jane Foster because he’s lame and there’s no way she could love a cripple. That’s what he tells himself, anyway. When Blake musters up the courage to tell her he’s secretly Thor, his father the mighty Odin cock-blocks him.

Two things stand out in this graphic novel. The first is an extended fantasy sequence wherein Jane Foster imagines domestic bliss as Mrs. Thor, wherein she polishes his hammer, irons his cloak, and gives him a nice, short haircut so he doesn’t look like one of those beatniks. I hope the creators were laughing their asses off when they created that sequence, because I sure was.

I can sum up the second standout in two words: chromosomatic gland. Loki hits Thor’s chromosomatic gland, which reverses Thor’s brain and leads to him raising his hand against the mighty Odin and then destroying the earth with his crazed half-brother. The issue ends with Odin hitting Thor’s chromosomatic gland and re-reversing his brain, which leads to our beloved hero regaining his nobility. Of course, the earth is still destroyed, but Odin undoes all the damage and erases everyone’s memories of the event. I’m unsure if he raises all the people his sons killed from the dead, but am assuming the creators would say nobody died.

This issue might be the worst comic I’ve ever read, and (as mentioned) I’ve read a lot of comics. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is where they got the idea of retconning Spider-Man’s marriage.

For Thor junkies only.

World’s Finest Silver Age Volume One

This is a review of World’s Finest Silver Age Volume One, featuring the adventures of Superman, Batman, and Robin. Special shout-out to Lois Lane, who appears in most of these issues. These comics were produced in the fifties. They’re not good but if you’re a Batman/Superman fan I’m sure you’ll like them.

Or maybe you won’t. The plots are relentlessly weird – in one issue Batman, Superman, and Robin travel back in time and become the Three Musketeers, complete with tricorn hats and ruffled shirts! In another Batman and Robin gain Superman’s powers, while The Man of Steel must contend with being a mere mortal! In yet another story, Batman and Superman switch secret identities in order to fool Lois Lane, who has gone from hating Clark Kent to thinking he’s Superman!

Reading these comics is like having a midlife crisis – stay with me, here. Say you decide to take your vacation at a nudist camp. Your kids are horrified, the neighbors are bemused, but you need to show everyone you still got it. Except when you go, it sucks. Everyone is flabby, middle-aged, and out-of-shape (just like you!), mosquitos are everywhere, you burn yourself sunbathing on the beach, get poison ivy playing nude volleyball, and end up with food poisoning.

When you go back home, you’d just as soon forget the whole thing, but there’s that one person who took photos and videos of everything and posted them on Instagram & Facebook and now he keeps on cc:ing you and won’t go away. That’s what reading these issues is like.

Batman & Robin and Superman were created in the late 30’s. By the 1950’s, they’d reached middle-age and their creators were regularly jumping the shark, pick your reason. Which is to say: these comics aren’t good, which isn’t the same thing as saying I didn’t like them. Because I did like them, even though they were bad and when I finish this graphic novel I won’t remember any of them.


Marvel Masterworks Daredevil Volume Two

This is a review of Marvel Masterworks Daredevil Volume 2. I read the first volume back in January. The second volume contains the SINGLE GREATEST DAREDEVIL STORYLINE OF ALL TIME. Emotionally, I was unprepared. If you read my review of the first volume, found here, you know of the love triangle between Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil), his partner Foggy Nelson, and their secretary Karen Page. Perhaps ‘love triangle’ is misleading, as there’s no actual love or sex involved.

No, what we have is three adults acting like lovesick teenagers, which admittedly was Daredevil’s audience at that time. Things are at an impasse until the entrance of supervillain Masked Marauder, a purple-plumed goon who gets the bright idea of dressing his menagerie of thugs up as Daredevil and having them attack Spider-Man, so the two heroes will fight while he robs banks or whatever.

His plan works. Spider-Man bursts into the law offices of Nelson & Murdock and dangles Foggy out the window because he thinks he’s Daredevil. Foggy is not Daredevil, but he starts hinting to his secretary Karen Page that he is in order to impress her. It’s a version of the ole’ ‘I was in the CIA but can’t talk about it’ bit.

Foggy takes it a step further and buys a Daredevil costume. Unfortunately, he buys the costume at the shop of The Gladiator, frustrated tailor and budding supervillain, who suggests that Foggy hire a pretend thug to beat up when he’s dressed as Daredevil, in order to impress Karen. With me so far?

The Gladiator’s plan is to eviscerate Foggy, because reasons. Unaware, Foggy and Karen take a cab to a deserted wharf, where the Gladiator awaits. Will the real Daredevil arrive in time? Will true love – or whatever this is – triumph?

I have been reading superhero comics for decades, and I haven’t read many dopier storylines, but somehow the creators (Stan Lee & John Romita) pull it off. Foggy is on the portly side, and thus can barely fit into his Daredevil costume, just one of all sorts of magical details contained within. My second favorite storyline features The Owl, a supervillain who builds an enormous mechanical owl to attack Daredevil. Later in the volume, Daredevil rides that owl like a bronco.

My biggest issue with these issues is that this version of Daredevil is dead and buried. I do think writer Mark Waid’s version of Daredevil hearkens back to these issues, but for better or worse, artist/writer Frank Miller left an indelible mark on the character.

Read this!

Golden Age Superman Volume One

This is a review of Superman The Golden Age Volume One. I have a confession to make – I thought these comics would be awful. They aren’t. I enjoyed this graphic novel, warts and all, and liked seeing how Superman has changed over the years.

Superman is Clark Kent, milksop reporter. In reality, he’s a space alien rocketed to earth after his home planet explodes. Superman’s power set has evolved from his origins, where he jumps – just like The Incredible Hulk, minus the torn purple pants – instead of flying. He’s also super strong and invulnerable, although not quite as invulnerable as today.

What about Superman’s cast? At the moment, it’s just Lois Lane. Lois wears red a lot, which I’m guessing is a conscious choice on the part of the creators. She’s not very nice to Clark Kent (Superman’s alter ego). In Lois’ defense, Clark hits on her – well, all the time. My theory is that Lois stopped being cordial after rebuffing the first hundred attempts. No human resources departments back then, looks like.

The creators tend to use Lois as a hostage/rescue object, although nobody alive can beat Wonder Woman in that department. In one episode, Lois is thrown out a window and rescued by Superman. Apparently she’s in love with the big fella, because who wouldn’t love a space alien that can leap like an enormous grasshopper?

The basic template of a Superman story goes like this. Superman sees a bully kicking sand in someone’s face; Superman kicks the crap out of the bully. Sometimes the stories can get overly complex or weird, as when Superman kidnaps a college football player by jabbing him with a hypodermic needle and then poses as said youth, in order to teach the coach of the opposing team a lesson.

These stories are glorified power fantasies, which is fine, but they blend. They also overlook basic realities of human nature. In one issue, Superman kidnaps the generals of two opposing forces and tells them to fight. When they realize they’re not mad at each other, the generals end the war. Yeeeeeah.

There’s not a whole lot of suspense in these comics. The writers hadn’t invented kryptonite yet, so in the first year of stories Superman is invincible. It takes the introduction of the Ultra Humanite, whose claim to fame is managing to briefly knock Superman out a few times, to add an element of danger to the series.

I will leave you with this. There’s a fine line between fighting a bully and being a bully yourself. Superman might be the strongest man in the planet, but that doesn’t make him tough. He didn’t have to work for it.