menu

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chris is on Infinite Earths -- 2 year anniversary


Chris Is On Infinite Earths -- a 'random DC comics discussion and reviews' blog written by Chris Sheehan -- has reached its second anniversary milestone today. I'm telling you this because if you're a fan of DC comics from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and you don't know about his site, then you should.
Chris has been posting a comic review every day for the past 2 years. EVERY. DAY. Let's put that into context: Monday to Friday? Check. Weekends? Check. Civic Holidays? Check. Christmas? Check. His birthday? Check. He even finds the time to co-host the Cosmic Treadmill and Weird Comics History podcast with Reggie Reggie, and write an occasional review for the DC Weird Science blog.

Chris Is On Infinite Earths deals exclusively with single issue DC comic reviews. Sometimes he'll look back at issues I haven't given a second thought to since they were first published, often he'll spotlight really interesting comics that I'd completely overlooked the first time (and will make me want to research more about it), and frequently he'll review comics I remembered reading and enjoying many many years ago. Chris always goes above and beyond -- not only giving a synopsis of the issue, but also including important and noteworthy panels and providing a bit of historical insight via his own memories when he first picked up the issue. Enjoyable and informative to read -- he gives great care to list EVERY person who worked on the issue (i.e. letterer, colorist, assistant editor). Note: Chris' reviews contain spoilers, so if it's a comic you're thinking about reading and want to remain surprised, wait to read the actual issue before reading the review.

I wasn't sure if he'd let me post a pic of him, so here's a photo of his twitter profile pic. I'm going to assume that he owns this mug.


I enjoy perusing single issue reviews. Often, when I'm doing research on an article I'm writing, I'll need to go back and look deep into the web for a better summary of a back issue I don't seem to have on-hand. Finding a very in-depth synopsis on a particular 'key' issue you're seeking info on is a kin to striking gold in the amateur comics journalism world. Likewise, it's interesting to read a review about a comic I really enjoyed and seeing if other reviewers felt the same way I did -- or maybe reading about a new perspective I was previously unaware of.


In honor of Chris and his two-year blogaversary, here are our top 10 favorite reviews from Jan 31, 2017 to Jan 30, 2018 from the Chris is on Infinite Earths blog. [It was really difficult to narrow it down to ten, since there are 364 great reviews to chose from. Naturally we'll be biased towards the comics he reviewed from the '80s, because it's what we do.]


#1 - That time the Joker appeared in a Flash comic (Flash #33, 1989). I love it when villains cross-over to other books to fight the title's heroes -- especially when it's a Bat-villain that crosses over. Prior to Chris's review, I had no knowledge (or forgotten) of this issue's existence and am glad he featured it.




#2 - Ambush Bug featured in Action Comics (Action Comics #563, 1985). I'm a big fan of Keith Giffen's non-sequitur sense of humor in his Ambush Bug comics, and Giffen's art (which had an 'underground comix' vibe to it). Cheers to Chris for raising awareness about Giffen and his bug.




#3 - A Lonely Place of Dying story arc from Batman (Batman #440, New Titans #60, Batman #441, New Titans #61, Batman #442, 1989). As previously mentioned, sometimes Chris will cover comics that I haven't thought twice about since they were published -- this is a prime example. I had totally forgotten about the 'A Lonely Place of Dying' story arc which focused on Batman's relationship with Dick Grayson/Nightwing and crossed-over with the then-current Teen Titans series. Great to re-read again. Chris reviews all five issues in this story arc.



#4 - The 1988 Millennium cross-over event (Millennium #1 - 8, 1988). Earlier in 2017 the twitter-sphere was abuzz with everyone waxing nostalgic about 1988's Millennium cross-over event. The event itself lasted 2 months and crossed-over with just about every title DC was publishing at the time (45 issues in total). This was a really nice review of the core issues of the cross-over and some interesting commentary on how the cross-over was effecting the rest of the DC titles.




#5 - John Byrne's Many Deaths of the Batman story arc (Batman #433 - 435, 1989). This is a bit of a rarity -- a John Byrne Batman story in which he wrote and didn't touch the art... and the whole premise of the story sounds intriguing, too. I didn't read all three issue reviews, because after reading about half of the Batman #433 review I went out and tracked down these comics. Thanks to Chris.




#6 - All-Star Squadron's 1927 Metropolis easter egg (All-Star Squadron #60, 1986Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron was a series I grew up reading, and I will always check out any review about any issue of All-Star Squadron simply based on principle. Imagine my surprise when Chris actually caught an easter egg I had completely missed the first time. On top of that, this is the issue when those pesky Crisis On Infinite Earths changes take place and completely alter the All-Star Squadron team photo. Great issue, great review.





#7 - Potshots at Terry Long (Teen Titans Spotlight #12, 1987) Okay, so by now Terry Long is a bit of a running joke among Teen Titans fans -- a divorced middle-aged college professor who ends up dating and marrying one of his students (i.e. Donna Troy/Wonder Girl) and becomes the 'creepy older guy' hanging our with a bunch of teens. While a lot of this may have gotten lost over time, Chris remembers. Vividly. I love his little digs at 'The Life and Times of Terry Long' and a lot of these reviews leave me laughing out loud.




#8 - The Riddler appears in The Question (The Question #26, 1989) Another instance of a Bat-villain appearing in someone else's title, I always dig these types of issue reviews. I do recall reading this issue when I reviewed 1987's The Question v1 for the DC in the 80 tumblr account several years ago [wow, that takes me back], so this was a nice trip down memory lane.



#9 - The pulse-pounding debut of Danny Chase! (New Teen Titans v2 #47, 1988) The only character Chris rags on harder that Terry Long is Danny Chase (rightfully so, in my opinion). Chris once told me that his initial idea was to create a Teen Titans review and discussion blog before deciding to expand it to cover all of DC comics as a whole (and I'm glad he did). Reading Chris' review, coming from a real Titans fan, makes it even more enjoyable to read because he feels just as passionate about the title as I do. Very entertaining insights.



#10 - The Death of Supergirl (Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, 1985) On a more somber note, Chris covers the death of Supergirl in the pages of Crisis On Infinite Earths. His review also encapsulates the origin of the Crisis in a very easy to read and concise breakdown. This is a great review with lots of interesting observations about the Crisis you may have missed the first time around.




Honorable mention:

The Zero Hour review (Zero Hour #4 - 0, 1994)

In 1994, when DC first announced the Zero Hour comics event, I knew this was going to be the BIG event I had been waiting for. It was going to shake up the DCU -- every character would be affected in some drastic way.  It was going to be like Crisis On Infinite Earths -- but WAY better. I was going to be on the ground floor for this event; I had a sub at my local comic shop, and I was being notified as soon as the issues arrived.  I spent most of my free time re-reading the issues and trying to pick up on clues of how characters were going to change. I collected as many 'zero issues' as I could -- even if it wasn't a title I was following -- because these were all going to be worth big bucks someday, after all. [I was only thirteen years old, cut me some slack.]

And then... well... here we are today. While Zero Hour's bold continuity changes don't really matter in today's DCU and all of my Zero Hour issues are barely worth the paper they're printed on, it was still a great memory and an exciting ride in DC fandom (at the time). Chris and Reggie really dove deep into this event and provided issue reviews and podcasts. This was really a fun memory and I'm glad I'm not the only one who got suckered into believing that nothing would ever be the same again.




This is just the tip of the iceberg -- he's got 2 years worth of great reviews on his site. Go check out Chris Is On Infinite Earths when you're done reading this page.


So this concludes our salute to Chris Sheehan. I also want to mention that not only is he a great writer, interesting speaker and hilarious guy to chat with -- he's also one of our first contributors to this site. Congrats on the two years, Chris. Looking forward to many more years to come.


-Justin

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reviewing Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye -- one year later

Alright, so we'll admit, we're about a year late on this one. Things happened -- we self-published another fanzine, we interviewed a few more comic pros, we covered a few comic conventions -- that got in the way of covering the new Young Animal imprint we're so stoked for. Besides, I enjoy waiting to read the first few issues in one sitting versus only reading the first issue and deciding if the series is going to be a hit or not... sometimes these things take a few issues to develop momentum.  




First of all, who is Cave Carson? The 1960s were an interesting time for DC comics; as the cultural shift would have it, the early 60s saw super-powered characters gaining in popularity again (thanks mainly to the Comics Code Authority putting a halt to horror and crime comics). Before super-powered characters became the 'big thing' in the Silver Age, DC tried out stories about normal humans (usually adventurers or researchers) dealing with extraordinary situations. Hence, we were introduced to The Challengers of the Unknown (a team of human adventurers), the Sea Devils (a team of human underwater adventurers), Rip Hunter (a normal human who invents a time-traveling device), the Suicide Squad (a group of human military operatives) and Cave Carson (a human subterranean adventurer/researcher).

Created by France Herron and Bruno Premiani, Cave Carson debuted in The Brave and the Bold #31 (1960), and lead his expedition team to explore lost underground civilizations and fight subterranean monsters; the stories were a fusion of adventure and science-fiction. I'm sure these tales had their time and place, but I never really had any interest in them -- because really, how many kinds of stories can you tell about a spelunker before they all start to seem similar?

Panels from Showcase #48 (1964). Art by Lee Elias.

He was featured in a few issues of DC's 'try-out' titles, Showcase and The Brave and the Bold, in the early 60s -- but as super-heroes became more popular, he and the rest of the 'non-powered human adventurers' were shuffled off into comic book limbo.

Roughly twenty years later, Cave Carson was included as a member of the aptly named Forgotten Heroes (the other members were also 1960s characters who had gotten lost in comic book limbo). The Forgotten Heroes only appeared a few times pre-Crisis, and afterwards Cave Carson would remain on the fringes of the DCU and occasionally pop up when a writer decided to use him. With nothing else to offer other than his own natural athletic ability and his Mighty Mole digging machine, Carson doesn't bring too much to the table unless the story required someone with expertise in geology. 

Panels from War of the Gods #4 (1991). Art by George Perez, inker unknown.

It was a bit of a surprise that Cave Carson would be headlining one of Young Animal's launch titles (especially under a mature readers label). I was genuinely curious to see what they could do with this character in an interesting way.

Going into Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye, I'm just familiar enough with the character to feel a bit of nostalgia (probably due to him being around since the 1960s) but not so familiar with him that I'll get outrageously upset if they retcon his entire origin.

Upon diving into the first issue, my first discovery was that this book's art was a little more cartoony than I was expecting -- it's very reminiscent of Bruce Timm's art style (as seen in Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series) -- but nevertheless fit with the atmosphere and mood of the story. Illustrator Michael Avon Oeming's layouts are astounding to look at and really contribute to the fluidity of the narrative. Among other things, Oeming is known for his work on Powers (Image/Icon Comics) with writer Brian Michael Bendis -- so if you're wondering why his art looks familiar, now you know.

While I'm mentioning the visuals, I'm going to remark that colorist Nick Filardi's choices of bright vibrant colors (plenty of purples, pinks, greens and blues) compliment Oeming's psychedelic backgrounds and make the pages 'pop' in all the right places.

Double-page spread from Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1 (2016). Art by Michael Avon Oeming

Written by Gerard Way and Jon Rivera, the story itself is fast-paced and absorbing. It's not very wordy, has plenty of action and makes for a quick read. There's a little bit of strong language, but nothing overly offensive. There's a few times that I had to pause in order to take in everything (visually) on the page -- as mentioned before, Oeming and Filardi make a great team. I'm tempted to tear a lot of these pages out of the book and turn them into black light posters [...but I won't, for obvious reasons].

A little bit of Cave's history was expounded on; since the last time readers had heard from him, he'd been married and now has a daughter named Chloe (who is a University student when this story takes place). For the long-time Cave Carson fans, there's a few references to Cave's earlier adventures with Superman and a few recognizable DC characters appear in the story [...including a hero who was introduced in the late '80s, but quickly vanished into comic book limbo. No spoilers, but if you want to know who, click this link].



There's nothing too cerebral about it and it won't make you challenge your belief system or open your eyes to new doorways beyond reality. In short, it's an entertaining sci-fi action-adventure story with a few f-bombs and pop culture references thrown in for good measure. While I thought the entire twelve issue story arc was entertaining as hell and the visuals were quite mesmerizing, I *really* kept reading to see if other legacy DC characters would make cameos (or if any earth-shaking retcons might occur). After reading this series a few times, I positively CANNOT discern whether this is happening in a new DCU, an imaginary world, or a mish-mash of both. Does it really matter? No, it doesn't. It's still an entertaining read.

Why, of all possible C-list DC characters, was Cave Carson chosen to headline his own Young Animal series? Thankfully, Gerard Way explains this in the AFTERWORD of the Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye TPB vol 1: Going Underground (2017). Out of respect to the Copyright Act, I'm going to resist re-typing everything verbatim and give the summarized version. Here goes:

As Way discussed the idea of a new DC comics imprint with Dan DiDio and Jim Lee at the California DC comics offices -- something that re-created the weirdness of the early 90s Vertigo comics -- DiDio suggested that they move in a direction "outside of what Vertigo had done in the past". DiDio explained that a new imprint required a new energy, a different trajectory -- even if it used old characters. DiDio handed Way a copy of The Encyclopedia of the DC Universe and suggested he go digging (presumably for obscure DC characters he could revitalize).

As Way explains it, he's always had an "affinity for obscure characters" because it felt like they were untapped gold mines of potential as far as character development was concerned. Either they were hardly used (so there were huge gaps in their history the writer could fill in), or fans just didn't care about them. Way felt like he hit the proverbial jackpot when he stumbled onto Cave Carson's entry in the DC Encyclopedia. From Gerard Way:

"I check out his stats at the top, and something grabbed my attention:
Special Powers/Abilities: Highly intelligent, with a natural gift for his area of expertise; one eye is cybernetic.
And that's it. There is some history involving his old crew, and a mention of their dip in popularity once the modern age of superheroes began (and a bit about him stealing a vehicle called the Mighty Mole from his employers), but statistically he was just a smart expert in geology with a cybernetic eye. I was in love." 

Preliminary research on the origins of the cybernetic eye yielded nothing, so DiDio got involved and discovered that Cave Carson and his cybernetic eye first appeared in the last few issues of Resurrection Man v1 (1997). Upon further inquiry, it was revealed that the Resurrection Man creative team (Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Jackson Guice) never explained how or why Cave Carson had a new cybernetic eye, and the reader was left to assume that it had happened in some sort of off-panel adventure -- essentially leaving an opening for a new creative team to tell that tale. So now you know the rest of the story.

Cave Carson from Resurrection Man v1 #24. Art by Jackson Guice

As an added bonus, the first six issues of Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye include 3-page excerpts from Thomas Scioli's Super Powers volume 1. Scioli has a knack for making our childhood toylines entertaining again (see: 2014's Transformers vs GI Joe maxi-series by IDW comics), and this time he works his magic on the Super Powers Collection toyline we grew up with.

In contrast to Cave Carson's vibrant digital coloring and crisp inks, Scioli's back-ups look like they were drawn on yellowing parchment paper and colored with coloring pencils -- the entire effect gives it an organic D-I-Y feel that brings up nostalgic memories of that really talented kid back in elementary school who was writing, illustrating and coloring his own in-house comics. [Don't let that last line mislead you, I really dig Sciloi's work.] Erik Tramontana, a major Super Friends enthusiast, wrote a really nice run-down of the Scioli Super Powers back-ups for us back in April 2017.

we're not actually sure who this image belong to, but it's not ours. It's either property of Thomas Scioli or DC comics. The characters in this image are all property of DC comics.
Super Powers proof-of-concept page. Everything by Thomas Scioli.

The elusive Scioli [we *tried* to interview him] actually explained his whole creative process in one of his blog posts. As before, we'll give you the short version:

Originally, for his Super Powers back-ups, Scioli wanted to use all the characters you saw in his proof-of-concept page (as shown in the image above), but DC editorial told him most of the characters on the page were not available for use. So, Scioli re-started from scratch and dug up obscure DC characters he could build a story on [are you seeing a pattern here?]. He managed to dust-off quite a few early Jack Kirby creations, but ultimately settled on Arin the Armored Man, the evil Sphinx, a BMX-riding Batgirl, a bunch of Green Lantern Corps members we hadn't seen since the '80s, and the Wonder Twins (with Gleek). As Scioli's 3-page scripts were being approved by DC editorial, he was gradually able to slowly sneak more A-list DC characters into the story.

Among other things, Scioli revealed that he had about 3-years worth of Super Powers-inspired storylines he hopes to someday see in print. He also dropped this little factoid:
"Gerard [Way] told me that early on in the curation of the Young Animal line, he wanted me to do a Demon series, but that the character was unavailable. I remembered Alan Moore and Joe Orlando’s Phantom Stranger origin story that featured Etrigan the Angel. It’s one of those things that seems simple and makes total sense, but it takes a genius like Moore to point it out: like all demons, Kirby’s Demon began life as an angel. I wrote a superhero action adventure for the character. But what does a superhero fight at a time when even Satan is an angel? I figured it would have to be something Lovecraftian. I was weaving an elaborate Bayeaux tapestry of the DC Universe."

As a side note, Gerard Way and fellow My Chemical Romance band-mate Ray Toro recorded an original song called 'Into the Cave We Wander' (an obvious nod to Cave Carson). This song was distributed on Young Animal Record Store Day vinyl records and cassette tapes (with the B-side being a dramatic reading of a fictitious geology documentary called 'Poggy's Cavern'.

Young Animal vinyl LP. Photo source: discogs.com

I really have to give credit where credit is due: between the release of the ashcan, vinyl record and cassette, Gerard Way and company did an exemplary job of keeping Cave Carson (and the Young Animal imprint) true to the spirit of being bizarre, entertaining and unpredictable in a 'make comic books worth talking about' kind of way.

I have high hopes for the Young Animal imprint -- much like the Berger-edited Vertigo of the early 90s I grew up with, they are taking older, obscure DC characters and breathing new life into them. Since current Vertigo is mainly created-owned characters, I'd argue that Young Animal is more 'Vertigo' than Vertigo is. I can't wait to see what the future holds for Cave Carson, and if we're going to get any full-length Scioli Super Powers comic books or anthologies in the near future.

Justin



If you liked this article, we also wrote a non-spoiler review of Young Animal's Doom Patrol, too

Oh, and there's a review of Shade the Changing Girl you can check out as well.