Flame-Wreathed Phoenix is kinda sorta a split card.
With the punisher Tribute in full force you have a card that half the time is a Rathi Dragon with no drawback and half the time a Talruum Minotaur (-Phoenix!) with wings.
Rathi Dragon was a powerful card for some versions of the Red Deck (in particular in mirror matches in its day); and as I noted in my original review of Bloodbraid Elf there was a time when Talruum Minotaur was capable of contributing to a Pro Tour Top 8 Constructed deck.
And now… More flying!
So… What’s the damage on this card? Why so casual?
I think I can imagine Flame-Wreathed Phoenix being played in serious Constructed decks. Even just as a 3/3 flying creature it gains a re-buy ability reminiscent of most of Magic’s many Phoenixes. This is powerful the same way that Chandra’s Phoenix is powerful. It’s kinda sorta built-in card advantage. For one more mana, you get a slightly bigger hasty flyer. As someone who has enjoyed smiting opponents with Chandra’s Phoenix, I can appreciate a flying, resilient, Talruum Minotaur-Phoenix.
The rest of the time it is just a 5/5 flyer for four mana. It’s like you took Juzam Djinn and erased the awful Nettletooth Djinn-ness and replaced it with the universal sign for not being blocked.
One side of this card I can see getting behind; the other side is just a mana less than Thundermaw Hellkite, which is an insane proposition.
Is the punisher Tribute dilemma really that big a deal?
Browbeat is a similar card that seems to have good value on both sides. For 2R you either get to draw three cards (better than most blue equivalents about the same cost) or you brain your opponent for five (better than most red equivalents at the same cost). Good and also good. But Browbeat, despite being legal in multiple Standard Constructed formats over the years, never really made its mark on history.
(Though Philosophy of Fire innovator Adrian Sullivan did at one point Day Two a Pro Tour with Browbeat in his Red Deck.)
What was the problem with Browbeat?
Could this same problem limit the love given to poor Flame-Wreathed Phoenix?
Mere efficiency is a limitation. Yes, five damage for 2R is a good deal and three cards for 2R is a great deal. But you don’t generally want your opponent dictating to you which good / great deal you are getting. Think about the sheer number of times you have probably beaten a Vexing Devil. Am I vexed? I’ve been Vexed, sure. I think I generally have a good win percentage over Vexing Devil decks. Which is weird because I would gladly pay R for a 4/3 creature and I would generally love to pay R to deal four damage.
Sadly, my guess is the flexibility afforded the opponent will make Flame-Wreathed Phoenix even less successful over time than Vexing Devil.
Is 2RR a good deal for a 5/5 flying creature? I think so.
Is 2RR a good deal for a 3/3 flying creature with haste and a built-in re-buy? I think you are on rougher ground there. I did say I could appreciate it, but it is another matter committing to the card. At four mana, it’s not good enough to win the game on its own consistently, and you might just be stuck with a lot of land committed to doing very little against an able opponent.
On a punisher — SORRY. TRIBUTE. — scale, where would you put this card?
Vexing Devil > Browbeat > Flame-Wreathed Phoexix
That is my guesstimate.
This is the kind of card that I really want to be good because it looks cool; but I am not really sold on.
By the way last week Patrick Chapin reminded me that I gave basically the same preview rating to Rakdos Pit Dragon that I gave to Jace, the Mind Sculptor at snap judgment time.
I think I see this as a role player; it has some attrition applications and could also, ahem, punish players who can’t easily deal five damage to a creature. Though it is kind of atrocious against Anger of the Gods.
Sometimes — but not all the time — a Dark Confidant.
Better or worse than Bob?
My first impulse was that Pain Seer is worse, generally, than Dark Confidant. For example, presuming you have made your Pain Seer-including deck correctly, you don’t get a freebie on the first fresh turn you’ve got Pain Seer on the battlefield. I mean, unless the opponent has Blind Obedience down or some such.
So… Card down.
Beyond missing the extra card on the first / next turn, you have a general requirement with this card to attack. I mean of course there are other reasons why your Dark Confidant / Pain Seer / Dark Confidant wannabe might be tapped / ergo need to untap; you could be on the wrong side of an Icy Manipulator, or Master Decoy… But generally speaking, your creature will be tapped because you just swung.
So: You swing; presuming Pain Seer survives, you get to untap it and net a free card. If you don’t swing, you are far less likely to [have to] untap, and ergo won’t get the free card.
So generally speaking… Worse.
Worse than Dark Confidant, right?
Especially given the fact that you won’t generally get the first card, I’d put Pain Seer < Dark Confidant; but I don't think it is 100% cut-and-dried.
Longtime listeners of the Top 8 Magic podcast (BTW BDM and I posted a new one just last week!) know that I think Dark Confidant is probably the most overrated creature of all time. I’ve always conceded that it is playable (fine… “quite good”) but just not the unconditional bee’s knees that everyone else seems to think. For example, I was once in the finals of a team PTQ where I instructed Paul Jordan to not attack with his Keiga, the Tide Star for lethal. We read the opponent for Shining Shoal (would have been lethal going the other way) and we could just watch the opponent die to his own Bob.
Moreover, I have been playing a lot of Modern lately. One thing I have noticed over and over is my opponents attempting to suicide their Dark Confidants into my various Elves and Merfolk. There’s a reason for that: You can’t very well control whether or not Bob kills you. His greatness comes at a cost… And that cost is sometimes your life.
Conversely — and a little perversely — you can leave your Pain Seer back (you know, the opposite of attempting to suicide your Dark Confidant) to avoid any chance of an accidental death.
Pain Seer isn’t objectively as strong as Dark Confidant… But to be fair Dark Confidant is widely considered one of the strongest two drops in the history of a game defined by great two drops. Given its inheritance of Dark Confidant’s attention to casting costs, you can’t just jam Pain Seer into any deck (limiting its efficacy somewhat). I do think that it might go in some sideboards for matchups where is it unlikely to be blocked (or where potential blockers are cards like Omenspeaker that will not prevent it from untapping and attacking to untap again).
Snap Judgment Rating: Role Player (likely upper mid-tier sideboard card)
Last week I mentioned some sort of ka-razy Superman sale they were having at ComiXology. $.99 for this; $.99 for that; $.99 for the prince’s firstborn male child; &c.
I did a quick run-through of books you might want to pick up (for $.99 no less!) but missed one on my first pass. It happens to be Brian David-Marshall’s favorite Alan Moore story; SUPERMAN Annual 11.
Dave Gibbons (who would be Moore’s collaborator on the consensus greatest comic book of all time, WATCHMEN) impressed the right DC editor and got to pitch a book; they told him he could pick his collaborator and he snap-picked Moore. Can you imagine — as an artist – being allowed to pick your writer… and having that writer be Alan Moore!?! And him saying yes??? In those days Alan Moore would actually write a Superman story for you and not entitle it SUPREME or TOM STRONG.
The story goes that it is February 29th — Superman’s birthday. Wonder Woman and Batman & Robin separately travel to the North Pole’s Fortress of Solitude to bring gifts to the man who has everything. Of the three, it is noted that only one has pants on; or superhero spandex tights or whatever (but you grok). Yes, this is the starting premise to maybe the greatest Superman story of all time (or at least BDM’s favorite… As I said, mine is ALL-STAR SUPERMAN).
Moore opens up with some nice tongue-in-cheek. The premise is fundamentally comic-book-y and not in a deconstructed “smart” way. So he throws you a curve ball with characters who could only be written this way because it was 1985 and not 2013. The Robin at the time was Jason Todd, newly in the green bikini bottoms pixie boots, and this was his first time meeting Wonder Woman. He plays it completely straight; and I think, at least as a modern reader, that must always have been part of the joke.
This was the interaction he had with The Dark Knight after making a comment about what WW was wearing:
The long-eared blue cowl for that matter?
For many readers this is a characterization barely recognizable as Batman. I am of the opinion that Batman as an urban legend is properly every interpretation of Batman from the gun-toting first appearance to sixties camp to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS to Christian Bale in the armor to Huntress in her stitched proto-Cassandra Cain leathers but that is an argument for another time. I actually just love how Moore wrote Batman in this one scene. Even when Moore is queering comics and knocking them on their ears in that innovative, subversive, disruptive way that only he can you never get the feeling that he has forgotten he is writing a comic book and that these characters have “lives” and draw on traditions that go way beyond even his contribution to the canon; here he is doing a great Adam West riff that would have been immediately recognizable to many readers (even if it isn’t to young’uns who might be reading this).
Anyway, all is not well in the Fortress of Solitude.
Wonder Woman + Batman & Robin stumble upon the deadly Mongul, who has incapacitated Superman. As the villain is defeated (“SPOILERS!” I guess), we see Superman lose his cool in a rare way, have already figured out that Superman’s birthday comes only every four years, and learn Batman’s heart’s desire. Fans of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN might note that Grant Morrison (who has been mostly silent in a long-standing Cold War with Moore) wrote the resolution of one of his conflicts in direct opposition to Moore’s interpretation of the classic irresistible force v. immovable object. “Surrender” is a fighting word! I’d write more on this but I really don’t want to spoil the story. The $.99 sale is over but you can still topdeck SUPERMAN Annual 11: “For the Man Who Has Everything…” for the princely sum of $1.99 at ComiXology.
Something I really loved about this comic book is the coloring. Gibbons is of course one half of the team that put together the greatest comic book of all time (WATCHMEN); and he worked so well with Moore in particular because he could execute on Alan’s complex scripts and ideas without muddying them up with too much “artistic interpretation” … He just did exactly what he was supposed to do, and well.
If you think about Gibbons purely as Moore’s sock puppet you might ultimately be underrating him as a draftsman, which would be a shame. Check out this panel of Wonder Woman blasting the bejeezus out of Mongul with a cannon she finds under Superman’s bed or whatever:
Can you imagine how garishly colored that would have been in 2013?
But in 1985, Tom Ziuko’s use of flat colors actually highlights the superb line work of Gibbons. The heavy foreground inks on Wonder Woman are half of what this panel is about! Gibbons couldn’t rely on WildStorm PhotoShop artists so had to create contrast by varying his brush and pen nibs, giving it an almost woodcut finish. Even as a modern reader who has been used to Image Comics-style computer coloring for over 20 years, I don’t think the lack of technology detracts from the visual here whatsoever; rather I can just stare at the panel longer and longer appreciating the decisions he made.
For a more direct comparison, consider these two panels:
From SUPERMAN Annual 11:
An homage from INFINITE CRISIS 1:
Huge fan of the detailed studliness of Phil Jimenez of course; just pointing out the quite different coloring technique from 1985 to this later reinterpretation (though you may also notice the frame-breaking, black gutters, and other [potentially cool] visual decisions by an admittedly talented artist… that would have detracted from, say, a tight Moore script in a way Gibbons never has).
SUPERMAN Annual 11 has had quite a bit of lasting impact; as you just saw, successful writers like Geoff Johns are still cribbing from it for their tent pole events like INFINITE CRISIS. It was also the basis for an episode of JUSTICE LEAGUE (which you can stream on Netflix at will) (though Wonder Woman gunned all of Robin’s good lines).
In the end, my verdict is more than worth the $1.99. Go read. etc.
P.S. I have mentioned on a couple of occasions in this post and elsewhere that WATCHMEN is the greatest comics masterpiece of all time. I spent a couple of days putting together this post but apparently someone at ComiXology had their ears itching or whatnot and they decided to put together a five-day WATCHMEN sale starting today. I can’t say anything about the “BEFORE WATCHMEN” prequels other than they have some amazing creators attached (Adam Hughes, Darwyn Cooke, Jae Lee, Amanda Connor… almost every illustrator is a DI); but the original Moore / Gibbons series (you know, the GOAT) is [also] on sale for $.99 per.
This blog post largely concerns action from last week’s episode of AMC’s Mad Men, “Favors”.
The impetus for this post comes out of a faux controversy arising out of the aforementioned “Favors” … And a battle between the titanic wills of YT and the missus. If you haven’t seen “Favors” (but care) consider yourself spoiler-warned.
In “Favors” we are introduced to Mitchell Rosen, the son of Don Draper’s neighbors the Mrs. Sylvia and Dr. Arnold Rosen. Earlier in the season it was revealed that Don was having an extramarital affair with Mrs. Sylvia (played by onetime Freaks and Geeks star Linda Cardellini), which has since cooled.
Now I don’t possess an exhaustive understanding of the mechanics or politics of Vietnam-era military conscription, but it seems that Mitchell did something stupid to queer his draft-exempt status as a student, and has gone and gotten himself earmarked by Selective Service. Over the course of the episode, Don calls in favors various — including putting his agency’s relationship with its biggest client in an awkward position — to shield Mitchell from a harsh destiny in a wartorn southeast Asia.
Now unbeknownst to Don, his daughter Sally has met Mitchell in the apartment building lobby and decided he was the dreamiest. Sally’s stupid friend slipped a note into the Rosen apartment, which the young Sally understandably endeavored to recover in order to avoid adolescent embarrassment. By tricking the gullible door man to Don’s building — essentially stealing her way in and committing a B&E* — Sally enters the Rosens’ apartment to recover the love note, stumbles clumsily on her dad ucking-fay a stranger:
What Sally Saw
Eep! As a “thank you” for saving her son, Mrs. Rosen has rekindled the affair with Don; to what extent we don’t know, especially after Sally’s discovery.
Predictably — Sally runs off.
Don’s machinations are as we said successful and dreamy Mitchell gets uninvited to Vietnam; Don is proclaimed “the sweetest man” by his current wife Megan (not Sally’s mom, as that marriage ended at least in part by Don’s rampant infidelity from X-[wo]Man Emma Frost); and Sally curses him angrily, running off again.
The previous Mrs. Draper. Oops.
Mrs. MichaelJ declared Don 100% culpable in “destroying” Sally Draper’s young mind (or at least innocence) as she got stuck finding her pops sticking it to some woman who wasn’t his wife.
For my part, I have a low opinion of infidelity. I am totally happy blaming Don for infidelity and a dozen other affronts to good family management and / or child rearing but I can’t see blaming him for What Sally Saw 100%. What if he were cheating on the moon? Is he supposed to predict his daughter stealing a rocket ship and happening upon them up there at the wrong moment, too?
Wifey got kind of hot and bothered over my defense of Draper and asked me to ask some of my friends. One of my best friends ranted and ranted at me the next day about Don’s culpability. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Is this about Don or your dad?” MY DAD OF COURSE! (Her dad was a cheater and she stopped speaking to him years ago.)
Before I got back to my desk at the office she had already called one of my co-workers RE: this. There was an IM waiting for me.
These womyn and their conspiracies!
Look people — Like I said, I am perfectly fine blaming Don for whatever. Like I said, I have a poor opinion of infidelity. Clearly he was doing something wrong. Clearly he could have gotten caught by someone. But his daughter? In terms of What Sally Saw… I really don’t think you can blame poor Don 100%.
A few weeks ago, the team of YT, Josh Ravitz, and Thea Steele scrubbed out of a Team Limited tournament. With plenty of time on the afternoon I suggested we go see Iron Man 3. Thea didn’t want to. “Who can relate to an aloof, arrogant, billionaire who thinks he is better than everyone else?”
“Well he is smarter / richer / better than everyone else.”
-Things I didn’t actually say
“You’re right… Who?”
-Also something I didn’t say.
Don Draper — for whatever his other faults — is depicted on Mad Men as the greatest copywriter ever to walk into a client meeting. He is part pitchman, part hypnotist, and all Adonis. Don’s execution has been slipping in recent seasons, delegating to junior copywriters, getting embarrassingly drunk at public events, spacing out and disappearing for weeks at a time… But his combination of luck, audacity, and self-confidence have him and his succession of partnerships landing bigger business and building a more and more successful advertising firm. For all the failings in his personal life, Don is remarkably moral in a business context, using his influence to protect associates who are weaker than he is, and to reward the hard-working or talented lower on the totem pole… even if they are — gasp — women.
I have been accused by many of these women of siding with Don “all the time”.
I have in fact sided with Don x minus one times.
Every single Don-smashing opinion I had gotten to this point was from the fairer sex. Clearly they were all biased. Maybe a right-thinking person** could jibe with YT. I put it out to the Unstoppable Twitter Army.
Could I be wrong? Had I been in the wrong from the first disagreement with K? I apologized to her.
But how did I get here?
That One Time Law School Ruined My Personality
If you’ve listened to the first episode of The Official Miser’s Guide*** you know that I was attending law school when I wrote Who’s the Beatdown?.
The principal way law school ruined my personality was accomplished by my Contracts professor on the first day; he introduced the idea that lawyers think differently from everyone else. Lawyers — especially by nature of having to advocate for villainous clients they “know” are in the wrong (and / or wrangling around the intellectual acrobatics of opposing lawyers) — have to imagine alternate universes while arguing seemingly contradictory things. They also often tend to think in the manner of the letter of the law, regardless of what regular (shall we say “right thinking”) folk might believe when presented the same set of circumstances, which can be alienating.
In my mind, Sally’s B&E was not a foreseeable intervening event by Don (it was in fact an actual crime); in a court of law he would almost certainly be absolved of the wrong of What Sally Saw regardless of the fact that he was responsible for an original wrong of ucking-fay not-his-wife.
The 1/3 lawyer in me sez: Poor Don. The criminal Sally had done this to herself.
But everybody else seems to disagree (except for Lan D. Ho — who blamed Sally’s stupid friend).
So that 1/3 lawyer in me thinks one way… maybe is “right”. But what does it mean if that 1/3 person is alone in the rational universe?
When I got my NLP certification****, I learned that the most powerful tool in human experience is rapport. Rapport can a superpower more powerful than — gasp — math. It is the quality that connects historic leaders, commission-crushing salesmen, and notorious Lotharios. Rapport, put simply, is the idea that people like to do things for people that they like; and that people like people who are like them.
So basically the opposite of alienating yourself while logically convinced you are right.
In the interest of superpowers (i.e. the cultivation of future influence), I decided to graciously scoop in every direction.
Firestarter: What do you think? You know, about What Sally Saw?
Waiting for Superman
On the subject of superpowers, ComiXology is having a crazy sale on Superman comics right now, no doubt in concert with this weekend’s release of Man of Steel (which I just got home from). Basically over 200 Superman comics at 50-75% off.
Action Comics (2011-)
I’m currently binge-reading Grant Morrison’s whole run on the current Action Comics; when I wrote Teddy Card Game Asks About the New 52 I had only read the first of Morrison’s 18-issue run. I am on my second and even third readings of many of these stories in the current binge-read, and I have come to the conclusion that this is simply one of the most special runs in the history of superhero comics. Rags Morales is unbelievable, conveying mass, muscle, a visceral physicality in his everyman Superman; Grant is classic Grant with his huge ideas, time travel, Easter eggs, and cameos. You really get the idea that this was a labor of love and the literal capstone of his work on DC One Million, All-Star Superman, etc. If you aren’t going to sample any of the other stuff in the current ComiXology sale, I would heartily recommend the eight issues of Action Comics featured therein.
It’s been called the best Superman story ever told. I am certainly not going to disagree; as it is in fact my favorite Superman story ever. Grant’s ideas are bigger than ever, he has the A+ Frank Quitely as his playmate on visuals throughout. All-Star Superman starts with a trip to the sun, has irresistible forces up against immovable objects, mythical heroes and villains, and Lex Luthor at his absolute bestworst. Very much a Silver Age Superman story that makes sense even to modern comics audiences; which is another way of saying it brings out the best of what makes comics comics.
Mark Waid and Alex Ross in a genre-redefining four issue steal. I own all the originals from when they were original but at $.99 it is just stupid not to pad the old iPad (I did).
Stuart Immonen has become one of the biggest stars in superhero pencils since his work on The New Avengers and other Marvel “event”-style books; Secret Identity showcases an Immonen from a decade ago; looking little like he does today (his cut-down style was developed largely on Warren Ellis’s Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.), but gorgeous nevertheless (just different-gorgeous). Rich instead of minimal. Really rich. Not quite the ROI on $4 that you would get with a Kingdom Come but still worth more than $4; thoroughly emotionally engaging comic book story IMO. And did I mention beautiful?
I mention this only because it includes my all-time favorite fight scene (Superman and Batman v. Captain Marvel and Hawkman, which I have written about multiple times before); also on sale.
I wish I could say I am a ComiXology affiliate or something, but I really just think you should get in on these steal-tacular Superman opportunities before 6/20.
* My legal opinion
** You know, with a penis
*** And if you haven’t listened to it, you can download the first episode of The Official Miser’s Guide for free here.
**** Substantially more useful than my legal training in basically every way.
For those of you who don’t know, The New 52 was fifty-two Number One comics releases that DC did last year, a sort of soft-reboot of the entire DC universe that incorporated elements of their Wildstorm and Vertigo imprints. Most or all of The New 52 #1s are priced at $.99 on Comixology (as a tool to attract new readers), and I for one found this an attractive way to become, you know, a new reader.
Originally I was going to write this blog post with titles in alphabetical order but then I realized that I am not a librarian and that doesn’t make for the most logical reading sense for our purposes. Instead I will break them up into these relatively unlike, but passably logical groups:
Overpriced New 52 Books
Stuff I More-Or-Less Never Miss
Second Wave Titles
Stuff I Like But Haven’t Really Gotten Around To
Overpriced New 52 Books Action Comics :: Batman :: Justice League
There are two main reasons I switched from almost 100% trade paperbacks for the last several years to mostly digital comics in the last year. The first is space: My wife originally had me switch from floppies to trade paperbacks so that I wouldn’t have hundreds of essentially disposable magazines coming in every month… That I refused to ever get rid of. So I amassed a pretty kick-ass trade paperback / graphic novel collection that lots of my friends take advantage of for the big borrows. But even trade paperbacks take ups space, and my wife is a minimalist in her soul. Cloud computing lets my buy lots and lots of comics and they all live on my iPad, so don’t take up any space.
The second reason is price. Again, Comixology charges only $.99 for most of The New 52 #1 issues, to help encourage people to try them (and presumably get them hooked). After 30 or so days, cover price on most books I buy — DC or not — to $1.99. However some super popular books like the ones in this section have stayed at $2.99. So it’s not like I don’t like some of these books; I can just get an extra half-Justice League Dark for the price of not buying an adjective-less Justice League instead.
Main Character(s): Superman
Notable Creator(s): Grant Morrison, Rags Morales
1 Issue (#1)
Action Comics is set in the recent past, before the massive proliferation of superheroes in the rebooted DC universe, so a young(er) Clark Kent has got a Superman-looking tee-shirt and farm boy blue jeans and work boots instead of his sleeker superhero-ing uniform. Morrison is telling the story of a Superman whose chosen sparring partners are greedy businessmen rather than alien green men.
Grant Morrison wrote my all-time favorite Superman Story All-Star Superman a few years ago; paired with the underrated former Valiant artist Rags Morales, this comic is squarely in my wheelhouse… Just haven’t caught up (note subsection).
Main Character(s): Batman, Alfred
Notable Creator(s): Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo
13 issues (#1-12, Annual #1)
One book in and we are already at the exception that proves the rule. Part of the bigger number is that Comixology / DC priced Batman reasonably for the first few months before deciding they could get away with the higher price point. The other, of course, is that Scott Snyder is more-or-less the hottest writer in comics, and his work on Batman is a good indication as to why. He is great on Batman and even better on American Vampire (not a New 52 book). The story is disorienting; Snyder has been planting Batman-seeds for years with Dick Grayson and some peripheral Bat-heroes… And they finally gave him the big boy title with The New 52 launch. This is a comic book about Gotham City. It is the secret origin of the Wayne family. It is action, horror, and the opportunity to see Batman do some cool stuff — all brought together with the kinetic pencils of Greg Capullo. I haven’t looked at any recent sales figures but it would not surprise me if this were DC’s top-selling book.
Main Character(s): Aquaman, Batman, Cyborg, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, Wonder Woman
Notable Creator(s): Geoff Johns, Jim Lee
6 issues (#1-6)
Justice League is DC’s veritable “put Mike Flores and Patrick Sullivan in Las Vegas and see what happens” cocktail. Basically they took the most sale-able artist in comics (Jim Lee) and paired him with the consistent hit-maker Johns… And give them Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to play with. So if Batman isn’t DC’s best selling book, my guess is that Justice League is.
I bought the first arc of six issues primarily at my kids’ insistence for bedtime reading. It is set about five years ago and tells the story of the dawn of superheroes in the rebooted DC Universe — the Justice League against Darkseid!
Stuff I More-Or-Less Never Miss Animal Man :: Birds of Prey :: Stormwatch :: Swamp Thing
With the exception of Animal Man, this section is all stuff I buy because like the proto-fanboy, I am loyal to certain characters.
Main Character(s): Buddy Baker (Animal Man) and his family, Swamp Thing; various Animal- and Swamp-themed peripherals
Notable Creator(s): Jeff Lemire
15 issues (#1-13, #0, Annual #1)
Animal Man was one of the best-reviewed “surprise” hits of The New 52. Surprise! (none of you have ever heard of Animal Man, I’d guess) I gave it a try and liked it. It’s pretty weird / violent / offbeat funny. Animal Man ties in to some of the Vertigo Grant Morrison ideas of the last century but is one of several New 52 books that has a superhero-y sounding name but is kind of an off-kilter horror book, similar to Justice League Dark or I, Vampire. Substantial crossovers with Swamp Thing didn’t hurt my interest.
Birds of Prey
Main Character(s): Black Canary, Starling; with Katana, Poison Ivy, and Batgirl
Notable Creator(s): Duane Swierczynski
13 issues (#1-12, #0)
If you read my favorite Batman stories blog posts a few months back you know how I feel about Birds of Prey. I was initially a bit apprehensive about a Birds of Prey without Gail Simone at the helm, but Duane has done a more-than-passable job in the reboot universe, kind of flipping the power relationship between Black Canary and Batgirl (Oracle in the pre-reboot continuity). The book initially launched with the excellent Jesus Saiz, who I loved from his work on some of Greg Rucka’s titles last decade. I think that anyone can like Birds of Prey but you will particularly like it if you like girl power and / or butt-kicking.
Main Character(s): Apollo, Midnighter, The Engineer Jack Hawksmoor, Jenny Quantum, Martian Manhunter
Notable Creator(s): Paul Cornell, Peter Milligan
14 issues (#1-13, #0)
Buying every issue of Stormwatch is Mike at his fanboy-est. The core cast here is from 1990s Stormwatch-spinoff The Authority by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch. The Authority and some of the other Wildstorm stuff Jim Lee was publishing himself were so popular that DC bought their company!
The best thing by far about Stormwatch is Midnighter and Apollo. Midnigher is Batman. Apollo is Superman. They are unapologetically derivative… and gay for each other. It was pretty groundbreaking when this super popular superhero book last century had their Bruce-and-Clark analogues kiss, get married, and adopt a super baby. It is just one of many conventions that this book (or at least the tradition through which this book reaches us in The New 52) sets on its ear.
Just because Midnigher is gay doesn’t mean he isn’t, you know, a merciless killing machine. Midnigher is the ultimate tactician, a platonic crystalization of Batman’s combat prowess (wearing essentially the movie version of Batman’s carbon fiber armor), and explained through a superhuman lens: Midnigher can see your every weakness consciously, therefore can plan and execute on how to execute any opponent.
My all-time favorite New 52 issue is Stormwatch #9, which is a Midnigher-centric story about him fantasizing about fighting Batman, but actually having to deal with an invading Red Lantern (Red Lanterns are like Green Lantern, but baaaaahd). How does a guy armed with a belt-knife and a karate chop beat a cosmically powered alien with a magic ring?
It’s just so darn appropriate.
As much as I will buy every issue of Stormwatch until they cancel it, I would be the first to acknowledge it is the most uneven of the books I am talking about today. There are well written ones and less well written. The art has been awesome with Miguel Sepulveda (who drew #9)… Weaker with other artists.
Especially if you don’t have the same kind of emotional attachment to these particular characters that I have… Take Stormwatch with a grain of salt.
Main Character(s): Swamp Thing, Abby Arcane, Animal Man; various Swamp- and Animal-themed peripherals
Notable Creator(s): Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette
14 issues (#1-13, #0)
Remember all that stuff I said about Scott Snyder in the Batman section?
Nothing is going to equal Alan Moore’s genre-defining run in the 1980s, but I am glad DC gave Scott Snyder the chance to try.
Second Wave Titles Batman Incorporated :: Earth 2 :: World’s Finest
DC wound down a handful of the lower selling titles and replaced them with some of these. I split them out into their own section because I wanted to stave off the “if you like this so much how come you only have four copies of…” thoughts and reactions in advance.
Main Character(s): Batman, Robin, various Batmen of various nations
Notable Creator(s): Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham
4 issues (#1-3, #0)
This is basically the same book that I said was one of my Top 10 favorite Batman stories last time… But with a new #1.
Typical Morrison big ideas, Batman executing on a global scale, Burnham bringing his A-game every issue, and goat-themed assassins.
Morrison also has some great nods to stories by creators like Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, and Neal Adams as he re-envisions his Batman. Here is a young Talia al Ghul going all Year One as it were:
Main Character(s): Lots of big-name superheroes from Batman / Superman / Wonder Woman to Flash and Green Lantern
Notable Creator(s): James Robinson
6 issues (#1-5, #0)
James Robinson, progenitor of maybe my all-time favorite superhero comic Starman, pens the tale of a world that is a little bit different from the mainstream DCU. “Five years ago” … That time I talked about with the Darkseid conflict in Justice League? Well what happens to a planet if, instead of the Justice League coming together to beat Darkseid, um, something else interesting happens? That is the starting point of the Earth 2 narrative. In a sense it is post-apocalyptic; in another it is one of the most hopeful and uplifting (and brightly colored) of The New 52.
Main Character(s): Huntress, Power Girl (Robin, Supergirl)
Notable Creator(s): Paul Levitz, George Perez, Kevin Maguire
6 issues (#1-5, #0)
The character Huntress was originated in the 1970s by Levitz as the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Various continuity re-writes and universe consolidations changed her, over time, to a repentant mafia princess and the trigger-girl for Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey. A version of Huntress was, during the largely regrettable No Man’s Land storyline, one of the best — or at least cleverest — non-Bruce Wayne people ever to call [her]self Batman… But hadn’t been true to her identity as the true inheritor to the Batman in some years.
The reality created by Earth 2 (i.e “another” Batman) opened the door to bring Huntress as the daughter of Batman and Catwoman back with The New 52 reboot. Power Girl, a heroine who was originally Superman’s cousin from another world, became nothing more or less than a white singlet with peekaboo[b] cleavage. In World’s Finest, Power Girl is a mite more covered up and returns to her origin’s roots, as well.
Pre-New 52 Reboot of Power Girl, by Adam Hughes
This book is great fun, with Levitz doing his best to honor his characters, and an all-star lineup of Perez and Maguire half-drawing each issue.
Stuff I Like But Haven’t Really Gotten Into Batgirl :: Batwoman :: I, Vampire :: Justice League Dark :: Wonder Woman
Main Character(s): Batgirl
Notable Creator(s): Gail Simone, covers by Adam Hughes
2 issues (#1, #0)
Birds of Prey under Gail Simone is one of your all-time favorite books?
So you try Birds of Prey not with Gail Simone and hit more-or-less every issue?
But the actual Gail Simone book, featuring the main character of Birds of Prey… You haven’t gotten along to that one?
People are inexplicable.
Main Character(s): Batwoman
Notable Creator(s): JH Williams III
Batwoman in The New 52 is the continuation of that story… But without Greg Rucka. JH Williams III is as beautiful as ever on the visuals but without the mastermind that wove together realistic, military, superheroics with a “real” lesbian protagonist. It’s just not at the top of my stack. Maybe someday.
Main Character(s): some vampires; can’t remember any of their names; John Constantine maybe
Notable Creator(s): Joshua Hale Fialkov
4 issues (#1-4)
I really liked Joshua Hale Fialkov’s indie Image book The Last of the Greats, so I decided to give his more mainstream vampire-superhero title a swing. It’s no American Vampire, but I, Vampire is still quite good. If you like Jae Lee-esque art, it is also quite pretty. I plan to catch up more, especially given its Animal Man / Swamp Thing-like crossovers with Justice League Dark.
Justice League Dark
Main Character(s): Deadman, Dove, John Constantine, Shade the Changing Man, Zatanna, other magic-themed characters
Notable Creator(s): Peter Milligan
6 issues (#1-6)
Peter Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man with Chris Bachalo was my gateway to Vertigo-style comics back in the 1990s (thanks to my then-classmate Brian K. Vaughan). I was into Shade even before I was into the more recognizable Sandman, and certainly didn’t know what I had missed in terms of Swamp Thing. So… Milligan put Shade into this oddball group of magic-themed characters.
Both John Constantine (one of Alan Moore’s most masterful additions to the comics canon) and Zatanna are favorite characters.
The book is beautiful.
Most of these people are pretty much assholes.
I think I like it better than regular Justice League.
Main Character(s): Wonder Woman
Notable Creator(s): Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang
8 issues (#1-7, #0)
One of the best rebooted concepts for a character! Great story! Cliff Chiang is even better on this book than Azz, which is saying something! More! Exclamation! Points!
Main Character(s): Aquaman
Notable Creator(s): Geoff Johns, Ivan Reiss
1 issue (#1)
Superstar Geoff Johns, superstar Ivan Reiss (ergo gorgeous), Aquaman is back in the League, great ratings on the book…
Nope, still about talking to fish.
Those, dear Teddy, are all The New 52 books I have read and kept up with.
the awesome end of recommendations :: my all-time favorite post :: the bestest comic
the bestest artist in comics :: the bestest issue of the bestest comic, drawn the bestest
Yesterday I mentioned a model of review — specifically comics review — that I learned from former Psycomic Editor-in-Chief (and all-around oft-quoted reviewer of yesteryear) Randy Lander. Randy taught a younger me that harsh / negative reviews didn’t really do much for our community or the industry, and that the best thing we could do with our online influence was to spread the love. Again, Five With Flores is supposed to be where you learn to love what YT loves.
I get a lot of pats on the head and thank-yous about recommending Young Justice; but most everybody who follows my podcast has basic cable and Cartoon Network, and given the feedback I got from this all-time favorite blog post there are more than a few Five With Flores readers that fondly remember the super heroic animation of our collective youths. So trying out a cartoon isn’t much of a stretch.
This is more special to me:
Grand Prix Champion Matt Sperling — not a comics reader at all coming in — went out and tried Locke & Key (which as you can read from the post title is the best comic book currently published) on my Twitter recommendation, and liked it. Yay!
Now I’m recommending it to you.
Lockey & Key isn’t your typical four-color superhero comic. It is quite simply a work of fictional genius; supernatural horror that almost could not be told in any other genre. It is a kind of haunted house story with a unique angle on superpowers and magic; I don’t want to give too much away in case you like the sample and go back and read it from the beginning (pretty sure more than a few of you will). Every issue of Locke & Key has been written and drawn by the same two collaborators — Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez — and perhaps the greatest thing about this journey has been watching how they two have progressed and grown.
I was really impressed by Joe Hill and when I got finished reading the first several Locke & Key adventures I went and looked him up. It turns out his dad is Stephen King (yes that Stephen King). Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom King, but operates as “Joe Hill” so as to succeed as a writer on his own efforts rather than courting comparison (or unfair advantage) due to his famous papa. All the more admiration, am I right? Hill just won the 2011 Eisner award for Best Writer (the Eisners being “the Oscars” of comics).
Rodriguez is a different story. Locke & Key is a relatively small story published by IDW, which I assume most of you have never heard of as it isn’t either Marvel or DC (i.e. Disney or WB); Rodriguez was a relative unknown when he sat down to draw the first volume. To be honest I didn’t particularly like his art at the onset… I am just not into that cartoon-y style, even well done, and especially on a deadly serious supernatural horror adventure like Locke & Key.
But the real triumph of this book is that over the first four volumes, Rodriguez makes some kind of light speed leap, and transforms himself from a guy lucky enough to be on the “best story in comics” ride to simply the best visual storyteller in comics. By Volume IV he more than equals Hill’s contribution, which is stunning considering how good Hill is.
There are a lot of good artists out there, but by Volume IV, #1, Gabriel Rodriguez is a lone comic book conductor atop a lofty mountain juggling half a dozen different, disparate, tools… and kicking ass with every one.
Seeing as I actually paid for it, I was kind of stunned that YOU CAN READ VOLUME IV / #1 FOR FREE on Comixology (Comixology is the official site for digital publication used by pretty much everyone; I have switched from trade paperbacks to buying like 80% of my comics on the iPad at this point).
So you can see for yourself.
Here are two preview pages, 1 and 2 actually:
See how on one page Rodriguez apes a near-perfect Calvin & Hobbes Bill Watterson, then shifts to a kind of more precise Arthur Adams? He uses the two aesthetics to signal two different POVs throughout the issue (which itself is a heartbreaker) to give an already-effective script the push, not from “good” to “great” but from “great” to “best”. Back when I reviewed-reviewed comics ten years ago, I once gave Carlos Pacheco an “issue of the year” nod for Fantastic Four for half the storytelling chops; this is just typical Locke & Key at Gabriel’s current level.
My bud Thea Steele (formerly of the Darksteele Cube over on Star City Games) recently shamed me into updating This Here Blog on multiple social media fronts.
Thea is a big fan of Lana Del Rey and suggested I review her five favorite Lana Del Rey songs.
Aside: Why Review Anything?
I can’t say that I am entirely sure. Any of you have a good idea?
I actually told my friend Mark Young not long ago that I thought reviews (Mark is the keeper of the Movie Klub blog, and hence our resident reviewer) tend not to be value-added.
I think reviews tend to be best when 1) you are going to buy / consume something anyway and just need to know which to buy / read / listen to (product reviews on Amazon, or movie reviews, many times) or 2) you actually just want to share something you love. I don’t know to what degree you would consider my gushing about Locke & Key, Young Justice, or Sons of Anarchy count as “reviews” but dozens of Top 8 Magic listeners have thanked me for recommending these.
This is kind of in diametric opposition to what I once thought I was going to do with my life. At age 23, full of stock options at The Dojo, I assumed I’d be a cash millionaire at 24, and would just kind of spend the rest of my career reviewing comic books (I founded PsyComic, which like The Dojo, was acquired by USA Networks back in 2000); neither of those things ended up being facts, BTW. I learned something from Randy Lander, the great comic reviewer (whom we brought in from Texas)… Randy saw our job as comics reviewers as being in service to comics readers. I mean who else is interested in reading a comics review? Or worse, what if a non-regular comics reader reads a negative review? All we can do by spreading frowns is shrink an industry and art form we ostensibly love.
So our best angels must be to lift up and point out the things that we love… You know, kind of like the top-left hand of this website.
/ end aside.
I. Video Games
This was the first Lana Del Rey song I listened to from Thea’s list. I tend not to like music the first time I listen to it (rare exceptions would be Jill Sobule’s Pink Pearl, Loreena McKennitt Live, [which are the only two albums I've ever bought, while browsing the store, that I had never heard before] or of course “anything” Rilo Kiley [my favorite band, introduced to me by Josh Ravitz]), so I listened to a bunch of these almost obsessively, and in a row, to see how they grew on me.
Which is kind of appropriate, as “Video Games” is itself a song of obsession.
I am not sure I would categorize it as a “love” song as I am not convinced the fella on the other side is particularly in love with Del Rey’s speaker, back.
“Video Games” depicts a character that is perhaps less cheery than Samantha in Samantha’s Perfect Saturday* if you take the reference. The instrumentation combined with Del Rey’s strained, almost monotone, vocals descend together into a kind of quiet 1950s madness. I don’t know about you, but to me church bells = “horror movie”.
Del Rey is certainly successful in creating a particular tone in this. I have a set of songs I listen to when I need to tap into my reservoir of madness. I can see this one fitting in there.
II. Dark Paradise
This was by far my favorite song of Thea’s picks.
I like pretty much everything: instrumental variation, singing, beat, switcheroo near the end.
Well, maybe not the grammar. Lana, you wish you “were” dead, not was.
III. Off to the Races
Two angles on this one:
As a song “Off to the Races” is pretty listen-to-able. As in, I liked it musically, more or less. I think that Del Rey could probably use an editor on this one (to polish the best bits, but rub out the excesses), but that is kind of a flaccid criticism. Happy to listen to this again, especially the thirteen-year-old me that I hope I never lose. The speaker in this one is baaaaahd. She is a Bad. Girl. She kisses with an open mouth and talks about her bikini and stuff.
I am both attracted to and repulsed Del Rey-slash-the character-she-is-trying-to-depict here. She is both a bad girl and bad news. I don’t know how many of you have spent your one scarce resource** chasing after girls (or whoever) that were just going to drive you nutso. I have. Cried. Wrote innumerable teenage (nineteen is still a teenager) journal entries about this kind of stuff. I mean none of those chicks has ever gotten me a knife in the gut, though. Attracted. Repulsed. More attracted than repulsed. Knife in the gut
The Top 10 Assorted Things That Occurred to Me Watching the Official Music Video for “Ride”
I am in the bubble.
Shut up, you are not in the bubble. “The bubble” is for beautiful women who think that a handsome older man will appear to buy them a steak dinner if they somehow run out of Jimmy Choo money.
On second thought… Definitely in the bubble on this one. Some kind of bubble for sheltered [honorary] White males, even those not as good looking as Jon Hamm.
I think I know what Lana is going for at this point. Is she actively trying to drive me miserable? I HAVE VERY GOOD EMOTIONAL CONTROL YOU KNOW.
Nope. Miserable. Full-on life tilt by her high note “fucking crazy” at 7:04.
Pretty good high note, that one. Would listen again.
Since I started watching Sons of Anarchy I have stopped being afraid of / actively avoiding bikers. For instance last year I was in a club in Cali and started chatting up this huge, silent biker bouncer. Is it super fun working here?
(it’s pretty fun, apparently)
On the subject of bikers, Clark has this Amelie-esque project to take home the class stuffed animal, and take pictures of him doing interesting stuff.
This is by far the coolest one we took today:
Even though I am not-scared-of-bikers enough to chat one up in a strip club, I still was really nervous on this and made Katherine hustle up with the pic already. I also told Clark that if we got caught, the Harley owner would probably beat him up and steal his girlfriend. Well I would have if Katherine hadn’t stopped me.
V. Body Electric
One of my favorite ideas in all of literature is from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, where a skilled wizard learns to distill madness into a tincture that he can take a dropper of, every now and again, to connect to his crazy-style on demand. I admire that because, as a writer, there are certainly times when being able to turn the crazy on might be advantageous.
My crazy is different than Lana Del Rey’s crazy though. My crazy is like a million exploding shades of orange. It’s kinetic and moves at the speed of a car crash. Sometimes it’s fun. Things might break, but — maybe because of that handy bubble — there is little sense that they can’t be fixed. Here is one of my favorite bits of writing, from an old Planar Chaos set review:
My two-year-old daughter has a crazy hat. It is a knit cap woven out of multicolored orange, red, and yellow yarn. She gets this glint in her eye and will pull it on and suddenly go berserk. She will run in a five-foot circle until she falls down, or failing that, up and down the hallway, arms in the air. She screams and tumbles and does I don’t know what else. I’d try to describe it further but she is still bound by the physical laws that affect two-year-old girls and I wouldn’t be able to convey the manic energy that comes over her, Bruce Banner-like, when she puts on the hat, anyway. Just this morning I surprised her and pulled it down over her ears when she came up to me in the kitchen, just to see what would happen. I wish I had my video camera. My wife says she’s like a pinball, but you know, less metallic and shiny… which is ironic, because pulling on the crazy hat is like Bella’s Autobot Matrix of Leadership, transforming her into something pumped full of energon and impossible to injure.
Mire Boa is my crazy hat. When I look at it I just want to punch the screen to pieces and then drown my enemies in the blood running down my slashed knuckles. I want to hurl my arms into the air and cry to the moon… but I remember that I’m not physically very imposing and that I wouldn’t be scaring anyone. This card is just so exciting to me and you know why. It’s a bare half-degree off of my favorite two-drop ever. I played its predecessor over Wild Mongrel in U/G in Extended and won $250. Sol Malka used to play the River-style slitherer in The Rock, or The Rock’s great grandfather, whatever. I can’t wait to drop a Mire Boa on turn 2. I love a crazy hat. I hate Crovax even more than I want to play him.
Staring at YouTube videos and listening to Lana Del Rey nonstop over the past three or so hours, over and over again to try to understand what makes Thea like this music so much, I come away, more than anything else, with a sense of deep respect for this artist. On the one hand she has this veneer of “a painted porn star is singing this song to you” which I think is fairly intentional. My recession, thoughts of bubble-in-ness, even revulsion at the idea of a beautiful woman assaulting me with that aesthetic come down to essentially a sense of discomfort. One of my colleagues in my other life likes to remind me that all good advertising makes you uncomfortable.
I didn’t actually do any research into Lana Del Rey’s background before I listened to any of these, or started writing this up. Maybe some of you who are devotees of her oeuvre will see this as a critical weakness, but I come from a school that tries to analyze the content, experience, and tone of a work itself, rather than its relationship to its creator. But my experience of these songs leads me to feel that the work is more the snowball-character that the songs, linked to one another by their singer and collections, as much as the music, lyrics, and individual performances.
And my conclusion is this: Lana Del Rey has a tincture of madness in her pocket.
Not only does she have a tincture of madness, she has a special madness that she can wield like a can of mace. Del Rey can force her crazy hat onto listeners and pull it over their ears and eyes, even without the help of willow wands, sacred circles, or rings of power. Lana’s particular madness is a very different madness than a pinball Bella at age two. Her madness is the madness of isolation, neglect, abandon, despair, disuse… perhaps excess. It is a last gasp, exhaled four minutes at a time.
And for other people — probably other young women especially — who feel put through life’s wringer by lost love, substance abuse, or living on the wrong side of the law; I get it, she can create a connection, and a crystal route to a specific emotional response.
But did I like the songs?
Some. I liked “Dark Paradise” and “Off to the Races” the most; “Body Electric” the least among these five. But even that one I listened to twenty times or so trying to figure out what I felt about it. At this point, I don’t see Lana Del Rey as go-to playlist stuff for me (I became a Taylor Swift convert in essentially one sitting about two months ago on the other hand), but I can certainly see revisiting this position with future listens.
* “Samantha’s Perfect Saturday” is a bonus track on The Official Miser’s Guide, my 30-day audio course at Star City Games. It is an example of how to target a specific audience; as stated above, the character in “Samantha’s Perfect Saturday” resembles a less depressing version of some of Lana’s songs’ speakers.
My current opinion is that the format is going to evolve — within a few weeks — where Rakdos’s Return becomes a major strategic tool in Standard. The tools we see right now seem like they will encourage a vector “up” in order to counteract a Level One vector “forward” (going bigger, eventually going over-the-top)… And I feel like Rakdos’s Return will make for a twofold potential over-the-top (regular decks do a bad job of interacting with big X-spells to the face) and a parity-breaker. If both players are just dumping dudes on the table or trading removal spells even a small amount of card advantage putting one into topdeck mode can help you into a great position of advantage (in particular if your deck is all two-for-one advantage cards to begin with).
Strategically, I think a critical mass of two-for-ones will be strong against blue control, give an edge against other creature decks by blunting beatdown, and in this case, Rakdos’s Return (the card at hand) can serve as a Mind Shatter or a finishing Blaze even when the opponent is empty.
I posted an earlier version of this deck on Flores Friday last week but once I saw the card Centaur Healer I knew I wanted to go in another direction. In particular, the curve of Centaur Healer into Huntmaster of the Fells into Thragtusk seemed like the dream disaster for attackers. And once you have white for Centaur Healer? Restoration Angel just seems like the most obvious tool in the world when you are playing a critical mass of 187 creatures.
The biggest shift I eventually resigned myself to was to cut Lotleth Troll — the most obvious card in the world for a creature deck that can make both black and green — to go mono-land-searching thug.
Here is my current build (which presumes a certain set of mana tools, and can therefore be impaired or improved depending on the reality of the format):
3 Abrupt Decay
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Rakdos’s Return
4 Centaur Healer
2 Slaughter Games
1 Acidic Slime
4 Pillar of Flame
1 Ray of Revelation
Gavony Township was Osyp Lebedowicz’s idea. I tried one, then two; and I kept cutting total lands… Turns out with all these Gatecreeper Vines and Borderland Rangers and Farseeks you don’t need to have a billion lands to act like you do. 23 is actually just fine, and the deck obviously mulligans well seeing as it has 8 cards main that go +1 card and actually fix your mana.
The sideboard is designed to either resolve Rakdos’s Return against blue control (soften them up with Duress or Slaughter Games) or go mono-beatown destroyer with 4 Pillar of Flame, 4 Centaur Healer, 4 Huntmaster of the Fells, and 4 Thragtusk. With Pillar of Flame containing Lotleth Troll, Gravecrawler, Geralf’s Messenger, and Strangleroot Geist; plus a chain of unending life gain (backed up by Restoration Angel) I feel like this deck should have some great beatdown defense tools.
I have been screwing around on MTGO with similar substitute cards (Sylvan Scrying for Gatecreeper Vine grabbing Elfhame Palace for instance) and the mana seems like it should work.
Oh, before we get to my favorite Batman [comic book] stories, here is a new DC Nation video I just saw this morning. It is pretty awesome.
The Bat Man of Shanghai
5. Batman & Robin: Blackest Knight
I thoroughly enjoyed Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin from top to bottom. The conceit of the title was that instead of Batman being this brooding and tortured genius, held aloft emotionally by a carefree and colorful Robin… Former Robin Dick Grayson (now the Batman of Gotham City) is the pretty nice guy, and Damien Wayne (the natural child of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul) is a bit of an asshole; in an early adventure, Damien — trained from birth by Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins — decided that now that his father had a “real” son, the other Robins were unnecessary… He tried to murder Tim Drake.
Batman & Robin is a story about Dick trying to hold Gotham together in Bruce’s absence, and a story about Damien rejecting his al Ghul ancestry to become a worthy Robin.
Characteristically for Morrison, he got to work with awesome artists like Frank Quitely, Cameron Stewart, and Chris Burnham on Batman & Robin. Blackest Knight is a crossover with Batwoman that I mentioned in the previous part of the review (Morrison — like YT — adored Greg Rucka and JH William III’s Batwoman)… Illustrated by Cameron Stewart. Here are the opening three or so pages:
… If you said “WHAT THE!?!” you and I agree. The opening salvo of Blackest Knight is the comic book equivalent of the White House scene in X2. Yes, yes, yes — Cameron Stewart is very good.
4. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Any of the next three stories… Most longtime Batman fans can probably pick them.
The Dark Knight Returns is the seminal “adult” Batman story. Bruce comes out of retirement to bring back the Bat. Issue after issue he accelerates the stakes of the game, as Batman strives to right Gotham City even as old age creeps up on him. The climax is a battle between Batman and Superman that has ultimately set the tone for every fan’s perception of what might happen if the two clashed.
Miller’s masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns reinvented the campy four-color cartoon hero into essentially the world’s most revered — and feared — iconic character.
Five Stars obviously.
Love The Dark Knight Rises? You can thank The Dark Knight Returns.
3. Batman: The Killing Joke
Almost universally lauded at the greatest Joker story of all time — and the unofficial “origin story” of the Joker — Alan Moore’s masterpiece is everything that you could possibly want in a Batman story, or any comic book really.
Beautifully illustrated by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke features many of the same razor sharp storytelling techniques Moore used in Watchmen; personally I prefer Bolland’s illustrations to those of Dave Gibbons (though Watchmen is obviously the pinnacle of the comics medium).
For those of you who don’t know, The Killing Joke was a prestige one-shot. Usually these kinds of comics have minimal impact outside of the story itself… But in this case Moore had the Joker shoot Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) through the spine and then do all kinds of terrible naked stuff to both her and her father, Commissioner Gordon. Joker’s goal is to prove that one bad day can ruin the best of men (here Gordon); in defiance, the noble Gordon demands Batman take down the Joker without compromise.
The story itself is one of the most devastating in the history of mainstream comics. A cherished heroine is brutalized. Moore brings the Joker’s evil — so often over-the-top — low enough that you can touch it, feel Barbara’s sticky blood on your own fingers, or wince at a naked Jim Gordon caged and paraded around like a circus animal.
Moore also challenges us as he challenges the Batman. It is a hard story to read; and to be honest, I have never been 100% comfortable with how Batman dealt with the situation.
But as I said, it is gorgeous throughout.
Love Tim Burton? You can thank Batman: The Killing Joke.
2. Batman: Year One
You know how The Dark Knight Returns is basically the greatest Batman story of all time?
Well… not only is it not better than The Killing Joke, it isn’t even the best Batman story written by Frank Miller!
Batman: Year One, written by Frank Miller and gorgeously illustrated by David Mazzucchelli tells the story of Bruce Wayne’s first year as Batman. He is raw and untested, makes mistakes he never would later. Batman: Year One re-imagines the origin of Catwoman, and casts a young Jim Gordon as a heroic maverick redeeming a corrupt police department from within… and with his fists.
Love Batman Begins and The Dark Knight? You can thank Batman: Year One
1. Catwoman: Relentless
Most of you have heard of the middle-three favorite Batman stories. Some of you might be surprised that I didn’t pick Son of the Demon or Death in the Family (honestly, the closest almost-rans were Batgirl Adventures #1 and Mad Love).
Catwoman: Relentles? What the!?!
This is more-or-less the most heart wrenching comic book I have ever read. Know Ed Brubaker from Captain America or Daredevil? Bru’s Catwoman runs circles around his Marvel work (and that is no knock on his Marvel work… just that Catwoman is so good).
The first part involves Brubaker building up Catwoman’s life… and then crushing her life like a bug under some skinny supermodel’s high heel. The first half of Relentless is gorgeously illustrated by Cameron Stewart; and ends on a kiss. Brubaker and Stewart go absolutely Alan Moore, drawing on the fundamental storytelling limitations of the comics medium… and then again turn the story on its head.
The second half, also perfectly illustrated — but wildly different from Stewart’s — comes via Javier Pulido. It is a tale of desperation and misery, self-destructive co-dependence, and wildly imbalanced emotional attachments: the cautionary tale of a “The End” tag applied too soon.
Catwoman: Relentless isn’t just my favorite tale from Gotham City, but one of my Top 10 favorite comic books, ever.
Teddy Card Game (Ted Knutson) asked me to write about my Top 10 favorite Batman stories. I finally got around to it.
#10 Batwoman: Elegy *
Fifteen years or so ago I was good friends with this short-haired redheaded girl in the Navy. I spent several balmy evenings with her drinking vodka out of plastic bottles (or whatever). Really we had this very long-standing and meaningful friendship, which, apparently, is why I can’t remember her name.
I basically make up nicknames for everyone I hang out with (GreedyM, Teddy Card Game, KFlo) so I used to just call her “Midships” (she held the rank of Midshipman in the Navy). Midships got boned (and not by a man).
During officers’ training, Midships was taught all different qualities of being a good leader (you know, to be a good officer). One of those qualities was to stand up for what you believe in, and tell the truth. Full of inspiration as an up-and-coming Naval officer, Midships went to her commanding officer and declared that she was a lesbian. She had been consistently ribbed in training for her short hair, but it turned out that yeah, she was gay.
Midships was proud of herself for about the next fifteen seconds, at which point her life fell apart.
She got busted out of the Navy and all of a sudden found herself saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. Right before coming out, Uncle Sam was paying for her Ivy League education; and afterwards… Not so much.
I couldn’t help but think of Midships for the first time in over a decade reading Greg Rucka and JH Williams III’s Batwoman. Kate Kane is also a short-haired redhead who is busted out of the US military on account of being gay.Still driven by a desire to do justice and contribute, she eventually transforms herself into the titular superhero. Unlike my old friend Midships, Kane is Bruce Wayne-rich and has massive resources to equip herself as a high-tech hero.
Batwoman has much of the “real-life” military / espionage feel of Rucka’s awesome Queen & Country, plus out-of-this-world visuals from JH Williams III… Just one of the most beautifully illustrated comic books in history. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Grant Morrison loved their work so much he “had” to set up a team-up between Detective Comics fill-in Kate Kane and substitute Batman Dick Grayson in the pages of Batman and Robin (more on that later).
This book is deeply concerned with the conflicts of social justice. Rucka lays family obligation on like smears of butter on too-done toast; it is thick, and greasy, burnt-crunchy, and rich all at once. You probably won’t see very much you recognize in the romantic struggles Kate has with her various partners; but Rucka and Williams III will make you feel. Along with the typical tropes of secret identity-missed-date-hijinks Kate has to deal with overlaid social acceptance in sexual orientation, high society balls, and class. She is Wayne-rich, remember. Her love life was an animal I wasn’t used to wrestling with.
This book would probably be higher up in this list but there isn’t actually much Batman in it. I read it in trade paperback, but my assumption from its timing was that Kate Kane was keeping the seat warm in Detective Comics while Bruce Wayne was off being dead or lost in time or whatever after tussling with Darkseid in Final Crisis.
#9 Superman / Batman: Public Enemies
This story was from the inaugural arc of the comic book Superman / Batman, with the ever-popular Jeph Loeb writing and Ed McGuinness of art chores. The notion of Superman / Batman is kind of goofy — especially if you factor McGuinness’s iconically cartoon-y art into your seriousness assessment — but it ended up having lasting impact on the DC Universe, at least at the time. Public Enemies ousted Lex Luthor from the presidency, set up Talia al Ghul, personally, as a financial powerhouse, and transitioned into the reintroduction of Supergirl to the DCU.
Spoilers! (for a story many many years old at this point)
Public Enemies starts with President Lex Luthor sending the troops (and “the troops” being supervillains and coerced superheroes) after the titular icons; by the last part of the arc he is off the rails, dons his bad guy Iron Man armor from Apokalips and manages to lose the presidency and his fortune.
Superman / Batman: Public Enemies is almost unbelievably over-the-top with super-injections and large scale participation from the extended Super- and Bat-families. It also includes one of my all-time favorite fight scenes in comics… Which is why it is one of my favorite funnybooks (not just Batman funnybooks).
The bigwigs at DC agreed and turned it into one of their direct-to-DVD movie releases.
In the midst of Luthor’s hunt for Bruce and Clark, the pernicious prez sends the usually-heroic duo of Captain Marvel and Hawkman after two of DC’s Big Three. Captain Marvel is basically the “magic” Superman (similar power set but powered by magic instead of being from Krypton)… and Superman is vulnerable to magic. So Batman calls a “castle” so they switch dance partners (as Batman has himself at a disadvantage against Hawkman due to Hawkman’s power of flight).
So they switch???
Batman sends Captain Marvel into the side of the mountain despite the fact that the entire superhero community has cowered in fear of him in other arcs (e.g. Kingdom Come). He’s basically the more powerful version of Superman, essentially combining the power of six different mythical gods and heroes of legend! But we are so used to seeing Batman beat Superman with cleverness and kryptonite rings that it seems perfectly natural that Batman best a stand-in Superman… Yet a minute ago Bruce was having problems with basically Indiana Jones wearing a jetpack and swinging an iron sheleighleigh.
This fight exemplifies the sheer ludicrous-ness of Superman / Batman: Public Enemies. It’s exactly the feel that Loeb and McGuinness (in contrast to a story like Hush) are going for in this one.
Here’s a clip of the fight from the video version:
#8 Batgirl: Year One
I love Love LOVE Marcos Martin!
Pretty cool “rookie learning the ropes” story by Chuck Dixon (who was considered the best action writer in comics at this point) and the then-relatively unknown (and still criminally not-famous) Marcos Martin.
Some comics you love for being unbelievably put together and executed (Watchmen), others for a peerless evel of innovation (Supreme), and still others for the absolute perfection of their writing (tons, let’s be honest). Batgirl: Year One makes this list because of Martin.
At this point I buy basically everything Marcos Martin touches. He’s done work on The Runaways and Doctor Strange with my old high school buddy Brian Vaughan, and most recently has been kicking butt on one of the best books bar-none, Mark Waid’s reboot of Daredevil.
I would recommend you do the same and buy everything he draws on account of it is all so purdy. His Batgirl: Year One looks effortless on the page.
Amazon prices are all a kick to the unmentionables (I guess this is out of print). With an iPad you can get single [digital] issues on ComiXology for $1.99 apiece, though.
#7 Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!
I suspect Grant Morrison did all kinds of jumping through hoops for several years running — inventing Damien Wayne as the natural child of Bruce + Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, “killing” Bruce in an epic showdown with Darkseid (who else can match Apokalips’s God of Evil? Superman?), setting up Dick Grayson as the new Batman (but with a slightly different costume), elevating the Club of Heroes (goofy Batman wannabes from earlier decades of four-color pulp) — just so he could make Batman Incorporated.
Batman Incorporated is the idea that Bruce Wayne comes back from the dead and comes out of the closet as Batman’s backer. Not as Batman per se, but as the guy who supplies his Batmobiles and Batarangs and so on. How could Batman only be one dude, right?
In Batman Incorporated, Bruce sets up Batmen all over the place. Damien was working well with Dick in Batman and Robin anyway, so he lets Dick stay the Batman of Gotham City. Bruce sets up Bat-wing, Rightrunner, Black Bat (formerly Batgirl), and actual other dudes also named “Batman” as his operatives around the globe.
Amazing high concept and great fun.
Over the course of Batman and Robin and Batman Incorporated, Morrison hooks [back] up with some of the best artists in the business (most notably Cameron Stewart IMO) and elevates Chris Burnham to one of the best in the business. Burnham’s Batman Incorporated has the energy and layout of a Cameron Stewart… but with the finish of a Frank Quitely. I mean this in all the best ways.
But to get onto this Top 10 list that includes some of my favorite comics of all time?
It was this one panel in The Leviathan Strikes!:
OMG Holy Fan-boy Bat-dream (Batman)!
Bruce and all his adopted and flesh-and-blood sons; two Batmans, two Robins, all fighting back-to-back???
I know it is just one panel but I think one of the things that makes a fan like me love comics so much is the opportunity to see the heroes really strut their stuff and cut loose, look really cool while serving mad justice: To give us a reason to cheer.
Boy, does this comic do that.
#6 Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds
I consider all of Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey as one long run; Of Like Minds is just the first trade she wrote of a run that is comparable in both length and proficiency to Gaiman on Sandman, Ennis on Preacher, or Robinson on Starman. I don’t state that lightly. Gail Simone on Birds of Prey — especially in the early trades and at her best — is the equal to any of those iconic writers on one of their signature books.
As a high concept, the crippled Barbara Gordon, once Batgirl but now the hacker-hero Oracle, employs with Black Canary and Huntress as her strike team. Who are Black Canary and Huntess? Who gives a hang?
These are two heroines who you might have literally zero investment in right now, but whom Simone will make some of your all-time favorites.
Birds of Prey is one of the all-time best action / martial arts comics. Under the skilled pencil of Ed Benes, it comes to life beautifully. Via Simone’s typewriter, Birds is consistently both heartwarming and hilarious. Butt-kicking, butt-kissing, exposed abs (with good reason), unbridled violence, and even more laughter.
That would be telling!
* I completely forgot I previously reviewed this comic book previously; for a more immediate review (i.e. right after I read it the first time), check it here.
The thing that killed me about this setup was, okay, you put me in this bathing suit - but then I have to stop talking from here on? Strip me, and I’m silent! I am defiant with everyone else - Tarkin, Darth Vader - but this slug really shuts me up. Any defiance I had in the other movies, all gone.
I was so very happy to kill [Jabba]. It meant I could talk again. They asked me if I wanted a stunt double to kill Jabba and I said, ‘Really, really not. I really, really want to kill him myself.’