On Things I’ve Been Reading

Some recent comic book purchases…

Star Trek: Mirror Images #1
IDW Publishing
Written by Scott and David Tipton
Art by David Messina

A long time ago, when I was but a wee lad, I loved the classic Star Trek episode, “Mirror Mirror.” A transporter accident sent Kirk, McCoy, Uhura, and Scotty into a weird, twisted mirror universe, where everyone was evil and Spock had a hip goatee.

Then DC Comics did The Mirror Universe Saga, which pitted Admiral Kirk against the twisted mirror Captain Kirk for eight issues of slam-bang space opera goodness. (It’s also a better sequel to Star Trek III than Star Trek IV turned out to be, but that’s neither here nor there.) Then Deep Space Nine started making regular trips into the Mirror Universe, Pocket published a couple of novels (Susan Wright’s Dark Passions duology, William Shatner’s Spectre trilogy), and a few years after that Pocket returned to the setting with the Mirror Universe duology, which is followed by Fearful Symmetry and another Mirror Universe anthology.

Everything that is good in the “regular” universe is “bad” in the Mirror Universe. People are backstabbing, lying, conniving monsters, who give into every base impulse they have. And post-Deep Space Nine, they’re probably into bondage and bisexuality. (Jerome Bixby’s Mirror Universe wasn’t quite there. Television couldn’t get that depraved in the ’60s.) Starfleet is a ruthless military organization, where officers aren’t promoted for their good deeds, but for whether or not they can depose their captain and take command by force.

It’s an idea that, if you stop and think about it too closely, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. If everyone’s conniving and backstabbing, how did they ever cooperate enough to build starships? If advancement through the ranks is truly as Darwinian as it appears, then how are there any ranks to begin with? (And let’s say nothing about the butterfly effects; some characters simply shouldn’t exist.)

Still, it’s a fun milieu for readers to enter, because it takes all the favorite characters and turns them into evil versions of themselves.

Which is what IDW does in Mirror Images #1.

This first issue, of a five-issue miniseries, puts readers on board the ISS Enterprise, near the end of Captain Pike’s command. As we learned in “Mirror Mirror,” Kirk gained command of the Enterprise by assassinating Pike, and early on in the issue Kirk makes his first attempt on Pike’s life. But the assassination attempt goes wrong, Pike knows that it’s probably Kirk who’s out to kill him, and he reaches out to the two people on the ship he feels he can trust — Spock and McCoy — to spy on Kirk and report on his plans. Meanwhile, Kirk is waiting for a piece of alien machinery to arrive, and once it does, his ally in Engineering — Montgomery Scott — will install it for him.

That may sound like a lot. It really isn’t.

This is set-up, pure and simple. The conflicts are defined, and we’ll see them play out over the next few issues. (I’m not sure how many issues, though; the third issue was solicited as a Picard on the ISS Starbreaker story, and then the series jumps back in time to Pike and the Enterprise. Unless plans for the third issue have changed, this is a bit odd.)

The writing is fine. Characters are well-defined. Messina’s artwork has an appropriately dark and moody texture. (And the Captain’s Woman on pages 20 and 21 — nice.) This is the team that did Klingons: Blood Will Tell, and they work well together.

The one thing I can complain about — the only thing, really — is how short it feels. Five minutes’ entertainment for four dollars. That may not be worth it for some readers.

Still, if you like the Mirror Universe and Pocket Books hasn’t turned you off on the concept by going to that well a dozen times in the past few years, you should have a fine time with Star Trek: Mirror Images.

Captain America: White #0
Marvel Comics
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale

The first Loeb/Sale comic I read was Challengers of the Unknown #1, way back in 1991.

I was an instant fan.

They worked together a number of times over the next fifteen years. There were the three Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Specials (I can’t decide if my favorite is the riff on A Christmas Carol or the riff on Alice in Wonderland. Probably the former.) Then came Batman: The Long Halloween. A Superman for All Seasons. Batman: Dark Victory. And then they moved on to Marvel.

I never read Daredevil: Yellow. Spider-Man: Blue had me scratching my head, but it was, in all honestly, probably the first time I actually cared about Gwen Stacy. And the first issue of Hulk: Gray was so terrible I didn’t bother with the rest of the series.

In short, I didn’t like their Marvel work they way I liked their DC work. It didn’t seem… as insightful, if that makes sense. Loeb and Sale understood what made Batman tick. A Superman for All Seasons is a marvelous examination of how people see the Man of Steel. Spider-Man: Blue, by contrast, is the story of what? Peter loves Gwen? I read six issues expecting some sort of payoff… and there is no payoff to Spider-Man: Blue.

Now the two are doing a series, Captain America: White, and Marvel kicks off the series with a 0 issue, that tells a short story of how James “Bucky” Barnes becomes Captain America’s teenage sidekick, Bucky, during World War II.

Let me get something out of the way. I have zero interest in Captain America. I’m not sure why that is. I’ve read a number of Captain America stories over the years, and none of them have really clicked with me. (Except maybe John Byrne’s Batman/Captain America, but that story is just too much fun not to love.)

The story in Captain America: White #0 is short, about 16 pages, followed by a Sale sketchbook and a brief interview.

I actually kinda liked it.

The focus is, like A Superman for All Seasons, on how someone else sees the titular character. In Superman, the POV ranged from Lois Lane to Lex Luthor to Lana Lang; here in Captain America, it’s firmly on Barnes and how he accidentally discovers Captain America’s secret identity as Steve Rogers and what follows from that.

There’s an undercurrent of sorrow that runs through the story. Even though the POV is on Barnes, it’s Rogers’ narration that carries the story. He’s narrating this from some point in the future, a point after which he believes Bucky is dead. (Bucky was presumed dead at the end of World War II, if I’m not mistaken. Bucky “got better,” so they say, and he’s currently operating as Captain America in the present day Marvel Universe.) There’s a palpable narrative conflict; Rogers understands that war is dangerous and deadly because he’s been trained as a solider, while Barnes treats it as a lark and a game. While Barnes knows intellectually that war is a serious business, his frivolity may prove to be his undoing, and Rogers’ narration conveys that.

Let’s say that I’m cautiously optimistic for Captain America: White. My knowledge of Cap’s history is not without its holes, so I don’t really know what Captain America did and didn’t do during World War II, so for me the story can literally go almost anywhere. I got much the same feeling off of Captain America: White #0 as I did off of the LotDK Halloween specials, and if the six-issue mini-series as a whole holds to that, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

At the very least, it will wash away the memory of Hulk: Gray. 🙂

Robin #175
DC Comics
Written by Fabien Nicieza
Art by Joe Bennett & Jack Jadson

Reading Robin takes me back. I remember picking up the first issue of the Robin ongoing series way back in ’92. Or was it ’93?

Tim Drake, the third Robin, had had three solo mini-series in the early ’90s, written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Tom Lyle (with a late assist by Grant Miehm on the third series, when Lyle bolted to Marvel to work on the Spider-Man clone nonsense). In the wake of Knightfall — when Bruce Wayne retired after having has back broken by Bane, and Jean-Paul Valley took over the cape and cowl — Robin received his solo on-going series, written by Dixon and pencilled by Tom Grummett.

I followed Robin for ages, until ’98 when I pretty much stopped buying comics with any regularity.

I always thought that Robin had a unique feel in the Batman universe of titles. It was a book about a high schooler, dealing with being the apprentice to the world’s greatest detective and heir to an heroic legacy, while also dealing with the issues that high schoolers would deal with.

Like girls.

Chuck Dixon returned to Robin a few months ago, and then, in a surprising move, he was fired. I’d started picking up Robin again due to Dixon’s return to the title, and I’d been impressed with Dixon’s run of issues on the title, plus the recent Robin/Spoiler Special, and Robin #175 is the first issue with new writer Fabian Nicieza.

A few months ago I remarked on how inscrutable I found the first part of Batman: R.I.P. in the ongoing Batman series, and after three issues I don’t think Morrison’s storyline has become any more understandable to someone who hasn’t been reading the Batman titles for a while. This issue of Robin is a tie-in to Batman: R.I.P., and refers back to events between Infinite Crisis and One Year Later (neither of which I have read), yet in spite of both obstacles, I had no trouble with Robin #175.

Tim Drake suspects that Bruce Wayne, Batman himself, is having a psychotic breakdown. He calls his ex-girlfriend and fellow crimefighter, Spoiler, to meet him, so he can sound her out on his theory. He refers back to a diary that he kept during the period in between Infinite Crisis and One Year Later, and in the end, Tim makes two profound and shocking decisions.

I liked it. From the cover that hearkens back to Jim Aparo’s cover to the collected edition of A Death in the Family (the storyline that killed Jason Todd in 1988) to the final shocking splashpage, this issue was like a rush of adrenaline. Batman: R.I.P. is confusing the hell of me, but here in “Scattered Pieces” the stakes for what Batman: R.I.P. are laid out. If Batman is having a pyschotic break, then he’s as much a danger to Gotham as are the villains he hunts.

It’s a solid entry, and for someone who hasn’t been reading Robin, this issue is one that can be picked up and read without much difficulty. Necessary backstory is given, and flashbacks are used to complement the story and push it forward.

I’m sticking around on Robin.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #1
DC Comics
Written and drawn by Mike Kunkel

I love Captain Marvel. The original Captain Marvel, that is. The one C.C. Beck created back in the Golden Age.

Billy Batson, a young boy, who says the word, “Shazam,” and a bolt of magical lightning strikes him and turns him into the World’s Mightiest Mortal.

It’s such an innocent concept. It’s the ultimate wish-fulfillment comic.

And for over twenty years DC Comics has tried to make the Marvel Family — Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, the Lieutenants Marvel, even Uncle Marvel — work within the context of the modern DC Universe.

And it doesn’t quite work.

Captain Marvel shouldn’t deal with issues like the corruption of the soul or sexual harrassment or the fulfillment of prophecy from the Book of Revelation. (That’s referring to Countdown to Final Crisis, Peter David’s Supergirl Plus special, and Kingdom Come, respectively.) Captain Marvel is so… innocent, hearkening back to a simpler time, that certain issues make for an incongruous fit.

In Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!, Kunkel strips the concept down to the wish-fulfillment. What if you were a little kid who could bring down the magic lightning?

And that’s how he plays it. It’s kid-friendly, with a plot that would appeal to kids — Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel have to save a train of zoo animals from an unfortunate accident, and Captain Marvel has to pretend to be Billy Batson’s father to get his “children” into school. There are some nice touches — the sibling rivalry between Billy and Mary is hilarious; Mary is clearly the brains of the outfit, and Billy can’t help but get a few digs of his own in with the school officials.

I’m told this is a continuation of Jeff Smith’s Monster Society of Evil, which I’ve not read.

It’s a fun book. Mike Kunkel’s artwork is gorgeous, and it has an energetic, kid-friendly feel to it. And the story is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s basically a one-and-done, but there’s an element that shows up in the final pages that will probably play out over the next few issues.

Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam! is definitely a keeper. 🙂

One thought on “On Things I’ve Been Reading

  1. It’s an idea that, if you stop and think about it too closely, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. If everyone’s conniving and backstabbing, how did they ever cooperate enough to build starships?

    The same way that Pike feels he can count on Spock and McCoy: assassination may move you up the ranks, but there’s got to be some trust, somewhere, in order to survive.

    I’m disappointed in Fearful Symmetry‘s assertion that the Mirror Universe is just another alternate timeline, and not something special like the repeated crossovers made it out to be. (I especially liked Diane Duane’s approach, where the MU’s spacetime had a different “ethical constant”.)

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