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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 8/13/8

Young Justice, more Young Justice, The Peacemaker, Usagi Yojimbo, old Suicide Squad, and new Blue Beetle.

Employee’s Pick

Young Justice 31

[DC] Young Justice #26-31
Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Todd Nauck

With the Olympics storyline wrapped up, Cissie returns to school to find she has a new roommate. Young Justice, joined by Teen Lobo, Empress, and Doiby Dickles, are off to Doiby’s home-away-from-home planet to help him take it back and save a princess. Things are going well when a group of robot-looking dudes show up to challenge the team to a game of baseball. Winner takes the whole planet. And what a planet it is, patterned after 1930’s New York and filled with people who talk like Doiby Dickles ("Dat’s what I hoid, too!").

Lacking a ninth player, they accidentally recruit Cissie, who’s none to happy to be teleported to an alien world in the middle of the day. As is typical of fictional portrayals of sports, it only vaguely resembles a real baseball game, full of strikeouts, home runs, and dramatic lead changes. Also, cheating. Lots of cheating. Then it’s off to New Genesis so Lobo can beat up the Forever People. There might have been something about mating supercycles, too, but whatever. Fight scene!

Right, so the two supercycles make out and then… do it, I guess, combining into a giant Build-A-Supercycle and going on a rampage. The Forever People respond to this threat by combining their powers to summon Captain Planet Infinity Man. Back on Earth, the trouble’s less fantastic but still plenty crazy, as Spoiler and Secret fight over Robin. Spoiler, who’s Robin’s sort of girlfriend but doesn’t know his secret identity, and Secret, who has a huge crush but has yet to tell Robin about it. It’s like early Lois Lane vs. a Superstalker.

Issue 31’s more or less silent. Impulse wants to play with Superboy, but Supes is watching a cheerleading contest. He just wants Imp to be quiet and let him enjoy the show. So Impulse looks elsewhere for fun, only to run into more people who either don’t speak or don’t want him to. Librarians, monks, a wax sculpture of The Flash, evil mimes, a deaf guy… It’s not strictly silent – there are a few words, sound effects, and Impulse does his trademark thinking-in-pictures deal as well as talking in pictures – but it’s a nice diversion.

These six issues are positively full of crack. Crazy things happen one after another in the most delightful way. Secret has a chat with Doug Side, romance blooms between Wonder Girl and Superboy, Lobo struggles valiantly to fit into a team book aimed at a teen audience, and Cissie meets herself at a superhero theme restaurant. As usual, it’s fun, and when the characters need to get serious, they do so without being overbearingly grim.

New-Type Books

Blue Beetle 29

[DC] Blue Beetle Vol. 7 #29
Writer: Matthew Sturges
Penciler: Rafael Albuquerque

Here it is, at last, the start of the Matthew Sturges Era. The cover would have you believe otherwise, but no, John Rogers is not back. Sturges will presumably be properly credited next issue. At least they got it right inside. So, does it match the quality of Rogers’ run? Eh… too early to tell. Sturges (or DC editorial) decided to take this opportunity to do a jumping-on issue for new readers. Issue twenty-nine would normally be a strange place for that, but this is something of a new start for the book, and as accessible as it was, if you didn’t read the first twenty-five issues, you’re going to be lost now. Still, I’d rather have a single recap page before the story proper than what he have here, exposition scattered throughout the issue, Jaime explaining his world to readers through narration. Not that there’s a ridiculous amount of it; enough to drag the issue down, but far from enough to ruin it. There are the beginnings of what could be a good story here, and several nice character moments.

The story itself has generated some controversy, solely because of the issue it deals with: illegal immigration. Now that it’s out, I’m not seeing anything controversial. There’s a hint of an immigration debate creeping over from the distant horizon, but basically it’s your standard superhero story. Some evil corporate dude is sneaking people across the US-Mexico border for an as yet unrevealed nefarious purpose. Beetle’s buddy, Peacemaker, has taken a job helping out with border security for an equally mysterious reason. Or as an excuse to have a role in the story. Beats me. Also, two local villains are fighting to determine who gets to call themselves "Hellhound," after an obscure villain who died in Salvation Run, a series Sturges co-wrote. There’s plenty of action with the two would-be Hellhounds fighting, Beetle intervening and fighting both, Beetle and Peacemaker fighting drug-induced superimmigrants, and Brenda and Paco staring daggers at each other while secretly wanting to make goo-goo eyes. D’aww!

Back Issues

A two week break has allowed me to raise the new comic total from zero to one. No more breaks are planned, and I don’t foresee a dramatic jump in the number of DC/Indy books I buy, so it’s mostly going to be back issues for a while.

Suicide Squad 4

[DC] Suicide Squad Vol. 1 #4
Writer: John Ostrander
Penciler: Luke McDonnell

Recovered from their defeat at the hands of the Female Furies, the Suicide Squad set up a sting on a vigilante. William Hell fights crime, but he does so in a particular way. He leaves minority criminals for the police, while allowing white crooks to go free, provided they sign up at the Aryan Empire, an organization that’s exactly what it sounds like and is owned by Hell himself. William Hell, whose clever secret identity is W. James Heller, is a wealthy, influential businessman and cardcarrying racist. It must have taken the Squad’s unpaid intern at least sixteen minutes (fifteen of which were her break) to figure out that Hell and Heller were one and the same. Heller has a tragic past, related to us by Deadshot, who happened to know him growing up, but I can’t bring myself to feel one iota of sympathy for him. Still, he’s an interesting character. Sort of a cross between Batman and Captain America, with a heaping helping of nazi. He wears red, white, and blue and it’s possible that he means well, that in his crazy, mixed up head, he thinks he’s doing the right thing.

An excellent issue, really well put together. The Squad use a clever plan to take Hell down, and there’s insightful discussion of racism and democracy, showing us how various members of the team feel about those issues. Textbook example of how to write a superhero comic.

Peacemaker 1

[Modern] The Peacemaker Vol. 1 #1
Writer: Joe Gill? (uncredited)
Penciler: Pat Boyette (The Peacemaker), Bill Monte (Fightin’ 5)

Ah, Peacemaker, the "man who loves peace so much that he is willing to fight for it!" So bad, he’s good. Or really, really bad. I can’t decide. Peacemaker showed up early on as a supporting character in the current Blue Beetle series, but of course that’s not where he’s from originally. Like the first two Blue Beetles, he came over from Charlton Comics. He’s a pretty mysterious fellow, with few of his adventures having been chronicled. When I saw this reprint in a quarter box, my curiosity was piqued. Let’s see what we have.

Although originally published in 1966, during comics’ Silver Age, these stories fit better in the pulp-inspired Golden Age. They’re exceedingly simple, none of the villains wear costumes, and the heroes aren’t above killing when necessary/convenient/hilarious. Peacemaker blows up some sharks in the first story and is applauded for minimizing enemy deaths in the second. Modern day Batman would hate this guy, but then, he’d hate Golden Age Batman as well. Bats has plenty of hate to go around. And Bat-Shark Repellent.

Fish are mine

Peacemaker’s whole deal is that he’s a diplomat who "fights" for peace with words in his civilian identity, and literally fights for peace with fists, guns, and a doofy helmet as a costumed superhero. The hero part is your standard "the good guy wins because we say so," while the diplomacy bits look more interesting but go unexplored. I like to think the unnamed Balkan nation Peacemaker roughs up after they try throwing their newfound weight around is Bialya, which didn’t officially enter DC continuity for another twenty years.

There’s a vague subplot running through all three stories, finishing off without Peacemaker in the third, which stars the "Fightin’ 5." It’s a fairly bleak spy story. Crazy dictator wants to nuke the world, plans to hide in a bomb shelter until it cools off. We come in in the middle of the action, and the writer never gets around to explaining how things got to this point or why anyone’s doing anything, which is close enough to the two Peacemaker stories that I’m not sure I missed an earlier chapter in another book. Maybe I’m meant to fill in the blanks myself.

Kid Flash/Impulse

[DC] Sins of Youth: Kid Flash/Impulse
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Penciler: Angel Unzueta

Another of the Sins of Youth one-shots, this one starring a deaged Wally West and a grownup Bart Allen. It’s more coherent than Secret/Deadboy; instead of dealing with random chaos, Wally and Bart set out with a specific goal: to shore up their public relations. Young Justice recently blew up part of Mount Rushmore (long story), and the news world has turned against them and teen heroes in general. They schedule a ton of interviews on the same day, hoping to get their message out, sway people to their side. However, they get sidetracked by villains and such and end up missing most of the interviews. Standard superhero plot, with the standard message – "saving people is worth it whether they thank us or curse us" – but exceptionally well executed.

McDuffie squeezes quite a bit into this one issue. A guest appearance by Jack "The Creeper" Ryder, two wacky villains, Wally’s inability to participate in his own honeymoon now that he’s thirteen, digs at Fox News that are sadly as relevant today as they were eight years ago, and good ol’ male bonding.

Trade

Dragon Bellow Conspiracy

[Fantagraphics] Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 4: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy
Writer/Artist: Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo (rabbit bodyguard) is a masterless samurai who wanders feudal Japan taking jobs and having adventures. In the course of these adventures, he comes across snakemen, catwomen, and many more species of anthropomorphic animals, as Sakai follows the standard rule of personification in fantasy: animals as people are no different from humans despite all appearance to the contrary. And they can still have pets. That one’s always weirded me out. Animal people… with pets. It’s especially weird if one character has a pet dog and a friend who’s a dogman. How does that work? Do stores have "no dogs allowed" policies? And then they have to explain to irate customers how they don’t mean all dogs, just the stupid ones.

There’s a conspiracy brewing. Usagi’s friend, Tomoe Ame, uncovers a plot to assassinate the shogun. But the evil lord she’s spying on catches her! She makes a daring attempt to escape and inform her lord of the sinister plot, killing many men, but ultimately their numbers overwhelm her and she’s taken captive. So there’s Tomoe; Usagi, who spots his friend on the road; Gennosuke, bounty hunting rhino; Gen’s prey, Zato-Ino, the blind swordspig, a wanted outlaw whose only desire is for a peaceful life; and Shingen, leader of the Neko Ninja Clan, an enemy of Usagi whose interests may coincide with the goodnatured rabbit’s for once. Sakai brings all these players together, each of them having some history from previous volumes, for an epic battle. Usagi fights Shingen, Gen fights Zato-Ino, everyone fights the evil lord, and there are major, lasting consequences for most involved. It’s like one of the Big Two’s seasonal Events with a capital E, except it’s good and it matters. Major things happen! Characters are changed forever! It’s really cool! And none of it’s getting undone. And, of course, it’s self-contained. Seven chapters, about the length of a single miniseries, with no tie-ins, no crossovers. That’s the way.

Truncation

Young Justice – Wacky fun.
Blue Beetle – Not the mindblowingly awesome start I was hoping for, but next issue’s almost certain to be better, and this is a promising start. They need to tighten up the editing, though.
Suicide Squad – Excellent.
Peacemaker – He was blowing up sharks before it was cool. Buried gold.
Kid Flash/Impulse – Could have used more jokes about raging hormones.
Usagi Yojimbo – An epic tale of furry samurai.


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