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February 18, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The Adventures of a Young Lois Lane

By Dan Davidson

December 14, 2016fallout

– 668 words –

 

Fallout

By Gwenda Bond

Switch Press

303 pages

$10.77

e-book edition $8.49

 

There’s been lot of character juggling going on in the DC universe over the last few years. When the corporation re-booted its entire line in an experiment called “the new 52”the world in which Lois Lane and Clark Kent had been married for over a decade vanished. The younger, less experienced versions of both characters remained friends and competitive colleagues, but the romance was gone. Other relationships took its place and eventually the new Superman lost most of his powers, and finally regained them long enough to fight a final battle before dying (again).

All this is simply to say that people have been playing with these characters in many ways for many years, and that within the DC multiverse, with at least 52 permutations, there may be a universe like the one Gwenda Bond is writing about.

Most current variations on the theme of Lois and Clark have the pair not meeting until they are both adults, when Clark is just beginning using his alter ego after having spent some time travelling around the world after high school, but Bond has decided that they have a link that begins online while they are teenagers.

Lois Lane, troublesome army brat, has recently moved to Metropolis with her family, there to get a new start on life, preferably one where she makes some normal friends, doesn’t get expelled from school, and generally keeps a low profile.

Fat chance, right? That just not Lois.

Her new high school has a group of students who call themselves the Warheads, and they seem determined to recruit or destroy other students to their group, a group which dresses alike, sounds somewhat alike and can actually complete each others’ sentences.

Lois befriends a girl who is being bullied by this group. It gets complicated. Some of the students – the Warheads, to be exact – have been enrolled in a secret extra-credit study group which meets under the auspices of a organization called Advanced Research Laboratories

In another strand of the story, she signs on for a student internship at the Daily Planet, and becomes part of her own group of would-be cub reporters, who have been assigned by Perry White the task of finding something really worthwhile to investigate.

While there is no stated connection to the tales of Superman, there are strong hints of plots that might require the big guy’s attention later on, and Lois’ extensive email correspondence with the friend she knows only as SmallvilleGuy is, of course, a major clue.

A portion of the climactic action in the story takes place in a virtual reality in which avatars battle for points. ARL has been using virtual reality scenarios and some augmented psychic abilities to create a cadre of perfectly obedient, focussed fighters. Lois has to take her investigation into that realm and find some way to disrupt the broadcast signals that control the Warheads.

SmallvilleGuy, with the help of a tech savvy friend, does manage to be of some help in this endeavor, joining in the VR experience even he is never there in person.

Fallout first appeared at a time when the New 52’s Lois was in need of a little TLC, having outed her world’s Superman as Clark Kent and started him on what would become a downward spiral to his ultimate end. Fortunately, through the magical of a company wide event called the Convergence, which led to something else called the Rebirth, the original Lois and Clark are back (with a son now) and the Lois in this YA series could perhaps become the one currently in the comics.

This is a YA level novel that has a feeling similar to television shows like Veronica Mars and iZombie. It’s the beginning of a series of which there are two books at the moment, with another due out this coming May.

 

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Bookends: All good fables must come to an end January 28, 2016

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Bookends: All good fables must come to an end

By Dan Davidson

August 16, 2015

– 843 words –

Fables 150: FarewellFables 150

written by Bill Willingham

art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green and 26 others

Vertigo

160 pages

$21.99

 

Fables, the comic book series, began with a mystery. Issues 1 to 5 were collected in book form as Legends in Exile, and developed the idea that a vast number of the characters who inspired our legends and folktales have been living, for some time, in a New York enclave that they call Fabletown. Only the human seeming fables could live there, and we later learned that there was an upstate Animal Farm where non-human fables resided.

Through 150 issues, published individually and in 22 collected volumes since 2002, the fables have been dealing with the problems created by a number of fearsome foes, as well as internal issues.

They had been driven from their homelands, which can be found in other dimensions, by a world conquering tyrant known as the Adversary. He intended to extend his conquest to Earth, known to the Fables as the Mundy (for Mundane) World. Roughly the first half of the series involves the story arc in which the problem of the Adversary is slowly revealed and brought to a resolution.

The next big problem comes from the fact that a very evil being called Mr. Dark, who had been captured by the Adversary during his conquests, is freed from his imprisonment and is able to wreak a considerable amount of havoc through many worlds before coming to Earth and affecting Fabletown.

As each problem’s solution tends to create a newer problem, so the resolution of the Dark threat exacerbates what have always been issues between the sisters Snow White and Rose Red, and the series moves towards its end by examining their family history and how those issues might be resolved.

Working with public domain characters, Willingham has felt free to reinterpret and put his own spin on their lives. Jack, for instance, is an avatar of all the fables named Jack, and his story became complicated enough to spin off into its own 50 issue series, also collected in a set of volumes.

Jack, like all the fables, is more or less immortal, his lifespan and general health determined by the number of people who have read about him and enjoyed his adventures. When Goldilocks becomes a psychotic anarchist and raises a revolt at the Farm, it becomes impossible to kill her because her story is so well known.

The first Sheriff of Fabletown is a fellow named Bigby (which is short for Big Bad), who is actually the Big Bad Wolf of many legends. Turns out he is a shapeshifter and can assume human form. He has reformed, largely due to having fallen in love with Snow White, and they eventually marry and have a litter of shapeshifting kids. Snow is the administrator of Fabletown working under King Cole, who is the elected mayor, until he is defeated by a certain Prince Charming, who has, at some point, been involved with most of the major fable females in a number of stories.

Willingham decided that these fables princesses had interesting stories that could be told, and that developed into another series called The Fairest. Other writers have been called in to flesh out these stories.

Willingham has used a wide range of story types to spin out this series. It began with a noir style detective story, and moved on to explore various genre types, including the conspiracy thriller and the caper story. It came to include romances, high fantasy, war stories, adventure tales and sheer comedy. There are long story arcs that run for five or six issues and then there are short items, perhaps not more than a page or two, that deal with small incidents and tie off some loose plot threads. Finally, of course there is this one, single, 160 page issue which devotes about half its space to wrapping up the Snow vs. Rose conflict.

The rest of the book is a series of “The Last…” stories, vignettes tying off the story arcs of some of the lesser characters in the list. This is where those 26 other artists that I mentioned come into play. Apparently a lot of creative folks wanted to contribute to this final volume, which culminates in a family gathering set in the Bigby/Snow compound (called Wolfholm, of course) about 1000 years in the future.

As we near the end of the series, we learn that the nearly everything we’ve read has actually been written by Ambrose, one of Bigby and Snow’s children.

Fables has been a positive pleasure for the last 13 years, and I shall miss it. It’s one of the few comics that I continued to buy (in collected editions) in hard copy format after I largely moved over to reading digital editions (I know – but it solved a storage problem). Fortunately, I can still read the whole series again, at my leisure.

 

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Bookends – How the tales of Tommy Taylor began February 18, 2015

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Bookends – How the tales of Tommy Taylor beganUnwritten - Ship

By Dan Davidson

November 26, 2014

– 938 words –

 

The Unwritten:

Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice

Story by Mike Carey

Art layouts by Peter Gross

Finishes and colours by various artists

 

160 pages

$12.30

 

There have been 10 volumes collecting the ongoing story Carey and Gross have created in the Unwritten. If Thomas King is correct in his assertion that “all we are is stories” this series is the graphic adventure that deals with that concept directly. Volumes 1 to 9 collected the first 54 issues of the book, and a new sequence began with volume 10, containing the next five issues.

Tom Taylor is the real life son of Wilson Taylor, who has created and published 14 volumes in the saga of the boy wizard Tommy Taylor. The real Tom has Christopher Robin’s problem in relation to his fictional alter-ego. Like Christopher Milne, Tom grows up to hate the connection between himself and the fictional Tommy.

What we have been slowly coming to understand is that the connection in stronger than anyone might readily believe. Wilson was once an agent of a nameless cabal that attempts, quite successfully, to influence the way of the world by promoting the stories that influence how we, the public, think about things. This is all accomplished through the manipulation of something the cabal calls the Grid.

As Wilson became more aware of how the Grid worked he became repulsed by their machinations and decided to fight back. To that end he deliberately linked his son to a fictional creation and wrote a series of adventures which promoted belief in the character in ways that make “Frodo Lives” graffiti and earth-bound Quidditch matches seem quite tame by comparison.

He also programmed his son, using all manner of learning styles, including listening to stories while in a sensory deprivation tank, to be linked to the power of stories, so that the power of the Grid could be harnessed by him and focused to manifest itself as magic. Tom was unaware of this until years later, after his father had disappeared, leaving everyone waiting for the next installment of the Tommy books. It hasn’t been said yet, but one expects that this anticipation was part of Wilson’s grand plan.

Just after the break provided at the end of volume 9, Carey and Gross decided to provide us with a two strand graphic novel that did not appear as part of the regular monthly book. One strand of the story is the tale of how Wilson planned and wrote the first of the Tommy Taylor books, Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice. The other strand is a graphic novel presentation of that book.

In the Wilson sections we get a close look at his creative process, showing early drafts of the first book’s opening as he picks his way through the various fantasy tropes and decides which ones to use. At the same time we get a look at his domestic life; how Tom was conceived, how Wilson timed his release of the first book to coincide with Tom’s birth; how an entirely fictional mother was grafted into his life’s story while his real mother was cut out.

In Tommy’s story we learn of an orphan boy whose parents were two of the most powerful wizards in all the land, and of how they sacrificed their lives in order to keep a great evil from coming back into the world. This sacrifice also entailed taking from their baby son the legacy of the spark, his naturally inherited ability to channel magic, for they needed more power than the two of them had to stop the vampiric Count Ambrosio from returning to the mundane world. They did manage to save Tom’s life by causing him to be cast ashore when they deliberately scuttled the ship they were travelling on.

Tom is raised as an anonymous orphan child at a magic academy, his true identity known only to its headmaster, Professor Tulkinghorn, who keeps that secret until Tom is about to become a teenager. Tom, though sparkless, is an excellent student with a retentive memory, learns much of the lore taught at the academy, can call more of it to mind than most of the other students and, lacking power, is forced to develop his wits.

The problem comes when the ill informed and arrogant members of the Conclave, the magical governing body, decide to raise the sunken ship, thinking that it contains the ancient magicks of Lyonesse, which the Taylors had sailed to that mythic land to obtain. It does, but it also contains the ancient evil of Ambrosio, and that is unleashed on the land, corrupting most of the people of Eastbrooke in preparation for an assault on the rest of the world.

Bouncing back and forth as we do, we can see the struggle in the book as a mirror of Wilson’s struggle against the cabal. The blending of the two is complete when one of Wilson’s creations crosses over into our world while Tom is still just a toddler. Tom forgets this as he grows up, passing through his rebellious teems and nearly wasted youth but, as we have seen, it all comes together and has been revealing itself monthly since 2010.

This book ties up a lot of loose ends and makes a number of things clearer. I do hope the creators do this again with another of the Tommy books, taking us through another phase of Wilson’s planning. This was a lot of fun.

 

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Bookends: The Next Chapter of the Next Men February 6, 2013

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Bookends: The Next Chapter of the Next Men

Next Men

By Dan Davidson

November 7, 2012,      Star, Nov. 9/12

– 833 words –

John Byrne’s Next Men: Scattered, volume 1

by John Byrne

IDW Publishing

104 pages

$21.99

Back in 1991, writer/artist John Byrne, who had done the 1986 revamp of the Superman franchise, and was previously famous for his run on the X-men, took some of Superman’s powers and distributed them among a group of young people who had been genetically altered and raised in a virtual reality environment.

He didn’t just give them the abilities; he explored what the downside of these powers might be.

Nathan got vision powers, by means of rather ugly looking mutated eyes that allowed him to see a wide spectrum of light but left him pretty much blinded to normal vision without the aid of special glasses.

Jasmine became super acrobatic.

Jack became super-strong but, in a reversal of the usual situation, had to wear a special exoskeleton to damp down his ability because he could not control his strength.

Bethany developed invulnerability to the point of having razor-sharp hair and indestructible fingernails, but she gradually lost her sense of touch and other physical sensations while her skin bleached white. In addition, she apparently no longer needed to breathe.

Danny, the youngest and most enthusiastic of the group, developed the ability to run at superhuman speeds, and the mutated legs and feet needed to support such activity.

The young people had to adapt to living in the real world, were the objects of a massive manipulation by a secret government agency and were exploited by a comic book company in sequences that appeared to be Byrne taking whacks at DC and Marvel comics.

The series ran for 30 issues during the big comic book boom of the early 1990s until 1995, when the bottom fell out of the industry. It ended with the explosive destruction of the White House and the apparent disappearance of the Next Men, each of them whisked away by a strange figure in a suit of armor.

That did sort of end a portion of the larger story Byrne was telling, but it left us with one heck of a cliffhanger.

Fifteen years later the comics field hadn’t improved that much, but the companies are making money in licensing fees, so they’re not as concerned with the print runs. Next Men was first issued by Dark Horse comics but, unlike most of what we see from the two big houses, that company dealt with creator owned material, so eventually their control of the series lapsed and IDW, another of the smaller houses, picked up the material, reissued it in collected hardcover and paperback editions and persuaded Byrne to pick up the story where he left it.

It turns out that he left the kids scattered through time, plopped down and isolated from each other as some sort of plot by the mysterious armored figure who states very clearly that he or she was somehow betrayed by them.

This volume collects the first four issues of a story that has a lot of twists and turns as it follows the adventures of Nathan, Jasmine, Jack and Bethany, along with their former government control agent, Tony Murcheson.

Nathan and Jasmine spend some years hanging out with dinosaurs before they are separated again. He ends up in a Nazi concentration camp and she lands in Shakespearean England. Tony is dropped off in Civil War era America where, as a feisty, combative, modern liberated black woman, she has a very hard time, but apparently ends up triggering a whole new alternate timeline where Lincoln did not die.

In this same timeline (but 150 years or so later on) Jack, who underwent a religious conversion experience during their earlier adventures, is, in fact, 15 years older and serving as a priest is Greenwich Village.  It is his discovery of Tony’s grave that tells us what she was able to accomplish in the past to which she was consigned.

Bethany is forced to watch all of this by her mysterious abductor, who also reveals that she has been plucked out of her own timeline years before an accident with an experimental particle accelerator would have left her buried alive miles underground for 238 years.

In another timeline we see her rescued all those years later, rescued but dangerously unbalanced by her ordeal, and we are not surprised to find that this insane version of Bethany is the one who is behind all the mysterious abductions and time shuffling which dominates this tale.

Mad Bethany has stolen time travel armor and has scattered her former teammates to the four winds of time as payback for them failing to rescue her, all the while trying to save her younger self from enduring the same fate.

I’m not at all sure just how Byrne is going to resolve all the time travel paradoxes that this first volume seems to have created, but it was quite a ride.

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Bookends: The Life and “Death” of the Man of Steel March 6, 2012

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Bookends: The Life and “Death” of the Man of Steel

By Dan Davidson

January 25, 2012

Star, Jan. 27/12

– 820 words –

All Star Superman

Story by Grant Morrison

Art by Frank Quitely & Jamie Grant

DC Comics

Two volumes

156 pages each

$14.99 and $15.99

There have been many incarnations of Superman, the Man of Steel, ranging from the original creation by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster back in 1938 to the variation that recently ended a 10-year run on television in the series called Smallville. That was the fourth television incarnation of the character and each time there were changes in the basic story.

The most drastic changes of all have recently taken place in the entire stable of DC characters, with last fall’s introduction of what they’ve been calling “the new 52”.  DC has revamped its lineup of magazines and changed its continuity a number of times over the years, the biggest single change prior to this having been the Crisis on Infinite Earths series back in the 1980s. This seemed to lead the publisher into the habit of having major company wide, world-shaking events that changed both time and space every few years.

The most recent was something called Flashpoint, and it was the lead up to the company’s decision to cancel every one of its existing books and start all over with 52 new titles. This meant big changes for Superman, in particular.

In Action Comics, we are now following the adventures of what I’m thinking of as “Superman Lite”, a young version Clark Kent/Kal-el who is not fully powered. He has ablities pretty close to what Siegel and Shuster originally gave him. He jumps rather than flies, and can be bruised.

In the main Superman comic we are following the same fellow, but a decade or so later, when he has the full set of abilities we are used to seeing. For the last 15 years of publication, Clark has been married to Lois Lane. In this rebooted version of his life that never happened.

The events of the 12 issues of All Star Superman never happened either, though, to be fair, they must have taken place in some alternate, pre-Crisis universe to begin with. The story that Morrison chose to tell in these tales is very much a homage to the Silver Age Superman of the 1950s and 1960s and has a lot of those features.

Morrison does a number of interesting things in this mini-series. Unlike the soap opera continuity that dominates most comics these days, each issue is a discrete adventure in itself, while still contributing to a larger arc.

In the very first issue Lex Luthor carries out a scheme that he believes will ultimately result in Superman’s death. At the end of the series it does result in his having to leave Earth, but by the time we get there Morrison has tied this development into events and characters that were featured in the DC One Million event back in 1998, so long time readers will realize it’s not a permanent problem.

The pattern for the series is the 12 Labours of Hercules, and each issue features a different challenge for the Man of Steel during what he believes will be the last year of his life.

The series, which began its run in 2006, won the Eisner Award for “Best New Series” in that year, as well as “Best Continuing Series” in both 2007and 2009. It also won the Harvey Awards for “Best Artist” and “Best Single Issue” in 2008. In 2006 it won the British Eagle Award for “Favourite New Comic book” and “Favourite Comics Cover” (for the first issue), as well as the 2007 “Favourite Colour Comicbook – American” Eagle.

The Silver Age Superman is not my favorite incarnation of the character. I personally enjoy the John Byrne revision of 1986, which led to some eight years of interesting stories about a somewhat less powerful character and focussed more on Clark Kent and less on the man in the tights. Be that as it may, however, this particular mini-series was uncomplicated and fun, which is something that often cannot be said of current material.

Their setting outside any established continuity allowed Morrison to play with the character in ways that did not need to be explained and would have no permanent implications. In other words, the overall story was more like that of a stand-alone novel with a beginning, middle and end, and no concerns about having to leave space for something to happen in the next installment. There’s something satisfying about that approach.

As for the current batch of Superman comics, my internal jury is still out. I’m annoyed that my rather large collection of back issues is suddenly irrelevant, but if I could enjoy (mostly) ten years of Smallville, with all its changes to the established story, perhaps I can get to like these new books as well.

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