Archive for free comic book day

TMNT #1 25th Anniversary Reprint

Posted in Comics, Mirage, TMNT with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 10th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
"Go check out the East Warehouse over at Lairdman Island."

"Go check out the East Warehouse over at Lairdman Island."

I’ll be honest with you, when presented with a second choice of free comic for Free Comic Book Day, I was fairly indifferent.  I was even thinking of picking up a second copy of Blackest Night #0 just to be a tool and sell it on eBay.  But being the considerate guy that I am, I surveyed the stand to see if nothing else would catch my eye.  My eyes stopped on a familiar image:

Is that the first issue of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’?

I checked the corner of the cover art, and sure enough it was signed ‘Eastman ’84’.  Sounds about right.  Looked at the back cover: ’25th Anniversary 1984 – 2009′.  In my Sherlock-ian wisdom, I reasoned that okay then, this must be the 25th Anniversary reprint of TMNT #1.  “I’ll take it!”

Now, before I read this comic, I’d have proudly declared my intimate knowledge of the Turtles mythos.  I own 30+ Ninja Turtle action figures with weapons; the Turtle Van (or ‘Party Wagon’ as described on the box); four limited edition, fully-posable, hand-crafted Ninja Turtle figures based on the original comics still in their box; two copies of the Ninja Turtles Joke Book (which, you won’t be surprised to hear, is terrible); and a copy of their first (and best) live-action motion picture on VHS recorded from TV – NO ADS (it still hasn’t been released on DVD in Australia), among other things.  I memorised the ‘T-U-R-T-L-E Power’ rap!

I worked hard for my Turtles fandom.  When I was 6 years old and these mutant amphibian warriors set playgrounds alight the world over, my mother would not allow me to watch the cartoon because it was “too violent”.  So what did I do?  I watched it in secret.  Four o’clock, Channel 7, every afternoon after school.  I don’t even remember how I furnished such an elaborate lie, but I did, for an entire year before I was discovered.  After which, my mother, in her Sherlock-ian wisdom (which she has since passed down to her son), allowed me to continue watching it, as she deduced that I had not become (noticeably) more violent over the past year.  It took another year of wearing them down to get my first action figure.  In the meantime I had to settle on a handheld Game & Watch-style Ninja Turtles game (which I got a lot of mileage out of) “and that’s it”.

My parents' first Turtles concession - <em>"and that's it"</em>.

My parents' first Turtles concession - "and that's it".

Next thing I know, I’m 8 years old and I’m holding my very first Ninja Turtles action figure (Raphael) “and that’s it”.  This went on until I collected the whole set.  Eventually, I think my parents gave up.  They must have resigned themselves to the fact that Ninja Turtles and I were destiny.  They wouldn’t let me see the live-action film at the cinema because it was, well, live-action (you can watch the cartoon series, “and that’s it”).  When it aired on TV, my father recorded it for me and cut out the ads for me.  Bless his heart.  Bless both their hearts.  Hopefully now you have a fairly accurate picture of my TMNT pedigree.  Now, allow me to drop the megaton on you: I HAVE NEVER READ A NINJA TURTLES COMIC BOOK IN ALL MY LIFE. Until now.

This comic grabbed me, shook me violently, slapped me in the face multiple times, and rebuked me in a terrible, Shredder-like voice, “YOU KNOW NOTHING OF THE TURTLES FOUR!!”

When I read in words and pictures, black and white, the true origin of the Ninja Turtles, and their greatest foe, Oroku Saki, I was surprised by the marked differences between the comics, the cartoons, and the live-action film.  To their (and their characters’) credit, Eastman and Laird have been more than flexible, adapting their creative property with a clear sensibility for medium and audience, but by the same token, I empathise with the true Turtles fan’s impossible task: to reconcile these clearly contradictory continuities into a cohesive mythology.  I suppose it’s really no different to the task of any comic book reader (Marvel’s 616 Universe vs. the Ultimate Universe, DC’s pre-crisis Multiverse vs. the post-crisis Universe vs. the post-post-crisis Multiverse, etc.), but these continuities contradict and parallel each other to this day.  For me, it’s simply a case of picking and choosing the bits that I like, and willfully ignoring the parts that I don’t.  More ardent fans likely have to settle with juggling three or more separate Turtles universes in their heads at the same time!

To begin with, Hamato Yoshi was a member of the Foot clan in Japan, a guild of assassins by trade.  Secondly, it was not Oroku Saki who competed with Yoshi for the love of the woman Tang Shen (a surprisingly Chinese name), rather his brother, Oroku Nagi (that’s right, ‘Oroku’ is the surname, and it is spoken first as is the custom in Japan).  Oroku Nagi assaulted Tang Shen when she refused his love, and Yoshi in turn beat Nagi to death in his blinding rage.  Yoshi, disgraced for having killed a fellow clansman, flees to America with his wife Tang Shen, while Saki swears vengeance for his brother’s blood at Nagi‘s funeral.  Saki becomes the Foot’s most accomplished assassin by the age of eighteen, and is sent to New York to found their new base of operations in the U.S.  As the Shredder, Saki tracks down and kills Shen and then Yoshi.  And the rest, as they say it, is history – Splinter sends out his fully-trained Ninja Turtles on their first mission to avenge the death of his Master.

That’s right, the Ninja Turtles fight and kill their greatest foe – The Shredder – in their very first encounter; in the very first issue!  That this one-and-done story spawned a series and a franchise is nothing short of amazing, and yet, at the same time, it isn’t.  Laird defends the hasty disposal of one of comics’ most notable villains in his opening letter, and rightly so.  It lends the story a raw power and urgency – as Laird confides, he wrote as if there was no second issue.  He also mentions that Eastman and himself simply wanted an opportunity to play on the same field as their heroes Jack Kirby and Frank Miller (an odd couple if ever I heard one), and the two influences shine through in this issue.  On the Kirby side of things, I could feel the energy and vitality of a story that may never be told again.  In the Miller corner, I could see the grim and gritty visual style; the heavy line-work; the fascination with Ancient Japan; and even the *suggestion* of an intersection with Daredevil’s origin story (could the ooze that transformed the Turtles be the same chemical that blinded and empowered Matt Murdock?).

Daredevil: The Secret of the Ooze.

Daredevil: The Secret of the Ooze.

It’s indie; it’s lo-fi; it feels like rare vinyl and vintage jeans.  The lettering and panel layouts are very rough, but all in all, I could really appreciate the inherent, visceral power of what is essentially a classic Japanese revenge tale.

Certainly the Ninja Turtles have since taken on a life of their own, larger than Eastman and Laird’s original vision, but damn if this comic wasn’t a great place to start.  Otherwise 25 years would have been a bit of a stretch.  Happy Birthday, boys!

The All-New Atom: Future/Past TPB

Posted in All-New Atom, Comics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 3rd May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Don't be fooled - it's bigger than it looks!

Don't be fooled - it's bigger than it looks!

Collecting Issues #7-11
Author: Gail Simone
Artists: Mike Norton & Eddy Barrows

Were it not heavily discounted for Free Comic Book Day, and had Gail Simone’s name not appeared on the cover, I probably would have glossed over the “All-New” Atom.  I nearly missed it altogether, because it was so tiny, and nestled next to an oversized hardcover.  (Which is ironic – get it?  Because the Atom’s so small that you wouldn’t notice him!  Sorry about that, but it really is a small trade paperback, and someone had to say it.)

A bit of background: it’s called the “All-New” Atom, because the previous Atom – Ray Palmer – shrunk himself and disappeared when he found out his wife murdered the Elongated Man’s wife in Identity Crisis.  *I think.*  I don’t really remember, to be honest.  Maybe I should read that one again.  Anyway, the “All-New” Atom is Ryan Choi, an expatriate university lecturer from Hong Kong.  He’s lecturing at Ivy University, where Palmer was once a professor, so presumably this is how Ryan came into possession of the subatomic belt.  (See, it was the only All-New Atom on the shelves, so I assumed Future/Past was the first and last in the series.  After checking the inside cover, it appears that the All-New Atom lasted for *at least* 11 issues, and that this was the second collection of them.)

Gail Simone uses Choi’s expatriate status to great effect, playing on the character’s vocab-in-progress.  It was particularly humorous watching his attempts at superhero trash-talk, which steadily improved over the course of the book.  Dialogue is probably Gail Simone’s greatest asset, and she creates many opportunities to showcase it comedically.  The book kicks off with a troupe of cowboys (as in actual cowboys warped from the cowboy time period) crashing through Ryan’s front wall.  As an Australian, I can confirm that her spelling of their Deep Southern accent is spot-on, and is exactly how a non-American would hear it.  Ryan also has a pet disembodied alien head, whose speech (“can I get you anything, Head?”/ “Orange soda or death!”) is hilariously reminiscent of mis-translated Japanese Role-Playing Games (“All your base are belong to us”, “I am Error”, etc.).  There’s also a brief appearance from the taxi-driver that speaks in anagrams.  So it’s good to see that Simone has given our hero a strong supporting cast of weirdos and misfits.

The stories of time-travel and demon bullies are fantastical, but amidst it all Ryan Choi remains strangely believable.  He’s the school nerd we can get behind (or at least he was), like Clark Kent or Peter Parker, but he’s also a Chinese physicist struggling to come to terms with the very American superhero dichotomy of bravado, and never-say-die attitude.  And he doesn’t have much in the way of superpowers, either.  Simone comes up with some interesting applications of the Belt’s powers, but it’s hard to say what exactly its powers are.  I *think* it can manipulate the size and mass of the wearer’s particles, but sometimes it feels like Simone’s making up the rules as she goes along.  In some ways, I would have liked a bit more science fiction injected into these stories, but I’ve always found it’s wisely avoided if you don’t know what you’re talking about.  Maybe this is the case with Simone.  She does seem to know her Chinese superstition, though, which was good for a few twists and turns when Ryan returned to Hong Kong.  Speaking of which, these curious caption boxes keep popping up in strange places containing Chinese proverbs and quotes from JFK, and I have to say, I don’t get it.  The quotes don’t seem to have anything to do with what’s going on at the time, and I can only assume that these quotes are popping up in Ryan’s head (due to his Chinese heritage?).  Normally with an asterisk and a caption box, you’d expect to read a goofy message from Stan Lee plugging another comic book, so I guess it’s not all bad.

I suppose I should talk about the stories briefly.  The first story is called “The Man Who Swallowed Eternity” with a more cartoony feel from artist Mike Norton.  The Atom time-travels with literally half a professor through time to find his other half!  Yeah, it’s crazy, but it’s action-packed and fun-filled.  The second story is still crazy, but more serious in subject matter.  In “Jia”, Ryan’s high school flame (Jia) begs him to return and protect her from the school bully, now her abusive husband.  Except she forgot to mention he was dead.  Nice one, Jia.  Barrow’s pencil work is detailed, dynamic, and infused with horror elements that were perfect for the story.

You never would have guessed it, but Gail Simone – being a woman and all – has a gift for three-dimensional female characters.  Jia is seductive like most comic book vixens, but she’s also a complicated creature, and infuriatingly so!  Let’s just say that the ending is intriguing and leave it at that.

All in all, Gail Simone’s All-New Atom is a charming romp across space and time; definitely more about the journey than the destination.  Knowing that the Atom’s journey ends at issue 25 (and Gail’s at #19) helps to put things in perspective.  All you can really do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

Blackest Night #0

Posted in Comics, Green Lantern with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 2nd May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Pretty bright for the "Blackest Night", huh?

Pretty bright for the 'Blackest Night', huh?

Author: Geoff Johns
Artists: Ivan Reis & Doug Mahnke

Now I’m all agitated.  Moving in my seat.  Blackest Night #0, is a real tease, so mission accomplished.  It’s probably the most cleverly disguised ad since DC Universe #0.  Oh, and it’s free, so I can pretty much recommend it to you straight away.  For one solitary day in the year, it’s costing DC money for you to read a comic, so make the most of it.

The cover art’s pretty nice – it’s just a pity they had to put that garish ‘FREE COMIC BOOK DAY’ at the top, and the ugly blank white rectangle in the bottom right corner reminding us that yes, again, it is free.  Not all the free comics today were uglified in this manner, but all the DC ones were.  It even has a barcode – I don’t quite understand that.  Why take stock of a free item?  Anyway, it’s free.

This issue consists of a story snippet with art by Ivan Reis, a letter from Geoff Johns, and some profile pages with art by Doug Mahnke.  The story is deftly scribed by Geoff Johns as always, and Ivan Reis’ art is (somewhat) spectacular as always.  It’s a little bit subdued (hence the ‘somewhat’), because obviously it’s a prologue and no real action.  The story opens as always with a narrative caption from Hal Jordan telling us that he’s an officer of the Green Lantern Corps and that Space Sector 2814 is his space-cop beat.  (Hey Johns, can you quit doing that?  I know you’ve got a lot of new readers picking this up because it’s Blackest Night and it’s free and all, but I also know that you’ll do it again, and I’ve read that damn caption on a monthly basis for the last four years!  We KNOW who he is, we KNOW he’s Green Lantern – that’s why he’s GLOWING GREEN in a GREEN UNIFORM with a GREEN RING, and that’s why we bought a comic with ‘GREEN LANTERN’ on the cover!)  From here, it becomes pretty clear who Johns intends to resurrect for this mega-event.  I’ll give you a hint: the entire issue plays out in Gotham Cemetery.  How doubly appropriate.

Rise from your Grave!

Rise from your Grave!

(I also figured out a couple of weeks ago that Earth-2 Superman would be a resurrect-ee, thanks to the tactless ad for the Blackest Night action figures, which also features in this issue.  This begs the (loaded) question, with all these superheroes rising from the dead all zombie-like, will they be full-blown villains, and if so, is that desecration?  I can’t imagine Geoff Johns desecrating any superhero, much less the likes of Batman, Aquaman, or even Martian Manhunter.  Tell you what, I’ll just assume there’s more to it and we’ll move on, ‘kay?)

Hal Jordan and Barry Allen (the second Flash) have a pleasant little chat over a gravestone, discussing their respective deaths, which is all very strange to this mortal reader.  (Is there any major DC superhero that hasn’t died?  I think Wonder Woman may be the only one, and she’s kind of…arbitrarily major.)  Something sinister is going on in the background (literally), though, of course.  It’s a cemetery at night, what did you expect?  The ending is pretty te[ase]rrific.

A letter from the man himself follows explaining how he wanted to tell this story from the get-go and it wasn’t really intended to be an ‘event’ as such, and you know what?  I believe him – I’m just not sure DC does.  I re-read his Lantern run a few months back, and there’s plenty of foreshadowing going on back there (one could argue it goes back as far as Alan Moore).   It sounds like Geoff’s trying to assure people that this thing won’t run away from him, that it’s still his story, and still under his control.  And I *sort of* believe him.  The checklist on the back page kind of contradicts this a little – 6 titles a month – but still, it’s not exactly Tie-in City.

The profile pages are nice and pretty, and serve as little fact files on each of the Corps.  Does anyone honestly believe that indigo is a legitimate colour, much less an important stripe of the rainbow?  Between the Blue Lanterns’ hope and the Star Sapphires’ love, I can’t even begin to imagine how Johns will squeeze this Indigo Tribe (compassion) between the two and give them an actual purpose.  (It’s the only group in this war of light that hasn’t been revealed yet, so I guess I’ll just assume again, shall I?)  Each Corps’ profile details their represented emotion, homeworld, history, powers and weaknesses.  I wonder if this is the kind of thing Johns used to pitch the idea to DC originally.  Probably they just handed him the keys to the city after Rebirth and he didn’t need to pitch it at all.  Nerds will have fun trying to recognise all of the arms reaching out of the ground on the Black Lantern page.

Mongul, where are you?

Mongul, where are you?

Anyway, very informative, but there were a couple of niggling things.  One being the omission of Mongul from the Sinestro Corps page.  I wonder what that means, or was I not paying attention somewhere?  Well, Mongul’s cool and he should be in the Corps.  The other thing being how damn mathematical all the weaknesses are.  They have ‘rules’ that remind me of schoolyard fare: ‘the orange rings can’t drain the blue rings, and the blue rings beat the red rings, but the blue rings don’t work unless they’re with the green rings, and the yellow rings beat the green rings, but not the blue rings.’  And I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal.

Like I said, though, I assume there’s more to it.  Did I mention it’s free?