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Earth Two #9-10

I think we ought to be just about caught up by now. Certainly took me long enough. Not much preamble to be had here. You know the drill. Let’s hit it.

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Frankly there isn’t a whole lot that happens in this issue. We are introduced at last to Khalid, this universe’s Doctor Fate. Khalid is reluctant in this role as his relationship with the sorcerer Nabu appears to be strained, and taking on the persona a physically and mentally draining act for a mortal to perform. Nevertheless he uses a portion of his powers to save Jay Garrick and his mother from the encircling forces of the World Army still intent on taking errant metahumans into custody, bringing them to the distant astral plane of his mystical patron only to be confronted by a new and… flamboyant adversary in the form of Wotan.

I think I might be, finally, starting to like the new Jay Garrick. It’s hard to say what did it, but there’s an element of his character that seems to at last be clicking. What I mistook originally for a lack of depth may ultimately just be an uncomplicated sort of heroism. The central conflict surrounding him is expressing that heroism in an environment where most of his peers are either compromised by gray philosophical choices or consumed by their own existential crises. In a way it’s a commentary on the values shift in superhero comics that was so oblique I didn’t really “get” it until I stepped outside my own somewhat jaded perspective. The costume that I so revile kind of reflects this, though whether that’s intentional or not I have yet to determine. It’s doofy, even by the standards of tights with the underwear on top. Yet it almost seems to  invite that criticism, as in doing so it calls to attention the fact that we’ve spent so much energy trying to convince ourselves that the other costumes aren’t inherently silly. It even uses the red/yellow/blue color template that used to define the superhero look because that’s what printers had to work with. I think it helps that I’ve been listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen lately, if I can be permitted a small digression. Hear me out. The music of “The Boss” drags along with it a feeling of frustrated energy that I think particularly resonates for this incarnation of Jay Garrick, who is constantly fighting the urge to just break away at top speed and is constantly seeing his purest ambitions thwarted. Moreover the apocalyptic quality of many Springsteen ballads, tapping the pulse of the Reagan era, seems oddly at home on Earth Two with its emphasis on broken legends and riding the edge of oblivion.

Honestly, I could be reading too much into it. Even if I am though I’m content to imagine that this is the way it was supposed to be.

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This is a weird issue in that it’s dense on words but strangely light on narrative. After reminding us with that their version of Hawkgirl is Lara Croft with wings in a very literal sense  we catch up with Khalid, Jay Garrick, and Jay’s mom (who doesn’t have an actual name as far as I can determine). They’ve been kidnapped and accosted by Wotan, channeling equal parts Bishonen and Bowie, who launches into a long-winded explanation of magic that is not only unnecessary but also kind of fails to actually explain anything. Jay’s mom expresses what can only be described as implausible disbelief, somehow still being dismissive of the idea despite having been in close proximity to no fewer than five active superbeings in the preceding sixty seconds and living on a planet that has endured both a large scale extraterrestrial invasion and an infestation by a primordial-swamp-zombie-doom-god. More large speech balloons follow as Wotan and Khalid take turns wearing the exposition hat. The rule of “show don’t tell” is broken so hard you half expect Bane to show up and join the lecture.

We’re mercifully spared too much of it by joining Alan Scott in China as he seeks closure and answers for his fiance’s death. Not to keep drawing attention to it, but I’m still glad that they aren’t just leaving this thread dangling. If they had to put Sam in the fridge, the least they can do is give us some sense of continued meaning. Scott roughs up some Triad-types wielding katana, which makes no sense because they’re in China. Yes, the thing that takes me out of this scene is not the man in green armor breaking the laws of physics but the culturally inaccurate weaponry of the random mooks. Deal with it.

He realizes he’s better at throwing doom-zombies at the moon than he is at finding things, so he sucks it up and goes to Hawkgirl for help. Meanwhile Jay and Khalid must ascend the Tower of Fate to retrieve the Helm of Nabu while Wotan holds Jay’s mom hostage (short version). The artwork inside the tower actually makes up for the rather chewy verbals on the early pages. Nicola Scott rolls out the omni-dimensional Escher traps and gives us some interesting non-linear panel work that more or less salvages this chapter.

Earth Two is rolling the dice a bit, trying to keep two plots running simultaneously in a fairly limited format. It’s a different sort of take on a team book though and so far it hasn’t managed to run off the rails. If you want some diverse but self-contained storytelling that doesn’t require you to buy three tie-in series to understand what’s happening (that’s you, Death of the Family) then Earth Two may be what you’re looking for.

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The Shadow #7-9

It’s that time again. Grab your dapper hats, blue coal, and other such prewar paraphernalia. Gather ’round the standing radio and pretend you’re listening while you read a comic book because damnit it’s 2013 and stop living in the past…

Not really. Do what you want. God knows I will. It really is that occasion again though. This is the first issue of the Shadow ongoing not to feature Garth Ennis and Aaron Campbell, having been replaced with a new pairing of Victor Gischler and Jack Herbert. They’ve got a big pair (quartet?) of shoes to fill, but if their freshman effort is any indication I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

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It’s a self-contained yarn, but one which contains the thread of an arc to come. The basic hook is an interesting one: What if the Shadow’s powers began to fail him mysteriously? It gives us the opportunity to explore the Shadow’s mythology and to see him forced to rely on his own mortal faculties. Essentially the question is what defines the Shadow’s identity. In order to find out Lamont Cranston teams up with Miles Crofton, cantankerous one-eyed Great War pilot and occasional sidekick from the pulps. Together they head to Nepal to consult with the Shadow’s mystic teachers. Once there however he finds that they have been slain by the Red Raja, a crime lord with abilities like Cranston’s own. It falls to the Shadow to end the Raja’s reign of terror and avenge his former masters while contending with his crippled powers. The Red Raja feels like an updated (and moderately less offensive) version of classic Shadow villain Shiwan Khan, and for the brevity of the issue he provides a fascinating foil for Cranston. The climax between two evenly classed adversaries, resolved through cunning, almost feels more satisfying than the resolution of the Ennis arc. Gischler and Herbert do a lot of leg work in little space, and the noir impression of the storytelling is a perfect fit. If I must have criticism I’d say Cranston’s voice was a little inconsistent and that i wish there were more opportunity for Red Raja appearing in the future. That’s… pretty much it though.

The teaser for the next installment suggests the action will be moving to war-torn Spain, which is a period of history not often explored but kind of a favorite of mine. Honestly between this and the Warlord Period setting of the previous story it’s like this series is being written specifically for me. Dropping the Shadow into the middle of those events will I’m certain be a particular treat. I will endeavor to make sure my enthusiasm is adequately conveyed.

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This episode promises the beginning of a new four part serial set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Like the Sino-Japanese War featured in the last serial, the Spanish Civil War is considered by many to have been a prologue to World War Two. Rebel fascists backed by Italy and Nazi Germany attempted to overthrow the republican-socialist government backed by the Soviet Union. Volunteers from around the world flocked to the fighting, and the ultimately doomed cause of the loyalists would become the mythology of a lost generation. Despite this, the war is often a footnote in history, eclipsed by the much larger conflict it presaged. Today it is best remembered mainly through the writings of Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell (whom we’ll come back to shortly).

Before we get there though we catch up with the Shadow in France. He and Miles Crofton are slowly making their way homeward from Nepal, following his increasingly fickle psychic instincts. The murder of an innocent couple sets the Shadow down a treacherous road into Spain’s divided politics, ultimately crossing paths with Esmeralda Aguilar; a femme fatale of the oldest and best stripe. They spar with great verbal flare, and a sordid tryst is all but inevitable. Nary a thought is given to Margo Lane in this whole situation, but we’ve established before that Lamont Cranston isn’t on anyone’s list for man of the year. The mysteries only deepen as Aguilar’s trail leads into the chaos of war and into the orbit of a young George Orwell.

Needless to say I like where this is going. Gischler definitely has a handle on the period and the personalities at least as good as Garth Ennis, and Aaron Campbell returns to lend the artwork some quality grit. Every now and then Cranston will drop some bit of modern phrasing or slang that feels a little off (a holdover of my lone criticism from the previous issue), but otherwise his verbosity and mordancy are big draws to the dialog. The Shadow has a certain theatrical venom that makes other heroic voices seem oddly lifeless. Cranston by the same token feels like an old school film star in the vein of Clark Gable; an irredeemable jerk that you just can’t help but want a strong drink with. If I wasn’t already sold on this story, the next installment has biplanes…

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Admit it, that cover is awesome. We pick up where we left off with Lamont Cranston and George Orwell giving the audience much of the background for this arc; useful for readers who aren’t familiar with this part of history. Cranston is certain that Orwell plays a part in whatever forces brought him to Spain, but with his mystical insight failing him he cannot be certain of his destiny. More sanguine is Crofton, who feels like he’s starting to enter his own as a character. Back on the trail of the murderers and smugglers that brought him here, the Shadow makes an unusual acquaintance in the Black Sparrow. Whether she is an ally or an adversary is appropriately ambiguous, though what is clear is that she is Esmeralda Aguilar in disguise. Thankfully this fact is equally obvious to the Shadow and they don’t waste any time with the pretense. The biplane chase and dogfight that follows is a little anachronistic , but not unexplainable, and if we’re being honest that’s precisely the way we like it. The Shadow and Black Sparrow spar as adeptly as Cranston and Aguilar (in this case literally). She’s overall an interesting and welcome addition to the story, even if she is a little on-the-nose as a Catwoman to his Batman. Also introduced in the closing panels is a properly operatic masked antagonist in the imperious El Rey, glimpsing what appears to be an exciting clash in the next two issues.

I can’t really say that this series has had any low points for me. It was pretty stellar to start with and has really only gotten better. This book is right now probably my favorite ongoing from any publisher. If I was forced to give up all but a single series (first world problems) I’d very likely cleave to this one. It’s certainly probably that I’m a little biased. Given my well established predisposition towards the property there’s little question that I am this book’s target audience. That said, I feel like the story is set up in such a way that you don’t need a primer to really get involved. If you’re giving some thought to diversifying your comics portfolio you can do a heck of a lot worse than adding this to your pull.

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Godzilla: Half Century War #4

I’m beginning to understand the “sorry I haven’t updated” complex that seems to plague bloggers. By and large I’ve just been letting myself be carried along by the daily routine. Winter hasn’t helped either, as some of you may recall from my moderately disaffected postings this time last year (has it really been that long?). So, Happy Valentines… ish! In order that we might properly honor this feast of Christian martyrdom I will be bringing you a number of updates over the course of the next weeks.

Now where were we?

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There we go. In this the penultimate episode of Godzilla: Half Century War, we creep ever closer to the present day or something resembling it. Accordingly, the King of Monsters is facing one of his more esoteric adversaries from the modern era; the dreaded Spacegodzilla!

No seriously, that’s its name.

This issue is a little incoherent at parts, but maintains a forward momentum throughout that carries it from start to finish pretty smoothly. The year is 1987, India. Godzilla is doing battle with the new young guard of the Anti-Megalosaurus Force and their increasingly advanced weaponry. One of these new toys is the long-awaited appearance of Mechagodzilla! (also its actual name) Looking on enviously at the technological titan is an aged and haggard Ota Murakami. Now in full-on old soldier mode with a mustache and everything, Murakami and the long-suffering Kentaro have been largely relegated to the rear echelons, saved from being put to pasture entirely by using their experienced kaiju tracking skills as “glorified weather watchers.” While on one of his trope-mandated chain smoking breaks, Murakami spots AMF nemesis Deverich in the fleeing crowd and sets out after him in a last attempt at revenge. There’s a bit of a teaser for the fans in the depiction of Deverich’s shadowy new masters, who bear a passing resemblance to the (slightly goofy) aliens periodically popping into the Godzilla mythos. Murakami puts the fists to Deverich, with a good pistol whip to grow on, but discovers too late that the transmitter Deverich has built in Mumbai is much larger and more powerful than anything he has made before. The device has summoned not only Godzilla, but something else from the distant eldritch depths of the cosmos.

Conveniently, that something else crashes to Earth pretty much immediately after this discovery, which is a little odd being as it would have basically already been entering the atmosphere, but whatever. The thing in question is precisely what you see on the cover; the crystalline incubator of Spacegodzilla. There isn’t really any explanation given for the extraterrestrial kaiju’s existence, which leaves the question of why it so resembles Godzilla kind of hanging. Then again, if we’re already allowing for the other shenanigans inherent to the setting we might as well just let it go. When the alien incursor starts wiping the streets with Godzilla the AMF is in a bit of a bind. Do they take advantage of Godzilla’s weakness to finish their longtime foe once and for all? Or do they help the devil they know rather than take their chances with the one they don’t? Murakami doesn’t let us down, hopping in the cockpit of the downed Mechagodzilla and tag-teaming the cosmic monster with his old adversary. The wounded Godzilla escapes once more as the dust settles  while Murakami has his moment of ambivalent respect. Its really the only way it could have gone down, but in the end that’s okay. The final ominous panel portends that Deverich’s legacy may yet bear menace, and promises a potentially epic showdown in the next issue’s conclusion.

I’ve lauded James Stokoe’s sense of place before, but in this issue we really start to feel a sense of time. The characters all exude exhaustion, and despite only being four installments in we can feel the years that have passed for Murakami. Moreover, the changing of the guard is evident. The colorful cast of the Showa era has given way to the stark lines of the Heisei. Murakami and Kentaro feel like relics, with a foot in both worlds but at home in neither. This coincides with a tonal shift in the films themselves, moving away from the bombastic trumpets and whizz-bang sensibility of the 60’s and 70’s into the more grim and gritty aesthetic of the 80’s, 90’s, and onward. There’s really not anything I would change about this series, except maybe to make it longer and not deprive us of it so soon. It is a comic book that is very much unashamed to be a comic book. It isn’t trying to be heady or edgy, and that’s okay. It’s fun.

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Earth Two VI, VII, and VIII

Time to vainly attempt to get caught up on these. The fact that I’ve let these slide is really kind of unfortunate because despite Earth Two’s frustratingly up-and-down quality the last several issues have been getting better pretty steadily. I apologize if the voice of these individual reviews is hard to follow. I wrote them separately over the last couple of months and I can’t promise a whole lot of continuity.

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This issue seems to contain the actual resolution to the current story arc that I called a little prematurely a few months ago. It’s a better turn than the former scenario would have been, but given how good the last issue was I’m a little disappointed with the follow up. We get a decent spread of the fighting, and Grundy feels surprisingly apocalyptic as a villain, but the end still feels kind of rushed (despite now being six issues in) and a little deus ex machina. Alan Scott shakes off the apparition of his dead lover without much of the conflict I was hoping it would arouse. He then has an epiphany (somehow) about the way to defeat Grundy and blasts off with the beast in tow. After he does this, the Atom almost robotically reverts to trying to capture Flash and Hawkgirl (seriously it takes like two panels) despite the threat not yet being neutralized. It’s a turn that doesn’t really make sense. Scott deposits the avatar of death on the surface of the moon (an innovative yet kind of silver age solution that I’m actually okay with) and dismisses Terry Sloane’s incoming nuclear strike through his newly mastered use of energy constructs. Being disconnected with the planet drains his energy though and he plummets back to earth before being saved by Hawkgirl (another interesting setup i thought could have used a little more tension in the execution). On the ground, Scott further pushes the boundaries of his abilities and uses his connection with the earth to revitalize the planet, undoing Grundy’s damage. This also apparently turns him into a huge douchebag, because immediately afterward he tells Hawkgirl and Flash that he doesn’t need them and flies off to go be a jerk somewhere.

The issue just feels kind of uneven. There’s things to like, but more things to criticize than I prefer. Jay Garrick’s heartfelt polemics are slightly less saccharine, but still a little too “gee golly” for me. Again, maybe I’m still too attached to the older Jay’s more salty moralizing, but I remain undecided on the current incarnation. Also, the book’s use of the term “wonder” as a shorthand for super-powers is still awkward in conversation. It just feels artificial and breaks the flow of dialog whenever it appears. If nothing else, we’re on to a new story arc now, and with it hopefully new opportunities for growth.

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This issue is more or less a breather following the climax of the first big stretch. Its all about the aftermath. The world is registering some legitimate slack-jawed surprise at the recent clash of physics-defying titans in 80’s glam. It seems like its trying to bring things back down to earth, to let the reader get their bearings. A surprisingly good scene illustrates Alan Scott’s self-destructive grief in the wake of his fiance’s death. It’s nice (in a weird way) to see them going back to this, since the character had seemingly been solely introduced to promote the book and then be immediately fridged. It also, when considered in full, may give us some insight into Scott’s irrational behavior in the previous issue and continued reluctance to join forces with the other characters, as an extension of his desire not to catch any more innocent bystanders in his collateral damage. At least I hope that’s where its going (Robinson don’t let me down).

Contrary to the image above, there is no “fight to the death.” That is a fib. There isn’t even really a fight. Just some heated words and an isolated demonstration of violent intent to prove a rhetorical point. Then again, all that is a little wordy for a cover blurb. After Green Lantern gets his angst-beard and Hawkgirl goes and Batmans all over the place, we check in on Terry Sloan and Cmdr. Khan. Politics suffuses these scenes, the two each progressively trying to outmaneuver the other. Khan’s skulduggery allows us to see more of the one-and-only Wesley Dodds, Sandman. Literally any appearance he has in anything improves it immeasurably in my estimation, but I’m fanboying.

He isn’t the only cameo in this issue though. Dodds and his (now plural) Sandmen discover the long-suffering Mister Terrific, off the radar for quite a while now. Seemingly being mind-controlled by Sloan, Terrific begins taking apart the team sent to rescue him before being dropped by Wesley Dodds (like a boss). Exactly what role Micheal Holt is to play remains to be seen, but seeing more of him is always a good thing.

This issue finally does what I’ve been asking the series to do all along. Take a breath, let things unfold organically, and give the plot some room to get its feet under it. James Robinson has been giving flashes and glimmers of why I was excited to have him on this book, and its good to see him devote basically an entire issue to the character beats that really make his stuff work. Nikola Scott continues to deliver the goods as well, illustrating a talent for low-key scenes in addition to big action set pieces. For what is essentially an intermission, this is actually a great time to grab a seat for the second act.

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I’ve mentioned before how I like that Earth Two is separated from the main DC continuity. It allows it to play in its own sandbox however it really wants. It gets to make its own rules and its own history, without worrying about fitting neatly into the claustrophobic world of the mainstream universe. We’re beginning to see the payoff to that premise in this issue.

Its a side story, still simmering in the causatum of the first arc, and seemingly setting up for the second. The action follows the Apokoliptian warrior Steppenwolf, who had a brief appearance in the inaugural issue, taking refuge in Dherain, apparently the Earth Two stand-in for Markovia, itself a moderately obscure central European stand-in that ducks in and out of DC geo-politics. Steppenwolf, now stranded on earth after the defeat of his extraterrestrial invasion, appears to be building himself up as the main antagonist of the next arc. This is an interesting choice. Steppenwolf, though a visible character, has never really been a starring player in either the front line DCU or Jack Kirby’s New Gods mythos where he originated. He’s a bit of an unknown quantity, with more space for development than recycling one of the usual suspects. Also of interest is the introduction of new(ish) character Fury. The costumed identity of Fury is not unknown in prior iterations of Earth Two and its entourage, but here as with much else it has been reimagined somewhat. This version of Fury is actually the daughter of Wonder Woman (an angle that hasn’t really been explored in some time), an Amazon stolen by Steppenwolf to be raised on Apokalips (also a potentially interesting hook). Given, its pretty much foregone that Fury will eventually undergo a tormented and dramatic heel-face-turn, but with the set up in place I think it’ll be a lot of fun getting there.

There really isn’t a whole lot that happens in this issue besides Steppenwolf and Fury taking over Dherain in a two person coup de tat. That’s honestly less interesting than it sounds though, and it really only serves as a device to acquaint the reader with the two characters. It works, though. Robinson is taking time to case the stage before the next act starts, kicking the dust and checking sight lines. Yildiray Cinar subs in for Nicola Scott on pencils and brings us some interesting fare, juxtaposing the distinctive Kirby-inspired designs for Steppenwolf and Fury with the power-armor and mecha designs of the Dherain. The next installment teases the introduction of another new-old character and I have to say I’m looking forward to it.

Now, to maybe not wait two months between updates…

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Shadow Annual and #6

Gentle readers young and old! We’re coming up on almost twelve months of blogging here at Roll For Relevance! That in mind we’re going to ring out the month of October with a dynamic duo of plus-sized posts! First up, a double helping of The Shadow!

So Dynamite’s scheduling is a bit off (surprising approximately no people) and we actually got Shadow Annual before Shadow #6, so before we continue our thrilling serial we have a slight digression for an additional umbral adventure. Despite another fantastic cover by Alex Ross it looks like this sidebar is coming to us courtesy the team of Tom Sniegoski and Dennis Calero. Much as I’m still swooning over the Ennis/Campbell combination on the main title I’m not opposed to seeing someone else tackle the fedora and scarf. Let’s check it out!

This avenging tale is taking place in the Shadow’s home stomping grounds of New York City. Considering the oriental inclination of the regular series this is a change of pace, though we do have an early scene in Tibet with a wayward missionary unleashing some terrible ancient evil. You know, like you do. There’s something of a mystery afoot in the Shadow’s city, and when it involves the intersection of organized crime and apparent mentalism there’s really nobody better for the case. The investigation itself is pretty linear and the who-done-it isn’t really even concealed but the book’s additional length affords it some time to simmer.

Margo Lane, bless her heart, ends up getting used as bait  to draw out the extradimensional antagonists. Really breaking the mold there, fellas. What were we honestly expecting though? To her credit, Margo doesn’t take it completely sitting down either. Ultimately while there’s some tension in the resolution its outcome is never really in doubt, but creepy children will never lose their effectiveness as a plot device. The nature of this particular foe is a little more grandiose than the Shadow typically combats, but it’s portrayed in such a way that it feels more or less at home in his universe.  I’m honestly a little constrained in that since the story has a mystery structure I’d feel a bit awkward spoiling it, even if it is pretty straight forward.

Taken together it’s a nice diversion before moving on the final act of the central Shadow storyline, and while Ennis still has the character pretty much on lock I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing what Sniegoski could get into with a longer narrative. Calero’s art has this almost surreal impressionist quality to it at times, and I think it sets the mood for this kind of caper just about perfectly.

That brings us around to our main feature, the final installment of the Shadow’s first story arc! Things pick up where we left them, with General Akamatsu about to commit seppuku, an act which will salvage the honor of his mission’s apparent failure. Lamont Cranston, Margo Lane, and Agent Finnegan watch from a nearby hideaway while Cranston explains the proceedings for the other two and for the audience. The scene itself is actually rather graphic but it drives the point home. Before Taro Kondo, acting as Akamatsu’s second, can decapitate him though he whispers a terrible revelation in his ear. The minerals were not fake, rather Kondo forged the test. Now with no one the wiser he will sell them to the highest bidder. After a few more unsavory words Kondo kills him, having completed his role as an apparent pawn in Kondo’s scheme. The double crosses in this book are getting dizzying. Kondo then begins the return trip with his soldiers and treasure in tow, suspecting he is being tailed by the others after recovering the Shadow’s .45 slugs from Buffalo Wong’s body. Of course he is correct, and Cranston plans an ambush of Kondo’s men over Finnegan’s increasingly vain protests. Cranston finally puts the blowhard in his place with some inspired acidity and goes about making the final play.

Kondo’s men are stopped along the night road by the Shadow, whom Kondo recognizes as his former underworld brother Kent Allard. The Shadow draws the soldiers into a close charge and springs the trap, attacking them with the same mines they used to sink the American marine vessel previously. Only Kondo escapes alive, the Shadow permitting his flight unpursued. With the minerals safely in hand, revealed subsequently to be Uranium-235, the three make their way to British India and safety. The epilogue reveals Kondo’s fate, seen through the Shadow’s prescience, and how he is ultimately reunited with the Uranium he spilled so much blood for.

It’s a pretty satisfying ending, but I can’t deny having a couple of hangups with it. By this point Finnegan just seems like a kind of strawman, an intellectual punching bag for Cranston to show how smart he is. He has no depth, and as much as we’re meant to dislike him it’s hard not to feel like he’s starting with a handicap. Margo also had very little to do in this arc, but her portrayal has been nuanced enough to make me hopeful for things to come.  Then there’s the climax of the conflict. There’s really no reason for the soldiers to have charged the Shadow rather than, you know, shooting him. With their guns. You can argue that the Shadow’s provocation combined with his powers of suggestion overrode their better judgment, but we don’t get a real clue of that in the story itself. Also, let’s talk about that provocation a little bit. Cranston’s language discussing the Japanese in this issue (and a couple previous ones as well) is kind of inflammatory, even bordering on racist. Condemning the writing on this though is complicated by a couple of factors. The first is that the Japanese ‘were’ responsible for abominable atrocities during the war, particularly in China. Not saying this makes prejudiced speech justified, but it is important to understand the context of characters’ words and actions. The second wrinkle is that these kinds of racist attitudes were commonplace in the time period, even among students of Asian culture like Lamont Cranston. Again, this doesn’t necessarily make everything alright, but it’s another important piece of context to comprehend. My only concern is that this context might not be adequately clear to readers not already familiar with its background. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know, what do you think?

In sum total the series is still awesome. All the hagiography I’ve laid on it before is still valid. Pick it up etcetera and so forth.

This concludes your first two-fisted Roll For Relevance! Before I go I figured I’d drop this little Halloween gem on you. I’m the one on the right…

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Godzilla: Half Century War #3

I really wish James Stokoe did more work, or even that this current giant monster book were an ongoing rather than a miniseries, because he is just hitting it out of the park with Godzilla: Half Century War  (on the subject of baseball James Stokoe’s Sullivan’s Sluggers is similarly the bees’ knees).

So, let’s get ready to rumble!

Despite Hedorah being featured on the cover he doesn’t really have a prominent role in this issue. Not that he isn’t there, just that he’s sharing the stage with six other kaiju! The stage in this case is Accra, Ghana. The year is 1975 and Ota Murakami, like the city of Accra, could be doing better. You can tell he’s starting to get beaten down by two decades of losing fights with Godzilla. Hid monolog through the book is tired and cynical, driving home the point with his very own angst beard. The Anti-Megalosaurus Force (I ‘need’ one of those patches…) has diversified to combat and even broadening array of kaiju, using fringe science and a hell-for-leather attitude in a desperate struggle to stay one step ahead of Armageddon. Unfortunately nothing in the A.M.F. arsenal can handle a monster melee of this scale, and the remains of Murakami’s unit are found in a crumbling building waiting out the disaster around them. The machine revealed at the end of the last issue turns out to have been a psionic transmitter which acts as an attractor for kaiju, this explaining Godzilla’s strange behavior in Vietnam. The inventor of the device was a rogue A.M.F. scientist (who’s name is a subtle dig at the writer/directors of the much-maligned American Godzilla film), and it is obvious that he is the mastermind of the mayhem in Ghana. The pieces of Murakami’s command set out across the urban warzone to track him down, and not all of them will come back alive.

Most of the action in this issue is focused on the human protagonists of the A.M.F. with Godzilla and his friends forming the backdrop. While I wish we’d maybe been able to see a little more of it, Stokoe still treats us to some tremendous splash pages of the free-for-all that totally make up for it.  It’s got the operatic quality of an classic Toho film with the driving momentum of a punk rock ballad. I could gush some more about Stokoe’s art… so I think I will.  Even though I just complained about not having more Stokoe, I understand that might be a labor-intensive request. Every page is exploding with visceral detail. The hyper-real cartoon chaos of every panel is what makes this absurdest exercise so much fun. You can’t just read it once. If you do you’re only cheating yourself. There’s so much to linger over and chew on, and every facet of this world is imbued with its own unique character. You get the feeling that Stokoe has constructed far more of this vision than we’ve been able to glimpse. Everything teases at a deeper wellspring of characterization. The time jump between issues is less jarring in this volume, possibly because Murakami looks noticeably aged between installments. On the other hand Kentaro feels like he has even less to do in this issue than the one before, becoming more or less sublimated into the growing cast of background characters.

Despite the great collection of monsters in this issue, I’m still waiting on some of the big guns. Neither King Ghidorah or Mechagodzilla have yet made an appearance, though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if those two were being saved for the big finale in issue five. In the meantime the teaser for issue four pretty plainly lays out the King of Monsters’ next challenger.  Even if you’re not a hardcore giant monster aficionado I think you’ll find this series very entertaining, I really cannot recommend it enough.

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Earth Two #5

Confession time. To this point I’ve been kind of ambivalent about whether I wanted to continue reviewing Earth Two. As much as I wanted to enjoy it, I just didn’t have much to say about it. Well, I’m pleased to say that this issue seems to be turning that around. I’ve had this written out long-hand for a while and I’m planning on taking this last full week of October to get caught up.

Things get started on a high note by giving us the first onscreen appearance of Wesley Dodds! That excites me more than it should, but everyone plays favorites. On that subject, is it weird that I’m way more argumentative about them making Wesley Dodds a Canadian than I am about them making Alan Scott gay? We also get to see more of the “World Army” that seems to be the foremost multinational actor in the wake of this earth’s alien invasion (also it’s counterpart to Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D.). Moreover as the situation worsens we see the reintroduction of the nefarious Terry Sloan to events, because bringing in one supervillain to stop another always totally works…

On the ground it seems that The Atom’s unceremonious flattening of Solomon Grundy did not in fact finish the undead menace. This new version of Grundy is honestly pretty terrifying, both in what he can seemingly do and in the awful sickening detail with which Nikola Scott renders him. It is legitimately hard to look at a couple of these panels.

In an interesting turn it becomes apparent that defeating Grundy simply won’t be possible by fisticuffs alone. Rather, Alan Scott must explore the limits of his uncertain new powers to commune with the forces of Green and Grey alluded to by Grundy and the mysterious flame which granted him his abilities. Of course, since he will be defenseless while doing this there’s still plenty of zombie-bashing to be had while the others protect him. Once Scott enters the Grey discovers it to be less malevolent than had been supposed. The Grey simply views itself as performing a primordial function, the purging of a dying race so that planet earth may begin life anew. The simplicity of this goal is matched only by its implacability, and its about as easy trying to reason with a sentient embodiment of death as you’d imagine. The Grey is another area where Nikola Scott really pops this issue, weaving designs that are just unsettling to stare at for too long. Matters are given a final pair of wrinkles as Terry Sloan orders a nuclear strike on the battlefield (he’s fond of those it seems), and the Grey presents Alan Scott with a final temptation: the ghost of his dead fiance…

Unfortunately I keep finding myself pulled out of the story by Jay Garrick’s atrocious Flash outfit. I’m sorry but its just bad. I’ve not warmed to it the way I have the others, and it direly needs a redesign. I’m also not sold on the characterization. I realize that this isn’t the hard-headed elder Jay I’m used to, but he just seems saccharinely sincere in this issue. Maybe the teams needs to have that niche filled, I don’t know, but right now its not doing it for me. That all being the case it doesn’t really disrupt the action or the tension, which there is plenty of and which I feel has been the central missing ingredient of the series so far. I’ve been waiting patiently for Robinson to hit his writing groove, but I feel that I can tentatively say we’ve arrived. We’ve at last got some good momentum building here, and I’m probably the most psyched I’ve yet been about this book.

Now, to see just how many posts I can crank out before the end of the month…

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