Statements of Purpose

Tackling controversy in comics doesn’t always make a writer great, but great writers sure do love it, as shown in my September 5, 2012 batch of comics. Geoff Johns, who just last week wrote a kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman, this week gives us a newly minted Green Lantern, seen here brandishing a handgun. Yes, your eyes are working. That’s a Green Lantern, whose magic ring allows him to create anything from pure willpower, exercising his 2nd Amendment right.

Johns’ indictment of this miserable fact of American life couldn’t be harsher. That is until you read the new Green Lantern’s origin in this special issue. Simon Baz is his name. He’s an Arab American, from Dearborn, Michigan, raised in the Post 9/11 World. Typical scenes from his youth include: washing graffiti from the walls of an Islamic Center, standing up for his sister against bigots, and patiently awaiting security to clear his passage.

Artist Doug Mahnke, whose monstrously fertile mind usually fills this comic with bizarre creatures, has only terrestrial terrors to illustrate here. A few pages in, we find Baz driving a truck with a bomb in it. As a car thief, he didn’t know about the armed device, but Johns once again leans as heavily as possible on this hot button. Later, a trip to an island prison for hooded “interrogation” seems to finally clear the deck of scathing commentary.

Baz is rescued from a water-boarding by a glowing green ring that bursts through the ceiling. “Simon Baz of Earth,” it says, in standard greeting to a new bearer, “you have the {ERROR} ability to overcome great fear.” The error is new, but what it means is probably a twist for later. Another war is brewing in the four Green Lantern titles, and as I’ve said before, if Johns himself wouldn’t love to read it, he doesn’t write it.

The same is easily said of Dan Slott, who writes Amazing Spider-Man with the maniacal pride of a circus ringleader. Evidently a careful student of comics for decades, Slott fearlessly spins the many plates that keep readers obsessed: a flawed, sympathetic hero, a great supporting cast, and agile, in-character dialogue. Mary Jane’s assertion that, “You’re not who you are because your Uncle Ben died. You’re who you are because your Uncle Ben lived,” is brilliant regardless of story or context.

Slott also happens to out-plot the rest of Marvel’s entire writing stable (sorry, Jonathan Hickman). His latest opus sees scientist Peter Parker inadvertently invest high school student Andy Maguire, whose class visits Horizon Labs, with Great Power. Next must come Great Responsibility, or so hope the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, because Andy’s now possessed of super-speed, super-strength, and capable of shooting energy/creating a force-field. Character-wise, he’s an unknown quantity, and all the other heroes insist that Peter wrap the lad in some fatherly webs.

The poignancy of Spider-Man getting a sidekick for his 50th Anniversary would be a story for the ages. This isn’t that story. Andy, as the hero Alpha, is a solid-gold asshole. When not endorsing gadgets, tongue-wrestling chippies, and getting himself kidnapped (and cloned, WHEEE) by the Jackal, he finds time to call Spider-Man his sidekick. In this portrayal, Slott eviscerates our modern up-from-the-dumpster celebrities, who routinely perform career-destroying acts of idiocy and then bow.

Humberto Ramos, one of the first (and hardest working) manga-influenced artists of the 90s, is deep in his A-Game this month. He excels in drawing emotion, both exaggerated and subtle, and this being a less cluttered story than last year’s Spider-Island, we get the full brunt of his talent on every page. Peter appears grim indeed after deciding, “His power is my responsibility. That gives me all the say I need. And I say- Alpha: No More.”

But dire sentiments need not taint this entire review (for two paragraphs, at least). Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre, by the Eisner-Deserving team of Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner, is a spectacle of light, color, and one man’s dong (on page 18). Yes sir, this is a comic that takes full advantage of its counterculture backdrop. The first quarter features our heroine, previously seen in the 1986 graphic novel Watchmen, tripping at a love-in and talking to the skeleton of her beloved bird Lamb.

The whole is exquisitely drawn by Conner (and psychedelically colored by Paul Mounts), who along with Becky Cloonan and Nicola Scott, is one of the best artists working today who happens to be female. Most of this comic sticks to the nine panel layout artist Dave Gibbons laid down in Watchmen, and is more cinematic for it. This is especially true when Cooke gives us two dialogue-free pages of the mercenary Comedian visiting the Spectre as she sleeps. She doesn’t know it, but the vile man’s her father. He drops a note on her dresser, pets her cat, and then leaves grinning. She’s taken after him, naturally enough, kicking open doors and heads for the greater good.

Despite a slap-happy tone, however, this comic is unabashedly cynical. It gives us a drug lord, modeled on Frank Sinatra, who preys on those desperate for enlightenment. Elsewhere, a doctor tells Silk Spectre, “You kids had better take it easy on those acid parties,” smoking with his nurse, “they could be detrimental to your health.” In recent memory, the TV show Mad Men has also raked the Boomers over the coals for that one. Cooke, who wrote an awe-inspiring tribute to the early 60s with New Frontier, surely has more to say on the decade’s second half. Here I hold my breath, awaiting the education.

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