Superman #700 & Franken Castle #17 & #20

$4.99! That’s what it costs to get yourself a “Giant-sized Anniversary Issue” these days. When I was a kid buying annuals or epic comics you got a thick book full of Superman stories for a quarter. A little later it got up to a half dollar. In a world of scuttling bankers and prosperity churches this is what you get now. You get a cover that frankly is kind of dorky by Gary Frank and Brad Anderson that screams “This is the ‘B’ list of illustrators”. There is a vaguely reminiscent Christopher Reeve-like Superman in flight with his arm around a somewhat Margot Kidder-like Lois Lane. In the background the top of The Daily Planet Building with its art deco globe and little figures of the past and present Superman Family trying to look relevant in the background and Krypto too (obviously a ploy to please the extremist “Krypto fascists among us). It was a nice idea if it would have worked, but it didn’t. If it was just another issue on the store spinner rack it would be acceptable. Not everything can be a Maserati. This is issue 700 for Kals sake! Superman deserves some due respect not a contractual obligation effort to meet a deadline between tweeting and cell phone calls.

I know. I am an ungrateful lout to pan something sent to me by folks who have consistently sent me buttloads of really good and exciting titles. I considered just princess-waving this on and forgetting about it but the more I thought about what Rick, a local comic book store owner told me recently the more peeved I got. There is a good reason why sales of Superman comics have depleted from 900,000 plus in 1960 and a little over 100,000 today despite marketing machinery being able to move units and the existence of comic book specialty shops in most cities and towns. Surely the memo must have gotten around that of late disposable income is hard to come by. Burn a reader once and you’re likely not to ever get them back again.
In this “landmark” issue this is more of what you get.

First story: The Comeback by James Robinson and Bernard Chang. I usually like both of these guys. Robinson wrote the marvelous Starman run of the mid-90s which touched my heart on a monthly basis. The art is all right. The Space Parasite is all purpleness and cool enough with proper scariness imperiling Lois Lane for sticking her reporter nose in uncomfy places. Ta-Dah! It’s Supes to the rescue. It’s what he does. Chang’s illustrations on Superman look somewhat facially challenged. Lois is okay in a Megan Foxy way. The last panel is sweetness and evokes sighs even from my hardening heart.

Next tale: Geometry. My favorite in the book. A #700 full of these is what I’m longing for. Dan Jurgens is the writer and responsible for “layouts” with Norm Rapmund doing finishes. Okay, y’all know I’m a sickeningly avid Batman fan. A good exploration of the friendship of these two heroes I’m always up for. It’s early on in both of these World’s Finest careers and told with Dick Grayson (the first Robin) as the main character.

Bruce Wayne is away at some mandatory social function that Alfred is always up his ass about. Robin is supposed to be doing homework and staying out of trouble. He doesn’t. The lad is young enough to be captured by some punk-ass gun runners who would barely stick to his replacement Batman boots these days. He gets shoved in the waters of Gotham’s bay and glub glub down he goes into the inky deepness. Ta-Dah! Superman arrives in the nick of time to save him. It’s what he does. Taking out the gun runners with an afterthought, Superman flies Robin home and as a nice guy rescues him from Bruce Wayne’s ire by super speeding through the undone Geometry homework. It’s a nice touch. It’s classic. Next morning, Clark Kent gets a note with a Bat logo advising him to let the kid do his own work. Not even Superman pulls one over on the “world’s greatest detective”. Good one.

Grounded. This is a tale by the new Superman creative team of veteran writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Eddy Barrows. It is a good story and with good artwork. Not original because it is a theme explored by the 1999 Peace On Earth. During a press conference Superman is slapped for not saving a woman’s husband from a brain tumor by using X-ray and heat vision to do so; because we are to assume he is on call at all times for every human on the planet’s personal tragedies. Plot hole here being that thumping Supes with your dish-pan hands will get your bones broken but let’s just go with that one shall we? Oh I’m sorry lady I was off saving the universe including you and your inconsolable grief. Superman though, is a sensitive “new-age man” and he is genuinely upset. He remembers Pa Kent while brooding in space as he’s done before at moments like these; about once a decade apparently. He must now…wait for it….reconnect with common humanity by putting his red boots on the ground and walk across the country to touch lives, feel the love and even the hate of the people. This is the prologue to an ongoing story line which will span future issues and no doubt sell them to us who want to see how this can possibly turn out. Superman lands in a park, fondles the planet and walks on down the road. Not really new in concept but ideas get used up like Glycerin 98 in a Julia Roberts’ movie these days. Ten years ago I would have said Meryl Streep. You see how things change and yet remain the same? Ultimately it is a teaser to lead me into future purchases and gosh my wonder eyes just aren’t that wide anymore.

Then we come to the last part of the book; a series of Superman infommercials to market other related titles. This is not worth the $4.99 DC is expecting from it’s readers now is it? It comes off as more of a spinner rack marketing ploy to manipulate the continuity porn kids into spending their money. Lex Luthor shows up from the new Action comic to get me to see what’s going on with sexy Lexy. What I get out of this supposed epic event in comics is actually a series of partial snacks with one exception but in the end not a satisfying reading experience and certainly somewhat far short of “super”.

Let’s scourge Marvel a bit now shall we?

Franken Castle #17 and #20

Written by Rick Remander

Illustrated by Tony Moore, Paul Diaz and John Lucas

What the Hell is this? It doesn’t even sound good; kind of like “jagged glass panties” isn’t it? Take the concept of Frankenstein and sew it together clumsily with Frank Castle, The Punisher. I’ll bet at some part in the pitch for this the phrase, “The kids will love it” was used.

At least you can say it is consistent in that the concept joins with the writing and the artwork. It’s of a piece all right; so it looks pretty damn intentional. Why? All I can figure out is the creators are much more clever than I give them credit for and they are trying to pull off the graphic form of “Does this milk taste sour to you?” Yet I took a taste anyway and I still wasn’t sure and took another swig of sour god damned milk because I thought I might have been mistaken. I’m not. This milk has come straight from Satan’s titty.

I stepped into issue #17 and saw this weird ass story line (but not in a good way) about a reborn Frank Castle now given the strength and endurance of The Frankenstein monster so that he may deal with bigger and more supernatural threats but still use guns for the most part to do it with. So there you have a really stupid idea by guys who must have thought they were real clever until the bong tipped over. So there’s butt loads of ultra violence in this but it’s meaningless in the way a bad video game is. Sigh…go kill another street full Frankie…now for the next level. “Second verse same as the first.” I filed it away mentally and thought when I write something critical I’m gonna come for you with a panel van full of blood encrusted power tools.

Now we get to my second swig. Ptooie!  I can’t believe I did this to me again. Issue #20 got picked up and looked at. Why? They put poor Wolverine and his stupid Two-Clawed Kid, Daken into this to liven up the title. There’s not enough voltage in the world to galvanize this slab sitter. I hope the ghost of Mary Shelley eats your fingers for breakfast. Daken kills cops by the dozens and pontificates or is that defecates with all the depth of a thirteen year old anarchist. So that’s real fun. The Punisher /Frankie mix hits him with a huge vehicle and it’s not really cool either. And it just goes on like this for the whole book. A battle royale must have had some kind of meaning other than to please a pre-op Alex from Clockwork Orange. Now I realize I could get the back issues and read how it builds to this but if I miss my first painful rectal exam I sure as Hell don’t want to go through more of them to see if repetition makes it more satisfying. I’m a reviewer not a submissive in John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space. Ass clowns!

Next Week: Science Dog

Bill Hilburn

Thousand Faced

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