Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Recommended Reads #1, Part Two: Faster, More Intense.

Two columns in a row? I spoil you, you know. As I said the last time we met here in the Canadian Defender Bistro and Cafe, we'd be discussing fun comics that entertain but are free of baggage to allow the casual reader the chance to get on board without need of 10-20 years of previous backstory. Without further ado, let's get cracking on the next wave of recommended reads:

Adventure Comics #1-2. Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Francis Manapul Published by DC Comics

Growing up is tough, and never moreso when you're a teenager. Questions of identity become paramount as we make that passage from youth into adulthood; are we are who we are because of our experiences, or are we predisposed from our upbringing and background to be a certain way no matter what we do? That's the quandry faced by Connor Kent, aka Superboy II in this latest incarnation of Adventure Comics.

Connor is the clone of Clark Kent, and was one of the four potential 'replacements' (like it would've actually happened) for the Man of Steel during the brief period in the '90s when he was slain by the monster Doomsday. He had a series of adventures from the '90s to the present, but this book is a clean slate so detailed knowledge of the character's backstory isn't essential. Becoming part of the Kent family, Conner is living with Martha Kent and attending high school in Clark's old stomping grounds of Smallville and attempting to reorient himself to better attempt to follow in the footsteps of his older 'brother'(or father, depending on how you look at it). Connor's life is further complicated by the knowledge that he's not only Superman's clone. . .but also Lex Luthor's.

That's right Smallville fans; Lex Luthor and Clark Kent had a son. Doesn't look a thing like Tom Welling or Michael Rosenbaum though. Odd that.

The book has just gotten off the ground and is in that process of establishing itself, much like the pilot and early episodes of a television show. Added to that is the backup story (oh, sorry, 'co-feature') chronicling the adventures of Superman's childhood pals The Legion of Super-Heroes, now all grown-up. Superboy's story is about identity and finding your own way either by emulating (or evading) the example of those who've gone before, while the Legion stories seem to be moving toward more traditional adventure fare.

I'm not going to lie to you, I'm playing a bit fast and loose with my rule to avoid that dreaded c-word (continuity!) with this offering, but in my defense I don't find Adventure to be all that daunting to the prospective new reader. If I had to break it down, I'd say: 'The Adventures of Superman's Younger Brother' and 'Space Opera Meets Superheroes'. Both stories within the book show much promise. Geoff Johns is a writer whose work I am informed I will adore (though his activities with dead heroes acting like asshats and ripping hearts out of their friends' chests doesn't sit right with me. . .lookin' right at you Blackest Night. Keep right on walkin'. . .) and I have to say he doesn't disappoint here. Francis Manapul's art just evokes a Neo-Rockwell sensibility that adds depth and character to Superman's old stomping grounds and making that mythical American heartland look timeless. Of course, any book that features my favorite super-character (next to the man himself) is going to get the nod from me. Who, you ask? I will do nothing to give it away, save to say that you will believe a dog can fly. Oh, and be completely awesome.

The Legion story has a bit less going for it, but at its core its about young heroes from the future doing their best to get things back on track after a severely dystopian turn of events in their normally utopian future, so I'm willing to give it time to win me over completely. It is the Legion after all, and my love of them is something I make no effort to hide. Recommended.

Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #1-5. Written by Brian Clevinger, art by Scott Wegener. Published by Red 5 Comics.

Atomic Robo is joy in its purest form. I can offer no praise higher, no accolades loftier without sounding hopelessly gushing but the fact stands regardless. Simply put, Clevinger and Wegener's robotic adventurer is one of the most entertaining and outright fun creations of the 21st century and I will roshambo anyone to dare speak otherwise. The book has been released as a series of mini-series, with Shadow From Beyond Time being the latest (and to my mind finest) installment.

Let me describe it as best I can in the clearest of terms: Atomic Robo is a robot created by Nikolai Tesla in 1923 who has become head of Tesladyne, a premier scientific thinktank known the world over for dealing with problems that veer toward the--shall we say--exotic end of things. These guys aren't so much about the boring conferences or guest lectures at high schools as they are about dealing with invasions by giant ants, runaway pyramids, and the brains of Nazi supergeniuses in robotic bodies and their hordes of cybernetic minions.

Shadow From Beyond Time features the intrepid Robo coming up against a creature of eldritch origin and malicious intent, a being that exists outside of conventional space and time as we know it. It had been defeated previously by Tesla and Charles Fort in 1908, but the beast has returned (and will return, as the book jumps from the '20s to the '50s to the '70s to the present day) always coming up against Robo and Tesladyne. Can Robo come up with a means to finally thwart this vile abomination once and for all?

Funny, exciting, and clever as all get-out Atomic Robo is a book you need to be reading. Clevinger's dialogue and scenarios mixed with Wegener's cartoony and crisp art make Robo feel like the most awesome Saturday Morning cartoon that never was. Let me put it to you in my Greater Atomic Robo Equation:

Buckaroo Banzai + Robocop + Indiana Jones + Men in Black + G.I.JOE + Ghostbusters = Atomic Robo.

If any of those elements might appeal, then you owe it to yourself to give this comic a try. The first two series are collected in trade (Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne comprises volume one with Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War containing the second storyline) and I urge you to seek them out. Highly, highly recommended.

The hour grows late, and I'd best depart to get some semblance of sleep. Join me next time for our thrilling, concluding piece for Recommended Reads. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!


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