Its very rare that a story comes along that elicits a strong emotional response in a large number of readers, be it sadness, anger or just outright ecstasy at the coolness of a situation. Its even rarer for people to get strong feelings for a single issue of a comic. Simply put, Nightwing #38 IS such a comic.
I dont usually pay much attention to the art in a comic but the first splash page in this issue just grabbed me. Maybe its just because Ive always had a crush on the classic Batgirl but something about it just grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me with it. And talking of the art, Scott Daniels proves in this issue that he can draw quiet talking scenes as easily as he can the high-action scenes for which he has become famous.
The issue continues the on-going story line of Nightwings involvement in No Mans Land and also refers back to things discussed in Birds of Prey #8. BOP #8 was a flashback where Babs and Dick went on a date and had a moment that was romantic, touching and awe-inspiring all in one.
I will not go into detail of this issue, simply because doing so would be a great disservice to Chuck Dixon, who tells this story in a way so well that for me to strip it to the bare bones would be sacreligious. Quite simply, Dick and Babs talk, they open up to each other and then all Hell breaks loose when a gang of rogue cops break into Babs apartment to capture the Brain behind Copland. And a suprise guest shows up, who nobody is that happy to see. Trust me. You will not regret spending the $1.99 on this issue.
Okay, I know Ive done nothing but harp on about how GOOD this issue is. Surely there must be something bad about this issue, right? Well, there is ONE flaw.
As I said, this issue continues the storyline involving Nightwings attempt to retake Blackgate prison and yet, no mention is made of how Dick wound up beaten, bruised and on Babs doorstep. This is a part of the one flaw that keeps me from giving this issue a perfect rating. While its highly likely that most of the readers of Nightwing are Dixon fans who have read the BOP date issue (which is rather indirectly refered to by Babs) AND have been keeping up on whats going on in No Mans Land (and who the guy leading the cops is), the fact is that the issue is dependent upon the readers knowing what has been happening in other books and mini-series in order to enjoy it to its fullest. Also, no reasonable explanation is given for how the head cop knows Babs is planning things in the Copland.
Forgive me an overused melodramatic statement, but there are no words in the English Language to describe how good this issue is. This is undoubtedly one of the best things Chuck Dixon has written and you would be sorely remiss if you did NOT read this issue.
Superman 151 & 152
What a great time to be a Superman reader!
Long ago, I dropped the Superman books because they were unsatisfying and incomplete. Stories were never completed in one issue, nor were they ever confined to one title. To be a Superman reader, you were committed to buying every Superman book, one a week, for the entire year. No story ever seemed to have an ending beyond a small resolution which jumped off into a new story. The idea seemed to be that if you couldn't draw the readers through a commitment to excellence, you could at least get them addicted to never-ending soap opera and mediocre epic upon epic.
This wouldn't really be BAD, per se, if the stories were really any good. However, most story arcs were rambling affairs that didn't really thrill as collected stories, and the subplots were never better than soap opera caliber. For the best example, look at Jimmy Olsen's troubles over the years. He gets infected by an alien virus and stretches. He breaks with Superman. His hair falls out. He loses his job. He gets a string of bad jobs, including playing "Turtle Boy" on TV. He is destitute and living on the street. He starts wearing leather. He pals around with Jerry White and they both get captured by Blaze. He gets an apartment. Clark Kent moves in with him and they crank the Van Halen. This is just a sampling of the numerous troubles Jimmy has and you'll notice that they aren't interesting in the least. None of them are centered around who Jimmy is as the rising star photographer of the Daily Planet! Compare all of these whiny troubles to the issue in question today, which I'll get to in a moment.
During the same time that the Superman books have descended into mediocrity, the Superman Adventures cartoon show (and the tie-in comic book) has told great stories and done it by eschewing epic story arcs and meaningless supporting character subplots. Why couldn't the "real" Superman books do the same?
Well, this is the month of the big shake-up, when the writers who have been on the Superman titles for most of the 1990s have been dropped in favor of new talent. As most of you probably know, this is the result of Eddie Berganza becoming the new editor of the Superman books. Eddie had originally come on board with agreements for today's hottest writers, Mark Waid and Grant Morrison (both of Flash and JLA fame), to replace Dan Jurgens and company. Unfortunately, after the current stable had already been given their walking papers, powers higher up at DC Command declared that there was no way they were going to put their best writers on Superman. (Sheesh, if that's their standard, imagine what a blow to the ego it must be to be hired as a Superman writer!) Eddie B. scrambled to try to retain the current writers, but there was too much unpleasantness. So Eddie gathered four new writer/artist teams to take over the books as of October 1999. And thus, fans have spent most of 1999 wondering whether this would be the start of something great or, not being Eddie's first choice, a hatchet job that continued the decline of the Superman books.
I'm happy to say as of October 1999, the Superman books are great again! So far, the four Superman titles (Superman, Action Comics, Adventures of Superman and Superman, the Man of Steel) have had self-contained, intriguing, exciting stories and the artwork is nothing less than breathtaking. Whether this quality can be maintained for several years remains to be seen, but so far I'm excited! All four titles are worth picking up, but today I'm focusing on the book titled Superman.
In Superman #151, The Daily Planet is back in business and fully restored. With no public explanation, Lex Luthor has sold the Planet to Perry White for a dollar. Also, Mongul returns to Earth. Actually, it's Mongul's son (Mongul having died in Underworld Unleashed), and he claims to need Superman's help in order to tackle a menace heading for Earth. The two agree to team up. In Lex Luthor's tower, Lex reminds a shadowy figure of their bargain. The Daily Planet is back in business; in exchange, the individual will kill one story of Luthor's choosing, at the time of his choosing. Until this contract is fulfilled, this person will not quit, retire or die, nor will anyone else be told of this agreement. Is this understood? Lois Lane says it is.
A month later, in Superman #152, Mongul and Superman begin training. Mongul tries to convince Superman that he can use his powers in combination. (Oddly, the two use the Grand Canyon as a training ground. Honestly, Superman, do you have to run rampant in a National Park? Aren't there enough abandoned quarries around that you could wreck?) Meanwhile, Jimmy Olson discusses a problem with Lois Lane. In examining the Page One photo for the next Planet, he's spotted Superman wearing a WEDDING RING! Jimmy's stricken with the weight of this. It's the biggest story around, it could make him as a reporter and he doesn't know whether to run it. Certainly Superman has reasons for hiding it, and revealing this could put Superman's mystery wife in danger. Lois Lane can't advise him as she'd like to without giving away the secret, but she thinks of her deal with Lex Luthor and urges Jimmy to not betray his conscience. Pressed for time, with no way to consult with Superman, Jimmy decides to save Superman's hindquarters by digitally altering the photo to remove the ring. The next day, Perry White blows his top because a competing newspaper has scooped them with a story about Mrs. Superman, while their paper is running a front page story about Mongul and the wedding ring is nowhere to be seen in the photo.
Here we have two issues in two months and already there is more excitement than in the whole Bluperman saga! THIS is real character development. Lois Lane making a deal with the devil, behind her husband's back, in order to save the newspaper she loves. Jimmy Olson making a well-intentioned mistake (and I think we all realize that he should have allowed his editor to make an editorial decision, since editors do no wrong).
The central story, about something heading towards Earth that spells doom and has already destroyed a military stronghold (Warworld) whose defensive capabilities dwarfs Earth's well, I love Mongul II and the initial scenes are intriguing. Unfortunately, it mirrors "World War III" which is just beginning in JLA, although that's not the fault of writer Jeph Loeb.
As for the artwork: Mike McKone's work is so beautiful that I wish he wasn't just the guest penciller!
I recommend picking up these books for the foreseeable future. The quality is as good as in the John Byrne days and if you didn't like Byrne, then it's better!
My vote: 8 out of 10
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Matt Morrison.
The scanned covers are © 1999 DC Comics.