Before Planet Hulk, the Planet -- of Sport!

A savage alien planet. A corrupt emperor, pitting gladiators slaves against one another to the death. . . today we're talking about the comic book story that was a part of the hit movie Thor: Ragnarok this year. . . The Flash, in "The Planet of Sport"!

What, you thought it was Planet Hulk?

"The Planet of Sport" has a publication year of 1947, a whopping 59 years before Planet Hulk. Don't get me wrong, I consider Planet Hulk a brilliant take on the Hulk, for the way it infuses pathos into the life of the Hulk and adds a compelling supporting cast. But if Marvel made it better, you can bet your bottom dollar that DC made it first. So here he is, in All-Flash #31, "The Planet of Sport."
Jay Garrick and Joan Williams are entertaining a couple of Olympic champions at the Keystone City Zoo, when something sweeps them away to Strobos -- The Planet of Sport! The emperor there, Jaxos, kidnapped them to put the Olympians through some sport. . . to the death!

There's a Sasquatch-esque wrestler with sticky fur, and an alien fencer with four arms. As you might expect, the Flash dispatches them with ease, using the friction of his speed to shave the wrestler, and his super-speed to outfence the fencer. Emperor Jaxos uses a neat "stroboscopic viewer" to see the Flash in action:

It's solid Golden-Age comics, with a dirth of imagination that visual fiction hadn't seen yet. In a later trial, Emperor Jaxos kidnaps Joan and forces Jay to race for her life -- of course, the race is rigged, and right before he can cross the finish line, the Flash gets trapped in a glass bottle. It's a hoot how he gets out.

In the final trial, Jay has to fight Emperor Jaxos himself, and -- holy $^!*, he blows up the Emperor's head.

Nah, just kidding. He knocks him out, frees the slaves of Strobos, and they send him back to Earth. One and done!

When you read enough comics, they all start to blend together. Planet Hulk follows a similar storyline, although the ending is much more tragic. I guess in the Golden Age, it was different then. You could just end on a happy note, then.

You can read "The Planet of Sport" -- and more -- in the DC publication, The Flash: A Celebration of 75 Years.

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Serials: Venom Inc Alpha, Captain America v. Swordsman, and More

Amazing Spider-Man #789
by Dan Slott and Stuart Immonen

Peter had to give up his company, Parker Industries, to keep it from getting in the hands of the sinister Doctor Octopus! For those keeping track, I read the fhhollow-up issues already, 790 and 791 last week. It's an interesting experience to read out of sequence For one, you already know what's going to happen, but for two, you see all the hints that were dropped for the future issues. Slott is great at dropping little seeds of a story that bloom in later issues, like how Peter acquires the science editor position in 791 because of how he randomly helped the then-science editor in 789.

The relationship with Mockingbird adds an interesting layer too. I'd heard good things about Mockingbird, so it helps me get to see her as a character.

It took me a while, but now I'm used to Peter Parker as a more immature person. He took on a CEO position that he was completely unqualified for (a position that Otto-as-Peter handled adequately), couldn't handle the responsibility of a global tech company and let his millions of employees down. Slott's background is as a humor writer, with some great runs on the GLA and She-Hulk, and Amazing Spider-Man is a humor book first, above all, including character progression. It's OK that Peter isn't as mature, because I've still gotten great stories out of it like Spider-Island and Superior Spider-Man.

Amazing Spider-Man: Venom Inc. Alpha #1
by Mike Costa, Dan Slott, and Ryan Stegman

In Dan Slott's Spider-Man, villains sometimes get their own event storyarcs. The Jackal had Spider-Island (and Clone Conspiracy also? Haven't read that one.) Doc Ock had Ends of the Earth. Morlun (and his wacky family) had Spider-Verse. Now, Venom gets, Venom Inc.

Poor symbiote. It's been hustled out to so many hosts, that it's just a punishing comic for the thing. It gets sonic weapon'ed at, anti-venom'd at, and torn between the two people that have bonded with it the most (Flash and Eddie). Add the symbiote to someone you didn't see coming, take it away from someone else, make Flash the Anti-Venom, and you've pretty much got this issue. Very plot-heavy, really setup for next ish.

I'm not a huge fan of Stegman's take on the symbiote. It's weird how, when it separates from the host, just looks like another humanoid. That's always confused me, even when it was able to speak by itself like in Paul Jenkins/Humberto Ramos's The Hunger. If it could speak by itself, why take a host? I don't know. Here's some weirdness for me:

Here's Eddie Brock, crying (?) tears of symbiote while telling off Flash that he's the One True Host for it. Oh, to be a young blushing symbiote, to have two capable, hunky men fighting for you.


Batman #36
by Tom King and Clay Mann

I told myself I wasn't going to collect this in singles, and, well, I failed. Clay Mann draws some really nice figures, akin to Olivier Coipel, and I couldn't say no to him!

Tom King has gotten good word of mouth, and I can see why. He has an understanding of the super heroes that allows us to be a part of their world and realize what it would look like. The Cat & the Bat, and Superman and Lois, have parallel conversations with their spouses about certain engagement etiquette -- that is, who should call whom. The men of the relationships keep avoiding it, while the women urge them to talk to each other.

It results in a 20-page gag which, when you read it, is pretty good. The decompression is strong, but it reads as a solid single issue that ties in to the next one.

Captain America #696
by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Well, they can't all be riveting page-turners. There's nothing really novel about this story here -- Steve Rogers travels around America, a la Superman: Grounded, to understand the America that he left, and hijinks ensue. Hijinks being super-criminals who are ready to destroy a small town just to get at Captain America.

So it's in the little moments that make this serial worth picking up. There's so many little details in this comic that make it delightful. How the shopkeepers refuse to let Steve Rogers pay for a meal. The Swordsman's Vibranium-sword, and how Captain America gets around it. There's some very strong iconography here, how Cap and S-man have a hurtling fight in the guts of a dam that has the American flag here. The way Cap uses a katana to manually close the dam, in a feat of superhuman yet layman strength evoking that of the common worker.
I looked this up to see what it's evoking. But really, it's calling the last page of All-Star Superman #12, which itself wasn't directly referencing a piece of art. Here's the closest I found for it on the internet: https://ask.metafilter.com/102370/image-of-man-pulling-lever

It's such a great comic book idea. In that 12th issue, Superman, by "dying," became a very part of the planet that adopted him and saved him, and in his death he returns that favor in the ultimate way. Now, he is a part of the clockwork that helps Planet Earth run. It's such a beautiful image and a great end to that miniseries. It tells us that through grit and perseverance, we can do something great. We tell ourselves that it's such a striking image that, surely, it must be based on some image or piece of art from real life. Socialism sounds right, due to its emphasis on the common worker, but like the above tells you, no, that image came from comic books.

Hawkeye #13
by Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero

I had the unfortunate circumstance of knowing enough about this comic to know that it's good, but not having read very much of it to know what's going on. Really, I just loved how the holographic variant cover turned from an homage to the original Hawkeye #1 cover, to a new cover that featured both Hawkeyes shooting arrows from the same rooftop. Pretty neat!

The pencils make me feel like I'm already back on track with Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye but sadly, I am still lost. There's a pretty solid cliffhanger, but I think I'd prefer to understand the full backstory in trade before I can drop another $4 on a single.

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Superior Spider-Man Vol. 5: The Superior Venom

We're reading the Superior Spider-saga! Catch up here!
Superior Spider-Man Volume 6: Goblin Nation

Superior Spider-Man Volume 5: The Superior Venom
by Dan Slott, Christos N. Gage, Humberto Ramos and Javier Rodriguez
collects Superior Spider-Man #'s 22-26 and Annual #1

Ever since Volume 1, Otto has been flirting with the darkness inside him. Starting here, he embraces it. Annual #1 is at the back of this paperback, but really it should be at the front. The Annual acts as a stand-alone on what happens when someone messes with Peter's family. The half-demon Blackout kidnaps May and threatens Peter's family -- a trigger for Otto-as-Peter, who will do whatever it takes to protect his loved ones. The broad strokes of the story are as you'd expect, but Christos Gage has a really good handle on the new Superior Spider-Man that makes him such a compelling person to read about.

One of my favorite lines is when Blackout finally concedes, after Otto-as-Spidey has taken some unspeakable measures of torture to Blackout:
Tell all your misbegotten ilk--tell ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN--that Peter Parker is off limits.
If he, his aunt, anyone else associated with him--or associated with ME--is harmed, harassed or inconvenienced in ANY WAY--
If they are killed in a mugging, or a car accident...if they die from what seems a natural heart attack...if they get so much as JOSTLED ON THE SUBWAY...
I will find out who is responsible. And what I do to them will make what I've done to you seem the most tender of mercies.
It's such a chilling monologue. After seeing the awful things he's done to Blackout, and to see him call it "the most tender of mercies" tells you to what end Otto-as-Peter will go to protect what's his.

Anyways, the main story is that of the "Superior Venom," what happens when the symbiote takes over Otto-as-Peter-Parker. It's very much a classic Spider-Man story -- but with Otto instead of Peter. It's a four-part epic that involves Peter's friends, family, girlfriend, and even the Avengers! Dan Slott jumps back and forth between the point of view of both Peter, and Flash Thompson, bouncing from different subplots to the main plot, in a masterful way that moves the story along for the next trade paperback. A hoot to read.

Humberto Ramos on pencils does a superb job with the tendrils and anatomy of Spider-Man and Venom. There are some action scenes with blur effects that get a little confusing though.

Issue 26 is a stand-alone story -- important particularly in "reviving" the mythos of Peter Parker, Spider-Man, and Norman Osborn, the one and only Green Goblin. There are three "substories," the Goblin war between Goblins Green and Hob-, drawn by Humberto Ramos, Peter's "revival" in his body's subconscious, drawn by Marcos Martin, and the Superior Spider-Man's voluntary departure of the Avengers, drawn by Javier Rodriguez. Solid on all fronts.

BONUS PANEL:

After the symbiote possesses Otto-as-Spidey, Otto demands of himself to prove that he's in control, by stopping crime at a heightened rate. Here's one of them -- hilarious!

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Wonder Woman Volume 1: Blood

You've seen the movie! Now read the comic! Or at least, read my review of the first 6 issues of the 2011 reboot. Six years ago I read the first issue of Wonder Woman the week it came out, and told myself I'd get the second issue. Well. . . it's been 6 years and I never did. Which is why they make paperbacks.

Wonder Woman Volume 1: Blood
Collects Wonder Woman (2011-2016) #'s 1-6
by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins

Azzarello and team redefined Wonder Woman for a new age, the "New 52" era of DC, a bright future where comics were still 2.99, and DC threw out 52 whole titles to celebrate the reboot of their universe (caused by "Flashpoint").

For the time, Azzarello made a controversial rewrite for Wondy's origin, that has now been universally accepted, written into 2017's film featuring Gal Godot. Most commonly her origin was that her mother made her out of clay -- but Azzarello added a slight wrinkle that opened up a whole other world to explore -- particularly, that of the Greek Gods. In this Wonder Woman, Wondy's mother Hippolyta had an affair with Zeus but, to protect Diana from the wrath of Zeus's wife, Hera, Hippolyta fabricated a story that cast Diana as a "miracle" child that she made out of clay. This also explains the title for the paperback, "blood," because there's a series of discoveries for assorted people and Gods that yes, Diana shares blood with those of the Gods, for better or worse.

Having the pantheon of Greek Gods isn't too shabby for your supporting cast. It's fun re-imagining designs for them in the modern age, and there's delight in getting to guess at any particular character, before they reveal it to you. For example, Hades is drawn as a child with candles for a face, while Strife is a pale raver girl with a pixie cut and a tattered black dress. Poseidon is a HUGE frog beast!

Most of the paperback is spent on world-building here, that the plot can't really move quite along. Wondy discovers another woman, a regular person named Zola, who also had relations with Zeus, so there's a double jeopardy here, of having to protect two generations' worth of people from the wrath of Hera.

The design again stands out here. Cliff Chiang draws Wonder Woman as an Amazon, much taller than Zola, which is a detail they seem to leave out in team books like Justice League. Cliff Chiang draws the first four issues while Tony Akins the last two. Akins is serviceable, but I'd prefer the bold, straightforward lines of Chiang any day.

The Amazon world of Themyscira too is convincing -- I'm particularly impressed by the prostration scene between Hera and Hippolyta in issue 4, once Hera's come to seek retribution over her husband's infidelity. It's weird to see Hippolyta punished, and nothing of Zeus -- but I'm betting we'll see him eventually. Hippolyta offers her sincerest apologies, and there's a mutual respect between both women, but Hera can only admit that she's still a woman, and turns Hippolyta to stone (or clay? presumably using Medusa. We never see that part). It's such a human reaction to a human situation (that of infidelity). To lash out when you're upset, and when you're a God, you get to lash out as much as you like.

There's another theme of home, how the girl, Zola, has to leave her home to escape Hera's wrath, and how Wonder Woman has to leave her home of origin, Themyscira, after learning that she's both shamed the Amazons by consorting with Outsiders, and been lied to by her mother in a conspiracy for her origin.

One last comment on sex: There's a very smart sequence where Hippolyta explains what came over her, when she had the affair with Zeus. They fell in love while sparring, and to know that they denied their story to poets (kept their relationship a secret) made it more special to them. Like she says,
He -- we -- were glorious.
Strength supporting strength....sinews entwined...
Absolute control...given up.
At the risk of getting too hot and heavy for readers, here's the comic snippet:

From what I've read, sex politics was a Marstonian approach (is that a word?) to Wonder Woman, where submission to bondage was the ultimate sign of love. William Moulton Marston was the creator of Wonder Woman, mind you. So in that sequence, for Hippolyta, she found love in that act of sex, when Zeus gave up control, "absolutely."

There's certainly a lot to think about in this first volume, but this comic is on a slow burn. So we'll just have to read more to see what happens next. If this trade paperback were something like a movie, we're only about halfway through it. Hope you still have some popcorn left!

BONUS PAGES:

Here's the 3-page prostration sequence from Issue 4, my favorite scene.

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Trades: Death of Wolverine, Marvel Universe vs. the Punisher


Death of Wolverine
by Charles Soule and Steve McNiven
collects the 4-issue miniseries

Wolverine is dead. Long live Wolverine! Well, at least Wolverine will be dead, after you finish this paperback. See, he's lost his healing factor, and now somebody's hired a laundry list of his greatest foes (and any foe, really) to bring him in.

Steve McNiven (pencils), Jay Leisten (inks), and Justin Ponsor just kill it on the art. The lines are precise and a joy to look at. These guys justify the price of admission alone.

Soule parades a wide knowledge of Wolverine comics, that I never ventured into. It's a tour through Wolverine's past, in other words. He spends one issue undercover in Madripoor with a black market Iron Man helmet, to talk to Viper with whom, surprise, he has history with. In that same line, he meets up with Lady Deathstrike, and right after, Kitty Pryde! Then, in the next issue, he goes to Japan, while in the prior issue he had built up an island bulwark in Canada! There's a lot of globetrotting in this miniseries, but you'll never get lost with how tight the plot is.

One unique thing I noticed was that, in Wolverine's feral state, he still narrates -- but it's just his notes about his current environment. It makes for an interesting read that adds another layer to the story.

Wolverine dies a hero's death, and that's all this story really needed to deliver. For those who are familiar with Wolverine and for those who've just seen the movies, it'll make you want to reread the classics or discover them for yourself.

Marvel Universe vs. the Punisher
by Jonathan Maberry and Goran Parlov
collects the 4-issue miniseries

Don't confuse this with "The Punisher vs. the Marvel Universe," which, apparently, is also its own collection. This one is 104 pages and collects the 4-issue miniseries. That one is 458 pages and contains much more along with this miniseries. Today we're just reviewing the miniseries.

You could easily binge-read this miniseries within an hour. That's not exactly a bad thing. The cover promises you, "Punisher vs. Marvel cannibal monsters (zombies)" and that's exactly what you get. Five years ago, some kind of virus took over Spider-Man, and ever since he devoured the Rhino's body at a football game, it's spread all over New York City. Now, Frank Castle (the Punisher) is the only man left, waging a one-man war on crime these monsters.

Maberry gets what makes Frank click, and he nails his grim, dour narration. There's this same strain of humor in that Frank has to constantly kill Deadpool, due to his healing factor. I have a particular affection for Parlov's pencilling/inking. His bold, straightforward lines convey emotion and action in a concise, effective manner.

There's kind of this backdrop of a very classic Spider-Man story -- the story of Spider-Man vs. Kingpin, with the fate of his non-zombie wife (and unborn child?!?) at stake. But it's told through the lens of Frank, who after all is said and done, it's hard to distinguish him from the actual monsters. A fun, light binge read with the Punisher when you're in the mood.

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