Rocketeers, Hellblazers, and Super-sons

John Constantine Hellblazer: Empathy is the Enemy: written by Denise Mina; illustrated by Leonardo Manco and others (2006): Scottish novelist Denise Mina did a year-long stint or so on Hellblazer, Vertigo’s then-longest-running title about occult investigator/pissed-off magician John Constantine and his endless mission to protect humanity from Heaven and Hell alike. And she really nails Constantine’s character in this tale of sinister not-quite-Christianity simmering off the coast of Scotland.

The only down side? This is only the first part of a year-long story, and ends on something of a cliffhanger. Leonardo Manco’s art is suitably moody and impressionistic, though his lay-outs sometimes become a bit confusing. That may not be his fault, as non-comic-book writers often have trouble early on in their comic-writing careers describing sensible lay-outs. Nonetheless, enjoyable and sharply observed horror, with just enough of Constantine’s acerbic cynicism. Recommended.

Superman and Batman: The Saga of the Super-sons: written by Bob Haney with Denny O’Neil; illustrated by Dick Dillin, Curt Swan, Ernie Chan, Rich Buckler, Kieron Dwyer, and others (1974-1980, 1999; collected 2013): Once upon a time in the 1970’s, DC Comics posited an alternate timeline in which Superman and Batman had teen-aged sons who themselves had started haltingly into the family business of crime-fighting. And lo, it was groovy.

I mean, really groovy. Writer Bob Haney never got a grip on the speech patterns of youth culture, but that never stopped him from trying here or on Teen Titans. The art by Justice League of America mainstay Dick Dillin was solid, as it always was from him, with some able fill-ins by Curt Swan and Ernie Chan. Superman and Batman Jr. just wanted to find their own way in life. So they set out across America. And then they didn’t. And then they set out across America again.

Well, the whole picaresque, Easy Rider bit does stop and start a bit. Nonetheless, there are some solid stories here, and they are, generally, ‘fun,’ which is more than I can say for most modern comic books. If nothing else, this is the series in which, inexplicably and jarringly, Superman starts referring to everyone as “fellers” for a couple of issues. Getting in touch with his rural past, I guess.

DC caught the continuity bug late in the 1970’s, leading to a nonsensical story which eliminates the Super-sons from ‘existence’ in fairly brutal fashion. A 1999 story restores them to their rightful writer, Haney, and suggests that they’re still out there somewhere, as this year’s Grant Morrison-penned universe-hopping series apparently will also establish. Groovy indeed. Recommended.

Rocketeer Adventures 2: written and illustrated by a cast of dozens (2012): IDW’s anthology of short pieces featuring Dave Stevens’ 1930’s hero The Rocketeer is all kinds of fun. And if you don’t like one story, there are plenty of others to look at instead. It’s an approach that a lot of characters could use more of, which is I guess why DC has been trying it with digital-first anthology comics devoted to Batman, Superman, and soon Wonder Woman. I suppose the only problem is that some of the ‘pin-ups’ leave you wishing the artists had had time to do whole stories (especially Mike Mignola’s lovely, creepy illustration). A third series soon, please! Recommended.

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