Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: The New 52: Futures End # 3


I'll be the first to admit it.  I nearly skipped on The New 52:  Futures End.  Something in the advertising didn't settle right with me.  Probably it's because DC Comics, like their chief competitor, Marvel, is going absolutely bonkers realigning and expanding the core titles within their New 52 universe.  With the emergence of Earth 2, Justice League 3000 and now Justice League United, all notwithstanding the encompassing "Forever Evil" blowout, I, like many other comics readers, no doubt, have started waving a flag of surrender. 

In today's market, it's difficult to buy every danged book that's coming in droves.  As a music journalist and former employee of a comics shop, I'm taken aback just how much product there is to know in this medium now.   The nineties were crazy enough with the embossed covers, the solo branch-off series, guest tie-ins and bagged book gimmicks.  It's intimidating to keep up today, as are the hundreds of new bands hitting my face each week seeking attention.  However, I've been keeping up with developments in the comics world, even as it threatens to hit a full-on conundrum.  I love this stuff and always will.

While I've been a faithful reader of the New 52 Justice League and Justice League of America series, I couldn't, at-first, get on board with what appears to be another shakeup in DC land.  After a while, it's hard to escape the feeling that comics publishers lately have the "let's throw it on the wall and see what sticks" mentality.

Well, the powers that be in DC land are smart marketers and strategists.  If you made it to Free Comic Book Day this year, hopefully you snagged the # 0 debut of The New 52:  Futures End.  I was initially intrigued to see Terry McGinnis from Batman Beyond shadowing overtop the emaciated, Terminator splices of iconic DC superheroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman.  Frankly, it was those emaciated, Terminator splices that nearly turned me away altogether.

Yet I gladly (and hypocritically, I suppose) grabbed # 0 on the free book table and well, my doubts were erased.  The New 52:  Futures End still has me feeling like we're in the presence of a possible next-gen Crisis of Infinite Earths saga.  However, this thing's been gangbusters under the premise that an alien race has successfully completed a hostile takeover of (assumedly) our Earth in the future and not even the best of the best capes can do a damned thing about it.  Replicants amok as Earth falls. 

Where Futures End takes the reader is to a time where an aging Batman is one of the last surviving heroes.  Flash and Captain Cold have likewise aged and settled their differences, but forget that pact; they're toast.  Black Canary has been beheaded and assimilated for her sonic screech powers.  Even John Constantine's been buggered by the aliens, who take out Green Lantern John Stewart.  What the hell, man?

Batman, who's about to bite the bullet himself, entrusts Terry McGinnis with a crucial mission:  execute a time jump to prevent this holocaust.  McGinnis is thus slung backwards on this earth's continuum, however, he misses the critical linchpin event and finds himself working from the wrong year with no foreseeable hope of getting where he once belonged, if you can dig it.  That being said, the seeds of the alien takeover are being planted where McGinnis arrives, so consider it divine intervention or whatever you like that he's sent to this junction of the timeline. 

Well, that's only part of the story.  As an eleven month weekly series, Futures End is obviously going to focus on other characters and through the first four issues (including 0), we stumble upon the death of Green Arrow as the focal point for the story to begin unraveling.  We follow McGinnis, but only in increments.  Along the way, DC brings in other mid-tier heroes such as Firestorm, Grifter, Mr. Terrific and Frankenstein (this one being from the recently-canceled Justice League Dark). 

The aftermath of Green Arrow's death turns into immediate conflict for Firestorm, who is blamed for Arrow's death by not coming to his rescue in time.  Firestorm (who's gone through all sorts of hell since the mid-eighties) is comprised in the New 52 universe of the split personae of Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch, now ushered into college age.  At this point, they're sick of one another (and in Ronnie's case, sick of being half of Firestorm), which increases tensions.  Mr. Terrific comes off as a pompous, rich superhero, an ebony, less gonzo take on Booster Gold, if you will.  Green Arrow's death is a mere photo op for Mr. Terrific, but Terry McGinnis is in his hair as of Issue 3, and we have quite a long ride ahead of us. 

Grifter is the most intriguing side character so far and his implications have far greater reach into halting the oncoming alien invasion.  He's stalking and slaying known aliens hiding inside human forms.  We get deeper into his head more than anyone else in the series as he has the cold, self-ordained mission to kill anything that's not human, per se, even when the aliens are using the forms of children.  Grifter's dialogue is snappy and amusing as he consults a brainy cellar dweller named "Justin," who is doing some recon for him on possible alien transients in the northeastern United States.

In just this short time, the superstar writing team of Brian Azzarello, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen and Jeff Lemire have opened a handful of doors to a series that will reportedly affect the entire New 52 universe.  Lois Lane has been sucked into the plot as she's been given an anonymous summons.  Her astuteness leads her to believe she has found Red Robin, presumed to be dead, and thus Futures End takes another twist heading into the fourth issue next week.

Crisis New 52?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Batman Beyond is officially indoctrinated into DC's recurring roster.  That hardly sucks.


                           Listenin' to:  Prong - Ruining Lives

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