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, August 23, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman (2014) #1

DC Comics roots through their Silver Age archives to resurrect the classic Sensation Comics, the World War II-era forum that showcased the Amazonian dynamo, Wonder Woman in her salad days. Part of the big hype to the rebooted Sensation Comics is not just the fact Wonder Woman will be pitted against foes she's normally unaccustomed to, but it being a digital-first serial publication prior to mass print release.

Gail Simone, who just can't lose these days as writer of Batgirl, Red Sonja, Tomb Raider and now Sensation Comics, returns to her one-time post as Diana Prince's chronicler.  She's reunited with her Firestorm creative partner, Ethan Van Sciver on Sensation Comics, which has completed its first arc online and has now been issued in full as a standard issue in comics shops this week. 

You couldn't ask for a more intriguing opening yarn, "Gothamazon," as Simone and Van Sciver not only pit Wonder Woman against the main bulk of Batman's infamous rogue's gallery, they turn the pages back (or perhaps create an alterverse, since that's uber-vogue in comics these days) to bring Oracle back into the picture.  Barbara Gordon is featured in this story, not as the butt-kicking Batgirl, but back in her clandestine ops center, paralyzed post-Killing Joke.

As it's established in "Gothamazon" that Batman is injured, Oracle sets about recruiting someone else from the Justice League to clean house in Gotham once the gaggle of main baddies including Joker, Riddler, Two-Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze and Man-Bat begin turning Gotham on its collective duff.  Choosing Wonder Woman over Superman, Green Lantern and Flash, Oracle guides Diana Prince into a fray that sets up one of the cooler premises DC's dished up recently.

As an Amazonian princess, Simone has Wonder Woman carry herself with a bit of a swagger and when it seems apparent she can mop up Batman's adversaries with relative ease, the story takes a wild twist.  Summoning her Themyscirian sisters to the battle when things heat up, the failure to contain the massive threat finds Wonder Woman begrudgingly demanding help from two unlikely allies:  Catwoman and Harley Quinn.

I'll leave you to see how this all plays out, but what I loved best about Sensation Comics # 1 is its back-to-basics comics ethos.  The regular Wonder Woman series by Brian Azzarello is a complex, entwined arc detailing a bloody power struggle of the gods, to which Diana finds herself an unwitting mediator.  I've championed Charles Soule's superb Superman/Wonder Woman series, though I'll be more than happy when it bows out of the annoying "Doomed" storyline.  With all the serious, brainy writing required for most mainstream comics these days (Avengers nowadays being one where a physics degree is prerequisite for reading, much less writing), the new Sensation Comics is thus far a different, welcome beast.  Like the Captain America:  Homecoming one-shot from a few months back, this is old-school comics fun.

"Gothamazon" is a well-played bash 'em up tale where even The Joker is dealt a trump card courtesy of Two-Face that figures into the story's ending.  Simone has all of Batman's villains (as they used to be before the New 52) nuances down pat, while Ethan Van Sciver draws the characters via how they appeared in the eighties and nineties.  Even Harley Quinn is back in her playing card-themed jester tights instead of her contemporary Riot Grrrrl revamp, and that's just too hard to resist.  Wonder Woman herself is depicted by Van Sciver with a merge of two eras, where the bottom section of her outfit drapes just enough over her hips at certain angles like the shorts-shorts height-era Wonder Woman.

The supplemental story in Sensation Comics # 1, "Defender of Truth," by Amanda Deibert and Cat Staggs brings Wonder Woman back into the New 52 era, including a quick reference to her romance with Superman.  Diana is pitted against the feministic Circe, who's turned loose gargoyles and sorcerous spells for Wonder Woman to thwart.  The best part of "Defender of Truth" comes at the end with a poignant statement by Deibert focusing on a boy getting harassed by his young male friends for thinking Wonder Woman's cool, only to receive a kiss from the Big W.W. herself for his loyalty.

While it's tempting to get on my high horse in denunciation of a favor toward digital media potentially killing off prints (since I've been firsthand collateral damage following the demise of numerous magazines I wrote for), the comics shops aren't doing too bad in adverse times.  Part of it is the success of superhero films, part of it from variant covers and part of it from Free Comic Book Day.  Mostly it's because this medium caters to something special many of us aren't willing to surrender, no matter what age we get.  It's something base yet escapist in nature we inherently have a need for.
Sensation Comics feeds that need in a big way.

                   Listenin' to:  Ace Frehley - s/t Kiss solo album

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