Was hoping to write a bit about reading the first issue of Aquaman, only the store I have my pull list was shorted, not enough for even those that were a little late in adding it to their pull lists and they've not gotten any more in yet.
So, instead are a couple of neat little videos and links.
SPCA of Wake Co., NC: My brother showed me this one, of volunteers lip syncing to Abba in one continuous take and full of kittens and puppies. Think my bro should volunteer with them. He likes animals and it looks like there are quite a few cute girls who hang out at the shelter. As he noted, this would make a far better commercial than the one with all the abused animals with the Sarah McLachlan son. One video that has you humming and smiling vs one that makes you change the channels or want to gouge your eyes out. Hmm. Which to choose? One warning. After this video, I have spent 3 days with the song running through my head.
Curse of the Phantom Shadow: This popped up in one of the pulp-related newsgroups I follow. Some guys in Vegas are trying to make a low budget superhero movie inspired by the pulps and movie serials of days gone by. You too can contribute and be part of it. Not too keen on the computerized backdrops and such in the little preview. Can we finally just admit that computerized coloring and special effects are by themselves no more realistic than other methods? They may look more modern but at the end of the day they are often just as fake and obvious as the old stop-motion techniques, just different. What made Jurassic Park work was a melding of all techniques, depending on what each scene demanded. But an obviously computerized background is just as bad as one that's obviously a physically painted backdrop or obvious miniatures representing a town getting flooded. Still, check it out here.
Guy on a Buffalo: Again, thanks to my brother for this little piece of surreal 1970s cinema set to a song lampooning it while explaining exactly what is going on in the scenes. There's a couple of these (with the footage taken from a pair of actual movies). Minor quibble... it's a BISON not a buffalo. Calling a bison a buffalo is like calling a fox a wolf.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Was hoping to write a bit about reading the first issue of Aquaman, only the store I have my pull list was shorted, not enough for even those that were a little late in adding it to their pull lists and they've not gotten any more in yet.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
I finally broke down and bought a couple of DC's new 52 books. Well, that's not entirely true, one of them I was already planning on getting. While I've been going to the store each week, most of the new #1s have failed to have really the right combination of characters, creators, concepts or tones. Such as Batwing sounded like it could be interesting, and I find Judd Winnick a decent enough writer for a series for a year (he just tends to outstay his welcome), but the painted artwork didn't appeal. Stormwatch's artwork looked cool in b/w online but the over-colored printed version obliterated that. Detective looked interesting a few pages online but the printed version, when leafing through it was just a dense, complicated looking mess of panels and confusing layouts that it was difficult to get a sense of the story (Batgirl had this same problem, I like Simone's writing but just scanning through the book, it looked like it would give a head-ache to try to read. Sadly, Green Arrow, JLI and Hawk & Dove had almost the opposite problem. Clear and easy to read artwork betraying there didn't seem to be enough interesting going on to warrant picking up. Swamp Thing... I had to check to see if Kevin Nowlan was inking but nope, the artist seems to just draw faces in that same constipated or sour-faced way. It's nit-picky to be sure, but it's hard to read a comic when you cannot stand how the faces look. Meanwhile, I must be the only person that sees something fundamentally wrong with Omac, a series that is built upon the names of characters, ideas and concepts by Jack Kirby but doesn't make use of the actual character by Kirby and then it's drawn in a Kirby pastiche style as if to give it some legitamacy. Can you say "rip-off"? I thought you could. And, it's being done by creators who are championing freeing DC up from continuity and supposedly old concepts. Then why aren't they doing something that's truly new than ripping off Kirby without actually trying to get the character right? So they can get credit for "creating" Omac? And, really, you might have a case saying that every story of a character cannot be kept in continuity, but that was never really a concern was it? You can keep five Robins in continuity, the convoluted mess that is now Green Lantern, but a character whose entire publishing history is hardly two dozen stories has it all jettisoned?
So, what made it home was Legion Lost; Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E, and Resurrection Man.
Legion Lost: Based on previews I had hopes for. I liked the idea that some Legionnaires aren't entirely human looking so there's a certain fondness for Tellus and Gates. Dawnstar was always hot and the tragic love between her and Wildfire was always interesting. And, Timber Wolf has long been one of my favorites though he hasn't had a decent costume since the 1980s. But, this story is a mess. These and the other Legionnaires end up in our present tracking a criminal about whom very little to nothing is revealed. The heroes don't do anything more other than complain and vomit and when they catch up to the villain who has destroyed a small town, he's already unconscious. While taking him to the future, something happens and he blows up while two Legionnaires are apparently killed either through their own ineptitude or something else, the artwork is unclear. This leaves the remaining characters stranded in our time. As a first issue, there's no effort given to make readers want to return the next issue. Instead of showcasing the heroes, they are shown to be ineffective and quarrelsome. You aren't made to care about the characters who are killed, and the villain is a complete cypher. Thanks to previews and solicits we know he's returning so we'll probably learn more in the future, but here's the crux of that. It's ok to make a character seem a cypher if it's actually given proper set-up as a mystery or sub-plot that will be explored later. As presented on the page, he just seems a plot device to strand the heroes, set up the status quo and then promptly gotten rid of. Likewise there's no build-up or presentation of the Legion to readers, to give an idea of what the characters have "lost" by being stranded here.
Resurrection Man: It has some of the same problems. I was looking forward to this book as I was a fan of the original series and there's little to no reason that changes in the continuity or history should overly change the series that much. And, it was being handled by the same writers. However, they do much the same with the hero that Legion Lost did. We get the main character's name and powers, but nothing else about just who Mitch Shelley is or how he got that way. It was a big part of the character and mystery of his first series, but it is neither recapped nor presented as being intentionally a mystery to the readers. As such, why should we care about him? It took me a while to figure what else bothered me about the story and then I realized it was because, there actually was none. There are some scenes including a fight where a bunch of people die. What we got was just several set-ups of long reaching plotlines but no story in and of itself. A sequence of events is not a story. Even so, it's confusing. Why was the demonic angel (angelic demon?) on the plane. Was it to cause the crash and deaths of the passengers? To simply insure that Mitch didn't alter things and save those fated to die? To try to kill Mitch and collect his soul? All of the above? Why are the two women torturing and killing people in trying to get a lead on Mitch? Exactly who are they and what abilities do they have?
This is like an episode of Supernatural or other similar show where it is giving you all these hints and teases to the larger season-long plot and down the road pay-offs but forgetting that it still has to deliver a more immediate story and concern as well. These long form plottings are fine for writing for the trade, and some fans like it, but I thought that was something the writers were supposed to be getting away from.
Artwise, I was a little concerned with having to have someone else in Butch Guice's shoes. His scratchy artwork grounded the original series with a level of realness, dirt and grime that the typical super hero comics didn't have. His character had a certain world-weariness, homeless look to him. The book still looks good though. The artwork is a bit cleaner but it still goes for a more realistic look without looking traced in every panel. Once or twice I had to linger to figure out the point of a panel, I still don't understand the handshake panel, the woman is holding out her hand but the text asks if she doesn't know how to give a handshake properly... is it because it's her left hand?
Since I get so few titles and fondness for the original run, I'm willing to give this at least one more issue to prove itself.
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: This was the surprise hit for me. Not really a fan of the artwork, but the idea seemed appealing enough. It comes across a bit as DC's version of B.P.R.D. with a little more focus on action and no frogs. I liked the Monster Commandoes but wonder just how much supernatural went into their creation. The vampire is listed as being the result of a variant form of the Langstrom (Man-Bat) formula for instance. Which then makes me wish they had actually used Langstrom instead. The time period is a little unclear as it implies that the public presence of Superman and Batman is recent, but the official line is that the events of Justice League and the public debut of the heroes is about five years ago. Still, it managed to live up to the title's premise, introduce the characters and set up a monster-invasion plotline and deliver plenty of action. Definitely picking up the second issue.
Mystery Men: The final issue rushed the ending. There's little to no character fall-out from the events of the last issue making the inter-racial relationship little more than a plot excuse to have the team break-up. After all the build-up, the General is taken out too quickly and then the little twist at the end robs the heroes of a clean-cut victory and makes a supreme sacrifice needless. For once, maybe a story was too compressed, needing another issue to properly fill it out beyond moving from Point A to Point B. Yet, the little touches in the story, such as the almost crossing swords with one of Marvel's big name bad guys make this title still a fun read, worthy of picking up the trade if you hadn't gotten the monthlies. Will we see them ever again?
Kirby Genesis: With no breaking of the fourth wall this issue, the comic moved up a notch. It occurs to me that so far it's still mostly just talking and a travelogue of Kirby characters and concepts with no one really doing all that much. As such, the only way we know the heroes from the bad guys is because we know some of these characters already. The villains haven't done anything particularly villainous yet other than half of them being pursued and shot at by other-worldly bounty hunters and pursuers. One culture's villains may be another culture's Freedom Fighters.
Kirby Freeman almost has a theory that puts everything together before he loses it. The hints laid down make me wonder if it's something akin to Clifford Simak's Out of their Minds. I like the look and feel of the Phantom Continent, but if the U-Boat commander has been there since WWII and the two kids almost that long... where do they get their bullets and cigarettes?
The coloring so far has actually been top notch, given a painted look without feeling computer generated (maybe it's not?) and without overpowering the line-work and robbing it of its energy and vitality.
That ole sinking feeling..
Interest in the new Aquaman series continues to flounder. In the December solicit, we have our hero again stabbing a foe through with his trident and blood going everywhere. This seems to be in keeping with many of the books featuring characters that should be more all-ages marketed. In the Red Lanterns and Green Lantern Corps titles of the Green Lantern family of books, there's dismemberment and gore everywhere. Detective is about a villain who cuts off faces and concludes its first issue with a fairly gruesome sight. The Hawkman book is selling itself on being savage and gory. I expect certain lines of books to be more violent and explicit, especially with titles like "Suicide Squad" and "Deathstroke". But, it seems wrong when it's the mainstream versions of some of the core hero books, characters that people are going to be most familiar with. If their goal is to really attract new readers, shouldn't they aim at not turning their stomachs when they pick up something that is supposed to be a super hero book with characters that are featured in all-ages cartoons and such?
Johns follows up though with heaping high praise on the Peter David run on Aquaman. Don't want to call him a liar, so let's be generous and say it's mostly spin and him throwing David's fans a bone, because otherwise he's just delusional when he says:
Yeah, great book. Peter David's the only one that's gotten Aquaman right, beyond his creator. I don't think anyone's been close to getting Aquaman into a book that's sustainable or very interesting, except for Peter David. I say that because I'm going to go a very different way than Peter David.Really? David's run was better and the only one to get the character right other than his creator some five decades earlier or other writers the two decades after? First off, David's run was nothing like the character created by Mort Wiesinger and Paul Norris who only did a handful of small stories anyway. Much of what we associate with Aquaman was done by Robert Bernstein (The Tom Curry-Atlantis origin, Aqualad Garth), Jack Miller (Mera, the marriage) and Bob Haney (Black Manta, Ocean Master). With that single statement he pretty much insults all the other writers over the years that wrote Aquaman in his own strip, one-shots and the JLA and kept him in character when David did not: Steve Skeates, Otto Binder, Gardner Fox, Haney, Denny O'Neil, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, David Michilinie. Not to mention the art alone of those decades, Aquaman drawn by Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy, Jim Aparo, Don Newton, Dick Dillin. They all made him look heroic and epic, worthy of standing next to Batman and Superman without having to make him look edgy. It's one thing to say you like David's version better than the others, but to make a statement that he got the character better than anyone else in seventy years of history when his run is predicated on changing everything about the character and grafting on the typical snarky "i play dirty" personality that David tends to give all his leads. That's just wrong.
Much of the success of David's run was that at the time he was one of the hot writers and fans followed him from book to book. The book was sustainable as long as it was David that was writing it. Thus, it's hard to say if what he was doing was really good for the character in the long run or not. Some creators can make something work, as long as they are the ones doing it. But, once they are gone, it's a struggle to build on or even maintain those concepts and readers. It's a reason why resets and reboots at DC are felt like they are needed. Allowing creators to take concepts into extreme directions is often damaging to the long-term viability even though profitable in the short-term.
We can look at the works by the other writers that handled the character from 1959 to the early 80s and say that they did keep the character viable and sustainable. They developed his world and mythos in long-lasting ways from giving him an extended family from sidekick, wife, and baby. He was dealt with as an equal member of the JLA of the likes of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman without needing justification (or acknowledgement of so-called comic fans' jokes). And, post-David, writers and artists have been working over time to getting more back to center. Indeed, if Johns and DC really felt that David's run was all that sustainable, we'd be seeing a take on that. If he really thought that no one else made the character interesting or sustainable, then why is he obviously going for the look and characters of the 1960s run, where he fought human opponents as well as underseas monsters alongside his supporting cast? I think what we're seeing is Johns following David's cue in making the character seem more bad@$$ by giving him a lethal weapon that he doesn't mind using and upping his powers considerably but giving him a silver-age coating of the old costume, inclusion of Mera. And, we can look forward to him expanding Aquaman's family as he seems to want to turn every book into a team book. In other words, it'll be like the 60s run all over again. Just with more blood-shed.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
If you take Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes), Grant Morrison (Animal Man), Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon) and Michael Jantze (The Norm) and locked them up until they completed a superhero comic, the final outcome would be something like Ratfist. Or a bloody mess as they kill each other but for the sake of the review, we'll go with the former.
Ratfist is a webcomic (http://ratfist.com) by Doug Tennapel (Earthworm Jim) and colored by Katherine Garner who did a fantabulous job. It starts off pretty much as the exact opposite of what I want from superhero comics. First is the artwork which is obviously very cartoony and exaggerated to the point of being completely over the top. Ratfist's ears aren't even attached to his head for goodness' sake! Then there's the story as it starts in the middle of things setting the character up as being not only eccentric (he has a pet rat that he talks to and takes on his adventures fighting crime) but as the typical loser/loner that retreats from reality by putting on a lame costume, taking a lamer name and fighting crime while the creators can sit back and mock the genre and show off how much more intelligent and sophisticated they are, modern day Cervantes with all of their fifth-rate attempts at recreating Don Quixote with less than an ounce of talent.
However, the comic quickly shows that it's not that at all. Sure, he's a bit of a loser, a man-child that has some growing up to do, but his taking on a superhero identity isn't that much of retreat from reality. His reality is one with comic-book science, where people do get bit by strange things and gain powers and put on costumes, or are victims of bad magic mojo or science experiments. Deciding to be a supehero is that context is less insane than appearing on "Jerry Springer" because you are told someone has a secret to share with you. Or appearing on "Big Brother". It may be stupid, ill-advised, and a tactic to avoiding some problems, but it's not insane in and of itself.
And, Tennapel is actually truly funny, writing and drawing hilarious scenes. He moves from one improbable, absurd scene to another. He's not making fun of superheroes, he's reveling in them and the concepts and scenarios they allow. Notice the creators I listed above? It has Morrison and Larsen's sheer creativity on their good days unbound by cynicism and self-importance, it has Watterson's exuberance and sense of whimy and humor coupled with Jantze's gentle, wry humanity and outlook on the life of the modern adult male.
What makes this truly stand out, though, is the transformation that takes place. As the character goes from one absurd situation to another, there's a point where your point of view changes. You'll recognize it when you get to it. You get to the point that you realize that Tennapel has a real story that he's telling, this is not just random events to merely see what happens next and what corners he can write himself into and out of. Underneath the humor, the absurdity, the jokes, there's an actual story being told here that has real emotion to it. And, you realize Ratfist may just have it in him to be one of the greatest, noblest heroes of all.
Do yourself a favor and don't read the characters tab first. It'll give away some of the surprises in store for you. And if you don't know who Michael Jantze is or "The Norm" comic strip, head over to thenorm.com as well.
Until last night, I would easily have said this was the best comic I have read in a year if not more. But, that's because last night, I read the following book.
Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
This is a hardcover collection of the Beasts of Burden stories by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson with the exception of the Hellboy crossover. Which works out fine for me because that is the one issue I have. When I read that, I promised myself to keep an eye out for the trade when it came out. I was a little put off by it appearing in hardback but the price for it is equal if not better than many trades.
The stories concern a group of dogs and one cat in suburbia who protect their neighborhoods from various strange ie supernatural and increasingly deadly occurrences. Dorkin's writing keeps the animals looking and acting just appropriately animal enough but with distinctive personalities and their own sense of magic, faith and mysticism. Likewise Jill Thompson's watercolors are lush and balance being realistic when need be without sacrificing sense of expression and well placed sense of whimsy.
The look of the book at first glance would lead one to think it's one for kids, but it treats the supernatural and mundane in honest ways. There's deaths by monsters but also by cars on the highways and it treats both with equal somberness and detail. You never forget that as much as the animals act human and they face supernatural threats, some of the biggest dangers are the everyday ones that pets and strays face. The familiar grounds the fantastic and you feel for them.
If the book does stray it's that there's an occasional crude or crass word that seems completely at odd with both the artwork and the characters. It's far less colorful language than in most of today's comics, and only happens three or four times but each time the word choice stuck out like a sore thumb. Probably because otherwise the language was clean and the storytelling was so intelligent, it didn't really need such language to seem adult. Instead, it came off as suddenly trying to sound adult, "look, no one will take this book seriously if we don't add at least one cuss word in here."
The Defenders: From the Vault
Since I ragged on the storytelling of The Canterbury Cricket as to how not tell a one-shot comic, I feel I should lift this comic up as how to properly do it. The CC comic had the hurdle of having to fit into a larger story, a company-wide event. This book had the problem of having to fit into another creative team’s run on a title without seeming like too big of a hiccup. Then there were further problems. Fabian Nicieza plotted the book and Bagley drew the book, but neither could recall what the actual script was to be and copies were lost. Nicieza was also now on exclusive with another company so Kurt Busiek, the writer of the run the comic was to fit in, was hired to basically come up with a story and script that matched the artwork already done.
He does so to the degree that it’s hard to envision the story being substantially different any other way. While it is to fit into the run he and Larsen had on the book, other than a single panel and a few artistic stylings, the story is such that it could have been in any Defenders era. The one panel inclusion actually does a good job at just summing up the purpose of the four heroes as the Defenders for any that are totally lost.
What makes this story really stand out is that despite the characters visibly being the Hulk, Namor, Dr. Strange and the Silver Surfer, for the most part it’s a group of roleplaying gamers whose minds are in those bodies and they carry the show. In typical Busiek fashion, he makes the story be one about human emotions and interactions, what ties us together. It’s both a superhero story and a human interest one. Even though we never actually see the four gamers that we know of, we are left kind of wishing to see a short-story that followed up on the events and character revelations revealed here. But, you aren’t short-changed. The plot is addressed and resolved, new characters and concepts were introduced and developed. It runs the gamut of humor and pathos, superheroes and villains and every-day people, science-fiction and magic, love lost and love from afar. An old joke was told along the way (though left out the follow-up joke). When done, you’re left wanting more but not needing more like a delicious meal that satisfies.
Captain America Corps
The premise of this mini-series written by classic Captain America writer Roger Stern is that someone is removing the Avengers finding Captain America across the various timestreams. An Elder of the Universe called the Contemplator seems to be the only one seeing the timelines being manipulated so he calls forth various heroes that have been the mantle bearers of Captain America to make things right. The heroes called are Captain America from 1941-42 (he still has the triangular shield), Bucky when he was Captain America, USAgent from shortly after his stint as Cap, American Dream who is the daughter of Sharon Carter in the MC2-verse, and Commando A who stands about seven feet tall and is from centuries in the future.
The timeline they travel to is one where the heroes are strangely absent and the Americommand, a group of dark reflections of Captain Americas, hold the country in the control such as Americop and his legion of Americops, Major America, the Ameridroid and two women called Broad Stripe and Bright Star who from the get go seem to know more than they let on.
Each issue starts off focusing on one of the Captain America mantle-bearers, what he was doing when called by the Contemplator. Under Stern’s hand, each issue is a dense read, full of story, characterization and action with twists and cameos along the way. Effort is made that each member has their own style and voice. As one of the Americommand is revealed to be a somewhat minor grandiose villain that fought Captain America a couple of times and seems to be behind it all, the question rises are any of the others somewhat familiar faces? Could Major America be this timeline’s John Walker (USAgent) or Jack Monroe (Nomad/Bucky) or even a former Captain America such as Jeff Mace or the 1950s Cap?
A minor quibble or two with the characters Bright Star and Broad Stripe. The former is depicted a little too similar to DC’s Stargirl. Some similarity is almost unavoidable as their costume and name are pretty much from the same source. However, to give her the same hair style, color and mask was something that could have been easily modified. With Broad Stripe, I don’t know if it was meant to be a pun or not, but as “broad” is a somewhat crass slang word for “woman”, the name is not really flattering. And, considering who she is supposed to be, a little uncharacteristic. It’s not a name that a woman would choose for herself.
This is an old-school mini-series. It’s not tied to any mega-event. It uses continuity and plays with it, but everything you really need to know is covered in-story. And, despite playing with an alternate time-line, it’s not really about rewriting present continuity and history to suit the writer’s preferences. The characters are all on model. It’s accessible to new readers while showing off the rich tapestry of the Marvel U. and the role Captain America plays in it. Most of all, the title is fun, enough so to make me actually enjoy Bucky-Cap for once.
John Byrne’s Next Men
The last two issues didn’t really work for me. The penultimate issue explores the life of Gillian, the Next Man who only exists as a separate consciousness in other people’s bodies. The issue speeds forwards through generations as it shows the different lives (s)he led, usually staying with a body for years until eminent death or circumstances require that Gillian move on. As such, the reader is really only shown two points in each life, the point that (s)he moves in and the point (s)he moves out.
This issue would be the best place to really explore why Gil is obsessed with changing the past, mostly to wipe out Sathanas’ existence. But, it doesn’t do that. In fact, other than a single war, humanity’s future and Gil’s present does not seem that bleak and Sathanas’ impact seems minimal. After doing a great job in past issues of showing bleak and barbaric moments of humanity, the issue is one of relative peace of people living their ordinary lives. Sathanas is not mentioned at all.
The final issue actually mentions Sathanas and touches on that history. There’s a brief aside as Jazz flees to the past to meet with an older Jack and we see Tony one more time. Other than that and Jazz’ ultimate decision to not travel with Nathan and Beth to the past to undo Sathanas’ time loop, there is no actual hiccup to the plan. Everything goes exactly according to plan without a hitch. This makes for a final issue that’s full of great character moments and characters not necessarily making the decisions you’d expect but is otherwise very lackluster and boring in the plotting. There’s no real story twist or even feeling of personal danger or jeopardy to the plan succeeding. Even Jazz’ decision is admitted to not really changing or jeopardizing things as she didn’t really have a role to play. It would be more dangerous if she went and decided at the last moment to not risk non-existence and started fighting Nathan and Beth, trying to prevent changing the past. Instead, she just simply takes herself out of the equation.
Then you have the whole thing ending there, at the moment that time has been changed. Of course this leads into the next series titled “Aftermath” but I still feel a bit cheated as to not knowing even in general terms what any repercussions are for their actions. Does Aldus become Sathanas another way (maybe the whole time loop just made the transition easier and cleaner than his original history)? We know through Nathan’s experiences in WWII Germany the doctor that created the Next Men was already doing research in that area before the involvement of Sathanas and his examination of Nathan may have set off other changes. There’s Mark IV and Cornelius Van Damme to consider. And, poor Jack was just simply wiped from existence. I am content to know that a lot of that may be answered in the next series, but just felt that if the story is going to end with them changing time, we should see some little hint of what that actually resulted in, at least on the personal level.
Everything we’ve seen was to build towards this moment. But, while the first Next Men arc was largely about Sathanas, this one hasn’t been and it’s been too long between arcs. It fails to build the case in the readers’ minds why it’s necessary to stop Sathanas as opposed to Christopher Columbus’ trip to the New World or Hitler or Genghis Khan or World War I. It then fails to show or even suggest any of the fallout of the characters’ actions. And, it fails to provide any twists or real jeopardy to the plan, which might allow for the other shortcomings. If carrying off the plan has significant problems and jeopardy, the success of the mission is a reasonable resolution because the story is “a caper”. But, even though there’s this massive explosion in the end, it ends with a whimper, not a bang.
There’s also problems with Gil’s plan. While Nathan and Beth are given a cover story, it isn’t one that actually will bear up under any kind of scrutiny. This is Antarctica. You don’t have unknown helicopters with unknown persons on board crashing. Every person on the ice or flying over it is known by someone or some agency. Especially two people carrying quite a bit of cash on them. The holes in their story and that much cash would be uncovered before they ever have a chance to leave the continent.
This is a schizophrenic book and my feelings are likewise divided. Busiek excels at and delivers the common man feel and characterization of the main viewpoint characters. The Kirby characters are kept mostly intact and delivered in proper grandiose style (although I don’t like the Secret City heroes neon lit black costumes, the premise is this is the characters as Kirby designed them, go ahead and give them to us).
Part of the problem is the plotting. There’s a lot of effort of presenting an everyday world and then all this madness hits at one time. Silver Star is rumored to have existed before but is just now being confirmed. Confirmed sightings of Thunderfoot aka bigfoot. The discovery of the Secret City and its heroes. Space heroes and villains suddenly popping up all over the globe. Etc. I am sure it’s supposed to be part of the plot but it serves as a dividing wall between the reality of the everyday world and the Kirby world. No time is really spent on developing any of the ideas other than to seemingly throw them at the reader as fast as possible.
The viewpoint characters are distractions and annoying (doesn’t help that the central character is visibly based on an actor whose whiny nasally voice and emoting makes him almost as annoying as Woody Allen) especially when they break the fourth wall, thus breaking even the relative realism they already exist in. Characterization and relationships between the characters are great, but it should come through the scenes and the action and the plotting, not through expositional scenes of the characters addressing the reader. Leave those out and get to the actual characters and plots that we are chunking our money down to see.
The artwork carries the schizophrenia through. It’s hard to tell just how much is Alex Ross’ underlying pencil or Jackson Herbert’s re-penciling and slightly too heavy inks. The realistic sections are done well. The grandiose, fantastic parts are done well. But, the two don’t really jibe together well here. It may be because the story itself is already setting up that wall between the real world and the unreality of the superhero world and it just carries through with the artwork.
Kirby drew the epic as if it was everyday stuff. But, he also drew the everyday as if it was epic. Under Kirby’s hand, ramshackle buildings, ill-fitting clothes and garbage was larger than life. There was a consistency of style and approach. Thus, when police officer Dan Turpin battles Kalibak in an effort to arrest him, you believe it and you feel it. I think that’s why this misses when it does. Kirby gave everything the same level of realism and convinced you of the central integrity of his vision and world. The gods talked in grandiose ways but they struggled with love and fitting in. They felt as real as the everyday people. Kirby dealt with the clash of the fantastic with the everyday, but there wasn’t a lot of naval gazing about it, as usually there was some war or cosmic event occurring. So far, this is about the unreality of it all as if there needs to be an explanation for the presence of all these disparate characters, acknowledging the unreality of magic, super-science, etc in a real world situation. That’s not really what I buy superhero comics for.
I’m willing to cut a little slack, because I get so few comics and this is still better than most out there. It’s still with good guys who are good, and bad guys who are bad while being true to the vision of Kirby without simply being a pastiche of his surface style. The characterization is strong, and it’s setting up a world of wonder and possibility without resorting to graphic violence or language. Sophisticated without being crass. And, the book has the hurdle that it is introducing a ton of characters in a very short span of time. It's better than the dark superhero comics offered by the other companies, and better by far than the decompressed storytelling that plagues most of Dynamite's Comics. If the plot is slow in developing it's in part because there's so many characters and concepts to set up. The chance to see so many of Kirby’s characters and creativity, even if distilled through other hands is too good a chance to simply pass up.
Another mini-series by Marvel, this one explores several masked men coming together in the 1930s America. As the name implies, this group draws largely from the heroes and adventurers of the pulps. David Liss does a good job at credibly reproducing the time and attitudes and a story that straddles the world of the pulp heroes with that of the Marvel U. and a modern look at the attitudes.
The central character in many ways is the man known as The Operative. Born of wealth and privilege, he carries a certain amount of guilt in the time of the Great Depression. Part of it is knowing what kind of man his father is and him setting out to be the opposite. So, he steals from the wealthy in order to give money to the needy. But, when he’s framed for the murder of his fiancé, to prove his innocence he ends up teaming up with a group of odd would-be heroes and adventurers: The Aviatrix, inventor and sister of his fiancé; The Revenant, African-American stage-magician turned masked man; the Surgeon, a doctor horribly scarred and driven insane by the actions of the cabal they are up against and who has a case of hero worship of the masked men; and Achilles, an archaeologist hired to find an artifact and discovers himself thrust into the role of hero with fantastic powers but at great cost.
Liss is primarily a novelist and maybe it’s because of that background and writing in comics for almost the first time that the mini-series does have the few faults it does.
The problem is that everything is actually too tight and neat, many things presented in the most obvious and simplistic terms that betrays an artificiality to the world he is setting up as if he is giving us a shorthand version of world creation because there’s not enough space to develop further. First the names. Other than Achilles, all of the names betray the hand of a single creator not giving too much thought to it or used to developing colorful code-names. The pulps gave us the Shadow, the Spider, Doc Savage, Thunder Jim Wade, G-8, The Phantom, The Green Ghost, Domino Lady, Black Bat, Park Avenue Hunt Club, Secret Six, the Green Lama, the Picaroon, the Crimson Clown, etc. What we have here are not names, but generic titles, one word descriptions and not identities. They come across more like names given to serial killers on “Criminal Minds”. Even the title “Mystery Men” becomes the default name of this specific group as opposed to a general term applied to a larger sampling. Keep in mind, this is the Marvel Universe. They have seen masked heroes before, in the Old West and in WWI.
In the case of the Operative, the name doesn’t even make sense. According to the notes, the name is meant to reflect the Continental Op, and in the backdrop of the pulps, the name conjures up the likes of Agent “X”, Operator 5, Secret Agent X-9, G-8 and so on. Only, he’s not a masked spy, freelance or otherwise. He is actually drawn from the likes of characters written by Frank Packard, Frederick Davis and Johnston McCully: a crook who breaks the law in order to serve a greater justice.
According to this story, all cops are corrupt or at best, lazy. Again, this makes the world seem smaller and obviously being viewed by someone writing today. It’s an easy shorthand and able to paint the heroes as being obviously right and not worry about the dangers of fighting cops.
The General, the bad guy is then linked to the Operative. Makes it easy to connect the dots and solve the mystery when the heroes already know the identity of the man behind it all.
The latest issue then has the one white woman hooking up with the single African-American guy who she’s known for just days at best. Again, it’s too easy and obvious to go for that particular race card. And, it just happens without any build-up of any romance between the two, that all happens off panel.
The Revenant himself is a bit of conflicting. It’s interesting to do a reverse-Shadow, an African-American dressed all in white. However the writer of the Shadow and several other pulp writers were magicians and understood magic. They could convince us of reality of what the heroes did, when they used magic tricks to pull off their stunts. Again, here Liss seems to use the stage magic background as a shorthand to explain things without actually selling it to the reader. How does a man dress in white sneak up on people at night and attack from clouds? How does he present multiple images of himself in the Operative’s apartment? The idea of the character and his background is interesting. He falls down as being presented as being credible.
But these are minor quibbles against the backdrop of the story and comic itself. The story is intriguing. Since Liss is a novelist and not someone whose credentials are primarily writing comics, he delivers an actual story. Despite being set in the past and in the Marvel Universe, it’s not actually about continuity and comicbook history. The heroes are active and pro-active though most are driven by circumstances to become heroes. The villain is frightening. The third issue cranks up the danger as the supernatural elements come into play and the heroes are suddenly out of their depth. Against normal crooks and men, they excel but actual horrors are another thing entirely. It is taking what was part pulp and weird menace and reminding the reader this is the Marvel Universe. Things like this can and do happen. But, it doesn’t break the mood and atmosphere of the story that is being crafted by Liss and ably executed by Patrick Zircher. The world has corruption and is dark and dangerous, but it’s not a cynical or dark comic. The heroes are less than perfect without actually having the concept of heroes being mocked or treated cynically. It understands that not all pulp or crime stories need to be urbane or noir just as all horror stories need not be gore fests (a distinction that many “pulp comic” fans don’t seem able to make).
Something that struck me interesting was that in many ways, this story could easily be set in the modern day. The issues and themes that root this story in its time, racial and class inequality, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, economic downturns and future instability at home and wars and unrest abroad, they are all elements that would make the same story and the pulp heroes relevant today. Maybe that’s part of the reason why we’re seeing a resurgence in popularity and interest in them.
Monday, August 15, 2011
And, my interest just dropped, seeing Aquaman spearing a foe through the chest with blood spurting out in both directions, and on the cover no less. The cover could be just as interesting and far more all-ages appropriate with him just fighting them off with his fists, without the gratuitous depiction of lethal violence BY THE HERO! And, if you don't know what Mera's powers are, you'd have no clue what she's doing in that pic as she doesn't seem to be interacting with that arc of water at all which is taking out a foe she's not even looking at.
Welcome to the new DC, same as the old DC. Bleh.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
So, not really interested in the Flashpoint event overall, but I thought the Canterbury Cricket looked pretty cool and it's a one-shot so I thought it would be a safe purchase. I was wrong.
The story starts off as a small crew of UK Resistance fighters are fighting against the Amazons. The crew consisting of Godiva, the Demon, a Ms. Hyde and a green ghoul girl are in over their heads until they are rescued by the strange Canterbury Cricket. While waiting for the leader of the resistance that they are supposed to meet, the Cricket regales them with his origin story. Even this extended flashback hinges on the plot of the Amazons vs. Atlantis storyline of other Flashpoint minis. It's a somewhat comic tragic origin of an aspiring conman and hustler who gets caught up in an attack by the Amazons as they invade England. Everyone he knows quickly dies as he runs away, seeking refuge in Canterbury Cathedral. A cricket chirping leads him to the skull of a saint interred there. When the church is destroyed, the boy somehow finds himself a humanoid cricket. Thinking he's been given a second chance and a holy mission, he joins up with some other bug themed characters (Jaimie Reyes Blue Beetle, Firefly, Queen Bee and a new one to me, Cockroach) to fight the Amazons. They are quickly killed and he's again fleeing for his life. Then he meets up with this new band and just as a character seems to get close to him, she's skeletonized by attacking Amazons. This is where it ends, with a blurb to get more of the story, get the Flashpoint Lois Lane comic.
This is what doesn't give me much hope for the future reboot. Even going into it, we have the same storytelling philosophies of past events and such. A one-shot should be largely self-contained. This one is not, it's barely a teaser, spending all the time explaining the character's origin and motivation and establishing the backdrop of the Amazon-Atlantis War as it pertains to England. It tells us what the story should and could be, but it's really just delivering background information via exposition. The origin story could be interesting but it's presentation as a flashback tale robs it of power and any real conflict. It tells us who the character is and what he's about, but with no conflict there's no actual story there. There's something comically tragic in a scoundrel and coward who seems to want to be a hero but has everyone around him continually getting killed and him just barely surviving each time by running away. One would almost think that his whole thinking of a Holy Mission could be delusion or simple desire on his part to see meaning and redemption of the events. Except, of course, that Etrigan smells the stink of holiness about him, suggesting that he's indeed the victim of some holy intervention and not just a weird Kafka turn in a world already gone insane. The ultimate effect is that the comic is mostly a non-story by itself, more of a side chapter introducing characters that will play a role in a larger story that's being told in other books.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
I was in Target the other day, getting some dental floss and fishing line, but otherwise browsing. Takes me about 30 minutes, my wife 3 hours and then she can go back in a week. Me? I'm good for a month. Anywho, I'm cutting through the aisles from the back of the store and end up going through stuff for school kids where I see a couple of floppy binders for papers based on comics. One is Wonder Woman. The other is the Justice League. Only, it's a Justice League cover by Perez from 1983! It includes some other marketing artwork from about the same time (judging by the appearance of Starfire). The source of the Wonder Woman artwork is not readily apparent, but the design also places it from about the same time period.
It highlights a problem with much of the DC comics. Here's material marketed for kids. But, it's material from almost three decades ago! Makes sense, because that's the last time that most of these characters still looked iconic. Hawkman hadn't been changed to wearing body armor with mechanical wings. Firestorm hadn't gone through his transformation into a fire elemental, much less other changes. Aquaman hadn't had worn his blue costume much less grown long hair, a beard, lose a hand and become the sour underwater character. Hal Jordan hadn't yet gone crazy and been replaced nor taken on the job of the Spectre. Elongated Man hadn't gone through a succession of bad costumes, was still alive and not more or less replaced by Plastic Man. The Atom was still happily married and the second and latest person to make use of the name.
Marketing obviously recognized something that the people writing the comics don't. Building a brand demands a bit of consistency. Not knocking creativity and trying different things, but there's inherent problems when trying to shake things up and write creative stories. If you go too far, change too much, you weaken the brand. Take Aquaman. When fans talk about what they think it will take to make the character successful and what they want out of the character, it's divided. Some people want the pre-Crisis Aquaman. Others want the Peter David version. In an effort to modernize the character and get away from the jibes the character often gets, the David version ultimately proved polarizing. It was good for short-term sales, but now it's an "either-or" proposition. Despite the acclaim of David's series, the Aquaman that's marketable is the one in orange and green. Kyle Raynor as Green Lantern did the same thing for that franchise. You can see the polarizing of fans over Blue Beetle and Firestorm, only with the added fuel of racism charges if you so happen to like the original versions over the newer ones. Or those that like Morrison's Doom Patrol versus the ones that didn't. Truman and Ostrander's Hawkworld proved to be damaging to the whole concept of the DCU as a shared continuity that the character nor company fully recovered from.
I'm not saying that the modern versions were badly done. But, they were badly thought out. When Superman became the electric blue Superman, it wasn't thought to be permanent. Likewise the death of Superman that launched several new characters. They were temporary changes to the status quos that allowed some character exploration. When John Walker took over the identity of Captain America while Steve became the Captain, it was obviously nothing more than a chapter in the ongoing story. Status quos were reset in about a year's time or less. Peter David claims that he was going to restore Aquaman's status quo when he was done, but there was no sign of that in the actual book. When Morrison was done with the Doom Patrol, every previous member was dead or completely changed into an unrecognizable character and the team hasn't been able to recover.
DC seemed to recognize that a little bit. Hal Jordan was made Green Lantern again. Barry Allen returned as the Flash. Somewhere, Ray Palmer is the Atom. Recently Aquaman was brought back in his green & orange suit. Hawk and Dove returned. But, for each course correction we get Firestorm struggling out a compromise solution between the Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch fans. PC versions of the Question and Blue Beetle. Roy Harper (Speedy/Arsenal) becoming villainous and a cyborg. Green Arrow killing criminals again, still ruining his relationship with Black Canary. Hawkman maiming opponents. Wonder Woman gets a badly designed costume. Superman and Batman both absent from their core books for extended period of time at the same time. Redesigned and "revamped" versions of the Red Circle and pulp heroes to the point they have little to nothing in common with the source material.
So, I was thinking, "What DC needs is a reboot of all characters to about the 1983 continuity."
I was a bit surprised when it was announced that DC was indeed rebooting their line. With talk of making characters a bit younger, stories accessible. Sadly, it also carried buzzwords like "modern". In fact, what makes sense about saying Jim Lee is going to redesign 52 characters so that they are more modern and recognizable? How do you redesign Wonder Woman, the Flash, Superman or Batman to make them MORE recognizable? The very nature of redesigning an iconic look is the EXACT OPPOSITE of their proposed intent. Then, there's the inherent conflict of goals. Making something modern doesn't make something necessarily recognizable. As I started off with, the problem is that DC has some iconic designs, but they and Hollywood seem intent on moving AWAY from them when what they need to do is move back towards them. The designs of the characters have stood the test of time for decades with minimal tweaking. I have no problem with redesigns, if the character truly needs it. But, the goal shouldn't be MODERN. It should be TIMELESSNESS. There's a reason when talking about character designs, people mention words like "iconic" and "classic". Most costumes are iconic because they are timeless. This usually means there's a simplicity and instantly identifiable and reproducible elements to the costume. Don't know who said it, but a comment I liked was a good costume should generally be akin to one that an eight year old can reproduce in his own drawings. The recent Doom Patrol relaunch had new uniforms for the team, with piping and such. Not bad designs per se, but instantly forgettable in they were not only generic but needlessly busy with extraneous details. When redesigning costumes, one should look at a few factors. Has this costume been worn for two decades or more and do you understand the difference between "classic" and "dated"? Was it designed by Gil Kane/Steve Ditko/Jack Kirby/Dave Cockrum? If the answer is "yes" to either of these, then the answer to redesigning the costume should 95% of the time be "Hell no".
The other problem is that they have ONE artist and writer redesigning the line. On the artist end, it's an artist whose last design has met a lot of resistance and who has yet to produce a design that can be said to stand the test of time. Not to say he isn't talented and produces pretty pictures. But, a less than zero track record. On the writer end... the concept of a "planned" shared universe just doesn't work. Every company that has tried to launch a planned universe with a central vision has ultimately failed. EVERY. ONE. Valiant. Dark Horse. Marvel's New Universe. Malibu (with two different universes). Defiant. DC doesn't even have to look any further than last year with their Pulp and Red Circle launches. Yes, I know. Red Circle was within the context of their regular Universe, but it was still formed, linked and sold on mainly one man's name who had nothing to do with it after creating the bible and the first issues. Not saying go in without a plan. But, what made DC and Marvel work was that it was organic. Continuity was built by telling stories, usually trying not to conflict with events elsewhere. It wasn't about continuity in and of itself. However, launches like this ARE about continuity, even when it's trashing old continuity and establishing new ones. (There actually is ONE exception: Marvel's Ultimate line which is still going strong. However, it's a shared universe that is built on the concept of a previous one, not an all new continuity. Even when it's going somewhere different, it cannot help but be a reflection of the main line. I don't read the comics, but I've never seen any advertising for pushing a NEW character in the Ultimate Universe that didn't already exist elsewhere.) Unless you're Kirby, one creator generally doesn't have that much creative variety in him to really fuel a whole universe. And, even Kirby's Fourth World books didn't succeed.
The first descriptions and covers of the relaunched titles further shows that while they seem to recognize that the line has problems, characters too convoluted and written into corners to the point of not being viable, they don't seem to realize the source of the problem. From indicators, Captain Atom has nothing to do with any previous version, visually or story wise. Striving for a compromise with Firestorm, he is now Ronnie Raymond AND Jason Rusch who are high school buddies. The Hawkman description tells us a little about Carter Hall but not anything about Hawkman himself, other than it seems to be an all new take on the character with some nods to original elements. It was messing with the concepts to begin with that lead to he mess we're in. It's partly why Red Circle and the pulp line failed as it sacrificed built in readership and built in character identification. It's why Target has binders with artwork of the characters as they were 30 years ago. Green Arrow and Mr. Terrific sound like they could be all right, but the redesigns are horrible. The latter looks like he stole a costume from the Emo-LSH and reflects none of the character's legacy and history, but otherwise he didn't need a new universe setting to launch a book. It looks more like change for change sake in his case. Green Arrow's costume looks like it came from Hollywood and is overly busy and looks fated for early shredding and return to a more classic look. The fact that Green Arrow has been written into corners twice now by being taken too far from center and requiring a resetting and looking at what's being solicited with other heroes, doesn't bode well that the creators have learned anything from the past.
If anything, the ability to reboot and reset seems to allow writers the freedom to continually move characters in extreme directions as well as the freedom to just ignore or contradict what a previous creator wrote just last month. Every writer that came along felt the need to redefine or rewrite the origin of Powergirl, Donna Troy. Or a new Legion of Superheroes every couple of years after previous writers kill off several characters. We're not seeing anything in the new reboot that DC has learned from that, instead just the opposite. With new and ugly designs, more casual rewriting of some pasts and leaving some in place (such as Blackest Night), it's setting up for more of the same mistakes they've been making and the problems that have plagued DC since post-Crisis on Infinite Earths. The exact opposite from what they need if the goal is to make the characters memorable. Want them to be memorable, don't make long term lasting changes every time the wind blows. Get back to telling compelling action and adventure stories using continuity as a tool and backdrop but not making the stories be about continuity. The one book that looks the most appealing to me is Aquaman. In part because his costume is the least re-designed although now he seems to be incomplete unless he's carrying a trident weapon, much as Bucky now must always be shown with a gun. Ironically, the title will be by the artist I took to task for not knowing how to draw gloves and drawing his gloves inconsistently from one panel to the next.
The Firestorm description makes me wonder if Blue Beetle will be the same. I think we can safely assume it's NOT going to be Ted Kord, the question is will he still be dead, a mentor to Jaimie or just written out of continuity altogether?
Sunday, May 29, 2011
- Frost Giants. Seemed to change sizes from scene to scene. Some were no larger than the humans, others around eight or ten feet tall, but no explanation on discrepancies.
- Warriors Three: Not really enough effort to give them distinctive looks beyond their faces. Fandral should be in green and leathers, Volstagg in loud and brash colors, Hogun all dark and regal. Kirby was great at giving totally creative designs for his characters, here most characters look like they are all wearing the same basic armor. Even Loki. He has the helmet but otherwise looks much like the others.
-Climactic Battles: Not so climactic. After all the build-up, Thor takes out the Destroyer rather easily and quickly (and they managed to evacuate the town very quickly). Loki vs Thor in final battle doesn't seem much like a match-up. Maybe if we saw him use other powers other than illusion and the spear. After all, Loki was a shape-changer and god of fire as well. What were the Warriors Three and Sif doing once they got back to Asgard? Should have been a full on Frost Giant invasion and seen gods right and left fighting with Thor and Loki in the middle of it all. As it is, it pales in comparison to the earlier foray into the land of the Frost Giants. It feels that somewhere along the way, the budget was exceeded and many things got rushed and glossed over during the second half of the movie.
-Romance with Jane Foster: Just seemed to come from nowhere. The movie ends with them pining for each other, but really the story doesn't develop an actual romance between them or even a relationship beyond an alliance due to overlapping goals.There's no real chemistry between them as a couple as opposed to Thor and Sif. Are we supposed to just simply accept that since they are the leads, they are supposed to be a couple, that the writer and director don't have to do any work?
-Loki's story is some of the best parts of the movie but it's also inherently flawed, a huge contradiction. A lot of effort is made to dismiss the myth aspects of the Asgardians, to call attention to the fact these beings are who the myths are based on, though some details are not the same, that the myths are simply tall tales, such as the story of Odin losing his eye. However, some of the myths describe Loki as being of the giants and not Asgardian. The myths tell us that Loki starts off as a god of mischief, but grows increasingly dangerous and evil and will in the future betray Asgard and that this should be common knowledge to the gods. To accept that the myths are simply stories written centuries ago about these real beings manage to get so much wrong but accurately get secret details concerning Loki as well as predict his future behavior is a sking the audience to buy a huge coincidence that he just happens to follow the same path told about him in the stories and for some of the same motivations. On the other hand, there would be no contradiction if that part of the story occurred during the times of the vikings and thus became the basis of the myths, and in the present day he's a known villain to the Asgardians.
Saturday, April 02, 2011
The Spider - Thanks to Chuck Wells for recommending this title by Moonstone. I've not been enamored with their illustrated prose versions and the Spider is a really difficult character to capture in comic form. But this issue with a cover by Dan Bereton and story by Martin Powell and Pablo Marcos really manages to deliver the goods. Likewise is a slightly re-done version of Mark Wheatley's Spider comic story "Burning Lead for the Walking Dead". Both stories feature the Spider against incredible odds and monstrous foes, both physically and psychologically. A secret to the Spider pulps, the extremes his foes go to in their campaign for fortunes and power justify his own extreme response. No one questions John McClane's sanity in the "Die Hard" movies, we accept that he's in bad situation and his response is justified for saving many innocent lives. The same is true for the Spider. And, these two comics deliver that.
Wheatley's comic is longer and is especially strong. His artwork at times reminds of the stylish Tim Sale. Out of his Spider garb and in tattered shirt, Wentworth looks like he could hold his own against Doc Savage. Many elements of the pulps find their way into the comic and as a stand-alone, it works as a very good comic pastiche of the pulp hero. Anyone that likes it should probably try out the pulp stories that inspired it. As an added bonus, Wheatley talks in the back how the story came about and his love for the character and pulps (constrast that with how Azzarello talked about Doc Savage and the pulps).
The Powell Spider comic also has a back-up, in this case the start of a story of Operator 5. It does little to really define the character and he's one of the few pulp heroes I've yet to be able to get into. I have several reprints but I've never been able to finish one of his adventures. This back-up is about the same in that regards, I couldn't really get into it or read it straight through without it being a chore.
John Byrne's Next Men # 34: This comic continues to be a tour-de-force. Again, the story starts in a way that intentionally keeps the reader a little off balance as it does not directly tie into cliffhanger of the previous issue, but instead is telling a "present day" story that is seemingly at odds with the events of the previous issues. As it nears the end, it becomes readily apparent at what's being set up as some motivations come clearer.
The artwork is top-notch. My only complaint is where the coloring is used to illustrate the lava that swallows Bethany. It's obviously computerized and is at complete odds with the style and relative realism of the rest of the artwork. It's not coloring complementing the line work but taking over the role of the line work in that regard. It's a mish-mash of style.
Thunderstrike #4: This mini rocks towards its final issue and despite being the next to last issue, the issue doesn't lag as many comics do at this point. Partly because DeFalco knows how to tell a story on two different levels. On one hand, this is about a man coming to understand his deceased father and coming to terms with his leaving him and what it was that made him a hero. It's a teen-ager learning how to be a man. On the other hand, it's a superhero story and so we have a villain's master planning that has gone haywire. There's plenty of action, and while one threat is dealt with, an even larger one emerges that young Kevin Masterson realizes that he must somehow handle. We see him finally learning hard lessons that many have been trying to get through to him with the promise of a big fight the next issue and him showing just how much of a man he's finally become.
Adam Mann makes an interesting villain with interesting motivation, one that's fitting in a story with mythological overtones, he seems straight out of myth himself. Thus, its a bit sadness with his sudden end. Maybe he'll have a Jonah/Pinocchio experience and not as dire experience as it appears.
Oddly, the artwork is mostly inked by Sal Buscema, but in places it appears to be shot and colored straight from the pencils. Strange. Enjoyable nonetheless
Recently read a story where Bryan Singer apologizes for the mistakes he made in his movie "Superman Returns". He apologizes for it being a bad movie and explains how it was intended to be a "romantic" superhero movie, one that would draw women in as well as a love letter to the Donner films with Christopher Reeve. I guess he thinks the romance women want is one of a lover (Superman) abandoning her while she gets pregnant and has to raise a kid on her own as well as her lover secretly spying on her. Singer doesn't apologize for how he turned Superman into an absentee deadbeat dad, voyeur and stalker. Nor the huge plot hole at the center (that Lois had sex with Superman and pregnant by him but doesn't remember that Superman is Clark Kent). Nor does he apologize for the horrible changes to the costume or having Brandon Routh not playing Clark Kent/Superman but Christopher Reeve playing Clark Kent/Superman.
The "Thor" and "Green Lantern" trailers look like fun superhero movies. Although, the changes to Green Lantern's costume really weaken a strong iconic design. But, the proper story elements all look to be in place. Not so much from the stills and interviews concerning "Captain America" and "Spider-man". There's one trailer of "Captain America" that at least looks good, watching Evans running around in action in a t-shirt and you can easily see Captain America. A pity it's all lost as soon as he puts on the baggy dyed army uniform that they've given him that's supposed to communicate a symbolic costume. I love the scene where he's got the shield and a rifle. Does he drop or toss the shield aside when he uses the rifle? Or toss the rifle when he wants to fight hand-to-hand while using the shield? If you're carrying a shield, you don't carry a two-handed weapon.
Smallville - They released images of an episode with Booster Gold and the new Blue Beetle. Booster looks like he's supposed to be a race car driver and not an actual superhero. The gold elements being obviously material and not metallic. And, how does the new Blue Beetle exist BEFORE the Dan Garrett and Ted Kord Blue Beetle? I imagine they'll probably explain it away as these are previously unknown heroes. However, this season has been weak by revealing these other previously unknown heroes that have existed and were active such as the JSA, that somehow no one has talked or known about. Hopefully, it will be more of Booster and Blue Beetle time-traveling from the near future, that Ted hasn't become Blue Beetle yet. And, it's yet another episode of other heroes telling Clark how he needs to be in the light and an inspiration for others, replacing the tired refrain of past seasons of everyone talking about Clark's "destiny". It's too much talking about being a legend instead of showing him doing things that are actually legendary and epic building. If you have to constantly remind the viewers why he's great instead of showing him as being great, you're doing something wrong. And, it lessens Clark to have everyone repeatedly tell him this instead of coming to the conclusion himself. It feels like a series just treading water, padding out the season instead of actually delivering some solid plots with scary powerful threats.
Posted by cash_gorman at 7:45 PM
Friday, February 25, 2011
Issue 616 is meant to be an artistic tour-de-force, yet the artists all are drawing different costumes. It's not merely artistic license, some of the artists are being more detailed than others, some depict his mask as a cowl another as a helmet, some are drawing plain leather belts vs the belt with pouches. One artist gets a pass in that at least the costume he's drawing is a variation of his first appearance with the triangular shield, but the others should all be the "same" costume and they clearly are not. I'm not saying we should go back to the days of having Neal Adams redrawing Kirby's faces of Superman, an artist should be able to express his style providing it's in keeping with the appropriate tone of the book, but the character should at least look "correct". Can you imagine a similar book starring Superman and each artist drew him with different belts and boots and chest emblems, but with all the stories taking place around the same time in his history (and none of them close to being accurate to how he was depicted during that time period).
Dwayne McDuffie Still a bit stunned by the death of Dwayne McDuffie. As a fan of golden-age comics, I'm not shocked when hearing of creators from the forties passing away. Heck, even many of the greats that came to prominence in the Silver-Age are at least in their late 50s now.
That his death came just as a big project of his was garnering press and about to come out makes it doubly tragic.
I won't say I was a huge fan. He was a name I recognized. And, I looked forward to his taking over the JLA book as his work on the JLU cartoon as writer and story editor showed a man that knew how to tell complete stories while layering in themes and subplots, so each story was enjoyable on its own but regular watchers/readers would be rewarded with more subtext and richness overall. But, otherwise, I cannot say I followed his writing with any great faithfulness.
Sadly, it didn't translate well to his work with the JLA book. A big part of that was that he was hampered first with subplots that the previous writer introduced but had no intention of staying on the book long enough to follow through on. And, when that was not dictating the shape of his stories, editorial fiat of who and who could not be on the team, of doing stories that would be continued in other books, and other crossover tie-ins (something he obviously disagreed with as he wrote a manifesto arguing against that very thing among others). He was sadly dumped from the book unceremoniously after he spoke out against editorial practices. This didn't seem to hurt his relationship with DC too much as he still worked on their animation projects such as the upcoming All-Star Superman animation video.
One of the things I respect him for was his work on bringing more minority characters to comics, especially when he and a couple of other creators created the critically acclaimed Milestone Universe of characters published by DC Comics, being a showcase for various all-new non-cliche minority heroes as well as a place for minority creators to have a voice with characters that weren't mainly white heterosexual males. He and Milestone didn't merely champion minorities of their own cultural background, either, but worked for a better presence of minorities in general. He co-created Shadow Cabinet, a superhero group made up of multiple ethnicities and sexual persuasions. Milestone also published Xombi, created by John Rozum, featured an Asian American, one of the very few in comics, much less one in his own book. McDuffie would later use him in his Justice League book where in an alternate reality the character became Green Lantern, and a cool one at that. It's another one of the sad ironies, when he was doing the Justice League book, DC was talking about bringing the Milestone characters into the DCU continuity and back to prominence. But, other than a crossover with the League title and a mini, it's only now that several of the books are being solicited. Looking forward to Xombi myself.
An outspoken passion for the medium, always striving to move it forward and expanding the readership. Helping to open the way for creators and minority characters (mostly by creating NEW characters and riding the coat-tails of talent NOT the corpses of previous characters). And reaching out to kids and potential new readers though helping create hours of entertainment with superhero cartoons with solid quality writing. He died young, but what a legacy and challenge he leaves for the rest of us.
Friday, February 04, 2011
John Byrne currently has two mini-series out. One, the continuation of his independent series a while back Next Men. The other is a mini set in the Jurassic Park universe titled Jurassic Park: Devils in the Desert. While the latter naturally has dinosaurs, the former also featured a down covered Tyrannosaurus Rex who has eaten one of the central characters of the series! With the second issue of both out, Byrne reveals a talent that doesn't manifest itself very often: dialect.
I talked last time how in Spider-Girl we had a writer not only having Johnny Storm and Reed Richards talking in the same voice but used the exact same words! Byrne isn't one I normally associate with strong dialogue. Generally the opposite actually. His heroes often have a tendency to talk in a universal formally educated dialect of stilted dialogue. But, in the second issue of JBNM, we have the African American woman Tony thrust into the Civil War South, Nathan finds himself among soldiers of WWII, Jasmine is in Elizabethan England, while Jack is a priest some decades in the future. Not only does Byrne nail the atmosphere in the artwork, but he establishes each group with believable speech idioms and dialects. In "Devils in the Desert", the differences are a bit more subtle as almost all of the characters are from the same area of the American West. Indeed, there's even a clunky expositional "As you know, Bob..." type speech as the Sheriff explains his relationship and personal past to a deputy who should already be privy to the information unless one or the other is new to the area. Overall, though various characters show individual characteristics through the way they talk. It's no Coen Brothers film, but it's refreshing nonetheless.
Interesting to note, with the second issues of both comics, I had to wait a week to get a copy. As I moved, I go to a new store to pick up any comics I decide to get. With JBNM, they sold out, with "Devils in the Desert" they claim to have been shorted in their series. Might hold more weight with me if I hadn't on another occasion overhearing the owner talking with a customer, disparaging Byrne, his fans and his forum with half-truths and exaggerations.
In "Devils in the Desert", he includes a Native American deputy. Made me think that a comic featuring the modern American West with a Native American hero would be interesting. America is a big country and its different regions are micro-cultures amongst the larger landscape. Factor in Indian tribes and traditions, there could be fertile ground with the right writer and artist. Imagine Pow Wow Smith mystery series for DC or Red Wolf for Marvel. It was one of the neat things about Gerard Jones and Mike Parobeck's short-lived series El Diablo featuring an Hispanic-American hero in Texas that seemed to faithfully get across the sense of place and culture, something as important in that type of series as it is in a D&D fantasy story. Maybe moreso since you cannot simply make it up.
Black Terror by Dynamite is one of the last hanger-ons of my collecting. Partly because rumors of it being canceled. Plus, it has either been improving or the rest of the comics have denigrated so much, it's a mostly enjoyable series. The art has definitely improved somewhat. There's still stupid or bad writing. With issue 12, he gets a new sidekick called Parrot. Who or what she is, is unclear as she seems to be some sort of by-product of the flying pirate ship. Seriously, the pirate motif is way over-done, especially considering how wrong-headed it is to begin with. It obviously springs from what the creators want his costume to symbolize over the character's actual background and history. He wears the skull and crossbones because he was a pharmacist and it's the symbol for poison. Expanding on the character should build on that, not from what we associate Skull and Crossbones with and is all the rage right now.
The writer does seem to have plans on moving the character to center. Since the beginning, he's been angry and belligerent but in the last two issues we see there's a Dr. Bob Benton also walking around, maybe he's a fractured soul (though issue 13 calls him Benson several times even as the character is sporting a name-tag to the contrary). We also get several Nedor Villains appearing although substantially changed from their GA appearances: Red Ann, Lady Serpent, a Nazi Torchman, and Electru. The writer doesn't do much to flesh them out though, they are just hirelings. All new guys? Old ones somehow still around? It's a shame because the original Red Ann wasn't really a villain and is one of the better written and drawn GA Black Terror stories. Should be noted that only Red Ann and Lady Serpent were Black Terror villains. Electru faced Doc Strange and the Nazi Torch I think was an American Eagle villain. Also, the Nazi Torch has a flame thrower attached to his forehead. Terror cuts it off and chides him for having it as his nose? I know he hangs around with superheroes and not normal people all the time, but seriously, how many people does he know with noses above their eyes? Another bit of writing that makes no sense, the Black Terror meets up with a character calling himself Black Satan. Terror recognizes him as being someone he met during the War, only that guy was a hero. Thing is, the original Black Satan looked nothing like this guy, this guy looking like an all black devil complete with pitchfork while the original wore a loose fitting white shirt, tight red pants and sported a domino mask. Nothing particularly black or Satan abut him. Terror might recognize the name, but he wouldn't find the guy looking familiar at all. I think they have gotten so caught up in re-designing and re-imagining characters willy nilly, they forget that at one time, these guys are supposed to have looked and acted like they did in the comics originally.
There are also cameos of sorts of a lot of characters we haven't seen since the early issues of the first "Superpowers" mini: Airman, Man O'Metal, Flintman, Martan (I think), Amazing Man, etc.
Hester seems to be the go-to guy to take over series that star-creators start but don't stick with. He's taking over for Kevin Smith's Green Hornet series, JMS' Wonder Woman, of course picking up the Black Terror from Alex Ross and Jim Krueger.
Time Masters: Sadly, my last DCU comic for the foreseeable future had to be the final issue of this mess of a mini-series. It started off with a mediocre premise but with some classic Silver Age and Bronze Age characters looking pretty nifty that it over-rode my internal warning bells, thinking there could be something fun in this. Should have listened. The art was inconsistent, looking like a bad Jurgens impersonation over the course of the series, there was no real central plot or story despite the premise (which wasn't really the plot or story, just the device to get the heroes together).We get an explanation of sorts that makes no sense in the final issue as to motivations of the the Black Beetle but there is still no story to it. And, all the talk about the destruction of Vanishing Point over the first half of the mini is solved by sci-fi magic as if no big deal all along. Even Rip Hunter's exposition seems to acknowledge that this was just a big waste of time. Oh, and there's a big reveal at the end that you can tell was supposed to be a surprise, but no effort was really made to set it up beyond the final issue.Oh, and the whole purpose of the Reverse Flash the last issue and this was so this could lead into/tease the next big event. If it didn't cost me money, I'd just mail the issues to DC with a note saying I didn't want them stinking up my collection and I don't want simply my money back, but the money spent on gas driving to the store and the time wasted reading it. If you are going to produce such a waste of non-story, at least follow the example of DCU Legacies and put some top creative artists on some of the issues to make the pictures nice to look at.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Green Hornet Remastered: There are really only two things to recommend for these books. One, the wonderful covers by Joe Rubinstein that capture the Green Hornet in the middle of a dangerous situation. However, the Hornet is rendered with a simple domino mask and not the gangster style mask that covered the lower half of his face that he wears inside the comic. It also shows off just how minor of a character Kato was at the time, barely appearing in the majority of the stories. There's no doubt that the hero and star of the book is the Green Hornet. Otherwise, these stories are painfully dull and the artwork is either heavily damaged during the remastering stage or/and is really on the low end, even for GA standards. And, this is coming from someone that is generally a fan of the comics from this time. Stick to the radio shows and serials to get exciting adventures of the Green Hornet of this time.
Green Hornet: Year One #7: Not sure how long this comic is going to last and continue being called "Year One." The last issue brought together all of the various threads and backstory of how Kato and Britt Reid would find themselves coming together to fight crime as masked men and how it would result in them being thought of as rival mobsters. This issue picks up on that status quo and continues the story, but it no longer has that feeling of an extended origin tale of neophyte characters. The only change in creative staff seems to be the colorist, the new one going for more traditional color palettes. It's still a good comic, full of atmosphere and mood and feels like an honest attempt at being faithful and true to the source material while being readable by modern audiences. It feels authentic and should have DC kicking themselves for not doing something similar with the Crimson Avenger.
Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #1 of 2: Written by Mike Mignola and painted by Scott Hampton, this is a beautiful little comic. Like most of Mignola's writing, it is basic and bare in the plotting and storytelling, going for creepiness, mood and the visceral experience. Hampton's artwork with Dave Stewart's colors elevate it into something that's darkly beautiful and romantic, like an old Southern mansion falling into disrepair.
Justice Society #45 and 46: If there was a book that screamed it was the right time to stop getting regular monthlies, this title is it. When the day comes that the Justice Society is so bad that I want to stop getting it as a mercy killing, then the comic companies really have passed me by. This comic isn't merely bad but just plain stupid.
It was bad enough suffering looking at pictures of the Captain America movie and reading posts by fans about how faithful and accurate it is, but then I open up #45 and see The Flash and Green Lantern on some secret mission, dressed in military versions of their costumes, complete with grenades and various packets and straps. Words fail me in just how wrong minded this is. Then, the whole mission is a black-ops one, sent to destroy a secret weapon which turns out to be a baby. Why would you send two (and only two) JSA members on a mission like this?
Then, we have the writer telling us that Drachen (the name of the Nazi project) means "Scythe", the name of the super powered terrorist. Of course, Drachen doesn't mean that at all. It means Dragon, kite and even a vixen or harpy.
We're also asked to believe that a politician from the 1950s still holds office some sixty years later. Impossible? No. But, highly improbable and like everything else in the book, it shows the hand of the writer demanding things to be so for the sake of the story he's writing with little logical extrapolation.
We also have over the course of two issues, three instances by different characters using the term "gallows humor". When a unique phrase gets used that often in so little space and by different characters, it sticks out. Again, it shows the writer behind the scenes as it becomes obvious that the dialogue by different characters are coming from one mind.
We get an appearance by Superman and Blue Devil which is fine. But, there are a whole lot of JSA'ers and hanger-ons that would be better served. Then again, interviews have indicated that Blue Devil is going to be a member for some bizarre reason. Because, there aren't enough JSA and Golden-age related characters that could be used or team members we haven't seen.
Obsidian gets all violent and dark. Again.
Dr. Mid-nite finally gets called in for a consultation on Alan Scott's condition. He claims it's taking too much energy to just keep the Starheart in check for him to heal despite his being an energy being he only sustains physical injury because he thinks of himself as human. Thus, if he's conscious and able to think at all, then his body should become normal without actually having to "heal". And, if it takes that level of concentration, then what the heck is he doing fighting crime when a slip in concentration could cost lives or letting loose the Starheart? What happens when he falls asleep? And, where does he get the power then to build himself a godawful new costume AND GROW HAIR as we've seen in previews?
In both issues and one coming up, Dr. Mid-nite is said to have "ultra-SONIC lenses". What the heck are those and what do they do? Make his eyes able to hear? Allows him to SEE sounds that people cannot hear? Apparently this comes from the Matt Wagner mini that introduced the character, as I've never read it. Just seeing in the dark and outside of the normal vision range just not good enough I guess. It's something best left forgotten unless we are actually going to see him use said "ultrasonic lenses". Otherwise, it just comes off as sounding stupid when thrown out with nothing to back it up or explain it as in these issues.
I'm not a fan of Kolins artwork, generally the opposite. To give credit where it's due, other than the military styled Flash and Green Lantern (and GL's upcoming new "costume"), the artwork has been good and easily the best thing regarding the book. But, I miss the days of the real JSA when it wasn't a team of legacies, but the original heroes.
Project Superpowers: X-mas Carol: This book is merely "meh". It gives us an origin and background of the villain known as the Clown and updates him for the modern age with powers of his own by him taking over the body of a clone of his foe, the hero Magno. It started off strong with a flashback sequence of the Clown before he became the masked villain with his girlfriend, giving him some sympathetic background juxtaposed against scenes with a mother and son Christmas shopping in the modern day as well as the American Spirit propheting that someone was about to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. But these scenes ultimately go nowhere, serving as little teases to completely different type of tale, one of impending tragedy and sadness. Part of this is because the book is constrained by the fact that it is to follow the construction of Dicken's A Christmas Carol so we have the Clown visited by the ghost of a past associate and then heroic ghosts of the Superpowers line: The Fighting Yank, the Ghost and American Spirit. Each tries to capture the Ghost and relating events from the past, present and a possible future. But, it only has a few pages to devote to each hero. It then ends on ambiguous ground as we are not sure if the Clown has undergone any kind of spiritual transformation in relation to his physical one or not. We aren't sure if we are to take anything from this tale, if there's anything to take. It might be a foreshadowing of upcoming plots, that the Clown may betray the Supremacy and thus avert the disaster that the American Spirit shows him. Or the Clown may bring about that very future. There's nothing in the ending to really grab hold of, to see a reason as to why to read this story. We understand a little more about the background of the Clown but it's all upset by the non-descript ending, it cannot be applied to the future. It becomes a tale that's unfinished all the way around, imparting little knowledge, truth or emotion.
Spider-Girl #2: Tying the JSA of a book being not merely bad but incredibly dumb. Part of it is the simple fact that it's merely the second issue and yet managed to go so wrong so quickly in so many different directions. Part of last issue's biggest disconnect was the idea that a father would let his teen-age daughter with no powers go out and fight crime. This was a big source of conflict between Mayday and her parents in the DeFalco series, resulting in her just doing it anyway, and she had powers. Arana doesn't have anything other than good training. This is compounded by that Sue Richards, adult and mother, also supports and aids her in these actions. Well, we don't have to worry about that because the writer decided to go for that standard cliche and kill off the girl's father. And, then spend the whole issue of the character dealing with it. I could see this being done somewhere down the road, it's a big cliche but it does up-end the status quo and gives a change-of-pace story. BUT IN THE SECOND ISSUE? And, it's not a villain she can take on, but the Red Hulk. So we have a story where the character is not only sad and depressed for the whole issue but completely ineffectual. Again, this might be fine later, but it hardly makes me want to read more about this character. She comes across useless, her book is depressing, and now two issues in, there's no status quo or regular supporting cast and relationships to draw me back to.
This issue at least shows that the line she swings by is some grappling line although where she keeps it and the mechanisms that control it is a complete mystery. I guess it's in the same place where she manages to find coins to buy newspapers to fling in the Red Hulk's face.
More bad writing: there's zero introduction of just who or what the Red Hulk is. My brother's first question was, "why is the Hulk red?" I could answer a little of it as I keep up with some of the general goings on in the Marvel U, but there is zero in the story to tell us anything about the character, that it's not even the real Hulk just in different Christmas colors. Remember, every issue is someone's first exposure to the characters. Why should I, reading a Spider-man family book, be expected to know what's going on in the Hulk books?
The book tops the JSA with writing characters with the same voice with this bit of dialogue.
Johnny Storm: Did he seem...crazy to you? He's never talked like that before. Let's find him and find out.
Reed Richards: It was...strange. Let's find him and find out."
In the same panel, we have the world's smartest man and leader of the FF simply repeating verbatim what a high school graduate just said, proposing the same action as if it was his idea. My guess for the future death in the FF, Johnny kills Reed for constantly undercutting him like this. Or Reed is already dead and they are hiding it from the world by using a robot.
We are lead to believe her father was this respected journalist and the go-to press-guy for the celebrity heroes the Fantastic Four, yet his funeral is practically empty, the FF don't even show up. His daughter wears plain clothes but not black and her friends wear nice colorful clothes. Instead of a powerful scene, all I can think is "this is supposed to be a funeral?" Bad, bad storytelling.
Thunderstrike #2: At least this title has a teenager acting like a teenager, albeit a surly petulant one, and parents acting and reacting in ways that seem like real human beings and parents would. And, with DeFalco and Frenz at the helm, there's lots of superhero action. If we cannot have the real Spider-Girl or even the real Thunderstrike, this fills the gap nicely.
Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula #3 of 5: The story shifts a bit from how I remember the Dracula story going as Mina has died and one of Lucy's suitors has become a betrayer, thus we are no longer following Stoker's script even discounting Holmes' involvement. It sets things up as the conclusion no longer being pre-ordained. Despite that, it's a fun book, pitting the world's greatest sleuth against one of its biggest villains.
Warlord of Mars #3: A switch-up in artists. The new guy draws Carter as being a little too muscle bound for my taste and doesn't have quite the same texture to his pencils but he does a great job at drawing an alien city. In this day and age, I don't think it's too much to ask that an artist be able to draw faces differently, so that the only way to tell the green-skinned martians apart is whether they have both tusks or not. The series seems intent on having them all drawn as four-armed Hulks as opposed to the more lanky, almost skeletal proportions they are generally shown as. These are small complaints though as overall the book has looked very good and it's going to be hard for anyone to really top what Gil Kane and John Buscema could do with sci-fi/fantasy sword fighters.