Monday, July 28, 2008

Thoughts on Movies and Comic News

Been spending time working on the Heroes side of my Golden-age Encyclopedia pages. Finally finished the M's which took quite a bit longer than anticipated. Between that and last week being a very small comic week, I delayed posting a bit. So a bunch of stuff just sorta creeped up on me.

On the days I've not been working on my sites, I've been actually taking a couple of online courses. One is intermediate web design. I'm self-taught on Dreamweaver and picked up a bit of HTML along the way there and here, fine-tuning the layouts and editing. Decided I needed a bit more formal training to take it to the next level. It means I have to unlearn a few bad habits as well as learning to do things manually with HTML. I'm also taking a class on starting a small business and am hoping to put my plans on opening a small bookstore into action. Even when I'm not doing coursework on the latter, I'm making calls and meeting with people to get a handle on all that I'll need to know and do to make this a reality. It's been fascinating work.

In between all of that, I also have been trying to drum up some freelance imaging work so that I don't burn through my severance pay quite so fast. That looks like it may finally start paying off with some jobs. Even though I am not going to work every day, I at least feel like I'm making progress each day, that I'm not standing still.


I thought the ads for the movie WANTED looked interesting. I leafed through the trade paperback, but was turned off by the character pages in the back as it seemed that all of the character quotes had them use the F*** word. Though I hardly ever cuss, I wouldn't consider myself a prude. Some of my favorite movies were brutal in their language. What struck me was how all the same it made the characters sound in these pages that were supposed to be highlighting them. The repetitiveness of it made it seem even more uncreative, as if the writer really doesn't know how to give characters their own voice and that he's swearing because he can and he thinks it makes the book sound more adult, much like teen-age boys are apt to do when talking with each other.

Went and saw the movie anyways, because from the previews and all, I was expecting it to be considerably different from the comic. Different doesn't mean better though. The storyline and basic premise is interesting, though we saw a bit of it in THE MATRIX: A nobody unhappy with his life learns that there's more to the world than he's aware, and he's unhappy because he is far more than those around him. In this case, he learns that there are people out there that are stronger, faster, and more agile than most, that they can mentally direct a bullet around objects. They work for a brotherhood of assassins. Only one has gone rogue and is killing them off, killing the nobody's absentee father who was one of the best. So, they need to train him in his abilities to go after the rogue, that his abilities will be to a degree that he can match the rogue.

The movie has a good cast who all turn in good performances. There are interesting side characters, some fun shoot-outs and fight scenes. The middle act of the lead undergoing his training is the highlight of the whole movie, as the end is fairly obvious early on.

Where it flounders is in the beginning. The movie goes through great lengths to paint the nobody as a complete loser and whiner. There are some reasons for that, later payoffs, yet it does the job too well. He's not a loser because the world makes him so, it's because of his own doing or lack of doing. Within 10 minutes, I really don't care if someone shoots him or not because I have zero sympathy for the character. His swearing even makes him seem more pathetic and a petulant child in an adult's body. Even when he does show backbone it's because he has these superior abilities, he's basically a bully unable to compete or deal with the real world on even footing. We are supposed to think he had some great character growth at the end, but that growth really isn't there, he's still acting as the person he's created as being and not his own man, the complete opposite of Malcolm Bourne of the BOURNE movies.

THE DARK KNIGHT really took me by surprise. I expected to enjoy it. However, there was far more meat and substance to the movie than I anticipated. Heath Ledger manages to take the role of the Joker and make the character his own.

The movie is dark and intense. In that, I think it's actually keeping in spirit with how Batman and the Joker were originally presented and intended. There is context as well to it as well. Batman struggles with the kind of hero he is, there's a lot of talk about heroism, serving as inspirations to others. This is a character that is aware of the line he's walking and trying to be a good man. It serves as a great counterpoint to the casual and mindless brutality all done in slick stylings of Tim Burton's movie where Batman blows up a factory full of crooks and where he's directly responsible for the Joker falling to his death. Burton's Batman was pop art and shallow, taking a backseat to the outlandish villains that were all painted with one cloth. Here, there's more noir to the story, yet remaining true to the hero of the character.

This movie has an advantage that Burton's does not. When Burton did his movie, the last time Batman was on the screen was the Adam West tv series and crude Filmation cartoons. Batman in the comics was still mainstream, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS nonwithstanding. However, with the current movie, there have been a host of live-action comicbook movies and superhero movies. The comics themselves have been dark for years to boot. The movie's presentation is actually lighter, truer to the basic superhero spirit, and more intelligent than the comics.

There was a lot in the movie that reminded me of how the pulp hero the Spider should be presented. A man passionate about justice, protecting the innocent, and passionate for his friends and the woman he loves. While the Spider is admittedly more violent, a lot of the motivating psychology that supports that character is in this movie as well. Great stuff.

Some of my video picks the last couple of weeks:
Taking a cast consisting of Jason Statham, Leelee Sobieski, John Rhys-Davies, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta, Claire Forlani, Matthew Lillard and Burt Reynolds, and one should almost by default have an interesting movie. However, IN THE NAME OF THE KING must be one of the biggest wastes of talent to ever stand in front of a camera. Admittedly, these aren't all great actors, but they are all good and should actually excel in the roles they are playing here. Instead, they are saddled with a script that only gives enough to any scene to take the plot from point A to point B, and a director that doesn't seem to know how to set a scene, tell a story, nor how to get the most from his actors. At best, the editing and story progression is disjointed. Expecting something to be kind of dumb fun, and instead, just got dumb.

Then take THE CONDEMNED a movie where the only name actor is a wrestler and end up with something that's actually an enjoyable escapist action movie. Even though there are some scenes and questionable logic extrapolation, the movie knows how to at least tell a story. It even has a little bit of subtext of the un-reality nature of reality television and what it says about humanity that we still are suckers for our bread and circuses as long as it's not us in the arena doing the fighting and the dying.

IN BRUGES sounded interesting on the box, talking about two hit-men hiding out in Bruges after a job, just laying low. But, laying low isn't something that really suits their style and they have problems with a crime boss, leading to a funny and action filled movie. Least that's more or less how the DVD box described it. And with Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes in the three principal roles, can't possibly go wrong...

Can't go wrong, but it's not the movie the box would lead you to believe. Farrell and Gleeson play hitmen cooling it in Bruges after a hit, that much is true. Farrell chafes at the slower pace and could care less about the culture while Gleeson takes it all in and enjoys it. Farrell is struggling with the fact he killed a kid and has suicidal thoughts while their boss, played by Fiennes, has ordered Gleeson to kill Farrell. The movie has that whole surreal and bizarre feel that BEING JOHN MALKOVICH aimed for and almost achieved as odd-ball characters and the works of Hieronymous Bosch weave through it. The language is harsh, but it fits in with the brutality of the lives these characters lead and allows the actual depth of the characters take you by surprise. It makes Gleeson's character all the more intriguing as he's full of contrasts and contradictions. A hardened hitman that is moved by culture and history and refinement. Can he kill his friend? Is he a realist or an idealist?


The Blue Marvel: Kevin Grevioux talked with CBR News about his upcoming book

It's the story of Marvel's first black superhero. He was the most powerful and the most popular superhero around for a period of three or four years back in the late 1950s early 1960s. Think of how pre-'Civil War' Captain America was lauded in the Marvel Universe or how Superman is hailed in Metropolis or throughout the DC Universe and that was the popular status that the Blue Marvel enjoyed during this time period.
When a mysterious super-powerful villain comes back from the Blue Marvel's past, one not even the Avengers can stop, there is a quest to find the Blue Marvel as he is the only one who has ever defeated him.

The art looks good and it sounds like an interesting idea for a character. My misgiving is inserting a Superman level character into the history of the Marvel U., especially after we already have the Sentry (and now Dynamic Man, Rockman and Fiery Mask of The Twelve and Namora of Agents of Atlas who at least were already part of the Universe anyway). It does not really make the character sound interesting, but more of like "he's my character and so he's going to be better than the Avengers and all other heroes around." Sounds a lot like the Sentry in fact.

And, the bit of him being secretly an African American, it makes sense as long as you're dealing with history, but it wouldn't make much sense for him to keep his race secret nowadays, at least not in the context of the Marvel Universe where there are already powerful African American superheroes and villains.

Meanwhile DC announces that both the Milestone characters and the MLJ/Archie heroes will be brought into their universe continuity. Similar announcements but I have different thoughts about it.

With Milestone, I had gotten a few of the comics when they had originally come out. I thought there were some good ideas, good coloring and a different feel than the other books. I think bringing them into the DCU would strengthen the DCU overall. It provides them with real minority characters instead of ones taking over the identities and M.O of non-minority ones.

However, with Dwayne McDuffie spearheading it early on in JLA, one has to wonder what this might mean for characters like Black Lightning and Steel when Milestone has conceptually similar characters. There is already a preview to an upcoming issue that suggests a dire fate for Black Lightning. Is Steel to join Technocrat in obscurity?

As far as the MLJ/Archie heroes, J. Michael Straczynski told Newsarama:
I enjoyed the characters a lot as a kid, and had a real fondness for them born of nostalgia and the sense that they were just really off-beat and interesting characters. I wasn't as keen on the later incarnations or reinterpretations of them, because I thought they went a bit afield of what made them compelling, but never lost my fondness for the originals. When it was decided I'd start with B&B at DC, Dan mentioned that they were working on getting some of these characters and that I could, if I wanted, fold them into the DC universe by way of this book...not as later incarnations, or revisions, but as themselves, rebooting their origins from the start. I thought it was a terrific and exciting idea, as I love the idea of rediscovering or redefining heroes, as evinced in The Twelve. So for me, this is a seriously fun thing to do.

I'm glad they seem to be hewing to the classic look of them instead of a total revisioning. HOWEVER...

1) Reading The Twelve, I don't really have much faith in him as a writer or being all that faithful really to them as he felt the need to darken all of the Timely characters he's using in that mini and re-writing the backstories or just ignoring the material and potential already there. And his ego prevents him from seeing the injustice he does to the characters.

2) They aren't the real deal. They are revamps of the original characters. You dump the WWII histories of the characters and frankly you're losing a lot of the context that made them special. ESPECIALLY the Shield who was the first patriotic themed hero. With Captain America MIA, here's a chance to upstage Marvel. Get rid of that, and you make the Shield a copy, a second-rater.

3) Lastly, they AREN'T NEEDED AT DC! Let's face it. DC has crapped on so much history and characters they already own. Their slash and burn approach to characters and the rich tapestry of history that makes up their universe: Ted Kord, the Question, Captain Atom, Judomaster, Sue and Ralph Dibny, the Freedom Fighters, the New Gods, the Marvel Family. They've killed off pretty much all of their Charlton, Quality and Fawcett properties in favor of the new. It's hard to believe they will do any better with these characters. Instead of importing another company's characters, why not actually restore (NOT revamp, revision, retcon, and any other re-term that makes one want to regurgitate) characters they already have to glory: Mr. America instead of the Wizard. Minute Man instead of the Shield. Captain Marvel instead of Red Rube. Bulletman instead of Steel Sterling. Firebrand instead of Black Hood. Ibis instead of Zambini. Mr. Scarlet instead of the Hangman. It's not that I don't like the MLJ characters. I do and they were greats. But, I'd rather see them in their own universe where they'd be allowed to shine instead of being treated as second bananas to DC's "flagship" titles. They don't really give DC something DC doesn't already have and squandered.

As an aside, I also thought MLJ/Archie didn't own the Fly outright anymore, that he went back to his co-creator Joe Simon.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

DC vs Marvel

Over at the Permanent Damage blog by Steven Grant, he talks a bit about the differences between DC & Marvel. To sum it up, he basically says DC caters to Golden-Age fans whereas Marvel created everything new and catered to fans who wanted that (and ultimately, to the Silver-Age once they had an established status quo). He touches on something that I do believe is important and I had written about it before when talking about the ending of the Golden-Age and the start of the Silver-Age

I think what Grant says has some merit. But, in focusing on catering to fandom and character creating, his argument is ultimately weakened. If the creation of the Silver-age Flash and Green Lantern was setting up for catering to GA fans, how does it truly differentiate what Marvel did with Namor, the Human Torch and Captain America which he seems to dismiss as not really counting? What about their own Silver-Age revision of Ka-Zar? How does DC creating the Freedom Fighters and All-Story titles catering to the GA fans but not Marvel giving Captain America his own book or starting THE INVADERS, the first true GA continuity driven book? And, the lack of staying power for all those GA focused books? And, what about all those characters and concepts that DC trotted out at the same time, way before they decided to launch a new JSA or Freedom Fighters books? How is Miller's handling of Black Canary an example of doing something "new" if the Silver Age revamps were not? Miller's handling of BC and the DCU in general is like Marvel's Ultimate line, existing not as really doing something new but as reflections of the mainstream line. Much of the resonance of those titles are only because the originals exist to serve as counterpoint to.

I'd word it a bit differently. It's not that DC really stuck going after Golden-age fans of the GA characters as Grant posits. It's that they were stuck with that type of storytelling and editorial base and style. They did some rudimentary updates in their character revamps, a little streamlining, but it was still very conservative, very much in the Heinlein mode of science fiction. It's part of why I posited that the start of the Silver-Age really was FANTASTIC FOUR #1. The characters were new, but the approach to characters and storytelling were not. Because DC had never gotten away from superheroes. Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman still had their own books; Robin, Green Arrow, and Aquaman had steadily appeared in the anthology titles; and we had other proto Silver-Age superheroes in Martian Manhunter and Captain Comet. It's not that the Flash and Green Lantern had 1940s roots, but that their superhero storytelling itself was still there.

Marvel pretty much had to create their superhero market ground up. Unlike DC, they only had 3 successful properties from the 40s and none continued into the 60s. Stan Lee had been scripting monster comics for years now. Kirby and Ditko had been part of that. Their superheroes and storylines of Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Hulk and Thor reflected the type of writing he had been doing for the last decade just as the style of DC reflected theirs. As such, their science-fiction model was not the good science of Heinlein, but a morally ambivalent science, of man puttering around with cosmic forces beyond his scope.

Lee wanted to be a novelist and so wrote what he would want to read. He was hamstringed by this point of spending decades writing the purple prose of comics, but his writing had more heart and real human condition to it. Whereas Mort Wiesinger and Schwartz were more plot-centric, their stories old-fashioned science fiction that didn't grow with the times, Lee's works reflected the times outside the window which made his stories more relevant. The FF and a space race, Namor's people killed by atomic testing, fears of Communism. He looked at what was going on in the world and wrote about that, only in superhero form. Their one hero that was pretty much in the DC mode: Ant-man/Giant-man. Lee pioneered the ideas of continuity across company titles and ongoing soap-opera sensibilities, something DC was very slow in adapting.

And, his loose writing style allowed two of the most creative artists ever in the business push the envelopes in their styles and storytelling. A great synthesis in creating and storytelling. DC had Gil Kane, an incredible artist able to push the envelopes of the genres as well, but to do so, he had to go outside of the company to create things like Savage and Blackmark. By the 70s they managed to get Kirby and Ditko over to do some books. Without Stan Lee giving their visions humanity, purple though it may be, their works at DC didn't resonate. Plus, by that time they had become a bit old-fashioned as more realistic art styles were in-vogue. Further cementing the notion that DC was old-fashioned where Marvel was bold and new despite some of their bolder and more creative outings.

I think the article also ignores or places too little value that DC did successfully re-position themselves in the 80's and made Marvel look like the old-hat between the relaunches of many of their core characters and books, the artistically daring of Frank Miller's DARK KNIGHT, Alan Moore's Swamp-Thing which lead in to Vertigo and Neal Gaiman's SANDMAN books, not to mention WATCHMEN. Indeed, part of the problem I see nowadays stems from that very success. They left behind the feeder market of having their mainstream books be for fans of traditional superheroics, books that weren't impenetrable due to in-bred continuity and outre storytelling. Books young readers could discover, that parents would recognize and buy for their kids. Instead, most of today's fans that are catered to are cultivated from that 80s market. And that's who they cater to with ALL their books. Now the marginalized book lines are not the Mature Readers and Vertigo line, but ones that are written and drawn down specifically for kids.

The problem is not necessarily continuity, least not the fact that both Marvel and DC have history and continuity. Those are strengths for storytelling. I will say that the problem the companies have is that they do cater a little too heavily towards continuity obsessive stories. But, it's sorta in a cannibalistic manner, linking themselves heavily to that history while simultaneously strip mining that history. New stories revisit the past and reflect past stories and events while at the same time destroying what went before. Indeed, the beauty of the Flash of 2 Worlds story was that it acknowledged the past, brought it into the fold of the new, but neither Flash invalidated the other. It allowed for the new and the old to co-exist, fertilizer for new stories in the future.

Slow week at the comic shop this week. Glanced through GODLAND, mainly to check out Scioli's artwork. His time spent on the title has helped him tremendously, he still shows signs of being heavily influenced by Kirby, but having to regularly draw things Kirby didn't, his style is growing into something of his own. It will be worth checking out regularly. Steranko, Keith Giffen, Barry Windsor-Smith all started out as being heavily influenced by Kirby before finding their own paths. Ladronn's cover work has shown him to be able to do more than ape Kirby. Here's hoping that Scioli finds his own path as well. The only thing that kept me from picking it up was I really didn't get into Joe Casey's writing style, the characters really failed at making me want to continue with them month in and out.

Green Arrow/Black Canary #10: A long fruitless fight scene between super-powered agents of the League of Assassins. The League must be lax in their standards as despite their powers against a mostly non-powered they cannot even take out a relative non-fighter nor teen-aged girl. Judd Winnick is unable to make any of the characters stand out or seem all that dangerous. From the start, Winnick seemed to want to make Green Arrow back into being a Batman clone with his own family of superheroes. He got his wish and it has turned the book into a team book without any grounding of believable civilian characters. Factor in the extra guest stars this month, there is little focus really on Black Canary and Green Arrow, the title's lead characters. Batman has his "family" but it's carried out over a host of books, not just one.

Winnick has never really been able to explore in detail the Black Canary and Green Arrow dynamic. The two seem to have gotten together and married just because fans and writers wanted it more than something that felt natural. Black Canary was better handled in BIRDS OF PREY where she had better chemistry with Barbara Gordon than she's been shown with Ollie, least in these pages.

Zorro #5: As usual, a good book and read. But, it is also increasingly obvious that the driving inspiration of this title is Isabel Allende's revisionist novel, more than any previous version of Zorro seen. In fact, Wagner hasn't really captured the swashbuckling swagger and fun from previous incarnations. The title is nothing more than a comic adaptation of Allende's novel, far more faithful than movie adaptations of comics and books usually are that don't pretend to be merely inspired by said work.

Francesco Francavilla's artwork manages to capture the feel and atmosphere perfectly, the colors and painted feel not overwhelming the pencils. To really get a feel of the ability of his pencils, one only needs look at the back cover and see how wonderful this would look in b/w and ink washes. Whew.

The front cover by Sook is also nice until you look at the face. Zorro looks old, serious and his face is largely lacking features with no lips and his nose and details around the eyes obliterated by the mask, it's almost as if he has some kind of death-head face ala Phantom of the Opera.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hellboy II & Comics

Hellboy II
Guillermo del Toro delivers in this sequel. Where the character and the comic stories tend to be plot heavy, del Toro continues along the vein from the first movie in giving the characters heart that can be identified despite their bizarre appearances. The story builds on the romance between Liz Sherman and Hellboy as well as getting more into Abe Sapien's skin. The end result is a story that is at times a little more introspective and fairy tale than just a plain action/adventure.

There's plenty of action, though. Because, Hellboy is hardly the intellectual type, his solution to a problem, punch it or shoot it. And, what is a Hellboy story if there aren't plenty of bizarre creatures and giant monsters to fight? Del Toro manages to balance physical conflict with a more personal and cerebral. Hellboy cannot confront his personal problems with Liz by punching them. And, he chafes at being kept on a short lease as the government wants to deny his existence to the world and he desires to be part of it, to be recognized for the job that does. And, the government brings in a new handler to control him, one who is both tough and cerebral, the ghost in a containment suit similar to an old diving suit, Johann Krauss.

It's not just Hellboy as the secondary characters Abe Sapien and Liz also have their stories to work through, as Abe discovers his own human side and Liz must decide her own future and whether Hellboy should continue to be in it. Ironically, the most human of the three, she seems to be more honest with who she is. Abe and Hellboy both deal with their freakish appearances in different ways. Abe denies his human side and Hellboy wishes to deny that which sets him apart. Liz may look human but she has come to terms with the freak within her, and understands better than the rest risk humanity poses.

Del Toro and Mike Mignola prove to be a great blending of the visual talents of the two. Even when the story is more, well, story than action, it is a sumptuous visual feast from creature designs to massive sets such as the walk through the BPRD, the Troll market or even the library and Hellboy's quarters. If anyone should direct a John Carter of Mars or a movie based on R. A. Salvatore's dark elf fantasy novels, it should be someone with del Tormo's sense of vision, who can make a fantasy look both strange and familiar and blend seamlessly with the everyday.

He also balances a sense of humor with the horror, the fantastic and sentimental. A scene near the middle between Abe and Hellboy manages to be both funny and moving. It's an achievement on the parts of the director as well as actors. It helps that Ron Perlman and Doug Jones are both used to making sure their acting is carried through layers of make-up and special effects. Perlman from seasons as the Beast, the romantic hero of the tv series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and Doug Jones who has been the body actor of several creatures in PAN'S LABYRINTH, Silver Surfer in last year's FANTASTIC FOUR, and the body but not the voice of Abe Sapien in the first Hellboy movie. Unless a viewer is closely paying attention, the replacement of David Hyde Piece with Jones as the voice this time out is not noticed. Both make the characters seem totally human and sympathetic despite their appearances and in Abe Sapien's case, very limited facial emoting range.

The story also sets up the elf prince Prince Nuada as a sympathetic character, more antagonist than villain. His actions are one that honestly sees the events he sets in motion as the sole way to save the race and the world itself before humanity destroys it. While he is willing to do bad things to achieve his ends, he doesn't really come across as necessarily being wrong. If the story falls anywhere, it skirts over this a bit in the middle. It's too quick in setting up humans fearing and turning on Hellboy and the rest and doing the turn towards "fighting for a humanity that fears and hates them" and dealing with the allure of Prince Nuada's cause and the Fairy people where they can fit in. The issue is gone almost as soon as it is raised. Likewise, we don't really see how the rest of Fairy feel about being drawn into a new war with humankind.

Jeffrey Tambor's character also gets short shrift, played up a little too much as being the straight man for Hellboy and the rest as well as being the one person that's wrong so everyone else is right. The humor is used to diffuse the fact that the character really does have a thankless job made impossible by Hellboy's antics and he devolves further into just a brainless bureaucrat and suck-up.

Another issue that this and the last movie basically ignores but cannot help wondering about, why normal people only armed with guns serve the bureau? They serve as nothing more than cannon fodder and considering what they have to face, it would seem a job that's only suitable for the suicidal, that no one normal is going to make it to retirement age. If a situation calls for someone like Hellboy, normal agents without special weaponry, abilities or at the least, body armor are all but DOA. Why would they be sent in and why would they go along with it?

But, minor quibbles to a gorgeously told comic book movie with more story and layers than your average action flick much less one based on a fairly shallow comic book character.

Avengers/Invaders #3: Missed this one when I went to the store last week. It's easy to miss a title when you're gone for 3 weeks. I also came close to missing a few other comics this week as some titles I just picked up and read last week so I wasn't really looking for a new issue this soon of the Captain Britain and Guardians of the Galaxy titles.

The coloring of this issue has the same problem as issue #2. The reds are too magenta, the blues of Bucky and Captain America close to being purple. The cover is beautiful, being more Romantic than the photo-realism of Ross' painted style had previously allowed. Maybe he learned a little painting over another artist's pencils (Doug Braithwaite in JUSTICE). One can feel the warmth of the sunny blue skies reflecting off the Sub-mariners over the ocean. Likewise, Steve Sadowski's pencils are very strong.

The story likewise delivers on setting up the conflict between the Namor of the 1940s and of the present day. It's faithful to the more headstrong persona the character was not only originally but when he was dusted back off in the 60s, the character who always seemed to be spoiling for a fight and leading with his fists while the present-day Namor is one who has learned hard life lessons and the power of diplomacy. If only Krueger showed such faithfulness to characterization and history when writing SUPERPOWERS.

Captain America and Bucky... it's still playing up Bucky as the bad-ass commando, even though this is still the youthful Bucky. To the point, that Captain America seems almost a fraud, willing to let Bucky take charge and take point.

The Black Coat: Been too long since an issue of this has come out. To make up for it, there's 2 stories in this special, one b/w and the other with a limited color scheme. Black Coat is taking the patriot superhero and setting him in the days of the American Revolution. As such, he not only fights the British but also more fantastic menaces such as a couple of monsters in these two adventures. Top shelf stuff.

Captain America: White #0: Shows how to re-tell an origin, remaining faithful to the source material while adding to it. The artwork by Tim Sale is a beauty to behold as well. These minis by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are so true to a graphic novel concept and so beautiful and comepelling in their own right, they are the few works that I feel are really worth waiting for and getting in a collected format. They belong on a bookshelf as their own self-contained entities.

Captain Britain and MI13: There are several references to Alan Moore's Captain Britain series and Merlin's schizo history in the Marvel U, but none that are really germaine to the ongoing storyline, just a few bits of dialogue might leave you scratching your heads. The resurrection of Captain Britain is not a big spoiler, the book is named after him after all, but it does make one wonder why have him die to begin with. Other than it gave a neat cliffhanger and allowed the story to be dragged out for another 2 issues, it does seem like a lot of hoopla over nothing. Barring that, this is still a decent read with upstanding clear superhero artwork. It will be interesting to see where this goes when the storyline is not dictated by the Event.

The Last Defenders: Disappointing all the way around. One, apparently the artist or the writer doesn't know, Kyle Richmond wears a jetpack to fly, it's not a natural ability. But, like every issue so far, all he does is whine and fly around trying to avoid getting hit. If anything, the book makes it hard to care for the character at all, it plays him as such a putz. Two, the last issue blurb for this one mentioned the Son of Satan was in a "defenestrating" mood. It's an odd word choice and has nothing to do with this issue. Three, so much of this issue is not only so much gibberish, it's Casey basically crapping on the history of the Defenders by saying all the other writers got it wrong, that the Defenders should never have been about the Hulk, Namor and Dr. Strange. Even if you think that it is a bad line-up, Casey solidifies his position AND his choice of Defenders by having the story itself say that it was wrong. It's him using his power as writer to have the story STATE that his position is correct instead of using his ability as a writer to SHOW us why his team is so great. And, consider this is the whole point of his mini-series, to completely deconstruct the Defenders concept to put his own team in place as replacement, but we're not really getting a storyline that really showcases those members. Throw in Initiative machinations and a couple of villainous plots that really made no sense and got zero development, and this is a mini slated for the quarter boxes of the future.

Guardians of the Galaxy #3: Hopefully the narration device of the characters giving mission briefs from the futre while the mission is still unfolding for the reader won't be kept up. For one, it takes away any sense of jeopardy when you can see that the character survived the storyline as he's talking at some point in the future while in the present he's getting a grievous knife wound. Likewise, Mantis' ability as fortune teller doesn't do much to endear her. Right off the bat, a cosmic being that she cannot read is introduced. It's having Superman or the Flash on a team, stories have to be constructed so that her ability is not a factor.

Adam Warlock has real magic powers? Just one more instance of these characters having the same name as heroes in the Marvel U., but they don't really look or act much like it. Oh, we can apply that criticism to Starhawk as well as he also gets a kewl makeover so that he only generally looks like the old Guardian of the Galaxy. Let's see, even though they were saving the universe in the first issue, they still came into the space church with guns blasting and killed scores of the church members. While this church is pretty much scum and little regard for life, it still doesn't say much for our heroes either. That they cannot even see why the church would have a legitimate beef with them after they killed a whole bunch of their members... I had hopes for this. The Annihilation minis that lead into it seemed to receive generally good marks from comic fans so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Justice Society of America #17: Likewise, this is more of the same as members try to come to terms with Gog, both in costume and out. It's a bunch of nice character bits in a team that has too many characters, a situation that Hawkman at least seems to recognize. I didn't get the Hawkgirl series so I don't know how they resolved things between Hawkman and Hawkgirl, but we know in the pages of the JLA, she and Red Arrow are getting it on. Part of me just feels that isn't right, this Hawkgirl is in part the reincarnation of Hawkman's wife, it's her spirit. Then again, the mechanics of religion and souls and such have been a subtext to this book since the beginning with the ideas of people being good and moral beings but born without souls, people losing souls but still able to go on as good as ever (not being close-minded here, in the DCU, souls are proven to exist), and in the case of Kendra, she has the biological brain of one person but the soul of another, who is she really? Issues raised but never really resolved or made sense of. In the midst of it all, you then have Mr. Terrific who's an atheist. So, it's best to pretend that these questions don't exist and move on. Johns does manage to further the plot in the midst of all the character moments which is great. No one really seems to question Gog's basic healing and solving all of mankind's problems, think someone might raise the question if we have a god that meets all our needs, what is left for us to aspire to? And, then there are the reasons we haven't solved those issues that also isn't raised here (or in books like JUSTICE), the solutions to those problems have human obstacles. There are people that are in power that keep their people hungry, starving, etc. Where are the people that see the arrival of Gog and his goodworks being a threat to their powerbases and the status quos that keep them in power? And, even if you can cure the land of pollution, people of malnutrition, what do you do tomorrow when they still aren't getting food, when more pollution gets dumped into the air and streams. Likewise, Gog setting out to abolish war... how does he do that without taking away free will? It's one thing to feed the hungry and heal the sick, but how do you stop the very concept of war? The idea of Gog and the story being told raises a lot of issues and questions. It's good Johns spent an issue dealing with some of them and even better that he made sure to go ahead and advance the plot before much more time has to be spent examining those issues for which there may not be near enough space to come up with answers for, or at least honest examination.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Things Coming up Phantom

So, I went to India for two weeks to visit my gal's family in Mumbai and Nasik. I didn't see many comic books. There was one with an Indian superhero at a news-stand at the train stop, but things were a little hectic with our misadventure there and foolishly, I thought I'd see more. I saw a little noisemaker with an image of Shaktimaan on it. I now know that he was a fairly big superhero on Indian television around 10 years ago. And they have the translated Power Rangers and similar shows. Not that need be as Casey and Isabella who only know English wanted to watch Power Rangers despite not knowing the language. And in the Sunday paper, there was the Phantom. Not the Sunday funnies as we have them over here, just a few very reduced strips near the back of the paper as they have every day, but only on Sundays is the Phantom. This paper was also in English, so I don't really know about the Hindu version.

About halfway through the trip, we are visiting one uncle and Pamela's sister notices how much weight he'd lost and says, "Where's your Phantom-muscles? You're so thin, what happened to our Phantom?"

Near the end of the trip we're doing some shopping. I stop in one used-book mart and across the way there's a children's book nook. It wouldn't have occurred to me because over here comics aren't really thought of as being kid's stuff, except by those that don't read them but Pamela asks the guy if they have comics. He starts pulling out some Asterix and Tin Tin books, just like the ones over here, and then a similar sized Phantom book, with two stories of the Frew Phantom. Not what I was looking for, but Wow. And then another. And another. Apparently the publisher did 15 issues of these and this guy had all of them. He also pulls out a stack of regular comics, American ones: Green Lantern, Archie, Superman... and in the midst a Frew Phantom! Or rather a Frew Phantom, reprinted in India.

While I was hoping for an authentic Indian superhero comic, I left with the Frew Phantom and 4 of the larger Phantom books. We also got a Phantom book and an Asterix for Casey who's ten. I imagine his mother will be able to tell him who the Phantom is.

I get back and I read that Dynamite has secured the rights to The Phantom comic, a surprise to Moonstone. A shame. Dynamite hasn't really knocked anything out of the park for me and while Moonstone's Phantom had a shakey and inconsistant start, that's really changed in the past year. The other thing that bugs me a little is in the interview, Dynamite talks about modernizing the character. Other than stories specifically set in the past, the Phantom has always existed in the modern day, he and his fictional Africa have changed to keep up with the times. Sure, the Billy Zane movie took place in the Phantom's original time period, but by and large, the character hasn't been kept there, not in the comic strips and not in the current comic books.

So, I read "modernizing" and I interpret it as them thinking the character is too old fashioned in look and concept. Images of Liefeld's modernizing Captain America comes to mind. Or the current Bucky-Cap. Or maybe just more grim and gritty storytelling, he carries guns, maybe he shoots to kill. Who knows? Just a shame when Moonstone's version seemed to settle into a rock solid comic and a nice alternative to the superheroes of the DC/Marvel cosmologies.

The Frew Phantom comic I got has a bit of "The tail wagging the dog" type story, to borrow that term. In this case, it's a story that acknowledges an inspiration by claiming to be the source of it. Peter David did this when he has the Hulk borrow a strategy from the movie REAL GENIUS and claiming the movie got it from something Banner and pals did while in college. It would be like Superman travelling to the 1930's and tells a neophyte Doc Savage about his Fortress of Solitude, and Doc thinks that's not a half-bad idea. Most times these stories kind of annoy me, because there are readers out there that just might not realize that it's a backwards way of homage, that REAL GENIUS is not influenced by the writings of Peter David or Stan Lee, that Doc Savage had the Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic years before Superman.

In the Phantom comic, the focus is on Edgar, a Jungle Patrol officer who is a bit inept and a wonder he even got in the Patrol as he washed out everywhere else. All he really wants to do is write and return to America to marry his girlfriend. Instead he gets an assignment to go with a professor and his assistants into the jungles, looking to track down a legendary jungle-man who is said to be lord of the jungle, even able to talk to the animals. As the professor is injured and his assistants captured by natives, the rest of the patrol leaves to get more help, and Edgar is left to watch over the scientist. And, of course he meets up with the mythological jungle-man, the Phantom and the two of them manage a rescue of the professor's assistants. After the adventure, Edgar does go back to the States and get married. And he writes a fictional account of the story for the pulps, titled "Tarzan of the Apes."

Not a bad story. The only real flaw to the story is the first page is an explanation of how strict the requirements are to get into the Patrol, that one has to wonder just how Edgar managed it. Before he broke into the pulps, ERB didn't have a string of failures in various militaries, but he did have trouble holding down a steady job during those uncertain times. It should be also said that he didn't write Tarzan first. While that is indeed his most famous creation, it was John Carter and the "Princess of Mars" that he wrote first. One can only wonder about what encounter must have inspired that one. As an added bonus, there's also a Mandrake story, this one looking like it's straight from the comic strip.

The current issue from Moonstone continues his epic battle against the forces that strive to tear Begalla apart. His longtime friend President Luaga has been apparently assassinated and taken out of the picture and the populace and remaining rulers are dupes or under the sway of drug-induced paranoia. The Phantom meanwhile strikes from the shadows. We have the re-appearance of a missing character, but the stakes are taken higher as it's revealed the Phantom's kids have also been kidnapped. There are so many villains forming this conglomeration of evil that one needs a score-card to keep track of who's who. It also makes the Phantom being successful all that much harder as these are all threats and just taking out one or two won't get the job done. The art by Silvestre Szilagyi is top notch. I hope we hear more from him when this comic is no more.

Amazing Spider-Girl #21: Playing off other Spider-books, this one has the nice little heading of being a "Brand New May". It's not necessarily a trick either as Norman Osborne takes Peter Parker on a little field trip to one of his grandfather's old sites where in stasis is a duplicate of Peter's daughter May in a stasis tube and the signs point to her being Peter's real daughter, the one we've been reading about some kind of changeling substituted at birth. Otherwise, May is feeling the various pressures of responsibilities to her boyfriend, her friends, and those who would be her friends if she got an even break. But, then this wouldn't really be a Spider-verse book would it? Good solid fun as always.

American Dream #4 and 5: If you're a fan of Spider-girl, you're doing yourself a disservice not getting this mini-series. Tom DeFalco delivers on good old fashioned superheroic story-telling. He succeeds with both titles by populating the books with people you want to care about and who at times are all too human. Under another writer, this really would be all about the superfolk or wow-ing us with the "realistic" bad guys by peppering their language with expletives. Heck, the good guys would be matching them word-for-word. Here, there's a heart to this superhero action story. As the storyline progresses, we learn about what motivates American Dream, how much she worked to get here as she ruminates on just who she is beyond the mask, the person she has kind of forgotten about in her single-mindedness to pursuing her dream.

Likewise, the action angle of the plot has various sub-stories going on. The cop and the heroes that just wants to do their jobs, but being hamstringed by SHIELD agents who don't quite realize how much they are in over their head. The missing illegal immigrants including one girl's boyfriend who comes to American Dream for help. That pesky human element rearing its head again. While the forces for law, order, and justice are fractured because of their various self-interests, the villains on the other hand are unified in theirs. The scientist and his soldiers. Ion Man and Red Queen who just wants to kill an Avenger. And the silicone men and their master who just wants power and money.

There's really only one bad moment, the master of the silicone men, Silikong. See, I've long had this habit of when I read, I don't really think phonetically. After years of reading Kudzu, I was reading a particularly funny Sunday strip out loud to a friend. Being Sunday, it focused on the preacher as it often did, the Rev. Will B. Dunn. I'm reading it, and halfway through before I get to the punchline, I start laughing. I had just gotten the joke of the preacher's name. I wonder if DeFalco and his editors suffer from doing likewise. That's the only reason I can come up with that they'd let the master villain's name actually make it to print. I would have thought it was deliberate if the hero had at least started making fun of the name. Silly Kong? Seriously?

All New Atom #25: Just to state the obvious, another gorgeously done Ladronn cover. I'm going to miss those. Maybe he'll pick up some covers on another book that I get. The man has come along way from his channeling Kirby days. The story wants to have its cake and eat it too. A lot of it falls under the "final issue" storytelling cliche of wrapping a lot of things up in some neat little packages and having some big apocalyptic happenings (deaths, marriages, births, that type of thing). While the recent storyline does get all tied up, we don't really get what the Chronos' were after nor why Lady Chronos happens to be Ryan's first love from way too many issues ago and best left forgotten. And the villainous Dwarfstar is her son. It's one of those cutesy, tie things back to the beginning, every character related elements that comics trope out a little too often. Frankly, it seems to cheapen Dwarf Star in my opinion. That he was just some hired psycho-killer given duplicate powers of the Atom made him a whole lot more interesting. We have the return of Ray Palmer as a guest star, adding a fake conflict to the title. We know it's the last issue, so will Ryan live or die and will Ray return to being the Atom or not is implicit with his appearance here that really wouldn't be the case if we knew that there were 12 more issues after this one. There's the death of a long-term supporting cast member and the birth of a baby. Awww. Then, at the end, the book acknowledges it's at an end as Ray Palmer asks if Ryan's going to take some time off, retire, focus on teaching, you know, all the things one expects a character to do when his book ends. Instead, he says he still needs to capture the Chronos-es and Dwarf Star who got away. So the book ends, but wooh-ha, the adventure continues. Until he gets killed off in the pages of another book or just completely forgotten. Still, a good run and we'll miss you.

Captain Britain and MI13 #2: And Captain Britain is still dead in his own title. A good and interesting read as the country feels the death of their numero uno hero and those left behind have to continue the fight. Don't really buy that the Skrulls could invade the realm of fairies and English magic and do as well as they were doing when they could hardly hold their own against the Black Knight, a half vampiric Spitfire or Captain Britain in a realm where science works normally. And defeating the Green Knight by cutting off his head? Recovering from that is sorta his thing. A fun story but then I'm wondering, what about areas of magic in other countries... So far, so good. Going to have to stick around for awhile on this one I think.

The Last Defenders #4: The book is more of the same, feeling like a long prelude to a different book and team as we see Nighthawk shuffle through team-members to get a team that ultimately is not quite the Defenders with Son of Satan, She-Hulk, and Krang being not-Dr. Strange, not-Hulk, and not-Namor. With the promos of a Nighthawk with his face covered, speculation is rampant on the theme being carried through with a not-Nighthawk either as the African American SHIELD agent taking over that role. Between the long drawn out prelude type feel and the heavy reliance on the weak Civil War superhero registration angle, real story elements don't really get addressed as no one's asking what the Sons of Serpents were doing raising Aztec gods in Las Vegas. Or course, this issue deals with tearing up a bit of Atlantic City, maybe someone is trying to destroy all the gambling hot spots of the Americas? Seriously, the only reason I included this review was that the next issue blurb contains my brother's favorite word when we find out "the Son of Satan's in a defenestrating mood." Kyle Richmond may want to stay away from windows.

FX #5: Great cover evoking Ray Harryhausen (or a more recent reference, ARMY OF DARKNESS movie poster). We get some answers as we learn about the Aegis Group are a sanctuary for various worlds and beings of myth and magic including the golden calf, Nessie, Big Foot, Thor's hammer and Captain America's shield. Cool stuff. A friend is taken over by dark forces and becomes a big bad and we are introduced to another cool looking group of heroes, Home Front. The story might have finally gotten a little big as a little sub-plot from the last issue seems forgotten when we saw various characters suffering some sort of blackouts. Such a minor part of the previous issue, that it's liable to be completely forgotten about by the time it gets revisited.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2: For the most part, my assessment of the first issue still stands. There is some well done humor, but for the most part it's looking at characters that should be familiar and I'm just not seeing it. Sort of like Peter David in his heyday on the Hulk. As a book where you don't have any interest really in the characters, it's a somewhat enjoyable romp. But, it just doesn't feel authentic as it lets the humor and clever scripting gloss over making the characters feel real. But, I do like Vance Astro (the version from the original Guardians of the Galaxy, not Justice) and so I'm interested in seeing where that goes.

Justice League of America #22: What's annoying about using a comic as a tie-in to another series, especially as handled recently? How the book you're reading keeps having cliffhangers and issues raised in it and resolved elsewhere, especially when those issues should be germaine to the book you're reading. It makes the League just look especially sloppy as you don't see them following up on things. If you're reading this book, you don't know that the Martian Manhunter who was shown to have been taken by the villains last issue has been apparently killed. No, this issue has McDuffie finally getting around to resolving all the various plot lines that hot writer Brad Meltzer felt like opening but never addressing such as Vixen's powers and getting the Red Tornado back into an android body. We get logical cameos by some of DC's top resident scientists. Overall, a solidly written tale with logical ramifications and decisions as Vixen finally comes clean about her powers and Black Canary boots her off the team as her decisions had endangered them. A little strong as Superman and Arsenal were complicit, even if a little bit after the fact and they suffer no consequences for keeping the information to themselves (or even Batman for that matter who had deduced the whole thing but kept it to himself). If Vixen must go, then they should share in the punishment as they pretty much made the same decision to help her keep it secret.

The sparring between Arsenal and Hawkgirl just reads false to me. Arsenal is using real arrows. The whole purpose of sparring is to train under controlled conditions, if he's using real arrows, the risk of injury is high. At best it's counter-productive as it's training him to make sure he misses his opponent. Be far different if we are shown that the arrows are rubber tipped (they'd still hurt) or if it was just hand-to-hand. In war games, soldiers don't use live ammo.

Benes is back on the art, so it's back to being over-rendered further muddied by an over photoshopped coloring job.
JSA Classified #39: Another final issue, this one ties up the recent Wildcat two-parter. There's enough material out there, that a Wildcat TPB wouldn't be such a bad idea from his team-up with the Spectre, guest-stars in The Brave & The Bold, and few mini's and here. Other than it would almost seem like a boxing mini-series. A good story as he is helped out by friends to get his mind back and he goes after the organization that stole his skills in the first place. Mike Barr hints at Wildcat having a plan, but that quickly goes nowhere as they do gang up on him and his fight against all the fighters with his skills is over way too quickly and only really works if you don't think about it too much. Ultimately he wins because the lead villains aren't willing to do what it takes to win, ie download all the skills of all the fighters they've accumulated into themselves, each is scared just what it might do to his mind. While they dilly-dally, Wildcat is able to clean out their gang and take them out. It ends with a bit of that heart and human element, as it shows Ted Grant helping out an old friend through physical therapy much as the JSA were able to help him earlier and a little blurb honoring Bob Haney, the writer of those The Brave and the Bold stories.

Cannot say it's a surprise JSA and JLA Classified books didn't last long. They rarely do. Why? Lack of consistancy probably. There are no central characters. No central creators, each arc is by a different team, usually not a headlining combination of talent between them. Any one of those elements are stumbling blocks for a book in today's market. And, neither really lived up to their potential. For most of the existence of the JLA book (until it's last couple of arcs) and all of the JSA one, it focused on the current incarnations of the teams. None of them ever played up with the "Classified" angle, stories from the past that remained secret for some reason until now (Thomas' All-Star Squadron Annual years ago is a perfect Classified story as we find out that the JSA had protected future Presidents from assassination and failed in one case). Ultimately, they were mostly opportunities to tell some different type stories with some of the lesser seen characters or character combinations squandered for giving us yet another Green Lantern - Vandal Savage face off. Imagine an opportunity to do a team-up between the two with classic combinations of the teams, even a pre-crisis one where we finally see a team-up of just the counterparts. The JSA title would have been better titled "Spotlight" instead of "Classified" as it focused individual adventures. Most were as good as almost anything else out there, but nothing that really grabbed your attention unless you were already reading the books.

Star Trek: Assignment: Earth #3: A definite improvement over the last two issues as we get a little more into the characters and the time period as well as indications of a bigger plot at work as Gary Seven notes that they keep coming across technology that should be beyond the capabilities of the time. A little put off by a secondary character who is preaching non-violence is able to deliver a Chuck Norris round-house kick to the head when the situation calls for it. A solid read none-the-less with a bitter sweet ending.

Superpowers #4: Likewise, one of the more solid issues than the last several as the storyline gets addressed and we see characters and story elements being pulled together. Dynamic Man is still proving to be the big bad here, meanwhile there are things wrong with the ghost of Bruce Carter's ancestor. Seems he's a ghost because of a curse, that he failed George Washington somehow and was branded a traitor. The problem being, who's telling the truth. While he kept secrets, Carter seems to think that he's falsely branded a traitor and he sees his descendent and the Fighting Yank as a way to restore his honor and save him, while the American Spirit seems to think he really is a traitor and dragging his descendent down with him in his cursed nature. The ghost leaves in a huff and looking fairly demonic, vowing vengeance on the Spirit. Pyroman and Hydro nee Hydroman are kept pretty much to their original portrayals, though the text in the back says Pyroman "died" and reborn as a being of electricity and energy. Not really the case as he, like many electric heroes, survived what should have been electrocution, in his case execution by the electric chair. In the line-up in the back, we see heroes with names changed to protect presumably the trademarks somehow: Blue Beetle is Big Blue (what would IBM say about that?) and Yellowjacket is just Jack. Neither of those are really improvements, come across more as nicknames for them than actual superhero names.

The Twelve #6: This book continues its interesting dichotomy in that it's both written badly and well. The page where the Phantom Reporter has writer's block. The scene does a great job at communicating that. However, it takes a whole page when it could have taken just a few panels. This is where decompressed story-telling is bad for comics, the whole mini has been decompressed, not just this one page and it gives the story a plodding feel. We have pages and pages telling the stories in a very passive manner, giving all these character driven vignettes and not actual story, and they are all designed to show us how pathetic the various characters are, each in their own way. It feels like obvious manipulation in cases like the Blue Blade and Laughing Mask where it's over the top in the writing and the artwork.

Speaking of the Blue Blade, thought that his routine and all was supposed to be re-tooled and made more palatable for it to get the ok, yet it looks like it made it to the air pretty much intact? Are we sure this is the same JMS that actually worked in television?

The story of Rockman's origin is very poignant, managing to outdo both Captain Wonder and Mister E's stories. However, it completely re-writes the history of the character into being something completely different than he was before. And any future growth of the character out of this is basically stone-walled as the decision is made not to tell the character the truth. I had two problems with that. On the General's part, I just think that's a bone-headed and wrong decision. Deny telling someone the truth like that and you deny them from remembering all that's good as well, the real love he had, the family he still has and an opportunity to truly grieve and move on.

The other problem is from a storytelling point of view. It sets up a sort of false pathos and conflict. If the comic was Rockman's and this story was the major storyline, there'd be meat to it as we wonder will he discover the truth, what will he do when he finds out the general lied, what about the rest of Rockman's real family, etc. That'd be the story and the conflict. However, in the set-up that we got, the pathos and conflict is, Rockman doesn't know the truth but we the readers do. Thus we feel sorry for him, an empathy borne out by knowing something is bad but unable to help make it better. If the character dies, he does so without knowing the truth of the family out there, it makes the death more tragic in our eyes. It's different than the pathos of Captain Wonder who knows his family is dead and who lives with the fact they died without knowing what happened to him and from Mister E's family who rejects him and won't see the truth of him as being a hero even when presented with evidence of it. We still feel empathy, but it's because the pathos exists for the characters in the story, the conflict exists for them to work through and come to terms with. With Rockman, it's built on the fact we know something he doesn't, it's JMS manipulating us and our feelings. Rockman's story doesn't have to develop any further now, the easy decision would be to kill the character off for maximum payoff on what's set up here. Six issues to go, I hope there's more to the story. We see him slowly getting his memory back, from his backstory, the guy was a hero before he got powers. With his memory and all, he could be a great addition to the ongoing Marvel U. Considering the erratic and decompressed nature of the plotting and all, who knows if there is room for that kind of follow through?

JMS writes great scenes, but the structure of his overall storytelling and the decisions that lead to the scenes are greatly flawed. There's good stuff, but the whole things needs another revision or two to tighten up the writing and storytelling. If he's not telling scenes in very boring manner, he's re-writing and recasting characters, making them more mundane and sad. Mastermind Excello is a fascinating character with incredible physical and mental abilities and gadgets and such, he's Nick Fury with a little Professor X thrown in. Mr. E was in the pulp tradition with a vampire as an arch-enemy. Rockman from an underground kingdom. The Witness on the other hand gets a supernatural origin borrowing from the Spectre and even the Black Widow, but it makes the character seem even more pathetic and doesn't really explain his original m.o. that much, that he'd wait until after criminals committed acts instead of stopping them in progress. Well-written, yes. But actually extrapolated from the characters themselves? Not really. As if he doesn't want anything to detract from him wowing us and us recognizing him as a great wordsmith.

We do get a step up in the action and it finally looks like the plot is progressing where it should have several issues ago. Doesn't take much to figure out that it's Dynamic Man deliberately or subconsciously controlling the robotic Electro to take out the men who offended him earlier. Meanwhile he has a nice alibi that he's physically with the rest watching television while the attack is going on. Black Widow may end up being the suspected patsy though because of the other killings she is responsible for.

Both Superpowers and The Twelve make substantial changes to the original characters, but I have to give JMS credit that he at least does so in very moving story vignettes that clearly establish the characters and he seems to be laying down some groundwork for conflict that flows from there. Superpowers makes sweeping changes to the characters but doesn't bother to really define any of them, as if Krueger expects all readers to be as familiar with these characters as they are the Justice League or Captain America so he doesn't have to be bothered with explaining who they are. To the point it's confusing as to whether such changes are plot points or just convenient retcons. I know the characters are different, but then I've spent a lot of time reading and researching golden-age superhero comics. The average reader isn't going to know the relevancy of the original Daredevil being mute, or if the Face had any powers or not.

One thing both books have in common is that there seem to be too many characters for the writers to juggle effectively at their skill level. The Twelve would be better off if they compressed several of the characters. The Phantom Reporter, Mr. E, Laughing Mask, the Witness could fairly easily be combined into one or two characters, and thus giving a few characters a richer background/backstory. Fiery Mask and Electro are so far a non-entities, don't really need them with Captain Wonder, Dynamic Man and Rockman around. Likewise, Mastermind Excello's role so far could easily be folded into the Witness character given the needless add-on of a supernatural origin to the latter (whereas Excello did visualize things as they happened that could be explained away as types of supernatural visions).

Other minor notes.
Leafed through Blue Beetle as I'm wont to do but still cannot bring myself to buy the book. At first, this looked attractive in that it featured Dan Garrett prominently in flashback. Problem though, the writer seems to think that the scarab powered Dan Garrett Blue Beetle is the Blue Beetle from the 40's. He's not. While that Blue Beetle's identity was named Dan Garrett, it was a substantially different character, just as the Carter Hall Hawkman of the 1940's is different than the one from the 1960's. Now, the fluid nature of continuity being what it is, I don't have a real problem with saying that in the DCU, the scarab powered Blue Beetle had this long and illustrious career before dying and passing the mantle if not the power to Ted Kord. However, this means there was a superhero with Superman-esque levels of power that was active for close to 60 years! He'd have been a very big gun who somehow never served with JSA. And, like at the start of this column, it kinda gives the wrong idea of the real history of the character as it's so close to being like the real history but wrong in the details. Yes, there was a GA Blue Beetle. Yes, he was named Dan Garrett and the costumes ARE similar. As most readers don't know a lot about characters from that time, they will assume that the history here is correct. And there's nothing in the story that says it HAS to be in the 40's and not just "2o years ago", when this version of the Blue Beetle blazed forth only briefly.

The War that Time Forgot #3: Cover featuring work by Mark Schultz which was a natural in a title featuring dinosaurs. Cassus and the Mary Sue characters still get a little more play than they deserve but Tomohawk and Firehair showings as well and the story moves forward as we see there is purpose and intelligent design behind this "Secret War" on Dinosaur Island.