Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Off with the top of their heads!

It's been awhile since I've actually looked forward to checking out a bunch of shows on tv. While some of my off-season USA shows are done with their cycle (Psych, Monk, and Burn Notice), the new season has started with Smallville, Supernatural, House (and Criminal Minds and CSI in the background to catch when I can). Fringe has debuted, I hope to catch My Own Worst Enemy and 11th Hour (the latter a definite re-working of a British mini, while the former sounds similar to BBC's Jekyll while I will pass on America's version of Worst Week of My Life... it was painful the first time around).

As I had planned to talk to my gal Monday, we taped Heroes, and I watched it on Tuesday along with House and Fringe. Which made for an odd day of television watching as each show featured a bit of brain surgery/probing. It was a wise move to kick off the season of Heroes with a recap special as the show is so continuity heavy and it has been a long while thanks to the extended hiatus due to the writer's strike. Plus, I had apparently missed the final episode as much of what they covered from the end of the series was unfamiliar to me.

The continuity is going to kill this show though. Much as J.J. Abrams realized when watching a random episode of his own Alias, the show is so dense in its own story, it is impenetrable to a casual or new viewer. The show is too much about its own insular mega story, that everyone is part of one big story. It's sorta like how the X-Files tended to get bogged down at the end in trying to tie everything together as part of one tapestry of conspiracies. It starts feeding on itself instead of realizing that there are thousands of stories out there. This gelled for me when we see Hiro adrift because after saving the world, he has no quest and no destiny until it comes looking for him. There are still crimes and all out there, lives to be saved and helped. However, the writers have lost sight of the fact that there are hundreds and thousands of stories out there that can be told with these people with superpowers, because they are too focused on the One story to be told that the various characters share.

Just as they missed the boat with Sylar. He should have been killed off and stayed dead or at the very least, put away for a long time. By not actually resolving his storyline satisfactorily, it wears on viewers' patience. Most great villains are used sparingly. And, by writing him out of the storyline, it frees up the characters for a really new story. Instead, there is a feeling that it keeps going back to the same well for its inspirations, until its creatively dry. Thus, we have a shocking ending that is more tiring than anything else, it's so deliberate and contrived for shock value.

Mohinder's transformation was an interesting choice. One of the things I like about the show is the balance between those with powers against those without. Ando is my favorite character and I wished they had kept the female detective. I thought earlier scenes, it looked as if Mohinder wasn't quite as scrawny looking as before, it appears as if he's been hitting the gym in preparation for his "Fly" transformations. Kristen Bell's character was growing on me as well.

Although, doesn't Adrian Pasdar look like he'd be perfect as Lamont Cranston/the Shadow?

With the surprising death of a character last season and what looks like the departure of Dr. Wilson this season, House is interesting in that it seems to be forcing a little more inspection and possibly introspection with Dr. House and his misanthropy. The Wilson character was a nice guy and as such, I feel sorry for what he went through and will miss him when he's gone. However, from a story angle, it's needed. For his friendship with House really was one-sided and his personality wasn't strong enough to really stand up against House's. In a sense, it's the story of his leaving that we finally get a sense of what House really gets from the relationship beyond an enabler. Although, it's not as if House would admit this, so we get it from the point of view and exposition by a private detective that House has hired.

What's really cool that struck me at the episode's end where it's revealed the p.i. will be back for at least another show, we have gotten a truer skewed reflection of the Holmes-Watson relationship: that of the doctor and the private detective.

Fringe is still a new show, exploring its niche. By J.J. Abrams, it sets out to mimic X-Files in that while there is an over-arcing story, the individual episodes are to be largely self contained. Well, that's the desire anyway. In actuality, while the plots of the episodes center around different cases, they still all tie together. Federal agent Olivia Dunham investigates bizarre events that make use of impossible science that higher ups and others have deemed the pattern. Each of these events make so far make use of science and experiments that Dr. Walter Bishop came up with years ago before he was committed to an insane asylum. With the aide of his son Peter (who my brother and I surmise is his clone) who helps keep ole Dad focused, Dunham tries to find those who are behind it all and the ties they have to a super mega company founded by Dr. Bishop's one time partner. A decent show, but things haven't really come together yet, the show is still trying to find its grounding. I'm reminded of the first season of Smallville with each episode being about some hapless person of the week with powers due to kryptonite. It took a little while for the show to get comfortable with expanding the scope of its storytelling. Hopefully, we'll see that soon here too. For it is a well-done show with air of menace as well as some humorous dialogue between Dr. Walter and his son. Like Heroes, it just needs to realize it can be about more than it's One Story.

Comic News

Have you seen the new previews for Solomon Kane? Kane is an interesting Howard creation. He's intense and fanatical in ways that would make Batman take notice. A soldier, swordsman, monster-killer, and yet a devout puritan. Interesting contradictions there (there are contradictions in everybody, some just keep them better hidden than others). One cannot say he's insane, because the monsters and all do exist, his violence is a logical and possibly even noble response. A little girl is kidnapped by pirates, he will do all in his power to rescue her, even if he must go Old Testament. He's Ditko's Question placed in a barbaric and horrific world.

The pencils are great in their sketchiness, give off some kind of weird Kaluta/BWS vibe. The backgrounds with the coloring tend to look as if they are from a Renaissance painting. It all falls apart when it comes to the inking and coloring of the characters, least in the scenes revealed so far. The figures have no weight and they are all colored with the same pastel density and no variation. The skin tones are all pale with tinges of purple like day-old dead grubs. Kane looks more like Dracula than someone flesh and blood.

Dynamite has announced it's releasing both a Black Terror and The Death-Defying Devil comic. I want to be excited. Really, I do. Superpowers has been such a let-down with the arbitrary changes, it's hard to muster interest. We have gotten precious little in the main series to even give us a reason to want the individual comics. The ' Devil is to bridge the stories between the current Superpowers book and the next one and explore a little more about the urn that kept them in suspended animation and corrupted them (and the Fighting Yank spiritually). Except, shouldn't that really have been a big part of the plot of the first Superpowers mini? After all, the whole plot and mystery of it is set up there. And, yet, the scope of the comic has been so far beyond Krueger that it's been all but ignored. The fact that Joe Casey off the pointlessly out of focus The Last Defenders is writing it doesn't really bode well either. Lastly, someone should point out the fact to them that as a superhero name and comicbook title "the Death-Defying Devil" sucks eggs. It's a moniker for a circus acrobat but not an actual code name. Do what DC has done for ages with Captain Marvel. They didn't rename him just because Marvel had locked up the trademark, they just came up with an appropriate name for the book. Since, most GA characters appeared in books under names not their own, it'd even be in keeping with the spirit. The one positive, Daredevil's costume is such a classic and so iconic, it's great to just see him in print again regardless.


I enjoy the Harry Dresden books (along with Salvatore's fantasy novels, the Harry Potter books, various and sundry pulp books) and television shows like Buffy, Angel and the original Nightstalker. Like Heroes, they are very much comicbook/super-character stories with some different window dressing. And, as comics, they almost uniformly don't live up to the potential of their original medium.

We are seeing an explosion of comics based on works from other media. Roy Thomas has a whole classics line at Marvel, various sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers are seeing their works adapted. And, I cannot say I try them all or even interested in it. Direct adaptations don't interest me much because the pacing and all is all wrong, even for books that were written to be action stories. Horror is hard to pull off because so much is dependent on playing with the mind whether it's the author's skill with language or the tv/movie having the extra range to play with to control the viewer through sound and pacing of the film (it's why horror movies don't work as well on tv, especially with commercials, that pacing and immersion into the environment is lost outside a darkened theatre). The other problem with the adaptations is one can be reasonably sure the status quo will be maintained. Not much significant is going to happen to Dresden in the comic because he still is appearing in books. The few Buffy and Angel comics I've tried have been ok, but they don't capture the creativity of the shows which is strange considering they have the original writer overseeing it all and there's the benefit of no special effects budget.

I've been getting Moonstone's Kolchak comics, based on the original tv series not the new one that turned him into a young-good looking type. It was Kolchak that got me into journalism in the first place. The plotting has been decent and some good old-fashioned styled horror stories in there. The art is largely uneven, partly with the struggle to maintain character likenesses. The most recent issue, the artist spends a good amount of time putting the character into shadows. I imagine the writer must look a bit like Darrin McGavin as each story that comes along has him being somehow oddly attracting the attention of a beautiful young woman and usually bedding them. Now, Kolchak did have a kind of crusty charm about him, but he wasn't a ladies man by a long shot. The books are decent enough though and have lasted longer than I would have expected.

Captain Britain and MI:13: Pat Oliffe does a fine job on the pencils; it's good to see him on a title after the end of The All-New Atom. He doesn't have to stretch himself as much as an artist as he did there, but he is capable of drawing almost anything well that a writer throws at him with a good command of storytelling. You don't have to backtrack to try and interpret what he's trying to get across.

Wish the writer was as clear. Last issue we saw the formation of the team to be similar to the Avengers or Thomas' WWII All-Star Squadron, a calling together of all of the UK heroes to come under one banner with Government clearance and resources to fight incredible threats but with no killing says ole Captain Britain. The Skrulls were a special case because it was War but that war is now over as far as Britain is concerned.

That was last issue. This issue we have all of that amended somewhat. We get the an obligatory appearance by Union Jack explaining why he is NOT a member of this team, he works for a different branch of the government (though one would imagine if this was an order...). We get a different mission statement saying that the team comprises public heroes because England needs to see them, it's good for morale, but the public wouldn't be aware of just how nasty the buggers are they are going up against, including all those mystical threats that have been released on England which takes precedence over the global war against the Skrulls. And, somehow, despite the statement against killing (which frankly, Captain Britain may not have had the authority to make anyway), the whole thing about public heroes in costumes and their first real recruit is NOT Union Jack who was part the Knights of the Pendragon, has been fighting vampires for some time AND is a patriotic costumed hero with a history with the government BUT Blade. Blade who has been in America so long that only the hardest core fans would know he's not from there. Blade who doesn't wear a costume, whose SOLE mission is to kill his opponents.

I'm not against the character or even against the character appearing in the comic. What I'm against is the shoddy ill-thought out way it's done. The comic reads as if the writer is making things up as he goes along without really thinking anything through. It's full of incongruities and contradictions, but it's not written in a way that suggests these are deliberate and setting up story conflicts and character tensions but that the writer doesn't really know what this team is supposed to be about and keeps changing it from issue to issue (to be honest, this could also be due to editorial interference, but unless we know otherwise, the blame falls mainly on the person said to be responsible for the story. The editor is to be blamed for not holding the writer's feet to the fire and have it make better sense).

If the team is a government op, then Captain Britain doesn't have the authority to call for "no-kill" clauses before the team even meets, there should be all sorts of ramifications for the Black Knight joining. After all, the point of Civil War was that all American heroes had to register and be accountable to the laws and government. Furthermore, Dane Whitman was a member of the Avengers and thus privy to all sorts of cutting edge technology and state secrets. It's inconceivable that all of the characters treat his joining a foreign government's spy organization as such a simple matter of him just happening to be there already fighting the Skrulls.

The one thing the story does handle well is the meeting between Faiza, Dane Whitman and her parents. While one might wonder just how much of Dane's history and backstory is such common knowledge, it makes for some great exchanges between the characters.

Sadly, the coloring falls down on the job. Dane, Faiza and her parents are a colored with the same skin tones, and all the midtones from their faces to the backgrounds are too rich intense and dark. This is so common it seems, I wonder how much of the coloring is done for what looks good on the computer but not taking into account what happens when it prints?

Guardians of the Galaxy: The issues have been getting better. Thankfully, none of the interviews with Counsellor Troi, excuse me, Mantis this issue. The main plots are skyjacked by crossover-itis but still some nice moments as we see the Guardians are not completely trusted on their floating Celestial head and we see a bit of the inner political workings. There could be a lot of interesting stuff played up. We see a different Starhawk this time out, a female version. She makes cryptic remarks about time anomalies and vanishes. And, we learn just who the Skrull traitor is. But, given the nature of this book, there might be a little more to it than what's readily apparent. After all, the Guardians don't have much to do with Earth right now and the station is full of aliens from other worlds. Drax starts off as going John McClane on the space station but his solution to rooting out the Skrulls is a little more final than any would like.

Not sure if I'll continue with this as the previews of upcoming issues have the book tying into yet another crossover event. Part of the reason I dropped so many books.

Secret Invasion: Thor: Yet I'm getting another crossover book. Remember what I said about us all having our inconsistancies up above? The one good thing with this book and Guardians is that you really don't have to be getting any of the other Secret Invasion books. Plus, this is a really good Thor story. It's a story that would really be hard to do with another character. It is the type of story that JMS wishes he could write. There are great character moments all the way around from the epic heroes to the very humans on the outskirts of the war. The art manages to capture the chaotic epic scope of the battles and the quiet more human dramas and have it all work well together. Forget the SI tag, if you like Thor, you should enjoy this book. The cover is slightly misleading as the Thor in action of this comic is Beta Ray Bill, Thor is busy being somewhat heroic in his Don Blake identity. Still, fun stuff.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Golden-Age Heroes unite!

After many man-hours, I finally "finished" the heroes pages at my site detailing the various golden-age heroes (mostly from comics, but a few obscure ones from other sources popped up) that don't make up the Timely/National/Quality/Fawcett/MLJ publishing empires. I use "finished" in the loosest terms possible. It means, everyone I currently have notations on or came across while in the process of building the pages. And, there are quite a few bare-bones entries. And, while I got Copperage's permission to use the micros from his site as a way to illustrate the looks, there are quite a few he doesn't have examples of. There are other sources of micros of course, but they are an artform in and of themselves, I don't feel comfortable making use of other people's work without citation, and I really don't want to footnote where each one comes from.

I originally wasn't going to do a site for the heroes. Way back when, I was doing a little bit of fan-fic with public domain GA characters. There were so many though. I started compiling notes from reprints, the few GA books I had and what I could glean from some of the resource books such as Jeff Rovin's superhero encyclopedia, Ron Goulart's various history of comics, and the two volumes of Steranko's. I ended up with fifty pages of notes and realized I had in my hands a resource not available anywhere. I toyed with the idea of putting it up on the web but I knew nothing about web design. And, then one of those rare coincidences occurred that happens with comics. Jess Nevins put up his site focusing on GA characters within weeks, almost at the same time I decided to start actually teach myself Dreamweaver. And, he covered the non-public domain ones as well! I had some he didn't have, he had a few I didn't know about. And, judging by the wording on a couple, we obviously had some of the same resource materials as well.

I asked him if he was going to do one on the villains as well, as they were woefully under-covered and he expressed no interest in that project. I knew I had a bit of information on the villains as well contained within the bios of the heroes, it just meant going back over the same stories and materials as before but looking at them from a different angle. Thus, my site was born. Although in retrospect, I often regret choosing Cash Gorman as my yahoo email name and thus the name of my pages. Although, I could make the argument that enough time has passed with nary a peep from Street & Smith, that it constitutes trademark abandonment but those type of cases usually come down to who has the most money to drag it out.

Jess Nevins' own site is very nice. But, it doesn't contain publishing dates, something that I found very useful as I was also compiling a "History of the Universe" timeline and it helps keeping various characters straight. Because characters would move from one company to another, sometimes the name would change, sometimes not. Whole stories would be lifted, sometimes with completely new heroes and sometimes they'd just change the name of the character. He also limits the characters to how he defines the GA time-span. So, a few interesting characters don't show up. And as he has focused lately on getting paid for his research and putting it into book form, regular updates went by the wayside. Finally, I noticed a few other heroes sites, but they often contained some eroneous information because they just copied the information from a few other sites. Such as the popular misconception that the Red Blazer and Captain Red Blazer are the same character. The information I had originally, had practically doubled since I first put it all together.

So, with the renewal and interest in GA characters thanks to projects from the various companies, I thought it time to possibly put my notes and information out there. I tried to be as accurate as possible, though I still rely on some second-hand sources. I can only say, I tried to verify information by cross-checking from various sources, and double-checking my information when I came across original reprints.

The GCD is a great resource, but quite a bit of eroneous information does make it in there from name spellings to actual incorrect information. As much as I like AC's reprints, Bill Black makes a habit of deliberately changing names and such as well, so a lot of that information also has to be double checked for accuracy (Overstreet's price guide also deliberately puts in false information). Even the afore-mentioned superhero encyclopedia by Jeff Rovin has several errors. Nothing replaces the actual reading of the comics themselves. But, just because you read one story with a character doesn't mean that the info from another source is wrong. Because, they were not anal about continuity back then. Lance Hale is a good example. Depending on what story you read, he's a jungle hero, a science-fiction hero, a generic adventurer type. Dan Hastings was at three different companies at least and stayed superficially the same, but specifics changed with each company. Chesler meanwhile often recycled character names or just put out different versions such as Dynamic Boy. I can only claim that there is no deliberate misinformation, not that it is error free. I try to draw attention to places where confusion could arise such as the Red Blazer - Captain Red Blazer. And, I will continue to cross-reference and double-check as I can now get back to regularly reading "new" old comics.


Amazing Spider-girl #24: A classic style cover with the central action going on and the heads along the border watching and reacting. Although, it was usually DC that always did this. Things come to a head as May and her clone finally meet and various plots and subplots advance. Which is really which though remains to be seen and there's plenty of superhero action all along the way to balance things out. A few of today's top-notch writers really should be reading this book and pay attention to the way it does plotting and sub-plotting and balancing things out. Defalco may not be a master of realistic dialogue, but he's great at juggling multiple stories and keeping it all very dynamic and flowing

B.P.R.D.: The Warning #3: A wonderful moody cover by Mike Mignola. And the usual excellent Guy Davis artwork, it's a great example of choosing the right people for the job. Unfortunately, this series of mini-series has fallen into the continuity trap. Each story is basically a continuation of what went before, more hunting of frog-men and such. This storyline seems to be even drawing together a few other past stories to the point that the characters themselves make note of it not really making much sense. The giant robot things look cool but it would be nice to see them going somewhere quite a bit different than tying everything into one long convoluted story.

El Diablo #1: I got this because I like Phil Hester's art and I like trying new characters on occasion, especially if they are kept separate from the event driven comics. Another big part was the fact that just because this comic is called El Diablo, it in no way invalidates the fantastic though short-lived Gerard Jones/Mike Parobeck comic and character. Wouldn't mind it if he pops up (and he'd be a natural for the JSA) but I'm happy just knowing he's still alive out there these days.

Other than the great art, the rest of the comic is a bit "meh". As another reviewer noted, it's very derivative of Marvel's Ghost Rider in concept, from the original mystical Old West hero to a spirit of vengeance and even the visuals of the cover. Add to it that other than the actual mystery of wondering what exactly is going on, there's no reason to feel any sympathy for the lead character. He's basically an unrepentent bad-ass. When by the third chapter of the issue they try to paint him as being a bit more complex (he uses some of his blood money for charity), it falls flat as we have already seen him having no compunction to kill anyone and everyone in his way.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #12: I have to give Winick props in that he came up with a completely logical and believable reason for Shado to be involved and a natural explanation for the kidnapping of Plastic Man. As long as you don't look too closely. There's a lot of people involved in this plot as well as a whole lot of technology and resources. While a very good fighter and assassin, she's not Lex Luthor. And, while Sivana's very cool, you have that kind of money and you need a doctor, would you really want to go to him? He'd be up there for robots, super weapons and super armies (witness what he does here), but as an MD? There's still a lot of trust put in to the vampire that can tell when people are lying but fell for the hologram.

Plus, frankly for a book called "Green Arrow And Black Canary" there's really not much done with them. Come on, the storyline involves a newly married couple, they are tracking down one of the husband's illegitimate children and discover the person behind it all is the woman that slept with him while he was delirious and incapacitated just so he could father a child with her, and the wife doesn't react at all? Winick really seems to have just lost what the focus of the book should be, he doesn't really know how to write both characters.

I'm conflicted over the artist Mike Norton. On the plus side, his artwork is very clear and easy to read from panel to panel. He doesn't skimp on the relevant detail and good on the action. No problem telling the characters apart. Yet, it's all so antiseptic, too clean and perfect, too restrained with no real atmosphere or sense of texture. Like he's drawing a coloring book. An artist should love to draw this book in that it has a ninja, archers, one of the company's most sexy characters, plastic man, batman, a vampire, and a bunch of other super-types and masked henchmen. He's better at the basics than many that are working with more acclaim, but he needs a little more oomph to it. The vampire, Shado and Batman should look dangerous, Sivana should give a creepy older uncle feel, Plastic Man zany, etc.

The Secret Six #1: Almost note by note perfect by writer Gail Simone and artist Nicola Scott. great cover with a sense of actual graphic design sense to it with stylized elments and color cast to it. Gail manages to introduce a new villain and his chief lieutenants in a scene that is full of colorful and humorous dialogue but laced with an atmosphere of absolute terror and menace.

The story moves organically and flows naturally, introducing us to the various characters and within the scenes and dialogue, we understand what each character is about, what their status quo is: Ragdoll is zany Plasticman gone to seed, Deadpool is an unrepentent killer and cynic with a great sarcastic wit, Catman is conflicted, Scandal is mired in depression over her personal loss, Bane seems just simple muscle with simple outlooks (don't know what one reviewer's problem was not recognizing him without his mask, he's called by name in the very first scene he's in).

Nicola Scott's artwork is what Mike Norton's needs. It's very clear in its scenes and storytelling, every bit as detailed where it needs to be. But, there's atmosphere and texture. Seedy scenes and characters are seedy looking. The emotion on Scandal's hung-over depressed face is palpable. The use of color is also wonderfully done, setting proper moods. Like the cover, the limited color scheme when we are introduced to the bare room and crate that Junior calls an office helps build the feeling of isolation and menace. One feels the heat off the African veldt. The yellow flourescent lit convenience store. The meeting room lit and warmed by a fireplace. The darkness of Gotham City.

However, I said "almost" note by note perfect. The coloring/printing is a little too dark in places, a common ailment these days. Scott has a wonderful attention to detail, not as slavish as Weston in drawing each and every brick, but still very detailed artwork. So, the special effect that puts a flat plaid pattern on Junior's two henchmen is very, very jarring in how obvious it is a special effect applied to the artwork. This would work on someone whose artwork is heavily stylized like Miller, Mignola, or Wagner. However, it is out of place with someone whose artwork is more realistic and organic. It throws you out of the artwork and story because you see the hand of the artist more than you do the art.

The problem with the story is a very basic one, a very basic question that isn't addressed at all. Why? There's the backstory of how they came together, a bunch of rogues that didn't want to be part of the big army of the big crossover a couple years back. However, that doesn't address in the least as to why are they still together. Every organization has a purpose. Superheroes get together to fight criminals, protect the innocent with a few other little twists added to the concept: the FF are an extended family and explorers, the X-men are basically adopted family banding together to protect themselves and others like them, the original DP a mix of the two, the Teen Titans and Legion of Super Heroes are teenage clubhouses and banding of friends. Likewise your villainous groups have purposes as well that are easily understood. However, as shown by the dialogue between Catman and Deadpool, we have two characters with long term incompatible goals. Catman is struggling with the idea of reforming. Deadpool wants to kill people and mocks Catman's struggle. The threat that brought them together really no longer exists, so why are they part of this group, what does it offer them? The group itself should be like a corporation in that it too should be treated as an individual and character: what are its goals and reasons for being? Where does its position in the scheme of things?

And, why the Secret Six? What does that name actually mean? They are hardly "secret" and in this issue they aren't even "six". It's a waste of a great name. Like the Suicide Squad, they were for DC a non-powered group*. In this case, they had a secret leader blackmailing them and they solved undercover cases. It is a great concept and could still fly today. Look at the popularity of USA's Burn Notice, that is the type of thing that the title "Secret Six" works with. A "Mission Impossible" vibe. The old tv show, not the movies. Costumed characters aren't really about people trying to work in secret. Even Giffen's defunct Suicide Squad title fits in better as it swopped out characters and operatives based on the cases.

*The Secret Six and Suicide Squad actually predate DC. Both were actually names for teams in the pulps. There, the Secret Six were a bit like DC's take in that they were an eclectic mix of individuals that worked together to solve bizarre cases while the Suicide Squad were a trio of G-Men that took on extremely dangerous cases. Interestingly, the Secret Six go back even further to a real life group of businessmen that organized together to take down Al Capone and then even further back to the Civil War as a group of businessmen that funded abolitionist John Brown.

The Twelve #1/2: A reprinting sample of the original stories of several of the cast, specifically Fiery Mask, Mr. E. and Rockman. There's a whole lot more action than in all seven issues of the title so far and one can see how these characters are heroic, especially as they have had next to nothing to do during the storyline. The Mr. E here is full of potential and comes across as a cool character while he comes across as nothing special under JMS' modernistic realist story-telling. Nice painted front cover though the colors are too dark/dense unless they are all are supposed to have sunburn. The cover with the supercar is a nod to the Daring Mystery cover that purportedly features the Fiery Mask. Weston's is technically superior but there's more sense of movement and speed from the original. Not a fan of the greenish gold trim either. Realistically, that is the way it would actually look, especially when dealing with print. But, it's not really what our brains tell us is the color of gold and when you see it in print like that, it registers more as "green" while Fiery Mask's shirt is translated as being "gold". Some of the arts in the back pages, there's some great use of textures by Weston, especially in the center panel of the Black Widow page or the botom panel of Electro. But the rest suffer from just being a bit too overly rendered, as he shows every nook and cranny in the backgrounds with the same level of detail as the foregrounds while he Blue Blade looks dwarflike. Notice that with the painted cover, Weston doesn't make the mistake with the buildings in the background, and the effect works. The foreground stuff pops out, even in the b/w drawn version of the pic in the inside back cover. The Black Widow piece on the back looks gorgeous. A beautiful sexy femme fatale with the suggestion of something inexplicably evil.

The War that Time Forgot #5: More of the same as from the past issues. I'm loving the covers by various comic masters and this one is a great one in terms of design and impending action as the Viking Prince is about to take on a tyrannasaur as done by Walt Simonson. What's especially nice is that the covers do illustrate a scene from the book.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Doc Savage and the Vampire

Checking out a new used bookstore in the area, I found a couple of pulp reprints I didn't have. By the time Bantam was starting to reprint Docs as double-novels and the later omnibuses with 4 stories each, I was in college and money was a bit tight (as was time devoted to "fun" reading). Plus, there were plenty of the books I could find at used bookstores for little to nothing. So, some of the later reprints passed me by. Little did I know how hard those would be to find, not to mention the prices on the omnibuses on the used market. Your best bet is to find a small used bookstore that doesn't know that collectors are charging top dollars for these. Or, as in this case, a bookstore having a grand opening sale, so they are half off. Otherwise, I probably would have balked spending 5-10 on a beat up paperback even of Doc Savage and his spiritual brother, the Avenger.

The Doc double is #121/122: The Three Wild Men and The Fiery Menace. I was a little worried that maybe the excitement wouldn't hold up, it's been years since I have been able to read a Doc novel that was new to me. Tastes change after all, and what was exciting before could be tedious and dated now.

I needn't have worried. Stylistically, reading a new Doc is as much fun as it ever was. Sure, the writing by Dent and his ghosts can be a bit formulaic, but it's in those ways that things are changed up that can make it fun. In The Three Wild Men, Monk and Ham, forever bickering and trying to one-up each other in trying to get a girl find a girl that annoys them both to such a degree that they try their best to get her stuck with the other one. The plot and mystery of the wild men is interesting in that it's not the usual out for money motivation and the framing of Doc for the mysterious afflictions of wild men around the globe is more of a strategic and forward thinking plan. There's quite a bit of effort to set up mood and atmosphere in the first half of the book but it peters out a bit as the menace never seems too threatening. This is also a Doc Savage that has been around for a while, Doc's national and international influence and reach is played to good effect both in the global feel of the story as well as in some of the quieter moments as in the beginning when he is talking to a source of information from another country about a small international matter trying to head off a potential incident before it develops.

The stories from this era often end with a tease of the next month's adventure. The Fiery Menace is an odd story. It has a very stylistic beginning that has Lester Dent's trademarked breezy style all over it, from his way of giving detailed and tongue in cheek fleshing out of minor characters as he tells you all about Betty Free and her life while she has no role in the story other than finding the dead body. It's also a bit schizophrenic. While the title and description of the menace plays up the fire aspect, the story description and menace also play up an odd vampire angle. The story comes across as not being able to make up its mind exactly what it wants to be about and thus it doesn't really do either extremely well. It's not the first time that science-fiction would be disguised as something inexplicable and supernatural, but it's just not pulled off as well as in other novels such as The Squeaking Goblin and The Giggling Ghosts. In the end, some things are not really explained, the identity of the villain is not a surprise, but that's because of that whole formulaic writing thing and not the story itself. Instead, the revelation comes off almost as an afterthought and isn't really supported by the story. Also "wasted" is a really cool secondary villain, a diminutive yet extremely capable man who is able to go toe-to-toe with Monk and Ham, even getting the best of them and described as an "atom". Sadly, he gets offed completely off panel by the vampire. By story's end, you're left with an ok action tale, but one that seemed to have the potential to be so much more.

A light week on comics. Justice Society of America #18 moves the plot of Gog and Magog forward. Some great moments as we see ramifications of people being "cured", Dr. Mid-Nite discovers that lacking powers makes him no more effective than the average man, Damage suddenly has a zest for life and talks about second choices and such (the very same messages that he turned a deaf ear to when he was scarred), Sandman is still sleeping, Powergirl lost on another earth and Citizen Steel overeager to be next.

If you read the Hawkman special last week, it should come as no surprise that the reveals and ramifications of that issue has absolutely no bearing on his appearance here. Why should DC be paying that close of attention? After all, they revealed in the previews the big plot points of this issue, robbing the revelation of Magog's identity of any power it would have. Hawkman is written as his Conan the barbarian self here that Johns had revamped him as. And, as it often seems when he's in the pages of the JLA and JSA, it doesn't work, the character is too hot-headed and bloodthirsty to jibe with the character that was chairman of the JSA for several decades. There's a lot of talk about his soulmate and love which makes his talk with Hawkgirl last issue seem a little oddly detached considering she's seeing Red Arrow these days.

Anybody remember the Black Adam appearance from issue 16? Well, two issues and an annual later and that little subplot has not been touched on since. Bad storytelling structure there.

The cliffhanger with Powergirl on Earth-2, completely logical and yet I didn't expect it.

Englesham's art is fairly good and consistant. Any quibbles would concern Jay Garrick's rather longish hair that seems odd for the character and his characters in smaller panels tend to lose defining details.

DC Universe: Last Will and Testament: Can someone please stop Brian Meltzer from writing any more superhero comics? This is just another example of his compulsion to revisit storylines from 25 years ago and put his own modern literary take on it, in this case the death of Terra in New Teen Titans 25 years ago. This is also him following up on subplots he introduced in the pages of the Justice League, back when he was regular writer of that team and yet he was unable to finish addressing it there while poor Dwayne McDuffie has to spend most of his first year tying up his other loose ends when he's not using the book to set up various other mini-series.

The plot is that Geoforce knows that Deathstroke is behind the altering of his powers, yet they have given him invulnerability to the point that he think he can take on Deathstroke and win. As long as he plays it smart and not just try to outfight him. This is all set against the backdrop of Final Crisis. Unfortunately, if you are not following those titles, all the little character moments and references are non-sensical and have really nothing to do with the story at hand which is a one-shot. It's even inconsistent in this very book as in its own word with this crisis "this time, there's nothing to punch" and later there's talk of the heroes gathering as an army. This is bad writing, making the book meet some kind of crossover criteria that really has nothing to do with this particular story instead of making a one-shot that really stands on its own.

The main story starts off well enough, with Geoforce rationalizing going after Deathstroke to kill him. Most of the talk is whether he'd still be a hero or not. It only gives lip service to the better arguments: Brion is the ruler of a nation, as such the question and issues are what it means on that level. He's not just some outside-the-law vigilante. He could be very well within his rights to demand extradition of Deathstroke and his going after Deathstroke could very well have some bigger legal and political ramifications. It's a bigger story than could be handled here. To make it worse, Meltzer is being literary here, that means he's not really trying to tell a kick-butt superhero story that elevates Geoforce as a character, but it's a story that is to undermine the character, to reinforce his "C-list" status. Unable to defeat Slade and unable to accept the truth about his sister, he opts for the coward's way out (Cowardice is his own word for it) and is only able to defeat Slade by a chance opening revealed. In a "Red Badge of Courage" twist, what should serve to mark him as a failure and a coward is mis-interpreted into signs of a great success and heroic victory. Bleh.

The sub-plots make as little success as heroes on this eve of Armageddon are gathering with loved ones while some visit Rocky Davis of Challengers of the Unknown who is operating as a Catholic priest type, giving counselling/taking confessions. If you can accept that, then the fact that they have no trouble visiting him at the remote Challenger Mountain can pass on by. It's a character turn that makes no sense, a square peg forced to fit a round hole. Normally dialog doesn't bother me too much, I accept a lot of stiff expositional dialog in comics and such. Yet, the talk between Superman and his father really came off as a very contrived moment, dialog written to sound cool, like something from a movie than a real discussion.

Now for something completely different.

It's a wonder real criminals get caught. I have a friend whose house was broken into. Trying to open windows, they left whole hand prints all around. They stole his checkbook and wrote checks for thousands of dollars at places with security cameras and yet...

No match came back on the prints. The gas station they bought hundreds of dollars worth of stuff saw nothing unusual enough to ask for an id on the check and kept using the same tape over and over on their security camera that rendered it useless to retrieve an image from. They bought a ton of gift cards at one target whose camera wasn't aligned well enough to get a clear image and spent them at another nearby store whose security system was temporarily down...

All this was going on across a couple of county lines, this meant my friend had to file reports and follow ups with several different police precincts. Apparently, they do little inter-communication by themselves. Finally one of them was caught red-handed as he was breaking into a church! Turns out he has a long list of priors for break-ins and such. Yet, he didn't turn up on when they ran the fingerprints??!?