Thursday, July 02, 2009

Belated Reviews

For a few weeks, I'd been on vacation with my gal and her family. During that time we went to Washington DC where I was able to devote a couple of days to doing research on copyrights of the various comic book companies in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. My main goal was to look into the issues surrounding Quality Comics as well as Fawcett. The first draft of an article about my findings are up at my site if you aren't a regular reader there. I plan on revising it some in the near future to expand on the Fawcett and Charlton information as well as including Magazine Enterprises. Though I can tell you now, in a nutshell, none of their comics were renewed.

Like so many people, I went and saw the Transformers movie. Luckily it was a matinee. On one hand it looked pretty good. John Turturro is always fun to watch on the screen. The humor in places just went on too long (the mom eating a hash brownie was a needless scene as it serves no purpose) but for the most part didn't offend me as much as other viewers. Part of me is willing to accept this is a movie based on toys and about giant fighting robots and so is solidly aimed kids and teenagers. There's going to be a lotta sophomoric material. I can accept that. However, that's no excuse to deliver a movie whose whole plot hinges on a plot hole so that it doesn't make a lick of sense. Your average Scooby Doo cartoon has tighter plotting and structure. Factor in things like going out the back door of the Aerospace museum in DC shows an airplane graveyard with MOUNTAINS in the background. Then there are just scenes that threw me completely out of the movie moments apart: giant robot holds car in air with hero hanging on outside for dear life, girlfriend and roommate inside said car. Car is dropped from somewhere between 20 to 50 feet to the ground yet it hits the ground with all the force of dropping 5 feet. Hero is somehow now inside the car, front airbags go off and everyone gets out of the car with no trouble (even the roommate in the backseat). Then the hero is picked up, flung through the air twenty feet across the room and lands on his back onto a solid concrete floor with a huge metal bolt sticking up. It hurts him for about 2 minutes, but these two incidents back to back should pretty much completely incapacitate him for the rest of the movie if not for life. Which wouldn't have bothered me too much. Each of the Transporter movies have at least one scene that completely violates any semblance of realism it has going for it. But, when you factor in that the whole movie is this level of stupidity and attention to detail... I've seen a lot of bad movies in my life, but none that are so blatant in just plain laziness at actually trying to tell a story.


Quite a few mini-series have wrapped up featuring various GA characters which makes for an optimum time to look back on them.

Angel - Blood & Trenches: Overall a great and fun little mini-series. Byrne's artwork and writing perfectly suited for horror and a period piece like this. The production of the book seems a bit sub-par this time around though. Shooting from pencils is a ticklish beast. On the one hand, it can give the work a more energetic feel with more gradations and depth that disappears when translated to inked lines. However, it can also look incomplete or not show up properly when printed (there is a reason the pencils are inked after all). This is what plagues this issue. The resolution and contrast in the printing loses the subtle pencils exacerbated by putting much of the pencils on gray backgrounds. A shame really, as the earlier issues were so powerful. Still, a fun read.

Avengers/Invaders: You know, part of me wonders if Marvel just doesn't want the Invaders to succeed as a concept. The last revival was hobbled from the start by debuting in a title that was on the way down by a creative team whose stars were waning. It's already a niche book, but to make things even more difficult that right after the launch a completely different creative team handles the ongoing. The writer was unproven with few comicbook credits to his name while the artist had a completely non-traditional style. Little surprise that it didn't find an audience.

This time out, the powers that be chose to shoot the pages from the pencils, apparently without telling the penciler that. Halfway through, a second penciller is brought in to handle some of the book but no rhyme or reason to the pages he does to the pages that Sadowski does and the styles are hardly similar as the other penciler's work is completely inked. For the first several issues, the coloring or the separations were sub-par leading to purplish blues and magenta reds. Even Ross' covers often seemed to be printed a bit dark and murky.

I give Krueger credit in the writing that he was trying something novel in that it would seem about 2/3 of the way through that the story had been resolved to lead in to a completely different threat. However, it seems that to pad the book out so that it had more than one ongoing story and to give enough space to deal with Stark's unspoken guilt over the fate of Captain America, Toro discovering his fate and to play up Bucky. Krueger thus gives us the side story of the LMD uprising and their mystery leader to stretch things out. But, like Michael Bay's movie, the plot makes little sense and Krueger never really explains things. Maybe, he realized that the story was out of his control which was why we get the GA Vision halfway through to serve as Sir Exposition concerning the Cosmic Cube. Sure, it really has nothing to do with how the Vision has ever been presented before and he does next to nothing because his job here is to be narrator and he's the only cosmic hero of the time available.

The big surprise/twist at the end of the series even has quite a bit of the power robbed from it as it was more or less revealed in the promo blurbs for the upcoming Human Torch mini-series.

Will give them props for having started AFTER JMS The Twelve yet manages to finish BEFORE that one with both minis having the same amount of issues and Krueger and Ross also working on Project: Superpowers for Dynamite.

Black Terror: Not a bad mini-series as far as the Project: Superpowers titles go. Written by Ross & Krueger, it suffers from the same faults of the other titles, tons of characters introduced and used without really bothering to explain them or their powers. Such as the various patriots helping President West and why they are such a threat (any one of them alone is as powerful as the Black Terror if not moreso, which makes one wonder how a tree is able to hold them immobile for longer than a second or two). While it is about the Black Terror's search for his kid partner it really is more of setting up the next Superpowers storyline. Thus, there is no real resolution to the story as far as President West and the Black Terror's attack are concerned for that's to play out in other comics. Meanwhile, we get a bunch of the kid sidekicks and kid heroes back (Yank & Doodle, Captain Battle Jr, Kitten, Boy King & Giant, Tim, Sparky, Davey). Interestingly, that of all the kids, only Tim's adult partner has been revealed as having returned. We've seen no signs of Black Owl, Captain Battle, Cat-Man, Blue Beetle and Magno other in the notes pages.

Death Defying Devil: Like his Last Defenders work, Joe Casey writes a mini-series that is about setting things up as opposed to resolving anything thus it ends in the last issue where it should have been in issue 2 or 3. As a story, it only raises questions as opposed to answering them (as opposed to the Black Terror mini that does resolve the central plot as set out in the first issue, what happened to the Terror's kid partner). Along the way, we are introduced to other GA heroes which is good because the Devil is not allowed to talk, write notes or think thoughts or anything else that might actually communicate a character to the reader instead of a cypher. Of course, this has to be, because otherwise we'd be able to get an answer to the big mystery: that the man that was DDD in the 1940s did not go into the urn and he is now dead. Thus, who is this version of DDD? Now this may be a nod to the fact that in the 1940s, Daredevil had two different origins. In his first issue, he was mute (and in a different colored costume), but was changed in subsequent comics. There was also a third character by the company with the same name as Daredevil's alter ego, Bart Hill. Maybe this is Dynamite's way of reconciling the different origins as there being more than one man wearing the costume.

The superhero plot is fairly undeveloped as the heroes (DDD, Ghost, and Silver Streak) rush to stop some plan by the Claw and his organization while DDD is stalked by a member of the former kid gang Wise Guys and who knows DDD's a fake. Swept under the rug is how the Wise Guy was able to conveniently find some organization willing and able to make him young and strong and supply a costume all at a moment's notice and then just let him go to hunt the hero down to settle his vendetta.

The artwork steadily improves over the issues but never really knocks it out of the park. Part of it could be that it too is being shot from pencils, but he's not really there yet as a penciler.

For a different look at the hero, over in the pages of Savage Dragon, Daredevil and the Wise Guys seem to have become semi-regular guest-stars/supporting cast. The treatment of the character is more light-hearted but doesn't ring any more true as it imparts a certain naivete and gosh-wowness to the hero, swinging a little too far in the opposite direction. Issue #148 even has a nice historical look at the character.

Masquerade: The best of the Superpowers minis as this one is truly character driven, filling in the gaps and background of the Miss Masque character leading up to how she got into the urn and a summation of the events immediately following her release (skirting the issues of US Jones' infatuation with her). There are a few cutesy scenes along the way but the storytelling otherwise serves the job well. If there is a weakness, it's that after all the issues setting her up as a capable heroine defined by her detective skills The painted coloring style does kill the wonderful job of the penciling underneath that was shown in the previews, making the artwork murkier as opposed to more attractive.

Project Superpowers: Chapter Two: Starts off with seeing how Captain Future was taken. It's a prime example of where no effort is made to utilize a character in keeping with who and how he was in the 1940s. While many of Standard/Nedor's characters were a bit generic, each did have unique elements that defined them. One of Captain Future's unique bits was that his erstwhile beautiful girlfriend ran a detective agency with her spinster looking aunt. With Captain Future only appearing in one page, how hard is it to make the character actually conform to simple basic elements of his GA stories? Instead of seeing him walking down the street with two un-named beautiful women on his arm, why not make them recognizeably the supporting characters from his stories? As is, the scene could actually be ANY character, it has absolutely nothing to do with the Captain Future character. A small detail to be sure, but a detail that shows that the creators actually approach the stories and scenes with an attempt at understanding the characters they write instead of the most generic presentation that requires no information other than the hero's basic look. At the end of the issue, the President stands revealed as the superhero Power Nelson.

Marvel Mystery Comics #01: The various 70th anniversary comics looking at Marvel's GA are a bit hit and miss. The Sub-Mariner one was excellent. The Human Torch does not work at all given what we know about the Torch's origins. Marvel Mystery has a wonderful painted cover of the Torch and Namor that is in keeping with painted covers by Schomburg of the time. The story is a sprawling epic of the 1940s that bring in the GA Angel, Electro, as well as the detective the Ferret to team up with Namor and the Human Torch against the Green Flame, old adversaries of the Human Torch. Then with some amazing thought by the editor involved, the stories reprinted are with the Human Torch against the Green Flame as well as the original Ferret story. Of course, look at Brubaker already planning on retconning various bits of these in his upcoming comic as he thinks the Angel's costume is really "lame" and is going to portray Electro as a "giant robot monster".

Sherlock Holmes: Two issues out of this mini by Dynamite. It sets out to tell a Holmes style mystery. The second issue starts with Holmes framed for murder and in prison while Watson and Lestrade try to do their best to carry on despite orders to stay away from the case as they are too close to Holmes.

Doing a mystery in a comic is always difficult because of the completely different pacing demands and presenting the detecting and the clues to solving the mystery in interesting graphic ways. One of the questions it has to answer is why tell this story in this medium? Holmes is a literary character and the bookshelves are full of pastiches and such. So, what is gained by telling this story in comicbook form? The writer and artist need to be able to address that question.

It's too early to judge the writing but the artwork is a bit stiff. His storytelling is solid, but uninspired. The artwork and depictions seem to indicate heavy use of models and photo references and using computer filters or lightboxing to draw over the figures. There is little sense of texture and just odd lines and ink blotches over faces and such that don't really impart meaningful detail but tend to make the panels seem more photographic in nature. The portrayal of Watson is in keeping with many of the films and giving us a Watson that looks quite a bit older than Holmes as opposed to two men roughly the same age.

Also disconcerting is reading a Sherlock Holmes story then going through the pages in the back and seeing the ad for Garth Ennis' The Boys with a hero soiling himself in fright. Everything else from stories to the other ads are all-ages appropriate except for this one graphic image. I was going to say that I found it hard to believe that no one saw that and thought it didn't really fit with the material of the book it was appearing in or at all appropriate. Then I realized I don't really find it that hard to believe at all. Just sad.

Justice Society America 27 & 28: After the sprawled out stories by Geoff Johns, we get a two parter written and drawn by Jerry Ordway, revisiting a villain from the All-Star Squadron days, the Japanese assassin Kung. In just the two issues, he manages to include a large chunk of the team's cast yet without feeling overly crowded and plenty of little character bits as well as telling a complete story that fits in seamlessly with what went before.

Captain Britain and MI13: Marvel is bringing this title to a close. While the writing has often been a bit problematic in its structure and inconsistencies in its exposition and dialogue (such as the purpose and definition of the team depends on the issue, or the fact that Dracula has a base on the moon is shown in one issue, but isn't explained how this is remotely possible until the following issue). Some secrets and mystery is good, but only if it is actually supposed to be and presented as such. Otherwise, it's actually sloppy writing that needs a little tightening up. However, despite its shortcomings, it has still been an entertaining title. Even when it started off in the midst of the crossover with Secret War, it remained secure in its own corner, not requiring reading half of Marvel's output to understand the book. Likewise the art has been solid and clear despite the best efforts of the colorist to muddy things up. The current storyline with Dracula has been great, making Dracula into a wonderful and natural master supervillain for the Marvel Universe. Under other writers, the team would still be fighting Skrulls these 14 issues later, the Dracula story would be a mega-crossover, hijacking a half dozen titles for half a year. Thus, despite its problems, this book is already more tightly written, full of drama and excitement than any two other books.

While DC is pursuing and planning on comicbook adventures of Doc Savage, the Shadow, and the Avenger, Sanctum Books is reprinting the pulp versions. Recently, they've added the Avenger and the Whisperer to their line-up. If you balk at collecting the Docs and Shadows due to their longevity, both of these notable characters had far shorter careers. The Whisperer is an interesting study as he has possible connections to different DC characters that Bill Finger worked on: The Whisperer is in reality police commissioner James "Wildcat" Gordon! The first volume of the Whisperer book contains two Whisperer novels, a Whisperer short story, an interesting essay on the genesis of the Whisperer character, an essay on Maxwell Grant and magic and another early pulp titled Crimebusters as well as a short-story featuring the magician sleuth Norgil whom Grant created for that title.