Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time to be a hero

It's not too late! On Sunday, October 4th, I will again be joining others in walking in Raleigh's annual CROP walk to help combat hunger. CROP Hunger Walks help to support the overall ministry of Church World Service, especially grassroots, hunger-fighting development efforts around the world. In addition, each local CROP Hunger Walk can choose to return up to 25 percent of the funds it raises to hunger-fighting programs in its own community.

CROP Hunger Walks help to provide food and water, as well as resources that empower people to meet their own needs. From seeds and tools, to wells and water systems, to technical training and micro-enterprise loans.

With your help, this year CROP Hunger Walks will share some $4 million with food banks, pantries, community gardens, and other local efforts across the U.S., helping out your neighbors and your friends through tough and uncertain times.

You can sponsor me as a walker by visiting this link. Or even sign up as a walker yourself in a walk near you.

This is a cause and organization I believe in. Over 25 years ago, I was in the Boy Scouts and looking for a public service project for my Eagle project. I chose to host a small local walk with just my troop. At that time, the walks were 10 miles long. As it happened, a bypass was being built. I remember driving around the orange pylons in my 71 Skylark Buick and driving the length of this sectioned off road to see how long it was. I was a teenager and it occurred to me their were no other cars on the road and if ever there was an opportunity to see how fast it could really go... Not a car built for speed and as it hit the 80s (this was the day the speed limit topped out at 55 on highways), it also occurred to me that while there were no cars on the road, it was a road under construction and there could be other obstacles and as I said, I was driving a car with the maneuverability a little better than a tank. The section of the road was 5 miles long, which made it the perfect length. Then it was just a matter of okaying it with the city and state. That walk was in the heat of the summer, with us in our uniforms: long sleeved shirts and pants.

It was a bit serendipitous as it turned out as Rocky Mount the following year held their first CROP Walk and I became a representative for my Church at the time, educating others and getting the youth involved.

Since then, I have not walked every year but I walked a couple of times for Carrboro's while in college and have either walked or sponsored others in walks here in Raleigh. In the last several years, the walk has served two purposes as I try to walk at least an hour several days a week for my own health.

For more information concerning CROP: www.churchworldservice.org

Thank you!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Comic Reviews

Daring Mystery Comics: Part of Marvel's 70th Anniversary comics, from the pages of The Twelve, the Phantom Reporter gets a solo adventure and an origin story. Novelist David Liss does a good job delivering a solid and dense done-in-one pulp inspired story. We get a solid narrative voice, plenty of characterization and dynamic action that doesn't really change any continuity as it has been established in the incomplete mini by JMS so far. Jason Armstrong's artwork is fitting for the style though at times, he seems to have studied anatomy by looking at the artwork of Mignola and Guy Davis and he cannot quite decide which of them he wants to emulate. I wouldn't mind seeing Liss, the writer of Daring Mystery Comics doing more. Liss did more building the character up, making him sympathetic and dynamic in one issue than JMS has managed with any of the characters in The Twelve after seven issues.

The backup reprint of the Phantom Reporter seemed to raise more questions though. One, he appears to have a glowing mask though nothing is said about it. It also seems as if reporter Dick Jones is as much an alias as the Phantom Reporter is... unless it's the rich playboy Van Ergen that's the fake id. Either way, makes him similar to the modern Moon Knight who maintains various id's (which really dates back to characters like the pre-pulp Grey Seal and the pulps Shadow and Secret Agent 'X' who maintained and regularly used different id's). It's an interesting character bit that would have been nice to see a bit more of.

Domino Lady #1: Moonstone misses the boat with this modern series based on the pulp character. The story and storytelling seems to be a bit all over the place with contradictions and plot holes. The inclusion of Sherlock Holmes seems nonsense. What is strange is that while it seems to be written by a woman, the handling of the character seems more in lines with what a teenage boy thinks is sexy. It's all about cleavage and dressing and undressing and overly obvious teasing images and scenes instead of about sultriness and class. She's sexy like Lauren Bacall not Marilyn Monroe. Or a comparison considering that the writer is a Buffy novelist, it's more sexy as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and not Lauren Hamilton's Anita Blake series.

Interestingly, despite the original stories occurring in a book titled Saucy Romantic Stories, her stories were pretty tame in comparison to other similar pulps, especially the Spicy line. She was a rogue hero, along the lines of the Moon Man, robbing from the corrupt and rich. They were caper stories usually with the story already fairly far along and focusing on just how she was going to commit the robbery and get away. Plenty of room to develop the story and character. Pity they went with the low easy road.

Justice Society of America #30: The second issue of Willingham, Sturges and Merino taking over. Already there's great improvement as most of the team is actually used whereas under Johns most of the team seemed absent or little more than furniture. Here, almost every character gets a line or two and something to actually do. We see the beginnings of internal rifts and strife that will lead to a future splitting of the team and book (can hardly wait as most of the characters I have no affinity for will be in the second book).

There is a good mystery of why is the JSA being targeted, a possible traitor in the midst and a whole bunch of villains. The villains are really the only drawback as most are barely identified or established what they can do. I have no idea who half of them are and Major Force is taken down by one kick by Judomaster? The artwork is also stronger than it has been, Jay Garrick is no longer with long hair although Merino seems a little unsure about the shape of his helmet. Otherwise, he handles the many and variety of the characters and facial expressions very well and seems to be pretty much at home with the close-up solo shots and the crowd scenes.

Mystic Comics:
Another 70th Anniversary comic and another solid one that treats the original characters with respect while telling a solid story. In this case it's the GA Vision's turn as he takes on a menace that would be right at home in a Mignola Hellboy comic. Lapham doesn't set out to really clarify the Vision's rather ill-defined powers, but makes use of them. The story does indicate that it strands the Vision in our reality and really seems like it could be a logical set-up of a new ongoing comic with him if Marvel so inclined to continue along those lines. He's by far more interesting here as a semi-cosmic crimefighter than how he is used in The Torch or The Avengers/Invaders mini, less Phantom Stranger and more Martian Manhunter. Nice Simon & Kirby reprints as well.

The Phantom: Generations #4: Moonstone is doing a few things a bit differently. In addition to their regular comics, a few books are actual prose stories with illustration. This is a particularly strong one as pulp fan and writer Will Murray tells a story concerning the 4th Phantom (the conceit of the book is that each issue focuses on a different Phantom). The shorter format forces Murray to cut down on the purple prose and verbosity he tends towards at times and tells a tight story as pirates steal the skull that each generation of the Phantom swears his oath on and the Phantom must hunt them down and get it back.

Project Superpowers: Meet the Bad Guys #1:
This issue focuses on the Green Lama and gives him a bad-guy with a fairly interesting motivation but never rings completely true. She and her family harbor a grudge that their grandfather Tsong served all those years as the Lama's servant and was apparently taken from the family to live without aging in his mystical Shangri-La and then killed while in service to the Lama (though she doesn't seem to harbor any grudge against the men and the government that actually did the killing). Likewise, there's a big development in the story as she kills all these people that are inspired by the Lama to draw him out. I guess to keep her from being too unsympathetic later, the Green Lama shows the ability to raise them all from the dead! So, the question is, if he can do that for a whole group, why didn't he do so for Bruce Carter III? For Tsong? And, does it kill him and he is reborn on the spot into his old body or just drain him severely for a while? It's a stupid power and reduces her actions and the story to having no consequence. It means that her rage against the Green Lama shouldn't be that Tsong died while in service to the Green Lama, but that he allowed him to stay dead afterwards.

Project Superpowers: Chapter 2 #2: The story is getting better as we are finally getting some hints at answers behind the urn and some of the odd actions and changes to the characters. The Green Lama uses his "raise the dead" power again.

New characters Truth and Dare are annoying. Especially Truth. Truth can see the truth about people, beyond their lies and exteriors. Like Green Lama's raise the dead power, this is really a bad idea storywise. Because it means you have a character who could come out and dispel any mystery at anytime but because that would mean you'd have no story, he does not do so or the writer has to jump through hoops to not reveal what the character knows. He knows the truth behind Captain Future but does not reveal it. He knows the truth of Justine but again just speaks cryptically. It's much like the mystery behind the Death-Defying Devil revealed in the last issue of his mini-series, it works because the character is mute and is unable to verbally defend himself. But, it doesn't explain that once the fact came out why no one has asked him to unmask or actually given him a computer or pen and paper to communicate. Situations like that and characters like Truth basically demand bad storytelling to make them work on any level.

The Ross cover is horrible, but Salazar's artwork inside continues to improve. We finally get some comic history actually being used: Mrs. Octopus blames the death of her husband on Flame-Girl. The defeat of the Octopus was the story in which Flame Girl gained her powers, given to her by the Flame when he thought he was dying. It's cool to see the "Big Shots" Marvello, Skyman and the Face together. Big Shot was the name of the title in which they all starred.

Interestingly, Ross talks about his love of the history of the characters online. Which is funny considering how much of that is being re-written. A pity he also gets it wrong. Talking about Power Nelson, he says the character was active in the 1980s fighting against Mongols who have taken over America and that they are making use of that history. But, he also says that Nelson stayed in the future, never traveled back to the past. As far as I can tell, the original set-up was dropped after several issues. He got a new status quo and his stories no longer seemed to be set in the future but the then present day. There was no explanation but things like that happened frequently back then.

Sherlock Holmes #4: This continues to be a fairly good comic and mystery. The pacing may seem a little slow compared to many comics, but is largely dictated by the type of story and genre it is telling. In this issue we get more of a hint of the villain that has orchestrated everything and just how worthy of an adversary he must be whereas the previous issues were more about the situation the characters found themselves in, their immediate actions and reactions. That was necessary storytelling, this is a bit more of actual plot development as the groundwork has now been laid.

It has moved away from being a pastiche and is doing some things that need to be done, relying on the strength and format of comic storytelling. Instead of being narrated solely by Watson's point of view, we see other viewpoints, characters acting a little more like actual people than just trying to mimic Doyle's style. The artwork is still annoying in places. Period books should definitely keep computer tricks such as blurs out of the artwork as much as possible as it disrupts the immersion into the story than aid it. All said and done, this will probably make for a strong trade reading experience

The Shield: I broke down and bought the Shield one-shot because of them all, it was the only one that looked close to being the same in look and spirit to the original. Well, it was in looks any way. What we got is what I expected, more of an updating of a character DC already has: Steel, the Indestructible Man. Gone was the idea that Joe Higgins was a scientific genius that completed his father's formula and used it on himself, that he aced his exams to become a top FBI agent, that he puts on the costume and is a patriotic hero by choice making him the FIRST hero to do so. Now, he's nothing special.

To judge it in a vacuum, the cover is really cool, and the story is not necessarily bad. There's some typical storytelling decompression, where three pages could have been done in one and a half or two. Seriously, in this day and age of high priced comics and low page count, don't take two pages to show him being wounded and blacking out. There seems to be precious little of the character actually in the book, little motivation other than he's a good soldier. Much of it otherwise seems mostly cliche. Scott McDaniel's art works here, he's best on solo character books like this.

And, after all the build-up of JMS writing and revamping the characters and he's apparently only doing the one-shots?

The Spider: Judgment Knight: Done in the style of The Phantom Generations, in that it's an illustrated prose story. Only it fails where that one succeeded. The b/w artwork is too smooth and polished. Any moodiness it has thus comes from just being so dark otherwise it just seems cold and passionless. The story likewise fails. The problem with the Spider is he makes the Shadow look like a Buddhist monk. He's a very violent character. However, the pulp novels work because the stories and criminals are likewise far more violent and ruthless in their gains, his actions are maybe a tenth of the degree that theirs are. The pulps are about the humanity of the man, his passion and devotion to those that he loves and to his fellow man. He becomes a hero because he puts it all on the line to fight against the kind of monstrous men that one usually only finds in the pulps. While he takes extreme measures, he's fighting against extreme odds with lives of hundreds and thousands on the lines. Too often, the stories like this one largely remove that context, that humanity and passion from the character and focus just on the violent nature, confusing the nature of the stories for the nature of the character. Every kill should be necessary, that he'd otherwise let the police handle it. He's not an executioner but a soldier. It's an important distinction but which is often missed.

The Torch #1:
Possibly the weakest of the GA related comics out the past two weeks. Mostly because it's all set-up and building on the aftermath of the mini The Avengers/Invaders. You have Toro looking for some way to belong (guess he doesn't know about the She-Hulk law firm that helps with things just like that) and the GA Vision more or less helping. The best bits are between the Mad Thinker and his assistant and biggest fan Mr. Toussant. Really shows off why the Thinker is such a great villain. Toussant's comments could almost be construed as the writer making fun of the villain but it actually works as despite the back-handed compliments, the Thinker himself comes across as pretty inspiring and competent regardless. The Thinker, Ross and Carey do seem a little uninformed about the retcons going on The Marvels Project by Brubaker as it is revealed there that Horton was being funded by the government and seemed to be perfectly aware of the fact.