Wednesday, May 19, 2010

2 steps forward, 3 steps back

Heroic Age... Yeah, right.

So, in the new Agents of Atlas series, they killed half the duo that made up the original 3-D Man and left the other comatose so that the minority legacy character can have a stronger hold on the title...

If there was any lingering doubt that the big 2's posturing of their transitions to "heroic age" and "brightest day" being anything other than just business as usual...

I think I was one of the few that didn't mind Triathlon as being a legacy hero and actually liked him and his costume in the pages of Avengers. Part of that was that he didn't actually usurp the original identity. Through his powers, costume and name, he referenced and updated the retro-hero without being an actual minority copycat replacement. Once they started with actually changing him to BE 3-D Man, I knew that something like this was coming. By turning him to the 3-D Man via name and costume, it robbed the character of what made him unique. Now, he's just like all other minority replacements of established heroes. See, the name "Triathlon" was uniquely his and tied to his powers and background just as the retro name "3-D Man" fit the original character as a retcon retro character of the 1950s. Re-naming Triathlon to 3-D Man lessens the identities of both men. And, where Marvel had two separate heroes that were unique but with bonds to each other, they now just have one. How is it a good thing to actually lessen the variety of a company's assets?

Astro City #4: Meanwhile, Astro City brings to a close its own "Dark Age" storyline. I've enjoyed the meandering stories of the past in Astro City such as the Confessor and Steeljack storylines. This one never quite gelled for me. I think there are some interesting themes in there of the evolution of the characters Charles and Royal Williams from being brothers who were a cop and a street hustler to the men driven to avenge the deaths of their parents years before to the point of them transforming into what they hate. Somewhere along the way, their personal journey became tiresome as the story delved into the death and resurrection of the Silver Agent, time travel, dimensional rifts to an evil dimension and the man they pursued becoming almost a cosmic level threat.

There was just too much stuff the story had to cover that was tangential to the core story, the conceit of trying to follow it through the eyes of the two men and their own journey wore thin. The story became bloated. Busiek may be one of the few writers that when one of his stories becomes padded, it gets denser with more story and characterization as opposed to just making a four issue story fit 6 issues by just adding action and frame-by-frame sequencing in the art so that something would normally fit in two panels takes a whole page or two (Batman taking two pages to change clothes and drive across town in a JLA Classified story a few years back comes to mind. Used to be such things would happen between panels). This time, it works against Busiek and the story he's telling though. The brothers' metamorphosis and its symbolism and themes become heavy-handed from having to constantly revisit it for several more issues beyond the story's natural end as the villain Aubrey gains powers and escapes, extending the storyline for several more issues.

Ironically, as the story became so bloated, there were elements that never got developed as much as they probably should have, feeling like they were tacked on to draw the story out. Such as the rift that was either darkening the public or feeding off of their darker natures, what and who the Pale Horseman was, the story of the Street Angel (I was left wanting more of this guy), as well as the Black Badge. Other than being a cosmic threat, I felt like I was missing something somewhere and just how it all actually connected to the why's of the Silver Agent and his time jumping. It all was just too big of an epic for the limited dual 1st person narrative of the Williams brothers.

The Spectacular Spider-Girl #1: Somehow, the news of this mini completely passed me by. Didn't see any reference to it at comicbookresources or any of the other usual blogs and forums. A pleasant surprise. It' had been awhile since I last saw Spider-Girl, I didn't follow her over to the Spider-man Family books as I don't see a reason to buy an anthology just for one feature, especially with today's prices. This doesn't seem to pick up too far after her series though. However, I still had to play a little catch-up as I didn't remember all the details of the status quo when the series ended such as the status of her clone and that she was living with May as a "cousin". Still, it has all of the elements that made her series a joy to read. Heroic characters, clear concise art, plenty of action and all done in an all-ages classic style. The main story concerns a gang-war enveloping the city, one that draws an older Frank Castle from his self-imposed exile in South America. While Spider-Girl is saving lives from a burning building, the Punisher shows he's still the toughest guy around as he fights his way onto a plane heading for the States. Fun stuff.

The book also contains a couple of short back-up stories, one featuring American Dream, re-introducing her to the readership. The second back-up is the one that falters as May has a dream that she has to play basketball against several of her foes. It's not that the story is just filler with no real insight or purpose but that the usually solid Paul Ryan fails to deliver on the artwork. Ryan's biggest flaw as an artist is that like Frenz, his style is about 20 years too late. He's wonderfully suited for books with a more traditional and classic style without an inker or colorist doing all sorts of filters, fills and special effects to jazz it up and fighting both the penciler and the writer for dominance. In short, in this day and age, a book with his artwork is normally a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it is lacking here. It feels like it is trying too hard to be Pat Oliffe (the artist that started Spider-Girl off) instead of his own style and lacks the energy that he normally is able to deliver. Nor does it impart any mood or atmosphere or surreal aspect to what is supposed to be a dream. A weak ending to an otherwise enjoyable first issue overall.

Hellboy in Mexico: Love this comic. Mignola and Corben make a great team, I've praised their Hellboy comics in the past. It helps this is a self-contained story as well. Add in the phenomenon of masked Mexican wrestlers and make it a set of three brothers who get the calling to stop wrestling and hunt monsters and team up with Hellboy for monster butt-kicking, drinking and carousing, and you have the makings of a great story. Pick it up and you'll be entertained. Wouldn't mind seeing a return of the brothers.

JSA #38: As the story unfolds how the Fourth Reich managed to take all the heroes out and take over America, it stumbles. I've talked about how one of the problems with the Fourth Reich as a villainous group in this storyline is that it doesn't really have a head, we don't see who's pulling the strings. A bait and switch is pulled here as we are shown who is the "current" leader in the future, an adult Kid Karnevil. The flaw is that in explaining how the future came to be, it also glosses over many of the important details. Somehow, the darkness engine robs all heroes of its powers including Atlanteans of their natural ability to breathe underwater and the technological GL power-rings, while at least trying to give some lip service at explaining it. But, we are then expected to believe that the Reich is able to take over and people quickly align to their way of thinking, seeing the new government as being the rightful one and former heroes the criminals. It never explains how that transition happened, how the Fourth Reich went from a small band of a few super-powered Nazis to a movement that was able to take over the government and world and defeat all the non-powered heroes as well as the common men and women that would stand against them. It goes straight from the men and women on the street fighting to save the life of a now powerless and severely wounded Superman to a mob seeking to burn Power Girl at the stake in support of the Nazi regime. Nor does it explain exactly who came up with the idea of the Darkness Engine, knew that it would depower the heroes and put the Fourth Reich together in the first place. Some crucial parts of the story are missing for the presented sequence of events being at all credible.

Black Terror #10: After a promising improvement last issue, this one slides back into almost everything that makes the Dynamite titles a chore to read. Literally a chore in this case as the artwork is so darkly and heavily colored, it's a wonder they even bothered to do this as a comic book. Half the time Miss Masque's costume is more purple than red. It makes it difficult to really critique the storytelling skills of the penciller since it takes so long to just get past all the dense coloring to even figure out what he's trying to draw. Likewise, the ghostly flying pirate ship has a kewl special effect, done as a negative against the backdrop of everything and everyone else done as positive. But it makes the ship even busier and harder to read as a figure in already too dense and crowded artwork.

The primary purpose of comic art is to TELL THE STORY. This means everything, from penciling to inking to the coloring should work to that end. If any part actually impedes the movement of the story or the central message of a panel or page, then it fails. When you get a hyper detailed page by George Perez, the storytelling is still paramount and clear. The detail enhances, not impedes the process.

Unless I have forgotten something, it was Mystico from last issue that gave the Black Terror the ship. However, they refer to him as the Scarab several times, a completely different hero. Oops. And, the plot goes back to being about the Urn instead of just giving us a new threat and a little more variety to their world.

I did like the opening scene with the Magi. Still a bit curious as to which golden-age villain he's supposed to be, if any. We could use a little more development of the villains and surely not all the supervillains are part of the Supremacy or Claw.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Brightest Day?

So, in spinning out of the Blackest Night mini's DC announced a brighter future and even have a series called "Brightest Day." But, to show that this is really just meaningless lip service and it's standard business as usual, Green Arrow has become even more violent, again eschewing trick arrows and using maiming and disfiguring shots. Remember the last time he did this, the book was actually labeled "For Mature Readers Only" and it started the downward spiral that lead to the character being killed off? The whole point of his resurrection and relaunch was to turn the clock back a bit to when the character was actually a viable superhero within the rest of the superhero community. What's next? Hal Jordan going nuts and massacring the whole GL Corps? Superman getting killed and replaced by four others? Hawk going nuts and getting enough power to kill off half the JSA?

Also, as part of this supposed focus on the heroes and brighter future, we have a new Titans book starring villains. First order of business, kill off the Ryan Choi Atom! Ok, I was a bit surprised that he hadn't died already since his book was canceled. And, once Ray Palmer started making appearances again... Still, of all the "new" One Year Later titles, his was the only one that had any legs to it, lasting for 25 issues. Part of what made it work was it didn't invalidate previous continuity nor build up the current character at the expense of the previous one. Of course, it is what ultimately doomed poor Ryan as the back door was always open for the return of Ray Palmer.

Meanwhile, the writer Eric Wallace defends the killing by talking about how much he likes the Ryan Choi Atom and what a great character he is. Just as Scott Beatty and Alex Ross talk about how much they love the Phantom character which obviously translates to not actually wanting to write the character as is but changing him. Geez, with friends like these...

Stories like this and James Robinson's JLA mini and ongoing book likewise built on a bunch of corpses are what are keeping me away from the majority of the titles by Marvel and DC. Even when they say they are going to focus more on the heroes and a "brighter day", their deeds show that it's all meaningless hype. It's an attempt to lure back lapsed readers, hoping that they won't notice that the majority of the line is still the exact same morose and dreary writing that drove them away the first time. If they really wanted to focus on producing brighter, more accessible and more heroic comics, they'd just do it.

Thought the recent promo of the new relaunched Avengers title was interesting in that the conversation between Wonder Man and Steve Rogers, if you substitute "Bendis" for the word "Avengers" and it pretty much sums up my feelings.

Iron Man 2: Saw the movie last night and I really enjoyed it. Sure, it's not a Tony Stark that I remember, but it doesn't seem out of kilter with the way the character has been portrayed in the comics in the recent past. I was happy to see Happy Hogan with significant screen time and actually doing stuff. His scenes are funny but they show that he has a heroism to him even if he's not of the same caliber as Iron Man or the Black Widow. The movie did a great job at really playing up Stark's intelligence and drive, even when he's not in the suit. At times it's unclear just how much of his personality as a egotistical shallow genius is really that or a show. There's one point after he really makes a complete jerk of himself that it's implied that he engineered the whole debacle so that Rhodey would steal the suit and become his replacement.

Only a few things bothered me in the movie. One, the armored threat. It seems to be the tact of the movies to make the hero and villains too much of the same cloth. He fought an armored villain the first movie, it would have been nice to see a different kind of threat. The Hulk movies went the same route, where the villains were just reflections of the hero.

I thought Hammer was too lightweight of a bad-guy as well. If not for Sam Rockwell's performance, he would have been a complete joke. I never felt that Stark or his business was ever in any actual danger from Hammer as he was completely shown up by Stark in every single situation. He was never a credible or serious threat, just an annoyance. In fact, Stark's enemy was really only himself and his own shortcomings and not Hammer. This backfires a bit as it distances Stark from us. It's a role reversal of the Doctor Doom and Reed Richards relationship in the first FF movie. Stark and Doom are the arrogant and more successful men and who come out on top continuously throughout the movie, their undoing more from the worse parts of their nature. The difference being that at the end of the day, we know Stark will redeem himself, while Doom will ultimately pay the price for his arrogance.

Census: I'm temporarily working for the census and it really amazes me the resistance and anger to it that I've been seeing in the field and online. How does the line go? I like individuals, it's people I can't stand. And, it's not in the places you'd expect. I am in a rural county, lots of nice subdivisions alongside mobile home parks and farms. The people in the nice homes, the ones that benefit the MOST from the information gathered are the ones that are the most resistant, rude or won't even answer their doors. The simple fact is that government is only a small part of who makes use of that data.

Unless you live in the woods in a house that you built yourself by chopping down the trees, dug your own well, have no power and grow all your own food, you benefit from the information gathered. A recent news story talked about how whites were moving from the suburbs into the city, guess where a lot of that type of statistical information comes from? When businesses look to locate, it's based on demographics gotten from the local governments. Your roads, emergency services as well as local services such as power, water, trash pickup, schools... all based on statistics gathered from the census and which drive the value of your property. The building you are living in exists because some builder made a decision based on local demographics, largely built from census info.

Ironically, by not filling out the census, it causes the government to spend MORE of taxpayers' money in trying to get that info, the going door-t0-door is the most expensive part. And, it only guarantees that someone is going to come to your front door, and keep coming to pester you. If you seriously have something to hide or don't want to be bothered, the smart thing to do was to actually mail it in and the government won't come snooping around your door trying to get or verify the information.