Friday, December 17, 2010

Some reviews and the Green Hornet director mouths off

Recently got married, moved to Greensboro and got a laptop computer. Means I have some hard choices ahead of me. Or maybe not so hard after all. My wife's place is smaller than mine (I moved because she has a good, steady job, I'm still looking). There's just no room for 23 or more boxes of comics and looking at things with my mom and my grandmother, I wonder at the need for that many comics, comics I'll never read again. I had posted them for sale at Craigslist at one time but only got a few nibbles and I'll probably post it again. But, as I started going through the comics, I realized that out of all those boxes and thousands of comics, I could probably whittle it down to two boxes. Almost all of the works by George Perez, Walt Simonson, Mignola, and John Byrne have been collected so I don't need all the individual issues of Avengers, Thor, Fantasatic Four, Hellboy, Next Men, etc. All of the JSA and appearances by individual heroes of Earth-2 have been collected, so no real need for all of those All-Stars, JLA-JSA crossovers, etc. I don't even need Ditko's Charlton work as those have likewise been collected. Trades and hardbacks are so much more easily manageable and readable. And, there's a lot of critically acclaimed comics that I just don't re-read though I'm glad I got them at the time: Morrison's Animal Man, Gaiman's Sandman, Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Top Ten. The stuff I'd keep is probably the stuff that is almost worthless to most people but the most fun to me: the various Doc Savage comics (before the current stuff), Gerard Jones' El Diablo and Shadow Strikes. Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron (not collected). Aparo's Phantom Stranger. My Phantom comics, especially those by Newton and Aparo. At least until a publisher gets around to reprinting them. Giant-Size Superheroes pitting Spider-man against Morbius and the Man-wolf. Tom DeFalco's run on FF, Thor, Thunderstrike, and Spider-Girl. Various comics by Butch Guice, specifically Micronauts and Resurrection Man. My Rom comics. Uncollected works of Gil Kane. But, it's getting so that I don't even expect to see those uncollected forever. After all, we're seeing other publishers publishing reprints of Marvel's past licensed titles.

I don't buy that many more new comics, and I get fewer all the time. I mostly get minis, but those have been souring on me as well as more than half seem to drop the ball in the last issue (see Shadowland: Blood on the Streets for the most recent example or Union Jack, Agents of Atlas, and Sable and Fortune for past ones). Waiting for the trade seems to be the best course on those unless by proven creators and talent. Case in point, I'd really like to get the Dead Avengers mini that is spinning out of Chaos War storyline. It features art by one of the best and under-utilized superhero artists out there, Tom Grummet. But, I've seen how this usually pans out, and with the price, I decided I'd just wait until it gets the inevitable trade. Meanwhile, I am getting DeFalco and Frenz's Thunderstrike.

The prices, decompressed storylines and increasingly unrecognizable characterizations further distance me from the various ongoings. One of the few that I never thought I'd seriously consider dropping was the main JSA book. Putting Scott Kolins on as artist almost did the job, but the recent revelations that Blue Devil and Manhunter were being added to the team hammered that final nail. Manhunter is one of the few characters I cannot divorce from the ego of the creator, whose approach to writing is so diametrically opposite my own philosophies, I am not able to buy a book with her in it (Bucky-Cap is another). I find, if I can drop the JSA book, it's easy to say adios to the rest. I'll stick with odd minis here and there, but the desire to actually "collecting" monthly comics is gone.

Another factor, although small one is the move divorces me from the shop I've long done business with. There's a good store in town, maybe even better in terms of layout and availability of material. And they seem excited about comics, enjoy them to no end. Which is good, but it's an excitement on the stuff and creators I find dreary while likewise they will disparage creators I like, often with ill-founded rumors. Not to me, mind you. They don't know me well enough to make that realization. Just stuff I overhear while they are talking with other customers. They carry tons of classic stuff that you don't normally see, but an actual love over the vast history of comics doesn't come through. I will probably go there for my off and on fixes of the most recent issue of this or that comic, but I'll just make monthly trips to Raleigh for my pulp stuff.

Green Hornet Movie: Read this at the comicbookresources site and just couldn't let it pass without commenting. Apparently, Green Hornet director Michel Gondry complained about comic fans walking out on a viewing at Comi-con, saying, "These ones just reinforce the social rules. Their values are fascistic. All those people marching around in capes and masks and boots. The superhero imagery is totally fascist! When you step into this genre, they feel it belongs to them. They want you to conform, or they won't like you. They want the conventional." He also says the film plays fine for "normal people." Ok. So, comic and super-hero fans equal "Fascist" and low-brow humor, bad-acting and Seth Rogen fans equal "Normal". There are just so many things wrong with his statements. Like many of the modern comic writers, he is basically screaming his disdain for the very characters and concepts he has chosen to work with and the fans of those characters. And, he expects people to like it. Oh, wait, he expects they won't because they aren't "normal". So, anyone that doesn't like it is apparently not normal either. I guess that's one way to shield yourself from any honest criticism or self-evaluation.

Notice all of the inherent contradictions in his statements. On one hand he calls them "fascist", then they dress up in costumes, capes and boots, but somehow reinforce social rules and want conventional, none of which go hand in hand with wearing costumes. Yet because of wanting "social rules" and "conventional" they are not normal (which would be about two of the most basic qualities I'd expect from someone that was "normal").

Yet, it also betrays a very fundamental misunderstanding of superheroes in general, their tradition and history and that of the Green Hornet specifically. It shows us a man that chose to make a film without the least bit understanding the source material beyond looking at the 1960s television show and probably reading Watchmen. How else do you make a blanket statement that all superheroes are fascist? Are cops and soldiers by their nature, also fascist? Private detective fiction? Modern comics have gotten away from their roots a bit, to be sure, but superheroes were originally voices against corruption, complacity, the feeling of powerlessness against the larger injustices of the world. Especially those that came along in the 1930s and 40s, growing out of the pulp movement. They were to serve as voices for justice when the law wasn't enough or when the law was part of the problem due to unfair laws, discrimination, laziness, graft and bribes. They were avatars for the normal people, acting in ways we couldn't.

By his nature, the Green Hornet has in his concept to be every inch a success the way that Nolan's Batman movies are. But, it takes a director that understands a bit more of the concepts of the character, that doesn't attack the characters and fans basic integrities by making fun of them and calling them names.

Reviews: Ironically, the week I decide to cut back on comics turned out to be a "heavy" comic week for me. Although, at one time the money I spent and the amount of comics I got would be a normal or light week.

Archie and Friends #150: Not a title I normally get. But, how could I resist a title that features various and extremely minor MLJ characters such as Kardak the Mystic, Fu Chang, Sam Hill, Inspector Bently, the Midshipman Lee Sampson, and Sgt. Boyle as well as appearances by L'il Jinx, Danny in Wonderland, Suzie, Catfish Joe and probably others I don't recognize? Answer, I couldn't. Not normally my cup of tea, but it's great to see them. Maybe with the failure of the Red Circle line at DC, maybe Archie is looking at the reception of the characters presented in a non-reimagined albeit more cartoony form?

Avengers Academy #7: I got this solely for Hank Pym going back to being Giant-Man. He's had a history of costume and name changes and some of those costumes were badly designed, but his turn of being the Wasp was one of the more ludicrous in a history of bad decisions and bad designs. McKone's redesign manages to echo the classic and iconic with a few modern touches (don't really care for the pin-stripe lines as they don't really seem to add anything to the design other than a desperate attempt to make it not look dated). And, the concept and idea behind AA struck me as the most interesting of the various Avenger relaunches, but I just couldn't accept the Hank-as-Wasp idea.

I wish the writing lived up to the fun aspect of the cover or even the idea of Giant Man throwing down with the Absorbing Man. Like all stories featuring Hank Pym, it just cannot let go of the past and all the bad decisions regarding the character. I haven't read an Iron Man comic in years, but surely not every single writer fashions every important story around him focusing on his arm-dealer days, alcoholism, betrayal of friends in Armor Wars and the Crossing. But, that's what we get here. Instead of actually seeing how powerful a character he is, the writer first has to bog him down by rehashing his "relationships" with Tigra and Jocasta, his history of mental issues, his tumultuous relationship with Janet Van Dyne, psycho-babble of rationales for taking on various identities, etc. Given a few extra pages, I'm sure we'd have seen scenes showing the infamous slap, betrayal of the Avengers, and creating Ultron. By the time we get to the actual fight scene, the writer has done a thorough job of making me not liking the character, I don't really care that he wins the day. He's still a putz.

And, his manner of winning... I am all for characters using their powers in new and interesting ways. But, here we have Pym using his powers in ways that defy logic and any sense of his use of them in the past. One of the traditional differences between Marvel and DC was the scope of the powers. The Flash can run faster than the speed of light, vibrate through solid matter, and use his speed to travel other dimensions including time. Quicksilver doesn't even routinely break the sound barrier. Superman has a host of powers, Thor is strong and has a hammer. Almost every scientist in the DCU is as smart as Reed Richards. Plastic Man can make himself into any shape, Reed Richards merely stretches. Thus, you have the Atom who regularly visits sub-atomic worlds whereas Pym rarely gets smaller than, well, an ant. Likewise, his giant-size growing has always been shown to be as routinely "realistic" in scale.  Lately, he's been depicted as tall as buildings, and as such I have a hard time accepting seeing him going through the city without doing extensive property damage or stepping on someone in a densely populated city like New York. We see that several times in this fight. It's not two men twenty feet tall duking it out, which would be impressive enough with the right artist, but hundreds feet tall or more while leaning on suspension bridges for support. It's stupid. If the battle was at that scale, I'd expect to see dialogue and scenes of the hero trying to control the battle. Then to add insult to injury, Pym gives a speech about their being a limit to the physical growth of a human body, which is in reality much less than what's shown here. Don't bring in an actual physics statement while violating it. But, the statement is to show something never shown before as being part of his power and ability, that at some point, you leave physical reality to one of abstract and conceptual. He can grow so large, that he is able to be in the realm of Order and Chaos, Eternity, the Living Tribunal. How large is that, though? He doesn't just magically immediately go from 6 ft to 12 ft or 100 ft. He grows and  shrinks.  This means to get to 12 feet, he must go through 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 feet tall. How tall would he have to grow to actually change his reality? Two-hundred feet? Five hundred? A mile? Imagine what kind of damage that two such growing bodies would do before they make the transition. It's one of those kewl ideas, but is not thought out and is too extreme of a device to be used so casually and easily.

I went into this comic, preparing to like it. Wanting to like it, especially with how many comics I'm not getting these days, I wouldn't mind having one ongoing title to get from Marvel. But, they blew it.

Captain America: Patriot: There's not much to add to this that I've not said about the previous issues. It ends on a happier note than I would have expected and with un-resolved subplot elements such as what happened with Mary Morgan and was she a spy. Done several years ago, I think this book would have been an excellent read and as such, it might stand the test of time. However, in the context of today's comics that are so bent on giving heroes feet of clay, "realistic" costumes and so on, this book doesn't really stand out. Jeff Mace is portrayed as being dull and luke-warm, second rate in his own title. He's likable but in a girl/boy-next-door way when you really want the bad boy or head cheerleader. The scenes where he exerts his personality and shows backbone are too few and far between.

John Byrne's Next Men #3/1: After a long hiatus, an oft requested title is back after ending its last chapter on a cliffhanger. It doesn't matter if the reader has read the original books or not as Byrne incorporates a summation of the previous plotlines in such a way that it's part of the story. All that has gone before is called in to question as Jasmine/Bounce seems to "bounce" between realities and timelines. How much is her dream and how much is time and reality being flux is left open to question by the issue's end. At its heart, the story has always been a time-travel story, something Byrne has professed to loving to do and many of his best works have been time-travel stories: Days of Future Past, OMAC. The fast-paced transitions serve to leave the reader and Jasmine unsettled as to what is really happening and what really happened and that's a good thing. By the end, both new readers and returning ones are pretty much on the same page as to having insight into the real reality. Of course in the last series, often what I thought was going on was not really what was happening. Making this a good series for those people who actually enjoy television shows like Heroes, Lost, No Ordinary Family. Here is the same thing without actually dragging stuff out.

This is the best artwork that Byrne has ever produced, with the possible exception being the aforementioned OMAC mini-series. It incorporates the best elements from the different periods of his career and make them all work seamlessly together. The only disconnect for me is that somewhere along the way, he picked up a cartooning style of portraying mouth expressions at times. It shows up here where Danny is complaining about his back, while it would work in something like a humor strip, it seems out of place in the relative realism that this strives for. But old Jack's beard on the final pages more than makes up for that, it has feathering and texture and no hard boundaries or outlines. Wonderful stuff.

The colors by Ronda Pattison are wonderfully subdued, often providing just the right amount of shading without looking like it's trying to do the penciler's job for him in providing detail.

Sea Ghost: I recently had the fortune of winning this comic from comicbookcatacombs. I like aquatic heroes in general, and this one has a wonderful old school design behind him. The cover is a neat nod to Bronze-Age Marvel books and the art on both it and the alternate back cover is nicely done. The interior story, style and characterizations have a retro Filmation style to them, deliberately so. Unfortunately, I'm not really drawn to comics drawn in animation style. Partly because it's really a faux or pastiche style. Animation has specific concerns and limitations it has to deal with that have nothing to do with comic books. Adapting that style for a print medium is a deliberate limiting style and usually used to communicate things that weren't really part of the intended message of the animation itself. Such as, when animation style is used in comics, it communicates that it will probably be toned and dumbed down in order to be suitable for kids. The Incredibles movie was suitable for all ages, many adults enjoyed it as much or more than kids. You do a comic drawn that way and it's suddenly aimed solely at 8 year olds.

Yet that style is compromised by the heavy use of computer to color and illustrate it, making it look more like a daily web-comic. So, the end result is feeling like reading a collection of strips of a web-comic that was heavily influenced by Alex Toth's work in animation. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not really what I was expecting when looking at the covers and it struggles in some places trying to mix it all into one style. And, the covers and some background scenes show that the artist really does have a wonderful line along the lines of Guy Davis as well as a strong design and layout skills so some panels are really beautiful where it all works. Give me Sea Ghost in a book with a more conventional style (though can still be influenced by the designs of Toth, just try not to actually ape it) and I think you'd have a winner.

Shadowland: Blood on the Streets: If I had known the mini was going to end the way it did,  I wouldn't have bothered. I wasn't getting the main mini-series, because by all accounts reading it was not required to enjoy the related minis and in this it was true. I was drawn by the inclusion of the Shroud, a long time favorite and the Paladdin who I do find interesting on occasion. Misty Knight and Silver Sable, don't really care one way or the other.

Sadly, most of it really seemed to be from Misty's point of view as the various heroes get drawn into investigating murders by the Hand, controlled by Daredevil. I liked the idea. I liked the idea of a good pulp story mixed in with heroes actually trying to solve a crime and the prospect of heroes fighting ninjas.

As it progressed, it seemed someone was setting the Hand up, using them as a scapegoat. Fine. Maybe not the Hand but some other hidden mastermind using ninjas, or at least well-trained killers, as henchmen. Only that's not where it went. Instead, it went for the cliche, a group of disgruntled cops turning vigilante to kill perps who got off using Daredevil and the Hand as cover. Completely anti-climactic considering the likes of the Shroud, Palladin, Misty Knight AND Silver Sable working on the case. Very little for them to really do and certainly no real physical action or viable threat level from the bad guys to the point that it takes the Hand trying to exact their revenge on the rogue cops that give them a reason for really being there.

It furthers the crime by making the head bad cop be Lt. Scarfe, longtime good cop and supporting cast member of Iron Fist. Another story that chooses to make the bad guy be a formerly good guy just out of the blue with no real supporting rationale. It works for the story being told barely, if he was a character never seen before. That would make the story merely mediocre with nothing to recommend it as it covers ground that other works have done better. But, to take a long-standing if minor character and turn him into the villain screams desperation of trying to make an otherwise dull story be shocking and have real ramifications. The character and the readers deserve better than that. There should be a real story behind it beyond just tired of seeing bad guys getting away.

Spider-Girl: I wouldn't have normally picked this up. It happened to be in my bag since I was signed up for the old series with a different character by the same name. And, I shouldn't like it for many reasons. I was a fan of the other series and hate to see it cancelled just so another character can use the name; while the art was clear, the coloring tried to give everything a sorta faux 3-D pixar feel to it, a popular coloring style these days but not my cup of tea as it just looks false and cold to me; several scenes and just the basic concept that just threw me out of the story; and her and her father's motivation is never explained. Yet, I found myself enjoying it despite that. It had a charm to it that is often lacking in Marvel's comics today outside of something with Squirrel Girl.

I doubt it's enough to make me pick it up on a regular basis. There were too many things just glossed over or ignored. It was one thing with May fighting crime, she had superpowers. But, here we have a teen-aged girl fighting crime but with no motivation beyond being a bit of a superhero groupie. She is supposed to have been trained by the best, but that's not really shown or explained. After all, she also once had powers. How much training since then has she had that really prepares her to take down grown men or mediocre supervillains that cops couldn't handle? It's a fine line between suspension of disbelief of having a teen-aged girl manage to outfight and outwit some minor supervillain and the cops commenting on how they had been unable to do so, you either build her up to be exceptional or make the cops seem completely inept. Sadly, the lame villain made the scene veer to the latter. How does she swing through the city, starting from a sidewalk? Did she somehow snag a nearby helicopter? And, is that Spider-man's webbing she's using, otherwise, where is all that line coming from and how is she shooting it? And, even if she's a capable fighter, what kind of father actually would allow his teen-age daughter fight criminals? It's a tired cliche  of irresponsibility when there's an adult hero at least supervising it, how irresponsible is it to just allow her to do it unsupervised?

While not enough for me to warrant to continually get it, I do hope it's successful. I think a book of it's type is needed in the marketplace and fills an underserved niche. However, it's the same niche that the other Spider-Girl filled and she struggled to find a readership and marketplace. Maybe they are hoping with this one tied to the mainstream continuity, it can get needed boosts by crossovers with the Spider-man books and other titles which the other book could not do. Although in my case it was part of what made it attractive, I didn't have to worry about the book getting highjacked by outside storylines.

Thunderstrike #1: Meanwhile DeFalco and Frenz return with another hero. I enjoyed Eric Masterton's turn as Thor and later Thunderstrike. There was a bit of the well-meaning nice every-man about him, struggling to balance job, family and a sideline business as a superhero. In many ways, he was of the same stripe as Peter Parker. He was a nice guy with a big sense of responsibility, struggling to find his way in an increasingly bizarre world without an operator's manual. And, ultimately it killed him. Ads from Marvel suggested that Eric was coming back, but the art and previews pretty much hinted that it's someone else that has inherited his powers and looks. It's no big surprise as it turns out to be his son Kevin who has struggles of his own. He's a teenager and he's never really come to terms with his dad's death. He resents his dad and almost all adults and their involvement in trying to tell him what the right things to do are, he's seen what doing the right thing gets you. He's a supervillain in the making. But, he's a teenager. That means he's full of contradictions and how he deliberately acts and how he instinctively acts are not always the same thing. It's a great beginning, to see how he grows and which paths he ultimately chooses to follow. And, being a DeFalco book, it means there's plenty of action, before the first issue is done, we see the new hero-to-be and a slam-bang fight with the Rhino. More first issues should be like this: introduction of principal characters, external and internal conflicts, angst, and plenty of action of superheroes fighting supervillains.

Time Masters #5: This mini is nearing its end and about the only thing that would make me get the final issue is I got the other four. It might just be easier to list where the comic goes wrong.

  1. The cover shows us the climactic reveal from the END of the book. The final scene is played out as the heroes are being attacked by someone moving too fast to be seen. But, thanks to the cover, we already know who it is. Otherwise, has nothing else to do with the rest of the story.
  2. After several issues with Claw and non-Titan Starfire, they are returned home without doing much of anything storywise other than to gripe and complain.
  3. Likewise, their villains are taken care of in such a casual manner it makes you wonder what the whole point of it was other than to give the heroes something to do other than looking for Bruce Wayne while giving time to relate the story of the Black Beetle's plot to catch up.
  4. What happened to Per Degaton, Despero and the Ultra-Humanite? After being in the book from the beginning, they went from interesting classic time-traveling masterminds to mere henchmen and are now gone, disappearing in between issues.
  5. Lastly, the art continues to look as if it's drawn with eyes for the sale on the original art market as Green Lantern continues to face the reader while reacting to things and making constructs behind him or the whole group holds a conversation facing the reader instead of each other. Bad storytelling.
Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula: I bypassed the Sherlock Holmes vs Zombies book, but Holmes is a character I love and with the increasing dearth of comics, a mini I thought I could live with. And, I've read several Sherlock Holmes and Dracula books in the past, so a comic is also going to appeal.

What's great about this mini is it doesn't try to be a pastiche. The art doesn't try to be Victorian illustration and the storytelling doesn't try to do it through Watson's eyes. It is using Holmes, Watson and Dracula as characters and being true to their characters without actually pretending to be done by Doyle or Stoker. Watson is drawn as the cliche'd older man while Holmes looks decades younger and a bit more good looking than he should but otherwise it all looks good. The covers to the first two issues have a great sense of design and color that really stand out, almost like vintage movie posters.

Likewise, the writing provides plenty of space for art and action to move the story, recognizing that it's a modern day comicbook with all the strengths and weaknesses of that vs prose (especially Victorian prose). It tells the story in according to the strengths of its media without seeming anachronistic or out of place. It's been years since I read Dracula, but so far the story seems to follow along the lines of Loren Estleman's Holmes-Dracula book, keeping to the story that Stoker told but telling the previously unrevealed roles that Holmes and Watson played from their point of view, changing very little of the original narrative.

The last mini had zombies and revenants, this has Dracula and vampires, will the next be mummies?