Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Weekly Haul: April 30th

Action Comics #864 (DC Comics) My favorite issues of Geoff Johns’ JSA run were always the ones between the big story arcs, the ones where he has the characters just sort of hanging out and decompressing for 22 pages or so before he plunges them into the next four- to eight-part epic. And this issue of Action is the Superman equivalent of one of those.

Batman flies to the Fortress of Solitude to find Superman hanging out with Lightning Lad, drinking sodas and reminiscing over the good old days. And boy is Batman jealous! Seeing Batman and Lightning Lad verbally spar over Superman’s attention and affection is a real treat. The issue also sets up that Legion of Three Worlds miniseries Johns is working on with George Perez, and includes Batman showing Superman the bodies of Karate Kid and What’sherfacefromCountdown. Plus, a crazy-ass Starman cameo!

Guest-penciller Joe Prado joins regular inker Jon Sibal, and it’s decent enough work, if you forgive a mangled arm or ankle here or there (Also, he draws Batman’s cowl so you can see the armor plating in it, which I found a little distracting). Too bad cover artist Kevin Maguire didn’t handle the interiors too; this conversation-heavy script would have really played to his strengths.

Avengers: The Initiative #12 (Marvel Comics) If the last story arc was the climax to the first act of Dan Slott and company’s book about the new, post-Civil War Marvel Universe, then this is the denouement. The original class of trainees graduates, gets new (ugly as hell) costumes and (in some cases) codenames, and get assigned to new teams. There’s a hearing about the whole killing and cloning MVP scandal (featuring pretty funny testimony from Henry Gyrich). There’s a funeral. There’s a new status quo for the old New Warriors. There’s…there’s just a lot going on here. This comic felt like it was three times longer than the average Marvel comic, and that’s definitely a good thing. The real-world parallels between Marvel’s whole Civil War story in this issue get a little uncomfortable—like when Nighthawk is passing out Purple Hearts while visiting the wounded—but Slott and co-writer Christos Gage keep the tone light enough to forgive some of the heavier baggage they inherited from Civil War.

Couple of questions for the reading audience: Who the hell is the new 3-D Man? That’s not supposed to be Triathalon, is it? And is Think Tank a new character? Because he is awesome. Particularly his headband.

Blue Beetle #26 (DC) I had fully intended to drop this series after last issue, writer John Rogers’ final issue on the title, but I couldn’t resist this one, an (almost) all-Spanish one-off in which Jaime “El Escarabajo Azul” Reyes brings his new girlfriend and EDILW favorite Traci 13 to a family reunion…the half of the family that only speaks Spanish.

It’s the work of guest-creators Jai Nitz and Mike Norton, and it was the sort of rare book I read a few times in a row. The first time through, I read it in Spanish, which is essentially the way Traci, who doesn’t speak Spanish*, would have experienced the story. It proved a good test of Mike Norton’s abilities, as he was called on to draw a story that could be told solely by his work, if the reader didn’t speak Spanish either. He passed the test with flying colors, as I made it through on my few years of high school Spanish just fine, with the exception of the part where the scarab somehow defeats Superman villain The Parasite. (Norton also provides two beautiful images of Blue Beetle in flight with a friend; a two-page splash at the beginning, and a one-page splash at the end).

Nitz’ story emphasizes one of the elements of Rogers’ run on the book that made it so unlike all other super-comics, and therefore so refreshing to read—the positive role the lead’s family plays in both his life and his superhero career.

This issue is 51-cents more expensive than the last 25 issues, even though there are only 22 pages of story. It does, however, include an eight-page English script at the end, illustrated with sketches of the characters.

And by the time I got to the next issue box and saw said next issue’s cover (featuring Traci), I found myself wanting to see what happened next for Jaime and his family. I definitely want to see him meet Traci’s dead at some point in the future, but I think I’d rather see Brian Azzarello write that story

Confidential to “The Posse”: Not only is the name of your team/gang lame, but your individual names are really lame too.

Caliber #1 (Radical Publishing) The thing about high concept comics is that sometimes they’re really high, and they’re walking a tight rope between really cool and kinda silly, and, should they fall, they can fall farther and faster than the quality of these reviews when I attempt a metaphor.

If there’s any risk involved with this high-concept five-issue series, however, it’s for the publisher, rather than the consumer, as this first issue is bargain-priced at just $1.

So here’s the high concept of Caliber, which will make its title immediately clear: King Arthur in the American Old West.

The Merlin figure is a medicine man who finds a magic gun that only one man, the man he calls “the Lawbringer,” the man who will unite the various warring people’s of the West; the Native American tribes, the French, the white and the Spanish (Hey, aren’t French people white too?), can ever fire.

He suspects the Lawbringer is Captain Pendergon, but no dice. My bet is that it will turn out to be Pendergon’s son Arthur, who that foxy Gwen was flirting with.

That should be all the information you need to decide if this particular high-concept I cool or goofy (although either way; it’s only a dollar, after all).

I’m a little torn, myself. Writer Sam Sarkar does a decent enough job Westernizing the basic Arthur story, but due to the mechanical nature of the job, the story itself seems kind of lifeless so far. That could be partially due to it just starting too, however; I am kind of curious to see what the Knights of the Roundtable end up being like.

The art, by Garrie Gastonny “of Imaginary Friends Studios” is pretty great; a little slicker and more painterly than I like, but there can’t be too many people who think, “Aw man, why are the production values so high on this comic?” So that may just be me.

DC Universe 0 (DC) This is a somewhat difficult comic to discuss at this point, the day of release, since the most noteworthy aspect of it (other than it’s fifty-cent price) is it’s big surprise ending, a last page that should fire up anyone who’s ever read DC Comics**. I’m not exactly sure what “it” portends, and it’s possible it portends something quite negative in terms for DC’s future creative output, but whatever is going on, it’s clearly big and clearly exciting in a way that neither Countdown, 52, Infinite Crisis or Identity Crisis ultimately were.

Co-writers Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns (i.e. the two guys at DC that really seem to know what the hell they’re doing, and also seem to have the commercial clout to overrule editorial fiat as often as not) frame the short, 24-page story with a clever bit of narration about the nature of the DC Universe and itscCrises (akin to the super-simplified, three-panel Superman origin in Morrison’s All-Star Superman) at the beginning and the bombshell last page.

As for the middle, it’s something of a clip-show of teases for future miniseries and storylines, all of which have already been announced and interviews granted on—Final Crisis, Fianl Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, “Batman: R.I.P.,” Final Crisis: Revelations and a Wonder Woman arc (which looks like just about every other Wonder Woman arc).

The art is, of course, incredibly inconsistent, but then, there are nine different pencillers working on the thing, ranging from awesome to awful. Ed Benes contributes a page featuring the Justice League, which is as terrible as all of Ed Benes Justice League images; Perez draws the Legion seen in the recent Superman arc, and it looks like Perez’s art always does, etc. The only portion of the art that really surprised was Tony Daniel’s Batman pages; I’m not sure if it’s the inking, the coloring, or the many tightly-focused panels per page, but it’s clearly the work of the same pencil artist, only all dressed up to hide the weaknesses of his work.

A couple of other things worth noting.

First, I was really struck by how things Morrison and company have been talking about forever happen—the DC Universe seemingly claiming sentience, old JLA villain Libra showing up as a big, huge deal ready to grant villains their desires, the formation of a rainbow of Lantern corps, etc.—and it still seems surprising in its execution.

And secondly, this was originally going to be Countdown to Final Crisis #0, and yet it has absolutely nothing to do with the 51 issues of Countdown. I dropped Countdown early on, but still flipped through it to look at the origin story back-ups, and read the weekly Newsarama interviews to watch editor Mike Carlin bicker with Matt Brady, so I have a pretty good idea what happened during it, and who all the players are. None of those players are in this book (Captain Cold mentions what a shit year he and his fellow villains have had, but every year is a shit year for the Rogues, and if they were referring to Countdown tie-in Salvation Run, the Joker sequence specifically ignores his presence in the same series…as well as his two Dini-written Detective Comics appearances) and the events of it seem completely unimportant.

If Countdown To Final Crisis was counting down to Final Crisis, thus far it seems to have been doing so only technically; as in it was a series that was running until Final Crisis began (The last Action Comics story arc, “The Sinestro Corps War” and Morrison’s Batman run seemed to feed into this special in a tangible way; that is, those are stories that were actually counting down to Final Crisis).

In fact, the story seems to pick up right where 52 left off, in terms of Morrison’s work on Batman tearing himself down and rebuilding and the bits of the series that dealt with a religion of evil, worshipping a dark god, at least. While this isn’t exactly the first issue of Final Crisis, it’s at least the teaser trailer for it (and a handful of other big DC stories), and if you hold it to your ear and listen very closely, you can almost hear it humming, “Fuck you Paul Dini; we’ll count down to our own damn Final Crisis.”

Glamourpuss #1 (Aardvark-Vanaheim) I know we just got done talking about DC’s DC Universe 0, a book garnering mainstream media attention in which a long-dead character comes back to life/a very significant character dies/something happens to the Multiverse (as that describes one in three big DC stories, I don’t think that technically constitutes a spoiler), but make no mistake, Glamourpuss is really the most significant release of the week.

This is the answer to the long-time question of “What will Dave Sim be doing after Cerebus?”, the 300-issue self-published series he describes in these pages as his “6,000-page, 26-year graphic novel.”

And it’s not what anyone would have expected.

Of course, the nature of the project was revealed a few months back, when Sim sent out preview copies to shop-owners to give folks an idea of what it is they might be ordering. It’s not even a comic, although it’s about the size and shape of one. Rather, it’s page after page of Sim drawing fashion models from reference and reproducing panels form Alex Raymond strips, while discussing Raymond and some of his contemporaries’ art styles, techniques and equipment through narration boxes and the occasional dialogue bubble. (Sim himself points out that this isn’t a comic strip, though it looks like one in a flip-through—he then attempts to tell a comic story using these sorts of images just to show how impossible it would be. Apparently, he hasn’t read much of Greg Land’s work).

I have literally just finished reading this as I type this, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it just yet. I haven’t talked a whole bunch about Dave Sim since I started EDILW, in part because he’s one of those comics industry figures who evokes such strong reactions from other comics folks that talking about him tends to be pretty tiresome. That, and I don’t really get him. I’ve read so many crazy-ass things attributed to him, but I can’t tell how many of those things are honest-to-God beliefs of his, and how much is him kidding, or simply hyperbolic attributions (I had exactly one interaction with him in my whole life; a phone interview in 2000 or so, and he seemed like a pretty nice, reasonable and bright guy during it).

In addition to not knowing, I guess I should say I don’t really care either. A comics creator’s personal beliefs might make them personally unlikable to me, but it doesn’t affect how good they are at their work (The reverse is true too). I only bring this up because a great deal of this book deals with fashion, and the making fun of it. And jokes about the fashion industry and models are so easy, they hardly ever seem worth making. But given what I’ve read about Sim’s beliefs about the Y-chromosome free half of the human species, some of the moments within might be greatly colored by how much you know and/or care about Sim’s opinions about women.

I’ll probably write more coherently about Glamourpuss in a few more days, after I’ve had a chance to re-read it and digest it properly, but off-the-cuff, I will say that Sim is a great artist, the book is designed and laid-out beautifully, and he is one of my favorite letterers ever; I could read just about anything as long as he hand-lettered it. The subject matter is so specific and so idiosyncratic, that I’m not sure how wide its appeal is—I love comics and drawing, and I got far more detail than I could understand regarding the type of pen or pencil or whatever Sim was drawing some panels in—but formatting an essay or mediation on a comics artist to look a bit like a comic makes for a great way to read about comics. Particularly on a Wednesday afternoon, after polishing off a stack of comics. If this were an illustrated prose piece, I wouldn’t have brought it home from the shop with me. But because it’s an illustrated prose piece that looks and reads like a comic book, well, here I am talking about it. Even if I’m talking about it incoherently. More on Monday in “Best Shots.”

Green Lantern #30 (DC) In this second chapter of Hal Jordan’s origin story, Geoff Johns deviates more sharply from previous versions, which is rather welcome, given how kind of pointless that first chapter seemed. I really liked the last panel, as I had never read a story featuring that guy looking like that, and don’t really know what his whole deal is.

Helen Killer #1 (Arcana Comics) Okay, now this, this is high concept. This comic’s plot in a nut shell—Helen Keller gets sight, hearing, speech and super-fighting skills from an invention of pal Alexander Graham Bell’s and joins the secret service to save President William McKinley from anarchist assassins—and the somewhat tasteless pun of a title pretty much demand a looksee.

And I was rather surprised to find that I really liked what I did see. This is, plain and simple, Helen Keller as Frank Miller’s Daredevil, as the Miller inspired cover by Matthew JLD Rice and Chris Moreno makes pretty clear.

The story is, of course, completely ridiculous, but writer Adrew Kreisberg plays it dead pan straight. After opening with the breakthrough moment at the well, he flashes forward to Bell demonstrating his “Omnicle,” a pair of dark glasses which, when switched on, not only cure Keller’s blindness and deafness, but, in the process, give her “Herculean strength and agility,” and allows her to see evil in a man’s heart.

Rice’s stark black and white art is pretty incredible. Together, he and Kreisberg have devised some interesting ways to communicate the way Keller and her teacher communicate, and there’s a simply bravura eight-page action sequence in which Keller beats down three armed men with her powers that’s just as well choreographed and communicated as anything I’ve seen in, say, Iron Fist.

I was pretty surprised to find the “to be continued” in the last panel and find that this is actually a four issue miniseries, given the fact that it’s not really a premise that seems capable of sustaining itself for more than a single reading, but I guess we’ll see. As (intentionally) over-the-top stupid as the story is, it’s also extremely well told.

Hercules #1 (Radical) Well, it’s apparently a good time to be both a comics reader and a fan of classical mythologies most famous demigod, because not only is Herc currently starring in Marvel’s most fun and entertaining monthly series (The Incredible Hercules), he’s also starring in this five part miniseries from Radical, which hews closer to the mythic version.

Well, that’s not exactly true, as Marvel’s hews close to the mythic version too. Perhaps I should just say that Radical’s isn’t set in the present day, and is about 100% less likely to have Iron Man show up at any point.

In searching for the products of another comics company to compare this first issue too, Marvel only comes to mind because they’ve also got a decent Hercules book going at the moment. Radical’s book reminds me a bit of the Virgin Comics line, in it’s slick production value and it’s hard to make sense of credits, and Dark Horse’s Conan books, as this is very much a Hercules as Dark Horse’s Conan type of story (manly man action, lush, painterly art, lots of red-splattered violence, etc).

The logo, title hero character design and one of the two covers (the one pictured above) come courtesy of comics legend Jim Steranko. The interior art is by Admira Wijaya “of Imaginary Friends Studios.” The colorists are “Imaginary Friends Studios featuring Sunny Gho & Skan Srisuwan” so, keep in mind, this book owes its looks to Imaginary Friends Studios. Got it? It’s apparently very important.

Steve Moore’s script opens with that pseudo-pulpy pretentiousness that informs so many Conan comics, with narrator telling us, “We men live in a world where everything’s a story, played out at the whim of the deities. And either the gods like tragedies…or they don’t like us.

And it gets worse from there, but the narration doesn’t last long, and things turn around once we start meeting the cast-members (Additionally, Todd Klein letters the book, so even if the narration is unintentionally funny, it looks great).

Iolaus and Meneus arrive by chariot in Thrace, to prepare the way for Herc and his RPG campaign’s worth of fellow mercenaries, most of whom you’ll recognize from Bullfinch’s Mythology. They’re quite poorly received, and insulted until they’re goaded into doing battle with the king who had hired them, but it turns out that things aren’t quite what they seem, leading to an effective cliffhanger.

When I was comparing the book to Dark Horse’s current Conan, I didn’t mean to imply that it was derivative (it seems more inspired by than trying to be like, if that makes sense), but as a way to gauge the quality (If you like Conan, you’ll probably like Hercules). Wijaya of Imaginary Friends Studios and the colorists of Imaginary Friends Studios provide slick, glossy, cinematic art.

I personally prefer comic art that looks more drawn than the painterly, photo-esque art seen here, but that’s just a matter of taste—this stuff is clearly well done, looks great and is easy to read.

Definitely the best comic book about a bare-chested dude wearing a dead lion on his head beating men to death with a club I’ve read in a long time.

And, like Caliber, it’s only $1.00. At that price, you’d have to be a fool not to buy it. For just $2.50, you could walk out of your shop with three comics this Wednesday then—Caliber, Hercules and DC Universe.

New Avengers #40 (Marvel) Much like last week’s issue of Mighty Avengers, this comic is only the one it’s titled and numbered as in cover logo only. No Avengers—new, old, mighty, west coast or otherwise—appear in the book, which instead focuses on the space opera political scene of the Skrull Empire. In that respect, Brian Michael Bendis and Jim Cheung’s story can be said to be providing background about the Skrull invasion plot driving Secret Invasion, but it’s all information that anyone who’s been reading any of Bendis’ comics over the last few month’s already knows.

For example, the Skrulls were pissed when the Illuminati slaughtered them in New Avengers: The Illuminati #1, and captured and studied the “heroes” (in early 2007). They replaced Elektra with a Skrull, as seen in New Avengers (spring 2007). They figured out a way to make themselves completely undetectable, as seen in New Avengers, Mighty Avengers and Secret Invasion (throughout later ‘07, and early ’08). They figured out a way to make multiple Super-Skrulls with different Earth heroes’ powers, as seen in New Avengers: The Illuminati #5 (January of this year).

Bendis’ script is fine. It’s well crafted, even if it gets a little goofy with the talk of Skrull dialects, and the parallels between Skrull religion and Islam make me a squirmy. It just seems completely unnecessary, as if Bendis has plotted this big huge event with the idea in mind that his readers are all really, really dumb, and need to be spoken to very slowly and carefully, or they’ll miss something.

Teen Titans Go! #54 (DC) Attention Young Justice fans! Not only does this particular issue feature a cover by old YJ pencil artist Todd Nauck, it also features Cassandra “Wonder Girl” Sandsmark, with her blonde pig-tail and WW black T-shirt design from back in the YJ day.

Writer J. Torres, who was responsible for the recent Wonder Girl mini, tells a guest-star packed story in which the other Wonder Girl invites some female Titans—the cartoon versions of Raven, Starfire, Pantha and Bumblebee—to Paradise Island to compete in the contest to be the new Wonder Girl.

It’s a sharply written and well-designed done-in-one that is head and shoulders above the bulk of DC’s DCU Titans output. I’ve long been amazed at how superior all of the cartoon Titans’ character designs are to the “real” Titans, and the fact that they have more distinct personalities and, in many cases, better artists working on them. For example, compare artist Ethen Beavers’ version of Starfire and Raven here to Ian Churchill’s in Titans #1.

This month’s issue might be an atypically strong one, however. Beavers’ art is a step up from what I normally see when I crack open the occasional issue of this book, particularly during the opening sequence.

Teen Titans: Year One #4 (DC) Of course, if you only read one Titans-related comic this week, it should probably be this one because, good God, penciller Karl Kerschl’s art is just plain crazy good. Writer Amy Wolfram provides a more-or-less done-in-one story that strikes a pitch-perfect tone for a Titans comic—not exactly aimed specifically at kids, but not written to repel them either—that includes both The Flips (from 1965’s Showcase #59) and The Ant (from 1966’s Teen Titans #5), characters you can read more about in Showcase Presents: Teen Titans #1.

Thor: Ages of Thunder #1 (Marvel) Marvel stories that put their Thor in a setting and/or story that closely resembles that/those of his original Norse mythology have always struck me as kind of wrong-headed, simply because that Thor is everyone’s Thor, while Marvel’s Thor is unique in that he’s Thor in a Jack Kirby-ized version of North myth, a mythological hero low living in the modern world, one in which gods and heroes have both been supplanted by superheroes.

Of course, this book is written by Matt Fraction, which gives it a worth-a-look-at-least status.

And, while it would appear to be a Thor story that DC or Dark Horse or Virgin or Boom! or Dynamite could have told just as well as Marvel, it is a pretty good one. Back in pre-Fantastic Four days, the Asgardians fend off an assault by frost giants, and then a few other attempts by the giants to get their hands on Freyja and the golden apples that grant the gods their immortality.

Fraction tells much of the story through narration, which is written in somewhat self-important, myth-sounding style, and there’s rather little dialogue. (Most of Thor’s consists of “Aye.”) There are two stories in this over-sized book (one drawn by Patrick Zircher, the other by Khari Evans and Victor Olazaba), and both are fairly similar. Loki gets the gods in trouble, Thor shows up and saves their asses by throwing his hammer (and sometimes himself) through the heads of a frost giant.

They have the feel of actual myths, but it’s been so long since I’ve read much about Norse mythology, that I’m not sure if Fraction’s retelling actual ones, or has done such a good job in approximating them that they feel genuine.

All in all, pretty great stuff.

*Is there really no magic spell that allows someone to speak Spanish? Traci can talk to cities, but she can’t speak to Spanish-speakers?

**Although I’m not sure why I feel the need to keep the surprise a surprise when DC themselves went and had the big news published in a mainstream media outlet the morning before the comic book came out.

Two-word film review of Iron Man:

Pretty awesome.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stark Industries won't return my calls

I read Project Rooftop's announcement for their Iron Man: Invincible Upgrade contest with great interest as, like the Beasts! volume 2 open call, it seemed like a good springboard for some focused drawing, and the opportunity to create some decent blog post fodder.

That wasn't my first thought when I heard of the contest, however. My first thought was, "Holy crap, redesign Iron Man? How on earth would you do that?"

See, Iron Man's "costume" is, essentially, his powers and, in large part, his whole character. And while it's changed a lot over the years, it's only changed drastically a couple of times (mainly when it went from the original big, boxy "garbage can" design to the the slimmer, more man-shaped one he still wears a form of), and most of the changes seem to be rather small ones.

So I went to bed that night, thinking of Iron Man and his armor and, over the course of the next few days, I sketched out some ideas, two of which I ultimately submitted to Project Rooftop (You can see the actual winners here, and I discussed some of my favorites last night).

Here’s the first thing that came to mind:

Ha ha, get it? Iron Man? Ha ha. Instead of repulsor rays, the holes in his palms shoot out steam, the same force that comes out of his boot jets and propels him through the air.

This struck me as mildly amusing when it first occurred to me, but by the time I was done drawing it, the joke wasn’t the least bit funny. Besides, I’m sure someone has used it somewhere before. If not a professional in print somewhere, than at least a grade school kid drawing it in a notebook to amuse his friends, then.

So, I didn’t bother submitting this one at all.

The next idea was in the same unserious vein.

Given the fact that Tony Stark is no longer keeping the fact that he’s also superhero Iron Man a secret from the world at large, there’s really no need for his Iron Man costume to function as a disguise in addition to a wear-able super-weapon.

So, I came up with this:

The American flag on is iron lapel? That’s actually a magnet.

I didn’t submit this one either, although now I’m thinking it’s probably the strongest of the four I put on paper. Not one I could ever actually see Marvel using in one of their comics, though.

So, with the joke ones out of my system, I tried thinking a little more seriously about an Iron Man redesign that could conceivably be used in a real comic book.

I started thinking along the lines of computer, automobile and robot designs, the way they trend, and ones I’ve seen in the past that I like.

The major problem with an Iron Man redesign, as far as I saw it, is that technology tends to get smaller, slimmer and sleeker the longer it’s around, but unlike computers, cell phones and music-listening-to devices, the Iron Man armor can only get so small, slim and sleek. At the very least, it always has to be roughly man-sized.

So the only way to make the armor sleeker would be to make it thinner, and that was the idea with this next design.

Here’s the original sketch,

and here’s a final one,

which I did submit.

This is meant to be an Iron Man costume that's more like a coat of paint or a candy-coating than a suit of armor. It would likely be some kinda liquid metal, one that would run over Stark like mercury when he was putting it on or taking it off, and he'd ultimately have the appearance of a red and gold version of the Silver Surfer or DC’s Captain Atom.

Since he no longer has a secret identity to protect, he doesn't need the featureless face-plate, but could wear something like this that hugged his features completely. (One of the robots I was thinking of was the Tom Peyer/Rags Morales Hourman, as he was a human-looking android with coloration similar to Iron Man’s).

My drawing isn’t terribly detailed because, well, I’m not much of an artist, and can’t do detail work very convincingly, but I imagine with this armor, Iron Man would basically look like a naked, painted Tony Stark, with a more Ken doll-like crotch (on account of a modesty concealing cup, perhaps).

I drew him without a goatee or moustache, because I think liquid metal facial hair looks kinda stupid (I think the Armageddon 2001 future Captain Atom had a beard under his metallic sheathe and it looked alright, but, well, I’m no Dan Jurgens). With a good artist, though, it could work. Or maybe he could just shave before Iron Man/Avengers missions, and let his 'stache grow out when he’s being Stark for a few days.

The blue bits on this costume would light up. The eyes would have various vision-related powers, the soles of his feet would allow him to fly, and he’d have repulsor rays in the palms of his hands, and the circle in the chest could work as a spotlight, and maybe shoot out energy like a cannon when needed.

This would limit his capabilities a bit, since he couldn’t carry much on him. For example, grappling hooks and rocket skates and missiles or machine guns or whatever are out; there just isn’t room in the armor for them. That would reduce the sort of Swiss Army knife nature of the armor.

I prefer the sketch over the final one. I like the paler colors, and the more heroic pose. The latter version looks too bright. He’s supposed to be coming in for a landing there, but, eh… I didn’t feel like redrawing it. (I note Project Rooftop's Joel Priddy had a similar idea in terms of some kind of liquid-y armor; Priddy's fellow judge Dean Trippe calls it "nanoliquid.")

Okay, so, short of shrinking the armor as much as physically possible, I thought the other way to show a newer version of it would be to make it more of an art-object. That is, rather than simplifying it, making it more ornate and complex, in a way that is showoff-y (Here I was thinking of another robot I liked a lot, Masters of the Universe toy Roboto, which had a clear chest cavity with little gears that would move when you moved his arms or visor).

(Above: Roboto)

I pictured a big, clear, glass-like Iron Man armor. The only opaque parts would be the face-plate, and perhaps the gloves and boots. Stark’s body would be sheathed in some kind of tight, red bodysuit, and, the human-sized figure inside the clear armor would look a little like a red skeleton. Between the visible Stark outline inside and the outer, clear-metal shell, you’d see all kinds of ornate, baroque clockwork gears, and perhaps brass-colored tubing acing as “veins” in this armor. Various elements would light up, so that when he, say, readied a repulsor ray, you would see a spark form in one part of the armor, travel down a brass-colored tube, build up in the forearm, and then blast out of the palm. Likewise, every time an arm or leg would move, you’d see the gears turning.

I didn’t even attempt to draw that because, Jesus, just imagining it was complicated. I couldn’t begin to actually put it on paper.

Finally, I thought of sort of breaking the rules that have bound all of Iron Man’s armors over the years together, and seeing what that looked like. Specifically, I wanted to move him away from the robot-looking, guy-in-battle-armor look and toward a more standard, iconic superhero. In other words, less Iron Man and more Superman.

Here’s what I came up with:

Complete with notes from Stark himself.

For the head, I looked at the G1 Transformers with more human faces (Starscream, Megatron, Ratchet, Prowl, etc) and Voltron. I wanted to not only give him a radical new look, but also one that would get away from the two-slits-for-eyes, one-slit-for-a-mouth look that’s been the standard for pretty much all of his costumes.

And a nose. Iron Man’s nose armor was a disaster, and, if you were to think of a single rule of Iron Man armor, it would be never include a nose (Note that PR third-prize winner Jemma Salume did, and it looks pretty cool. Of the 14 currently posted on PR, it’s one of only two that dared a nose). A squarish, more Transformer-y nose, however, would be better than that Mr. Potatohead-looking one in his official nose armor. A more naturalistic, Voltron-like nose sculpted right onto the face of the armor, rather than jutting out in a square like this one, would work okay too, I think.

On the chest, I gave him a Superman-like logo. At first I was going with an S-shield shaped pentagon, but switched to a triangle, since the S-shield was too Superman, and Iron Man’s had triangles in his armor before. And, of course, “Fe” for Iron, which I swiped from one of the Metal Men designs. Speaking of swiping from DC heroes, it would have big, show-y bolts on it like one of the iterations of John Henry Irons’ Steel armor (a character who has quite a bit of Iron Man inspiration in him) and the same sort of bolts are used to keep his cape on.

The cape, like the chest symbol, gives him a Superman like appearance, and I just think the Marvel Universe could use more capes. Especially now that Iron Man has proven himself the MU alpha-male through the events of Civil War, he oughta look more regal and iconic, and nothing says regal and iconic superhero like a cape.

I gave him big, huge forearms and fists to go for a Popeye-esque look, as Popeye’s design is so perfect. You just look at Popeye’s figure and you see “punching machine.” That’s what Iron Man should be, in a sense, isn’t it? A punching machine?

(In describing their take on Iron Fist, I’ve seen it said that Brubaker and Fraction have reduced to single phrase “kung fu billionaire.” The old '60s theme song for the Iron Man cartoon tells us that Tony Stark is a "cool exec with a heart of steel," a phrase blogger Chris Sims said gives you pretty much all you need to know about the character. Me, I’m thinking “punching machine” is Iron Man's version of "kung fu billionaire.")

What else? I drew the feet huge to echo the fists, but also I wanted to draw “lifts,” as I was thinking of Stark designing his armor and the way middle-aged men choose big cars to…compensate for some things. So I thought he’d want armor that made him look bigger. I think the crotch would have a sculpted bulge to it too, for the same reason.

I would have kept yellow out of it all together, but I think the rules said something about redesigning the red and gold armor, so I made the cape yellow. I like the idea of bringing an iron color back. One of my favorite “real” Iron Man armors is the one that’s red and gray, as opposed to the more traditional red and gold.

I looked to one of my favorite Bearbricks, which is a robot design, for the color scheme:

Basically, this Iron Man costume is a marketable, action figure of a hero; a big huge toy.

So, those are my Iron Man redesigns, submitted and not, and my thought process behind them.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Long, rambling post about Iron Man: Who he is, how he looks and why we like/dislike him

I expect to spend an awful lot of time thinking about Iron Man this week, as will many of you (and so too will plenty of people who have never thought about Iron Man at all), for the obvious reason.

I’ve never been a real big Iron Man fan, my apathy for the character stretching back much further than Marvel’s fairly recently decision to make him into some kind of reluctant villain for their whole line of comics in the pages of their big tent pole publishing event Civil War. (Oddly, I thought the long-term plan would be to reveal that he knew about the alien invasion threat in their current tent pole publishing event Secret Invasion, and defeated his former allies and essentially took over the world in an effort to defeat the evil aliens, returning to hero status in time for the movie release. Said movie debuts this weekend, however, and Secret Invasion is still seven months away from climax).

The only time I was a regular reader of the Iron Man monthly was during pencil artist Keron Grant’s short 2001 run on the title, and that had a lot more to do with the (then) Columbus-based artist’s style than the character (that’s Grant’s Iron Man above, by the way; Grant also designed a pretty cool “Under Construction” logo for some other issues).

Iron Man has always seemed to me like more of an ensemble character than a star, a character that works better when playing off others, as in Avengers comics, than helming his own.

I’m not sure why exactly he seems so unappealing to me as a superhero, despite having been popular enough with others to last for decades and decades.

It may be just that his Cold War origins stamp him as a character of another generation, or that his personality is that of the kind of guy I don’t much care to spend much time with (two traits he shares with Hal Jordan).

It could be that the vagaries of Tony Stark’s genius and his armor drain a lot of suspense out of stories featuring him; like Reed Richards, he can generally pull some plan out of his ass to save the day, or his armor will reveal some technological fix to whatever conflict is before him (for a good example of the latter, see the end of New Avengers: The Illuminati or the end of World War Hulk).

It could just be that I’m something of a Luddite, and don’t care to read about science in my comics escapism, beyond a Gardner Fox or Grant Morrison-style techno-babble gobbledygook.

It could be that Iron Man never really had his own cartoon or TV show the way a lot of other heroes did when I was growing up, so I never felt like I “knew” him until I met him in comics.

It could be that I’ve always found Tony Stark’s cover story that Iron Man was his bodyguard to be completely, irritatingly insane, since, for that to be at all plausible, they’d have to be seen in the same room at the same time constantly instead of, you know, never.

Or—and this sounds completely trivial, but these sorts of semi-subliminal signals play a deceptively large role in why some superheroes are more appealing than others—it could just be that I don’t like the red and yellow color combination. They remind me of Ronald McDonald more than a superhero.

A few weeks back, Sean Kleefeld wrote a rather insightful essay entitled “Why I Hate Iron Man” which, as the title indicates, was about diagnosing his own antipathy towards the character.

Kleefeld notes that unlike a lot of his superheroic peers, Iron Man doesn’t have two completely separate but distinct personalities. While Spider-Man and Peter Parker, Clark Kent and Superman, Batman and Bruce Wayne or Bruce Banner and The Hulk are portrayed as different people who happen to be the same person, there is, Kleefeld says, no Iron Man.

Tony Stark is himself pretty fascinating, but Iron Man is just an empty suit. “He's a walking ray gun,” Kleefeld says.

I think he may be right, and that may explain why Marvel has repeatedly outted Tony Stark’s secret identity to the general public in the Marvel Universe over the last few years. Perhaps the editors and writers were finding telling stories about Iron Man hard, and getting a little bored of the character, whereas stories about Tony Stark wearing Iron Man armor were much more fascinating?

Last year, prompted to the hype of a different Iron Man movie, Kevin Church wrote a little essay about Iron Man explaining what he liked about the character and, I’ve gotta say, that’s an Iron Man I could get into reading about.

Some kind of fundamental rewriting of the character, so that he’s more like the one Church describes and less like the one that’s been starring in Marvel comics over the past few years, isn’t impossible.

In fact, because the current and recent Iron Man seems like the one who’s off—becoming secretary of state, cloning his friends to kill his other friends, beating the shit out of Captain America, shooting The Hulk into outer space, slaughtering Skrulls by the hundreds in a preemptive strike—making him a more heroic and charming figure shouldn’t be that hard.

Of course, if Marvel doesn’t want to mess with the core of the character too much too fast, they can always tinker with the surface, and simply redesign his armor. Superheroes are forever changing their looks—even Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, who have more or less perfect costumes, tinker with them now and then—but few major heroes change as often as Iron Man.

Hell, in his first appearance he was wearing a large soup can. Then he changed to a golden soup can. Then he started wearing the sleeker, more familiar red and gold costumes, which seem to change every few years anyway.

He’s been wearing his current look for a while now…at least since the start of New Avengers, and he’s probably due for an upgrade.

At least, that’s what the good folks at Project Rooftop thought, and today they published the winners of their Iron Man: Invincible Upgrade contest, with comments by the Project Rooftop staff, Joshua Crawley of sponsor Westfield Comics, and Matt Fraction (writer of the upcoming, awesome-looking Invincible Iron Man monthly) and Adi Granov (former Iron Man artist).

The results, like a lot of PR design and re-design work, are must-browse. As with the Beasts! call for open submissions, I once again decided to draw outside of my weight class, and submitted a few designs, which I’ll post here on EDILW for your derision later in the week.

The winning artist was Daniel Krall, and it’s easy to see why. I mean, just look at this piece:

See, that’s an Iron Man comic I would buy on sight. The armor itself evokes the suits of armor a medieval knight would wear, and that’s a great source of inspiration for a character like Iron Man (Runner-up Marcus Parcus seemed to go for something similar in terms of knight-in-shining-armor inspiration). It looks like it takes forever to put on, but, at the same time, it looks simpler and more heroic than some kind of teleporting, transforming or liquid metal type of armor.

If it were just the armor that Krall redesigned, I would be only mildly impressed with the piece. But man, his Stark is fantastic—I love the jacket and gloves over the suit, the drink in his hand, and the evident pride in his creation, which he throws his arm around. And man, even the “Stark” logo is great.

Judge Joel Priddy mentions Krall’s previous redesigns of Nick Fury and Black Widow, and says “I think we can all agree that Daniel should be assigned an ongoing book set in Marvel’s early Cold War era.”

I agree that Marvel should hire the hell out of Daniel Krall to draw something for them. I’ll buy whatever it is.

My other favorite piece was Felip Sobreiro’s,

which mixed the chunky proportions of the original, chunky, garbage can-looking suits with the later red-and-gold color scheme and more refined components.

I was also particularly impressed with Jemma Salume’s,

which manages to make the most difficult Iron Man feature in Iron Man armor history—the nose—work, and Jon McNally’s

because it included Iron Man’s greatest innovation—boot-mounted battle roller skates. Because why fly when you can skate?

Make sure you check out all the entries, and click through the to the artists’ own sites, as there’s a lot of great art to be seen there.

And come back later in the week for my own poor attempts at redesigning Iron Man, and more thoughts on the character’s appearance.

Found in the basement of my ancestral home during my recent vacation:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A complete list of the names of all of the characters original to Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases

1.) Believe Bridesmaid

2.) Quarter Queen

3.) Backyard Bottomslash

4.) Blackberry Brown

5.) Beyond Birthday

and, my favorite,

6.) Blues-harp Babysplit

Japanese author NISIOISIN sure has some strange ideas of what American names are like.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Garth Ennis did not write this scene

(despite the fact that he has written multiple scenes of people being killed by falling into airplane propellers.)

This fight to the death between Hans Von Hammer and The Bull was written instead by Robert Kanigher, and constitutes but one of the Enemy Ace's many acts of black-and-white bad-assery available in Showcase Presents: Enemy Ace Vol. 1.

Friday, April 25, 2008

More methadone for the Death Note addict

If re-experiencing the epic Kira vs. L. and company battle of wits in the Death Note anime or reading through all the completely inessential bonus material of Death Note Vol. 13: How to Read hasn’t completely satiated your desire for more Death Note, Viz has another, wordier option: Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases, a prose novel (and perhaps best regarded as apocryphal) prequel to Death Note.

I found myself in an odd position when regarding this book. In general, I’m awfully leery of these sorts of expansions of pop stories that seem completely complete, particularly when they begin expanding beyond the original medium.

For example, we probably didn’t need those last three Star Wars movies, let alone the, what, hundreds of novels and comic books playing in the Star Wars “universe.” Of course, that’s me as a jaded, cynical 31-year-old, post-being a film critic. As a little kid, I watched those goddam stupid Ewoks movies. And the Ewoks and Droids cartoons, and would have taken any more Star Wars I could have gotten at the time*.

So, in principle, I would think a prose novel adaptation of any kind of Death Note would seem a bit silly, were I not still so enraptured of the original. That is, my fannish feelings toward the franchise are still fresh, and I do still feel that lingering, “Oh, did it have to end…?” that came at the end of Vol. 12, so, as terrible an idea as the novel might seem in theory, in practice I couldn’t wait to read it.

Well, the Columbus Metropolitan Library finally got a copy, so I had a chance to sit down and read it.

Another Note is the work of someone credited as “NISIOISIN,” an apparently popular Japanese novelist who is listed in library catalogues as “Ishin Nishio.” Manga-makers Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata get credited with “Original concept by,” while Obata provides art. There are eight black and white pieces by Obata, each coming before the start of a chapter, and depicting random scary things that don’t pertain to the plot concretely. There’s also a full-color title page piece depicting the two leads, which looks much like the covers for the Death Note collections.

The book takes the most obvious route for franchise expansion. Since L. is a world-renowned super-detective known for solving thousands of impossible cases without ever revealing his face in Death Note, he obviously had many adventures before he first went after Kira in the manga, giving writers plenty of potential to work with, so long as they work backwards.

There are several connections to the Death Note manga, some much more strained than others. It's set in Los Angeles, some years before the events of the manga, and features an almost ludicrously complicated serial killer mystery. This is the clue-leaving kind of serial killer that Batman might deal with, but rather than a single riddle or single joke per crime, he leaves a half-dozen or so extremely complicated and subtle clues at each crime scene.

As the story opens, three victims have been killed so far, and mysterious super-detective L. wants to make sure a fourth doesn't occur. To do this, he enlists an FBI agent currently on a leave of absence. Her name is Naomi Misora, whom you may remember from a rather brief appearance in the manga, briefer even than her boyfriend FBI agent Raye Penbar's.

Investigating the first crime scene, she encounters a weird private detective who introduces himself as Rue Ryuzaki . He has several quirks that will immediately identify him to Death Note fans. He has dark circles under his eyes, and an extremely stooped posture. He likes to sit with his knees drawn up to his chin, and he eats a diet that seems to consist almost exclusively of sugar.

As complicated as the killer's clues are, the book is fairly straightforward—pages and pages devoted to Ryuzaki and Misora at the first three crime scenes, trying to unravel the clues that might lead them to the killer.

As I said, some of the Death Note connections are pretty strained. The killer has shingami eyes for some reason, although he's never met a shingami or possessed a death note. The narrator is also a character from the manga, presenting the book as notes on the case, although how this particular character would know the bulk of the information contained in the story isn't apparent, nor does writing a few hundred pages in a novel-like format on a case of L.’s seem like something that particular character would devote his or herself too.

Additionally, Wammy's House is involved to a certain degree, and there's an oblique reference to the agents L. employed in he and Light's investigation of the Yotsuba Corporation.

The prose is very simple and straightforward. There is virtually no description of any kind regarding the characters or the settings—despite what's needed to discuss the clues—and the dialogue is similarly dry, with a lot of "..."s indicating...someone not talking?

While this doesn't exactly make for a transcendental read or anything, it does keep things short, simple and focused more on the mind-games of the killer and the detectives. And, perhaps more importantly, it reduces the time a reader might spend on trying to make sense out of why the killer has shingami eyes or any of the goofier aspects.

In other words, it moves extremely quickly.

NISIOISIN does an admirable job of recapturing the cerebral struggle aspect of the manga, while pulling off a pretty interesting twist and another, final Death Note reference as a kind of O. Henry punchline to the whole thing. (I admit to an out-loud “Heh” upon reading the last paragraph).

I doubt it would be too terribly well-received by a reader who has no previous experience with the franchise, as the narrator's mentioning of the events and characters of the manga go unexplained throughout, but given the number of Death Note fans in the English-speaking West, that probably won't present much of a problem for Viz. Death Note fans should find plenty to like in it; certainly less than there is to dislike.

Given L.'s history, and the nature of mystery book franchises in the U.S. market, there's certainly potential for this to go one for a long while yet, if the market is there for it. The narrator mentions having at least two more cases to discuss, one of which is a "detective" war between L. and other detectives whom he has defeated over the years and assumed the identities of.

I'd be interested in reading another Another Note or two, although, thanks to this and How To Read, I've been able to successfully wean myself off of my addiction without any major withdrawal symptoms.

*I thought the Cartoon Network Clone Wars series was totally awesome, by the way. And while I haven’t read many of Dark Horse’s comics, I did like many of the stories in the Star Wars Tales anthology collections.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Weekly random rambling

Paul Pope should collaborate with his nephew more often. That kid is an idea machine.

—Obviously, it’s still pretty early but I’ve gotta say, I’m starting to get more and more worried about Frank Miller’s Spirit movie. For example, the poster. Now, the image-elements-forming-words motif is a standard Will Eisner trick, one that’s associated with Eisner’s The Spirit. But shouldn’t those image elements form the words “The Spirit” rather than the tagline? And what on earth is up with the color palette? Why does The Spirit look like he’s rocking black and red, and no blue? Wouldn’t that be like putting The Shadow in a blue hat and trenchcoat, or Dick Tracy in head-to-toe read?

And now we’ve got a teaser trailer:

More black, white and red coloration, rooftop acrobatics that look like a jokier, less-appropriate-to-the franchise version of those in this trailer

and that dialogue? My God, it sounds like a parody of Frank Miller dialogue. Ragnell’s response seems like the most appropriate one: “I can’t watch this with a straight face.”

The Spirit is a pretty challenging character to take from comics to film, since, as I’ve often said about attempts to update the character in comics, there’s nothing terribly compelling about him, his setting, his villains and supporting cast—It was Eisner’s execution of all those fairly generic elements that made the comics at all worthwhile.

The Spirit minus Eisner is not a very strong starting position, no matter who is tasked with making something out of it on paper, but then to jump into a whole new medium on top of that?

And Hollywood hasn’t had a whole lot of luck when it comes to heroes of Spirit’s vintage, either creatively or at the box office. See Dick Tracy, The Phantom, The Shadow and The Green Hornet. Oh that’s right, you can’t see The Green Hornet, because it hasn’t made it out of development hell yet. See what I mean?

Still seems less likely to suck as badly as Watchmen, though…

—Hey, waitaminute…why’s The Spirit teaser end with the titular hero saying, “I’m on my way?” That was Dick Tracy’s tagline, and was featured at the end of the trailer for that film (and in the poster and ads that ran in comics back in, Jesus, 1990?).

— Say, it looks like DC is launching a new Power Girl ongoing comic. That’s…unexpected.

I like her okay as part of an ensemble, as in JSoA or the old JLE/JLI, but never cared for her much as a lead, particularly now that her status quo is basically, “What if Superman were a lady…with really big breasts...and cried a little bit more often?”

I’m still totally planning on trying it out though, because it looks like DC’s managed to get Amanda Conner to draw it. And Conner’s about the only person I could imagine doing this book at DC and not completely fucking it up.

Confidential to whoever edits this book: you'll want to keep Kevin Maguire on speed dial for fill-ins; his style is similar enough to Conner’s to make for a good stylistic match, and shares her strength with facial expressions.

—So Amanda Conner, Gail Simone and Nicola Scott will all be working on ongoing DCU titles at DC shortly. Three women working on regular DCU titles. At the same time.

Wow, I think they’ll then have more than the Minx line does…

—So DC finally realized that if Supergirl were capable of selling T-shirts and purses and plastic crap with glittery pink S-shields on it to little girls, maybe she could also sell them a comic book? About time.

I’m not all that fond of the costume design, which is basically just Superman’s with a skirt instead of a pair of manties.

I still like Dean Trippe’s Supergirl design

and Mai K.’s Supergirl design

a lot better, but, hey, at least there’s a Supergirl comic in the works that it doesn’t make me sad to think of an actual girl actually reading.

A typically interesting review/thinkpiece by Savage Critic Abhay Khosla examines why DC’s Blue Beetle comic has been a failure, despite its strong internet following, generally positive critical reactio and writer John Rogers’ strong finish of his run on the book.

I remember reading the first issue and thinking it was just an awful, awful comic. I gave it another try a year and a half later, and it was by that time one of DC’s better super-comics. So I look forward to the rest of Khosla’s analysis; so far, it mirrors my own experience pretty strongly.

Plus, sex jokes.

The big reveal at the end of Captain Marvel #5 doesn’t make Civil War: The Return suck any less.

—I was previously hoping Geoff Johns would make Thomas Wayne and Aquababy Black Lanterns in his 2009 zombies-with-power-rings event-story “The Blackest Night.” Now I’m hoping Schatzi gets a black ring.

—Despite the Power Girl and Supergirl announcements, there was lots of bad news for DC fans in this week’s Lying In the Gutters col. Richard Johnston reports that it will indeed be Martian Manhunter dying in Final Crisis, which is too bad, but sure to be temporary (I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a dozen more times, but, man, once you bring Jason Todd back from the dead by having Superboy-Prime punch the walls of continuity, how can any death be seen as permanent in your fictional universe again? Particularly when the character in question is in essence a completely mental organism that controls its body on a molecular level).

But Johnston follows that up with, “But in the last issue, Barry Allen comes back.”

Oh man, I hope that’s misinformation someone’s feeding him, like he said his previous report that Barry Allen would be the leader of the Black Lanterns. Because aside from the fact that Barry Allen is one of, like, two deaths in the DCU that should never be undone (the other being Jason Todd, of course), I can’t believe that many people actually care about Barry Allen anymore. He’s been dead for 22 years now. That’s just three shy of an actual generation now.

The worse news? “I hear Brad Meltzer is working on a new heavy-DC-continuity series. A thematic sequel to ‘Identity Crisis.’”

I don’t know what exactly “heavy-DC-continuity” means exactly, but I don’t like the sound of it. Actually, I don’t like the sound anything in that sentence after the word “hear.”

—While searching the Grand Comic Book Database for cover images to link to from my Tuesday post about DC’s many (many, many) gorilla characters and stories, I decided that the company has more than enough material for a few volumes of Showcase Presents: Gorillas! collections.

I know I’d totally buy ‘em.

—You know, the bumper stickers and billboards in the backgrounds of panels are nice, and coverage like this is no doubt nice PR for Marvel, but if Marvel doesn’t publish a comic come November about the three-way race for the Marvel White House between Stephen Colbert, John McCain and Barack Obama/Hilary Clinton, they’re missing out on the opportunity for a hell of a good comic.

Don’t you want to read a comic where the candidates have to take positions on the SHRA, outline their proposed trade policy with Atlantis and Wakanda, and tell voters how they propose to clean-up the streets from Mutant Growth Hormone? Where they have meetings with The Daily Bugle editorial board to try and secure J. Jonah Jameson’s endorsement? Where they have to explain to pro-choice and pro-life interests groups not only how they feel about abortion, stem cell research and cloning, but also cloning killer cyborgs that look like Thor?

—Question time: I didn’t finish Countdown, and only lasted somewhere between five and eight issues, but I did flip through it now and then throughout the rest of the year. Like this week, during which the final issue shipped. (Well, I flipped through it until I saw a panel of Mary Marvel saying “I’m Mary damn Marvel” and then I flung it back towards the shelf before it could hurt me).

Anyway, did they ever get around to explaining why Captain Atom became evil and decided to conqure the multiverse? I didn’t see him in that last issue at all.

And whatever happened to Superboy-Prime and Mxy?

Just curious.

—Just FYI, I am going to be out of EDILW HQ much of this week, vacationing in beautiful Northeast Ohio. I’ve tried to “work” ahead a bit, but chances are still pretty good that there may be some disruption in daily posting around, oh, Sunday or so. Or maybe the posts will just be a little lazier than usual. One or the other.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Weekly Haul: April 23rd

Batman #675 (DC Comics) Ever since the first story arc and the disappearance of his collaborator Andy Kubert, Grant Morrison’s Batman title has suffered from visual consistency, clarity and, occasionally, competence. Reading it every month, I can’t help but feel sad and disappointed. Morrison’s clearly thought a lot about Batman comics and Batman as a character and a symbol, and he’s been quite clever about rescuing bits of his history and reintegrating them into the character’s modern story.

Morrison seems to be pursuing the same strategy with Batman that he is with Superman in All-Star Superman, with the added bonus that his Batman work “counts” as effecting the fictional universe and thus the future direction of the Batman character and his book(s). He’s now poised to bring it all together with “Batman R.I.P.,” which the next issue blurb in the last panel informs us is “the 6-part story that will change the legend of the Dark Knight forever…”

Now, next issue blurbs—like house ads, cover blurbs, and interviewed editors and creators—are always issuing these sorts of nothing will be the same sorts of proclamations, but, based on what Morrison has said about the character and the storyline, I’m inclined to think this will be more than idle hype. (That is, if the actual comic story are as smart and insightful as his interviews about Batman, then this could be a Batman: Year One-level redefinition of the character).

And that’s where the depression come in, because the art on Batman has just been awful. It’s not just that I don’t care for Tony Daniel’s style (although I don’t), but that he’s awful at telling a story. Characters and places are rarely properly introduced (for example, how many people are in a given room and where are they in relation to each other), they’re drawn inconsistently, there’s often an odd disconnect between the words and the pictures (the script often explains the action better than the images) and it looks lazy, with pages reserved for detailed splash images hosting bland convention sketch-style poses over a background-less field of color.

Now, Daniel didn’t draw this issue, entitled “The Fiend With Nine Eyes,” penciller Ryan Benjamin and inker Saleem Crawford did. But it’s just as bad, if not worse, than Daniel’s, and for exactly the same reasons.

The lay-outs themselves are occasionally nice. I like the pages that open with a long, horizontal splash spreading across both pages, with a second strip consisting of tight, vertical panels below.

But that’s about the end of the nice things I can’t think to say about the images of the issues. Bruce Wayne has dinner with this girlfriend Slut Cessna Whore Helicopter Jezebel Jet in what looks like a restaurant they have all to themselves save waiters. A few panels later, there are other strange figures shown.

Jet is essentially breaking up with Bruce, but his expressions are completely unreadable. He closes his eyes, grimaces and extends a few fingers towards his face.

It’s not until the dialogue of the next panel, in which Jet admonishes him that, “This is serious!" that it becomes apparent he was supposed to be laughing or smirking at her.

They’re attacked by a new version of the Ten-Eyed Man, and there are some figures in suits in the background. Waiters, diners, henchmen? In one panel, hands reach out from off-panel to grab Wayne’s shoulders. Who are these people? Are they with the villain? A few scenes later it becomes apparent that there were both bodyguards (for Jet and Bruce, presumably) and henchmen (for the villain) present, that information comes form the dialogue and guessing, not the art.

As bad as his storytelling is, Benjamin’s character design is even worse. Bruce Wayne, Nightwing, Robin and Damian all look the exact same. Obviously, they’re all black-haired men, but their ages range form pre-teen to middle-aged; they shouldn’t all look like the same 40-year-old man.

As hard as it is to understand the art, it’s even harder to understand why it’s on this book at this point. DC’s not above putting sub-par storytellers on big books if those artists are hot, or suspected of being hot (see Ed Benes and Joe Benitez on JLoA, or the apparent popularity of Ian Churchill and former cover artist Michael Turner, for example).

But are Daniel and Benjamin popular? (And even if they were, would you need them on a book that already boasts Batman and Morrison?) It boggles the mind that DC can’t find a mediocre—let alone good—artist to draw Batman with Grant Morrison for them. I’ve been reading way too many Batman comics since the early ‘90s, and I can’t recall a time when there was worse art on one of the major Bat-books. Even the artists whom I didn’t care for as much as others (Like Staz Johnson, Barry Kitson, Tom Grindberg, Jim Aparo [I was young and foolish; I’ve come around!]) were head, shoulders and waist above this. I can’t recall ever reading a Batman comic and having to reread pages over and over again to figure out where a scene was set or who was doing what in a particular panel.

Batman and the Outsiders #6 (DC) On the subject of poor Batman art, look at Batman and the Outsiders. This book is basically just Justice League Elite with Batman talking on the phone to the characters for a few panels every few issues. And yet it’s much better looking and more competently told than Batman, thanks to artists Carlos Rodriguez and Bit. So, like Detective, Nightwing, Robin, Birds of Prey, Catwoman and some arcs of Batman Confidential, it’s a vastly superior visual product to Batman, the flagship Bat-title written by one of DC’s few superstar writers, currently hosting a major storyline that “will change the legend of the Dark Knight forever.”

Hulk vs. Hercules: When Titans Clash #1 (Marvel Comics) I was a little skeptical of this issue, one of those new-story-up-front, old-story-in-the-back style books Marvel occasionally puts out, on account as how badly ripped off I felt the Hulk vs. Fin Fang Foom one was (It was $3.99 for a new 22-page story and a short reprint of a story I’d already had), not to mention those “One More Day” issues which pulled a similar trick.

This time, the new story is actually oversized, justifying a price hike (I’m not sure where they got the “64pgs!” blurb for the cover though, unless they’re counting ads).

The story is written by The Incredible Hercules team of Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, and fits snugly between their first story arc, and their second, which just kicked off last issue. Boy genius Amadeus Cho, disguised goddess Athena and demigod Hercules are on the road, and have stopped at a bar. While Herc stalks off for a beer, Athena tells Amadeus and, of course, us a story of this one time The Hulk and Hercules fought.

It’s getting kind of tough to review Pak and Van Lente’s Herc comics because they do the same great thing every time, melding classic Greek myth with old school Marvel Comics pseudo-myth to come up with something that elevates the latter and doesn’t completely dismiss the former. And they do it with a sly sense of humor, one that’s both character -based and dependent on over-the-top superhero action.

Anyway, after a typically great recap page (“Mortals wouldst do well to peruse the tome of The Incredible Hercules afore admiring yon text”) and the set-up, Athena repositions The Hulk as a son of Gaea akin to The Titans and, when the Green Goliath finds himself in Olympus (thanks to a spell from Dr. Strange in an old story I’ve never read), he indeed allies himself with a few Titans.

After Ares provokes the Hulk, he’s set to smash the Olympians—until Herc steps in. This is where that amusing over-the-top action I mentioned came in. Hercules suplexes (or is that a pile-driver? I’m not good with wrestling moves?) off a balcony, and then punches him in the face twenty-six times in a single panel, with each blow getting its own “WOK!” “TWIK!” or “PUNCH!” sound effect.


And that’s before the bit with the pillar, Cronus’ invading army of Titans, Demogorge the God-Eater and Herc blowing a chance to make friends with the Hulk.

Look, you’re probably getting sick of hearing me say this, because I know I’m getting sick of saying it, but, seriously: You need to be reading The Incredible Hercules. If not now then, at least in trade.

The back-up is a short story by Stane Lee, Jack Kirby and Bill Everett. It features a pretty decent fight between the two heroes, and the line, “By the Zesty Zither of Zeus!”

Justice League of America #20 (DC) I had re-dropped JLoA around issue #16, because I had no interest in miniseries Salvation Run, which Dwayne McDuffie’s seven-issue run on the book has been one, long, extended tie-in to, and once you’ve seen one issue of Ed Benes’ art, you’ve seen them all.

This particular issue had no obvious tie-in to Salvation Run or Tangent: Superman’s Reign, nor was it was partially written by Alan Burnett, so it seemed like it might actually be an honest-to-God issue of JLoA written by Dwayne McDuffie, rather than by DC editorial. And instead of regular pencil artist Ed Benes or even worse fill-in artist Joe Benitez, this issue was illustrated by Ethan Van Sciver, an excellent—if too slow for a regular gig on a monthly anymore—all-around artist.

And guess what? It’s actually quite good. In truth, it reads a bit more like an issue of The Flash or The Brave and the Bold than an issue of JLoA, as it is essentially a team-up between Flash and Wonder Woman (with Black Lightning checking in over the phone for a few panels).

McDuffie gives us a nice day-in-the-life type of stories about the Flash, narrated by the Flash himself (allowing for a few “My name is Wally West…” riffs), in which Wonder Woman stops by to talk to him about why he hasn’t been more active with the League lately.

McDuffie has the Flash using his speed powers in some interesting ways, talking through their effects using lots of science (or maybe it’s pseudo-science; I don’t know jack about physics), and gives both characters distinct voices.

Van Sciver’s art isn’t quite universally beloved, and I can kind of see why it leaves some readers cold (there’s a certain stiffness to some of his poses). I’ve always loved it, even when he was working much faster and looser (on books like Impulse), and this is an extremely solidly illustrated issue. The big splash revealing a fire is packed with well thought out little details, like Flash’s speed-line hopping over a fallen telephone pole, and he is constantly thinking up new ways to show the Flash in motion.

Van Sciver also manages to draw varying expressions on his characters’ faces, which is, you know, something anyone who draws comics should be able to do, but regular artist Benes only seems to be capable of drawing the expressions “lustful” and “mildly perturbed.”

He scrimps on backgrounds quite a bit, and there’s a whole page where the Flash and Wonder Woman are show in silhouette which looks like a time-saving measure more than a stylistic choice, but it still looks nice, and doesn’t detract from the story, in the ways that Benes’ and Benitez’s rush-work has done in the past.

The bar is, obviously, set extremely low these days, but this is easily the best issue of JLoA since the 2006 relaunch.

Now, to revisit the question I asked when I first saw this cover, of a honey-slathered Queen Bee sucking her finger…

What is up with all the sexy bug-ladies at DC these days?

Red Bee II, from Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters*

Queen Belthera, from Countdown

Forager II, from Countdown (ganked from here)

The Insect Queen, from Superman

Anyway, next issue, McDuffie is back to writing tie-ins to other comics, but at least this one is a tie-in to a promising sounding book (Morrison’s Final Crisis), and will also be drawn by a quality artist (Carlos Pacheco). And then Ed Benes comes back and we can all stop reading again, I guess.

The Mighty Avengers #12 (Marvel) Sometimes I think Marvel should cancel all of Brian Michael Bendis mainstream Marvel Universe projects and replace them with a Brian Michael Bendis Comics Weekly. The name’s not as catchy as anything with the word “Avengers” in the title, but it would be a little more honest. After all, the stories he tells in his two Avengers books and sundry spin-offs, annuals and line-wide crossovers don’t really have much of anything at all to do with the characters whose names are on the books, but rather the plot. What exactly determines whether a particular chapter of that plot—which has apparently been a slow-building Skrull invasion plot, only occasionally interrupted by crossovers like Civil War—should appear in New Avengers or Mighty Avengers or New Avengers: The Illuminati or whatever? No logical pattern has been discernable thus far.

To distinguish the cast of The Mighty Avengers from that of The New Avengers,’s Hannibal Tabu tends to call The Mighty Avengers “The Republican Avengers” or the “The Conservative Avengers” (a habit I seem to have picked up) and Savage Critic Abhay Khosla calls them “The Badly Written Avengers”.

These are Iron Man’s Avengers, consisting of bigger, more colorful, more powerful (and less popular) superheroes than those currently appearing in New Avengers. The first 11 issues of this series have consisted of one big, long, breathless storyline with a broken timeline, in which they run around and get in fights, the upshot of which has apparently been just to get Dr. Doom into prison in time for the break out in Secret Invasion #1.

Anyway, those Avengers? They’re not in this issue. None of ‘em. Not a one. The art isn’t of the big, bold, bright, colorful style of past artists Cho and Mark Bagley, but the sketchy, gritty, more cinematic Alex Maleev. It’s also a complete digression from that run-around-and-punch-with-thought-bubbles 11-issue plot; it’s a one-off set in the past akin to that issue of New Avengers in which Hawkeye went to find and sex-up Scarlet Witch or whatever.

Instead, this is a Nick Fury story. Remember him? He’s been missing since the climax of Bendis’ 5-issue, 20-month-long miniseries Secret War, which wrapped up back in ’06 (Most notable for the depressingly long delay between the last two issues, and the hilarious use of repeated images that dominated most of that last issue).

The first few pages of this recap the climax of that series from Fury’s point-of-view (although if you haven’t read Secret War, it’s probably not going to make a whole lot of sense), and then we see him go into hiding, have sex with his girlfriend (who turns out to be a green-skinned, pointy-eared, wrinkly-chinned alien. How did this alien invasion story begin? With Nick Fury totally putting his penis into an alien vagina.) Then Fury breaks into Maria Hill’s bedroom, and we get to see her in her underwear. Then he has a conversation with Spider-Woman. And then he let’s us know that he’s been in hiding for the past few years (our time) while he gets to the bottom of the Skrull invasion, which involves looking at glossies of Marvel heroes and villains.

If you’re really excited about the mystery of this storyline, which I don’t think has been presented in a terribly mysterious fashion (Secret Invasion #1 and that last issue of New Avengers demonstrated that rather than certain characters having been Skrulls for long periods of time, they could also just turn into Marvel heroes for, like, five minutes), then this will probably have some juice. What do blue circles mean vs. red circles, for example? Did Fury circle the Inhumans’ pet dog because he suspects him of being a Skrull, or because he’s positive he’s not a Skrull?

Only time and the purchase of many, many more Marvel Comics will tell.

Wolverine First Class #2 (Marvel) I don’t see it on my calendar, but apparently today is Be Impressed By Fred Van Lente Day, as, in addition to co-writing an incredible Hercules story, he also manages a Wolverine story which is among the most fun Wolvie stories I’ve ever read.

Apparently, the character is at his very best when a teenaged girl is giving him grief.

It’s sometime back during the Claremont/Byrne years, and Kitty Pryde needs someone to drive her and her friends to the Dazzler concert in Professor Xavier’s limo. Chuck’s out of town, Storm and Colussus don’t have their licenses, Angel says no and Nighcrawler looks like a fuzzy blue demon. That leaves the title character, who says no.

To butter him up, Kitty organizes a surprise party, complete with a table for two for Logan and Mariko at a ninja-themed Japanese restaurant (Yes!). Unbeknowest to Kitty, Wolverine has his own way of celebrating his birthday—meeting Sabretooth alone in the wild for a fight.

Hilarity ensues. And I do mean hilarity. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled while reading a comic about Wolverine, let alone laughed, but Van Lente and artist Andrea Di Vito have created an irresistible Wolverine story, one that accomplishes the same thing as Jeff Parker’s superior X-Men First Class—reminding readers that the X-Men as a franchise don’t have to be dour, tedious and confusing. They can actually be, you know, a lot of fun.

Ultimate Spider-Man #121 (Marvel) I tend to be awfully critical of a lot of Brian Michael Bendis’ Marvel output, and I think he tends to get a lot of grief from a lot of critics and comics bloggers for much of his work. I think a great deal of that has to do with disappointment; people tend to slam his work not because he’s not a good writer, but because he is such a great super-comic writer. He proves in month in and month out on this title, so whenever he turns in a mediocre issue of one of his half-dozen Avengers books, the gulf in quality is highlighted.

This, for example, is a perfect little done-in-one story about Peter Parker, Spider-Man juggling being a superhero, a high school student and holding down a job at Daily Bugle.

Cleverly told as a report about that baby project he was assigned a few storylines ago, we see just how his doll was destroyed, when Omega Red attacks J. Jonah Jameson. Funny Spidey quips, lots of superhero action, a cruel Jameson dressing-down an employee and teen dramedy.

And wow, has Stuart Immonen ever come into his own on this title! His first few issues didn’t seem quite right, but at this point? The guy seems to be doing the work of his career. Every panel is perfect.

*Please note, occasional EDILW guest The Red Bee says he doesn’t even have a niece, and has no connection to the young woman claiming to be his relative and the new Red Bee. He also wanted me to let any DC writers and editors in the reading audience know that he is both available and interested in starring in any future DC comics in which they need a character named the Red Bee.