Thursday, May 31, 2012

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

Hey, the chief and I both take our coffee the same way! (Black with two sugars, that is, not with robot debris and rubble). Anyway, as promised, I have some thoughts to share with you about Superman Family Adventures #1, the most anticipated (by me) superhero comic of the year, at Robot 6. You can go read it.

Comic shop comics: May 23-30

Aquaman #9 (DC Comics) There's a scene in here where the lady who looks like Shakira from Warlord but is actually a new character named Ya'wara, uses her jungle-cat summoning powers to summon a pair of jaguars to eat a guy. That doesn't sit well with Aquaman, who says, "Stop! We only kill when we have no other choice." It occurs after she's killed...let's see...one, two, three, four! Four other dudes.

This is another fairly slight issue of Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and several inkers' run on the book, which feels rather obviously written-for-the-trade in a way that makes me wich I would have waited for the trade. Black Manta goes after another of "The Others," Aquaman's old superhero team that used Atlantean artifacts as weaponry, and this one has some sort of ill-defined power I didn't understand from the visuals (He either gains strength from the ghosts of army guys, or particular skill-sets from the ghosts of army guys? I don't know). Meanwhile, Mera manhandles old Dr. Shin, grabbing him by the collar and smashing him into his refrigerator hard enough to dent it, demanding he give her some exposition about Aquaman's new secret origin.

The unexpected one-sentence reveal that serves as the cliffhanger was a pretty compelling surprise, and the artwork remains fairly strong, but the book also remains a too-slowly paced, too-greatly padded story of unpleasant people being violent to one another.

Empowered Vol. 7 (Dark Horse Comics) I'm only 35 pages in, but based on the quality of the previous six volumes and how much I enjoyed them, I feel fairly comfortable predicting that this will end up being pretty great.

Hulk Smash Avengers #4-#5 (Marvel Entertainment) And so ends Marvel's five-issue weekly miniseries about the Hulk fighting the Avengers in different eras of their respective histories. The fourth issue features the gray-skinned, gangster version of The Hulk, "Mr. Fixit," fighting the West Coast Avengers Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Tigra, Wonder Man and Iron Man (in a red and light-gray suit that says "iron" better than his usual yellow suit). It's by Jim McCann, Agustin Padilla and Jamie Mendoza and there's nothing to it, really; I wasn't just describing the combatants above, or a broad outline of the plot, that's the whole issue. I liked seeing Tony Stark's Burt Reynolds-style mustache, and the title of the story, "What Smashes In Vegas," made me smile for a half-second.

The fifth and final issue brings up to the present, or, more accurately, the rather recent past: After Civil War and World War Hulk, before Secret Invasion. SHIELD Director Iron Man has Bruce Banner in a cell, and is trying to get him to reveal the true identity of the Red Hulk to him. Meanwhile, the Mighty Avengers Ares, Ms. Marvel, The Sentry and Wonder Man fight the Red Hulk.

This one's by Fred Van Lente and Michael Avon Oeming, and while it's also little more than an extended fight scene—that is the premise of the series, after all—Van Lente couches it in Iron Man and Bruce Banner's conversation with one another, and draws a parallel between the addictive, demonic power of the former's alcoholism and the latter's rage-fueled Hulk-outs. Van Lente makes this the moment where Bruce finally figures out who exactly the Red Hulk is, although he keeps the information from Iron Man, which whom he isn't exactly getting along at that point (I still don't understand why Red Hulk doesn't have a mustache, but I suppose Jeff Parker probably explained that at some point in his Hulk run, which I hope to read in trade someday, probably when its all over).

Oeming's art is as strong as always, and it's a real treat seeing it applied to Marvel characters, particularly these Marvel characters at this point in their fictional history, as they all tend to be drawn in Marvel's realistic house style, with the computer coloring gimickry and photo reference and occasional computer-assisted photo-swiping. It's nice to see The Sentry smacking the Red Hulk, and see their fists, chests and heads looking so big, boxy and abstracted; I liked all the gritted teeth and big, black lines suggesting furrowed brows and dimensions suggested by planes of ink.

Oeming's art work looks like a bunch of drawings, and doesn't seem to be trying to disguise the fact that its a bunch of drawings, and that's rare enough to be refreshing these days.

Superman Family Adventures #1 (DC) Um, I don't think that's the right sound effect in that last panel, guys. More on this book at Robot 6 later today.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command

I quite quickly became fascinated with the very concept of Darth Vader as a comic book leading man while reading this collection of one of Dark Horse's millions of Star Wars branded miniseries. So much of the character's most appealing traits, so many of his signifiers, so many of the things that make us think "Darth Vader" and, if you're like me, "cool," are aural rather than visual—The deep, golden voice echoing in the helmet, the unnerving breathing noises that sound like an intensive care ward, the theme song—that I was curious to see how the character worked in a purely visual medium like comics.

Certainly there are cool visual elements to the character design as well, including the cape, the all-black costume that threw him in such sharp contrast when flanked by his all-white henchmen and the occasional gray-uniformed bureaucrats and flunkies and his imposing size, but none of that stuff seems as important to me as the way Darth Vader sounds, or the way a Star Wars movie sounds when he enters a room.

Then there's the mask-face, which is even more fixed and frozen than the Doctor Doom mask that allegedly inspired it; Doom's human eyes can at least always be seen glaring through the little square windows in his iron mask, but Vader's face has no more emotion than a plastic action figure of the character. He simply cannot emote visually, and it was up to James Earl Jones' voice acting and the guy inside's gestures and poses to convey anything about what might be going through the character's mind.

So here he is starring in a comic book, which has no sound save what the writer and letter can suggest through occasional sound effects (And here writer W. Haden Blackman and letterer Michael Heisler eschew trying to simulate Darth's breathing, reserving sound effects only for typical comic book occasions; that is, there are WHAMs and BOOOOMs and KER-RACKs for punches, explosions and hull-breachings), and in which his face, gestures and poses will do all the emoting for him, save what the reader can get out of Blackman's dialogue for him.

Rick Leonardi, who penciled the book, and Dan Green, were certainly up for the challenge, and the book held not only my interest but also that initial fascination I mentioned. There are all kinds of images of Darth Vader moving and acting in ways that seem fairly alien to the image of the character I'm most familiar with (the one in the first three Star Wars movies, seen scores of times a piece; I've read a handful of Star Wars comics before, although their number and complexity frighten me from reading too many in the same way that X-Men and Legion of Super-Hero comics have frightened me, but this is the first I've read in which Vader was so prominently featured). The image at the top of the post is a good example. That's Vader leaping into battle from a flying troop ship, although, taken out of context, he could just as easily be skipping, dancing, or tripping.

I love the simplicity of his face; two circles for eyes, a small circle for a nose—which makes him seem a bit like an old-school, 1920s or '30s cartoon character, one of those species unspecified animal men that The Animaniacs spoofed—and a mouth that looks like the cow-catcher on an old-timey train. Darth Vader's face is practically an emoticon.

Leonardi and Green do manage to wring emotion from it though. Context is usually used to tell us what he must be thinking or feeling, but most action scenes merely have him making the above face, and thinking and feeling whatever Darth Vader's mask must think and feel.

Some scenes tilt his head, so that the rim of helmet seems to form an angry eyebrow line, eclipsing a chunk of the wide eyes to make an angry face (Cover artist Michael Kutsche achieves something similar, although his photorealistic art is such more emotionless than Leonardi's pencil and pen creation, which can achieve a degree of animation). A similar effect is achieved by lighting him from below (a standard filmmaking trick).

The artists also use the medium in ways that late-seventies, early-eighties filmmaking couldn't (at least, not very easily), having their Vader's cape not only flutter dramatically, but occasionally flare up, like raised bat-wings, or whip behind him. Even simple tricks, like a single motion line and careful positioning can suggest a powerful, active Darth Vader unknown from the films, by suggesting he has leapt superhuman distances.

Blackman makes it easy on his artists in several ways. This series is apparently set directly after the conclusion of Revenge of The Sith (that's the last one they made, although it's technically supposed to be part 3, if Star Wars isn't your thing), and so Natalie Portman's character is still fresh in his mind (which becomes a plot point near the climax), and so there are many memory and dream scenes in which Vader appears as his human, un-masked self. There are several scenes in which he's shown out of costume to various degrees as well, and the climax involves him getting banged around so badly his mask and helmet come off, revealing a character that looks like someone Frank Miller might have drawn in a Sin City strip.

The story involves the son of Grand Moff Tarkin (one of my favorite three-word phrases), who has gone missing. Two feuding search parties are formed—one lead by Vader, and another by Tarkin's kid's pal and they are forced to work together (Helpfully, Vader's Storm Troopers wear white, the Imperial officer douchebag's wear black). This leads to a bunch of action scenes, as Vader and company fight and kill a whole bunch of folks while closing in on their prey. There's some more personal, character-driven stuff—this is meant to tell of how Vader came to give up on the happy memories of Natalie Portman and embrace the dark side more fully, and how he ingratiated himself to The Emperor with his cunning and ruthlessness and power—and it's all quite ably communicated, but, as was the case when I was eight, all I really want to see out of Star Wars is laser-swords and laser guns, space ships and monsters.

The artwork is great throughout. Colored by Wes Dzioba, it's all very comic book-y, with a degree of chunkiness and flatness, and an almost tossed-off quality to many of the panels and the thick, black lines that compose them. In contrast to many of the Star Wars comics I've seen, this didn't look overly fussed-over, and, it may be worth noting, that perhaps because of its setting in the fantasy time-line, it's full of humans and occasional droids, but no crazy aliens, the palette is white and blue and gray and black, and the vehicles and machinery all have a lived-in, down-to-earth feel about them. This is the galaxy far, far away as it appeared in the the first trilogy, a galaxy that looked like you could probably find it somewhere in the continental United States.

I'm not sure if this book would be of any interest to those with no interest in Star Wars—it's hard to say for me at this point, but I think it functions as a complete enough unit that even someone with no prior knowledge or experience would be able to follow it, but if you have no interest in Star Wars, then I suppose even seeing how Leonardi draws that emoticon-mask in a comic book story won't exactly be enough to draw you into picking this up. But it's perfectly fine. There's nothing wrong with it, and the artwork is top-notch and, to my amateur's eye, even better than much of what you can find in the many other Dark Horse minis.

JMS v. WSJ

Writer Tim Marchman took in and then took on the state of modern super-comics in a widely linked-to article in The Wall Street Journal, an article in which he lambasted the industry and many of its movers and shakers. One could quibble with the specifics, but overall, Marchman seems to have it about right, and most of the things he says are the very same things comics fans, readers, retailers, critics and creators have themselves said over and over and over.

This slam on J. Michael Straczynski, a freelance comics writer who is now most often heard from in panel reports and mainstream media articles talking trash on Alan Moore, is pretty harsh, but also pretty accurate:
The first issues of Before Watchmen will be published next month. Among the writers working on it is former He-Man scripter J. Michael Straczynski, who once penned a comic in which Spider-Man sold his marriage to the devil. (This is the rough equivalent of having Z-movie director Uwe Boll film a studio-funded prequel to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.
JMS did not care for that characterization at all, and, according to Robot 6, Twitter-fougth Marchman (I don't read the Twitter).

Here's one of his tweets, as quoted at Robot 6:
Your behavior was dickish. I became a better writer after He-Man. You will always be a dick.
A poorly constructed allusion to a legendary Winston Churchill retort, or is the "I/you will" construction a coincidence?

I think the JMS is to Alan Moore as Uwe Boll is to Martin Scorcese analogy works, whether you're looking at what JMS was doing in the 1980s vs. what Alan Moore was doing in that same decade, and if you look at the work of both gentleman in the 21st century. Hell, I think it's accurate if you put 2012 JMS up against 1989 Alan Moore.

I am sure JMS has become a better writer since he was writing scripts for the old He-Man and The Masters of the Universe cartoon show—it would be unusual for a professional writer not to improve somewhat over the course of almost 30 years—but I do wonder if he feels he has become better since "One More Day," though, as that was only a few years ago?

For whatever it's worth, six-year-old Caleb enjoyed the writing on He-Man a great deal more than 35-year-old Caleb enjoyed the last dozen or so JMS-written comics he's read.


(Above: Straczynski's official DC Comics portrait; which you can see here, along with those of many other DC creators)

Monday, May 28, 2012

(links)

Today is Memorial Day, which means it's a Monday holiday (at least here in the United States), which means it feels more like Sunday today than Sunday did yesterday, so I'm going to go ahead and do my weekly links post, which I usually do on Sundays, today instead.

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Speaking of Memorial Day, I have a piece on ComicsAlliance today remembering some of our fallen superheroes, if you'd like to read it.

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I also still put together that "Week-in-Review" post for ComicsAlliance.

In doing so, I always see Bethany Fong's weekly feature "Best Cosplay Ever (This Week)," a gallery of particularly striking examples of cosplay, and this week I saw two gals dressed as two fan-favorite but rebooted out of existence characters from the extended Bat-family (At least, I think they no longer exists; if Batman Inc is still in continuity, I'm not sure how Barbara Gordon can still be the only Batgirl who ever existed).

It made me wonder, do all of the ladies who dress up as particular characters from, say, Marvel or DC comics read the comics featuring the characters they dress up as? Or, more likely, is it a case of some do and some don't? Because if they all do, it seems like the female readership for Big Two super-comics must be huge.

I'm sure I've seen at least 20,000 images of girls dressed up as Batgirl II Cassandra Cain at this point, for example...

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I found this page on dccomics.com very, very, very, very interesting, in large part because in his Comics Journal "exit interview", freelance writer Chris Roberson had this to say at one point:

I can’t speak for Marvel because I’ve never worked there, but at least at DC over the course of paying attention as a reader over the course of the last decade, and then definitely as someone employed by them over the course of the last few years, a culture has arisen which seems to devalue the role of the creator and prize the creation. The most telling examples I could point to are things like if you go to the DC website, there are categories for titles, there are categories for characters, and there are categories for movies or films. There is no category for creator...In many cases, there are listings for the the creative teams on individual titles and individual collections, but even there in many cases the names are wrong.
Does the one thing have something to do with the other, or did DC decide to maybe still a marketing idea from Image, who had house ads featuring their creators, or Marvel, who did that stupid "architects" photo shoot a while ago?

I don't know, but I hope it means DC is at least paying attention to the conversation about creators and creators rights that has emerged this spring as DC announced Before Watchmen and The Avengers saw release...

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It is nice to see some of the faces behind some of DC's comics, although one of the unfortunate side effects of this little project is that it sure underscores how few ladies they have writing and drawing for them.

Beyond Batgirl writer Gail Simone, the only two included in that post are Amanda Conner (whose last regular work for DC was a year's worth of Power Girl ending in 2010, although she has a controversial miniseries coming up pretty soon), and Jill Thompson (who has had a long relationship with DC's Veritgo imprint, but unless I"m missing something, hasn't done any DCU work save a single issue of The Shade, in...I don't know, a million years...?)

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It does make a sense to have something like that on dccomics.com, though, and it would serve DC well to compliment those bios with a list of clickable links to trade collections featuring the work of those creators, and/or maybe links to some of their digital comics DC is selling. I can't speak for all comics readers everywhere but, let's see, every single one I know personally shops for comics by creator rather than character or title.

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I wouldn't actually want to get hit in the face by anything thrown by Batman, but, were I to compile a list of Things Batman Could Throw At My Face, in descending order from things I would least like to get hit in the face with to things it might not be so bad to get hit in the face with, these would be near the top.

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I really like the term "Proto-Tubby."

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The other day I was driving to work and an SUV in the next lane passed me, and I noticed its license plate read "ROBEAST." I spent some time trying to remember where the term "robeast," as in a robot beast, is originally from—Was it the TV-headed gorilla in Robot Monster? The collective name of those silly, size-changing monsters the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers used to fight? The things that the effeminate evil elf-looking guy from Voltron used to have fight our heroes...? (It was the things that the effeminate evil elf-looking guy from Voltron used to have fight our heroes).

Off and on throughout the day I wondered who would pay to have a vanity license plate reading "ROBEAST" made to put on their car, and why they would do so.

It wasn't until about the end of the work day that I realized it might just have been some dude named Rob East driving that SUV.

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Oh shit, can John DiMaggio read all of the audiobooks I listen to in the voice of Aquaman...?

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So, PVP cartoonist Scott Kurtz said something dumb (well, actually, a whole bunch of different dumb things, on the subject of how everyone should quit talking about creator's rights and Jack Kirby in relation to The Avengers movie. Christopher Bird and Leonard Pierce took Kurtz to task.

Re-reading these pieces before posting these links, one thing that really jumps out at me is Kurtz's general argument (or is it an "argument...?) that things are better now and that the screwing of Jack Kirby (and other creators) out of credit and/or money is all in the past, so there's no point in fretting over it now are kind of silly given the fact that it's obviously not in the past.

The Avengers is in theaters right now the heirs of Kirby and Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are in court right now. These fights might have began a lont time ago, but they're still going on; they're still occurring in the present tense and they haven't yet been resolved.

Also, quick reminder: Scott Kurtz is in idiot, as the comments section of this 2008 post pretty thoroughly demonstrates.

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Say, this is some mighty fine comics-reviewing right here...

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You know what's weird? I found this trailer for Lego Batman 2 much more exciting and visually compelling than I found the trailer for Dark Knight Rises....and I've never even played Lego Batman, nor do I imagine I'll ever play this new one.

Maybe it's the Elfman music in it...?

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You've probably seen the cover for Astonishing X-Men #51 featuring the ceremony of Northstar to his boyfriend already, right?

I like how some of the X-people decided to get dressed up for the ceremony, while Psylocke is just like, "Fuck it, I'm just going to wear my liquid latex bathing suit, and Puck wears his fetish wear, and he sits right in the front row, next to boyfriend's parents.

Shame on the artist for not drawing a tie around Doop, though...

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This comic strip is sad/funny/horrible/true.

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If this turns out to be true, then I think that particular character does fit the "iconic", if not necessarily "major," criteria, although like I said before, having the major, iconic character be a secondary version of a character, and one who now exists in an alternate dimension that has only been around for, let's see, one month now, and may only last until the point at which DC decides to de-boot their reboot to enjoy the sales bump doing so would trigger, is kind of a cheat.

I think it would have been a much, much, much bigger deal before the reboot, although using that particular character for that particular coming out might have been somewhat difficult given his history of not being totally, 100% cool with loved ones who turn out to be gay.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Batman on a horse!

That's another good thing about 1989's Gotham By Gaslight: An Alternative History of The Batman, which was drawn by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

Today at Robot 6, I have a long-ish piece reacting to Marvel's announcement of Northstar's impending nuptials and DC's decision to reintroduce one of their rebooted characters as gay. You can go read it if you like.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My best guess?

So DC Comics is going to "out" a pre-existing, previously heterosexual character as a gay man in a storyline next month. As for the clues, the character will be a "major iconic" one, and will apparently be one hasn't appeared in the "New 52" books.

Well, there's no DC character more iconic than Icon, is there? It's right there in his name!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Nuclear or extended...? Do they know you're coming, or is it an ambush...? Are they armed, or unarmed..?"



(Source material: DC Comics's Justice League #9, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee and Scott Williams)

Oh...

so that's why DC broke up Superman and Lois Lane's marriage during the last continuity reboot...

Well these comics from the 50-cent bin aren't going to review themselves...

... and if they did, they would all probably just give themselves four out of four stars.

So remember last Wednesday night, when I said I picked up a handful of comics from a 50-cent bin at my local comic book shop? And that I'd probably review them here at some point? Well, that's what this post is.

DC/WildStorm: DreamWar #1 (DC Comics) This comic book provides a perfect example of the fact that while comics readers and comics storytelling techniques have gotten much more sophisticated over the years, some comics artists (and/or the editors who choose which artists do which scripts, and okay the stuff before it goes to press) haven't gotten any more sophisticated then they were in, say, 1979 and may, in fact, have gotten less so.

For example, this comic opens with a three-page sequence that a caption tells us occurs in "Happy Harbor, Rhode Island."

The first page is a four-panel one, devoid of words. There's a longshot of a tidal wave crashing into some boats and small buildings. Then there's a medium shot of two people being swept up in water on a city street. Then an extreme long shot of an even bigger wave (the same wave?) about the crash into a town (the same town?) with a barren, rocky island bearing a huge cave mouth in the background. Then there's a longshot of what is presumably the same island, only now the cave mouth is tiny, having shrunken from the size of a couple of houses to roughly the size of a basketball team (unless it's a different cave entirely), and we see some familiar figures obscured by shadow.
Then you turn the page to see a two-page spread featuring what is likely the Silver Age Justice League—the Flash is Barry Allen, who was still dead in 2008 and when this was published, and Green Arrow is clean shaven and rocking red gloves—standing in the middle of a huge cloud of smoke, which seems to be lit by off-panel fire or lava.
In the old days, narration boxes would have been all over these five panels, explaining what the sea was doing, where the wave was coming from, whether that island was an island or the top of a mountain that was already covered by tidal waves, and so on. But because having narration boxes explaining what is happening in the pictures, like having characters recap the action in their dialogue, has long been considered redundant, comics-makers rarely do that sort of thing anymore.

Of course, explaining what's going on in the images through narration and dialogue is only redundant if it's clear what's going on in the images from the art itself, and this art is anything but clear.

Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott are credited as the artists for this miniseries, which Keith Giffen wrote. The art is generally quite poor. The idea seems to be that the traditional DC Universe is somehow suddenly being merged geographically with the WildStorm universe, as (I think) the Justice League cave base pushed itself up through the water in Happy Harbor, causing a flood, the Wolfman/Perez era Teen Titans' T-shaped based suddenly appears in New York City, and the Legion of Superheroes' crashed rocketship base appears in Russia.

The familiar (to me, anyway) DC characters don't really speak at all, and behave rather mysteriously, so the various WildStorm characters, few of whom are introduced, named or otherwise identified, talk about them as if they've never heard of or encountered them before, and assume they are hostile. (The exceptions are a couple of Legionnaires and the civilian identities of three of the JSA members in the back half of the book).

One problem with Garbett and Scott's work is that it's so generic that there's no sense of place to anywhere in the story, so a 1960s era DCU somehow merging with and invading the 1990s-borne WildStorm universe doesn't quite register, let alone resonate. The interior of the Titans Tower is just a generic hallway, or a background-less white space, or a cloud of smoke, just like most of the settings in the book.

The Authority, Majestic, Gen 13, StormWatch and the people from Gail Simone's superhero retirement home miniseries all appear, but even though they're a lot chattier, it's not exactly clear who most of them are or what they're up to (The DC characters have the advantage of at least being recognizable enough that you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't recognize, say, Superman or Batman; the same can't be said for...whoever that guy with superpowers wearing a suit and tie and hanging out with Majestic is.

Giffen has an okay premise here, although a lot of my understanding of it comes from guessing after the clues (Like the title, "Chimera Rising"), but it's so poorly executed I wonder why DC bothered. They published five more issues after this one.


Defenders #1-#2 (Marvel Entertaiment) I kind of love Marvel's Defenders concept—Hey, let's just have these four super-powerful dudes who don't like each other and don't get along with or fit in anywhere else in the Marvel Universe and just make a team out of 'em beacause why not—so a new ongoing series written by the extremely clever, often humorous Matt Fraction and artists whose work I don't mind reading at all (Terry and Rachel Dodson) seemed like a winner to me, save for one fact: Marvel was charging $3.99 for this 20-page comic!

I still haven't accepted the fact that they were charging $4 for a 22-page comic, and they reduced their page count without reducing their price.

Now that I've read the first two issues, I see that this is a comic I wouldn't just theoretically have liked to read as it was being released serially, but that I now know I definitely would theoretically have liked to read as it was being released serially if not for the fact that Marvel was charging, what, twenty cents per page.

Otherwise, this is pretty much perfect, only lacking in Erik Larsen's pencils to be a perfect Defenders comic. Well, Larsen's pencils and the presence of The Hulk, who appears briefly in the first issue—in a "smart Hulk" mode of some sort—in order to ask his three fellow Defender founders to stop the Hulk's Hulk, the "Black Hulk," some sort of supernatural unstoppable rage monster that looks like The Hulk made out of ink, with a more primitive, baboon-like jaw and a tail.

The Hulk recommends they team up with She-Hulk instead of him, only instead of She-Hulk they team up with the red She-Hulk, who is apparently also called She-Hulk instead of "Red She-Hulk"...? I don't know. I don't read enough of these comics to know what's going on anymore. I just know Namor, Dr. Strange and the Silver Surfer are all pretty awesome, and Fraction writes them well.

Taking Nighthawk's place as wealthy, relatively weak hanger-on in the traditional Defenders roster is Danny "Iron Fist" Rand, and it's a welcome personnel change, given Nighthawk's overall lameness.

Fraction lets the characters take turns narrating, which is usually a narrative technique I find grating, but it works well enough here. He has little problem finding a threat big enough to unite these diverse heavy-hitters (and Iron Fist) and throwing them all together fairly organically (although Iron Fist is a bit shoehorned in; apparently only present because he owns a plane and [Red] She-Hulk knows him).

The Dodsons' art is fine; much better than I expect from Marvel these days, and barring an unfortuante blur effect here or there, it's even colored nicely enough. I was sort of bummed to get to the end of the second issue and realize that was pretty much the end of Marvel's new Defenders series for me...at least until the trade collection is published and gets added to some library collections and/or I find #3 in a bargain back-issue bin.


Destroyer #1-#4 (Marvel) This miniseries is pretty interesting as an artifact from a particular point in Robert Kirkman's writing career. After launching the very successful Walking Dead and Invinicible, Kirkman spent some time freelancing for Marvel Comics before quite publicly and famously walking away from work-for-hire, Big Two comics-writing in favor of creator-owned work, imploring all others in the industry to do the same in a video manifesto that was quite the topic of conversation on the old Internet for a while in 2008.

This five-issue miniseries released under Marvel's mature readers "Max" imprint came out in 2010, but was apparently already written at that point. Like most of Kirkman's Marvel work, it was kind of quirky...and not exactly embraced by the majority of Marvel Zombies.

Reading the first four-fifths of it today, I was struck by a few things.

First, each issue was awfully sleight for being $3.99 a piece. Lots of splash pages, four-to-five panel grids on each page, each issue took me only a few minutes to read, and I was less than halfway through a bath before I was finished (Luckily I had a newspaper in there too). Second, those Max books sure had sturdy cover stock—the first three issues felt like they had backing boards built right into them, while the fourth issue featured a more standard "floppy" cover stock (although the price remained $3.99). And third, there was so little that was Marvel about the book, I wasn't quite sure why this was a Marvel book at all—did Kirkman have a pre-written superhero story that the Destroyer was grafted on to, in order to Marvel-ize the story?
The Destroyer is a pretty obscure Marvel character, created by Stan Lee way back in the pre-Marvel days of 1941. I've only read a single story featuring him, the one that appeared in one of those 70th Anniversary Specials Marvel published in 2009. In this story, he's a somewhat chubby guy waering cargo pants tucked into military boots, a bullet-proof vext emblazoned with a Punisher-like skull, a red-and-black shirt that evokes a soccer jersey, and a rubber Halloween mask that makes him look awful Skrull-like.

In this miniseries, Destroyer is apparently the world's only superhero (with the exception of his son-in-law and sometimes sidekick, Turret), and he works for the government as a sort of terrorist and monster-fighting contractor. He's also pretty old, with artist Corey Walker giving him a head that looks like a healthier, more heroic version of John McCain's puss atop a thick body that's muscular in the way a Mike Skekowsky Justice Leaguer might have been. He's old, way past retirement age, and he's diagnosed with a bum ticker—his heart could give out at any time—and he's determined to use what little time he has left to kill every one he thinks needs killing. His long-suffering wife would prefer he spend more time with her and their family before he dies.

The characters are all pretty thinly drawn, but the drama is effective enough, and it's a solid, entertaining melodrama in the Mighty (Max) Marvel Manner. I imagine fans of Garth Ennis' Punisher work will enjoy some of the more over-over-the-top moments, like an opening panel in which the Destroyer's fist is seen emerging from an exit wound it made in the back of a terrorist's skull, pushing bits of teeth and an eyeball out with it,
or panels like this,
or the scene in the third book that is so bloody Destroyer and his opponent are completely coated in blood, as if they just got out of a pool of it
It's fine for what it is, although it's perplexing how almost-Marvel it is. For example, there's a Hydra-like terrorist group whose name begins with an "H", but it's Horde rather than Hydra. There's a big old Kirby/Lee monster with a goofy name, but its the made up Krakoom, instead of any of the Marvel monsters.

I really liked Walker's deceptively simple artwork, and it's kind of too bad they used Jason Pearson's art on the covers. Pearson's a great artist whose work I like a lot, but it's awfully different from Walker's, which should have been more than sufficient to sell the book.

The back-issue bins I found these four issues in didn't have the fifth and final issue, so I have no idea how it ends. Maybe the final chapter transforms the four that came before it into something else entirely, but I liked these four okay. They're well worth the $2 I paid for 'em, although I'm sure I would have felt like I was highway-robbed if I shelled out $15.96 for 'em...

Oh! There's a scene in here where the Destroyer punches off the arm of his archenemy Scar and tries to shove it down his throat—
—just like in Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps, when Guy Gardner took the arm off a yellow Lantern and shoved it down her throat. This hero-tearing-off-villain's-arm-and-stuffing-it-down-villain's-throat scene predates that one though, so either Peter Tomasi stole it from Kirkman, or they coincidentally wrote such similar scenes.

The latter sort of disturbs me, as "Wouldn't it be cool if the hero tore the arm off of the villain, and then tried to choke the villain to death with their own severed arm?" doesn't seem like the sort of thing that should occur to too many super-comics writer too often...


Gotham By Gaslight: An Alternative History of the Batman (DC) This was by far the best find: A 1989 copy of the seminal Batman comic that gave birth to the entire "Elseworlds" line of DC comics and graphic novels, featuring artwork from the incomparable team of Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell and a story by Brian Augustyn that pits Batman vs. Jack The Ripper in 1899 Gotham City. With an introduction by Robert Bloch, writing as Jack the Ripper!

This is a book I've known by reputation for quite a while, but never actually had in my hands to read. As such, it's a somewhat strange experience, somewhat akin to sitting down to watch, say, Citizen Kane today; you can't exactly watch it with unprejudiced eyes anymore.

It was really quite good though. The artwork, it goes without saying, is beautiful, and David Hornug's understated colors serve it well. Augustyn's story is pretty straightforward, but rather remarkable in the way it parallels "Batman: Year One" (or at least a more bare-bones version of "Year One), differing only in its setting. The true identity of The Ripper was fairly loudly broadcast, despite an early red herring, but made for a satisfying overall construction nonetheless.

If you haven't read it already, I'd highly recommend you read it in whichever edition your local comic shop offers it in.

Just be careful you don't accidentally pick this up instead:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

(links)

Did you guys read last Sunday's in-depth interview over at Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter? It was with Joseph Remnant, the artist who drew Harvey Pekar's recently-released graphic novel Cleveland. I was somewhat surprised to learn that while Remnant is from Ohio, he's not from Cleveland, and did his visual research for the book mostly through the Internet. I was so surprised because he pulled it off extremely well. Based on the images within, I assumed he was a Cleveland native, and that he was driving and biking around town and sketching up a storm in preparation for illustrating the book.

(This week's in-depth interview over at Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter, by the way, is with Faith Erin Hicks; I haven't yet read it personally, but I can't imagine it's not well worth a read).

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The great cartoonist Roger Langridge has decided to no longer seek or accept work from Marvel or DC due to ethical concerns with the way the company's treat creators, and explained so publicly.

Langridge is a great example of a writer who has done just enough Marvel work to let Marvel readers know exactly how great he is at writing Marvel characters, and exactly how great future Langridge-written Marvel comics might have been—his The Mighty Thor run with Chris Samnee wasn't only one of the better superhero comics I can recall reading in the past decade or so, but it was of the sort that I could imagine myself eagerly reading month in and month out indefnitely—before noting that there isn't going to be any more such comics from him (Barring Marvel maybe cleaning up their act remarkably significantly).

So like Chris Roberson bailing from DC after making a purse out of the sow's ear of J. Michael Straczynski's abandoned Superman run (if that's the right metaphor, and it probably isn't), it's an absence that will be felt, at least in terms of unrealized potential Big Two Comics That Are Actually Pretty Good.

If you couple Langridge's Thor comics with his work on The Muppet Show (as writer and artist) and on IDW's new Popeye, it's clear that Langridge is brilliant at taking pre-existing, other-created, corporate-owned characters and franchises and making them sing in a way that honors their essential qualities and also makes them appear vital and relevant. In other words, Langridge is the ideal writer for the sorts of comics DC and Marvel publish (or should publish, anyway, since the publishers seem to currently conceive of superhero narratives as shitty R-rated action movies, only with more gore and spandex).

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Here's what the note for this link—I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but throughout the week when I see something interesting I cut-and-paste the link and then type up some quick notes on it to fill out on Sunday afternoon—says in it's entirety:

holyfucking shit sean t collins just reviewed the hell out of some marvel movies

I guess I was pretty excited as well as impressed with Collins' review of Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. You can read the piece here.

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I saw The Avengers the Saturday of the weekend it opened, and have been meaning to type up some thoughts on it here ever since. What's that been now, two weeks...?

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Here's an interesting piece from David Brothers about a thing that has long bugged the shit out of me: Not-swearing swearing in comic books.

Specifically, including a swear word in a bit of dialogue, but covering it up in some fashion, while keeping the context perfectly clear, like someone in a Bendis Avengers comic saying "@#$% me? No, @#$% you!" or "Kiss my @$$" or "Is it true you once @#$%-ed Tigra on a quinjet?" (Er, those aren't exact examples). Such swearing just makes the writer (Bendis) and publisher (Marvel) look foolish, since it's mature but not really; like, they want to talk like a grown-up, but are afraid of getting in trouble with adults (Similarly frustrating is Marvel and DC's embrace of crazy ultraviolence in their superhero comics, with a blanket refusal to ever use any nudity in any context).

Brothers breaks down exactly what is so frustrating and stupid about not-swearing swearing, but I disagree with some of the types of not-swearing swearing that he considers clever.

I do kinda like the Milestone squiggle that Brothers calls attention too, in large part because I always read it as a record-scratching noise or as the way pop radio stations will scramble swear words in rap songs (and, as Brothers noted, it's visual, it's art).

I don't like Adam Warren's black bars over the swear words in Empowered. They bother the hell out of me, both in that the swear words they are blocking out are all obvious from the context, and also because the black bars look like the redaction bars from government reports and suchlike. They don't seem to fit in the overall context of the book. That said, that is—almost—the only thing I don't like about Empowered (That, and how uncomfortable the skull-fucking bad guys make me).

The only kind of non-swear swear word I really, really like is the kind where the artist draws out the swar words, like Mort Walker and/or all the Walker/Browne cartoonist people put in Sarge's mouth when he's cussing out Beetle Bailey or whatever. You know, like where he draws @#$% symbols and compliments them with letter-sized drawings of gravestones, skulls, daggers and storm clouds.

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Oh my God has it been five years already...? (Via The Beat)

Thinking about Countdown to Final Crisis again got me thinking if that is the precise moment where things started to go wrong in the DC Universe as a cohesive whole, so wrong that DC felt it had to reboot its universe?

Huge, glaring errors in continuity and characterization appeared throughout the DiDio period of DC Comics that began with Identity Crisis and stretched to Infinite Crisis, but there was an in-story rationale (eventually) provided: Superboy was super-punching history itself. But even after a clean restart of the universe in IC (and another in 52), they continued through the period that lead to and included Countdown, at which point they were explained away as the reverberations of the death of Darkseid as he fell through existence, warping history.

And then the universe was un-made and re-made once more.

And there were still problems so, in Flashpoint, DC un-made and re-made its universe once more, this time with it's cleanest and most total re-boot since Crisis On Infinite Earths.

Anyway, I wonder at what point did DC feel they had to reboot...or what the inciting incident was. Was it as far back as Identity Crisis? Or was it Countdown? Or was it Cry For Justice and what followed it...?

I don't know.

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Abhay also reviewed the hell out of The Avengers. To illustrate his review he chooses an interesting image.

Do note how many more female Avengers Avengers: A Porn Parody has in its line-up compared to Marvel's Avengers. Spider-Woman, Scarlet Witch, She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel—who looks like she just flew in off of a Greg Horn cover—join Black Widow on the team.

I mean, it makes sense; if they stuck with the real Avengers cast, the porn parody would simply be a series of gangbangs involving the Widow and maybe Maria Hill, and/or a lot of dude-on-dude hook-ups (Augh! Scary visual image of Nick Fury's empty socket!)

Still, look at all those Avenging ladies! DC Women Kicking Ass once noted that the only place she could see live action film versions of her favorite comic book heroines was in pornography...

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Look at all these lovely Doll Man pages!

You know how Geoff Johns goes about making people care about Green Lantern or Aquaman by making the characters as over-the-top bad-ass as possible? I wouldn't mind seeing Johns apply such treatment to Doll Man. I'm sure it would still be bad and I wouldn't like it, but it would be interesting, in the way Geoff Johns' comics continue to be of interest to me.

If Aquaman is considered a joke character to such an extent that the defining aspect of his new title is how sensitive the Aquaman is to this perception of him and the lengths he'll go to prove himself to jaded comic book readers who prefer Batman and Wolverine, imagine what Johns' Doll Man would be like...!

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You know what's so great about Before Watchmen? Just when you think the story has gotten as depressing as it can possibly get, you see something even more deperssing that makes you despair even more!

For example, comics news site Comic Book Resources and a motley crew of hand-picked outlets got invited into DC Comics compounds in order to look at some pages from the project and, I don't know, relate that, I don't know, even if Darwyn Cooke has apparently lost his moral compass, he hasn't lost his ability to draw...? Or whatever.

I only made it through the first write-up Heidi MacDonald linked to, a piece for MTV Geek written by DC Comics assistant editor-turned amateur comics blogger-turned Friends of Lulu president-turned Marvel comics writer-turned professional comics blogger Valerie Gallaher, and felt so ill I couldn't contine. Gallaher's piece is essentially a more polished version of what Newsarama's Lucas Siegel wrote upon the original announcement of the project, with the added benefit of being able to say that the great artists who contributed art to the project did a great job.

This is a very strange comics "story," and I feel about it similar to the way I felt about Frank Miller's Holy Terror in terms of how comics media should most responsibly address it. The project's existence is disgusting and should be fairly abhorrent to anyone reads, likes or cares about comics, the people who make comics and the way in which comics are made.

That said, are we better off ignoring Before Watchmen completely, as something beneath covering? Should we take it seriously, as if it were just another comics publishing initiative, akin to Avengers Vs. X-Men (You know, releasing previews, highlighting covers, reviewing the individual books as they come out)? Should we take every opportunity to engage DC on the project and say, "No, this is not okay? Or does that merely help DC in their promotion efforts?

Holy Terror was a big, noteworthy, newsworthy release, given the skill and reputation of its creator, its controversial address of important issues and its unique origin story of being publicly announced as a Batman project and then, over a period of years, changed just enough so that it could be published outside of DC Comics. The things it said though were horrible, and I struggled with whether to review it at all or ignore it, which did the most good, or which did the most ill.

I ultimately did review it, and discuss it on my blog in another context, even if acknowledging it did help promote it to a certain degree.

What are we to do with Before Watchmen, though? Like Holy Terror, I'm not sure how to proceed most responsibly so as to not do anything to help sell books, but I also don't want to let my disapproval of the project also help sell it.

I won't be reading or reviewing any issues, of that I'm sure. Holy Terror, for all the ugly things it said, was still a noteworthy book deserving of critical engagement. The noteworthy aspect of Before Watchmen is that DC is doing it; the contents and/or quality of the books aren't even worth talking about when compared to that aspect of the story. They're trivialities, really.

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Quick Yotsuba&! break:
Ah, I needed that!

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Do you ever worry, "What if Caleb reads a comic and doesn't tell me what he thought about it? What then?" Well, don't worry; it hasn't come to that yet. I contributed to this week's "What Are You Reading?" column at Robot 6, where I covered the few comics I read that I haven't reviewed here or elsewhere yet, including Ming Ming's Neon Genesis Evangelion: Campus Apocalypse Vol. 2, Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham's Level Up and Michel Rabagliati's Paul Has A Summer Job. Those last two were really great comics; I've just borrowed the two remaining Paul graphic novels I haven't read yet—...Moves Out and ...In the Country—in order to extend that experience as far as possible.

Oh, and Austin English and the rest of the Robot 6 crew share what they've been reading too, of course...

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Shut up, Joe Quesada.

While it's true Marvel doesn't have a Wonder Woman, Marvel does have an awful lot of female superheroes, the likes of which should be at least as salable to mass audiences as, say, Iron Man or Ghost Rider or The Punisher or Blade.

And while I agree there probably isn't a single female actress who could turn a movie into an Avengers style success, it's also true that there isn't a single male actor who could, either. That movie had, like, six male leads and a female one. Looking at the make-up of the cast of characters, it was like Ocean's Thirteen divided by two and multiplied by Iron Man. And anyway, how important is the pre-exising popularity the actors playing the leading characters in these movies? Hugh Jackman, Tobey Maguire, Christian Bale, Chris Evans and Liam Hemsworth's brother weren't exactly actor' capable of selling movies or franchises all by their lonesomes; it's almost like people were more interested in Wolverine, Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America and Thor than they are in who's playing them...

(Let's make an exception for Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, though. I don't think RDJ pre-sold audiences on the first movie—people were still "Let's go see the Iron Man movie!" not "Let's go see the new Robert Downey Jr. movie!"—but he's certainly the reason it got the reviews it got, did the business it did, the reason a second movie got made and honestly I can't imagine Avengers without him.)

Of course, on the other hand, Catwoman and Elektra, but I think it's fair to say the biggest problems with those two films weren't Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner, or the fact that someone decided to do a Catwoman movie and an Elektra movie...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I like this drawing:

It is, of course, by Kevin Maguire, and it depicts a rather fondly remembered moment from early in his run on DC' Justice League comics, the moment when Green Lantern Guy Gardner gets in Batman's face and wants to go mano-a-bate with him, and Batman casually knocks him cold with, as Blue Beetle excitedly repeats over and over, "One punch!"

Remember?
I like everything about the drawing up top, which would work just fine within the context of that story, if it were somehow magically inserted into it as a splash page (of course, back then Justice League artists used to draw as many as nine panels per page, and splash pages were rare, generally reserved only for one page of each 22-page issue).

I like the look on Batman's face, I like the casual stance he's in, implying the above wallop was just a casual, tossed off punch-in-the-face, I like the way the scallops of his cape frame the lower part of his figure, I like the comic book-y explosion and stars, I like the arc of Guy's body as he flies backwards through the air, folded in half by punch and gravity.

I would just link to the source of the image, but I found it on Facebook, via a comment of a friend who is friends with Maguire, so I'm not sure if you'll be able to see it or not. If so, it's here, and you can see more fine Maguire art here.

Of that black and white Batman-belting-Guy piece, Maguire commented, "One of the few drawings that I am completely satisfied with."

I am completely satisfied with it as well.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Marvel's August previews reviewed

So, in the good old days, back when DC and Marvel solicits consisted of several complete sentences, forming a paragraph, DC's previews would be released on a Monday at 5 p.m., immediately followed by Marvel's on the following Tuesday. Then the world went mad, and Marvel started releasing their solicits an entire week after DC releaser theirs.

This week, they went back to releasing them the day after, completely throwing me off my game (such as my "game" is). I don't do well with change, guys!

So days late, here's a look at what Marvel will be releasing in August of this year. So you can plan ahead. To read their full solicits, you can check them out at Comic Book Resources, and at ComicsAlliance, too. Whichever you prefer.

To read only a couple, look at some covers, and eavesdrop on me talking back to them, you can stay here, with me.


That's a pretty nice cover for Astonishing X-Men #53. Good job, Dustin Weaver.


Hey, did you know Angel grew his hair out? I did not. But now I do! (Get a haircut, Angel!)


AVENGERS VS X-MEN #9 & 10 (of 12)
ISSUE #9 - JASON AARON (w) • ADAM KUBERT (A)
Cover by JIM CHEUNG
...
• Their numbers dwindling, the Avengers stage a daring raid on the X-Men’s prison to rescue their captive members—and you won’t believe where it is!
• Alliances begin to change as the nature of the Phoenix becomes apparent!
• And in the end, it all comes down to Spider-Man!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Prison camp...? Well, the Avengers have no right to complain. Iron Man had his own Guantanamo-like prison camp during Civil War, in which he indefinitely detained any costumed crime fighter or super-powered person, regardless of nationality, in a different dimension until they agreed to reveal their secret identity to him and sign up for the American superhero draft.

Hey! Black Panther! Slow down man; you leapt right out of the picture!


So my favorite part of the new Captain Marvel design (with "new Captain Marvel" referring to Carol "Ms. Marvel" Danvers) was her cool she-fauxhawk. Looks like Marvel had her grow her hair out before the series actually shipped though, because a girl with short hair? Come on; that would be like someone drawing her without huge breasts, you know?They even altered the previously released images, so now, instead of looking like this,
she looks like this
, so it appears she wears a banana clip or a shitload of bobby pins when she's adventuring. Lady, have you never heard of a scrunchy?

But eh, what do I know about hair?

In other news, I guess Axel Alonso won Giganta from Dan DiDio and Jim Lee in a poker game.


INCREDIBLE HULK #12
JASON AARON (w) • CARLOS PACHECO (A)
Cover by MICHAEL KOMARCK
• HULK VS. WOLVERINE!!!
• HULK VS. THE THING!!!
• The conclusion of STAY ANGRY! What devious plan has Banner been up to? REVEALED HERE!!!!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99


Hulk vs. Wolverine? Hulk vs. The Thing? Wow, those are some exciting match-ups! Has the Hulk ever fought Wolverine or The Thing before?!


Peter Parker, Spider-Man #156.1
ROGER STERN (W)
ROB DE LATORRE (A)
Cover by JOHN ROMITA, JR

Sensational Spider-Man #33.1& 33.2
TOM DEFALCO (W)
CARLO Barberi (A)
Covers by SIMONE BIANCHI

Web of Spider-Man #129.1 & 129.2
STUART MOORE (W)
DAMION SCOTT (A)
Cover by MIKE MCKONE


Ha ha ha! Now Marvel's publishing ".1" issues of books that don't even exist anymore! Awesome.

That said, I'm really excited to see the name "Damion Scott" in front of an "(A)", as I haven't seen his art in a good long time, and I wonder what it looks like now. I've purchased issues of Spider-Man comics in the past exclusively to see how Scott draws Spidey; I was disappointed by the book itself, but the art was cool. Scott's a really exciting artist whose art has evolved in very interesting directions very quickly. He's the sort of dude who should always have a mainstream superhero gig with one of the Big Two any time he wants one, just for awesomeness' sake. (Not that awesomeness is necessarily considered a virtue at the Big Two, as it isn't).


Well, that's a fine Hulk cover by artist Dale Eaglesham. I do wonder why this book is called Hulk instead of Red Hulk though...?


Say, who came first—Texas Twister or G.I. Joe pilot Wild Bill...? I suppose I could look it up on the Internet, but I'd run the risk of realizing that I was looking up those two bits of trivia on the Internet while in the midst of doing so, and getting really, really sad. It's just not the sort of thing I used to think I'd be doing when I was a 35-year-old man, back when I was young and full of dreams.

Come to think of it, neither is this...


Bi-Beast appearance collector's please note: Bi-Beast is on the cover of Secret Avengers #30. I hope creators Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera devote a scene to showing how Bi-Beast drinks, given his two mouths. The book is apparently set in a bar, after all.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Comic Shop comics: May 16

Daredevil #13 (Marvel Entertainment) Well this is a weird comic book. Remember how Daredevil got his hands on that "external hard drive" full of information on five "megacrime" organizations that looks like a Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer DVD he's been hanging on to for some reason that escapes me, the thing that served as a maguffin in the three-part, three-book crossover entitled "The Omega Effect" that played out in this book two issues ago? Well, this is the belated conclusion to that storyline. Two issues after that story ended.

The way that particular conflict was resolved was a fairly satisfying one, and included a surprise I certainly didn't see coming, but why now, so long after the crossover that was sold as the culmination of that conflict?

I have no idea, but then, I don't really get this book. Like, why it's a weekly instead of a monthly, which means it requires a bunch of artists instead of one or two to get it in on the stands so often, particularly when the superior quality of the art was its major selling point.

This issue is drawn by returning fill-in artist Khoi Pham. The art's okay, but problematic, and far below the standards established by Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera. Here, for example:
Does Foggy's expression seem appropriate given Matt's dialogue?


Hulk Smash Avengers #3 (Marvel) I recognize that the two artists arguing about the Avengers in front of Avengers Mansion are supposed to represent real people (I'm assuming the "Mark and Big John" the issue is dedicated to), but I didn't recognize who they were supposed to be. That kind of frustrated me, if only because it was clear that I was seeing something I didn't get.

This issue is set in the Avengers continuity of the '80s, which, through the magic of a sliding time-line, makes it possible for Janet Van Dyne to be romantically linked (at least through gossip) to George Clooney and Sean "P.Diddy" Combs (even though the latter was only 20 in 1989!). It's written by Roger Stern, penciled by Karl Moline and inked by Jay Leisten. The story slides between existing comics from that era, each referenced in footnotes, and basically serves as a check-in with those various characters, with Captain Marvel Monica Rambeau serving as our point-of-view character.

The Hulk is, at this point, a "smart" Hulk, which isn't a Hulk I'm particularly fond of (I like the caveman/child-like Hulk, and the cunning, asshole Hulk, myself). Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, She-Hulk and The Wasp also all appear, and, because The Hulk is a smart Hulk, there's next to no fighting between him and the Avengers, which is sorta disappointing in a book called "Hulk Smash Avengers."

Gray-skinned, gangster Hulk is in next week's issue, so I imagine there will be some more smashing in that one.


The Lake Erie Monster #1 (Shiner Comics Group) I read an electronic review copy of this book already, which allowed me to review it for Robot 6 last week (You did read that piece already, right?), but my shop had a bunch of them on sale this week, so I bought one. Partly to support the work of the two talented creators, and partly because of the sickness within me that compels me to stockpile comic books. I'm not going to re-review it in this space; I'm just listing it because "the rules" for this column involve my discussing everything I bought at the comic shop during my most recent visit. But I liked it.


Saga #3 (Image Comics) This comic book still features a TV-headed humanoid dressed like a WWI officer who enters a room saying "My name is Prince Robot IV" (and expresses his anger in a way that made me giggle), a topless blond spidery lady with a big skirt (running on her many hands), and a giant lie detector talking cat apparently just called "Lying Cat."

In other words, it's still pretty awesome.


Saucer Country #3 (DC/Vertigo) The cast continues to expand, including a few more "types" familiar to the ufology (including an over-zealous, coaching hypnotist and a talk radio show guy), and relationships between some of the characters begin to cement. The striking cover, somewhat obscured by the logo, deals with the belief that some people replace aliens in their memories with various animals as a way to protect themselves. I've heard white owls and cats; here its rabbits, and there's a couple of eerie scenes where artist Ryan Kelly draws very out-of-place bunny rabbits, including a panel where a humongous rabbit peers into a car window.


Skeleton Key Color Special (Dark Horse Comics) This is actually a few weeks old, but my shop sold out of the few rack issues they originally ordered before I could get a copy, so they had to reorder it (Though hooray for Caleb having a shop that reorders stuff for him!). Andi Watson's Skeleton Key is one of my all-time favorite comic books, so it was a great pleasure to see it back, even for so short an engagement, so long after it ended.

One of the interesting things about reading through the series in its various trade collections (which I'd highly recommend you do at some point, if you haven't already), is seeing Watson's art evolve as he was telling his story. By the last chapters, it looks like the work of a completely different artist. The change is at first gradual, then remarkably rapid. Watson's art is even more different now—even more greatly simplified, and this being in color, it more greatly resembles the illustrated children's book look of his charming Glister books.

The premise of Skeleton Key is very simple, so even if you've never read it before, it's not hard to read this. Heck, Watson lays it all out in once sentence: "Using the Skeleton Key to open doors to different world and times, fox spirit Kitsune and school-girl Tasmin are trying to find their way home."

There are three short, eight-page stories in here, although each is a full, self-contained adventure, with a beginning, middle and end. Each is also wildly different in location and conflict, and Watson varies the colors and style slightly with each, but they all involve our heroes appearing somewhere strange, encountering a stranger still problem, and then solving it in a clever and or funny way.

I'd say it was the week's best book, but, like I said, it came out a few week's ago, and I'm just now reading it. But that's okay; I can call it the month's best book, and not be lying or even exaggerating about it.

You can see a preview of it here, which includes the first two pages of each of the stories.


Wonder Woman #9 (DC Comics) You can't tell by the cover, but this issue features the wedding of Wonder Woman. You know, that seems like the sort of thing that could have maybe been made a pretty big deal of, in the media, but not only did DC not seem to push it, they didn't even acknowledge the plot point on the cover. Now, I know it's not a real wedding, she's being forced to marry Hades/"Hell" after he shot her through the heart with one of Cupid's golden love-guns as part of a plan to rescue her human hanger-on Zola, but still: "Wonder Woman" + "wedding" is a formula for general interest, right?

Tony Akins is back in for regular artist Cliff Chiang; Akins is a pretty incredible artist. Not only is his style incredibly consistent with Chiang's (my opinion on that consistency might change if I ever see these comics collected side by side in graphic novel form, but reading them with a month between each installment, I don't get the slightest bit of visual whiplash going from Chiang to Atkins and back again, not like I get when going from, say, Samnee to Pham in Daredevil).

So in this issue, Wonder Woman gets ready for her wedding, and various family members—the redesigned Olympians and the British guy in a tracksuit, basically—talk about attending.

There's a lot of neat, fun design work in here, which has been the chief pleasure of writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang's horror/urban fantasy take on the character. We meet Aphrodite here, and they do a clever bit where they never show her face, leaving her beauty to the imagination of the reader. We also meet Persephone, who doesn't quite scan with my memory of mythology (if "Hell" won't ever let her leave hell, then why is there still spring and summer time on Earth...?), and I didn't get the bit about Hell's dad, either (Is Cronus in Hades...? Is this new?).

I love Diana's crazy wedding gown, though. Even if it, like the skinned horses she and Hell ride down the aisle, or the scene where War saunters through the charred corpses left after a bombing in Damascus don't exactly scream "all-ages."
Parts of the book remind me of Neil Gaiman's old Sandman, like some of the clever wordplay between the gods, and I suppose that may be the best way to approach this take on Wonder Woman, as a Vertigo Wonder Woman, minus the Vertigo logo on the cover. Of course, I don't think a Vertigo Wonder Woman means there can't also be a DCU, or all-ages, little girl-friendly Wonder Woman comic being published simultaneously...


ALSO! As I was about to head to the cash register, I noticed a half-dozen longboxes on a table that's not usually there, along with a sign reading "New collection! 50-cents each!" Here's what I purchased from within these boxes, for a mere two-bits a piece: Defenders #1-#2 (The new Fraction/Dodson/$4-an-issue series), Destroyers #1-#4, DC/WildStorm: Dreamwar #1 and Gotham By Gaslight. I might write about some of these in the near future; I don't know. In the mean time, I just wanted to note that two comics Marvel thought should be priced at eight dollars were on sale for 1/8th of that by my comics dealer, because apparently they won't sell at $4 a pop, and $1 in the hand is worth more than $8 in fantasy money.