Thursday, February 27, 2014

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

I reviewed Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem, the collection of a Dark Horse miniseries by Steve Niles, Matt Santoro and Dave Wachter. I haven't read everything Niles has written, but I've read a lot of it, and I think was probably the best thing he's written. And Wachter's art is pretty incredible. Check out his blog—which doesn't look like it's been updated for a couple months now—for all sorts of more art, including conventions sketches of some of your favorite characters.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review: Moon Knight by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev Vol. 2

Reading that first collection of Gregg Hurwitz's attempt at a Moon Knight series reminded me that I never read the second (and final) volume of the Brian Michael Bendis/Alex Maleev attempt, a book so short-lived that it might as well have been planned as a limited series rather than an ongoing. In fact, the second volume of the series, which collects issues #8-12, so completely wrap up every thing, it sort of felt like the book was planned as a 12-issue series from the outset, with Bendis perhaps leaving a little flexibility for himself in the last few issues should the book prove popular enough to keep going; as it wasn't, he seems to have written those last few scripts to tie everything up.

For a Bendis-written book then, it's incredibly tightly plotted, with no real loose ends and actual conclusions to the various conflicts raised (That said, the final issue, published in early 2012, does end teasing Bendis' 2013 event series Age of Ultron, both in its plot, which involves a pair of Marvel villains trying to reanimate Ultron to get on his good side before he does what he's going to do, and in a big, fat text banner in the final panel, reading "Moon Knight Will Return In...The Age of Ultron.")

The bigger surprise than how well-constructed the narrative ultimately ended up being—long-term plotting and endings being two particular weaknesses of Bendis'—was the fate of Echo, which I hope it's cool to discuss here, since this book ended almost three years ago now.

To recap the plot of the first volume, Moon Knight Marc Spector has moved from New York to Las Angeles. By day, Spector is consulting on a cheesy TV show about his adventures as a soldier of fortune called Legends of the Khonshu. By night, he's fighting crime, with the help of former (New) Avenger Echo and former SHIELD Agent Buck Lime, the latter of whom builds tech for Moon Knight.

More specifically, the crime he fights is that organized by the new Kingpin of L.A., Avengers-class super-villain Count Nefaria, who I had never heard of until I looked him up on Wikipedia after reading the first volume. Apparently, he's got Superman's powers—super-speed, super-strength, invulnerability, red eyebeams—and started out as a Thor villain. He also dresses like Bela Lugosi's Dracula for mysterious but awesome reasons. Well, Bela Lugosi's Dracula, but with a monocle. So I guess he actually dresses more like The Count from Sesame Street. He was trying to buy an Ultron robot on the black market, so that's two Avengers level issues that Moon Knight really oughta call the Avengers in on, but he's sort of stubborn, perhaps because he is literally, clinically insane.

Bendis' rather inspired—at least from a marketing angle—take on Moon Knights lunacy was to have the character seeing things and hearing voices, but for those things to be Captain America, Spider-Man and Wolverine, and those voices to be their voices. So although this is a Moon Knight comic, it's also sort of an Avengers comic, with every issue co-starring the most popular of the Avengers characters (It obviously didn't work at convincing enough people to buy the book every month to keep it going past 12 issues, but it was a good idea and a nice try).

In the first volume, when Bendis and Maleev were being rather coy about just how crazy Moon Knight was, it seemed at times that he had developed split personalities that just so happened to be these three Avengers. By this issue, though, they sort of appear like the ghosts of dead Jedi, advising him as disembodied voices or see-through figures. And, as with the Jedi in the Star Wars movie, when a character dies, they join the other ghostly advisors. So when Count Nefaria totally kills Echo, she appears with the other three, and Moon Knight starts hearing her voice as well.

That was pretty surprising. To learn that not only were Bendis and Maleev using Echo in this series, but they actually went ahead and killed her off in a fight with Count Nefaria, essentially "fridging" her (Although arguments could be made regarding how pure a fridging this was).

It surprised me because a random issue of a Moon Knight comic seems an even weirder place for an Avenger to die than for her to appear at all, and because she was a David Mack (and Joe Quesada) creation, first appearing in a 1999 issue of Daredevil. Sure, Marvel owned her, and Bendis made a lot more comics with her in them than Mack ever did—she was in New Avengers as Ronin when Bendis launched at book—but it still seems somewhat uncouth to kill-off a fellow creator's character (Additionally, she was 1) A woman, 2) Native America and 3) deaf, so that's three different groups that don't exactly have a great deal of representation in superhero comics that she represented; also, I'm just not a real big fan of killing off characters, as there's always more to be done with a living character than a dead one).

It also surprised me because Bendis also killed off The Sentry, another new-ish Marvel character he didn't create, but wrote extensively.

But, more than anything, it surprised me because this was literally the first I heard of Echo dying at all. Usually the death of a superhero, or supporting character in a superhero comic, makes some waves, but if this was heavily reported on among the people who report upon such things, I completely missed it and/or forgot ever hearing about it when it happened.

Which I guess is an argument for why killing her off isn't really a bad thing, if no one missed her, even when she was gone. (She could also have been brought back to life since then. I have no idea).

Anyway, Nefaria eyebeams her through the torso during the first of two big fights between Moon Knight and Nefaria. In that one, the voices in his head advise Moon Knight to run and/or call in the Avengers, and he refuses. He tries keeping Echo out of the suicidal fight, but in the end he lives and she dies.

Perhaps because so much of the set-up was handled in the first volume, or because the book was winding down already, this volume read much more smoothly than the first, and with few if any of the tiresome, trademark Bendis monologues. It's actually quite action-packed, and it's sort of a shame that Nefaria is in many of those action scenes, as Maleev often draws his fighting in longshot, and it's not all that clear what's going on. He and Moon Knight are posed in the air, and there's red light and explosions. From his eyebeams, I guess...?

Maleev continues to make liquids look really, really weird (Also, airborne bullets, blood splatter, laser-shields and, most especially, Spider-Man's webbing), and the collection format draws attention to some shortcuts he took that one might not have noticed with a month between seeing this on the last page of one comic...
...and this on an early page from the next issue...
He recycles art repeatedly throughout, but its never so obvious as on the cliffhanger/opening splashes like the ones above and below, which are just a turn of the page away from each other in the collection.

Despite some relative weakness in the art, Maleev's Moon Knight work is head-and-shoulders above that of David Finch and Jerome Opena. If one were to ask me for a recommendation regarding a Moon Knight comic, I'd definitely recommend these two collections over the Hurwitz-written Vengeance of The Moon Knight series, in large part because of how much more accessible and new reader friendly the Bendis/Maleev take is. Whether it is a Moon Knight series in the same way that the Hurwitz one was (or if it was Bendis and Maleev re-creating the character into something they hoped would be more marketable), well, I'm not Moon Knight fan enough to say. I do plan on trying all the other Moon Knight volumes I can find in trade though...eventually.

Monday, February 24, 2014

On the comics content in Time's The 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived

Despite the form it takes, this fleet, 120-page, 2013 hardcover is more a conversation than a book. Assembled and written by Kelly Knauer and Ellen Shapiro—with a dozen or so contributions from celebrities like Jodie Foster, Mary Tyler Moore, Gerard Butler and others—and produced and packaged by the folks at Time, the book is inspired by the magazine's annual list of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World."

Editor Knauer would probably readily admit that the list is meant as a conversation more so than a definitive statement, as part of the process of assembling it involved collecting opinions on, which lead to nominations and arguments for and against some listees. They did try to keep it from being an argument, though, at least a vehement one, by coming up with guidelines that forbade the inclusion of gods and divinities, and religious figures like Noah, Moses and Job that would place Time in the position of having to declare them real or fictional.

They also gave themselves the rule that the "people" had to actually be people, as in human beings, "which eliminated such beloved characters as Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Yoda and Frodo Baggins," Knauer writes (Not sure why 2001's robot Hal 9000 gets an entry then, however).

One could, would and probably should find a lot to quibble with in here. Unlike the annual lists, which take a snapshot of who's doing the influencing now, and thus take a stab at zeitgesit-capturing while simultaneously coming with an expiration date, the broad title of this list means they're trying to whittle down the most influential fictional characters of all time, and thus inclusions of the most recent vintage will likely seem especially suspect. Like Hunger Games' Katniss, Mad Men's Don Draper, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo's Lisbeth Salander, or even The Big Lebowski's The Dude, for example (Wow, Big Lebowski is 15 years old already?).

I saw a page with a few superheroes while flipping through it, which is why I originally brought the book home from the library. I was curious to see how many superheroes, as well as which superheroes, the Time people thought were worthy of inclusion. After having read the book—heavily illustrated and broken into a series of articles about 500 words or so in length, it's a quick read—I realize most of the characters have appeared in comics of some form or another.

Many have been imported into comics from other media, be it literature (Dracula, Doctor Frankenstein, Tarzan), film (Darth Vader, Indiana Jones, James Bond), television (Homer Simpson, Buffy, Captain Kirk and Spock) or, in one instance, video games (Tomb Raider's Lara Croft is the only video game character in the book; is she really more influential than a certain mustachioed plumber, though?). Uncle Sam and Santa Claus are in here as well.

In fact, it would probably be easier to list the characters who I am fairly certain have never appeared in a comic book before than those who have, and hell, I could be wrong about some of those.

As for characters native to comics, there are five of them in the book. Three of them are superheroes, and they are probably the first three you thought of: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

The trio all appear in the section of the book entitled "Outliers" (and not, oddly, "Heroes and Villains"). Actress Lynda Carter pens the article on Wonder Woman, which isn't really a case for Wondy's inclusion so much as a mini-essay on the subject of "What Wonder Woman Means To Me," and the entry fills two pages, with most of one page devoted to a 1977 image of Carter in her television costume.

The Superman and Batman entries are both written by Knauer, and are shorter still, and pretty basic in their observations (I liked the cheesiness of the Superman entry's opening line: "'You don't tug on Superman's cape,' sang Jim Croce, and that's good advice. But Superman's cape tugs at you..."). Her Superman entry makes note of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and that Superman launched not just "a thousand strips," but also "a lot of lawsuits, after the two sold the rights to their creation for a mere $130."

No creators of Batman are mentioned, and the only real person's name attached to the character is that of Tim Burton, in a sentence mentioning some of the most prominent Batman mass media adaptations: "Over the years, Batman has been portrayed on a '60s TV show as a Roy Lichetenstein canvas come to life; as the central figure of a rewarding run of imaginative Tim Burton fantasies; and, most recently, as a relentless, muscle-bound crusader in a freak-show series of action films loaded with violence." (Speaking of arguing, er, conversing, I think "comic book come to life" is a bit more accurate than "Lichtenstein canvas come to life," as the latter was a recontextualization of the former anyway, and I'm not sure just two movies constitutes a "run;" certainly "a pair of imaginative Tim Burton fantasies" works just as well, even if it loses the alliteration).

To illustrate these entries, Time uses a full-page image of the cover of 1939's Superman #1 and a small head shot of Michael Keaton as Batman from the first of the Burton films (Man, the fact that his eyes move but his head doesn't really makes for a super-creepy Batman).

As you guys will notice, these are all DC Comics characters, and among the only superheroes—in fact, I think they are the only superheroes—who have had comics in continuous publication since they were first launched back in the Golden Age (Captain America, The Flash, Green Lantern...those guys all had significant time off from the monthly grind, didn't they?). That may be why they are included and no other heroes are, although I suspect their presence in other, mass media (even if, for Wonder Woman, it was just that one TV show and some cartoon appearances with other DC superheroes), and their general cultural impact were the main reasons. ("Why Robinsons Crusoe and not Lemuel Gulliver? Why Batman and not Spider-Man? Our list reflects our preferences, and it's been a pleasure to put it together," Knauer states in the introduction).

As for the implied DC vs. Marvel thing, I think it likely comes down to the fact that the trio above are perceived as the most iconic of the super-heroes, with Superman being the template for a superhero, and all of the Marvel heroes, even those that pre-date Marvel itself by decades, are the awesome and compelling characters they are because of the way they reflect, tweak or comment on the basic idea of a superhero, as represented by Superman (and Batman and Wonder Woman). The true Marvel characters of the 1960s boom are superheroes with problems or, in other words, more fleshed-out, complex and realistic takes on the sorts of characters DC published before.

I think it is interesting—and I'm sure there are essays, hell, maybe even a book, to be written on the subject—that a handful of characters currently owned and controlled by the company called DC had such a huge cultural impact at such an early time, and for such a long time, and are just now starting to fade in relative prominence, while the Marvel characters are in such a meteoric ascendancy. Is there a reason— what is the reason?—that Superman, Batman and, to a lesser extent, Wonder Woman, were the superheroes of the 20th century, whereas Spider-Man, The X-Men, Captain America and the The Avengers characters are the superheroes of the 21st century? (There were two big-budget, all-star cast films about Thor and three about Iron Man before a Wonder Woman film ever got out of development. Think about that from a broad view; that's really, really weird).

There are only two other comics-born characters in the book/on the list: Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Pelt, who appear in the "Couples" chapter (along with the likes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Romeo and Juliet and the aforementioned Kirk and Spock).

Time's television critic James Poniewozik writes their entry, and it's quite well-written (and includes a derivation of the word "fussbudget," so kudos for that, Poniewozik). He notes the most famous image of the pair together is that of the football kick that never connects, but thinks its a misleading one, as it presents them as enemies more than the friends who need each other that they actually are ("Truth is, Charlie Brown needs a sounding board, and Lucy needs a project"). In Poniewozik's mind, then, the most telling image of the pair is Charlie Brown sitting at Lucy's Psychiatric Help booth, which is, of course, the image used to illustrate the piece, magnified to fill about a third of the page, allowing for a nice look at Charles Schulz's wiggly line-work.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review: The Vengeance of The Moon Knight Vol. 1: Shock and Awe

As I've recently been reading some Gregg Hurwitz Batman comics that have ranged in quality from not-too-terrible to too terrible, I thought maybe I should look at some other comics Hurwitz has written. Maybe it's not Hurwitz, I thought. Maybe it's not even me, I thought further. Maybe it's Batman.

So I went looking for some other comic books Hurwitz, whose day job is apparently a fairly successful writer of prose mysteries or thrillers, and found this collection of one of the recent-ish attempts at a new Moon Knight ongoing, a 2009 series entitled Vengeance of The Moon Knight. Not the vengeance of Moon Knight, damn it, or a Moon Knight, but The Moon Knight. There's only one Moon Knight! And this is his vengeance!

(For those of you who are not super well-versed in superheroes, Moon Knight is a very rich, obviously quite eccentric man who wears a cape, mask and costume to fight urban crime; he compensates for his lack of super-powers with superb fighting ability and a variety of elaborate and expensive gadgets, vehicles and weapons designed around his chosen nocturnal theme. So he's basically Batman, but instead of dressing like a bat, he dresses like the moon. A crescent moon, of course, not a full moon—that would just be silly.)

This fifth try at an ongoing Moon Knight series followed the 30-issue 2006 attempt, simply titled Moon Knight, which had a rather similar creative team: It's writer, Charlie Huston, also had a day job writing not-comic books, and its artist David Finch (who Hurwitz worked on Batman: The Dark Knight with) has a great deal in common with Vengeance of The... artist Jerome Opena. This Hurwitz/Opena effort only lasted a little more than half as long as the Huston/Finch one (18 issues), but it did outlast the sixth volume, by artist Alex Mallev and writer BRIAN MICHAEL FUCKING BENDIS, by six issues. So maybe Moon Knight's just not cut out for an ongoing monthly series any more? (Marvel's set to launch volume seven, by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey, any day now, as part of their "All-New Marvel NOW!" branding initiative).

It is not a very good book, but it's not all Hurwitz's fault. The scripts are functional, and at this earlier point in his career the man obviously has the writing of comic books down pat in a way that eludes some professional writers-who-are-new-to-writing-comics for a while.

The main problem with the story side of this particular book seems to be that it is so heavily reliant on The Moon Knight's byzantine origin and continuity (I was mostly kidding when I compared him to Batman, who he is quite derivative of; one notable difference is that Batman's a pretty straightforward, easy-to-get character, whereas Moon Knight has a large supporting cast of characters who aren't as iconic and instantly distinguishable as "sassy British butler" and "smart-mouthed teenage sidekick").

The Moon Knight Marc Spector has returned to New York after being elsewhere (he mentions the West Coast, although this pre-dates his relocation to the West Coast in his next, Bendis-written monthly), now intent on being a proper superhero, and not killing or mutilating his enemies the way he used to (Oh, that's another thing that separates him from Batman; Moon Knight is really for-real insane, with, like, multiple personalities and hallucinations and suchlike. I guess he cut the face off of his archenemy at some point in the past. I know The Joker recently had his face cut off, but it wasn't Batman who cut it off; a third party cut off The Joker's face.).

No one believes in The Moon Knight though, and they're unsure if he's a villain or a Punisher-like anti-hero or what.

He foils a robbery with several million dollars worth of weird vehicles and weapons, including a white motorcycle that emerges from a white meteor that crashes into the street, a white moon-shaped flying device and a pair of pistols that shoots bolos.

The Sentry, Marvel's Superman analogue that, like the Batman analogue whose book this is, has severe mental problems, shows up to to tell The Moon Knight he's watching him (Jeph Loeb beat Hurwtiz to the Moon Knight/Sentry team-up by about ten months, during his Hulk run, in which he had Moon Knight, Sentry and Ms. Marvel team-up against Red Hulk and Wendigos in an issue entitled "World's Finest").

Norman Osborn, The Hood and some other villains menace The Moon Knight, going so far as to to hire a Scarecrow to break everyone out of Arkham Ravencroft Asylum, lobotomize all the inmates with an ice pick  and unleash them on the city, lead by the magically resurrected archenemy of The Moon Knight, the one who had his face cut off in the past.

Spider-Man shows up—Hurwitz writes a nice scene where a chatty Spider-Man talks a criminal's ear off while he's swinging him to the police station, like an over-eager taxi driver who keeps turning around to talk to you while driving—to let The Moon Knight know that he doesn't believe in The Moon Knight either.

Meanwhile, The Moon Kngiht's craziness now manifests itself as the bird-skull headed Egyptian god Khonshu who, I don't really want to get into all that, but Khonshu is the god of vengeance and the moon that is kind of key to The Moon Knight's origin. Hurwitz touches on it here. And Moon Knight's supporting cast—ex-girlfriend, butler, ex-Moon Copter pilot, etc—show up, talking about past events from past comic books, each of them poorly introduced by Opena.

I think Opena's art might actually be a bigger problem with this book than the scripting, something that surprised me, given that Opena has done other (later) work I really rather liked, and he's not David Finch, who I did compare him to some paragraphs back.

What Opena shares with Finch is a rather dark, gritty style, with lots of blacks and lots of lines; there's not a lot of actual grit—I didn't get much of a sense of texture from the work—but the illusion of grit. This may be because Opena was trying to emulate Finch's work on the previous Moon Knight series a bit, or it may be simply because Opena felt the material called for it.

It's not that clear, though. It's rather frustrating in that this isn't Batman, so better introductions to the characters—I don't know what The Moon Knight looks like when he's not wearing his costume, as Marc Spector's face is always in shadow or tilted away or nondescript and devoid of individual characteristic or expression. I know he has brown hair, but that's about it. If he beat me up and stole my copy of The Vengeance of Moon Knight Vol. 1: Shock and AweNo, wait, that's a library book!—I wouldn't know what to tell the police sketch artist. "He had brown hair, Officer, so I know it definitely wasn't Bruce Wayne."

All of the characters are drawn like that. Frenchie, the ex-pilot, looks a little like Silver Age Tony Stark. The girl is a girl. Spider-Man, The Sentry, The Hood, The Scarecrow—their costumes tell me who they are. Osborn has that Osborn hair (to be fair to Opena, during this period of Marvel Comics' output, Norman Osborn was in every single issue of every single comic, and no two artists drew him anything alike; you just knew it was Osborn because he had that hair that looks so damn weird when drawn in a modern, realistic style, and he was wearing a suit and yelling and people were calling him "Osborn" in the dialogue).

Similarly, a lot of the vehicles and Moon stuff aren't really introduced visually. The first time I see Moon Knight walk into the new Moon Cave or whatever he calls it, I'd kinda like to see all his Moon shit, not just the corner of a Moon Copter or Moon Plane or whatever that big, silver, curved thing just off-panel is supposed to be.

And then there's the action, which doesn't flow, and is confusing and hard to read. There's a brutal fight between Moon Knight and his foe, the undead Bushman, at the climax, and it's the sort of fight scene one needs to read repeatedly to make sense of. Little crescent moon-shaped shuriken or darts appear in Bushman's forehead without Moon Knight ever actually throwing them at him, then they disappear—Opena having forgotten to draw them or the colorist having colored over them—and then two of them are back. Like that.

But hey, let's not blame everything on the creators. Another problem with the book may have been the premise. Set during the post-Secret Invasion, pre-Siege period branded "Dark Reign," when Norman "Green Goblin" Osborn was the Boss Of The Superheroes, and his Dark Avengers (and other villains) were regarded as heroes and the real heroes all regarded as villains, a large part of this book seems to be the marriage of The Moon Knight's personal struggles with killing—his past, pre-The Moon Knight history as a paid assassin, his connection to a god of vengeance, his The Moon Knighting that killed people—to the up-is-down, down-is-up world of "Dark Reign," when villains are heroes and heroes are villains. As an anti-hero, what's that make The Moon Knight now? An anti-villain?

The status quo the book launched in was a temporary one, and perhaps it was just too closely tied to it...I'd have to read the rest of the series to know for sure, but reading these early issues collected in this trade, much of the plot seemed very dated. In fact, the entire conflict outside of The Moon Knight's head is Osborn and his lieutenant and his lieutenant's lieutenants efforts to stop Moon Knight from setting up shop as an honest-to-goodness superhero in New York City during the "Dark Reign."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

To be perfectly honest....

...I can't tell what color his skin is under all that fire.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Marvel's May previews reviewed

Probably Nick Fury, the most redundant and unnecessary of the suspects.

Have I ever mentioned how glad I am to not be a retailer in the business of pre-buying comics I think I might be able to sell?

See, this is apparently what Marvel is telling folks about the tie-ins to their next big event/crossover series, Original Sin, at least in the solicitations:

Jonathan Hickman (W)
Leinil Francis Yu (A/C)
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Bonus Digital Edition Included

Greg Land (A/C)
Teaser Variant also available
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Bonus Digital Edition Included

The creators, the tag line, the price, the inclusion of a bonus digital editon, variant options and that's it.

As for the actual event series itself? There's not much more detail thre:

ORIGINAL SIN #1 (of 8)
Jason Aaron (W) • Mike Deodato (A)
Cover by Julian Totino Tedesco
Variant cover by GABRIELE DELL’OTTO
Teaser Variant also available
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

ORIGINAL SIN #2 (of 8)
Jason Aaron (W) • Mike Deodato (A)
Cover by Julian Totino Tedesco
Variant cover by GABRIELE DELL’OTTO
Teaser Variant also available
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I really, really like the trade-dress or cover design or logo integration or whatever you'd call it for Original Sin though (see the image at the top of the post); I'll be curious to see if it extends to the tie-in titles.

As for the rest of Marvel's line in May, for the complete solicitations you can say them in a couple different places. Like this one.

As for what jumped out at me this month...

• The INVADERS are trapped on a hostile world and under relentless attack from a mind-controlled god.
• Facing a fate worse than defeat, will CAPTAIN AMERICA, NAMOR, THE HUMAN TORCH and WINTER SOLDIER become the means for the KREE EMPIRE to conquer the galaxy?!
• What role does one of the MARVEL UNIVERSE’S most powerful races play in this grand finale?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I don't really get what these guys are doing in outerspace, but they look pretty cool in their space gladiator costumes. Unforutnately, the interiors are by an entirely different artist...

• He sought revenge... and found responsibility. From that night on, a new life began.
• Join Peter Parker as he takes his first steps towards finding his way in the world as Spider-Man.
• The chapter you never knew about the story you know by heart.
• Dan Slott (SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN TORCH) and Ramón Perez (the Eisner winning TALE OF SAND & WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN) bring you a new & reverent spin on the first 60 days of Spider-Man.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

"The chapter you never knew about the story you know by heart." Oh God. That's a pretty good tag line, but written by someone who should be writing taglines for movies or romance novels rather than Spider-Man reboots.

Ramon Perez is a great get on art.

Here's Humberto Ramos' cover for Amazing Spider-Man #2, which is of course published the same month as Amazing Spider-Man #1.1. I'm only highlighting it here to note that they've re-designed comic book Electro to better resemble movie Electro. I was pretty disappointed at the unveiling of movie Electro, as I really would have liked to see that original, silly, star-of-lightning-bolts mask translated into real-life...for the sake of curiosity, if nothing else.

Cyclops just discovered that the father he thought died long ago is alive and well and A SPACE PIRATE. Spinning directly out of ALL-NEW X-MEN, comes the first ongoing solo series for one of the time-traveling Original X-Men. After the events of “Trial of Jean Grey”, Scott Summers stays in space to learn some valuable lessons from his dad: 1) How to shave, 2) How to talk to girls, 3) How to steal a Badoon space-ship.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Well this is a completely unexpected book. And premise. And creative team. I wonder how Rucka will manage to turn Cyclops into a hard-drinking, self-loathing, sexy lady lebsian detective in this comic...?

• The Baxter Building is quarantined and shut down!
• The Fantastic Four held accountable for the destruction in Manhattan!
• A major turning point for the team and a dire blow to the family!
• The trial of the century featuring an all-star roster of guest artists!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

Say, I like those snazzy red costumes.

• In this issue: Moon Knight punches ghosts.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Now that'sa hell of a solicitation.

Oh how I wish this was a $3 comic, so I wouldn't have to trade-wait it, as I will be with All-New Doop, All-New Ghost Rider, All-New X-Men, Daredevil, Hulk, Silver Surfer and Uncanny X-Men...

• In all of creation, only one Earth has successfully met and triumphed over each Incursion that has threatened it: the Earth of the heroes of the Great Society!
• Guess which Earth is on a collision course with ours?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Kick their asses, JLA! Come one Dr. Fate, you can take Dr. Strange! Just headbutt him! Right in the mustache!

Still not interested in a Chris Claremont-written Nightcrawler comic, despite some curiosity about how his 1970s/80s sensibilities will mesh with the late-'90s visual sensibilities of artist Todd Nauck, but Jamie McKelvie delivers a hell of a cover for the second issue. That's two great covers in a row for this unexpected new series.

Ales Kot (W) • Michael Walsh (A)
Variant cover by RAGS MORALES
• A post-nuclear warhead has gone missing in the Middle East. Eighteen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are dead. Who you gonna call?
• What happens when Black Widow and Lady Bullseye meet? Sparkles. And what happens when you get too many sparkles? Explosions, that’s what.
• While Phil Coulson struggles with his new problem, Maria Hill deals with her old one: MODOK is up to something.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Tradd Moore's covers for this series have been consistently awesome-looking, and they really make me want to check out the series....until I see he's just providing the covers, and someone else is actually drawing the interiors.

• The world’s most dangerous villains are up against the world’s most dangerous thing – THE TRUTH!
• The sleeper hit of the year continues, by Spencer, Lieber & Rosenberg!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I'm really pissed at this comic for the 33% price increase. I guess it's nice to see that it still hasn't been canceled, although I don't think it's much longer for this world (only in comics is the answer to something selling poorly to start charging dramatically more for it).

That's a fairly sweet cover.

• An ancient cosmic power has corrupted a former ally…
• Can the Thunderbolts take him down before their time’s all up?
• Adventure in the mysterious jungle—as only Marvel can do!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$2.99

Doug Moench's name wasn't one I expected to see when I started reading through this month's solicitations. Huh.

Artist variant BY GREG LAND
• Unite or die! The Avengers Unity Squad pull it together, but is it too late?
• Which of the seven futures will become dominant? Kang’s ultimate goal revealed!
• The Uncanny Avengers learn that even if you have no other choice, never trust Kang.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Woah, woah, woah. I just read the second collection of this series, involving Kang and the Apocalypse Twins and the seven futures, and the series is still going to be dealing with that plot in May, twenty issues in? Yikes.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Meanwhile, at Robot 6....

I love this image because that T Rex is in the basic pose of the T Rex in the penultimate panel of Ryan North's Dinosaur Comics strips. Among the other reasons there are to love this image, of course. 
Today at Robot 6 I have a review of the trade collection of Dinosaurs Attack!, which collects the IDW re-publication and finishing-up of an aborted Eclipse series based on the 1980s Topps cards about dinosaurs attacking, which is, of course, one of my very most favorite subjects in popular entertainment.

In a perfect world, IDW would follow it up with a 66-issue series, with a single issue devoted to telling the "story" of each of the 55 cards and 11 sticker cards of the original series, featuring the work of some of the greatest dinosaur comics artists of the day.

And, simultaneous to that, they'd do like they did with Mars Attacks!, and publish a series of one-shots—no, mini-series!—where dinosaurs attack their various other licensed properties, so you'd have Dinosaurs Attack Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! (they'd fight a carnivorous Archelon at the climax, of course; one more in-keeping with that in One Million Years B.C. than the ones that likely existed in the real world), Dinosaurs Attack G.I. Joe (It's happened before! And was awesome!), Dinosaurs Attack The Transformers! (Dinosaurs vs. Dinobots!), Dinosaurs Attack The Ghostbusters! (in which they deal with the supernatural dinosaur devil-god responsible for the invasion), Dinossaurs Attack Mars Attacks! and so on.

I'm not entirely sure which licenses they have active at the moment, but I bet dinosaurs could attack any of them pretty seamlessly. X-Files? Sure. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? Hell yes. KISS? Eh, I've never seen the attraction. But I guess I wouldn't mind seeing dinosaurs eat the members of KISS...

Actually, in the most perfect world imaginable, an IDW editor would land in the parking lot of my apartment building astride a living Hatzegopteryx, bearing a huge bag of Scrooge McDuck money and artist Stephen Bissette in its titanic beak, and he'd slike off its back, Fred Flintstone style and be all like, "Caleb, we've decided that you should write these comics for us, so you'll probably have to quit your day job, but don't worry, this bag of golden coins will help you pay your bills in the mean time. Oh, and Stephen here's totally going to draw the main series; you can pick whatever artists you'd like to work with you on all those crossovers. Stephen's moving in to the apartment across the hall from you. Also, you can keep this giant flying reptile; I've got a Quetzalcoatlus coming to pick me up as soon as you sign this contract." And then the mailman would deliver a letter, and it would be a telegram from actress Jessica Lowndes, who played Adrianna on 90210, asking me to marry her and...

Wow, I got a little lost there? What was a I talking about? Oh, Dinosaurs Attack!—it's a comic book about dinosaurs attacking. And what's better than comics and/or stories about dinosaurs attacking people? Nothing, that's what. Well, nothing but 90210's Jessica Lowndes. And maybe riding on giant, flying reptiles. But that's it. It's a short list, really.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

DC's May previews reviewed

In May, DC will launch the second of the two weekly series they've announced (more on that below). The already in-progress weekly, the awkwardly titled Batman Eternal, has four different artists, one per issue, scheduled in May. At least some of them I know are great artists—like Guillem March—but I thought the plan was story arcs drawn by a single artist, so this could lead to a less-than-satisfactory product. Or maybe the four issues are standalone, done-in-ones, and the drastic shifts in art styles won't matter so much.

I saw the words "Batman '66 variant by Michael Allred" mentioned in a lot of the solicitations. I don't imagine I'll actually get any of those, as they seem tied to weird (to me) ordering schemes, but I'd like to see them. I hope they involve either the Batman '66-ization of the characters in the title featuring them, or maybe just Allred's version of the Adam West TV Batman teaming up with, like, stabby New 52 Aquaman or whoever on each cover.

As for the monthly count of how many titles are actually part of "The New 52" line these days, well, as is usually the case, the answer may surprise you! If you would be surprised to learn that it is actually not 52 titles. If you expected that, well then, i guess it wouldn't surprise you after all.

At any rate, I counted only 42 ongoing-ish titles scheduled for May. Add the one one-shot Superman: Doomed #1 and you get 43. Of those 42 ongoing-ish titles, two of them arethe weeklies, so, if you want to count those by number of issues published rather than by titles—and we probably shouldn't, as the concept was 52 new ongoing series—that's still only 49 books. DC needs new titles! Or to do something different with their branding! (New titles are presumably coming though, as there are some notable absences this month, like books featuring Nightwing, or the Teen Titans).

As always, if you'd like to read the solicitations in full—and you likely already have, since they apparently released them yesterday and I didn't even notice—then you can do so at several places. I looked at them here this month. And for thoughts on the books that jumped out at me this month, read on...

Someone get Steel a cape, STAT! Also, I don't really care for the New 52 Metallo...he just looks like a beefed-up Luthor with a toupee.

The solicitation for this issue, which I did not cut-and-paste into it, is about those guys teaming up to beat up Superman, who is going through ridiculous-looking changes as a result of his fight with Doomsday in all the other Superman books, which isn't something I'm at all interested in. But it makes me sad that Action Comics is tying into the other Superman books. Because, while I've only read the very first issue of the new Greg Pak/Aaron Kuder Action Comics (at $4, that shit's expensive...I could get a Starbucks for that, and milk it for like three hours while I read a bunch of comics and trades of the Barnes and Noble shelf the Starbucks cafe is in), it seemed like they were ding cool stuff about giant monsters, and the art was awesome. So, you know, things that look more interesting than being parts 1, 4, and 8 of a ten-part story about Superman fighting Doomsday, round 32, now with new continuity.

Written by JEFF PARKER
1:25 BATMAN ‘66 variant cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
On sale MAY 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The King of Atlantis vs. the Avatar of the Green! It’s Aquaman against Swamp Thing, with countless lives hanging in the balance! But why – and what does this mean for rest of The New 52? Find out here!

Aquaman vs. Swamp Thing? Has such a thing ever happened?!

Yes it has.

1:25 BATMAN ‘66 variant cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
On sale MAY 14 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
The second chapter of “ZERO YEAR – SAVAGE CITY” reveals an entirely new Gotham City. Unraveling the mysteries set forth by the Riddler, Batman must learn to work with his new ally, Lieutenant Jim Gordon, and do whatever it takes to survive!

Given how much the DCU Green Arrow bit off of Batman—Arrowcave, Arrowcar, Arrowplane, teenage sidekick—it's kinda weird to see Batman biting off Green Arrow's style (GA showed up in Gotham in the first chapter of "Zero Year," so Batman totally saw a vigilante wielding a bow before this cover, in which he takes up deer-hunting in his spare time, using a gargoyle as a stand...deer hunting is extremely challenging in Gotham City, as there are no deer there).

Written by PETER J. TOMASI
1:25 BATMAN ‘66 variant cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
On sale MAY 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
“The Hunt for Robin” continues! Batman is on the trail of Ra’s al Ghul in the hope of recovering the stolen bodies of Damian and Talia. But when all leads grow cold, he’ll need to call in help – someone who can go where no Bat has gone before. This looks like a job for...Frankenstein?!

And to think I thought it was weird when DC solicited Batman and Aquaman and Batman and Wonder Woman...I assumed this arc would be all about Batman teaming up with various members of his Justice League. Frankenstein was not even on my radar (Although Mahke drawing both Batman and Frankenstein, the character he re-created with Grant Morrison, should be awesome).

The title/numbering of this book continues to annoy the shit out of me. Even if Robin's dead, it looks like these stories have all been about him anyway, so why not just keep the original title, if you're not going to change it to Batman Team-Up or Batman Plus or Batman: The Brave and The Bold...?

Also, Batman and Frankenstein would make a hell of an ongoing, wouldn't it? It would have to be more interesting than Superman/Wonder Woman...

BATMAN ‘66 #11
Written by JEFF PARKER
1:25 Variant cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
On sale MAY 21 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED E • DIGITAL FIRST
Retailers: This issue will arrive in stores with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
This one has it all! The Joker, Catwoman, and a cameo by just about every Bat-villain ever. No wonder Batman and Robin need Batgirl to help! Jonathan Case, the artist who launched BATMAN ‘66, returns to illustrate this epic full-length story.

While it bums me out that Allred's not providing the cover for this issue as per usual, I guess the fact that he's drawing a bunch of variant covers in May is a pretty good excuse, and Case's cover is pretty great, anyway.

Batman/Superman #11 will have a nice cover, thanks to Jae Lee.

Written by GARTH ENNIS
On sale JUNE 4 • 384 pg, FC, $19.99 US • MATURE READERS
John Constantine heads toward a final showdown with a revenge-crazed Satan during a raging race riot! While trying to save his remaining friends, Constantine has a final reunion with his lost love Kit. Collects HELLBLAZER #78-83 plus HEARTLAND #1

Hey, remember when DC used to publish great comics featuring John Constantine...?

Written by GAIL SIMONE
On sale MAY 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+ • FINAL ISSUE
There’s no length the Movement won’t go to if it means rescuing one of their own from a cult that has deep roots in Burden’s hometown.

That's four issues longer than I thought it would last when they first announced it.

Steven Segovia is a good artist.

Cover by JO CHEN
On sale MAY 14 • 136 pg, FC, $9.99 US
In this 6-issue epic from 2003, Jason Blood cuts a deal with a cult of modern-day alchemists to divorce him from The Demon for good… but the ceremony goes horribly wrong! In a fiery car crash, The Demon crosses paths with a young, troubled street racer. To tame The Demon and stop a Yakuza war, she’ll need the help of Jason Blood!

I wonder if DC is only publishing this now because they heard about the new All-New Marvel NOW! Ghost Rider series, in which a new host takes up a demon of vengeance and also there's some Fast and the Furious car-racing maybe, and it reminded them of the series they published a while back in which their demon gets a new host and there's some Fast and the Furious car-racing business.

I remember buying the first two issues of this, because I like The Demon and liked Pop Mhan's art at the time and Joe Chen's covers were gorgeous, but I also remember dropping it. And, a few years later, finding the rest of the series in a 50-cent bargain bin.

As to the contents, my memory is very hazy, which I suppose means it was mediocre. It wasn't good enough to impress itself upon my memory, but then it wasn't so bad that I remember being incensed by it either. So there you go. This isn't great and isn't terrible, and has Etrigan the Demon and cars in it.

Normally I'd say something like what a great value the DC Comics Presents format is, but, to be honest, if your store has discount back-issue bins, you may want to check their first.

Written by MARK WAID
On sale JUNE 11 • 434 pg, FC, $24.99 US
In these tales from JLA #47-60 and JLA: HEAVEN’S LADDER, Batman’s betrayal and expulsion from the group leads to a loss of trust in the team! How can Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man face the fairy-tale nightmare of the Queen of Fables and the world-altering abilities of Dr. Destiny.

This series, however, I remember quite distinctly. This poor creative team...

Mark Waid was the ideal writer to follow Morrison's JLA run and, for several of his arcs, he managed to keep the big ideas going, but with a more character-driven focus. Heaven's Ladder is actually the zenith of the Waid run, which is kind of weird, given that it was published as an original graphic novel before Waid's run on the JLA monthly started.  That had big, crazy, cosmic ideas with mind-boggling stakes—god-like aliens steal planet Earth and take off with it, along with a whole string of other worlds—with a fairly large cast of Leaguers involved (In addition to The Big Eight that Waid used in his run, I believe The Atom, Oracle and Steel were involved as well).

Unfortuantely, that was the only entire story that the art team of Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary managed to illustrate without needing last minute fill-in artists to come in and finish their work for them.

So when I think of this period of the Justice League, I feel mostly disappointment, as it was full of so much promise, but almost every single story fell apart so badly visually that it was hard to read or even take too seriously (Waid's first arc, drawn by Howard Porter, was pretty strong too, and, unlike all of the Hitch-penciled arcs to follow, was all drawn by the same artist).

The other, unfortunate downside of the Waid run was the slimmed down cast. In a way, it was good in that it allowed him to do the character-focused stuff a little bit more deeply and convincingly, but the JLA went from something like 16-20 heroes to just eight. If I recall interviews from the period correctly, Waid used the Big Seven (plus Plastic Man) because those were the only characters he knew for sure that weren't going to be killed during Morrison's final arc; I believe he said he would have kept both Steel and Zauriel had he known they were going to survive (and it's too bad he didn't; I think it would have done wonders for both of those characters' statures if they had remained in the League for another writer or two's run on the title)..

Anyway, this collection seems to include the already-discussed Heaven's Ladder, and the second and third of the three arcs Waid wrote (I guess "Tower of Babel" must have appeared with some Morrison stuff in JLA Vol. 4). These two are both generally weaker than "Tower," although the first introduces a pretty cool villain in The Queen of Fables (who hasn't been put to good use by anyone since, Gail Simone) and the third features beings from The Sixth Dimension and the heroes with secret IDs being split into two people apiece. It's weird and melodramatic.

Waid's run ends with a whimper, as #60 is a one-off Christmas story in which Plastic Man tells Woozy's nieces and nephews about the time the Justice League teamed up with Santa Claus to defeat the infernal villain (and Mark Waid co-creation) Neron.

I'm not sure if they're including JLA #59 or not. That's a Joker's Last Laugh tie-in written by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty, in which some Leaguers fight Dr. Polaris at the South Pole. It is terrible.

There are few things I like more than talking about JLA, in case you didn't notice.

Cover by RYAN SOOK
1:50 Variant cover by JOHN ROMITA, JR. and KLAUS JANSON
On sale MAY 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Five years from now, the DC Universe is reeling from a war with another Earth, leaving the world unprepared for an approaching evil that threatens to destroy the future. Can a time-traveling Batman Beyond help a massive cast of the DCU’s finest avert the impending apocalypse? Find out in this new weekly series that will forever alter the direction of The New 52! In this debut issue of The New 52’s weekly series, Batman Beyond arrives five years later! Grifter turns against humanity! And a Justice League member DIES!

The market has spoken, and it has said that it is not at all interested in the WildStorm characters, no matter how many times you reboot them, even if you mix them into the fabric of the DC Universe itself, DCs' readers just won't buy a comic book with Grifter on the cover.

And DC has responded, "Oh yeah? What about a weekly comic?"

Okay, I kid...I imagine he has a relatively small role to play in this over all story, which is...well, it's kind of hard to imagine what it's about, really. The solicitations for the first four issues mention a time-traveling Batman Beyond, Grifter,  Firestorm, Frankenstein, StormWatch, Lois Lane and The Justice League...several characters that have had their books cancelled, so maybe a big, ongoing crossover series like this, in which they play supporting roles to big events like the intro to (a...?) Batman Beyond to the New 52 continuity is a good place for them.

I'm not entirely sure I understand the plot as its laid out in the above solicitation, though. The DC Universe just got done with a war with another earth (The invaders from Earth-3 in the pages of Forever Evil), will it be the other another Earth (Earth-2) or an all-new another Earth we haven't seen yet? And I assume the time-traveling Batman Beyond is coming further back in time than just five years, if its Terry Sloane from the Batman Beyond continuity? Because if five years, New 52 Bruce Wayne's only gonna be, what, like 30 maybe? Certainly not pushing 80 or whatever he is in Batman Beyond.

The creators include Jeff Lemire, who seems to be DC's JV version of Geoff Johns, called in to "fix" characters or titles that aren't working right, plus DC's go-to fill-in creators Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen, and, oddly, Brian Azzarello.

I'm a lot less confident in this book than I am in Batman Eternal, which I at least know will star Batman and friends, but I will likely at least try out the first few issues, as I like reading comic books, and the promise of a new one (well, two counting Batman Eternal) every single week at the shop is an enticing prospect.

Written by WIL PFEIFER
On sale MAY 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The Outlaws come face to face with the bounty hunter calling himself Lobo, but no one’s who they appear to be as Red Hood and Starfire endeavor to save Arsenal from the Main Man.

I like how in the two-and-a-half-year-old New 52 Universe, which is supposed to be all streamlined and less confusing for new readers, there's like three different Lobos.

Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
On sale MAY 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E
Is Titans Tower haunted?! Could there be more to the thumps in the night than a series of “ghostly” pranks by Beast Boy and Cyborg? Robin has called in some experts to solve the mystery – if Scooby, Shaggy, Cyborg, and Beast Boy ever stop chowing down on pizza and start looking for clues, that is!

Well, this is unexpected. The animated versions of the Teen Titans weren't even on my radar in terms of characters Scooby-Doo and the gang might conceivably I team-up with (I was expecting either Scooby-Doo-ified versions of Superman and Wonder Woman, ala Batman's appearances, or offbeat DCU characters with mystery-solving interests and/or animals (Elongated Man, Angel and The Ape, Krypto The Super-Dog, Rex The Wonder Dog, etc) or Warner Bros.-owned Hanna-Barbera characters of the sort Scooby has teamed up with in the past (The Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt, for example) or could team with in the future (Birdman, Space Ghost, etc).

I did not expect to see the Teen Titans. Especially since they've already met Robin...a very, very different Robin? And it looks like these may be the chibi-like Teen Titans of Teen Titans Go, the new comic based on the new cartoon, not the old comic with that title based on the old Teen Titans, which would mean a really, really weird clash of visual design styles.

I'm looking forward to this one, but more out of confused, excited curiosity than anything else.

On sale MAY 28 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
Batman headlines the second big issue of SECRET ORIGINS, which also features The New 52 origins of Aquaman and Starfire!

Batman? Batman?! So is the plan for this series to feature re-tellings of the most-told origins of the New 52 versions of these characters? Because in addition to not really changing—parents murdered, seeks vengeance, dresses as a bat—Batman's had something like a half-dozen #0 issues telling different aspects of his origin, plus Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have devoted themselves to something like a 18-part "Zero Year" story arc, about Batman's origin.

Aquaman's origin has similarly been pretty well-told in The New 52 (Basically, it's his Silver Age origin restored).

Starfire, at least, is a character whose origin will have to be extremely rejiggered to work in a New Teen Titans-less universe, so that one makes sense.

Of course, I suppose DC started the series off with Superman's origin, and are following it with Batman's, in an effort to put a popular, marquee character on the cover of each issue to help sell it, as people are much more likely to buy a book featuring the origins of Batman, Aquaman and Starfire than they would be, say, The Red Hood, Arsenal and Starfire.

Still, it seems weird to see Batman of all characters there...

Written by CULLEN BUNN
Art and cover by DALE EAGLESHAM
On sale MAY 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Sinestro’s face-to-face with the Yellow Lanterns, the Corps he built in his own image – but does he like what he sees? Or does he look upon his works and despair? It’s time to find out if the Sinestro Corps is strong enough for the mission he has in mind for them – and if they’re not, then they won’t stand a chance against the growing threat of the Pale Vicars!

Oh yeah, Sinestro has his own title now too, huh? At the rate they're expanding the Green Lantern franchise, it's only a matter of time before every character with a magic ring has his, her or its own title. I figure we're about eight: months away from Baz and B'dg: Green Lanterns and three years away from Green Lantern: The Unsociable Mogo.

Wait, what's that in the water? Moths? Moths don't swim! Well, maybe space-moths do. I don't know...

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

That is all.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

42 awesome things about James Stokoe's Godzilla: The Half-Century War

Godzilla's been on my mind a lot more than usual lately, thanks in large part to the recently-released teaser trailer for the upcoming reboot of the previous, 1998 attempt at a Hollywood reboot. So with Godizilla on my mind and a Christmas gift bookstore gift card in my hand, I finally got around to reading James Stokoe's Godzilla: The Half-Century War in trade, the format I've been waiting to read it in.

It was awesome, and I loved it. How did I love it? Let me count the ways...

1.) It was an auteur take on a familiar, corporate trademark type of character. I have a love/dislike relationship with publisher IDW when it comes to many of their licensed comics. They obviously have an ambitious licensing program, and they tend to snap up a lot intellectual properties that I would theoretically love to read comics created around—G.I.Joe, Transformers, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—but they tend to expand their franchises so quickly, with multiple titles and, in some cases, mutliple continuities, that by the time the books start making it into trade, I'm so lost as to what to read and in what order that I have no idea how to proceed.

Despite that, I'm glad they decided to do this particular Godzilla miniseries, and that they gave it to a single cartoonist—Stokoe does everything but edit the series, and he gets some color assists—with such a distinct style and unique vision. While Godzilla's name is on the cover, and it's his mug that's on almost every page, this is as much if not more of a James Stokoe comic than it is a Godzilla comic, and readers familiar with the cartoonist's work from Won-Ton Soup or, more likely, Orc Stain, will be thankful of that. There are a lot of Godzilla comics and movies. But there's only one James Stokoe, and thus only one James Stokoe's Godzilla.

2.) That scream. If you've ever seen a Godzilla movie, you know what Godzilla sounds like. It's not an easy sound to imitate, let alone translate onomatopoetically into writing. Stokoe got around that in an extremely inspired fashion on the fourth and fifth pages of his first issue of the series, rendering Godzilla's cry into an oscilloscope-inspired visual, meant to remind the reader of the film cry more than recreate it (Or, if one's never heard a Godzilla scream, then to create one of their own in their imagination to match that visual).

It's effective enough that Stokoe doens't need to keep returning to it; whenever he draws Godzilla's mouth open in a howl or roar, you know the sound that's coming out of it after seeing that image. (For comparison's sake, in IDW's Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters, Godzilla appears roaring "SKREEEE-ONK," and in their just-plain Godzilla, his first roar is similarly written "SKREEEEE-ONNNNNK!").

3.) There's almost no variation between the way Godzilla "really" looks in the movies and the way Stokoe draws him. Godzilla's original look has become more and more preposterous seeming the more and more we learn about prehistoric monsters of the sort that originally inspired the character, and as his popularity grew and sequels were spawned, that look became more or less defined by the means at the filmmakers' disposal to pull it off—no matter how great the costume or special effects, Godzilla still had to look like a guy in rubber suit because, well, he is a guy in a rubber suit (Hence the attempt to improve Godzilla for that 1998 reboot, which, obviously, didn't go over well with, well, anyone).

Stokoe's Godzilla looks just like a faithful drawing of the guy-in-a-suit Godzilla of the old Toho films, right down to the way he walks, the way he stands or poses, the huge fat thighs, even the seams of the costume.

4.) Nevertheless, Stokoe's Godzilla still looks cool, and like he belongs organically, intrinsically in the world around him. The main character, Ota Murakami, and others refer repeatedly to Godzilla's impenetrably thick hide and armor, which explains the "seams" that appear here and there on the monster's bulk. That's apparently where the various pieces of "armor" are fused together.

The fact that he's drawn into a drawn environment is largely responsible for making him seem so realistic, despite the unrealistic design. Stock footage and miniatures never need to be married to shots of a guy in a suit, since everything is coming form the same place—Stokoe's pen.

5.) Godzilla's face as Noh mask...? Here's something I never noticed, never considered about Japanese cinema's most famous giant monster until reading this comic, and seeing this particular panel: Viewed from a certain angle, Godzilla's visage looks a bit like a Noh mask, of the sort used to designate gods or monsters in the traditional Japanese dramatic form.

6.) All of Stokoe's lettering is good. While his rendering of Godzilla's cry is the most grabby and impressie bit of lettering Stokoe accomplishes in the comic—there were actually a couple of posts on the major, professional comics blogs about that image alone—it's worth noting that Stokoe similarly invests all of the lettered dialogue with volume and emotion not merely through the usual comics tricks of italics, bolds or starburst-shaped dialogue balloons, but by making the words big and emphatically shaped when someone is screaming or shouting.

He does the same with sound-effects,  similar to the way they're employed in manga: The louder the sound, the bigger the sound effect drawn into the panel of the action making the sound.

7.) The comic tracks the basic, real-world history of Godzilla. The title refers to the main character Murukami's life-long relationship with Godzilla, meeting him as a young lieutenant in the Japanese Self-Defense force in 1954, during Godzilla's first rampage, and by dint of that "expertise" (i.e. surviving it), he and his fellow soldier Kentaro end up spending the rest of their lives seeking a solution to the world's Godzilla problem.

That is, incidentally, the year Gojira was released in Japan, and  during the next 50 years of the comic, we  watch as the story of Godzilla transforms from a sort of man vs. monster one-off horror story into a monster vs. monster drama, with the creatures multiplying and their arena extending to the whole world. Other monsters are introduced in the order they appeared in during the films, until the climax, in which monsters from outer space have begun descending on Earth, and the stakes are finally apocalyptic in nature.

8.) As with the films, Godzilla gradually transforms from villain to hero. In the original film, Godzilla is the bad guy, although perhaps a sympathetic one, depending on the viewer (He wasn't quite as tragic a protagonist as, say, King Kong or Frankenstein's monster, though). As monsters emerged in the sequels for him to fight, however, Godzilla gradually came to be the "good" monster, or at least the monster we were meant to root for as he battled the heel monsters. This was especially the case when it came to invading monsters from outer space, like the three-headed King Ghidorah.

9.) The colors. I suppose this may be a generational thing, but for me, Godzilla exists mainly in pale, slightly sickly colors of 1970s and early '80s afternoon television and, later, in black and white (My fascination with the character existed mainly when I was a child, and the few times I've sought him out since have been to look back at things like the re-release of the original film, and Marvel's Essential collection of their short-lived comic).

Half-Century War is apparently colored by Stokoe and Heather Breckel, who is credited with color assists, and I think it's safe to say its colors don't resemble those Godzilla normally appears in, no matter how much you might have messed with the tint on your old television set.

There are a lot of reds, pinks and oranges, particularly in the skies and fires and action, with the darker color of the title character standing in sharp relief, along with the greens and purples of the settings he stomps on or crashes through. Godzilla's "fire"—radiation, as Murakami corrects a character at one point—is almost unique in the book in its bright, pale, blue-white color, which the growths on Godzilla's back crackle with before he emits in a beam.

10.) It's nice to see Stokoe draw human beings. Best known for Orc Stain, which is full of orcs, many readers probably haven't seen Stokoe spend a whole lot of time drawing human beings, so it's fun to see him do so here, and somewhat surprising to see how much his human characters resemble those of Akira Toriyama and, to a lesser extent, Jamie Hewlett.

11.) The human characters and their drama are actually engaging. I thought that perhaps the fact that while I loved giant monster movies as a child, I actually loathed about 75% of them was simply childish impatience on my part—I was watching Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster so I could see Godzilla fight a sea monster, not listen to all these Japanese people talk like ventriloquists (I had no idea what dubbing was as a child). But returning to some of the films as an adult, it was pretty clear that Godzilla movies—and other kaiju films—were generally pretty terrible, and the human drama was just something you had to sit through—like the commercials—before you could get to the good stuff.

That's not the case here. While we make pretty enormous jumps through Murukami's life time, sometimes a decade or more at a time, his motivation is pretty straightforward and consistent. He wants to destroy Godzilla and his monstrous ilk, and he grapples with relating to the monster and understanding both his role and Godzilla's role in the world.

12.) Stokoe draws incredibly detailed buildings, whether standing or in rubble. The amount of detail in this comic is often stop-reading-and-stare high, from the very first panel where Stokoe draws little squares for seemingly every city block in Tokyo, to the various scenes in which monsters rampage through cities, Stokoe taking the time to have drawn every single window on every building.

13.) Stokoe gets over Godzilla's breath weapon in a few brief panels without resorting to any sort of information dump. The spines on Godzilla's back start to glow blue, make a "KRSH! KRSH! KRSH!" sound, and then "KRKOO" out comes the atomic breath.

14.) Stokoe "kills" Godzilla off in the first issue, the same way he dies in the first movie. While not an adaptation of the original film, the first issue adheres to the broad plot, including the way humanity apparently finishes off Godzilla...temporarily.

15.) The AMF. When it becomes clear that Godzilla hasn't died, and is going to be around causing trouble for a while, Murukami and Kentaro are recruited into the Anti Megalosaurus Force, an international, giant-monster fighting organization that would change missions repeatedly during the course of that half-century.

16.) AMF scientist Doctor Randall puts giant drills on all of his inventions, whether they need drills or not. "He was a bit eccentric," Murukami explains.

17.) Anguirus's grand entrance. The first giant monster Stokoe's Godzilla fights is Anguirus, just as it was in the film series (although Stokoe sets their fight during the height of the Vietnam war, rather than off the coast of Japan and in Osaka). His appearance is every bit as dramatic as Godzilla's, first emerging as spikes rising up through the ground beneath the feet of some of our human heroes, and then appearing in all his glory on a two-page spread. He and Godzilla then oscilloscope-scream at each other.

18.) Anguirus also looks like a guy in a suit. The quadrapedal Anguirus's combat techniques are a lot cooler in the comic than they look on film, but when Stokoe draws the entire monster, he doesn't redesign him either—he still looks like the film version. You know, a guy in a rubber suit on all fours.

19.) Stokoe draws great smoke. Anguirus and Godzilla fight one another in Vietnam; the AMF has developed a super-powered maser weapon (with drills on it) to fight Godzilla, while the American military wants to bomb Godzilla out of existence. Anguirus interrupts the former plan, and the monsters battle during the bombing raid, so that their fight takes place in and out of a cloud of smoke, through which Anguirus repeatedly tries to sneak up on Godzilla. Here, as in all the other scenes of mass destruction, Stokoe draws incredibly detailed and effective smoke and clouds of dust.

20.) Rodan. In the third issue, Murukami watches as a whole menagerie of kaiju convene in Ghana to battle one another. It starts with a roll call of some of Toho's greatest monsters, all drawn by Stokoe. What's better than one giant monster, or two giant monsters fighting? All the giant monsters.

21.) Battra. Like the Rodan and the next four monsters, he looks a bit like he does on film, but the freedom of drawing a comic book has allowed Stokoe to make these winged and insect-like monsters look more natural than they appeared bound by special effects technology.

22.) Mothra. In final moth form. I love this guy.

23.) Kumonga.

24.) Ebirah. Probably the monster that benefits the most from a film-to-comics transition, the giant crustacean now actually looks like a giant crustracean. Stokoe's love of detail pays off quite well in drawing the texture of the lobster-monster's shell.

25). Hedorah. The most Lovecraftian monster is apparently some kind of toxic goop creature? He's one I've never seen in a movie. At least, not one that I remember.

26). Megalon. Wow, what a goofy-looking monster. Stokoe's skills can't do anything to not make this guy look more like something that would menace the Power Rangers than Godzilla, I'm afraid, but he doesn' t have too much to do here anyway ("He looks kinda like a Christmas tree monster," Joel said of Megalon's grand entrance in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring Godzilla vs. Megalon. "And his arms look like the Chrysler Building," Crow added).

27.) Stokoe gives the human heroes a human villain to fight. Since there's only so much even the AMF can do to stop giant monsters—and by the third issue, as he impotently watches the eight monsters fighting one another, Murukami realizes they are essentially forces of nature that can't be slain—there's a cartoonishly over-the-top villain for them to deal with instead. Dr. Deverich was an AMF scientist who developed a "psionic transmitter" meant to repel the monsters from certain areas, but it didn't work right. Instead, it attracted them. Not terribly bothered, he decided to use it as a monster lure, and sell it to the highest bidder, allowing whoever buys his invention to essentially weaponize the kaiju against their enemies.

28.) The AMF is becomes basically a Godzilla-fighting version of G.I. Joe. What did I love as a child even more than Godzilla? Few things, really. But one of them was G.I. Joe. So it was sure exciting to reach the chapter of the book set in 1975 to discover that the AMF had essentially evolved into a G.I. Joe team of colorful soldiers with their own uniform/costumes and signature weapons, a handful of each of them devoted to fighting a different monster. What's better than Godzilla? Godzilla fighting G.I. Joe, obviously.

29.) The paint job on the Mothra team's van. I think it speaks for itself.

30.) The drive through Ghana. As all of the monsters introduced so far (save Anguirus) battle one another in Ghana, our heroes in the AMF realize they have to get past them all in order to shut down their enemy, the one responsible for bringing them all here, Dr. Deverich. To do so, they pile into the Mothra mobile and race between Ebirha's pincers, beneath Mohtra and Road, off a ramp of rubble to jump over Godzilla's tail and right through Hedorah (with a "SPLORCHHH!")

31.) Mechagodzilla. While the original was created as a weapon of mass destruction by one of those goofy alien civilizations that were always trying to destroy Japan or the world in the Toho movies, Stokoe integrates a giant, robot version of Godzilla pretty seamlessly into his narrative about man—and, specifically, a man—trying to come to grips with the unpredictable, destructive force of Godzilla. Here, Mechagodzilla is the ultimate in Godzilla fighting technology, a giant battle-suit piloted by a member of the AMF.

32.) The panel where the giant crystals that shower the earth. The Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla battle is interrupted by a new combatant—a third Godzilla. Before he appears, however, huge shards of cyrstal start falling from the sky like bullets fired from a giant gun, a gigantic, crystalline formation following them.

The scale of the thing is immense, as the two giant kaiju are drawn by Stokoe as tiny figures in an extreme longshot, and we know each of those tiny figures is many times larger than the biggest buildings. The humans in that image would be microscopic.

The crystals smash through buildings, the giant crystal crash-lands, and out steps a new monster.

33.) What's the name of the Godzilla from space? So, the monster that emerges from  the crystal, which I suppose is actually a spaceship of some kind, looks an awful lot like Godzilla, only with stronger, brighter armor on his chest, crystals embedded in his tail, giant crystalline shoulder-pads and a little tiara.

This was a kaiju I had never heard of, so I later went to the Internet in search of the answer to the question of what's the name of the monster that looks like Godzilla, but is from space?

Space-Godzilla, of course.

Space-Godzilla, a Godzilla-like monster from space, apparently first appeared in a movie from 1994, when I was 17, and thus in a particularly Godzilla-less point in my life. Apparently, as is demonstrated in the comic, Space-Godzilla has some powers, like the ability to control crystals, and telekinetically lift Godzilla (Or Earth-Godzilla, I suppose Space-Godzilla would call him).

34.) Godzilla's reaction to Space-Godzilla. When Godzilla attacks his cousin from space, he does so by breathing a blast of radiation at him. Space-Godzilla responds by summoning a crystal shield to block the blast. This is the face Godzilla makes when he sees a weird space version of himself using weird space powers:

35.) Space-Godzilla as herald. Stokoe's storyline starts with one monster in one city  in one country, and spirals out from there, with more locations and more monsters added, with bigger stakes  at each turn of the spiral. At the end of the penultimate issue/chapter, in which Murakami must temporarily set aside his difference with Godzilla in order to help him defeat Space-Godzilla, we learn that the evil Dr. Deverich has boosted the signal on his kaiju whistle machine, and that's what summoned Space-Godzilla to Earth.

"Deverich, in all his ignorance,opened up a whole universe of horror to our tiny globe," Murukami narrates, as he emerges from the cockpit of Mechagodzilla. The final panel of the issue/chapter shows two tiny dark figures silhouetted in front of a ruddy planet that might be Jupiter or Mars. One of them clearly has three heads and large, bat-like wings.

36.) At least one of the space monsters looks awesome. Those silhouettes end up belong to King Ghidorah and Gigan. Ghidorah is the three-headed, two-tailed, bat-winged monster that essentially looks like a three-headed Western dragon. He looks particularly awesome as drawn by Stokoe, who, naturally, draws every giant scale on him. Gigan, on the other hand, well, like Megulon, he's not exactly the greatest design. While he's rendered pretty well, he still looks like a pot-bellied chicken robot dinosaur bug with hooks for hands.

37.) Gigan's first appearance is awesome. Despite his ability to fly, for reasons I don't understand, he's first shown standing atop an aircraft carrier, part of a fleet he and Ghidorah have destroyed on their way to Antartica, where Murukami and the AMF are set to make their last stand against this fearsome pair of monsters, who have pretty much destroyed the whole world between the end of the last chapter and the beginning of his one.

Gigan appears to be surfing atop the aircraft carrier (The panels above are his dismounting from the aircraft carrier; the first appearance is actually a two-page spread, and not as scannable as that scene).

38.) The climax involves the tag-team, monsters vs. monsters action one would expect in a Godzilla story. While there was a monster battle royale earlier in the story, and Mechagodzilla and Godzilla did team-up to defeat Space-Godzilla, this chapter features the most extended, multi-monster action, as two heroic monsters (Godzilla and Mechagodzilla, piloted by the now elderly Murukami, who ambushed the real pilot to take his place) battle two evil monster (King Ghidorah and Gigan). It lasts about ten pages. It's awesome.

39.) Mechagodzilla's arsenal. This upgraded version of Mechagodzilla is brimming with weaponry, and Murukami seems to fire everything all at once constantly, like he's button-mashing inside the giant robot. I like how it apparently shoots missiles out of his back. This may have some analogue in real-life military hardware, I have no idea, but I like to think that they had to put the missiles back there because there was no room on the front of the robot for them, what with all the guns up there.

40.) Humanity's final weapon. Interesting that while Godzilla and his early films were meant as a reaction to World War II and the atomic age anxieties the war ushered in—urgently and palpably in Japan, unlike nowhere else—Half-Century War also tracks mankind's continual efforts to create bigger and more powerful weaponry. To fight Godzilla and the monsters. Who were awakened by mankind's continual efforts to create bigger and more powerful weaponry.

What they finally come up with is the "Dimension Tide," a giant gun that shoots a miniaturized black hole. The plan is to get the evil monsters close enough together, and then shoot them with the black hole, sending them off-planet or inside the black hole or whatever.

41.) The lack of closure. While Murukami's story arc reaches a fitting conclusion, and while the evil space monsters are defeated by the black hole gun, Godzilla's story goes on:  It seems like he is caught in the same black hole as his enemies, but the last panel of the book is of Godzilla's back spines above the surface of the ocean. Apparently he wasn't vaporized or teleported off of the Earth like the others, but escaped, to rise again as he always does.

42.) Brandon Graham's variant cover. There's a mini-gallery of covers in the back of the trade, including one from EDILW favorite Brandon Graham.  Based on its content, I'm assuming its from the third issue of the series, as it features the AMF soldiers, with Godzilla and Rodan as smaller figures in the background. Man, I sure would love to read a Brandon Graham Godzilla series, and it sure would be interesting to see more series like this one, in which auteur cartoonists like Stokoe or Graham get to do their own thing with Godzilla and friends.


I was actually shooting for 50 awesome things about Godzilla: Half-Century War, as half of a century would be 50 years, but I guess I couldn't quite do it without repeating myself (Like, this drawing is awesome too, for the same reason that drawing was).  Still, 42 awesome things about a single five-issue series? That's an average of over eight awesome things per issue, and thus a pretty good sign of an awesome comic.