Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Irredeemable #1...and its lame afterword

Okay, get this: What if Superman—and stay with me now—wasn’t the prefect good guy, but was, instead—and now brace yourself, because I know this is going to totally blow your mind—evil? Huh? What if that?

That seems to be the pitch of writer Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Irredeemable #1 (Boom Studios). The title apparently refers to the actions of the flying, invulnerable, heat vision-having Superman stand-in The Plutonian, but it could just as easily apply to the comic itself.

At $3.99 for just 22 decompressed, not-even-enough-to-go-on pages and bearing three different covers, Irredeemable is, as a package, a distillation of pretty much everything wrong with comics.

The story inside is full of so many clich├ęs that I can’t even properly source where I’ve seen many of them before, as I’ve seen them in so many places (Miracle Man, The Sentry, Superboy-Prime, Hyperion, The Authority, Invincible, The American Spirit, a half-dozen of DC’s own Elseworlds stories…).

We open with The Plutonian—who is blonde and shoots orange eyebeams, so as to let us know that he’s not actually Superman—attacking the home of a superhero and his family, ultimately skeletonizing them all. Including a baby. (Ha ha, Geoff Johns! Waid beat you to that punch!).

After the tense opening scene, we jump to a panel that says “One Week Later,” even though it’s actually a flashback to years earlier, in which The Plutonian saves a ball field from a nuclear robot, and meets the Justice League stand-ins (Waid does a less lazy route and eschews stocking the team with a speedster, a woman warrior, an alien, a water-based hero, choosing more original superhero types. Unlike a lot of analogue-based comics, one can’t assign each and every one to a DC or Marvel forebear).

Back in the present, we learn that The Plutonian’s then allies are now all on the run from him, and are plotting to get him before he gets them. Then he shows up and they run away, and he sneers “Perfect” while a “Continued…” appears below that last panel.

Perhaps there’s a lot more going on with the story—there must be—but as for characterizations or motivations or even a solid premise, none of that’s here. Maybe Waid will get to it in #2 or #3, but he just asked for $4 for this, why would anyone want to give him $4 to $8 more to decide if they want to read the damn comic or not?

Perhaps because Grant Morrison vouches for it. The book contains a two-page afterword by Morrison, whose name appears just as big as Waid or artist Peter Krause’s on the cover/s (if not bigger than).

“It’s a simple, elegant and terrifying concept and better yet, it’s in the hands of someone who knows exactly how to make the most of it,” Morrison writes, along with another half-page or so of effusive praise. It sounds like Morrison and I read a different comic, and, in fact, I think we did—Morrison seems to have read at least the first few issues, where all I’ve got to go on is these 22 pages, and there’s nothing in them that I haven’t seen in dozens of other evil and/or crazy Superman stories over the past twenty-some years.

The Morrison afterword is, by the way, perhaps the most annoying piece of writing I’ve ever seen from Morrison. It starts out discussing an article that he and Waid discussed, about the phenomenon of “patterning,” in which people make up their mind about a person and then, no matter what that particular person may do to the contrary, the person in question will always be seen according to the pattern.

For Morrison, this means he’s stuck with being “the madcap purveyor of free-form gibberish” and “incomprehensible.” He is regarded as such, perhaps because he’s written some actual free-form gibberish and some incomprehensible stuff, but anyone who’s actually read more than a few of his comics knows he’s a lot more than that.

For Waid, well, here’s how Morrison puts it:

For some reason, towards the end of the last decade, Mark Waid was saddled with an inexplicable reputation as the Sterling Sentinel of Silver Age Nostalgia comics. Curiously misrepresented as defender of Kenney-era values, the exemplar of the devoted fan-turned-pro, Waid became the go-to geek as the vogue in funnybooks turned briefly to unironically old-fashioned, Julius Schwartz-style sci-fi dad fests.

Why, wherever did this miscategorization of the writer responsible for 1998’s 12-part series about the Silver Age Justice League, and for co-writing its 1999 six-part semi-sequel and for spearheading a 2000 suite of stories about the Silver Age which was fucking named The Silver Age come from?

How dare fans think of the writer of a bunch of high profile, best-selling, well-regarded comics set in The Silver Age as someone into Silver Age Nostalgia comics! (And that’s not mentioning Waid’s runs on The Flash and Fantastic Four ongoings, the two most quintessential comics of the Silver Age, or his most popular work, Kingdom Come, which Morrison calls a “state-of-the-art farewell to the old guard.” Morrison obviously read Kingdom Come differently than I did, because I thought of it as a rebuke of 1980’s superhero deconstruction and early ‘90s industry excess and the reassertion of the Silver Age icons of Ross and Waid’s childhood. Silly me).

The point is that Waid argued against the patterning theory, pointing to Elvis as an example, but Morrison remained unconvinced until he read Irredeemable (which I think weakens Morrison argument that Waid has always defied categorization, if Morrison himself can point to a point at which Waid obliterates the category he was trapped in, but whatever).

Before getting to that though, Morrison shares his and Waid’s distaste for the Internet which, okay, fair enough, the Internet is an awful, awful place, but fuck man, what do you expect? It’s basically a pornography delivery system that has some beneficial side benefits, like instantaneous worldwide communication.

Here’s Morrison again:

Those…conversations developed out of a brief discussion on the corrosive effects of relentless Internet criticism on human self-esteem. Waid had jokingly referred to the Internet as the “Zone-O-Phone” and it seemed to me a chillingly-apt comparison. The Zone-O-hone was Superman’s window onto the Phantom Zone,

Oh hey, a comparison of an everyday fact of life for modern human beings to an obscure gadget from Silver Age Superman comics! God it’s unfair how the Silver Age haunts Waid!

A twilight world of bodiless murderers, serial killers, war criminals and madmen, where the greatest criminals of the planet Krypton endured permanent exile in a disembodied hell. The Zone-O-Phone was Superman’s hot line to a jeering crowd of phantoms with nothing better to do than to insult, taunt and threaten the Man of Steel for all eternity.

If Morrison were joking, that’s actually a pretty amusing way to describe the Internet…at least the first part of it. But he sure seems serious, and he’s complained in recent interviews about being bullied by the Internet, and the Us vs. Them, Waid and Morrison vs. The Internet conflict he sets up is pretty irritating.

Morrison’s a smart guy. He reads New Scientist. He’s written some of the most brilliant superhero comics anyone’s ever written, as well as some damn good not-superhero comics. But Jesus, does he not realize that the Internet is comics at this point? Ninety-five percent of all comics criticism occurs online, and ninety-nine percent of the good comics criticism occurs there.

Where would Morrison and Waid—and you know, all comics professionals everywherebe right now without all those jeering phantoms? Are two-sentence reviews of All-Star Superman in Entertainment Weekly and whatever Wizard magazine can think to say about it (they do still publish Wizard, right?) really all he needs to promote the singles until a collection rolls out two years later and then maybe a half-dozen newspapers write reviews of it? Are comics conventions and word-of-mouth in the comics shops all it would take to get people to give a shit about Final Crisis?

Good God, the direct market is—no offense, direct market—a withering, anemic husk trembling under the shadow of a constant existential threat, something so fragile that three or four shortsighted, stupid and/or greedy decisions by the folks that run two goddam companies could end it.

Sure, Morrison’s popular enough that he could quit the direct market and try to get a deal for original graphic novels from a book-book publisher instead of cashing checks for working on Superman, Batman and X-Men comics and rely on non-electronic media to interview him, annotate him and argue over whether he’s a genius or an obtuse hack, but come the fuck on man, who reads newspapers and magazines any more? Who will read them in five years?

Anyway, what was I reviewing here? (Of course, if this were an article in a print publication, my editor would have kept me on topic, and certainly not allowed me to spend twice as long arguing with an afterword then I spent on actually reviewing the comic it followed. But then, if this were a print publication, they wouldn’t want to run an article about Irredeemable #1 at all).

Irredeemable #1 is an over-priced mediocre, unoriginal comic book completely lacking in anything you haven’t seen before which just so happens to be written by a pretty great super-comic writer. It features pretty decent artwork and a depressing woe-are-us afterword by a guy who makes one of the smartest writers in superheroes look like a complete putz.

It might still turn out to be a pretty great superhero comic, I suppose, but anyone who doesn’t wait for the trade on this is a sucker. And/or wealthy.

If I were Wonder Woman

(and I'm not), I don't think I'd like the idea of Aquaman playing with a little paper doll of me.

It's innocent enough—he's just adding clothes on top of the costume rather than subtracting them—but it's still a little creepy, isn't it?

Kinda sorta liveblogging Wonder Woman, the direct-to-DVD movie

(Note: I posted the bulk of this with a different introduction at Blog@ late last week, but wanted to re-post it on EDILW just so I'd know exactly where it is and I'd have all my reviews of DC's direct-to-DVD cartoons in the same place. If you read it there already, feel free to skip down to the bottom, for a few thoughts on the "extras." Or, hell, ignore it completely, what do I care?)

—A presumably Amazon woman just took a battle axe right to the face and crumpled, her corpse just lying there on the ground in the middle of a battle…

—There’s that goddam cloud of arrows shot I was complaining about seeing in an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold just the other day. I forgave the Batman cartoon, as its aimed at kids who probably didn’t see Hero four years ago and the dozens of homages since, but this is aimed at a slightly older audience who probably have seen it a few dozen times now. Surely there is a newer, fresher way to show a lot of arrows being shot during a battle scene.

—All of the jumping great heights and distances reminds me quite a bit of Troy and 300, to the point that I find myself trying to sort out which movie which image seems most like.

—Wow, there’s another dead lady…a horse just rolled over her and just destroyed the hell out of her legs. The horse gets back up, but not the lady. No cartoon horses were hurt in the production of this film. Cartoon ladies, on the other hand…

—My God, a beheading!

—A sex joke…? In less three minutes I think there’s been more violence and killing than I’ve ever seen in all of DC-related cartoons I’ve seen since Batman: The Animated Series put together… It’s definitely earned it’s PG-13 rating.

—The animation is really nice, by the way…quality-wise, this is right below Batman: Gotham Knight, and head and shoulders above the rest of the DC direct-to-DVD movie quality scale.

—Here’s a panty-shot up Ares’ skirt, for the ladies.

—Aw, the minotaur has such dainty little hooves! He’s darling.

—Rosario Dawson seems a poor choice for an Amazonian voice. Her voice is so recognizable, she just sounds like Rosario Dawson, not a different character, and it’s a little disconcerting seeing a slim white redhead and hearing Rosario Dawson. Dawson, by the way, would make a great Amazon in a live action movie.

—Oh women, always kicking men in the balls…

—Oh, there’s finally some blood. This battle has been surprisingly bloodless given the high body count.

—Aaaand there’s Beheading #2, before the six-minute mark…

—Hippolyte and Ares had a child together…? Did this happen in the comics? Or in mythology? I guess its been a really long time since I’ve read either.

—And now we’re on modern day Paradise Island. The design is really nice in general. The Amazons’ clothes, and the bits and pieces of their world, look like a nice, modern style of descended-from-ancient-Greek. They’re also a lot less nightgowny or toga-esque from what they were in the original comics, up through the Perez era, anyway.

—Horses? Diana’s going to go ride a horse? What, no kangas?

—Oh, it just occurred to me that this is Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion playing opposite one another again after Waitress.

—Feh. So, who’s this mysterious enemy with advanced-looking jet fighters shooting at U.S. jets? I assume they will remain unnamed. Which is quite lame.

This is one of those things that annoys the hell out of me, wherein a work is “mature” enough for all kinds of amped up action and fighting and beheadings and blood and sex talk, but not for, like, rudimentary acknowledgement of the existence of politics.

Interesting (to me at least) that while this story of Steve Trevor being shot down by enemies over Paradise Island was fine during World War II and would have worked just fine in the Cold War era, it doesn’t really work today.

Who could one possibly even imagine shooting Trevor down? Al Qaeda’s air force, which is just out patrolling the ocean…?

The Wonder Woman origin story, as presented in the original comics and re-presented by Perez during the Cold War, can’t contain the same elements and be seen as anything other than super-generic fantasy today. (Update: After seeing the rest of the movie, it occurs to me that these could be war planes from The Cult of Ares, which does have helicopters and uniforms and stuff, but if so, it’s never suggested, and it doesn’t make much sense for them to be dog fighting with the U.S. armed forces anyway).

—And another kick to the balls.

—Steve Trevor’s middle name is “Rockwell”…? I was not aware of that.

—“A nice rack”…? The Amazons are unfamiliar with the idiom “crap,” but they are familiar with the idiom “rack”…

—There’s a chariot race during the contest to see who should take Steve Trevor back to man’s world, but no kangas…? Lame.

No, that’s okay; I understand why they wouldn’t use kangas.

—“Castrate”…? Mommy, what’s castrate mean?

—Oh shit, Whatsherface just fucking impaled Wonder Woman’s bookish friend…! You know this is more violent and bloody than The Dark Knight was…

—The explanation of the Wonder Woman costume is elegant enough… (Update: Or it would have been, if Wonder Woman, like, met with any one in America in any sort of official capacity).

—The suiting up scene reveals that this Wonder Woman wears a pointy metal belt that would make it impossible for her to bend forward…

—What are you kids doing playing pirate at night in Central Park…?

—“Would you like you to teach you how to swordfight?” Man, Wonder Woman, you are a sucky babysitter

Mommy, what’s he mean when he says “arrested for solicitation?”

That’s Etta Candy…the…uh…fuck…is…? Whuh…? Buh…?

—Hmm, why’s Wonder Woman super-strong? They skipped over the gifts of the gods bit. Maybe all Amazons are super-strong?

—Hey, this Nathan Fillion guy is a pretty good voice actor… (Update: I've really been enjoying Fillion's new show Castle. I've had it on while drawing the little 'Twas the Night Before Wednesday cartoons the last few weeks, and I think it is A-OK).

Mommy, what’s tequila?

—Ha ha, Steve Trevor is drunk! And he tried to get Wonder Woman drunk! So she’d be easier to have sex with! And they drank a lot of alcohol!

—This Kerri Russel lady’s doing a pretty good job too… The voice cast is all very good, actually. Dawson’s the only one of the principals that stands out as not being subsumed into the character. Which, to be fair, might have as much to do with my being most familiar with her than anything else.

—This monster guy Demos has very dainty feet as well. Ares’ minions are all pretty big on top with slim little feet legs and doll-like feet.

—Holy shit, Wonder Woman just beheaded two snakes and stuck a shard of glass through dude’s hand…!

—And then she put a high heel! Into! Dude’s! Eye!

—You know, I was thinking this seems like an okay plot for a Wonder Woman movie, like a grown-up, live-action one, but this is so violent I don’t think it would get a PG-13 rating if it was live action. Certainly not without some changes.

—Hee hee, his beard killed him. That’s funny.

—Steve just threw a knife into a dude’s chest. I’m pretty sure that’s murder, since the U.S. is not actually at war with the Cult of Ares…Man, Steve and Wonder Woman are terrible role models…

—Hey, is that Abraham Lincoln that Ares is about to sacrifice…?

—I’m not sure what the magic words he intoned while stabbing Lincoln to death were, but they sure didn’t sound like “Sic semper tyrannis!”

Okay, so his blood pours into the door and it opens.

—I don’t like the Cerberus design. It’s not very inspired.

—Woah, Hades is fat as hell…And he snacks on grapes? Did he get that fat just off grapes? That’s an awful lot of grapes.

—Uh oh, there’s an army of mythological creatures in Washington D.C….I’m getting Amazons Attack flashbacks here…

—They never explained the invisible jet either, she just kind of has an invisible-ish jet.

—As with Amazons Attack, it’s kinda silly that, like a hundred people with swords and arrows can even stress out the U.S. military…at least here it’s unfolding quickly, so maybe the most powerful nation on earth didn’t have time to, like, find machine guns or whatever. One of the (many) weaknesses of Amazons Attack was how lopsided the two forces were, and that the weaker force seemed to be kicking the hell out of the stronger one.

—Hey, this Condi Rice is even hotter than our Condi Rice…

—Wow, did Bush just launch a nuclear missile form the White House itself…?

—Okay, this scene with the Steve flying through clouds of dragons? That would be very expensive to make in a live action movie.

—I like movies in which skeletons use swords.

—The zombie kung fu is pretty sweet; whatever the weaknesses of the film as a story or as a whole work, the action animation is all pretty great.

—And the invisible missiles gag was cute too.

—And there’s Beheading #3.

—Well, I didn’t expect to see The Cheetah in there like that, but that’s kinda neat…

Well, that’s that. In general this film suffers many of the same problems that the previous DC direct-to-DVD movies suffered from.

It’s way too short, so that characterization and motivation often feel forced and flawed. Certainly this isn’t true with the bigger, mythological business—Ares wants to cause war because he’s the god of war, Hippolyte wants to protect her daughter because she’s her daughter—but the relationship between Steve and Diana seems rushed and nonsensical, as does the way they go about her mission of stopping Ares.

It seems a little cheap too, which might seem like an odd criticism considering how genuinely impressive all the animation is, but a viewer can see the creators cutting corners and trimming costs. New York City, for example, looks like a ghost town; maybe 25 people live there, tops.

And, like its predecessors, it’s in a weird place where it seems definitely not for kids, but also not really for adults either, ending up in a place that, for me, is the most unsatisfying place, a movie aimed at no one. There’s a visible calculation about how violent, how bloody, how sexy something can be to get at the absolute edge of acceptable (whatever is defining acceptable here) without going over.

That said, I do think it was the best of these things so far, and I think the general structure, tone and point-of-view would have made for a perfectly decent big budget live action Hollywood blockbuster type superhero movie, assuming it had another twenty minutes to half hour to flesh itself out and perhaps better ground itself in the real world.

Bonus features!

—I listened to the audio commentary, by director Lauren Montgomery (an actual lady!), writer Michael Jelenic (Gail Simone gets a co-writer credit for the story), producer Bruce Timm, and maybe another person or two I can't remember. It's fairly interesting if you're curious about how these things get made exactly, and it's worth noting that a lot of time goes into discussing cuts. It sounds like the movie was at one point an actual not-terrible film, but had to be cut down to the insanely short run time of seventy-some minutes, so a lot of stuff had to go.

While the various filmmakers aren't like, openly bitching about it or anything, I get the sense that they know the movie is way too short and they know what it's lacking and where. Maybe given a longer leash—ninety minutes, more money—they could have made a great Wonder Woman movie. (Regarding money, I still don't understand the math of these things. Why spend money getting an all-star cast, instead of using cheaper, professional voice actors? If they had the lady who did Wondy's voice on JLU, for example, I can't imagine anyone would have not bought this thing.

—There's a short making-of featurette in which Paul Levitz, Dan DiDio and other comic book people appear. I think Denny O'Neil was in it, but he may have been in the Green Lantern featurette. Anyway, Paul Levitz says this is the best version of the Wonder Woman story ever. Paul Levitz is wrong, and he needs to re-read Wonder Woman Archives Vol. 1 again at his earliest convenience.

—What's with all the facial hair at DC Comics?

—There's also a making-of featurette about the next direct-to-DVD movie in the works, Green Lantern: First Flight. It features Hal Jordan, and will be set mostly in space, which is probably a good idea, since New Frontier already told the Hal Jordan origin story.

—Christopher Meloni, TV's Detective Elliot Stabler, will be playing Hal Jordan. I think having a professional actor whose career revolves around playing a police officer being cast to voice a space-police officer is a pretty good idea.

—In the part of the featurette explaining who Green Lantern is and why Hal Jordan is the imaginary boyfriend of so many DC comics fans, they first talk about Alan Scott for a while, noting he's just a regular guy who neither had superpowers or even had to work real hard like Batman to become super. I never really thought of that, but I guess Green Lanterns are like superheroes for lazy people. Anyway, then they talk about what made Hal so cool, how his being a test pilot really captured the zeitgeist of the time, back when so few people had ever even rode in an airplane. That is true. But isn't it also a good argument for why it was way past time to retire Jordan a decade or so ago when DC offed him in favor of a character who had what many Green Lantern fans then considered a cool job? Like, the mystery of riding in airplanes has sort of evaporated, now that more people ride them then passenger trains, right?

I didn't watch the entire thing, so I don't know if they ever got around to talking about John, Guy and Kyle, or how Hal Jordan became an insurance salesman at a time when kids thought that was the coolest job in the world.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Review: Blueberry Girl

At the beginning of the fairy tale, a baby girl is born, and the fairies or wise women of the kingdom visit to bestow their blessings and gifts upon the child.

It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of singer Tori Amos that, when about to have a baby girl of her own, might think of such stories, and ask a friend to write a prayer to bless her baby.

Nor should it come as a surprise that Neil Gaiman, put in that fairy/wise person role, would see it through that Sleeping Beauty frame of reference. “Keep her from spindles and sleeps at sixteen,” reads a line in Blueberry Girl (Harper Collins; 2009), the picture book that resulted from the prayer Gaiman wrote for his friend’s daughter.

What is a bit surprising is how something with such personal origins, written for such a single person in such a specific situation, could end up being so universal. But then, that’s one of the mysteries of fiction, isn’t it, that the more personal something is, the more people who can relate to it?

And there’s a disarming universality to Blueberry Girl. Simply put, it’s an instant classic, almost certainly destined to a long life as a gift given to friends upon the birth of their daughters or to the daughters themselves for years (generations?) to come.

“Ladies of light and ladies of darkness and ladies of never-you-mind,” the book opens, “This is a prayer for a blueberry girl.”

Those words appear in a blueberry juice-colored font, trickling down the right half of a two-page, single image, then, hitting the bottom of the page, rushing right to left. The image is a Charles Vess illustration, which looks to be a watercolor painting. A little, long-haired girl in a flowing green dress walks down a path, while a flock of various birds fly low over her head. Towering in the background are three giant women, the “ladies” of the lyric, a trio that falls roughly into the maiden/matron/crone triad that Gaiman so consciously employed throughout Sandman, their robes trailing off into the pink clouds of the gauzy sky.

These ladies are to whom the prayer is addressed. “First, may you ladies be kind,” the next page reads, and a series of requests are made throughout the remainder of the book. “Let her go places that we’ve never been” and “Her joys must be high as her sorrows are deep” and so on.

A second and third time he addresses “the ladies,” as those of grace, of favor and merciful night, of paradox, of measure, “of shadows that fall.” If it’s a prayer, or a supplication, its not of actual goddesses, but of symbolic ones; figures who, like Gaiman’s Endless, are not gods but like gods. Forces, aspects given faces and names so that they can be spoken to in a story or poem rather than worshipped. The actual prayer here is a wish uttered out loud to whoever’s listening, as much to the speaker-reader-parent as to the girl herself as to any abstract ladies.

The form of the piece is a poem, although it doesn’t look it (on account of each line begin given its own page, and the words not lining up in the tight, military formation of a poem) and although I can’t name the form (my formal schooling in matters of poetry and literature are too far back for me to remember the differences between a sonnet and a ballad, a septolet from a sestina).

Vess is of course an artist whose style, sensibility and general aesthetic has always meshed well with Gaiman’s, particularly when Gaiman’s at his most formal and fantastical, as evidenced in his contributions to Sandman and in The Books of Magic and Stardust.

His illustrations race with the lyrics throughout the book, following the ever-changing little girl as she walks, swings, swims, flies, marches and skps through the book, accompanied by the flock of birds and a series of animals, arriving at, last, as tiny baby girl again, in the arms of her mother, on a tiny island, in a whirlpool, circled by marine life, with land animals crowded around and birds flying in a circle around her.

As a visual set of parentheses, before the book actually begins, we see an image of a Vess-ified, Tori-like woman with a big pregnant belly, and, after it ends, we see the same woman, now looking up at her baby as she lies in a field of blueberries.

It’s really beautiful work, as is to be expected from Vess, but it’s quite a treat to see him working at a larger scale than a comic panel. (With the book opened, the page-space is 18-inches wide and ten-inches high). It’s also a treat to see him working outside of the fairy tale/fantasy realm one probably thinks of when they think of Vess’ work, even if it’ sonly just (Some of the girls where tennis shoews for example, one wears a weird little dancer’s outfit).

In each image, the Blueberry Girl herself changes size, shape, shade and age, although she stays on the same winding path through the book, accompanied by the trouping birds and animals. The metaphor is perhaps a bit obviously delivered—all little girls are Blueberry Girls—but I can’t think of a better, more subtle way to make the point visually.

There are times when I really miss Neil Gaiman the comic book writer. The occasional Eternals or “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” are fine and all, but the Gaiman who gave us a new issue of The Sandman once a month? I think the field is poorer for him not being in it, and I sometimes wish The Sandman #300 or whatever were coming out this month.

But then I encounter a work like Blueberry Girl, and am glad that Gaiman has moved on. Not that prose is necessarily any better than comics or anything, but he clearly has things to say in other media, and some of those things are so worthwhile that not having them said would make those media poorer.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: The Incredibles: Family Matters #1

Early last week I wrote that it was "a shame that Boom is having trouble deciding if they’re in the business of telling stories or producing collectibles," based on the variant cover scheme attached to the first issue of their first licensed comic based on a Pixar movie. The Incredibles: Family Matters #1 comes with five different covers, which makes the two covers of The Muppet Show seem restrained.

The nature of the variants made their number seem even worse. One is an image of Mr. Incredible by Mike Mignola, and it's kind of neat (albeit weird to see a Pixar character design filtered through the prism of Mignola's particular style). But the other four were all part of a single image by Michael Avon Oeming, puzzle pieces that, when all purchased and lined up, form a long, horizontal group shot of Frozone and The Incredibles, all posing around a giant "The Incredibles." None of the four images really function as an individual cover, but each looks like a part of a cover. So, for your $2.99 you get one-fifth of a cover.

I admit to not really understanding variant covers or the nature of the direct market and their place in it. As a consumer, I've never understood the attraction, except for cases in which variant covers are by two different artists offering radically different covers.

Infinite Crisis, for example, featured covers by both Jim Lee and George Perez—two very popular, very talented artists each with his very own large fan base and a wildly different style from the other. That I can understand; they were in a 50/50 ratio (as far as I remember) and they therefore just offered consumers a choice between which cover they liked better. Did some people (idiots) buy both because they thought they'd worth money some day? Sure, but if those people want to give DC twice as much money for the same story, well, who can blame DC for taking it. But two Flash: Rebirth covers by Ethan Van Sciver, one showing Barry Allen putting on his boot from the front, and one showing Barry Allen putting on his boot in profile? Man, fuck that.

That's as a consumer. As a person who reads about comics all the damn time, I assumed the logic behind variant covers, both their numbers and those weird 1-in-10 or 1-in-25 ratios was to get retailers to buy more copies, inflating (non-returnable) sales to them, since, in the direct market, it doesn't matter if readers actually buy and read comics, just so long as the publishers sell them to the retailers who take on the risk of selling vs. not-selling.

So Boom's Incredibles cover strategy just seemed like a particularly egregious example of a bad industry practice pioneered by the Big Two (who, in Boom, Dynamite and others' defense, do remain the very worst offenders—the Obama variant of Amazing Spider-Man, for example, seems to border on evil), one specifically targeted for a big, splashy entrance into the direct market.

Of course, between writing that and writing this review of the issue (which I'll get to shortly, I promise), Boom has announced a distribution deal to get their new Boom Kids books onto newsstands and, thus, into a channel other than the direct market (plus, you know, the trades will sell in bookstores and to libraries, perhaps like hotcakes).

So really, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. But man, variant covers, I sure do hate them, and it makes me a little sad to see kids being encouraged to waste their money on buying the same comic more than once.

As for what's under the cover? Writer Mark Waid and artist Marcio Takara do a perfectly adequate job on imagining and communicating ongoing adventures of the family of superheroes that were the stars of the 2004 film.

Waid knows superhero comics inside and out, of course, and has plenty of experience writing about superhero families of superheroes (most recently during his latest Flash stint, which some Flash fans complained was a little too Incredibles, and his well-regarded run on Fantastic Four), so he of course has no problem plotting and scripting this superhero comic.

During a trip to the zoo they encounter a robotic villain named Futur10n, who uses a doohickey to partially transform animals into dinosaurs (leading to the book's one striking image, an elephant whose trunk has transformed into a sauropod's long neck), and in the process of stopping them, the family patriarch faces a few problems. Not only is his family reluctant to follow his orders in the field, but he also seems to be losing his super-powers. Meanwhile, out of costume, the Parrs have dinner with their new neighbors, whom I wouldn't at all be surprised to learn are actually a family of supervillains.

Takara's art is pretty sharp, and he manages to render all of the characters recognizably without having to compromise his own skill or storytelling noticeably, a trap that awaits a lot of comics based on pre-existing cartoons. (If you get a chance, be sure to check out Takara's site; it's full of great pin-ups of super-characters. Here's his Avengers, and here's his Justice League, for example).

As solid an effort as the book is, I don't feel any strong desire to follow it going forward. Waid and Takara have turned out a decent lighthearted superhero comic, but that's all they've done. It's certainly enough, but it doesn't achieve the sort of cross-media alchemy that Roger Langridge did with The Muppet Show or offer anything completely original that can only be found here.

Of course, I'm not a kid either, so take all that with the necessary grain of salt.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review: Proof #18

I’ve never read an issue of Proof, the Image Comics series that seems to be about Bigfoot and other cryptid creatures (i.e. Things That Are Awesome), despite having had it recommended to me on several occasions (Like by Mr. M. Ampersand, in the comments section of a post about Fanta’s latest Beasts! book).

This past week’s issue of the series, its eighteenth issue, seemed like a pretty good place to start since 1) Its cover featured what looked like a picture of Bigfoot dressed like Abraham Lincoln, 2) It said “A New Era Begins!” on the cover, and, of course, 3) I was emailed a PDF of the issue to peruse.

Obviously, starting out on the eighteenth issue is a less than ideal place to start a serially published, ongoing comics series, but I resisted the temptation to do any research about the book’s background, like looking for a Wikipedia page or something, so I could better assess it as a standalone issue.

Well, a new era may or may not be beginning, but it didn’t strike me as a particularly great jumping on point for the series. There was certainly a lot to like about the comic, but by the last page I was still finding my footing, and was still pretty uncertain about just who was who and what was what.

The book opens with one of those recap-type pages that all of Marvel’s books now has, explaining that Proof is the name of a sasquatch (Huh, Word does not acknowledge “sasquatch” as a real word) that met Lewis and Clark in 1805 and joined a “joint agency of the American and Canadian governments” in 1969 and that the time in between remains a mystery.

The story begins in London, 1859, where a lady is running around frightened of something and bumps into the chest of a rather large man, who actually looks like the Bigfoot on the cover (Aw, I guess he wasn’t dressed like Lincoln, he was just dressed like a mid-nineteenth century gentleman in a top hat, and sasquatch facial hair just sorta naturally resembles that of our greatest president).

From there we jump to “the present,” where a Bigfoot in a big white suit and a woman visit an old Norwegian man in a basement full of curiosities, and they collect what looks like the preserved remains of a female alma.

And then its back to the mid-nineteenth century London for the rest of the issue, where the hairy ape-woman named Julia performs in a circus as The Baboon Lady, singing (for her pleasure) and disrobing (for that of the rubes). Also in the circus are two other giants—the top hat rocking sasquatch from the title page and a less hairy guy of about the same size—who are called upon by a police detective to help him catch “the most notorious criminal in London,” Springheel Jack.

When I mentioned there being a lot to like about the comic? This is mostly what I was talking about. Springheeled Jack, let the record show, was awesome, which, if you’ve read about him before, you already know. If you haven’t, I’m just going to link to The Internet’s own Dave Campbell, who wrote a typically funny post about S.H.J. which also contains plenty of useful links.

Unlike Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster, the sightings of Jack were so varied and so relatively few and localized that there isn’t really a consensus image of the figure that would make him or it immediately recognizable, nor is there a single popular theory (or handful of theories) to explain him/it. So when he shows up in comics, he always looks pretty different.

And the version of him that shows up in Proof #18? It looks incredible. It’s probably the coolest looking Springheeled Jack I’ve ever seen.

He’s got a big gold, horned, grinning, metallic-looking mask over his face, completely hiding his features, although little red dots glow in the shadow obscuring his eyes. He has a long shock of dark hair or a wig flowing behind the mask, which gives him the look of an anime-esque Japanese feudal demon. He’s dressed in period clothing—tight coat with tails, ascot-looking thing coming out of his popped collar, tight britches—and his legs are some sort of metal contraptions that look like brass robot satyr legs, explaining the jumping.

Apparently, he’s the thing that was chasing the girl in the opening pages, and there are several scenes of him running and jumping around, looking all badass. He lurks on the circus grounds, he evades the Bigfoot (Proof?) and the big dude and the police guy, and he goes to visit Julia.

If I pick up Proof #19, it will be to see more of Alex Grecian, Riley Rossmo and Dave Casey’s Springheeled Jack, and to see how all of this ties together.

While I’m still a bit lost on the who’s who and what’s what, I should note the characters are all well drawn and fairly well-designed (although I’m confused if the present and past Bigfoot are both Proof or not, and if that giant, hairless dude is also supposed to be a monster of some sort), and the writing is sophisticated enough to define the relationships between the characters in a subtle, naturalistic way.

I can’t say that I’m hooked—at $3.50, Proof, like a lot of Image Comics, seems like a comic better purchased in trade—but I’m definitely curious.

Related: Image has a preview of the first four pages here. I didn’t realize it until just now when I was looking for links to their sites, but Grecian and Rossmo’s previous work includes the AiT/Planet Lar book Seven Sons, which I liked a lot when I read it a while back; that I wholeheartedly recommend.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Crazy Kelley Jones Contraption of the Month:

Batman has developed his own personal Man-Bat Catcher, which shoots out a missile that, when within range of Man-Bat, enters its second stage and fires a net around him.

But wait, wouldn't tossing a net over Man-Bat while he's in mid-air cause him to fall all the way to the ground, badly injuring and possibly killing him, and thus violating Batman's strict modal stance against taking another life?

Yes, it would. If Batman hadn't already thought of that, and included a little parachute, which will gently float the captured Man-Bat safely down to the ground:

Note Batman's usual strong branding efforts on the net, too; it includes a big, bright, yellow Bat-symbol, so anyone who comes across a giant were-bat entangled in a net on the street will know who's responsible for putting it there.

A few words about every single story in MySpace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 2

This second volume collecting the current, free, electronic version of Dark Horse Presents strips features a cover by Eric Canete, which gives me the Conan/Milk and Cheese/B.P.R.D. crossover of my dreams (and it looks like Kraken from Umbrella Academy and a couple of other characters are in there as well).

Dark Horse should really get into the company-wide crossover event comic business sometime; I know I’d buy a Crisis on Dark Horse’s Earths featuring, like, Predator stalking Little Lulu, Tubby and the fellers; Sock Monkey teaming up with Conan; a starving Conan lost in a desert trying to eat Milk and Cheese; Solomon Kane trying to send Hellboy back to hell; Empowered joining forces with The Umbrella Academy; and like that.

Ah, that’s a pleasant thought…

Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, MySpace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 2. It also includes an introduction, by one Ann Romano. This excited me a lot, because of my oft-repeated belief that almost all collections should have introductions.

This was an extremely boring introduction though, structured as a gossip column, and I couldn’t force myself to read more than the first paragraph. I have just googled “Ann Romano” and she apparently writes a column for Portland Oregon-based altweekly The Portland Mercury. Dark Horse is based in Oregon, so it’s cool that they hired locally. This sort of thing just isn’t my cup of tea, I guess.

What about the rest of the contents? As I did last time, I will try to say a few words about each story.

“Captain Hammer (Nemesis of Dr. Horrible): Be Like Me!” by Zack Whedon and Eric Canete

As did the previous volume, this one opens with a story written by a Whedon. This is a new Whedon though, or at least a Whedon who is new to me. Is this Joss’ new pen name? His brother? His son? His father? Someone who just coincidentally has the same last name as Joss Whedon and has managed to parlay that into gigs writing comics? I have no idea.

I will go spend 45 seconds looking on the Internet and tell you what I can find out.

Well, he has an IMDb entry, and a Wikipedia entry. Apparently he was a miscellaneous crew member on Deadwood and Angel and was involved in that Dr. Horrible Internet thing that 450 people recommend I look at but which I never did. He is the brother of Joss Whedon, graduated from Wesleyan University in 2002 and is nicknamed “Spacious” and “Stonehenge.”

So that’s who he is.

Eric Canete is an artist whose name sounds familiar and whose work looks very nice, but I can’t recall reading a book of his before. (Oh hey, he did this at Project Rooftop; I liked that picture).

This story is an eight-page one narrated by the rather generic hero Captain Hammer, who wears cargo pants, black gloves, a utility belt and a black t shirt with the outline of a hammer in a yellow field. You probably know that, if you know about this Dr. Horrible thing the kids with their computers know about and like.

Many of the jokes are your standard superhero parody jokes, of the sort you’ve heard 100-600 times before, but a few of them were funny. I liked the third page, for example. Canete’s line work and sense of motion is a lot of fun too. In the action panels, the whole image pitches radically in the direction Captain Hammer is punching a crook or throwing Dr. Horrible.

It’s alright, I suppose. I still don’t want to watch Dr. Horrible though.

“The Umbrella Academy: Anywhere But Here” by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba

This surprisingly complete eight-page story set in the full and mysterious past of Way and Ba’s superhero team focuses on the team’s bad boy and bad girl, Kraken and Vanya, their punk band, how it broke up and how they both kinda sorta ended up doing what they were destined to.

The franchise’s considerable virtues are all on full display here, but what I found most impressive was the economy with which Way and Ba were able to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end, a story that features some actual characterization and everything. I know that sort of thing shouldn’t impress me, and that it should just be standard, par for the course stuff that all comics always did, but man, this fucking medium. What are you going to do?

“Retro Rockets Go!” by Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard

Speaking of economy, here’s another completely complete story told in just eight pages, this one not even having the benefit of characters the reader is already familiar with (at least, as far as I know; they were new to me, and sure seemed like one-off characters).

It’s a kind of sci-fi flavored melodramedy, about a space race between extremely colorful racers—sort of like Wacky Races, but in outer space.

You can see more of Culbard’s work here.

“Wonder Twins Activate!” by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

The lack of the word “powers” between the words “twins” and “activate” in that title really bothers me for some reason.

This is, of course, a collaboration between twin brother artists Moon and Ba, who together produced De:Tales for Dark Horse.

The story is the story of the two of them doing a Batman-like superhero comic story in which the caped crimefighter stops a mugger. One of them explains it to the other by beating on him just as the superhero beats on the mugger.

I’m not really doing it much justice. It’s a pretty simple but rather cute story, and the last page gag is especially nice.

Now, how do I tell them apart…?

“Milk and Cheese in ‘The Fur Suit of Crappiness!’” by Evan Dorkin

A two-pager in which Dorkin’s angry, violent dairy products gone bad accidentally show up at furry convention, thinking it was supposed to be a fury convention.

The results?

Insults. Lots and lots of insults. Followed by violence. Lots and lots of violence.

“Ann Romano: Gossip Whore” by Ann Romano and Paul Lee

Here’s the contribution from introduction –writer Romano, which is two pages of stale Britney Spears-is-a-trashy-human-being jokes. Perhaps it was less stale when it originally ran on MySpace, but it’s hard to imagine it was actually “fresh” then.

“Ransom! A Wondermark Tale” by David Malki

Here’s a story from well regarded web comics maker David Malki, which is unusual in its length. Rather than a strip, it’s an eight-page, more comic book-style story, which keeps the style and humor of his usual work remarkably well.

“A Going Concern” by John Arcudi and Steven Young

This may be the weirdest story in here. It’s a short western about a bounty hunter with a neat little twist ending, but, for whatever reason, the characters aren’t humans, but some sort of flea-like insects. And the horses are made out of pipe cleaners. But there are other animals, scaled to the fleas as if they were humans, like donkeys, dogs, vultures and even flies.

I didn’t get it.

But they’re all drawn quite well.

“Hobo Fet” by The Brothers Matkinson and Jon Adams

This has a fairly fantastic title, mixing one of the funniest words in the world, “hobo,” with one of the coolest things in the world, Boba Fett. And yet it’s pretty terrible.

It’s an eight-page story about a guy named Hobart who has a motorcycle helmet, and, after falling off his scooter, encounters a variety of characters that all vaguely suggest Star Wars characters. Then he decides to become a bounty hunter.

After the title, it’s all down hill really.

“Manga” by Gilbert Hernandez

I believe this was linked to pretty heavily when it originally ran, for the obvious reasons. It’s a pretty clever, dryly amusing story about a village punching competition in which the winner gets a basket of coins and a beautiful (looking) girl. It’s always a treat to see Hernandez’ art both in color and in a different context.

“Jared” by Ilias Kyriazis

Human beings as giant space ships piloted by Star Trek-style captains and crews. Jared is one such person, and we see a day or so in his life, from both his perspective and that of the people inside him. There’s not an interesting conceit, and if there’s not a whole lot to do with it, Kyriazis’ story is only eight-pages long, so there’s not enough time for it to get tired.

“How to Heal a Broken Heart: Method #37 by Tara McPherson

This is the first comics work I’ve seen from McPherson, an artist who has provided covers to some Vertigo series and recently had a second collection of her work published by Dark Horse. It falls somewhere into the picture poetry territory, told in images instead of words, although there is some dialogue as well.

If you like McPherson’s art, and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t, it’s a nice enough two pages.

“Rex Mundi: Frailty” by Arvid Nelson

At just eleven panels spread over just two pages, there’s not much to go on here. There is a woman, named Genevieve, and there’s a man named Julien, and the former gets the latter to sneak out of a boring class. And then they kiss. It seems to function best as a sort of commercial for Nelson’s Rex Mundi comics, by pointing out how great the art is, and, if you want to know what it’s in service of, perhaps you should check out a trade.

“The Nothinist” by Jason Graham

Like the McPherson story, this is an art-first, picture-poem sort of strip, a two-page tale of Death—a cute little grim reaper with black and white-striped tentacles that can turn into snakes, and a little girl with bear claws who he falls in love with. There are several cute corpses in this story. You don’t see cute corpses all that often, really.

“Criminal Macabre: The Creepy Tree” by Steve Niles and Kyle Hotz

I think I’ve mentioned my dislike of Niles’ Criminal Macabre before. I read a trade of it from the library because it was illustrated by Kelley Jones, and I found it extremely amateurish and pretty generic. The lead character, Cal McDonald, was a drinking, drugging, smoking P.I. that specialized in the supernatural and seemed conceived as the sort of character a junior high boy would think is totally cool.

This story doesn’t have the benefit of Jones’ art, but Hotz isn’t exactly a slouch either. As for the story, McDonald is called in to kill an evil tree, he does, and that’s all there is to it.

The swearing is kind of funny in that I-want-to-use-a-swear-word-and-have-everyone-know-exactly-which-specific-word-without-actually-putting-all-the-letters-down kind of way. So Cal says he has “the worst f****** luck in the world” and that he’s seen “some weird s***” in his life.

“B.P.R.D.: Revival”
by John Arcudi and Guy Davis

Ah, now this is more like it. The BPRD versus one of those creatures they call frogs, which is posing as a little girl capable of performing miracles at a sort of revival meeting, by regular B.P.R.D. creators.

“A+” by Nate Piekos and Jeff Wamester

A horror story with a twist involving nerdy high schoolers and a killer science fair project. A bit predictable, but nicely executed, one of Wamester’s monsters is exceptionally well-designed (the snake-based one), and they all have funny, easy to read expressions.

“Legion of Blood: The Messenger” by Francisco Ruiz Velasco

Here’s another short story which ends on a gag punchline, although it’s set up is perhaps too long for the pay off. The sense design sense and artwork are both rather incredible though.

“Criminal Macabre: ‘The Trouble With Brains’” by Steve Niles and Kyle Hotz

No better than the first one.

“The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob: True Stories rom the Life of Robert E. Howard” by Jim and Ruth Keegan

A two-page version of the autobiographical strips that used to run (and perhaps still do?) in the back of Dark Horse’s Conan comics. I’ve always liked these a lot, and I like this one as well.

This kicks of the Robert E. Howard section of the book that carries us through the end.

“Sailor Steve Costigan” by Joe Casey and Pop Mhan

This was actually my first exposure to Howard’s modern day (to him, anyway) creation, a merchant sailor and ex-boxing champ, and it actually made me want to see more stories featuring him, be they comics adaptations like this, or maybe some of Howard’s original stories.

The title character has a new gig—writing sports stories covering the boxing world he used to know from the inside of the ring—but the last two boxers didn’t like what he had to say about him, so he finds himself having to use his fists anyway.

It’s a lighthearted, humorous story that also happens to involve a whole lot of punching. It’s also really nice looking, and I was surprised to see that Mhan supplied the art, something I didn’t notice while reading it.

I haven’t seen new work from Mhan since 2006’s Blank, so maybe he’s changed his style quite a bit, or maybe he was just working in a style that better suited the character and time period, or maybe colorist Jose Villarrubia completely transformed it (or maybe a little of all three), but this doesn’t look much like Mhan. Even rereading it now, I have a hard time seeing Mhan in it, aside from the way a limb flails here or there.

“Solomon Kane: The Nightcomers” by Scott Allie and Mario Guevara

I’ve been fascinated with Solomon Kane since I found a copy of the old Marvel Comic at my barbershop when I was a little boy, and rather eagerly awaiting the trade collection of Dark Horse’s new series featuring him. This was a welcome taste.

The story, in which the hero arrives in a mysterious village plagued by raiders who strike each night, is somewhat confusingly told, on account of the need to hide the twist ending, and could probably have been done a little more smoothly. Guevara’s art is quite lush though, and it certainly hits the Conan-as-pilgrim note I expected it to.

“Conan” by Tim Truman, Ben Truman and Marian Churchland

This story kind of irritated me. See, it’s lettered by EDILW favorite Brandon Graham. Which is nice. I like his letters just fine. But that put into my head the thought of a Brandon Graham-written and illustrated Conan story, and now I really, really, really want to see one of those.

Not that this isn’t a great little Conan comic or anything.

The Trumans write while Churchland draws. Conan walks out of the desert with a ton of loot and journeys to a bar that he quickly realizes is full of people who would like to kill and/or rob him. He defeats them all, but this time not through violence—rather, the stories he tells and the amounts of wine he buys for the house is enough to defeat them all.

The stories within the story are all really neat. Here, for example, is perhaps the most badass thing I’ve ever seen Conan do:

He killed a dude with his loincloth. Damn.

If you’d like to see more of Churchland’s art, you can do so here. She’s pretty great.

And if you’d like to see a Brandon Graham Conan story, well, that makes two of us. (I guess there’s this, for a taste).

The collection finishes up with a discussion about superhero comics between Evan Dorkin, Zack Whedon and Gerard Way. What I found most interesting about it was Way talking about his approach to continuity in Umbrella Academy. He says he intentionally implies a long continuity for the characters as if they previously existed and had many adventures, but he doesn’t actually know what all that backstory is, and doesn’t really care about it. It’s a strange thought, that complicated continuity is a negative in superhero comics, but to imply its presence where there isn’t any. It works for Way though.

And that’s a few words about every single story in MySpace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 2.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Weekly Haul: March 25th

Avengers: The Initiative Featuring Reptil #1 (Marvel Comics) Wow, is “Reptil” a terrible superhero name or what? Is it pronounced “rep-tile” and, if so, why is it spelled like that? Or is it pronounced “rep-till” and, if so, why?

The character is actually kind of cool. He’s a teenager being raised by his grandfather after his parents went missing while on a paleontology gig. He found a magical crystal fossil that allows him to manifest the body parts of various dinosaurs, so he can grow pterodactyl wings or stegosaurus spines or an ankylosaurus tail or whatever.

In this $3.99, 37-page story, he’s recruited into the Initiative to help them track down and battle Stegron, who is leading raids on government institutions around the country with his army of reanimated dinosaurs.

Christos Gage and Steve Uy turn out a pretty basic story that, if not big on originality, is still very enjoyable (Dinosaurs! Superheroes!). Getting a whirlwind training session, Reptil spends time with Tigra, Prodigy, Komodo, Cloud 9, Batwing and Sunstreak, each of whom have their own opinions on what it means to be a superhero or part of the Initiative, and he has to decide whether he wants to be one of them or not.

It’s a pretty thorough example of what I find so enjoyable about the book’s parent title: It creates new characters and builds onto the Marvel Universe, instead of just moving the most popular toys around in circles.

Ka-Zar, Zabu, Devil Dinosaur and Moonboy all briefly appear, so there’s that too.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #3 (DC Comics) Writer Matt Wayne is rejoined by the Andy Suriano and Dan Davis art team, who illustrated the first issue of the series but weren’t around for the second, kind of messy-looking issue (which was penciled and inked by Phil Moy).

Suriano’s design style is nicely Dick Sprang-y, which compliments the cartoon show’s design nicely, but Suriano explodes it; since the comics’ images are static, they don’t need to be so simplified, and the extra lines and slightly exaggerated (from the show’s already exaggerated style) which makes up for the lack of motion.

There’s a two-page Wonder Woman team-up, which seems to break a rule of the TV show (as I perceive it, anyway), which seems to forbid team-ups with Batman’s Justice League allies and appearances from Gotham villains. Here Killer Crock, Two-Face (and what a Two-Face!) and the Scarecrow appear alongside Clock King and Dr. Psycho, and Wonder Woman comes to the rescue.

Suriano and Davis, by the way, draw the best Dr. Psycho since H.G. Peter:

In the main story, Batman calls in Green Arrow to watch his back while he impersonates the president of the United States, who has received a ransom letter from The Ultra-Humanite, who wants to put his brain in the president’s body.

The dialogue is quite consciously silly, and thus funny in the way much of the dialogue in the cartoon show (Offered his own portfolio in the U.S. government, for example, Batman says he already has his own portfolio…of justice! And when Ultra-Humaite reveals his plan, Batman scolds him that that’s not how democracy works).

Oh, and Batman and GA fulfill the American dream and beat-up congress.

I found the depiction of the president to be rather strange. He’s a black guy (just like our real world president!) and may be Hawaiian (just like our real world president!) but he doesn’t look like Obama. He’s older, and rounder, and has white hair and a white beard.

It seems like a very self-conscious decision not to cast Obama as a comic book character, or of even being suspected of casting Obama, which I find perplexing.

You can certainly draw a comic book president so he suggests the real president without doing so explicitly (or tackily, or politically). Like, if the president was a 40-ish black guy, he would have looked vaguely enough like Obama so as not to cause a reader to wonder why Suriano went out of his way not to draw Obama, without actually looking so much like Obama that it distracted from the real stars of the comic book.

As it was, I was pretty distracted by DC and/or Wayne and/or Suriano’s thought process behind drawing the president the way they did.

Batman: Gotham After Midnight #11 (DC) Oh shit, this is the “Evil 11th Issue of Twelve,” which means I’m about to run out of my monthly supply of crazy Kelley Jones Bat-gadgets and operatic gestures and poses. Damn. Well, I think Jones has more Bat-work in the near-ish future, and this will free up $3 to spend on some of the cool-looking Batman comics DC has planned for the summer (Batman and Robin, Streets of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens and TEC all look worth a purchase).

In this issue, Batman fights all the villains who have appeared in the story so far, and then corners Midnight for their final confrontation.

It’s as so-so as always, and the pleasure I derive from it comes mainly from how much I dig Jones’ art. Steve Niles’ script remains little more than something for Jones to draw in my estimation.

This issue seemed awfully light on backgrounds, but there are a couple of nice two-page spreads. The first features the small gang of Bat-villains little standing on top of one another as they rush like a wave at a defiant Batman, his ears back like an animal’s. And the second features multiple images of Batman spinning his way through a half-dozen villains, each standing under alternating red and green spotlights, with contrasting-colored sound effects. It’s like a Christmas-themed sequence of Batman beating the shit out of villains.

The Incredible Hercules #127 (Marvel) It’s Herc, Athena and Amadeus vs. Hera and her bad god allies vs. Norman Osborn and the Dark Avengers! Or at least the preliminaries; the actually punching and hitting phase probably won’t come until next issue. Another seamless blending of Greek mythology with the specific history and storylines of the Marvel Universe by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, this time out featuring art by Dietrich Smith and Cory Hamscher.

Oh, and a superhero dies, although it’s someone I never heard of. If you read the latest New Warriors book you might know him and be sad.

Superman #686 (DC) How do you pronounce the "Mon" in "Mon-El?" I always assumed it was pronounced "moan." But maybe it’s a short "o?"

I just ask because early in the issue we see two figures in the distance, and one says to the other, "So what are your plans, Mon?" and I read it with a Jamaican accent.

Anyway, this issue features Superman flitting around visiting people and telling them he’s going to leave the book for a while to go star in World of Krypton, so would they mind watching Metropolis for him and keep an eye on Mon-El for him? These people include The Guardian and the MCU, Jimmy Olsen and John Henry Irons/Steel. Meanwhile, Mon-El gets a job, and meets a lady that was in Robin for at least an issue, and ten-foot-tall, seven-hundred-pound Atlas continues to do a pretty poor job of disguising himself with a red hoodie.

Writer James Robinson does a fine job on this set-up-the-status-quo issue, and the art team of Renato Guedes and Jose Wilson Magalhaes (colored by David Curiel) do a simply outstanding job on the book. Not only are the characters and foregrounds well-rendered, but a great deal of affectionate attention is paid to Metropolitan architecture, giving the city the look and feel of a real and unique city.

Guedes also pulls off some cute but effective tricks, including keeping Superman off-panel or otherwise obscured during all of the scenes featuring him—he’s in the story, but not entirely in the issue—and a neat sequence in which Mon-El fights Rampage way up into the sky and then drops her.

A very well-made comic book all around, really.

Trinity #43 (DC) This is still coming out, and I’m still reading it. In the Busiek/Bagley half, the still god-like trinity floats their way toward the Dark Trinity’s home base, while the JLA and JSA run around punching demons. In the back half, drawn by Tom Derenick and Wayne Faucher, the trinity’s supporting players and a still-alive Tomorrow Woman try to get their former friends’ attention.

This is my favorite part:

It’s a little burry and the flare of the flash doesn’t help any, but that’s Lois Lane, Alfred and company expressing surprise that the trinity are thinking of themselves as gods now.

I like the image because it looks like Derenick drew all of the characters with surprised looks on their face and, at some point, he or maybe Faucher looked at it and though, “Hmm, they just don’t look surprised enough. I know! I’ll add little halos of surprise lines around each of their heads! That’s the ticket!”

The only thing that could improve upon that panel was if they were all so surprised that they fell backwards off panel, so we just saw their feet up in the air.

Wolverine: First Class #13 (Marvel) This is the first issue by Peter David, who seems to be the new regular writer (His name’s on the credits of the book through at least the June solicitations, anyway). It’s not bad per se, but it is a little annoying. Specifically, David indulges his love of puns and jokes to the point that I began sighing heavily on the first page, and just kept sighing heavier and heavier as the issue went on.

For example, Kitty Pryde’s narration box says “You have to learn to swing with the unexpected,” and the panel shows a group of Hand ninjas swinging between buildings. Ha ha ha! David does this throughout, in several instances trying so hard to set-up the joke that the dialogue seems completely unnatural.

That aside, everything else works just fine. Wolverine takes Kitty and a friend of hers to see an exhibit of Japanese artifacts, and Daredevil, The Hand and—right before the “To be continued”—Elektra show up. The next issue page promises “More ninja fight stuff!!” With two exclamation points!

This may be the weakest of the issues in the series so far, but it’s also David’s first, so it’s just as possible that I’m still adjusting to the changing tone of voice and writing style.

Pretty nice art by Ronan Cliquet, by the way.

And those are the comics I bought and paid for with cash money at the comic shop to read this afternoon. They are not the only comics that came out this week, though. I’ll have a review of The Muppet Show #1 at Blog@ over the weekend, and reviews of The Incredibles #1 and probably Proof #18 here over the weekend. Still working on the 800-page A Drifting Life.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Marvel's June previews reviewed

DC Comics is not the only comics publisher that will be publishing new comics in June. No. Marvel Comics is still around, and they'll be publishing new comics in June too! Don't believe me, look, here is my proof.

Not really being interested in X-people, the current cross-book "Dark Reign" storyline or the current state of the Spider-books, there's not a whole lot here that fills me with excitement or dread, but I did have a couple of general observations.

1) What on earth ever happened to The Twelve? Was there an announcement regarding its cancellation or was the artist lost at sea or what?

2) It looks like Marvel is doing a better job letting folks know what's actually in their books now; I noticed a few books that marked whether or not there was reprint material in them, and how much of it was reprint vs. new material.

3) There were several mentions of "80s Decade Variants," all by artist "TBA." I'm not sure what to make of that. Maybe it will be cool?

As for specific titles, here are books that look exciting or upsetting to me...

Written by JEFF PARKER
Disturbing visions plucked from the malignant mind of Norman Osborn lead the intrepid Agents to the darkest depths of the Atlantic Ocean, where Namora must have words with her infamous cousin - The Sub-Mariner! What happens next shocks her team, who must prepare to say goodbye to their aquatic avenger!

While I've liked the title so far, one thing it's really been missing is more Namor-punching-things. Of course, I think that's true of every Marvel comic book. Well it looks like that deficiency is finally being addressed this issue.

Nice Yu cover, by the way. What are Namor and Namora doing, do you think? Mouthing things like "Imperius Rex!" at one another? Singing? Laughing heartily? I don't know. Has Yu or Marvel announced where he's landing after that Ultimate series he's drawing wraps up?

I'll miss you so much after this twelfth and final issue, Avengers/Invaders!

This last issue has a variant cover by former JSoA artist Dale Eaglesham, and the interiors are, of course, still by former JSA artist Steve Sadowski. And the other cover is by JSoA cover artist Alex Ross, who co-wrote this and, incidentally, also co-wrote JSoA.

50/50 Cover by ALEX ROSS
Where were you when Captain America died? It's the anniversary of the day Steve Rogers was killed, a day of reflection and mourning in the Marvel U...a time to look back on the things Steve did and what he stood for... or is this issue actually the beginning of the most wicked plot twist since issue 25? Yeah, actually it's both. Plus, contributions from Cap creators past and present, including a very special essay by Joe Simon, a classic story from Cap’s Golden Age, a full gallery of 600 Cap covers, and more anniversary shenanigans than you can shake a shield at!
104 PGS./New and Reprints/Rated T+ ...$4.99

Wait, Captain America died in issue #25? And they're already on #600? Jeez, it seems like it was just a couple of years ago that Cap died...I guess I'm way behind on this series at this point...

Cover by GREG LAND
Meggan is Captain Britain's wife, an X-Man in Hell. And she's going to fight her way home. Over years, bargains, battles, with only her love to guide her. Can she get back to Earth in time to help her husband turn back Dracula and his evil invasion? And is that a metal gauntlet offering a hand? Don't miss this key part of "Vampire State"! Plus: MI13 delves into the secrets behind British Magic.
48 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Now what did I tell you about putting Greg Land covers on comics I want to read, Marvel? It's like you're trying to talk me out of buying the annual that goes with a series I really, really like...

Land also provides a super-shitty cover for Marvel Zombies 4. Is this the worst drawing of the macabre Man-Thing ever? It's definitely a contender.

Written by PAUL TOBIN
DOLL WINNER'S SQUAD: He's back, and now the Puppet Master's reach extends into the past, where he's controlling the All Winner's Squad into reshaping the "future world" of today into his own very personal utopia! But when Miss America, Golden Girl and the Blonde Phantom arrive from the 1940's to team up with today's Captain America and the rest of Avengers, it's a battle royale to decide the past, present and future fate of the world!
32 PGS./All Ages ...$2.99

Okay, this will help me miss Avengers/Invaders a little less.

Rein yourself in for the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe you thought you'd never see! A marvelous menagerie of mirthful mammals and more materialize! From the high-flying Falcon's pet Redwing to the ever-familiar Ebony to Speedball's cat Niels to Kitty's dragon Lockheed to Daredevil's dog Deuce to the Mole Man's monsters to Devil Dinosaur and all manner of Asgardian beasts! Cosmo says: "Buy one for me, comrade! Is good!" Lockjaw says: "Woof!" Can you say no to those puppy-dog eyes?
48 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Honestly? This is the Marvel comic I'm most looking forward to in June. I can't wait for this.

Written by JEN VAN METER
Variant Cover by MARCOS MARTIN
A brand new adventure of one of comics’ original super-heroines! Plus an extra-special classic reprint of one of her original 1940’s adventures.
Jen van Meter (Black Lightning) and Andy MacDonald (PUNISHER: WAR JOURNAL) take you back to a time when the fate of the United States rested not only in thousands of men fighting for freedom overseas, but also in the hands of the women back home building the equipment that would keep the country running and winning!
So get ready Axis Annie, Vichy Vixen, and...Madame Mauzer! Her name might be Miss America...but she sure ain’t gonna miss a chance to sock evil in the face!
(This solicit brought to you by a very tipsy editor!)

Jen Van Meter gets a new gig not long after her pretty decent Black Lightning series concluded. That's good news. Superhero comics need more lady writers, particularly ones that are also pretty good writers.



Penciled by CLASSIFIED



32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$2.99

Even the creators are completely classified, huh? So, you guys don't really know what you're publishing in June yet, do you? Admit it!

The smashing first arc of Marvel's best new series comes to a climax as the battle between H.A.M.M.E.R., HYDRA, rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and the Howling Commandos begins!
This is the first shot in a war that will result in the establishment of a new global power structure...and who's caught in the middle? You guessed it: Nick Fury and his team of Caterpillars.

If Nick Fury's team of heroes are called "Catepillars"-with-a-capital-C, why didn't they just call this book Nick Fury's Catepillars or Catepillar Warriors? I would have been more likely to buy it.

Looks like Brian Michael Bendis has left Hickman on his own here...

If anyone at Marvel's keeping score, these are the comics I would have been planning on buying in June, if they were $2.99 instead of $3.99:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #7
New Avengers #54
Dark Reign: Mr. Negative #1
Dark Reign: Young Avengers #2
Punisher #6
Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #1
Marvel Zombies 4 #3

Some of those I'll probably catch up on in trade paperback—Wizard of Oz,Marvel Zombies 4, for example, and that Beta Ray Bill book—but that $1 increase just kills dead on checking out comics that I might like or following certain creators and so on. (UPDATE: I had originally had listed Mighty Avengers as a book I'd read for $2.99 but not $3.99. It actually is a $2.99 book, as was pointed out in the comments. I am just dumb).