Monday, October 31, 2011

A couple of links and more-or-less random thoughts.

I realize that Gargamel is supposed to be the villain of the Smurfs comics, and I generally have fairly negative thoughts about the character—if he's an actual sorcerer capable of real magic, why hasn't he come up with a cure for baldness yet?—but I found something quite admirable about him in this panel, from a story collected in Smurfs Vol. 8.

As you can see, Gargamel has fashioned 100 little Smurf-sized balls and chains, with which to enslave the captured Smurfs. He made the darling little instruments of imprisonment by hand, and, apparently, he made one for each and every individual Smurf, because he first discovers that his traps failed to catch Papa Smurf when he notices he has one little ball and chain left over.

And what does the wicked sorcerer due once he's enslaved entire race of tiny little men? Comes up with completely mundane and unnecessary tasks for them to do, like leaning against books to act as living bookends. That's pretty awesome, actually. Gargamel may be evil, but at least his evil is cute and creative. (At least in this story, anyway).


And that's the last I'll post about that particular volume of Papercutz's Smurfs series. I promise.

And speaking of things I can't shut up about...


Bob Temuka would like to go on record as having liked Frank Miller's Holy Terror. You can read his full review here; be sure to read the comments too). It is a beautiful book, and I found the artwork to be incredibly strong, although a lot of those who have criticized it have mentioned that even Miller's artwork seems to be weaker than usual (I think he's just evolving, and doing so in interesting directions, as most evident in the seemingly-random-political-caricatures that dot the book).

I don't think I agree with Temuka's separation between Miller and his characters least not to the extent Temuka allows for. In general, one shouldn't mistake for the views expressed by characters as the views of the artist (ObviouslyMiller's not The Fixer; it's not like the cartoonist became a terrorist-hunting vigilante or even joined the army after 9/11; he just went on drawing comics and directed a pretty shitty movie).

The existence of that two-page quote, which reduces the entirety of Islam to "If you meet the infidel, kill the infidel" before the story begins; that's not the characters talking, it's the book itself; if not Miller, than the publisher. There's that, and then there's the bit near the end regarding the cell and the huge adversary which the Empire City cell is but a part of. That, and the bit about the cell and the beast.

Perhaps that entity is Terrorism itself, rather than Islam (Temuka rightly points out the "stinger" last page; it feels random and tacked on to me, but as the last word, it could very well be the "moral" to Miller's story). But given that opening quote, I think the argument that Islam is the enemy rather than Terrorism or something between—like "Terrorism in the name of Islam" or "religious extremism"—is the enemy the End Boss generic bad guy refers to.

That quote—it bugs me so much. I've been listening to audio books about the Quran the last few weeks of my commute, specifically because I read that quote at the opening of Holy Terror. I've heard something rather similar, although it was followed by statements that changed the context completely. And I've heard some very strong quotes about showing mercy to the enemy—I'd really like to know where that particular quote came from though, and what precedes and what follows it in the Quran (if it from the Quran itself).

As someone who's education mandated reading the Bible for 17 years of schooling, I know it wouldn't take too much skimming of the more popular American holy book—Old Testament or New—to find something equally insanely outrageous about eradicating one's enemies to throw up in the first two pages of another book and attribute the quote to Moses or Jesus or God or whoever. Putting it at the front of the book like that was just a genuinely idiotic thing for Frank Miller to do, anyway I look at it.

Here's an article from The National, headlined "Holy Terror comic is 'Islamophobic', say critics." It's a pretty weak piece, covering the controversial reception of the book, but not really getting a very good cross-section of criticism (there was a lot more to pull from), and not really getting any sort of comment from Miller or editor Bob Schreck or publisher Legendary Comics...aside from quoting something Miller wrote elsewhere once.

Finally, Laura Hudson has a pretty funny post quoting Miller here; he says, in part, " I can tell you squat about Islam...but I know a goddam lot about Al Qaeda."

I'm not really sure it's possible to know "a lot" about Al Qaeda and not know anything about Islam. Not that the latter is synonymous with the former, of course, but the former uses a very specific brand of and narrow interpretation of aspects of the latter as its entire reason for being and justification for its actions and recruiting. I know, for example, that I thought I was reasonably well-informed about Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden from being an avid consumer of news (moreso in the first half of the last decade than the second half), and then I read Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage; 2007) and I realized that I didn't know anything but a few buzzwords and bits of vague jargon.

What's sad about that "I don't know shit about what I'm devoting a book to talking about" quote is that it's a) obvious from Miller's text and b) the way Miller's text implies he thinks he knows all he needs to know about it in order to make a statement worthy of consideration. And by "worthy of consideration," of course, I mean worthy of Legendary Comics deciding to publish it and worthy of readers handing over $30 a piece to see his statement for themselves.


I enjoyed this longish piece by Chris Mautner at The Comics Journal assessing DC's much-discussed new "New 52" line of comics.

To stick with the junk food metaphor Mautner employs near the end, it would have been nice if DC's "New 52" was more Subway and less Taco Bell.


This is awesome. It is also the precise reason why I should have a full-time day job like a regular grown-up so I would have money laying around to blow on an awesome dinosaur print...


My thanks to Tom Spurgeon to linking to this insane interview with insanely rich insane person and professional game player Danny Granger, as I otherwise would not have known there was a millionaire out there devoting himself to building his own personal Batcave.

Apparently, Granger's will be based on the Batcaves from the movies. I can't remember—did any of the Batcaves in any of the movies include a giant penny and a model dinosaur...?


These are cute.

This is a good point.

This seems like sensible advice for millionaires, and very well put.


According to this Slate article, the ranks of Occupy Writers include Neil Gaiman and known Wonder Woman fan Gloria Steinem.


The "New 52" version of Krypto The Super-Dog is apparently...a saber-toothed cat?

It's quite depressing how predictable so many elements of the line-wide redesign have been. For example, after seeing Flashpoint's Battle Cat, saber-toothed, armor-wearing redesign of Tawky Tawny, the new Krypto is pretty much exactly what you'd expect DC to come up with, isn't it...?

I'm am a little surprised Jim Lee didn't give him a suit of doggie armor, a pair of pants to cover up his bare legs, and a high-collar extension to his dog collar...

Time to re-post the cover for Justice League International #8

I'm in the process of moving again, and, as you may have noticed from the light posting, I'm having some trouble getting myself, my laptop and Internet availability all in the same place at the same time. I will hopefully have an Internet connection in my new apartment by the end of the week, and will try to post when I have time around free Wi-Fi (like now) in the mean time. Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Smurfs refute the word of God... Smurfs Vol. 8: The Apprentice Smurf.

Meanwhile, a Harley-Davidson ad in Daredevil #4 takes a difference stance than Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

(Longer) Review: Frank Miller's Holy Terror

Quick note: This is the first draft of the review that I eventually whittled down to the 150 words that appeared in last week's issue of Las Vegas Weekly , which I'm posting here because I had a lot to say about the book and not much room to say it (and also because I am moving this week, and don't have as much time to generate awesome new content for EDILW). It's a really, really tough book to read and wrestle with, and while it has considerable visual virtues—and hell, being difficult is, in a way, a sort of virtue—it's not a very good comic book. Here are a few more reasons why that is.


It’s amazing how much taking a single word out of a title can change a book.

A few years ago, legendary cartoonist Frank Miller made headlines with the announcement of a Batman vs. al Qaeda graphic novel to be entitled Holy Terror, Batman!, a play on the 1960s Robin’s catchphrase. The idea, apparently, was to create a WWII era-style propaganda comic, only with Batman punching out Osama bin Laden instead of Captain America socking Hitler.

When the book eventually saw print though, it wasn’t through DC Comics, but the new Legendary Comics, and instead of starring Batman and Catwoman, it now starred The Fixer and Natalee Stack, who are written, designed and drawn as if Miller simply took some Wite-Out to remove the Bat and Cat ears from drawings of the DC heroes. The action takes place in a fake New York City like Gotham, now called Empire City, and The Fixer’s police force ally resembles Commissioner Gordon exactly (There are even street and place names that follow the Batman comics convention of using the names of famous Batman creators, like Robinson Street and so on).

Without the joke title and without the cartoon characters, it’s hard to see parodic propaganda in the work, and if there’s any political ambiguity to Holy Terror, Miller sure did hide it deep. The book is printed in the same landscape format as Miller’s 300, the basis of a politically confused feature film widely interpreted as a three-cheer endorsement of the Bush-era Gobal War on Terror, and it uses the same title font.

The plot is 1960s superhero simple—terrorists attack fake-fake-New York, and fake Batman and fake Catwoman put aside their differences to destroy their common enemy, before the exotic villains can set off a doomsday device.

The terrorists are the ones people feared were attacking on 9/11, not the terrorists that actually exist outside of Hollywood movies: Omnipresent, omnipotent fantasy bogeymen. They infiltrate fake New York with a heavily armed army that includes suicide bombers, stinger missile-wielding strike forces and even an honest-to-God air force with which to shoot down a fake Statue of Liberty, with a nuclear bomb hidden in their bizarrely-rendered mosque (filled with statues of dinosaurs and animals). They even have guys on the inside, including a corrupt city official.

It would be nice to see Miller’s strange revenge fantasy as a commentary on certain American' need for catharsis, a critique of their irrational fear and hatred of one of the three major Abrahamic religions—the two leads are certainly portrayed as hateful, ignorant brutes--were it not for the fact that the book opens with a quote from the prophet Mohammed that fills two entire pages: “If you meet the infidel, kill the infidel.”

Coupled with the faceless villain of the piece's assertion that Al Qaeda means the cell, not in the sense of a terrorist cell, but in the sense of a microscopic part of a gigantic organism at war with the Americans, Miller’s politics are blunter, uglier and more indefensible than ever before.

His artwork remains incredible, rendered in a super-high black and white contrast style with only occasional dabs of color similar to his Sin City work, punctuated with rougher caricatures of various, random political figures. There’s an evocative, even touching section in which Miller draws the countless, disappearing faces of the dead from the first round of attacks, and he draws the faces of all those killed throughout the story, terrorists and innocents alike, with inset panels.

It’s beautiful artwork, in service of an ugly story and uglier still politics. I guess that’s what happens when a genius cartoonist gets terrorized, and puts pen to paper while still in a state of fear.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Comics shop comics: Oct. 26

Aquaman #2 (DC Comics) Okay Geoff Johns, I know we talked about this: If DC’s books are only to be only 20-pages long now, you absolutely, positivelyhave to stop using double-page splashes for the title page (here, a simple reveal of the authorities swarming a crime scene) and full-page splashes for the cliffhanger ending (here, nothing more suspenseful than the the lead carnivorous monster reiterating his plan to go ahead and try to eat Aquaman). Once again this is a 20-page book that reads like a 15-page one.

The defensiveness of the first issue has receded a bit in this second issue—Aquaman doesn’t fight a strawman this time around, for example—but our hero still seems extremely defensive about things like the color of his shirt or strangers getting his wife’s name wrong while asking for their help.

The problem with this defensiveness is that it supposes everyone in Aquaman’s world knows him as well as we do in our world (that is, well enough to make fun of or misunderstand aspects of the character like his powers, origins and costume), but not well enough that they’ve ever seen him do anything. (In the new DCU Aquaman has apparently never save the world, or demonstrated his powers in front of a TV camera—one wonders what he’s been doing with the Justice League for the last five years of the new DCU timeline).

Part and parcel to Johns’ attempts at making Aquaman “cool” is that Johns apparently equates cool with bad-ass, so that in this issue Aquaman and Mera brutally murder their way through a horde of humanoid monsters:It’s a really….odd comic book.

Captain America and Bucky #623 (Marvel Entertainment) Bucky and Toro learn about concentration camps firsthand when they seek to rescued a captured U.S. spy, whom the Ratzis brought to a nearby camp to interrogate.

I swear I’ve read a Bucky and/or Cap discovera concentraion camp for the first time—maybe in one of those 70th Anniversarry one-shots?

The art by Chris Samnee is, as always, great, and colored by Bettie Breitweiser for maximum sadness.

Daredevil #5 (Marvel) Hey, have I mentioned how terrific the art in Daredevil is lately?No?

Well Marcos Martin is the best.

There’s a new villain introduced in this particular issues (or new to me, anyway), a villain I’m kind of intrigued by his costume, which sports the logos of various evil marvel Universe organizations, as if it were the bad guy equivalent of a NASCAR’s driver get-up, or that of an evil Booster Gold, I guess.

DC Comics Presents: Catwoman—Guardian of Gotham #1 (DC) This collects the 1999, two-part prestige format Elseworlds series by then-Batman writer Doug Moench and then-Catwoman artist Jim Balent, now in DC’s affordable, Caleb-pleasing DCCP format.

I liked it a lot.

It’s slightly over-written in the pleasingly purplish style of Moench, and the premis is super-simple in the manner of 1993’s “What If SupermanWas Batman?” comic Superman: Speeding Bullets, or 1994’s “What If Batman Was Green Lantern?” book Batman: In Darkest Kngiht. Here it’s “What If Catwoman Was Batman, and Batman Was (a More Brutal) Catwoman?”

So Catwoman races to answer Commissioner Gordon’s Cat-signal in her Catmobile and, after battling the colorful criminal of the night, retires to her Cat Cave (Where instead of a giant dinosaur statue she keeps a giant saber-toothed cat statue).

Balent has a certain…reputation for overly sexualizing his depiction of his star and for his often ridiculously sexy (well, let’s make that “sexy”) designs for and depictions of his female characters.

And yes, his Catwoman here has breasts that look swollen and held aloft as if they were full of helium (although they are much smaller than Tarot’s, so there’s that!), and yes, she walks around on her tip-toes like a Barbie doll.

Balent (and Moench) are really going for it here, too, so that Selina’s Alfred is Brooks, who wears a sexy French maid’s costume as her uniform (fishnets, garter and frilly skirt that doesn’t even cover her panties) And their version of Two-Face looks like, um, like this:And yeah, Balent often poses his female characters so that they are practically on all fours when they’re checking something on a computer screen or dusting something.

It is, essentially, the same sort of shit that bothered the hell out of me when I would see Ed Benes doing it in the pages of Justice League of America or his recent return to Birds of Prey or in his Superman or Green Lantern stories, but doesn’t bother me a bit here. I’m not positive why that is, aside from the fact that Balent is a better all-around artist and comics storyteller than Benes is, but I think it has something to do with the context. Benes was sexing up stories in which arched backs and thrusting, barely-clad asses had nothing to do with the story or the tone of the book, whereas this is an alternate reality story in which the star is wearing bondage gear over her regular fetish suit on the cover, so it reads like a comic that keeps its promise rather than wanders into weird territory at the whim of a bored artist who would rather draw Wonder Woman’s butt than Lex Luthor’s face, script be damned.

Balent is inked by Kim DeMulder and colored by “Wildstorm FX,” and I think the art looks a lot better here than what little of his work I’ve seen in more recent issues of Tarot (Basically just scans that Chris Sims used to post on his Invincible Super-Blog)

There was a lot of visually fun stuff in this story, I thought.

I really liked Balent’s redesigns of Killer Croc, which is essentially just that of an actual crocodile head, gigantic size and huge, whipping-tail:(This was before Jim Lee’s “Hush” story arcre-design, after which point Killer Croc would regularly be depicted with a more crocodile-like head)

Here’s his Joker, which I don’t really like the look of, but I appreciate him doing something unusual with, and can also appreciate how fucking creepy this Joker is—I can’t really look at him without feeling my skin crawl as I imagine what all those pins must feel like: I also kinda liked his Batarangs:Not so much for the way they look, which is actually kind of overdone and silly, but I like how the wings fold out, so that it looks like a bat just chilling upside down on the ceiling, until he opens it up and gets ready to throw it, at which point the bat spreads its wings.

It’s the little things I appreciate in comics art sometimes, like lady Two-Face's double-baded knife or the super-pointy architecture of the cityscapes, which makes it seem as if Gotham City is all steeples.

Your mileage will, of course, vary. Moreso than usual, in this case, although I found it telling that even at his most extreme, Jim Balent under Denny O’Neil was much more restrained, classy and tasteful than the current DCU.

For example, Balent drew the gal in the French maid’s outfit dead with a huge metal blade rammed through her skull, the tableau is completely blood-free.These days, Aquaman’s wife can’t even punch out a monster without a pint of blood-spray.

Justice League Dark #2 (DC) The bulk of this issue is concerned with Deadman and Dove’s relationship and how difficult it is, given that the former is Mikel Janin a gohst, and they can’t have sex unless he possesses someone else’s body to use during the act, which she seems to think is pretty gross (I agree; aside from the creepy factor of forcing someone into non-consensual sex, how does Deadman screen for STDs…?).

It’s all pretty funny, but it’s played so straight I can’t tell if it’s meant to be funny or not. I enjoyed it, whatever writer Peter Milligan’s intent was.

The few remaining pages deal with a few other characters—Constantine, Zatanna—being nudged closer into conflict with the very powerful, very insane Enchantress.

The story is okay, if slow, but I can’t take the palsticy, photo-referenced art of Mikel Janin. I think I’m going to go ahead and drop this, and maybe check back in with it via library-borrowed trades at some point in the future.

The Smurfs Vol. 8: The Smurf Apprentice (Papercutz) Three Gargamel-flavored stories are found in this collection, which appeals to both my sense of whimsy and my sense of not wanting to spend a lot of money on comics (Only $5.99 for the soft cover version!).

In the title story, Smurf, one of the Smurfs, wants to be Papa Smurf’s apprentice, but Papa Smurf rebuffs Smurf, so Smurf decides to sneak into Gargamel’s and steal a spell to practice the dark arts on his own. The second story has Gargamel capture ever single Smurf but one with a serious of devastatingly clever traps (unfortunately for him, he uses up all of his good Smurf-trap ideas in this story, I guess), and in the third a mole causes problems for first the Smurfs and then Gargamel.

Fun stuff, as always.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Another Mothman

This is the cover of The Mothman's Shadow, a 2011 prose fiction book for young readers written by Jason Strange and published by Stone Arch Books. That cover image was created by artist Serg Soleiman. The design recalls the Frank Frazetta version of Mothman or the Mothman depicted in Robert Roach's stainless steel statue in Point Pleasant, rather than the historical, eye-witness descriptions of the creature.

Which is fine in the context of the story, which has next to nothing to do with the historical/folkloric Mothman. It's the story of incoming high school freshman Noah Stiles, his older brother and a carload of his friends driving out to a cabin in the woods of Hidden Lake (not Point Pleasant, West Virginia). There Noah sees the title monster and no one else believes him, until a dramatic reveal in which they all see it—although this Mothman is quite different from the inscrutable and mysterious "real" Mothman. This one's more of a were-moth...? I think...?

Anyway, here's interior illustrator Phil Parks' version of this version of Mothman, first scene through the curtains of a cabin window: And here's another, this one revealing Mothman in all his glory at the climax. Note the eye-patterns on the wings, like the defensive coloration of some moths, and the sensible slacks he's wearing:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Recent Marvel Trades I Waited For (Pt. 1): Avengers Vol. 1

Aren’t libraries just the best?

John Romita Jr. used to be one of those artists that I would always say I’d buy anything he drew, based simply on how much I liked his art. And then he went and teamed up with Mark Millar for Kick-Ass and two or three issues of that was all it took to test the limits of my devotion to his work (Sorry JRJR!).

His run on the post-Siege relaunch Avengers was something I was pretty excited about when it was initially announced—JRJR drawing all of Marvel’s most movie franchise-friendly characters smashing shit!—until the issues were actually solicited at Marvel’s reader-reaming 22/$3.99 price point. The fact that Brian Michael Bendis was writing was sort of neutral for me at that point, and I figured I’d just wait and buy a trade collection when it came out.

By the time it did come out though, I realized I had probably read all of the Brian Michael Bendis Avengers comics I needed to read (Bendis has been writing the franchise since 2004, for much of that time writing multiple Avengers titles simultaneously, as well as writing almost all of Marvel’s line-wide crossovers). For a while there—somewhere in the middle of 2007-2010 series Mighty Avengers—I was kind of enjoying the fact that Bendis was obviously incredibly bored with the gig, and was continually developing new strategies for narrating the books and telling the stories, just to keep the plodding plot production fresh, perhaps for himself moreso than readers.

I gave up on Bendis around the time Marvel raised their prices (sneakily, during Bendis’ Secret Invasion miniseries, in which the first issue was oversized for $3.99, but the second issue dropped down to the standard 22-page length and retained the $3.99 cover price) and his tie-in issues of Avenger titles became more-or-less random in focus (rather than part of a narrative concerning the Avengers characters, they featured whatever characters Bendis felt like writing about).

The collection of Bendis’ Siege, which I’m not entirely convinced even qualified as an actual story, convinced me that either Brian Michael Bendis or I had quit giving a shit—either him about his craft, or me about his work—and I lost all desire to buy the trade of his latest Avengers run, JRJR art or no.

(This, by the way, is what I see as a problem with publishers encouraging wait-for-the-trade consumption of their serial comics through decompressed story-telling and ridiculous pricing—when a reader commits to waiting an extra six months or a year or whatever to read a particular comics story, there’s a lot of time for that reader to decide maybe a story he was interested in all those many months ago is no longer something he wants to spend his money on.)

So hooray for libraries! I can look at all those pages of JRJR drawing Marvel brutes brutalizing one another with their fists and superpowers, and the only price is involved is that of reading Bendis’ often-insipid dialogue!

(Have you successfully waded through a 500-word ramp up to the actual review portion of this post? Congratulations, you’re more patient than I would have been with me were I you; of course, if I objected to my meandering writing, than the other I would have told me to stop complaining, it’s not like I was paying for the privilege to read this post or anything.)

I’m pretty sure this was the best Avengers storyline I’ve read from Bendis. It certainly had problems, but it also had a beginning, middle, end (and even a climax!); it was fairly inventive; and it was a true superhero story of the sort Bendis often seems extremely uncomfortable writing (and his discomfort is thus evident in the results).

After a spread of reaction headshots in which various superheroes respond to (former) Captain America Steve Rogers’ request that they join a team of Avengers (this was right after Siege, remember, when the resurrected Steve Rogers had Bucky Barnes continue being Captain America while he himself took the government job of Boss Of All Superheroes, formerly held by The Green Goblin), and some pages of the heroes milling around, the plot begins in earnest.

It features a lot of detritus from Marvel lore—the kid heroes from some Avengers cartoon I never saw, The Maestro version of the Hulk, Ultron, Apocalypse, Kang The Conqueror and/or Immortus—but even if the specifics are unfamiliar, they’re not off-puttingly so. It’s a time travel story, involving time being essentially broken by too much mucking about with it (thanks to Kang, whose whole deal is that he’s a time-traveling villain who fucks with time travel), and thus random, sometimes crazy-seeming things happening in both the present and various points in the future.

It reads a little like one of Jeph Loeb’s greatest hits, allusion-filled, random-crazy-shit-happens Superman/Batman arcs, except Bendis goes to the trouble of finding a believably logical excuse for that random-crazy shit.

To save the day, The Avengers must enlist the only character they know capable of building a specific type of time machine, the Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones version of Marvel Boy, whom Bendis has been gradually transforming from the noble punk terrorist (a sort of 21st century version of Golden Age Namor) into a more-or-less neutered and unrecognizable standard superhero type.

With his help, the teams splits up, with half of the Avengers staying in the presents to fight dinosaurs, Galacuts and Martian invaders from the old Killraven strip in New York and the other half jumping around in time to try to diagnose and solve the problem.

I don’t want to spoil the specifics of the story (even though it’s now over a year old, and even though I’ve already done so to a degree), but it’s rather clever, and involves certain characters reliving events from the same story arc more than once with different awareness caused by the time travel (Maybe seeing Marvel Boy just put Morrison on my brain, but aspects of the time travel reminded me of the JLA arc “Rock of Ages”). The resolution involves something other than mindless violence, too, which is kind of nice, given that much of what the Marvels have been doing to stave off various apocalypses since Bendis’ ascendancy within the publisher has been to simply kill—or at least try to kill—their way out of problems.

The biggest problem with the story was how incredibly cluttered it was. Not because of all the villains that needed fought or the problems needing corralled—that was all part of the conflict, after all—but because of all the characters on the team. There’s Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Wolverine, Hawkeye, Maria Hill and, unofficially at least, Marvel Boy, and few of them have much of anything to do.

Marvel Boy builds the machine, and Iron Man takes point on all the time travel stuff and problem-solving but, for the most part, the characters are interchangeable, and any character from Marvel’s stable could have filled their very limited roles (fight Wonder Man for three panels, fight Galacuts for three pages, whatever). Bendis takes a lot of (deserved) criticism for how all of his characters talk alike, which is evident here as well, but the plot construction makes them all more or less act the same as well—this same story could have been told with any Avengers line-up going back to the ‘60s.

Maybe demanding that every character be in every story for a unique reason is asking a lot out of a super-team comic book, but I don’t know—it seems reasonable to me to demand that any creative work be able to justify the inclusion of every piece of it through some sort of quantifiable quantity, and it’s not like it’s something that has never been achieved before. Morrison’s JLA run was especially good at having everyone in the story be there for a reason.

Part of the redundancy of the cast in Bendis’ Avengers may simply be because of the characters chosen—do you really need two Spider-People, for example*?—but it’s nevertheless problematic. One could be charitable and assume Bendis just chose character he really liked and wanted to play with, whether or not he did much with them other than spend time with them in this storyline, or one could be cynical and suggest he chose a line-up of popular characters to increase the sales and popularity of the book, whether or not he had anything for Thor or Spider-Man to do other than hit things that, say, Hercules or Nighthawk could have hit just as easily.

JRJR does not disappoint at all in the art. The great virtue of these sorts of Loeb-style “greatest hits” stories is that they allow a great artist—of the sort Loeb so often surrounds himself with— ample opportunity to draw large swathes of the universe the story is set in. So here we get to see Romita drawing everything but the kitchen sink, including more or less random elements, like Thor vs. Galactus, Kilraven, dinosaurs, whatever heroes he happens to want to stick in a crowd scene and so on.

The appearance of Apocalypse is especially welcome, as he comes accompanied by the coolest looking version of his Four Horsemen I’ve seen, gigantic monster versions of superheroes as centaurs. My relative X-Men ignorance means I don’t know if these designs are Romita’s, or if they’ve appeared elsewhere, but they were really pretty cool looking.

Aside from the designs and the opportunity to draw so many Marvels, Avengers is full of big action scenes of the sort Romita is the perfect artist for, and it’s almost completely devoid of the sorts of talky scenes Bendis is notorious for, and the conversation heavy scenes that are in here aren’t staged in the dull talking head format that too many Bendis comics include.


Next: Astonishing X-Men Vol. 6: Exogenetic

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Marvel's January previews reviewed

Remember when Marvel used to release their solicitations to the comics news sites the day after DC Comics released theirs? Oh, those were the days! Monday at 5 p.m. DC would release their solicitations, and by Tuesday at 5 p.m. Marvel would release theirs, and a lazy comics blogger could be guaranteed of two back-to-back days of easy content, the sort that involves a lot of cutting-and-pasting and pounding out a sentence or five during commercial breaks of a ballroom dancing-based reality show competition or police procedural.

Then Marvel started releasing theirs the Monday after the Monday DC released theirs, and this week the solicitations dropped sometime on Friday, I think. They're now a moving target. Well, here's my belated preview of their previews, which you can look at in their entirety here...

...Spider-Man and Daredevil team up – Part One!
• When Black Cat is arrested, Matt Murdock is the only lawyer who will touch her (her case… we mean).
• The next great love triangle of the Marvel Universe begins!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99
• Spider-Man and Daredevil team up – Part two!
• Picking up where ASM #677 left off, the next great love triangle of the Marvel Universe continues!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

Here’s a great example of a publisher making the act of buying and reading their books as single issues seem completely screwy. Okay, I'm reading Daredevil, and it's great. Mark Waid plus one of two great artists on each issue, for $3 a pop. I'm not reading Amazing Spider-Man, which has different creative teams and, as you can see above, is priced at Marvel's "Fuck You, Marvel Addicts!" pricepoint of $4 for the same amount of pages you'll find in the $3 Daredevil. Why the discrepancy? Because Spidey's more popular than Ol' Hornhead, thus people will pay for ASM whatever Marvel charges for it, so why not jack it up a buck?

Like I said, I've been buying Daredevil in singles, but this particular story apparently begins in a comic book I don't read (and wouldn't want to at that price) and then continues in Daredevil. So I either have to skip a chapter of an ongoing serial narrative, or buy something I don't really want to. However, if I were just waiting to read Daredevil in trade, I wouldn't have this problem as the issue of ASM would likely appear in the Daredevil trade collection, and the collection process generally levels the wonky pricing (like, 22 pages of $4 comics and 22 pages of $3 comics cost about the same in terms of fractions of a trade collection...usually).

Also, in Marvel's own bulletpoint format:
  • I like Emma Rios' art a whole lot.
  • Kano?! Why is he drawing an issue of Daredevil? The book has two artists taking turns on it, doesn't it? Thus, there's a fill-in artist built-in. There shouldn't be a need for an additional fill-in artist.
  • Even allowing for differing design/rendering styles, that Rivera cover sure kicks that Ramos cover's ass, doesn't it? That's also a pretty great distillation of what makes the one book so much better than the other, in general. If you want to judge them by their covers. Which is about half of what we do when we review previews.

•Storm is now an Avenger!
• How can the Avengers battle the combined forces of Hydra, AIM, the Hand, and H.A.M.M.E.R. under the leadership of Norman Osborn?
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Hey, Storm! You know, they probably shoulda made Storm an Avenger pretty much forever ago, right about the time that Wolverine broke the barrier for having X-Men on The Avengers (Or re-broke it after Beast broke it forever ago, I guess...Beast is the Jackie Robinson of X-Men joining the Avengers) and Storm was a member of the Marvel Adventures Avengers.

That said, does it seem like there have been a lot of comings-and-goings on The Bendisvengers team? I've only read the first arc so far (in a library-borrowed trade, which I hope to discuss at some point this week), so I haven't exactly been keeping up, but it seems like I see a lot of comings and goings in these solicits for the series...

• Cable toe-to-toe with Iron Man as his mission of annihilation continues!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Here’s all I know about Cable: He has a metal arm and often carries a really, really ridiculously big gun. I assume he has some mutant power I don’t know about too, right? Like, he must if he’s supposed to be a match for Iron Man (or, like, any Avenger, New, Dark, Secret, Assembled or Academic).


• Deadpool joins the hunt for Marcus Johnson!
• The greatest secret in the Marvel Universe begins to unravel.
• Taskmaster knows more than he’s saying…and Marcus Johnson wants answers!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

Er, who is Marcus Johnson…?

• Cap struggles to find his faith while the new Hydra makes their first deadly moves.
• Best-selling Cap writer Ed Brubaker and superstar artist Alan Davis bring you action-packed espionage in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Alan Davis is a very good artist, and his is an interesting style when compared to that of a lot of the other folks who have been teamed with Brubaker on Cap comics over the last five years or so.

I wonder what the "Venom variant" covers are going to look like (there are a lot of solicitations this month mentioning Venom variants). Will they simply be Venomized versions of the stars of each book? I hope so, as that would probably pretty cool. Cooler than a bunch of random images of Venom just, like, chilling on the covers of books that have nothing at all to do with him, anyway.

...Another nice Clayton Crain cover for the Carnage USA miniseries.

• The Son of Satan guest-stars!
• Fallout from Fear Itself leaves thousands trapped in deadly fever dreams around the world.
• Why is it Loki’s fault? Again.
• And Leah of Hel discovers the wonder and consequence of milkshakes…
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

Hey, Son of Satan! Alright! Huh, I wonder why there aren’t any creators on this book…?

• The New Avengers vs. the Dark Avengers!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


Can’t tell who’s on each of the teams from looking at this. I guess there's an evil Ms. Marvel on the team...? And maybe Daken's back, wearing his old Dark Wolverine costume for some reason…?

And is Iron Fist gonna be a Defender and an Avenger, or is he gonna be on both teams…?

• Heres your chance to get a taste of the smash 90’s hit STRIKEFORCE before the TPB comes out!
• For only 99 Cents see how a savage alien race invades Earth and who the superhuman soldiers
32 PGS./One-Shot/Rated T+ ...$0.99
Written by PETER B. GILLIS
A savage alien race called the Horde has invaded Earth, enslaving its people and plundering its resources.
Scientists have devised a method of fighting back — the Morituri Process, which grants enhanced abilities to a select few compatible humans — but the transformation is fatal within a year. Now, a handful of brave volunteers make up Strikeforce: Morituri — an elite, experimental and highly effective fighting force against the depredations of the Horde. But the heat of every battle, the celebration of every victory and every quiet moment alone is tainted by the inescapable knowledge that — win or lose — their fate is sealed. Collecting STRIKEFORCE: MORITURI #1-13.
328 PGS./Rated T …$34.99

Hey old timers, is this series really good…or, like, good for its time? I have a vague understanding that it is or was very well thought of for what it was, but I have no firsthand experience, nor do I remember exactly what circles I’ve heard it talked up in before either.

This seems like the best of Andrews’ Ultimate covers so far, which have been pretty lackluster for an artist of his caliber.

Also, does Miles’ Spider-suit have some light-bending Predator stealth tech built in…? I did not know that.

• Pushed to his limits, Venom goes head to head with Jack O’Lantern!
• The Arch-foes fight through Vegas brings them face-to-Face – with Toxin?!
• Meanwhile, the Red Hulk closes in on public enemy number one – Venom!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

I thought the Punisher killed Jack O’ Lantern in Civil War…? Is he bck from the dead, or is this a legacy version? I really like the look in general, even if he’s wearing about 59 leather straps too many.

Oh, and nice Tony Moore cover featuring him.

• Two new students join the school. Who could it be?
• The future comes back to haunt the school.
• And who is PREGNANT?!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

If the answer to that third question is "Wolverine" (due to a secondary mutation), then I am down with this series, $4 price tag or no.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I guess now that Barbara Gordon has gone back to being Batgirl...

...DC's superheroes are going to have to go back to getting their intel from the old Oracle.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I have a short review of Frank Miller's new graphic novel, Holy Shit, Frank Miller Has Lost His Goddam Mind, in this week's Las Vegas Weekly, and I have a long-ish essay on the value of the continued existence of alternative floppies/pamphlets/comic book-comic books inspired by Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve #12, if you would like to go read them. I would like to discuss the further at some greater length here in the near future, as there's an awful lot that can be said about it, and almost all of it bad.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Comic shop comics: October 19

Justice League #2 (DC Comics) This was an quite a Marvelous issue of Justice League, and while I don’t mean that as a compliment, I suspect its makers would take it as one.

Its format and price point is like that of a Marvel comic from a few years ago. It’s $3.95 for 22 pages, with eight pages of “extras” attempting to soften the pain of the reaming; four of those are sketchbook pages featuring Batman and Superman, and the other four consist of one of those weird prose “transcriptions” of conversations between characters whch read a bit like escerpts from an unused screenplay, of the sort Brian Michael Bendis comics would occasionally sport in the back (Here it’s a transcription of a conversation between Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor).

Although it’s 22-pages long, it reads like substantially fewer, with two two-page splashes and one one-page splash. The moments given the extra emphasis in those two-page splashes are awfully dubiously chosen—the first simpy shows Superman and Batman in the same panel together for the first time, the second shows Superman breaking a bunch of chains—another Bendisan touch in which the potentially exciting thing isn’t shows in favor of something dull (For example, Superman’s narration notes that Batman has thrown tear gars, sonic grenades and tasers at Superman to no avail, but the splash shows the aftermath, of the two simply glaring at one another rather than fighting. Later, we learn this isn’t the first time Green Lantern and Flash met; they had previously teamed up to fight Gorilla Grodd). Beyond the little things though, the story itself reads like a classic Marvel story, rather than a classic or modern DC one. As in the first issue, the heroes are viewed with suspicion by the general population—the Central City police are frantically trying to catch The Flash, who is worried about his public perception—and the heroes blunder into conflicts with one another, misunderstandings leading to brawls which then lead to team-ups.

As a fan, something seems…wrong about the choices being made here, like having Green Lantern and Flash team-up before Superman and Batman had even met one another, or tying Cyborg’s secret origin and the origin of the entire Justice League as a unit into Jack Kirby’s Darkseid’s first incursion on Earth. As with the first issue, it seems like a decent if overpriced chapter of an Elseworlds mini or new Ultimate Justice League title, but as the new, modern version of the foundational story of the DC Universe?

It’s a terrible disappointment. Just like the first issue.

Tiny Titans #45 (DC) Do you miss Stephanie Brown as Batgirl, or, like me, Cassandra Cain as Batgirl? Don’t worry; Art Baltazar and Franco have got you covered with a Batgirl pary and Batgirl soccer team in this issue of Tiny Titans:How about The Secret Six, the stars of one of the relatively few “old” DC series that didn’t make the cut for “The New 52”…?

They’ve got you covered there, too:(If you're wondering what they're doing in Tiny Titans, they're Coach Lobo's soccer team, playing against Coach Huntress' Birds of Prey soccer team).

Wonder Woman #2 (DC) Return to Paradise Island for the first time with Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. It’s a more butch, more realistic version of the all-girl playground of the pre-Crisis DCU, complete with a blonde Hippolyta.

The cliffhanger was pretty publicly spoiled already, but this issue moves the Hera vs. Wonder Woman for the fate of Zeus’ unborn children admirably.

Chiang’s art is still great, and in the upper tier of anything being created for corporate super-comics at the moment, and Azzarello’s plot and script are still perfectly serviceable genre entertaiment, more in the mode of straight fantasy than in the superhero genre.

It’s also educational. For example, I learned Amazons can smell penises from a great distance:


By the way, did you see the sort of technology the Central City Police Department had five years ago, back in 2006? Imagine the tax rate they must have there to pay for those space-age computer shit!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

DC's January previews reviewed

Month five of "The New 52," and still nothing's canceled—not even Men of War or Blackhawks! The success of the line being sold as a line will likely extend the lives of even the worst-selling of the books, so the ones that might have reasonably been expected to be cancelled within the first year might even last two. That's something.

Something worth noting perhaps is the number of wrap-around variant covers solicited. That's a pretty clever way to do variants, as it would presumably allow the publisher to pay for a landscape-format cover image, chop it in half, and sell the same image twice. Not a bad idea, really.

Otherwise, nothing much new. All the New 52 are reaching their fifth issues, and nothing new is being launched.

Let's take a look, shall we...? (Full solicitations are here, by the way)

On sale JANUARY 4
40 pg, FC, $3.99 US
As the assault from an alien threat takes a turn for the worse for Metropolis, keys facts about Superman’s past are brought to light for the first time! And how can certain elements from The Man of Steel’s future help to prevent the theft of the millennium? Don’t miss this awesome issue from series writer Grant Morrison and the guest art team of Andy Kubert and Jesse Delperdang!

Aw, look at Super-Baby’s chubby little cheeks!

I'm surprised to see a fill-in here already, as Morales used to do monthlies on a monthly basis regularly (I think there was a fill-in during part of issue #2 too, but I assumed that had more to do with the late start date for The New 52 books, rather than because of the announced regular artist falling behind immediately).

I'm even more surprised to see that it's Andy Kubert who is the artist doing the filling-in. It will be nice to see the aborted Batman creative team of Morrison and Kubert reunite here. Personally, I thought DC would be saving Kubert to fill-in for Lee on Justice League, as Kubert’s probably the best substitute they could realistically come up with to fill-in for Lee without too many people being too annoyed by not seeing Jim Lee art in a Jim Lee book.

On sale JANUARY 25
32 pg, FC, $2.99 US_RATED T
When a madman attacks Batman with a new and powerful fear toxin, The Dark Knight visits the coldest and most distant part of his soul. And as his deepest fears resurface, he must rely on old friends to help quell the terrible effects, and to remind him of his true mission as a hero. But what Batman discovers hidden in a moment of courage may change his life forever... for a dark figure from his past has returned – the one adversary The Dark Knight truly fears.

Is this going to be the first appearance of post-reboot Scarecrow? And is it his origin issue, as that’s kinda what it sounds like…? Of course, there have been at least two post-reboot stories set in Arkham Asylum so far, so I imagine The Scarecrow at least cameo-ed in those...?

I love The Scarecrow, and am curious about what his origin is this year, but it would take more than curiosity to get me to read an issue of DC's trainwreckiest comic book series of the last five years or so.

Art and cover by J.H. WILLIAMS III
On sale JANUARY 11
32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
"Hydrology,” the first arc of the critically acclaimed new BATWOMAN series, reaches its powerful conclusion! After the horrors Batwoman has faced, she has a final showdown with The Weeping Woman – a specter with the power to dredge up Kate’s deepest pain. Can she finally forgive herself so she can dispel this evil? And how will she respond when Chase and the DEO tighten their grip, forcing Kate to make an impossible decision?

Oh hey, Williams is using Cameron Chase, the character he co-created for the too-quickly-canceled Chase series. I wonder how she will fit into the new DCU now. Part of her origin was (um, spoiler warning?) her father was a superhero named Acro-Bat, one of a lost generation of minor superheroes who functioned between the time that the JSA disbanded and the JLA formed. Her dad's team was called the, um, "Justice Experience," and included a disguised Martian Manhunter (Who went by the alias "The Bronze Wraith," even though he wasn't bronze and his costume wasn't bronze-colored either).

In New 52 continuity, there never was a JSA though and, presumably, never a Justice Experience, so Chase can't possibly hae the same motivation for being so concerned with the policing of superheroes, if her generation is the first generation of superheroes (Er, not counting the medieval heroes of Demon Knights and the Western heroes from the All-Star Western back-ups, I guess...?)

Hmm, this is by Finch, but it looks quite different than the previous (terrible) covers by Finch. Did he paint this one, I wonder...?

Yeah, that cover doesn't really work. Perhaps if the background was split in half as well, to reflect the characters in the foreground, it would have the appearance of two images juxtaposed to form a single one, but as is it just looks like a Composite Batman featuring The Penguin, only whoever made it ordered the wrong parts or something.

Written by JEFF LEMIRE
Cover by J.G. JONES
On sale JANUARY 11
32 pg, FC, $2.99 US_RATED T
When Checkmate fails to bring the rogue metahuman O.M.A.C. under control, they call in S.H.A.D.E.’s best agent, Frankenstein! It’s all-out monster mayhem as O.M.A.C. and Frank battle in the streets of Metropolis. But what is Brother Eye’s real goal? It’s up to Father Time and Ray Palmer to find out! Continued from this month’s O.M.A.C. #5!

Crossovers already? Hmm…

Hawkman’s axe is dumb.

I think this is probably Jim Lee’s best Justice League cover so far, which says more about how poor the previous ones were than how great this one is.

Cover by RYAN SOOK
On sale JANUARY 25
32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
Enchantress is out of control and more powerful than ever. She has brought a nation to its knees through her arcane powers. Will Madame Xanadu, John Constantine, Shade the Changing Man, Zatanna, Mindwarp, Deadman and June Moon be able to work together to defeat her? One thing is certain: One of these heroes will not make it out alive!

Well technically one of them—Deadman—wasn’t alive going into this one…

If the solicitation writer meant someone other than Deadman though, I’m assuming Mindwarp is done for, on account of his being Mindwarp.

Written by JUDD WINICK
On sale FEBRUARY 1
320 pg, FC, $29.99 US
Mind-controlling mastermind Maxwell Lord is targeting the members of the defunct Justice League International in this paperback collecting the first 12 issues of the twice-monthly series tying into BRIGHTEST DAY.

Now totally out of continuity! I thought this was a pretty good comic, particularly for a comic book written by Judd Winick, but one of its great strengths was the way it picked up various characters from various places and points in the DC Universe and brought them all together to form a new team with an exciting future...which the relaunch made moot.

I'm not sure why they went with the absolute worst cover from the entire series for the cover of the collection though, as there were some awfully great covers by Kevin Maguire, Cliff Chiang and Dustin Nguyen, covers that showed the entire cast instead of just a handful of 'em.

Keith Giffen draws a pretty great Frankenstein.

Art and cover by MAHMUD ASRAR
On sale JANUARY 18
32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
Supergirl’s nightmare is finally over – she has left Earth and has somehow made it back to Argo City! But it’s not the home she remembers, and a deadly new adversary stands in her way. Enter: Maxima!

Is that Maxima on the cover? Because, if so, they sure gave her a radical redesign…

Oh my God, the new Penguin is a robot!

Art and cover by KENNETH ROCAFORT
On sale JANUARY 18_32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
With Jason going one-on-one with the ancient evil known as the Untitled and Koriand’r barely able to crawl to his side, it’s up to Roy to stand alone against the monstrous threat known as Crux!

Soooo monstrous threat Crux is Man-Bat crossed with Killer Croc…?

Blood, boobs, blood-vomit, a butt and a brokeback pose…Red Lanterns has it all.

Well, maybe that's not fair. The lady alien isn't human, so maybe her spine works differently than human spines.

On sale SEPTEMBER 11
32 pg, FC, 4 of 12, $2.99 US
In the tradition of the “Times Past” issues of STARMAN comes a story of revenge, murder and betrayal set in the 1940s! The Shade is just beginning his long criminal career, but when an industrialist who is helping with the war effort is targeted for assassination, the Shade surprisingly seeks to help save the man! Who is this man, and who is the strange woman on this issue’s cover? Find out more about the Shade’s true origin in this story illustrated by the amazing team of Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone!

Cooke and Bone? Damn, now that’s an art team…

Written by VARIOUS
On sale FEBRUARY 22
544 pg, B&W, $19.99 US
DC’s popular romance series is collected for the first time in this title reprinting YOUNG LOVE #39-56, featuring art by John Romita, Mike Sekowsky, Don Heck, Gene Colan, Jay Scott Pike and others.


Er, is Kid Flash wearing one of Tim’s old Robin costumes….?

Art and cover by ART BALTAZAR
On sale JANUARY 18
32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
Because you demanded it – Tiny Titans unmasked in a special all red hair issue! Barbara! Miss Martian! Starfire! Blackfire! And Speedy! Actually, Speedy’s hair is more of an auburn. Also, what’s Wonder Girl’s secret? What is she doing with all that fruit? A discovery is made when she reveals her secret oranges!

Ha ha! “Secret oranges!” That’s good!

On sale JANUARY 18
32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
Wonder Woman has returned home to London…but leaving Paradise Island doesn’t mean leaving the gods behind, as two of the most powerful deities of the pantheon have come to town – and neither of them is leaving without being crowned King of the gods! Featuring guest art by Tony Akins (JACK OF FABLES)!

Uh oh. Cliff Chiang is MIA for the fifth issue of Wonder Woman. Fill-in artist Tony Akins has done some work for Vertigo and Dark Horse, and you can see what his art looks like here. I hope Chiang’s absence is a short one, as he’s one of the main reasons I picked up the first issue and am eager to see the second one.

Also, home to London...? What are you doing in the UK, Wonder Woman? That's not a Union Jack on your butt! Get back over here to the USA ASAP!