Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where's Caleb, and why is he being so idle and shiftless?

Just a quick note for any of you wondering why this once daily comics blog has been so much less daily this week. I'm having my wisdom teeth removed tomorrow morning, which has necessitated almost a full week of on-again, off-again panic attacks. I've also had a pretty busy week of writing-I-actually-get-paid for, so despite starting a bunch of posts for EDILW this week, I haven't actually finished and posted many of them. I'll post a link to new Caleb content around the Internet later (But you should know where to look by now), and I plan to be up to full blogging speed again either tomorrow night or sometime over the weekend, depending on how quickly the dental drugs wear off. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Young Avengers Catch-Up: Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways (2006) and Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers (2008)

Marvel's big line-wide event/crossover stories generally provide the publisher with the opportunity to pump up their output for a few months, and a positive side effect of that is that it allows for book-less characters to appear. That was the case with the Young Avengers characters during both Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's super-successful Civil War (in which heroes fight heroes over 9/11 metaphors) and Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu's less-successful Secret Invasion (in which heroes fight Skrulls over gross, clumsily executed fear-of-Muslims metaphors). In both instances, the characters met up with Marvel's other team of young, created-this-century heroes, The Runaways.

Their very first meeting came during the so-called Civil War, during which Iron Man wanted every single super-powered person in the United States to register with the government and then be drafted/press-ganged into a huge superhero army to make sure Speedball never accidentally makes an explosion-powered supervillain blow-up near a school again. And he felt so strongly about it that he was willing to murder his former teammates and imprison them without trial in extra-dimensional concentration camps.

Captain America disagreed.

The Young Avengers sided with Captain America (although Stature would eventually come around to Iron Man's position, after the conclusion of this series), while The Runaways were essentially conscientious objectors, seeking to avoid this conflict as they generally seek to avoid all of the Marvel Universe's conflicts. Conflict finds them, of course, as it usually does—otherwise, Runaways wouldn't have been much of a Marvel comic.

So when a TV camera catches The Runaways being attacked by SHIELD agents and their android member Victor Mancha is badly injured, the Young Avengers track them down and try to recruit them to Cap's side. In the might Marvel manner, they fight before realizing there's been a misunderstanding, and they're all on the same side.

Meanwhile, a sinister SHIELD agent sics a brainwashed and reprogrammed Marvel Boy (the Grant Morrison/J.G. Jones version from 2000's Marvel Boy) on both teams, but instead of capturing them all, he's ordered to simply retrieve a handful of aliens for his controller to experiment upon.

Zeb Wells wrote this one, and Stefano Caselli drew it. Typically of Wells, it was very well-written (Or is that Wells-written..? Ha!), and organically funny. There are jokes in here, but they are jokes made by the characters—it's funny because the characters are being funny, not because the writer is manipulating them.

The story doesn't really go anywhere in terms of status quo, at least not in terms of the Civil War. The Young Avengers are still with Cap at the end of the story, and The Runaways remain determined to stay out of it. Wells does manage to come up with some interesting suggestions for relationships between some of the characters—most unexpected being the friendship between Speed and Molly—and to move a few emotional arcs forward. Similarly, Marvel Boy is put right back where Morrison left him at the end of Marvel Boy, but in a rather triumphant manner.

Caselli's art is excellent, and he handles the straight superhero designs of the Young Avengers and the street-clothes of the Runaways with equal aplomb. He does a fine job of juggling some dozen or so characters, and making each distinct. He also does remarkably strong work with his "acting" through the characters.

This was an odd one to re-read after reading Young Avengers #1, as Marvel Boy is apparently being added to the cast of the new, ongoing Young Avengers title, and, in fact, the book opens with Hawkeye Kate Bishop waking up in Marvel Boy's bed after having spending the night with him.

She casually refers to the events of this series—she apparently didn't recognize Marvel Boy until she sobered up the next morning with "Oh, yeah! You kicked all our asses that one time! Billy, Teddy, everyone!"
In fact, he beat the living hell out of both teams, killing one of the Runaways (who was a shape-shifting Skrull, and thus able to recover from a broken neck), capturing Billy, Teddy and Karolina and delivering them to his boss for a few hours of torture and he began strangling Kate until he was interrupted by Nico, and started strangling her instead.

In other words, whatever Kate was drinking the night before Young Avengers #1, it must have been some strong stuff.

In Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers, the two teams once again meet, this time on the Avengers' home turf of New York City (The Runaways were still visiting there after recently returning from the 19th century with a new member in tow).

The actual events of Secret Invasion are so nonsensical that I don't think I can recount them in a way that makes a whole lot of sense. Essentially, a bunch of religious fanatic Skrulls think their gods promised them Earth as their homeland, and want to take it over; they've been taking it over by secretly infiltrating it for years, and then they simultaneously try a PR push to convince the Earthlings to join their religion while also violently invading New York City with spaceships and an army of Super-Skrulls.

The two teen teams are there when the Super-Skrulls attack and, as it turns out, both teams have their own Super-Skrulls on their teams. Teddy/Hulkling of the Young Avengers is a half-Skrull, half-Kree who was prophesied as a savior meant to unite the various warring factions of Skrulls, while Xavin of the Runaways was a Skrull prince and Super-Skrull in training who ran away.

The plot of this series focuses on Xavin's efforts to infiltrate the infiltrators, providing cover for his superhero team to get safely out of New York City, and to try and rescue Hulkling. Both Xavin and Hulkling are targeted for special attention by the invading Skrulls, since the former betrayed them and the latter's existence could maybe sway some Skrulls from their Skrullegion.

Despite the prominent roles played by several characters from both teams—mainly Xavin, Hulkling, Wiccan and Speed—this isn't really much of a Young Avengers comic. Many of the team barely cameo, with Patriot and Hawkeye barely getting a line or three. The Runaways don't fare much better, but they are certainly more of the focus of this story, as their Xavin is the de facto star, and the story starts with their point of view.This one is written by Christopher Yost, and features art by Takeshi Miyazawa. It's Miyazawa's art that is probably the most noteworthy aspect of this collection. It's rare to see teenage superheroes actually look this young, but Miyazawa actually draws them all to resemble children, rather than shorter than usual adults.

That the Secret Invasion mini seems the weaker of the two in terms of its scripting may have something to do with how short it is (it's just three issues), and the fact that the premise of the story its tied to makes it more difficult to expand the focus too far from the Skrull-related characters.

Yost's effort isn't as all around strong as Wells', but there are some fun moments in this—Speed's rescue of Molly and the Runaways' newest recruit is particularly memorable—and Miyazawa's charming art goes a long way towards making this well worth a read.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Young Avengers Catch-Up: "What If The Runaways Became The Young Avengers?"

This story was published in five installments, each of which ran as a back-up in one of 2008's suite of What If...? specials (What If? Secret Wars, What If? Captain America: Fallen Son, etc), as an enticement to buy them all. It can be found in collected form in Runaways: Homeschooling, the volume that contains Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli's high quality, but unfortunately truncated run on Runaways.

The title isn't terribly accurate, and the story has almost nothing at all to do with the Young Avengers. This isn't the story of how the five surviving original Runaways take on the names or identities of the Young Avengers characters, or teenage versions of any Avengers (That is, Nico doesn't become Wiccan or Scarlet Apprentice, Gert doesn't become Patriot or Lieutenant America, etc). Nor do they take the place of the Young Avengers in a Young Avengers story, or meet any of those characters.

For the most part, then, this is just a Runaways story with a catchy title, and a single shared plot-point with the first story arc of Young Avengers. Iron Lad, the disguised teenaged version of Kang The Conqueror, has come back in time to recruit a team of young super-heroes, and, instead of choosing the characters who would become the Young Avengers, he chooses the Runaways. Teen Kang is the only Young Avenger character to appear at all, unless you count a one-page cameo from a future version of The Vision.

Teen Kang trains the Runaways, gives them new, more superheroic spandex costumes (The Runaways just wore street clothes), has them using their superhero codenames (which the characters all came up with early in creator Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona's run on the book, but then almost immediately discarded) and collectively calling themselves The Young Avengers.

When we meet them, they're fighting apparently ubiquitous Marvel bad guys The Wrecking Crew, training to take on Victor Mancha, whom Iron Lad tells them will grow up to be Victorious, a super-villain who decimates The Avengers in the future (As Runaways fans know, Mancha is actually the "son" of Ultron who joins The Runaways). There's a twist, a betrayal and multiple versions of Kang and Mancha show up for the big showdown fight.

As a Young Avengers story, it's really not, not in anything but name, anyway. As a Runaways story, it's interesting enough; writer C.B. Cebulski's plot is fairly generic, and his big moments are merely repeats of those other Runaways writers had previously used, but he gets their voices right, and gives them a few of those Whedon-esque smartasseries that Vaughan was so fond of. As a What If...? story, it's pretty weak, as the variation from the "real" Runaways story is so very slight, and really little more than a matter of cosmetics (their team name and wardrobe, basically).

The artwork is provided by penciler Patrick Spaziante and inker Victor Olazaba. Stylistically, its closer to the work of Young Avengers's Jim Cheung than to any of the artists to have worked on The's certainly quite different than Pichelli's art, as a flip-through the rest of Homeschooling on the way to this story will attest.

It looks an awful lot like Barry Kitson art, with maybe a hit of J. Calafiore in the faces. I wasn't crazy about it, but there's nothing wrong with it either. It just looks rather dark, cluttered and overly-rendered, particularly when compared to the work of Pichelli or Alphona or Humberto Ramos or other Runaways artists

I do like the story's title, and wouldn't mind reading a What If...? story in which the characters from The Runaways joined up with the characters from Young Avengers and formed some sort of super-sized super-teen team, but then, there probably wasn't room for Cebulski to even consider it, give the relatively short page-count (32) that the story's original format demanded.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

That's what teenage girls look like, right?

I mentioned them briefly here last night, but I have full reviews of Justice League of America #1 (from which the above panel is taken) and Justice League of America's Vibe #1, which you can read here. Tom "Grumpy Old Fan" Bondurant also reviewed that pair of books, along with the latest issue of Justice League, so if you'd like a second, kinder and better-informed opinion, I'd suggest you read his column too.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Comic shop comics: February 20

Classic Popeye #7 (IDW) Holy smokes is that cover creepy! The gag is fine—Popeye making a scarecrow of himself—but the fact that his scarecrow looks so exactly like him, with stitching up and down the stuffed skin? And the fact that the color of that skin and the light that reflects off it almost exactly like that of the real Popeye, standing behind him? Brr! It really looks like someone flayed Popeye.

The inside of the comic is, thankfully, much more delightful.

Daredevil #23 (Marvel Entertainment) I'm not too terribly enthusiastic about the recent plot development involving Foggy, but when I remember being quite choked up when a similar storyline was resolved on Party of Five, and I wasn't even a big fan of that show, so maybe this will pay off at least as well. It's a credit to Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's talents that they are making this readymade source of melodrama interesting (rather than offensive in the face of all of the many better, non-superhero comics to deal with the subject and to, not incidentally, telling real stories involving real people). Not only that, but, by the climax, I think they're even starting to sell it.

There's other stuff involving an unseen foe who has been hounding Daredevil since the start of the series, and a very elegant seen in which the creators kinda sorta retell DD's origins while withholding the face of the person living through it in the visuals. Specifically, someone is trying to recreate the precise conditions of the accident that lead to the creation of Daredevil, having prisoner after prisoner push old men out of the way of speeding trucks carrying toxic waste in the hopes of creating more Daredevils. Not sure where they're going with this, but I hope at the resolution 40 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show up.

Green Lantern #17 (DC Comics) I could not stop laughing when I saw this page. Geoff Johns has written over 100 pages of this comic, which he's been writing for about eight years now, and, all that experience aside, he's still in a position where he can turn in a page with 500 words of exposition in narration boxes...? And check out those credits! Dough Mahnke generally pencils the whole shebang, with the help of three to four inkers, but, for this particular installment we get two art teams, one which features Phil Jimenez providing finishing art over layouts by Dan Jurgens (who apparently now lives in a glass case in DC HQ bearing the words "Break Glass In Case of Looming Deadline/Sudden Creative Team Change"), the other featuring Dough Mahnke and four inkers. This issue also has an extra colorist in Tony Avina.

It's sort of a mess. The last issue was part of the "Rise of the Third Army" story that apparently climaxed and concluded in some Green Lantern I didn't know I'd have to read in order to follow the one Green Lantern book I've been reading since 2005 or so; this is the first part of "Wrath of the First Lantern," and it finds are heroes in a completely different place than where we left them in #16 (Oddly, all those narration boxes recap new GL Simon Baz's origin story, which unfolded in the pages of this book, but not what happened in that annual, which did not).

There are five pages—one-fourth of the 20 page book—devoted to splash pages; three individual image splashes and a single two-page splash. I'm going to miss this book when the creative team leaves—and the strategy employed to find replacements looks or less like the New 52's Oh shit we need new creative teams and directions STAT what creators do we have laying around the office we'll take anyone, even that one guy whose had like three books canceled this year! strategy, so I don't imagine I'll be following this or any GL books monthly—and Mahnke and the dirty half-dozen who ink him did a great job on making The First Lantern distinct and creepy looking.

Justice League of America #1 (DC) Well, they got the Ohio state flag right, or at least pretty right. The dimensions may not be perfect, and the rendering is pretty lazy and amateurish—surely DC could have found an out-of-work freelance artist capable of drawing state flags, right?

I'll be discussing this at some length tomorrow at one of the sites I write for (Which one? Tune in tomorrow to find out!), but short version? Wretched art, awful design work, decent writing and an uninspired paint-by-numbers pitch for a new series that can't quite overcome the feeling of being more Ultimate-style DCU than anything new. (So, you know, par for The New 52's course). It is a much, much, much, much, much better first issue than writer Geoff John's Justice League #1 though (it even gets all of the characters in, one way or another!), and better too than Justice League Dark #1 and Justice League International #1.

Saga #10 (Image Comics) ComicsAlliance's Andrew Wheeler ranked The Will at #15 on a list of the Sexiest Male Characters in Comics list, but the bald bounty hunter is hardly the only hunk in the book. As you can see above, artist Fiona Staples makes a strong case for Marko on the opening splash page of the latest issue (She also designs some pretty disturbing characters in the form of the midwives on the planet Marko and his mom are looking for the ghost babysitter on).

As striking as that page might be, it was the splash page that closes out the book that elicited the strongest reaction from me. In fact, I actually exclaimed, "Oh no!" when I read it.

Vibe #1 (DC) Another book I expect to talk more about later. Real quick though, DC went to some lengths to tone down all of the ethnic caricature that ended up defining the original Vibe, from ditching the Claremont-style phonetic slang to renaming him Francisco instead of Paco. Unfortunately, they also seem to have ditched his personality (he doesn't even breakdance, or seem to listen to music!), and comes across as a particularly generic character in a particularly generic superhero story. His powers have been tweaked to make him a potential pole for any future multiverse-related stories DC does, but that and Pete Woods' competent art (although the hoodie and Skittles was a rather tone deaf choice, given the associations of that particular combination) won't help much. Countdown to cancellation? Eight issues if retailers reacted as expected to a Vibe monthly, but with Johns' name attached (for, um, one issue) and the JLoA tie-in, it could maybe last a whole 12.

Wonder Woman #17 (DC) Wonder Woman basically stands around while various Tony Akins and Amilcar Pinna-drawn Olympians trade wordplay. Kinda like the previous sixteen issues, really. There is a weird-looking combination giant shark/sea serpent, Orion seems to be modeled after Tom Hardy and there's a panel where the New God slaps Wonder Woman on the ass for some reason. I guess it's 1963 on New Genesis...?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

King Kong Continued: Kong: King of Skull Island and World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island

(Above: From the storyboard of the original film, in which Kong searches New York for Ann Darrow)

There are few films—maybe even no film–as powerful, as primal, as fantastical and as fascinating as Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack's 1933 King Kong. It is certainly a film that bears repeated viewings, as the age, the experience and the societal context of the viewer at each viewing will likely inform them of different aspects of the film's text, subtext and technical achievements.

For a certain kind of viewer, the kind who has watched it over and over again, questions will likely have formed regarding the world inside the film, questions that aren't necessarily important—earnestly presented as a breathless nightmare, it asks and answers the only relevant questions itself—but will occur to the imaginative, the cynical and the unsatisfied. This goes double, if not quadruple, for modern viewers, who have seen real gorillas and apes up close in nature documentaries and at zoos, and are familiar with the their looks, their diets and their behavior.

Some viewers of that kind will go on to careers perfecting the technology of the film in order to make their own similar films for the rest of their lives, like Ray Harryhausen, or to remake King Kong itself, like Peter Jackson. Others of us will simply seek out whatever continuance of the story we can find, and may ultimately end up reading a pair of a gorgeous, over-sized books that concern themselves almost exclusively with the answering of questions raised by King Kong.

The first of these was Joe DeVito's ambitious illustrated novel, Kong: King of Skull Island (Dark Horse Press; 2004), a sequel/prequel to the original film authorized by Cooper's estate. DeVito illustrated and "created" the work, while Brad Strickland and John Michlig share writing credits.

So what happened to Kong's body after his fall from the Empire State building? What became of Carl Denham and Captain Englehorn (forget Son of Kong; this book does), of Jack Driscoll and Ann Darrow? Did the discovery of Kong and Skull Island's dinosaur fauna completely change the course of the world? And where, exactly, did Kong come from? Why did the natives worship him as a god, and give him young women? What did he do with those women? And while we're at it, who built that big damn wall?

DeVito and company's story opens in 1933, with Denham and Englehorn returning to Skull Island on the Venture, Kong's body in the hold. The brash showman, full of regret, is bringing Kong back home in an act of too-little, too-late contrition. After a predictable dinosaur attack, the narrative jumps ahead to the 1950s, where we meet Carl's son Vincent Denham, a paleontologist.

The events of the film, we learn, had little effect on the world. No one knows where Skull Island is, exactly, and few believe it exists. The young Denham himself isn't so sure Kong even existed, as all he has to go on are years-old stories and blurry photos from a few newspapers (Hard to imagine, in our post-Internet age, that something like a giant gorilla attacking New York City might be something that would recede from consensus reality into something akin to an urban legend, but not unlikely for a pre-television era).

When he chances upon a map to Skull Island, however, he gets in touch with Driscoll, and recruits the aging adventurer to return to the Island with him, in the hopes he can discover what really happened to his dad. Obviously, Driscoll complies, or we wouldn't have much of a story.

The book pulls off a bit of a neat trick in functioning as both a sequel and a prequel to the original film. Driscoll and the younger Denham almost immediately get separated from their crew and lost on the island, and they end up discovering the history of the island in a few very different ways. Denham learns it in the most direct way, as he is nursed back to health by a wise, old shaman-like woman of the native population and her apprentice: She tells him the story of the island, and, in particular, a pair of star-crossed lovers from two warring factions of the native peoples.

The story continually jumps back form the present to that past.

I hesitate to spoil anything, but it is well worth noting that DeVito and company have imagined a high culture responsible for the structures and ruins of the island, one that was able to control the dinosaurs by burning certain plants and to have domesticated the kongs, who seem to have arrived on the island with them.

Eventually, the culture fractured and fell, and the dinosaurs drove the people to the protection of the wall, where the Venture would eventually find them.

As for Kong, he was among the last of the kongs on the island, and after he witnesses his parents get killed by a dinosaur, he is the last of his kind.

DeVito adds a lot of mysticism and pseudo-science to the brew. Of all the dinosaurs on the island, the natives are most troubled by "slashers," which appear to be some sort of raptor. Among the slashers are "Deathrunners," which are bigger, smarter versions of them, able to lead the others and even to use rudimentary tools. And then there's Gaw, a gigantic therapod dinosaur that is essentially a giant Deathrunner; it looks a bit like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, only with functional arms, and it is somehow able to control the slashers and Deathrunners (the text suggests it's a sort of recurring evolutionary mutant), like a Queen Bee of the dinosaurs.

When the natives turn to monster-worship, Gaw is their first god, and it was Gaw that killed Kong's parents.

While the book delivers lots of monster-fighting and jungle culture clashing, it is pretty fascinating for its world-building as well as how much it reflects the changing of western pop culture between 1933 and the turn of the millennium.

Rather than faceless "others" bordering on (and/or completely crossing over into) racial stereotype, the Skull Islanders have an advanced and complicated culture, divided between war-like savages and the sort of noble, enlightened, at-one-with-nature magical native-type characters more commonplace in the films of more recent decades (to Devito and Strickland's credit, they do present a couple of somewhat more complex characters among the natives, particularly in Kara, the shaman woman's apprentice).

As has so often been the case since the original, Kong isn't really the bad guy, or even a bad guy. Abused by nature and humanity, he's got plenty of reason to be pissed at the world, and yet what drives him more than anything isn't revenge or lust but loneliness, something surprisingly (and surprisingly affectingly) presented near the end with the revelation of what Kong did with all the "brides" he acquired before he tried to take Ann.

DeVito's artwork is presented in several forms throughout the book, including full-page, full-color, fully-painted illustrations and monochrome drawings. I remember picking this up and flipping through it in The Laughing Ogre about seven or eight years ago now, and ultimately putting it back because it was prose, rather than a comic book. Having now finally read it, I'm not certain how well it would work as a comic book (although the Internet tells me it has has been adapted into it), as some of the scenes regarding the bizarre advanced technology of the Islanders would seem incredibly difficult to pull off in panels on paper, and some the history would be difficult to communicate without resorting to dull walls of text, prose passages inserted in a comics narrative.

It's difficult to separate Kong from his medium, and this book is a pretty good illustration of why—if it's not film, is it really King Kong? This doesn't really feel like it. Kong needs to roar, to move, to have his fur ripple.

But then, at the same time, this is probably a pretty good stab at replicating film, in that there are at least pictures as well as words. Comics could certainly come even closer, but given the centuries-spanning story, and the fact that much of it is communicated as a story being told by one character to another, this particular tale might not work that well.

As for the answers it provides, they don't seem too terribly definitive—frankly, magically-powered natives able to telepathically commune with animal life seems no harder to disbelieve then There Was a Giant Gorilla, Just Because—but they are answers, and they are fun to consider. (In truth, any proffered answers will end up feeling off or wrong, because part of the appeal of the film and its story is that these blank spaces are left un-filled).

An infinitely more realistic set of answers to various questions of Kong can be found in The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island (Simon and Schuster; 2005). This book is the work of the Weta Workshop, and is tied to the Jackson-directed remake—in fact, Jackson pens the introduction.

It is an incredible book, and I mean that in the most literal way possible. Despite the title, it was not at all what I expected it to be, and I was surprised to find out that it existed at all.

It suggests a story behind itself: After the events of the film, "universities and private organizations across the planet fumbled to dispatch teams to investigate and catalogue" the wonders of Skull Island. After several disasters, "a properly prepared, jointly managed and financed effort was finally organized by the three biggest interested concerns," and lead by Carl Denham. It was called Project Legacy, and it became somewhat urgent when it was discovered Skull Island's days were numbered, as the sea was quite quickly reclaiming the shrinking landmass (a nod, perhaps, to Son of Kong, which ends with an earthquake sinking the island).

The contents of the book are presented as the results of those expeditions: It is an elaborate, straight-faced account of the fantastical fauna of the island, with some attention paid to the flora, geology, geography and people (as to the people's history, it remains a mystery; there is no explanation discovered for the bizarre ruins, which, in Jackson's version of King Kong, are much more elaborate and idiosyncratic than in the original).

The book is chock-full of various prehistoric and monstrous creatures, in too huge a quantity to count (I'd guess maybe 100, but that's just a guess). Each is illustrated, given a name, given a Latin name, and its diet, habits and niche in the environment are all rather thoroughly explained. It is remarkable to what lengths the Weta crew went in the creation of their creatures to populate the setting of this film, but where remarkability turns to incredibility is the fact that so very few of these creatures even made it into the film.

There were the three huge theropods in the film, which I assumed to be Tyrannosaurs (But, the book tells us, are actually examples of Vastatosurus rex ("Ravager-lizard King"), or V-Rex. This may have been borne out of some sort of paleontological in-joke, that the T-Rex Kong fights in the original had an extra finger, but one clever conceit of the book is that evolution didn't stop on Skull Island. It may have been a lost world, but it wasn't a frozen one, so the dinosaurs there had 65 million years to continue changing, growing and adapting from what we know from the fossil record.

Hence few if any of the species on the Weta's Skull Island are plucked straight and un-modified from any other dinosaur books—these scores of animals are original creations.

So, in the movie we saw the V-Rexes, a herd of herbivores and the raptor-like dinosaurs chasing the crew of the Venture between their stampeding legs (I'm guessing these are Brontosaurus and Ventatosaurus), the carnivorous quadrepeds that chased Naomi Watts into that log (there are at least three species here that those could have belonged to), those weird giant vampire bats that attack Kong in his lair (Terapusmordax obscenus, or "Filthy Pungent-bat") and some kind of ceratopsian dinosaur (Could be a "Tree Top" or "Bifurcatops"). And that's about it, not counting the variety of insect life, from the bugs Andy Serkis' grizzled cook Lumpy machine-gunned down to the valley full of horrifying monsters that almost ate Denham and those who survived the fall from the log (each of which bears an entry herein).

That isn't even the tip of the iceberg though. There are dozens upon dozens of other creatures in here, some of which merely seem like sinister, Skull Island corruptions of animals we might be familiar with (for example, there are three species of Carrion Parrots and two of Carrion Storks), others are so big and scary it seems a damn shame they didn't at least get a cameo (The giant fish Sepulcro, whose Latin name translates to "Ugly Gravemouth") and others still are so distinct and scary they seem like they could carry their own monster movie, even if it ends up a much lower-budget one, like the Pirahnadon, which looks a bit like a cross between a mosasaur and piranha, with it's own peculiar set of behaviors.

(Above: One half of a two-page spread detailing the Swamp-Wing, a flying amphibian)

As excited as I was reading the book, and as hard a time I had getting over the fact that so much work went in to creating so many creatures that never appeared in the film, the emotion that was most present throughout was one of regret. It honestly seems like a shame that so many of these fantastic and fully-realized animal monsters exist only in this book.

I kept continually wishing some comics publisher would secure rights to do King Kong comics—IDW or Dark Horse, probably—and that they'd be able to make something with all the monsters in this book. Honestly, while Kong is the guy with his name in the title, he and his species aren't even the most dangerous or interesting creatures in this Natural History.

But if these creatures only exist in the design work-turned-faux paleoart, the portentous Latin-by-way-of-Gothic horror scientific names and paragraphs of scientific description, I suppose that's in keeping with the power of King Kong. It's what you don't see, what you never see, but keep thinking about anyway, that imbues the text with an irresistible power, the power to fascinate for years and years.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Young Avengers Catch-Up: Siege: Young Avengers #1 (2010)

This one-shot by writer Sean McKeever, pencil artist Mahmud A. Asrar and inkers Scott Hanna and Victor Olazaba was a brief check-in type story tied to Marvel's completely nonsensical event series Siege, a bizarrely written story by chief Marvel Universe architect Brian Michael Bendis that, as I've previously noted, doesn't make a lick of sense on its own.

The event was climax of the "Dark Reign" period of the Marvel Universe, in which former Green Goblin Norman Osborn has donned a red, white and blue Iron Man suit to become Iron Patriot and lead his own team of Avengers made up of villains-posing-as heroes and his own SHIELD-like government agency HAMMER. For reasons never explained, Osborn decides he needs to conquer Asgard, which he attacks in defiance of the his boss President Barack Obama, and ends up in an all-the-heroes vs. all-the-villains fight on the floating city of Norse-derived Kirby space-gods.

The Young Avengers special was apparently intended as a part of a suite of one-shots, as its cover is part of a single, multi-part image by Marko Djurdjevic, and it gets collected along with four more one-shots in Siege: Battlefield, which is where I found and read it. (We'll look at those other comics in a bit).

One rather admirable aspect of writer Allen Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung's creation of the Young Avengers characters is how many aspects of the wider Marvel Universe he was able to tie into the various characters, as it makes them incredibly easy to plug into just about every Marvel event series imaginable. This event, for example, revolves around Asgard, and one of the Young Avengers characters was inspired by Thor to kinda sorta pose as a Thor-like sidekick at the outset, even going so far as to go by the name Asgardian (Changed later, of course, to "Wiccan," which can't so easily be corrupted into "ass-guardian").

The plot consists entirely of what the various team members are doing during the Everyone Vs. Everyone fight on Asgard, specifically after the part of the battle (which was not a siege) where The Sentry knocked the floating city down.

Wiccan and Hulkling, whose magic and gross green veiny pterodactyl wings spared them from the crash, find The Wrecking Crew trying to super-loot the ruins for Asgardian treasure, and fight them. Patriot and Hawkeye, meanwhile, are trapped in the rubble and fighting for survival, ala Red Arrow and Vixen in that one Meltzer issue of Justice League of America, ala Nicolas Cage and The Guy Who Wasn't Nicolas Cage in World Trade Center. And Speed runs around looking for survivors in the rubble. No sign of Stature and Vision.

It's a fairly well constructed fight comic, with each of the three character or character groups going through a distinct arc in which they reach a point of hopelessness and than rally, the issue ending with a splash page of Speed leading the charge to have them rejoin the fight.

It's completely inessential of course, but then, that's what it was supposed to be all along, the answer to a question a certain sub-set of Marvel readers might have wanted to know the answer to (Hey, what were the Young Avengers doing during the Battle of Asgard?), and a bone thrown to the would-be Young Avengers audience awaiting the return of the characters creators/re-creators to finish up their story.

The artwork is quite impressive and, in certain panels, looks like the work of Cheung (particularly on a re-flip-through. If Marvel had decided to go forward with a Young Avengers monthly sans Heinberg and Cheung in 2010, this would have been a fine creative team to do so with.


As I said, this issue was collected in Siege: Battlefield, which contained a handful of Siege one-shots, connected only by their interlocking cover images and the fact that they had something or other to do with Siege. These are they...

Siege: Loki #1 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

This particular creative team is of particular note for this particular series of reviews, as these are the guys who will go on to create the next volume of a Young Avengers ongoing series, the one that sparked this endeavor on my part.

The star is Loki, part of Osborn's cabal of villains secretly running the "Dark Reign", who is here restored to his original, male form, after having spent much of the previous "Dark Reign" cycle in the form of a buxom woman, for reasons I never understood (It happened in an issue of a Thor comic I didn't read, I imagine).

In the Gillen/McKelvie Young Avengers, he appears in the form of a little kid. I think they should probably keep him male and grown-up, personally because a) McKelvie draws him so well and b) all the ladies I know who dug the Avengers movie  really seemed to like sexy Tom Hiddleston's sexy Loki.

Their story is set before and behind the scenes of the battle that occurs in Siege,basically showing Loki as a wicked and clever manipulator moving in a world of Marvel's evil power players—we see him taking a call from Doctor Doom and meeting with Mephisto and Hel, for example—to get what he wants, which here seems to be the destruction of Asgard and release from his destined place in Hel's hell (which may be spelled "Hel").

It's pretty great stuff, light on the superhero business (Osborn appears on one page) and heavy on the mythological and, tonally, it felt like an early issue of a pre-Vertigo Vertigo series: Mature storytelling devoted to mythology and fantasy extrapolated from old-school trashy super-comics which were themselves inspired by classical mythology. While reading, I kept thinking this creative team would probably do a knock-out Doctor Strange series.

I can't say enough good things about McKelvie's clean, smooth, pristine, perfectly-acted artwork: That guy's the best. This is by far the best-looking chapter of the book.

Props go to the pair also for their five-panel sequence involving Loki and Osborn. That's the first time that it was made clear to me that it was Loki speaking to Osborn through his Green Goblin mask, as his Green Goblin persona, in an effort to convince Osborn to attack Asgard because that's what Loki wants him to do. In a lot of the other "Dark Reign" and Siege related comics I've read, this isn't at all clear, and Osborn is usually presented as either a complete lunatic attacking Asgard just-because, or being talked into it by Loki, who doesn't really offer any compelling reason to convince him to do so. Here, it seems the compelling reason is that Osborn thinks his dominant if buried persona is telling him to do so.

Siege: Spider-Man #1 by Brian Reed and Marco Santucci

Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel fight Venom, who, at the time, was former Scorpion Mac Gargan in the alien symbiote suit, who spent the majority of "Dark Reign" (and the Bendis-written series Dark Avengers) disguised as Spider-Man.

That, obviously, annoyed Spider-Man.

This issue, then, is devoted to the climax of their fight over that particular conflict, with the pair tumbling out of the still airborne Asgard to the city below (Broxton), where Ms. Marvel swoops in to give Spidey an assist and fly him back up to Asgard so he can participate in the events of Siege.

It's a decent enough story and the art is similarly decent. It is about as pure a fight comic as you can get without excising the dialogue, which hear consists mainly of Spider-Man quips and Venom's chatter about eating people.
The most striking and memorable image is a panel in which Ms. Marvel separates Venom from Gargan by sticking her hand down the former's throat and yanking the naked latter out its mouth.

Siege: Captain America #1 by Christos N. Gage and Federico Dallocchio

The artwork on this one made it very hard for me to read. It was clear enough that it was easily legible, I just didn't like looking at it. Very photo-reference-y, with poses and renderings that look, if not traced from photos, then at least rigorously imitating images of real people, with costumes and fantastic action set atop of them.

It's all very awkward looking, as in a terribly uninspired two-page splash page of a bunch of heroes fighting a bunch of villains. One of the Captains America, in this image, appears to be both simultaneously kicking Taskmaster's shield and firing his gun at the shield, and seems badly in danger of literally shooting himself. Also, Dr. Fate seems to be there, for some reason.

Gage deviates from the all-fighting, all-the-time mandate that dominates most of these stories by introducing a family of civilians on the outskirts of the conflict, who provide an element of extra danger for the Captains, as well as some folks to be inspired by them.

Then current Captain America James "Bucky" Barnes and returned-to-life former Captain America Steve Rogers are participating in the big fight on Asgard and, after Sentry knocks it down, they find themselves fighting Razorfist, perhaps the least believable of all of Marvel's many fantastical villains (He's the guy who has had both of his hands replaced with huge, razor-sharp blades, and his costume consists of a sort of skin-tight ski mask with ear holes that I can't imagine how he puts on—dude must have an intern to dress him. (Also, Razorfist...? Dude can't make a fist, as he doesn't have hands).

The Captains beat the shit out of him, and then run back to the crossover story. See a pattern forming? These are kind of fun in how straightforward they are, as the majority of them are little narrative cul de sacs, where the characters leave the events of Siege, run through the conflict of a single issue tie-in, and then return to the events of Siege, usually declaring, "Well, that's the end of our one-shot tie-in; back to the main series!" (I'm paraphrasing; here it's actually "Let's go... ...We're needed."

This one's followed by Siege: Young Avengers.

Siege: Secret Warriors #1 by Jonathan Hickman and Alessandro Vitti

This series, Secret Warriors, is a kinda sorta years-later spin-off of that weird Bendis-written Secret War miniseries that truly kicked off his Avengers and Marvel Universe writing, and ended with one of the worst and laziest issues of a comic book I've ever read.

The premise of Secret Warriors was that an off-the-grid Nick Fury was leading his own team of secret superheroes, all of whom eschewed costumes in favor of classic SHIELD uniforms, for maximum boring-looking character design. I never read any of it, but Marvel might have tempted me to read the first issue had they instead titled it Nick Fury and his Howling Secret Warriors (I'm a big fan of howling).

So did you read Siege...? If not, there's this one gross-looking panel where Sentry grabs Ares the god of war and rips him vertically in half, just like She-Hulk did to Vision in "Avengers Disassembled," except Ares isn't a robot, so there's a bunch of gore and viscera in the panel (Bendis wrote both scenes, so he's not stealing from another writer, just repeating himself).

Well, on of the Secret Warriors is Phobos, the son of Ares (who is also a little kid). The issue opens with him watching a bank of monitors in which panels from Siege appear, including the gross one of his dad getting torn in half.

While Nick Fury joins Captain America for the assault on Asgard, Phobos flashes back to hanging out with his dad, then picks up a couple of swords, enters the White House through a secret passage, and silently slaughters Secret Service agents throughout the issue in order to, as he finally explains once President Barack Obama is safely aboard Marine One and flying towards safety, "to deliver a message."

The message isn't metaphorical, but literal though, as the last panel of the issue sees him sitting down at Obama's desk, the Oval Office littered with dead agents, to write a letter:
It's not every day that a human finds himself responsible for the death of a god and then on that very same day escapes facing another...
But before you wash your hands of my father's blood, I would encourage you to reflect on what brought us to this point: You sacrificed honor for expediency. You traded intent for quick action. You were wrong...and we all suffered for it.
It's a pretty weird comic. At least when Garth Ennis had The Punisher threaten to kill President George W. Bush, he did so without killing a bunch of innocent guys, and the president was a little more directly tied to the crime.
Obama's guilt for the death of Ares is fairly indirect, in that he put Osborn in charge of the superheroes, Osborn hired Sentry and Ares and Osborn ordered them both to attack Asgard, where Ares rebelled against Osborn and got torn in half. I realize the buck stops with the president and all, but Siege made it pretty clear that Osborn had "gone rogue" and was acting against the will of the president and, um, the entire United States government when he attacked Asgard, acting on the advice of his Green Goblin mask/other personality/Loki.I'm not a fan of the art in this one, although there's nothing really wrong with it. The style just didn't do much for me. There is a pretty neat panel of Obama sitting behind a desk, his face in shadow, his hands calmly folded in front of him, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff lined up behind him and a small army of gun-toting Secret Service agents between them and the reader. It's maybe the clearest image of Obama-as-supervillain I've seen in a comic book.

You know, between Bush's handling of the events of Civil War, "The Initiative" and Secret Invasion and Obama's handling of "Dark Reign" and Siege, as horrible as the choices these guys make in our universe might so often seem, they're both a hell of a lot better than their 616 counterparts...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Marvel's May previews reviewd

Come May, Marvel Entertainment will publish a whole bunch of comical books. Many of them will have awesome covers, by awesome artists! If you would like to read all about all of these comics, you can do so at Comic Book Resources or at ComicsAlliance. If you want to read me pointing at some of those nice covers, and commenting about some of the books, you can read on...

With the Marvel Universe turned inside out, who will take responsibility for breaking the world? And is there any way to put it back? Wait until you see who is in charge of the new world order and how they got there…! A reality-spanning choice is made this issue that will affect the Marvel Universe for years and years to come.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

This issue will affect the Marvel Universe for years and years to come? Oh thank God. I was afraid this might be the first intracompany crossover event story not to promise to affect the universe for years to come. Wouldn't want to waste time reading one if I wasn't told I had to

I'm curious about the "who is in charge of the new world order" bit, as that seems to be the exact plot point of like a decade's worth of Marvel comics—who is the boss of Marvel? (Civil War/"The Initiative": Iron Man, "Dark Reign": Norman Osborn, Siege: Captain America). Hopefully that's not what it means, though.

Otherwise, I'd guess Brian Michael Bendis. Brian Michael Bendis is (still) in charge of the new world order.

Brian Michael Bendis (W) • Stuart Immonen (A/C)
• One of the ALL-NEW X-MEN leaves to join Cyclops and his crew!
• Jean Grey pushes her power to the limit, shaking her and the rest of the X-Men to the core.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I bet its one of the boys that leaves the original team to join Cyclops and his crew, and I bet the reason is Emma and Magik's costumes.

Hey look—dinosaurs!

Cover by NIC KLEIN
ULTRON RULES OK! The AGE OF ULTRON hits Britain, and Captain Britain hits back with a little help from his friends - including a vacationing Captain Marvel! Fighting a guerilla war in the ruins of London, AGGRO! is a way of life for Avengers UK - but when they might just be the last super heroes left alive, can there still be hope? Or is England dreaming?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Al Ewing? What happened to Kelly Sue DeConnick? I thought Assemble was going to be her Avengers book moving forward. Did she only get to write, like, a single arc...?

Well, whatever's going on with the title (three writers in fifteen issues? What is this, a New 52 book?), I like that cover.

Hey, a great Daredevil cover. How unusual.

Cover by ART ADAMS (#9) & TONY MOORE (#10)
• Deadpool targets a MAN with AQUATIC powers!
• Then he teams-up with your SUPERIOR Neighborhood SPIDER-MAN!
32 PGS. (EACH)/Parental Advisory …$2.99 (EACH)

Uh-oh! Aquaman jokes! Geoff Johns (and his Aquaman) are going to be so angry!

Nice concept for the cover, although I'm not crazy about the rendering.

• THE breakout character of 2012… becomes the breakout character of 2013... as PIZZA DOG gets his own issue.
• Literally… the entire issue… it’s all from the dog’s point-of-view.
• Pizza Dog gets hired to solve a crime -- the grizzly murder that shocked Team Hawkguy -- and the only thing more shocking than THAT… is what happens the end of THIS.
• Seriously. This is not a joke! Even the coloring. Dog issue. We’re all gettin’ fired. PLEASE READ…
“Pizza is my Business” …before it’s too late for us.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

Is Pizza Dog the same dog as Lucky, introduced in the first issue...? I don't remember a name change, but then, I may have been too wowed by the art to notice. Speaking of being wowed by the art, how about that cover, huh?

The comic everyone is taLking about continues!
• The mysteries surrounding the disappearance of Sam’s dad deepen and the helmet leads Nova into intergalactic conflict that will affect the entire Marvel Universe!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Is everyone talking, I mean taLking about this series? Is anyone at all saying anything at all about it? I haven't heard anyone at all say anything at all about it.

Maybe the solicitation writer is just predicting what people will be talking about come spring...?

• The SHE-HULK Jen Walters strikes a deal with the military!
• And Betty finds others have taken her path before her...
• …others named DR. DOOM, THE RED SKULL, ULTRON and LOKI!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

I like that cover a whole lot.

DAN SLOTT (W) • Ryan Stegman (A)
Variant Cover by Ryan Stegman
• The hottest comic in comics comes to a turning point that will get you angrier than you were after Spidey #700!
• The time has come to see who will live, who will die, and who will emerge as the one, true Superior Spider-Man!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Well, the only thing that would have made me angry about Spidey #700 was it's $8 price tag, so I can't imagine this $4 comic would make me that angry. Although in this instance, Marvel is asking for $4 for only 20-22 pages worth of content, which is what they sell for $3 in many of their other books, and their Distinguished Competition charges for 20 pages of comics content. So I guess I could get angry about this issue, if I cared to read it, which I don't, really.

Nice Martin cover, though!

I'm kind of surprised by the fact that the solicitation for this issue makes it sound like the whole Doc Ock's mind in Spidey's body storyline is winding down though, as it's only been nine do they keep this title going once that status quo changes, instead of canceling it and relaunching it as Amazing Spider-Man...? (One interesting thing to watch regarding the Now titles is how long they last without being retitled and/or relaunched with new numbering, as quite a few of them have premises that sound more like those that belong to limited series rather than ongoings.

Either Kang is gigantic now, or "The Apocalyse Twins" are very small. That's the cover for (one of) May's Uncanny Avengers #8 (there's an Uncanny Avengers #8 and an Uncanny Avengers #8AU, because COMICS!) written by Rick Remember, who wrote a little kid version of Apocalypse in X-Force, so I imagine those are little kids.

Oh, I was just wondering the other day where Red Tornado had gotten to. I guess he quit DC and got a job at Marvel.

Nice cover for X-Men Legacy, Mike Del Mundo!

Holy smokes, that's a nice cover! I love how the white space is used to form the crowd of...figures. I'm not crazy about all of these characters visually in general, but McKelvie sure draws the hell out of 'em all (I can't decide if I like Kate Bishop's new look better than her previous one, or not. It looks more realistic and practical, but...I don't know. I'll have to think about it).

Friday, February 15, 2013

Comic shop comics: January 30-February 13

Ame-Comi Girls #5 (DC Comics) The artists for this installment is Santi Casas, whose work is probably the most appropriate of any of the artists to so far work on this comic based on the sexy, anime-style statuettes featuring female DC Comics characters: It's drawn in a very Asian influenced style (looking quite a bit like the work of Kia Asamiya, particularly in the faces), and the posing and positioning (in addition to the costuming) is all about prompting the male gaze and promoting the breasts, butts and thighs of the characters.

In short, it looks anime-like, and it's PG pervy, just like like the line of figurines it's based on.

What is most remarkable about this issue, however, is that Wonder Woman shows up in the last two panels to confront Supergirl, who has been rendered evil by exposure to black kryptonite, a la early issues of the awful Jeph Loeb/Ian Churchill Supergirl series, and feminist icon and champion of womanly love Wonder Woman calls the teenage cousin of a Superman a bitch. (As in, "If it's a real fight you're looking for,'ll find me more than happy to liberate your head from that skinny little neck!")

Well, at least she didn't use the C-word, huh?

Coupled with the bits of dialogue in the third issue in which a hero and a villain both pretty much call Harly Quinn retarded (Catwoman calls her "Short Bus" and Batgirl calls her "special," as in, "It's so sweet of you girls to to look after Harley...You know, what with her being special and all"), Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray's scripts for this series have proven to be remarkably crass and immature.

And I say that as someone who wishes it were much more exploitive, so as to at least fulfill the promise of its source material.

Oh well. This is my last issue anyway; after this the mini-series becomes an ongoing, and, after five issues, my curiosity is more than sated.

(In the plus column, Casas' Jor-El looks like an anime superhero version of Bill Murray).

Hawkeye #7 (Marvel Entertainment) This is the special issue that a certain amount of the profits from will got to help victims of Hurricane Sandy, so saying anything too mean about it would be kind of dickish of me, huh?

Well, good thing that the Matt Fraction-written title about what the dopey Avenger gets up to when he's not Avenger-ing remains of quite high quality, no matter how quickly Marvel pumps these things out and who draws them (So far, David Aja's issues have been the best, but Marvel hasn't hired any slouches to work on this book yet).

This issue doesn't hold up as tightly as the previous ones, as it is basically two separate stories that casually crisscross one another at a few points, and thus it lacks the admirable script-construction of each of the previous issues.

In the first half of the book, Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye helps one of his neighbor's visits a stock character from all disaster movies—the stubborn senior citizen who refuses to leave his or her home and is taken by surprise when the disaster proves to be so much more disastrous than usual. Steve Lieber draws that part.

In the second half of the book, Kate Bishop AKA Hawkeye attends an engagement party and ends up getting knocked out by looters. Jesse Hamm draws that part.

Both are great artists who Marvel should pay a lot of money to in exchange for a lot more art (on another book, though, as I really think Aja should be drawing this book all the time). I really like the way Hamm draws Kate's arms, and I wish I was in the same building as my scanner right now, so I could scan you some examples. Also, the scene where the crowd of folks in Jersey intimidate the looters? See the lady with the hedge clippers? That is awesome. High-five Jesse Hamm!

Joe Kubert Presents #4 (DC) More Redeemer, and now are reincarnating hero is a Confederate soldier during the American Civil War. I have no idea why the chapter of the story set in the far-flung future would come before the chapter set during the 19th century.

And, if you haven't read this yet, then you have no idea how fucking awesome Joe Kubert drawing a big, splashy panel of two Civil War armies running and riding into one another is, nor how awesome the bizarre "dragon" living in the southwest and protecting a golden treasure is (This story guest-stars Firehair, if you care).

Also in this issue Brian Buniak seemingly wraps up his "Angel and The Ape" feature, and the ape half of the team does furious battle with a robot velociraptor, ultimately snapping its jaws in the traditionally ape vs. theropod dinosaur techinque....only he does it using his hand-like feet instead of his hands. Why didn't you think of that Peter Jackson?

Also also, another installment of Sam Glanzman's U.S.S. Stevens article/stories, this one starting out to be the most boring one yet (it's very technical, essentially a few pages of technical drawings and text book-like info on World War II destroyers), but ultimately becomes the most fascinating one yet, with a very colorful member of the crew behaving very colorfully.

Legends of The Dark Knight #5 (DC) This issue features a single story, written by Joshua Fialkov and drawn by Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur. The star isn't the Dark Knight, but instead Gotham private eye Slam Bradley, with Batman in a supporting role. In the course of his work, Bradley becomes a likely suspect in a murder, and the harder he tries to clear his name, the guiltier he looks, with Batman among those trying to bust him. The Black Mask is also involved.

It's a very solid police procedural type script, like a very economical episode of a Law and Order with 100% more Batman than that show features, with a couple of clever bits. Hester's exciting, imaginative and downright inventive layouts and superior designs and renderings elevates it to pretty good comics, though.

The third page is full of airy white-space on a 16-panel grid (some of the panels missing, with horizontal narration boxes floating where the art might have been were they not missing), and it reminded me of that always graphically interesting Hawkeye book.

There's a lot of white space in this book, due to the fact that the pages aren't black, as is so often the case now, but white, and Hester plays with that space, having characters and objects move in and out of the colored panels, using white to form silhouettes and shadows and the borders of certain, the more I flip through this issue, the more I love it the art in it.

I don't even feel like putting this book away; I want to leave it out to flip through every couple days and remember how exciting the simple act of having good art put down on page in interesting ways can be.

It's been a while since I've seen Hester drawn Batman (Kevin Smith's Green Arrow run, maybe...?), but I really like his Batman, particularly his eyes (It no doubt helps that this is a more "classic" Batman, in a black and gray bodysuit, rather than the armored, robotic-looking New 53 Batman with the goofy kneepads).

Hester's Black Mask is great too—very skeletal, very creepy. For some reason, perhaps to keep the villain's presence in the story a surprise (Oops. Spoiler warning!), his minions don't wear masks.

This issue in particular is a good example of why it's a good idea to give their most popular characters an anthology-like series where different creators can offer their own personal takes. They should really try something like this with Superman. What could possibly go wrong?

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet To Infinity #4 (Image Comics) Hey did you guys take philosophy in college? Do you remember Plato's allegory of the cave? Most comics are merely the shadows on the blank wall that constitutes all that we readers can see while chained before it, shadows cast by objects passing before a fire and behind our heads.

The fourth and final issue of Brandon Graham's Alphabet To Infinity? It's one of the true objects casting the shadows. It's real comics, in the truest, purest form.

Saucer Country #12 (DC) The last page of this issue is a splash panel, featuring supporting character Professor Kidd standing on a chair and slipping a noose over his head. The next issue box reads simply, "Next: Goodbye Cruel World."

See what you did, Direct Market?! By refusing to embrace this series like you did Fables and Unwritten, you've driven one of its characters to the brink of suicide!

This book is now super-weird, with writer Paul Cornell apparently jumping over the 30-50 issues that probably should have occurred between the start of the series and its current climax in order to finish it as he intended before the cancellation kicks in.

See, a few issues ago our hero was in the middle of a primary fight with other members of her party, whereas now she's on the verge of winning the general election. I don't remember any "Six months later" narration boxes. But then, maybe Cornell's being all meta on us, and by cutting out a bunch of the story he's trying to get us to share the experience of lost time that often accompanies alien abduction...?

I don't know. I hope another, smaller publisher can pick this series up at some point, because as interesting as the race to the White House has been, "the truth" will only become apparent once our hero is actually president.

Star Wars #2 (Dark Horse Comics) You know one thing that rather bugs me about Star Wars? The way that various random alien-looking characters that appeared in a few seconds of the original three films would, in the "expanded universe" of the novels and video games and cartoons and the second trilogy, would become standardized as races, with home planets and histories and cultures of their own.

Like, in the original film, the camera would pan across a smokey bar and you'd see something that looked like an elephant crossed with a couch wearing a robe that is just there because that's what the guys in the puppet department through together, and, in the ensuing years, Star Wars fandom would create not only that elephant/couch guy's whole life story, but the whole life story of his entire race. You couldn't just have a random, one-off, crazy-looking alien like, I don't know, Hammerhead, but that guy would turn out to be an Ithorian, who doesn't even like being called "Hammerhead," which is the name was on the box the action figure of him I got for that Christmas called him.

Eliminating the mystery of the various aliens by filling in the exciting, suggestive blanks with information sort of kills the appealing fantasy of Star Wars, I think, which goes a long way towards explaining why that second trilogy was so terribly disappointing (Well, in addition to the fact that its scripts were poorly ghost-written by Lucas' grade-school interns). Like, all I really needed to know about Darth Vader was that he was an evil robot wizard, not that he had a crappy childhood and messy romance and was drummed out of his fucked-up space samurai religion for not being celibate/abstaining from killing foks when he lost his temper. Boba Fett? He had a laser gun and jet-pack; all I needed to know. The Emperor? The aforementioned evil robot wizard's boss, who was so old it was literally scary and he had lighting hands. Never cared about his political machinations.

So I kind of groaned when half-way through the second issue of the latest Star Wars book, which I added to my pull-list based on the strength of the first issue, I saw the elite, black-ops squad princess/pilot Leia was assembling would include a member of whatever race that lizard-looking bounty hunter from Empire belongs to and a Twi'lek*, one of the lady aliens with a coupla big tentacles instead of hair on their head (like that one dancer in Jabba's palace, or the blue Jedi Aayla Secura**).

I know that the now rigorously patrolled continuity of the Star Wars universe doesn't really allow for the sort of random character creation that went into the original movies and the original Marvel Star Wars comics, but it was one of the things I most liked about the original films (being between the ages of 0 and 6 during their original release dates probably helped a little too), and their absence one of the things I least like about the expanded universe stuff.

God, what am I even talking about?

Oh, right. Star Wars #2. It's got some characters from races extrapolated from cameo appearances of random characters in the sequels (two seconds of lizard guy standing there next to Boba Fett and the Very Thin Android, a scene of a lady dancing) in it. That same scene includes a panel where Leia uses the word "starfightering" as one might use a verb. That was my favorite part.

This issue isn't as exciting and complete as the previous one was, but it's well-written, well-drawn, well-colored and features Star Wars characters I know/care about (um, as much as I care about any Star Wars characters, at any rate). It's far better than those old Marvel comics, which I've been reading in Omnibus collections lately, but I don't know, there's still something appealing about how anarchic those comics were compared to these ones; like, great care is taken to keep Chewbacca on-model and imitate his various Wookie words, whereas in those old Star Wars comics, he'd change size, shape and general hair-length depending on the artist...and sometimes page.

This is a good comic book though. I'm going to keep reading it.

*Warning: You can Google "Twi'lek", but be careful of Google Image-ing "Twi'lek," as you're going to find some...unusual fan art.

**One of the more fun articles I ever wrote for the Columbus-based altweekly I used to write for and edit a section of was a feature for which I interviewed Star Wars artist Jan Duursema (whom I've probably mentioned a few dozen times was the artist who drew Advanced Dungons & Dragons, the comic that got me into comics, and Amy Allen, who played her during her very brief appearance in the films, as both were going to be guests at that particular year's Mid-Ohio Comic Con. The character, who Duursema created with John Ostrander, was notable for being the first (I think?) to go from the comics to the movies, rather than the usual movies-to-comics path.