Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ads of note from this week's Marvel comics:

Well, I had read the reports, I had seen the character design and I had read the solicitations, and now here's the house ad indicating that yes, this is really a thing that is happening: The hellspawn-hunting angel "Angela" character that Neil Gaiman wrote in an issue of Spawn when I was a freshman in high school that the writer and Spawn creator and artist Todd McFarlane fought about in court forever really is joining the Marvel Universe some reason I can't even begin to imagine. Look, there she is! Appearing in a random issue of a Guardians of the Galaxy comic book, for some reason that probably makes sense to someone somewhere!

As hard as it is for me to wrap my head around this being a thing that is happening, it's still harder to imagine Neil Gaiman and Brian Michael Bendis co-writing a comic book together and harder still to imagine it's Bendis that gets top billing.

We don't get to see much of Angela in this image, but I'm struck by how familiar she looks....and it can't just be because I read one comic with her in it when I was 14. Her top looks awfully Wonder Woman-esque in this particular image...

This is another Marvel/sponsor fusion ad I just don't get. There's an image of Tony Stark in a busted-up Iron Man suit in a bank of snow, followed by something about how great your job is when you drive an Audi, and then a couple of drawings of a car.

Is the implication that commuting to work in a suit of Iron Man armor sucks? Because that would actually probably be pretty awesome (The image is a drawing of a scene from the film, however, after Iron Man crash lands, having just escaped a massive terrorist attack that leveled his house). And that driving an Audi is better? Why not just lose the top image, and have pictures of Tony Stark driving his Audi around...?

I'm not sure but I suppose it's possible those bottom two images are also scenes from the film—I remember the end of the film involving Tony Stark getting into a car and driving away, although I don't remember the make or model of the car.

But most perplexing of all is, if you're going to use scenes from the film anyway, why not just use the stills from the film, rather than having an artist poorly re-draw them? Like, that second image—I think Stark is getting into the car, and the door is thus slightly ajar, but because of the way the image is cropped, it also looks like maybe he's just leaning his head out the window like a dog while he drives...?

Anyway: Weird, ugly, confusing ad.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Comic shop comics: June 12-26

Classic Popeye #11 (IDW) Hmm, maybe Popeye should visit Superman's barber...?
Oh yeah; Superman's barber doesn't have much better luck cutting indestructible hair. (For what it's worth, the Superman cover predates the Popeye one by a couple of years).

Daredevil #27 (Marvel Entertainment) Okay, now this, this is definitely the climax of Mark Waid's entire run on the book to date, and the completion of what turned out to be a 27-issue (or 27.1-issue, I guess) story arc, pitting Daredevil against his archenemy in a brand new way (That's not giving the villain away or anything, is it? I mean he's right there on the cover: Space Ghost). It's really good. Some additional thoughts...?

—That was nice of Superior Spider-Man (that is, Doctor Octopus-in-Spider-Man's-body), to chip in and help Daredevil out like that.

—It's kinda weird that DD was able to call in so many Avengers to help protect his loved ones, but couldn't have, like, Iron Man and Thor show up to help him take down Ikari though, isn't it?

—Samnee knocked this one out of the park. I mean, he usually does, but he knocked it even further out of the park than usual. I loved the graceful, exacting illustration of the ninja fight scenes, like that panel where Ikari slips his foot behind DD's in order to knock his ass down? Brilliant stuff.

—Literally one hundred barrels containing the toxic ooze that transformed Matt Murdock into Daredevil (and a rat and four pet turtles into Splinter and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!) are in a building that collapses in this story. Imagine how many rats, pigeons, feral cats and cockroaches are gonna mutate now!

—I know Bullseye is supposed to be an evil son of a bitch and all, but man, I kinda feel for the guy at this point. He's essentially the guy from the Metallica "One" video, which used to scare the bejeezus out of me whenever I contemplated the fate of that poor devil SOS-ing "kill me" over and over again with his head on his pillow. Sheesh.

—This would actually be a good place for Waid to take his bow and leave the title. I'm glad he's not though.

FF #8 (Marvel) Is this the first comic book with a Mad magazine-style fold-in for a cover...? (How has DC not done an entire month of 52 of those covers yet?) There are a pair of battles in this issue, one featuring the Future Foundation kids vs. two of their number, until Dragon Man breaks it up, and the other featuring Medusa and a pants-less She-Hulk, until Ant Man breaks it up. Plus! Doctor Doom, saying "Impudent whelp!" and "Pah!" and other Doomisms.

I'm not 100% sure, but I think the Allreds do the best Doom of anyone since Kirby himself...

Green Team: Teen Trillionaires #2 (DC Comics) Uh-oh. This book seems to have taken a turn for the not-very-interesting very, very fast. In this issue, we learn a little bit more about the various characters and their various relationships, and that Commodores over-arching ambition is to be a superhero, which so far has consisted of funding some sort of knock-off Iron Man suits which doesn't seem quite right. I mean, Batman's only a billionaire, and look how how much cool superhero stuff he has! Even if Commodore lacks the drive to train and become a psychotic super-ninja detective, he should at least be able to build all kinds of cool crime-fighting robots and Whirlybats and such-like, right...?

There's a few panels where the teens talk to each other in texting abbreviations, which was so irritating I wanted to punch this comic book in its face, except it didn't have a face, because it was a comic book.

The sole redeeming quality was probably when Mo was showing Commodore his collection of superhero paraphernalia, and someone refers to it as "geek stuff," and, in the background, we see a case containing the costume of Brother Power The Geek (or maybe it actually is Brother Power the Geek, given that he's just a mannequin anyway...?). That was kinda funny (Holy shit, you guys! In the New 52, there's no Donna Troy and no Wally West and no Stephanie Brown and no Elongated Man, but there is a Brother Power The Geek!)

I really like the bodies of work produced by Art Baltazar and Franco and Ig Guara, and was planning on sticking this out until the eighth issue or so (when it will almost certainly be canceled), but man, I don't know if I can stick around even that long if the next issue's gonna be much like this one....

Hawkeye #11 (Marvel) This is a done-in-one issue by the regular creative team of Matt Fraction and David Aja (with Chris Eliopoulos getting a "production" credit, likely for some role in all of the diagrams and symbols used in this issue). It's star is Arrow, aka Lucky, aka Pizza Dog, the dog that Hawkeye adopted from the be-tracksuited thugs who say "bro" in the first issue of the series.

And, most importantly, it's told entirely from the perspective of the dog. And it's awesome.

Fraction and Aja use that old Gary Larson gag about what we say to dogs versus what they hear... communicate a bit of Lucky's understanding of what's going on between the Hawkeyes (they're fighting about something).

Much of the information is conveyed visually, and presented as spider-web like charts of associations the dog has for various characters and/or locations, with little pictograms representing smells and memories of the characters. He walks around, discovers a body, discovers a pizza in the garbage, has a few run-ins with some bad guys, gets in a brutal fight and ultimately endures a big, life-changing event, along with one of the Hawkeyes.

It's a really different, really fun book and, compared to what you usually find in books starring Hawkeye, actually sort of brilliant.

Star Wars #6 (Dark Horse Comics) Aaaaaaaaand I'm officially bored with this series. It's still of relatively high quality—it's well-written, the art is nice—and the premise is pretty much ideally suited for the casual Star Wars fan who also reads comics (the only better-suited titles being Jeffrey Brown's Vader's Little Princess and Darth Vader and Son, and the old Star Wars Tales anthologies from Dark Horse), but since the first issue, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of forward progress in each issue, and various sub-plots and storylines all but disappear (Darth Vader, for example, gets one panel here; Chewbacca another; Han Solo one of his own).

Writer Brian Wood is clearly telling the story more like a novel than a serially-published comic book, and that's a perfectly legitimate way to tell the story. I'll just read it in graphic novel some day, rather than in monthly, 22-page installments.

Young Avengers #6 (Marvel) Hey, so have you been wondering what some of the other Young Avengers have been up to, since Young Avengers relaunched, sans Speed, Patriot, Stature (I think she's pretty dead at the moment...?) and Vision (I think he maybe grew up into the old, slightly more boring version of himself...?). I have.

Well, in this issue regular writer Kieron Gillen and guest artist Kate Brown (who is a hell of an artist, and who I hope will be the guest artist any time regular artists Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton can't draw an issue, tells us what Speed has been up to. He's gotten a ten-minute-a-day job at some sort of super corporation of some kind, assembling super-widgets (a week's worth of work for people who don't move at super-speed. There he befriends former (?) mutant Prodigy, who does some sort of super-consulting customer service, with people calling a hotline and asking him how to defuse alien weapons or fight Elektra or whatever.

In other words, this is a sort of "Meanwhile..." issue in which we check in with a character, and meet another (or check in with two characters, if you already knew who Prodigy was; I did not), and see what a couple of young super-people do when they get jobs.

It's smart and witty, as most of the previous five issues were, and it's incredible well-drawn (with nice, animation cel-like coloring from either Brown herself or maybe the person credited with "production). The ending is kind of confusing, presumably on purpose though, as a mysterious assailant does something mysterious to one of our two protagonists.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


This week I have two reviews at Good Comics For Kids. The first is of the first two volumes of Papercutz's ARiOL comics by Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant (they're really good, by the way, and the second is of DC's Batman/Superman #1, by the bigger-than-solicited creative team of Greg Pak, Jae Lee and Ben Oliver.

And at Robot 6, I have a review featuring a few words about every single story in Alternative Comics #4.

And that's it for Caleb-writing-about-comics-for-venues-other-than-EDILW for the week. I should have reviews of the last three Wednesdays worth of new comics I've purchased in an installment of "Comic Shop Comics" either later tonight or tomorrow evening, depending on how productive I am this evening.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

'Twas the Night Before Wednesday...

The revitalized publisher Alternative Comics releases the next issue of its flagship anthology, a $6, 48-page comic book comic—which sound expensive until you remember how much a 20-22-page Marvel comic book costs you these days—featuring work from James Kochalka, Sam Henderson, Noah Van Sciver and a bunch of other talented folks whose names I can't recall at the moment because they did not make me laugh like those other three gentleman did. I will likely write at some length about this later in the week, but, in the mean-time: Heads up!

Essentially the New 52 version of Superman/Batman, this Greg Pak/Jae Lee/Ben Oliver joint is differentiated from that pre-New 52 iteration by the fact that this is a "Year One" story, presumably dedicated to telling the tale of how Superman and Batman first met (aside from the other time they first met in Justice League #2, anyway). It's a $4, 26-page book, and those first 19-pages sure are pretty looking. Again: Full review forthcoming.

So right now there are four—count 'em, four—Green Lantern titles, three with the words "Green Lantern" actually in them, and Red Lanterns, starring the Red Lanterns. This new ongoing will make a fifth Lantern ongoing, and I'm pretty sure this is where we'll see the Lantern book bubble burst. The title character, alternately known as "Agent Orange" or, to civilians, Orange Lantern, previously starred in a Christmas special and a back-up in Threshold, a book that got canceled almost as soon as it was announced. Like Threshold, this will be written by Keith Giffen, whose resume makes him seen an ideal writer for a sometimes funny character having outer space adventures, but whose New 52 track-record is pretty dismal. Scott Kolins will be providing the art.

That's just an adjective that just doesn't get thrown around enough these days.

This $8 giant looks a lot like three issues of a miniseries smooshed into a single, unnaturally large one-shot. The premise is right there in the title—mash-ups of classic literature with the aliens from the old Mars Attacks trading cards—but is notable around my apartment for featuring the work of two of my all-time favorite artists, John McCrea (drawing the Moby Dick portion) and Kelley Jones (drawing the Jekyll and Hyde portion). Comic Book Resources has a preview. Hopefully this does well enough that a series will be generated, and we can see Mars attack Wonderland, Neverland, Camelot, Pemberley, fair Verona and, ultimately, Mars Attacks War of the Worlds....

I really enjoy David Petersen's Mouse Guard comics, and really, really enjoyed the Legends of the Guard series he put together, in which he drew a framing sequence while other artists got to tell stories in his world of medieval mice. This week, Petersen and company are kicking off a new volume of the series, with Stan Sakai and Ben Caldwell serving as the guest artists. ComicsAlliance has a nice preview here.

This is the comic book released this week that I most want to read, and its $50 price tag makes it the comic book released this week I can least afford to purchase. (Confidential to Dark Horse: Got any review copies lying around the old warehouse? 'Cause I know a very talented and astute comic book critic who could review that for you somewhere...)

The Superman family of characters get the Tiny Titans treatment courtesy of Art Baltazar and Franco. Highly recommended for Superman fans of all ages (Bonus: Baltazar is the only artist to kinda sorta make the New 52 Superman costume work).

Monday, June 24, 2013



Monsters of West Virginia: Mysterious Creatures in the Mountain State (Stackpole Books; 2012) by Rosemary Ellen Guilley: The cover, featuring a very moth-like, very mannish version of The Mothman is obviously what first attracted me to this book, but if you've slogged through very many of these massive not-comics posts in the past, then you know I'm pretty interested in monsters, real, imaginary or, in the case of creatures like Mothman and most of those covered herein, somewhere in-between.

In addition to being a researcher of ghosts, UFO, Forteana and suchlike paranormal phenomena, Guiley has published some 50 books, and I imagine she's had plenty of time to come to her own conclusions.

In her introduction, she explains West Virginia's rather impressive CV regarding the supernatural or paranormal—"Although the Native Americans hunted there, they made no permanent settlement in West Virginia," she wrote, "They considered the land cursed and full of bad spirits." It's also a mountainous state, almost all mountain, filled with hollows and valleys called "holllers," and at least partially bordered by the Ohio River, home to several famous supernatural creatures.

And she lays out her own theory to explain all sorts of paranormal activity, that UFOs monsters and the like are visitors from different dimensions, which sometimes stumble into our reality in places where the borders between dimensions are more porous. It's not too far removed from John A. Keel's theories, particularly as regards "ultraterrestrials," and, indeed, she mentions Keel in her intro, and the fact that she knew him.

Her book's 12 chapters are devoted either to well-known monsters capable of carrying their own chapters, like cover boy Mothman and The Flatwoods Monster (which she calls by the name The Braxton County Monster, and notes its other names as The Green Monster and The Phantom of Flatwoods) and visitor from Maryland The Snallygaster (who apparently had a beverage named after it in the 1960s; a float made out of Mountain Dew and vanilla ice cream) and the local variant of Bigfoot (The Yayho), and broader groups or categories of monsters like "Monster Birds, Thunderbirds, and Flying Reptiles," "Mystery Dogs, Demon Dogs, and Werewolves," and "Strange Felines."

My favorite chapter was definitely "White Things and Sheepsquatch," which described two creatures I've never heard of. The former come in the shapes and sizes of various quadrapeds (only sometimes they have more than four legs), and they are covered in long, white, shaggy hair and have large, fang-filled mouths. Their cries are "chilling screams like a woman being raped or murdered" and, most curiously, they ferociously attack, but while the pain inflicted on human victims is real, the wounds are not. They're afraid of graveyards, and won't enter.

Sounds kinda like a random collection of traits, which is, of course, part of what makes 'em sound pretty cool.

The latter is a particular, bipedal White Thing with a long, hairless tail and single point goat-like horns. As described, he sounds like something from Where The Wild Things Are, and I really like compound words applied to monsters, like giant owl Big Hoot or bat-winged hairy hominid Batsquatch.

Her chapter on Mothman seems to hit all of the highlights, and to summarize the phenomenon well (Her bibliography features plenty of Keel, other popular Mothman books and Gray Barker's The Silver Bridge which, like everything else Barker reported on, should probably be taken with a huge grain of salt, given his known proclivity for hoaxing). She connects Mothman to earlier sightings of a Birdman, and also extrapolates the idea of Mothman as a widely accepted portent of doom seen around the world before disasters, something I've heard asserted, but never explained outside of the (not very good) 2002 Mothman Prophecies movie.

Maybe that's in The Silver Bridge...? That's about the only Mothman book I've never been able to get my hands on yet.

Searching For Ropens: Living Pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea (WingSpan Press; 2007) by Jonathan David Whitcomb: I've heard the term "ropens," used to describe reported relic populations of pterosaurs, in other reading on cryptozoology and the paranormal in the past, but it was Jerome Clark's Unexplained! (reviewed in a previous installment of this column) that brought this particular book to my attention. It took some looking, but I finally found it at an Ohio library that shares books with my library, and upon getting my hands on it, I immediately detected something a little off about it.

First, it had the look of a cheaply-made, self-published book, with a particularly dull cover for a book about possible surviving pterosaurs. Secondly, the blurbs on the back weren't from authors or experts or critics, but "From readers of the first edition," all of whom went not by their names, but by initials (Sample blurb: "...a talented writer..." T.B.). Third, while the library that owned it had it shelved at 567.9 in the Dewey Decimal System (specific dinosaur types), the back of the book itself suggests the three following categories, in this order: Spiritual, Inspirational, True Life Adventure.

Whitcomb is an adventurer—or, at least in this case, someone who went on an adventure. And he's something of an amateur cryptozoologist, in that he traveled to Papua New Guinea on a quest to find and film a ropen (His day job is a forensic videographer). But he's also an ardent and faithful Christian and, relevant to this adventure, a Creationist who doesn't believe in evolution.

I'm pretty sure I've talked about this at several points in the seven or so years I've been writing Every Day Is Like Wednesday, but I'm a mixed-up Catholic whose entire formal education, from kindergarten to college, was at Catholic schools, and at no point in that education was I ever subjected to Creationism, Intelligent Design or even the "teaching of the controversy," beyond the settling of that controversy in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

I can't even wrap my head around Creationism or Intelligent Design, as I don't see anything mutually exclusive in belief in an omniscient, omnipotent God and an evolutionary process that takes millions and millions of years. If God can do anything, why can't he be the force and author behind evolution? The only reason to doubt that, as far as I can see, is a fundamentalist, literal belief in every word of the Bible, which I find even harder to understand: The story of the Earth's seven-day creation, after all, would have been orally passed down until it was recorded in Aramaic and/or Hebrew, translated into Greek, translated into Latin and German and English, and then smoothed out in different versions of different Bibles before it was preached and read here in America in our lifetimes. I'm okay with "day" being a metaphor. (Jesus gets called "the lamb of God" and that's taken metaphorically; why do fundamentalists insists on a 148-hour creation process, but none insist that Jesus sometimes turned into a baby sheep? Why is the understanding of the use of metaphor in the Bible so selective?).

So I'm skeptical of Creationist thought, which is as perplexing and alien to me as the tenants of any religion on Earth, past or present, that I've heard about, despite the fact that most Creationists and I were raised within different sects of the same broad religious tradition.

Now what's that have to do with pterodactyls?

Well, you see, a large part of the reasons Whitcomb went looking for them is that he believes the discovery of surviving pterosaurs would deal a staggering blow to the theory of evolution. How it would do so, exactly, is unclear to me (There are few books I've read—at least that I've made it all the way through—where I wanted to talk to the author to ask for clarification so often as I did while reading Ropens).

Whitcomb thinks that finding a living dinosaur would prove that the dinosaurs did not all die 65 million years ago or evolve into birds. I see no reason why this would be the case. Whitcomb himself brings up the Coelacanth, the existence of which was quite astounding, but didn't do away with the theory of evolution. And there are actually a fairly large number of animals that lived with the dinosaurs that also survived—crocodiles, turtles, sharks, various insects and fish—and their existence hasn't been seen as a rebuke of Darwin or evolution (In fact, they sort of support the theory of "survival of the fittest").

Discovering a ropen would indeed be amazing, but I can't imagine it would cause many scientists to turn from science to a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, and a belief in a young earth (Many Creationists calculate the age of the Earth at around 6,000 years, by adding up the lifespans of all the dudes whose lifespans are included in the Bible; Whitcomb differs from them by noting that there's no reason to believe that when the authors of the Bible calculated Adam's life-span, they began with his creation, as he was technically immortal until he got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. We can't know how long he lived there—hundreds of years? Thousands of years?—before the 900 and change the Bible says constituted his life. Whitcomb also believes the 6,000 years + Adam's Garden Time figure applies only to Earth, not the entire galaxy or universe, which he allows may have existed before Earth).

So Whitcomb's quest to film a living ropen is as much a spiritual quest as a scientific one, and as he himself reveals (and, I imagine, would be the first to admit), he was looking for evidence to support his belief, not objective evidence to prove or disprove a dispassionately held hypothesis. He's convinced the ropen is real, and wants to find the proof to convince others. Naturally, this makes him awfully (overly) credulous, and willing to err on the side of accepting secondary evidence as more compelling that it should be.

And so second and third-hand reports of ropen sightings are cited as proof, and if one scoffs at eyewitness testimony, given to him first-hand or second-hand, then one must doubt the sincerity or sanity of the witnesses, and he can't find any reason why any of them would lie about it, going into some detail as to why this might be (Of course, by that standard, UFOs are real, aliens abduct people regularly for medical and sexual experiments, Bigfoot is real and at least as populous as some species of bear in the continental United States and there's a lake in Scotland which is filled to the brim with huge aquatic animals of all shapes).

Even more gallingly, Whitcomb counts the sighting of ropen lights as sightings of ropens, which is, obviously, a bit problematic.

But let's backtrack a bit. What is a ropen? Well, it's a large, winged, flying reptile, likely a relic of dinosaur times. They differ in size from fairly large to titanic, with wingspans approaching 17 meters long. They seem to live on mountain tops, fly by night, and hunt for coral reef fish or large oysters, although there are reports of them carrying off people and scavenging corpses from graveyards.

And, most remarkably, they are apparently bioluminescent. That is, they glow. Accounts on the source of the light—the whole beast, just the tail—and the coloration of those lights vary. As does the intensity of that light (whether it lights up the environment around the ropen, or is used as a searchlight, or if it just makes the ropen itself glow), and then there's the matter of the usage of the glow—if they subsist as fishers, it's possible it's used as a lure to trick fish closer to the surface in the night.

Oh, and in some accounts, the ropen light gives off sparks, and can burn human flesh that touches it, so that whatever makes them glow seems to be some kind of liquid secretion.

Whitcomb doesn't get into the obvious questions scientists would consider regarding the possibility of such creatures' existence. For example, how does bioluminescence work, exactly? What is the largest animal to ever exhibit bioluminescence? (The only ones I can think of are insects and aquatic life).

Is there enough food on the mainland, the islands and other places ropen might exist to support the one or two or handful of ropens that Whitcomb believes live there? (I'm pretty sure a breeding population would have to be fairly large).

And is it physically possible for creatures that large to take flight? The biggest birds we have today are all remarkably light (none are capable of lifting a human, even a small child), and even the biggest pterosaurs we know of—Hatzegopteryx and Quetzalcoatlus—are generally estimated to have 11-meter wingspans and to weigh less than 200 pounds, although some have estimated they could potentially have grown as large as Whitcomb's ropens (in which case, they'd weigh around 500 pounds).

As I recently learned from Planet Dinosaur (also covered in a previous installment of this column, these creatures were so large, scientists weren't sure how they could fly, and assumed they could only glide, until it was theorized they moved around on the ground in a quadrupedal fashion, and perhaps could have pushed off the ground using their powerful forelimbs as well as their hind legs.

But Whitcomb doesn't get into the biology and physics of glowing and flying animals.

Another problem? Those known giants all lack tails, whereas the sightings Whitcomb reports and investigates, like the composite creature he comes up with, have a very, very long tail, like much smaller pterosaurs in the fossil record (Sidenote: Do you know where Creationists think fossils come from? The deluge that Noah's Ark floated over. That is what did all the dinosaurs in...with the possible exception of the ropen, although I'm not sure why the deluge would have spared some giant flying reptiles while killing all the others*).

His theory to explain this is that the smaller pterosaurs that sport tails in the fossil record may actually just be juvenile versions of the super-pterosaurs like the ropen.

So while he and his expedition fail to find a ropen, and the subsequent expeditions also failed to find one, he and other Western explorers do see and record ropen lights, which would simply be objects emitting light seen from a great distance. He does go about eliminating various explanations—it couldn't be a plane or a comet or a meteor because of the longevity, or the angle of flight, or the types of movement—but that doesn't explain that they are ropen and not, say ghosts like those seen after the containment unit is shut down at the climax of Ghostbuster or Cobra trouble bubbles painted with glow-in-the-dark paint or glowing robotic pterodactyls created by a Scooby-Doo villain who heard the legend of the ropen and wants to scare snooping teenage mystery-solvers from finding his smuggling operation based in the islands off the mainland of Papua New Guinea.

Whitcomb's book is sort of all over the place, with major digressions into criticism of the theory of evolution, the nature of belief as applied to science and faith, the results of an expert analysis of films of the purported ropen-lights and, most weirdly, a computer program he created which he purports disproves creation. To me, it's all a moot point: On the one hand, I don't think belief in God and belief in natural science are mutually exclusive and, for another, they are two entirely different conversations with little bearing on one another. You can't disprove science and assert a tenant of faith just because; well, you can, but you're unlikely to convince anyone who doesn't already share your belief.

One more point of criticism, before I say something nice about the book, which I honestly did enjoy reading and which did fire my imagination, even if I found myself shaking my head while doing much of that reading.

The appendix includes a section entitled "Living Pterosaurs in the Bible," which I was quite excited to read, as I've read the Bible, and have no memory of a pterosaur, or a dinosaur of any kind (unless you count the description of Behemoth) in it.

Whitcomb picks up on a mention of "fiery serpents" and writes this:
Take your pick whether "fiery" refers to their color, to the burning produced by their venomous bite, or to a bioluminescent glow at night (The glow of the ropen causes some eyewitnesses in Paupua New Guinea to compare it to a fire.) What were these "serpents of the Old Testament? Were they snakes?
No, they were ropens.

Whitcomb believes the Middle East was home to "a small venomous Rhamphorynchoid pterosaur," noting that a long-tailed reptile with its wings folded would look like a snake, and desert-dwelling Israelites would have been easy prey to a flying, poisonous reptile.

He also mentions John 3:14, translated variously, but let's go with good old King James: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up."

Does a snake on a pole (this refers to something in the book of Numbers), represent Jesus? Not as well, Whitcomb argues, as a "a copper figure of a small long-tailed pterosaur attached to a pole...outstretched wings to the sides, doesn't this better represent a man's outstretched arms on a cross?" He goes on to discuss how the pterosaur cold be a potent symbol for Christ, "If pterosaurs flew above earthbound snakes in Egypt and Arabia over two thousand years ago, it could symbolize the power of Jesus Christ over Satan."

Now, I find the thought of pterodactyl as a symbol of Christ intriguing, and at least as intriguing as a fish or lamb; it's certainly a more bad-ass symbol, isn't it? (Although visions of a church with a pterodactyl on a cross at the front sure brings to mind some sort of pagan faith from a sword-and-sorcery story doesn't it? The sort of place Conan might bust up?)

But my mind is quite thoroughly boggled by the fact that Whitcomb takes the Bible so literally that he believes in a 6,000-ish year-old earth and a flood that killed all life on earth save that which Noah gathered on a boat, but can extrapolate pterosaurs out of a pair of references to serpents in the Bible.

(The Bible is also full of references to unicorns: Numbers 23:22, Pslams 22:21, Deuteronomy 33:17, Isaiah 34:7, Job 34:9-12 and Pslams 22.21, 24:6, 92:10. There's more Bibilcal evidence for a unicorn than a ropen, but I've yet to encounter Searching For Unicorns. According to Chris Laver's excellent The Natural History of Unicorns, the "unicorn" of the Bible most likely comes down to a translation and/or transcription quirk, and actually refers to the extinct auroch; looking up translations online, I see that many Bibles have translated King James' "unicorn" into "ox" or "wild-ox.")

So my own beliefs and worldview differ quite strongly from those of Whitcomb, and while I enjoy hearing stories about ropens and relic dinosaurs, I'm completely unconvinced by the scant evidence he gathers, and disappointed in his efforts to present such lacking evidence as evidence, and am somewhat bewildered with his arguments for the existence of ropen and their importance in refuting evolution, which I always thought of as fairly settled science but is actually apparently some sort of insidious superstition.

I still liked reading his book, and his strange, barely-supported beliefs. Parts of the book read like a travelogue to an exotic place, and there are glimmers of a fascinating story in there of an open-minded man going on a dinosaur hunt for quixotic reasons. Whitcomb's book is poorly organized, but he's not a bad writer, and his style is engaging; better still, he has a sense of humor, which always goes a long, long way.

Whitcomb has a fascinating book in him, but I'm afraid this isn't really the book that Searching For Ropens hints exists in there somewhere.

And speaking of fascinating books, I do hope some excellent objective writer out there with an agent and a publishing house goes about crafting an exhaustive book about the intersection of Creationism and Cryptozoology, as it's a fascinating area full of fascinating stories.

Tracking The Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore (University of New Mexico Press; 2011) by Benjamin Radford: Among all the cryptids and/or urban legendary monsters to haunt our hemisphere, the Chupacabra is perhaps the most fascinating in that we've been able to see it's birth and spread in our lifetimes, and it seems to be a creature of our lifetimes—The Bigfoot phenomenon, for example, might have kicked off in earnest in the 1950s, but roots going back to the tales of indigenous people supported it. The Chupacabra, on the other hand, just sort of appeared and spread like wildfire.

In his book, Radford gives the creature an incredibly thorough going-over, tracking the origins of the sightings—which happened to line up with coverage of previous sightings rather nicely—investigating them as thoroughly as possible, examining and eliminating various theories to explain (and/or explain away) the Chupacabra, going over cases of captured or killed "Chupacabras" in the Southwestern United States (those hairless, mange-stricken canids you occasionally see videos of on the Internet) and ultimately exposing what he believes (and presents a pretty strong case for) the unlikely genesis of The Chupacabra: 1995 horror film Species, sensationalist media and media-induced mass hysteria.

Works for me, but your mileage, of course, may vary. I really liked a lot of aspects of Radford's book, in which I learned an awful lot of both science junk (like how vampire bats actually "suck" blood) and cultural hisotry.

There's a rather nice long section discussing The Chupacabra in pop culture, which mentions Tom Beland and Juan Doe's Fantastic Four special Isla de la Muerte, the plot of which heavily involves Los Chupacabras, and a whole list of films I kinda wanna track down some day.


The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden by Mark Bowden: This is at least the third book I've listened to on the subject, following Mark Owen's No Easy Day and Peter Bergen's Manhunt, but despite that fact, I'm not, like, obsessed by the story or anything. I blame the popularity of the story, in that it keeps generating new books, which keep getting recorded as audiobooks, which my library keeps ordering, which are always on the new audiobook shelf when I reach for something non-fiction to listen when I have a long-ish drive ahead of me.

This one differs from the other two in, I think, its more recent vintage, meaning facts have settled a bit, and myths about the events have had time to emerge, which Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down) can therefore research and either dispel or uphold.

Among the myths he explores near the end are exactly how heroically bold a decision of President Barack Obama's it was to go after bin Laden—while it's true not everyone agreed with the raid option, it's also true Obama wasn't alone in supporting it (Bowden notes that two-time Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney once specifically ruled out going after a high-value target in Pakistan—and whether or not torture had anything to do with finding bin Laden—it may have, in that one of the dots that would eventually be connected came from someone who was tortured (It certainly wasn't as cut and dry as an American interrogator yelling "Tell us where The Sheik is!" between rounds of water-boarding until the torture victim gave up the address in Abottabad).

No sign of the Jessica Chastain character from Zero Dark Thirty in this account, although someone not unlike her shows up in Owen's account.

The audiobook is read by James Lurie, whose voice occasionally sounds uncannily like Casey Kasem's to me.


The Dinosaur Project (2012): In this found-footage take on the The Lost World concept (from Ireland, if you're wondering why you never heard of it), the incredibly respectable British Cryptozoological Society is setting out on an expedition to the Congo in search of Mokele Mbembe, to a great deal of straight media fanfare (It's a science fiction film, then). It is presented as the cut-together results of all the film found in a backpack floating down the river, and while director Sid Bennett cheats a bit with the found-footage concept, giving the character's all chest-mounted mini-cameras that allows them to record just about anything as if he wasn't using the premise, it works remarkably well for a low-budget way of making a dinosaur film.

So, for example, instead of having to spend the money to either convincingly render a cool-looking sea-going reptile (or just have a very cheaply-made computer effect appear on-screen), he can offer a glimpse of a neck, some static, screaming and shouting.

Not that the dinosaurs all appear off-screen or anything. Those that appear—including some large pterosaurs that accidentally crash into the expedition's plane, smaller, carnivorous pterosaurs, a juvenile theropod the lead character tames with candy—are all rather well-rendered. It's just a nice, organic shortcut.

The project is lead by a swashbuckling, well-respected crytpozoologist (again, sceince fiction), his envious organizer, a cute girl medic who doesn't survive long, some camera men (including a "funny" one), a native guide, and the neglected son of the project leader, who stows away on the trip.

After their plane is downed, they follow the river, having several dinosaur sightings of various degress of danger, before discovering a secret entrance to a lost world where dinosaurs still exist.

The inter-personal drama is broad and predictable, and the son's rapid friendship with a dinosaur a little cloying, but I found it a nice, modern take on Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World, and it was refreshing to see a film dealing in part with a cryptid seemingly having the first idea about it and even the method by which the pocket of dinosaurs was separated and isolated from the rest of the world made a sort of sense.

Found-footage filmmaking is understandably meeting more and more resistance from a lot of quarters, but it worked quite well here. Considering the quality of most modern cheap dinosaur movies, Dinosaur Project is, relatively, kind of brilliant.

It's no Trollhunter, though.

Django Unchained (2012): Finally, a movie where Quentin Tarantino can use the N-word all he likes and kinda sorta get away with it, given the setting!

Seriously, I liked this an awful lot, thought Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leondardo DiCaprio all did kick-ass jobs on it, and were I given final cut of the film for some damn reason, the only things I might change were chopping out the Jonah Hill cameo (because, at that point, all I could think was, "Hey, what's Jonah Hill doing in this movie all of a sudden?") and re-casting Tarantino's small role, because holy shit, that sucked...and I kinda like his acting once in a while! (I even liked Destiny Turns on the Radio! Granted, I haven't watched it since that first time in the theater when I was 17, but I do remember liking it).

An Idiot Abroad Series 1 and 2 (2012, 2013) Being an American, and not an especially savvy one when it comes to Things That Are Popular On The Internet or Things that Are Popular In England, I had never heard of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's podcast, nor had I any idea who Karl Pilkington was, or what his precise relationship was with the two well-known comic presences, when I borrowed the DVD collection of the first series of this unusual travel program.

The idea is simple and inspired. Gervais and Merchant take their friend Pilkington, a "typical Little Englander" who is very set in his ways and doesn't like deviating from his comfort zone, and send him around the world with a camera crew in order to see The Seven Wonders of the World. In the opening, Merchant is quoted explaining, "I've been to many exotic places, I genuinely think travel broadens the mind." Gervais, on the other hand, says, "I want him to hate it. I want him to hate every minute of it for my own amusement. Nothing is funnier to me than Karl in a corner, being poked by a stick. I am that stick...this is one of the funniest, most expensive practical jokes I've ever done."

And so in each of the seven episodes of the first series, Pilkington walks into Merchant and Gervais' office and is shown a "wunder," and gives his immediate reaction. And then he's off to experience The Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal or Christ the Redeemer the culture surrounding it. An inveterate cranky old man of a 30-something, he doesn't exactly hate every moment of it, but he certainly doesn't love every moment of it either, and it's immensely entertaining to watch his often slack-jawed reaction to what he sees, particularly when it comes to certain Chinese cuisine, or the toilet facilities of various countries.

Gervais and Merchant check in constantly as voices on Pilkington's cell phone, and are forever setting him up with strange tasks that either they think will be funny or will make for good television, but don't have a whole hell of a lot to do with the chosen wonder, like a crash course in Mexican wrestling, for example, or riding in a rodeo.

The highlight of the series is the final episode, which is in part a clip show, but in larger part Merchant, Gervais and Pilkington sitting around talking about the show.

The second series, which I watched after this one (and after The Ricky Gervais Show, more on which will follow below), struck me as a much weaker one. The premise for this series is "The Bucket List," in which Merchant and Gervais present Pilkington with a list 100 popular or common items on a bucket list allowing him to choose any seven. He does so, and they sometimes radically alter them—swimming with dolphins in Australia becomes swimming with sharks, for example—and, as in the first series, force him into a variety of strange detours.

"It's making Karl do things that other people want to do before they die," Merchant says in the opening.

"This isn't his list," Gervais laughingly adds.

These include a few things that are right up Pilkington's alley, like meeting "freaks" like a magnetic man during a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway and a kingdom of Little People in China, and a bunch of monkeys.

The "Bucket List" concept is a little more fluid, and so the "little treats," as Merchant refers to them, seem a little more forced and random (that is, they're not as geographically convenient as those in the first series; for example, in the first episode of the second series, Pilkington chooses spending a night on a desert isle, but on the way they fly him to New Zealand and try to get him to bungee jump, which he wisely refuses—I would too).

Of special interest to us Americans, perhaps, are a pair of visits to the U.S. In one episode, he visits Alaksa to go whale watching, and in another he travels down Route 66. I also particularly enjoyed the Mount Fuji climbing episode and, as with the first series, the final episode in which the trio commiserate (and Gervais and Merchant trick Pilkington into getting a rectal exam in a room where they can watch.

Life's Too Short (2013): This one took me an episode or two to warm to, given how strange it was for me to see Warwick Davis playing Ricky Gervais playing a version David Brent from The Office. Another mockumentary-style sitcom from Gervais and Stephen Merchant, it follows a cartoon version of Davis around as he scrounges for acting jobs (while also serving as an agent for other little people in show business), works with a group for the advancement of little people in society, struggles to stay out of the debt his incompetent accountant has landed him in, navigates divorce proceedings with his wife and tries to start dating again.

Davis's filmography is rather ideally suited for the frustrated outlook of his fictional self, given that he's been in some of the biggest movies of all time (Return of The Jedi, some Harry Potter films), but always so thoroughly disguised you wouldn't recognize him. The one big film he played sans mask or make-up was Willow, generally regarded as a flop which, in an ongoing gag, no one in Davis' hometown seems to have seen (For the record, I loved Willow; my friend's dad took us to see it in the theater, I bought the paperback novelization with allowance money, and must have seen in on HBO somewhere around 5,000 times one summer).

In addition to the egocentric lead who makes everyone (audience included) slightly uncomfortable and the documentary format of The Office, it boasts celebrity cameos like Extras, including Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Carell, Sting and, the best of the lot, Liam Neeson, who goes to Gervais and Merchant for help honing his stand-up comedy routine (he wants to branch out from drama and action into comedy), and Johnny Depp, who hires Davis so he can observe him while preparing for the lead role in Tim Burton's Rumplestilskin, which Depp has the lead in (the job goes south when Depp learns Davis knows Gervais, and confronts him to avenge Gervais' controversial Golden Globes hosting).

By series end, it actually develops a heart, and one really starts to feel for Davis, despite the fact that some 90% of the problems and complications he has encountered throughout the series were of his own making. Gervais and Merchant are regular presences on the show, as Davis drops by their office about once an episode to ask for work, and it's there that several of the celebrity cameos occur. Davis apparently isn't the only former collaborator to do so—he was briefly in the Daniel Radcliffe episode of Extras—as others do so repeatedly. Rosamund Hanson plays Davis' lead-headed assistant, and is something of a joy to watch.

Davis turns out to be quite a comedian, and I'm hard-pressed to remember a more physical comic performance by a lead in a TV show, but he makes and takes several rather spectacular pratfalls throughout.

Mighty Peking Man (1977): One of the highlights of reading Paul Woods' King Kong Cometh (discussed here) was learning of this movie for the first time (at least in any detail; I've heard the title before): A King Kong riff with a jungle girl character from the Shaw Brothers. It's like someone chose three elements at random from a bank of Caleb's Favorite Movie-Related Stuff.

It opens with the monster, a giant ape man portrayed by a man in a suit stomping on a miniature set, save for in close-up, where we're sown a striking, effective, somewhat freaky image of an animatronic ape-man face shrieking.

From there, an expedition is organized in China to seek out the Indian ape-giant, which leads to a sequence of foreign explorers and native guides in an expidetion of attrition to their goal (sadly, there are no dinosaurs, so that's one up for King Kongs '39 and '05), a sequence I've seen in plenty of old-school jungle adventure flicks, although here rather than white Englishmen and African porters, its Chinese guys and Indian guides.

By the time they reach the home of the title character, the only explorer left is handsome Johnnie Fang's Danny Lee, who is saved from the wrath of the giant ape by white goddess in an animal skin bikini so tiny it has a built-in nip slip; she's Samantha (played by Evelyne Kraft), who survived a plane crash that killed her parents when she was just a little girl, and she grew up a friend of the animals, particularly the huge ape (Shades of Jungle Goddess).

After time spent in the jungle, falling in love with Samantha and lolling around with fearsome jungle cats, our hero convinces Samantha to bring both she and The Peking Man, whom she calls Utam, back to civilization with him, where Utam is promptly put in one of those dumb, asking-for-a-rampage shows that seem more like turn of the century phenomenon than something that would be happening so late in the 20th century (Like, I could sorta buy them putting the dinosaur in Valley of Gwangi in a circus, because television hadn't yet been invented, but why put a monster of similar scale on display in a stadium full of innocent bystanders in the late 1970s?).

After a misunderstanding between Danny and Samantha sends her away from him and into the apartment of a man who tries to rape her—an apartment which, coincidentally, has an open window Utam can see in—the inevitable rampage begins, ending as it must with Utam being shot off the highest building in the city.

It's not quite as awesome as the "Shaw Brothers do King Kong" description might suggest (I admit that, even after reading it, I was holding out hope for some kind of Shaolin Versus Wu Tang vs. King Kong), or as awesome as the admittedly quite awesome poster suggests...
...but it's still pretty awesome (You'll notice it says "Goliathon" on the poster; that's one of the alternate titles for the film).

Of particular interest was seeing one of the foundational blockbuster films of U.S. cinema filtered through the lens of another culture's film industry, and the various ways in which it differed from its original inspiration, including the jungle home being a paradise rather than a hell and the beast already living quite happily with beauty in the natural world, until civilization came along and yanked them both out of that paradise and into the modern world for a mixture of moral and base purposes.

Pegasus Vs. Chimera (2012): This shitty made-for-TV movie takes the Clash/Wrath of the Titans filmmaking philosophy of ignoring readymade elements of a pre-existing classic (or, here, Classical) story in favor of hoary Hollywood cliches and pulled-from-someone's ass made-up nonsense.

The mythological creature conflict presented as a professional wrestling match in the title is, of course, already part of a pretty well-known myth: A fire-breathing female monster that was part lion, part goat and part snake or dragon, the Chimera was understandably terrorizing all around it, until King Iobates of Lycia charged Bellerophon with slaying the Chimera as a roundabout way of having him killed. Bellerophon managed to succeed, however, by capturing Pegasus. Astride the winged horse, Bellerophon was able to stay well out of reach of Chimera's flames and fangs and claws while showering her with arrows (and, in at least one version, choking her to death with the lead tip of a spear, that her flames melted). After a few more adventures, B. attempted to fly up to Olympus with Pegasus, at which point he was thrown from the horse by Zeus, who put Pegasus in the night sky as a constellation.

In this version?

King Orthos is an enormous douchebag, abusing his entire kingdom of like 37 subjects (extras cost money, you know), and having the fathers of young Belleros (who would grow up to be a blacksmith played by Sebastian Roche) and Princess Philony (who grew up into archery expert and warrior Nazneen Contractor). He escalates his quest to gain immortality and finally crush the last vestige of resistance by having his warlock second-in-command summon Chimera from the depths of hell to hunt down and kill his remaining enemies.

While Belleros and Philony set out to kill the king, his warlock and the Chimera, they get some help from witch Rae Dawn Chong, who summons the constellation Peagsus from the stars to aid them. This Pegasus appears as a plain white horse when not flying, thus allowing them to just use a SFX-free white horse onscreen most of the time, and has the power to heal wounds. The only catch is that if it's not returned to the stars at the proper time, the world will totally end.

And, um, that's pretty much the whole story. There's some fighting and mild intrigue, and eventually Orthos decides he'd like to kill Pegasus and drink its blood, granting himself immortality.

The production values are even more shoddy and spare than the plot and characters. The Pegasus' wings are rarely shown, and when our heroes are flying atop him, the shot is carefully constructed so that no part of Pegasus appears on-screen with them, we just see poor Roche and Contractor pretending to ride a flying horse, the former tugging on the reins, the pair of 'em bobbing and weaving in unison.

The true star of the production is the Chimera, the best and only real special effect, and maybe the most likable character. It's presented as a huge, male lion, a crown of four long, slightly-twisted horns stretching from the back of its skull. The backlegs seem somewhat goat or antelope-like, while the tail is long and reptilian and ends in a little club of spikes, and there seems to be the suggestion of scales on the hind-quarters.

It's not the Chimera I would have designed (If you told me it was supposed to be a Manticore, I'd believe you), as I prefer one of the three-headed versions, but it's a pretty good-looking one, and easily the best part. It's kind of a shame she gets such a bum deal in the movie, as I woulda preferred to see it climb atop the back of the TriStar Pictures logo (a far more convincing Pegasus than this one), and fly off to live happily ever after in a better movie together.

The Ricky Gervais Show: Complete First and Second Season (2011): This is the third and final of the Gervais/Merchant projects in this particular post, and by far the best. If you're completely unfamiliar with it, animators have taken episodes of The Ricky Gervais Show podcasts with the pair and Pilkington, and animated them in a super-simplified, old-school Hanna-Barbera style (Gervais, for example, looks like a composite of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble), animating both the trio as they sit around a table and talk and bringing to life the subjects of their conversations. Pilkington serves mainly as straight man, but also as the source of pretty much every topic of conversation (It's quite rare when, say, Merchant will tell a funny story about a holiday he took; it's generally just the pair questioning, laughing at or otherwise reacting to Pilkington).

There are recurring features, like Pilkington's "Monkey News," which are generally extended stories of chimpanzees showing up in unexpected places that Pilkington found on the Internet, and the hard to explain "Karl's Diary," in which Pilkington keeps a diary of his daily, mundane activities and opinions, which Merchant reads and Gervais laughs himself to death over. 

I love this show.

*On their podcast, which I've been spending a lot of time catching up on when and where I can, Steve Merchant and Ricky Gervais asked Karl Pilkington to present a report on the Bible for them. During the account of the flood, which Gervais believes is bollocks, he asks about the mixing of salt water and freshwater, as marine species that live in one such environment would die in another such environment. I never thought of that, but wouldn't mixing all of the water in earth kill off all marine animals on earth? Or did the fresh and salt water mix achieve a perfect balance, where it was just salty enough that the saltwater animals could survive, but not so salty it would kill the freshwater animals?

Also, what happened to all the sea-going dinosaurs and prehistoric reptiles? Why didn't they survive the flood? Also, Megaladons.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Review: Wolverine: Wolverine Vs. The X-Men

While given its own, distinct title and it's own (unnumbered) collection, this is essentially the second half of the "Wolverine Goes To Hell" storyline which I expected to find in Wolverine Goes To Hell (what I got instead was a back-up story that filled out the volume).

Where did we leave Wolvie? Well, Mystique, Melita, Hellstrom and the two Ghost Riders had seemingly just exorcised his demon-possessed body and his soul had just climbed out of hell to reclaim it, when X-Men Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magneto and Namor showed up to kick Wolverine's ass.

Writer Jason Aaron picks up where he left off, although now he's got a new artist collaborator: Daniel Acuna, whose painterly, heavily-referenced style looks better, looser and more organic in there than anywhere I've seen it previously. I'm still not a huge fan, but I do think this is the best it's ever looked—it actually reminded me a bit of Stuart Immonen's nineties work, only with painted-looking covers.
Apparently to keep the fighting going, the exorcism didn't go off all that perfectly, and while Wolverine's soul and/or mind are now back in his brain, so too are all the demons possessing him, so he has to fight it out with them in his head while the X-Men deal with his body.

The newer, colder, crueler, badder Cyclops of course has a contingency plan for killing Wolverine if it ever comes to him—Magneto sucks out his adamantium, Namor rips off his head—but that doesn't take into account Wolverine's new hell-based powers, like fire-claws, flame breath and the ability to force choke dudes at a distance.

The three issues that comprise the storyline are mainly one big, long fight scene, with Wolverine fighting a small contingent of X-Men (Plan B involves the always welcome Dr. Nemesis and Fantomex), while Emma and Melita lead a small band of X-women (Kitty, Robue and Jubilee) inside Wolverine's mind to help him and his memories of himself and loved ones sword fight the demons in their to death.

You can probably guess how it all ends.

Two more single issues are collected in this volume.
The first is the next issue of Wolverine, in which the once again alive and himself goes after Mystique and whoever she was working with to put him through the proceeding story arcs' worth of punishment, and a cool and absurd new Jason Aaron villain—a Mr. Lord Deathstrike—who also wants to kill Mystique.

The final issue is Wolverine #5.1, which has nothing to do with anything, really, which is probably why it's stuck in the back of the volume as it is (Even though it was published before the other four issues, which are Wolverine #6-9). The ".1" issues were designed—or at least sold—as good jumping-on point issues, generally kicking off a storyline.

Aaron's script, entitled "Happy," is about 50% Wolverine 101, and 50% comic relief, with Wolverine's girlfriend Melita planning a surprise party attended by Wolvie's fellow X-Men and Avengers, and Wolverine getting distracted by a trail of blood that leads him to those two guys with bone weapons from the second storyline collected in Wolverine: Goodbye, China Town (So even though I read that book first before Goes To Hell and Vs. The X-Men, I guess it actually comes after these two, in reading order; again, labeling the volumes with volume numbers might help a bit).
(I like that these guys have the superpower of super-whittling)

It's got nice, sharp artwork by artist Jefte Palo, which is in stark contrast to that of Acuna, but aesthetically closer to the work of Ron Garney, whose art I think works best with Aaron's Wolverine comics. There's a pretty nice Paolo Rivera cover to that particular issue, as well.
It's a nice little done-in-one, but it does feel awfully out-of-place here as it breaks the momentum of the previously storyline, in which Wolverine is hotly in pursuit of "The Red Right Hand," those that set him up for the events of the previous two storylines. Not unilke the way the back-up story "Scorched Earth" broke the momentum at the end of Goes To Hell.


I'm not entirely convinced that Wolverine, even with souped-up hell powers, would be able to take Namor, though, especially under water, which is where they fight (Drowning is one of the few ways that Wolverine can really be killed, isn't it...?)

Namor flying punches Wolverine way up into the sky, then dives underwater with him, strangling him and...Wolverine wins. Somehow.
It's kept ambiguous, by happening off-panel, not unlike Wolverine's completely impossible defeat of Lobo in DC Vs. Marvel Comics.


I have a review of the cumbersomely-titled Lego Batman: The Movie—DC Superheroes Unite on ComicsAlliance. I'm not the biggest fan of the Lego/licensing brand fusion efforts—for example, I just watched Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out and it did nothing for me—but this was a pretty damn good little World's Finest, and I could listen to Clancy Brown's Lex Luthor voice all day. I wish he would read audiobooks as Lex Luthor. Rather remarkably, the music and set design are vastly superior to that of the last three big-budget Batman films, but that's probably just because those were going for a more "real world" vibe, whereas these were going for a "What would be awesome?" vibe.

Over at Robot 6, I have a review of Demetri Martin's new book Point Your Face at This, which isn't expressly labeled as a collection of cartoons, but that is essentially what it is (there's on example above).

And finally, I mentioned this Tuesday night, but I'll throw it in here too, as this is my round-up of links to things I wrote eslewhere for the week: I reviewed SpongeBob Annual-Size Super-Giant Swimtacular #1 (i.e. The SpongeBob Comics annual) at Good Comics For Kids. The above image is from the tour of Mermaid Man's secret cave HQ which, like The Batcave, sports a dinosaur—just a more appropriate one for the undersea environment.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Heroes! by Jay who now?

As many of you know, my day job is in a public library, and books with titles like Heroes!: Draw Yor Own Superheroes, Gadget Geeks & Other Do-Gooders (Lark Books) pass through my hands on a daily basis. There are a ton of learn to draw books in the children's department, and, as comic book superheroes and other once super-specific entertainment genres have continued to rise in popularity, the adult section seems to have ordered more and more how to draw vampires, how to draw video game characters, how to draw fantasy and horror characters and, especially, a ton of how to draw manga books.

I rarely take a second look at these, and I may have actually checked Heroes! in and out a few times before (In fact, since it came out in 2007, I'm almost certain I have). But the last time I checked it in, I happened to noticed the name of the author: Jay Stephens.

"Not the Jay Stephens," I thought to myself, "of Jetcat and Land of Nod fame?!" But the back jacket flap confirmed it. Yes, this is indeed a how-to draw superheroes book written and drawn by Jay Stephens, one of the better drawers of superheroes! Of course I checked it out.

I can't actually speak to how great a tool it is in terms of teaching one to draw. It's aimed at kids, and while I didn't spend any time following Stephens' step-by-step instructions, everything he said looked and sounded true, and in-keeping with what I've learned and read about drawing during my lifetime interest in it. It is a kids book, and I think that actually makes it a better instructional tool for adults, particularly ones who might be more interested in being able to draw to communicate rather than, say, get a gig drawing Batman or Spider-Man some day.

In addition to talking about figure construction, and the step-by-step bits demonstrated using the dozen or so original characters of Stephens' that appear here, he also spends sections on each general feature. For example, on a page devoted to noses, he draws the same character with nine different noses, each of which is a shape as simple as "upside down 7" or a suggestion like "How about just the nostrils?" (My noses, which I learned to draw from aping Jim Lawson's humans in old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, the shadow created by where the nose that I don't actually draw, isn't one of the nine).

He does this for just about every feature, along with a few words about what the various shapes and choices might suggest about your character, and the result is it's easy to look at the book as a sort of giant menu, from which you can order, say, a particular head, a particular nose, a particular mouth and so on until you've got yourself a character.

He also gives lots of options of various accessories, and it's fun to see, say, the same generic face trying on a bunch of different masks...
or seeing how the same character is transformed simply by changing his color scheme...
Even if you're not the least bit interested in having Jay Stephens teach you how to draw (although if you are, or know a little kid interested in drawing or in superheroes, this would make a great companion to James Strum and company's Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles Into Comics), the book is well worth taking a look for to see all the great Jay Stephens art in it.

Some of the characters he creates as examples are pretty cool, and some surprisingly filled-out.

My favorite two are Doubledog and Gumball.

Here's the former, whom you'll notice has more than a passing resemblance to the original, Golden Age Daredevil:
Of him, Stephens writes:
While on an archeological dig in Greece, David Deuce was bitten by Cerberus, the legendary two-headed hound of the underworld. Deuce recovered—and discovered he has the power to split into two people!
(There seems to be some conflation of Orthus and Cerberus, but that's probably for the sake of simplicity).

Here's Gubmall, who seems to combine a bit of Spider-Man's costume with the powers of Plastic Man and Speedball:
Each section also opens with a two-page spread in which Stephens talks about and draws heroes in general, including the mythological (Thor, Horus, Hercules, Hanuman), legendary (The Golem, John Henry, Robin Hood), at least one I want to read more about ("This weird Victorian-era hero is The Blue Dwarf"), and some that allow us to see Stephens "cover versions" of certain Golden Age heroes.

For example, here's his Miss Fury:

His Shadow:

And his Crimebuster and Ironjaw:

Apparently, Heroes! is part of a series, which also includes Monsters! and Robots!, both of which I hope to track down soon, to look at more of Stephens' art, and maybe to collect in case we invent time machines in my life time, in which case I can send all three back to high school Caleb.