Monday, December 28, 2009

Comics I Read: Catching Up #12

Avengers: The Initiative 28-30: This book started out of “Civil War” and there’s a nice sense of coming full circle to it as “Dark Reign” starts to wind down. The original New Warriors, some of whom started the war, are now fighting Osborn’s Initiative as the Avengers Resistance and they meet Penance for (they think) the first time. There’s also some space devoted to Trauma’s classic Marvel villain father, and I appreciated the attempt to square it with what’s going on in “Doctor Voodoo”. Plus more fascinating interpersonal scenes with so many characters that I couldn’t even begin to summarize here. Great stuff from Chris Gage (and no permanent artist, unfortunately) that you should not be missing.

Batman and Robin 4-6: I usually like Philip Tan’s art, but it doesn’t work for me here – it’s actually an interesting case of a good artist not being the right fit for a story. Take the cover to #6 as a case in point: I think we can safely assume that Frank Quitely’s cover is the intended design for the “Flamingo” character because covers are usually done first. Quitely’s version is flamboyant, probably intended as a contrast to the characters sick behavior (like the masked characters in the first arc). That’s supported by the dialogue, but Tan’s version just looks grotesque so the subtlety of playing the character’s appearance against his actions is lost. On the story side, it’s a little annoying that everything that happened to Jason Todd in “Countdown” is ignored, but Morrison’s extreme characterization of him works better than anything that’s been tried since his initial resurrection. (Jason’s, not Morrison’s, though I wouldn’t put it past him…)

Batman: Streets of Gotham 5-7: Chris Yost’s Huntress/Man-Bat fill-in in #5-6 is good, but it’s nice to have Paul Dini back with #7. He gets the new Batman & Robin dynamic really well (Dick: “And I used to think it was a big Christmas if Bruce allowed Alfred to make eggnog.” Damien: “You get better stuff if you’re a real son.”). It’s not exactly an uplifting Christmas tale, but it’s well done so far. The Manhunter backup is my favorite of all the “second features” (The Question is a close second), and hopefully it will continue somewhere when this book goes back to $2.99.

Detective Comics 858-860: Finally, Greg Rucka and JH Williams III get to tell their origin of Batwoman and it’s fascinating to see how Kate got from her military background to the socialite we first met her as in “52”. (Hint: Don’t ask, don’t tell.) So far, we’ve also seen her first encounter with (the original) Batman and some glimpses of her troubled relationship with Renee Montoya. I love the way seeing Batman affects her (“I’ve finally found a way to serve”), especially since it unconsciously parallels Bruce Wayne’s development (with a twist – her father specifically teaches her that revenge is not the goal). It’s a gripping and inspiring story and Williams actually draws the whole thing, even though the flashbacks are a completely different art style than the present day pages. Also, Huntress fans should take note that she’s appearing in the “Question” backup. I haven’t had time to listen to Rucka’s recent Word Balloon interview yet, but apparently he says he and Williams will be moving over to an ongoing “Batwoman” series soon which is great news as this is still the best thing DC is publishing.

Gotham City Sirens 4-7: I like this better than Mike, but I agree that it’s mostly less than inspiring, especially the fill-ins, but #6 where Dini digs up “Gaggy”, an actual Joker sidekick from an obscure 1943 issue of Batman as a nemesis for Harley is a real treat. I love stuff like that, even though I’d never heard of the character before. The holiday story in #7 isn’t bad either – you have to love any Christmas story whose opening line is “All morning I’d heard reports of people being attacked by a gang of knife-wielding Santas.” – it’s got a nice scene between Selina and Dick Grayson, and we meet Harley’s family for the first time (Mom: “God forbid I should let my evil daughter freeze to death on Chauncey Street!” Harley: “God bless you sooo much!”)

Incredible Hulk 602-605: More tales from Greg Pak of Skaar and Bruce Banner who, now that he can stay focused, is more dangerous than he was as the Hulk. Ariel Olivetti’s art is a little too polished for my taste – it looks like there’s a layer of dull plastic over everything – but the stories are great.

New Avengers 57-59: I’m getting a little tired of people being able to rescue prisoners from Norman Osborn with impunity (though there may be an ulterior motive in this case), but other than that quibble this is some great Luke Cage & Jessica stuff that Bendis has been building to for a long time.

Power Girl 5-7: Once you wrap your head around the fact that this book is a screwball comedy, it’s really pretty delightful (much like the same team’s “Supergirl” serial in Wednesday Comics, but with a little more depth because its an ongoing.) I loved the Vartox appearance, because he was in some of the first Superman comics I ever read as a kid. This is actually pretty close to being an “all ages” book, in the best possible sense, though there is the occasional reference (like the “contraceptive bomb” in #7) that probably isn’t suitable for younger kids.

Titans 17-20: More solo stories, which mostly aren’t bad, but they feel kind of pointless given what we’ve seen so far for these characters in “Blackest Night”. The Red Arrow story in #19 seems especially cruel given what happens to him in “Cry for Justice”, like it’s the last moment of happiness he’ll ever have. The Donna Troy story in #20 is pretty good, but it’s weird that her potential love interest is a blonde guy named Tom at the same time that Wonder Woman is dating a blonde guy named Tom. (Unless they’re both supposed to be Nemesis, which would be really disturbing.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

DC: some second-tier superhero team books reviewed

          Partially for therapeutic reasons, I’m going to attempt writing about some titles here that I haven’t been following on a regular basis (except for one, but it comes out so infrequently and after very long absences so it’s like starting over each time).  Also, these are not the bedrock characters that DC built it’s reputation and legend on.  That’s what I mean by calling them “second -tier”.  I certainly don’t mean to imply that they are Grade B, second class, amateur,  or of inferior/mediocre quality.

          I recently was offered an advance copy of a team title (The Authority) I haven’t been following and haven’t read a single issue of for years. And even back then I read only a few scattered issues from the first and second runs.   I almost declined, solely because I hate to pick up a book and be confused simply because I’m not familiar with neither the continuity or the characters.  In my new role as a reviewer I also can’t do justice to a single issue of a series I’m not following.  Well then, let’s just put that to the test and examine a few of those unfamiliar books right now.

          What I’ve learned is that you can actually jump in cold and pick up parts of the storyline and character concepts to understand it well enough to both appreciate and enjoy it.  The key is whether or not the writer has the proper skills to hold both the interest of the regular reader while keeping it inviting enough for a first-timer.   

          So, you may ask  - - - what’s the big deal about that?  What it means to me is that I don’t have to hold back from picking up a copy of a title I suspect I might like just because I haven’t been following it.   Sure, I’m going to occasionally read one that makes me feel lost or I fail to understand properly - - - but it’s just  a risk I’m willing to take.   It also frees up some time  - - since I don’t have to backtrack to the beginning or a much earlier point and read a bunch of older issues.  

          Hello to Green Lantern,  X-Factor, Thunderbolts, Superman/Kandor saga, etc. . .    And what  I’m saying to you is this  - -  if something has you curious enough to want to explore it a little, just do it.  Don’t let the back-history, continuity, etc. keep you away.  If that writer is worth anything, you’ll be able to appreciate the work.   Give it a try.  And . . . off we go =

THE AUTHORITY #18 (cover date March 2010, to be released in January)

“Homecoming, Part 1”  by writers Adam Freeman & Marc Bernadin with pencils by Al Barrionuevo

Authority 18

          Apprehension set in immediately after I examined this cover closely and realized that I only recognized one single character, Grifter.   Nevertheless I turned the page and continued my exploration of the insides.   Incidentally, this cover will connect to the cover of WILDCATS #19 in January to form a widescreen panorama.  Connecting covers between these two titles will continue throughout all of 2010.  That’s appropriate since both titles will be getting a shake-up and several characters will cross over from one team to the other.

          The Earth is a mess, having been battered by two separate invaders over the past year. The Wildstorm line of super-teams  have been unable to prevent these events from happening, and continue to battle desperately on several fronts.  An unidentified energy beam revives the dead Carrier, the Authority home base, which prompts a call for all heroes and surviving populace to gather together for a major decision.

          The Carrier will be leaving Earth for destinations unknown.  Some will go with it (apparently the new Authority) and some will remain on the planet (apparently the new Wildcats).  Some, like Jack Hawksmoor of The Authority, believe that whoever or whatever restored the Carrier may also possess technology/knowledge that will help save Earth and put things back together.  They depart with the ship.   Others feel  they have an obligation to stay and defend, protect, and help restore - - or they simply like the odds better.

          There’s a dramatic center-spread with Hawksmoor explaining the required decision to the assembled heroes.  I actually recognized more characters here (Hawksmoor, the Midnighter, Grifter, Apollo, and the huge green/purple giant from Wildcats) but failed to identify a score more.   And since the storyline fails to identify them, and characters aren’t necessarily addressing each other by name,  they are still unknown.  It doesn’t matter.  That’s not what this issue’s story is about.  It’s about the event itself and the reactions and consequences.  It’s handled very well and concisely told from the dialogue between characters as we learn of their confusion, despair, optimism, hope, cynicism, worry, decision-making, leadership, courage and determination.  It’s a good jumping on point if you want to explore the Wildstorm teams.

THE GREAT TEN #1 OF 10 (January 2010 cover date)

“Book One: Pantheon” by Tony Bedard and Scott McDaniel with cover by Stanley Lau

       great ten 1

   This is based on The Great Ten team of Chinese super-heroes created by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones during the “52” events several years ago.  Since the very promising debut of The Great Ten became lost in the massive storyline of 52 and never taken any further it’s good to see them finally getting a spotlight and a chance to grow and garner some audience.

        It seems like each issue of this mini-series will continue to detail a major challenge to the Great Ten and also focus on one individual character’s background.  The major threat that blossoms here is the resurrection of the ancient “true gods” of China who are very unhappy that the “false gods” are in charge  (perhaps symbolizing the former feudal society versus today’s Communist capitalism) and find The Great Ten obstructing their path.   Led by the Jade Emperor, this looks to be another interesting group with the old gods based upon the forces and powers of war, floods, fire, lightning, thunder, wind, and the dead.

     The art style is very fluid and it’s a stylish book.  I particularly appreciate the inclusion of borders around and through each page that contain Chinese calligraphy or stencils.  And this group of heroes is no band of brain-washed patriots with undying allegiance to the government.  There is dissension and controversy within the ranks, much as modern-day China is going through a period of unrest and moral conflicts.  The Accomplished Perfect Physician is such a character and a perfect choice to open this series up with his origin.

     It’s a very promising beginning and worthy of your exploration.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA 80-PAGE GIANT #1 (January 2010 cover date)

jsa 80-page

Wow!!  - - a return to the DC 80-page giant annuals.  I haven’t seen one of these in ages.  $5.99 !!!  My memory is much closer to $1.00 (and I can remember back to the 1960’s when I picked up an 80-page Batman annual for 25 cents –wish I still had that issue!).  My memory of those great $1.00 bargains was also that they were 50% or more filler/reprints.  I’m hoping that for six bucks the level of quality/value has improved commensurately.  After reading this issue, I don’t regret it. I enjoyed this, and the overall quality is good and consistent.  (I like the BATMAN 80-PAGE GIANT even more, but that’s a subject for another article).

    There are seven stories here featuring various J.S.A. members, all tied together by the central story by Matthew Sturges and Freddie Williams II that book-ends these tales and is also in-between several stories.  “Spatial disturbances” are affecting operations at the Justice Society’s brownstone headquarters, and the group splits up into several smaller teams to investigate. This serves as a means to explore the history of several characters.  

   The current Mr. America wonders if he’s worthy of the title.  Citizen Steel learns a way to “metallically” communicate with his deceased mother and brother.  Amazing Man (no, not that one, Dan - - this man is more like Marvel’s Brother Voodoo) learns of his true power and how to use it.  The beast-like Catman/Were-Cat learns his family connection between the human Catman and the original Huntress (not as human).   Cyclone gets a growing-up lesson from Power Girl.  Grant (here’s where my not reading this regularly prevents my knowing his hero title) apparently gets gut-shot and needs an operation from Dr. Mid-Nite to save him from what’s troubling him inside. Its a wild psychedelic/psychological adventure that is my favorite story in this book because of the very things that make it different.   There are many good writers and artists featured here, some familiar and some less so.  The writing and styles differ but it seems to work and mesh together thanks to the interstitial pages. 

    This all requires the intervention of Doctor Fate to set things right, as he ominously predicts division and changes within the team.  (I guess he had a sneak peek at the internal ad in this book announcing the new JSA All-Stars!).  It’s not necessary to read this to follow the events in the main book.  You’ll just miss some fun and interesting stories if you choose to pass it by.

PLANETARY #27  (December 2009 cover date)


           This is supposedly the last and final issue of Planetary but I’m not at all sure of that after reading this.  (I thought issue #26 from approx 2 years ago was the end. Huh?)  No matter.

          Only a talented team like Warren Ellis and John Cassaday could pull off something like this.   There is no action and/or physical conflict whatsoever within this issue. It still holds your attention with a simply fascinating story.

     Early on, a nagging question in the back of my mind gets asked for me when during a lunchroom meeting Elijah says to his two team mates “Explain to me again what the mission was.”  I no longer even remember what happens in Issue #26, except that it also didn’t feel finished when it ended.

          This issue deals with the background for the entire series - - the ability to create a fictional Earth and then make it real enough that others feel threatened by it .  This issue then focuses on the trio’s efforts to return their missing member, Ambrose, back to the same plane of reality that the others exist on. 

   It ends up in discussion and explanation of physics, quantum theory, time machines, living inside a bubble and effecting things outside the bubble.  Also please realize that “the whole of the future can be said to have happened at once.  And you can’t change it, because it’s already happened.”  I don’t have a science degree that helps me separate the real from the false here but Ellis makes it all seem convincing.  The narrative just flows on.

However, that news doesn’t stop them from building a time machine of sorts.  Most of the issue takes place in far-out discussions like this and despite the majority of panels with just talking heads and dialogue you are compelled to continue.  Ellis really is twisted but he knows how to keep the reader engaged.  He also has the clever art of John Cassaday to assist him.  In spite of all the chit-chat that goes on, Cassaday uses close-ups, facial expressions, panel placements, and shading to keep his art interesting and entertaining.  I do believe he could find a way to illustrate the phone book and hold your attention.

   If you like your tales nice and neat with everything explained, stay away from here.   For some of us PLANETARY #27 is great fun and a hoot to boot!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bat-Bargain of the Week

The MP3 download version of the "Batman: The Brave And The Bold: Mayhem Of The Music Meister!" soundtrack is on sale for $5 at Amazon. I hummed these songs for weeks after the episode aired.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It’s been awhile since I went BATS, part 7 . . . . . . . . . .

The medications seem to be working . . . . . .

DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #11 (2009) by Fabian Nicieza and Tom Mandrake

“The Eighth Deadly Sin, Part Two: Original Sin”

detective annual

          The re-introduction of Azrael that began in BATMAN ANNUAL #27 continues here before moving on to the regular AZRAEL monthly title.  The cover of this issue joins with the BATMAN ANNUAL cover to form a great widescreen panel featuring Azrael at front and center and flanked by stain glass window images of Batman.

          I love Tom Mandrake’s work here, particularly his two-page panel of The Question hurdling over the top of the mind-controlled crowd guarding the entrance to the underground bunker. It’s where the La Saligia cult is endeavoring to complete the sacrificial ceremony that will undo the Catholic Church and revive their new savior.

          Batman and Robin join forces with the new Azrael to prevent this event, and they end up recruiting The Question as well in this issue.  By the end of the issue it becomes clear that the alliance with Azrael will be short-lived as he refuses to be judged by Batman because “that’s reserved for a higher power.”  A decent story by Nicieza - -  but it was the art that kept my interest level high and enticed me to keep going.

“Darker Than Black, Part Two” (also continued from BATMAN ANNUAL #27) by Mandy McMurray and Kelley Jones

          More developments add to some confusion here as Barbara Gordon enlists the “good vampire” Looker to help and learns that the “Stygian” vampire impersonator had visited her during the night.  He may be stalking her and we learn there is a connection to Barbara (makes sense if my suspicions are correct).  The Stygian created a fantasy from Greek words and blood/death mythos and this helps to guess at his next moves. During an ambush and battle with The Looker the villain escapes as the story ends while we learn “he’s only going to get more dangerous”.  Not very satisfying. Obviously, this story will continue - - but where isn’t made known just yet.

AZRAEL #1 by Fabian Nicieza and Ramon Bachsazrael          

          Ramon Bachs does a real nice job on the art here, especially the action / fight scenes with the new Azrael.  Wish I could compliment Nicieza.  He muddies things up with his story-telling style, which is distracting when he jumps the story line back and forth between present and past without any good reason.

          What I think is happening here is that there is yet another vigilante who is offing some church members, presumably for past crimes against humanity. So Azrael gets called to track him down, but gets side-tracked by a confrontation with his girlfriend (or ex-wife?) about his mysterious new job and she refers to past incidents that are seemingly important but haven’t been revealed in the story anywhere.

          Then Azrael in his regular Michael Lane attire meets the vigilante assassin at the airport and ends up letting him go since their motives are similar. Then we later see a crime scene investigation at a church where apparently Azrael was severely beaten and crucified and the detective calls it a “suicide”.  How could he tie himself to the cross?  I don’t have the patience for this!!  It’s exactly the type of frustrating sloppy story-telling that has made me stay away from Nicieza’s works in the past.  One and done for me.

BATGIRL #3 by Bryan Q. Miller and Lee Garbett

batgirl 3

“Batgirl Rising:  Point Of New Origin, Part Three”

          Lee Garbett gets an assist on the art this issue with Trevor Scott and Sandra Hope and the results are spectacular.   Combine that with some first-class coloring from Guy Major and this becomes a very good looking book.  It’s my favorite issue so far.

        The new Batgirl meets her toughest challenger so far when she faces off with a condescending Scarecrow and wipes the smirk off his stitched face mask.  And, after some quick struggles that test their relationship, Stephanie and Barbara Gordon finally bond together to form a working partnership with each appreciating the others qualities.   It’s a very neat beginning for this title and I see good things ahead.  Keep your eye on this one. 

BATGIRL #4 by Bryan Q. Miller and Lee Garbett

bagirl 4

Batgirl Rising: Field Test

          Writer Bryan Q. Miller seems to have found the right balance of story, action and character development/insight to make this book more than just a fun, light-hearted reading - - he quietly adds details and lessons without a lot of fanfare, and makes it memorable enough to stay with you.  I think it’s a great book for adolescents to read - - they should really empathize with Stephanie and find inspiration from her story.  Miller also adds some funny wisecracks / responses from Batgirl, just enough to amuse and not make you weary of them.

          Lee Garbett gets another assist on the art, this time from Tim Levins and the results are also premium quality.  I don’t remember any other works from these various artists but they are all making a  favorable impression on me.  This is my second favorite issue in this series for art, after Batgirl #3.

         This is a stand-alone story where the new Batgirl costume gets a field test.  It appears to be an amalgam of the designs and colors of both former Batgirl costumes and Spoiler/Huntress garb.  Barbara Gordon has added some enhancements to improve Batgirl’s defenses as well as make it simple for Oracle to follow her every movement and provide assistance.   Batgirl fights a Superman foe, Livewire, and discovers some neat features of her new costume.

        This looks to be a good dropping-off point (just temporary) for me, as I think these first four issues will most likely comprise the first trade paperback.  I’m going to sit back and wait for that second trade in another six months and check back on the Batgirl.  Hopefully, someone else from our group is reading this title and can keep us up to date on current events.

GOTHAM CITY SIRENS #5  by Paul Dini and Guillem March

gotham city sirens 5

          The artist on this book really seems to be getting comfortable and starting to stretch out and enhance his work with a little experimentation.  I see lots of skinny narrow panels, both vertical and widescreen, put to very good use here.  There is also a full page overlay of the Joker that appears as if he is leaning backwards into the other panels that looks really neat.   I also appreciate the perfection that human anatomy is capable of, and the three Sirens as drawn by March are simply gorgeous.  It’s definitely the artwork that keeps bringing me back to this title (and not just the women, for those of you who are thinking I’m a dirty old man).

    I wish I could compliment the work of Paul Dini the same way.  It seems as if he is floundering around with the scripts, trying to find his way with this book and make it meaningful.  I admit that it does present a challenge, and if he suddenly started to make it more serious or link it to the high-drama events in the other Bat-books there would probably be a critical backlash.

          The story continues from last issue, where the Joker blimp crashed into the Sirens HQ.   For those of us who were thinking the Joker as portrayed here is a sad return to the silly, slapstick gimmicks and actions of old-school Joker we learn the reason for that.   I’m glad that I don’t remember Gagsworth A. Gagsworthy.  The jealousy that drives his killer urges seems a  little  meaningless since Joker and Harley Quinn are no longer an item.    If I come back to this title next issue it won’t be because I want to see how he is defeated - -  it’ll be to sample the great art one more time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Riding the horse to the dark workshop . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Horror / thriller titles I have read recently include:

ABE SAPIEN: THE HAUNTED BOY one-shot (Dark Horse, October 2009) by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi

abe sapien

         I am really warming up to this sad, alienated (“fish out of water”) character even more so than to Hellboy, Mignola’s other famous creation.  Abe gets assigned to investigate what seems a simple paranormal occurrence.  On the site of an accident where two boys fell into a frozen lake the ghost of the boy who didn’t survive seems to haunt the lake.  Things are not what they seem and this tale of spirits and possession combined with a mother’s despair and another family’s concealing of secrets has a lot of depth to it.  I was moved by this as much as by the frequent misunderstanding that Abe encounters.  The art by Patric Reynolds is very well done and helps to convey the emotions of the story. 

CREEPY #2  (Dark Horse, November 2009) horror anthology, various contributors

      creepy              I wrote a mostly critical review of Creepy #1 three months ago that was born more out of disappointment rather than disinterest.  So it may surprise some to see me coming back here for a second helping.   However, if you remember my previously-expressed interest in having good quality horror comics succeed then you understand.

          I am happy to report that CREEPY #2 does a much better job of recalling those classic days of yore.  Both story and art have been upgraded since last issue, and this is getting much closer to my ideal of what a good horror comics anthology series should feel like.  I’m a little concerned that two of these tales plus a feature are scripted by the same person ( a member of New Comics Company, the group responsible for the CREEPY revival).  But Dan Braun does a commendable job here, and if he keeps it up we’re going to be hearing more about him.

         This issue has less filler (just the one two-page feature, which was actually decent) and the stories are more creative and less stereo-typical in their characterization than we saw in CREEPY #1.  The four new stories and one reprint all have the twisted, surprising endings as expected but they don’t seem quite as forced and are much more fun to read.

          The opening story, “Human Nature”  by Dan Braun and Greg Ruth revolves around the wealthy recipient of a large inheritance who spends his time reading souls and judging characters in order to change their fortunes/future with his donated money. Naturally we suspect that he has judged one character incorrectly - - but this doesn’t end as expected.

      My favorite story this issue is the gory, grisly and highly creative “Musclecar!” by Mike Baron and Nathan Fox.  A redneck solves the energy crisis by inventing a car that runs on meat - - the CARnivore - - just feed it some road kill.  The art evokes memories of the old black and white CARtoons magazine, extremely appropriate for this story. 

           “Drawn Out” by Joe R. Lansdale and Rahsan Ekedal is a very creepy story of a jealous husband whose carefully plotted murder of his wife and lover goes off according to plan, only to result in an unexpected surprise during his concluding suicide attempt.   I like this so much better than Lansdale’s story last issue, which felt like it was hurried off and written in about five minutes.  I’m thinking the highly creative and twisted Lansdale probably spent an hour on this one.  He’s a fast read.

          “The Curse, Part Two”  by Dan Braun and Jason Shawn Alexander adds an interesting twist to the events detailed in the last issue as the main character decides to create a new and dark occupation for himself based on his newly-discovered powers.   It will be interesting to see how this concludes in Creepy #3.  

          Finally, the reprint “The Shadow Of The Axe!” by Dave Sims and Russ Heath seems a much better choice than the theme-breaking kindly alien farm boy story they reprinted last issue. This one has a disturbing ending that will stay with you.

CUT  graphic novel  (Dark Horse, December 2007) by Mike Richardson and Todd Herman        cut

           Dark Horse publisher/founder Mike Richardson takes another stab (his other work is THE SECRET) at writing a horror tale in the EC/Creepy vein, and does an admirable job.  CUT is creepy and eerie in the right places, and manages to portray it’s grisly suspense with vivid images and a minimum amount of dialogue.  It’s a quick read, recommended just before bed-time.  (Make sure you have a night light handy, just in case you get chills trying to sleep).

          Packaged as a digest-sized graphic novel,  THE CUT centers around the feeding habits of a speechless vampire creature and introduces a variation on the much-used “murder in a locked room” plot device employed by detective fiction writers.  The victim is trapped inside a second-floor room of a decaying home with a locked door and boarded windows.  The entire home seems boarded up, and the only entry is a huge hole in the attic roof.  On the other side of the door the victim hears strange and unbearable sounds.

       The art as penciled by Todd Herman, inked by Al Milgrom and colored by Dave Stewart is done in the beloved EC Comics style.  A neat little chiller that doesn’t need to be fancy.


THE GHOUL #1  (IDW, November 2009) by Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson

Ghoul001_cvrsmall        Here are two of the names I associate with high quality in both scripting and art of modern-day horror comics - - and they’re working together on the same title!   How could I not like this book?

       Actually, there’s a lot to like here,  from the mysterious shadowy introduction of the world’s most unusual (and large!) criminal investigator to the incredible stylings of Wrightson (some of his best work in years is right here).  My only beef is the story ends so quickly after just 16 pages, to be continued.  Niles makes up for that a little with a text piece , “My Ghoul”, which provides a lot of back-story/explanation of his newest character creation.

The Ghoul, reminding me a lot of Peter David’s gray Las Vegas Hulk from years back, is called into Los Angeles to assist another detective who has some supernatural suspicions about the latest investigation.  The Ghoul provides a lot of amusing comments and seems to have a very good-natured self-deprecating ability to accept himself and make the best of things.         

Jennifer Love Hewitt's MUSIC BOX #1  (Dark Horse, November 2009) by Scott Lobdell and Michael Gaydos

music box

          I admit to being a little skeptical when I saw this title.  Most males don’t associate well-endowed beauties like Jennifer Love Hewitt with creative writing abilities.  I guess I’m just as guilty of taking the easy route and succumbing to the typical stereo-typing.  The credits page notes that this title was “created by Jennifer Love Hewitt” and the actual story is written by Scott Lobdell.  Who knows how much of this is actually attributable to her.  It doesn’t matter since it’s a good story albeit based on a concept familiar enough to anyone who’s watched their share of Twilight Zone episodes.

          A police detective assigned to homicide investigations comes across a mysterious music box in the evidence room.  He “borrows” it and find that it grants him the power to foresee crimes before they occur.  He uses this to stop events before they happen and becomes a decorated hero. Each glimpse into the future threatens his sanity, and as a result of one too many uses it drives him mad.   Someone else undoubtedly will come into possession of the music box in the next issue.  I’m assuming each owner will be granted a different power or vision, otherwise this title will become very predictable after several issues. 

          Lobdell does a good job with fleshing out the background of the detective which keeps it interesting and actually makes you happy/sad that he received this new ability. The art is good quality and will remind you of the style, inking and coloring typically seen in 100 BULLETS and CRIMINAL.           

Clive Barker’s SEDUTH one-shot (IDW, October 2009) by Clive Barker + Chris Monfette and Gabriel Rodriguez

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           I usually don’t get caught up in 3-D books.  I bought several of them for my son back in the 80’s, when the G.I. Joe, Gumby and Transformers 3-D books were popular.  The idea was cool and it was fun to look at the increased depth and new dimensionality of the drawings.  But you haven’t seen the benefits of 3-D like they are used here - - when employed as a way to enhance (and further frighten) the details of a horror comic.  This is the best use (that I have seen) of 3-D effects in comics.  Wait until you see some flies and maggots  crawling over a decaying body that looks as close as the back of your hand!   And for a very surreal experience, try typing a review while wearing the 3-D glasses.  What an otherworldly feeling!

          Unlike some other 3-D books, you can even read this without wearing the glasses. Actually the dialogue and captions are very detailed and small. It’s difficult to read them while experiencing the 3-D effect.  I suggest reading the book once without them; and then read it again while paying more attention to the images, for the best possible experience.  I am actually stunned by the power of this book !  I stole a peek at the book for just a few moments and was disturbed by what I saw enough to decide on a later day-time reading.  Whoa!

          Seduth concerns itself with numerology and a secret dimension, the abode of Seduth.  The story is taken from the personal diaries of  adventurer Harold Engle, who discovered a flawless diamond while exploring in South Africa. The prism inside the center of the diamond is a gateway to the fourth dimension.  Harold loses possession of the diamond due to his wife’s blind vanity and he leaves a trail of murder behind in his attempt to recover it.  You have to see the reality of murder, death and blood come rushing towards you from the very pages you are holding in your hands.

         When Engle uses the diamond to enter the fourth dimension mid-way through the book it’s mind-boggling.  Imagine the offbeat details of Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange weaving through a mysterious universe and now enhance it further with 3-D.  Too bad this technology wasn’t this advanced back then - - what an experience reading Strange Tales with these glasses might have been!

   This is a one-shot experiment and not a continuing series.  I’ve been paring down my comics collection and mostly keeping just trade paperbacks and hardcovers of my favorite works rather than single comics issues.  I’m breaking that rule here.  This one is a keeper.  It’s a great example of what might be possible in comics with further utilization of 3-D effects.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Turtles of the Week

According to The Technodrome Forums, "The "Director's Cut" of the TMNT "Turtles Forever" full-length feature is being released EXCLUSIVELY online at on Wednesday, December 16th. The "Director's Cut" has more than 12 minutes of additional TMNT footage."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Comics I Read: Catching Up #11

Justice Society of America 31-33: This is a tough one. Willingham and Sturges are excellent writers who obviously care about and respect these characters. And indeed, they genuinely kept me guessing about who the traitor was and whether Mr. Terrific would survive. For me, though, in the end it felt like splitting up the team was a foregone conclusion that we had to get to no matter what – it didn’t feel like an organic part of the story. Yes, they got infiltrated and it makes sense that Magog would react to that based on his military experience and even that some members would agree with him but “We have two intractable camps. We need to divide the JSA into two teams – before we tear ourselves apart!” Really? We can’t talk about it for a little more than half a page, or try a compromise first? That said, I do like the writing and I do (and the writers do) love these characters so I’m willing to accept the premise and see if we get stories I like out of it.

JSA All-Stars 1: This isn’t a bad start. I’m not in love with the idea of all the younger characters being on this team, because a large part of the appeal of the modern JSA book to me is the mix of old and young characters, but within this framework the story is true to the characters and Sturges at least seems open to the possibility that the All-Stars approach may not 100% work. Artist Freddie Williams is trying a different style that hasn’t quite gelled for me yet, but his page layouts are really exciting so I look forward to either him getting more comfortable in this style or me getting used to it.

Adventure Comics 5: The lead story is the ultimate expression of Superboy-Prime-as-metaphor, as he actually smashes into the DC offices! It’s entertaining this one last time – and Johns does imply it’s the last time – but if we see this character again, he needs to evolve past the fanboy analog because all those beats have been hit. I’m not sure what point Johns is trying to make with the ending – and he must have a point because there’s a satire aspect to everything involving Prime – maybe he’s saying that it’s a trap to give the fans exactly the story they say they want, but if so he’s making that point by violating the internal logic he’s set up for the Black Lanterns. No Legion this issue, as the Conner Kent ongoing story gets the backup slot. It’s wonderful as usual, and I’m sad we only get one more issue of it. (But it looks like Francis Manapul is going to use the same art style for the Flash, which makes me happy.)

Secret Six 13-16: The Amazon story arc that ends in #14 actually has an impact on the regular Wonder Woman book, so fans of that may want to pick up that story. I’m always amazed at how far Gail Simone is able to push the boundaries in this book, and at the end of #14 it seems that even the main characters are disgusted by their behavior. #15 is the spotlight on Deadshot by John Ostrander, retelling Floyd’s origin with some more details and bringing back a great character from “Suicide Squad” and “The Spectre” that I don’t think anyone has used since Ostrander last had a regular DC book. I’m a little surprised that the team is still together in #16, and I miss Nicola Scott’s art, but Black Alice from Gail’s “Birds of Prey” run has always been a great character and she fits well here. This continues to be one of DC’s best books.

X-Force 19-21: The end of the X-23 arc in #19-20 is well written, if still drawn a little bit too “teenage blood & torture porn” for my taste. The “Necrosha” chapter in #21 didn’t do much for me, but there’s a good scene in the middle with some X-Men wondering who among their loved ones is going to come back.

Outsiders 22-24: The Arkham villain capture stories in #22-23 are good, but it’s hard to get invested in the current direction when we know a new creative team is coming in to do who-knows-what. The “Blackest Night” crossover in #24 was not one of the stronger ones for me. The Terra scenes with her brother are not that much different than her appearance in “Blackest Night: Titans”, and as I’ve said before I don’t like stories where people’s kids come back so I’m biased against the Katana part of the story. All very nicely drawn by Fernando Pasarin, though.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Blog Posts of the Week

Johnny Bacardi at the “Trouble With Comics” blog talks about "Thriller" (mostly) by Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden, one of my favorite 1980’s DC Comics. (With notes by the creators in the comments section!)

And just in case you missed it because the site was down when the news hit the major comics sites, "Ain't it Cool News" interviewed JMS and Geoff Johns about the "Earth One" graphic novels.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Comics I Read: Catching Up #10

Action Comics 883: I liked the new Nightwing and Flamebird costumes, and the fact that some of the remaining Kryptonian sleepers have names familiar to Silver Age Superman fans. Also, this issue has a couple of the best Perry White scenes in years. (You heard me.)

Cable 19-20: I have to bow to Paul O'Brien's turn of phrase: “You’ll never guess, but in this issue, Bishop tries to kill Hope, and Cable tries to protect her, and in the end Bishop doesn’t manage to kill Hope, and they escape.  Just like in every other issue.”

Dark Wolverine 80: Again, from Paul O'Brien because I can’t say it any better: “There’s also a terribly vague ending sequence, which doesn’t work at all, mainly because I honestly can’t figure out what’s happening.  What the hell am I supposed to make of a splash page of a bullet lying in a bloodstained sink that hasn’t even appeared before in the scene?  If the idea is supposed to be that Emmy shot herself then they could hardly have done a worse job of making that clear.  If the idea is supposed to be anything else, then it didn’t even get within a mile of making the point.”

Dingo 1: Adapted from Michael Alan Nelson’s free online novel, which I was hooked on when it was serialized. It’s condensed for comic book space, of course, but it’s still a funny (but not light-hearted) tale of magic set in the present day.

Fall of the Hulks Alpha: I was a little wary of the idea of another Illuminati-style secret Marvel Universe group, but Jeff Parker’s story of the Leader, Doom, the Mad Thinker, Egghead, the Wizard and MODOK is well crafted and spans from the Hulk’s early history to the present day (where they create a character very involved in one of the current Hulk storylines.) Paul Pelletier, who is underrated but who I always like, does a great job at subtly changing his art style depending on the time period each chapter of the story is told in.

Justice League: Cry For Justice 4-5: Improving with every issue, but there are still some blatant mistakes – Firestorm hasn’t been a white guy for years, and Freddy shouldn’t be able to say “Shazam” without changing (though that may turn out to be a plot point) – and awkward moments. (Ollie to Supergirl: “Oh my God. You are so love-struck.” Supergirl: “You think? I can’t take my eyes off him.”) Still, I like Dinah getting a chance to confront Ollie and Hal, and I still love the origin features and Robinson’s essays.

Justice League of America 38-39: These issues are set after the end of “Cry for Justice” so some of the characters’ fates from there are given away here, but not anything big (except that the League does not seem to have reformed yet.) The idea of the Detroit League members coming back for “Blackest Night” is a good one, and there’s a surprise for Zatanna fans as well. The (original) Dr. Light return is teased on the cover to #39, but except for one page doesn’t happen until next issue. As we saw in “Trinity”, Mark Bagley’s art is perfect for this book.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Comics I Read: Catching up #9

Uncanny X-Men 515-518: I’m pretty happy with the post-“Utopia” direction – for a long-time reader like me, it’s fun to see Scott try to live the leadership role he’s been groomed for all these years. I also like that Xavier, freed of the responsibility for the X-Men, finally has decided that he doesn’t have any patience for Magneto but Scott, who’s now responsible for all the mutants, feels he should hear him out. (And having Namor in the mix should certainly lead to some fun scenes, since he has no love for Magneto either if I remember correctly.) I’m not sure how I feel about the Void stuff, but I’ll see how that ends before I criticize it. I liked Greg Land’s art in #515-517 better than usual – it didn’t seem as artificial for some reason – but I wish the Dodson’s could do more issues because their style better suits the book, in my opinion.

Justice League of America 80-Page Giant: An 0ld school JLA story where the membership splits up into different chapters and comes together at the end. This time the gimmick is that they’re scattered through time, meeting various DC characters of the past. My favorite is the Black Canary/Zatanna story, not just for the fishnets but for the (new, as far as I know) tie between Canary’s family and the Crimson Avenger. I could quibble with most of the other stories – Firestorm, who should be black, is colored a pinkish-red for some reason, and it’s more than a little unclear why Wonder Woman thought becoming a sexy pirate captain was the appropriate response to being stranded in the Black Pirate’s time – but on the whole they’re kind of fun so I won’t bother. Not the kind of thing you’ll probably be happy spending $5.99 on, but worth catching if it makes it to the discount box.

Justice Society of America 80-Page Giant: Similar to the above, but more of an anthology as the stories are not chapters of a whole but separate stories tied together by a framing sequence. Actually, because of the mystical nature of the threat in the main story, it’s unclear whether some of the stories “really” happened at all or were just hallucinations. Still, I liked James Robinson’s story of Ma Hunkel and the original Mr. America, Kevin Grevioux’s Amazing Man story set in New Orleans, Jerry Ordway’s Wildcat story, and the surreal art by Scott Hampton in the Damage story. (This is all before “Blackest Night”, presumably.) I think the end of the framing story has a misunderstanding of the current Dr. Fate – he’s not supposed to be as cosmic and all-knowing as his predecessors – but it’s only a couple of pages so it’s a minor point. Another decent half-price purchase, if you can find it.

X-Necrosha: It’s really unfortunate that this mini-event of dead mutants returning is shipping during “Blackest Night” because it invites comparison, even though they were developed independently. From the reader’s point of view, both stories depend on the emotional reaction of the regular characters to their dead friends & family. In “Blackest Night” that’s also the plot, where here it’s just that Selene is up to no good. It’s a decent opening chapter, although I had to flip through it again to remember most of it, but this really will succeed or fail based on the individual books…

New Mutants 6-7: …And by that criteria, they’re off to an excellent start. The reunion between Prof. X and the team in the first few pages of #6 is touching, and them being observed by the returned Doug Ramsey, who can now read body language, takes it to another level. (“I have anxiety being around you as an adult, and desire reassurance you have not changed.” “I sense your anxiety and want to reassure you.”) I always liked Warlock and the Hellions, so it’s fun to see them back too.

Doom Patrol 3-4: This is finally starting to click with me. As I get a better sense of what’s behind Giffen’s characterizations I like them better, and the Mento stuff in #3 is off-the-charts creepy but still in character. I was actually a fan of the “New Doom Patrol” in its day so I enjoyed seeing them come back in #4, which I thought also had an ending that will make people want to come back and see what happens. (Not as compelling as the one in REBELS, but still a great idea.)

Comics In The News . . . . 12/07/2009



 sarah      PALINCOVER    Bluewater Productions has announced that they are scheduling a fourth printing for the FEMALE FORCE issue featuring SARAH PALIN and adding new content.   The latest edition will be entitled FEMALE FORCE: SARAH PALIN - GOING ROGUE EDITION and includes new artwork, a new cover and updated material since the first printing.    The story in the first printing ends when the McCain/Palin ticket fails to make it to the White House in the November 2008 Presidential Election.  There’s plenty of new material to add to the fourth edition = her resignation as governor of Alaska, her best-selling autobiography, and clashes with the young father of her daughter’s baby.

           Bluewater Productions, who I’m thinking of awarding the 2009 “Little Company That Could” trophy to,  has obtained a plethora of media attention from television news, magazines and newspapers for their FEMALE FORCE and POLITICAL POWER series of comics.

         While I’m no fan of Sarah Palin, I agree that’s there no denying her impact and influence on the current political scene.  My hat is off to Bluewater for being so media savvy and alert enough to capitalize on these trends and thereby draw more attention to their products.   The end result is it brings more attention to our hobby (and maybe creates some new readers) and also may help a small company like Bluewater  keep their head above water (I just couldn’t resist that!)  hopefully bringing them enough capital to continue producing new and innovative graphic works.  The mission of the FEMALE FORCE series is to focus on women who are influencing and shaping modern history and culture, including politics and entertainment.  This seems very much in line with working towards those goals.  Nice going, folks.


        I’ve been reading this independent music (mostly) magazine since it’s early beginnings. The stated mission of Paste is to cover “signs of life in music, film and culture” and they do that very well.  Now they appear to be paying attention to comics as well, at least for the very first time and on their frequently-visited website.  Follow this link to read about their picks for the twenty best graphic novels of the decade  (2000-2009).  The selections were made by Sean Edgar and Gib Bickel.

CaptainAmericaBrubakerOmnibusCover1-thumb      Blankets%20Cover%20JPEG%20300dpi

          It begins with Ed Brubaker’s CAPTAIN AMERICA at the #20 position and wraps up with BLANKETS at #1.  In between there are many works very familiar to us “fans” as well as some surprises.  Some of these titles I need to explore further. Thanks for that, Paste magazine!   I have no quibbles with this list.  It’s very well thought out and inclusive of all types of comics from spandex opera to real world drama, from the big two to the indies.


         Furthermore,  Paste magazine isn’t the only music publication to cover comics.  For more than a year now UNDER THE RADAR, a great magazine from California, has been regularly


writing about and reviewing comics in its pages.  The editor is a fan of this literary format and always includes some carefully written reviews every issue.  It’s worth your checking out - - I’m a regular subscriber.  And they also publish web-exclusive comics reviews.  Here’s a link to the latest one . . . . .

     Don’t you just love that others are recognizing what we’ve known for years – - - this is a great American art form.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Meeting writer Lance Parkin . . . . .


Opportunities to meet authors, chat with them and ask questions in relaxed and casual surroundings don’t occur often. So, it was a real treat to be introduced to three separate writers on the same day, at the same location.

I opted to ask all three writers (Greg Cox, Lance Parkin and Dave Thompson) the same opening question: At what point did you decide to pursue what you do as a career?

The early ambition of Lance Parkin was to be a journalist but he became disillusioned as he learned more about the position and didn’t pursue it. He was an early and forever fan of Doctor Who and loved the novelizations. At the age of 23 he thought to himself “I can do the same thing. I can write as well as this.” Lance Parkin explaining

At that time Virgin (the publisher) were putting out two Doctor Who novels per month and were looking for more writers. They were willing to accept unsolicited submittals and even made writers guidelines available. They would normally request the first three chapters as well as a summary/outline of the entire book. They accepted Parkin’s first submittal and went on to publish many more of his Doctor Who novels.

Currently Parkin is working on original material, searching for an agent and pursuing getting it published. His current work is described as “literary science fiction” entitled FIXING JESUS. He’s also working on a biography of a famous writer.

Lance Parkin signing

In addition to his Doctor Who tales he has written two years of soap opera scripts for the popular British television series EMMERDALE (on the air since 1972) and some novelizations of the series. His non-fiction work includes guides, critical essays and biographies on various writers and series, including Star Trek, Phillip Pullman’s novels, Alias and Alan Moore.

Lance finds the specifics of writing fiction for a particular genre, such as science fiction and soap operas, to have common elements. However, he prefers writing for the science fiction genre as Doctor Who fans are much more critical and responsive versus other types of readers, and they give great feedback. His best seller of some years ago (an Emmerdale book) isn’t mentioned or even talked about anymore, but his Doctor Who novels are still discussed and debated on fan websites and blogs.

Lance cautions genre writers (including popular comics series) to be aware of the dangers in popular culture. All too often he sees writers opting out to “stay safe” and within reach of the fan base in order to maintain a comfort level. Nothing ever changes and the series gets boring because the writers are no longer taking any chances, risks or tampering with the established characters.51AWJmw2ZNL__SL500_AA240_

Lance has no favorite Doctor Who ac51CMYVAgMVL__SL500_AA240_tor to write about - - - and he sees a common template between the six doctors to date. He once heard a television producer say to an author to “just write the story. It doesn’t matter which actor is portraying the Doctor.” The only time he wrote for a specific Doctor Who persona was when he was scripting an audio book that he knew would be narrated by Colin Baker.


His favorite Doctor Who to watch is Tom Baker. He’s never written any scripts or books featuring Baker because he “kind of doesn’t want to tamper with my idol”. Lance says that every single Doctor Who is a very curious, imaginative, creative and clever individual - - - who always has an angle on a situation or a resolution to a problem that others didn’t see. Sometimes he finds it a challenge to create a clever and creative solution that only Doctor Who would think of.

Lance Parkin has been living in the Newark, Delaware area for the past eighteen months and loves it. He made the move from England when his wife enrolled in college here.

All three of the author interviews were initially featured on the Captain Blue Hen website. To read the “Meeting Greg Cox’ article, go to the archived materials at BC Refugees for November 27, 2009. I’m saving the Dave Thompson article for my very own blog, dedicated to music, which I hope to begin this month. Dave Thompson is a music writer, so it’s more appropriate that the article appear there rather than here. I’ll provide a link once the site is up and running . . . . . Mike

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Comics I Read: Catching up #8

Dark Avengers Annual 1: This is the culmination of the Noh-Varr/Marvel Boy/Captain Marvel story that Bendis has been building up to for a while (see “Illuminati”, etc.) It’s not terribly surprising, which is kind of a Catch-22: if Bendis took a left turn and didn’t do the story he’s been heading towards, we’d feel cheated but when he does it it feels obvious. That said, it’s very well done – Bendis makes Noh-Varr interesting enough that I’d be willing to read a series about him, and Chris Bachalo’s art is even better than what he recently did in “Amazing Spider-Man”. I’m not in love with the new costume, which is loosely based on the original Captain Marvel uniform, but maybe it’ll grow on me. Warning: the last page gives away a little bit of the ending to Captain America “Reborn” – it’s something that was obvious was going to happen, but if you’re really spoiler-averse you may want to save this issue until “Reborn” #6 comes out. Also, I'm not as aware of individual issue prices now that I'm paying Westfield in advance, but others have pointed out that this is not necessarily a great value at $4.99.

Siege: The Cabal: The beginning of the end, as Norman Osborn – actually, the Green Goblin – decides that Asgard on earthly soil (so to speak) is a threat that needs to be eliminated. This brings him into conflict with Doom, who has the Asgardians under his protection. We get to see Norman’s secret weapon from the original Cabal story again, but aren’t given any new clues to his identity that I could detect. (IGN has a good article about who this character might be here.) As always, Bendis’ dialogue and range of personalities is great, and Doom is more formidable here than he’s been in a long time. (I’m not counting the Millar FF issues.) The real star of the issue is artist Michael Lark, who I usually associate with crime stories (Daredevil, Gotham Central, etc.) but he does a great-looking full-on superhero epic.

Spider-Woman 2-3: It’s a Bendis-palooza today! Anyway, these are basically the same stories, except for some slightly different pacing and coarser language, as the corresponding motion comic episodes. If you haven’t seen those, then these are definitely worth getting if for nothing else than Alex Maleev’s artwork. Even if you prefer the printed reading experience, I recommend checking out the motion comic for the voice acting for Viper. Bendis plays her as manic, which is still funny on the page but hysterical when acted out.

Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural 1-2: The new Sorcerer Supreme goes into the job overconfident, which I thought was a nice way to play it, and scores a decisive victory and then a pretty bad defeat. I like that he’s taking a riskier approach than Stephen Strange (who’s in a few pages of #1) would have. The dialogue is a little wordy, and #2 features the third or fourth different version of Daimon Hellstrom we’ve seen in the last six months, but it’s a good effort from Rick Remender and Jefte Palo that’s worth keeping an eye (of Agamotto, Ha!) on for a while.

Fantastic Four 573: Between Millar’s run here and the “Fantastic Force” mini (which I didn’t finish and don’t plan to), I’m thoroughly confused about the timeline of Nu-World but I’m also too apathetic to care. That said, this is a fun romp with Ben and Johnny, and Hickman always does a great job writing the kids too. Dale Eaglesham apparently has the month off, but Neil Edwards does a good job and I loved the Alan Davis cover.

Mighty Avengers 29-31: This story of the Inhumans leader before Black Bolt started slow, but picked up nicely in the middle and the end. In addition, the Avengers now know they’re being manipulated by the “Scarlet Witch” (though they don’t know who it is yet) and Dan Slott’s plan for highlighting Hank Pym’s heroism come to fruition. Slott has carved out a specific and interesting role for Pym in the Marvel U, and while I think some people may be put off by it, I’m a huge fan of the character so I heartily approve.

Ms. Marvel 45-47: #47 is a fun Spider-Man team-up (and date!) issue, but more importantly #46 is the end of the ongoing story about Carol Danvers’ “death” and return. It did go on too long, and even I don’t completely understand all the technical details, though there’s a good one-page summary in #47. However, overall I did like the story and I loved that Brian Reed used it as a means to explore not only Carol but her “replacement” Karla Sofen. Unfortunately, according to Paul O'Brien this book is cancelled with #50 which would be a shame if true – even at its worst this was a good book, and at its best it has been a very good book indeed.

Blackest Night: Flash 1: This gives away the ending of “Flash: Rebirth” a little bit, though again not anything you probably haven’t already guessed, and we're not getting Rebirth #6 until at least January 27 anyway so who cares. Otherwise, it’s a great return to the Flash by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins presented with enough explanations (but not too heavy with them) that anybody who hasn’t been following the ups and downs of the last few years can read and enjoy it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Legion of Super-Heroes - Part One

I love the Legion.

I didn't always.  My first exposure to them came from an issue of Superboy--issue 45, I believe?--where they showed up in Hawaii to take back the flight ring that he gave to his surrogate sister, Roxy.  From there, I was lucky to see even one or two appearances from the characters--maybe a reference here or there in a crossover--until the Teen Titans issue that rebooted the Legion for a second time.  I started picking up the book after that, and quickly fell in love--and then I went back and fell in love even more.

Despite the fact that I didn't start reading the book regularly until the Waid/Kitson relaunch, my favorite Legion has been, and quite possibly will always be, the post-Zero Hour crowd, complete with updated names (Livewire, Apparition, Triad, Umbra) and new characters (XS, Gates, Kinetix, Shikari).  Nostalgia can be powerful, and this was the first Legion I was ever introduced to--for me, these are the iconic versions that I read about as a child, even if only for one issue.

But really, I'm getting ahead of myself.

For no reason in particular, I'm going to begin a...retrospective, I guess?...of the various points in Legion history, as I reread through them.  This will take awhile, but it's good to have a long-term project!  Even one as pointless as this.  But hopefully, this should allow me to put together my thoughts about what makes each period in Legion history unique (and I do think that they're all unique), and maybe even allow me to get even more enthused about Paul Levitz's upcoming return to the title (well, it's Adventure Comics, but really, the same thing at this point.)

Shall we begin?

To start with--the Archives.  I'll be honest--I haven't read all of them.  The first six, yes, but I'm still missing 9 and 11, and I never began reading 7.  I think I got sidetracked, and when I returned I skipped ahead to the single issues.  I'll do my best to analyze this, though.

The first thing to note--the Legion changed a lot in the early periods.  Names, origins, powers, and more--it was very clearly in flux.  At one point, the Legion was portrayed as...ancestors?  Descendents? to the group that originally met Superboy.  This was a retcon that didn't stick, obviously, and before long the Legion eventually stabilized.  To be fair--these were auxiliary characters at the time, and nobody ever expected them to become one of DC's leading franchises.  The writers were trying to meet fan demand--there was no consistent direction.  As the Legion became recurring, however, this changed.

There were a few regular writers early on (Jerry Siegel, Edward Hamilton, Otto Binder), but as was the style at the time, they were there mostly to just keep the books moving, not to really bring their own vision to the book.  Despite this, though, they broke ground even early on--the Death of Lightning Lad was a powerful and shocking story.  A founding member of the Legion, killed in action?  And not immediately returned to life at the close of the issue?  Marvel (as we know it today) was still in its early stages of development--death and real change wasn't something readers were used to in their comics.  This was the first real sign that the Legion wouldn't just trod along--there was something about the concept that let writers make waves.  Another early sign was the death of Triplicate Girl--well, one form of her, at least, changing her into Duo Damsel.  Again, the main character didn't stay dead--but she had to deal with the trauma, and she was changed.  This was still something of a phenomenon.

It wasn't until Jim Shooter joined the title, though, that things really began to move.  Siegel, Hamilton, Binder and the others had developed characters and concepts for the Legion, sure, but Shooter was the writer that really brought everything together.  Everyone already knows his story, so I won't go into that here--but I will say that, as much as he changed the Legion, he changed the industry more.  His tenure over Marvel led to so many incredible developments that we take for granted today--if it wasn't for that young, fourteen-year-old boy taking a chance and submitting a comic to DC, we would have a very different industry today.

Those early stories by Jim Shooter still hold up remarkably well.  They're dated, of course, but not nearly as much as other Silver Age stories--and they're not nearly as corny, either.  Shooter was one of the first cases of a fan taking over a title, and he took it seriously--and the Legion became serious, as well.  Generic, goofy stories vanished, and we got our first real taste at a regular continuity, and even a few subplots.  It wasn't a complete change--editorial at DC still required that titles be self-contained and available to every possible reader, so none of this could be overt, but Shooter worked it in anyway.

As I mentioned before, Legionnaires had died or been injured before--but they eventually returned to at least some semblance of the status quo.  In one of Shooter's early stories, however, he killed off a Legionnaire--and he stayed dead.  For good.  The Death of Ferro Lad has been collected into DC's new "Classics" line of hardcovers, and for good reason--this was where the DC Universe started to change.  Again, Shooter's influence was incredible, even as a young boy.

In addition to killing off a Legionnaire and developing subplots, Shooter began to introduce new characters--characters that remain iconic Legionnaires to this day.  With his very first issue, he introduced Princess Projectra, Karate Kid, and even Ferro Lad, whose career would be short-lived.  But he recognized that the Legion had become "point and shoot" characters--there weren't many inventive uses of power, and he wanted to change that, to bring innovation to the battlescenes.

I have a tremendous respect for what Shooter did with the Legion in those early issues, as I'm sure you can tell.  He didn't stay on the title forever--editorial shakeups resulted in him leaving and the Legion becoming backup characters once again--but his work really set the stage for these characters to become a powerful franchise for DC.

There are very few concepts that have endured at DC, in one form or another, for so long--Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Teen Titans, the JLA, and the Legion.  That's really it, right?  Sure, they'd occasionally take a small break or be relaunched, and maybe sales weren't always the best--but they've been present, in one form or another, for decades.  That's worth noting.

Next time, I'll take a look at Paul Levitz and his entire, legendary second run, including the Great Lightning Saga, all the way up to the end of the Magic Wars.  I haven't read all of this yet--I'm at some point after the Great Lightning Saga--so this won't be posted for awhile.  But eventually!  Remember, this is a long-term blog posting project, and it won't be the only thing I'm doing, so we've definitely got time.  But in the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts!  Go!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Comics I Read: Catching up #7

X-Men Legacy Annual 1, 228-229: A pretty good story featuring mutant predator Emplate and how he’s affected by the vastly reduced number of mutants, but (a) I don’t care much about Emplate because he dates from one of the times I wasn’t reading the X-books and (b) I like the idea of the book’s alleged new direction – Rogue mentoring young mutants – and I wish they’d get on with that instead of this distraction.

Thor 603, Finale: A satisfying and touching conclusion for William, JMS’ best character in the series, but the rest of his plot is left for Kieron Gillen to handle starting next issue. Which is a good thing – the preview pages look great – but with all the time it took for these last issues to come out I’m surprised that it still feels like JMS’ departure was so abrupt.

Supergirl 46-47: The end of the Reactron story in #46 is good, and the reconciliation between Supergirl and Flamebird is welcome. Much better is #47: a very well done story from Alura’s POV – she even takes over the logo on the splash page. Sterling Gates does a great job of showing us why she’s made some of the choices she has, which makes her more sympathetic even though she’s still wrong. The flashbacks to her life with Zor-El are terrific, and in a subtle way even manage to reconcile the Silver Age and John Byrne versions of Krypton. My only quibble is a reference at the end to Supergirl going back to Earth, which shouldn’t be possible after the end of “Blackest Night: Superman”. (Unless I have the timing wrong, but I thought that miniseries took place after the Reactron story.)

Red Robin 5-6: Great, great stuff from Chris Yost showing the re-emergence of the Tim Drake we all know and love. Basically, he had this arc of Tim’s change in personality well planned from the beginning, and I’m sure it will read really well in the collected edition.

Superman: World of New Krypton 7-9: The Jemm appearance in #9 didn’t do much for me, but the Thanagarian stuff was good, and I love the whole story arc of Kal having to take over General Zod’s job. The cliffhanger at the end of #9 is great – though I wonder if it’s really who it appears to be since that character’s in another book in another part of the galaxy – and Pete Woods’ art is consistently terrific.

Strange 1: I usually love Mark Waid’s work, of course, but this is a surprisingly light and wonderful story of a demon-infested baseball game. Basically, it’s the kind of thing Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Strange would never have lowered himself to get involved in, but plain old Steven Strange is just trying to help where he can with his now-limited abilities and it makes him more human and sympathetic. Recommended.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Comics I Read: Catching up #6

Blackest Night 5: It was fun to see all the Lantern Corps representatives together, and I liked the way Johns played with the expectation of what would happen when they were combined into white light. The Batman scene confuses me since he’s not dead (and Nekron seems to acknowledge that he’s a fake), but presumably that will be explained later. (Poor Tim Drake is going to have an even harder time convincing everyone Bruce is alive when they’ve “seen” him as a Black Lantern.) The ending reinforces my ideas about which side of death everyone will end up on when this is over.

Brave and the Bold 29: OK, this is more like it. JMS is still trying to make a point, but it’s a subtle one – well, as subtle as anything with Brother Power, The Geek in it can be – and since it’s all told from Bruce’s point of view (including some nice flashbacks with his parents) it doesn’t come off as preachy since he’s learning a lesson instead of trying to shove one at someone else.

Amazing Spider-Man 611-613: I am getting tired of Deadpool, but I couldn’t help but like #611 by classic Deadpool writer Joe Kelly. The story is funny, and it actually has some relevance to the current Spidey story arc. Starting in #612, Mark Waid and his “Potter’s Field” artist Paul Azaceta are doing a great reimagining of Electro. Max Dillon was always a working-class guy, and in the first two parts of “Power to the People” Waid makes him a folk-hero of the anti-Wall Street, anti-bailout crowd. It’s a genius idea, and Azaceta’s gritty, street-level artwork fits the story perfectly.

Superman 693-694: Mon-El’s confrontation with General Lane in #693 is enlightening, both in the way it changes Mon’s self perception and in how it shows Lane’s motivation and what he’s accomplished so far. The conversations between Mon & Superboy and Mon & Ma Kent (and indirectly, Pa Kent) in #694 are great, and I like the new costume and the reasoning behind it. (But I don’t like the pose or the coloring on the cover of #694.) There’s also another secret Legionnaire in #694 – I’m starting to wonder how many of them are left in the future.

Hulk 16-17: There’s improvement in these issues, as the Red Hulk is forced to be on the defensive from the Red She-Hulk and maybe reevaluate his mission. It’s more interesting to me to have an idea of what’s going on in his head instead of just watching him punch Watchers, but since we still don’t know who he is we don’t have full access to his thought process and so the book still doesn’t 100% work for me. (But it’s a step in the right direction.)

Punisher 11: So, it’s the infamous “FrankenCastle” issue. I admit I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the concept, but it is well done so far and I like the idea of Frank having decisively lost to Osborn’s forces rather than incredibly beating super-powered opponents month after month. That said, I’m not sure I particularly care about the fate of the monster community living in the Morlock tunnels, but the effort is worth supporting until I decide if it’s for me.

Dark Avengers: Ares 1-2: I’m glad I read these together because after #1 I was going to rant about doing yet another version of the confrontation between Ares and his son, but after reading #2 (without giving anything away) it turns out not to be what I thought. With my neurotic continuity issues aside, I liked Kieron Gillen’s story of the God of War leading a band of American soldiers. It’s told from one of the soldiers’ POV, and #1 is heavier on the dark humor of Ares’ training regimen while #2 is more about what he’s teaching the soldiers in more subtle ways. I probably should have waited for the ending to write about this, but it’s good enough to recommend based on what I’ve seen and Gillen’s earned enough trust that I’m not worried about the ending being unsatisfying.

Dark Avengers 10-11: Norman and his team are starting to unravel already, and then they’re faced with a powerful menace – powerful enough to handle the Sentry -- that we haven’t seen much of since the Beyonder/Secret Wars days. We also start to get a look at what makes Norman’s #2, Victoria Hand, tick. I don’t have much to say about this story yet, because so much depends on the ending Bendis has planned – is this just an interlude before “Siege”, or will it have a lasting effect on the characters?

Dark X-Men 1: The “Captain Britain” team of Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk is back to tell the story of what’s left of Norman Osborn’s X-Men team. Oddly enough, the most stable one of the group is Mystique and her struggle to reign in her colleagues is fun to watch. The story’s a little more serious than “MI-13”, though it still has it’s light moments (“Inventory of items destroyed by Omega: #2: Statue of beloved former mayor and his dog.”), and I’m intrigued by the 90’s X-character that returns at the end of the issue. (Which is really no secret, but I won’t give it away here just in case.) Cornell is one of my favorite writers, as you know, and I wasn’t as blown away by this as I was by “Dark Reign: Young Avengers” but I liked it more than enough to keep reading.

Batman/Doc Savage Special: As the beginning of Brian Azzarello’s pulp hero reimagining, there were a lot of expectations for this book that I’m not sure it was possible to live up to. It’s one of those quasi-period pieces (like the early “Batman: The Animated Series”) where there are cell phones and TV news, but also airships and men who wear suits and a young Batman that uses guns. There’s a lot to like here – Savage has always been an intriguing character to me, and his interactions with both Bruce Wayne and Batman are well written – but it doesn’t quite get above a slow burn where maybe some real excitement was needed. (Phil Noto’s art and the decision to color it in washed-out tones didn’t help.) I also wonder whether the series really needs Batman in it (except to sell copies of course). On the other hand, Rags Morales’ sketches for the ongoing series look amazing and this wasn’t a bad start, just not a great one. I can’t say you should run out and get this, but I’m still planning to check out the regular series in March.

Son of Hulk 15-17: And so Paul Jenkins’ story of Hiro-Kala, the (maybe) other son of the “Planet Hulk” Hulk, ends for now. Although there are some sci-fi elements, this is mainly a sword-and-sorcery epic of the type that usually bores me. But that’s a personal bias, and even though it’s not my cup of tea I think the book was well done and I liked the Galactus scenes in #17 a lot. It looks like this continues next in “Realm of Kings”, not in “Fall of the Hulks” so I guess they’re staying away from Earth for a while.