Thursday, December 21, 2006

Random Reading: A Whole Lotta Stuff

Mostly a positive post this time, because the majority of the stuff I got today is from my pull list--and I don't keep buying stuff I think is crap (usually). So, let's get on with it:

The Boys #5

I've actually been enjoying this title more than I thought I would. The first issue didn't hook me right away, but subsequent issues have done a better job. You know why this book works? Garth Ennis has never been the over-the-top writer people like to label him. Yeah, those elements are there, but there's also a strong sense of humanity that grounds everything he does. Do you think Preacher would have worked without the relationships between Jesse, Tupil, and Cassidy? Hell, my favourite moments from that book were the emotionally-driven stuff.

Same here. Yeah, there's the fucking with superheroes stuff, but Ennis is very wisely keeping all of that grounded with Hughie, a very likable and relatable character that puts everything into perspective.

This issue ups the ante as the Boys fuck with Teenage Kix more and leads into a confrontation between the two groups that will play out in the next issue. Looking forward to that--finally seeing what this group can do, especially the Female.

Desolation Jones #8

What I said about Ennis? Same goes for Ellis, by the way. But people never pay attention to that--which is why people who rip-off Ellis and Ennis always fail, the same way people who ripped off Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen produced utter crap.

Jones is probably the most damaged character Ellis has created so far. Every issue, we get a new bit of information that makes you pity him and kind of hope in his next confrontation, someone will put a bullet in his skull just to end his miserable life.

But, not really, because we all want to see Jones find out what happened to his old spy buddy. Typical of the series, the issue is slow, but probably gives far more information than we realise now. Lots of Philip K. Dick stuff, too, which I love.

Still on the fence over Danijel Zezelj's art--but that's probably because following Williams III is a damn difficult task.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #10

Holy fucking shit, Stuart Immonen is a great artist. Wow. Five styles featured here, all great.

Not much to say here. Another great issue. Either you get it--and love it, or you don't--and hate it. The ending was a little obvious, but who cares? I don't.

The Stan Lee and Jack Kirby "Easter Island" heads in the Captain's alternate life is a nice touch.

newuniversal #1

Speaking of great art, when did Salvador Larroca actually get good? Last time I saw his art was in a Peter Milligan-penned issue of X-Men and it was butt-fucking-ugly. Flat, uninspired and covered with shitty, shitty, shitty, SHITTY digital painting or something. So, I open up this comic and suddenly, Larroca's art was depth and . . . well, is good. Surprise, I guess.

The story itself is alright. Not much to go on here. Various people, white event, superpowers, yay. Nothing to rock my socks off.

Casanova #6

I've only read this issue once, so I got, like, a third of what was going on. The third I got? Loved. My words cannot sum up how awesome this book is. In the Previews for February (I think), there's a solicitation for a set of all seven issues of this first volume: BUY IT (unless you've been buying this book). It's cheap and would still be a steal if it were double the price. But, so I actually say something:

Russian missile silo, robots with the same brains meet, fake girly group assassins, undercover superspy fashion photographer, BIGFUCKINGBOOM!, giant Japanese robot.

Plus, much MUCH more. Buy the book.

Punisher War Journal #1

More Matt Fraction? Hells yes.

Really enjoyed this. The Punisher here isn't the Punisher in Ennis' book. He's a bit more cartoony, but it works because he's in a cartoony world. Lots of great moments here, but one bit made me laugh for, like, two minutes solid. A huge fucking bellylaugh with tears and everything. It's after Punisher saves Spider-Man in the sewers and Spider-Man (totally out of it) says he needs to hit an ATM to pay for the ride and Punisher says it's free and Spider-Man says:


I love Matt Fraction.

The Immortal Iron Fist #1

Ever MORE Matt Fraction? With Ed Brubaker? Life is good, sometimes.

I can't think of anything I didn't dig about this comic. It did everything a first issue should do: tell us what we need to know about a character, give a kickass story, and set things up for the future of the book. Plus, David Aja's art is amazingly gorgeous.

My only complaint is that, well, there's an ad for this issue in the issue. That's just not right. I generally don't pay attention to ads, but advertising for the comic I'm reading while I'm reading it? Kind of stupid, Marvel.

Criminal #3

A little breather of an issue. Mostly character development and slight plot movement. But, it works really well. Solid all around.

New Avengers: Illuminati #1

Yeah, I'm going to buy this series pretty much because I dig the concept--and issue four is "Marvel Boy issue" and, as we all know, I'm a Marvel Boy geek. Shut up.

As for this issue, it is all kinds of mediocre. The one cool moment, where Black Bolt speaks and blows the fuck out of the Skrull's main ship? Yeah, taken away when we discover that SOMEHOW the king of the Skrulls, who was ten feet away, was somehow not killed. The fuck? Yeah, a voice powerful enough to blow up a giant spaceship doesn't kill a guy ten feet away? How does that work, exactly?

Utterly mediocre. I hope future issues step it up a bit.

Gødland #14

Am I the only one reading this book who feels like every issue is a strange remix of a Kirby-drawn comic where the old word balloons have been replaced with new ones?

Not much happens here, which is a pretty bad thing considering this is the second issue back after the little three-month hiatus the book took. The first issue back had all sorts of action and fun, but this one? Snoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooozefest. I love the book and even I found it boring. I read this book for action, snappy dialogue and mindless (but smart) fun. This issue was lacking.

All-Star Superman #3-5

And now we get to the third thing that everyone else seems to love, but I don't (the first two being Jim Lee's art and DC: New Frontier). I still can't figure out why. Normally, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely means I'm so fucking hard that a slight breeze will push me over the edge (or, something a lot less graphic and over-the-top). All-Star Superman leaves me cold.

In issue three, Lois Lane is given Superman's powers and . . . well, does nothing with them. Instead, she flirts with other superguys (one of whom looks exactly like Superman, just with longer hair) to make Superman jealous.

In issue four, Jimmy Olsen is all cool and saves the world or something.

In issue five, Lex Luthor is all evil and tells us how he killed Superman in issue one on purpose.

All full of mad ideas and lots of Silver Age-esque fun--except it's not the, you know, Silver Age anymore and I just don't give a fuck. The only thing that did anything for me was in issue four where Olsen becomes Doomsday. There's an interesting idea.

I think my problem is that I've seen Morrison do much, MUCH more with the character in his JLA run. Hell, his Lex Luthor there was at least interesting. This version is a flat, one-note character. Every character is. It's all surface here, nothing more. And DC has recently released multiple volumes of Superman-related Showcase reprints full of that stuff.

(Actually, flipping through the issues again, issue four pointed to something that's bothered me about the Superman titles: we have Perry White praising Clark Kent for his journalism--except, we never see him do any. Ever. Anywhere. That's always bothered me.)

Civil Wardrobe

I saw this and figured I'd give it a look. I laughed once. That says it all.

Punisher: From First to Last

A trio of Punisher MAX specials . . . faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaantastic.

The art in all three is lovely. The writing is great, too.

The first story, "The Tyger" gives us Castle's first killing as the Punisher and part of his childhood where he sees various examples of people getting "justice" of one form or another through violence.

The second story, "The Cell" has Castle getting himself thrown in jail so he can kill a group of mobsters. This is mostly a bunch of violence, but done well--and showcases how good he is at what he does.

The last story, "The End" is one in a series of stories Marvel has put out about the possible end of a hero/group of heroes' careers/lives. Instead of some extended bullshit like Claremont's ending for the X-Men, Ennis gives us a story of Castle killing the last people on earth because they are utter fucking bastards. Pure and simple.

Makes for a great last-minute gift for a comic fan, I think.

And that does it for 2006 most likely. Merry Christmas, happy new year, happy all those other holidays and blah blah blah.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Random Reading: Wizard #183

It's been a good five or six years since I've read a new issue of Wizard (although, I did find back issues make for decent bathroom reading, especially the "rumours" section of the news just to see what happened, what didn't). I was, at one point, a subscriber, but I gave it up once I had steady access to the internet at home. As Warren Ellis once said, if you've got the internet, you're buying Wizard for the price guide. And during the time there was overlap, I did find Wizard to be pretty useless, except for the occasional preview or random sidebar where Ellis or Garth Ennis tells us which heroes they would have sodomised for 22 pages given the chance. Otherwise, I got my news, interviews, reviews, solicitations, everything online--hell, I interacted with creators directly online.

But, that was then and this is now. I still don't need--or want--Wizard in my life, but let's see how the old girl is holding up. Is it still a waste of paper or does it hold some value?

I chose the year-end issue very specifically since it was always my favourite issue of the year. It was always bigger, full of longer articles, usually a giant interview with someone important and other fun stuff.

This issue isn't like that. It has the usual year-end awards, but is arranged in such a hap-hazard way that I don't know what the point is.

A break-down of the issue (in which I also spoil all of their awards):

* Editorial
* Letters
* News
* "Man of the Year": Joe Quesada
* "Event of the Year": Civil War
* "Artist of the Year": Steve McNiven
* "Single Issue of the Year": New Avengers #22
* "Breakout Talent of the Year": Charlie Huston
* "'What The?' Moments of the Year": ten random moments where Wizard asks "The fuck?" They're divided equally between Marvel and DC with five each (four for each in the comics, one movie moment each). But, funny thing, ALL of the Marvel moments come from a comic relating to Civil War, the event of the year.
* A comparison between Punisher MAX and Punisher War Journal
* A preview of Olivier Coipel's sketches for the new Thor series
* "Boldest Move of the Year": 52
* "Writer of the Year": Brian K. Vaughan
* "Book of the Year": Daredevil
* "Hero of the Year": Superman
* "Cover Artist of the Year": JG Jones
* "New Characters of the Year"
* "Comebacks of the Year"
* "Villain of the Year": The Governor (from The Walking Dead)
* "Mini-Series of the Year": B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine
* "Movie of the Year": The Descent
* "TV Show of the Year": Lost vs. Battlestar Galactica
* "Animated Series of the Year": Justice League Unlimited
* "Video Game of the Year": Ultimate Alliance
* "DVD of the Year": Superman: The Ultimate Collector's Edition Box Set
* "Collection of the Year": Absolute Kingdom Come
* A chart on who is leading the villains against the Justice League
* An article on New Avengers: Illuminati
* An article on the Metal Men
* An article on Zod
* An article on Green Lantern: Year One
* An article on X-23: Target X
* A profile of the Inhumans as it relates to Silent War
* Three writers argue who is the best Flash (guess who Alex Ross champions)
* Five reason you must read The Lone Ranger (the guy at the shop told me that he loves this book and I should keep an eye out for this article)
* An article on Kaare Andrews and Spider-Man: Reign
* An article on The Darkness
* A section called "MEGA!" where they discuss movies, DVDs, games, manga, toys and other random shit (for some reason, the anime and manga stuff of the year is in here, but DVD of the year isn't--odd)
* "Book Shelf" (reviews of collections--a place where collection of the year might have gone)
* The indie section--where indie book of the year (Scott Pilgrim) is located
* Price guide--with sidebar lists of shit like hot ten comics, hot writers/artists, blah blah blah
* Graded comics guide
* Shows and cons
* Final page goof, this time with Iron Man's Myspace page

Now, every article from "Man of the Year" until "Boldest Move of the Year" also has a "Civil War Report" tag, so you would think they're organised that way, BUT the articles on New Avengers: Illuminati and Silent War ALSO have that tag, so they obviously aren't organised that way--the "'What The?' Moments of the Year" also has that tag for some reason even though it's half DC stuff. Is it just me or should all of the "best of the year" awards go together as they used to?

As well, why do DVD of the year and collection of the year warrant articles independent of their respective sections, while other awards don't?

It's just sloppy, sloppy layout.

Looking at the issue in a more linear way, let's start with the letters. Same old shit, really. People write letters, they get half-assed responses that are supposed to be funny. What really annoys me is how in one letter, the author apparently spelled title "tittle" and the staffer feels the need to mock him for this. Now, am I to expect that this was the only typo found in EVERY letter printed this month? If it is, fair enough, Wizard has the readers who can spell; if not, it's just amateurish dickery. You don't pick and choose which words to edit and which words not to edit (the only exception being if the letter writer is writing in to point out mistakes you made, then you get to point out their mistakes). And, it was a legitimate question posed, but totally ignored because this jackass felt the need to be . . . well, a jackass.

Today, I got the latest issue of Chart in the mail. It's a Canadian music magazine and on its letter page, it doesn't edit a single thing in the letters/e-mails it receives and answers most of them in a very tongue-in-cheek, confrontational way. Except there it works. Why? Because they don't edit any letter and respond to the letters appropriately. Sure, the answers are very asshole-like, but so are the letters. It mostly comes down to this: Chart's letter page is entertaining, while Wizard's is not. Proof, I submit the last letter found in the new Chart (title underlined, response bolded):

You are an idiot! --(person's name)
And your mom, too.

See, with letters like that, you can be an ass. With letters where a reader questions why a feature in your magazine has been removed, yeah, you don't come off looking that great by being a jerk.

Moving on . . .

The news section isn't that bad. It begins with a summary of events/books/whatever coming up in 2007 to look out for. There's a solid mix of news items and fun little features like a history of Robin versus the Joker. This is probably the section of the issue that works the best, mostly because it seems like it has patterned itself on other magazines.

The actual articles of the issue are . . . fine. Not much depth usually. But that's fine, I suppose. The Civil War article summarises the series, hitting the major plot points--oh, it also contains an "editor of the year" award for Tom Brevoort.

My largest complaint with regards to most of the awards (especially the ones relating to specific people) is that Wizard used to get quotes from OTHER creators. If Kurt Busiek was writer of the year, they didn't talk to Kurt Busiek, they talked to other writers who would tell you why Kurt Busiek is so good. You save talking to the specific creator for interviews and profiles. As cool as it is to see some of Brian K. Vaughan's thoughts on his work, that doesn't exactly show me that he's writer of the year--whereas, his peers telling me what they love about his work does.

The JG Jones article is particularly good, only because it has every cover of 52 up to #35 with commentary by Jones and various creators like Mark Waid, Andy Kubert, and colorist Alex Sinclair among others. This technique of changing up how some of the awards are presented works well in the JLU article, which has the ten best moments of the past season and even the Lost versus Battlestar Galactica one.

The non-awards articles are more of the same. They change up the style and format to keep things somewhat interesting, but rarely go beyond the minimum as far as depth goes.

The "MEGA!" section works as well as the news section, giving you information and not much else. It does the job.

"Book Shelf" is an interesting move for the magazine as it acknowledges the importance of trades as ONLY collections get reviewed--no single issues. All but three reviews are a couple of hundred words, but they do a decent job. Again, Wizard seems to have looked to magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin, which also contain large review sections, and aped the format. And it works. The reviews are to the point and give you a good sense of what you'll be getting.

That just leaves the price guide and the less said about it, the better.

Overall, it wasn't a bad read. It certainly has its share of problems and I have no desire to buy another issue (especially with the hefty $7.99 Canadian price tag). I really do think the editorial staff should look to other specialty magazines like Rolling Stone or Sports Illustrated and see what works there and what doesn't. It seems like they already have to some extent.

Oh, and you'll notice that I didn't really talk about how Marvel and DC dominate the content and that's because I don't see the point. That's Wizard. They could definitely improve in that area, but I'm not going to harp on that when they have more basic issues to deal with.

The next few weeks will be really random with updates, just so you know. The holidays and all, I definitely won't be buying something every week. You'll probably get one or two giant posts instead.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Random Reading: Justice Society of America #1, Midnighter #2, New Avengers #25, Deathblow #2, Welcome to Tranquility #1, Punisher X-Mas Special 2006

Very much a random reading because I went to local shop here in Windsor wanting two specific comics, Immortal Iron Fist #1 and newuniversal #1, but they didn't have a copy of either. So, I pretty much stood in front of that rack for five minutes and picked various titles, some I'd read before, others just because. So, let's get this under way.

Justice Society of America #1

Didn't World War III happen at the end of Morrison's JLA run? You know, Mageddon gets closer to Earth, every country in the world starts attacking every other country until the heroe step in and shut the ancient war machine down. Oh, I am such a geek it's not funny.

Anyway, never read a single issue of JSA and never really got the attraction to a superteam based around old people who should, by all rights, be pretty easy to kill. But, it got a lot of praise by a lot of people, so what do I know?

I do know this issue is all kinds of mediocre. It's not bad, it's just not great. I'm sure there are all sorts of people who read it and creamed their jeans, but I just didn't give a fuck.

The basic plot is: sometime during the missing year in the DCU that 52 is telling, World War III happened and the JSA saved the day, except the team was broken up or something, so now they need to get it together again, except bigger, better and with more young people because the old guys are really fucking old and can die any second.

So, much of the issue is recruitment of young people, like the angry Damage or the hyper-fan who talks too much or the guy from the future who lives in a mental institution. This is played off against a story about some guy named Mr. America whose entire family is slaughtered because of his connection to the JSA and he uses his dying energy to try and warn them.

See, it's not bad, it just did nothing for me. That seems to my general feeling about most of Geoff Johns' writing. I can see where he's coming from and why some people would like it and appreciate that it accomplishes what it sets out to do, but it's not my thing. It's kind of like critiquing the writing in a creative writing class: you don't comment based on taste, but on what they're trying to do and how to make that better. Johns is doing everything he sets out to do here.

The basic idea that the JSA exists to train and give a sense of connection for younger heroes is good. I was thinking while walking home that the basic idea that's used for the Legion of Super-Heroes where ANYONE can be a member would work really well here. A real Justice Society of America. But, maybe that's where the title is moving.

The only thing I don't like is the last page and the four-panel "preview" of what's "Coming this year in Justice Society of America" because it gives the sense that this issue isn't enough to keep me as a reader interested enough to pick up #2.

If this sort of title seems like your thing, you'll almost certainly enjoy this debut issue. Me, I just don't care.

Midnighter #2

Midnighter is sent back to World War I to kill Adolf Hitler because killing him there will stop him from rising to power, but also not attract any unwanted attention. It's kinda smart.

There's actually not much to this issue. Midnighter is sent back, kills various German and French troops, tries to kill Hitler and is stopped by time-travel police or something. We're also told why Paulus has kidnapped Midnighter to do this.

The art is good, the pacing is fine, the dialogue is solid. Ennis is obviously playing to his strengths by sticking Midnighter in World War I. It's an entertaining issue, but light on plot--which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

New Avengers #25

This is the third straight issue of New Avengers I've picked up. I got the Spider-Woman #23, the Sentry #24 and now Iron Man #25. I mostly picked this up to see if Iron Man is a total fucking dick here, too. Every other tie-in to Civil War I've read has had him as a prick, so in his Bendis spotlight, does he come off alright?

Um, not really.

It begins with a disgruntled employee of his, one of his designers/engineers/armour builders breaks into Avengers Tower and shuts Tony down, pissed off that Stark would use his work like this. Tony argues that he paid for it, so fuck off. The employee, Kenny, tells him to fuck off with that bullshit because he wasn't just an employee but also a friend and he was never told his work would be used this way.

At the same time, SHIELD tries to save Stark.

The thing is, Kenny has an anti-matter generator and he's going to take the entire building out to stop Stark. Except Commander Hill, the director of SHIELD, stops him.

Yay. Day saved.

The end has her suggesting that Tony become the new director of SHIELD because it would piss people off or something.

Stark actually isn't portrayed as an asshole, he just comes off as one through the eyes of Kenny. And I guess it depends on your politics, too. If you're like me and don't think money is a good enough excuse, Stark is an asshole. If you're of the mindset that Kenny got paid, so who cares what he thinks, you'll side with Stark.

Still, a more balanced portrayal than . . . everything else I've seen.

Deathblow #1

If I understand what's going on, Azzarello is doing something very cool with this book. Michael Cray has been presumed dead for six years. That means he's missed the huge shift in global military practices, especially American military practices. And now, he's being caught up through psychological conditioning in the only place that can catch someone up: New York City.

They alter his mind a little, stick him with a family he doesn't remember, tell him his wife he doesn't remember has been killed and wait for him to respond.

At least, that's what I think is happening. I'm definitely going to keep buying this title. Fuck the trades, this issue makes me want to see how Azzarello handles things as quickly as possible.

Like with the first issue, I find the art to be horribly ugly and barely able to tell the story.

Welcome to Tranquility #1

Um, why is it that only, like, two of the characters on the cover actually appear in the comic? And the two that do aren't the young heroes that are featured in the background anymore. One of those design things that annoys me.

First off, the art is passable. It's nothing special and didn't do much for me.

Second off, same goes for the writing.

Some interesting ideas like the elderly Captain Marvel-esque hero who can't remember his special word, so reads from dictionaries of all languages constantly in an effort to stumble across it.

Or . . . well, I guess the central idea of elderly superheroes.

But, otherwise, there's nothing here that interests me. There's the requisite "old hero wants to relive glory days and causes damage" and "new asshole superperson versus old heroes" scenes.

This issue seemed to suffer from the problem with most first issues these days: it didn't feel complete. It felt like that if I'm going to have to pick up five more in order to actually be told the full premise of the book and, fuck it, I don't want to.

I assume those characters on the cover are going to show up, but they didn't appear here and nothing here makes me want to stick around and find out who they are.

Punisher X-Mas Special 2006

I love CP Smith's art. Have since his work on Stormwatch: Team Achilles and he's grown a lot since then. So, the book looks fantastic.

I haven't had much exposure to Stuart Moore except through the titles he edited back in the day.

The story is basic: it's Christmas, which means all of the big mob bosses are surrounded by family and, thus, the Punisher can't kill them because the Punisher doesn't kill innocent people. So, he's left dealing with the lower-end scumbags that he normally doesn't have time for.

In this case, it's Jimmy Nouveau, some asshole who's started his own little new age cult type thing except operates out of a strip club and was tied to the death of a cop and a small boy.

It's a decent enough story. A little cutesy at points with Punisher making a "naughty" and "nice" list. But, the ending is pretty messed up and speaks to his character well.

It won't fill you with holiday cheer, but it's the Punisher, so what do you expect?

Sometime in the next few days, I'll be doing an update where I guide you through the year-end issue of Wizard. It's been five or six years since I've read it, so let's see if it's still the shitty rag it was then.