Sunday, January 28, 2007

Random Reading: Showcase Presents Shazam! (Part One)

I picked up Showcase Presidents Shazam! this week and have read through the first thirteen issue's worth of material. It is some damn funny stuff.

First off, the one thing you need to know when reading this book is that people are stupid. They see a kid, they hear a kid yell "Shazam!", they see the kid get struck by lightning and then they see Captain Marvel, but can't quite make the connection between the kid and Captain Marvel. I don't care what you say, the whole Superman/Clark Kent thing seems downright sophisticated compared to this.

In the little brief origin recap, they try to explain it by saying that people are so dazzled, they don't even notice, but come on.

But, continuing on, I'm just going to give the best moments:

* Captain Marvel's origin: Bill Batson is selling newspapers in the rain before returning to the subway station where he sleeps when a stranger approaches him and takes him to a train with no driver, which the kid gets on. Then, Billy meets Shazam, the wizard who grants him the powers and after he becomes Captain Marvel, Shazam drops a huge block on himself. WHAT THE FUCK? That is the craziest origin ever. It's got so many fucked up things in it I don't know where to start.

* Mr. Mind, an alien genius worm that wants to kill Captain Marvel and take over the world destroys a museum so he can get back his glasses. Seriously. And then tries to destroy everything west of St. Louis while Captain Marvel wonders "BUT I CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHAT MR. MIND CAN DO HERE IN THE CENTER OF THE COUNTRY!" Well, he flies around in a little paper cup attached to a balloon. Go, Mr. Mind, go!

* Sunny Sparkle is a kid so nice people are always giving him stuff.

* A world famous inventor goes on TV to tell the world he's invented the most important thing since the wheel, but doesn't say what. Various racial stereotypes from around the world try to capture him until a US fed shows up and is all "It's your patriotic duty to hand it over" and it turns out it's an anti-gravity generator that everyone thinks is retarded.

* Because some guy was born on the same day as Billy, when he got his powers, so did this other guy. He can see the future, but only when hanging out with Billy.

* A hobo catches a leprechaun, makes a wish to be invisible and causes damage.

* Sunny Sparkle's cousin is jerk and tries to beat up Captain Marvel.

* Dr. Sivana knows Billy Batson is Captain Marvel, so he gives him a special watch that makes him take two minutes to say "Shazam!" without noticing. That is, until Billy notices his watch's time doesn't match with the TV station's clock and changes it. BUT, that clock was running fast, so now the watch is set incorrect and blows up.

* Dexter Knox is a boy genius and accidentally turns his grandmothers into a walking generator. So, when they hear Miami is undergoing a massive blackout, Captain Marvel and Dexter tell her she has to go, except she won't let Captain Marvel fly her there because she only travels by train. But, grandmoth--ONLY BY TRAIN, GODDAMMIT! FUCK MIAMI! So they stick her on a train and Captain Marvel pushes it at superspeed so it arrives quickly.

* A rumour gets started that saying "Captain Marvel" will end the world. And people believe it.

* Mr. Mind gets a bunch of worms together to fuel a hate-helmet that can knock Captain Marvel on his ass, so Captain Marvel uses dry ice to make it rain and thus cause the worms all litter the ground.

* Freddy Freeman is a crippled kid who turns into Captain Marvel Jr. by saying "Captain Marvel." And he actually spends most of his time as a crippled newsboy.

* Billy Batson says "Shazam!" and gives a monkey the power of Captain Marvel by accident. During that story, he talks to himself and says "Shazam" while in mid-air and almost kills himself.

* The cover to issue 10 has an old woman holding two guns. One to a priest's head, the other to Captain Marvel's and she screams "MARRY ME, YOU BIG RED CHEESE--OR ELSE!" How come covers today aren't that awesome?

* A spaceship of talking vegetables crash on Earth and need spare parts, so Captain Marvel and them make a movie about alien vegetables invading the planet to raise the money.

* The old lady, Aunt Minerva, hires two criminals (who she beats up on) to kill Captain Marvel and whoever does it will get a reward. When they fail, they find out the reward would have been her hand in marriage and they then thank Captain Marvel for sending them to prison.

* The guy at the local drug store makes a new form of gelatin that keeps expanding, so Captain Marvel begins finding people to help eat it.

* There's another kid who's so dull nobody ever notices he's there, even when he takes things right out of people's hands.

* A crime boss has a scientist make a Sunny Sparkle formula so he can be as liked as the kid, except Captain Marvel is immune. So, Captain Marvel follows the crime boss around and watches as people keep giving him stuff for free. When he confronts the criminal, Captain Marvel does the greatest thing ever, he says: "OH, I'M GOING TO GIVE YOU SOMETHING, ALL RIGHT--" and in the following panel, he says, "--THE BACK OF MY HAND!" while smacking the dude with a big "SLAAAPP!" sound effect.

* Mary Batson joins a Mary Marvel fan club even though she is Mary Marvel. What an arrogant bitch.

Soon: the second half of the book, sure to have many strange, baffling and funny-as-hell moments. The best, though, is the slap. It's so damn unexpected. You can tell Captain Marvel was just pissed off, because most of the time he and the other Marvel people just let the criminals shoot at them and try to beat them up until they're too tired to fight anymore. A good show of pacifism. But not this time. It's just BAM! back of the fucking hand! Don't fuck with the Big Red Cheese is the message, I think.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Random Reading: The Last Avengers Story

Ah, a classic from the "Marvel Alterniverse" line spawned by Marvels, The Last Avengers Story is a two-issue prestige format series written by Peter David with painted art by Ariel Olivetti that has a certain Kevin O'Neill feel to it.

The basic plot: sometime in the future, superheroes don't do much except sit around and shoot the shit. Years ago, the government had the superheroes do a country-wide search and capture to eliminate the supervillain population. The catch was the heroes thought the villains were going to prison, while the government turned around and killed them all. That pretty much made most of the heroes we know and love quit the game right then and there.

Until Ultron shows up and blows up the current Avengers and then visits Hank Pym to challenge him to a final Avengers/Masters of Evil showdown. Ultron has Kang, the Grim Reaper and Oddball, while Pym must try and gather what heroes he can, because if he doesn't, Ultron is just going to go around and kill them anyway.

Most of the appeal to this series lies in that glimpse into a possible future where Peter Parker and Mary Jane have a teenage son or Wyatt Wingfoot and She-Hulk had a daughter who took after her mom. Or how Thor, Hercules and the Thing all died in some sort of god-related battle, while the Hulk somehow survived but not unchanged.

Or, the horrible final fates of Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and the Vision--and the effect it had on Tommy and Billy, their sons.

It's a good read with some interesting bits. I figure that one of my favourite ideas, "superheroes react, while villains ACT" was actually stolen from here (although, David probably didn't come up with it either, but I read this when I was younger and it probably got stuck in my brain).

In a way, this is a good cross between Marvels and Ruins. It is very loyal to what came before, but also has a rather fucked up realistic bent. It almost seems to be a warning to writers tempted to push the group down these paths. It was published in late 1995, still very much in the midst of all the darker 1980s/90s bullshit. Of course, since then, various storylines have occurred that could produce such a depressing, bleak fucking future as presented here--although, it isn't all bad, as Pym notes: Peter Parker has found peace. Who would have thought that? The only hero to find true peace in the Marvel universe is Spider-Man. Gotta love PAD's sense of humour, eh?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Random Reading: Kid Eternity and Superman: For Tomorrow

Kid Eternity

I've seen this book in the bookstore since I came to Windsor in September and always thought "Well, I'll get that some other time." Some other time finally came on Monday.

I sat in my office and read it and, at first, it confused the hell out of me, but by the end, I became convinced that Morrison structured it in a rather brilliant way.

The basic plot is: Kid Eternity escapes from Hell, has something on his trail and gets a comedian named Jerry involved. Now, Jerry may or may not be dead and he has to help Eternity go back to Hell and rescue a friend/father figure. Except it's all much more complicated, as you can imagine, since Grant Morrison wrote it.

What I particularly enjoyed was that the basic movement of the book is chaos to order, which mirrors the plot. Chaos brings order. Fantastic.

At first, everything is jumbled and you can't quite understand what's going on, but by the end, it's all clear. Well, not ALL, but enough. It becomes clear enough and all sort of comes together and you're left going "Oh. That's really cool!"

Plot-wise, the whole thing is kind of lame. There's some interesting stuff, but nothing that's all that new or blows your mind, you know? The art by Duncan Fegredo is quite good--it's painted and doesn't look much like the art I'm used to seeing from him.

But, for me, the clear strong point is the actual construction of the book. But, I'm a dork.

Superman: For Tomorrow Vols. 1 and 2

Again, standard "I don't like Jim Lee's art" preface. Good. Moving on . . .

I got the first volume back in September and have been waiting for the second trade before I passed judgement on the story.

I liked it. But.

There's always a but.

One of my problems is when Superman interferes with the internal problems of a country and the JLA all act like dicks about it. I'm sick of stories like that. It wasn't the whole story here, but it was a part and it's boring. Mostly because it seems every four months, one of them will decide to try and make the world a better place and every other hero will try to stop them. And then, four months later, a different one tries and everyone gets together and stops him. And so on and so on and so on. It's boring and really lame.

Especially when the same hero has done it more than once, like Superman. You can say "Oh, they're just human and forget and go on whims" and blah blah fucking blah, but what you really mean is "I'm sorry, the writer isn't that original or great."

That, and when I read the scene where the League is bitching out Superman, I also kept thinking, "Hey, yeah, this is Superman and you're Aquaman. Shut the fuck up."

However, the Superman here is actually a complex person and, for that, Brian Azzarello manages to step above nearly every writer who's handled the character since--well, forever. Even the good Superman stuff usually didn't have an interesting lead character. The plot was good, the villains were cool, whatever. Superman is usually boring and rather flat.

And I don't just say that because his threat to destroy the planet completely when fighting "Mother Nature" (my term) is rather cool. It's because he's been pushed far enough to make that threat and you don't know if he's serious. There's an ambiguity about the Superman here that you don't get most of the time. And he doesn't really do anything that out of character. Azzarello just added another level to the character, one that should have always been there.

The level of humanity that has to be affected by the things he deals with. And the disappearance of Lois along with thousands of others was just the thing to push him far enough. Not far like Hal Jordan killing Green Lanterns or that typical bullshit comic way. Far enough that he struggles with being who he's always been. Far enough that he's prepared to do what it takes to make things right, except not really. A conflicted character.

Of course, I don't agree with everything, especially a lot of volume two, but it's an interesting read with the final few pages giving a tall order to future writers of the character.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Random Reading: Post Holidays Fun

I come home and hit the shop, pick up many, many comics. Wait two weeks and nearly every book I buy ships another issue. Pretty cool, I have to admit.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #11

Fuck you, Warren Ellis, I will not buy six copies of this issue. Not that the six double-page splashes of the team fighting its way through the weirdest fucking enemies I've ever seen (I remember sex-midgets in Iron Man helmets and Elvis-headed MODOKs and Wolverine apes and other ungodly horrors). Basically, Nextwave makes a final assault on the headquarters of the Beyond Corporation, State 51 and fight their way through strange enemy after strange enemy in a series of side-scrolling splash pages until there's no one left. Oh, and we see Dirk Anger as a zombie. Can't wait until next issue.

newuniversal #2

More pieces of the puzzle. We kind of find out exactly what's going on and how it relates to Idea Space. Three people from last issue discover more about their abilities--and three just happens to be the magic number of superhumans to reactivate a government agency that builds robot suits to kill superhumans. Or something like that. Things are moving along nicely, basically.

Punisher War Journal #2

Am I wrong in kind of wishing the series was called War Stories featuring Captain American and the Punisher just so we could ensure the back-and-forth between these two continues for a long, long time? Fraction plays with the two personalities so well here as we have boy scout WWII soldier trying to work with fucking animal Nam veteran. Friction abound throughout the issue as they work together to try and win the war. But--oops, Punisher just killed some guys, the shit's gonna hit the fan, I suppose.

(One thing that semi-bothered me was seeing Photon in the group after reading Nextwave. It just doesn't seem right to have her in a comic mocking an event and then in a comic that ties into the same event. Damn you, Marvel. Damn you, Mark Millar.)

The Immortal Iron Fist #2

It sucks to be Danny Rand. Gets his ass whooped by Hydra and then it looks like they're trying to take over his company, too. But, he's got his old friend Luke Cage helping him out, so things can't be that bad. Oh no, his so-called iron fist just turned into a pile of mush. Damn, Danny Rand, you suck.

The Midnighter #3

How do you fight time cops? Why, you throw a time-frozen Adolf Hitler at them! Go, Midnighter, go!

A fun issue in a fun series.

All-Star Superman #6

"But, Chad, you said you haven't been digging this series and you don't keep buying books you don't dig and aren't you just the biggest liar in the world, Chad? Aren't you?"

It's Morrison and Quitely, so, yeah, I'm gonna keep on buying it and hope it wins me over by the end.

As of this issue, still mostly cold. I don't know why. But I am. Odd.

New Avengers: Senty and Sentry: Reborn

The local shop had these two trades and I said, "Hell yes, little voice inside my head, I will buy them." The first is passable and provides an okay intro for the second. We get the basics on what's up with Sentry, basically he's crazy. We also have the New Avengers fighting the Wrecker. Oh, and Paul Jenkins faints. Because he's a wimp.

Sentry: Reborn is an amazing read. I really liked the first Sentry mini and this one tops it. Easily. We learn all about Sentry and his life and the fact that he is batshit insane. Really, really, really fucking insane. And he's the most powerful human alive. And he's insane!

Okay, it reads better than that, but Jenkins has created a really interesting and complex character here. It's one of the better pieces of superhero fiction I've yet to read, giving a really adult take on a character without it coming off as superficially "dark." Makes me wish Jenkins was helming an ongoing series featuring the character.

Punisher Vol. 3 hardcover

Stopped at another shop and they were having a sale on trades, so I got this and Batman: Broken City--and basically got the trade for free thanks to the sale.

This hardcover collects nine issues from the Marvel Knights series penned by Ennis with art by Steven Dillon and Tom Mandrake. The five stories here are all decent. Only the three-part "Brotherhood" about crooked cops actually comes close to the work Ennis is doing on the MAX series currently.

The first story is about Joan the Mouse from the first Ennis/Dillon Punisher mini. It's a cute story. The third story is about a mobster looking for giant squids and is also kind of cute. The fourth is a three-part story about a crazy guy, homeless people and subway tunnels and isn't that good. The final one is another cute story involving Elektra.

As I said, the second story, "Brotherhood" actually has interesting characters and a solid story. The rest, though, was just too cute for me. I've said cute a bit too much, haven't I?

Thankfully, Dillon's art on the first three stories makes them worth reading, while Mandrake's art is solid sometimes, horrid others.

Batman: Broken City

Two things stand out after reading this:

1. So, the Joker knows he's Bruce Wayne?

2. Wow, Azzarello really added a whole mindfuck element to the character.

The basic story is a pretty standard sort of Batman story: dead people, kicking ass, crazy villains, blah blah blah. All very well done, just blah blah blah still. The final issue collected, though, is very, very good. Adds a rather cruel dimension to the character--one that works well, though.

And that's this past week.