Saturday, February 28, 2009

Splash Page: Thunderbolts #129 and New Avengers #50 Part I

[Okay, Tim and I talked about it and we're getting the Splash Page back on track. We let it slide a bit, but we're dedicated to a new column each week. And until Sequart is back up, we'll continue to post these columns on our blogs. So, let's get to this week's column where Tim and I actively disagree at times...]

Chad Nevett: I reviewed both Thunderbolts #129 and New Avengers #50, not thinking too highly of either. The former, I found insulting to my intelligence with an awful, submoronic plot and, the latter, was just mediocre despite some solid pages of art from some of Marvel's top guys. Last week, you seemed to enjoy Dark Avengers #2, which I kind of dug, too, although we both thought that it didn't really compare to Warren Ellis's Thunderbolts work. Since so much of "Dark Reign," particularly Bendis's corner of things, is built on Ellis's writing, it seems logical to compare the two and wonder if Bendis and Thunderbolts writer Andy Diggle are living up to the standard set by Ellis. I think we'll both agree that the answer is no. Am I right?

Tim Callahan: I actually liked the newest issues of Thunderbolts and New Avengers, although the weak fill-in art on the last third of Thunderbolts #129 -- by Carlos Magno -- almost ruined the issue. De La Torre is a pretty good artist, and Magno's seemingly rushed pages don't mesh with De La Torre's style at all. And, let's be honest: Magno at his best can't match De La Torre's post-Neal Adams character work. The art on New Avengers was pretty cool, and while I'm not particularly a Billy Tan fan, I think he's fine for Bendis-style superheroics, and the high-concept, bring-in-the-appropriate-spotlight artist approach worked well for the middle section. (Although I could imagine the discussions regarding the Iron Fist page...David Aja: "Yeah, I'm not drawing that stupid high collar costume even though he's wearing it on every other page in the issue." Marvel editorial: "Whatever." Aja: "I wasn't waiting for your approval.") So let's just say the art was fine on both issues -- good enough, anyway -- and get back to the main topic:

Neither Diggle nor Bendis can carry on the Ellis tone of darkly deranged anti-heroes.

But I don't have a problem with that, because this new incarnation of the Thunderbolts team has a different purpose than Ellis's team. This is the stealthy black ops version of the Dark Avengers. And the Dark Avengers are the old Thunderbolts given the prime time spotlight, so that's a different beast as well. I think we should hold them to the Ellis standard, but we should expect the stories to feel different.

I didn't love either issue, but I would have given both 3 1/2 stars, if I had to do fancy CBR reviews, by the way.

Let's start with Thunderbolts #129. What was submoronic about the plot? I thought it was exactly what was needed to reinforce Norman Osborn's status in the Marvel Universe. He knows the post-Invasion glow won't last long, and to ensure his continued status as top superhuman defense dog, he needed to show how essential he really is. He saved Barack Obama from two green dudes who were going to kill him. He's a hero, man! (And, he is a bastard for staging the whole thing. A devious bastard.) What's your problem with that?

CN: It was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too coincidental for me. Gee, at the EXACT same time as Samson is accusing Osborn of being the Green Goblin, the Green Goblin just HAPPENS to attack Air Force One and Samson just HAPPENS to freak out allowing Osborn to step up and save the day? It's such an obvious plan that anyone with half a brain, which I assume Obama has, at least in real life, would see right through it. Considering the Green Goblin hasn't been active in public for a while and attacking the president on Air Force One is a bit out of the ordinary, it's just such a lame, obvious plan. My intelligence felt insulted by how dumb the plot was. It's a wacky scheme cooked up by Zack Morris to fool Principal Belding into thinking he didn't cheat on a test.

TC: I interpreted it that Osborn set Samson up to freak out, just so he could kill two birds with one stone -- make Samson (whose knowledge threatens Osborn) into an apparent threat to the President, thus removing him from the game board, and directly address the Goblin-Osborn connection by showing that they can't be the same person. Sure, it's got a Zack Morris flavor, but that's because Zack Morris is an evil, devious bastard too. I hate that guy. Everyone knows that Slater is where it's at.

One of the things I like about the "Dark Reign" situation is that Osborn is not always going to make the best decisions, anyway. He thought it was a good idea to stage an attack on the president, and that shows his strategic thinking and his insanity. I think there's nothing about it that's coincidental, anyway. I mean, Osborn IS the Green Goblin, so of course people are going to accuse him of it all the time.

So let's say we disagree on the Osborn machinations. What about the new concept for the Thunderbolts? What do you think of Diggle's approach on a larger scale -- setting this team up as Osborn's covert minions? And what do you think about the team members and how they're used in the issue?

CN: It's not just Osborn's machinations, but that they work. It's just so goddamn obvious in its stupidity that I couldn't believe "Obama" fell for it. But, whatever...

I think the idea of a new black ops group working for Osborn is a great idea and move with the old group now the new Avengers. I'm not sure about the group itself, but I'm not that familiar with all of them. Paladin and the Black Widow seem good choices. I've read that some people have a problem with using the latest Ant-Man since, while kind of skeevy, isn't evil, as they put it. The others, I don't know. We don't actually get a lot of them in this issue, which bothered me, as well. They're introduced in the most basic sense of, hey, there they are. Who they are, what their personalities are like... I don't know yet. There isn't enough here to go on. Good concept, but lackluster (and that's me putting it kindly) execution so far -- for me.

[To be continued on Tim's Blog!]

Friday, February 27, 2009

CBR Review: War Machine #3

I recently reviewed War Machine #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "There are two reasons for buying War Machine #3: Leonardo Manco’s art, and the insane glee and reckless abandon Ares has in fighting War Machine. There are several reasons for not buying War Machine #3: the clunky writing, the convoluted plot, the lame and so-bad-it’s-cliché bad guy, and the overwrought dialogue as James Rhodes confronts his violent tendencies."

You can read the rest HERE!

(As well, out of curiosity, do you people prefer the smaller pics of covers I've been using lately or the larger ones that I used to use?)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

CBR Review: Thunderbolts #129

I recently reviewed Thunderbolts #129 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The idea here may seem good, but when you stop to think about it, it’s just awful. Just when Osborn was going to be exposed as the Green Goblin, the Goblin himself shows up trying to kill the president, allowing Osborn to beat him up and save the day? It’s so ludicrous and dumb that I can’t believe anyone is supposed to buy it, least of all the president-who-is-Obama-but-must-never-be-shown-directly. Granted, he always remains wary of Osborn, but the manner in which this situation is handled is so neat and tidy that it cannot be taken seriously."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Youngblood #8

I recently reviewed Youngblood #8 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The main story makes for the strongest issue of Youngblood yet with Joe Casey and Derec Donovan firing on all cylinders, tying together seven issues’ worth of build-up for an action-packed and, sometimes, humorous climax. The new, media-friendly Youngblood squad is rescued by part of the old team from Stormhead, a superpowered terrorist causing a tornado, and the Televillain, a bad guy with odd television powers, while the other half of the old team travels into a television to rescue Scion from the set of Oprah. Wait, did I actually type that sentence? That’s some crazy stuff."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

CBR Review: New Avengers #50

I recently reviewed New Avengers #50 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Best to get the 'price issue' out of the way early, don’t you think? Yes, this issue of New Avengers costs five dollars for 37 pages of story and comes out a mere two weeks after Thor #600 had 42 pages of story plus 18 pages of back-up stories, 25 pages of reprint stories, and a cover gallery for the same price. Doesn’t quite seem fair, does it? Well, Thor #600 was a strange creature, packed with content that went above-and-beyond, while New Avengers #50, which costs $3.99 already, seems more typical and suited to its price. Comparing the two isn’t fair, because Thor was the exception and New Avengers is the rule."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

CBR Review: Sam's Strip: The Comic about Comics

I recently reviewed Sam's Strip: The Comic about Comics for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The concept of Sam’s Strip is that Sam is the star of a comic strip, has a skinny sidekick (who goes unnamed until getting a name in Sam and Silo), seemingly employs Jerry Dumas to draw his strip, and has numerous run-ins with other comic strip characters. Sam is egotistical, sometimes quick to anger and a shameless panderer, willing to do anything for a laugh. Many of his 'adventures' revolve around his trying to come up with gags to amuse the audience; of course, many of his gags are the oldest clichés in the book, but the level of awareness gives them new life. There’s something strangely funny about Sam demonstrating slipping on a banana peel and pointing out the lines drawn to indicate movement, and then repeating the fall but omitting the lines so he can brag that it’s the first time that’s every happened."

You can read the rest HERE!

Friday, February 20, 2009

CBR Review: X-Files #4

I recently reviewed X-Files #4 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "I was sitting on my couch, sipping hot chocolate and reading comics after a rainy trip to the shop. I had already read through the superhero fare and was just finishing up the latest issue of X-Files when my girlfriend stopped by on her way home from campus. When I held up the comic I was reading, she squealed with delight, because, really, it’s her comic book and she loves it dearly, and I love buying it for her. Of course, if I’m going to buy a comic, I’m going to read it, and I must say that this second story-arc ends strongly."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

CBR Review: Ghost Rider #32

I recently reviewed Ghost Rider #32 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "I’ve actually been disappointed with the latest story arc, which has been shaping up as a pretty typical fight between two forces built on the oh-so-shocking revelation that there are Ghost Riders all over the world, which may have wowed others, but left me bored. The only interesting part was Johnny Blaze’s newfound guilt at what’s he’s done as Ghost Rider and his desire to die as a result."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Gødland #26

I recently reviewed Gødland for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "It may be but a mere 20 pages, but the latest issue of Gødland packs in more energy, story, craziness, and cosmitastic fun than most trade paperbacks. (My editor tells me that 'cosmitastic' is not a real word, but I say who cares? When a comic is this unique and wonderful, you need to make up new words to properly describe it. Other contenders were 'Kirbyendous,' 'psychedelicious' and 'holymoleythisisadamngoodcomicbookanditjustblewmymind.' But, I like 'cosmitastic' best.)"

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

CBR Review: Robin #183

I recently reviewed Robin #183 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "With the title 'Robin Dies at Dawn,' Fabian Nicieza purposefully recalls Grant Morrison’s 'Batman R.I.P.' and builds from there, having Tim wrap up loose ends, confront his life without Batman, and struggle to find his true place in Gotham. This is a very reflective issue that not only reminds readers that, while Dick may be the heir apparent, Tim was Bruce’s partner for several years and was closer to him. The burden of carrying on in his adoptive father’s place weighs heavily on him."

You can read the rest HERE!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pinned Together, Falling Apart: Ruins and The Last Avengers Story

Marvels had an odd, often forgotten effect on Marvel after its publication: the painted prestige-format books. Now, none quite lived up to Marvels (no duh), but some were quite good. I never actually read the Tales to Astonish one or whatever other quick one-offs they put out, but two of my favourites are, and continue to be, Ruins and The Last Avengers Story, both of which fall under the "Marvel Alterniverse," basically what they were calling What If...? stories at the time. One book is a look at "what might have been," while the other is "what might yet happen," but both are very much of their time and, in their own ways, are dark comedies. Actually, they were basically published back-to-back with a cover date of August/September 1995 for Ruins and November/December 1995 for The Last Avengers Story. What I find odd is that one work is of the newcomer, the shit-disturber, while the other is by the seasoned professional--you would almost expected Ellis's story be the one about the future, while David's is the look back at what might have been... but it actually works better this way.

Most of us are familiar with Ruins, which could really be described as "Warren Ellis fucks the Marvel universe," and it was recently relreased in one book, possibly killing the demand for the actual issues. I kind of wish I knew that would happen, because I will say that I fucking hate, hate, hate the way both of these books are put together. Both Ruins and The Last Avengers story have mostly-clear thin plastic surrounding the thick cardstock covers, and it's not a very good package. It looks nice, don't get me wrong, but it's not suited for reading. That it hasn't really appeared since these books isn't a surprise. Ruins especially gets it bad, because it is put together like a traditional comic with stapes, while The Last Avengers Story is square-bound, which works a little bit better. But, that was a totally uninteresting tangent...

Ruins is the dark evil twin of Marvels. Phil Sheldon rambles through a twisted version of the Marvel universe where the Avengers are a revolutionary cell who are killed at the beginning of the first book; the remnants of a Kree invasion fleet die slowly in a radioactive concentration camp; President X lets the country rot. Really, it's pretty messed up--but in that funny sort of way.

One of the biggest complaints I've read with reference to Ruins is that it's a bunch of scenes with little or no connection to one another strung together--and that's true, but that never really bothered me. In fact, reading this complaint made me think back to Marvels and wonder about its structure. Yes, whole issues were devoted to a singular idea, for the most part, but wasn't it just as unfocussed and rambling in its own way? My hardcover of that series is in a box in a closet in my old room at my parents' house, so I can't do a better comparison. But, if anything, isn't Ruins a fast-forward version of Marvels, except about a fucked up world? Instead of going through the years, we get several days at the end--we get the recap of this dark Marvel universe... we show up in time for the death rattle... we don't bask in the glory, in the majesty... we just get the left-overs before it falls apart with Sheldon's death at the end.

One point I find very interesting is the point of divergence: the Fantastic Four's origin. In Ruins, it's revealed that Ben Grimm never flew the shuttle and things went bad from there. Fantastic Four #1 is the true beginning of the Marvel universe, but Marvels actually began earlier with the creation of the Human Torch for the little prelude/prologue story... and, then, issue one dealt with the Invaders in World War II. But, while those comics were published by the company that became Marvel, they were retroactively made part of the Marvel universe (albeit very early by Lee and Kirby), and, thus, not the place where it could go wrong. I mean, there's a conscious choice there to ignore the first issue of Marvels as a place to diverge and it points to Ellis's understanding of how the Marvel universe really is rather than how we like to make it out to be. It really began with an insane idea about four people stealing a space shuttle and being turned into freaks as a result--an idea that could have easily been a twisted sci-fi horror comic instead of the genesis of a superhero universe. Really, that's what Ellis explores here: what if the Marvel universe was a sci-fi horror line instead of a superhero line? What if the Comics Code hadn't neutered EC? What happens if you combine what happened and what could have happened?

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but that's what I see in Ruins... a twisted, fucked up vision of the Marvel universe that could have easily happened had things gone a little bit differently--in a world where making a comic about four people tuned into hideous freaks by cosmic rays made more business sense than making them heroes. And, let's be honest, it could have went that way.

The Last Avengers Story is a bit of a different beast as it seems less a response to Marvels, but more a project in the similar vein. It's a celebration of the glory of the Marvel universe and a critique of the '90s darkness. The premise is quite simple: at some point in the future, the Avengers went on a tear and captured every supervillain for the government, which turned around and killed them. This caused a lot of heroes to quit, but spurred on Captain America to run for, and be elected, president. He was assassinated. Now, the Avengers are a bunch of bored, younger heroes that spend most of their time milling around their HQ--until someone blows it up. Now, Ultron 59 has challenged his father, Henry Pym to a final battle of good and evil. Ultron 59 and his Masters of Evil will fight against whatever forces Pym can gather.

David really plays into the generational nature of the story by giving us various children of heroes: Jessie, the daughter of She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot is a one-woman SWAT team; the Human Torch and Alicia Masters's daughter wants nothing to do with fighting; Bombshell, the supposed daughter of Hercules; Tommy and Billy, the sons of the Vision and Scarlet Witch... one the new Grim Reaper, the other the next Sorceror Supreme. But, there are also the aging heroes: a blind Hawkeye still married to a bitter Mockingbird; a shrinking Wasp; and then, Cannonball, Pym, and Johnny Storm. Reed Richards looks after a brain-damaged Victor Von Doom. Thor, Hercules and the Thing apparently died in some apocalyptic event, while the Hulk survived only to turn evil, kill Tigra (in the infamous "Make a wish" scene) and then die with Wonder Man after punching through him. The Vision is a giant, intangible ghost, floating in the sky... and has been since a horrific event that occurred at Hank and Jan's second wedding where Wanda was killed in a run-in with Quicksilver, who then committed suicide. Peter Parker is happy, married and has a son named Ben. Susan Storm and She-Hulk "took off," but we're never given any more specifics. We don't really see any other heroes--Dr. Strange makes a brief appearance, meditating, although possibly in a vegetative state, it's hard to tell. The Masters of Evil consist of Ultron 59, Kang the Conqueror, the Grim Reaper, and Oddball, a friend and ally of the Grim Reaper. The first issue consists of Pym gathering heroes with little recaps of what's happened in the past thrown in, while the second issue is the battle.

At its heart, this is a family story--and only one family at that. David really plays up the connections between Pym, Ultron 59 and the Vision, which then brings in Billy and Tommy... really, it's about the patriarch of the Avengers, Hank Pym and his screwed up family. It's an odd way to look at the Avengers, but viewing Pym and Janet Van Dye as the father and mother of this large family oddly works. They're married, Pym created Ultron, Ultron created the Vision, the Vision married the Scarlet Witch and had two kids, the Scarlet Witch is the sister of Quicksilver--you then continue on to include the Inhumans through his marriage to Crystal, who once dated Johnny Storm, who was in the Fantastic Four at one point with She-Hulk, who is the mother of Jessie... and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were mutants, which is where Cannonball comes in. Really, the Avengers team we get here is all connected to the real fight: Ultron 59 versus his dad. That's what this story is all about: father issues.

Ultron 59 hates his father, the Vision hates his father and is an absentee father, Billy and Tommy are screwed up because of their father, Bombshell never knew her father, Johnny Storm is a father struggling to make a connection with his daughter...

The key event of this story is the death of Wanda. At Hank and Jan's second wedding, Pietro's issues with the Vision, particularly jealousy, came to a head and the Vision's patience with Pietro's constant dickish behaviour was exhausted. So, they got into it, which involved Pietro running at the Vision as fast as he could, hoping his speed would prevail against the Vision's super-density. Except, Wanda stepped in front of the Vision and used her hex powers to make Pietro miss, hoping to save him--except, he saw Wanda and tried to avoid the Vision... only to slam right into Wanda, because of her hex powers, which made him run straight for her. She died, Pietro threw himself off a cliff and the Vision floated up to the clouds, leaving his two sons to their separate paths.

At the end of the fight, the Vision returns and fuses with Ultron 59 to contain the threat, but we never get any resolution concerning Billy and Tommy, last seen fighting one another. Well, actually, we see their silhouettes, watching the giant Vision/Ultron creature die, but still--their story isn't resolved. It's a lingering thread that actually bothers me quite a bit. We could assume that Billy continues as the Grim Reaper, while Tommy returns to his mystic studies, but wouldn't you imagine something more substantial? A tearful Billy ripping off his mask (made of human skin), tears streaming, finally confronting his issues with his father? The lack of resolution is problematic.

This is called The Last Avengers Story, which is referenced twice in the actual story, at the beginning and the end. At the beginning, two years before everything else, Ultron 59 leaves a book called "The Last Avengers Story" in a time capsule that contains relics of every Marvel superhero--this book is later found by Kang, which details the battle we witness and assures his victory. Throughout the story, Ultron 59 plays the underling to Kang despite using him as a puppet in his confrontation with Pym. Where things turn is when Kang deviates from the book and kills Pym, causing Ultron 59 and the Wasp to join together to kill Kang. It's a really odd shift in Ultron 59 to go from wanting to kill Pym to avenging his death. He remarks that he never thought Kang would be arrogant enough to actually go off-script.

The title appears also at the end when it's revealed that Hawkeye and Mockingbird joined the fight only after receiving a call from Captain America, who is alive with the help of machines and has been watching, waiting. We get him at the very end, recording these events and saving them in a file titled "The Last Avengers Story."

As well, there's a small suggestion at the beginning of the story that really plays with the name "The Avengers," as Ultron 59 narrates, before blowing up the Avengers' HQ:










He then follows this up by providing Pym with a chance to avenge the deaths of all of those heroes. If Ultron 59 hadn't shown up at Pym's house, there would be no clue as to who killed the Avengers. Ultron 59's attack is an indictment of superheroes.

What ties these books together is their critique of the times, of how things could go wrong. Warren Ellis' Ruins demonstrates an alternate past and present, while Peter David's The Last Avengers Story gives us an alternate future, mostly based on the tone of 1990s comics where having the Hulk grab Tigra by the arms and legs and pull isn't out of line. Where a confrontation between Quicksilver and the Vision killing the Scarlet Witch would be a "collector's issue with foil cover." I find it rather cool, though, that while both books were published as a result of Marvels, The Last Avengers Story is very much a precursor to Kingdom Come, telling a very similar story. Hmm.

[Both Ruins and The Last Avengers story can be purchased in easy-to-find collections. Ruins in a recent book that compiles both issues, while The Last Avengers Story is available in the hardcover Avengers: First to Last, which collects the two-issue story as well as the back-up stories from Avengers Classic #1-12.]

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Bought Comics: Beginning of February 2009

[Wherein I discuss comics that I got in the past two weeks that I didn't review for CBR. Not really reviews or anything. Just random thoughts, impressions... like, you know, whatever!]

Boys #27

The worst issue in a long time... relaxed to the point of who cares... Ennis riffing on St. Patrick's Day and America in ways we've all seen before... not bad, just feels like filler...

Secret Warriors #1

I wish this book was actually called "Nick Fury: Agent of Nothing." That title appears on the cover between the two words of the actual title of this comics and it is waaaaaaaaaaaaay better. "Secret Warriors" is a vague, kind of blah title for a comic, but "Nick Fury: Agent of Nothing"? Fucking sign me up! I don't care who's writing it, who's drawing it, if it costs $1.00 per issue or five bucks, whatever, put that book on my pull list now, because it will rock my fucking socks off. And this issue kind of did that. The art was better than I expected, honestly. Not quite what I'd look for in a comic book, but passable. Hickman's writing is a lot better at what it does than I expected, too. He's never shown a lot of character depth in his work to date, preferring to meditate on ideas than characters. And that's worked really well, so to see him handle characters with deft and ease like this is pretty astonishing. The final page "surprise" isn't THAT big a revelation when you actually read the back-up material, but it's still cool.

Gravel #9

Throughout the first eight issues of this title, characters have called William Gravel dumb, compared him to a dog--and this seemed to annoy him, piss him off, and he killed them. But, here, he does the same thing and I love that Ellis and Wolfer would do that. Those arrogant pricks weren't wrong in calling him thick, in comparing him to a dog, but, fuck, why would you do it out loud and to the face of your attack dog? Lots of emphasis on Gravel's character here, which works well. Nice to see them use this ongoing series to actually put some meat on his bones.

Incognito #2

I liked this a lot better than the first issue. Even the lettering doesn't bother me as much. Don't know what else to say. I am amused that this issue ends on the same plot point as Scalped #25.

Scalped #25

Year three begins and, wow, Jason Aaron does the unexpected by introducing a new character from off the rez. Very fucking good.

Thor #600

Oh hellsssssssssss yessssssssssss... although, I already get the impression that Thor and Balder are playing Loki. Loki hasn't overtly done anything wrong yet, so they're just going with the flow and waiting for a slip-up to nail her balls to the wall. I do find it interesting that the Dark Avengers show up sans Ares and Sentry, the two characters that could really give Thor a run for his money--though I did notice that Noh-Varr is not used at all--no one knows how to deal with him. This book had a slow start, but Straczynski is really building a compelling story here. The bonus stuff is great, too. Stan Lee and David Aja's story is a little... cutesy, but nice. The "Mini Marvels" story is pretty damn funny and recaps the 13-issue run to date well. Plus, bonus Lee/Kirby stories and the requisite "Every cover of the title you're reading to date" thing that Marvel does in every anniversary issue like this it seems.

Also, not "I Bought Comics" related really, but I am rather excited at the news that Joe Casey will be handling Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance, which will centre on the Super Young Team. I still say that Marvel should have tapped Casey to handle Noh-Varr if they weren't going to get Morrison to come back. Here's hoping Casey brings it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CBR Review: Young Liars #12

I recently reviewed Young Liars #12 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Picking up immediately after last issue’s shocking revelation, Danny Noonan is at a hospital after setting himself on fire and is told that everything we think happened in the previous 11 issues is just a delusion of his. His baby with CeeCee is possibly the product of rape, Sadie died in a tragic accident when she was six and Danny is former pop-rock star Danny Duoshade. None of the gang remembers him except as a washed up musician and suspected rapist. But, there’s a nagging feeling that his memories are real and the Spiders have just reworked reality, making their lies the objective truth."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Berserker #0

I recently reviewed Berserker #0 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "This comic is not worth the three dollar price tag it carries with only eight pages of story. Eight pages of story are what you expect for a zero issue, so that’s not a big surprise, but that it costs the price of a regular 22-page comic is. It’s a rip-off considering that the rest of the issue is padded with promotional material for other Top Cow books. Gee, we get to not just overpay for the amount of content offered, but also pay for promotional material? Thanks, Top Cow! I didn’t expect their pledge that regular comics would cost $2.99 in 2009 to apply to short, preview books like this. Well, live and learn."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Captain Britain and MI:13 #10

I recently reviewed Captain Britain and MI:13 #10 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Because everyone else is saying it whenever discussing this book: Captain Britain and MI:13 is not cancelled! And thank god for that, because it is among the best comics Marvel is currently publishing. But, you already know that, don’t you? Enough people keep saying it, so you must have heard it at some point. If not, I’m telling you right now, so there’s no excuse for not knowing just how good Captain Britain and MI:13 truly is. What’s even better is that issue ten is a fantastic place to jump aboard, so there’s also no excuse for not picking up the title."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

CBR Review: Batman #686

I recently reviewed Batman #686 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "With a title like 'Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?' most expected something similar to Alan Moore’s 'Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?' and it’s surprising to find that this seems more in line with Morrison’s recent work than Moore’s classic tale. In Moore’s, we were told the final adventure of Superman, but, here, Gaiman provides two stories of how Batman died. And this is just the first chapter, so more tales of the death of Batman are almost certainly on the way."

You can read the rest HERE!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hello Cosmic Part 27: The Death of the New Gods

[Concluding my two-part look at Jim Starlin's work involving Jack Kirby's Fourth World characters. In this post, I'll discuss The Death of the New Gods. This post fits into a larger look at Starlin's cosmic work.]

Okay, a little bit later than I expected... especially since this has been sitting partly-written here for over a week... Ah well...

Final Crisis has finished and it seems like the right time to re-explore The Death of the New Gods, which... well, didn't really work with Final Crisis at all, did it? But that's only a problem if you care about "Official DCU Continuity," which I don't. No, I can separate all of my comics into their own little worlds. Like Final Crisis actually exists in the Grant Morrison DCU that began with Animal Man went right on through his early Batman work, Doom Patrol, JLA, Seven Soldiers, Batman and, then, Final Crisis. While The Death of the New Gods really just exists, for me, alongside Cosmic Odyssey and not much else. See how easy that is? It leads to far less headaches and a lot more enjoyment. Now, of course, Morrison wrote Final Crisis in a way that explains why it doesn't sync up with Countdown and The Death of the New Gods, but who cares? I sure don't.

The Death of the New Gods features Jim Starlin writing and drawing a murder mystery where New Gods are found dead all over the universe, gaping hole in their chest, but that wound isn't the cause of death. As the story progresses, more New Gods die, suspects emerge and are discarded (including the Infinity Man, Darkseid, and Orion), a second Source Wall is discovered in front of the original with the newly killed New Gods' likenesses on it, Metron discovers the culprit and observes what happens, and, ultimately, Darkseid is the last one left standing.

While I was disappointed in Cosmic Odyssey for its lack of exploration of the idea of these characters as the New Gods, Starlin uses this series to really explore that idea by having the force that's killing them revealed as the Source. That's right, the New Gods' god is killing them... I love that idea. Starlin really plays with it in both a religious and a metafictional manner.

Metron is the first to discover the identity of the killer (although, we're told later that Darkseid figured it out before that, but kept the knowledge hidden so he could prepare to fight back and save himself) and, when he does, the Source says to him, "YOU WERE ALWAYS MY FAVORITE OF THE NEW GODS," a position that Starlin possibly shares? He devotes quite a bit of space to Metron, starting in the first issue with some inventive art. Metron, I guess, uses drugs to "sleep" (aka hallucinate) and, when he comes out of his hallucination, Starlin repeats a panel of Metron looking shocked, but then has it shatter, revealing the pipe behind it. One of those great Starlin touches that you don't see a lot of artists trying these days.

Getting back on track, the discussion that ensues between Metron and the Source is thinly disguised as Metron talking to Jim Starlin (or DC editorial) as the Source maintains that mistakes were made and it's time to begin anew. Much of the conversation is more plot-oriented, but Starlin can't resist a few subtle bits that tells us what we already know: there are plans that require the New Gods to die. The Fifth World reboot, whatever it is, is coming and that means no more Fourth World. The Source doesn't enjoy doing it, but it has to, so... The real reason is that the Anti-Life Equation is part of the Source and it needs to reunite with it, and needs the power source of the New Gods' souls to do so.

Elsewhere, the New Gods are trying to solve the mystery of who is killing them off. Mister Miracle undergoes a transformation after the death of his wife, Big Barda. He changes the colours of his costume from red, yellow and green to black, blue and violet. He also uses his apparent mastery of the Anti-Life Equation extensively, seemingly corrupted by the power. The connection between Mister Miracle and the Anti-Life Equation is one of the most interesting pieces of subtext in this book (and I'm guessing not a creation of Jim Starlin) since it creats an implied connection between Mister Miracle and Darkseid. The focus of Darkseid's father/son relationship is always on Orion, but Scott Free is the adopted son that Darkseid got in return for Orion. You would think there would be some parental issues there and it's really ironic that while Darkseid always obsesses over Orion killing him, it's the son he never thought about, the one he never considered that has mastered that which he aspires to. When Darkseid and Orion clash at the end of the series, it's after Mister Miracle has already bested Darkseid using the Anti-Life Equation in an earlier issue. Darkseid is overshadowed by both of his sons.

Scott Free's struggle throughout the series is interesting and more in line with Starlin's pet themes. He is a man torn between good and evil, psychologically fractured and having a nervous breakdown. He attacks Orion and Superman at one point. He is all-powerful and that power corrupts. When he uses the Anti-Life Equation, he becomes a being of energy and looks nothing like himself. He's a familiar character in the Starlin tradition. In the end, he's the one most betrayed by the Source. He can't contemplate that their god would do this to them and asks for death. As does Metron.

The final confrontation between Darkseid and the Source has Darkseid using the Source's own stockpile of power against it, tapping into that second wall in front of the Wall. He also uses a weird elixir to power himself further. That is, until Orion's soul is called to fight him--as it wasn't collected like the others. Darkseid escapes, presumably to die in the pages of Countdown and New Genesis and Apokolips crash into one another.

The use of Superman is interesting as he isn't a New God. He's the witness to their destruction, the sole survivor of the final conflict that results in New Genesis and Apokolips crashing into one another and merging (strangely, a more fitting end to the New Gods' conflict than the one Morrison provided--at least when looking at his repeated use of symmetries and balance... the merging of good and evil... eliminating the duality). Superman also seems to represent the DC fan, the bystander outraged that this is all happening for no reason. The final issue's cover has Superman on his knees in a rage, floathing in front of the heads/figures of the deceased New Gods, screaming, "NO! / IT CAN'T END LIKE THIS!" His feelings are the feelings of fans wondering why this is happening, what purpose it serves... In that issue he's more thoughtful than angry, but the message is still the same: why did this happen? He consoles himself with the knowledge that this may bring about the Fifth World and that, finally, he remembers the characters and "IT WILL HAVE TO BE ENOUGH THAT I HAVE KNOWN GODS."

That's all that readers have left, really: the comics they own and the time spent reading them. Will these characters return? Maybe. But, if not, their adventures still exist on the page. Isn't that enough?

Friday, February 06, 2009

CBR Review: Youngblood #7

I recently reviewed Youngblood #7 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Normally, I try to write all of my reviews for the week on Wednesday. That’s the day comics come out and the day that I get them, so it makes sense to make reviews as timely as possible. That said, it’s Thursday afternoon right now, and the reason for that is the boring mediocrity of Youngblood #7. I tried to write this review last night and stared at the cursor blinking. I tried putting on energetic music and stared at the cursor blinking. I tried putting on The Gonzo Tapes, recordings Hunter Thompson made while writing, thinking maybe they would inspire me and, yes, I stared at the cursor blinking. Blink, blink, blink. Eventually, I went to bed."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

CBR Review: Invincible Iron Man #10

I recently reviewed Invincible Iron Man #10 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "After the first six issues of Invincible Iron Man, I decided to drop the book. The writing wasn’t to my taste and I couldn’t stand the art. I gave it a complete story to win me over and it didn’t. But, then I read and reviewed issue seven, which was, quite frankly, a fantastic issue. It fired on all cylinders, but I wasn’t totally convinced. I would give it another chance, especially as 'World’s Most Wanted' looked interesting. Well, the 2.5 stars I gave this issue suggest the odds of me picking up the next."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: The Age of the Sentry #5

I recently reviewed The Age of the Sentry #5 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Issue five contains two 10-page stories featuring the Silver Age Sentry as well as a one-page Marvel Fruit Pie parody ad, and one page that takes place now featuring the narrative frame of the previous stories. Firstly, the Marvel Fruit Pie parody ad: please just stop these. Why is it that every comic that flashes back to the Silver Age feels the need to include a fruit pie ad? The joke has worn thin and, let’s be honest, wasn’t that funny to begin with. It’s just a groan-inducing cliché at this point."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Jersey Gods #1

I recently reviewed Jersey Gods #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Jersey Gods #1 is a charming read, but not quite what was promised —- yet. The solicitation for this issue promotes the story of a cosmic god that’s married to a Jersey girl and lives three doors down from his in-laws. The high concept pitch screams Jack Kirby meets Everybody Loves Raymond. The actual first issue is all set-up and getting to the point where Barock (the god) and Zoe (the Jersey girl) marry and live the wacky sitcom life of the solicitations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Splash Page: Final Crisis #7

Over at The Final Crisis Dialogues, Tim Callahan and I have finally posted our discussion of Final Crisis #7 (and, by that, I mean Tim posted our discussion). A lot has been said about that final issue, including thoughts by Tim and I separately, but ignore all of that! This is the final word on Final Crisis! (At least until Tim or I decided to write more about it...) We forego things like "plot" and get to the heart of things: poetry versus prose! Tie-ins! Sonny Sumo! And, of course, we don't always agree, but isn't it better that way?

Plus, it's pretty long. It would have been longer, but Tim has to go to New York and, thus, we suddenly had a deadline. But, rest assured, we could have kept on talking for a whole lot longer! So go read it NOW!!!

Watchmen day 1

I'm teaching my comic class again, and I thought that as I go through each class period, I would post here some of the interesting little observations made by myself and the students. Today was chapter 1 of Watchmen, and here were a few of our insights:

+page 1's slow pull back from the smiley face button is reciprocated in the last page as well, the first page symbolizing death with its blood and the last symbolizing life with Dan and Laurie laughing over drinks

+page 1 also contains hints at two incredibly significant presences in the book: Kovacs walking through the blood (while Rorschach's journal narrates) and a purple Pyramid Deliveries truck goes by (singled out by its purple color, tying it to Adrian)

+panel 5 of page 4 is filled with clues: the newsstand, gunga diner, a knottop, electric cars, Kovacs. it is all important. it's all part of the narrative puzzle. everything is connected and nothing ever ends.

+page 4's last panel and page 5's first are the same two buildings in the day and at night, with one other change: Kovacs is in the former, and Rorschach in the latter

+our introduction to Rorschach sums up his character well. we've gotten insight into his world view in his journal excerpts that run parallel to the action, but in his first actual scene he says little. he slowly and methodically puts pieces together, looking down on them from above

+our intro to Dan: a dork who hangs out with old guys reminiscing about the good old days. he walks home to where he lives alone and has locked all his toys in the basement, in denial about how much happier he would be if he let himself play with them

+the middle panel of page 10, one of my students pointed out, has Dan in silhouette from a distance, and the shape of his coat and his glasses mimic Nite Owl's costume perfectly

+the Dan/Rorschach scenes are essentially the two different sides of Batman (gadget-loving wealthy thrillseeker vs. obsessive grim detective) having an argument

+intro to Adrian: first panel of page 17. skyscraper with his name on it, dialogue coming out of the side like the building itself is speaking. He IS the ivory tower. Lots of purple and yellow too throughout this scene, in his costume and in his present day business suit, the colors of opulence.

+intro to Jon: he's 25 feet tall. he looms large over everything and his presence and uniqueness is undeniable. demonstrations of his powers and his detachment to human concerns (the bit about the number of particles in a corpse) throughout these pages.

+intro to Laurie: in Jon's shadow, arms crossed in confrontational pose. demonstrations of her boredom throughout these pages. (is Jon smiling on the bottom of page 23 because he knows where she and Dan will end up?)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

CBR Review: Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #1

I recently reviewed Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The series follows Alice Hotwire, a police officer who specializes in dealing with Blue-Lights that muster up enough energy to cause trouble for the living. The issue opens mid-exorcism as the spirit of a dead child tries to kill its still-living family in order to reunite them all. While it seems routine enough, normal procedures don’t solve the problem and, later, Hotwire learns that the building, although in a poor area, is within the boundaries of a disruptor tower. Something it making Blue-Lights turn up where they shouldn’t and she’s determined to solve the mystery."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Hello Cosmic Part 26: Cosmic Odyssey

[The first of two posts devoted to Jim Starlin's take of Jack Kirby's Fourth World characters. In this post, I look at Cosmic Odyssey, a 1988 four-issue prestige format series Starlin wrote and Mike Mignola drew. This post fits into a larger look at Starlin's cosmic work.]

A year after completing my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic work for Marvel, I'm back with two posts examining Starlin's take on the New Gods--twenty years apart. The New Gods seem like the perfect cast for a Jim Starlin comic book since they combine the cosmic and the mythic in that way he loves to--never mind that Thanos was clearly inspired by Darkseid (although, I'd say has become a much better character over the years). Really, the right mix is here for a fantastic story, which Cosmic Odyssey isn't quite. It's not bad, but it doesn't quite work in the way that nothing I've read of Starlin's DC work has... I am honestly mystified as to why Starlin's DC stuff fails to live up to the skill he displayed at Marvel, but that's how it goes.

However, Cosmic Odyssey is an interesting and decent read. What's most telling is that Starlin immediately sets about making Darkseid more like Thanos by making his coveted Anti-Life Equation a sentient being, something to aspire to and worship ala Thanos's relationship with Death. Starlin never quite pushes things that far, because Darkseid's motivation is control and power, while Thanos's motive was love--but that Starlin immediately makes the Anti-Life Equation (and isn't "anti-life" death?) an entity, a being, something that lives clearly shows that he wanted to make these characters more to his liking, more in his comfort zone. Cosmic Odyssey comes between Starlin's last cosmic work at Marvel, The Death of Captain Marvel and his next work, Silver Surfer where he resurrected Thanos and Adam Warlock and began his long "Infinity"-themed stories. Was he already missing those characters? Thankfully, his reworking of the Anti-Life Equation is his only major overhaul here as he prefers to stick close to the established identities of the characters involved.

The plot is rather simple: the Anti-Life Equation wants to eat our universe after Metron accidentally opened the door for it on one of his knowledge quests. The Equation sent in four aspects of itself and is trying to destroy four planets in the Milky Way galaxy, which will collapse the galaxy and allow it to enter our universe. The kicker is that it only needs to destroy two of the planets to succeed. So, Darkseid and Highfather have gathered a bunch of Earth heroes: Batman and Forager (a "bug" on New Genesis) have Earth; Superman and Orion have Thanagar; Starfire and Lightray have Rann (and meet up with Adam Strange); and John Stewart and the Martian Manhunter have Xanshi.

The most well known ramification of this series was the Stewart/J'onn mission where John Stewart is so arrogant and reliant on his ring that he leaves J'onn behind at one point (because taking him would slow him down) and, when he gets to the Anti-Life Aspect and its giant bomb, he discovers that it's painted yellow, the one weakness of the Green Lanterns! And there goes Xanshi. Starlin really does some good work with this subplot by having J'onn bitch Stewart out, while Stewart contemplates suicide later in the series, even going so far to send his ring away and put the gun to his head. Not at all what one would expect (then... now, I think Stewart would have pulled the trigger...) and quite good.

There's also some great moments between Superman and Orion where the Anti-Life Aspect mind-controls the population of Thanagar, sending them out to stop Superman and Orion. Superman goes on ahead, burrowing underground to get past the defences, while Orion is left to distract the Thanagarians. When Superman returns, he finds every soldier slaughtered and Orion unapologetic. He says that there are no innocents in war and with stakes that high, he wasn't going to play nice. Superman responds by hitting him. Not the last time a DC hero would deck Orion in this series. Orion is a racist. As Forager is a "bug," Orion treats him with disdain. This pisses Batman off after Forager sacrifices his life to stop the Anti-Life Aspect on Earth, so Batman let's fly a punch and is then held back by Superman. The book ends with Highfather informing Orion that he would accompany Forager's body back to his home in a lesson of tolerance.

When reading Jim Starlin writing the New Gods, particularly Darkseid, I can't help but compare it to how he would handle Adam Warlock and Thanos. People often say that Thanos is just a rip-off of Darkseid, which, in a very superficial way, is true. However, where Thanos is self-loathing and psychologically complex, Darkseid is simple. He's self-serving and evil--evil in that way where he says that he's evil and revels in death and destruction. His is the ugly face that he wants the universe to share. If you actually read Starlin's Thanos and his Darkseid, there isn't much similarity despite Starlin making the Anti-Life Equation an entity.

His New Gods are very much like the gods of myths. They are brash, arrogant, very human in their qualities. We don't see many of them here, just Highfather, Lightray, Orion, Darkseid, Metron and, briefly, Lonar (and Desaad for, like, a panel--lurking in the shadows). Metron is out of it for the story, his mind broken by his encounter with the Anti-Life Equation. Only Highfather and Darkseid seem in check of their emotions much of the time, both composed--Darkseid goes off the rails a little towards the end. Since one of Starlin's pet themes is religion, I went into this wondering how he would handle the idea of these characters being called the New Gods, if he would really explore that idea in any depth, but he doesn't, sadly.

One small moment of interest: the story begins with a group of Apokolips Storm Troopers invading Gotham only to be repelled by Superman and Lightray. However, one is left behind. Later, Batman is on the trail of various missing persons and comes across this monster in the sewers. After the Storm Trooper drops its gun, Batman, clearly out of his league, picks it up, narrating, "I NORMALLY DON'T LIKE USING WEAPONS... / ...ESPECIALLY FIREARMS. / BUT I'M FLEXIBLE, ABLE TO ADAPT TO THE SITUATION." At which point he blasts a giant hole in the Trooper's chest and leaves it for dead.

I should mention Mike Mignola's art, which is just as good as you'd think it would be. He really does a great job here, using interesting layouts and repeating panels effectively. His Darkseid looks like a creature of rock. He uses shadows well and I particularly enjoy his Metron.

Ultimately, I don't know how much influence this book had on the New Gods and the DCU (aside from the John Stewart stuff). But, it does influence the next series I'm looking at, The Death of the New Gods. I'll get to that sometime in the next few days.