Friday, October 30, 2009

A Couple of Things

1. One year ago today, my first review went up at CBR. One year, 254 reviews... Definitely the best gig I've ever had -- even when the words wouldn't come. I'll try and get another stats post up sometime in the next few days (mostly for myself) and maybe grab a few links of my favourite reviews (of which there are, like, four -- I'm my own harshest critic).

2. Today, I begin another gig as one half of 411Mania's wrestling column, High Road/Low Road. I'm joining the column as a replacement for the guy who wrote the Low Road half of the column and got the gig by auditioning along with others -- basically, Sat (the High Road writer) did his part of the column and anyone who wanted could do the other half and he'd choose the best one to be the new co-writer. The column takes one issue each week and has the two of us argue for and against it. As the Low Road writer, I will argue against things week in, week out, playing to my strenths rather well, don't you think? The first one went up today as Sat and I discuss TNA's World Elite faction. (Ironically, this is an area I wasn't that strong in -- I follow TNA, but not too closely and only beginning sometime during the summer, so there are still people I'm not too familiar with like much of the World Elite.)

Rated R Reviews: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga #2

Spider-Man: The Clone Saga #2: This comic is very fucking bad. You all know that I'm not one to keep buying a piece of shit comic, but I will with this one, because I'm curious to see how this plays out. A retelling of the Spider-Clone Saga in six issues... if three years was too fucking long, six issues is too fucking short. I pity anyone who doesn't know the original story, because this is that story on fast forward with no explanations. What's that, Ben Reilly is in a whole new costume all of a sudden and has new web-themed weapons? Okay! Kaine has apparently been attacking Peter and Ben frequently? If you say so, Mr Writers!

What I can't figure out is, why publish this? Not the project itself, I can see the appeal there (mostly because it's that very appeal that has me plunking down $24 to read the whole thing), but why publish this if you're not going to do a good job? What is the point of "Doing the Spider-Clone Saga right, as it was originally intended" if you're going to rush through it and deliver nothing but the highlights? That's not the story 'done right,' that's a goddamn illustrated summary. I guess they figure the only people buying this will know the story already and be able to fill in the blanks and have it all make sense -- and we can. But, really, this is a bad comic. Worse than the first issue.

I should just drop this shit now.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

CBR Review: Dark Reign: The List -- Wolverine #1

I recently reviewed Dark Reign: The List -- Wolverine #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Back when this issue was announced, Jason Aaron made it a point to highlight online that he is not Grant Morrison, doesn’t write like Grant Morrison, and his versions of Fantomex and Noh-Varr will not be like Grant Morrison’s. And he’s right, but his versions are pretty good, too. Although titled Dark Reign: The List — Wolverine, this issue focuses more on Fantomex and Noh-Varr teaming up to prevent Norman Osborn from conquering the World, the facility introduced in Morrison’s New X-Men where the Weapon Plus Program creates new super-soldiers."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Ultimate Comics Armor Wars #2

I recently reviewed Ultimate Comics Armor Wars #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Though this may be a retelling of the classic Iron Man story 'Armor Wars,' Warren Ellis and Steve Kurth are doing so in concept only as someone has stolen the technology to create Iron Man armors and Tony Stark wants it back. Using that solid idea, they continue to build an entertaining and surprising story as Stark, with Justine Hammer alongside him, travels to Europe to track down the man who supposedly has the information."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CBR Review: Blackest Night #4

I recently reviewed Blackest Night #4 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "We’re halfway through DC big event of the year and, on the second and third pages of Blackest Night #4, a double-page spread where Barry Allen is confronted by a legion of Black Lantern supervillains, the question that seems to be on the minds of all involved is asked by Black Lantern Firestorm: 'Cool, right?' That’s what this event seems to come down to: do you find the idea of resurrected heroes, villains, and supporting characters from DC’s past coming back to life to terrorize the still-living heroes cool? Sadly, this issue doesn’t really extend beyond that idea, causing me to wonder if, perhaps, the goal should have been producing something ‘good’ instead of something ‘cool.’"

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Ultimate Comics Avengers #3

I recently reviewed Ultimate Comics Avengers #3 and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "If you weren’t a fan of Mark Millar’s characterization of the Ultimates -- in that many were deemed unlikable, mean, cruel, and cold -- well, you may not want to read Ultimate Comics Avengers, as we get introduced to Nick Fury’s recruits for his new black ops Avengers team and they are even more over-the-top in being harsh bastards. But, it’s the sort of character Millar writes well, at least."

You can read the rest HERE!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Top 25 Warren Ellis Comics

Well, Tim took me up on my challenge to him in our most recent Splash Page and created a top 10 (or, more accurately, top 10.25) list of Geoff Johns comics. I think it's a pretty bottom-of-the-barrel sort of list... when you're including Infinite Crisis, it gives that impression. But, good on him. Next week, he'll be doing a top 10 list of Warren Ellis comics... so, today, I'm going to do a top 25 list. If only because, even at 25 spaces to fill, we won't reach the low-point that is Infinite Crisis.

My rules are, basically, I'm only judging based on what I've read (and, yes, there are some big gaps like Ellis's early Marvel work and... well, the odd Avatar thing like Blackgas, Dark Blue and Wolfskin), and nothing with a co-writer (except for the Gravel stuff where Ellis does write the material, Wolfer just expands Ellis's 'scriptments' into full issues... I'm counting it, shut up), so no "Counter-X" stuff. Also, I sometimes combine stories or runs in somewhat debatable ways, but that's because I genuinely think they belong together as a single unit -- and as an extra way of showing the breadth of quality. Beyond that, it's all up to me and the order of this list could change on a whim, really. As much as I love lists, they are very random at times. The best and worst are set in stone, while everything in between floats around a bit. Oh, and I don't talk about art much -- only because this is a writer-centric list and I want to focus on that. However, you will note that Ellis has had a fantastic run of working with amazing artists.

25. Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: Ultimate Nightmare is the only part of this story that really works for me in a big way, which makes sense since the other two parts weren't meant to be written by Ellis. However, he pulls together a good modern interpretation of the Galactus concept, something that would actually be terrifying and not as goofy as giant man in dumb purple hat. Ellis distilled the concept of 'planet eater/killer' and created something alien, something different. His handling of the Ultimate characters is solid, too.

24. Ocean: A somewhat minor work that is this low because I'm not sure it warranted six issues. But, it fits nicely into Ellis's love of space travel and space stories. Corruption, corporate evil, and an ancient alien race that wants to kill us all. A fun, decent read -- and it's easy to see why someone would want to turn it into a movie since it reads like a decent popcorn flick.

23. Anna Mercury: This was an odd series since the first three issues read like one of Ellis's much-loved three-issue minis... and then there were two more issues that weren't exactly unnecessary, but seemed more about establishing Anna Mercury as a character than anything else. Otherwise, this was a fun, action-packed series with a great core concept. Not quite metafictional but close. The second series is currently two issues in and just as entertaining as the first one. Like a lot of Ellis's output, not high art but good fun.

22. Reload: One Ellis's five three-issue minis for Wildstorm. This one had a Secret Service agent assassinating government officials after learning that the mob has basically used its resources to infiltrate politics and take over legitimately. Throw in an FBI agent (or was it CIA?) and, again, a fun action story with a cool concept/twist.

21. Thor: Worldengine: I'll admit, this is a sentimental/nostalgic inclusion, but having reread this earlier this year, I think it deserves to be here. Probably Ellis's first somewhat high profile revamps, he took Thor and changed him radically, making him mortal and Earth-bound, while still referencing the mythological aspects of the character heavily.

20. Global Frequency: A very hit-or-miss series, but one of ambition and vision. That it's this far down the list is a testament to how much quality there is here, because this is the sort of work that would make the top ten for almost anyone else. Even the low points of this series of one-off issues about an organisation of 1001 citizens dedicated to saving the world are still decent reads. But, the high points are amazing. The first issue is dense and an example of just how good Ellis is at the craft. The issue with art by Jon J Muth is fantastic, as is the one with the guy in the asylum/hospital who gets infected. Or, the girl in London who runs through the city? How this didn't become a TV series still fails me because it's a concept perfectly suited to the medium.

19. Orbiter: Probably the most pure love letter to the space program Ellis has ever written. I haven't actually read this in years, so I'm a bit foggy on the details, but I remember a lot of passion and cool science bits. Also, an interesting cast of characters and Colleen Doran art.

18. Ministry of Space: More cynical and dark than Orbiter, but better because it has the same optimism and love of space travel only filtered through the British. Showing that progress comes, almost always, through horrible, monstrous deeds and at a great cost. Full of wonder and awfulness.

17. Ultimate Human: Ellis writes Ultimate Tony Stark better than anyone else. Not quite as obvious and over-the-top as Millar's version, more charming and entertaining... plus, his update of Pete Wisdom is pretty good. He explains the Hulk in a way that makes sense and ends the first issue on a joke that shouldn't work but does anyway. Still probably my favourite 'Ultimate' book.

16. Desolation Jones: The first arc is a clever rewriting of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler with gorgeous JH Williams III art and starring a skinny albino former SAS man in the Marlowe role. The second arc had promise, but only two issues were released before various problems put the book on hiatus. This would probably rank higher if it had had a chance to go longer -- and hopefully it will -- but I really dug Jones as a character. A very Ellisian hero: a horrible bastard with a hidden heart of gold and belief in seeing what's right gets done. Plus, Ellis exploring Los Angeles is entertaining.

15. Black Summer/No Hero: Two different stories, yes, but they're the first two parts of a thematic trilogy, so they go together, especially since I see them as being very closely related. They both spring out of similar concepts: people becoming superheroes to clean up their city, to fight corruption and evil whether the usual kind or oppressive authority. Both examine the role that superhumans can play in the politics of the world, both emphasising that superhumans are part of humanity and have a responsibility to do the sort of things regular people do (like get involved in politics). Black Summer rants on not getting past violence in an effort to make the world better, while No Hero explores how superhumans could rule the world, piss people off in the process, and have no one truly know how far their reach extends. I'm curious to see what Supergod is like (and am still a little sad that Juan Jose Ryp won't be drawing it to complete the trilogy). Both stories, though, never felt like they had enough room to really explore their ideas, focusing on side issues or other less important bits.

14. Doktor Sleepless: The conceptual follow-up to Transmetropolitan, this book is hurt by its slow release schedule since the pacing of the story is slower, too. However, when you read it in chunks, it will blow you away as Ellis crafts a terrible, monster of a character that is determined to destroy everything -- and, then, we watch how he sets out to do it. Intermingled are various concepts about the future, crazy characters, thoughts on journalism, and gang wars. The darker, pessimistic little brother to Transmet.

13. Aetheric Mechanics: One of my favourite books of last year, this graphic novella is wonderfully entertaining and thought-provoking. It seems like a Sherlock Holmes with future tech pastiche... and it is but for good reason. The final pages are absolutely brilliant and it contains one of the most perfect panels I've ever seen.

12. The Apparat Singles Collection: Four first issues for series that don't exist, all inspired by different pulp genres. My favourite is "Frank Ironwine," the detective, because Ellis does cop stuff well and Frank Ironwine is an entertaining character. "Simon Specter" is a solid Doc Savage/Shadow type of story that has Ellis update him for the 21st century well. "Future Stomp Angel" is less a story than a bunch of insane concepts thrown out at the reader. "Quit City" is a good character piece, but it's my least favourite of the bunch. Again, Ellis doing something fun and different, pushing himself beyond the typical means and expectations. Worth it especially for the little essays he writes for each story and the longer one he includes for the entire collection.

11. Thunderbolts: The idea that Iron Man would set up a program where supervillains hunt down unregistered heroes was a stupid one that wouldn't work. Ellis recognised that and proceeded to spend 12 issues showing why it wouldn't work as the team devolved into in-fighting, madness, death, and destruction, barely accomplishing anything. This series also paved the way for Norman Osborn to rise to power as Ellis set the new standard for the character. And, man, I sure do love the end of the first arc where Bullseye gets his ass handed to him... and, then, how it's reversed in the second arc. A nice symmetry.

10. Scars: A straight cop story that's about the horrors one can see on that job and what it will do to you. Haven't read this one in a while either, but it's rather good. Haunting and conflicted, willing to portray cops not as heroes or scumbags but as regular people trying to do a good job that can't help but get beaten down by it.

9. Fell: A bit too heavy on the formal experimentation to really register on an emotional level, this is another extension of Ellis's series of cop stories. All done-in-ones, the best issues have been the ones where Richard Fell is stuck having to talk his way out of a problem or talk a suspect into confessing. Fell is an interesting character, one instantly recognisable as an Ellis creation. This is one of the only comics I've given to my girlfriend to read and she liked it.

8. Hellblazer (#134-143, plus the unpublished "Shoot"): Until he took over the book, Ellis was probably the most high profile Brit to not write John Constantine and I'm a big fan of his short run. It was a run where we got to see dual sides of Ellis: the romantic and the creepy bastard. His focus was restoring the horror elements of the series, his one-off issues focusing on that more than the initial "Haunted" arc did. He wanted to take things away from the magical with the devil and evil fairies and whatever else, showing what sort of monsters humans can be, how fucked up and horrible we are to one another. "Haunted" and one of the short stories showed off his romantic side as they dealt with John reflecting on ex-girlfriends, preferring to remember why they were together in the first place than what drove them apart. Oddly touching at times. The "Shoot" issue can be found online and is a solid issue (though not as good as people like to say it is -- the banned/unpublished thing usually makes people overdo it in praising things).

7. Lazarus Churchyard: The precursor to Transmet in its depiction of future technology and weird science. Lazarus Churchyard is a man whose brain is in a body that cannot die. Image put out a collection that features a lot of stories, it's early Ellis work, a little rough, but also a place where you can see lots of his later work hinted at. This is like his first album and it's pretty good. Some funny bits and the final story is just heartbreaking (while also being a bit 'out there').

6. Strange Kiss/Stranger Kisses/Strange Killings/Gravel: Nearly 40 comics starring William Gravel, combat magician. Strange Kiss was a fucked up comic: Gravel's buddy gets impregnated with little lizards and dies when they burst out of him. Giant lizards in people suits are killing people and winding up in a morgue. Turns out that a giant lizard creature, a mystical god-like thing is reproducing this way. A very disturbing comic. Stranger Kisses was bigger and had more action, and was about men in LA who perform surgery on people so they can be beyond male or female for sex purposes -- or, so rich, famous people will have new and exciting things to fuck. The four Strange Killings series never really approach the first two minis in terms of quality, but are entertaining reads. Gravel just finished up its second arc and has been one big story as William Gravel rises through the ranks of Britain's magic ruling elite. A witty, bloody, sometimes disturbing series of series that make William Gravel one of Ellis's longest-running creator-owned characters. The quality has even remained strong with Ellis writing 'scriptments' that Mike Wolfer expands into full issues. Gravel in particular has been a great read as Ellis explores class conceptions in Britain, something he hasn't really addressed much to date in his career. It's nice to see him dealing with England more directly.

5. Red: An odd choice to rank this high, but there's a reason for that: a lot of Ellis's career has been spent on high concept action books and this is the best one by far. Not only that, it's the best of the three-issues minis he's written. Paul Moses killed people for his country for years and now just wants to live in peace. The new politically appointed director of the CIA has learned of his existence and wants him killed. This choice results in Moses killing a helluva lot of people and Ellis, again, pointing out that there are costs for things that we all like to pretend don't exist -- but they do and moralising about them isn't necessarily the right course of action when we benefit from those horrific actions. One of the tightest, most skillfully written stories Ellis has done -- and Cully Hamner knocks it out of the park.

4. Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.: Funny, wacky, off-the-wall, funny, funny, funny, funny, insane... this comic was both a celebration of the inane stupidity of superheoes and a mockery of them. It was 12 issues of insane KICKSPLODE fun, great jokes, mean characters, and Dirk Anger. An instant classic. Ellis just having a laugh and proving that, man, he is one funny guy. The pinnacle of comics' recent Age of Awesome.

3. Planetary: I like the second half of Planetary, by the way. I do. Some don't like how it went from a series about delving into the 20th century's popculture and how it intersects with comics, and became a story of Elijah Snow taking on the Four, but it worked for me. The first, though, is brilliant. Sad and haunting, also uplifting. My favourite issues are the Vertigo one and the fictional man one. The Vertigo one had Ellis reuse his storytelling techniques from Hellblazer with Jack Carter and turned into a little story about Vertigo needing to get past Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman's influence, move into the future. The fictional man story was nice because I like Ambrose Chase. The series was large and expansive and sweet and sad. Plus, there were the three wonderful crossover specials that I have a fondness for. The one with the JLA was entertaining as Planetary becomes the Fantastic Four that beat the crap out of DC... hah.

2. Transmetropolitan: This should probably be number one the list, honestly. It is the purest example of Ellis that I can think of, Spider Jerusalem the best example of an Ellis protagonist. A series of larger stories and short one-offs. Of crazy idea and optimism. In the future, newspapers still matter! Journalism still affects politics! Good people can work hard and bring down bad people. A great cast of characters, all suitably horrible and sweet in their own way. Ellis put Spider through his paces and left us hanging until the end that maybe Spider beat the bad guy but still lost. My fondness for Hunter Thompson makes me appreciate Spider quite a bit -- though it was Transmet that got me into Thompson's writing. "Year of the Bastard" was the first arc I read and it steals so much from Thompson's book on the '72 primaries... but it still works. The later issues falter a little, but not as much as people like to say. I just think people didn't like it when it got away from Spider off being ranty and having stupid little adventures and became about something bigger... and, even then, Ellis still found room for fantastic one-off stories. The two specials and inclusion of Spider's column also gave Ellis an excuse to stretch himself a little and throw out even more mad ideas. Someday, I promise I'll give this series a proper reflection.

1. Stormwatch/The Authority: This tops the list because it was more influential. Pure and simple, this three-act run changed the way mainstream superhero comics were written in the early 21st century. Ellis moved progressively through storytelling formats from done-in-ones to three-part stories to four-part stories, expanding the scope and concept of the series with each. Taking a small, laughable superhero book and turning it into something worthwhile and hugely influential. His work on Stormwatch vol. 1 was solid and a good mingling of superhero and politics, culminating in the brilliant "Change or Die," while volume two continued, but made things bigger as the group eventually had to confront working on a more than global scale. This lead to The Authority, the finest example of 'widescreen comics' you're ever going to find. A natural, organic progression over the course of a few years into something that made others change the way they do things and, then, became instrumental in making Bryan Hitch, Mark Millar, and Frank Quitely well-known creators. I think Transmetropolitan is better, but Stormwatch/The Authority is more important (and not much worse, honestly).

There you have it. My top 25 Warren Ellis comics.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

CBR Review: Underground #2

I recently reviewed Underground #2 and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Who knew a fight over a cave would be so entertaining and engrossing? I will admit that when I saw the concept for Underground, I scoffed a little, wondering why on Earth I would want to read a comic about an argument over a cave, but a great marketing promotion by Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber got me to read the first issue and it was impressive, something the second issue follows up on well."

You can read the rest HERE!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rated R Review: The Unwritten #6

The Unwritten #6: While The Unwritten is quickly becoming one of my favourite monthly comics, it does take an approach to English literature that I'm not sure I fully support -- particularly in its storytelling. It's too early to really comment on the series as a whole, but it's strongly pushing the idea of allusion as storytelling. Of taking existing works and basing a new story around them. It's not a new idea, but it's one that's really taken off in the past decade or so. In my creative writing class at grad school, the prof talked about how allusion creates resonance in the story and it does, but there's also an element of laziness in it. Frankenstein shows up at the end of this issue and that's fine, that's great, we all know who Frankenstein is, so Carey can play off our expectations... but it's also a case where he doesn't have to really work at it either. (He will, no doubt...) The character is there, we all know it, that's half the battle done for him. Then again, are modern superhero comics any different? Are they nothing more than fan fiction built upon allusion? How is this series any different other than referencing different characters and works? Take X-Men Legacy, a book that was based upon the idea of delving into the past and using those existing ideas to create stories that people will, supposedly, want to read... it all leads to a question: Can Mike Carey write an original work? Something that doesn't require an existing framework, existing characters, a whole literature canon... from my understanding, Lucifer is heavily indebted to Paradise Lost as well... The tougher question: is Carey alone in his reliance on what has come before? They say that there are no new ideas... but have we all taken that as law? Have we all given up and decided to play inside baseball for the rest of our lives? Remakes, relaunches, allusions, updates... Some of the greatest works have been created this way, but, goddamn, isn't it getting a little out of hand? I honestly liked The Unwritten more when Frankenstein was a fictional character that was referenced for thematic purposes in issue three. That was interesting. Are we reliving the past through entertainment? Or is it just part of the grand tradition of retelling stories, each new retelling adding its own spin? Am I expecting too much?

Fuck, I hate it when all I have are questions and few answers.

Friday, October 23, 2009

CBR Review: Dark Avengers #10

I recently reviewed Dark Avengers #10 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "After the shocking end of Dark Avengers #9, this week’s issue is a little disappointing since neither the murder of the Sentry or what Norman Osborn was doing in that room are addressed in any detail. One of Brian Michael Bendis’s weaknesses is ending one issue with a strong cliffhanger/tease and then not following up on it until two or three issues later, which is frustrating as a reader and makes the follow-up issue feel like a letdown. More than that, Dark Avengers #10 doesn’t offer a strong, engaging story to replace the anticipated follow-up to last month’s issue as a substitute."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Dark Wolverine #79

I recently reviewed Dark Wolverine #79 and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "After a surprisingly impressive first arc, Dark Wolverine has sunk to being one of the worst comics I’ve read all year and all it did was change artists. Normally, an art change, no matter how drastic, wouldn’t affect a book this much, but Stephen Segovia’s utter lack of competence is so shocking in its ineptitude that I can’t help but wonder how he got this gig and who could possibly think this art is anything close to quality."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rated R Review: Gødland #0029

Gødland #0029: I've always liked how the numbering on the cover of Gødland begins with two zeros. It seemed optimistic and bold, like Casey and Scioli were telling us all that fuck yes this comic will reach issue 1000. It won't, of course, since it's ending, like, seven issues from now. Does that make Casey and Scioli liars? Yeah. Yes, it does. But who cares...

Two or eight things stood out to me in this issue: the butterfly from Automatic Kafka makes an appearance. Maybe it's not the same butterfly, because a lot of butterflies look alike, but it's all yellow-orange in the same way -- and it reveals truths like the one from Kafka. For what purposes, I don't know, because repeating the end of Automatic Kafka wouldn't really work here... unless it's a different butterfly. But, then, why reuse the butterfly? And why haven't I written about Automatic Kafka yet? Hardly a day goes by without two dozen e-mails pleading with me to finally (FINALLY!) sit down and break that series open, exposing its naughty intellectual bits to you all... but, nah, not now, I'm tired.

Kadeem Hardison's cameo both made me geek out and cringe -- first, of all the African-American actors Casey could have selected, choosing Dwayne Wayne himself is fantastic. I know I'm not the only one who's seen every episode of A Different World -- how the fuck did he end up with Whitley, by the way? But, why Kadeem Hardison? Does Casey think that he's the man to play Barack Obama in an eventual movie? And, then there's the problem where Tom Scioli's drawing doesn't actually look like Hardison... but, an odd choice. Unless it's an example of a somewhat obscure popculture reference to add that little bit of cultural cache that Casey sometimes throws in. Still, now I can't get past the idea of a Kadeem Hardison/Jasmine Guy reunion to play the Obamas... I'd see that movie, but I may be the only one.

Another good issue of Gødland, although it is always dangerously close to sinking under the weight of the numerous subplots its advancing. It hasn't yet, but, damn, there are, like, five plots running in this issue. That final page is nice, too.

CBR Review: Spider-Woman #2

I recently reviewed Spider-Woman #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Where last issue fell flat in having Jessica tell us how bad her life is, this issue shows us quite well. It's her first gig as S.W.O.R.D.’s alien hunter and she’s found herself in jail with no real hope of escape, except using methods she really does not want to do. Bendis makes good use of one of her powers that was played for laughs in New Avengers, but comes off more disturbing and scummy here. Showing us what Jessica is willing to do to survive really gets us behind her."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CBR Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #6

I recently reviewed Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #6 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "In this series, Casey has taken these Grant Morrison characters and used them to examine the dynamics of superhero teams, superhero culture, and the so-called conflict between the desires of the person and the demands placed upon heroes. Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne live lives of comfort outside of their alter-egos, so why is it any different if these heroes choose not to take off their costumes when the fighting is done?"

You can read the rest HERE!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rated R Reviews: Anna Mercury 2 #2

Anna Mercury 2 #2: I have no desire to fuck Anna Mercury. Why do I feel the need to tell you that? Where did I go wrong in my life where I find myself feeling the urge to proclaim online that I don't want to have sex with a comic book character? But when a comic has this cover, you feel the need to declare your intentions not to come up with a manner to enter the fictional universe she inhabits with the goal of sweaty sex:

I feel the need to declare this, because this cover has very little to do with what happens in the comic. Say what you will about Avatar, but their covers are shit more often than not. And the cool covers, like those warning sign Doktor Sleepless ones? Cost more. Fuck off with that bullshit. Give me a decent cover that isn't just a fucking pin-up, dammit. I'm kind of surprised about that since, usually, Ellis is somewhat involved with the cover designs of his books, usually eschewing the shitty pin-up look if he can -- unless that's the point.

Then again, is the comic entirely divorced from the cover when it stars another Ellis action star female lead that some speculate on regarding his preference for women of that sort but I won't (I'll merely suggest that others speculate since that does the job while leaving me some factor of deniability -- totally the coward's way out)... I find Anna Mercury grating and annoying in this issue when she just won't shut up about having a ray gun. She travels to satellite planets and saves them on a semi-regular basis but goes gaga over a ray gun? Ray guns are cool and all, but they're not babble on like a moron every third panel cool.

The best part of this issue is Facundo Percio's depiction of Anna after she escapes her captors -- the crazed look in her eyes is fantastic. He nails that, telling us more about her state of mind than anything else in the issue. Also, Ellis is always good at coming up with different cultures and highlighting how they think differently from us.

The end: vikings. Yawn. I hate this age of awesome we live in. Total bullshit.

Rated R Reviews: Marvels Project #3

[Screw the "I bought comics" posts, I'm doing short, small reviews when I want. This is the first. It isn't all that different per se or anything, but it's what I feel like doing right now.]

The Marvels Project #3: Not so much a story as an attempt at creating a cohesive whole out of random bits spewed out by young men who thought that today's work would be forgotten tomorrow. Little did they know that, 70 years later, we would still be obsessing over it, mining it for all that we can to give order and sense to what passes for our entertainment. Revisionist history, an attempt to take free-flowing ideas and stories, to make them fit into a small box as we trim them down, organise them, transform each into a piece of a puzzle that we'll now assemble for no reason other than someone gave it to us and that's what you do with puzzles: you assemble them. Then, you look at the picture created, say a nice word or two, and rip it apart, stick it in a box and never look at it again. Because though it is a nice picture and the task of assembling it is pleasant, it's not real, and it doesn't hold up next to the things we actually care about. It's idle exercise, something to pass the time... and what better way to pass the time in comics than to rob and steal from the past? No, not so much a story as an intellectual exercise in puzzle-making.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Best of 2008 Top 100 Meta-List Finally Arrives

With Dick Hyacinth not online for over six months, Sandy over at I Love Rob Liefeld has used Dick's posts on the subject to create the best of 2008 top 100 meta-list (like last year, using a formula I created when Dick asked for someone to do so). So, go check it out. A few things of note:

* Seven of my top ten make the top 100. The only three to not make the list: Batman, Aetheric Mechanics, and Young Liars. The only one I'm surprised about not making the list is Young Liars. I'm somewhat surprised that glamourpuss did make the list, though. I would have assumed it would be the other way around.

* Despite my snubbing it and not liking it a whole lot, All-Star Superman placed third on the meta-list.

* I've only read two things from the top ten, five from the top 25, seven from the top 50, and 12 from the top 100.

* And, soon, it will be best of 2009 time.

Again, the list can be found here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Splash Page: Cynicism versus Sincerity? Part 1

[After a short break, Tim and I just couldn't keep away from one another, so we're back with another Splash Page, this time discussing an idea that Tim put forth a week or so back. He explains it pretty well below, so I won't repeat that. Enjoy.]

Tim Callahan: So the other day -- actually, it was a week or two ago -- I commented on one of your CSBG "Random Thoughts" posts and called you out for liking cynical comics more than sincere comics. I don't know exactly what my point was, other than to spark debate, but since I completely forgot to revisit that comment thread until it was too late, I didn't really get the discussion I was looking for. I just dropped a somewhat nonsensical bomb and walked away.

But I suppose my point was, in looking at your list of favorite first issues, that you seem to like first issues that present a kind of cynical view of the world. A kind of story in which things are bad and they look like they're going to get a whole lot worse. As opposed to a story that presents a bad situation but seems to promise some great hope for the future. I termed it sincerity, but I probably should have called it hopefulness.

I'm thinking about your fondness for Warren Ellis comics and your disdain for Geoff Johns comics, and the big difference between the two, it seems to me, is that Ellis presents a cynical worldview through his stories and Johns presents a hopeful one. They both use violence and chaos, but for different thematic purposes. I don't think you can brush it off as, "Ellis is just a better writer," because, well, I won't let you off the hook that easily.

Do you think that anything I'm saying makes sense? Does it seem completely off base, or are you naturally drawn to the more cynical stuff?

Chad Nevett: Sorry, but it has to be said: Ellis is a better writer. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, as I said then, I don't really agree with your take on things, because I don't read Ellis's writing because of its cynicism, I read it because of its optimism, an optimism that feels more real and genuine than what you find in a Geoff Johns comics. Ellis's characters are somewhat bastards who do their best to make the world better, to save it from without and within, not always doing things the 'right' way, but always in with a mind to making sure that tomorrow is better than today. Geoff Johns's books have bastard villains and heroic heroes that don't struggle past personal issues of selfishness and wanting to stay at home but overcoming that to do better. That Johns writes almost all of his work for DC is a big reason for this, while Ellis does creator-owned and Marvel work where you can have more human, more conflicted characters. I'm not interested in a fearless jet pilot who is naturally heroic doing heroic things... that's boring. I'm interested in a chain-smoking bitch who'd rather spend all day getting drunk except that would mean that things would be worse, so she goes out, gets together a group and busts some heads in the name of changing the world for the better -- because no one else is. Ellis's heroes are more heroic because they have to try.

It goes back to this idea that I've always had: if you're naturally honest there's no virtue in telling the truth because it wouldn't occur to you not to tell the truth; but, if your first instinct is to lie, but you make a conscious decision to overcome that instinct and tell the truth, then there's virtue, there's work, there's conflict -- there's drama. Johns's comics lack a sense of drama in their characters, all of whom are either naturally good or naturally evil, and always conform to that standard. His books are black and white, Ellis's are greys...

Now, like I said, that can probably be traced back to the difference between DC and everywhere else, because DC is full of characters that have no internal conflict really. And, yes, before anyone shouts at me, there are exceptions. "Oh, but Johns wrote a Booster Gold book and Booster Gold is totally conflicted like you want!" That I didn't like what I saw of that book simply suggests that we've just scratched the surface of what my problems with Johns are and we shall carry on -- after all, you people like these exchanges to be longer than what we've got so far, right?

TC: But isn't that "chain-smoking bitch" just as much of a one-note character as the "fearless jet pilot"? Does the former really get into areas of grey? Isn't everything still as clear cut -- you know who the heroes are in an Ellis comic, they just act sleazier -- as in a Johns comic?

I'm thinking we need some specific examples here, besides the oblique references to characters and comics. (Not that the references are all that oblique.) But let's take something simple and straightforward from Ellis -- like his Ultimate Galactus trilogy -- and contrast it with Blackest Night. Why do you think the former is better than the latter? Because I know you do!

CN: Well, I read more than one issue of the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy without being unable to read any more... unlike Blackest Night where one issue had me scrambling for q-tips so I could randomly stab at parts of my brain in order to forget the comic I just read (a small exaggeration, of course). But, let's move beyond me just insulting that comic, okay?

One big difference is technical style. Ellis knows how to craft comic pages better than Johns, pure and simple. Ellis may be formulaic in his 'five panel per page, three word balloons per panel' approach, but it's a very good rhythm, one that manages to convey the needed information but also not feel like something you're slogging through. Whereas, Johns overloads his pages with panels and dialogue, a lot of it unnecessary (I don't have any issue in front of me to directly reference), a lot of it just brimming over the top with melodrama. Even beyond that, Johns tries to cram in too many characters and, unlike Morrison in Final Crisis, he doesn't have the skills to juggle that many characters in that many scenes. A lot of the scenes (aka one-off panel appearances) in the first issue of Blackest Night seem like they were put there just so those characters could have a little face time. Going deeper, Ultimate Nightmare is also a horror/superhero comic and, this is less specific, it feels creepier than Blackest Night. Dead superheroes resurrected by magic rings? Not that creepy or scary. Demented, cannibal failed Russia supersoldiers who have been trapped in a secret base for decades? A lot more creepy.

Enough me justifying my views: why is Johns good? I've seen you mention that Adventure Comics is some of his best work ever. Why?

TC: Adventure Comics feels a bit more open than some of his other work. I love his Green Lantern, but except for a few issues early in the run after Green Lantern: Rebirth and before "The Sinestro Corps War" really got up and running, Johns's Green Lantern has been a comic of increased melodrama (in a good way) that becomes a game of, "oh my god, how is he going to top that??!!?" It's about amplification and excess, and it works because he knows how to get the right character beats in amongst all the cosmic bombast, but it's all about making each issue "louder" than the previous one. In Adventure, he's begun slowly -- and I'm just talking about the Superboy parts, not the "Legion of Super-Heroes" backups -- by giving Conner Kent this innocent life in Smallville, a second chance for him to grow into the role of a hero. Johns imbues the comic with earnestness -- this young superhero just wants to make things right, he knows he's got as much Lex Luthor in his DNA as he does Superman DNA, and he is methodically trying to create an environment for himself in which he will grow into the man he wants to be.

That story -- the good man trying to be a better one, knowing the odds are against him -- is much more interesting than the one-millionth iteration of the badass, chain-smoking anti-hero who doesn't play by the rules.

Adventure Comics #3 even plays with the notion of the optimistic hero vs. the cynical one, and presents -- BY FAR -- the best version of Red Robin we've ever seen (which isn't much of a compliment, I know, but it's a really good version here). Part of this series is about Conner connecting with his old friends, and Johns doesn't just throw the old gang back together again as if nothing happened. Conner died and came back, and Johns plays it up as the unsettling, emotionally-confusing situation it is, even while all the characters know that life and death and rebirth is part of the universe in which they live. So when Conner tracks down Tim Drake, now wearing that silly leather cowl in some kind of screwed-up "tribute" to Batman (as pointed out in the issue), there's a real contrast between the two characters -- a reversal of the beginning of their friendship, when Robin was the earnest optimist and Superboy was the badass with the leather and the "cool" hairdo. When Johns has the two meet in Adventure #3, he doesn't play up the pathos, he just gives them a silly villain to "fight" (Funky Flashman, who's easily dispatched by Krypto), and then lets them talk about their situations with sincerity as they investigate a few leads. Leads that Tim Drake thinks might lead to Batman's return, because even in the leather, even with the badass new look, he's still that same optimist he always was.

Yet Johns has proven in his other work that when things go bad for his heroes, they go really bad, and the gruesome violence that exists in Johns's world just helps to make the sweet little character scenes all the sweeter. There's a vulnerability in those kinds of scenes that you just don't see in an Ellis comic.

CN: Can you explain something to me that I've never been able to understand: what does Lex Luthor adding his DNA into Superboy's initial genetic mix actually change -- beyond the likelihood that Conner will go bald? Is Lex Luther so bad that his evilness is passed on genetically or something? I'm not saying that finding that out wouldn't mess you up a little, but isn't there a time where you realize that it changes nothing about what kind of person you are and you just move on? It's always struck me as a very 'comic book/soap opera' idea that this sort of idea would make a person struggle between 'the forces of good and evil' when... no, it wouldn't.

And I have read plenty of sweet scenes in Ellis's comics. The buying back the pawned toy in the "New Scum" story in Transmetropolitan... and, I know there are more, but that I just spent five minutes trying to think of one. Then again, I find the snarky banter between Jackson and Christine in Stormwatch sweet since it's real-sounding. Or, that short story during his short Hellblazer run where John Constantine reflects on his old girlfriends and how he misses them all, even the ones that hate him. Or, the moment between Midnighter and Apollo in the "Shiftships" Authority arc where Apollo is about to try something dangerous and Midnighter just grabs him and says, "But, you'll die." Or, there's the issue of Global Frequency where everything was saved by a lesbian's conception of love. Ellis wrote a comic book where things were saved by love, dammit! It doesn't get more sincere and sweet than that, my friend. If you can't find this in Ellis's work, I don't think you're reading his comics properly. Saved the city from an alien thought virus with love.

[Read the second part on Tim's blog...]

CBR Review: Scalped #32

I recently reviewed Scalped #32 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The issue revolves around a single witness to Chief Red Crow’s murder of a jailed Hmong sent by the gangsters that backed the building of his casino. If the witness is turned over to Dash Bad Horse’s boss, FBI Agent Nitz, then Red Crow will finally go down for murder and Dash’s time on the rez will be over; if the witness is kept hidden by Red Crow, he’ll be killed later and Dash will still have to find the undercover agent on the rez, namely himself. Add to the mix an old man by the name of Catcher buying a gun and Dash’s complicated and drug-fueled relationship with Red Crow’s daughter, and lots of things happen here."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

CBR Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape #6

I recently reviewed Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape #6 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Nemesis has seemingly found the way to live in Electric City, constantly shifted through time and space, not knowing who to trust, he’s gone back again and again to his moment of arrival, reliving events in order to find his way out. Now, he’s worked it all out, he’s mapped the city, and, oops, turned his back, the map is gone, he’s screwed. However, his unique abilities to mimic and become other people is the key to his survival and escape if he can survive his final test."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CBR Review: Gravel #14

I recently reviewed Gravel #14 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Now, no one goes into this issue thinking that Gravel is going to do anything but win, which is why Ellis and Mike Wolfer cleverly give him his victory and use it to put Gravel in a place where he doesn’t want to be. It’s almost like one person’s actions have determined that he would end up where he is and, when he realizes that, he can’t help but react poorly. All he ever really wanted was some peace and quiet, and the occasional pint, and that’s far from what he gets by the end of this issue."

You can read the rest HERE!

Book Review: Quarry in the Middle

I don't normally do book reviews here -- like, prose book -- but I don't know where else to do one and I kind of want to. Last week, I received a copy of Quarry in the Middle by Max Allan Collins in the mail despite it not being out until October 27. How? Well, the fine folks at Hard Case Crime held a contest in September where all you had to do was plug them on Twitter and then let them know you did it, and you would have a chance to win a copy of this book or another (whose title I forget) before they were released. And I won a copy! Yes, I know, I had some of you thinking that I'm important enough that I get sent free copies of things (I'm not and I don't), but, alas, I was just a lucky contest winner. However, that doesn't change the fact that I've received and read an 'advance reading copy' of this book that is not available for two weeks. A book I will now discuss.

This is the third Quarry book that Hard Case has published (The First Quarry and The Last Quarry being the two), but it's the eighth book starring the character apparently. I've read nothing featuring him before this book and that didn't hurt it at all. He's a pretty basic character: a hit man who used to get contracts through a middleman called the Broker, he now uses the Broker's list to stalk other hitmen, find out who they've been hired to kill, and, then, get the supposed victim to pay him to kill the hitman. It's an odd mix of being a fucking douchebag to his fellow killers and doing something somewhat good for the world and saving more than just this one life. Beyond that, Quarry (we never get his real name) is a basic enough guy, easy to relate to and step in line with.

In this novel, he tracks a hitman who specialises in hit-and-run 'accidents' to a pair of small towns on the border of Illinois and Iowa -- small, corrupt places where there's a silent war going on that goes all the way back to Chicago and two mob boss brothers who are each backing one side in a subtle game of one-upsmanship. There's the casino that isn't exactly legal but has class and the shitty stripclub/bar/danceclub/casino that isn't exactly legal and is a shithole. The hitman's victim is the casino owner and saving him puts Quarry into the middle of this little problem.

Collins writes the novel with Quarry as the narrator and he's a very self-conscious narrator, one that's aware that he's telling a story -- which is both good and bad. The good is that it cuts through a lot of the bullshit and it's more intimate. You feel like Quarry is telling you this story while you're sitting at a bar at times, giving it an appropraite tone. The bad is that... well, you and he are not sitting at a bar and, sometimes, the self-aware schtick just gets annoying because it can easily cross that line where you just want to scream, "Okay, I get it!"

The book is light and fluffy in its own way. It took me a few days to read it only because I read it in small doses, a chapter here and there. I think the last third took me maybe half an hour to forty minutes to read -- and I mean all of this as a good thing. This is a very readable book, Collins makes sure each chapter throws a new problem Quarry's way while advancing the plot, but it never feels forced. I don't think this will ever be anyone's favourite book, but unless you hate this sort of book I can't see many people disliking it either. It's a nice, light snack -- the kind that when you're through with it, you want another. I know I want to read the other Quarry novels now for sure. So, if you see this (or any other Hard Case Crime book), pick it up, you'll enjoy it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

CBR Review: Sweet Tooth #2

I recently reviewed Sweet Tooth #2 at CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The logo on the cover doesn’t just say Sweet Tooth, it says 'Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire,' a sign that, like most other comics produced by a single person, this is a book that requires a little extra care in noticing how the words and pictures interact since they were crafted by the same person. The relationship between the two in Sweet Tooth is very close and, as a result, it requires that you slow down since the drawings carry more story weight than most comics."

You can read the rest HERE!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I Bought Comics: October 7, 2009

[Not reviews, just whatever I feel like saying about this week's batch of books that I didn't review for CBR.]

Absolution #2: This series isn't as engaging as I hoped it would be. Not as far out there or pushing things as I figured it would either. Two-and-a-half issues into the story and it hasn't really progressed beyond the one idea. Because I trust Avatar, I'll stick with this, but this was a weak issue.

Batman and Robin #5: Man, Grant Morrison cannot get over Alan Moore being... around? I don't know what the deal there is, but it seems unnecessary. Thankfully, it also doesn't really impact the story. Oddly, the reveal of Jason as Kovacs is the only panel in the issue that I actually like. One panel out of 95 or so. The writing is good, better than last issue, but the art continues to kill kill kill this book.

The Boys #35: It's good to have Darick Robertson back as we get the first half of a two-part story detailing Mother's Milk's origin. An odd story that's actually rather touching in that way Garth Ennis-penned origin stories usually are. He can take any stupid/absurd concept and make it work it seems. I love the last page where Hughie asks that question we all had on our minds.

Criminal: The Sinners #1: A good issue, but not great. It's a lot of status quo setting bits that will become more important later in the story. Probably one of the weaker issues of Criminal yet, but it's still better than 95% of everything else (maybe not this week, which was big -- for me). Just a little disappointing after such a long wait for more Criminal.

Dark Reign: The List -- Secret Warriors #1: As much as I like Ed McGuinness, I'm not sure he was the right artist for this issue. He doesn't do dark shadows nearly as well as he does bright kicksplode, and this is an espionage story. An artist more suited to that sort of material may have been more in line. Not that he doesn't do a good job, I just wonder if this issue would have been better with a different artist. That this issue takes place after the next issue of Secret Warriors is a little annoying (then again, the Avengers List issue took place after the current story...), but not a big problem. I love the bit with Nick Fury's list and the information at the end is another possibly huge revelation.

Greek Street #4: Still not sure about this title. It seems too busy and full of material for us to get a handle on any of the plots or characters. However, it does read a little better with each issue. My problem (and it's not a big problem): there really isn't any character to latch onto. Eddie is supposed to be that character, but he just doesn't do it for me. He's not so much "loveable loser" as he's just a fucking loser. I don't feel like rooting for him, honestly. But, I do trust Milligan and plan to stick with this for now.

That's that.

Friday, October 09, 2009

CBR Review: Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire #3

I recently reviewed Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire #3 and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Three issues in and Ghost Riders: Heaven’s on Fire has reached that ‘middle of the story’ slump. Granted, the quality is still high, but this issue feels slight compared to the first two as Johnny and Danny fight against a couple of d-list villains and not much else happens. That said, you can do a lot worse than Jason Aaron and Roland Boschi if you want some entertaining action between two Ghost Riders and a couple of d-list villains."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Dark Reign: Zodiac #3

I recently reviewed Dark Reign: Zodiac #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "As a protagonist, Zodiac is an interesting character, a man who laughs at anyone who suggests no one thinks of himself as evil or bad: Zodiac glorifies and revels in his badness! He wears it on his sleeve, throws it in your face, it’s his raison d'être. It’s also why he hates Norman Osborn: Osborn wants the villains of the Marvel universe to reform, to become the good guys, to keep order, because it’s better for everyone. Everyone except someone who loves chaos and anarchy. Like Zodiac and his crew."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Strange Adventures #8

I recently reviewed Strange Adventures #8 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "After a somewhat disappointing start and numerous art changes, Strange Adventures headed into its final issue with a lot of promise, but too much story to be contained in one 30-page issue. With Synnar back in control of his near-unlimited powers, ready to challenge the creator of the universe, he requires the aid of the much-mentioned Aberrant Six to fulfill his plans, but that’s only if the six chosen agree to help him. Most of this issue has Synnar attempting to convince various characters that following him is the smart thing to do, and, ultimately, goes nowhere."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Project Superpowers: Meet the Bad Guys #2

I recently reviewed Project Superpowers: Meet the Bad Guys #2 and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "I was surprised by the first issue of Project Superpowers: Meet the Bad Guys, as it was much better than the previous Project Superpowers comics I’d read. This second issue continues that tradition thanks to some unexpected choices by Joe Casey and Alex Ross in the writing. Recently, Casey has written some fantastic supervillain-centered comics with Dark Reign: Zodiac and the supervillain congress plot in Gødland, and he brings that same skill and off-beat sensibility to this book."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

CBR Review: Planetary #27

I recently reviewed Planetary #27 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "After issue 26 ended the conflict between Elijah Snow, the 20th century’s version of an anti-body and leader of the Planetary Organization, and the Four, a superpowered group dedicated to keeping humanity down and suppressing achievements that could make the world far better and more advanced, there is only one final piece of unfinished business, one looming loose end: Ambrose Chase, Planetary’s ‘Third Man.’ Apparently shot and killed in issue nine, Elijah and his group, Jakita Wagner and the Drummer, have possibly found a way to save him."

You can read the rest HERE!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

BOOM! Book for October 7, 2009 (and One from Last Week)

I don't do this nearly enough, reviewing books published by BOOM! Studios (and, when you read that name, you need to image Augie saying it -- "bbbbbBOOOOOOOOOOM!"), but I figure I will this week. If only because I like BOOM! quite a bit. So, I figure I'll review three titles released this week and one from last week, beginning with the book from last week, of course.

CBR Review: Sherlock Holmes #5

I recently reviewed Sherlock Holmes #5 and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "'The Trial of Sherlock Holmes' finally gets to the actual trial as Holmes is charged with murdering a man in a locked room in a house guarded by police officers. It looks like there’s no possible way that Holmes is innocent and, yet, Moore and Reppion do a good job of setting things up so that no one actually believes he is guilty. Like the readers, everyone in the comic seems to think that the trial will allow Holmes to prove his innocence and solve the mystery in a very public and dramatic fashion. How he explains his innocence is what this issue revolves around and, while a little long-winded, it is intricate and fits with everything that’s come before."

You can read the rest HERE!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Liveblogging the First Hour or So of Hancock

Hancock is on again, so I'm going to liveblog my thoughts a bit...

* Hancock kicks off with the brilliant Atticus Shaffer calling Hancock an asshole. That kid is amazingly cute and funny -- he's the youngest kid in the new sitcom The Middle and fantastic there.

* Hancock watching the new coverage of himself in a bar... a public place, a need to be accepted after performing an action meant to do the same -- but it results in people hating him. He can't help but tell a woman off as he lashes out after being hurt emotionally.

* I don't actually care about Ray that much. His little quest to 'change the world' doesn't really come off that well here. It's too vague and unfocused -- too idealistic in that obvious way, meant for failure. He reaches too far, wanting too much, while Hancock wants too little.

* "All you people, blocking the intersection... you're all idiots..." Great line. Hancock mouthing off to the crowd is great, because it's the only personal interaction he gets. Not only that, but this is the sort of personal interaction he's accustomed to. This is the thanks he gets and while he wants better, he'll take what he can get. He's mystified at Ray's actual gratitude -- and, later, at Ray's son, Aaron's awe.

* Every action Hancock undertakes is the laziest, most thoughtless one possible.

* The discomfort Hancock experiences at dinner... and filling his glass with booze... he's trapped in his little anti-social world of self-loathing and loneliness. Or, Hancock's advice to Aaron about how to deal with Michel, the neighbourhood bully, reveals that Hancock's superpowers have taught him the only way to solve problems is violence. He's like a little boy who likes a girl, but the only thing he knows to do to get her attention it hit her: the human race is that little girl and his acts of 'heroism' are odd attempts to get affection. He doesn't know any better.

* "Did he just take the whiskey bottle to the bathroom?" "Do you want him to kill us all?" Great.

* I'm trying to reconcile Mary's dislike of Hancock with where I think the movie should have gone and I'm not sure I can yet.

* Hankcock waking up outside of his trailer that's out in the middle of nowhere, his sad, lonely life... Will Smith plays this perfectly, the way he looks at that movie ticket he keeps... it tortures him to have that reminder of a life he can't remember, but he can't let go.

* What a surprise: the little douchebag bully is a French kid...

* Hancock's dealing with the kid is exactly how 95% of us want to deal with a little shit like that. A mouthy little fucker that you just want to smack... Hancock can do what we all want to do because no one can hold him accountable really.

* Aaaaaaaaaaand he's tossed the whale... aaaaaaaaaaand it's hit the boat. I love that scene.

* "Homo... Homo in red... Norwegian homo..."

* Ray tells us the point of the character and what he really wants just under the 30 minute mark in case you didn't understand it yourself.

* I fucking hate Nancy Grace.

* And, then, Hancock's little speech about how he'll be better adds the other half of the point of the movie, in case you didn't understand it yourself.

* The point: he's lonely and wants acceptance -- and, to get it, he'll improve himself. That is the point of the movie. That the film deviates from that point when Mary is revealed as another immortal superpowered being is a huge flaw.

* Hancock shoves one inmate's head up another inmate's ass... perhaps the most unexpected, fucked up scene in recent Hollywood history. Worth it for all of the reaction shots. And the theme from Sanford and Son plays!

* Ogre! Ogre! Ogre!

* Hancock's group therapy sessions are engaging. A chance to actually open up in a safe environment where he will gain acceptance and he never takes advantage of it. He doesn't know how to open up to these people who won't judge him because they are just as fucked up and lonely as he is.

* The revelation that Hancock's incarceration actually causes crime to rise is interesting, because we get the idea that he doesn't actually do much good. I think this is a weakness of the movie: we need more of him fighting crime in a reckless fashion before he can begin to turn things around. But, that's a requirement of the shitty second half, I suppose. Have to have room for the bullshit.

* The prison visit by Aaron and Mary seems like it will have a big impact on Hancock, but it just makes him more withdrawn. That's an interesting choice. Mary showing up is a sign that another person has accepted him and doesn't hate him, which is what he wants, but it causes him to crawl into himself more.

* The wall carvings Hancock does in prison is all we should get of his origin, of his past. Because his past doesn't matter.

* A key scene: Hancock throws a basketball, which bounces over the prison's fence, so he hopes out to get it. He's just staring, going from the prison to the empty space... before he jumps back. Why does he return to prison? I love that scene. It reaffirms his desire to be accepted... and, in prison, he's just like everyone else.

* It cuts immediately to another therapy sessions where they force him to share: "My name is Hancock and I drink and stuff," and they react with enthusiasm. We get tangible proof that they will accept him.

* The hostage situation comes too soon, I think. We just saw a small breakthrough and to have Hancock leave prison this quickly is rushing it. He should have stayed there longer, be shown to be more comfortable in that setting where he is just another inmate. His superpowers mean nothing in prison, because he's trapped there like everyone else. While it's his choice to be trapped, that doesn't change anything in reality.

* Hancock repeating "Good job" to the cops is great. He's making an effort!

* When they launch that grenade at him, it shows that he still hasn't changed, because he simply deflects it, which could hurt someone but doesn't. It's still a thoughtless, lazy action.

* The lead crook in the bank robbery is a bit of a moron. How is he not aware of Hancock? Sure, Hancock was in prison, but when he men are being taken away by something... of course it's Hancock!

* Hancock cuts off the guy's hand to keep his thumb on the detonator: lateral thinking at its best.

* Hancock is faced with his first largescale positive reaction and, like most introverts, doesn't know how to react, so he nods awkwardly and stands there before taking off. And, from there, we go to a restaurants where he's loved. He's asked to smile and we get a weird grimace.

* The dinner with Ray and Mary points to the direction where the movie should have gone (and sort of does): Hancock wants what Ray has. The public liking him isn't as great as he thought it would. It's awkward and weird, it's not that different from the public hating him. It's a mob mentality -- he wants acceptance on a more personal, intimate level. Mary is the only woman who's shown him that, so, naturally, he tries to hit on her. The movie should have had her rebuff him and Ray discover it, so Hancock destroys that relationship.

* We're pretty much at the point where I stop this, because Hancock just put Ray to bed and is about to try and kiss Mary.

* Some final thoughts: this first hour or so of the movie is rushed because they want to have room for the Mary plot, which, as I said, is a mistake. It loses the point of Hancock wanting acceptance and working to become better to gain it. We don't get enough of his recklessness, nor of him improving in prison... it's all very much one or two short scenes and moving on. No, the movie needed to slow down, take its time, and stick with the point. Hancock wants acceptance, ultimately, from himself. While he gains that in the movie, it comes about through an inane manner. Otherwise, that first hour is pretty good. I didn't enjoy it as much this time around since I noticed how compressed it is. But, still, pretty good.

Hope you enjoyed this.

I Care Only for the Living (No Pull Quotes this Time)

I hate zombie stories.

Well, hate is a strong word since there have been one or two that I enjoy, but I don't like them. It's not a subgenre that I'm interested in at all. I find the metaphor obvious and not really compelling. The death that overcomes us all; everyone around us a reminder that we all die; death gaining power because of our emotional attachments to others; the idea that the dead remain with us always, feeding off of us; what else am I missing? The point is: I get it and zombies aren't exactly the most sophisticated of ways at exploring these concepts than braindead living dead people that feast on others. Christ, even writing that bored me.

Add to that: I don't mind people sending me stuff to review (as long as they understand that sending me something means that: A) I may not read it B) I may read it but not review it C) I may review it but not for CBR), but I oddly mind it when it's someone I know. I don't like having personal connections to people who are sending me things to review -- it takes away that distance that I like. Really, that distance that makes calling something an unreadable piece of shit comfortable. But, I made the mistake of reviewing a previous work he sent me (on behalf of one of his friends) for CBR... and, ask my girlfriend or my editor, I didn't enjoy doing that. I didn't feel comfortable criticising the book as harshly as I wanted. So, when he sent me two more comics to review, I put it off and tried to ignore that I was sent them at all. But, he kept pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing, so here it is.

Dead Future #1-2

These two comics contain three zombie stories in each. None of the stories rise above the level of mediocre. That's the short version. Long(er) version below the jump.

CBR Review: Haunt #1

I recently reviewed Haunt #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Haunt #1 is one of those comics that reviewers hate to review, because reviews mean absolutely nothing with a book like this. Todd McFarlane created this comic with Robert Kirkman and also happens to ink it, gaining the comic a sizable amount of interest and fans right off the bat, most of whom will reject and lampoon any negative review. Those who look at the book and think it looks bad will read a negative review and simply shrug, acknowledging that of course that comic received one-and-a-half stars, it looks awful. And it is awful."

You can read the rest HERE!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Some Short Thoughts on Hancock

[Note: spoilers of Hancock and I am Legend below.]

I saw Hancock the other night on TV and, honestly, it was one of the more interesting superhero stories I've encountered in a while. Oh, as long as you stop the movie after he stops the hostage situation in the bank... everything after that takes the story in a mistaken direction of unimportance (I'll get to that). But, for that first hour, the movie is oddly engaging as we watch Hancock struggle with being apart from humanity and wanting to be a part of humanity... and how that desire causes him to act in a way that further distances him from humanity. He fights crime, but in a sloppy, ill-conceived manner, often screwing up only because he didn't stop for two seconds to think his actions through. He wants to save a beached whale? Great! Except he simply chucks it into the ocean without bothering to aim and hits a boat. Why not pick the whale up, fly it over the ocean and set it in the water? Because he wants to help, but not really. There's an element of his character that resents who he is and what he can do: he will help but only in a way that's self-destructive.

The scene that stands out to me most of all is when he shoots a basketball in prison that bounces off the rim and over the fence of the prison (since he chucked the ball from the other side of the yard), so he jumps over the fence to get the ball, picks it up, and stands there. The prison sirens go wailing, the prisoners shout at him because they resent his ability to leave at will... and he stands there, looking at the open space ahead of him. He could just leave, he doesn't need to stay in prison, he doesn't need to win people over, he doesn't need to be a hero... and, then, he jumps back behind the prison fence. Because, he does need acceptence and, oddly, in prison, he's found it: he's found some security in the daily routine, in the fact that he's just another prisoner, that he could be like anyone else in there. There are no chances to play hero in prison, so he doesn't need to, whereas, in the world, there are always chances and he can't help himself.

Hancock is complex and simple: lots of self-loathing, he resents his powers as much as everyone around him resents them, he sees himself as superior to humanity because he is and can't hide that from everyone around him...

He's a criticism of the idea that simply having powers is enough to be a superhero, that training and practice isn't needed. Nor that being a hero is what comes naturally to everyone.

"Why does Hancock keep trying to play hero?" That is the central question of the movie and it gets lost after the hostage rescue in favour of the bullshit with his immortal wife. That second half is where the move goes off the rails as it tries to fill in the mystery of Hancock's background and create a credible nemesis/enemy for him (which he doesn't need since he's his enemy) and it sucks the air out of the whole thing. Up until then, it was a character study of this guy who wants to be loved and accepted but does almost everything he can to drive people away.

It falls into the same trap as the comic that explained Wolverine's origin: origins don't always matter and, sometimes, make a character or story weaker. All we need from Hancock's origin: he woke up in a hospital eighty years ago, couldn't remember who he was, has superpowers. If the answer to who he was before that hasn't presented itself in the past eighty years then it isn't necessary.

What should have happened is Hancock tries to kiss Mary and, as a result, drives away Ray, the one guy who believed in him and accepted him. Because Hancock can't help but drive people away. For act of heroism comes an act of self-destruction... no matter how well-intentioned.

It reminds me of I am Legend, another Will Smith movie from the last year or two, where a guy struggles with loneliness, and another movie that was absolutely fantastic until the last half/third. In that movie, it was him being saved from the Darkseekers... man, how great would that movie have been if it ended with Neville dying in that one last, insane attempt to kill as many of those fuckers as possible? What is it with these movies and not knowing how to end? It's like they don't notice their own potential to be great instead of some useless Hollywood piece of shit. And, no, I don't think those 'darker' changes would hurt them at the box office since I've yet to hear anyone say anything good about the final halves/thirds of those movies.

I think I need to see Hancock again to really delve into it. An oddly mature and realistic take on a superhero story that doesn't immediately remind me of something I've read before. Come on, that's rare.

Friday, October 02, 2009

I Bought Comics: Final Two Weeks of September 2009

[Not reviews proper, just whatever thoughts I have when I'm writing these.]

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #5: The progression of the Super Young Team has been somewhat expected and unexpected. Casey continues the concept of young versus old that Morrison infused the team to begin with (itself a progression of his New X-Men run)... the confrontation between the three SYT members and Big Science Action is a great scene, especially when you notice which group had the hotheaded assholes really to throw down... not the obvious choice. Still not loving the larger plot, honestly. It's weaker... necessary, but weaker than Casey's exploration of a young superhero team in the 21st century.

New Avengers #57: This issue didn't leave much of an impression on me, honestly. Luke Cage is dying... Osborn has made a deal with the villains... the Hood has powers again... it's all very nice and good... Stuart Immonen's art is fantastic as always. In a few years where enough issue have been built up, I'll discuss this story as part of a blogathon most likely...

The Boys: Herogasm #5: After last issue, this one feels like a midway point between two important events/revelations. Some interesting scenes and the Homelander's speech was heading in an intriguing direction, but not a lot going on here. The Homelander's speech has me interested because of the ramifications it would have on this world. It also raises the idea of superpowers taken to their natural end point (or superheroes taken to their natural end point) and how that's in conflict with corporate concerns. Not a new idea, but one that's worth exploring. I did like Ennis's self-mockery in the 'picking on comic books is a cheap laugh' bit.

glamourpuss #9: Man, this issue made me laugh. Part of me always worries about laughing at Sim's women's magazine parody stuff, but... sometimes, it's pretty damn funny. Also, the multiple universes glamourpusses, including one that's a building is great. Add to that, more fantastic art discussion and this is definitely one of my favourite books. It doesn't always click, but this issue does.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

CBR Review: Secret Warriors #8

I recently reviewed Secret Warriors #8 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "As much as Stefano Caselli’s art defines the look of Secret Warriors, Alessandro Vitti’s work in this issue seems a stronger fit, darker and moodier to match the underground espionage feel of this issue as Norman Osborn contends with a captured Nick Fury who, as he almost always does, has a trick up his sleeve to turn Osborn’s plans on their head. It’s a comic of dark shadows and a gritty atmosphere that the book’s first arc lacked."

You can read the rest HERE!