Friday, October 30, 2009

Tangent, and also tangents.

I've been reading quite a bit of DC lately!  I have a fair amount of backlog (I'm up to...past halfway through Countdown to Final Crisis, around that time period), and that includes many of the assorted projects DC was developing around that time.  I've completed most of the unremarkable projects, so now I get to talk about the ones that stood out.  More specifically, I'll be focusing on the ones that weren't part of DC's main line, and instead were on the fringes of the DCU (if they were in it at all).

Tangent ComicsVolumes 1-3; Tangent: Superman's Reign Volumes 1-2

This was a concept that I'd seen only through house ads in DC books around that time.  I was getting my comics through subscription services, so picking up these books was never an option--they were a curiosity, nothing more, nothing relevant.  Going back, though, I can see why these titles took off.  These were titles written and illustrated by some of DC's top talent in those days--Dan Jurgens, Chuck Dixon, John Ostrander, James Robinson, Peter David, Ron Marz, Todd Dezago, Kurt Busiek, Gary Frank, Mike McKone, Tom Grummett, and many more.  It also featured work by future superstars--Mark Millar, J.H. Williams III, Ryan Sook.  All of those names, that's a serious roster of talent--and it showed.

The world of Tangent was complex.  In many ways, it reminded me of Watchmen--it explored what a world might really be like if superheroes existed, because it surely wouldn't just be the same as it is for us, except with people flying overhead.  The comic even included a few nods towards Watchmen, acknowledging that there were parallels--but going in different directions to explore this new world they'd created.  The familiar names and places were a fun bonus, but not important--these are all characters and concepts that can stand on their own, that could (at least as far as story potential goes) support their own titles for a long time.  I'm actually very disappointed that we won't be seeing more in the near future, if at all.

Highlights, for me, included Ostrander's Nightwing stories (something that I didn't expect to enjoy nearly as much as I did) and Robinson's Green Lantern (an eerie tale that explored the history of the Tangent universe), rounded out by Kesel's Joker and Dezago's Flash (both light-hearted stories that were incredible fun).  But really, there were no weak links in these three volumes--every story was strong, powerful.

Mark Millar's Superman story was also a favorite, included in the last batch of Tangent specials, setting up the huge event that occurred there.  As far as single issues go, this is one to remember--it's a complete story with many ambitious parallels to Watchmen, but while many titles try and fail to reach that level, this Superman story succeeds.

I can't give quite as much praise to the follow-up series of recent years--Tangent: Superman's Reign.  The book tries to recapture the magic of the original titles, and in some ways it succeeds--the characters are all there, (mostly) all strong, and the world is an intriguing one, but it's a very different creature.  The Tangent Superman has gone through the event that began in his one-shot ten years ago, emerging stronger than ever and realizing his true potential--but his mission of saving the world is very, very different from the Superman we've grown to love.  It sets up a strong story with incredible potential to bring these characters back into the spotlight...but I don't know if it quite succeeds.

While most of the main characters return with their personalities intact, a few--Joker, Green Lantern--seem neutered, either by intent (Joker) or simply because Jurgens couldn't quite capture the right voice (Green Lantern).  While this doesn't have too much impact on the story (it works well enough), the magic that made the original stories work isn't quite there--and the absence of many earlier concepts (Nightwing, Sea Devils) hurts this run as well.

Ultimately, I think that Tangent: Superman's Reign was a good story--it was serviceable, with strong (if inconsistent) art, and it seemed easily accessible to even a fan that didn't read the original one-shots.  Unfortunately, this may have lacked the appeal to get new fans to it in the first place, as sales figures indicated.  For fans of the original series, though--new or old--this is a solid ending.  It's just not one that I can endorse the way I would those original three trades.

The War That Time Forgot Volumes 1-2

The War That Time Forgot is one of my favorite DC concepts.  It's so completely over-the-top that it's amazing.  An island of dinosaurs, and soldiers get trapped on it and have to fight for their lives?  I could read so much of this, even in Showcase form (and I do, in fact, have that Showcase--it's everything I expected).

And then Darwyn Cooke came along and reinvented this island for New Frontier, and that was amazing as well.  Having the island be the ultimate villain was, admittedly, a little odd, but it worked, and those opening scenes featuring the Losers were probably my favorite pages in that entire wonderful book.

So when I saw that they would be reviving this comic, I was ecstatic.  I have no childhood attachment to this title, but oh dear god I love it so.  And the preview images they posted were strong!  This would be excellent.

Enter Bruce Jones.

I haven't had much experience with Bruce Jones.  He wrote the abysmal Nightwing: Brothers in Blood arc for One Year Later, but also the oddly okay arcs for OMAC and Checkmate--neither of them fit in well with where those franchises were, but taken on their own, the stories were perfectly serviceable.  So I wasn't sure what to expect here, but after watching the sales figures plummet for the monthly issues, I was not quite as optimistic.

It started out okay!  There were a lot of good ideas in here, really.  Pulling characters from different points in history, different wars, to really make this a war that time forgot?  It was a good idea, and so was including other elements of time-travel.  There was a lot of potential here, and I do have to give Jones credit for that.  And the art works--Al Barrionuevo is a competent artist, not a superstar but he's remarkably stable.  And the fill-in artists retained that quality, giving us, among other things, a lovely chapter by Scott Kolins.  And the covers?  Gorgeous shots by many of DC's famous war-comic artists.

But the story...just didn't work.  Like I said, there was a lot there, and including pre-existing DC characters was a nice touch to get us emotionally involved from the get-go.  But it fell apart after that.  There was too much that Jones was trying to do, and it quickly got to the point where the dinosaurs were barely relevant to the story at all.  They're a fundamental part of the concept--you can't shove them to the background and replace them with poorly-defined antagonists.

The second volume is a bit stronger than the first, with less shaky storytelling, but by this point it's like a separate comic--it's all about the people and the antagonists introduced in the first volume.  The dinosaurs barely appear.  I guess it works fine when taken on its own, and that's something I noted earlier above with OMAC and Checkmate--but it just wasn't the best way to take this project.


Tor: A Prehistoric Odyssey

And from there, we get to Tor--probably the best of the three books I'm reviewing here.  The only reason that I can't claim that definitively is because I haven't finished reading it yet--but so far, I'm fairly confident.

Joe Kubert only takes on special projects now, but he continues to prove, with every one, that he's the real superstar of his family--and neither of his sons are slouches, so this is serious praise.  What's more, though, is that he has real writing chops, as well.  I haven't read earlier Tor stories, so I don't know if this is the norm, but here he tells the story entirely with captions matched against the art, similar to how Prince Valiant works.  It's an adjustment to make after reading many comics that involve dialog, but it absolutely works here, and makes sense.  And for many pages, the captions aren't even necessary--his pencils and sense of storytelling are so strong that he conveys the story incredibly through art alone.

For a comic involving elements of prehistory, this is my pick, not the twelve-issue "event" by Bruce Jones that I reviewed above.  I look forward to returning home and finishing this hardcover, but for those wondering if it was worth it, if Kubert still had what it takes to be a master in the industry: yes, it is and he does, very much so.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Contestant of the Week

Wolverine creator Len Wein’s wife, Christine Valadais on Jeopardy! tonight. (It should still air in Philly at it’s regular 7pm time, because the Eagles pre-game show doesn’t start until 8pm.)

Spoiler: Results after the jump.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Blog of the Week

Bill Willingham (Fables, JSA), Matthew Sturges (Blue Beetle, JSA All-Stars), Marc Andreyko (Manhunter, Torso), and Paul Cornell (Doctor Who, Captain Britain & MI-13, Dark Reign: Young Avengers) have a blog called Clockwork Storybook that’s worth checking out. (There are also other writers, with whom I’m less familiar, involved.) Their mission statement: “This blog is an ongoing discussion about the art, craft, mechanics and absolute human necessity of storytelling. It's about whatever interests us, the things we like to argue about, the things we feel worth crowing about, and certain other items we think you might find enlightening and interesting.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

NOIR: Crime done correctly . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

NOIR:  A COLLECTION OF CRIME COMICS  anthology, various writers and artists, trade paperback  October 2009  (Dark Horse)

          Wow!!   This is extremely well done.  If you were not exactly fond of crime comics before, you might be after reading this.  It’s the best collection of any kind that I’ve come across in a good long time.  All the stories are premium quality.  All the art is deserving of your attention.  Noir is “all thriller, no filler.”   This is the kind of quality I was hoping to see in the new CREEPY series, which I gave praise to for it’s ambition but expressed disappointment for it’s execution.  NOIR does not disappoint.  It satisfies.  Most of the stories have twist endings that you expect to see in the horror anthologies - - - and they are mostly clever and somewhat unexpected rather than predictable.

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          Dark Horse has assembled an army of stellar writers and artists to contribute to this anthology, of which I sincerely hope there are more to come:  Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Barreto, Ed Brubaker, David Lapham,  Jeff Lemire, Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba, Dean Motter, Tom Orzechowski, Sean Phillips and Clem Robins.  I’m also glad to see for my first time the works of Alex de Campi, Matthew & Shawn Fillbach, Stefano Gaudiano, Rick Geary, Paul Grist, Joelle Jones, Kano, Ken Lizzi, Chris Offut, M. K. Perker, Hugo Petrus and Gary Phllips.   Every single one of them made a favorable impression on me.  I kid you not.  There is a baker’s dozen of stories in NOIR, and not a single one is a blank - - all silver bullets.

          “Open The Goddamn Box’ opens the collection, and takes us to David Lapham’s world of Stray Bullets.  Stray Bullets is one of those titles that I admire, especially for Lapham’s ability to portray all-too-realistically the degenerative side of human nature - - with grit and shocks galore and usually with a depressing ending.  It’s that darkness that makes me avoid it and keeps me from being a regular reader.  I’m relieved to report that this story at least ends in a positive fashion for the only character worth caring about.  Two 15-year-old male perverts decide to kidnap, rape and kill a neighborhood female who  they bear a grudge against for an incident in third grade.   One is a budding psycho and the other is a common thug, content to be bossed around and always getting caught up in misdeeds.  Credit Lapham for his disgusting but accurate portrayal of these characters - - they even remind me of some creeps I shared the same high school with.  Sex is never about love or longing with these types  - - it’s all about the machismo and domination, a real power trip.   (For an audio-visual experience, read this story while listening to “Boys Who Rape Should Be Destroyed” by The Raveonettes.)

          First with the new SWEET TOOTH series, and now with “The Old Silo” story in NOIR, Jeff Lemire impresses me with his ability to depict characters with seeming little effort.  Just a few facial lines and angles and you get  a clear impression of the struggling farmer that this story centers around.   This story would have been a perfect selection for the recent CREEPY revival and seems more in tune with the spirit and tone of the original series than some of the actual features that made it into that first, disappointing issue.

          “Yacht On The Styx” features Dean Motter’s creation, Mister X - - and this story is one of several  featured in NOIR that really hits the mark in terms of paying homage to pulp fiction, classic detective yarns and the EC style of crime stories. Same goes for “The Last Hit” by Offutt & Kano/Guadianoirp10no about a veteran hit-man now entering his senior years and being set-up on his final mark.   “Fracture” centers around a subway station encounter and is one of the more challenging stories in this collection, as it leaves the dialogue behind and resorts to caption-less mini-panels to move the story along - - albeit down several different paths leaving us to determine which is reality and which is fantasy.  Very interesting.

          That is just a small sampling of what’s in store in this collection.  The art styles will remind you of many classic works from the past as well as classic illustrators, including Wally Wood and Jack Davis.  There are a variety of stories and themes with no two stories seemingly alike. A night janitor stumbles across a suicidal accountant in the middle of taking down an entire office staff.  A “playing-card” burglar picks the wrong household noirp4to steal from.  A jealous man hires a hit-man to eliminate his wife’s no-longer-secret lover with an unintended outcome.

          There’s a short and clever illustrated text piece in the center of the book that could easily be found in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.   In “21st Century Noir” (a Criminal emission) Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips remind us that lonely men will always be persuaded by beautiful but bad women to do the wrong things.  It’s all over in six pages as we meet The Lover, The Wife, and The Husband and then the surprise.   I love all these tales, but my favorite is “The Bad Night”, the final story by Brian Azzarello with art by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba.  A thug petitions to join a crime family and gets his audition, assigned to steal a valuable necklace.  It’s the who, what, and when this occurs that will make you smile with appreciation for Azzarello’s creativity, especially the caption in the final panel.

      NOIR is a keeper.  Make a space on the book shelf.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Spider-Woman does Hulu

Spider-Woman Motion Comic For those of you interested in the Spider-Woman motion comic, but not so interested in being charged for it, you can see all five episodes for free on hulu.com at the time of this writing. It’s possible this is a mistake – the last episode just went up for sale on iTunes – so you might want to check it out as soon as you can. (Note also that the motion comic story gets ahead of the print comic after episode 1, and the episodes get much better as they go along – the last one has the best balance of motion and acting.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Comics I Read: September, Part 5

Strange Adventures 8 (of 8): I love the splash page of Bizarro with an undersized Hawkman helmet on his head, but it’s sharply downhill from there. The scene between Synnar and Bizarro doesn’t make any sense unless you know whether this version of Bizarro talks in opposites or not, which Starlin doesn’t establish. (Does “Bizarro no join you” mean “yes” or “no”? No way to tell.) Then he turns the Prince Gavyn Starman into a Firestorm ripoff wearing a thong, somehow the JLA is there beating the crap out of Comet (who folds like a house of cards) and I’m getting heartburn just thinking about the rest of it. Fortunately, it ends with everything pretty much back where it started so hopefully the rumors about Starlin’s falling out with DC are true and we never have to speak of this again. (I’m looking forward to Adam Strange and Comet appearing in REBELS, though.)

Justice League: Cry For Justice 3 (of 7): Slowly improving, though it’s still at times borderline icky. (Like the splash page of Hal Jordan saying “are you here now as hero…or as villain?” to Supergirl with his line of sight pointed at her enormously drawn breasts.) I love that Robinson’s trying to repair Prometheus as a character, which he talks about in the afterward and one of those two-page origin things, though I wish he hadn’t done it at the expense of one of my favorite old Hawkman villains.

Justice League of America 37: Len Wein does a terrific job elevating the last part of his fill-in story with a Royal Flush Gang idea I don’t remember ever seeing before, even though it makes perfect sense. (There are 4 gangs – one for each suit.) He has some old school fun by splitting the JLA into 2-3 person teams and reuniting them at the end. The scene between Superman and Vixen is one of his best appearances in this book all year. (But it’s a one-page flashback, so it’s a cheat to feature him on the cover.) Based on this arc, I’d actually love to have Wein on the book for an extended run.

I don’t have much to say about Action Comics 881 and Supergirl 45 other than that I’m enjoying the “Hunt for Reactron” story so far.

Superman 692: The deterioration in Metropolis is a little over the top, but this is a good issue anyway. I am a little disappointed about how Robinson resolved the Mark Merlin subplot, although it’s possible that the character who explained was lying. Also, isn’t exposing Mon-El’s Jonathan Kent alias going to inevitably lead to Superman’s identity being exposed? Not that the Guardian could possibly know that, but I wonder if they’ve thought it through. Legion Alert: If you’ve been following the recent appearances of Legion of Super-Heroes members, don’t miss the end of this issue.

Teen Titans 75: Not a bad start for new writer Felica D. Henderson. (And artist Joe Bennett, but he’s a known quantity so I expected him to be good.) I like the idea of Beast Boy trying to be a mentor for the kids, but I’m pretty sure the stuff between him and Raven that this story depends on happened over in (non-teen) “Titans” so they should have at least recapped it here instead of assuming everyone reads both books. (Minor error: somebody got Static’s name wrong in his caption on the splash page, but I’m assuming it’s not Henderson because Static creator Dwayne McDuffie says she’s a big fan of the character.)

Supergirl Annual 1: Two great stories from Sterling Gates: one is a fun secret identity story of a kind we don’t see much anymore, and the other – more relevant to the ongoing storyline – details the life and death (or is that death and life?) of Superwoman.

Mythology and history in comics . . . . .

THOR ANNUAL #1 Peter Milligan writer; Mico Suayan, Tom Grindberg with Stefano Gaudiano, artists (Marvel)

I have the trade paperback featuring JMS’s first run on the monthly THOR and absolutely love the way he re-introduced this premium Marvel character and settled the new Asgard on Earth. I haven’t read the second trade paperback yet and have been holding it for an opportunity to read them both back to back. (Maybe I’ll wait until I have Volume 3.) So, I’ve been picking up the Thor one-shots, specials and this annual to tide me over until then.

I didn’t like this story quite as much as the last Thor special written by Milligan. I have no major complaints here. I just didn’t find the story that interesting. If what occurs here would be going on in the monthly title I don’t think it would entice me to pick it up.

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Thor is exiled and in remorse for something he did (I’m assuming this occurs in the regular title) and is hesitant to use his mighty hammer, actually holding back. The pantheon of Egyptian gods, led by Seth, see this as an opportunity to strike and exact revenge. After some soul-searching and discussion with Dr. Donald Blake, Thor overcomes his lack of confidence and uses the full power of Mjolnir to beat back the intrusion of Egyptian gods onto earthly soil. I’m not an expert on Egyptian mythology but I don’t recognize all the names here - - - Seth yes, Gog no, Scarab no (but a good name for an Egyptian character, much better than Gog); Grog, the God-slayer no (but at least he looks the part) and an un-named monster who doesn’t get a name and doesn’t get in on the action.

It’s not a bad story, and the good thing is it begins and ends in this issue. I might have liked it better if Thor actually battled with Seth instead of a trio of gods who resemble monsters more, especially the upstart Gog. Gog looks like a dime-a-dozen brutish monster, acts like a brutish monster, makes mistakes like brutish monsters, and is beaten back easily. Ho hum. If not for the interplay between Thor and Blake this would be tedious. The battle between Thor and Grog is a bit longer but not much better. Why, Milligan, have characters named Gog and Grog in the same story? At least look up some names in Egyptian mythology and use them.

Two different art teams are used on the book, with the more interesting being Mico Suayan. He has an interesting style. Unfortunately, he only drew the introductory front section and the conclusion so we only see what he can do for six pages total.

If you’ve got the time and the dime this won’t disappoint you. However, if you’re following the Thor series this annual is not essential and can be overlooked. BUYER ALERT: The advance blurbs on Marvel.com mention a re-colored reprint of Journey Into Mystery #83 in this $3.99 annual - - it’s not here. I don’t know what happened there.

PISTOLFIST #1-4 mini-series (Bluewater Productions) J.S. Earls + David A. Flanary, Jr, writers; Andres Guinaldo, art (July-October 2008)

The complete series was hard to find, but worth tracking down. It’s the continuation of the Pistolfist: Revolutionary Warrior saga that first premiered (just one issue) from the short-lived Alias Comics company. I saw the Bluewater series advertised in Previews and ordered it through BC Collectibles. They brought in Issue #1 and 2 for me, and you can guess what happened after that. I’d been looking for this book for a long time, and finally found Issue #3 at New Dimension Comics in Pittsburgh. Captain Blue Hen in Newark, DE were able to order me a copy of the final #4 issue.

The story occurs during the American Revolution and does a much better job of minding the details and staying true to its background source compared to Thor Annual #1. in fact, it utilizes major characters from American history and incorporates them into the story, none more so than Benjamin Franklin and his adult children. I never knew that he had a rebellious son who allied with the English crown rather than the patriots. I’m assuming that’s true since the book uses a page each issue to answer questions and distinguish between actual fact and fiction.

pistolfist cover

Salem Attucks, the current Pistolfist, is fictional but his deceased brother Crispus Attucks (the original Pistolfist) is based on the actual Crispus Attucks, the son of an African prince and a Natick Indian who was a runway slave slain during the Boston massacre. Much of the action in this series takes place around Fort Ticonderoga in New York (also Philadelphia) and the settings appear accurate. Historic detail from clothing to weapons and buildings, etc. seems to be respected here.

The new Pistolfist tries to rally the troops and make a difference during a battle between redcoats and patriots and is captured and transported to Fort Ticonderoga. The sadistic governor Franklin (Ben’s black sheep son) blackmails a doctor into performing some cruel surgery on the captured slave (Salem Attucks) using a copy of “Design Journal” by Benjamin Franklin. Attuck’s hand is cut off and replaced with a curious looking pistol. What the bad governor had in mind is never explained, and Attucks escapes. He sees his brother in visions and is inspired to treat the new hand as a gift and carry on the cause.

pistolfist 2

The pistol hand seems to be electrically charged and packs quite a blast whenever used. The technology is never explained, although Attucks is later given some odd-looking batteries to power it. In the same issue the Q & A page points out that batteries existed in that time and even earlier. However, there’s another mystical type weapon being used by the evil governor, a mega-cannon seemingly powered by energy being drained from human captives. As unrealistic and historically inaccurate as that appears, it still doesn’t interfere with the story. Over the course of the four issues, the writers do a nice job of developing Attucks’ character as well as incorporate more historical information and a keen depiction of Benjamin Franklin (very likeable here).

The art by Guinaldo and colors by Jason Embury is first-class, very professional and of the same quality level as found in the mainstream Marvel and DC books. Here’s hoping that this series sold enough copies to convince Bluewater Productions to publish another mini-series featuring Pistolfist. There was a contest winner announced in Issue #4, who created a present-day costume for Pistolfist - - so perhaps that’s an indication that they have further plans.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Conversation With Robert Venditti . . . . .

          Will the bright lights harden Robert Venditti?  Or, will the intense heat of exposure cause a melt-down?  Neither seems to be unreasonable assumptions.  After all, if the first graphic novel you scripted received critical acclaim and then became a movie you would be entitled to a little pride and increased confidence.  Maybe you would need a larger hat to contain your swelling head.

          On the other hand, the increased attention sometimes causes artists to become more self-conscious and they never seem to equal their earlier works.  Sometimes they get bogged down or burdened by trying too hard to create for their new audience and end up being their own reviewers and critics, which can cause paralysis.

          In addition, a common fear among the close tight-knit fan base of popular culture like comics, music and genre literature is that success will spoil or change their favorites.  I don’t think we need to worry about any of those things when it comes to Robert Venditti.

          When I arrived at the Top Shelf Comix exhibit at the Baltimore Comics Con on Sunday, I found him unpacking boxes and helping to organize the table displays, acting less like a new celebrity and more like any other employee spending a day at the office.  He is very polite and down-to-earth, as were all the friendly members of Top Shelf that I met there.

          After talking to him during a short interview I came away with the overall impression that he won’t be influenced by any of the concerns mentioned in the first three paragraphs above.  Venditti seems to be a very centered individual who is happy to be given the opportunity to write and be published.  It also appears that he’s been afforded more time now to create at the still-young age of 35, and his best works are yet to come as he becomes more comfortable writing in the comics medium.  Because, in addition to being a very likeable and approachable person he’s still new to comics and learning more as he goes.

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          Rob has always been an avid reader, but never really explored comics.  He majored in English and Political Science while earning his B.A. degree from the University of Florida in 1997.  He’s also wanted to be a writer since childhood, and pursued that further by obtaining his M.B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida in 2000.  He then moved to the Atlanta, GA. area after graduation.  While working at a Borders he was introduced to comics by a friend and fellow employee.

          The first title he read was ASTRO CITY, which he described as a good example of super-hero genre literature that distinguished itself through thoroughly developed and complex characters and themes that elevated it to a higher level.  Rob enjoyed the series and loved the visual aspects that comics made possible.  Having wet his appetite, he sought out more works to explore.

          Because he didn’t have a deep background in comic continuity, he didn’t want to try any established titles but sought out books that were newer.  Coincidentally, at this time the ABC line of books spearheaded by Alan Moore had recently debuted at DC.  After consuming all he could of Tom Strong, Promethea, Top Ten, etc. he moved on to the classic works by Alan Moore, including WATCHMEN.

          In literature Rob is “big on short fiction” and older classic works including those by O. Henry, Clemens and Hemingway.  He is not a fan of the contemporary post-modern fiction that features lengthy paragraphs and/or stream-of-consciousness writing.  He prefers fiction written more in a straightforward story-telling fashion, and cites Ernest Hemingway as a major influence.  Short stories are his preferred area to create in and Rob continued to write - - - getting his first work, a short story titled “Dads” published in the Berkeley Fiction Review.  In hindsight, he says that writing short stories felt more like “work” and scripting in the comics medium became more enjoyable.  He decided to pursue working for a comic publisher.

          He investigated local comics companies for employment, and was willing to do whatever was needed.  “I just wanted to learn, and get in locally”, he explained.  That led him to Top Shelf where he actually began not as an employee but as a volunteer in the mailroom picking and packing orders for shipment.  He later became a part-time employee, splitting time between Borders and Top Shelf until later when co-publisher Chris Staros offered him a full time position.

          It took him six months to turn his ideas and outlines into the story of THE SURROGATES and he turned to his employer and friend, Chris Staros, for advice on companies to approach to market the book.  Staros saw the potential in the work and decided to publish it, marking a first for Top Shelf as well because this was their very first venture into more “main-stream” works.  Staros also helped search for the appropriate artist to illustrate the book, deciding on Brett Weldele.  It took Weldele almost two years to complete the series due to other commitments and obligations.  THE SURROGATES was first published as a five-issue mini-series from 2005-2006 and was welcomed with critical acclaim.

          Then Venditti was approached by Hollywood, where there was interest in developing THE SURROGATES as a film property.  Venditti did not write the screenplay for the movie, but did act as consultant during filming.  He took a “hands-off” approach to final details of the script and movie itself, feeling “honored” that a movie company was interested enough in his story to want to develop it.  “They are creators as well,” he explained.  “So let them invest their time and energy and take the story in whatever direction they want.”

          I mentioned that the local Philadelphia newspapers were not kind to the film in their reviews, and asked for a comment.  And while I haven’t seen it, I have watched the trailers and got an impression that the producers were trying to inject a little more action to make the film more appealing to mass audiences.

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          Rob has seen the film and mentioned that it has been favorably reviewed in other areas of the country.  He considers “action movies” to be closer to what occurs in DIE HARD rather than THE SURROGATES.  He is comfortable with the film version of his work, and believes that the film still retained the core concepts and themes although many of the secondary story lines and sub plots are not included in the movie.  He feels that the husband-wife relationship that was a secondary theme in the comics version translated to film very well. He also believes THE SURROGATES movie has a sub-text beyond its’ primary theme.  The troubled marriage that detective Greer attempts to revive was Venditti’s favorite part of the book because it humanizes the effect surrogate technology would have on interpersonal relationships.  He was pleased that it translated so well to the screen.  He commented that if THE SURROGATES is to be considered an action movie, then it’s “an action movie with heart.”

          Venditti would like to write three more stories that take place in the world of surrogate technology, beginning with two that would both occur between the time of the FLESH AND BONES prequel and THE SURROGATES.  They would center around Harry Greer obtaining his detective badge and shield and tell episodic stories, with Greer using his skills to solve various crimes during his early years on the job.  The third book would detail events that occur after THE SURROGATES and concentrate on what happened after that book concludes.

           He’s also working on another graphic novel/mini-series for Top Shelf, THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE, a medical detective thriller.  This week, October 14, marks his debut with Marvel in THE IRON MAN PROTOCOLS one-shot, which includes a short story he wrote in January 2008.  Venditti is also in the process of working out the details with Hyperion Books to adapt the popular Percy Jackson & Olympians series (a teen-oriented, five-book series based on Greek mythology).  He is currently working on the translation with a tentative target date of February 2010.

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          Rob has three key words of advice for aspiring comics writers and artists - - - “just get in” . . . . . “Take the opportunity and build on it,”  He’s convinced that today’s generation doesn’t understand the work ethic and isn’t willing to “pay dues” in order to attain goals.  He’s seen too many attendees at conventions take an attitude after asking him for advice.  After hearing his answer, they roll their eyes or shake their heads in disbelief.  One person commented to him:  “I’m an artist.  I don’t pack boxes.”  Unfortunately, we live in the age of instant gratification and “on demand” entertainment.  Too many fresh entries into the job market believe that employment will occur in the same fashion, without requiring them to spend any time working up to a future promotion.

Comics I Read: September, Part 4

Nova 29: Abnett & Lanning always know how to keep this book fun and interesting, but they’ve outdone themselves here by digging up Monark Starstalker, an old Marvel cosmic character so obscure that not only had I never heard of him but he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry! (Apparently he was created by Howard Chaykin in a 1976 issue of Marvel Premiere.) To their credit, he’s immediately compelling.

Strange Tales 1 (of 3): This is one of those “indy creators do superheroes” anthologies, and as usual it’s a mixed bag. Paul Pope’s Lockjaw-centered “Inhumans” story is fun, but not as good as his recent “Adam Strange”. John Leavitt and Molly Crabapple’s Victorian “She-Hulk” story did nothing for me. There’s a short manga of Spider-Man and MJ living in a town of spiders, which makes MJ the interesting one, that’s cute if you like that sort of thing. Dash Shaw’s “Dr. Strange” story is a weak attempt at Ditko-style psychedelics with a dumb ending. James Kochalka’s multi-colored “Hulk” story is cute too, but I actually prefer the similar strips that Jeph Loeb’s daughter does in the back of the regular “Hulk” book. Johnny Ryan’s “Marvel’s Most Embarrassing Moments” was too juvenile for my taste (Example: “Prince Namor loses a bet and has to get breast implants.”), but I thought his “Punisher” version of “Scared Straight” was funny (“I came here to show you how to punish your son properly!” [shoots X-Box]). M. Kupperman’s two-page “Namor” story has a dumb punch line, but he apes the Golden Age art style perfectly. The main reason for this anthology to exist is Peter Bagge’s long awaited “Incorrigible Hulk”, which at one point was scheduled to be its own miniseries (or one-shot?) but then shelved. The first installment is in this issue, and so far I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Everyone loves to make fun of MODOK, so Nick Bertozzi supplies a story of his life and loves (!) from 1974-2003. The Perry Bible Fellowship has a couple of beautifully drawn single-page gag strips, and the book finishes up with a mildly amusing funny-animal Spider-Man story by James (no last name). Reading all of that back, I guess I don’t recommend this unless you’re a fan of one or more of the creators involved.

Fantastic Four 571: I agree with Shane that this is a hard book to get right and that the family dynamic is key. However, I also think that Reed is the hardest character to get right – most famously Tom DeFalco faked Reed’s death to get him out of the book during his run – and for that reason it doesn’t bother me that Jonathan Hickman has chosen to focus on Reed first. Given Reed’s roles in “Civil War” and “Secret Invasion” and the ideas set up in the McDuffie run, it’s entirely appropriate to bring that arc to some kind of conclusion, and Hickman is showing that he really gets that Reed is a passionate scientist, not an absent-minded professor. There are also four terrific pages in the Baxter Building kitchen, featuring among other things Franklin acting like an actual kid, that show me that he gets the rest of the family too and that he isn’t planning to ignore them. Lest we forget this is also an adventure strip, Dale Eaglesham creates some really beautiful set pieces of the various scientific marvels (no pun intended) that the alternate Reeds are capable of. Prediction (stop here if you don’t want spoilers): Reed’s offer to join the council is not sincere – he’s disturbed by what he’s seen them do to the alternate Dooms and he’s planning to bring them down from within.

Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Exodus: Matt Fraction’s plans for the X-Men mostly come to fruition here. The ways Cyclops is able to fight off Osborn’s Avengers are plausible – I especially like the price Emma has to pay – and I think the new status quo is interesting and exciting. Like the best Osborn stories of the past year, I especially like how creepily real-world familiar it is to watch him spin what’s arguably a defeat into a decisive PR victory.

Dark X-Men: The Confession: I’m kind of surprised Matt Fraction didn’t write this himself, given that it’s such a key part of his story, but I guess he had a lot going on this month. Crag Kyle and Chris Yost do a good job at showing us how all the secrets between Scott and Emma got laid bare, and how it affected their relationship. (This actually happened a while ago, but most of it had to be kept secret from the reader in order for the ending of “Utopia” to work.)

Dark Reign: The List – Avengers: Empowered by his “victory” over the X-Men in “Exodus”, Norman Osborn comes up with a list of other things to fix and as usual he kind of has a point. (“Why is the Hulk still running around destroying everything in sight.”) Arguably, this should be an issue of “New Avengers” since that team has the debate about whether to kill Osborn that has been building in that book for a while. Conveniently for Norman, one of the items on his list decides to deliver himself to Norman’s HQ and presumably we’ll see that play out in “New Avengers” when the current story arc is over. There’s possibly a crossover with “Marvels Project” going on here, as Bucky claims to have killed Hitler but as far as I remember it was actually the original Human Torch that did that. It seems like an odd thing to get wrong in a high profile book edited by Tom Breevort, so I’m guessing it’s a story Ed Brubaker is planning to tell in one of his books. (Could be in “Reborn” too, I suppose.)

Dark Reign: The List – X-Men: By Osborn’s own admission, this is the least justifiable item on his list – basically he just hates Namor and tries to get revenge by reanimating his dead alien monster wife (Namor’s, not Norman’s) and sending her out to kill every Atlantean it can find. (“Namor screwed me over! So now he gets a message…”) Of course it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t seem that Norman even expected it to work: he just did it to piss off Namor. It kind of backfires, in my opinion, driving the surviving Atlanteans to live with the X-Men in their new home (although it’s not clear if Norman knows that yet.) A good story by Matt Fraction backed up by the best Alan Davis art I’ve seen in a while.

Dark Reign: The List – Daredevil: Of the “List” specials so far, this one is the one that most should have been a regular issue as this is really Andy Diggle and Billy Tan’s debut issue of Daredevil featuring his initiation to his new status. (I’m being vague because I know some of you are waiting to read DD #500 in trade.) Although if it gets enough attention to keep the regular book’s sales from dropping it’ll be worth it. I’m not quite ready to say this is as good as Brubaker’s run yet, but it’s definitely in the same league and it’s a very good start.

Dark Reign: The Sinister Spider-Man 4 (of 4): Brian Reed and Chris Bachalo end the series on a good note, with a better balance of farce and seriousness. (The ersatz Dr. Manhattan seems to have been completely forgotten, thank goodness.) Not a critical “Dark Reign” chapter by any means, but overall this was a good series with terrific art.

Dark Reign: Young Avengers 4 (of 5): I admit to being a little bit confused at a couple of points in this issue – I hadn’t realized that one of the characters didn’t know he had a supervillain parent because that was exposed to the readers a couple of issues ago, for instance – but Paul Cornell’s still breaking new ground (“You’ve got a power that naturally inclines you towards becoming a villain. But, maybe even because of that, you’re the one that most wants to be a hero.”) and the arrival of one of the adult Avengers teams at the end promises a really great ending next issue.

Dark Reign: The Hood 5 (of 5): Brings us up to date just before the Sorcerer Supreme story in “New Avengers” with some very tragic and creepy events. I wish this series had come out completely before we knew what happens next in Bendis’ book, but overall I’d say when this trade comes out it’ll be worth having on the shelf next to the original Hood miniseries.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Books I Read: August/September, Part 2

The Incredibles: Family Matters HC: I’m so glad the Pixar license wound up with Boom! Studios, because you couldn’t pick a better writer than Mark Waid for these characters. It’s superficially similar to his Fantastic Four, but since this family has secret identities there’s a whole normal domestic side that the FF as celebrities don’t have. (There’s actually a brilliant story in Waid’s FF about why Reed chose to make their lives public, but I digress.) Waid uses all his skill to make this story seem light and effortless, but it’s actually a perfectly constructed little tale of Mr. Incredible losing his powers and how it affects the family and the team. Artist Marcio Takara is also a great find, balancing the action and family scenes while keeping all the characters on model. My only minor quibble is that the book is a little larger than the paperback digest size, but not quite comic book size. I understand why the paperback is digest size – that’s what kids like – but I don’t get why the hardcover, which is presumably aimed at adult collectors, is not full sized. Extras: 15-page cover gallery, 6 pages of character sketches by the artist.

The Muppet Show Comic Book: Meet The Muppets HC: Also part of the Boom!/Disney arrangement, this collection by gifted writer/cartoonist Roger Langridge is a wonderfully faithful adaptation of the “Muppet Show” TV series. The character “voices” are pitch perfect (Statler: “A Muppet Show Comic Book! Oh no, they’re back to corrupt a whole new medium.” Waldorf: “Why’s it called a medium?” Statler: “Cause it’s rarely well done! Hoho!”) and he somehow manages to recreate the variety show format in print. All your favorite segments – Muppet Labs, Pigs in Space, The Swedish Chef, etc. plus a couple of musical numbers – are here along with a story arc for a main character in each issue. (Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Miss Piggy. The ending to Gonzo’s story is actually quite touching.) As Langridge describes in his afterward, Disney has allowed him to be a little off model with the characters to fit his style, and even though it takes a little adjustment at first it’s totally worth it because every page looks amazing. Highly recommended. This collection is undersized too, but the artist says he prefers it that way so I can’t really complain. (And it has one of those fancy bookmark ribbons, which made me happy for some inexplicable reason.) Extras: 15 pages of Langridge’s Muppet Show strips from Disney Adventures magazine.

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Phonogram: Rue Britannia TPB: Thanks to Shane for the loan of this book. He really loves it, and while I liked it a lot I unfortunately was not touched in the same way. I think that’s because writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie have carefully created this tale of a Britain where Britpop music is used as magic to mean something to people who have a connection to that music. I’m not a person who generally has an emotional reaction to music; I like it just fine – anything with a good vocal or a clever lyric – but I’m rarely moved by it on a deep level. I know that some people (maybe most people for all I know) are – Wil Wheaton talks about it on his blog sometimes – and if you have that connection you probably will feel this story more personally than I did because music as magic here is a metaphor for those feelings. The modern mythology created here is really rich and wonderful, and I can see why Marvel has hired Gillen to write Thor and Ares. (He’s also doing a Marvel project with McKelvie, but I can’t find which book at the moment.) However, I have to say I think the writing really carries this book. I know Jamie McKelvie can do great work because I’ve seen Suburban Glamour, but a lot of times I found myself caught up in the prose and dialogue and not really looking at the pictures. I’ll definitely check out the second series when the trade comes out later this year, though. Extras: Glossary of bands mentioned in the story.

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The Mighty Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Premiere HC: When Brian Bendis left this title to create “Dark Avengers”, Dan Slott and Koi Pham started a new team starring the returned-from-the-Skrulls Hank Pym. It’s definitely aimed at and rewards the long-time Avengers fan, but that knowledge isn’t necessary. To the contrary, actually: this stands really well on its own without needing to know much of anything about what’s going on in the greater Marvel Universe. This volume features the formation of the team by Pym and the Scarlet Witch (who may not be what she seems), as well as Pym’s struggles with Tony Stark and Reed Richards to reclaim their respect and his rightful status. It ends with Pym’s challenge to his team and to the reader to follow his adventures to the next level. I’m totally in love with this book, and I think it will appeal to people who want a more “traditional” Avengers title as well as to those who love what Bendis is doing. Pham’s art is gorgeous, but unfortunately he did not do all the issues in this collection. Extras: Unused cover, Dark Reign teaser ad.

Gargoyles: Bad Guys TPB: It doesn’t get a lot of credit these days, but Disney’s “Gargoyles” animated series was as groundbreaking in its day as “Batman: The Animated Series” which was on at the same time. Writer/Creator Greg Weisman had an elaborate timeline and universe for the series in his head, including this “Bad Guys” spinoff which made it to an early production phase but never to series. When Slave Labor Graphics obtained some Disney licenses a few years ago, they hired Weisman to continue “Gargoyles” as a comic which did well enough to start the long-awaited spinoff as a comic too. The story is fine, although it could have used a little more background on the characters even for a long time fan like me, but the art by Karine Charlebois and Christopher Jones really lets it down. It’s hard to tell what’s going on sometimes, and they’re not skilled enough to compensate for the lack of color. (B&W art is actually more difficult, in my opinion.) Hopefully Marvel will be able to publish “Gargoyles” material when the Disney deal is done, because they have access to much better artistic talent and Weisman is already working for Marvel on the “Spectacular Spider-Man” TV cartoon. Extras: issues #5 and #6. (SLG didn’t renew the license when Disney raised the fee after #4 was released, but they had the right to do “extras” in the trade so they commissioned what would have been the last two issues as “extra” features.)

Baltimore Comic-Con Preview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It’s a shame I couldn’t attend this con from start to finish because there was much more going on than I was able to see.  The exhibit hall was jam packed with artists, writers, publishers and vendors.  I was there for a good part of the day today, Sunday 10/11, and managed to take in  some of the presentations and stop at a few booths/exhibits. I’ll have more to share later. 
For now, here are some photos as contestants prepared to enter the first annual costume competition on Sunday afternoon.

armor_con    deadpool,_or_demolition_man,_or_eight_ball

Above:  ARMOR CON  -- An unmatched adventurer

prepares to face off with two armored avengers.                 hawkgirl

Above Right:  Deadpool tries to order take-out, or

is that Demolition Man?  I prefer to call him Eight-

Ball. Don’t think you can win if nobody can figure

out your character.   Right:  When DP/DM/8B above tried to order “wings”  she got a little disturbed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Shane's Blogging the Fantastic


This is one of Marvel's most difficult books to really get right.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had a legendary run on this title, setting a record that wasn't broken until just recently (by Bendis and Bagley on Ultimate Spider-Man).  During that run, they revolutionized the comics industry, bringing superheroes back and launching an entire universe that would eventually dominate comics as the leading company.  They also established these characters so firmly, so distinctly, that very few writers have been able to succeed them.

John Byrne.  Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo.  Maybe Walt Simonson.  In the forty years since Lee and Kirby left the book, only these writers have been able to capture the magic of these characters.  Others told interesting stories, but they were stories that could be told--easily--with other characters.  For some, this may be a dream project, but for many it winds up being a nightmare.

When Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch announced that they would come onto this title, many fans were skeptical.  Millar had a history of "realistic" comics set firmly in a realistic world, and Hitch was best known for developing the widescreen blockbuster style that is so popular now.  They weren't a traditional team to take over this comic, despite being at the top of the industry, and they had just come from an incredibly late run on Ultimates 2.  Many doubted that they'd be able to even get these books out on time, much less do justice to the characters.

In one respect, they were right--despite a solid lead-time, this title ran late.  Not horrifically late, but it would, on occasion, miss a month, and seemed to follow the same extended publishing schedule that Justice Society of America followed--one issue every month-and-a-half.  I've heard that there were personal issues to justify the lateness, and I completely understand and sympathize--I don't hold it against them--but it can't be denied that lateness, for whatever the reason, has an effect on readers that follow the title from month-to-month.

I was buying it while BC was still open, and while I thought the title was fairly well done--good stories, good art--it didn't capture me.  I thought that it was an overly-hyped run that didn't need to be extended from twelve issues to eighteen before the first issue even came out, and I had no problem dropping it shortly after the second arc.

Recently, though, I went back to read the entire run, plus the Fantastic Force spinoff miniseries, and I came to a much different conclusion.  Yes, the delays hurt the book--but when taken as a whole, I thought that the book worked very well.  The tie-ins to Millar's other work--Old Man Logan (which I think was over-hyped and not necessarily worth the praise) and Marvel 1985 (which I thought was an excellent exploration and character and psyche) were intriguing, but never essential to the enjoyment of this story, and were often not even worth it.  Someone who didn't read 1985 might find the ending of the Doom's Master story arc underwhelming, too much exposition without any real meaning--other scenes, however, read completely fine on their own, while gaining a real emotional weight if you have read the other stories.  Despite all of this, though?  I think that Millar and Hitch managed to successfully identify what makes the Fantastic Four work.

The Fantastic Four are a family.  This is something that everyone knows, and something that every writer tries to make work, but they're rarely able to do so without turning the characters into one-note stereotypes of themselves.  There has to be that perfect balance between the grand-scale cosmic epic that no other character could do, and the down-to-earth family that loves each other more than anything.  And these two concepts can't just alternate story arcs--they need to be present in every scene, every page, in some form, because that's what makes the Fantastic Four unique and worth reading about.

Millar and Hitch managed to do it.  They crafted four epic storylines, each feeding into the other in some form.  They managed to show, in every line, every action, how the characters felt about each other--the hesitation in Reed's words when he would speak to Alyssa Moy, while at the same time being captivated by the world of science that she lives in--the complete love and trust that Susan has with Reed, while still being frustrated by his devotion to sciences that she can't understand--the rivalry and deep friendship between Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm--the love Franklin has for his sister, feeling the instinctual need to protect her, even if she is far more capable than he is.  All of this, all of these familial relationships, with the entire space-time continuum as a backdrop.  Millar understands these characters, and Hitch translates that perfectly with the emotion and body language in his art.

Bill mentioned, once, that he was not fond of the New Defenders from the future--that with Skaar running around in the Marvel Universe now, why would Millar use a completely different son of Hulk?  I'm curious to know if his opinion would change after reading Old Man Logan--I had no strong opinion about Banner Jr. or the Hooded Man on my first read, but now I had a real tie to the characters and was eager to follow their adventures in Fantastic Force.  This miniseries was an interesting one to watch develop, not necessarily from the story side, but just by watching the solicitations and sales figures.  It was originally solicited as an ongoing series, but reduced to a five-issue miniseries by the time the first issue was published, and then to a four-issue miniseries when the second issue was released.  You can see that in the writing--the miniseries starts off strong, setting up so many potentially great plotlines, but they're unable to be truly developed because of how fast the story must end.  This is an unfortunate reality of the industry--no matter how captivating a character can be, their story may never be completed if sales don't warrant more issues.  The first two issues here were very well done, but the last two were rushed, throwing in characters and concepts that didn't even have time to stick.  This may have been a great arc if done over, say, a year's worth of stories, but in just four issues, there was just too much content.

Ultimately, I have to say something similar about the final issues of the Millar/Hitch run.  There was a lot that could be done with Doom's Master, and the first issues of that arc were very well done, intriguing, well-thought out.  I thought that it would be a very interesting Doctor Doom story from a different perspective--but as it got towards the end, it began setting up an impossible challenge, and then tried to end it in a single issue--an issue that Millar didn't write and Hitch didn't draw.  Again, personal issues put the schedule back quite a bit, and then they had other commitments, such as Hitch drawing Captain America: Reborn, but it made for an awkward last issue that attempted to tie everything up.  Millar plotted for Fantastic Force writer Joe Ahearne, and the very capable Stuart Immonen handled the art chores, but it lacked the consistency of vision that the rest of the run had, and the mood just felt off.  The issue was double-sized, which helped, but they attempted to split the issue; the first half dealt with the final battle, and the second half dealt with the Thing's wedding, and both suffered as a result.  If they had devoted this entire issue to wrapping up the Doom's Master arc, with one more issue for the Thing's wedding, it would've gone much better--a more quiet issue to wrap up the run, emphasizing the focus on family--but that wasn't to be.

With all of that said, would I rank this run as one of the few Fantastic Four classics?  Up there with Lee/Kirby, Byrne, and Waid/Wieringo?  I don't know  I'd rank it on par with the Simonson issues, at the very least, but I'm somewhat hesitant to place it in the elite.  What are your thoughts?

I also took a look at the new run by writer Jonathan Hickman, first with the Dark Reign: Fantastic Four miniseries and then his first two issues on the ongoing title.  I have mixed feelings--it seems to, in many ways, set the family dynamic aside, focusing on Reed Richards--and part of me thinks that's smart.  It can be so difficult to tell stories about the Fantastic Four s a unit, but focusing on just Reed Richards opens up many different possibilities.  On the other hand, this isn't a Mr. Fantastic series--it's Fantastic Four, and the entire family should be represented.  I was intrigued enough by the ideas developed to take another look, but I'm worried that at the end of the day, it'll just be another forgettable run.

I’m Still Going BATS lately, part 6 . . . . . . . . . .

GOTHAM CITY SIRENS #3  . . a Riddler story by Scott Lobdell & Guillem March

          Just three issues in and the story of Harley Quinn’s abduction is interrupted for this unrelated story featuring the Riddler.   Call it whatever you like, but a “fill-in” story at this early juncture can’t be a good sign for this book.   12434_180x270

          This time it doesn’t appear to be delayed artwork that’s holding things up. The artist here is the same one assigned to this book.  Writer Paul Dini is M.I.A.  But Page 3 does feature Catwoman and Poison Ivy asking for The Riddler’s help, and the final page shows an informing phone call to Selina.  Unfortunately,  both pages are not pertinent to this issue’s story and seem to be inserted later just to remind us that, after all, this book is GOTHAM CITY SIRENS.   The cover to Issue #3  does feature Poison Ivy in a seductive pose (weren’t you expecting that?) and bears no relationship to the story inside except for the four question marks (that were likely added later as well). Finally, the fact that I found this issue to be a better story than what has normally been occurring in these pages could be a sign that my interest in this title is declining.

          Guillem March’s art here is as good as always and doesn’t appear to be rushed.  There’s a lot to admire in his style.  Scott Lobdell does a great job with the story.  It’s very good. Maybe DC bought it some time ago and didn’t know where to use it until now.  The story center around the reformed Riddler, who now wants to use his cerebral skills to aid society as a private investigator solving major crimes.  He sees a connection between two seemingly un-related suicides of celebrities and makes a connection to a serial killer who likes to leave clues behinds (like his old modus operandi).  Batman gets involved and between the two they solve the mystery and save the day.  It’s a very engaging and amusing story.

GOTHAM CITY SIRENS #4   Paul Dini and Guillem March

          The storyline from Issue #2 continues here as Thomas Elliott/Hush in disguise as Bruce Wayne plots his next move - - kill Harley Quinn, and do it in public view.  That way he can still discredit the Wayne name and legacy, since in the other title (STREETS OF GOTHAM)  the new Batman and Robin seem to have countered his move to bankrupt the Wayne fortune.   12849_180x270

             The Joker tries to disrupt the phony Wayne/Quinn romance and puts on his silly face for the event.  This story was amusing and somewhat entertaining but it didn’t completely satisfy me. There are many interpretations of the Joker out there (by various writers) and they seem to fall into one of two camps - - the dark, manic Joker or the wacky, silly Joker.  We get the silly Joker here.  I prefer the dark over the light.  The character just seems to have so much more potential when portrayed that way, although one of the best one-shot Joker stories I’ve read was scripted by Dini.  This isn’t the one. 

           Later in the issue Dini uses Harley to explain things when he has her say of the Joker:  “I made him so jealous that he pulled out all the stops to get my attention!  He hasn’t used classic shtick like giant balloons and wacky henchmen in years!  My puddin’ loves me”. Her dialogue occurs as a Joker mobile approaches from behind her and right before the issue ends explosively.   I’m not satisfied.  The art by March kept me turning the pages and saved the day again. 

P.S. . . Why always a provocative cover? Doesn’t DC think anyone will buy this book?

BATMAN ANNUAL #27  (2009)

NOTE:  If you want to follow the re-introduction of AZRAEL (new monthly debuts in October) it begins right here and continues in DETECTIVE COMICS ANNUAL #11.

“The Eight Deadly Sin. Part One: Casting The First Stone”  by Fabian Nicieza and J. Calafiore

          Sooner or later I was going to pick up a BATMAN book.  While I’m waiting for the new writer to begin on the monthly title, I picked up ANNUAL #27 because it looked promising despite the story by Fabian Nicieza, a writer I’ve learned to approach with caution.  (Not saying that he’s a bad writer, but when he’s off his mark or just cranking out stories it gets smelly bad.)  Besides, I like Calafiore’s style here, especially when he gets a full page or two-page spread to work on.

 

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          A priest in murdered at his church, apparently guarding a desecrated gravestone. Batman and Robin investigate and encounter an adrenaline fueled disciple in a hybrid animal/demon suit.  The new Batman and Robin are questioning and testing each other’s abilities, and Nicieza handles this very well.  The Order of Purity gets involved and sends out the new Azrael in his standard Suit Of Sorrows  There’s an even older order involved in this, La Saligia, and their emissary (the demon man Amon) is abducting children as part of a mad plan “so that all man’s sins can be absolved . . .”  Batman and Azrael working together find all this out just as the story ends (to be continued in DETECTIVE ANNUAL 2009).

“Off Rogue Racing - - A Lil Gotham Tale!” by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen

This is a cute road race between Batman with Robin and against various villains.  The art by Nguyen is in a very different style for him - - much more cartoony (even reminded me of that old black and white magazine - - CARtoons - - anyone remember that?) and it works.  However, keeping it short was smart and I’m glad this ends after 2 pages.

“Darker Than Black, Part One” by Mandy McMurray and Kelley Jones

    It’s always a pleasure to see Jones at work, and the style is very fluid here. Appropriately so, since the story concerns Barbara Gordon playing detective to solve a robbery of a blood bank where the thief left a calling card drawn in blood.    The story concerns her investigation and conclusion that the culprit is suffering from porphyria, a disease that causes insanity with vampiric symptoms.  The police use her findings to track down the thief, but Barbara isn’t convinced they have the right person.  Neither will you.  You’ll probably come up with the same suspect that I did.  But this story is also continued in DETECTIVE ANNUAL,  so we’ll have to wait to see who’s right.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Music Video of the Week

Spider-Woman Music Video

Marvel commissioned a theme song for the Spider-Woman motion comic, and made a music video with scenes from the first few episodes. Silly idea, right? Maybe, but I’ve been humming the tune all week…

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Comics I Read: September, Part 3

Amazing Spider-Man 604-607: A little over a year in, they’re starting to do the kinds of stories about Peter’s love life that they haven’t been able to do in decades. It’s well done, as usual, but if you’re still bummed about the marriage thing these stories will annoy you. The Mary Jane solo story in #605 teases a few details about her breakup with Peter and shows how he influenced her for the better. The Black Cat's appearance in #606-607 goes back to basics (in a good way) because the re-hiding of Spidey’s identity allows them to use the original concept that she’s a thrill seeker that finds Spider-Man exciting and his “normal” self boring. The shot of Spidey and Felicia kissing on the Jumbotron at the end of #606 is cute, but someone in editorial should have noticed that they used the same gag recently for the JJJ-as-mayor reveal. (Without the kissing, of course.)

Agents of Atlas 10-11: Wraps up the series for now, but they’re trying to get more attention (presumably for a relaunch) with an X-Men crossover miniseries and a series of backups in “Incredible Hercules.” I really like this series – as I do most of writer Jeff Parker’s work – so I hope they are able to drum up enough interest to continue it. (I think maybe people think you have to be an expert on 50’s Marvel to enjoy these characters, and that really isn’t true.)

Amazing Spider-Man Presents: Anti-Venom – New Ways to Live 1: I’m sorry, I’m too tired from typing that title to continue. Seriously, though, this reminds me a lot of the old Venom series (“Lethal Protector”) where they tried to make him a hero by giving him a warped sense of honor. The Punisher appearance at the end -- “Venom Eddie Brock? Murderer Eddie Brock?” – saves this enough that I’m willing to see where it goes for another issue.

Secret Warriors 7: Great stuff as usual, as we get a glimpse of how Fury finances his underground operations and the Thunderbolts become interested after a great scene between Norman Osborn and Baron Strucker (Norman: “Bad news, actually. I recently killed your children.”) and because of the discovery of Fury’s mole over in “Thunderbolts”. If that wasn’t enough, the confrontation between Fury and Ares over Ares’ son is imminent. After this, the chronology starts to get a little confusing so let me try to put the pieces in order…

Thunderbolts 135: …starting with this issue, which begins a little before the events in the book above, and continues past that issue’s last page. Without giving it away, I don’t quite buy that Nick’s mole fell for Osborn’s deception so I think maybe there’s another level of misdirection going on. The great cliffhanger ending leads to…

Secret Warriors 8: …Nick’s escape (which I don’t think is a spoiler because he always escapes one way or another) which leads to a brief confrontation between Ares and his son and an even greater vendetta from Osborn (“I don’t care if he’s your kid or not…They’re all dead! Every one of them!”) that leads into “The List” mini-event. Here’s where it doesn’t quite fit, as far as I can tell, because Ares seems to find out for the first time that his kid works for Fury here, but…

Dark Avengers 9: …surprisingly, the actual confrontation between Nick and Ares happens here and Ares clearly doesn’t know what’s going on because he follows the kid to Fury when he’s supposed to be going to school. Bendis does such a good job with these three characters that I don’t really care much (Alex: “This Norman Osborn. He – some people think he’s some kind of monster.” Ares: “Ha! You should meet your grandfather.”), but it could have been made to fit with “Secret Warriors” better. Also, Norman’s behind closed doors here – a continuation of the subplot from before the X-Men crossover – but in “Secret Warriors” he’s seen headed to attack Fury’s team immediately. And that doesn’t even take into account…

Thunderbolts 136: …this issue, which starts right after the cliffhanger from the previous Thunderbolts issue and seems to take place concurrently with Secret Warriors #8. Then it pretty much gets back to this team’s storyline, with a definite split among the membership and the reuniting of some of the original Busiek/Bagley Thunderbolts. When Norman has time to reveal Scourge’s identity to the reader, I have no idea, and the Black Widow reveal on the last page makes my head hurt. (There was a Black Widow appearance in another September book – I can’t remember which one right this minute – that I’m now not sure which one it’s supposed to be.) I really did like all these issues; I’m not so much complaining about the timeline as I am having fun trying to make sense of it.

Hulk 15: Ian Churchill’s new art style (more like Ed McGuinness than like his Image style) is a nice surprise, and well suited for this book. There’s a lot of supporting evidence for my Red Hulk identity theory this issue, but there’s also a Silver Surfer reference (“The abuse of power is so seductive. I’ve even succumbed to it. Careening across the galaxy on a surfboard, acting like a child.”) that I haven’t been able reconcile with my idea yet.

I still have a lot of books to catch up on writing about, so I’m going to cop out a little and just say that I agree with Mike's favorable assessments of Batgirl #2, Detective Comics #257, Red Robin #4, and Batman: Streets of Gotham #4.

Random Reads as of October 7th . . . . . . . .

 

SPIDER-WOMAN #1  Brian Michael Bendis, writer and Alex Maleev, artist

         I’m assuming this is the same story as the motion comic on Marvel’s website.  It’s a good new direction for Spider-Woman as Jessica Drew contemplates what to do now in the aftermath of Secret Invasion. She takes an assignment with  S.W.O.R.D. to find and eliminate some of the 32 different alien races living in disguise on Earth, beginning with the leftover Skrulls.  I’m not sure if this is going to hold up and remain interesting over a lengthy series run.  After so many “kills” it could get monotonous.  But, Bendis is the scripter so it’s worth a shot.

            And he does a fine job with the script on issue #1.  If you ever want to study how a writer can move a story along through dialogue and thought captions, this is a great place to start.  It’s what he excels at - - always a joy to read his conversations between characters.  Alex Maleev, who gets a chance to do it all here (pencils, inks, color) doesn’t waste the opportunity. This is a beauty to behold.

          I’d love to see how this plays out as a motion comic, especially the center spread re-cap of Jessica’s history and the long vertical panels that show her and the Spider-Skrull falling from twelve stories up - - but I’m not inclined to pay 99 cents to read comic on a computer. (Call me old-fashioned).

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #18  Dan Abnett + Andy Lanning, writers; Wesley Craig, art

         I have good memories of the original team, so the cover showing Charlie 27, Nikki, and Starhawk caught my eye.  I decided it was time to give this book a second chance.  My conclusion:  it’s getting better but I’m still not giving up something else in order to start reading this.  My dislike the first time (during the Secret Invasion cycle) occurred because I couldn’t get into any of the new characters (including leader Star-Lord Peter Quill) and I was very annoyed by the presence of Rocket Raccoon. (If you’ve been reading my reviews then you already know my opinion of funny animal characters in semi-serious books).

          This current storyline is very complicated and this issue centers around skirmishes and discoveries but still leaves room for character portrayal, and the members of the current team are amusing as well as interesting.  (The current roster is Star-Lord, Jack Flag, Mantis, Bug, and (groan!) Cosmos the dog. I  detect a light-hearted tone to this book and appreciate the little humorous asides and in-jokes throughout.  It appears that the team is caught in a reality implosion, and destined to continually wander through various time-lines and parallel universes. (Kind of like Exiles In Space!)  - - These transferences also cause different members to grow older or regress to a younger stage with interesting results. 

         It also leaves the door open for the writers to create as many different versions of the Guardians as they can think of. The 3009 edition includes Killraven, Charlie-27, Nikki, Starhawk, and Hollywood (who turns out to be a 100-year aged Wonder Man - - although the way he’s drawn I thought that he came from a competitor’s title - - he looks like the robotic manservant of Wormwood Gentleman Corpse from IDW).  We very briefly glimpse three other versions of the Guardians before the issue ends in yet a another different 3009 with them confronting the Church of Universal Truth and Magus/Evil Adam Warlock.

         At first impression it would be easy to dismiss the art by Craig as poor, but that’s not entirely accurate.  It takes a while to get used to his minimalistic style before you can appreciate how he utilizes it.  I’m reminded of Michael Avon Oeming a bit, although Craig is not just a carbon copy and draws differently.

         This is a complex book that looks to require some concentration and dedication to follow but could reward those who do.  I realize by picking up individual copies at random I’m not giving it proper justice.  I should be grabbing a trade paperback, which could happen as soon as someone lends me a copy.

THE FLASH: REBIRTH #4  Geoff Johns, writer and Ethan van Sciver, artist

         Since these books have been delayed I didn’t rush to pick up and read this right away. It’s been sitting in my pile/box/inventory of current books waiting for me to get back to it.  I just did and I feel in awe.

          I have a new appreciation for The Flash, a character with a rich mythos established around him and a fantastic palette of possibilities for a writer.  I have a new appreciation for the talents of Geoff  Johns, a writer who could have made this a much simpler story than the one he chose to tell.  It seems that Johns has challenged himself, and  is setting out to create a explanation for the confluence of so many speedy characters in the DC universe and link them together with a common element.  Marv Wolfman attempted to do something like this years ago with Crisis On Infinite Earths.  And he had to watch his concept that linked up the whole crazy DC universe   begin to decay and collapse years later.  Poor guy.  I think Johns work may hold up for much longer.

          And explain it Johns does - -  and in great detail, but not by sacrificing the story (great story) or the pacing (dynamic flow to this book!) .  I can’t declare that I fully understand it, but I know that it’s a challenging template that future Flash writers will want to comprehend and utilize.   It involves the Reverse-Flash as well as the Speed Force (and the countering negative Speed Force)  and the idea that the lightning bolt that gave Barry Allen his powers didn’t come from the Speed Force, but that the Speed Force was created by Barry at that moment.  You need to read the entire Rebirth series to grasp this fully. 

          I confess I’m struggling with it.  I was never more than an infrequent reader of The Flash and am more familiar with the early days of the Wally West Flash, post-Crisis version.  I hung around for 30+ issues before getting tired and quitting.    I also confess that I picked up this book originally because I was attracted to the amazing art much more than the storyline.   If you should need another reason to check this out, then make it the artwork.  This could be the finest moment to date for Van Sciver.  The art has been outstanding, including the very creative cover to Issue #4.  Barry in a solid black spotlight and wearing his lab coat is caught in a lightning bolt, dropping his beakers and tubes.  The lightning bolt is vivid red (Flash colors) and the cover background is bold yellow (Reverse-Flash colors, or put them both together and you have Bart-Flash colors). Wherever the red lightning zig zags across Barry’s body, it reveals the Flash uniform.  That’s so simple, but so brilliant.

DARK DELICACIES #1  (IDW, January 2009)  horror anthology

          I found this little gem by digging through my box of current books.  I didn’t realize that I’ve had it so long.  Now I’m wondering if this planned quarterly horror anthology survived beyond Issue #1.  I don’t recall it being solicited through Previews.  That’s too bad.  This was a good beginning, although only 1 of 2 stories within really satisfied my craving for truly “creepy” tales.

      And while I admire the ambition behind the recent CREEPY  I have even more admiration for those responsible for DARK DELICACIES.  CREEPY got the window dressing right but failed to deliver the goods in the story and art consistently.  DARK DELICACIES dispenses with the window dressing and gets right to the story.  What does this book do better than CREEPY does?

      It comes down to the planning and execution.  DARK DELICACIES is put together  by Del Howison, an experienced editor of short stories of a horrific nature.  He enlisted two qualified writers (F. Paul Wilson and Joe R. Lansdale) to write the stories.  Realizing that neither of these authors works in the comics realm he then turned the stories over to experienced comics writers to develop the script, and then hired some decent illustrators. 

          The book looks good.  The stories have a much better flow.  One is a bit gruesome with its implied horrors yet to occur.  The other is graphic and in your face with its violence.   “Part Of The Game”  shows what happens to corrupt cops who try to get the upper hand over Chinese criminal enterprises.  “Dog” gets right to the basics in its depiction of an evening bicycler being chased by a vicious were-dog.  Both endings are a surprise, as is to be expected with these types of tales - - but what I liked is that neither ended with the surprise that I anticipated.

     If you enjoyed the recent CREEPY you will also like this book.  If you were disappointed by CREEPY, then this book may satisfy.

Ultimate re-launch = hits and misses, part 2

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #2    Brian Bendis and David LaFuente

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           My absolute favorite thing about Issue #2 is the cover, an artistic interpretation of how Spider-Man would look as viewed through a kaleidoscope, those cherished old-time toys that involved a telescope-like cardboard tube that you held to the light and looked through. They were colorful and usually featured abstract designs in geometric shapes. It was like looking at a stained glass window, and when you twisted the ends of the tube the images tumbled inside and changed.  And like that toy, Bendis and LaFuente take the Spider-Man we are familiar with and twist it and turn it so it appears new and different.

           After reading Issue #2, I feel even stronger (see my comments last month on Ultimate Spider-Man #1) about this book being the best chance to introduce new readers to Marvel.  It really feels like it is intentionally written for a much younger audience than the standard Marvel reader and seems to be making a deliberate appeal to that group, a group that may be reading from the tsunami-like selection of teenage manga available today or maybe even picking up Archie Comics. Marvel needs to grab some of that audience, and this book is their best shot at it.  (And no, I’m not ignoring the other Marvel teen team books --  I just don’t consider them as well-suited for the target market as I do this book.  Show The Order, The Exiles, Young Avengers, The Runaways, etc to a high school student - - Ultimate Spider-Man will also interest them but it should really grab the attention of  middle-school readers.)  And over at DC (where they put out way more youthful titles than Marvel does) the new BATGIRL may play a similar role in finding new and younger readers.  (FLASH: Per Marvel’s official web site ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #2 is sold out and pending a second printing.)

          So what am I doing reading this title, then?  Despite the age gap, there are parts of this book that I really find amusing, cute and clever.  There are also parts that I could do without as well as scenes that annoy my older sensibilities,  so I suspect that I’ll be coming to a crossroads decision with this book rather soon.  I’ve ordered this through Issue #5 as I want to see how the Mysterio plot unfolds. I don’t think I’ll be picking it up after that ends.

          What I liked:  The opening scene where Mysterio explains his mission statement (he wants it ALL);  the lunch room food fight phasing through Kitty Pryde and her confrontation with Mary Jane Watson; Peter and Gwen’s rooftop lunch getaway; and the unlikely robbery team with the foul-mouthed sibling.  What I didn’t like: some vagueness regarding Mysterio (I’ll explain later);  the rooftop conversation got a little too sweet and went on a few panels too long (but probably just right for those younger readers); the allegedly (since we don’t actually read it) foul language of the young Bombshell also went on for way too long (but probably not long enough for younger readers who will eat this up, even better than fart jokes); and the cartoony artwork.

          This version of Mysterio could be interesting, but I’m not quite sure where Bendis is taking him.  Was he talking to himself as he explained his purpose and goals, or was he recording his speech for later broadcast to the masses?    Did he not name himself Mysterio?  Was he a different villain before? (I was reminded of Electro in Issue #1).  He’s also got a very extreme and cynical world view (“All cops are corrupt.  All politicians compromised. Religion is a con and conspiracy is truth. There is no heaven or hell .. . . . You lazy cowards. I”m taking mine. You deserve what happens next.” )  Good grief, he’s like the “Glenn Beck” of super-villains!

          On a lighter note, there’s plenty of young romance here, including two jilted girlfriends (Kitty and Mary Jane) who seem ready to get after each other.  I’m predicting that by Issue #5 Gwen starts becoming attracted to Johnny Storm and Peter gets jealous.        

ULTIMATE ARMOR WARS  Issue #1 of 4  Warren Ellis and Steve Kurth9481header_banner2703947           I’m not sure I like this version of Tony Stark, but some of his behavior is understandable considering what happened that he’ll never forget - - his helplessness during Ultimatum as Dr Doom took over his armor’s control and used him to disintegrate Wolverine.  Those are scars that don’t heal quickly, and could easily lead Tony to the bottle or other distractions. We’ll see what develops here and in the Ultimate Avengers book (where he got drunk and caroused while  forgetting to assist with an important mission).

         His attempts at humor here and snappy retorts to Happy over his head-set have a very sharp, cynical edge to them. And his glibness and macho condescending manner with Justine Hammer don’t make him very admirable.  I’m wondering if this is Warren Ellis’ take on the Ultimate Tony Stark , or was his personality determined during a story conference and all the writers asked to keep within the profile?

          At least the art is worth some attention and the storyline could become interesting. The scenes of ravaged Manhattan and Stark’s NYC facility are stimulating. In the aftermath of Ultimatum, someone ( the “Ghost”)  is out to steal  the Iron Man technology/designs and uses some of his hacked weaponry/armor to evade Tony and make off with “Remnant 242”.  (Sounds dangerous and compromising).  While you’re admiring the art, check out the clever homage to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting.  Kudos to Ellis or Kurth or whomever is responsible for that idea.

          I can’t put my finger on it but this story didn’t engage me as much as Ellis’ works normally do.  Maybe it needs some time (or another issue) to develop. Either way, I’m in for the short 4 issue run.

ULTIMATE AVENGERS #2  Mark Millar and Carlos Pacheco

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          According to the Marvel Pulse website, this issue also sold out. It’s not hard to figure out why - - this is the best of the Ultimate books so far for both story and art - -and in my opinion it’s the most creative and not afraid to take some bold chances.

            The beauty of the Ultimate universe is that writers don’t have to worry as much about violating almost 40 years of continuity.  They just have to worry about disturbing only less than 10 years of Ultimate continuity.  And if characters have yet to be introduced, then anything goes.

          So in this latest version of the Ultimates/Avengers the Red Skull turns out to be Captain America’s son.  That is writer Millar’s bold stroke - - and in Issue #2 we learn how that occurs.  It’s an absolute gem of a story that’s developing here.  The only way this could happen over in the standard Marvel heroes universe would be in the pages of WHAT IF?  (or as I like to refer to that title - - SO WHAT !!!).  Here in the Ultimate universe these changes will not be imaginary but permanent, and any future storylines have to respect what is being established here unless they begin to tamper with the younger Ultimate universe continuity.

          The scene in 1945 Brooklyn between Steve and Gail is very touching and reveals just how things got to where they are in the present-day Ultimate storyline.   There’s another mid-air fight (that’s one per issue so far!)  that separates Cap from the boys and sets up his fugitive status.  The banter between former and current S.H.I.E.L.D. leaders is priceless and funny. (Nick doesn’t just remind me of Samuel L. Jackson - - he acts like him here in that sarcastic, irreverent but insightful fashion).  And the origin of this version of The Red Skull is a whole different spin (with skin) than the regular Marvel Universe. Red Skull is motivated by extreme (ultimate) military brat resentment for his upbringing by everyone except his true mother and father (he was taken away from his mother, and Cap was already M.I.A., presumed dead).   The art throughout this book is amazing, including two escape scenes - - one by the Red Skull and one by Cap (and both were out-numbered and came out on top).

          The best lines of dialogue were in the exchange between Carol Danvers and Nick Fury as Carol says “Ill give you Hawkeye, but the rest of my Ultimates stay a million miles from your black ops crap.”  Fury responds nonchalantly, with arms crossed “Fine by me. Hawkeye’s the only cool one, anyway.” 

   There’s also some further insight that reveal more of the Ultimate Tony Stark’s character, as Hawkeye explains his behavior to Cap: “Tony’s been different since the Wolverine thing.  I tried to bust his nuts about letting everybody down back there, but it’s like talking to a brick wall.”  Cap answers “Killing a man will do that to you, Hawkeye.”   We also learn that in this universe Tony Stark has a disapproving older brother (who may end up replacing him, I suspect).