Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Where Will You Be On FCBD?





I will be exactly where I was one year ago on Free Comic Book Day - - at CAPTAIN BLUE HEN COMICS 280 E. Main Street, Newark, DELAWARE. From planning, promoting, to organization, the guest artists and writers, childrens activities, and their people-handling / traffic coordinating skills (they get a big crowd all day)they cover it thoroughly. I've never seen a store handle FCBD the way it's done here. So impressed was I that I'm coming back for more in 2010.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY will be held at Captain Blue Hen this Saturday, May 1 from Noon until 5 p.m. Everyone attending gets a free comic, with over 25 titles to choose from. If you bring a library card and /or a canned food item to donate to the Newark Food Bank you can get another free comic for each.
Special Guest Artists include Rich Faber and John Gallagher (Buzzboy, Nascar Heroes, Roboy Red); Neil Vokes (Superman, Tarzan, Spider-Man); Scott Neely (Scooby-Doo, Cartoon Network); Jamar Nicholas (Radiskull & Devil Doll, Jamar Chronicles, Detective Boogaloo Hip-Hop Cop); and Buz Hasson & Ken Haeser (Living Corpse). Several of these artists will participate in How-To-Draw workshops from 12:15 until 3:15 p.m.
Several costumed characters will make the rounds to meet the kids (of all ages) from 12:30 until 3:30 p.m. All day the Newark Arts Alliance will have activities for children, including face painting and make-a-mask.
So, if you show up, flash your library card and bring a canned food item you can obtain 3 free comics for every member of your family/group that does this. Here is a list of the titles that Captain Blue Hen has ordered so you can make your choices now:
IRON MAN / THOR . . . ATOMIC ROBO AND FRIENDS . . . LOVE AND CAPES . . . WAR OF THE SUPERMEN . . . DOCTOR SOLAR/MAGNUS . . . STUFF OF LEGEND: MORTAL INSTRUMENTS PREVIEW . . . BONGO COMICS . . . G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO . . . IRREDEEMABLE . . .ARCHIE'S SUMMER SPLASH . . . DC KIDS MEGA-SAMPLER . . . SHREK & THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR . . . TOY STORY . . . SONIC THE HEDGEHOG . . . YOW! THE JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY . . . OWLY AND FRIENDS . . . IRON MAN / SUPERNOVA . . . FRACTURED FABLES . . . THE GREEN HORNET.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Final Crisis Aftermath

Woah.  When did the site layout change?  I have everything on my RSS feed, so I don't actually visit here unless I need to write something or check an old post--it's all brown now.

Anyway.  I've been pretty vocal about my love for Final Crisis.  Others didn't like it so much--they felt that it was too complicated, that it wasn't a suitable story for a big event, that it didn't have a traditional narrative.  I guess I can understand those, to a degree.  It was a complicated story--but really, by now readers know what to expect from Grant Morrison, this shouldn't have been a surprise.  And since when is complication bad?  It wasn't your typical crossover event--but it wasn't actually a crossover, either.  It was a single story, with a few selected tie-ins, meant to conclude both the story of the Multiverse, as it had been portrayed thus far, and the plot points and themes that Grant Morrison had developed over the past twenty years working at DC.  And no, it didn't have a traditional narrative--I believe Morrison used the phrase "channel zapping", seeing only the key moments instead of everything that lead up to those moments.  I found this approach refreshing, a far cry from the decompressed style that writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Geoff Johns use, and I thought that it added to the sense of heightened insanity that the characters found themselves thrown in.

This is not a post for me to talk about Final Crisis.  I was tempted to do one--I just finished reading (or rereading) everything that Grant Morrison wrote for DC comics, from his early Batman works (Arkham Asylum, Gothic) to this.  The only thing I skipped, to the best of my knowledge, was All Star Superman.  I'll get to that at another point (as well as, I suppose, Doom Patrol, which I consider more in line with his work on Flex Mentallo and The Invisibles than his traditional DC work).  After going through all of this, though, I needed a bit of a break.  These were some great comics--some of the best, even--but they were also very intense.  I could've analyzed them, but instead I chose to go for more traditional superhero fare.

After a bit of that, though, I turned towards the four titles DC published recently--the Final Crisis Aftermath titles.  There were four books--Dance, Run, Ink and Escape.  While Grant Morrison laid to rest, for now, the stories of the Multiverse and the New Gods, he'd set up more than a few possible stories for other writers to explore.  That's the job of a good writer in a shared universe, after all--to not just tell a good story, but to lay the groundwork for any writer that may follow.  It can be argued, unfortunately, that DC didn't properly capitalize on the success of Final Crisis--they were instead reveling in the success of the Batman: Reborn relaunches, and the lead-ins to Blackest Night.

So for a lot of people, these four books may have been under the radar.  I actually put off on buying them--the comic shop closed, and I changed my buying practices in the wake of that.  Less individual books, more collected editions.  Because of that, I've only just now gotten around to reading these books.  And I have a few things to say about them.

Let me first be very clear--I think that DC made a huge mistake, going with non-all star talent.  52 was spearheaded by some of the biggest stars in comics, and was huge.  Final Crisis Aftermath, on the other hand, had only one huge name--Joe Casey.  And even he wasn't the bankable talent that DC might have needed.  Perhaps as a result, these books slid lower and lower on the sales charts.  That's actually, for the most part, a shame.

I'll begin with the first of the four books that I read--Run.  Each of these stories have a simple high concept, spinning out of Final Crisis.  Here, we see the Human Flame--a forgotten villain, thrown into the spotlight with the death of one of DC's greatest heroes, now trying to get away from everyone that wants to find him, heroes and villains alike.  Inspired by the smallest of victories, he decides that he's to do everything he can to stop running.  He's going to become powerful, for once in his life.  The story pairs him with several of DC's...less prestigious villains, and ultimately leads him to an encounter with the Justice League of America.  And at the end, for once, he stops running.

Unfortunately, this is the only one of the four books that I did not enjoy.  Matthew Sturges and Freddie E. Williams II have both done some impressive work--I enjoyed Sturges in Shadowpact and House of Mystery, and have heard some great things about The Web, and the pages I've seen for JSA: All Stars really made me a fan of Williams--those were some ambitious layouts.  But despite that, I just can't help but think that they weren't a good fit for the series.  They didn't give you anything to actually root for, here.  The Human Flame is a horrible individual.  He is disgusting, both in personality and appearance.  You don't want him to succeed--and yet, he's the protagonist.  There's just...nothing redeeming about him.  Even with titles like Secret Six, you want the bad guys to win, but here?  I just wanted the story to be over.  There were some funny moments, but ultimately, this is the one I wouldn't read again.

If you weren't scared away by that, though, you're in for a treat--the remaining three books were all pretty great.  From there, I moved onto Dance, by Joe Casey and Chriscross (both big talents in the industry).  I should mention that frequently, Grant Morrison develops concepts and hands them off to other writers.  Sometimes this results in good stories (The All-New AtomUncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters), but usually, it's a recipe for disaster.  Casey is one of the very, very few writers who I feel could comfortably play in Morrison's playground.  The premise for this book, like the others, is simple--the Super Young Team went from being media darlings to actual superheroes during the events in Final Crisis.  Nobody cares.  What do they do next?

The characters here are all believable, in their own cliched way.  After all, they're living cliches--they're the characters we've known for nearly a hundred years, boiled down to the basics and thrown into a blender.  They're hyper-sensationalized icons.  The stories in this book play off of that--the characters are inconsequential, and so the situations they face are ultimately inconsequential.  All of this builds their frustration--they want to be actual superheroes, but nobody is willing to take them seriously.  With guest spots by classic DC characters like the Rising Sun, I was very pleased.  This is a book about interpersonal relationships, but it's also a meta-examination of what it means, and what it takes, to be a famous superhero...when you aren't Superman or Batman.  Of the four titles, this was the one I looked forward to the most, and I'm very glad it came out.  And those covers by Stanley "Artgerm" Lau, one of DC's newest cover artists?  Gorgeous.  DC had better keep him around, and if he hasn't at least been offered a shot at interior work, someone needs to step up and do so.

Ink came next, and although this was one of the books I didn't see the need for, I'd heard some very good things about it, so I was pleasantly optimistic.  This was also the only title to actually earn an ongoing sequel, with the revamped Titans series by the same creative team, so obviously they did something right.  The premise: During Final Crisis, the Tattooed Man was made an honorary member of the Justice League.  A supervillain became a superhero.  How does he cope with that?  How do people react to that?  I've never heard of either member of the creative team before, but they did some very good work here.  This is the most traditional of the four books--you have a character with a clear character arc, antagonists who serve their roles, and an instantly fleshed out supporting cast.  This book could have actually been an ongoing series on its own--all of the basics were there.

For those that didn't like Final Crisis and want more traditional superhero fare--this is the book for you, easily.  That isn't me talking down to you--it's just the truth, really.  The other titles, and even Final Crisis proper, were more experimental--this is what it is, and it does it very well.  The art is great, and based on the strength of it, I'm actually interested in the new Titans series, which I hadn't actually been before.  Unfortunately, because of how traditional it is, I don't know what I can say about it without just recapping the plot.

After the most traditional, I went to the least--Escape.  How anybody read through this on a monthly basis, I have no idea--this was one intense book.  But as a collected edition?  I was pulled in.  The premise: the Global Peace Agency replaced the now-defunct Checkmate during Final Crisis, and has abducted the many members of DC's espionage teams.  Why?  That's for Nemesis to find out.  Tom Tresser goes from a supporting role in Wonder Woman to a starring role here, one that ultimately led to his own spinoff miniseries--one that I will be picking up in trade, I believe.

This book was, as I said, intense.  Ivan Brandon rose to fame with The Viking for Image, and that book received a lot of critical acclaim.  If this book is anything like that, then it's another title I'll want to read in trade--Brandon has real potential, but needs room to work.  This one is one series that will benefit from multiple reads, with timestamps and reveals that leave you wanting to search previous pages to see how it all fits together.  Marco Rudy is a serviceable artist--competent, but without anything you haven't seen before, and usually better--however, he shines in this title, dealing with more...esoteric scenes with less traditional page layouts, the sort you might see from artists like Brendan McCarthy.  It was a nice mix that should appeal to everyone.

These four books all dealt with the fallout from Final Crisis, picking up on what Morrison left and taking them to the next step.  I don't expect to see any real follow-up to Run or Dance--but with Titans and Nemesis: The Imposters, we're already getting follow-ups to Ink and Escape.  What one did I like the best?  Escape, followed closely by Dance, which was followed closely by Ink.  Run is somewhere off in the distance, with my old copies of Countdown.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

If you do the crime . . . . . . . . . .

DIE HARD: YEAR ONE VOLUME 1 hardcover

DIE HARD: YEAR ONE Issue #1 – 4  (2009, BOOM Studios)

Written by Howard Chaykin with art by Stephen Thompson.

A SHORTCUT FOR IMPATIENT READERS:  If you enjoyed the DIE HARD film series beyond the explosions and action and also appreciated the comedic moments as well as the character development of hero John McClane, then you will want to investigate the comic series.

FOR THOSE WHO ENJOY READING MORE IN-DEPTH REVIEWS OF COMICS:  Keep going . . . . .

DieHard_V1_HC_CVR-200x300

          The hard and sometimes difficult reality is that having good friends to share your hobby with can seriously inflate your comics budget.

          Good friends share their findings (or “gems”).  I appreciate their generosity and try to reciprocate by sharing some of my “finds”.  The upside is that I get to read some great works that I wouldn’t have sought out on my own based on my comics budget.  The downside is that invariably I enjoy the “gems” so much that I end up adding another title to my want lists.

          It’s time for me to quit whining and face the music:   It’s a great time to be a comics reader.  The quality and variety of material available has never been better.  It’s a bad time to try to pare down or budget your comics spending.  I will find balance somehow.  Thank God for my friends.

          I admit that this is an odd way to begin a review.  Please be patient and it will start to make sense shortly.

          I forgive myself and everyone else who passed over DIE HARD: YEAR ONE on the first go-round.  I thank BOOM Studios for their patience and belief in this title to keep it out there.  (DIE HARD: YEAR ONE is now in its second story arc.)

          I remember exactly how it happened.  I saw the initial solicitation for orders in PREVIEWS, gave it a little thought, and decided not to order.  I remember thinking “Aren’t there enough movie and television series revivals/adaptations in comics now?  Do we really want another one?”

062909_diehard2-johnson-193x300

          I also had some annoyance at the “YEAR ONE” subtitle attached to this book, as I hold those words to a higher standard.

          I will never forget the sheer delight and pleasure in discovering BATMAN: YEAR ONE in the issues of BATMAN #404-407 back in 1987 from writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzuchelli.  (Short aside:  check out his ASTERIOS POLYP  graphic novel and prepare for astonishment at the break-through visual story-telling imagery.  Great work on scripting also.)  Since it’s publication I have seen the words “YEAR ONE” attached to many flashback issues or series as if trying to infer a connection to that gold standard, and oftentimes failing to come even close to matching its story-telling power.

          When DIE HARD: YEAR ONE Issue #1 finally arrived at comics shops I quickly picked it up from the new issues shelves at Captain Blue Hen Comics (Newark, DE) and flipped through the pages, seeking confirmation for my decision and/or giving myself a second chance to purchase it.  “This doesn’t seem very DIE-HARD to me”, I thought. “There’s hardly any action here.  It’s just introducing various characters and more exposition.  No need to explore any further.”

          Those readers who had the patience to stay with the introductions and set-up in issues #1-2 were rewarded with a rollicking good crime caper that unravels and comes to suspenseful conclusion in Issues #3-4.

johnmcclane

          The story takes place in New York City during John McClane’s days as a rookie cop walking a beat.  His training officer is overbearing, lazy and bigoted and also serves as a foil for some of McClane’s pointed barbs and comedic moments.  Events take place during the 1976 July 4th bicentennial celebration as a major crime of serious implications is about to unfold.

          I have long admired the work of writer/artist Howard Chaykin but I haven’t liked everything.  AMERICAN FLAGG (First) was ground-breaking.  I did enjoy SWORD OF SOLOMON KANE (Marvel) but it failed to meet my high expectations, being a little too plodding and methodical in places.  I just didn’t warm up to his take on CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN (DC) at all.

         NYPD_70s_unit-300x262

           DIE HARD: YEAR ONE may be one of his best works as a scripter.  He does a fantastic job of portraying the crazy, chaotic New York City of the ‘70’s  (long before its’ renaissance) as I remember hearing and reading about it = in decline, crime out of control, dirty streets, corrupt police and politicians.

          Like Frank Miller did so well in BATMAN: YEAR ONE,  Chaykin also details the character of John  McClane perfectly, capturing those idiosyncratic habits and moves that came to define him in the film series.  Yet, just like BATMAN: YEAR ONE did so well, you see the beginnings of the final product, still unpolished but clear enough to appreciate and gain understanding into why the current character does things a certain way or operates based on a certain philosophy.

          This is a series that requires repeat readings to fully appreciate everything that has been included.  That also applies to the artwork of Stephen Thompson, which appears skilled but mostly functional until that second reading, when you realize that he is very masterful at facial expressions and conveying emotions/reactions through body language.  His background detailing, especially street scenes, cityscapes, and building interiors are very realistic and accurate.

prv3487_pg7-665x1024

          Trying to depict an earlier version of the actor Bruce Willis as John McClane with more hair and less wrinkles is no small task.  Thompson’s depiction of McClane in many places looks like someone else entirely and doesn’t resemble Willis closely enough.  Yet there are several panels scattered throughout the first story arc where he seems to capture the look perfectly.

          As a narrative device, Chaykin’s use of the captions really helps to convey a lot of background information as well as insights into the character’s motivations and philosophies.  It seemed a little confusing at first, as if different voices were speaking, until I realized that the rose-colored backgrounds were narrative captions and the yellow backgrounds were McClane’s thoughts and observations.

          There are great moments of insight, drama, comedy, and McClane’s smart-aleck wit and worldview throughout every issue.  The story also helps move his character along in a very well-thought out (by Chaykin) natural, progressive fashion.  As a result of his trademark gutsy bravado and acting on instincts McClane comes out on top (except he doesn’t get everything he wants), being promoted to detective third grade at the end of the story.  Based on the cover art I’ve seen, it looks like the second story arc of DIE HARD: YEAR ONE will cover some of his early days in that role.

DieHard_03_CVRB

diehard4b-195x300       

   The covers for this series are also exceptional.  There are no less than 12 different covers across the short 4-issue first story arc.  Many of them are movie poster quality (including stylistic logos).  My favorite covers are Issue #1 and #2 by Dave Johnson, and Issue #3 and #4 by Jock.

This review originally appeared on the Captain Blue Hen website.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Comics I Read: Catching Up #27

Green Arrow 32: From the “they said it better than me” file, Savage Critic's Brian Hibbs (spoilers ahoy):
There’s a few conventions of comics that don’t really withstand scrutiny — like “Secret Identities”, but that’s because seldom do comics underline just how…stupid they are. But, it is double-underlined here, then highlighted with an orange highlighter pen. “Gasp, you mean Green Arrow is ex-Mayor Oliver Queen? Wha-?!?”…Then there is the whole trial/verdict thing which was just unbelievably bad — “I’m tempted to overrule the jury, but, ah, what the hell, let’s just banish you.” How is that even remotely plausible anywhere anyhow?…“I saw part of me in Mia’s eyes”? Really, through the non-eye-showing mask? Really?…And the ending with Hal standing in for the JLA and saying, in essence, “we don’t care that you’re a murderer, since a biased jury let you off.” 
Me again: I can't recommend this book, but the ending of "Brightest Day" #0 will make a little more sense if you read this ending first.

Brightest Day 0: It occurs to me that I wasn't sufficiently enthusiastic in my comments about "Blackest Night" #8. Geoff Johns went above and beyond adding a ton of new mythology and some great new characters to the DCU. 'Nuff said. Without giving away the ending of "Blackest Night" for those of you waiting for the collection, this issue follows the 12 characters that are highlighted at the end of BN #8. Boston Brand is the point-of-view character, as he tries to figure out what his purpose is, and the mystery of why these particular characters were chosen begins. It's a good start, and I'd like to be more specific so I'll probably wait to talk more about future issues until the BN collections ship.

Avengers vs. Atlas 1-4: I've switched to trades for most miniseries, but I'm supporting Marvel's effort to push the "Atlas" (no longer "Agents", apparently) characters. This is a good introduction for Avengers fans who haven't been following "Atlas" so far: Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman have crafted a really nice tale of the original Avengers having to put right something in time that Kang put wrong. The last chapter has some particularly touching scenes and some beautiful art. (Jason Aaron's "Gorilla Man" backup in #4 is also excellent.) My guess is that if you don't like this, you won't like the new "Atlas" ongoing either.

Action Comics 884-888: We're almost at the end of Greg Rucka's story of the new Kryptonian Nightwing and Flamebird, and though there's been good news on the Batwoman front, I worry about the fate of these characters when Rucka is done. They're clearly his babies, and I've enjoyed the year spent with them. It's hard to imagine JMS having any interest in them, and we already know that Paul Cornell's first arc (which I'm hugely looking forward to) will focus on Lex Luthor for 10 issues. Anyway, assuming it doesn't get screwed up at the end, this will be a good story to read in trades because it's connected to the "New Krypton" stuff but not consumed by it.



Brave and the Bold 32-33: I notice the covers now say "Lost stories of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" -- presumably so JMS can use whatever versions of the characters he wants. The Lovecraftian tale of Aquaman and the Demon in #32 is good, but Zatanna, Wonder Woman and Barbara Gordon Batgirl's night on the town in #33 is the first must-have issue since JMS took over. It seems like a frivolous bit of fun, which would be fine, but there's a whole other level to it. Cliff Chiang was the perfect choice for the art -- the body language and facial expressions of the women are brilliant. (Just ignore the couple of panels where a reflection of Zatanna in a window makes her look about 50 feet tall.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Logan keeps on running . . . . .

 

LOGAN’S RUN: LAST DAY #2  (Bluewater Productions, April 2010)  Paul Salamoff writer; Daniel Gete, artist

            Everything that made Issue #1 such a great read and visual treat is back again in Issue #2.  Writer Paul Salamoff continues to move the story along, uncovering more details and background as the plot gains momentum.  Still, he’s not about to tip his hand entirely.  It’s going to require returning for future issues of this title to see the entire hand he has in play.  Artist Daniel Gete gets a little more comfortable with the style he’ll be utilizing in this title and validates our reason to spotlight him as an upcoming creator to watch.

LOGANS_RUN_2A

           Issue #2 opens with a bang,  a devastating  explosion with radioactive consequences at the end of 2095 that leads to a “nuclear winterland” as the atmosphere becomes polluted while food and water become scarce. It’s a bit of “The Future History”  which actually occurs in  the past of this story.  These bits of background scattered throughout the issue are detailed in sepia and/or black and white tones to help us distinguish them from the full-color present day activities.  It took more than 15 years for the survivors of the human race to form a “new global confederacy” to initiate actions and programs to protect the declining population of less than one billion.   Other bits of “The Future History” in this issue reveal exactly how the mile-high complexes came to be erected to house all still-fertile yellow-stage inhabitants who agree to serve the “Thinker” and submit to euthanasia when their past radiation exposure reaches critical levels 21 years later.  By 2054 the last of the first generation of the war perishes.

          The use of these flashbacks should allow readers to follow along easier as the “buzz” builds for this book and more people pick it up.  It enables a newer reader to jump in, and with a little effort on their part become engaged in the story without having to start from the very beginning.

          As defined by Salaamoff, Logan is not much of a hero but a “company” man with a deep dedication to his job and a desire to commence the destruction of Sanctuary (the runner’s safe world) and raise his profile to that of a legend among Deep Sleep agents.  Not only is he cold and calculating, but also smug and aloof. We see evidence of this in a locker room scene where Logan snaps back at some fellow agents who ridicule him after they felt snubbed when he failed to acknowledge them. 

         Logan accompanies Jessica to “New You” where she gets her features altered while Logan’s cover is exposed.  A confrontation leads to some graphic blood-shedding as we learn of the fail-safe device built into a Sandman’s gun. Without a personalized handprint match on the trigger the gun will explode, as Doc finds out when he tries to use it on Logan.   As Logan and Jessica retreat to find Cathedral (an entry point to gain access to Sanctuary)  the investigating DS agents uncover his evidence of “running” . They make a decision to pursue and “take out our own”, removing all trace of murder evidence from the site, including the extermination of any witnesses.  It’s a harsh cruel world.

LOGANS_RUN_2B

        There’s a bit more action this issue, which allows artist Daniel Gete to showcase his work in bigger panels, full and half page caption-less scenes and continued experimentation with wide-screen, angular and over-lapping panels.  Quite often, the point of view is similar to a cinematic tracking camera with head-shots, overhead views, and characters looking straight ahead and off the page.  The art this issue has less of a Perez-feel and more of a Gulacy influence - - but  it belongs solely to Gete  and is not a copy.  It’s just my attempt to describe it by comparing it to other artists who I admire.  It appears that Gete did the colors as well this issue. 

          LOGAN”S RUN: LAST DAY has quickly become one of my favorite science fiction comic titles.  It has been worth the wait since the first issue came out back in January.  Here’s hoping the publication schedule gets on a more regular track in the future.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Comics I Read: Catching Up #26 (Bat-edition)

Batman: Streets of Gotham 8-10: I guess they had some kind of deadline problem with #8-9, because guest writer Mike Benson’s story has clearly been on the shelf for a while. Even though the name isn’t used, Batman’s behavior and internal monologue are clearly Bruce Wayne and not Dick Grayson. (He’s drawn with longer hair when he’s out of costume, but he’s also in disguise then.) Furthermore, I didn’t really get why this was a Batman story at all. I do like straight crime stories with Batman (as opposed to costumed villains) but there isn’t anything he does in this story that a competent crime scene tech and an undercover police detective couldn’t have accomplished. We know there are cops that Gordon can trust – see “Gotham Central” for instance – so he didn’t need Batman for this case at all. (Other than that there wouldn’t have been a story, of course.) Fortunately, the return to Paul Dini’s ongoing story in #10 is a terrific chapter featuring Damian and a kid vigilante. Artist Dustin Nguyen and the Manhunter backup are excellent in all three issues.

Gotham City Sirens 8-10: #8 is a much better fill-in than the ones above, plotted by artist Guillem March and scripted by “Manhunter” writer Marc Andreyko. This is the first thing that March has written that I’m aware of, and I’m impressed. Paul Dini’s return in #9-10 is even better though, featuring the Riddler possibly reverting to his old ways and the return of one of Dini’s villains that I had forgotten about. Unfortunately, March’s art missing from #10 and his replacement for the issue is not as good.


Batman: Brave and the Bold: “Chill of the Night”: While we’re talking about Paul Dini, I want to mention that he wrote last week’s episode of Brave & Bold on Cartoon Network, and it’s one of the darkest Batman animated episodes ever (including “Batman: The Animated Series”). Don’t let the teaser, featuring Zatanna (of course), fool you: try to catch a rerun. Even if you’re not a fan of this series in general, this episode is that good. The picture above should give you a good idea of what the story is about, and the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are featured as The Phantom Stranger and The Spectre. (I won’t spoil the surprise of who voices Thomas and Martha Wayne.)

Batgirl 6-8: The end of the story in #6-7 with Batgirl and Robin teaming up to help Batman is great (Damien: “Now that I don’t have that dreadful shrew holding me back…” Stephanie (behind him): “I’m a what now?”), and it sets up the agreement of the Batman/Robin and Oracle/Batgirl teams to work together. As I said in an earlier entry, the “Red Robin” crossover in #8 is also really good. (But I was wrong about the “Dr. Mid-Nite” joke – it originated here, not in Tim’s book.)

Detective Comics 861-863: The absence of J.H. Williams III takes this down from the best thing that DC’s publishing down to one of the best, but Jock is a great artist and the book is still excellent. The Question backup is part 3 of 4, so I guess we have at least one more issue before Greg Rucka moves on. I can’t help but fear for the fate of these great characters with Rucka gone. I know it’s a shared universe, but Rucka has pretty much exclusively guided these characters, especially Renee Montoya, for years, and good things have not happened when he didn’t. (Anybody remember The Question joining the Global Peace Agency at the end of “Final Crisis”? Anybody?)

Batman and Robin 7-11: #7-9 are the exception to what I just said: Grant Morrison does a great job with Batwoman, although I could make the argument that it’s not as “down to earth” as the stories she most belongs in. These issues also settle the question of who was the Batman body at the end of “Final Crisis”, which I recommend not thinking about too hard. This leads the way in #10-11 for Dick and Damian to realize that Bruce Wayne is still alive. I love the way this revelation turns the whole of Wayne Mansion into a puzzle to be solved, which Dick is enthusiastic about -- not realizing that Damian is attached to him and is worried about having to leave if his father comes back.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Comics I Read: Catching Up #25 (X-Men edition)

X-Force 22-25: Overall, the “Necrosha” story was a failure for me. Besides having the unfortunate timing to raise the dead during “Blackest Night”, I didn’t feel any of the resurrected characters were used to good emotional effect. (Except for Doug Ramsey in “New Mutants” – those stories were excellent.) And maybe I’m just an old fart, but I didn’t quite follow the ending – I think they defeated Selene on the Native American spirit plane, but I’m not sure – and there are plenty of places, especially in #25, where Clayton Crain’s art is printed so dark that I can’t tell who’s doing what. That said, I do still like the idea of this series, and the fact that the secret is starting to come out in “Uncanny” should be a lot of fun. Edited to add: Paul O'Brien has a good review of the storyline here.

X-Men Legacy 230-234: The ending to the Emplate story in #230 was fine and the “Necrosha” story with Proteus in #231-233 wasn’t bad either, although I find myself struggling to remember details as I write this. The issue I loved was #234, where Rogue actually gets to fulfill the job Cyclops gave her a year ago (it feels like) and mentors some of the young mutants on the island. Throw in some complications from powers borrowed from the Cuckoos and (finally) a talk with Gambit about their relationship, and Mike Carey comes up with a story I really enjoyed. More of that, please.

Uncanny X-Men 519-523: I liked the ending to the Void story in #519 just fine, but I wonder why they even bothered to trap a piece of him in Emma just to dispose of it so quickly. The New York story in #520-521 didn’t do much for me (though it was nice to see Fantomex again, given how most of the Morrison run has been paved over), but the Magneto subplot was excellent. That leads to the return of Kitty Pryde in #522 (which would have been a nice surprise if it hadn’t been advertised for months). I was initially skeptical about this, thinking it was too soon, but finding out that Fraction got permission from Joss Whedon helped a lot and he really crafted a moving little story that I highly recommend. In #523 things entertainingly start to unravel as the team looks for Cable and Hope and the secret of X-Force is discovered. Cyclops is clearly in over his head here (“It would all be better if we just had the girl…”), and this kind of years-long planning is what Marvel does best these days so I’m looking forward to seeing it pay off.

New Mutants 8-11: As I mentioned above, I really loved Doug Ramsey’s return in #8, and the exploration of the new takes on him and Illyana in #9 by writer Zeb Wells was positively chilling. The Sauron attacks Japan story in #10 was fun (Emma: “Evil mutants attack Japan. This should disprove the old adage about any publicity being good publicity.”), especially Scott’s reaction to the revelations from #9 (“…if I shut down every time a visitor from the future screamed Armageddon I’d never get anything done.”) and his plan for why the New Mutants are still together as a team. In #11, guest writer Kieron Gillen ties up the loose end of Dani’s deal with Hela that let her defeat Ares in “Utopia”. As always, he’s got a unique spin on things – Hela’s occupying a Vegas hotel (“[it] suits me, temperamentally speaking…but its heat is oppressive.”) – and he fits it nicely into “Siege”, where it turns out there are a fair number of dead Asgardians. I’ve never heard of artist Niko Henrichon, but he also did a terrific job.

Nation X: X-Factor: It’s fun to see X-Factor interact with the rest of the X-Men for the first time in a while (“Don’t I resent you for some reason?” “Probably, but who can keep track?”), and I also liked that Madrox and Cyclops could disagree about Scott’s direction for mutantkind without having to fight about it. (“You’re much too alike to be friends.”)

X-Factor 200-203: The team has come out the other side of a long mutant-centric storyline with a new direction, and I like the more direct interaction with the rest of the Marvel Universe. The tone is the same, so you probably already know whether you like this book or not – I think most people either love it or hate it – but if you like it but were bored by the previous arc, you can come back now.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rondo awards announced

          ronlogo1

           Winners of the 8th annual RONDO HATTON CLASSIC HORROR AWARDS have been announced. Over 3,000 fans participated in the voting this year.   The public is invited to vote for any of the nominees each year; and this year was a record for turn-out.  It was also the first year for me;  as well as being the first year I became aware of the awards.  I plan to participate again next year.  I’m already planning to investigate some of the winners of  2009.

          bat

You can view the entire list by going to the website at www.rondoaward.com.

 

         The winner in the BEST HORROR COMIC BOOK category was BATMAN: GOTHAM AFTER MIDNIGHT by Steve Niles and Kelley Jones.  Runner up was horror anthology series VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS.  Honorable mentions went to Hellboy: The Wild Hunt; Carnival Of Souls; and The Goon.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Comics I Read: Catching Up #24

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man 7-8: Before reading these, I reread the first six issues in the new hardcover, and I really admire what Bendis has accomplished here. The series opens six months after “Ultimatum”, when enough of New York has been rebuilt for it to be officially open for business again. At first, it seems like Bendis has used the distance from the tragedy to essentially do the same book, but as the relaunch unfolds there’s an underlying sadness to all the characters (who after all, have all been through a trauma.) I especially like Aunt May’s taking in kids like Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake – instead of being a sitcom gimmick, it fills a deep need in May just like being Spider-Man does for Peter. That said, it also allows Bendis to do the Ultimate version of “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends”, so the humor is still there too. I miss David Lafuente in these most recent two issues, but otherwise they’re a fun diversion following up on a thread from the “Ultimate Power” miniseries.

Adventure Comics 8-9: There’s so much going on at the moment that the three stories per issue format is a good idea. It gives us a chance to follow the Legionnaires both in the present and the future, and I especially like the focus on Brainiac 5 and the history of the Brainiac line. Eric Trautmann’s Quex-Ul story is good, but seems like it should have taken place earlier in the Earth/New Krypton conflict.

Stumptown 1-2: It’s been a while since Greg Rucka’s done a straight crime story (though I guess “The Question” is close), and I’m really happy to see it. It’s a PI story, which is my favorite form of the genre, and Rucka’s does a great job at letting us know a lot about his main character (and like her) in just a couple of issues. Matthew Southworth’s art reminds me a lot of Sean Phillips’ in “Criminal”, not in a derivative way but just as similar interpretations of what a noir story should look like. Well worth your time.

Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal 1: Really? Drug addiction was the only place they could think of to go with this? I hear good things about what’s planned for Star City in the next year, but taking the most obvious path here doesn’t fill me with confidence.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Comics I Read: Catching Up #23

Booster Gold 27-30: The “Blackest Night” crossover in #27 ends well, with Booster getting a chance to make up for Ted Kord’s original funeral by staging his own memorial. I also really liked the Coast City arc in #28-30. Even though the mandate not to change the past has been explored before in the Barbara Gordon arc, I didn’t mind going over similar ground because it’s an entire city and therefore a much bigger moral dilemma. Plus it’s fun to see Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway revisit their “Death of Superman” days. Jurgens has one more issue left in his run, but his epilogue this issue seems to almost directly address the concerns about Giffen & DeMatteis taking over. (Old Booster: “…I’m living proof that things will work out fine. When the time is right – I’ll be back.”) Frankly, I do have concerns about their upcoming issues. Johns and Jurgens (not to mention the “52” writers) have worked really hard to change Booster into a deeper, more interesting character and I hope that doesn’t get thrown away for the sake of jokes like the ones in the recent “Metal Men” backup. On the other hand, they have said that Booster will be visiting the JLI’s time and that does have some good story potential to see how “modern” Booster reacts to how he used to behave.

Blackest Night 8: This ending pretty much lives up to the built-up expectations, and I look forward to reading the story in one sitting when the trade comes out to see if it holds together as a single story rather than a near year-long “event”. (I suspect it may feel a little padded in the middle on rereading, but I hope to be proven wrong.) Anyway, there are some nice twists on my predicted ending beats, with the resurrections not being across the board (and some surprising choices about who came back and who didn’t) and with the White Lantern up for grabs. (Leading into “Brightest Day”, presumably.) As a whole, I enjoyed BN a lot – including most of the spinoffs – but I was also ready for it to be done and to see what’s next for the DCU.

Cable 21-24: Speaking of ready to be done, these issues finally end the long story arc of Bishop’s chase of Cable and Hope. I complained about this a lot, but it did end well with some real tension and the settings got more interesting as they homed in on the present time instead of being in unfamiliar apocalyptic futures. I also liked Bishop’s introspection at the end, where he wonders if he’s actually shaped the monster he was trying to destroy. Even if Bishop turns out to be right though, he caused mass destruction in the future trying to trap Cable and Hope, and since he wasn’t able to undo that by killing her and resetting the timeline I would have liked to see him show some guilt about his actions.

Dark Wolverine 81-84: As expected the ending of #82, where Daken seems to do fatal damage to a major “Siege” player”, turns out to be a trick. And then the story takes a really strange turn, as for some reason the Norse Fates suddenly decide they need Daken to bring on a new Ragnarok. Why they need to do this, when the ending of “Siege” #3 pretty much gives them what they want (courtesy of The Void), and why they need Daken (who’s not exactly a worshipper of the Norse pantheon) is beyond me. On the other hand, Daken’s dismal failure to be an inspirational leader compared to Osborn in #84 was really interesting, and not something that could be done with a lot of other Marvel characters. I didn’t get the ending of #84, however. Is Daniel Way just trying to say that Daken has decided to abandon his Avengers, or is he trying to say that the Fates have control over which side wins the battle and they need Daken’s consent for his side to be defeated? In my opinion, the latter undermines Bendis’ “Siege” story, which is all about the choices the mortal characters have made over the last few years, so I hope that isn’t the intended interpretation.

Red Robin 7-10: It’s become apparent that Chris Yost had a year-long story arc in mind when he started this book, as all of the complaints I’ve had about earlier issues turn out to be story points. We’re slowly getting back the Tim we know and love, but the journey was worthwhile as he picked up some new insights and some new enemies. (Not to mention a new respect for Stephanie Brown as Batgirl.) I wish Yost was staying on the book when his story is done, but it was recently announced that Fabian Nicieza (who did the last “Robin” arc) will be coming back with #13. It’ll be interesting to see what this book turns into after the “Return of Bruce Wayne” – my guess is at minimum there will be a costume change because of all the jokes in recent issues about Tim being mistaken for Dr. Mid-Nite.