Sunday, October 31, 2010

ZOMBIE SUPER BOWL



THE WALKING DEAD Volume 1: DAYS GONE BYE (Image Comics, trade paperback) . . . Robert Kirkman, writer. Tony Moore, Art.

THE WALKING DEAD (AMC television) premieres Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 10 p.m. EST


I can't remember being this excited about a new television series for a long, long time. I'm very happy to see THE WALKING DEAD adapted for the small screen and invading homes nationwide this very Halloween night. I'm happy on a number of levels:

1) This well-deserved body of work should find a bigger audience through the medium of television, bringing more recognition to the team of Kirkman and Moore and also broadening the market for 21st century horror. There's been a renaissance of horror titles in the comics field in recent years - - - and the first zombie entry from comics to transition onto cable television could possibly open the doors for still more in the years to come.
2) Just as Hollywood has been mining the comics field for years and developing excellent and exciting films - - - now television is beginning to explore the possibilities further. But it's not that in itself that excites me so much - - - it's the type of properties they are working on - - - like THE WALKING DEAD for instance, which is even more of a serious commentary on modern society than it is a horror tale - - and higher quality works (while maybe not quite so serious) like THE HUMAN TARGET. And are there others not far behind?
3) It's the character-driven story behind THE WALKING DEAD that has sustained it for 80-plus issues (unheard of for most serialized horror works, HELLBLAZER being one notable exception). I can't wait to see how some of the characters and story lines are portrayed in the television series.
4) Frank Darabont is the director. Who better for this work? I've seen some advance previews and the visuals are just amazing. It's also exciting to see that Darabont isn't trying to re-invent the wheel - - he's depicted some of the scenes from the comics just as if they walked off the pages onto the television screen. (Moore's fantastic art is like looking at storyboards for a movie anyway). It appears to be a very, very faithful adaptation. Darabont is also a master at bringing out the best in his actors.
5) There are so many powerful and emotional scenes in the comic that I really look forward to seeing them translated on the screen. I'm thinking viewers are goign to be moved by these characters and what happens to them. This could get talked aabout in the same way that LOST made viewers relate to the characters.

THE WALKING DEAD is about family, and trust, and teamwork, and breaking down the barriers and myths of modern society. Kirkman seemed to always work in situations that remind you of societal concerns and current events. One storyline that I'm really looking forward to seeing depicted is the training of seven-year-old Carl in how to handle a gun, and the sad consequences of what that means to his rapid development ("children grow up too fast") and an unfortunate incident that occurs when he feels his family is threatened. (Reminds me of the argument that the killing in video games desensitizes youth so much that some of them change their values regarding human life - - or worse yet, fail to understand that death is permanent).

Zombies have been incorporated into popular culture and media so much over the last several years. But THE WALKING DEAD series on AMC could be the ultimate triumph - - the equivalent of the Zombie Super Bowl.

(I just started out wanting to remind everybody that this show starts tonight).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

RADICAL DEPARTURES: NEW HORROR TITLES


(Beginning a series of articles exploring the offerings of smaller publishers)

ABATTOIR #1 of 6 (Radical Comics, October 27, 2010) Created by Darren Lynn Bousman. Written by Rob Levin & Troy Peteri. Illustrated by Bing Cansino. Mature Readers.

This book had me feeling apprehensive before I found my way to the last page. That's a sincere compliment to the creators, because I've read and viewed enough horror storylines to be just a little bit jaded and normally immune to being moved by such fare. ABATTOIR managed to evoke a shiver from me; and while it was uncomfortable it wasn't enough to deter me from coming back for more spine-tingles.

ABATTOIR is only scheduled for a bi-monthly release, with Issue #2 due in December. The combination of atmospheric art and coloring plus solid story-telling make this new title hard to put down and forget about for 60 days. It's going to take a full year before this story plays out to the anticipated grisly conclusion. If you prefer the all-at-once reading experience you may want to program a reminder to order the trade 12 months or more from now. As for me, I'm perfectly willing to get my dose of terror every other month. I think I'll be able to hold the storyline and details in my memory from issue to issue. Issue #1 is certainly hard to forget.

It certainly begins in a gruesome fashion, with a 1980's flashback to a birthday party in the suburbs where a migraine-suffering father finally snaps (from a combination of stress and irritating neighbors) and slaughters everybody in a bloody manner.

Weeks later Richard Ashwalt, a real estate agent holding down two jobs and suffering through his own personal brand of stress, gets saddled with the unpleasant task of finding a new buyer for the property - - now famous for "the incident".

Maybe it was the after work drinks, the stressful situation with his wife when he gets home, or just the power of suggestion that makes him decide to investigate the crime scene in the middle of the night. The shadows and seemingly subliminal images of murder he sees while moving his flashlight about are spooky enough, but a prospective buyer just happens to materialize inside the home.

This gaunt skeletal presence in an out-dated suit (that looks like he's auditioning for the role of zombie undertaker) identifies himself as Jebediah Crone. He's prepared to make a deal to purchase the property this very night because "there's just something about this house that feels right." But Richard gets creeped out by the immediate nature of the offer and how anxious and persistent Crone behaves, so he ends up asking him to leave.

That night Richard has trouble sleeping, and is troubled by nightmares - - or are they flashback images of something horrific that happened in his early youth? After several sleepless nights he confides in his boss at the real estate agency, who says he's reminded of an "old ghost story about a bogeyman . . . who buys up properties and disappears . . . The only houses this guy buys are ones where someone died on the property." His boss concludes by telling Richard to get back in touch with the buyer and close the deal.

Before Richard can do anything, he learns that he's a suspect in a home invasion involving torture and murder that occurred in a neighboring town. As if things couldn't get any worse for him, his return call to the phone number on Jebediah Crone's business card goes unanswered. Possibly, that's because Richard finds Mr. Crone a waiting guest when he returns home to his family. The first issue ends as my shudders begin.

Could this be the beginning of a business relationship between Ashwalt and Crone? I'm not entirely sure. It's fairly obvious who the main character is here. Richard might just be a temporary player who doesn't quite make it to the end of Issue #6. We'll see.

The dictionary definition of "abattoir" originated in the 1820's, and is a more distinguished term for "slaughterhouse."

Creator Darren Lynn Bousman is better known as the director of the SAW movie franchise. I believe more mayhem waits in the pages of ABATTOIR.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

Avengers:EMH opening theme & closing credits.

The new Avengers cartoon, story edited by Marvel writer Chris Yost, has begun. I recommend starting with the 20 5-minute mini-episodes that were done as prequels to the premiere. They’re not essential in the sense that you can certainly enjoy and understand the series without them – with one exception: the explanation of why Hawkeye’s in The Vault in ep. 1 – but they’re very good and they flesh out the background of the story. The Captain America shorts, set in WWII, are the best ones (look for the cameo in the Howling Commandos scene) but even the Ant-Man eps are pretty cool. You can view the mini-episodes on Disney XD's Avengers page, which for some reason wants to show you the last episode first. To view them in order, you have to scroll down and watch them from the bottom up. (I think the mini-eps are available in Comcast and Verizon’s “On Demand” too, but I haven’t verified that.)

The initial two-part story in the full episodes is loosely based on the premise of Brian Bendis’ “New Avengers”, where a massive supervillain prison breakout brings the heroes together. It goes in some surprising directions, however, and the threat level is high enough that I honestly wasn’t sure how the heroes were going to win. The character designs are great – I especially like how big Thor and the Hulk are compared to the other characters – and there are tons of supervillain cameos during the prison breaks. (My only quibbles: Whiplash is a woman for some reason, and the Living Laser has an odd costume that I initially mistook for Vector of the U-Foes.) I really enjoyed the way the show is faithful to the source material but still modern and interesting. I loved the interpretation of the Hulk they’re using, and I’m not ashamed to admit that this old fan got a bit of a chill when the Wasp named the team at the end of episode 2.

“Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” airs Wednesday nights at 8:30pm on Disney XD. For you Captain America fans, I think the episode where they pull him out of the ice is scheduled to air the first week in November. The clip above is the cheesy (but catchy) theme song for the show. I like the animation in it, and I thought it would be less likely to get pulled off YouTube than any story material.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Comics I Read: More "Girl" Comics

Black Widow 1-6: Marjorie Liu's first (and only) arc runs through the first five issues. It's a decent enough spy story with good characterization, but there's never really any doubt which side Natasha is on and the mechanism for raising that doubt -- she's collecting intel on her friends! -- has been done before with Black Panther and Batman. The first part of Duane Swierczynski's story in #6 was more to my liking, throwing us into the middle of an already exciting story and giving us a few pages to wonder about which character is Natasha and the rest of the issue to wonder what she's up to. So far "Hawkeye & Mockingbird" is the far superior Marvel spy book, but at least this one is improving.




Gotham City Sirens 11-16: Paul Dini only wrote one of these last six issues (#11). I know he's busy with "Tower Prep" and "Ultimate Spider-Man" on TV, and that's fine -- I hear good things about "Tower Prep" but haven't seen it yet -- but given that this book was invented for him to write a character that he created and one that he revitalized, I wonder if it needs to exist if Dini's not going to be able to do it. It's not like there aren't a bunch of other Bat-books around with well defined points of view, and this one is just drifting. That said, Tony Bedard's story of the return of Selina's sister in #12-13 is quite good, but I didn't care for his story in #14-15 because I don't think these characters are the type that should be involved with aliens. ("Salvation Run" notwithstanding.) The first part of Peter Calloway's story in #16 didn't do much for me. I don't understand how anyone would know that Selina knew who Batman was, and the story's too similar to what's going on with Vicki Vale in the other books.




Hawkeye & Mockingbird 1-5: I agree wholeheartedly with what Shane had to say about this book. As writer Jim McCann describes it, "It's a spy book starring Avengers...and spies." The moments in the writing I'm most impressed with were an argument between Clint and Bobbi in #3 that easily could have been very cliché but wasn't, and the entire second half of #5 which seems to have a story climax every other page. Seriously, I kept thinking I was at the end of the issue and then something even more surprising would happen until the really shocking ending. I haven't talked much about art in this blog entry yet, but David Lopez is doing a wonderful job on this book. McCann's writing requires lots of emotional "acting" from the characters and Lopez nails it every time. (See the page above, the scenes between Hamilton Slade and his daughter in #5 and the shot of Hawkeye on the last page of that issue.) Now that Marvel's planning to cut back on the number of titles they publish, I'm not sure what the fate of this title will be after the "Widowmaker" crossover mini. It probably depends on sales, so please buy lots of copies so that we can continue to enjoy this book! [Edited to add: Here's another good review of H&M from Westfield Comics.)

McCann has proven himself a standout writer in another venue as well. I had the privilege of buying an advance copy of his "Return of the Dapper Men" graphic novel at NYCC and in my opinion it's a modern family classic. I'll have more to say when the book becomes widely available, but if you still can I urge you to preorder the book sight unseen. (Or check out the trailer on YouTube.) In fact, if you get it and don't think it's terrific I'll buy it from you. (This is a sincere offer, but it's only open to people I already know personally. Sorry, random Internet folks!)


Power Girl 14-17: The tone is definitely different from the whimsy of the Palmiotti/Conner issues, but Judd Winick is doing a great job mixing humor and adventure (and an unobtrusive tie-in to "Generation Lost"). I was especially impressed with the disintegration of PG's secret identity in #16 and the Batman (Dick Grayson) appearance in #17. ("I swear to God, half the time it actually seems like he's having fun.")


Supergirl 53-57: As I said in the previous entry, the Bizarro story in these issues is the best that writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle have done so far. It follows up on elements of "New Krypton" and Geoff John's "Escape from Bizarro World", though you don't need to have read either to enjoy it. I'm not sure if Igle is done now or what: new artist Bernard Chang drew #57, and Igle's not listed to draw the annual. But if Chang's work on #57 is any indication, the art duties are in great hands. There are lots of scenes between Kara and Bizarrogirl articulated really well, and an entire modern Bizarro Justice League including a Firestorm that seems alarmed that his head is on fire! Really, a very well done story paying off a lot of what Gates has been working towards. It seems the only thing left to tie up is the Cat Grant storyline, and it looks like that is coming to a head next issue.


X-Men Legacy 238-240: Finally, with "Second Coming" over, Mike Carey is able to get back to the stated premise of the book: Rogue mentoring young mutants. The story of Indra's arranged marriage is very timely and clever, and the addition of Magneto to the cast really works well. ("Clearly I'm outnumbered here. Surrounded by your people...I welcome these things. They virtually guarantee that you'll underestimate me.") Throw in some excellent work by artist Clay Mann, the kids having to act on their own, and a surprise ending, and #240 turns out to be my favorite issue of Carey's entire run.




Young Allies 1-5: Unfortunately, this book is gone with #6. It had a different voice than "Avengers Academy" and "Young Avengers" and I'm sorry to see it go. (One wonders if the book would have sold better if they had made up an Avengers-related name for it.) At first Sean McKeever's "Bastards of Evil" story seemed too similar to what Paul Cornell did with the Young Masters in "Dark Reign: Young Avengers", but it soon became apparent that it was its own thing and I really enjoyed his spin on it. But McKeever will be back for "Onslaught: Unleashed" early next year, and Young Ally Rikki Barnes has been involved with Onslaught before so maybe these characters will be back then?

Zatanna 3-5: At least Dini's consistently writing this one. I'm still not entirely hooked on it yet -- Zee just doesn't carry the weight in the mystic world to me as, say, Dr. Fate, but that's how Dini's writing her -- but there's a nice moment with her (late) dad in #3 and the interactions with her cousin in #4-5 were good. The more "down to earth" (if you can say that about Vegas) story in #4-5 worked better for me. I do like the book, but it's not a "can't wait to read it" title for me.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Comics I Read: Girl Comics

Supergirl: Death & The Family TPB: Although this book has the “New Krypton” banner on it, it’s only tangentially connected (mainly in the Superwoman origin story.) Instead, as the title suggests, Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle tell stories of the family Kara has created for herself on Earth, including Lana Lang, Linda Lang (Kara’s new secret identity) and the new Inspector Henderson. I was originally going to say that this was a good jumping on point for the current Supergirl team, but I found out in New York that they’re leaving. Still, these stories are good and the issues of the following story arc I’ve read are even better so I still recommend it. I’m sorry to see Gates and Igle go – they couldn’t tell me what they’re doing next – but new writer Nick Spencer (Jimmy Olsen, Morning Glories, Existence 2.0/3.0) is very good and new artist Bernard Chang is also terrific.

Girl Comics HC: Part of the “Women of Marvel” initiative, this is an anthology by all female creators. All anthologies are a little uneven, but this is mostly great stuff. My favorites are Coleen Coover’s framing sequences, Valerie D’orazio’s Punisher story – I said all female creators, not all female characters – Christine Boylan & Cynthia Martin’s Dr. Strange, Marjorie Liu & Sara Pichelli’s Wolverine & Jubilee, and especially the reunion of Power Pack creators Louise Simonson and June Brigman. The volume also includes well-done biographies of significant Marvel female creators such as Marie Severin and Glynis Oliver. Your mileage may vary, but there’s a significant enough variety of stories here that everyone should be able to find something to satisfy them.

Heralds HC: Regular readers of the blog have heard me sing the praises of writer Kathryn Immonen, mostly in relation to wackier fare like “Patsy Walker Hellcat”, but she is a dramatic writer as well. (See especially her independent work "Moving Pictures" with husband Stuart.) This book is a cross between those styles, sort of a Joss Whedon-style drama, so those of you who wouldn’t get caught reading “Patsy Walker” should find this more to your liking. It’s about a group of female Marvel heroes gathered together (by Scott Summers) to celebrate Emma Frost’s birthday, and what happens to them when a long-forgotten Marvel female falls to Earth. Or does she? Tonci Zonjic, James Harren & Emma Rios share the art chores, I guess because this was originally published as five weekly issues. The art styles match pretty well, except for the last issue which seemed a little “off model” compared to the others and with parts of the ending being a bit more confusing than necessary. But it’s an excellent mix of funny dialogue (“Puppets can make the bravest of us panic.”) and moving drama, and I highly recommend it.