Friday, January 28, 2011

More Randomizer for January 28, 2010 – new and old

SERENITY: FLOAT OUT  (one-shot, Dark Horse June 2010)  Story by Patton Oswalt. Art by Patric  Reynolds.  Colors by Dave Stewart. Letters by Michael Heisler.

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Josh Whedon’s late lamented television series FIREFLY was a particular favorite of mine.  So it’s nice to learn that Dark Horse has been publishing some stories based on the series under the banner of SERENITY (also the title of the movie that served as the final episode of the show).   Somehow I missed the earlier issues of SERENITY  and the first trade paperback.  But now it’s in my radar and I also plan to check out the upcoming graphic novel featuring the character Shepherd.

Comedian and film/television actor Patton Oswalt does a credible job with this story, as three former associates of Wash ( Washburne - -  the former pilot of the Firefly, who dies in the Serenity film) reminisce and share tales of his exploits,  usually involving quick get-aways and narrow near-misses.   The three short stories are amusing and the art by Reynolds is expressive when it needs to be and creative in the space scenes.  It reminds of the quality of work often seen in earlier issues of STAR WARS: X-WING ROGUE SQUADRON, also from Dark Horse.  While quite good, there’s nothing special here unless you are a fan of FIREFLY and want more of it.

BATGIRL #17  (DC Comics, March 2011)  Bryan Q. Miller, Writer.  Pere Perez, Artist.  Guy Major, Colorist. Travis Lanham, Letterer.

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I was very impressed with the early issues of Batgirl when this series debuted.  I decided to re-visit it again and wasn’t disappointed.  I haven’t been this entertained by a single-issue story in some time.  It’s  a stand-alone story and a great place to jump on and/or re-visit this title.

The art by Perez is very crisp and fluid.  The colors throughout this issue are vivid and enhance the story-telling.  And I absolutely love this story!  Batgirl gets working on her first mission through Batman, Inc. and finds Robin (Damien) there ahead of her stealing her thunder.  After some delightful back and forth banter they decide to reluctantly work together investigating a gang of kidnappers who prey on school children.  Lots of fun ensues.  I may have to come back.

KULL: THE HATE WITCH #3 OF 4  (Dark Horse, January 2011)  Script – David Lapham.  Pencils – Gabriel Guzman.  Inks – Mariano Taibo.  Colors – Dan Jackson.  Letters – Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt.

I’ve written about this mini-series previously, and Issue #3 doesn’t let up one bit.  It rewards the reader for their purchase and efforts. 

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I’ve also admired Lapham’s work and come to respect him as a highly adept chronicler of the seamy underbelly of current society.  This series confirms for me that he’s much more than just a one-trick pony and can work seamlessly in various genres.  Here, the same skill which he has used to portray the barbarism of modern civilization serves him well in a fantasy version.  It just seems tamer because we expect a little blood and gore when reading about Conan, Kull, etc.

I’m not familiar enough with  Howard’s stories of Kull to identify if some of this story is a re-telling of the legend / beginnings of Kull or a completely original creation of Lapham’s  - -but it’s a nice tie-in to the previously-mentioned  connection between Kull and the Witch.

The art here is very good, and the inks and colors just explodes with richness.  It’s worth seeking out the single issues because the covers by Tom Fleming are so good.

The Randomizer - - January 28, 2011 – new Black Panther

BLACK PANTHER: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR #513 – 514  (Marvel Comics, February – March 2011)  David Liss, writer. Francesco Francavilla, Artist. Joe Caramagna, Letterer.

I thought the premise for this book was interesting.  However, after reading the first two issues I like this book (but don’t love it)  and don’t consider it essential in the same way that I regard the Bendis, Brubaker, and Diggle DAREDEVIL books.   I don’t recall encountering the work of David Liss before, so I’m willing to give him a little time to develop this title.  I’ll keep my eye on it,  but it’s not going on the pull list.   

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What Liss seems best at scripting is the one-on-one encounter  and there are numerous examples of that in the first issue:  - - Matt Murdock confiding in T’Challa and asking him to take over protection of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood  - - - and T’Challa welcoming a new start and a chance at redemption and confidence restoration - - - T’’Challa talking about his absence with wife Storm - - in his new identity of Mr. Okonkwo interviewing a former Serbian nationalist for a waitress job at his diner - - turning down Luke Cage’s offer of assistance.  What these little scenes/encounters share in common is a realism that seems heartfelt and touching.

Liss also knows how to move the story along, as a new villain “Vlad The Impaler” wants to take over as local crime lord.  My only gripe is the way he depicts this immigrant Romanian with a super-past and super-secret.  In the interest of authenticity he uses  the broken English speech and mannerisms of Euro-gypsies for this character and it becomes annoying after awhile.   (My patience, it is wearing, yes?  But is important to portray properly, no?)   Also not entirely satisfying is the art by Francavilla.  Granted, there is a lot of story to get across here - - so the panels are smaller and don’t lend themselves to really fleshing out some battle scenes.  But does the Panther have to lead with his feet in every fight scene?   The pace picks up and the art improves somewhat in Issue #514.  I also expect this book to improve as it moves along until the inevitable return of Daredevil.   Enjoy it while you can.

P.S. The covers by Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi are outstanding.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

They Said It Better: Race, Gender and The Green Hornet



I've seen Seth Rogen's "Green Hornet", which I enjoyed, but this is one of those cases where I came across a better review before I had a chance to write mine. So, I'll just share a few thoughts and then give you the link.

This is a comedy action-adventure, and it stays really close to the line between being too silly and too serious. I think it works because Seth Rogen is the only character trying to be funny, and even that is in character for rich playboy layabout Britt Reid. Jay Chou is terrific as Kato, the brains (and muscle) of the operation, both in and out of costume. My one complaint is that I would have liked to see more martial arts action scenes with him. (But that was my complaint about Bruce Lee in the 60's TV series too, so at least I'm consistent.) Cameron Diaz doesn't have a ton to do as Britt Reid's assistant Lenore, but what she does is great and non-stereotypical for this kind of film. (See below for more about that.)

I liked that, at the same time Reid is slowly becoming more competent the mobster bad guy slowly gets driven crazier by the Green Hornet's interference. Despite being a comedy, the film is respectful of the concept and there are lots of in-jokes that fans of previous adaptations (especially the TV show) will appreciate. That said, I think it should work equally well for the majority of the audience who've never heard of the character before. The action scenes are well done, and while the Hornet and Kato are more cavalier towards taking lives than I would prefer I think it's consistent with what modern audiences expect. (Like "Batman Begins", we'll just assume that all the cops that got run off the road by the hero's cool car were uninjured.)

There's actually a more subtle (almost daring) film going on here, and for an better analysis of that than I could do I highly recommend reading "Race, Gender, and The Green Hornet" at Fantastic Fangirls. I know it sounds pretentious, but it's a really thoughtful, well-written review. (Peter David's review is also pretty good.)

I did not see this in 3D -- I avoid that because I never know what to do with my glasses -- so I can't comment on those effects at all. Also, a program note: SyFy is running another marathon of the 60's "Green Hornet" TV show all day tomorrow (1/28). If you've never seen Bruce Lee in it, then I recommend catching an episode or two just for him but otherwise it's basically just 60's "Batman" played completely seriously. (i.e. boring.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

I Know I’m Going BATS - - - Prelude

I did comment earlier (see the archives for the December 20, 2010 blog)  that I would later be exploring Grant Morrison’s run on BATMAN in order to decide for myself  which of two viewpoints is correct.  There is a debate in circulation among comics circles about THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE mini-series:  is Grant goofing on the audience or is Grant producing a great work?

To some of you my choice of commentary  - - BATWOMAN , a book not being written by Morrison - - may seem like a classic case of  misdirection.  There’s a reason I’m talking about it now.  I believe I’ve found a connection in a Morrison-scripted book which I’ll write about later. In the meantime this looks to be a beautiful book that I hope has a long run.

BATWOMAN #0  (DC Comics, January 2011)  J.H. Williams III writer/artist; W. Haden Blackman co-writer; Amy Reeder artist – Kate sequence; Richard Friend inker; Dave Stewart colorist; Todd Klein letterer.

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The script is a great re-cap of previous events and Batwoman background that doesn’t bore or make you feel like reading history while it’s going on.  (Marvel Saga books, take a hint!) 

A  Batman (makes you wonder which one initially, but by page 3 you know it’s Bruce Wayne) is quietly observing the comings and goings of Batwoman and Kate Kane.  The purpose of the surveillance is to determine if indeed Kane is Batwoman as well as assess her combat skills in action.

Most of the story plays out across double-page spreads with Batwoman in the top panels and Kate Kane in the lower panels, or diagonally divided.  The Batwoman art is by J H Williams II - - as creative as  ever.  I love how he uses rich red and black colors to accentuate the movements of Batwoman.  The Kate sequences are drawn by Amy Reeder in  a very complimentary style that fits well with Williams’ work.   You need to see these panels.  Batwoman #0 is a study in stylistic expression.  Outstanding work.

Batman Wayne concludes that Kate is Batwoman, and “she has all the right instincts.” . . . “More important, she has the one thing I can’t teach.  That hole inside her that can’t ever be filled, no matter how many criminals she takes down . . . it givers her the drive to do this.” . . . “It’s time she and I have a serious discussion about the future.”

BATMAN: THE RETURN  ONE-SHOT  (DC Comics, January 2011)  Grant Morrison, Writer.  David Finch, Penciller.  Batt & Ryan Winn, Inkers.  Peter Steigerwald, Colorist.  Dave Sharpe, Letterer.

Right after being “wowed’ by the work of J H Williams III in BATWOMAN #0 I pick up this book and get stunned a second time  by the always amazing panels by artist David Finch.  That is reason enough right there to pick up this book.  However, the story by Morrison helps set up what is going to be happening in all  the other Bat-titles in the months to come.

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Bruce Wayne has returned and calls a gathering to the Bat Cave to discuss his future plans.  Among the group are Batman and Robin (aka Dick and Damien), Red Robin , Batgirl and Oracle.  Bruce wants to take the Batman mission beyond Gotham City and make it a world-wide crusade.  He can’t do it without lots of help.   (There’s a lot of soul-searching and analysis that must have gone into those decisions, but Morrison saves the background for another day and concentrates solely on giving a little preview of the new game-plan.  There’s also glimpses of a new international villain, a combination of highly-financed terrorist and creepy mad geneticist that should be interesting.)

After reading BATWOMAN #0 ,  I was convinced that she would be part of this initial gathering but she’s noticeably absent from this issue.  Maybe Bruce had a change of heart about her readiness, or perhaps has bigger plans in mind and/or a solo mission for Kate Kane.

BATMAN: THE RETURN is so much more than just a supplementary annual.  If you want to follow the events to come you should have it. I consider it essential.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Advance Comics Preview: Shine A Light On MOONSTONE

In a cluttered comics marketplace, this May 2011 Moonstone will be hoping  to draw some additional attention to its line of licensed characters with a three book cross-over mini-series, as well as a collaboration with another company’s popular character, and a revival of  a long out of print indie comics classic.

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Leading off in May will be PHASES OF THE MOON, a three-issue budget-priced ($2.50 each) color comics  flip-book featuring six Moonstone titles.  The story line spans several decades and involves a serial killer who may also be a time-traveler.

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PHASES OF THE MOON #1  - DOMINO LADY / THE SPIDER  is written by Steven L. Frank with art by Remy Mokhtar and Bill McKay.  PHASES OF THE MOON #2 – HONEY WEST / KOLCHAK is by writer Mark Rahner and artists Glen Fernandez and Matt Hebb.  PHASES OF THE MOON #3 – SHEENA / CAPTAIN ACTION wraps it all up by writer Steven L. Frank with art by Nathan Stockman and Glen Fernandez.

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Moonstone’s creepy humor title meets Image’s high school monster hunter in HACK/SLASH MEETS ZOMBIES VS. CHEEERLEADERS #1 written by Steven L Frank with art by Benjamin Glendenning.

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Finally, Moonstone reprints the original 1980’s black and white stories of EAGLE: THE ORIGINAL ADVENTURES TPB VOL. 1, collecting the first six issues of this series plus a preview of the new comic book series in development.  Moonstone describes this book as LONE WOLF AND CUB meets BLADE RUNNER.  It’s notable for being the first creator owned work of local legendary artist Neil Vokes.   Special features in the book include a cover gallery, concept sketches and editorial pieces from the creative team.  200 pages, $16.95.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Grabs from the Top Shelf - - - NIGHT ANIMALS

NIGHT ANIMALS  (Top Shelf Productions, March 2011 release date) Writer / Artist Brecht Evens.  48 pages  $7.95

Last year, Top Shelf expanded their line to include a number of acclaimed Swedish works.  In 2011, they bring us some more European craft with NIGHT ANIMALS by Belgian cartoonist Brecht Evens – originally published in Belgium as NACHTDIEREN in 2007.

I was attracted to this book because there is no dialogue or captions  -- so no need to worry if the translation is a good one.  NIGHT ANIMALS contains two short stories told solely with pictures - - and what fantastic imagery is contained inside!   It’s a real dose of  psychedelic power and brought back memories of some of the classic trippy underground comic books I enjoyed as a 1970’s college student.   It’s a quick read and I suspect you’ll do what I did after I finished it again.  I started over from the beginning and took more time to savor the art - - and it rewarded me a second time with many things I failed to notice on the first go-around.

NIGHT ANIMALS is subtitled “A Diptych About What Rushes Through The Bushes” .  Both stories are related in that they center around personal voyages of discovery through strange landscapes,  both occur at night and involve weird animals, and both have sexual themes (direct and implied).  Evens possess an elaborate imagination as a cartoonist but that’s not all he commands.  He also employs a skillful use of bold colors, taking a minimalist approach on some pages to enhance and make the one or two colors used really “pop”.

The book opens with “Blind Date” as a man drives from the city to a park location, dons a rabbit costume and waits on a bench with a bouquet of flowers for an apparent first romantic encounter with someone.  As it begins to get darker and just as he suspects he is being “stood up” - - a pointing arrow appears on the ground at his feet.  He follows this and more arrows to a seedy bar and into the rest-room where a most unusual variation on “down the rabbit hole” occurs.

He’s entered through the sewers into a world below the surface inhabited by various and strange creatures, many of which seem to threaten and come close to attacking him as he winds his way through many landscapes and crawls and squirms through many tight holes and tunnels.  “Blind Date” is a testament to the lengths that a man will go and what he will endure if he believes he might “score” at the finish line.   Delightful!

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The main character in “Bad Friends”, the second story is a early teenage girl who completes a grueling gymnastic routine for a demanding instructor.  As she retreats to the locker room when finished, her body matures and grows breasts in front of the other female gymnasts.  As she begins to menstruate on the tile floor for the first time, she runs away in shame.

When she returns home she rushes straight past her parents and retreats to the seclusion of her bedroom.  Sometime during the night a Pan-like satyr performs a flute serenade and flies her away to a strange and wondrous land where she is the center of attention at a weird animal party.  She has the time of her life and becomes more uninhibited and carefree as more clothing is shed.   The next day search party looks for her in vain as her parents ponder over her disappearance in the night.

Not only did I want to re-read this right after finishing - - it made me crave a number of other art works as well.   As I read /viewed NIGHT ANIMALS  another rush of memories assaulted me and I scrambled to try and remember all the influences I detected in Evens’ work.   Don’t misunderstand - - he’s not a copy-cat.  He’s just blended some of these styles into his own work in a way that will make it seem immediately familiar to you (provided you’ve been exposed to the same sources as I have).

Both stories have that playfully dark sensibility to them  -- like the best works of Gahan Wilson and Charles Aadams.  As you read “Bad Friends”  - - “Where The Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak will come immediately to mind.  The character in “Blind Date”  would find many sympathetic friends in the cartoon creations of Jules Feiffer.  Lastly, many of the nocturnal creatures in NIGHT ANIMALS could easily step right off the panels of early Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.

In fact,  I thought that the subtitle of this book - - “A Diptych About What Rushes Through The Bushes’”  was  a subtle nod by Evens towards the Bosch influence.  Bosch utilized the “triptych” style of expression - - works of art divided into 3 panels  (see Bosch’s “Garden Of Earthly Delights” for a good example of this).  This got me rushing to the dictionary/reference books where I learned that “diptych” is not only an art style that involves painting on two flat plates attached by a hinge.  It is also used to mean a thematically-linked sequence of two books.

Aha - - - clever one, is Brecht Evens.

Order a second copy of this one as a gift to your art-loving friends.  But keep away from the younger readers. Mature audiences only.   Available in March 2011.

RADICAL: CRIME doesn’t pay - - - but it’s cheap to read

HOLLOW POINT / DAMAGED FLIP BOOK  (Radical Comics Premiere $1.00, Mature Readers, December 2010)

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HOLLOW POINT Created by Ron L. Brinkerhoff. Written by David Hine. Illustrated by Elia Bonetti. Paints by Ong Chew Peng.  (12 page preview) Tamas Gaspar cover.

The credits page synopsis does more to cover what HOLLOW POINT will be about than the 12 page preview does:  “After surviving a near fatal gunshot wound to the head, a notorious assassin realizes that the bullet meant to kill him has opened up a third eye into the spirit realm.  Tortured by his own blood-soaked legacy, he is given a rare chance at redemption by avenging the ghosts of victims past, with the dead as his new employer . . . “

What the preview does instead, and does very effectively, is present part of the prequel to this transformation, revealing some of the introspection that made the assassin (never identified by name yet) take pity and hesitate to complete the kill on his present assignment, perhaps being   his last mission  - - after which he resolved to ask questions that ended in his change of direction.

I really enjoyed the set-up in these 12 pages.  The target of the assassin is an alleged pedophile priest now transferred by the Church to a Mexico parish in order to avoid scandal.  He trails him to a bar where the priest is drinking alone. Something compels the assassin to join him and the dialogue/interplay between the two is both interesting and makes the difference between just a standard crime comic and one worth investigating further.   The art by Bonetti can’t be too flashy or oversized, as it takes a lot of panels to present this story - - but I do see a lot of detail in the backgrounds that move it beyond the standard fare.

The release date of HOLLOW POINT #1 is not noted here, so I’ll have to check PREVIEWS. 

DAMAGED  Created by Michael Schwarz and John Schwarz.  Written by David Lapham. Illustrated by Dennis Calero  (12 page preview)  Alex Maleev cover.

Like HOLLOW POINT, the short preview of DAMAGED is meant to generate some interest and set the stage for the bigger story to come.  It’s very atmospheric and reads like a standard police procedural - - because essentially that’s what this preview is.

Captain Lincoln is a veteran police officer, called into the initial crime scene investigation of the bloody aftermath of a murder raid on a Russian Mafiya stronghold/safe house.   It appears to be the work of an assault squad but Lincoln sees evidence that reminds him of a similar incident in his past and becomes suspicious.  After locating and questioning the sole survivor he realizes his worst fears - - it may be the work of a one-man rogue/maniac cop.

Also like HOLLOW POINT, it the story that is going to drive this book and make it worthwhile.  The art is good and compliments the story in setting the mood, but doesn’t leave any other impression on me.  However, I’m looking forward to more of this story under the capable hands of a grim writer like Lapham.

Unlike HOLLOW POINT, there is no synopsis on the contents page to indicate where this story is heading.  However, after reading the description on Radical Comics website, it gets even more interesting and DAMAGED probably would attract more attention if it had been.   So, I’m going to use it here in it’s entirety:

Created by Full Clip Productions’ John Schwarz and Michael Schwarz, and written by Eisner Award winner David Lapham (Stray Bullets), a tale of two brothers committed to justice in different ways – one inside the law, one violently beyond it.  Now, with the end of their careers approaching, they must train their replacements, hoping to remake each in their image.  But the vigilante code has changed and the brothers are left unprepared for the true lawlessness and corruption that is about to be unleashed.

DAMAGED #1 debuts in June 2011.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Today is Girl Genius Day

I don't think I've ever mentioned them here before, but Phil & Kaja Foglio have been among the best writer/cartoonists in the business for decades. (Old-time D&D fans will remember their "What's New" comic strip in Dragon magazine.) Details linked below about the event they've set up to promote their wonderful (and free) webcomic "Girl Genius".

Today is Girl Genius Day | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

THE RANDOMIZER - - - JANUARY 12, 2011

ABATTOIR #2 of 6  (December 2010, Radical Comics  - - Mature Readers)  Created by Darren Lynn Bousman. Concept by Michael Peterson. Written by Rob Levin & Troy Peteri.  Illustrated by Bing Cansino and Rodell Noora. Coloring by Andrei Pervukhin & Drazenka Kimpel.  Cover by Tae Young Choi.

While not as horrific in its imagery as Issue #1, this books continues to disturb with its unsettling tale of a world unraveling for struggling real estate agent and distraught husband/father Richard Ashwalt.

The skeletal and creepy Jebediah Crone who wanted to purchase the home where a recent massacre was committed won’t abandon his mission, even worming his way into Ashwalt’s home via a ruse and ingratiating himself to his young daughter.   The real estate agency over-rules Richard’s objections and sells the home to Crone.   Richard enlists the help of Patrick, another realtor, to investigate Crone and finds he has a history of buying properties where murder/suicides have occurred.

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What keeps this book interesting is that there is a multi-layered complex mystery behind these creepy 1980’s  events that is slowly unraveling and revealing more as the story progresses.  Richard continues to be disturbed by horrible dreams involving his father showing him murder scenes - - while in the real world a police investigation of the actual event finds evidence that points back to him.

I’ve previously written about detecting a cinematic-like approach to all the Radical books as well as similar painted-appearing artwork and coloring/ink styles.  After reading the NY Times profile on Radical (see yesterday’s article in the BC archives) it all becomes clearer.  These books are actually proposed movie scripts.   Unlike the “movies research and then find a suitable comics property” approach, this is more like “using comics to develop movie properties.”  It’s a clever business model - - when presenting the idea to Hollywood producers there is already storyboards in place and a well-defined first draft of a script - - and perhaps an already built-in audience for the movie based on how popular the comic book was.

Maybe some comics purists object to this approach, but you’ve got to admire it a  little.  As long as the books are produced this well and  entertaining  I certainly don’t mind at all.

UPDATE TO JAN 11 ARTICLE ON RADICAL:  I’ve since learned that two more Radical Comics are scheduled to be filmed = EARP: SAINTS FOR SINNERS  (Dreamworks)  and  FREEDOM FORMULA (New Regency).

STAN LEE’S STARBORN #2 (Boom! Studios January 12, 2011 release) Written by Chris Roberson. Art by Khary Randolph. Colors by Mitch Gerads.  Letters by Ed Dukeshire.  Covers by Humberto Ramos and Gene Ha.

Issue #1 ended as imaginative would-be science fiction writer Benjamin Warner’s reality began to unravel and elements from his fictional work began to manifest and intrude into his life in the real world.   Issue #2 finds him mostly reacting in amazement to event after event as the lines between reality and fiction become sewn together. 

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The “Civilization”  written about in Warner’s works actually exists and is a group of various alien races from different planets banded together to ward off the invasion attempts of the Hybrids.  One of the Civilization races, the Hive (who look a little bit like a Skrull/Brood combination) , have detected an heir to the House of Bin (apparently high-ranking on their world)  living “on a planet entirely inhabited by humans”.  This news causes some disgust among the membership.  Apparently “humans’ have been a troublesome member of “Civilization”.  Obviously they are speaking of Ben Warner, which means he may not be really human, but a Hive member.

There is a very amusing segue in the beginning of this issue after the Civilization meeting concludes with a mention of  a limb falling from a tree and the story cuts away to the action back on Earth as Ben and his rescuer, Tara Takamoto, take a giant leap off a building as they flee the Hive agents.   Seems that Tara, Ben’s childhood sweetheart and neighbor, has always been there from Day One to serve as his protector.  She’s a shape-shifting martial arts and weapons expert and may be much older than she appears.

To make matters worse, the agents of The Network (combined Civilization forces) have just arrived as this issue ends.  The art by Randolph is manga-influenced but more subdued than others who opt for this style.  It seems more lean and angular to me and it’s very entertaining, as is this book.  I think this is the most light-hearted and amusing so far of the Stan Lee titles at Boom!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Cape (Mondays, NBC)


So, "The Cape". Pretty much the most generic superhero name possible, and a premise to match. Did it manage to rise above? Not really. But I kind of loved the first hour anyway, where everyone plays their parts just the tiniest bit over the top. Not enough to be ridiculous; the performances come off sincere instead of cynical just enough to add a little bit of wit and charm to the proceedings. Fictional "Palm City" is unreal and abstract enough to sustain the idea that the city leaders are considering letting the Ark corporation, secretly run by supervillian Chess (of course), privatize the police department. I like that the first hour doesn't waste a lot of time getting our hero, Vince Faraday, framed for Chess' crimes and off the grid training with the Carnival of Crime (!) to establish his new identity as the hero of his son's favorite comic. Lead actor David Lyons is earnest, if a bit bland, and needs to take American accent lessons from Hugh Laurie or Simon Baker. The Cape stops one of Chess' plans, as well as some petty crimes -- Shopkeeper: "You're a superhero! What do they call you?" Cape: "I'm the Cape." Shopkeeper: "Well." (pauses, then enthusiastically) "You'll work on it!" -- before visiting his son (in character) to tell him to never give up hope. (This is arguably pretty selfish, as the kid spends his every scene in the second half of the show pining for another visit.)

But the second hour, about Chess plotting the murder of a politician ("West Wing"'s Richard Schiff) who dares vote against his takeover plans, is relentlessly grim, drab and awful. I do like that after a stabbing attempt fails Chess invites Schiff to a fancy restaurant to poison him instead, but that's the only bit of whimsy in an hour of secret assassin conspiracies, an incomprehensible French assassin, cliche dialogue ("My family's not my weakness. They're my strength.") and Bruce Wayne-like training where Faraday tries to immunize himself to poisons one drop at a time. We'll see next Monday which show this turns out to be: I might just watch the one with the slight charm, even though it's not very good, because the people that made that hour seemed to be having fun. I'd definitely pass on the grim 'n' gritty version because that feels like the show the network wants, not the show the creators want to make.

I can't quite in good conscience recommend the show yet, but if you're interested you can watch the pilot online at NBC.com's "The Cape" page until the first week in February.

Monday, January 10, 2011

COMICS BIZ NEWS: RADICAL update from the NY Times

Radical Comics, a new company just two years old, is continuing to grow - - with renewed emphasis on developing movie properties as well as branching out into China/Asia.  The movie direction explains in part to me why they have been associated with so many screen-writers, directors and actors in their various books (their emphasis is on limited series rather than regular monthly titles).   They’ve apparently taken  a little heat for that movie connection from critics, but as long as the quality of the work is good it shouldn’t matter.  I’ve been largely impressed by most everything I’ve picked up from Radical.  I’d also be likely to see the film adaptations of at least 3 of the 5 announced movie properties in development.

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You can read a short profile on the company plus an update on current activities right from the front section of the New York Times business section right here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/business/media/10radical.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&sq=radical&st=cse&scp=1

Radical as a company reminds me a lot of the late  lamented Crossgen Comics  - - - a company that seemed to grow and expand into other markets too quickly and imploded due to various strains on their business model.   (Rumor was they weren’t paying writers/artists on schedule either).  The profile of owner/founder Barry Levine reminds me also of Crossgen’s founder - - lots of ambition and drive.  I wish them well and hope they are financially strong enough to handle this kind of growth. 

Here are the properties supposedly in film development:  “Hercules: The Thracian Wars”; “Driver For The Dead”, “Mata Hari”, “Oblivion” and “Damaged”.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

NEWS for 2011: Make some room on your TOP SHELF

 

JANUARY 09, 2011:  Top Shelf Comix has announced its entire 2011 line-up of books and graphic novels - - and it’s impressive.   Last year, Top Shelf  introduced some acclaimed Swedish comics to the English-speaking world.  What will they be doing this year?

You can view the entire line-up for 2011 at their website here:

http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog/2011-releases?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Top+Shelf+announces+2011+lineup&utm_content=Top+Shelf+announces+2011+lineup+CID_90d0433e363c94d89136473012a8e94e&utm_source=Email+marketing+software&utm_term=complete+2011+lineup

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Among the many upcoming titles that I’ll be looking forward to are new editions of Jeff Lemire’s ESSEX COUNTY in January and Alan Moore’s FROM HELL in February.    Top Shelf features an award winning Belgium writer/artist in March with NIGHT ANIMALS  (to be reviewed here later) and the long-awaited next installment in Alan Moore’s LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN in CENTURY II in July. 

Also in the line-up are a new work from THE SURROGATES author Robert Venditti in THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE and the next edition of AX VOLUME 2: A COLLECTIVE OF ALTERNATIVE MANGA.

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Top Shelf is also expanding its offerings to children and will begin the TOP SHELF KIDS CLUB in 2011, featuring new stories of OWLY,  JOHNNY BOO and some new favorites.  

Top Shelf has also created a newspaper to give away at comics conventions and signings throughout the year to publicize their line-up of books.  You can read a copy of it right here:

http://www.topshelfcomix.com/p/top-shelf-tribune-vol2-no1?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Top+Shelf+announces+2011+lineup&utm_content=Top+Shelf+announces+2011+lineup+CID_90d0433e363c94d89136473012a8e94e&utm_source=Email+marketing+software&utm_term=2011+Top+Shelf+Tribune

Saturday, January 8, 2011

GREEN HORNET: plenty to buzz about

The amount of Green Hornet material currently available through Dynamite Entertainment is staggering - - they might as well put the “franchise” tag on him - - I think there are more Green Hornet titles and spin-offs than there are books featuring Spider-Man at Marvel.

All those books look interesting, but there are way more than I have the time,  inclination, and/or budget to consider picking up.  I’ve been sticking with GREEN HORNET solely, the flagship title, and I haven’t regretted that for a moment.

GREEN HORNET #11 (Dynamite 2010)   “Idols Part One: Los Hijos De La Muerte”               

GREEN HORNET #12 (Dynamite 2011)  “Idols Part Two: Unmasked”

Written by Phil Hester.  Pencils by Jonathan Lau.  Colors by Ivan Nunes.  Letters by Troy Peteri.    More variant covers than you can imagine by Alex Ross, Phil Hester, Jonathan Lau. 

Now that the adaptation of the first rejected Green Hornet film script by Kevin Smith has played itself out in the first ten issues of GREEN HORNET, the writing reins are turned over solely to Phil Hester and I couldn’t be happier.  He does a great job with this title, making it modern/current without forgetting the heritage/past and frequently paying tribute to it.

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A great story is complimented by equally great art from Jonathan Lau, who is doing some of his best work here.  I’ve always admired his style, but have had trouble before sometimes figuring out what is going on in the panel.  He’s more restrained here, with the exception of a few fight scenes where it becomes cluttered and hard to figure out who is doing what.   Lau is experimenting with white space between panels to great effect.  He also favors the long vertical panel and it gives the book a very stylish look that sets it apart and makes it worthy of your inspection.

The Green Hornet can only keep the peace in Century City as long as criminals continue to fear his wrath. A new Mexican gang doesn’t heed his threats because they serve and are protected by Santa Muerte - - Saint Death - - and kick back a  sizeable portion of their proceeds to the corrupt parishioner who keeps them under control through his Church.

There are some eye-appealing skirmishes in this book that are very cinematic in presentation. A trap set by the Hornet and Kato atop a suspension bridge doesn’t come off as planned and results in the Hornet being cornered by a dirty cop who uncovers his identity and then sets out to bribe Britt Reid.   Just when this fast-paced crime story seems to be kicking into gear a supernatural element arises near the end of Issue #12, which will take it to yet another level.

The pacing is excellent and the dialogue is crisp and snappy.  I like the professional distance that the Hornet and female Kato try to maintain.  You can only sense their attraction to each other in the jabbing insults they use on each other as a cover for a little flirting.   There’s a neat subplot here that has the original Kato traveling to Japan to try and make peace with the crime gang that seems to be seeking revenge on Green Hornet.   I’m in for the ride here for some time.

I’ll probably comment later on the first ten issues of GREEN HORNET  adapting Kevin Smith’s screenplay after I see the GREEN HORNET movie with Seth Rogan.  I’ ve been a little excited by the action scenes in the early previews, but get a sense it’s more of a light-hearted “buddy” movie .  I just hope it’s respectful to the Hornet legend.

Sleeper title of the year? SUPERBOY continues to delight!

SUPERBOY #3 (DC Comics, March 2011)  “The New Adventures Of Psionic Lad, Part One”.  Jeff Lemire writer. Pier Gallo artist. Jamie Grant colorist. John J. Hill letterer.

One of the reasons I like Jeff Lemire’s run on SUPERBOY so far is that he incorporates small town sensibilities and atmosphere into a book about an all-powerful super hero.  Also, he’s writing about the Conner Kent version of Superboy, and not young Clark Kent.  Connor has issues related to his origins as a Superman/Lex Luthor DNA clone and his proper role in the universe.  He retreated to the more laid back life in Smallville and the advise and counsel of Ma Kent - -  but life is far from simple.  It seems like the world is bringing its problems right to Connor, and he feels responsible for what’s happening in Smallville as a result.

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The town of Smallville has certainly taken it’s licks.  In Issue #1 the Parasite left a trail of devastation behind him as he maneuvered through the fields and countryside.  Old Mister Gilliam’s machine did even more damage in Issue #2, leaving an overgrowth of giant vines behind.  In a lot of books, this would just be handled in passing in the following issues, or not mentioned at all as if the town cleaned up overnight.  But in Superboy #3 you still see signs of this destruction in every outdoor scene.  Lemire does his best to keep it real in an unreal setting, and that’s what I like - - this conscientious version of Superboy.

The opening is pure dynamite, and pure Lemire.  A beautifully detailed scene of  early morning as the dusky sun outlines the moon before it disappears from the sky, crows depart from weathervanes and Krypto howls.  Conner and Ma Kent have an early morning discussion.  He feels the farmers will have a hard time recovering as Ma assures him the townsfolk are sturdy and resilient.  He later tries to set up his own Farm-Aid type relief by organizing a Superboy/Kid Flash race as a fund-raiser.   (A preview of an upcoming story to whet the appetite.)

More great scenes occur as Superboy has a heartfelt discussion with his new sidekick  about why Connor and Simon can’t be seen hanging together at school.  This takes place in one of the few places in a school where you can get away from a crowd  - - the boy’s rest room.  Lemire just thinks everything through and chooses the natural direction.  Oh yeah, there is plenty of action and mystery this issue also.  A headache plague emerges that renders unconsciousness just before Psionic Boy makes his appearance from the future followed by pursuers.  Get this!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Comics I Read: Last Lightning Round

Last batch of unrehearsed remarks before you all get sick of me. (Too late, I know.)


Detective Comics 867-872: David Hine's "Impostor Joker" story in #867-870 didn't do much for me, though props as always to Scott McDaniel. I'm liking Scott Snyder & Jock's first two issues better, although I'm a little bothered by a cover built by Oracle being so easily punctured but maybe there'll be an explanation of that by stories end. However, the Commissioner Gordon backups with art by noir master Francesco Francavilla are brilliant and worth the price of admission all by themselves.


Daken: Dark Wolverine 1-4: I was starting to get bored with this, and then the FF show up in #4 written very well and Daken is both charming to them and utterly manipulative. Then we're left with the promise of a future confrontation with Captain America. Well played, Way & Liu. I'm hooked again for now.


Doom Patrol 12-17: Another of my top 5 DC books. In current issues, I love the way Giffen's been exploring the Chief's role and how thoroughly he messed up the DP's lives. It was also a huge treat to have him draw #16, featuring another character from Doom Patrol history (a specialty of this book.)


Freedom Fighters 1-4: I like the whole "National Treasure" / "Brad Meltzer's Decoded" vibe of having Uncle Sam and crew look for lost American artifacts and conspiracies. Why use them at all if what they're doing isn't uniquely American, right? It's a little over the top as far as the government goes -- dead senators and elected officials with missing fingers -- but it's not like DCU America was ever realistic. (President Luthor, anyone?) It's also great that the team has arguments about tactics with both sides having a valid point. Add to that the legacies of a couple of forgotten All-Star Squadron members, and I'm quite pleased with this book so far.

Generation Hope 1-2: There's always room for a "young" X-Men book -- most recently, um, "Young X-Men", which I loved -- and this is no exception. It's fresh because the mutation rules have changed, freeing writer Kieron Gillen to create new characters from a template we've never seen before. He does a great job at getting us inside their heads, with one notable exception that makes for an even more interesting character. These kids need Hope to activate them and bring them together, and the hints that their loyalty to her may not be completely voluntary are intriguing. A very good start, and I'm looking forward to a long run.


Green Arrow 1-7: Mixed feelings about this one. I didn't agree with all the "Cry for Justice" stuff and the jettisoning of all the supporting cast (except for Black Canary, because that got us "Birds of Prey" back), but I like that JT Krul is exploring Ollie's family background which I don't think has ever been done before.


Green Lantern 57-61, Green Lantern Corps 50-54, Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors 1-5: I'm lumping these titles together because it's becoming clear that they're all converging on the same story. ("War of the Green Lanterns", presumably.) These are some good comics, especially the main book by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke. I'm enjoying them every month, and I recommend them, but I don't have the passion for them at the moment that I do for things like "Brightest Day", "Birds of Prey", "Secret Six", "Avengers Academy" and all the other stuff I've raved about this week. Maybe that'll change as we get closer to the next major story, we'll see. Anyway, good stuff, but not at the top of the pile.


Hulk 25-28: I'll not give away Red Hulk's identity for a while longer, since I don't know where you're all at in the story, but having it known gives new writer Jeff Parker a whole new aspect of the character to explore. And if you missed Gabriel Hardman's art on "Atlas", as most of the world did, check it out here: he's outstanding.


Incredible Hulks 612-619: All the rest of the Hulks are here (though Banner appears in "Hulk" too), and Greg Pak continues his excellent work with these characters. The building of the Hulk's new family is great, and the confrontation with his other son tragic. (Although I missed the point where Hiro-Kala's parentage changed from "possibly a delusion" to "definitely the Hulk's son".) I've always like Paul Pelletier's art, but I'm definitely looking forward to Dale Eaglesham on the next arc.


Invincible Iron Man 28-32: Matt Fraction's been consistent on this book, so you probably already know if you like it or not. Personally, I love it. I'm a fan all of Fraction's current Marvel books, but if you forced me to pick a favorite it would have to be this one (by a hair over "Uncanny X-Men").


Knight & Squire 1-3: Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton have created the most British comic ever published by Americans. (Even the name "Jimmy Broxton" seems quintessentially British to me.) Cornell does make an attempt to explain the references in the back of each issue, but really either you grok the sensibility of this or it drives you nuts. I happen to love it, personally, but your mileage may vary. The first issue is completely bonkers, with a bazillion characters, and they get progressively more serious (but not too much so) after that.


Mighty Crusaders 1-6: And so the Archie Red Circle heroes revival dies alone, unmourned and unloved. There's nothing particularly wrong with this miniseries, but the concept was dead in the water long before it came along. I liked JMS "Web" premise and the ongoing "Shield" series had its moments, but that's about it.

Morning Glories 1-5: I'm really enjoying this Image series from "THUNDER Agents" writer Nick Spencer and artist Joe Eisma so far, especially the last half-dozen pages of #5. It's something I haven't seen before, told very well. To frame it as a cross between TV shows, I'd say it's like "The Prisoner" meets CW highschool drama. (Or what I imagine a CW highschool drama to be; I don't think I've actually seen one if "Smallville" doesn't count.) I’d love to compare this to Paul Dini’s “Tower Prep” on Not-A-Cartoon Network, but I haven’t had a chance to watch that yet. By the way, I completely forgot to mention Spencer’s awesome Jimmy Olsen backups when I was talking about Action Comics. The feature got booted from Action because of the price decrease, but there’s a special (and presumably a collection) on the way. I also hear good things about Spencer's "Infinite Vacation", a sci-fi series which had its first issue out this week.

New Mutants 15-20: I didn't quite realize that I had missed these characters until they came back, although I'm concerned that I won't care for the next writer's interpretation as well as I've liked Zeb Wells (who only has one issue left, I think.) Well's "Fall of the Mutants/Rise of the Mutants" story has been quite long, and it's arguably not a great idea to tie it back to "Inferno" but he gets these characters really well and I've enjoyed reading about how they've matured over the years. I don't necessarily recommend this book for everyone, but if you have affection for the original series I would try the trades of this one.

SHIELD 1-5: Seemingly another one of Jonathan Hickman's super-spy books, but it's hard to describe. Even though it spans a much longer period of history and a wider scope, I actually think it's more accessible than "Secret Warriors" because it's inventing new mythology and its point-of-view characters (Howard Stark, Leonardo da Vinci, Nathaniel Richards, etc.) are recognizable. It's also a beautiful-looking book, because of Dustin Weaver's art, and I assume Hickman also contributed his production design skills. There should be a collection out soon, and I recommend sampling this even if "Secret Warriors" was not to your taste.


Spider-Girl 1-2: Wow. #1 is really fun, with a protagonist written by Paul Tobin like an actual kid, and I love that the tweets from "her" real-life Twitter account are the captions in her story. Having the Fantastic Four as supporting characters was a nice touch, and the Dean Haspiel FF backup is fifteen kinds of charming. Then, WHAM!, #2 hit and about halfway through I realized there wasn't going to be a reprieve from the tragic thing that seemed to have happened, and I found it surprisingly powerful and moving. Really impressive on a level I was not expecting from this book. Highly recommended.
Teen Titans 88-90: Good stuff so far from the new creative team. I'd follow Nicola Scott anywhere, and writer JT Krul's additions of Damian and a new character are exactly the shot in the arm the book needs.

Thanos Imperative 1-6: Fast paced with lots of surprises, this is a no-brainer for anyone who's been following the Abnett & Lanning "cosmic" books but it's accessible to everyone. I'm going to avoid discussing the plot because of all the twists and turns, but I highly recommend it. Looking forward to "Annihilators" (basically the Cosmic Avengers) and it's "Rocket Racoon & Groot" co-feature.


Thor 615-618: I like the way Fraction's playing with the Asgardian cosmology, as well as the general despair the gods are feeling post-Siege. The team of Tony Stark, Jane Foster and the quantum cosmologist who's figured out what's going on is a hoot, and there are some surprise returning characters. Pasqual Ferry's frequent double-page art spreads are amazing too.


Thunderbolts 144-151: Have I really not written about this at all since the Luke Cage era started? I guess not. Well, I think the book benefits enormously from having the redemption theme available again and writer Jeff Parker is one of my favorites so I'm glad to have him on board. I think this book had the only other "Heroic Age" Norman Osborn appearance besides "Avengers Academy" (and the "Osborn" mini, of course), so some of you may be interested in that. Notable stories include Steve Rogers vs. Crossbones (his killer) in #150 and the Ghost spotlight in #151.


Thunderstrike 1-2: I actually was a fan of this series back in the day, and I'm enjoying the revival so far. (Everything you need to know about the original is explained.) Nice, solid power-and-responsibility stuff from writer Tom DeFalco and great old-school art from Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema. (To the point where the Steve Rogers/Sharon Carter scenes are drawn as if Jack Kirby drew them.) Nowhere near as good as the new "Spider-Girl", ironically, but fun.


Titans 25-30: It's really time for writer Eric Wallace to start giving us some inkling of what Deathstroke is up to, but the Batman appearance was pretty good and at least Ray Palmer is starting to show an interest in what happened to his predecessor (or successor, I guess, depending on your POV). The characters in "Secret Six" seem to know what happened, but I'll chalk the discrepancy up to them not exactly having a line of communication to the Justice League.


Ultimate Comics X 1-3: I'll talk about most of the current Ultimate books another day because I've switched to reading them in collections, but I did get these individual issues and I just wanted to point out that this is another book that couldn't be done in the Marvel U. The "Ultimatum" changes devastated the X-Men, including characters that you would think couldn't be touched, and that forced Jeph Loeb to come up with a way to do a mutant book that isn't the X-Men. Good stuff, and of course Art Adams is a master. If they ever ship enough issues to make a collection -- Adams has had family and/or health problems recently -- I recommend it based on what I've seen so far.


Uncanny X-Force 1-3: I liked the previous series well enough, but I like this revamp by Rick Remender a lot. It even features Deadpool in the cast in a way that doesn't annoy me! This book is at it's best when it's about moral choices in addition to ass-kicking, and the choice that's coming for these characters (which the readers know about but they don't yet) is going to be a big one.


Uncanny X-Men 526-531: Really enjoying the post-"Second Coming" phase of Matt Fraction's X-Men, and based on the first couple issues of "Generation Hope" having Kieron Gillen aboard will be great too. I was never a fan of Whilce Portacio, but I really liked the "Five Lights" issues that he drew, and even Greg Land's work seems a lot less stiff in the "Quarantine" arc. (Which has lots of fun stuff like a faux-original X-Men team and an ad-hoc team including Northstar and Dazzler who have to do the superheroing while the rest of the cast is sick on Utopia.)


Wolverine 1-4: Liking the "Wolverine Goes to Hell" arc so far, and I think Jason Aaron is making better use of Logan's integrated past here than Daniel Way was in the previous volume. I'll be interested to see the choice Logan's girlfriend makes about exactly how much she's willing to risk to help him escape hell.

Wolverine: The Best There Is #1: This is an odd first chapter from Charlie Huston, with Logan out in clubs dancing instead of drinking beer in dive bars like we're accustomed to. There's maybe some indication that it's a put-on, but most of the time it sure seems like it's intended at face value. I won't judge finally until the story's over, but based on first issues alone if I had to pick between this title and Jason Aaron's "Wolverine" I'd pick Aaron for sure.


Wonder Woman 603-605: I'll be honest: I think JMS leaving is a train wreck for this book and character. A critically acclaimed, albeit not best-selling, run was ended so that a new writer could come in and reshape Wonder Woman according to his singular vision. Now he's gone. Yes, he left an outline to follow, but it won't be the same. Phil Hester is a good choice, and there are some good signs in his first issue with Diana relating to ordinary people for the first time in the arc, but I think the best he can probably do is to get things back to the way they were before. I get that Gail Simone's run wasn't selling well, but the people who were reading it were perfectly happy and whatever new readers they gained by this stunt have probably been turned off by the creative change so what was the point? On the other hand, obviously nobody should be forced to write anything they don't want to, so I don't know what the right answer is. But I'm frustrated because this was a great book, and now not so much.

X-23 1-4: Starts with a tie in to "Wolverine Goes to Hell" that mainly serves to give X-23 (Laura) the sense of purpose that drives the series. As revealed in the publicity, she's joined by Gambit when she hits the road. People often like Gambit because of his roguish charm, but Marjorie Liu plays him with a resigned wisdom that suits him well and gives him a place in Laura's world. It's the best I've seen the character written in years, and I'm very impressed. (Not to slight the main character, who's also intriguing and very well written.) Easily my favorite thing Liu has written for Marvel so far.


X-Men Legacy 241-243: Was pleased with the end of the India story in #241 (which I've already said was my favorite story so far since the switch from Xavier to Rogue). I don't have a huge affection for Hellion, but the story focused on him (and, to a lesser extent, Hope) in #242-243 was very well done. I liked the way it was told, like one of those TV dramas where they're interviewing the participants after the fact and flashing back to show what they're describing.


X-Factor 207-212: I think everybody's had the opportunity over the years to decide whether they like Peter David's distinctive style on this book, so I'll just say that it's as clever and funny as ever (and as inconsistently drawn). The Thor guest appearance was great, especially Shatterstar's reaction to him.

Zatanna 7-8: Pleasantly surprised that Paul Dini followed up directly on Adam Beechen's good fill-in in #7, and it was a joy to have Cliff Chiang draw #8. Looking forward to Jamal Igle (of Supergirl and Firestorm fame) take over the art on this book soon.


And...scene. I hope you enjoyed, or at least tolerated, this massive overview of titles. I'll probably stick to discussing collections only from this point forward, but I may make an exception for any first issues or great story arcs I think deserve your attention. Thanks for reading!

Program Note: Young Justice premiere


Some of you told me you missed the "Young Justice" pilot movie when it first aired, so I just wanted to quickly note that the weekly series starts its run tonight at 7pm on Cartoon Network. The pilot movie is rerunning as two separate episodes this week and next, so you haven't missed anything.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lapham lurks here: Some barbaric fare - - - I sure don’t hate this!

 

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KULL THE HATE WITCH #1 (November 2010) #2 (December 2010)  Dark Horse Comics. Created by Robert E. Howard. Script: David Lapham. Pencils: Gabriel Guzman. Inks: Mariano Taibo. Colors: Dan Jackson. Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt.  Covers pictured here are by Tom Fleming.

When I’m in the mood for reading some rollicking adventure story, just pure17798 action/adrenaline, I can usually count on a CONAN or RED SONYA book to take care of my cravings.  So when I saw that the highly versatile (and dark) writer David Lapham would be scripting a Kull mini-series for Dark Horse  I knew I had to read it.

KULL THE HATE WITCH doesn’t disappoint.  It’s my absolute favorite sword and sorcery book at the present moment.  Anybody who is familiar with the work of David Lapham might think that a barbarian setting is just the place to put his horrific and gory inclinations into play.   As I normally approach his stories with delighted but grisly apprehension - - I have to say that this is pretty tame stuff compared to his usual standards.   Or, it could just mean that he fits right into this type of genre.  Actually, this is so good and seems so true to the pulp canon that Lapham could actually be considered a Howard scholar.  Blink your eyes, and you could easily think you were reading a Roy Thomas, Kurt Busiek, or Tim Truman tale. 

Just when I get lulled into thinking I’m no longer reading a Lapham-scripted book some of his familiar fingerprints show up, such as dwelling on the aftermath of battle/fights/action.  As the Hate Witch makes her escape from the court-room of King Kull, her attack crows don’t just distract the Red Slayers of Kull - - they pluck an eye right out of a soldier’s head.   When the wraith-like demons that serve her descend like a plague upon the town, they dramatically rip the hearts right out of the populace.

Before I get wrapped up in the story and forget to mention it - - the art team on this book is outstanding.  The inks and colors are so vivid you might think the pages are wet.  It’s really detailed, breath-taking and visually aids the reader in becoming immersed in this fantasy world.

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A very frightening old hag, the Hate Witch, comes to the court of King Kull prophesying doom for Valusia  and mankind and blaming Kull as the cause, inciting rebellion against the rebel king even as she terrorizes the townsfolk to help reinforce her dark plans. Kull manages to chase her away but realizes the respite is not going to last and he needs to track her down and end it.

The basic storyline is more than enough to hold your attention. Yet, Lapham adds in several interesting sub-plots that would serve as good storylines all on their own.  One revolves around some political intrigue as some outlying territorial monarchs are unhappy with the court arrangement in Valusia and want to usurp some of that power.  A visiting dignitary even contemplates sacrificing the life of his lovely daughter as a martyr simply for his own political gain and to cast disfavor on Kull - -  yeah, he’s the type of merciless and heartless villains that populate so many of Lapham’s works. 

In addition, there’s a connection between Kull and the Hate Witch when she put her “mark” on him during his younger days on Atlantis.   There are also past events related to Kull’s exile from Atlantis that crop up once again as he returns to his native land in pursuit of the Hate Witch.

That’s just in the first two issues.  This is good stuff indeed. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Randomizer - - - January 05, 2010

Some of the reasons I keep going to a local comic store on a regular basis versus online shopping, etc. is to scratch that itch to see the new books on the same day they are released, to scan the covers and take a quick peek inside (and often be surprised by the purchase that rewards my impulse),  also for  the camaraderie - - to hear the fan talk and shop talk and participate as well . . and one more thing - - to get the occasional ‘free at your local comics shop” previews that publishers frequently ship out, like . . . . . . .

DECEMBER 2010  SNEAK PEEKS #1  (Marvel One-Shot, February 2011 cover date) - - and I apologize for writing about this in January.  featuring short previews of . . . .

HEROES FOR HIRE #1

Only the first three pages of Issue #1 are featured but it answers a lot of questions about this book. We quickly learn that Misty Knight has set herself up as a sort of “Oracle”, communicating with a number of heroes and setting up their assignments - - here it’s The Falcon and The Black Widow and they’re recruited in the middle of the night to stop a truckload of illegal drugs.   Those three pages tell me everything I need to know to decide whether or not I want to check this out further - - it gets into the action right away, features some engaging and sometimes flirtatious dialogue and seems like a fun, light-hearted book.  A definite maybe for me.  Fans of Abnett and Lanning  will want to check this out.  Art by Walker.

WHAT IF? #200

The art style and coloring in this preview reminds me of the style/format of a lot of Radical books.  Guggenheim and Wilkins pose the question “What If Norman Osborn Won the Siege Of Asgard?”  Instead of initially agreeing to help Osborn siege Asgard, in this version Ares rejects his offer and is instantly killed by The Sentry.  With the Sentry rested from fighting a god early rather than later he would have helped Osborn win the war.   I have yet to read a Marvel What If? book that I can truly say was worth my time and investment.  Some like the What If books and that’s fine with me.  However, I say “So What?” to this.  

WIDOWMAKER #1

Then again, when the story and/or art is intriguing and piques my curiosity, these preview books achieve the desired result: the reader decides to pick up the series.  I did, and based on some favorable comments on this blog site I’m also getting the HAWKEYE AND MOCKINGBIRD trade paperback. It also helps that the story in these six pages by McCann and Lopez is very cool. Foreign dignitaries are being executed at various global sites and Hawkeye and Mockingbird investigate. There’s a lot of subtle experimentation with multi-panel size, shape and placement here and shading/color washes which really hooked me as it compliments the story just right.

CHAOS WAR; X-MEN #1

As you might suspect, like a lot of X-sagas this crosses over several books including DEAD X-MEN and CHAOS WAR X-MEN both by Louise Simonson, Chris Claremont and Doug Braithwaite.  Both Thunderbird and Banshee, some older X-characters that i liked, are revived for purposes unknown (at least in these three pages). The art is good and the set-up is intriguing.  I’m backing off simply because I know if I return to any X-books I’m going to get buried trying to trace the back-story.  They are an entity in and of themselves.  My wallet says beware.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #7

I haven’t checked out this book since issue #1, which I enjoyed.  Seems like the light-hearted style by Gage and Raney is continuing.  I like the way the team members discuss everything  and bounce it off their mentors.  The Absorbing Man is the threat here.  I may have to re-visit this title.

INCREDIBLE HULKS #618

By Pak and Pelletier.  Isn’t Pak’s run on the Hulk books catching up to Peter David’s for longevity?  There are quite a few “Hulks” here and the art is good with several big panels in these four pages. But the sparseness and content of the dialogue could make a reader easily conclude that this is just a dumb book and pass on it.  I know a lot of people who love the Hulk books so there has to be more to them than what appears here.  Not enough detail here to convince me to investigate.   Sometimes the short preview can be too short and perhaps leave the wrong impression.

NEW AVENGERS #7

After the splash page, there are just two pages of preview here.  And it’s only about some dispute/confusion over a very costly repair bill to Avengers Mansion.  Cute and amusing, but doesn’t tell me very much about this book.   By Bendis and Immonen.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #650

Three pages of art without dialogue or captions follow the splash page but it still tells you a lot and gives you enough detail to decide if you want to pick this up.  Hobgoblin, Kingpin, The Hand and oh yeah - - Spider-Man too (although he gets beat up real good).  Slott’s name on the book gets my attention.  And even though I’m not a fan of Ramos’ art his work here is quite good.  Maybe his style is improving.  I’m just not a fan of the way he draws all bodies out of proportion and distorted (lots of Popeye arms). I do like the way the art moves the story along here.

I’m not sure previewing 8 separate titles in a single book is the best way to attract attention to titles, unless the art pulls them in.  But very few readers are buying books anymore on the basis of art alone.  It’s all about the story these days, thankfully.  And if the preview is too short you just can’t determine if the story is worth your time.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Story I Wish Everyone Would Read: PHOENIX WITHOUT ASHES

 

HARLAN ELLISON’S PHOENIX WITHOUT ASHES #1 – 4 (IDW 2010)  Written by Harlan Ellison, Art by Alan Robinson, Colors by Kote Carvajal, Letters by Robbie Robbins.      (NOTE: IDW on December 16, 2010 announced plans for a hardcover edition of the graphic novel with a release date yet to be determined.)

phoenix01-cov phoenix02-cov I wish I could meet someone as they explore science fiction literature for the first time, someone looking for a few recommended works, or a list of ten or more short stories and novels to begin their readings with. PHOENIX WITHOUT ASHES would be right among the top choices on my list of best science fiction works of all time  - - - it’s a great example of the power of imagination as well as the ability of the genre to stimulate thought and shape opinions on socially important issues.  

The four issue mini-series is a perfect format to adapt this great work to comics.  Having the original author, Harlan Ellison, write the script for re-introducing the story is an absolutely divine bonus.   Artist Alan Robinson does a marvelous job of visualization of this incredible world and his awesome panels are exciting to behold  and savor slowly.

PHOENIX WITHOUT ASHES has a troubled history.  It began as the script for a 1972 teleplay, a two-hour pilot for a proposed television series.  Inept producers took over and re-worked it, butchering Ellison’s script and leaving little of the original work intact.  Ellison tried to disassociate himself from the show, which became Canadian series THE STARLOST.  It was later published as a paperback novel, with Edward Bryant assisting in adaptation.  That paperback was my first exposure to the story, and it made a big impression on me in more ways than one.

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The first girl that I dated on a regular basis (her name undisclosed to protect the innocent)  and started to develop feelings for was the daughter of  Bible-toting fundamentalists from the South who moved their family to Pennsylvania.  They were unhappy that she was dating me because I was not a member of their Church and they were concerned that I might bring unwelcome ideas/concepts into her mind.  (I leave the rest to your imagination.)  There were strict rules laid down for our dates that I had to adhere to.  However,  the ugly older boy next door was encouraged to date her (by her own parents!) and could stay out very late simply because he was a member of the same Church (and “the right stuff.”)  Her plan was to get me to convert to her religion and be “saved.”  I relented and attended an evening service with her and her family and was scared for my freedom of choice by what I witnessed.  I ended up breaking away from that relationship shortly after.   When I read PHOENIX WITHOUT ASHES some years later it really hit home (like right between my eyes!) and brought all those memories back.

Ellison’s story takes place in the 28th Century and tells of Devon, a young farmer with a restless nature and unappreciated ideas living in a very small, isolated religious community similar to the Amish lifestyle.  He loves a neighbor’s daughter, who is betrothed to another male who really doesn’t care for her but is willing to follow the elder’s wishes.  Devon gets outcast from the community when he challenges some of the ruling elders’ principles. During his exile he discovers the true nature of the world he lives in and attempts to return and save everyone, in spite of the threat of persecution.   That doesn’t sound very much like a description of a science-fiction story, but I’phoenix03-covm trying not to spoil it for you if you aren’t already familiar with this work.

It’s been too long since I read PHOENIX WITHOUT ASHES so I can’t tell if the ending has been altered for this comics adaptation.  I really like how the min-series ends, but don’t recall if it concluded exactly the same way in the novel.  phoenix4cover_final

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOENIX WITHOUT ASHES belongs on my “keeper” shelf right alongside the copies of DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? (Boom! Studios).  Both stand as fine examples of the power of the comics medium to adapt ground-breaking science fiction works and introduce them to a new audience.