Friday, December 31, 2010

My Disappointments in Archie #616

I was very excited about the prospect of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin joining the Archie Comics stable of characters, but so many of my expectations were dashed in the debut, I must count the ways...

  1. Obama "endorsing" Betty instead of Archie, just to fuck with the rednecks.
  2. Palin "endorsing" Betty instead of Veronica, after Betty rebuffs Obama and turns out to be a closet case opposed to mixing with coloreds, illegal aliens and non-incestuous abortions.
  3. Veronica revealing to her father that she was secretly Obama Girl, and hopes to join the Liberal Media Elite after attending college at UC Berkeley.
  4. Dilton Doiley criticized as an intellectual elitist and drummed out unfairly from the Math Club on accusations that advanced calculus is witchcraft.
  5. Pop Tate breaks down after realizing Jughead Jones has put the Chocklit Shoppe so far into the black that he'll be taxed in the rich man's bracket.
  6. Willow Palin calling Kevin Keller a faggot on Facebook.
  7. Chuck Clayton revealed to be Obama's love child. Michelle throws Barack out of the White House. Hillary consoles.
  8. Reggie Mantle grilled by the media after applauding the peaceable negotiations skills of Riverdale's Spire Christian Purity League during the desegregation process.
  9. Bristol Palin puts lipstick on Ethel Muggs; enters her in Dancing With The Stars as a partner for Dustin Diamond.
  10. The Archies furious to learn Miss Grundy was denied necessary treatment by a Death Panel.
  11. Sarah Palin fills Moose Mason's face with buckshot.
  12. Midge Klump immediately impregnated by Levi Johnston.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Empowered Volume 4 (2008)

I’d like to issue a personal apology to Adam Warren. You see, months back I wrote a highly critical review of the third volume of Empowered, but then rolled right into volume 4, which was a massive improvement. Unfortunately, I’ve had that negative reaction sitting around the internet for about a half a year, and sat on the positive opinion I have for this edition. The character of Empowered gets nominated as “Suprahuman Most Deserving of Wider Recognition” in this story, and the book also warrants more positive word, so I feel like a jerk for laying down on the job.

The book opens by reprinting the color story from MySpace Dark Horse Comics Presents, a fairly average introductory piece for new readers. Speaking of color though, for some reason I always thought Sistah Spooky was an Asian girl that tried to act black, and it wasn’t until I saw her on the back cover here that I saw how unambiguously African-American she’s supposed to be. Call me obtuse.

The new material picks up with Ninjette recovering from the events of the previous volume. The hospital for “capes” where she’s staying offers a lot of opportunity for Morrison mad ideas, which Warren has a gift for communicating with much greater clarity and humor. The three principles (including Thugboy) then bond back at home in a more organic (and sexah) fashion than the karaoke contest last time.

Unbeknownst to the reader, those fifty-four pages of seemingly random episodes, exposition, and recovery have been lulling them into believing that the new tale hasn’t begun, when in fact Warren has been craftily threading in clues to a central mystery that will dominate the volume. Fun new characters are introduced, Empowered is subjected to her usual emotional battery, and sorting out the read herrings from the essentials may challenge the reader. Most of the cast is given an opportunity for action and character exploration. Once the shit starts hitting the fan at 17th Annual Caped Justice Awards ceremony, pay-offs come fast and furious, and our heroines truly show their worth.

I loved the first volume of Empowered because it was a collection of short stories/comic strips designed to satisfying at the end of each treat’s single-digit page count. Volume two worked because it was many of the characters’ first chances to entertain in extended tales. Three faltered because of the contempt of familiarity and meandering before the final fight, which had been teased too much and ran too long. Also, the balance of humor, tension, action and characterization was way off, feeling forced or slight depending on the individual segments.

Volume four works because Adam Warren manages to keep all of its balls in the air the entire time, an amazing accomplishment. Each chapter is fun, usually quite funny, and often enhances the characters. At the same time, the episodes are downright insidious is their stealth building of an overarching story which ties together and completes the volume. For the first time since the beginning of Empowered, Warren has delivered an edition that works in parts and as a whole, magnifying the pleasures of his work. He seems reenergized here, and the enthusiasm and focus grabs the reader by the boo-boo. Any reservations I had about continuing to follow the series were dispelled, and it is once again among my top recommendations.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care #91

Halcyon #1
Kull: The Hate Witch #1
R.E.B.E.L.S. #22 (2011)

Damaged/Hollow Point (Radical, 2010, $1.00)
Either I’m feeling generous this holiday season, or these Radical Comics previews are getting progressively better. I don’t know who the fuck “creators” Michael & John Schwartz are, but the motherfucker that actually writes this shit is David Lapham, and I keep enjoying the hash he slings. Damaged is basically the Punisher as an ex-cop with an ex-partner feeling guilty about the spree killings he hasn’t stopped. However, that tired premise entertained for twelve pages at least, partially aided by Dennis Calero’s art not being shat upon by some digital “painter” from an Eastern Bloc country like on most Radical books. On the flip side is Hollow Point, with decent art by Elia Bonetti that also wasn’t dicked with. The starfucker faggot I never heard of on this piece is named Ron L. Brinkerhoff, but the high concept of an assassin commanded by ghosts to avenge the people he wrongfully killed doesn’t get play within the preview’s twelve pages. However, actual working writer David Hine does a good job with the tale that sees print of the hitman preparing to kill a child molesting priest who isn’t actually one of those two things. As usual, neither story will sway me to buy the related mini-series/graphic novels, but I didn’t hate either, and you wouldn’t have to pay me to read further.

Halcyon #1 (Image, 2010, $2.99)
This one was okay, until it wasn’t. It’s The Authority, but at a diminished scope with no sense of humor. Did Dave Sharpe come up with that font for the Pakistanis that looks like Arabic characters, but is just stylized English? That’s so much cooler than brackets & captions, or untranslated text, so kudos for that. Anyway, Pseudo-Midnighter figures out that the world is becoming increasingly, artificially non-violent. Then he fucks Apollo With A Coochie, who’s a stuck-up bitch, and reveals his concerns to her. Finally, Apollo with Tits shares this information (not the fucking part) with the Justice League of Non-Sodomy, and Dr. Quasi-Doom surrenders to authorities (not Authorities, nor Not Authority,) continuing the peacenik trajectory. The art by Ryan Bodenheim is better than that seen in most Authority knock-offs, but not as good as actually The Authority artists, except maybe those guys who drew The Authority after everybody was over it already. Oh shit, they only just stopped publishing The Authority, right? How about that shit?

Kull: The Hate Witch #1 (Dark Horse, 2010, $3.50)
I was just talking about David Lapham’s rising stock since he started telling other artists what to draw. He doesn’t tell Gabriel Guzman to do shit as interesting as the dude from the Damaged preview, but Kull has always been Conan with more royal crown and too little Crown Royal, so you can’t make a banana split out of a pear and some yogurt. Court intrigue + supernatural threat – Red Sonja equals reading Fox or Swank because you’ve already used up this month’s Hustler, but as second rate barbarian porn goes, this is a satisfying first installment of a story I don’t care enough to read the next part of. It does what it’s supposed to do and is worth what they ask of you.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #22 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
Red Sonja was a prototypical '70s badass chick, as defined by being a) a ball-buster who wielded a phallic weapon & b) a rape victim out for revenge. Man, writers of that period seemed to think sexual assault was the new radiation as a motivation for becoming vigilantes with uteruses. It quickly devolved into a tacky cliché that excused a bit of sadistic titillation to spice up the hoary and obligatory origin recitation. Political correctness eventually swept that nonsense aside, but this comic essentially pivots on its brief revival.

As a kid, I never liked Starfire, who I viewed as a hyperreactive bimbo. Sure she was sold into slavery and experimented on, but that happened to lots of heroes without their becoming tittybabies about it. Besides, Starfire was kind of a transparent Storm rip-off, only trading bondage for claustrophobia as the catastrophic fear to pivot some shorthand characterization upon. Still, with time I've come to realize that Starfire is one of the few DC heroines of note who is not a "legacy," and does not have a more famous male counterpart. Further, this comic insinuates Starfire was a victim of bestial child molestation, which I must admit is a really good excuse to want to blast holes in lizard people and shack up with the most inoffensive, sexually ambiguous teen sidekick to be found. It makes a sick kind of sense that Starfire was a late term holdover of the Red Sonja years, as it actually makes the character more sympathetic and, hell, palatable to me.

Aside from wallowing is revenge fantasy/culture shock, Tony Bedard's plot is really basic, but works for the manipulative action script that it is. The reliably solid art of Claude St. Aubin only fills half the issue, but relief of Kevin Sharpe draws a damned striking Starfire, and makes up for that crap job he did on that recent Legion story.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fire: The Definitive Collection (2001)

Back in the early ‘90s, I bought my comics at a flea market stand where the proprietor was savvy enough to order first issues beyond the usual speculator crap with informed judgment. For instance, there was a debut from Caliber Press called Fire with a photo cover of a floppy haired college girl with a gun, ala Le Femme Nikita. I’ve had a weakness for fumetti since that Marvel Team-Up cover where Joe Jusko dressed as Captain America, and a weakness for floppy haired brainy girls nearly as long. Surely the shopkeeper knew at least one sucker would buy the book, and that sucker was me.

The comic was about a male (drat!) university student who had been recruited by an intelligence agency. The story opened with his having run afoul of his boss, Murphy Brown, and ending up battered and locked away. The rest of the issue was then told in flashback, revolving around how the student was lured into the spy business and partially trained by a cute floppy haired spy girl (yes!) It was a pretty alright story that ended on a cliffhanger. The dialogue had a nice pop to it, with unusually strong character repartee for a comic of the time. I liked the moody high contrast art, which made up for some of the obvious photo referencing (especially Ms. Candy Bergen) with personality. The lettering was rather amateurish, though, and the writer/artist was pretentious enough to use his full name and merge the a & e in “Brian Michael Bendis.”

Anyhow, the dealer must have lacked confidence in selling a second issue, and if I asked him to reorder that half, it never got to me. I did keep up with the progression of this Bendis guy, and even tried odd issues of his crime comic A.K.A. Goldfish, but I never found anything strong enough to hook me. Bendis eventually became one of the biggest names in the industry, and I still don’t fully understand why, because even his best stuff (Alias, Powers, Daredevil) has consistently left me wanting. The worst stuff has been outright wankery, and I don’t think the guy “gets” the high profile super-heroes he now gets to write, so I avoid his stuff whenever possible.

Still, a few years back Fire came out in an affordable single volume, reedited/altered/expanded like it was George Lucas’ project instead of Bendis’. I can’t recall if I bought it myself or got a loaner, but after about a fifteen year delay, I finally finished Fire in its ultimate form. I guess after my various exposures to the writing style, a lot of the perceived originality novelty had worn off. That, and I’ve seen a bunch of Mamet and Tarantino since then. In fact, a lot of the circular exchanges of dialogue were grating as fuck today, and I hated the unnecessary repetitions of pages/sequences. I still like the artwork, especially when Bendis borrowed from Patrick Nagel for his floppy haired girl. It strikes me as a good book to show off some technical prowess and get your foot in the publishing door, but unsatisfying and derivative as a volume of some sort of froo-froo Brian Michael Bendis collection. In fact, I read this thing in the spring of 2009, it went multiple trips where I intended to get writing done, and I’ve only just now gotten around to the bother of reviewing the damned thing. I seem to recall having a lot more invective to hurl at its construction and excesses, but time has dulled that harsh critique, and I just don’t want the mediocre book hanging over my head anymore. Besides, this collected edition doesn’t feature either of the old photo covers, and that floppy haired chick was the only reason I bought the fucking thing in the first place.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wednesday Is In A Sorry State All I Care #90

Astonishing Thor #1
Batman Incorporated #1
Brightest Day #13
Brightest Day #14

Astonishing Thor #1 (Marvel, 2011, $3.99)
I've read some movie reviewers who claim to go out of their way not to hear any criticism of a flick before or after seeing it until their pure, uncontaminated views are committed to text. Personally, I like to read a bunch of other reviews before writing one, because I like to have perspective, and I hate to bother writing something if I'm just going to repeat the same observations as another guy. I'm much more likely to just shoot from the hip on comics though, because I feel I'm naturally more acerbic than most, and I frankly come from a pretty goddamned learned place on these matters. Still, for some reason I felt the need to seek out other opinions on Astonishing Thor, because I really thought more people would be wowed by the production values of this beast. The few people who felt like talking about it seem in consensus on it kinda sucking, and for once, I don't feel much need to wade against the tide.

The first problem with this book is that it's dull. The opening splash page is some blond pretty boy who by the title must be Thor looking mistily into a rainstorm. It's really not the face one would be pulling while leaping across a city skyline while lightning flashed from a mystical hammer, which is the scene in the two page spread that follows. I was so busy being unimpressed that I totally missed that there was supposed to be a tidal wave several miles high about to crush the city until I read the text. In the following splash page, Thor stops the wave by throwing a hammer at it. This is one of those brazenly stupid moments you need someone completely insane like Grant Morrison and an artist capable of channeling Kirbyesque magnificence (paging Ed McGuinness) to sell. Instead of Kirby, we've got Mike Choi, who renders with all the detail and stillness of the renaissance. Choi commits the cardinal sin of comic art, which is to produce artwork that makes you want to stop reading the comic and just look at it, which is pretty much all you can do with this many splashes and spreads, but he's still not the guy to punch waves into submission.

So anyway, some random shit happens from there, typically on pages with three panels or less. There's a brief sequence that teases a Conan outtake in a bar involving five (5!) panels per page (not to mention some clear photo referencing of upcoming Thor movie star Chris Hemsworth,) but that gets pushed aside quick to get back to more excuses for double page spreads. Choi draws sentient planets with giant faces on them like nobody else, and it really makes you want to stop and appreciate the grandeur of these single images without being bothered with any reading.

Oh dang, this motherfucker's got words n' shit. It's funny, because there are just these tiny little word balloons and captions floating in a sea of unobstructed art, and yet reading them still manages to be a chore. Stan Lee's pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue from back in the day was so much fun because of how ridiculously and obviously a put-on it was. There's no good reason for a millenia old Norse god to speak like a 16th century English playwright in 20th century New York, but Stan did it with a charm and humor that made you want to run around saying crap like "verily" and "forsooth." Nobody let Robert Rodi in on that, because the pages where he tries it are a joyless slog, and he isn't even trying to Shakespeare. Rodi is just writing stilted, boring ass dialogue that drones on.

In summary, the most astonishing thing about this book is that its something of the anti-comic, with art that has no business being employed for sequential storytelling, and a script that may as well have been produced by a frigid old English minor for a Sunday school class. Even the logo is a snooze.

Batman Incorporated #1 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
How about a comic with a dopey premise and overtures of a forthcoming plot that can be read in minutes for four bucks? Okay, what if we throw in an extra shimmery heavier stock cover? Shit, you aging readers are getting so demanding!

Batman Inc. is a polyurethane bag full of "are you fucking kidding?" It starts with a villain named Lord Death Man (borrowed from actual Batman manga) torturing the Japanese Zorro to death by melting him with acid. Turns out the hero's secret lair was under a comic book shop, which reminded me of the point in True Romance where the prostitute falls in love with the shop geek during a Sonny Chiba movie and I totally checked out of the proceedings on account of it being entirely too much of a masturbatory fantasy. Then Yanick Paquette starts referencing Adam Hughes, Kevin Nowlan and Dave Johnson to the point where a light box may have been involved. Grant Morrison's ADHD abruptly kicks in six pages into a side story that stops short (complete with freebie bracing grope) because it was interfering with Paquette performing a drafting seance to convene with the departed spirit of George Caragonne in hopes of resurrecting Penthouse Comix as part of the Batman Family. Besides Selina Kyle sliding her panties to one side to fuck Bruce Wayne on a workout bench (seriously,) there's actual reference of tentacle rape porn in a goddamned Batman comic book. We are in the end times of this industry, I assure you, as it eats itself cock first.

Brightest Day #13 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
Now that the title has switched from an anthology to round robin solo series, readers can really get a strong sense for how fully the Hawkman arc sucks. I know Hawkman has always been heavily derivative of Flash Gordon, but his leading an attack on the floating Nth City just isn't the same without a a rockin' Queen soundtrack and a hearty declaration of "Squadron 40! Diiiiiiiiiiiive!" Y'know, we were promised anthropomorphic lions and lizards in violent conflict with bird people, and that gets tossed aside a few pages in for an issue's worth of exposition.

I'm really starting to think this is Peter J. Tomasi's fault, because Peter J. Tomasi is a derivative motherfucker, and you just can't trust people who insist on using their middle initial. Besides Hawkman going all Jack Baur on that Man-Hawk (or is that all Gavin Rossdale on that angel?) there's Hawkgirl bound upright like Hannibal Lecter discussing breast feeding with her antagonist captor (just like in Silence of the Lambs) who is her own remarkably well preserved queen mother out to kill her as part of a bid to create a portal to another world (like Kitana and Queen Sindel in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation,) which also involves Hath-Set licking the helpless Shayera across the face (see Terminator 2: Judgment Day.) Then there are the already established Brightest Day-specific cliches, like the newly introduced villains who always seem to have direct ties to the hero's origin stories that somehow escaped mention for decades of published adventures. As with Batman Incorporated, the face of modern comics is being shaved off in deli thin slices and packed into a double meat subway sandwich for its own brown bag lunch.

Brightest Day #14 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I'm confident that despite shared credit, this story was written entirely by Geoff Johns, because it sucks somewhat less and with a different flavor than the Hawkman issue. Instead of stringy face shavings, this is more like a nice strip off the breast or thigh of artistic integrity. If you must dine in hell, you might as well use a grill.

Deadman is a nice enough notion of a character, but we all know what comics he managed to sell had a lot more to do with Neal Adams, José Luis García-López and Kelly Jones than Arnold Drake, Andy Helfer or Doug Moench. Ivan Reis holds his own in that company, but he draws a masked Deadman ugly, and we all buy Ivan Reis comics because he draws people model pretty. Further, it doesn't take long to realize that without being a possessing spirit or distracted by a ring quest, Deadman is just another asshole gymnast in a universe where they're literally a dime a dozen if you buy the right Batman title. Speaking of the Dark Knight, this comic marks the second recent example of Batman having an action figure produced based on a cheesy costume variation that lasts only a few pages of a Geoff Johns comic. What the fuck is wrong with you people buying this shit?

Moving right along, Johns proves why he's a better writer than Tomasi by what he chooses to steal from. Johns bases Darkest Night on a relatively obscure Alan Moore short story from a Green Lantern annual, while Tomasi steals something from widely known Alan Moore stories almost every time he boots up his computer. Johns borrows liberal from Stan Lee's beloved "ironic" twist origins for Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, while Tomasi just outbid you on eBay for that Miracleman trade to replace the one he "referenced" until it deteriorated to a fine four color powder. If Moore is the Beatles and Alex Ross is the Eagles, I guess that makes Geoff Johns Journey to Tomasi's cover band. Now take off that fugly mask and kiss Dove like we knew you were gonna six months back, because Ivan draws handsomely and Johns delivers predictably, like the milk man used to.


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