Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wednesday Is Anthologistic 2011 For All I Care #130

Liberty Annual 2011
The Next Issue Project #3: Crack Comics

I've had these two swell anthologies lying around for a slow week to review, then took off much of December in that department. Now I've got to rush them out while the year of release in the fucking title still matches the year of review...

The CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2011 (Image, 2011, $4.99)
I didn't know that Bob Schreck was bisexual, and I don't actually care, except that an aspect of his co-editing this year's anthology seemed to be gaying it up. Maybe Lady Gaga's really the one to blame, but somehow censorship and queer bullying got all tangled up into a book that seems more concerned with the latter than the former. Let's break it down...
  • Editorial illo by Moon and Ba. Baa? Bah.
  • Batman pin-up by Dustin Nguyen. You know, the hero accused of being a card-carrying member of NAMBLA by Frederick Wertham, whose publisher helped create and sustain the Comic Code Authority of America. See the cognitive dissonance between stated subject and textual one already?
  • Grendel in "Sympathy From the Devil" by Matt Wagner. Even a big greasy wop mafioso can dig on dick. That's One to Grow On. Pedantic and fucking lame.
  • Alan Turing pin-up by Frank Quitely. It used a high minded concept as an excuse to not finish the friggin' drawing. I Googled him, as requested by the artist. Dead dandy who was persecuted while contributing to the development of computer science.
  • "It's Not a Trick" by J.H. Williams and Todd Klein. Stop me if you've heard this one-- Williams sacrifices storytelling for an intricately designed page layout.
  • "The Light at the End of the Tunnel" is a Hustler strip, except trading misogyny for homosexuality and somehow, impossibly, being even less funny.
  • Cowboy Ninja Viking by more people I don't care enough about to type the credits for. Preachy shit that reads like comments following a Yahoo article on censorship.
  • "La Caricature" by Brabdon Montclare and Joelle Jones: Finally a well drawn story relevant to the subject. Mediocre, but still.
  • "Punk Rock, Gay, Time Machine" by Steve Niles and Michael Montenat. Still gay, but the autobiographical aspect makes it interesting, while sidestepping the recently ubiquitous "it gets better" platitudes.
  • X-Men pin-up by Greg Land. I guess framing the muties as social outcasts and spotlighting the White Queen in her fetish costume marries the two subjects of this edition. I repeat-- Greg fucking Land best summarized this comic.
  • "Dunce" by Carla Speed McNeil: I seriously have to find some Finder. Two stories in two anthologies on completely different subjects were highlights in each volume. Discusses political correctness and mental retardation from a very personal standpoint.
  • "The Broken Arrow" by Michael Vincent Bramley and Fred Hembeck: What I find interesting is that you don't even have to "read" this silent story panel by panel. You can take it all in at a glance as one image with a clear message. It would make a nice poster for tolerance.
  • "Radiation" pin-up by Shane Davis: Um... what?
  • "The Flowering" by Kazim Ali & Craig Thompson: Easily the best of the bunch. Sensitive, thoughtful, spiritual, insightful and even sensual.
  • Avengers Prime trio pin-up by Greg Horn. Big, dumb and ugly.
  • "Separation of Church and State" by J. Michael Straczynski and Kevin Sacco: Strong two pages of talking points against the bullshit notion of a "Christian Nation."
  • Green Lantern pin-up by Ivan Reis. Okay, I'm far more irritated about these goddamned super-heroes than I am about the homo-hijacking. They have absolutely, 100% fuck-all to do with anything, and are woefully out of place. "The Will To Power!" Seriously?
  • "The Conversion" by Dara Naraghi and Christopher Mitten: Man, the examination of Islam is the salvation of this edition. Nifty story set in 1982 Iran that could in many respects be a direct reflection of Anytown, U.S.A. today.
  • "God I Hate The Unfunny, Ham-Fisted Judd Winick," or something like that.
  • "The Naked Truth" by Richard Starkings: Three pages of anthropomorphic animal cock and the disproportionately slim quim that accommodates them. Unnerving nude paper dolls with amusingly hyperbolic text. Why would a merciful god withhold so brutally on the poor pachyderm?
  • "Being Normal" by Mark Waid and Jeff Lemire: Somehow, accepting yourself while getting your geek on feels like a more universal progressive message than Hunter Rose's making observations about the bible most of us worked out by junior high.
  • "Dangerous Customs" by the guys stuck spelling out the mission of the CBLDF on the last page of these annuals each year.
In summary, the disparity between the good and bad was more pronounced this year, and by taking on a specific "b" cause this time, the book felt less inclusive and more like a lecture than usual. Hopefully, more inspiration will be taken from the highs that blended homosexual characters into a broader narrative than from Judd Winick dick-slapping people across the cheek in each panel.

Crack Comics #63 (Image, 2011, $4.99)
Almost a year late, the latest (and slowest) Next Issue Project was well worth the weight. Three issues over four years (Fantastic Comics #24 (2008) was solicited for December of 2007, while Silver Streak Comics #24 (2009) came out two years ago) is not an admirable shipping record, but this was honestly the best one yet, and one of my favorite reads of this year. Let me count the ways in which this single issue modern continuation of a Golden Age series is superior to the Project: Superpowers competitor experiment it outlived (though likely will never outproduce, at least in the 21st century...)
  • Mike Allred cover: Simple but swell.
  • Nifty period novelty ads.
  • Captain Triumph by Alan Weiss: A dynamite story with lush art that makes inventive use of the character's central gimmick.
  • The Space Legion in "A Matter of Some Gravity" by Chris Burnham: Fun art, storytelling, and effects to evoke the period, but weak characterization and an abrupt, oblique conclusion.
  • The Clock by Paul Maybury: I've never heard of this guy before, but his story seriously kicked ass to the point where I want to read the next issue after that big tease of a closing splash. I suspect this owes as much to the influence of the Punisher as the Clock, but a great time nonetheless. The art is in the indie mode, along similar lines as Paul Grist's contribution to a previous N.I.J., but it suits the material, as does the muted, almost slate coloring.
  • Molly the Model by Terry Austin: A bit more titillating than the source material would suggest, with art recalling early Los Bros Hernandez, which for a single page gag strip adds up to winning.
  • Alias the Spider in "Curse the Darkness" by Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri: More talent unknown to me, and they seem intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but don't quite pull it off. There are one or two too many twists in the serpentine script, preventing it from ending on a high note on page five of six. Regardless, the giddy high their superb craftsmanship put me on up to that point mark them as persons of interest.
  • Spitfire by Herb Trimpe: The quality starts to decline rapidly at this, the Trimping point. Actually, this was a cute story, a sort of rambling origin for an exceedingly P.C. lift of the Blackhawk Squadron. I confess to a lifelong anti-Trimpe bias, but I had no idea that he drew this until I looked up the credits, and it's the best art I've ever seen from him.
  • Slap Happy Pappy by Joe Keatinge: Easily the worst story of the lot. It just plain sucked. Ugly mini-comic art and a dumb, trite story of blessedly brief two pages.
  • Hack O'Hara by Erik Larsen: This project is Larsen's baby, but he's also guilty of being the most consistent provider of poor choices in this series. Featuring art stylings, layouts, and a monster deeply indebted to Silver Age Kirby, Larsen brings snarky '80s revisionism and a friggin' intra-feature crossover to boot. Larsen has the most fun with the book's conceit technically, including brown paper and off register color separations, but it's atonal in its company and reminds me of mistakes made previously in both the N.I.P. and the short-lived Dynamite Publishing Golden Age sub-line.
  • Red Torpedo in "Life at Sea" by B. Clay Moore, Frank Fosco and Erik Larsen: A rather dry silent story to close out the book. Larsen's inks overwhelm Fosco, and the plot owes debts all over the place. Decent enough to not dissuade me from giving the book as a whole my unreserved recommendation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday Is New 52-2 For All I Care #129

Aquaman #3 (2011)
Demon Knights #2
The Huntress #2 (2011)

Aquaman #3 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
This was my favorite issue so far, since I felt it had the best balance of back story, exposition, action, characterization and tantalizing morsels of future developments. A lot can come of a simple throwaway line like "You still kept that trident. Despite all the trouble it might bring." Anyway, the book remains gorgeous to behold, and while still a slight read, this time it was a satisfying one.

Demon Knights #2 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
Like the first issue, except the closing battle there carries on throughout this issue and on to the next. Nice art, mildly humorous, flips the Stormwatch paradigm by focusing on the familiar characters you like instead of the new ones you don't. Still, nothing is accomplished beyond displays of powers/prowess. I could have posted this week's reviews last week, but I kept putting it off waiting to be inspired to say more about this one comic. Never came. Eh, these books are mostly two months old anyway, so who gives a shit?

The Huntress #2 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I liked it better when it was called The Huntress #1. It's like they just rearranged the pages here. It still looks good, and I'd like to give a shout out to colorist Andrew Dalhouse for managing softer, feminine coloring suited for a purple-clad vigilante without undermining the darker aspects of the story. However, that story has not progressed in the slightest, and reads like a silly '80s action movie without a sense of stakes or accomplishment for the protagonist. There's even a mild, halfhearted exploitation vibe. The Guillem March cover is this comic in a nutshell: an otherwise attractive image marred by an incompetently positioned bo staff obscuring the heroine's face. I want to like it, but it undermines itself in obvious ways.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

1998 Wizard Magazine Holiday Present Tags

Featuring Katchoo from Strangers in Paradise, Dawn, Monkeyman and O'Brien, Darkchylde, Danger Girl, Lady Death, The Coven, Shi and The Tenth. A very indy Christmas, so I figure the big two must have been Grinches after last year. It occurs to me that I wish Tony Daniel drew Batman in his old cartoony style. Might be more palatable.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Ésta Es Tu Vida" by Hombres G

Released: 1990
Album: Ésta Es Tu Vida
Single?: Yes.

The album was a critical success but a sales dud. Cool, dark, preachy video, though. Dig the cheesy early CGI!

Ellos lucharon por tu nombre
y ni siquiera saben cual es
jovenes que llegan desde algun lugar
pero todo sigue igual.
Ellos murieron en las playas
no todos pudieron cantar
ahora hay abuelos
que no hablan de la guerra
pero todo sigue igual.
Y yo no se porque
no nos abrazamos
porque queremos aparentar tanta frialdad.
Hay algo aqui lleno de odio
hay algo que funciona mal
y entre tu y yo es posible
que tambien haya algo que cambiar.
Y yo no se porque
no somos todos hermanos
porque queremos aparentar tanta maldad.
Todos vemos la muerte
y sentimos el dolor
lo pasan todos los dias
por la television.
Tiene alguien algo que decir
queda alguien que aun crea en el amor.
Esta es tu vida, y asi sera
pero no puedes luchar mas
ahora mira a tu hijo a los ojos
porque te preguntara:
no se porque
no nos abrazamos
porque queremos aparentar tanta frialdad
Hey tu
ellos esperan una palabra de tus labios
Hey tu
ellos no quieren que les enseñes a matar
Hey tu
ya no hay batallas en las playas
ya no hay gente que se calla
aunque todavia se muere por la libertad

Saturday, December 17, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Silent All These Years" by Tori Amos

Written By: Tori Amos
Released: November, 1991 (U.K.)
Album: Title
Single?: #21 on UK Singles Chart, #65 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100

I want to say my introduction to Tori Amos came with the video to "Crucify," followed by her appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992 to perform "Silent." It's a beautiful song that has never lost its power, but I somehow managed to go nearly twenty years without seeing the official music video. As a result, I prefer the live version, so you'll have to scroll past the lyrics for the glossy take.

Excuse me but can I be you for a while
My dog won't bite if you sit real still
I got the anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin' at me again
Yeah I can hear that
Been saved again by the garbage truck
I got something to say you know
But nothing comes
Yes I know what you think of me
You never shut-up
Yeah I can hear that

But what if I'm a mermaid
In these jeans of his
With her name still on it
Hey but I don't care
Cause sometimes
I said sometimes
I hear my voice
And it's been here
Silent All These Years

So you found a girl
Who thinks really deep thougts
What's so amazing about really deep thoughts
Boy you best praya that I bleed real soon
How's that thought for you
My scream got lost in a paper cup
You think there's a heaven
Where some screams have gone
I got 25 bucks and a cracker
Do you think it's enough
To get us there

Cause what if I'm a mermaid
In these jeans of his
With her name still on it
Hey but I don't care
Cause sometimes
I said sometimes
I hear my voice
And it's been here
Silent All These...

Years go by
Will I still be waiting
For somebody else to understand
Years go by
If I'm stripped of my beauty
And the orange clouds
Raining in head
Years go by
Will I choke on my tears
Till finally there is nothing left
One more casualty
You know we're too easy Easy Easy

Well I love the way we communicate
Your eyes focus on my funny lip shape
Let's hear what you think of me now
But baby don't look up
The sky is falling
Your mother shows up in a nasty dress
It's your turn now to stand where I stand
Everybody lookin' at you here
Take hold of my hand
Yeah I can hear them

But what if I'm a mermaid
In these jeans of his
With her name still on it
Hey but I don't care
Cause sometimes
I said sometimes
I hear my voice [x3]

And it's been here
Silent All These Years
I've been here
Silent All These Years

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone By (2004)

I believe The Walking Dead is now my personal single longest unbroken run reading a title. I was interested when the first issue was solicited, but I was inclined to trade-wait most series by that point, and am glad I did. That first volume was less than ten bucks, and was released quickly enough that I got to preorder the first uncollected single issue that same month for a dollar. It was jarring jumping from the shocking finale of the trade to a follow-up issue by a new and extremely different artist. Rereading the trade, I was much more conscious of the individual issue/chapter breaks, and I don't think I would have related to the story the same way in monthly installments. The book works better as a twice yearly bolus infusion of zombie soap opera, and I suspect I might not have stuck through the grind of months.

Kirkman seems to need that twelve times a year schedule. In his first and only foreword to the trade paperbacks, he explains that this was intended to be the zombie story that never ends, as opposed to the grim finality of most movies. Kirkman dismisses Return of the Living Dead in favor of Dawn, which is something I could never do, despite Romero's film being perhaps my favorite ever. Still, I understand that Kirkman needs his epic to be deadly serious, always relate in human terms, and cleave to Romero's social commentary over O'Bannon's cheeky kicks. This is the beginning of the long journey of a group of characters experiencing hell on earth, and so far, Kirkman has remained true to his stated goals.

Kirkman said of the series' star, "You guys are going to see Rick change and mature to the point that when you look back on this book you won't even recognize him." He also spends a lot of time heaping praise on artist Tony Moore. These things are related. Moore couldn't produce on a monthly schedule, and after years prior as a creative team, their partnership ended with the last issue collected in this trade. The split was acrimonious, but Moore stayed on to produce covers into the second year. A bone of contention that I've always had with the book is that there are no cover reproductions in the trades, but I'm somewhat thankful now. The new artist so made this book his own that I literally do not recognize the Rick Grimes of these earlier issues as the guy I've followed for years since. Of course, Kirkman meant the changes that would occur within Rick, and that was true as well.

It's very interesting to look at Tony Moore's work in retrospect. He has a very crisp, energetic style. He's a natural storyteller who packs in just the right amount of detail to please the eye without stalling the flow of the story. The sequence where Rick and Glenn scavenge at a gun shop in Atlanta, and things take a bad turn, is one of the rare instances in all my years of with comics where I was so excited that I had to stop reading the text and let my eyes travel panel to panel to see the action resolve. Moore's work is wonderful, and yet, I think it was best that he left the book when he did. All of his characters have friendly, comic strip faces that make it difficult to take dramatic moments seriously. His zombies are delightfully grotesque, but in a Jack Davis at EC vein that render them less threatening and tragic than they should be. There's a key character death where the victim looks less in agony than about to groan "good grief" in their best Charles Schultz imitation. The dichotomy is problematic.

It was a great thing to have Tony Moore start the book. He set the artistic bar high and hooked readers that might have resisted his less flashy replacement. The gray tones Moore established set the visual look of the series in an essential way for a black & white comic intended for a broad audience. It lends weight and shadow that is the life blood of the reality and survivalist horror of the book. At the same time, there's an innocent quality to the art that reflects the naivete of the characters at this stage of the crisis. The final twist at the end of the trade shatters any illusions of normalcy, and is the perfect point to switch to a moodier, more "vérité" art style.

I don't believe that I've ever revisited any of the volumes of this series before, and after nearly a hundred issues and 1.5 seasons of a television adaptation, it's revelatory. I sometimes think of the AMC show as a "What If?" tangent universe where a few variations yield divergent results. I'm reminded how phony that notion is. The characterization on the show is so vastly different that many "adapted" characters are unrecognizable, and I feel their being informed by the characters as they developed severely damages their personal arcs. For instance, the Lori of the show is a cold bitch pretty much from her first episode, and in the comics she did become rather unsympathetic, but in the beginning it was easy to see her as a loving wife and mother. On the show, I often find my loyalties divided between Shane's amoral pragmatism and Rick's perilous altruism. It's no wonder the audience favorite has ended up being Daryl Dixon, the white male Michonne. It's clear why Rick became group leader from this first trade, as he's the most intelligent and the broadest thinker of the band. The comic book Shane is plainly deluded and emotionally unstable, so it's no wonder Rick was readily embraced. TV Rick jumped straight into territory where his reasoning is permanently in question, while comic Rick proved himself thoroughly before making understandable missteps in uncertain times.

Another thing I miss on the TV series is the time taken to properly introduce supporting characters and ensure that they are likeable and valuable. For instance, the show threw Glenn, Andrea, T-Dog and Merle at the viewers all at once. My girlfriend couldn't understand why Glenn is my favorite surviving character, because on TV he wasn't the person who guided Rick through Atlanta, and he wasn't the lone sneak thief that sustained the group. My Glenn didn't show up until the second season. The Dale of the show has been an increasingly irritating nuisance and busybody, where in the book he was the first person to warn Rick about problems within the group, and proved handy with an ax in saving Donna. My recollection was that Amy and Andrea developed as sisters across a couple of years worth of comics, so I was surprised to find the turn in their relationship was about as swift as on the show. However, they then progressed quietly in the background, whereas the show turned that into such an in-your-face development as to be a major turn-off. At least Carol and her family were vastly more engaging adapted than their dull comic origins.

All this is to say that The Walking Dead deserves its success, because the foundations of a multimedia property were sound from the beginning. Yes, the 28 Days Later... homage opening was dumb, and the influence of zombie fad flicks of as recent a vintage as Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake are apparent, but Kirkman and Moore build from their skeletons something with real meat to hang off them. It was excellent on first read, and holds up in part because what followed remains vital, begging reflection and comparative analysis. I feel it's one of the major works of the zombie genre and the comics medium, so I look forward to that third reading in 2019.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Love That Bob

"The Church of the SubGenius is a "parody religion" organization that satirizes religion, conspiracy theories, unidentified flying objects, and popular culture. Originally based in Dallas, Texas, the Church of the SubGenius gained prominence in the 1980s and 1990s and maintains an active presence on the Internet."-Wikipedia

Anybody else miss "Night Flight?"

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Stay" by Shakespears Sister

Written By: Siobhan Fahey, Marcella Detroit & Jean Guiot
Released: January 25, 1992
Album: Hormonally Yours
Single?: UK Singles Chart #1, U.S. Billboard Hot 100 #4, certified gold in both.

My brother recorded a copy of this video off MTV way back when, and I loved it immediately. I recorded various other Shakespears Sister songs off broadcast TV shows like Friday Night Videos, but of course none of those ever reached the heights of "Stay." The "band" was actually a generous name for Siobhan Fahey as a solo act. The forty-year-old veteran backup singer Marcella Detroit only performed on a few songs, but based on the success of this single, lawyered-up to try taking 50% of the act. Detroit got shitcanned, and Fahey ended up institutionalized with severe depression. As I recall, both singers were also pregnant at the time of the song's release. Talk about a drama factory. I ended up buying Hormonally Yours on CD about half a decade later, and there were a number of solid tracks on it, but also a fair amount of Europop crap. Anyway, here's the little seen extended version of the video, but turn up your volume to hear it.

if this world is wearing thin
and you're thinking of escape
i'll go anywhere with you
i'll do anything it takes [just wrap me up in chains]
but if you try to go alone
don't think i'll understand

stay with me, stay with me.

in the silence of your room
in the darkness of your schemes [ ... dreams]
there among the souvenirs [you must only think of me]
and the useless memories [there can be no in between]
when your pride is on the floor
i'll make you beg for more

stay with me, stay with me.

you'd better hope and pray
that you'll be safe [ that you make it safe]
in your own world [back to your own world]
you'd better hope and pray
that you're gonna awake [that you wake one day]
back in your own world [in your own world]
[cause when you sleep at night they don't hear your cries]
[in your own world]
[only time will tell if you can break the spell]
[back in your own world]

stay with me, stay with me.

As an added and more audible bonus, here's the song performed live on The Arsenio Hall Show. I have a more complete copy of this with the host's introduction, but it is otherwise inferior, so I won't bother uploading it...

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Frank Review of "Death Wish" (1974)

The Short Version? Vigilante Movies: The Beginning
What Is It? Thriller
Who Is In It? Charles Bronson, Cosmo Castorini
Should I See It? Yes

In an alternate universe, Sidney Lumet stuck with this picture instead of jumping ship to Serpico. It starred Jack Lemmon as the aging Paul Kersey, who gradually turns to vigilantism after the murder of his wife and the psychologically catastrophic rape of his daughter. It was a socially conscientious look at the impact of crime and outlaw justice. Henry Fonda played the police chief, and it was another film classic from perhaps the greatest decade of cinema.

In our reality, Death Wish is an above average exploitation flick by journeyman director Michael Winner starring that spectacular lump of meat, Charles "F'n" Bronson. While filmed in the gritty '70s style of contemporary greats, name dropping producer Dino De Laurentiis should dissuade viewers from any elevated regard for the picture. It's a Dirty Harry knock-off coincidentally swollen with cameos by stars in the waiting (including Olympia Dukakis and Christopher Guest, while debuting Denzel Washington and Jeff Goldblum.) Bronson is a lousy actor but an intimidating screen presence. The assortment of scenarios with muggers waiting to meet the business end of his revolver are exciting and retain the element of real danger to the protagonist, as opposed to the bulletproof tough guys of the 1980s. Vincent Gardenia plays the detective in charge of finding the vigilante, and he's actually intelligent in adept pursuit.

The movie is basically Paul Kersey's origin story, so it takes nearly forty-five minutes before the protagonist goes out on his first patrol. The information before this point is necessary to the development of an extreme response. Rather than setting up grand villains and such, the movie then begins the parallel stories of Kersey's new life and the police pursuit of him for it. The result is, ahem, all-killer no-filler, and leads to a logical conclusion that doesn't insult the audience's intelligence by involving the hoods responsible for Paul's woe (although there's meta-justice dealt out in "St. Ives". Already in his fifties, the movie finally made an action star out of Bronson, and remains engaging nearly forty years and countless imitators later.

  • Theatrical Trailer Also, don't underestimate subtitles. With bare bones releases, you appreciate the little things.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wednesday Is Old New 52 For All I Care #128

Demon Knights #1
Grifter #1 (2011)
Justice League #1 (2011)

Demon Knights #1 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
The characters are a lot more fun in this book than in Paul Cornell's Stormwatch, and the story is clearer, but it seems kind of pointless. This is like a JLA of immortality, meaning that the characters that are best known are perfectly safe, so your reading enjoyment is dependent upon your interest in watching the leads going through the motions. Madame Xanadu is more flippant and sexually adventurous than I recall. The Demon is more amorous and gullible, plus I don't like the wings. Vandal Savage is more thuggish and boisterous. It would be interesting if Al Jabr turned out to be Adam One. I suppose it's cute seeing these characters in earlier days, and the playing with magic as advanced science (dragons = dinosaurs) is nice. With a name like "Demon Knights" and all these Daemonites running around the DCnÜ, you just know there will be some tie-ins to come. I guess that's something to look forward to. Appealing art by Diógenes Neves aside, this seems like a short-lived aside, if not an outright lark.

Grifter #1 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I vaguely remember reading the original Grifter #1 back in the '90s, which had the misfortune of being a side story in a crossover event. That book failed to impress, as did this one, for somewhat similar reasons. The issue opens on an airplane, with Grifter hearing voices, being attacked, and falling into the clear blue sky. It might have worked to start in the middle of the action in a movie, but it fails miserably as a comic. Since the reader likely knows Grifter is the hero of the story, there's no confusion about his role. His attackers are also obviously evil and something other than human. The scene therefore does not misdirect or surprise the viewer, and as a comic does not need to immediately hook the reader on an action beat (especially a lackluster one,) so all it does is confuse and disengage.

Then the flashback starts, including an extension of the title sequence, which grinds the breakneck pace to a whiplash halt. It's this nighttime office building rendezvous game of nitwits-- con artistry on the level of putting your thumb between your fingers and claiming to have another person's nose. At least Grifter is finally owning the meaning behind his kewl Image name, if nearly twenty years and a whole bunch of John Cusack movies too late. Tension and reveals have to be built up, all to return to the opening sequence of the book, on which a full page of recap is wasted. Worse, the resolution of the "cliffhanger" lasts exactly one panel, and if Grifter has super-powers that would allow him to survive a midair dive from an airplane, that might ought to be spelled out. The grinding gears of shoddy pacing strip the story of traction. What when laid out sequentially seems like a decent introductory episode feels slight as disarranged modules.

The last few pages are spent dumping exposition that a better writer could have worked into the story, including the completely unbelievable notion that the protagonist's military background would lead a Pentagon official to send his brother after him with extreme prejudice. Let's not get a highly capable but personally disinterested agent to track down Grifter, but instead send a blood relative. No massive, obvious conflict there. Old readers will shrug and say "this again?" New readers will just shrug. This is one of those comics written by someone whose knowledge of the world comes from other comics and video games. Part and parcel, it helps to read other "Edge" line books like Voodoo to fully appreciate the extent of the hand-me-down, been there/done that experience.

Given all my complaints about Nathan Edmonson's story, I want to make sure to point out that the book's grace is in the art. I liked Cafu's work on Vixen: Return of the Lion, but it was soft and stiff. His work with Jason Gorder flows better, with tight inks that lend mood and weight. There's a strong resemblance to early Gary Frank, without the excessive detailing that mars his art today. I understand the miserable Scott Clark takes over art chores in a few issues, so hopefully that means the present team move on to a book that could better utilize their talents.

Justice League #1 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
As evidenced by the story title "Justice League: Part One," more thought and originality was put into Johns' spelling of first name "Jeff" than into this story. It's basically a fifth of the plot points of Legends #1 with a fifth of the characters but five times the crosshatching and cover price. My go-to complaint about Star Wars: The Phantom Menace has been that if you asked any random person with a basic knowledge of the franchise to imagine their own Episode I, it would have been a more entertaining movie than what was produced. Ditto.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Brit, Vol.1: Old Soldier (2007)

I'm sure folks get sick of my reviews of Robert Kirkman books, because I always talk about how whatever it is isn't as good as The Walking Dead, even off volumes of The Walking Dead. Did I also bitch that every Frank Miller project wasn't The Dark Knight Returns or every Alan Moore project Watchmen? No, because Miller also gave us Born Again and Year One, while Alan Moore did Miracleman and Swamp Thing. I keep reading Kirkman books, and the drop-off isn't just steep from The Walking Dead, but too often from other random shit I pull off the shelf. I don't have to love every project, but can't I at least like one?

Well, I like Brit okay. Of Kirkman's various projects, it reminds me the most of The Irredeemable Ant-Man, an intentionally funny action comic with an amusingly skeevy lead. Brit qualifies for Social Security, but invulnerability keeps him on the government payroll, and there's always his side job as owner of a strip club. Kirkman owes a clear debt to Erik Larsen's combination of blue collar ethos and outrageous gross-out scenarios, but he just as clearly does the influence one better. The title does a nice job balancing domestic hassles, giant monsters, and the occasional melodrama. This trade collects three extra length specials, providing three complete stories for your entertainment dollar. The first book has rough early art by Tony Moore, the second a smoother look, but Cliff Rathburn's third installment plays the trump card. A satisfying and attractive package, so it's a shame the follow-up ongoing series was three years late and by a different writer...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

1991 Miller Lite "Then, Now, and Forever" Commercial

I'm finally going through a batch of VHS to DVD transfers I did years ago of material dating back to the early '90s. Since I was poor, video quality is usually lacking, and the YouTube library makes a lot of my stuff redundant. Still, as I go through it and check to see if there's cause to upload any of it, I figured I'd share here. This commercial spans decades of pop cultural fashion/music history through the then cutting edge morphing technology (now most the domain of Syfy original movies.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

1980 S W Studios Masquerade Make-Up Kits ad


Having grown up on Mammy Two Shoes and Jolson references in animation, I shouldn't be too surprised that you could still advertise a "Black Face" make-up kit in 1980. What's interesting is that it appears to be an African-American boy lad wearing the make-up, and I tend to think the wonders of latex applications hadn't quite trickled down to the suburbs yet. Perhaps "Zulu Warrior" would have been more appealing to the racially insensitive youth of America, but I suppose a sigh of relief could be uttered for the absence of "Darkie Savage" or "Spearchucker." Never mind the "Indian," which was probably a trademark dodge for "Tonto" rather than a nod towards A.I.M. Just scope the KISS make-up, or rather "Black & White (Disco.)" Between "Black Face" and "Indian," "Kabuki" was clearly expecting too much. Ads like this remind me that whatever the faults of political correctness, I'll take it over grody crap like this.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care #127

Jack Avarice is The Courier #1
Orchid #1
Charles M. Schulz Peanuts #0
Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Jack Avarice is The Courier #1 (IDW, 2011, $3.99)
I bought this book expecting to like the art and not give a rat's ass about the story. Instead, it was breezy, funny read with art glitches that gave me pause. Creator Chris Madden is set to revive the Danger Girl series, and in terms of basic style, he's quite clearly a suitable stand-in for J. Scott Campbell. However, I'd be very surprised to learn that he drew on anything but a tablet, and I'd expect some sort of background in animation, as well. This is to say, Madden tells a story well visually, but in an extremely rough hewn shorthand. Each panel looks like a really nice sketch jotted out on the quick at a convention, with all the layout framework left in. The art could be very pretty, with elements of Kyle Baker slipping into the Campbell, but it is often distracting in its disheveled nature. This book is published weekly, so perhaps the intention is to show how well Madden can perform under extreme deadline pressure.

Anyhow, despite my aggravation with the "almost there" art, the story is as fun as Danger Girl was over a decade ago, and Madden's silly characters make the sort of immediately endearing impression one would expect from a cartoon. Giving everyone distinctive features and their own logos right off the bat never hurts. Twenty bucks to read this week after week for a month doesn't seem that steep when the book seems like such a good time.

Orchid #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $1.00)
Companies like Virgin Comics used to talk with famous people about their lame ass ideas for b-movies and potential starring vehicles, then hire some journeyman writer to turn their shitty star-fuck-fan-fic into a marketable product. That is not the case with Dark Horse and Tom Morello, legendary guitarist from Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. Morello, a man of integrity, has written his own first chapter of a graphic novella that can stand proudly next to one of those shitty derivative sci-fi stories from the back of a Heavy Metal you bought in junior high to masturbate to the Luis Royo cover or the Horacio Altuna lead before they invented internet porn. It's much better written than the free music track downloadable with purchase, and will take longer to read than to listen, but it's still sort of like splitting a fifty count McNugget combo with a friend. It sounds like a good deal until you're chocking down #37 while the wedges of salt with potatoes mixed in have dried your throat and sent your BP to 180/120.

Peanuts #0 (kaboom!, 2011, $1.00)
It's Peanuts. I have to explain Peanuts to you? If you don't know whether you'll like this going in, google "Peanuts." The six page opening works fine, in part because it plays like a Sunday strip with more individual panel image space. The silent "Woodstock's New Nest" is like a week or two worth of daily strips strung together into a series of set-ups and beats. There are four pages of reprint strips of predictable quality, and the closing weak link four page sample of the graphic novel "Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown!" It goes by quick, but at a buck, there's nothing to complain about.

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (IDW, 2012, $3.99)
This is one of those books that seems like a natural, and although there's little connection between the two franchises in this opening issue, its steady going so far. A decade of super-hero porn commissions haven't kept the Moy brothers in their fighting from from a run on Legion in the '90s, and sometimes flat coloring does them little favor, but it's not a bad looking book overall. Chris Roberson establishes the premise of the crossover, and while the various characters aren't really given a proper introduction (aside from mugshots on the inside cover,) the characters' voices seem confident.

There's also ten page preview of another Roberson project, "Memorial," which reads just like one of those network shows out this season that ripped of Fables. Actually, I only saw the pilot of Once Upon A Time, but it's pretty much just like that. Fairy tale characters in a modern setting, less Willingham's cynicism and innovations in favor of playing things more obviously cute and fanciful. It's not bad for this type of thing, but you'd figure that if this is half of the debut issue, you'd spend more time with your protagonist and less with Pinocchio and Captain Hook decked out like Reservoir Dogs. That is, if you don't want to be dismissed as a total cash-in, I mean. Didn't Roberson even write an actual Fables spin-off? This is one of those "change the names to reuse a rejected script" things, isn't it?

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Frank Review of "Madmen of Mandoras" (1963)

The Short Version?They Saved Hitler's Brain!
What Is It? Thriller
Who Is In It? Hitler!
Should I See It? Maybe.

For an early '60s black and white public domain bomb, Madmen of Mandoras is decent. The plot is a total hash of disparate elements that only go together because of the assumptions of the genre, rather than a sense whoever wrote the screenplay ever read it again afterward. People keep getting kidnapped or shot in service to a gobbledygook conspiracy of super-villainous impracticality involving Nazis and Latin American strongholds. The important thing is stuff keeps happening, so at least it isn't completely boring. Everybody do a shot when somebody gets shot, and it'll do wonders. The main reason to watch of course is the same as it was when some UCLA students tacked on twenty minutes of new footage in 1968 to turn it into a "head" film: there's motherfucking Hitler's head in a motherfucking glass jar. Dated technique be damned, it looks really cool and wrong, plus, y'know they do things-- with the head. Not Barbara Crampton things, but still, wicked.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wednesday Is Not-So-New 2+2 #126

Aquaman #2 (2011)
Legion: Secret Origin #1
Stormwatch #2 (2011)
Uncanny X-Men #1 (2012)

Aquaman #2 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
This is a gorgeous book, and clearly the best visual rendition of Aquaman ever seen. The writing also respects the character, even if the metatextual defensiveness is a bit of a self-defeating turnoff. Show, don't tell. Cool villains, and I approve of the dark fantasy direction, but it sucks to read an issue inside five minutes.

Legion: Secret Origin #1 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I've had a lifelong interest in the Legion, beginning with the fantastic art and character designs seen in DC Comics house ads for books that never reached the newsstands in my neck of the woods. Years later, I read some occasional Legion back issues, but the property is notoriously convoluted, so those tastes were not enough to help me wade into a continuity that served as the basis for the X-Men soap opera. I finally jumped on in 1994, when the entire franchise was rebooted in the wake of Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. Mark Waid wrote a strong introductory #0 issue, and writers like Tom Peyer and Tom McCraw kept me buying the book for the rest of the series' run. I also dove into back issues, reading nice fat chunks of the esteemed Paul Levitz and controversial Keith Giffen runs.

Beginning in 2000, DC launched a series of renumbering schemes intended to introducing new readers to the Legion. In eleven years, there have been two volumes of Legion Lost, one of Legion Worlds, one of Adventure Comics and three volumes of Legion of Super-Heroes (one top-billing Supergirl,) plus the animation tie-in The Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century. I spent six years happily collecting at least two Legion series a month, and sampled every single offering since for various durations, but have yet to buy more than thirteen consecutive issues.

Legion: Secret Origin will not change my mind. I already gave the 21st Century Paul Levitz a chance on Adventure, which I thought was terrible. This book was just mediocre, but as a jumping-on point for new readers, it's the pits. There's nothing but soldiers, bureaucrats, and scientists talking for seventeen of twenty pages. Much of what is said is vague or of no great importance, and the only characters truly introduced were Brainiac 5 and Phantom Girl, but not in such a way as to inspire anyone to want to read more. The Legion origin adventure takes place off-panel, and we're instead stuck with a boring contrivance tacked on to the already burdensome Legion continuity. The only good thing I can say about this book is that it's some of the slickest, smoothest work I've seen from Batista, which may be the influence of inker Marc Deering. In truth, the only reason I ordered this book was to get a free Legion flight ring, and my supplier didn't send me mine, so I got nothing I wanted out of this purchase.

Stormwatch #3 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
DC must be going for some kind of record in soliciting the most comic books using cover art that doesn't actually appear on the book. I made a bit of a stink over the announcement that the tonally appropriate Miguel Sepulveda cover art used to promote #1 was supposed to be replaced by an atonal Chris Burnham one. It wasn't that I disliked Burnham's art, but that I didn't feel it worked as well as a debut image. I also loved Sepulveda's cover to #2, which was replaced by an unannounced (Al Barrionuevo? Sepulveda?) replacement. Now here's Sepulveda's #3, which looks nothing like Burnham's solicited #3, which doesn't bode well for his #4. Are they trying to push exclusive artist Sepulveda, are they keeping the book's tone consistent, or heaven forbid, actually using the Martian Manhunter's presence to help sell the book to a DC audience? DC isn't even doing variant covers for this series, so I guess the trade paperback will just have a killer pin-up section.

I talk a lot about the cover because there isn't that much to say about the issue. I liked it as I was reading it, but after those few minutes was up, I once again felt gypped. For frig's sake Cornell, slow down and take a breath. I know a bunch of these characters, but a large portion of New 52 readers do not, and as introduced over the past three issues they might as well be Itchy & Scratchy. "They fight! And bite! They fight and bite and fight! Fight fight fight! Bite bite bite! The Stormwatch (not Authority) Show!" Which would make J'Onn J'Onzz Poochie, I suppose, unless Poochie is a gestalt of all the new characters (Adam, Harry and the Projectionist.)

Jack Hawksmoor is the God of Cities, which developed over time from the funky guy who communed with cities, but it pretty much all happened under creator Warren Ellis. Now we have the Projectionist, the goddess of media, and Harry Tanner, the Eminence of Blades Lies? It's getting a little fan-fic in here, like Cornell is building a "bleeding edge sci-fi" JLA by reworking the same Ellis riff. Even Jenny Quantum is explained this issue as a sort of goddess of theoretical science who can do pretty much anything, unless a theory is disproved*. Jeez, instead of operating out of a ship called the "Eye of the Storm," maybe they should rechristen it the "Gods out of a Box?"

There are some cute moments, including Jack having tea with the personifications of three cities (including a Paris with stereotypical "oui-oui" accent.) Not to get spoilery, but if Harry Tanner doesn't turn out to be the Tao of the team at some point in the near future, the red herring is glowing like a traffic light. If there were any remaining doubts, let it be known that Adam One is a terrible team leader. J'Onn J'Onzz remains a glorified walkie-talkie who gets jobbed this issue to make up for his de-jobbing last issue, although the rest of the team suffer a double jobbing. Sucks to be them, but each issue reenforces an increasing likelihood that this book may end up being "Midnighter and Apollo's Breeder Friends!"

Again, the book isn't bad, but it's kind of like a Jeph Loeb comic with half a brain (as opposed to none.) Lots of action, slight characterization, all to the glory of Superman/Batman stand-ins. So long as he doesn't get nailed for any more swiping, Sepulveda's art looks sweet, like a star in the making (just hopefully not the Rob Liefeld of the Perez/Hitch influenced set.)

*I thought I was having trouble with spell check, but instead learned that "disprooven/disproven" isn't actually a word. That sounds familiar actually, but my real education started right here. That's one to grow on!

Uncanny X-Men #1 (Marvel, 2012, $3.99)
Remember X-Men #1? The one from 1991 with four different covers and a fifth that combined the other four into one gatefold Jim Lee mini-poster? That shit sold fucking MEEELIONS of copies, and was like the be-all, end-all of comic books. I believe it's still the bestselling single issue of all time.

Remember a couple of years ago when they relaunched X-Men with some creators nobody ever heard of and an asswipe team with Spider-Man and goddamned vampires? I don't. Seriously, I forget that shit happened all the time. I still think the mega-millions X-Men comic is out there, but you can now have a complete run of that title and totally ignore this other dogshit adjectiveless X-Men. In fact, so many people ignore the X-Men now that they cancelled the original X-Men title that was the only book left at Marvel to publish over five hundred sequentially numbers issues under (basically) the same title that didn't involve (him again) Spider-Man. That's a big deal, right? Major talent and a heavy push, right?

Last month, a new Ultimate X-Men #1 was better than it had a right to be, especially while pairing Iceman and the Human Torch. It hit pitch perfect notes to recall the past, while offering twists enough to reflect our present. This? Look at that cover. That is not a Jim Lee gatefold. That isn't even a New 52 Rob Liefeld, which is at least excitingly revolting. That is the most pedestrian image for an X-Men cover in, like, ever. It's barely fit for #545, which makes me wonder if this scam wasn't decided after the fact in a pathetic bid to steal DC's thunder.

Open the book, and there's a splash page of all the main characters in the book with tiny little caption boxes relating their names, secret identities, and powers. I think they count that as an introduction to new readers nowadays. That stinkin' thinkin' insures that there are no such beasts. The next two pages establishes the locale of San Francisco and the current status quo of Marvel mutants. That helps, I guess. The next two pages reintroduce the villain Mister Sinister. They're pretty good. The next two pages tell readers that Scott Summers is fucking that evil whore Emma Frost, so if you grew up with Cyclops as a cretin, he totally still is. He's also leading the single worst X-Men team I can think of, according to a splash page. Let's look at this for a moment.

Magneto: God, this character sucks. He had an arc, where he started out as a dyed in the wool world conqueror, but then he became sympathetic as a Holocaust survivor and fallen friend of Professor X. He tried to make good in Xavier's absence, backslid, and ended up a hard villain again. That's a great tragedy. He's done the same thing half a dozen times since, plus died repeatedly, and now he's a joke. I don't care if there are only two hundred mutants left-- you've got to keep killing this guy until it keeps. If I were among the last 200 humans on Earth, and I glanced over to see Osama Bin Laden still kicking, there's be 199 humans and a bloody rock. In fact, it would be a bright spot to that whole "everybody else is dead thing." We're all crying for lost family and the weight of our shared responsibility, and then we'd roast marshmallows over Magneto's corpse. Maybe one of those mutants could turn him into the marshmallow even.

Danger: Joss Whedon completed the "Professor X is an irredeemable monster" course begun with Onslaught by having him knowingly enslave a sentient life form and use "her" as the training ground for his team. Can't come back from that, and the end result is a lame ass robot x-person.

Colossus: Created to be the star of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, he ended up being the Potsie to Wolverine's Fonz. Hell, he was the Arnold to Nightcrawler's Potsie. Nice visual, cheesy Cold War accent, personality void. Plus, now he's in danger of losing his soul while exploiting a new Juggernaut power-up. How much cliche can you strap onto a character before he collapses in on himself?

Magik: Colossus' sorceress little sister, who like him used to be dead, and for all I know still has a soul compromised by demons. Her costume remains blah and she was created for the New Mutants, one of those teams that existed for years for no apparent reason beyond launching Bill Sienkiewicz's abstract style.

Hope: She's Jean Grey. Look at her! It's Jean Grey, re-raised by the son of her clone, watching Scott fuck Emma. She totally skeeves me out.

Storm: She's awesome, and a way better team leader than Cyclops. I hear she's joining the Avengers, which is a perfect place for her and makes her an ideal role model for mutant kind. She should be on that team with her husband, the Black Panther. Of course, that marriage is now on the rocks, because it was a stupid idea in the first place, and helped lead to T'Challa becoming the poor man's Daredevil instead of the African Batman. Anyway, why is Storm associated with this riff-raff team? It's like Obama rolling with the Weather Underground. Who needs that headache?

Namor: Aside from his Leisure Suit Larry costume and his letting a little bitch like Cyclops tell him what to do, the only interesting aspect of this team. I hope he fucks Emma while Scott and not-Jean watches.

Am I the only person who looks at a team like that, and thinks of Saved by the Bell: The New Class? Did you know that at seven seasons, that show ran almost twice as long as the old class? I only just found that out on IMDb. I can't name any of those actors, and I'm certain I never saw a single episode. Okay, maybe this is more like ER. After so many seasons, all the guys you like are long gone, and the ones left have been thoroughly exhausted as characters through countless arcs of life/death/marriage/divorce/entire seasons being a dream. I should have referenced "jumping the shark" and the later seasons of Happy Days, right? Damn it, I totally had that set up earlier in the review. I blow.

Moving on, the new team spends pages talking about how the reason they exist is to swing the mutant dick around, and they even try to have Cyclops play Billy Badass by mocking Wolverine's starting a new school. Actually, that is kind of wimpy. Fucking neuterboy Wolverine. I do remember when he used to be cool. Ended sometime around Kitty Pryde and Wolverine. Anyway, on page thirteen a Celestial poses a threat, and a team member with one of those powers that insures it won't matter loses a limb. It's all really dull (I did mention the Celestial,) so I didn't care that it lasted twenty-seven pages with a final spread that just made me shrug. Kieron Gillen has done work that's gotten him some hype, but I don't see it here. Carlos Pacheco now draws in a style reminiscent of Paul Smith, which means he's way better and more graceful now. Still, I don't do not can't give two shits in such a potent manner. If "meh" were a liquid, I'd be swimming in it. It'd probably be brown. No, gray. Definitely gray.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Death's Head Resolicitation (August, 1991)

Literally on the back of the torn out page of Advance Comics with the Mutant Genesis Ad was this solicit for what ended up being the first Death's Head II mini-series. I believe the same little sketch, presumably by Liam Sharpe, was in the original solicit. Because the image was so small and the lines so fragile, I decided to take the scan as is. The yellow highlight was for books I was interested in ordering, and the green for those that got purchased. I was so anal in those days, I read the goddamned thing cover to cover. I'd been a fan of Death's Head since he appeared in a comic strip on the back of Dragon's Claws, the first Marvel UK series I followed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Frank Review of "Night Court: The Complete First Season" (2005)

The Short Version? Crazy city court with a zany staff.
What Is It? Sitcom with regular doses of human drama.
Who Is In It? The sorts you'd expect.
Should I See It? Yes.

Growing up, Night Court was one of my favorite sitcoms, and I followed it both in first run and syndication. I'm always wary of revisiting shows like this, especially after years distance without exposure, because they rarely live up to those misty watercolor memories of the way they were. While not exactly an exception, Night Court still holds up as an amusing, entertaining program with standout performances and strong episodes. Others, well, we'll take a look at that. This disc covers the show's debut 1984 season as a midseason replacement, and it's fun to see both how much was in place from the very beginning, and how many changes were made. Harry Anderson often says he was essentially playing himself as Judge Harry T. Stone, so the consistency over nine seasons isn't shocking. The only character written expressly for the actor cast was Selma Diamond, who does not deviate from the very start. Karen Austin is a treat as Lana Wagner, who was built up as Harry's primary support and love interest all season. I expect that would come as a shock to viewers who missed this half-season, since the character vanishes three-quarters of the way through. Richard Moll's take on Bull solidified very quickly, and the actor has understandably been most associated with the character ever since. Paula Kelly was terrific all season, so it was a shame that she received so little attention, especially give the two Bull episodes and an awful lot of time devoted to Lana. John Larroquette grew the most organically, reasonably prominent but not quite a featured player yet, with the seeds of the future "crème de scum" planted over a series of episodes only just beginning to hatch by the end of the season.

  1. "All You Need Is Love": This one was all about introducing viewers to the wacky, improper, youthful Judge Stone, with a fair amount of time bouncing off his first court clerk, Lana Wagner. Assistant D.A. Dan Fielding is uptight and pretentious, Bull is brusque, and Bailiff Selma Hacker is dry as a bone. The very basics of the supporting character are there, but only to play off Harry. Actress Gail Strickland breezes in for a single episode as P.D. Sheila Corinth, while Rita Taggart makes the first of several appearances as hooker with a heart of gold Carla B. Not bad for a start, even if things go a bit overboard in portraying Harry as a loose cannon.

  2. "Santa Goes Downtown": An after Christmas comedown, with wonderful character actor Jeff Corey as a mentally ill St. Nick. Michael J. Fox as a runaway is a nice surprise, but he overplays the disaffected youth angle to the point that you kind of want to brain him. Paula Kelly makes her debut as Public Defender Liz Williams, and helps play this one for heart more than laughs.

  3. "The Former Harry Stone": Terry Kiser joins the cast as muck-raking journalist Al Craven. I enjoyed the character, but the cases coming through the court didn't warrant press, and many of Craven's smarmy characteristics would later be adopted by Dan Fielding. '80s sexpot Judy Landers gives Dan his first opportunity to show signs of lechery. Seinfeld's dad Barney Martin has a cameo as a bum.

  4. "Welcome Back, Momma": The disgusting, manipulative, womanizing Dan Fielding we all know and love really starts to blossom here, amidst a parade of beauty pageant contestants charged with assault. For the second episode in a row, an element of Harry's past comes back to haunt him, bringing either the humanity the series was known for or the wet blanket over the humor the show was also known for. Bull's sweet naivete is developing. Martin Garner debuts as newsstand operator Bernie.

  5. "The Eye of the Beholder": The first Bull-centric episode, showing the big guy for the teddy bear he is. Character actors Al Ruscio and Stanley Brock turn up, for the first of several appearances in a variety of roles.

  6. "Death Threat": Character actor Phil Leeds offers the first of several appearances, this time memorably as "God." George Murdock is also great as Womack of Homicide. Jack Murdock (relation?) as a twitchy member of the bomb squad is a kick, contributing to an already strong episode. For once, even the shoeshine boy with a sob story (Gabriel Gonzalez) injects humor, instead of the usual soap opera.

  7. "Once in Love with Harry": Carla B.'s third episode is a spotlight that wrings drama out of her situation, leaving it up to John Larroquette's Dan Fielding to keep things from getting depressing. Howard Honig's cameo is a bit much. Bull is about as hairy as he gets. The sexual tension between Harry and Lana gets ratcheted up. Jason Bernard makes his first appearance as the adversarial Judge Robert T. Willard, though his run is limited.

  8. "Quadrangle of Love": What the title says. Harry, Dan and Bull competing for the same woman. Not as funny as it sounds, unfortunately. Too much Mel Torme, as well. Like, way.

  9. "Wonder Drugs": A Lana Wagner spotlight, even more so than usual. I liked this character, and it still surprises me that someone so important disappeared before the second season. I'm glad she got this showcase. Jack Riley is great as usual in a cameo. Lionel Mark Smith makes a good straight man.

  10. "Some Like It Hot": Mike Finneran debuts as maintenance man Art Fensterman, who would appear sporadically for the rest of the series. Combined with the first of repeat performer Yakov Smirnoff, this one was pretty painful sitcomedy. Larroquette and Kelly have some rich moments in handcuffs, at least. Still, a rotten episode to serve as Karen Austin's last, as she departed the series without notice, and only really had a cameo here.

  11. "Harry and the Rock Star": Pandering to a younger audience with Kristine DeBell. Fairly grating, but Alice Drummond is fun in a cameo. Paula Kelly was especially good this time, as well. The one good thing about the loss of Lana is that there's no repeat cattiness against another Harry love interest.

  12. "Bull's Baby": A strong episode, aside from a painfully out of place Murphy Cross as a substitute court clerk.

  13. "Hi Honey, I'm Home": Murphy Cross remains stiff in an expanded role, likely written for the Lana character. A good story to end the season with, enhanced by the always awesome Charles Napier in a guest appearance. Bernie and Selma have a sweet subplot, as well. Shame Paula Kelly didn't see much action in her last episode.


  • Commentary on All You Need Is Love by Creator/Executive Producer Reinhold Weege Discussing pre-production and the difficulty of getting all the necessary information about the show across in a pilot. Really though, this is a tight overview of the series, well worth a listen.
  • Night Court: Comedy's Swing Shift Eighteen minutes of a fantastic hour long documentary. What's here is swell, but they only got Reinhold Weege and Harry Anderson.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Luke Cage Noir (2010)

Once DC Comics set into a comfortable, family friendly rut in the 1950s, they had to start telling "Imaginary Stories" that allowed changes to occur with their characters, even though they were all done-in-ones with no impact on "reality." Marvel did something similar with "What If...?" except those were tales spun off a set point in continuity, typically a worst possible case scenario where heroes failed instead of triumphed. Meanwhile, DC started rebooting its official continuity every five years, so when they started doing "Elseworlds" one-shots, they were more like quaint throwbacks than daring flight of fancy. Marvel never really bought into reboots, but once they broke the cardinal rule of "nobody stays dead but Bucky and Uncle Ben," nothing seems to matter or feel irreversible in their universe anymore. They have whole sublines of "Elseworlds" type stuff, rather cheesy "imaginary stories" like "what if a given Marvel hero and their supporting cast operated out of a Depression era crime setting?" Some characters lend themselves to that sort of thing, and some characters are Deadpool.

Luke Cage was supposed to be a very hip cat when he was created in the 1970s, but his whole reheated Shaft shtick was heavily indebted to gumshoes from decades prior. Telling a legitimate 1930s noir story with the character, along the lines of the work of authors like Chester Himes or Walter Mosley, is actually pretty inspired. The solicited covers for the four issue mini-series were fucking gorgeous, and Shawn Martinborough drew the hell out of the interiors. The colors by Nick Filardi complemented well, and Dennis Calero offered a potent cover for the trade collection.

Things fall apart from there, though. The trade is in a dinky digest format, which at three-quarters standard dimensions is too big to fit in a pocket but too small to serve the art well. The pages are a slightly heavy but flat stock, so that regardless of the colors used, everything looks brown or gray. Ten buck for four issues sounds fair in a standard format trade with decent quality printing, so Marvel charges $14.99 and cuts every corner they can. It would have been deeply offensive if the story had lived up to the efforts of all the other creators.

Adam Glass and Mike Benson are probably best known (as much as they are) for writing Deadpool comics, and while the story is much better than that resume would indicate, competency doesn't warrant applause. Aside from featuring a lot of black people, the story is strictly post-Chinatown boilerplate. Luke Cage as presented here is a generic amateur dick without any personality or swagger. Willis Stryker and Billy Bob Rackham are so far removed from who they were in old Hero for Hire comics, it seems like the script came first and determining analogues happened on the assistant editor's office. The Spider-Man villain Tombstone, a perfect potential foil for Cage, gets his resemblance in this story from the colorist leaving him white rather than anything out of the script. There are two major "twists" in the story, one of which relies upon prior knowledge of the character. This negates the argument that the story was meant to stand on its own, but more importantly, the entire plot is built around teasing the twists and ladling out cliche in every other aspect of the story.

I read this book months ago, and kept putting off reviewing it. The story isn't outright bad, just pedestrian, failing to live up to the potential the concept suggests. It didn't have to be great, but it did need more than just being "there." The old "Elseworlds" were fun because they kept the basics of the characters with a simple but effective shift in perspective, while "Imaginary Stories" tended to be bizarre and "What Ifs" were often pure schadenfreude. This was simply a faceless screenplay for a late '70s b-movie with some Marvel trademarks grafted on.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mutant Genesis Ad (August, 1991)

I've been digging through my boxes of loose crap lately, and figured it was time to revive Smelly Brown Paper (Scans of Yore) as a more regular feature. This piece seems especially appropriate, since my original is literally smelly, brown, and, um, yorey. Good thing there's digital contrasting to clean it up. This ad was torn out of an issue of Advance Comics after I realized that I didn't want to keep hauling ten years worth of two different retailer catalogs from place to place and recycled that shit. It was used to promote the launch of Chris Claremont, Jim Lee and Scott William's X-Men #1, as well as the new art team of Whilce Portacio and Art Thibert on Uncanny X-Men. For some reason, I clipped out the part of the ad with the X-Men credits, so I trimmed out the Uncanny ones from the scan. Claremont of course was drummed off both books, and I don't think that either of these line-ups ever came into being. I ran a check for this art online, and couldn't find it, but please drop a comment if you can direct me to better scans (re: any.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wednesday Is Leftovers For All I Care #125

Ghostbusters #1 (2011)
Near Death #1
Pilot Season Declassified 2011 #1

Ghostbusters #1 (IDW, 2011, $3.99)
This was a cute story that I think would appeal to fans of The Real Ghostbusters. Good character designs, introductions to all, and callbacks to the movies. The story worked well as the initial chapter in a serial, and there's some solid extras in the back.

Near Death #1 (Image, 2011, $2.99)
In a text afterword, writer Jay Faerber acknowledges the influence of television writer Stephen J. Cannell and crime novelist Robert B. Parker. That sounds about right. I caught the pilot for J.J. Abrams' Person of Interest a few weeks back, and it had a similar feel. A hitman has a near death experience, and decides to start saving instead of taking lives. Since his revelation and new mission begins in this issue, a lot of ground has to be covered in a short span of time, so that first job is given short shrift. Markham seems like an alright protagonist, and is already building a supporting cast. Artist Simone Guglielmini reminds me of a cross between Lee Weeks and Jorge Zaffino, which means it's almost too good for the episodic, slightly gimmicky material. Still, it's a solid start, and I enjoyed what I read. Perhaps a trade paperback with a nice low introductory price would get me to buy more.

Pilot Season 2011: Declassified #1 (Image, 2011, $1.00)
I want to say that I've done this before. Buying a book because it's a dollar, even though it is only slim, stupid, stiff interviews Newsarama would pass on and the types of "bonus material" packaged with the Previews catalog I order crap like this out of. In other words, this was pointless and tedious. Therefore, I will now review the concepts being put forth in this circular at face value while planning not to buy a single goddamned issue.
  • The Test: Sounds just like the movie The Signal, and we're promised shocks on every page. There's an eight page preview, and there's nothing shocking from what I can tell. Also, the writer fellates the artist, but he only looks worth a handjob, at best.
  • City of Refuge: Something about cops in a pacifistic society taking drugs to be violent enough to fight crime, which sounds pretty boring. The writer has some association with I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, while the artist was one of the reasons I blew off Shooter's Dark Horse Valiant books.
  • The Beauty: Attractiveness as some sort of communicable disease with adverse consequences. Written by a guy who writes for Top Cow, and drawn by a guy I ain't never heard nothing about.
  • Fleshdigger: One of the more interesting concepts, since it's basically a Bronze Age Marvel hero-monster premise like Werewolf By Night, but with a zombie. There's also design sketches, which are way less worthless than uncolored/unlettered preview pages.
  • Theory of Everything: Kind of like the last one, with the sketches and an okay premise, except this one involves poor man's sci-fi instead of discount horror.
  • Misdirection: It's about a race car driver, and is written by a Top Cow editor. Sounds like bad comics to me.
  • Anonymous: The phrases "elite Special Forces soldier" and "black ops" are in the first sentence, and "Wet work" starts the second. The only way this could get worse is if "wanted out" and "Screenwriter Alan McElroy" were in succeeding sentences, and they are. But wait, the concept is only being executed by a hired hand, as the creator is another fucking Top Cow exec and there's no artist assigned yet.
  • Seraph: Easily my favorite portion. The concept by All Pro football player Lance Briggs is at essence Spawn. Facilitating writer Phil Hester does his best to try to conceal this fact and elevate the material, but Briggs keeps chiming in that no, no, it's really really Spawny, but with more of the preachy. They also plug Lance's Comic World, a glorified blog that went from April through mid-September without any updates, and that update was art for Seraph unseen in the preview book.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Frank Review of "Phantasm: OblIVion" (1998)

The Short Version? Phantasm 4. See Phantasm 1-3.
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? The Phantasm guys.
Should I See It? No.

Phantasm IV is the least effective film of the series for a variety of reasons. Newer characters from the previous installment Tim and Rocky are dumped without further reference. Mike is flung off on a solitary drive after the troubling revelations of the previous installment, and Reggie left to meander, unaffected by his recent experiences and without clear purpose to pursue. There are sequences revealing the origins of the Phantasm universe, but they are barely informative and not terribly imaginative. Character development feels stalled, and there are some turnabout that don't really ring true. Folks are really starting to wear their ages, especially Angus Scrimm, whose Tall Man is looking to need a tall walker from Walgreens. It's hard not to notice, because a good chunk of the running time is devoted to repurposing unused footage from the first movie. These undeleted scenes have more vitality than the new material, even if they are confusing with regard to the always shaky continuity of the series. Since the footage is tied to reflections of the characters in their current situations, the film feels less horrific than melancholic, wistful for better days and the financing to produce better films.

Speaking of which, the most likely culprit for IV's lackadaisical vibe is "Phantasm 1999 A.D.," a post-apocalyptic version of part 4 written by Pulp Fiction's Roger Avery. The script was well received by franchise founder Don Coscarelli, but the financing never materialized, so this was filmed as some sort of stopgap. The necessary spinning of wheels is obvious, and drains the life out of this picture as surely as the film itself left the series stranded in Death Valley, living up to the oblivion in the title. There are a few strained new uses for the phantasm balls, some scenes worth visiting, and a snail's progress in the characters' journeys. Still, this installment feels pointless, beyond perhaps setting up a reboot/continuation down the line with Mike replacing Scrimm as The Child Actor Who Aged Creepily.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spawn: The Armageddon Collection Part 2 (2007)

This collection of Spawn #156-164 is an examination of how thoroughly a ball can be dropped. It opens with a child having brutally murdered their sibling, while Spawn begins his battle with the Hindu goddess Kali. Both of these situations carried over directly from the previous volume, and both reach temporary resolutions of a satisfying nature. The book returns to the mad warrior angel Zera as she slaughters the less faithful, as well as to the Man of Miracles, whose nature is further differentiated from Marvelman/Miracleman. Each of these characters are built up through sacrilege, so the religiously sensitive should damned well already know to keep their distance from a book about the Hellspawn. Unfortunately, both characters are also sold out to a large degree by the demands of the megaplot, which really kicks in two issues into the collection.

Fonzie, meet shark. In the annals of genre tropes, there are few more hoary than the big reveal seen here. "It was just a dream" is probably the worse, and guess what, it kind of comes into play by the end, as well. I can't lambast this development as thoroughly as it deserves to be without spoiling the book to a degree I'm not comfortable with. Suffice to say at one point, Jesus H. Christ makes a guest appearance, and even M.Night Shyamalan might be inclined to groan. The "Armageddon" in the title is taken literally, but in place of the affective foreboding of part 1, this edition descends into TBN Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 level bullshit.

There are a few attempts at "aw man, that's messed up," but they're wimpy compared to the earlier stuff. The really interesting revisions to Spawn's powers and nature(s) are written out. There's a lot of video game logic where characters who at one point destroyed Spawn turn pussy as he gains dubious level-ups. None of the curious, novel asides are present here, with one major through story of middling interest and a single cypher of a protagonist. Basically, everything that's ever been wrong with Spawn is in full effect here, from the overheated melodrama to the tone deaf characterization to the meandering pace to the lack of stakes or repercussions. How do you manage to make the Biblical day of judgment so tedious? How can such heavy theological themes be rendered as a retarded WWE smackdown, complete with homoerotic imagery?

The best part is the book's coda, which absolutely comes out of nowhere. Fourteen straight issues of a widescreen Warren Ellis take on Tales From The Crypt of Pat Robertson, and the wrap-up run head first into Lifetime: Television for Women's special presentation of Todd McFarlane's Spawn, starring Viola Davis as Wanda and Blair Underwood as Terry Fitzgerald. What could have been a defining moment for Al Simmons is delivered with all the subtlety of a falcon punch, which strikes with such force as to render any prior good will insta-borted. It's so bad, you'll wish Superboy-Prime would jab his way into the Toddverse.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wednesday Is A Buck BOOM! For All I Care #124

Doctor Who Volume 2 #1 (2011)
Planet of the Apes #5 (2011)
The Rinse #1
Wormwood Gentleman Corpse #1 (2006)

Hundred Penny Press: Doctor Who Volume 2 #1 (IDW, 2011, $1.00)
My first girlfriend was a Whovian, and so is my father, but I managed not to watch a single episode until a few years ago. It was the one about the guy who forms a band with Moaning Myrtle, and while I understand the episode received mixed reviews, I liked it pretty well. I've caught a few more since then with David Tennet and Matt Smith, and for a geeky sci-fi show, it's pretty corny and goofy in the good way. Based on my limited exposure, this comic seems to capture that feeling of the show, although it also has that distinct comic book disregard for budgets and a bit of stilted pacing. Some of that comes from the likenesses, which unlike that Buffy comic from last week are so spot on I have to figure some referencing chicanery is going on. There's also a bit of cognitive dissonance when I look from a lovingly rendered Amy Pond to a villain that resembles Danny Trejo as drawn by Mort Drucker. Tony Lee and Andrew Currie coast along on easy charm for this pleasant little done in one.

Hundred Penny Press: Wormwood Gentleman Corpse #1 (IDW, 2011, $1.00)
I hate the art style of Ben Templesmith, and all of his clones. I get fucking sick of pages and pages of brown. I also find his painterly eccentricities are used to bury plain old bad work consisting of plain figures, oversized panels, the general absence of backgrounds and chickenscratch. He's basically the Rob Liefeld of the art house scene. His writing is solid enough though on this quirky tale, which held me interest right up until the plague of our times, decompression, saw the book end right as I was starting to get into it. Admittedly, the quirks are largely secondhand, but for seriocomic gothic adventure, it was surprisingly decent.

Planet of the Apes #5 (BOOM!, 2011, $1.00)
How thoroughly must a director shit the bad on a franchise when you make hundreds of millions of dollars on a remake and the studio still doesn't bother with a sequel. Poor Dark Horse had the license for Tim Burton's version of POTA, and I figure Adventure Comics got more mileage out of their take on the original movies fifteen years after they had stopped being produced. BOOM! hedged their bets by also hewing to the old movies, despite a second reboot being a top film this year. Probably for the best, since Rise of the Planet of the Apes didn't establish enough lore to spin a comic series out of, and the old stuff remains meaty material.

For instance, the assumption of political undertones in the franchise means updating the property is as simple as following modern day politics. There's terror bombings, union strikes, underclass labor, extraordinary rendition, martyrdom... bridging the world we know and a time before the first Apes movie. BOOM! likes to do this thing where they offer a dollar issue the same month as a trade collection of the issues that preceded it. I wonder if anyone ever buys the one issue on its own? I don't imagine it would make a lot of sense, but it soundly continues Daryl Gregory's dense plot. Unfortunately, it also continues flat, uninvolving characters that are moved about his chess board. Carlos Magno's rich art seemed too busy to me at first, but I've grown to like it and his ability to convey the humanity the script does not. The guy has a lot of potential to go far, and he's well served by the coloring of Nolan Woodard.

The Rinse #1 (BOOM!, 2011, $1.00)
People gnash their teeth and rend their clothes over the death of most genres in comic books beyond super-heroes. I think they forget that television started bleeding the audience from comic in the 1950s, and the medium's steady death march across decades has never truly abated. People buy super-hero comics because it's the only thing about comic books that hasn't been adopted and bettered by video games, motion pictures and the like. Of course, now that super-hero comics are written like a single hour of television spread out across five issues, even the one thing the industry can still call its own is losing its unique appeal.

What does all of this have to do with a comic about an expert money launderer? Because it reads like an old time television show, from back when they were all based on short prose stories, plays, and radio dramas. I guess someplace like AMC or HBO might could pull off a project like this as a cable show, but it strikes me that reaching back in this way is something comics are ideally suited for. It might work better as a graphic novel than a floppy, since I doubt the story can keep its moment in monthly installments. It isn't that Gary Phillips story is any sort of revelation, but it's okay, and the art of Marc Laming and colorist Darrin Moore make it better. Basically, as prose, this would be nothing special, but transitioned to the comics medium with the right collaborators, it turns out a bit better than the usual fare from either discipline.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spawn: The Armageddon Collection Part 1 (2006)

I've spoken at length in the past about how Spawn should be the most popular African-American, multi-platform, superhuman badass in an action/horror milieu (with apologies to Blade, whose franchise was entirely dependent on Wesley Snipes, who is now over.) Instead, Spawn is an emo bitch who somehow managed to spin his wheels and shed his tears for 150 issues before making any really progress in the story department. To summarize those fifteen or so years, Spawn fought a whole lot of non-threatening demons who made for silly looking action figures that were supposedly articulate, but sculpted in such a way that you could only stand them just so without their falling over and breaking. Spawn built up a pretty solid supporting cast, but around his ex-wife rather than himself, so that Wanda acted as the anchor around the guy's neck. Lose the chick, which after 100 issues of mooning was a desperate need, and you lose Terry, Cyan, Grandma, the twins, etc. Spawn did kill his big bad Malebolgia, but that just opened the door for a bunch of weaker retreads.

At the start of this trade, one such Malebolgia Lite (who looked just like another deceased antagonist, Jason Wynn) called Mammon had wiped Spawn's memory, and he was predictably being a tittybaby about it. He picked a fight with an angel, got ripped to pieces, and then those pieces got stolen by demons. Spawn was sewn back together, absent his heart, so that he could be tortured by Mammon. Meanwhile, Spawn's heart became a little white kid named Christopher, who is sent on a quest by not-Marvelman/Miracleman, because Neil Gaiman sued that character into the Phantom Stranger. Fucking Billy Kincaid shows up, the child killer Alan Moore created that will not go away, despite just begging for another lawsuit to cause even more of the Spawn library to become radioactive. Some signs of the apocalypse and a greatest hits collection of lame super-villains later, the anniversary issue wraps.

After that busy, confusing, yet still somewhat plodding start, the run of incoming creative team David Hine and Billy Tan starts in earnest. The story of Christopher brings to the fore the EC Comics influence that has always been one of the redeeming qualities of the series, and establishes the potential for Spawn to become a one-man anthology series along the lines of (amusingly enough) Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. For about the first time ever, the cartoonish grisliness of the series is worked into legitimately horrifying imagery that disturbs the senses. The Spawn supporting cast, including Sam and Twitch, are used very effectively. Building in the background is an end of days epic that, while leaning heavily on the usual Judeo-Christian plagues, is smart enough to also delve into world myth, beginning with Kali.

There is more energy and story potential in the six issues collected here than large swaths of the previous 149. Phillip Tan is clearly not as polished an artist as McFarlane, Capullo or Medina, but he's able to shift gears from the usual over the top shtick to more varied storytelling modes. Functionally, this is much better than his later, more stylized work. Rather than the whining associated with Spawn as a character, David Hine elicits real pathos through the tragedies and existential dread of his characters. My only complaint is that once all the balls are in the air, this collection ends exactly when and where you would least want it to. On to part 2, then.


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