Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Walking Dead Volume 13: Too Far Gone (2010)

"Too Far Gone" opens with Abraham Ford sitting on the side of his bed, sweating the prospect of revisiting zombieland, with his girlfriend blissfully sleeping. My first thought was that I couldn't care less about Rosita Espinosa, to the point where I had to research her name online. I like Abraham, and his new living situation is one of the highlights of this volume, but Rosita's just lying there, waiting to die.

Eugene Porter served his purpose, and I can't recall if he even appears in this edition. Gabriel Stokes has an excellent role to play here for a number of pages, but then he vanishes, because that role was all he had to offer. They dug up Morgan Jones a while back, and he serves a useful function for about a page. Maggie Greene has been around for a long time, takes care of Sophia, and they're both Glenn's supporting cast. These are people who'll live until they die, as is their lot.

There was a nurse who acted as doctor during the prison arc, and now there's a female doctor. It's hard to tell in black and white, but I believe the old one was blond, and the new one's a redhead. There's a love interest for Andrea. There's a new black guy who cares about his buddy that's going to die. There's some new jerky guys who'll get what's coming to them. These are people who'll die-- die! They're all new friends, but they'll die.

Surreality and nihilism define this story. The cast regulars are all in fine form, and they're all aware. Rick's back in cop mode, Glenn is the cunning sneak thief again, Andrea's taking her shots, Abraham's still a hard ass, Michonne and Carl are just waiting for the zombies to come home to feast. Douglas Monroe is the one new character with multiple facets and staying power, but he still looks set for a grim fate. There's our cast, and then there's bait. Motions are gone through, and they're an entertaining diversion, but this is just the wait before the tears.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wednesday Is A Long Day, Yet I Don't Care #94

Batman: Orphans #1
Batman: Orphans #2
The Occultist One-Shot (2010)
Star Wars: Legacy: War #1

Batman: Orphans #1 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
Rick Veitch has Swamp Thing meeting Jesus Christ through the wood on the cross. The Daredevil story after “Born Again” by Miller and Simonson. “Twilight of the Superheroes.” You hear about these great projects that for some reason or another never came off, and it feeds this hunger in fans to raid the file cabinets at the Big Two and liberate the epic unpublished works of their imagining. Yet, the truly great “lost works” rarely get far enough into production to ever be rescued, because they were never approved or even submitted before the deal turned bad. Otherwise, they sound awesome, so why not publish them in full? No, the instances where a company has forked over good money to see a project to completion, and then shelve it are about the same as happens in television and movies. It’s when the finished project is so rancid, so far beneath even our own dismal cultural standards, they figure it isn’t worth the damage to their reputations to (likely in vain) attempt to recoup their investment. However, in these dying days of the comic industry, when a book involving Batman is guaranteed to sell what a black and white indie book did in 1983, that’s good enough reason to reach back to this orphaned four issue mini-series neglected since 2003.

The story starts out okay, even if dead faux Robin initiating a murder mystery is hardly original. It’s kind of cool seeing Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen as memorable supporting characters on the GCPD rather than shitty fill-ins for super-heroes, and a new black reporter named Samantha Locke is a relief from a Vicki Vale appearance. I liked the coloring, and the letterer did this cute “Orphans” logo with a Batman silhouette in the middle of the “O.” Carlo Barberi is one of two artists who picked up Humberto Ramos’ tighter, detailed, more Art Adamsy style from between leaving Impulse and starting Crimson that I missed so much after he got all loosey-goosey. I dug seeing Dick Grayson and Tim Drake in their last good costumes, and a young Latino vigilante was introduced with some potential. The kid getting “jumped-in” by a gang of potential new “Robins” under an ersatz Batman was a nifty idea.

Well, of course stupid shit started stinking up the joint. The reporter’s cameraman is named Sam Jackson, and speaks almost entirely in quotes from Samuel L. Jackson movies. That hurt at least as much to type as it did for you to read. For “credibility,” writer Eddie Berganza peppers dialogue with Spanish while otherwise writing in English, which rang so true with El Dorado in Super Friends. Ai-yi-yi. While I enjoy looking at individual Barberi panels, his style is completely inappropriate for a story about snuffing teenagers, and he had major issues with storytelling. Still, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d been led to believe.

Now, in a bargain so unusual you should be rightly suspicious, the second issue of the planned mini-series is in the first published comic of two for what was DC Comics’ standard price for a few months there. That’s probably because the book jumps the shark from this point. The first splash page of chapter two is a couple of kids having sweaty sex in bed, followed by not-Robin emerging with blood dripping down his face that –whoops—was supposed to be lipstick. His girlfriend then councils a seemingly pre-pubescent Harry Potter looking boy to masturbate, euphemistically-like. Another Orphan juices up on a Venom steroid derivative, and forcibly injects the new teammate. That might have been fresh in Brat Pack, but it’s just ugly, obvious and stale over a decade later in a non-satirical work.
The Penguin gets information from an informant, then lets one of his hot chick bodyguards kill the guy rather than paying for his aid. Do the hot chick bodyguards ever think that maybe the Penguin will sick new giant ninja bodyguards on them some day. Forget it being bad writing—it’s just bad business sense. No wonder the Penguin remains the least popular and most generally useless Batman villain known to general audiences.

The real Robin and Nightwing spend a second issue dicking around on the Batcomputer. They find articles on each of the Orphans, whom they haven’t met yet. The black one is from the ‘hood created by the former Jim Owsley, and the kid’s dead father figure was named Owsley. I’m torn between the 4th wall breaking and the race relations backstepping. The girl in the group was of course molested by her adoptive father, because like the black kid from the hood, that’s how the token girl gets done in this kind of crap.

The dialogue is such a train wreck of exposition, movie quotes, and posturing nonsense that it’s sometimes hard to follow who’s saying what and why. The artist is all-thumbs in the panel-to-panel progression department, so that only compounds the storytelling problems. Then the narcotic dream sequences kick in with these fucking ridiculous manga figures running around. Of course there’s the umpteenth revisitation of Batman and Robin’s origins, but never before has one been so awful as to offer the Joker singing a full length parody version of “Danny Boy.” This is when things get so miserable, you can’t believe this isn’t like some hidden camera comic written by Sasha Baron Cohen where you finally realize a year down the line that they were only trying to get a rise out of you. No way someone leaned back in their chair, checked those words on their monitor, and thought DC Comics would pay them for something this fucktarded. Right?

Batman: Orphans #2 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
The final issue of this micro-series starts off with a third chapter that falls somewhere between the first and second in terms of quality. All of the same problems are present, but the heroes are finally active participants, and it’s at least readable again. There are enormous bricks of dialogue that don’t say much of anything. The violent girl with rape as her motivation turns out to be crazy and promiscuous, the trifecta of throwaway females in action scripts. The other crazy murderous chick (this one working for the Penguin) seems to get killed by one of the least threatening Batman villains, so her being built up is now doubly pointless. In fact, everyone is killing everyone by the end of this, and it becomes clear the Orphans were handled so maliciously because the writer had no affection for his own children. There’s even a betrayal from within their ranks that is kind of sad, because they’re all vicious little shits, so who cares if one is only slightly more bent and self-centered than the rest? At least the traitor is motivated to stand apart.

The last chapter is a clusterfuck of incompetence. Characters who were near death suddenly kick ass again at the plot’s convenience. Fucked up crap happens to bring the kewl, regardless of logic. There are some more supposed reveals, but in a story so uninvolving and scatterbrained, they are just there because that’s how a story is supposed to start wrapping up. There are also elements of tragedy, but since there’s no sense of any progression of time, it’s hard to buy anyone getting wound up over the deaths of people awful people met within the last day or so. Batman throws a fight to prove a point, which in the midst of a gang war seems awfully hospitable of him.

Speaking of which, the scale of this mess expands to include at least the upper eastern seaboard, with requisite cameos, but there’s nothing in the script that sells that level of concern from so many parties. My favorite bit though is the big conclusion where virtually the entire Batman rogues gallery has a group of protagonists surround, but decide to just walk away off-panel empty-handed. Don’t get me wrong, the last page is drowning with overlapping text that’s hard to follow from balloon to balloon (not a new issue) tripping over itself trying to make sense, and there’s even one last gasp of a hopeful continuation, but of what? The chief protagonist is a cipher, the reporters are ultimately generic, there’s no villains to carry on with… there’s just nothing here.

I can see where “Orphans” would have made for a strong pitch to an editor, especially because a fellow editor at DC was doing the pitching. There are a lot of fun ideas with potential here, but they’re peanuts in poop. Once again, intentions are foiled by poor execution from every single person involved in this project except maybe the colorist. Depending on who was responsible for arranging the word balloons, maybe the letter can walk from this one as well… but only maybe.

The Occultist #1 (Dark Horse, 2010, $3.50)
There is absolutely nothing original about Dark Horse Comics publisher Mike Richardson's latest super-heroic creation, so it's a good thing he was smart about his hired hands. I bought this one shot teaser based on my enjoyment of Tim Seeley's Hack/Slash, and he continued to earn my goodwill here. The basic premise is Peter Parker as the new Doctor Fate, and since Richardson didn't get the Valiant characters with the Classic Media/Western Publishing license, the Occultist battles a technomancing-flavored Master Darque. Regardless, Seeley lays out the origin well, the art by Victor Drujiniu and Jason Gorder is fine, and I'd be willing to try an economically priced future trade collection of the inevitable mini-series (as this book ended on a mild cliffhanger.)

Star Wars: Legacy War-- #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $3.50)
Whether this is a mini-series meant to give the several years old Legacy ongoing series a strong send-off or some extra juice in a relaunch, this book is fat with exposition I could not give a rat's ass about. I'm just not the target audience here, as my affection for Star Wars was tapped out by the prequels, and no amount of tribal tattoos or stubble makes up for this being the same old shit. Human history may be repetitive, but we're always inventing compelling new methods of murdering each other, under a wealth of banners. Non-Jedi Luke Skywalker Jr. with a pissy attitude waving the same old lightshlong at terribly familiar Sith (including a big boss he had already killed once) for hundreds of fictional years is just the latest example of a three decade long creative atrophy in real time.

Another thing that bugs me is that so many of the characters are reminiscent of the Rob Liefeld generator model. Luke + Han = Cade Skywalker. There's no Chewie, so Lando has to pull double duty as sidekick, modernized with dreadlocks. Take one of the sideline aliens from an earlier movie, tart him up like Darth Maul, misspell "Warlock," you get Darth Wyyrlok. His second? Stryfe. Of course there's a Lord Havok. How about a dude with one cybernetic eye? Destroyed planets whose fates cannot be taken seriously because their names sound liker baby talk (verbatim: "Dac, Da Soocha, Napdu!") It's bad enough when pop eats itself, but this is like that dance song I heard on the radio the other day with rapper-quality singing and a sample of Jennifer Warnes' vocals from "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" as its chorus. At least pop used to have the good sense to eat its own ass meat, but now its slurping the shit out of its own lower intestine.

Jan Duursema's art is really appealing, possibly her best looking work since she was being inked by Tom Mandrake back in the '80s. Inker Dan Parsons rings a bell, and I suspect he has a lot to do with Duursema's leap in quality. Writer John Ostrander says a lot by saying a lot, in nice thick word balloons of tedious jibba-jabba. It doesn't help to bring me up to speed if I don't care where you're going and get off at the first opportunity.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Frank Review of "The Green Hornet" (2011)

The Short Version? Playboy turns moonlighting vigilante with kick ass partner.
What Is It? Super-hero comedy
Who Is In It? The Knocked-Up guy, Princess Fiona, the Taiwanese Justin Timberlake, Col. Hans Landa, Admiral Adama, John Connor
Should I See It? Yes

Based on my having read a number of unflattering reviews of The Green Hornet, I'm left asking what the fuck people expected out of this film? The character's origins are clearly based on the pulp vigilantism of such box office heavyweights as The Shadow and Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. However the Hornet's heyday was actually as a radio drama, that thing that existed before television that your parent's parents listened to. There was a failed attempt to cash in on Batmania in the 1960s with a short-lived television series. Most recently, fourth rate comic publishers like Now Comics, Moonstone and Dynamite have been desperate enough to claw at credibility with this license. The Green Hornet makes the Phantom look like Batman, so cut it some slack for chrissakes.

Having gotten that off my chest, can I just say that I enjoyed The Green Hornet better than pretty much every Marvel of DC Comics adaptation that comes readily to mind. Most of those flicks are weighted down with familiar mythology, heroic arcs, thwarted expectations, uneven casting and are often just plain dullsville. The Green Hornet has much more in common with last year's rollicking Kick-Ass, in that its primary goal is to have a good time playing dress up when not taking the piss out of this ridiculous genre. However, I actually prefer Hornet, because despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of 11-year-old schoolgirl assassins who call grown men cunts, Hornet feels more adult and believable.

Seth Rogen plays the lead character of Seth Rogen under a different name with Tom Wilkinson as his mean old newspaper tycoon dad. Unlike that neuter boy Bruce Wayne, Rogen uses his daddy's money to party in style with Tony Stark's cast-offs. Once Tom Wilkinson dies, Seth Rogen pretends to be all bummed out about it, although his father was a dick, and assumes a semblance of responsibility. Seth Rogen ends up palling around with his pop's mechanic, Kato. Jay Chou plays Kato, although in the time honored Hollywood tradition of using Asian cinema stars in action movies, Chou's role mostly consists of reciting English language lines phonetically and busting martial arts moves. Seth Rogen wants to do something meaningful with his character's life, but he's not terribly bright or athletic. Kato is an all around bad mother fucker and inventor, but without a formal education and functional application for his skills, his prospects outside Starbucks look dim. However, if Seth Rogen has the money and inclination to play super-hero, why not humor him, eh?

This gets back to why I find this movie a lot more realistic than most super-hero flicks. Shit like Spider-Man goes out of its way to try to explain fantasy stuff in real world terms, while Batman and Superman are all-around gods with flesh penises. Doesn't it make more sense for some douchebag with too much money and too little sense hiring someone to shepherd him through adventures? Of course it's one thing to say it and another to get it done, so reasonable if still somewhat deluded logic is applied to how to actually perform super-heroics. Instead of questioning why the filmmakers wasted your time with some bullshit rational any asshole could pick apart, you're in your seat kind of seeing how that might work.

Cameron Diaz plays the heroes' mutual love interest Lenore Case, and is very much the Pepper Potts of the piece. Diaz's critics may moan about her presence, but the film works in part because of the necessity of her role, even if the love triangle represents the most grating sections of the film. Diaz is a surprisingly good sport when the joke is almost metatextually on her personally, and you might be relieved to learn that her journey doesn't pan out in quite the way you might assume from the onset.

Christoph Waltz brings some good game following his heat from the vastly overrated Inglourious Basterds, but aside from a fun introductory sequence where James Franco kills in a cameo, Chudnovsky has nothing on Kick-Ass' Frank D'Amico. In fact, there is a lot of wasted talent here, with Edward James Olmos coming immediately to mind as playing a role that in no way requires his gravitas. Still, it doesn't hurt the movie to have plenty of good people around to play off, even in its Rogen and Chou's weird anti-chemistry that drives the movie. They work because they kind of don't work, like Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in Rush Hour.

The same could be said of director Michel Gondry and the material. Gondry is known for novel animated music videos and twee romantic dramas, so he doesn't subscribe to the common wisdom of how to shoot action sequences. Instead of shitty jump cuts or unsteadycam, the action is always clear and amazing to look at. Kato-Vision is a stripped down and less intrusive variation on The Matrix's iconic "bullet time," but influences as diverse as Brian De Palma and The Benny Hill Show weigh in on other sequences. Old and new techniques come together to sell the action and the comedy as only a few greats (Landis, Donner) have ever managed to accomplish.

There's still a fair share of misfires, tonal inconsistencies, and obvious edits hitting the cutting room floor, but the movie is fun because it's a messy beast, rather than the hyper-calculated crapfest super-hero movies usually amount to. If you enjoyed Pineapple Express' modern pothead take on '80s buddy flicks, this here's your same flavor applied to the long underwear set.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Empowered Volume 5 (2009)

After finally having the time and energy to knock out my review of Empowered Volume 4, I was reminded how much I enjoyed it, and wanted to jump right into the next edition. Predictably, I was disappointed, and I'm frankly starting to wonder if there's a mild form of the "Odd Numbered Star Trek Movie" rule beginning to form here. In fact, I'm starting to break down the series' formula.

The first chapter seems like a standard opening that allows Emp to show off some newish power, as well as introduce some characters and detail the workings of the Justice League Satellite Joint Superteam Space Station. This all seems fairly innocuous, but as we learned last time, Adam Warren is already scheming from the get-go. The second chapter partially deals with the repercussions of the previous volume, but it's really about restoring Emp's status quo as her teammates' doormat, as well as furthering a subplot which may be important later. "When Titans Fornicate" is a leftover from volume 3 that was cut for space. It is a 22 page long softcore sex comedy that could have been stuck anywhere, but is good for what it is, and titillating to boot.

Having dispatched with much of the filler, the main plot starts to really flesh out. The Superhomeys finally take note of Willy Pete, the big bad the series has been building up since the beginning. The team is of course dismissive of the skullfucker's threat, so you know this will end one of two ways: another red herring, or with skulls getting fucked. Either way, hints are already dropped about another big bad to potentially replace Willy Pete at a future date, but we're not anywhere near there yet. Actually, a lot of groundwork is laid in this edition, to the point where this is clearly the first half of a TV season arc you just know won't pay off until later. There is however a 53 page final epic where fans meet shit, but unlike the serpentine mystery of the last volume, it's a series of terribly predictable turns of events that (here we go again) will hopefully build to a more satisfying later edition.

Empowered Volume 5 is a reliable workhorse edition. There's humor, there's sex, there's some crazy shit, and there's drama. It is not the volume you would hand over to the uninitiated, but it stands as a unit, even with the multiple unresolved subplots taking up a noticeable amount of space. Most of the chapters hang around past their freshness date, but they're still better than most else of what's around.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Walking Dead Volume 12: Life Among Them (2010)

Last year, I started three new blogs, which thoroughly demolished any schedule I ever tried to keep at ...nurgh... It meant I never got around to reviewing the incredible eleventh volume of Walking Dead, I actually missed ordering volume twelve somehow, and didn't correct the oversight until thirteen showed up at my door. I'm actually a bit sorry I didn't wait to play catch-up until fourteen.

A friend of mine once reached the point of nearly losing interest in this series because of the length of time spent in the prison setting, and the sharp rise in domestic drama during that period. I never really lost heart, because I enjoyed the smaller, character building stories. I could also see what a beast writer Robert Kirkman was building, as evidenced by the symphony of destruction that was Made To Suffer. Kirkman is still in his post-prison period as of this point, clearly working toward another spectacle. The problem for me this time is I'm even more aware of the calculated construction, and far less invested in the inevitably bleak results.

To my mind, Carl remains the central character around which the series now pivots. Rick still gets most of the "screen time," but his leading role feels more like inertia and the lack of a ready successor than a mandate. Glenn is the perpetual sidekick, Abraham isn't strong enough to take point, Michonne is best when used sparingly, and the presence of Rick keeps Andrea on the sidelines. A new leader-type is introduced in this volume, but he's clearly going to either be a creep, deficient or both. We've gone from Rick the POV rookie hero to the trusted veteran to the broken shell to the desperate neurotic. Despite his many turns, Rick remains a predictable, stabilizing element that now undercuts the tension of the series. I'm bored with him, frankly.

Following the uptick of "Fear the Hunters," "Life Among Them" is the odd numbered Star Trek movie. There's a shambling "reveal" early in the volume that puts the lie to some genre-excess teased "truths." With a bit of build-up, that could have been an "oh shit" moment, but a literal and literary fumbling halved the effect to just an "oh." Almost immediately, new characters and a change of scenery insure there's no sinking feeling, the plot wheels clearly spinning, and there's a sense of a contemplated plotline being abandoned. We were over here, but now we're over here. It feels rather familiar.

In fact, familiarity seems to be the point of this burgeoning mega-arc. Yet another promised land, a role reversal for Rick from naive altruist to conspirator, our cast as the new characters on an old scene. I can see where Kirkman had a novel approach in mind, and it could have made for an epic volume or two, but the premise as played feels stretched thin. This volume opens weak, closes on an obvious note, and most of the middle is perfunctory, inorganic laying of track.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care #93

Captain America & The Korvac Saga #1
Halcyon #1
R.E.B.E.L.S. #23 (2011)
Widowmaker #1

Captain America & The Korvac Saga #1 (Marvel, 2010, $2.99)
The Marvel all-ages line has been on this kick lately where they reinterpret classic epics into concise, new reader friendly mini-series. It's not as funky of an idea as it may sound, since beyond the sound and fury and tie-ins, most comic book odysseys are simplistic good versus overwhelming evil pap. In fact, it strikes me that these spins have an opportunity to inject more plot and character into these things retroactively. Bad remakes may plague Hollywood, but when the Coen Brothers decide to tackle an old John Wayne vehicle, you might want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The problem with revisiting "The Korvac Saga" is that it was already a funny, clever story with solid character moments, fantastic art, and an epic scale. Let's not oversell it and say it's like Army of Darkness, a beloved goof that had better have someone brilliant attached if it ever got remade. Well, the new "Kovac" has got Ben McCool and Craig Rousseau, and neither brought their A-game or any indication of an affinity for the material.

For starters, McCool should be banned from writing Captain America ever again. The Star-Spangled Avenger is written here as Batman on steroids. Arrogant, demanding, pig-headed, endlessly simmering... a total jerky control freak. Cap is constantly frowning or grimacing, and his poor handling of anything that comes his way in this story is essential Anti-Cap horse shit characterization. There's even a hideous two page spread with brown coloring slopped all over it where Cap whines about being a man out of time, right up there with Bruce Wayne crying over his fucking parents as things no one wants to read anymore.

Something this book has common with this week's other Marvel review is that there isn't a single likable character in the script. The only villain with significant lines is obnoxious, and the other Avengers don't have much to do. Their appearances can't coast on Rousseau's art, which is uncharacteristically rough and cluttered. Even the coloring is a fucking mess. I guess the letterer gets a pass, but the rest of this book is for the lose.

Marineman #1 (Image, 2011, $3.99)
When I have to reach back to hazy memories of the Tandy Computer Whiz Kids comics Radio Shack used to give away in the '80s as a basis for comparison to your brand new creator-owned comic: daiyum. I feel bad for pointing out how boring this infotainment is, because the poor damned thing is such an obvious labor of love for Ian Churchill. He devotes two pages to his childhood fascination with marine study (including family photos,) his creation of the title character in 1977, and desire to offer a more positive comic to the market. There's a pin-up and a sketch gallery and a feature on real world "Oceanaut" Peter J. Mumby, a professor of Coral Reef Ecology, and zzzzzzzzzz.

I'm one of those twats who defends Aquaman's potential, because the ocean is like the jungle, but even more dangerous. It can be such an exciting place to set stories, or it can be about some prettyboy playing with fishies. Usually, that second bit would be dismissive hyperbole, but seriously, Marineman just plays with fucking fishies. Allow me to illustrate:

Page 1: A splash of empty computer generated ocean and a couple square inches of boats surrounded by eighteen dialogue balloons simulating a radio talk show discussion of diving techniques.

Pages 2-3: A mysterious diving incident, narrated by the same slow news day NPR broadcast.

Pages 4-5: Marineman in his ugly costume swimming with oodles of fish.

Page 6: Marineman discussing his cable TV show at a convention panel.

Page 7: Marineman flirted with at a signing.

Page 8: Steve "Marineman" Ocean yakking with Jake Clearwater (seriously) in a jeep about nothing in the style of Brian Michael Bendis (but with less substance.)

Page 9: A splash of the Ocean Point Aquarium and Oceanpoint Institute for Marine Research (yes, twice) while the guys discuss a fart over eight dialogue balloons. I wish I was joking.

Page 10: A tour guide offers trivial Discovery Channel nuggets of wisdom about sharks.

Page 11: Marineman introduced again, in a tank with the sharks. It occurs to me that Ocean's top-heavy bodybuilder physique is incongruous with most swimmers. Wouldn't he use up a lot of oxygen to move that excess bulk?

Pages 12-13: Marineman puts a shark in "tonic immobility" by petting its nose for the crowd, as demonstrated through another splash page.

Page 14: Marineman dries off, chats with the tour guide, and signs a copy of his DVD for a kid.

Pages 15-18: Characters tell each other their personalities, allude to an underwater super-hero, remind you how famous Steve Ocean is, and restate pages 2-3

Pages 19-21: Marineman enters a top secret, hi-tech Navy base inside an underground cavern. Of course there's another splash.

Pages 22-24: Marineman chats with his scientist dad, and a new hot black Lieutenant is introduced at the base.

The End. That's it. Clearly, Churchill lacks the most rudimentary understanding of pacing, plot or a need to hook readers with a debut issue. This wouldn't even work as a #0 issue down the line. Nothing happens, the characters are voids, and the only time the dialogue isn't completely pointless is when it's informational or (only vaguely) expository. Further, fans picking this up on Churchill's name will likely be disappointed that he's experimenting with a cartoon style that somewhat recalls what Mike Norton's been doing lately (only with dodgy anatomy on the guys and more titillation on the girls.)

All that having necessarily been said in a critical review, I still feel lousy, because the project is so optimistic, anti-commercial and well-intentioned. Regardless, it's a vanity project by a fellow that should be forcibly removed from a keyboard, because he's paved a road to one hell of a lousy read.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #23 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
This has become one of the least focused book I read. Most of this issue felt like it was aiming to revive Green Lantern Corps Quarterly, with John Stewart as the name anchoring the vignette and the rookie Corpsmen of the Vega System starring in an isolated short story. Once again, the team formed in this book got a panel or two appearance, while Vril Dox and Adam Strange managed a guest cameo presence. It isn't bad, but it definitely feels like an ancillary title. Unfortunately, it looks like the thing that might tighten to book back up again is the return of Starro, an overlong story arc that's rushed conclusion always teased an inevitable, dreaded continuation.

Widowmaker #1 (Marvel, 2011, $2.99)
I read somewhere that the final issues of the canceled Hawkeye and Mockingbird ongoing had been repurposed as a mini-series. Reading this, I can see why the ongoing ended at about the same length as a mini-series. All the characters are bitter assholes, with Hawkeye offering to be obtuse and extra mouthy for flavor. The main antagonist appears to be another iteration of Ronin, who like DC's Hush is a failed concept creators keep trying to redeem with unwanted, futile continued appearances. There's a bunch of cloak and dagger shit which allows costumed heroes to beat up faceless soldiers in a bone dry script. The art by David Lopez is nice, except that his Black Widow looks like an aging junkie. The most exciting thing in Jim McCann's script is a guest appearance by a version of the Supreme Soviets. Make of that what you will.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wednesday Is A Holiday For All I Care #92

Brightest Day #15
Brightest Day #16
DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 #1

Brightest Day #15 (DC, 2010, $2.99)
"Whatever Happened to the Manhunter from Mars?" Really? Is that the level of expectation you want to set? Referencing one of the great Superman stories and a well-regarded derivation for Batman, each by a world-renowned comic/book author? This really showed how relatively pathetic Martian Manhunter is by saddling his riff with Pete friggin’ Tomasi, an editor-turned-journeyman scripter.

Hell, Tomasi can't even stick with the titular character's basics, turning him into one of the corniest possible variations on a Green Lantern Corpsman, and offering a thin rewrite of "For the Man Who Has Everything," complete with still living homeworld and the usual Superman-glorifying global offering of ass pucker. This is all a poor fit for humble J'Onn J'Onzz, and I can't imagine he'd ever suffer a statue erected in his honor. Tomasi even has the stones to refer to him as the "Last Son of Mars," and has Superman openly acknowledge that he's ceded all of his Weisinger era pathos to the Martian Manhunter. That sinks below turning metatext as text and goes straight into the realm of fan fiction.

Moving beyond my fanboy kneejerk reaction, the story remains objectively lackluster. There's a look at an idealized future for Green Age Superman Martian Manhunter. Then J'Onn J'Onzz tries to feed chocolate cookies to the family dog on Mars, which is not only entirely left field, but also seems really callous about the pooch's digestive health. Next, the founding members of the Justice League begin to get murdered on Mars in "ironic" fashion. The mystery culminates in a two-page spread that has got to be one of the dumbest and least effective reveals in recent memory. "H'ronmeer-- it's... it's... chickenscratch!"

The art by Pat Gleason was much better than the far below par shit slinging of his run to date, but he’s still no Curt Swan, George Perez or Andy Kubert. Early in his run on Green Lantern Corps, it looked like he was a contender, but he seems to have fallen back into being the poor man's Doug Mahnke. Worse, his graphic killings of the Justice League is right out of Kev O'Neill's Marshal Law, which adds yet another superior artist to compare Gleason to. I did like the last story page splash page though, as that's about the best look I've seen of J'Onn's new threads to date (with purplish blues, solid black pants, and those big billowy Adam Hughes boot's I've always dug.)

Both of the previous “Whatever Happened to…” were about celebrating all of a character’s continuity in a very metatextual fashion, while Tomasi consistently ignores anything that occurred in the first thirty years of Martian Manhunter comics. Nobody, not even nostalgia slut Alex Ross, ever recognizes Pre-Crisis Manhunter history. Most of the current creators are either children of the 70-80s or never cared much about J’Onn in the first place. It’s something I’m well used to, but that cover copy got me twisted up over it. I love what J’Onn J'Onzz evolved in the way he did, but there are only so many times you can beat the dead family drum before it’s too worn out to resonate. I wish folks had an interest in playing with some of his older history, but beyond digging up the Human Flame, it doesn’t seem to be editorially or creatively valued. I can't help but be more disappointed than the material here warrants, but it still comes down to defending mediocrity as not being utter crap.

Brightest Day #16 (DC, 2010, $2.99)
I feel bad for Scott Clark. Fucking Ivan Reis goes and draws some of the loveliest Aquaman art ever rendered for a few pages, then Clark's terrible computer tablet hackery is like getting punched in the face. A few pages later, Reis returns to coddle you with tender loving care, and then she starts biting your ear to pieces, like a Nightmare on Scott Street. It's like getting filet mignon with a side of escargot another patron spat out onto your plate. I know he's capable of better, and hope he was just experimenting and got locked into the aesthetic for this one story. Hopefully, a year of being the worst artist on a group book and being offered ten bucks for full body sketches at conventions will sober him up.

On to the stories, they're both still treading water (ooo, pun-ished!) There's a fucked-up moment where Deathstorm dicks with Alvin Rusch, and the origin we already figured out for the new Aqualad was finally spelled out (not to mention the heightened probability Aquaman's Post-Crisis origin has been retroconned.) Alternatingly pretty vacant and pretty fugly.

DCU Holiday Special 2010 #1 (DC, 2010, $4.99)
Let me first point out the value for the dollar. Five bucks may seem like a lot for a comic, but it breaks down to less than $2.50 for a standard issue's equivalent pages, and the six short stories are all meaty enough to occupy a chunk of time. For a holiday special, the topics are surprisingly heavy and diverse. Still, it's a holiday special, so it relies on seasonal goodwill to overlook amateur hour cock-ups.

  • Anthro in "Sometimes a Bear...": Joey Cavalieri's story is kind of cute, and feels like it comes from personal experience. However, the cartoon cel-looking art by Carlo Soriano sabotages his efforts with poor visual storytelling. I often paused during and between panels to figure out what the artist was failing to convey.

  • Jonah Hex in "Guiding Light": I assume writer Seth J. Albano is related to Hex's departed co-creator, so it's a shame the titular character feels so forced in what amounts to a guest-starring role. The main concern here is a saddle sore reworking of the Hanuka story, which makes it play like a Very Special Episode with people getting shot in the face. The story's fine, but I could have sworn Renato Arlem was an inker, which would explain his stiff and unattractive artwork. As it turn out, he's mostly provided full art chores to undesirable titles on their way to the chopping block. Maybe that explains it.

  • Green Lantern in "Holy Day": I want my motherfucking John Stewart series already. He was supposed to play a bigger role in Green Lantern, and he's stuck playing second-fiddle to Kyle Rayner in Corps and I'm sick of it. I'm also tired of Stewart's military background being played up over everything else, but if it were handled as well as Tony Bedard does here, I might be more forgiving. John Stewart busts worldly with a rookie Green Lantern about how a sophisticated individual deals with violent ritual practices that might offend non-adherents. It's a rare occasion when one of these things is potentially enlightening, and handled intelligently. The art is by colorist Richard Horie (along with Tanya Horie.) While not ready for prime time, it's at least comparable to your average indie super-hero comic from the '90s

  • Superman in "Hero of Heroes": I fucking hate "Another Day in Paradise" by Phil Collins, because it's a rich man making himself feel important by guilt tripping everyone else. Saps like me who already throw a couple bucks a bum's way are the only ones affected by the tune, and everyone else just changes the station while averting the street corner beggar's gaze. Kevin Grevioux is a Hollywood screenwriter who wants to remind us that the real heroes are children disfigured while saving their family from a fire, and I want Kevin to know he can eat a dick. Artist Roberto Castro never met a crosshatch he didn't like, so all the characters look like they have schmutz all over their faces, plus he lacks the fundamentals to avoid asymmetrical eyes or Martin Luther King Jr. showing Kevin how one eats a dick (which while unintentionally humorous, really undercuts the intended emotional resonance.) Also, I'm pretty sure the guy in the wig sharing a panel with King owned one of his ancestors.

  • The Spectre in "The Gift": The entirely professional and eye-appealing art of Tom Derenick is such a relief at this point that I hate to point out how clearly the Spectre needs a makeover. That goatee is stupid looming and there's something so wrong with putting a modern African-American ex-cop in bootie shorts, Peter Pan shoes and tuff-girl gloves. Writer Dara Naraghi schools us on New Year's in Tehran while demonstrating our cultural differences through a holiday tale about the Embodiment of God's Wrath In the Face of Murder Visited Upon the Earth. Season's Greetings with Vengeance!

  • The Legion of Super-Heroes in "Holiday": The only all-pro joint, brought to you by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Chris Batista. The premise is belabored over half the running time, including one of those cringe-inducing "in the future, all restaurants are Taco Bell" moments. Still, it looks and reads with the force of six fistfuls of competence, so alright then.


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