Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care #101

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1
The All New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #4
Charismagic #0 (2011)
The Intrepids #1 (1986)
The Mission #1 (2011)

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $3.50)
I was going to call bullshit on this comic actually being written by a 6-year-old, because it reads like a 30-year-old trying to fake it. Then I read that the older brother just plays with the younger brother for hours, and writes scripts "based on the true story" of their mutual fantastic conceptions. I could tease him more, but really, what could you ask of him? That's as legitimate as this kind of game gets. Regardless, the result is a silly steam-of-consciousness action adventure without the censorship of self-consciousness. I don't get off on dinosaurs with Gatling gun arms, so I'm not the target audience. This is for people who love random shit thrown against the wall based on the premise that alone is enough to be a satisfying experience.

The All New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #4 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
First off, can I just say that I love this glossy paper stock? It really holds the colors nicely. Next, can I ask more regular readers how often Sholly Fisch scripts revolve around the novelty of a precipitating event leading to massive groupings of obscure villains in place of a plot? A Greek god decides to have Batman and Wonder Woman fall in love, they plan a wedding, and a jealous Talia sends their mutual foes to crash the party. Mouse Man gets a swell spotlight, Giganta gets one line, and its downhill from there. Nobody seemed to want to research Wonder Woman villains, so aside from the usual "What The Fuckers" that populate the internet (Egg Fu, Amoeba Man, the Crimson Centipede, Paper Man, Blue Snowman) and the mainstays (Angle Man, Cheetah, Dr. Psycho, Dr. Cyber,) Batman rogues and general DCU oddities are forced to supplement. Further, there are guest stars aplenty, and they dominate the fights. The sum was the feeling of an actual company crossover, where droves of characters all get together for vague, underdeveloped reasons until coming to a vague, underdeveloped conclusion.

Charismagic #0 (Aspen, 2011, $1.99)
I believe it is time to declare a détente with Aspen studios. I'll stop talking shit about their crappy $2 trial books, and they'll stop wasting my time and money. Nothing is being accomplished by my continuing to give these guys the benefit of the doubt, which doesn't exist anymore anyway, because I have little doubt that I'm just paying for the raw material to write a negative review every time I buy an Aspen preview.

For instance, this is half of a standard issue comic that will be released in a month for just a dollar more. The story arbitrarily stops because it was never meant to run twelve pages, and in fact runs about three pages longer than it should have to come to any kind of polite resolution. Even had I gotten to read the whole thing, it would have been the same tired fantasy trappings in a modern urban milieu as every other Aspen book. Both the story by Vince Hernandez and the art by Khary Randolph are actually less appealing than Aspen's average, which is only middling to begin with. Randolph's strength is in drawing a hot ethnic looking lead heroine, but she only barely appears on all of three pages. The rest of the story is flashbacks to grizzled sorcerers in a plot you may remember from every fifth comic book villain's origin, or every other magic-based comic book villain's origin. Actually, aren't they all the same origin, with the only variation being whether the warlock was banished to another dimension from which they're trying to return, or originate there before invading our realm? Lord Voldemort with a nose, right?

There's editorial material and sketches in the back that try to sell us on these terrifying magical creatures in a tense struggle that will engage readers. Of course, all the monsters look like something out of Don Bluth's Dragon's Lair, and the writing might as well have been woven from pure unadulterated cliché, so good luck with that. I'm more excited that I managed to squeeze two accent marks into this review than the actual comic.

The Intrepids #1 (Image, 2011, $1.50)
In an editorial space, the writer of the comic formerly to be known as "Rat Bastards" discussed how the disintegration of his marriage played into a story about teenage cyborg spies who attempt to thwart mad scientists. The connection was through the supportive surrogate family the writer had created in his mind. The artist shared the editorial space, but used it to mock the writer. The first issue's story is called "Mad Scientists Are A Girl's Worst Enemy." I could have done with more pages mocking the writer for that alone.

Clearly, The Intrepids is supposed to be like an Adult Swim cartoon (specifically The Venture Brothers) in its '60s aesthetic mixed with self-aware sardonic pastiche. I like the art by Scott Kowalchuk, where all the characters are kind of meaty and retro. It's the script by Kurtis J. Wiebe that just lies there. The characters have generic team book personalities, and I'll be really surprised if they don't find out their scientist benefactor is really a bad guy. There isn't enough imagination to sell this as a "mad idea" book of the Morrison or Fraction vein, with most of the "weirdness" coming down to altered animals. I think there's supposed to be some humor here, but I'm not confident of that assumption, because nothing was actually funny.

The Mission #1 (Imsge, 2011, $2.99)
I was watching a show with my girlfriend when she got a call. I didn't know how long she would take, so I grabbed the last new comic from my stack and read it. I did this at a casual, unhurried pace. It was an okay comic. The premise was kind of like 100 Bullets, but replacing personal revenge with divine proclamation. The art suited the subject matter, and I found no offense in the overall production. I finished the twenty-four page book around the time my girlfriend finished her call. I asked if she happened to note the call length before hanging up, and she said it had been six minutes. I maybe spent five on reading the comic. This comic cost me sixty cents per minute of modest distraction. Afterward, I watched an entertaining multimillion-dollar motion picture streamed from Netflix over ninety minutes time which, even accounting for electricity and internet access, probably cost me less that one minute spent on this comic.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Who Is He And What Is He To You?" by Me'Shell NdegéOcello

Written By: Bill Withers
Album: Peace Beyond Passion
Released: 1996 (Withers: 1973)
Single?: #1 on the Billboard Dance chart.

I was going to run the original, but the embed was disabled, and NdegéOcello did a solid cover as a single with an actual video. Done!

A man we passed just tried to stare me down
And when I looked at you
You looked at the ground

I don't know who he is
But I think that you do
Who is he, and what is he to you?

Something in my heart and in your eye
Tells me he's not someone just passing by
And when you cleared your throat
Was that your cue?
Who is he, and what is he to you?

Ahh now
When I add the sum of you and me
I get confused when I keep coming up with 3
You're too much for one man
But not enough for two
Who is he and what is he to you?

You tell me men don't have much intuition
Is that what you really thinkin girl
Or are you wishing?
Before you wreck your old home
And searcht another new

Who is he, and what is he to you?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Morning Glories Volume One (2011)

Brian K. Vaughn returns to Runaways! Except he's working under the pen name of "Nick Spencer," and he stole his premise back from Marvel to run at Image, and he couldn't afford as good of an artist.

Morning Glories is about a group of sixteen-year-olds whom the creators clearly want you to want to fuck, between the Justin Bieber MK I-II hair styles and all the gym fit chicks wearing schoolgirl short skirts (no fatty-boom-batty-Girties or pedobait Mollys here.) Instead of being the children of a local demon-worshiping super-villain team, our young protagonists are brought together by a prestigious prep school with a demon-worshiping faculty. They are strategically multicultural and unencumbered by unattractive characters that do not fit modern high school archetypes. Think I Know What You Did At Degrassi High Last Summer. There are... shhhh... seeecrets aplenty, which I'm sure will play out over multiple volumes of the projected hundred issue series.

I tend not to want to give away too much of the initial story. The characters are paper thin, so the whole of the enjoyment of the book is in seeing the plot unfold. There's plenty of scheming that is pretty smart in its execution, and tons of foreshadowing to the scope and depth of a grand conspiracy. Spencer makes some of the more blatant exposition, tired cliché, and forced character moments palatable through high grade snark that helps one to embrace the less savory pieces on the chessboard.

The art by Joe Eisma meets my minimum expectations for this type of story. It isn't bad enough to put me off the book, and is serviceable in presenting the story. It is also chronically rushed, looking like reasonably tight layouts, or the story page equivalent of a competent convention sketch. The artist is unfortunately terrible at depicting acts of violence, looking like doodles of the killing of a math teacher from a bored high school student's notebook. More often than not, it is up to colorist Alex Sollazzo to cover Eisma's ass. The style of the interiors does manages to just barely evoke the pretty covers of Rodin Esquejo, which are not reprinted in this trade paperback. How's that for a "Fuck you Charlie-- buy the separate hardcover cover collection in two years?!" Esquejo is to Jo Chen as Eisma is to the various artists on Runaways and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the obvious downgrade in franchises noted.

You might think I'm some huge Brian K. Vaughn fan, but the truth is I only read his books when I get them for free, and only halfway liked the first few Runaways digests. It's just that the parallels are easy to harp on, but I actually think Morning Glories has the stronger and more versatile story engine to run on. Suffice to say, while a lot of this book will be very familiar to genre fans, it steals from high calbre sources, and presents the elements in a reasonable quality fashion. The first collection is a satisfying read unto itself, and at the low introductory price of ten bucks, worth your while to sample.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care #100

Doctor Strange #169 (1968)
Dreadstar And Company #1 (1985)
The Sandman #19 (1990)
Watchmen #1 (1986)

Doctor Strange #169 (Marvel, 1968, $0.12)
Pardon my boldness, but I've long felt that there is a certain prestige associated with being a Doctor Strange fan. I'm not talking about guys who know him from The Defenders or guest appearances with Spider-Man, by the way. That's like pointing to George Harrison as a favorite Beatle based on "Got My Mind Set on You" or "My Sweet Lord." You've got to read the solo stuff, and there are cherries to be picked.

I was lucky in that I got my Ditko fix through latter-day Strange Tales reprints, along with a tidy run spanning Marie Severin through Strange's first short-lived spin-off, including Gene Colan's early work on the character. I missed out on most of the Brunner issues, but I did have Barry Smith's two-parter, and was back with Colan for his second run. Doctor Strange was never made for the masses, but was instead an artist's showcase and a place for Marvel writers to push the boundaries of sophistication within the medium. You can pick up most anything solo Strange through Roy Thomas' first year or so on the '90s Sorcerer Supreme series, but the character was sold out to crossovers, terrible artists, and ever-shifting "bold new directions" after that. Only occasionally has anyone gotten the character right sense, most notably with "The Oath" mini-series.

If I had to pick one comic to hand to the uninitiated to help explain why Doctor Strange is a cut above, it would probably by "The Coming of Doctor Strange" by Thomas and Dan Adkins. Writers often try to get Strange's origin the Frank Miller treatment, padding it out to several issues and bogging it down with unnecessary details like sympathetic motivations. A single comic's length is all you need, giving the story a bit more breathing room than Stan Lee was allowed in the first draft, but maintaining a tight narrative.

The issue starts with Strange undressing while offering a self-aggrandizing monologue that orients the reader to where this series picks up after the feature left Strange Tales. The art is lovely, with a clearly mature Strange looking rather dapper with his fine mustache, modern in a Wood/Colan sense, while still casting a glance back to guys like Hal Foster, Lou Fine, and of course Lee Falk. The third page in features a highly effective splash of Strange dreaming of Lovecraftian abominations, "a virtual phantasmagoria of menacing forms." As Strange thinks about the awesome weight of his responsibilities in keeping these nightmares out of our reality, an important first step in understanding Dr. Strange is made, in acknowledging what an egotistical prick he happens to be. It takes a man so deluded by and taken with his own grandeur to face such existential horror and avoid madness by twisting it into criteria for his own elevation.

Here is where Thomas and Adkins begin really working magic over Lee and Ditko. In flashback, Strange has never been more handsome, confident, or of his time, with a cigarette dangling from his lips following surgery. Master of the Universe, Strange is all about relishing his surgical prowess, earning potential, and sneering in the face of altruism. The reader is positively begging for something bad to happen to this guy, as he begins his hero's journey. Rather than being bitten by a radioactive spider, what defines Stephen Strange is his superhuman arrogance. After a mildly debilitating accident, it isn't enough that strange still has his looks, money, and the lion's share of his abilities. If he can't be the greatest thing in his own world, life just isn't worth living.

The standard, well trod origin is trotted out, but the space to allow Strange his trek across two pages of snow storm or to loiter at the Ancient One's temple helps sell it anew. Adkins can't sell the weirdness of a steel plate over flesh like Ditko, but the story benefits from his sense of mood, more deliberate pacing, and grounding reality.

If the story has any flaw, it's that it ends abruptly and a bit too soon. Perhaps I misspoke earlier about only needing the one issue, but I suspect with a little tighter pacing this could have still been a done-in-one that completed the job. Regardless, is a great looking and fun reading comic that illuminates an often mischaracterized hero. Unlike most of my childhood comics, I still have a yellowed and coverless copy of this one relatively intake to indulge every now and again.

Dreadstar And Company #1 (Marvel Epic, 1985, $0.75)
In 1983 or so, my uncle bestowed upon me much of his collection of late '60s through mid-70s Strange Tales and Doctor Strange comics. Jim Starlin's Warlock got started in the former, and I had a few issues of the spin-off title and Captain Marvel. It's safe to say Jim Starlin was my first favorite writer/artist, so when a new series by him landed on the small comic rack at my local 7-11, I pounced on it.

"New" is a dubious application here. DC was experimenting with a format where they would relaunch top titles like The New Teen Titans as direct market only with deluxe printing, then reprint the material cheap for the newsstands a year later. Marvel had pioneered taking mediocre selling books direct only, and offered the anthology Marvel Fanfare on cover stock to comic shops, but neither could be reworked into mainstream fare. Instead, Marvel took Jim Starlin's bimonthly, Mando format creator owned Epic series Dreadstar, along with Elfquest and Groo the Wanderer, and revisited it as a cheap monthly under the Marvel banner.

Dreadstar was basically Star Wars as processed through the anti-Catholic, Kurtzman loving, cosmically attuned mindset Starlin had popularized in the '70s. To some degree, it was also the sober and more commercial version of the under-appreciated shambolic schizo-junkie-iconoclast paranoid fantasy masterpiece Warlock (along with Starlin's hazy output of the time at Warren and elsewhere.) Greatly benefiting from ignorance of the wealth of related material like The Metamorphosis Odyssey, The Price, and the original Dreadstar graphic novel, Dreadstar And Company opened with a nine page recap that to the uninitiated seemed like a sweeping prologue. A centuries old war between the Monarchy and the idealogues of the Instrumentality had left enough causalities in its wake to inspire a small revolutionary force of such character and ability that they could potentially challenge both intergalactic empires. Led by the mysterious Vanth Dreadstar, the band consisted of a wizard, a cat man, and the token female.

Vanth was a young Obi-Wan with the grit and some of the fashion sense of Han, as well as his own variation of a lightsaber. Syzygy Darklock was his alien Merlin, looking like Jonah Hex by way of J'Onn J'Onzz. Willow was Jean Grey, and Oedi was the wise and serene feline, except when the claws came out. The art was among the best of the period, especially as of its initial 1982 release, and Starlin's scripts read much more naturally than his earlier heavy melodramas. The story that followed the recap was perfunctory, introducing characters and their powers through a plot constructed to serve that purpose. Today it reads like a fun diversion of an action piece, but as a kid it was the best thing since ever.

The series would improve greatly on that starting point, from Willow's sad story of childhood abuse to the nuclear horrors of Chichano to the political intrigue of the Hand of Darkness. The final two issues were comparatively lightweight, and diluted somewhat by the use of inkers. I was so impatient between issues that I was constantly concerned I must have missed one, because it always seemed to take a whole season for a new issue to come out. I was fairly crushed to learn the experiment would end with the sixth issue, possibly related to the breakdown in Starlin's relationship with Marvel that saw him move the comic to First Publishing.

In retrospect, Dreadstar And Company was cheesy, but it still had more heart and dazzle than much of what was on the stands at the time. The first twelve issues hold up very well, as evidenced by Dynamite's lovely reproduction of that run in hardcover a few years back. It looks worlds better than the substandard reprints I grew up on, although new (sometimes better) covers did come of the enterprise, and I wouldn't have the same enduring love without them.

The Sandman #19 (DC, 1990, $1.50)
After having seen house ads and read positive buzz, I bought my first issue of The Sandman at the rarely visited book store/comic shop my brother frequented. It was the epilogue to "Season of Mists," so I was more than a bit lost, but still intrigued. I picked up most of the three issue "Distant Mirrors" anthology run at Third Planet, then the biggest (and furthest) comic shop in Houston. I loved them, and when I lucked into moving near a shop outside Denver, I began buying the series forward and backward. I got Preludes & Nocturnes and A Doll's House in trades, so I never bothered to buy the shop's copy of Death's debut for $12, as I was busy trying to complete my run of Rob Liefeld New Mutants at about $16 a pop, and those would hold their value better than some mature readers DC title, right? I completed "Season of Mists" as single issues, but petered out in buying the teens with "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

I like Billy Shakespeare as much as the next guy, but I really hated this issue. It won the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction, prompting the committee to strike all comic books as ineligible from then on. I can see their point, as prose and sequential art are very different mediums, and this story was kind of lame in either one. At least a third of the script is taken directly from the Shakespeare play, as are most of the characters, so who exactly should the award go to? A standard comic script would seem rather slight if printed out and compared to an actual story, and even on the art front, this was not Charles Vess' best work by a fair margin.

I chalk a lot of the attention this story got up to the post '80s high of comics as pretentious modern art. It reminds me of those episodes of Star Trek where each cast goes back in time to revisit the "Trouble with Tribbles" episode from the first series, but less funny, more laden with metatext, and targeting theater geeks instead of Trekkies. Any one of those "Distant Mirrors" shorts would have made a better choice.

I didn't care for "A Game of You" at first, but it grew on me over time. The various short stories that came afterward were usually solid, but I broadly disliked the extended arcs, and was relieved to finally see the title end. Maybe it's like that theory about rock music; that what you hear at the most receptive point in your teens is the best music ever, and the basis for all comparison. 1991 was my Sandman year, against which all others paled, and my purchase of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was the tipping point of my perception of a long decline.

Watchmen #1 (DC, 1986, $1.50)
Fucking limeys. The British just cannot write straight super-hero comics, like they're embarrassed to be working in the medium, so they play everything so goddamned tongue-in-cheek. Take this Alan Moore cat. He opens the book with an ultra-conservative screed, so overtly lampooning the right that it beats the humor lifeless. It's like Gary Trudeau's name written on the face of a sledgehammer. Flashbacks to a man falling to his death have overlapping dialogue about "falling from grace" and such. When a couple of retired super-heroes call it a night after drinking and reminiscing, one passes a garage advertisement that proclaims "Obsolete Models A Specialty." My ribs were sore from all the elbow nudges. Yes Mr. Moore, I get the "sly jokes" in silent panels where I've been trained by decades of comics to read everything within a panel. How droll... how clever... Is there something in your eye causing all that winking. Bit of fur fly off your face?

The main character is a Question rip-off called Rorschach, which is right up there with Charybdis as a name you should never give a main character. I can't even spell that shit, much less pronounce it. Rourke-- Rourse-- fuck it: Mr. A has this extremely annoying speech pattern full on onomatopoetic grunts and clipped excerpts from the most purple of Don McGregor captions. We see the costume of a bondage creep super-hero called the Comedian, who was part of a team called the Minutemen that are so poorly designed, you'd think they were from a Don Simpson book. As with the Comedian, you never see Nite Owl suited up. Otherwise, I would have had to double check the cover for the DC bullet in expectation the Charlton heroes had never left Americomics.

This is another one of those dystopic near future tales, or rather a parallel present for a mid-80s comic. Ozymandias (3rd worst name possible) appears to be a cut rate Bruce Wayne, while Dr. Manhattan is clearly Dr. Solar. Like a lot of current creator owned properties, this is just another collection of blatant swipes and foreshadowing to a shoddy plot that was probably rejected by the editors of whatever first generation heroes Moore unsuccessfully pitched. I don't feel the need to pay twice a standard cover price to read costumed geeks cursing or Dave Gibbons hewing to a nine-panel grid more religiously than Keith Giffen.

There's a six page text piece at the back of the book purporting to be an excerpt from the autobiography of an ex-superhero. There were actually a couple of (fictional) books written like that back in the '70s, and I suppose the novelty hasn't worn off of the practice yet. It's a damned sight better than the comic story that preceded it.

One final note: What kind of asshole wears a smiley face pin on a bathrobe? That stretch in logic took me right out of the story.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wednesday Is Brightest Day For A Little Longer #99

Brightest Day #20
Brightest Day #21
Iron Man 2.0 #1
R.E.B.E.L.S. #25

Brightest Day #20 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
Welcome back to sucking, Aquafag. You had us going for a few months there with your top selling book, A-list talent, iconic costume and enhanced powers. Then you lost your fucking hand again, you little bitch. You know who didn't lose his hand? Blaqualad. Kid weighs 98 lbs. and has only been a super-hero since lunchtime, but he fought Black Manta, cauterized your wound, and ended the piddly little "Aquawar." Who else? Aquagirl. Chick is from Sub Diego, was on one of those shitty short-lived Teen Titans line-ups, and if I recall correctly, breathing underwater is her only actual power. Still, she kicks dudes in the face while barefoot and doesn't even cut a toe on a seashell. Who else? Black Manta. Dude was set upon by schools of sharks both replicated and undead, brags about murdering a kid in front of both its super-powered parents, and comes out without a scratch... for thirty-four years... and it was your kid, Aquafag. Your babymomma didn't lose her hand either, as she was too busy taking on the guy who killed your kid and chopped off your hand, plus her evil sister, and their army. Mera did this with her hardass motherfucking powers that are massively impressive and versatile in and out of the ocean.

So Aquafag, what did you do, besides losing your hand again? On the beach, you cried and bled. After your wife took all your foes into your natural element? You went "vuu vuu vuu" like in that cartoon that's older than me and talked to the goddamned fishies. Excuse me, zombie fishes, who a) kick more ass than you have in twenty issues and b) killed expendable nameless mermen while the guy who maimed you and ate your baby like a dingo/Mike Tyson got shown the door by the new Aqualad.

By the way, Aquaman-- Ivan Reis is tired of you, and the combined might of five inkers and a pinch-penciller turned in a book that looks like Mark Bagley on an off issue. I think Geoff Johns is sick of carry you as well, since his four page "War of the Green Lanterns" preview took almost as long to read as your story. Hell, it took me longer to point out your faggotry in this review than to read the comic. GLAAD called, and they want you to stop defaming homosexuals through the association made by Entourage. They suggest "Aqual-Qaeda" as a more appropriate substitute defamatory nickname. No wonder your mother abandoned you to die.

Brightest Day #21 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
Fuck my earhole-- that tired ass Martian Manhunter story is still going on? Honest to Ganesha, I thought this piece of shit ended in, like, #15 or so. Half a year was spent building up D'Kay, she showed our zero a retardedly derivative Elseworlds, J'Onn J'Onzz had to choke a bitch to end the illusion, and the creative team moved on to Batman and Robin. I know you guys said D'Kay was going to be the biggest Martian Manhunter villain EVAR, but I ran a poll on another blog last week, and Bette Noir smoked her ass. Normal people don't even know who the fuck Bette Noir is, but they would rather vote for the unknown that stinky D'Kay, if only because her name in fucking D'Kay. I get a little bit stupider every time I type that.

That said, if you're going to go back to a stagnant well, this is how to wrap things up. After months of crumby art, Pat Gleason brought something resembling his A-game, except for that pointless two page spread. Actually, the splash page wasn't that great, either. My favorite part was how Malefic by way of Cay'an died the exact same way in a book written by the guy who edited that death, with the added bonus of referencing a scene from Smallville, plus killing the hero twice in the span of a few pages. That's like following literary sodomy with ATM to give us a sample of our own prison sex sauce. Martian Manhunter wearing white after Labor Day tastes like semen soaked pennies. I understand the high inmate suicide rate thanks to your efforts, gentlemen. Traumatic education is memorable!

Iron Man 2.0 #1 (Marvel, 2011, $3.99)
This Nick Spencer guy is supposed to be the new hot shit, so I'm all ready to run the guy down and say he isn't all that, but this comic was actually clever. The worst part about it is that it stars Iron Man and War Machine. Somebody decided to try to bring Jim Rhodes more in line with the movies and have him go back to being in the military. Rhodey was last in the military during the Vietnam War, and even then it was a flashback to several years earlier done in the 1980s. I realize shifting timelines make that impossible, but we're still talking thirty years worth of comics with Rhodes only listing service on his resume, so simply seeing the guy in uniform is all "what the what?" I also really miss the goatee he's rocked for years. Regardless, pretty much every time Rhodey speaks, you kind of want him to shut up, because he's got this forced "attitude." Then Iron Man tries to out-sarcasm him, and you want them both to just suck each other off already, if only to make it harder to get the dialogue out.

The book starts out with a seemingly unrelated set-up, then has its first novel idea five pages later, after the obligatory Iron Man fight scene. After that, you have to suffer through a couple of pages of trying to sell the idea of Rhodey back in the military with a creepy white commanding officer laying the racist subtext thick. Cross Edwin Alva with Wade Eiling, add Uncle Tom Rhodes rolling over for this shit, and see if you don't want to punch somebody.

Thankfully, War Machine gets replaced by Exposition Machine, as Rhodey becomes a device to unfurl Spencer's intricate set-up and a healthy helping of mad ideas. A really ginchy villain may come out of this, and he's smart enough to make me forgive the previous inequities. To maximize value, there's also a highly detailed text history of War Machine with clip art, plus a two page "reading chronology" to help Marvel sell trade paperbacks. I kid, but it was really informative, specifically the last page where modern creators somehow made '90s excesses seem like Silver Age delights with the crushing weight of aughts inanity. Sometimes between Secret Invasion and now, bong water became the sole source of hydration in those circles.

Aside from the inherent awfulness of a black hero being placed in a submissive role while his very identity gets rebranded as the McAdd-On to Iron Honky, the other major gaffe was selling this book with Barry Kitson as the artist. Despite getting top billing, there is not a single image in this book that in any way resembles Kitson's art. I assume this is Kano's show which means a) Black Iron Man only rates a name artist on the cover and b) Kano would not be your first choice for a high tech book. He's quite indy, and while not bad, it's decidedly off model.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #25 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
Last month I wrote about the direction of this series and my hopes for its future, scheduled the review to post about a week later, and in the meantime the book got canceled. There's something poetic in that, seeing as how R.E.B.E.L.S. was the book that prevented me from claiming to drop all monthly DC titles two years ago, and with Brightest Day wrapping up, R.E.B.E.L.S. may finally be my last DC subscription. The book was a constant source of frustration and dashed expectations, even when it was good, so I welcome its end. Hopefully Bedard and St. Aubin will land on their feet elsewhere. I'm not as worried about Bedard, because he killed Stealth and ruined Lyrl Dox through puberty and never made Vril Dox a big enough or remotely smart enough bastard. Bedard ruined my queer Captain Comet theory, pulled a bait & switch on the Legion analogs, and motherfucking Death Dealer Starro the Conqueror is going to get dragged out for a little more unwanted face time before fighting Aquafag in his doomed solo relaunch in six months or whatever. Bedard's writing a Green Lantern book, so fuck him. Mephistopheles has his immortal soul now. It's up to Mary Jane, now.

No, I think I'll miss Claude St. Aubin most of all. There's a five page preview of Batman and Robin in the back of this comic, and I liked how Peter Tomasi made sure to write Batman unmistakably as Dick Grayson. Unfortunately, Pat Gleason draws Dick Grayson mistakably as Bruce Wayne. He's got a fat nose and '40s hair when the artist isn't cheating through silhouette to cover him in inky blotches entirely. The perspective and anatomy is funked up and glossed over by computer effects and coloring. The characters are mostly misshapen and ugly. I flipped forward to get that out of the way, so I could go back to St. Aubin. Yeah, he's fairly traditional, conventional, and not at all daring... but he's also not lazy and everybody looks really pretty. There's enough detail to impress, including some uncommon techniques I really like, but there's no showy clutter. Clear storytelling, tight figures... this guy is one of DC's best kept secrets. He's sort of like pre-chicken scratch '90s Gary Frank mixed with Dave Gibbons on a consistent schedule. This guy needs to transition to a new assignment immediately. Aquaman would be nice, if that guy would stop being such a one-handed taste terrorist whose breeding partner and sidekicks makes him look like a ninny.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care #98

Doctor Strange: From The Marvel Vault #1
Memoir #1 (2011)
Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command #1
Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #1

Doctor Strange: From The Marvel Vault #1 (Marvel, 2011, $2.99)
Someone at the big two got it into their head that comic companies should start burning through unpublished file material that had already been paid for to turn a quick buck, and the other company followed suit. A single issue Roger Stern Dr. Strange story from 1998 was pretty much guaranteed to be better than some Batman Family mini-series by a moonlighting editor, if only for using a proven talent on a less drawn out effort. However, there's a reason these things were mothballed. Batman: Orphans was visually quite attractive, depending on your tolerance for Amerimanga art, but the script was rancid. Stern once again proves himself one of the great Master of the Mystic Arts scribes, but the art doesn't match.

"This Old House" has a pretty great hook that, for all I know, may be the first explanation of how Stephen Strange found his Sanctum Sanctorum. There is an appropriate recollection of Dr. Strange's origins, some human sacrifice, the old "All My Sins Remembered" jazz, and a fair amount of demonic activity. Basically, it's everything you'd want for a done-in-one introductory tale from an anthology title.

Unfortunately, if you're a Doctor Strange fan, you're aware of his exceptional artistic legacy through the early '90s. Strange Tales was the closest thing Marvel had to a mature readers comic for years, with some of the company's finest talents producing stories yet to be fully appreciated by fans. Neil Vokes is... not among them. The art is nice and cartoony, so if you're doing comedy or all-ages material, I'd be singing its praises. In a book exploring Stephen Strange's literal and psychological demons, it pisses in the punch bowl. Since it is a quality professional effort, it doesn't ruin the story, but it is such a mismatch as to terrifically mute its effectiveness and completely mangle its tone. As a result, I recommend the comic to Doctor Strange fans who will be aware of the rights and wrongs done here, but I'd steer the uninitiated elsewhere to avoid hurting the Sorcerer Supreme's rep any more the Bendis already has.

Memoir (Image, 2011, $3.50)
Artist Nikki Cook likes Paul Pope's style, so if you also like Paul Pope's style, this book has a passing resemblance to something by Paul Pope. The story is by Ben McCool, and reminds me of guys like James D. Hudnall and Rick Remender. That is to say, guys who write like they're adapting their unsold screen treatments to a comic book in hopes of generating Hollywood interest in the script. There's a solid if familiar horror premise, an asshole protagonist who will probably come to a bad "ironic" end in the final pages, and an ending just as things were starting to get interesting. As a first issue, it reads like it could be a good trade paperback.

Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $3.50)
I'm not 100% sure that the following sentiment hasn't come up on the internet at some point in the past, so I won't claim undisputed authorship of this revelation yet, but here goes: The prequal trilogy may, perhaps, have ruined Star Wars for many people.

Twenty years ago, a story about Darth Vader in his early days having to prove himself on a mission to find the missing relative of Good Moff Tarkin would have sounded kind of bitchin'. Today, I keep hearing that melodramatic "noooooo" from Hayden Christianson's transformation into James Earl Jones. I'm also experiencing cognitive dissonance from the artist's leaning heavily on original trilogy design reference while throwing in prequel Stormtroopers and such. Rick Leonardi is one of those artists I usually hate, but he actually works really well on a Star Wars property. That's a good thing, because scripter Haden Blackman sees his job description as more of a guideline than a rule. The majority of the book is either silent or terse, so an enterprising reader will keep a stopwatch handy to count their time spent by the second. I'd guestimate I came in at about 180.

Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $2.99)
In the original cut of the drama A Few Good Men, Ed O'Neill, who had played Popeye Doyle in a TV sequel to The French Connection, appeared as a Marine general. O'Neill was and remains most famous for playing Al Bundy on Married... With Children, so his mere appearance generated laughter, and the scene was cut. Just a few years ago, he tried to revive Dragnet in the Joe Friday role, to similar effect. I'm glad Modern Family finally came along.

John Severin made his name on western comics in the Silver Age, but I grew up with him as the Mort Drucker of Cracked Magazine, the primary artist for their broad film and television satires. Even when I tried to read a serious Severin comic, I couldn't get past the expectation that a sophomoric gag would be forthcoming. Projects like Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather didn't help.

At eighty-eight years old, John Severin is drawing a Hellboy spin-off, and it's a goddamned revelation. Maybe three decades distance from reading Cracked helps, but instead of seeing slapstick in these pages, I'm instead bowled over by the lush detail and varied technique. I see contemporaries like the Russ Heath, Reed Crandall, Sam Glanzman, Joe Maneely and Francisco Solano Lopez. Severin's idiosyncrasies are like those of Kirby or Ditko-- "flaws" that no other artists have naturally or can fake believably that set them apart and above the throng. The art deserves a recommendation alone, but it is supported by a good (if decompressed) opening chapter story by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi. It was a pleasure, and an eye-opener.

Friday, March 4, 2011

radio free nurgh

This blog has always been unfocused and never quite what I wanted it to be. I tried it as a daily for a year or so, but never seemed to have the time to juggle all the things I'd have liked to publish. We went from a daily to a few posts monthly, from a relief to a chore. Of late, it's mostly been reviews. I'm trying to keep this blog on the "every three days" schedule pioneered by several of my super-hero blogs, and tackling long moribund sections like Emmanuwednesday. I always wanted more music, and the nurghophonic jukebox has seen a lot more spins lately. It seemed like a good time to revise my index of music posts, incorporating everything into one menu and updating the great many YouTube embeds that have gone dead. As of yesterday, every significant music post has been linked here, and every video proven to work. I hope someone enjoys the tunes besides me...

There is nothing wrong with your internet. Do not attempt to adjust the musical selection. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the artists. We will control the decade. We can roll the selection, make it unfamiliar. We can change the focus from Merle Haggard to Vandals to Crystal Method. For the next video clip, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your internet connection. You are about to participate in a sonic adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner ear to... the nurghophonic jukebox.

Ze Greatest Songs Of Mein Time
A progressive "greatest hits" compilation of all the music I love...

"Add It Up" by Violent Femmes (1983)
"Cities in Dust" by Siouxsie And the Banshees (1985)
"Kick Him When He's Down" by The Offspring (1992)
"Midlife Crisis" by Faith No More (1992)
"Skip A Rope" by Henson Cargill (1968)
"Wave Of Mutilation (U.K. Surf)" by the Pixies (1989)

nurghophonic distress
Worst. Fucking. Songs. Ever!!!

"Heartspark Dollarsign" by Everclear (1995)
"One Sided Love" by Mandy Moore (2001)
"Smoke" by Natalie Imbruglia (1997)
"Wannabe" by Spice Girls (1996)

Audio Neurotic Fixation
Albums rarely reviewed, track by track...

Bastards of the Beat [2003] by The Damnwells
Beauty & Crime [2007] by Suzanne Vega
"The Love Symbol Album" [Unnamed, 1991] by Prince
Students of the Unusual Giant-Sized Music Special #1 [2008] by Various Artists

Audio Neurotic Compilation
All Killer, No Filler Artist "Mix Tapes"

1976 Rolling Stones Black And Blue Comic Book Ad
1989 Pepsi/Madonna "Make A Wish/Like A Prayer" Ad
2001 Aaliyah Album Comic Book Ad

nurghophonic jukebox general selections by song title
"A Little Bit Of Soap" by the Jarmels (1961)
"Ain't She Sweet" by Gene Austin (1927)
"American Made" by Oak Ridge Boys (1983)
"Anything" by Sixpence None the Richer (1997)

"Bernadette" by The Four Tops (1967)
"Black Flag" by King's X (1992)
"Breakin' Dishes" by Rihanna (2007)

"Come Back When You Grow Up" by Bobby Vee (1967)

"Don't Get Around Much Anymore" by Nat King Cole (1957)

"Fake Tales Of San Francisco" by Arctic Monkeys (2006)
"Fashion Freak" by Naked Ape (2005)

"I'm Gonna be a Wheel Someday" by Fats Domino (1959)

"Jungle Fever" by The Chakachas (1972)

"Know Who You Are at Every Age" by Cocteau Twins (1993)

"Leftover Wine" by Melanie (1970)
"Like A Drug" by They Eat Their Own (1990)
"Like A Prayer" by Madonna (1989)

"Maria" by Blondie (1999)
"Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by Crash Test Dummies (1993)
"My Girl Bill" by Jim Stafford (1973)
"My Man" by Fanny Brice (1921)

"No Hard Feelings" by The Bloodhound Gang (2005)
"Nobody Move" by Eazy-E [featuring MC Ren] (1988)

"Phantom 309" by Red Sovine (1967)

"Saturday Saviour" by Failure (1996)
"Sea Legs" by The Shins (2007)
"Sick and Beautiful" by Artificial Joy Club (1997)

"Tall Cans In The Air" by Transplants (2002)
"Teach Me Tonight" by Jo Stafford (1955)

"Undo Redo" by Naked Ape (2006)

"Wait" by The Beatles (1965)
"We Need A Resolution" by Aaliyah [featuring Timbaland] (2001)

ALL Songs By Artist
Aaliyah: "We Need A Resolution" (2001)

Arctic Monkeys: "Fake Tales Of San Francisco" (2006)

Artificial Joy Club: "Sick and Beautiful" (1997)

Gene Austin: "Ain't She Sweet" (1927)

The Beatles: "Wait" (1965)

Blondie: "Maria" (1999)

The Bloodhound Gang: "No Hard Feelings" (2005)

Henson Cargill: "Skip A Rope" (1968)

The Chakachas: "Jungle Fever" (1972)

Cocteau Twins: "Know Who You Are at Every Age" (1993)

Crash Test Dummies: "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" (1993)

Eazy-E: "Nobody Move" (1988)

Everclear: "Heartspark Dollarsign" (1995)

Failure: "Saturday Saviour" (1996)

Faith No More: "Midlife Crisis" (1992)

Fanny Brice: "My Man"

Nat King Cole: "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" (1957)

Fats Domino: "I'm Gonna be a Wheel Someday" (1959)

The Four Tops: "Bernadette" (1967)

Natalie Imbruglia: "Smoke" (1997)

The Jarmels: "A Little Bit Of Soap" (1961)

King's X: "Black Flag" (1992)

Madonna: "Like A Prayer" (1989)

Melanie: "Leftover Wine" (1970)

Mandy Moore: "One Sided Love" (2001)

Naked Ape:
"Fashion Freak" (2005)
"Undo Redo" (2006)

Oak Ridge Boys: "American Made" (1983)

The Offspring: "Kick Him When He's Down" (1992)

Pixies: Wave Of Mutilation [U.K. Surf] (1989)

Red Sovine: "Phantom 309" (1967)

Rihanna: "Breakin' Dishes" (2007)

Jim Stafford: "My Girl Bill" (1973)

Jo Stafford: "Teach Me Tonight" (1955)

The Shins: "Sea Legs" (2007)

Sixpence None the Richer: "Anything"

Siouxsie And the Banshees: "Cities in Dust" (1985)

Spice Girls: "Wannabe" (1996)

They Eat Their Own: "Like A Drug" (1997)

Transplants: "Tall Cans In The Air" (2002)

Bobby Vee: "Come Back When You Grow Up" (1967)

Violent Femmes: "Add It Up" (1983)


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care #97

Captain America: Hail Hydra #1
Hack/Slash: Me Without You
Spawn #200
Witchblade #142

Captain America: Hail Hydra #1 (Marvel, 2011, $2.99)
This book starts with a front piece introducing both Captain America and the Hydra terrorist organization (presumably incorporating retroactive continuity from Jonathan Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D.) It's a swell way to get the reader into the action.

The comic opens outside a German castle in 1944 with trusty Captain America, itchy-trigger-fingered Bucky, and a luscious resistance fighter. Sergio Cariello's art is much more loosey-goosey than I remember from the '90s, but he actually bothers to draw landscapes and shit instead of digitally processing photos like most fuckers these days, so it works out to being somewhat like Joe Kubert's modern look. Writer Johnathan Maberry maintains Ed Brubaker's violent characterization of Bucky, but his heyday was the bloodthirsty '40s, and Cap in recognizable as the less grisly '60s model, so I can roll with that.

The story is fairly plot heavy, so to talk about it much ruins it. Suffice to say it's a done in one involving Nazi zombies, and seems to set up an episodic mini-series revisiting these elements at various points in Captain America's career. I found it to be a fun, satisfying read that will hopefully hold up as a trade paperback collection.

Hack/Slash: Me Without You one-shot (Image, 2011, $3.50)
This was an alright book. Cassie Hack is the star of the series, so she's gotten a three issue mini and numerous specials covering her early days. Vlad is a sidekick, so he gets a one-shot with some tangling plot threads to pick up. Vlad's origin is okay, but I got back to reading David Lapham's Young Liars recently, so it felt awfully familiar. The art by Daniel Leister is fine for the material, and the colors by Daniel Leister are decent enough. You probably see where I'm going with this.

Writer/creator Tim Seeley has surely had plenty of requests for this story from regular Hack/Slash readers, so this takes care of their need to know. It won't alienate new readers, but I kind of doubt it will convert anyone, either. This is lunch out of a can-- quick, palatable and it gets the job done, but probably won't help your cholesterol or overwhelm your taste buds.

Spawn #200 (Image, 2011, $3.99)
Sit down. Get comfortable. I'm about to ramble 'bout teh back in teh day.

In the early '90s, I had become disenchanted with Marvel, and hadn't found my way into the DC fold yet (which would really get rolling after "The Death of Superman.") I was a big fan at that time of the exciting, anime-influenced art popularized by Adams/Lee/etcetera, specifically on the X-books, so I jumped into the Image Comics exodus with both feet. There were a great many of us who ended up knee deep in that shit, thanks to pre-orders on extremely late shipping books that went on for years in some cases. Spawn was something of an exception.

My brother had been buying Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man, and I had been reading his copies. I never got to be a big fan of the art, but McFarlane's writing wasn't too bad, so I figured to give Spawn a try. The plot was decompressed, so it took a few months just to establish the basic premise and first villain. I thought it was a fine concept as these things go, and I was pleased that McFarlane had gone with an African-American anti-hero, but it wasn't really my thing. However, McFarlane had announced a round robin run of four issues guest-written by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Dave Sim and Frank Miller, so I kept up my subscription through the first year's worth of issues (which probably took a year and a half to come out, a respectable schedule for an Image book.) The Sim issue was a glorious manifesto for the Image ideal, but the Miller issue was abominable, and the other two disappointing. I finally jumped off.

There were shenanigans related to the skipping of some issue numbering, which were later filled in, and some quality guest creators also joined the fun. McFarlane was unusually cautious about expanding the number of books in his stable, which strengthened his core title, and made ancillary mini-series like Angela, Violator, and Spawn/Batman feel like prestigious events rather than a license to print money. McFarlane also started a very popular toy company that changed the way action figures were sculpted, and gave him an area of boom while comics and trading cards were going bust. The book benefited from a number of stunts and controversies, like issues with its violence getting the title pulled from Wall*Mart, and a Florida woman campaigning against the series when the black hero was lynched, strange fruit hanging on a stark white cover. There was even a (laughable) motion picture and a (dull, dumb) HBO cartoon.

I believe Spawn was the first Image book to make it to fifty issues, commemorated by a variant action figure. By that point, I was assistant managing a comic shop, before taking over the comics department entirely. A lot of my subscribers used that fiftieth issue as their break point for collecting the series. When I moved to another, larger shop, I was surprised that they were still ordering massive quantities of the book. I soon realized they weren't keeping an eye on their inventory, and were ending up with many dozens of leftover, non-selling copies of each issue. The book had become chronically late, which afforded us the opportunity to get a refund on as many stripped cover returns as I could put together. The rest slowly made their way into our discount boxes for the kids. I had already experienced mass dumping with #50, so as #100 approached and lots of subscribers (often buying for several concurrent runs for their collections) verbalized their intention to wrap it up at the anniversary, I battened down the hatches. Spawn #100 had six covers, one semi-important death, marked the transition from longtime artist Greg Capullo to Angel Medina, and the suction sound from lost readership made a sonic boom. The book had been treading water for a decade, and seemed to finally take that water on in a big way.

Spawn has limped along in the years since. Angel Medina had a following from KISS: The Psycho Circus, and helped maintain a certain visual continuity, but the book had fallen hard from its days as a top-seller. #150 seemed to pass with little notice of its numerous variant covers. Horror novelist David Hine was joined by several darker, less Image-y artist for a critically well-regarded run of a couple years as a cult favorite. Storylines that had dragged on for fifteen years were finally wrapped up, and fresher avenues pursued. The sales weren't to McFarlane's liking, and the direction was still mostly John Constantine in tights. McFarlane returned to the book with fellow Image founder Whilce Portacio on art and a new face under that really long cape. The second Spawn was still fighting the same old battles though, including those against lateness, right up to this delayed bicentennial edition.

Here there be bells and whistles. Seven covers by headlining artists, and one or two of them were even pretty decent. Fifty-three pages of storytelling with layouts by Michael Golden buried under inks by Todd McFarlane, and contributions from hot Image partner Robert Kirkman. About eight pages of plot strung out of a fatiguing fight sequence and endlessly teased big reveal that anyone with a passing knowledge of Spawn could deduce, as there are only a handful of characters that general comics readers know of. It was a summation of the pre-Hine Spawn, not in the sense that it gave a complete history (it's actually actively hostile to theoretical new readers,) but in its taking an eternity to get nowhere but the obvious. Golden and McFarlane's art styles aren't especially compatible, and the result is a hash, but who cares when it's all shoddy pastiche of now ancient tropes. McFarlane scripts most of the "story," having picked up the kind of density of dialogue Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Claremont were known for (including the overwrought exposition of the latter,) but with none of their style or saving graces. Reading this god damned thing was a chore, and Heaven help us all, I think there might even be some Christ allegory with the new Spawn. Get thee behind me, rad blond Jesus on a papier mâché float.

There's a one page, Geoff Johns' style "teaser" of upcoming issues by the new creative team of total unknowns, which seems like a much lower budget return to the David Hine days. This may serve to explain my lengthy historical review. You see, I look at this not as a bold new direction, but McFarlane's resignation that his glory days are behind him. McFarlane has pulled out every stop over the last twenty years, but it seems like his bad reputation of fucking over creators, his inability to progress his story or translate Spawn's early success to other media has resulted in the death knell of the series. I see this review as an prepared obituary for the inevitable end, as Spawn continues to progress further and further into the Elysian Fields. Who will save Spawn, and what would be the point, since it was never much more than an empty vessel people poured expectations and licensing opportunities into? I'm just amazed something so played out has played on this long.

Witchblade #142 (Image, 2011, $2.99)
It may not be true that every comic book is somebody's first anymore, or even their first issue of a given series, but it could still be true that each is somebody's first issue in a long while. I haven't read a Witchblade since before #100, and #150 is approaching. The boring handsome male police detective sidekick that replaced the even more boring himbo male police detective sidekick from the earlier days stars in a solo adventure. The pretty vacant art of Stjepan Sejic is replaced by some crude looking shit by Matthew Dow Smith, recalling lesser works by dudes like Tom Cocker and Tommy Lee Edwards. I just realized I've disliked this guy's work in the past under the more manageable name of Matt Smith. I don't typically dig that kind of art when it's good, but as with my earlier comments, I appreciate Smith's willingness to draw backgrounds, buildings, and different perspectives.

There was some movie or comic I encountered recently that blatantly ripped off Hannibal Lecter scenes from The Silence of the Lambs, and here we go again. There is blessedly a twist that could have made for a good single issue chiller, but when I reached the end and saw that "to be continued," it just pissed me off that I gave the change-up any benefit of doubt. I've liked a few Ron Marz scripts over the years, but he's generally mediocre, and there's no way I'm paying three bucks in the hope this will be worth my time or even end next round.


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