Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Empowered Volume 6 (2010)

Yay! For the first time in several years, I'm finally all caught up with Empowered volumes! Of course, that volume shipped late last year, with ever widening gaps between editions, and I actually started reading this a few months ago? Well, not boded.

The last volume was excellent, and I began reading this one in hopes of a nice opening chapter or two during a study break. Thirty-eight pages later (43 if you count the prologue,) I thought I was at least done with the aftermath of the death and destruction of the previous epic. Emp caught her usual unfair amount of shit, Major Havok was even more loathsome than usual, Sistah Spooky is emotionally devastated, and the dead walk the fucking Earth. Well, that was intense in an unexpected and not entirely desirable way. So hey, how about another fourteen pages of Emp and her boyfriend fighting about her near deadly last adventure, to really wring the soap opera out of the preceding events? Argh! But wait, there's more! Twenty-five pages of funerals, extended consequences, grim foreshadowing, emotional tumult, and two guest pages of yaoi porn by Jo Chen and Emily Warren.

It isn't until page 91 that there's a serious attempt to progress into new territory, which still amounts to Marvel Zombies/Blackest Night on Empverse terms. It isn't as much of a retread as that might sound, since a lot of the undead characters are pretty cool "fresh" faces, plus Emp's low key secret origin gets thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, the next chapter spends thirty-two pages satisfying the bondage fiends with unfunny funny sexcapades. In a volume that was already sour, overwrought, random and atonal, it feels completely out of place.

As has become the standard, the final chapter is an extended epic that attempts to draw all the loose strands together for a rousing finish. It only half succeeds. The premise is solid, but it all feels rushed and poorly thought out. Instead of startlingly well orchestrated callbacks, references to earlier chapters seem forced or obvious. I felt like a boss villain with potential kind of got thrown under the bus. Emp gets a moment of glory that doesn't feel earned, in part because it doesn't fully make sense, and seems to be generated out of contrivance. The book does end with a bit of "ohhh, shit" foreshadowing, but not necessarily the one folks were expected to get. I'm almost dreading a return visit from a group of villains I'd hoped would stay gone indefinitely, but I'm hoping Thugboy supplies a twist in the near future.

I hate to get on Adam Warren's case. When it's good, Empowered is one of the best books on the market, and even off volumes like this one display one of the most fertile imaginations since Jack Kirby. Part of the problem is that Warren sets the bar so high. The other part is that when he's not bringing it, you're staring down a couple hundred pages of sloppily unmet expectations and fatiguing indulgence.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wednesday Is Anthology For All I Care #108

2000 AD Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) 2011
Dark Horse Presents #1 (2011)

Only two books this week, but they're both oversized anthologies, so get comfortable...

2000 AD Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) 2011 (Rebellion, 2011, "Free")
  • Tharg and the Intruder! The company hid the credits on this one, but it appears to be a late '70s Kevin O'Neill strip lampooning the old Marvel Bullpen behind the scenes stories. That, or it's an early '80s number mocking Marvel Age. Either way, it's a cute three pages sales pitch about why fans of thinly disguised Marvel analogues are arrested development cases, and why 2000 AD is so kick ass your puny human brain can't even conceive of it.
  • Judge Dredd: S.A.M.
  • I've wondered whatever happened to Val Semeiks while be quietly pleased he wasn't sullying any super-hero titles with his art. Turns out he went back to his origins in satirical U.K. strips, where his style is far better suited to the material. John Wagner's six age script takes good shots at government bureaucracy, then wraps things up before they get stale.
  • Slaine: Moloch
  • Again, the company is really shitty and inconsistent about handling credits, but I'm going to assume this was by Pat Mills and Clint Langley. If this wasn't simply a four page excerpt from a larger piece, the writing is just plain bad. There's no plot beyond demons picking a fight with an Irish barbarian, and he's even got a sidekick to tell us how badass he is. The painted art should go down with the Heavy Metal set, but I like backgrounds and good lightning, myself.
  • Kingdom
  • The high concept is anthropomorphic dog warriors protecting their unseen masters on the last continent to fend off an alien bug invasion. Dan Abnett's scripts is alright for what it is, but Richard Elson's art is the highlight. It reminds me of Scot Eaton as run through a Dave Gibbons filter.
  • Shakara
  • I'll work under the assumption that Robbie Morrison and Henry Flint are behind this mean-spirited little ditty about the last surviving human in a gladiatorial arena. The limited use of color really gives the reds impact, and it's a fun excerpt.
  • Obmoz Battles The Twinklie Winkler
  • An ultra-violent parody of the old Hostess cakes strips. These have been done to death elsewhere, but the sheer over-the-top brutality rates a chuckle.

Dark Horse Presents #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $7.95)
Years out of print and emboldened by a MySpace edition, DHP returns strong as a bi-monthly mini-trade.
  • Concrete: Intersection
  • I can't handle Paul Chadwick long form, because his slice of life existential musings wear on me after a while, but they're a treat at eight pages.
  • Marked Man
  • It's Howard Chaykin, so elaboration seems redundant, but of course there are mildly thick women in lingerie and snark by the bushel. What I do like is that the protagonist is an overweight family man who secretly gets by through crime, so the hook of this series is a bit more down to Earth in its escapism.
  • Blood
  • I read Continuity Comics growing up, and got off on the excessive violence and the uniform Neal Adams-ness of the art. When I sampled their wares again in the '90s, I saw how terrible they were, but I chalked that up to the '90s. Reviews for Batman: The Odyssey have made me apprehensive about ever pulling out any of my old Samuree issues, and Blood bears that concern out. It's a beautifully rendered ugly story with retarded dialogue and utterly gratuitous gore. For eight pages, a guy gets his face pounded to ground chuck while informing everyone that his buddy Blood is the most lethal cat around. There's a taste of origin story, which amounts to space vampire, which should only peak your interest if it reminds you of Mathilda May starkers. It's right there at the outer edge of awful without every bouncing back into the realm of "so bad it's good."
  • Finder: Third World
  • I've never read any Carla Speed McNeil, probably because I get her confused with Linda Medley and the same people with questionable taste recommend both to me. Anyway, I quite liked this first chapter, and I'd like some more.
  • Mr. Monster Vs. Oooak!
  • What a throwback. This was a nostalgic property in the 1980s, riffing on the premise of a Golden Age style super-hero battling '50s EC and Timely/Atlas monsters. The jokes were stale Mad leftovers with 1967 expiration dates. I never found it funny, and it's much too lightweight to be anything but comedy, so it feels especially pointless in 2011.
  • Interview With Frank Miller/Xerxes Sneak Peek
  • I'll save you some time: Miller was a poor student but developed a hard-on for this area of history, which he intentionally distorts and sensationalizes for his fictions. The art and story looks like 300, a movie I never saw and a graphic novel I didn't like.
  • How Interesting: A Tiny Man by Harlan Ellison
  • Like most comic book fans, I wince when presented with a text story. I'll go to the library if I want prose, and I'd rather pick my own poison that be subjected to what an editor thinks I should read. Well, in this case, the story is a breeze and has a point, so just get to it.
  • Murky World
  • I've never been a huge Richard Corben fan, and here he's starting a serial without the benefit of a scripter, so I'd druther graze the art than read this silliness.
  • Star Wars: Crimson Empire-- "Third Time Pays For All"
  • I love looking at Paul Gulacy art, even when it's obviously photo referenced. This is Star Wars shit, but not the impenetrable kind, even though it'll leave you with narrative blue balls as a prelude to a mini-series.
  • Snow Angel
  • This would have been a mediocre short story, but as an opening chapter, I find it especially dubious. Cute for cute's sake?
  • Strips by Patrick Alexander
  • Crude internet age funnies. I'm not sure they would hold up long term, but a couple of pages worked out fine.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Frank Review of "Thor" (2011)

The Short Version? Thunder God Down Under.
What Is It? Action-Comedy.
Who Is In It? Captain Kirk's Dad, Padmé Amidala, and Hannibal Lecter.
Should I See It? Yes.

Before writing this review, I decided to take a look at a list of all the Marvel Comics movies to date. Did you know that there was only one prior to 1986's Howard the Duck: the 1944 Republic Pictures Captain America serial? I guess everything else was TV movies up to that point, and even then only the sputterings of Cap, The Punisher and the still unreleased Corman Fantastic Four before Blade began the Marvel age of comic book movies. Now, Cap is my favorite Marvel hero period, but I wanted to figure out which Marvel movie hero was my favorite. That would be S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, who co-stars in this picture.

A lot has been made of casting choices in this type of flick, some bad (Halle Berry as Storm,) some obvious (Patrick Stewart as Professor X,) and some revelatory (Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.) The problem is that too often, the movies are too crowded or the marque players not given enough films to truly settle in and develop their roles. Agent Coulson started out as a seemingly meek bureaucrat struggling to get a meeting with Tony Stark, but stepped up to help protect Pepper Potts and eventually "manage" Iron Man himself. Then he gets spun-off into Thor, and steals every scene he's in with his calm, courteous, yet calculating manner. Even amongst deities and geniuses, he tends to come off as the coolest cat in the room without a drop of sweat. It doesn't hurt that actor Clark Gregg is a comic fan from back in the day who name drops Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock in interviews.

I do believe it says something that I've managed to reach the third paragraph without really discussing Thor, and I'm sure a big part of that is that he's a character I'm ambivalent about. I think the guy can be cool at times, but all the pomp and cosmic circumstance of his solo title has tended to leave me cold. I love a good odyssey now and again, but Thor tends to hit the same beats repetitively (Odin pissed at him/imperiled, Loki plots, new guy gets the hammer, Odin dies/lives again, Ragnarok) and never seems to progress much as a character. However, toss some faux Shakespearean shit talk into a super-team brawl where he drops the hammer, and I say thee yay. The benefit of that was that I dug all the trailers, had no problems with the costumes, and no desire to nitpick the film to death. On the other hand, I brought no fandom into the cineplex with me (aside from Agent Coulson,) so I only took away from it what was presented: a solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable action-adventure.

After a brief mise-en-scène preview of upcoming events, the movie starts in Asgard with spectacle and grand battles again Frost Giants. I've never been one of those bitch ass readers who needs super-heroes to have one foot squarely in a realistic milieu, so this was where I had the most fun as a viewer. Bouncing between the realms of extradimensional gods is super-hero movie real estate all Thor's own, plus it plays to the strengths of the cast and director Kenneth Branagh. Thor strikes a nice balance between capable badass and brash asshole, Loki is allowed nuance, and the Warriors 3+1 play well off both. The CGI could have used a better budget, but it's easier to forgive the cut corners when you're allowed to immerse yourself in the world for the duration.

The trouble starts when Odin banishes Thor through time and space to 1980's Superman II. Thor is in some redneck town without powers having comical misadventures and a romantic subplot. I'll definitely take Kat Dennings over Ned Beatty as comic relief, but there certainly were times that I was waiting for the Otis theme to be cued. Thor is aided by a band of disbelieving but curious scientists who help him retrieve his lost hammer and deal with life on Earth. That also would have been fine, except for the very tacked-on and malnourished relationship with Dr. Jane Foster.

I like Natalie Portman as much as the next guy, and I'll even buy her as a physicist, but not one so love-starved and nervous as seen here. Attraction is definitely built up, but there simply is not enough time or depth to go beyond that and still juggle the sarcasm, the machinations of Loki, the encounters with S.H.I.E.L.D., and other obligatory events. Others might argue that one of these plots should have been dropped entirely, but at least the universe-building stuff was interesting. The fluffy, relationship building stuff felt like ballast from other movies. I think that as a whole it manages to stick, but each of the threads had problematic aspects that need to be glossed over for the greater good.

Chris Hemsworth makes an excellent Thor; charming, formidable and ridiculous in turns as required. Natalie Portman once again plays Natalie Portman, increasingly reminding me of Julia Roberts powering her way through movie after movie on only a bright smile and America's affection. Tom Hiddleston is fine as Loki, but I still wish we could have seen Josh Harnett kill in this thing instead. Anthony Hopkins manages to pull off the gold armor and eyepatch without going off the rails (see: Bram Stoker's Dracula. Stellan Skarsgård and Rene Russo have thankless roles that would have accommodated any actor in their age group and range. Most of the Asgardians were serviceable, except Idris Elba as Heimdall, who I could watch in his own movie. If Elba had more screen time to be the pimp daddy of the Rainbow Bridge, I might have talked him up for a couple of paragraphs at the beginning of this review.

I can buy the chemistry between Thor and Jane Foster. I can appreciate the various characters Thor gets to play off. I can see Foster continuing to search for what lies beyond as both a scientist and woman. I believe Thor has enough humbling experiences to gain awareness of the consequences of his actions, but it would have been nice to have him chew on failing a little bit more and pratfall a bit less. I have more trouble with Thor hanging on to his experiences on Earth, since most of his lesson came from tragedies from on high rather than deeply meaningful human connections. At the same time, I'm afraid of how things might have turned out had any more time been spent in that area, since the efforts that reached the screen were less than satisfactory. The same could be said of the 3D, which I forgot about being part of this flick until just now, its only impact to raise the ticket price. I actively tried to catch this in 2D, and still feel like I did. It also serves as a reminder that Thor works best with a big playground, and where his film falters is when the scale shrinks behind him, like Norma Desmond with a winged helm.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Wednesday Is Green Horny For All I Care #107

The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #6
The Green Hornet #1 Free Comic Book Day Edition
The Green Hornet: Aftermath #1
Undying Love #1

But seriously, is there some kind of review embargo on these things? I got my copies on Monday...

The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #6 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
This was a fun story from Sholly Fisch that introduces kids to the bare basics of the Detective John Jones (including supporting cast member Diane Meade,) offers a smart reason to team up with Batman, and a nice twist. The art by Rick Burchett and Dan Davis is attractive, with an attempt made to reflect the Silver Age Martian Manhunter. Like most modern efforts, they end up with more of a hybrid, with collar, bulk and glowing red eyes alien to old Joe Certa. Still, it works.

The Green Hornet #1 Free Comic Book Day Edition (Dynamite, 2010, "Free")
Now Comics probably had the biggest success with the Green Hornet, managing to keep a flagship title going over three years and a slew of spin-offs around the relative strength of nostalgia for a TV that unsuccessfully tried to ride Batmania's cape tail a quarter century prior. Dynamite was deluded enough to think the market would support four such titles in 2010 based on-- what? Now Comics, a sad little publisher that still managed a national newsstand presence? A forty-something year old TV show that lasted one season? Bruce Lee? A radio program from the '40s? Moonstones' multi-thousand copy business with the property in 2009? Anticipation for a Seth Rogen action vehicle whose release was repeatedly postponed?

I'm going to go with pure, simple hubris. Sure, they had access to an unproduced Kevin Smith screenplay that tramped around Tinseltown for much of the '90s, and of course they attached one of their top artistic talents who remains unknown to anyone who avoids Dynamite comics. That's one solid series of limited duration to manage selling a respectable fraction of what Smith's Green Arrow managed. Try to explain getting Matt Wagner, who has never really had much mainstream success, seemingly revisiting his gloryish days on the perpetually well thought of but low selling The Sandman Mystery Theater. Aaron Campbell isn't Guy Davis, but he's in the right neighborhood for Depression era heroics, so at least this was the best looking of the titles. The real WTF was The Green Hornet Strikes! with Hoose on first, Watts on second and Ida Know on third. The art style is modern, and actually a lot better than the dude on the Smith book, but he's drawing a brand new contemporary Hornet so far removed from the other Hornets that he might as well be a separate character. Maybe that was the plan, but it's so left-field and premature that Ida Knows what they were thinking. Then there's not one, but two Kato mini-series, one set in the '40s, and the other with the embreasted Smith version. Neither of the previews have dialogue, while only one had finished art & coloring, so I'll leave them be.

The commonality of the first three was a guy posturing/prancing an awful lot for a man pretending to be a crime lord. Dude, you've got a nice suit and a novel hook, so quit acting like a third rate Batman/Spider-Man knock off. That's what you have Kato for. Look cool, be smart, talk shit, and bad-man-up.

The Green Hornet: Aftermath #1 (Dynamite, 2011, $1.99)
In a rare occurrence, I was actually amused and surprised by a sight gag across a two page spread early in the book. It probably had something to do with the Hornet book I read immediately prior having the same set-up across three stories, so my expectations got bitch slapped. Unfortunately, this book peaked with the gag. Nigel Raynor continues the Dynamite tradition of Not Ready for Primetime art, but at least Jai Nitz's script tries to be funny like the movie, taking the piss out of the numerous attempts at a straight Green Hornet launched last year. Emphasis on "tries," since there's only a little bit of banter that halfway works, and the final panel alludes to getting into full-on Tick levels of ridiculous super-heroics. It isn't a bad book, yet, but it isn't really good enough for a recommendation, either.

Undying Love #1 (Image, 2011, $2.99)
John Woo style trench coat badass defends his love for an Asian vampire in China with bullets. It takes nine pages of often silent panels to get that across. Then they go to Hong Kong, check into a hotel, and reveal she survives without feeding on victims by taking syringes full of loverboy's blood. Tough guy meets an underage wizard exposition monkey who explains how to end the vampire's curse. It doesn't take much longer to read the actual comic than my summary, because it's cinematic in that way that the creators probably hope they'll get a picture deal with this as the storyboard. The art by Tomm Coker is really great, and as the co-writer he must figure a picture is worth a thousand words, but he maybe should have just released all those pictures in one complete edition. As a floppy, it's a cock tease whose quirks don't make up for being bone tired genre bullshit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Existence 2.0/3.0 (2010)

I bought this trade based on the high concept, fast paced and seriously attitudinal first issue, and I'm happy to say that vibe carried through the rest of Existence 2.0. The first three issue mini-series is basically a great unfilmed Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi script from his heyday, balancing the droll observations of Sylvester Baladine in his new life as a big dick brickhouse with bloody shoot-ups and a compelling plot.

An amoral scientist invents a means to instantaneously overwrite his mind onto others just in time to switch bodies with the ninja stealth assassin who "killed" him. The Tarantinoesque swagger and jumping through time plays very well, as clues are followed up regarding who ordered the murder. The only typical turn sees the seeker's heart softened by a loved one in peril, but I guess more lily-hearted readers needed some hook to root for the guy. The story is a hell of a lot of fun, complete unto itself, with no shortage of twists along the way.

Existence 3.0 then is the unnecessary sequel that Arnie wouldn't come back for, so it was left to Danny Glover or Robert Patrick to try carrying the lead. Peripheral characters from the first movie have an elevated presence, and hoops are jumped through to explain their illogical reappearance, but you know the producers are just trying to stoke your fire for the original with available materials. Worse, the new director wants to make their "own" film, so instead of being driven by an omnipresent humorous monologue, there are now great swaths of silent action and an attempt at heavier drama that doesn't play. Trading Dennis hopper for Willem Dafoe isn't so bad, but Sandra Bullock on a boat with Jason Patric just isn't her on a booby trapped city bus with Keanu Reeves.

That leaves Existence 2.0/3.0 as the Wall*Mart DVD 2-pack where you get both films for just a few dollars more. Yeah, the sequel was inessential, but those two scientists they brought in reminded you of the first film, it is a continuation of the story, and it was decent enough not to put you off. There's enough good in both scripts to see why writer Nick Spencer is on everybody's radar these days, and the art by Ron Salas is consistently impressive throughout. Early on, the art is more polished, recalling Gaijin Studios artists like Dave Johnson, Jason Pearson, and Cully Hamner. As the book progresses, the art gets rougher with less clear influences, but is still solid. Salas produced seven lovely covers for the series recalling Leonard Kirk and Lee Bermejo which are reprinted inside, but it looks like somebody slapped together the shitty cover of the trade in Photoshop from some interior panels. Still, fifteen bucks for seven issues is a steal in today's market, and the sum of its parts is great enough to buy the whole thing.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fear of a Brightest Day For All I Care #106

Brightest Day #23
Brightest Day #24
Fear Itself #1
R.E.B.E.L.S. #27

But seriously, is there some kind of review embargo on these things? I got my copies on Monday...

Brightest Day #23 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
The first few pages look like a genuine event book, involving cameos by super-teams much more popular than the guys who star in this series. Then those second guys get back to doing the starring thing, but they're drawn by Ivan Reis, so that's nice. Then there's a two page spread of Black Lantern Swamp Thing, and you're like "this fucking shit has been building up for a motherfucking year to goddamned Black Lantern Swamp Thing," and I'm going to have to admit that yes it has. Then there's the second swipe of the same spread from Blackest Night #8 in this series, which has gone from dynamic to darkly humorous to a bad burrito in your tummy. The pajillionth elemental-themed team in comics swipe the cover of Fantastic Four #1 to artistically shit directly down Alan Moore's throat, and then the big reveal is that not a single one of that guy's Swamp Thing stories were for reals. All that, and Smallville is ending. Neither will be missed.

Brightest Day #24 (DC, 2011, $4.99)
After decades of failing to reach the bar set by Alan Moore, DC has finally decided to embrace the prior mediocrity that led to two bad movies, a cheesy toy line, a laughable live action series, and a quarter-season of a cartoon. Swamp Thing is back again for the first time. Also, instead of taking advantage of Deadman being alive again to create a new central mystery around solving his own murder, Captain Boomerang kills him by will of the White Lantern Machina. I guess Alec Holland is alive again, to act as a grim n' gritty Captain Planet. I thought it was kind of cool that nobody told Ardian Syaf to draw the Steve Bissette Swamp Thing, so he did Bernie Wrightson, which makes a lot more sense in this context. The big wrap-up makes it clear they were making everything up as they went along, many of the resurrections were totally bullshit, and the primary characters need to keep their traps shut until the inevitable spin-offs. R.E.B.E.L.S. #28, my final monthly DC purchase, can't come soon enough.

Fear Itself #1 (Marvel, 2011, $3.99)
I was surprised by liking this book. It inserts super-heroes into current real world problems without preaching or being icky. The art by Stuart Immonen is nice. I don't really like where they've gone with the Red Skull's daughter, but she serves her purpose in this particular story. The politics bring Captain America and Iron Man into the story, which dovetails into the mythology pulling Thor in. None of the characters I hate get speaking lines. It all works.

What? I can be pleased, on occasion.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #27 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
This is certainly feeling slapped together. Starro's girl henchman was dumped into a refrigerator with one whack, while Lobo fights the guy henchman throughout the issue. There's supposed to be some humor related to this, but I fail to see it. Blackfire seemed to legitimately dig Vril Dox's vibe, until Starro cockblocked him. Lyrl pimps Tribulus, not that anyone cares. All other R.E.B.E.L.S. twiddle their thumbs, waiting for the book to end. Ho-hum.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Frank Review of "Machete" (2010)

The Short Version? You messed with the wrong Mexican!
What Is It? Action Comedy
Who Is In It? So very many bad cameos.
Should I See It? No.

Uncensored NSFW Red Band Trailer (A.K.A. 90% of what's worth watching...)

Grindhouse was a cinematic experience unlikely to be recreated in my lifetime. Two abbreviated "bad" movies made great in context sandwiching a set of faux '70s trailers for low budget schlock recreations. Among those trailers was "Machete," about an illegal immigrant caught up in political intrigue that is resolved through ultraviolence and hot sex. It was magnificent, and of course every Mexican and film geek to cross Rodriguez's path afterward demanded an actual "Machete" movie be made. So he did. Which was a terrible idea, because the joke is thoroughly and perfectly played out over the span of the fake trailer. Everything else is just tedious filler and retread, like one of the many awful Saturday Night Live spin-off movies.

Rather than waste more of my time and energy than was expended through my actual viewing of the movie (supplemented by tossing through the last few months of my friend's copies of Bizarre magazine,) here is a quick rundown of what worked in the movie: The nudity in the pre-title sequence, some of the early kills, the entire hospital sequence, Danny Trejo's deadpan, Jeff Fahey and Michelle Rodriguez.

Things that did not work out: Jessica Alba as an "actress," her fake semi-nudity, Robert DeNiro as a comedian, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan, the horrible CGI blood effects, most of the inert green screen dependent action sequences, Steven Segal past the initial amusement of his playing a Latino, the hammy political commentary, the bionic sound effect, Machete's unexplained survival of the pre-title sequence, the "writing," and the "direction."

Machete wants to be campy fun, but it's basically a shitty train wreck that tries one's patience. My advice if you're set on watching this is to put it on and just let it play until you get tired. The movie progressively peters out toward a truly limp ending, so you can basically munch on it until you've had your fill without missing anything worthwhile thereafter.

Friday, May 6, 2011

FCBD is Embargoed For All I Care #105

FCBD 2011 Young Justice Batman BB Super Sampler #1
Free Comic Book Day 2011 (Spider-Man) #1
Free Comic Book Day 2011 (Thor the Mighty Avenger) #1
Super Dinosaur: Origin Special #1 Free Comic Book Day Edition

But seriously, is there some kind of review embargo on these things? I got my copies on Monday...

Free Comic Book Day: Young Justice/Batman: The Brave and the Bold Super Sampler #1 (DC, 2011, "Free")
Two Marvel reviews follow. One is for a general audiences book, and the other is targeted at the younger set. Both are more accessible, pleasant, and just plain more competent than Art Baltazar and Franco's Young Justice strip. This is one of those clumsy, clunky affairs where people run around without getting much done beyond finding an excuse to devote three pages to exposition (vague quasi-origins of the leads) before a thrown together conclusion. The art by Mike Norton isn't bad, but it seems to bring out the worst aspects of the YJ animated designs I missed on the actual cartoons, like Kid Flash's armor, Aqualad's bare feet, and Robin's comprehensive cluster of lame. The only thing I liked was someone finally coming up with a hook for the Atomic Skull besides being named the Atomic Skull.

On the other hand, Sholly Fisch's Batman and Flash team-up rocked, even if the two stories really overdosed the Flash portion. I usually hate "this character is so great because" tales, but Fisch found a hook that really made it work, especially the zinger of a punchline at the end. In fact, I liked that b-story far better than the super-hero action, so I'd be curious to see Fisch work outside the Johnny DC ghetto. Rick Burchett's art is also reliably great on stuff like this.

Free Comic Book Day: The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Marvel, 2011, "Free")
Dan Slott writes the Marvel Comics I don't tend to read. I probably should have jumped on GLX when I had the chance, as I admire Squirrel Girl from afar, but that was my last real shot. I didn't care for She-Hulk, and even though I knew a guy whose favorite super-hero was the Thing, I somehow manage to find that more pathetic than my Martian Manhunter fixation. "The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Aunt Petunia related Yancy Street Cigar Smoking It's Use Up Every Repetitive Catchpharase Time!" I of course haven't been into Spider-Man since I was in short pants, so I could do without another origin retelling (and so could most modern kids, after the movies and cartoons.) However, the '70s charm of a mind-controlled Spider-Woman under the musk of the Mandrill helped win me over, as did Humberto Ramos' nigh perfect pencils, so I would overall give this a thumbs up. If nothing else, this was about the first time in my decades of reading that I found dialogue for Spider-Man genuinely amusing, like I always heard it was supposed to be.

However, I live to bitch, so what is up with making the Secret Wars Spider-Woman into a new Madame Web? I know the old bitch got cacked, but it still reminds me an awful lot of the awful '90s when everyone got sexier and more extreme. Remember when Dr. Octopus was a pink-haired chick? Humberto, I can't imagine a circumstance where Spider-Woman's yellow abdominal points would meet at her 'taint. Finally, remember when Jeph Loeb had Superman learn Krypton-Fu from Mongul to battle Imperiex? That happens here. That's the kind of shit that happens when you let your writer get on a message board. wade_hard91 comes up with a convincing win scenario in a Deadpool vs. Web-Head thread, and Slott goes, "Oh yeah, well if Spider-Man learned martial arts and beat a whole island full of similarly powered characters, he'd be... Wonder Woman? Oh shit, what have I wrought...?"

Free Comic Book Day 2011 Captain America/Thor the Mighty Avenger: The Mighty Fighting Avengers (Marvel, 2011, "Free")
I already liked Chris Samnee thanks to the artist's internet presence, and I'd heard plenty of good things about Roger Langridge's Muppet comics. Combined, they made for a fun comic. The writer managed a lightweight, kid-friendly done-in-one while telling an enjoyable tale that didn't insult anyone's intelligence. The characterization is rather cavalier (a sarcastic Cap; Loki talking like a teenage punk,) but I appreciated the liberties, however jarring, so long as it isn't cannon. At least that's more interesting than Marvel's regular kid's line. Curiously, I had less trouble with the lanky young Thor than the scrawny rookie Cap, I guess because it kind of makes the Super Soldier Serum look watered down. It reminded me of the time I ordered a Cap costume-style shirt, tried it on, had a friend point and say "Steve Rogers," totally saw his point, and immediately resold the thing. The costume redesign done especially for this issue left a lot to be desired, I'm afraid. Regardless, Samnee's storytelling is happening, and I enjoyed looking around Cap. He reminds me of Paul Smith, and that's praise, son.

Super Dinosaur: Origin Special #1 Free Comic Book Day Edition (Image, 2011, "Free")
I still love The Walking Dead for all its ups and downs, and I liked what I read of Astonishing Wolf-Man, but somehow, I can't seem to bring myself to appreciate most of Robert Kirkman's writing. To my mind, he is the most honest and true scripting child of the '90s... the anointed second generation of Image Comics, which does not help in any way. You know this dude grew up on Scott Lobdell X-Men and Fabian Nicieza New Warriors. How can I respect that? I mean, above I reviewed a comic combining two Marvel corporate heroes with movies out this summer, and somehow, Super Dinosaur seems like the more cynical marketing ploy of the two. For every G.I. Joe there was an American Defense; Transformers a Go-Bots, Masters of the Universe a Sectaurs. There were also those attempts to be original, different, and yet the same, like Air Raiders or Inhumanoids or M.A.S.K. or Visionaries. Super Dinosaur reminds me of that. See, Johnny Quest teams-up with an intelligent miniature cybernetically enhanced T-Rex, with Daria in his supporting cast. Okay, that's not fair. Johnny Quest was cooler. More like Wesley Crusher by way of Bobby Hill. They fight were-a-ma-bobs with names like Tricerachops and Squidious. They protect an "Inner-Earth" that perfectly preserved the age of dinosaurs. There isn't an actual story, but rather the lead character selling the set-up of the series to a prospective audience and/or licensors. There's an eleven page catalog of properties with model sheets to send to Asian sculptors for the toy line, and the work can be recycled for the card backs. I'm pretty sure it would flop, and it's a shame Remco went out of business, but you always have to try to sell a full line, right? This is the result of the loosening restrictions on commercializing children's television under the Reagan administration. Instead of Roald Dahl, creator-owned projects are inspired by Filmation.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Skullkickers, Vol. 1: 1000 Opas and a Dead Body (2011)

In the '80s, Hollywood was churning out action buddy comedies like they were being produced out of a factory in Korea. For God's sake, there were two competing movies about police detectives saddled with canine partners, one starring the brother of a great comedian, the other headlined by a Bosom Buddy. It wasn't bad enough to be madness. It was just cut rate product with a reliable yield. Kate Hudson romantic comedies would serve as a more recent example.

Tolkienesque vaguely medieval Middle Earth bullshit turns me off like the prospect of being the meat in a Rosies Barr & O'Donnell sandwich. Skullkickers was a relief in that within the milieu it punctured any associated pretense at every opportunity in its story of two unnamed asshole mercenaries just trying to make mead money. I'm also not big on stereotypically manga-style art with Dreamwave cartoon cel coloring, but that grows on you here, as it works for the material. Unfortunately, when read in one big hunk, it plays like an '80s buddy action comedy. The book is filled with beefy characters, whether musclebound barbarians or giant monsters, yet there isn't an ounce of meat on the story's bones. The script isn't as funny as it would like to be, and the plot is so thin that you'll burn through this trade paperback in no time. It's much better than the usual cringe-inducing comic book fare in this vein (Deadpool, Lobo, etc.,) and the art by Edwin Huang makes up for a lot, but it's ultimately a rather vacuous pastiche. The book is very pretty, with high quality paper stock, a lovely spot varnish cover, and two back-up strips with fantastic art by co-creator Chris Stevens. There is no lack of flash, but a complete absence of substance.

Jim Zub(kavich) writes kind of like he's on cocaine. The mercs are killing a werewolf and now they're celebrating but the sheriff hates them but royalty is in town that gets assassinated so the mercs go after the assassin and they fail and the body gets stolen by zombies so they chase the body but they don't have horses so they steal horses, etc. etc. It's fun in the fleeting moment, but the second you turn your brain on, the plot goes into existential crisis. What purpose does the body serve? Why does the necromancer bother with the dwarf? Why does the gestalt form, and how could it be defeated in that manner? If this is just cliche under the guise of parody, why don't I read Groo the Wanderer so I can get this same shtick fortified with socio-political satire? Plus, the first five issues of Skullkickers is basically a long form adaptation of a ten page anthology story also reprinted in this volume. You expect repetition with sword and sorcery shit, but that's why I passed through my Conan phase around age twelve and moved on with my life. This is a mostly faithful recreation with tongue-in-cheek sensibilities, lacking real humor, any insight, or the courtesy of indulging in the hyper-seriousness needed to sell dudes in loincloths slaying giant spiders.

Skullkickers is a good looking silly diversion for fans of the genre, but I strongly suspect its novelty has an expiration date, barring the very likely event it begins to fall in line with the tropes it appears to mock.


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