Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wednesday Is Spelled "IDW" For All I Care #121

Duke Nukem: Glorious Bastard #1
Hero Comics 2011
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (2011)

Duke Nukem: Glorious Bastard #1 (IDW Publishing, 2011, $3.99)
Duke Nukem never did it for me. I appreciated that the guy was a sexist alpha male parody, and the games played okay, but I couldn't get involved. His stories were lame, and his personality consisted of regurgitated Ash/Jack Burton quotes (sometimes verbatim.) Decent premise, but weak, lazy execution.

This Duke Nukem comic is about as bad as the games, better in some respects, but far worse in others. It reminds me of how the Beastie Boys tried to make fun of the frat boys that came to their shows by mimicking them, went method by getting lost in a sea of beer and assholery, wound up hating themselves, and made Paul's Boutique. Nothing like that last part here, though. Not even a Some Old Bullshit.

Instead of lampooning, Duke Nukem reads like jocko homo literature; nothing but swagger and attempts at humor so base and tired that they make Larry the Cable Guy look like George Carlin. It isn't completely mindless, since the writer has clearly seen some classic war movies to emulate, and there's enough dialogue to keep you reading (time-wise) for a bit. I guess the production values are decent, overall. Still, this is a fine example of why asking $4 for a comic book just isn't sustainable across an industry. It only takes a few of these before you're twenty bucks poorer with nothing to show for it.

Hero Comics 2011 (IDW Publishing, 2011, $3.99)
Besides wishing to support a worthy cause, one of the reasons I tend to buy the Hero and Liberty Comics annuals is because they attract premium talent to the unreliable but sometimes rewarding anthology format. For too many years, publishers used the format to try out underripe creators, while veterans used them to draw a quick paycheck, giving anthologies a bad name. Knowing these charity books are more widely read and prestigious, contributors bring their "A" game, and in the case of Hero Comics, there's always a few autobiographical sob stories that win you over with veracity if craft fails. The book delivers, with one lengthy exception:

  • My Last Landlady by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg is the best story of the lot, straight out of the gate. It reads like a folk tale, and the impressionistic art paints emotions more than subjects.
  • This Is My Story by Christopher Ivy is another in a reliable series of one page stories about comic creators living in a van down by the river. I think I remember this guy as an inker, but his full art is quite good.
  • Chew is an indie hit that didn't really do it for me in long form, and his usual creators gain no traction in short, either. If you dig Layman & Guillory, you'll likely be pleased.
  • My Hero by Jason Craig is another single page autobiography with nice art, so it's golden.
  • Once Upon a Time is for Sam Kieth completists only. In his quasi-childlike style, Kieth turns quotes from his co-creators' emails during the slow production of "My Last Landlady" into something vaguely resembling a narrative. There's either too many pictures or too much text, depending on your interests, but it seems likely to frustrate both crowds.
  • Hero Initiative by Ralph Reese uses old-timey comic strip characters and a few super-heroes in a retirement home as mouthpieces for the charity. It works through novelty and brevity.
  • An Elephantmen story closes out the book, with lovely art by Dougie Braithwaite making up for Richard Starking's maudlin story.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (IDW Publishing, 2011, $3.99)
I have a long, stupid, pointless history with TMNT. Like most readers, I first became aware of them through ads for comic book mail order shops that heralded their "hotness" and sold seemingly every available issue for an inflated price. I bought something like a seventh printing of the first issue at a shop in 1988 or so, but didn't "get it" get it. Growing up on Ambush Bug and Cracked, I was expecting it to actually be funny, instead of straight-faced satire-- if you can even call it that. Comic fans are asked to take a lot at face value, and plagiarism is a fact of life, so a Daredevil/Fantastic Four mash-up didn't come across as particularly askew. However, the cartoon came along surprisingly soon, which was the first (and still pretty much the only) time actual comic book creators got rewarded with all the riches of a multi-media sensation. The cartoon was surprisingly solid, and I bought a set of the Turtles in action figure form. I tried more issues of the original comics, the Archie adaptation, later projects by the creators, and the first feature film. Some of it was pleasant enough, but as a phenomenon, I couldn't wrap my brain around it.

I of course now realize some important truths. The first is that neither Kevin Eastman nor Peter Laird are especially good as creators, because they've had virtually no further creative or financial success, and never seemed to exactly beat away non-TMNT publishing offers. The second is that the only appreciable difference between the pair and their legions of imitators was that they got there first, and borrowed from better material, rather than having to replicate their own mediocre output. The third truth is that TMNT were part of a cultural zeitgeist that targeted children, and I wasn't a child. I loved the Muppets as a kid, and if I had any of my own, I might enjoy sharing that love by taking them to that new Muppets movie coming out. We could bond over comfort and my hope the kids could appreciate the new feature the way I had the original Muppets Movie. I never had that with TMNT, and I don't really have much use for the Muppets anymore either, so the pop culture circle of life ends there. Without nostalgia and/or target demographics, there isn't much to TMNT, so they might as well be anthropomorphic slap bracelets.

This brings me to the revisionist TMNT relaunch. Just like the many times DC Comics has done this thing (memory only has to go back to the last several shipping weeks,) there's a ton of superficial change for change's sake, characters introduced earlier to fit into a streamlined cosmology, but most importantly, decompression out the yah-yah. There is not a single story in this book, but instead a bunch of subplots that run for a number of pages each with the full expectations that readers are already versed in the franchise and committed to each issue or the trade collection. It's boring, plodding, forgettable, and poorly realized in text and visuals. It's a book that expects adults to take pizza eating reptiles with martial arts prowess very seriously, which again in the world of comics isn't too much to ask, but I've yet to be offered a compelling reason in nearly a quarter-century to do so. I can kind of understand why this exists and who it is for, but that person isn't me, and I simply expect better than this from even licensed product revolving around properties that mean nothing to me. It seems to me the only thing separating IDW from Dynamite is the veneer of prestige offered by quality reprints of other publisher's old material.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"Welcome To The Zone" by David Chelsea (1995)

The follow-up to David Chelsea In Love is goddamned near critic proof. It was one of the last books to come out of Kitchen Sink Press before it collapsed under its own weight, has gone ignored by publishers and critics for sixteen years, can be had for a shiny penny plus shipping on, and even its creator says "...I regard this one as a misfire on just about every level, right down to my choice of a square format..." This basically puts me in the position to either kick the shaggy dog with no legs, or point out that it has pretty eyes and a pleasant demeanor. I'll run contrary to my norm and choose the latter.

Don't get me wrong-- I didn't buy this book on purpose. It came in a heavily discount, sight unseen bundle I ordered in the late '90s, most of which has gone unread since I took it home. I uncovered it on my shelf months back, and finally read it in something like a dozen installments. That was a difficult thing to do, since there are no actual chapter breaks over its ninety-two pages, but I doubt anyone sober would be inclined to try to push through the thing in one sitting. The book is essentially a collection of interwoven semi-biographical slice of life pieces from the East Village bohemian scene of the late '80s. Of course, then the author substitutes giant slobbering hound dogs for window washing bums, an anthropomorphic duck for Donald Trump, flesh eating tentacle aliens for no reason in particular, and so forth. There are mutants and full frontals aplenty, robots, schemes, murder, celebrity cameos, and God help us all, no shortage of performance art. The book is willfully weird; coherent enough to be followed, but too surreal for it to be appreciated in its entirety. Regardless, the intricate tonal stippling makes it a visual feast worthy of the $9.95 cover price no one is likely to actually be asked to pay for decades to come. Give it a toss through if it crosses your path.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wednesday Is Finally Retroactive For All I Care #120

Justice League of America - The '80s #1
Justice League of America - The '90s #1
Wonder Woman - The '90s #1

DC Retroactive: Justice League of America - The 1980s #1 (DC, 2011, $4.99)
The Detroit era League was much derided during the couple of years that they ran their title aground. Yet, the beloved Justice League International never would have existed without DC attempting a third X-Men knock-off team, and the "Satellite League" wouldn't have been done away with if they were getting the job done. Finally, aside from the full-on "what were they thinking" inclusions of Gypsy and Vibe, the "New Justice League" wasn't objectively a bad team. Their stories were typical goofy Bronze Age fare at first, but as criticisms mounted and a small sales spike leveled off and dipped, they embraced "grim and gritty" relatively early and with a passion. Whether you enjoy the team for the kitsch factor of its instantly dated fad jumping or recognize that the team starred in several of the best story arcs ever featured in JLofA volume I, there seems to be enduring affection that keeps readers and creators coming back to revisit this team.

A shame then that creator Gerry Conway doesn't seem to share it anymore. Part of the joy of his early issues with the team was its unrelenting, meta-defensive optimism in the face of scrutiny in both the stories and the letter columns. Later writers even used that unmerited self-esteem as a means of generating poetic irony, these poor doomed fools believing they would someday earn a place among titans when most would instead die violently or fade into obscurity. Conway, in an about face, starts this story with the team unanimously agreeing that they suck and their incompetence was going to cost a bunch of innocent lives. Not only is that a downer, but in giving in after all these years, Conway seems as clueless about his team's retroactive appeal today as he was their complete unsuitability while he was writing them the first time.

Even setting that aside, the twenty-six page story only has ideas enough for eight. Beginning mise-en-scène, the reader is quickly brought up to speed on the team's predicament, only to enter a twelve page flashback that not only literally depicts what was already explained through exposition, but even repeats elements of dialogue. Another few pages are wasted reorienting the reader after the flashback, reiterating points made in the first two acts, and then racing to a foregone fart of a conclusion with additional wretched fourth wall fellatio. The characters aren't in character and their powers are downplayed to suit an unimpressive threat. I guess Zatanna is consistent at least, since Conway never wrote her worth a damn. I'll acknowledge Gypsy as well, since she had a few occasions of playing David-out-of-a-box to the Goliath of the month in the original series.

The bland art by Ron Randall doesn't do any favors, especially when the only thing keeping his Dale Gunn from being 100% Caucasian is someone failing to tell the colorist that this book would be printed on cheap stock. It was obviously meant for glossy, because the colors are uniformly murky.

The reprint, colored for newsprint, is so vibrant that it almost seems to hover over the page rather than be embedded in it. It also makes my point for me, as the opening pages have Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash addressing their cocky replacements. Even Aquaman gets to grandstand, a rare treat. Mike Machlan inked the issue, which quashes a lot of penciler Chuck Patton's pizzazz, but it still looks nice and licensing friendly. The story closes out an ongoing subplot for the Vixen, with a violent finish that was the first clue of how dark the book would get at a time when that was still relatively new and exciting.

DC Retroactive: Justice League of America - The 1990s #1 (DC, 2011, $4.99)
The Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire team responsible for that rare treat of a legitimately funny super-hero comic have tried to recapture the magic on a number of occasions to varying results. Their last major attempt at DC was the "Super Buddies" JLI reunion mini-series, which I enjoyed quite a bit for mixing in poignancy with the comedy, as well as the new dynamics necessitated by evolving and replacement characters. Following that, the troupe hit the road for similar attempts at other publishers. According to J.M. DeMatteis, this special will be their final reunion with the JLI characters. That seems for the best, since it reminded me more of the book's stale final year than anything else.

Set at some point after the formation of Justice League Europe and presumably before the departure of Adam Hughes, the JLI characters are locked into a specific place and time that wore out its welcome decades ago. The jokes are predictable, and worse, set up prequels to superior material already told. It's like explaining a joke you've already heard and laughed at. What's the point, beyond strangling your enjoyment retroactively? Worse still, the tale breaks the Injustice League's streak of comedy gold in their appearance, this being a total dud to add insult to the injury of most of these guys having been killed off over the years. These characters at this place are simply too familiar to surprise in any way, and the creators are forcing funny with all their might in a way that just makes me tired. Even the art is ruined by inappropriate coloring for the paper stock that is so dark the atmosphere is less Marx Brothers than Se7en. No more trips to this well, especially in light of the editorial ineptitude that reigns at DC these days.

As has become typical, the reprint far outshines the new story. The art reproduction isn't 100%, there's a typo, some lettering didn't reproduce well and a few bits of coloring don't work on the upgraded stock. Regardless, this was the final story of the classic JLI run by its initial creative team. Though mired in the aftermath of the unfortunate "Breakdowns" crossover art, there's still enough humor, character moments, and lovely art to please without context. It even reminds you of why they bothered to keep Rocket Red around, and it wasn't just recycled Yakov Smirnoff material...

DC Retroactive: Wonder Woman - The 1990s #1 (DC, 2011, $4.99)
William Messner-Loebs was the writer that made me stop liking Wonder Woman and start loving her. This isn't his first return to the character, and I feared this one might be as lackluster as his Legends of the DC Universe arc. The first few story pages, involving a woefully anachronistic He-Man Woman Haters Club, did not alleviate my trepidation. However, a quick flashback and an elevation in estrogen seemed to do the trick. While its place in continuity is established with a bit of dialogue, Loebs isn't here to touch on that one missed story or try to relive glory days with familiar characters. Instead, he tells a self-contained, positive, all-ages tale that sums up much of what was great about his work on the heroine and is sorely lacking in modern comics. It's goodhearted funny edutainment, and the coloring is blessedly plenty bright enough for the stock.

I was surprised to see Lee Moder on art, as he's been working on an Image project. Wonder Woman not only introduced Moder to comics, but actually promoted him as the second coming of Kevin Maguire. Moder simplified his style and never broke in a big way, but his art compliments Messner-Loebs' humanism better than any of his other partners on the series.

I went back to check the original solicitation, and sure enough, it was actually Paris Cullins announced as artist on the lead story. I can't remember the last time I saw him work on anything, and his art style on his brief run on Wonder Woman was quite a departure from his 1980s efforts. I was curious to see if he'd had another change-up, but I guess it wasn't meant to be. I have to admit that his effort on the 1990s reprint wasn't as palatable for myself as on, say, Blue Devil, but that was more about reflecting the times than any deficits on Cullins' part. Compared to how horrible Chris Marrinan was before him, or even the simple inappropriateness of Jill Thompson on a mainstream super-hero book, Cullins might as well have been Brian Bolland supplying interiors. While unnecessarily rough thanks to fashionable chickenscratch crosshatching, Cullins could still tell a story and provide attractive, dynamic figures.

The story, once again by Bill Loebs, was for me the true start of his run. Loebs may have been Perez's selection as his replacement, but the circumstances of his taking over the title were not the best, and he seemed to stumble in the early going. This issue was the beginning of both one of my favorite arcs of the entire series, "Noble Pyrates," as well as the overarching story of his three-year-plus run. It was here Loebs began moving away from the naive visitor Perez had nursed along over five years to a more worldly, amused yet suspicious foreigner from a society far removed from our own. This break, and the controversial twists that infuriated the Perez devotees, allowed Loebs to both make the book his own and the creative high point of the volume. It's a shame collections of the run only begin with the Deodato illustrated material, which while pretty was marred by an excess of cheesecake and a deficit of panels per page.

As for this first chapter on its own, there's a sense that the writer was in such a hurry to dispense with the set-up, that the plotting hangs off of the early pages like a bit of loose yarn on a sweater. It's naggingly obvious, but once Wonder Woman is actually in space, the pace slows and the characters warm up. There's a really sweet pay-off to an element from the set-up, which on its own makes you want to turn the page to chapter two, as frustratingly out of print as most of these Retroactive reprints.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Garth Ennis Chronicles of Wormwood TPB (2007)

Like the comic book equivalent of a hipster, I was into Garth Ennis in his early days, but dropped him with disparaging remarks after a few years once he'd gone "mainstream." I made it through a couple of years worth of True Romance Preacher, which always felt like a Hellblazer spin-off before descending into some sort of sadistic situation comedy. Ennis struck me as a pandering legend in his own mind, not half as audacious as he was made out to be, and quite the indiscriminate work-for-hire whore besides. It's been a long time since I truly enjoyed anything associated with Ennis, but I have to say that I found this book an exception.

Chronicles of Wormwood seems to boil down everything Ennis tried to convey about his views on Christianity over five years in Preacher, without bungling the execution. Danny Wormwood is the Antichrist, which has its privileges and drawbacks. He's not really into it, and has even chosen Jesus Christ as his personal pal, which vexes father Lucifer and the Roman Catholic Church alike. Joined by Wormwood's sentient pet bunny, the trio decide on a road trip from heaven to hell, while others see an opportunity afoot. Given the monkey oversaturation of recent years, I must put forth that there is a sore lack of sarcastic bunnies that this series really drives home.

Artist Jacen Burrows has never seemed to even try to transition out of Avatar Press, and I don't think his style would work elsewhere, but he's perfect for the satirical bent of Avatar wares. His Satan is among the best I've seen, and he draws a fine jackrabbit. The book is rude, sometimes a bit too obvious, and I would be surprised if Ennis hadn't given Videodrome a spin at some point. Still, it's a fun story with likeable characters that's fucked-up when it needs to be while making its points well.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stormwatch: Force of Nature (1999)

The original Stormwatch series was begun in 1993 by schoolmates Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, joined by artist Scott Clark in his major debut. Those initial creators lasted maybe a year, and then the poor man's Alpha Flight got passed through a variety of hands for another two years. Stormwatch was one of nine books with a role in the 21 part "Fire From Heaven" crossover, Image Comics' closest attempt to recreate the widespread pointlessness of DC's Millennium. This seemed to be the title's breaking point, where they either had to get serious about producing something worth buying or else put the thing down. Alan Moore was leaving WildC.A.T.s around this time, taking a good deal of Wildstorm's cache with him. In the absence of another acclaimed British writer to take over that book, I suppose someone decided to at least give an up and coming limey carte blanche with that book's ugly sister.

After years of daring work on bottom rung Marvel titles, Ellis would finally began building his name in the industry with Stormwatch. Similarly, Tom Raney had several short stints on various Marvel and DC team books without any real impact, but would make a cult hit out of the title. For myself, I thought it was okay when it first came out, and I knew which customers it would appeal to, but it wasn't something I felt any compulsion to follow regularly. Reading the issues in full and in sequence, I find that the title's elevated reputation in some fan's eyes is, well, fuzzy rose-colored memories of the way it was.

The first issue under the new management saw a good deal of changes put into place and the introduction of new characters with some staying power like Jack Hawksmoor, Jenny Sparks, and Rose Tattoo. It was a decent set-up, with a throwaway villain battle besides. However, the next issue was a was a fairly bland, half-hearted police procedural with convenient deux ex machina tarted up in ultraviolence and anti-American banner waving. That last part doesn't bother me a bit, but isn't any more sophisticated than Red State nationalism.

A major problem I have with these stories is that they aren't stories, just premises. For instance, the third issue of the collection was played up using a timeframe jumping scheme that attempted to mask the information dumping needed to convey the premise. Without the device, one would be more likely to notice that beyond the exposition, the heroes simply battered one dimensional evil cops and jailed them, with no serious attempt at characterization or complication. The politics were hamfisted in the same way as a Judd Winick script, and most of the art that round was by a severely unripened Pete Woods.

The fourth issue town, involved a mutant producing dirty bomb and turning a small town into a variety of body horrors to make David Cronenberg proud. Most of the issue is just three characters wandering through the mess, with a mild twist toward the end. In several issues, Ellis displayed a nasty habit of dumping character flashbacks inappropriately into a narrative, instead of offering more organic character-centric narratives. This began to change in the fifth tale, whose first page announced Ellis' intention to write a Christine Trelane story. He surely did, but it seemed like he made that decision without actually coming up with a story. You pretty much immediately know the central antagonist is a creep, so the only mystery is where his deprivations would flow. A good artist could have sold that cinematically with mood, but the art by Michael Ryan was cartoonish amateur hour crap. It was also ill-considered, since Trelane has what was believed to be a unique and essential power to preserve the team, but she nearly gets herself killed on an unnecessary field mission without back-up.

The final tale was more of the same. Ellis must have decided that he was going to write a Fuji story, did lots of research about Japan, and then wrote a story about how his characters could spouted all that research that he had done almost verbatim like they were walking Wikipedia entries. Re-watched "Akira" as well, I'll assume. At least the book was attractive to look at again, with the return of Raney.

"Force of Nature" was the first collection of the Ellis material, and the book was still finding its legs. It's passable enough, but don't expect any material to help you win a fight amongst friends over best writers from the U.K.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Como Si No Nos Hubieramos Amado" by Laura Pausini

Written By: Music-Daniel • Lyrics-Pausini, Cheope • Spanish adaptation- León Tristán
Released: 2004
Album: Escucha
Single?: #10 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs/Tracks

Laura Pausini is a singer/songwriter whose global record sales are in the range of 50 million, but remains a virtual unknown in the English speaking world. Not so in Latin countries, as she simultaneously releases her albums in Italian and Spanish.

Yo ayer he entendido que
desde hoy sin ti comienzo otra vez
y tú...aire ausente
casi como si yo fuese transparente
alejándome de todo
escapar de mi tormento.

Pero me quedo aquí
sin decir nada...sin poder despegarme de ti
y eliminar cada momento que nos trajo el viento y
poder vivir...
como si no nos hubiéramos amado.

Yo sobreviviré
no me preguntes cómo no lo sé
el tiempo cura todo y va a ayudarme
a sentirme diferente...
a que pueda olvidarte
aunque es un poco pronto

Me quedo inmóvil aquí
sin decir nada...sin poder aburrirme de ti
y eliminar cada momento que nos trajo el viento y
poder vivir...
como si no nos hubiéramos amado

...como si nunca te hubiera amado
como si no hubiese estado así...
...y quisiera huir de aquí, quisiera escaparme.

Pero me quedo otra vez, sin decir nada, sin gritarte:
-¨ven, no te vayas¨
no me abandones sola en la nada, amor...

...después, después, después viviré
como si no nos hubiéramos amado.

...como si nunca te hubiera amado

English Translation:

I have understood yesterday that
since today without you I start again
and you... absent air
almost as if I was transparent
getting far from everything
to scape from my torment.

But I stay here
without saying anything...without being able to get away from you
and eliminate each moment that the wind brought to us and
be able to live...
as if we have never loved each other.

I will survive
don't ask me how, I don't know
time cures everything and it will help me feel
to be able to forget you
even though it's a little too soon

I stay still (not moving) here
without saying anything... without been able to get bored of you
and to eliminate each moment that the wind brought to us
and to be able to live....
as if we have never loved each other if I have never loved you
as if I have never been this way
...and I would want to get away from here, I would want to scape

but I stay again, without saying anything, without screaming at you:
-"come, don't leave"
don't abandon me in the nothing, alone, darling

....and then, then, then I would live
as if we have never loved each other.

as if I have never loved you

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wednesday Is Rebooty For All I Care #119

Angel & Faith #1
Flashpoint: The Outsider #3
Stormwatch #1 (2011)
The Ultimates #1 (2011)

Angel & Faith #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $2.99)
Angel was the reason why I gave up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer after the second season. I know the heel turn was a big deal upon broadcast, but I caught it on DVD years later. The event itself was long spoiled, and the execution was nauseating. I caught a bunch of Buffy episodes before and after, plus one of two of Angel's spin-off show, but I would characterize myself as a casual watcher at best. I mention this because between the internet and an issue of the Buffy comic read here and there, I had no problems diving into this new book.

Once again, Angel pulled such a massive dick move, everybody hates him and I think he may have invalidated his entire run at IDW. Now he's got penance to pay and a much better story engine than that bullshit detective agency from the TV show. He's also massively traded up on sidekicks from Cordelia to Faith. The cool thing about that is I don't see a romance in the waiting, Faith is enough of a rebel to believably stick by him, she provides ties to the other slayers, and I would totally expect her to murderize Angelus if need be. Despite an awful lot of backstory baggage, writer Christos Gage manages to orient readers while setting up some plotlines and telling an enjoyable single issue tale besides. Rebekah Isaacs art is nice enough, but hurt by somewhat garish and flat coloring. Still, this was a good enough first issue to make me want to come back for more, a real feat for licensed product.

Flashpoint: The Outsider #3 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I started reading comics years before Crisis On Infinite Earths, but by 1986 I had largely abandoned DC Comics not just as kid's stuff, but plain old bad more often than not. Knowing the mediocrity that came before, I was an easy convert to the Post-Crisis continuity, as some of the finest comic books every made came out of those years. However, if you go back and read Crisis, you'll find it an almost unbearable chore to slog through, with its dense-yet-haphazard storyline, flat characters vomiting exposition by the bucketful, and overabundance of melodrama. Looked at objectively, Flashpoint was the better story, since it was comparatively tight and self-contained, with real shocks and some thrills. A shame then that it felt irrelevant coming out of the gate, and its readability is at least in part down to the baneful decompressed storytelling of the modern era. Basically, it's easier to read because there's not much to it. For the most part, it was like one of those old double-sized Marvel Comics fantasies from the '80s: "What If... The Super Friends were Stupid Murderous A-Holes?"

We will never live in a Post-Flashpoint world, because nobody cared about Flashpoint as anything more than a means to an end. It's not like they killed the Flash, or Supergirl, or it was the first time DC rebooted its entire universe. This is the fourth by my count, and when was the last time anybody referenced Zero Hour? That said, The Outsider was a spin-off of a story that doesn't matter, although if anyone could make it slightly relevant, it would be the Outsider. A more successful Lex Luthor of India with overwhelming invulnerability and Metamorpho's complexion, the Outsider is so smart as to know that there are 52 worlds in the DC Universe and have access to them. If anyone was going to survive the brief flash in the pan that was Flashpoint continuity, it would be him. It wouldn't even contradict Dan Didio's decree that no one remember the "old" universe. Also, it makes me totally expect that in a future issue of Stormwatch, the Outsider will casually tell Nu-Manhunter "I killed one of you once already, so what's another?"

From what I can tell, most of the Flashpoint spin-offs were tasked with making use of all the stuff from the main series' story bible that wouldn't fit into the primary mini-series. That meant a lot of these books were heavy on flashbacks, with The Outsider being the flashbackiest. Much of the story takes place in 1985, which would be all well and good except J'Onn J'Onzz arrived on Earth in 1955. As a big fan of the character, I could go on for paragraphs about that alone, but suffice to say the thirty years left stewing on a plague-ridden Mars hopefully accounts for the Manhunter now being remarkably dumb. The Martian Manhunter is pretty routinely a jobber in DC stories, so taking him out is no big deal. It's just that this whole comic is about various people taking him out and keeping him captive over a span of decades with rudimentary tools. As the Outsider had already jobbed Black Adam, giving J'Onn J'Onzz the business seems quite a letdown comparatively, especially when their final battle comes down to pure muscle over brains, of which the Outsider has all of one and a good deal of the other besides. Essentially, the entire comic book is a build-up of continuity that is irrelevant and a fight that is one-sided to the point of being a foregone conclusion. Hitting par, James Robinson phones in the same purely work-made-for-hire story he's been telling since Rafferty stalked the Ultraverse in 1995. The art by Javi Fernandez is nice though, which when coupled by the coloring of the Hories reminds me of Al Barrionuevo.

Stormwatch #1 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
The first review of this book I read was Rich Johnston's scathing indictment at Bleeding Cool. It was a bit too rough, especially as I read through the rest of his seemingly very forgiving round-up of the first full week of DCnÜ releases. Johnston pushes back Alan Moore's old gray beard to suckle at his teet, and his employer serves at the pleasure of Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis, so I found it all rather suspect. Plus, I'm currently rereading the so-called glory days of Stormwatch, and like most things, it's reputation exceeds it.

The relaunched Stormwatch is thoroughly decent. If you don't have a prior emotional investment in at least some of these characters, you're liable to be confused and disinterested. Imagine reading JLA #1 without Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, or Aquaman. Continue with an inexperienced violent Superman, a diminished role for Batman, and an enhanced role for Martian Manhunter. That's pretty much this book. The Wildstorm initiated will likely be peeved with the slightness of their characters' initial representation and the tweaks, especially to Apollo. Like Ellis' debut on the first volume of Stormwatch, writer Paul Cornell seems most interested in his own new creations, who get the best lines and moments of a very busy book. DC readers are "treated" to forced tie-ins to a Superman book that won't come out for two weeks and some arbitrary one panel guest cameos. As has been mentioned elsewhere, there is virtually no subtext at play here, but simply an effort to make previously successful counterculture super-humans function in the shinier corporate DC Universe.

On the plus side, I enjoyed all of the dialogue, and the new characters are fun in this initial outing. The slow burn of the plot seems to be establishing an epic scale to the first arc, and potentially the series as a whole. Taking a page chapter from Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D., Stormwatch in some form now represents a centuries old order traced back to at least medieval times, which should hopefull open the door for lots of retro-adventures for Detective John Jones, Team One, and so forth. The book really does seem poised to be the gateway for Wildstorm's integration into the DC sphere. I enjoyed Martian Manhunter's role in the book, established as the bridge between his teammates in the super-heroic Justice League (who wants to bet he turns up in that book's opening arc after all?) and the nitty-gritty soldier/warriors of Stormwatch. Again, having reread the early Ellis issues, I think folks have forgotten how inconsistent Tom Raney's art was, not to mention the many not-read-for-primetime fill-ins on that book. Miguel Sepulveda continues to remind me of a young Mike McKone crossed with guys like David Roach and Barry Kitson. Unlike Johnston, I think Sepulveda is good at differentiating faces and allowing them to "act" without overacting. His figures are a bit stiff, but it's a fair trade for his ability to ground some fantastic visuals in a tangible realty, making them feel that much bigger. I like the book's look and tone very much, and plan to stick with it for the foreseeable future.

Ultimates #1 (Marvel, 2011, $3.99)
This book is about a bunch of problems all happening at once, and this book is itself a bunch of problems all happening at once.
  1. This book comes in a white polybag with the exact same stock licensing Captain America shield as the one on the crotch of the Underoos my girlfriend bought for me last year. Cap is also on the cover of the book, and in ads within the book. His only role in the actual story is for Nick Fury to verbally reference his absence. My fuck is looking into a what.
  2. I though these Ultimate Comics had cardstock covers to justify their pseudo-prestige and inflated cover price. Did they stop doing that? My copy's polybag concealed an upper corner bent to shit where cardstock might have provided a little protection.
  3. Twenty story pages for four fucking dollars? I guess there's a six page preview of a book I'll also pay four bucks for without merit.
  4. Three pages wasted on a two page spread of the book's title and credits. That's four utterances of the title between the bag, cover, and interior spread, plus four instances of creator credits. You people must stop sucking one another's dicks.
  5. This same two page spread of font on white bread was in The Red Wing, so I officially have an ongoing problem with Jonathan Hickman being a pretentious twat.
  6. They're not even good fonts. It's some cousin of Arial blown up to 72 points with some ink splatters.
  7. The book actually starts off pretty decent, with Sam Jackson being a smart ass throughout the set-up, and some cute in-jokes for guys like me who have read way too many comics. Fun dialogue was saving this book, and then it started shitting silent panels and pages.all over the place.
  8. The villains are black and white with simple geometric shapes on their costumes. I've read three different Hickman comics from two publishers, and it's already cliche.
  9. A good writer could have fit this entire issue into a few pages, easy.
  10. It's an Ultimate Nick Fury comic. Own that. There are already way to many Ultimates comics. Isn't this the third series this year?
  11. Come to think of it, I'm pretty much over Ultimate Comics, period. I guess The Multicultural Spider-Men has some juice, but the rest of the line's purpose seems to be giving really slow artists the chance to draw mini-series with a loose schedule and finding assholes who'll pay an extra dollar for a baggie. Esad Ribic's art looks like it took some time, which was good of him. Throw us a bone, right?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Comic Reader Résumé: February, 1982

ré·su·mé [rez-oo-mey, rez-oo-mey]
1. a summing up; summary.
2. a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.

February, 1982 was my second month of collecting new comics off the newsstand. I claimed to have bought an entirely new selection for this round, but I have vague recollections of having owned The Brave and the Bold #186, in which Batman teamed-up with Hawkman against the Fadeaway Man. I liked all but one of these characters, so it's possible I bought it new, but the memory is so vague that I can't be sure. I doubt the story by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn left much of an impression, although the lame villain couldn't have helped. The only thing that really sticks with me are flashes of Jim Aparo panels, which likely would have been enough to bring me back for more.

While I vividly remember a great many of these books from DC in-house ads and as purchases years later, my actual, factual, confirmed purchases of this month were fairly slight. I still have my copy of The New Teen Titans #19, which was likely never swiped from me by neighborhood kids because it only just barely rates as a comic book anymore. The pages are so brown they qualify as a separate ethnic group in the U.S. census, and scraps of torn pages lie sideways with the intact portions bound by polybag. This may have been my introduction to a team that has stuck with me much of my reading life, and almost certainly my introduction to Marv Wolfman and George Perez (outside spot cover illustrations from the latter.) It's a fantastic looking book, especially Perez's Hawkman, in part due to the artist clearly providing much tighter pencils to resist the wet blanket that is Romeo Tanghal finishes. The story, involving Hindu gods, weirded me out as a kid, especially their rather graphic destruction in the end.

My other new comic of the month, out the same week, was The Saga of Swamp Thing #1 by Martin Pasko and Tom Yeates. I can't honestly state what possessed me to do so. It had a swell cover, and Tom Yeates was a really appealing artist, but the story by Martin Pasko and the heavy atmosphere was way over my head. This would not be the last time Swamp Thing would do this to me, because my only sweet spot with the character was reprints of the early '70s Wein/Wrightson stories. I tried Alan Moore too early at first, then too late as an adult, when his innovations had become tropes. There was also a Phantom Stranger back-up by Bruce Jones and Dan Spiegle. I'd already been introduced to the Stranger through a Jim Aparo Brave and the Bold, but this creepy yarn was a whole other matter. While the story of a black minister fleecing his own people stuck with me, I never really warmed to Spiegel's art elsewhere.

One more maybe before I sign off on this month, Super Goof #69. I know I owned at least one issue of this series, and though I thought it had him battling the Beagle Boys, the character featured here strikes me as reasonable facsimile to facilitate confusion. Funny animals were rarely my bag.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Project Superpowers Chapter One (2008)

I was introduced to the Golden Age of Super-Heroes by a magazine article I read as a boy about how much more weird, daring and dark obscure characters like Daredevil, the Flame and their ilk were than the corporate branded types I was familiar with in the tail end of the Bronze Age. I wondered what became of that lot until I began frequenting comics shops in the early '90s, and turned up some of Bill Black's reprints at AC. Then Malibu tried to ride the coattails of their early publishing deal with Image by offering their own line of super-heroes based around a revival of old Centaur characters as The Protectors, which I followed for a time. I was put out by the great Jerry Bingham redesigns floating around in trade publications being interpreted by a rather green Thomas Derenick and lesser lights. Later still, I came to learn all of those characters and many more had lapsed into the public domain, available for use by anybody, although virtually nobody bothered. I thought that was both a shame and an opportunity, because they represented a ready made universe of characters with its own legitimate history that I would love to exploit my own self someday.

Unfortunately, both Nick Barrucci of Dynamic Forces and Erik Larson of Image decided at about the same time to steal my entirely unique idea for themselves! Sarcasm aside, I was very happy with the results. Larson oversaw The Next Issue Project, which added an issue to the numbering of several 1940s anthology titles by modern creators. The results were rather uneven, not only creatively, but in terms of an unreliable publication schedule that saw an issue released only once every few years (after long shipping delays on each.) As for Barrucci, well, we were all bowled over by the prospect of a painted Alex Ross project, especially after seeing his glorious first promotional piece. Then we learned he would once again be joined by co-plotter/scripter Jim Krueger, responsible for the interminable Earth X and painfully stupid Justice. At least JSA artist Stephen Sadowski would be on board, except only for part of a zero issue. Project Superpowers made sure to acquaint the reading public with Barrucci's now standard bait & switch method of operation. With the shamelessness that led to variant covers that simply processed the art on variant covers through basic image inversion filters, the final creative team was Krueger with unpolished unknown artist Carlos Paul. My plot to capitalize on those public domain characters remains safe, although not necessarily sound, with crap like this polluting the brand.

The main creative purpose of the project seems to be to serve as a ham-fisted criticism of the Bush Administration in its last year. The main commercial consideration would be to secure trademarks on a "minimal assembly required" super-hero line. It fails creatively because by 2008 everybody was already sick of Bush, and the conversation soon changed from the ethics of a war on terror to the economy. It fails commercially because beyond its immediately dated politics, the characters have no point of view or individual identities.

From its most basic premise, the use of Pandora's Box as a place where all super-heroes were stored from their Golden Age heyday until the present, the whole line is shot to hell. One modestly powered and clearly deluded super-hero managed to best every other one over the span of a few years. See, Marvel's heroes mostly retired after World War II, with Captain America and the Sub-Mariner mothballed individually by their major enemies in separate instances until their Silver Age revivals. The DC heroes were forced into inactivity by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a real world bunch of bad guys, before being replaced by a whole new generation of more powerful super-heroes. The Dynamite characters however were all too stupid and weak to figure out one known kook amongst their number was taking them out one by one. Further, they sat around in limbo for sixty years before that same kook managed to release them with minimal difficulty. By comparison, the Justice Society of America were trapped in a repeating Ragnarok cycle from the late eighties to early nineties before teaming up with other heroes to secure their release. The Watchmen, a bunch of Charlton retreads, figured out the killer in their midst within days of a single murder, plus tell several complete stories in twelve issues. Right off the bat, all the Dynamite heroes are ineffectual pussies.

The second major problem, related to the first, is that the entire Superpowers line-up is Captain America. Every single one of them is a patriot who fought in the great war before disappearing for decades to reappear in a time unlike their own. They all have pre-war educations, unimpressive power sets, and silly costumes. Most importantly, they were the models from which scores of other heroes who have since evolved over time were derived. That makes them walking cliches, and all of a singular type. One method to overcome that sameness would be to embrace their retroactive natures to contrast their views on race, gender, nationalism, and so forth. Unfortunately, for the purposes of the story, they're all relatively mild-mannered Roosevelt democrats at odds with an oppressive government whose main crime seems to be some suppression of the media and war profiteering. As Big Brothers go, I'd take them over V For Vendetta's U.K. in a heartbeat.

The third major problem is an extension of the second, a lack of interesting characters in compelling circumstances. The fact is, hardly anyone has read about these characters in detail who isn't collecting social security, and because the creators felt the need to introduce dozens of them at once, there really isn't time to get to know anyone. Previous Ross/Krueger projects relied on familiar characters readers had an established relationship with, so that there was still emotional resonance amidst the painting of epics with broad strokes. The tribulations of Pyroman just don't touch me on an emotional level without some serious legwork. The only characters given real face time are still cyphers in service to a bland, unimaginative plot. Further, their enemies are reminiscent of the much panned "Burly Brawl" from the second Matrix movie. When the Superpowers aren't battling a host of identically dressed androids, they're fighting a literal army of Frankenstein Monsters. I can't get involved when I have no investment in either party after a couple of hundred pages of story that fails to reach any real resolution.

Many of my complaints have revolved around the project being too large and ambitious, but I have to stress the issue of incompetence among the responsible parties. I have yet to read a Jim Krueger script that involved me in his characters, or was not filled with gaping plotholes or circumstances in place of a story. The only arc in this first volume is the Fighting Yank finally realizing he was wrong in his actions, and trying to make amends. That arc is completed in the first preview story, but is constantly referenced and dragged out for the entire mini-series without much additional development. None of the other characters even have the start of an arc. They were in the '40s, now they're in the '00s, many of them have slightly altered abilities, and they're on the run from Big Government. That's all we get. The characters seem to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's, suffering from confusion, regressive behavior, and occasional temper tantrums, but still easily directed and kind enough to forget any initiated B- or C-plots until the next volume/spin-off mini-series.

The art by Carlos Paul is serviceable. The storytelling is okay and the layouts are usually clear, but it's all uninspired. I think it's reasonably tight pencils shot and digitally enhanced, but they still look vague and unfinished. Colors by Insight Studio and Debora Carita helps to firm things up, and are somehow evocative of Mark Texeira's painted art, despite the pencils being in no way similar. The art gets progressively looser and rushed, so the colorists have to be credited for the consistency of the volume, such as it is.

The story ends at an awkward point to act as a springboard for a slew of spin-off series, followed by forty-odd pages of preparatory design work. I'm sure Alex Ross had a lot of fun jazzing up these old characters visually, but after Kingdom Come and Earth X, even this area seems mired in tropes. The chest emblem as a light source, the hoods/cloaks, turning costume elements metallic, "borrowing" wholesale from other media-- it gets tiresome. Applying one artist's design aesthetic across an entire universe only emphasizes how insular, unimaginative and unnecessary it happens to be.

Project Superpowers is an exercise and an initiative, not a fully realized narrative. It takes dozens of super-heroes from separate companies and treats them all like team members of a low grade '70s Marvel super-team soaked in manufactured melodrama and "relevance."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Wednesday Is All Image & Pretty Vacant For All I Care #118

The Infinite #1
Marksmen #1
The Red Wing #1

The Infinite #1 (Image, 2011, $2.99)
According to his editorial, Robert Kirkman was fourteen years old when seven of the hottest artists left Marvel to form Image Comics and prove to the world that not a single one of them was an exceptional writer or original thinker. Okay, I may have editorialized a bit there. Kirkman went on to point out how the comics of the early '90s were among his favorite and most influential, which explains why I am so consistently disappointed with his writing on anything but The Walking Dead. See, in the zombie book, Kirkman has to script mundane people under fantastic but very grounded circumstances where he gets to show that British people with writing credibility also influence his work. Meanwhile, Kirkman points out that he owns every single Rob Liefeld comic ever, and how he was the catalyst for the founding of Image at the ripe age of fourteen. Once again, Image hates editors at least as much as writers, or there might have been someone to catch that typo.

Kirkman was the first person who made their name as a writer to achieve "founder" status among what was left of the dudes that started the company, presumably because Image hates low sales even more than writers and editors. Seemingly part of the price Kirkman must pay is to co-create a book with each founder, of which only Haunt wasn't a complete turd. I would like to say that Kirkman is just hacking this stuff out in obligatory fashion, but I've been reading his older stuff lately, and it was always like this. The single most obvious influence on Kirman's writing is Erik Larsen, which explains the awkward phrasing, tongue in cheek grandiosity, sophomoric humor, and shock value twists. Probably the reason why The Walking Dead is good is because it forces Kirkman to rein in his excesses and work out the logical progression of people in an RV moving from place to place. In every other book by Kirkman I've read, he embraces the ridiculous and nonsensical, usually to the detriment of quality storytelling. Pairing with Rob Liefeld just brings out the very worst of his cancerous inclinations.

I can't really discuss the meat of The Infinite at length, because it is in total a few slices of Carl Budding. To say it is much better than most Rob Liefeld projects is to state that dysentery is more pleasant in the hospital setting than a jungle hooch. To say that it is about as bad as the worst Kirkman material is a given. People you do not and will never care about die violently. Facial features are largely identical. Shortcuts like an army wearing helmets that could be drawn with a compass or guns traced around a sideways eraser are constant. The first half of the book is a fight scene with only the bare minimum storytelling amidst the spreads and partial splashes. Pants and jackets look like rubber tubing. Every character is a hardbodied gym rat. Fuck physics. Fuck dimensions. Fuck anatomy. The lead characters are a slightly younger Cable and a much younger Cable, and they will battle Jack Kirby's OMAC and possibly the least visually interesting Image villain ever. That last bit is an unfortunate accomplishment of considerable malignancy on a par with the great atrocities of the medium.

This book is Hermann Esser in digital color with nice lettering. Not Hitler or Himmler or Goebbels or Eichmann or Göring or Göth or Mengele or any of the truly great evils of der Reich. It's just a negligible shit weasel that looks the part and steps mit der goose. Liefeld bailed on it for a Hawk and Dove series. Let that sink in.

Marksmen #1 (Image, 2011, $1.00)
There were zombie books before The Walking Dead and even more after. In film, the zombie renaissance had already begun, so bandwagon jumping was a given, but quality bears out. The post-apocalyptic future as a genre has yet to see such a resurgence, but in our current environment, it seems inevitable. Marksmen seems to want to get ahead of the game, mashing up The Road Warrior, A Boy and His Dog, Megaforce and more low budget dreck. The trick is to elevate the influences, and when I read the inside front cover exposition, I knew that wouldn't be happening here. See, the entire world collapses into feudal warfare, setting most countries back centuries, due to a massive recession. A recession is a widespread economic slowdown, usually as part of a natural correction or in reaction to the bursting of a sector bubble. When your entire premise is based on the misunderstanding of a term that you probably pulled out of somebody's talking point, you're most likely too stupid to elevate a genre. Once you add in San Diego being about the last bastion of civilization on the West Coast thanks to its being rebuilt by Navy SEALs, your best hope is be so overwhelmingly dumb as to be unintentionally amusing.

That doesn't pan out, either. Some cypher in armor battles cannibalistic rednecks inadequately, necessitating the help of good non-cannibal rednecks. These fine folks are from Lone Star, the only functional city in the south, which has been enveloped by fundamentalism and a need to steal Cali's renewable resources as their Texas tea runs dry. Yes, they do all ride horses and wear cowboy hats, as an invading army makes its way to San Diego, forewarned by the small band of conscientious objectors.

At thirty-two pages with no ads, the book feels like a long, involved read. There are tons of scenes and several different action set pieces. A lot of ground gets covered, so it's kind of amazing that not a single likeable character is introduced and the reader is still not invested in the plot to the slightest degree by the end of the issue. The art by Javier Aranda is attractive, with old school storytelling sensibilities. It's reminiscent of all the guys from Valiant's glory days, from Bart Sears to Sean Chen to Rags Morales. From the coloring on down, the book looks professional, and the dollar entry price point couldn't have come cheap. All indications then are that Michael Benaroya of Benaroya Publishing LLC had plenty of bank for a vanity project to display his hopelessly journeyman writing. Not a scene or piece of dialogue from this thing indicates skill beyond direct to DVD sci-fi crap of the most by-the-numbers flavor.

The Red Wing #1 (Image, 2011, $3.50)
Full disclosure: I met artist Nick Pitarra at a convention this year, and he's a super nice guy who clearly enjoys his work. He did a great commission for me, and his portfolio made it clear that he will be a big star someday. I've been looking forward to this book for months, because it was to be early exposure to the acclaimed writing of Jonathan Hickman, and I knew what Pitarra could do. I certainly have no interest in slagging the book.

Of course, if I did, I would have to point out that it was some pretentious Heavy Metal reject bullshit with the same daddy issues as Hickman's Fantastic Four that wasted four nearly blank fucking pages on a typeset "title sequence" and ejaculates so prematurely as to not even become unsheathed from its tighty whities. Hopefully the Hickman brand will give the talented artists some exposure, at least.


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