Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wednesday is Bulk Rate Back Stock Dark Fantasy License-y Score For All I Care #181

Angel & Faith Season 9 #7
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #6
Crawling Sky #1
Robyn Hood: Wanted #1
Drew Hayes' Poison Elves #1 (2013)
Repossessed #1
Shahrazad #0
Son of Merlin #1
Vampirella #5, 6, & 8 (2011)
Spawn #220-222

Angel & Faith #7 (Dark Horse, 2012, $2.99)
I've seen maybe a third of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's 144 TV episodes, plus everything one gleans from nerd osmosis thanks to its vocal fan base. I'm reasonably familiar with that property. Of the spin-off series Angel's 110 episodes, I've seen... some? Maybe? I guess I'm kinda pretty sure at least one. J. August Richards is a guy I couldn't recognize on looks alone between his two episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is what I'm saying. So, jumping into the second comic book "season" of a team-up series with Faith seven issues in (and the second issue of a story arc,) I have to commend Christos Gage for a script that informed and engaged. There's a fair amount of exposition in the chapter to begin with, but that doesn't diminish interest in a look at Drusilla the (once) mad clairvoyant vampire's origins and altered life situation, as well as a returned figure from Faith's past. If I were more invested in this franchise, what I read here was good enough to warrant picking up the trade.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #6 (Dark Horse, 2012, $2.99)
In this case, I'm better familiar with the goings-on of a Whedonverse property, plus there's an amusing aping of '70s Blade comics, which doesn't hurt. This one was even more involved in backstory, as Buffy uses tales of the life of one slayer to help her reach a major life decision. Dark Horse has done an impressive job with this property, allowing a casual reader like myself to enjoy these stories more than the typical fare produced by the Big Two. Again, only my aversion to multimedia franchises keeps me from pursuing more.

Crawling Sky #1 (Antarctic Press, 2013, $3.99)
There was a time in the mid-to-late '90s when Joe R. Lansdale seemed like he was becoming a cottage industry in comics, and I'm sorry that wax turned to wane. I quite enjoyed most of those books, and while I didn't rush out to buy a $4 per issue black and white adaptation with his son Keith out of friggin' Antarctic Press, I've found myself pleased that the first issue came my way dirt cheap. This is quite the Texas jam, as everybody involved from publisher to talent are all from the Lone Star state, so there's some pride to be found in that. Appropriately and not unexpectedly, the tale is a horror western-- basically a well executed haunted house yarn. Brian Denham is an odd choice on art chores, as he plays with a more cartoonish style while still applying flashy Image flourishes. However, Lansdale stories have always been a bit left of center, and I'm pretty sick of the look of comic book horror being equated to Ben Templesmith. The first chapter satisfies, but I want for more, so I hope there's a trade forthcoming.

Grimm Fairy Tales presents Robyn Hood: Wanted #1 (Zenescope, 2013, $2.99)
Oh goody, it's time for me to carve a new nose on another Zenescope book! But wait-- a surprising twist-- I didn't hate this one! I know this is an unusually positive column, but I assure you that I haven't started doing heroin or employing Asian hookers to improve my reception. I just happened to have had a bunch of books lying around for months that didn't fit into review "themes" or my schedule overall. Anyway, the cover I got (one of three options) was by Stanley "Artgerm" Lau, about the only good thing to come out of the Red Circle line, and always a happy start in getting me to crack a cover. The interiors by Larry Watts are closer to serviceable, though Nick Filardi does what he can on the coloring front. You usually think of titillating cheesecake from this line, so maybe I need to keep an eye out for the exceptions. Pat Shand tells a solid introduction to the apparently continuing adventures of "Robyn Hood," a teenage runaway who finds her calling when she lands in a fantasy world in need of a thieving archer, but has since lost her niche by returning to a modern world where she's merely a criminal from the wrong side of the tracks. The dichotomy as played here is pleasing, since the "real" world undercuts the sillier, overblown fantasy one, while Robyn's shitty existence makes you root for her to escape again from her dreary circumstances.

Poison Elves #1 (Ape Entertainment, 2013, $2.99)
So much for that streak. Drew Hayes was a reasonably successful independently publishing cartoonist who moved his series (originally titled I, Lusiphur) to Sirius when it was flush with Dawn money and expanding. Seventy-nine issues later, Hayes halted production due to the health problems that eventually killed him at age 37. This series is a Frank Herbert sort of thing, where the creator's son handed over Hayes' story notes to new talent for a posthumous continuation. I sampled the Sirius series, and if it wasn't to my taste then, it's outright ipecac now. The whole issue is a host of unfamiliar characters expositing at one another reams of lore, including a narrator who should be parsing this shit out for us, but instead creates cognitive dissonance as his mere future tense presence is in conflict with the situations the past tense characters are wrangling with. It's everything I hate about fantasy storytelling with a veneer of kewl courtesy of cursing n' scars n' stuff. Just in case that didn't put you to sleep, there's another couple of text pages that synopsize the material referenced in all that painful dialogue. I have a headache and need to take a nap now.

Repossessed #1 (Image, 2013, $2.99)
Another one of those comic strips that reminds me of the stuff I churned out myself in notebooks during seventh grade math class. There's guns and tits and tough guys with indistinguishable personalities battling stock supernatural monsters with souped-up uzis (in 2013?) plus crude art and writing that makes me think English isn't JM Ringuet's first language. If that wasn't bad enough, I now have the theme song from a terrible 1990 Leslie Nielson vehicle stuck in my head.

Shahrazad #0 (Big Dog Ink, 2013, $1.99)
Seriously just a bunch of double page splashes barely linked together by some caption boxes. The "story," which contains no characters, dialogue or appreciable plot across ten pages, is appended with editorial content that attempts to convey the premise about as poorly.

Son of Merlin #1 (Image, 2013, $2.99)
This book was packaged by a minor production company and then trotted out by Top Cow is some sort of partnership likely meant to sniff after a movie/TV deal, so by all rights it shouldn't be the least bit good. I'm glad it was at least a bit good. Merlin and a bunch of other Arthurian characters are still getting up to shenanigans in the present day, until the famed wizard is compromised and his oblivious bastard son inherits his magic book. Nothing remotely groundbreaking, but Robert Napton's dialogue is pithy and Zid's digitally painted art suits the material.

Vampirella #5, 6, & 8 (Dynamite, 2011, $3.99)
I have been trying since "Morning in America" (and since before I realized that wasn't a Supertramp reference) to get into Vampirella, and it never takes, but some attempts come closer than others. This isn't one of those close ones. Eric Trautmann has mostly written ancillary Didio era DC titles (including event tie-in books and two Red Circle series) and books for Dynamite, whereas I as a reviewer use that type of material as a punching bag. He seems to be trying to do the serious Warren magazine take Archie Goodman made his name on, but it's too over the top and heavily influenced by later corny horror movies where it needs a comparatively subdued Hammer Films vibe. Wagner Reis recalls the same era's Neal Adams and Filipino Invasion artists, but owes as much to Harris' gritty cheesecake stable (Small/Buzz/Altstaetter/etc.) Reis tries to be scary or gross, but there's a glossiness he doesn't come close to overcoming, like Angie Everhart and Erika Eleniak in Bordello of Blood. #5-6 wrap a storyline where the heroine teams up with Dracula against a super-creepy-Lovecraftian-threat that comes across as a bunch of stale old horrors sewn together. Vampi is in (decidedly not) plainclothes like a trampy Kolchak having metaphysical discussions with her old bikini'd self, and it's the fully dressed Vampi that seems more ridiculous. #8 is the second part of some Japanese kabuki vampire bikers thing, with superior art by Fabiano Neves, by virtue of his calling bullshit on respectability and getting them titties in a Wonderbra. Vampi's still dressed like an urban cowgirl brandishing a gun though, so there's only so much the man has to work with. Trautmann's scripts seem embarrassed to have been married to this character, so you end up with a slut-shamed Vampi in a Buffy movie as directed by a Robert Rodriguez acolyte. I know that doesn't sound so bad now that I read over it, but go watch the From Dusk Til Down sequels on basic television and you'll see what I mean.

Spawn #220-222 (Image, 2012, $3.99 & #2.99s)
I took a long, hot, wet, steamy shit on Spawn #200, but I'm a glutton for punishment and novel cover homages, so I bought these issues cheap from my mail order distributor. Has any book as terrible as this ever lasted so long? I'm seriously sending a call out to the entire internet for someone to contact me for verification that a single solitary person on the planet Earth who does not bear a strong resemblance to the Bill Murray character in Little Shop of Horrors is receiving some measure of unironic, non-vindictive enjoyment out of the current run of Spawn. I found these three issues led to the unimpeachable diagnosis that this book suffers from creative leprosy. Sydney Mellon could come out of retirement and try to top the bottom this book has sunk to, and couldn't compete by sheer virtue of attempting to mine anything resembling a vein of storytelling that might appeal to himself, if not anyone else. I cannot believe that even Todd McFarlane and Szymon Kudranski derive any satisfaction from their culpability in producing this aesthetic hate crime. I imagine them like deranged Vietnam vets wearing necklaces of Cong ears, self-loathing and barely functioning, but still lethal due to their crushing fear of the eternity in Hell that awaits them for the atrocities they've committed. McFarlane's reputation is so toxic that in the current writer-driven industry, he's the the only person he could get to script this glacially-paced sludge. I imagine Kudranski in a Polish "hostel" bound in a Jigsaw Killer death trap and being forced to churn out page after page of hideous, barely comprehensible comic "art" on a com-poo-ter by tracing photographs from Google image search in MS Paint.

In #220, McFarlane tries to force the current narrative to fit into a rigid approximation of the page layout to Spawn #1, in honor of himself, and fuck the gimp who has to provide a loose approximation of "drawerings." My favorite section was the retrospective editorial material in the back, which reprints pages from Spawn #1 so you can see what a putrid shell the current incarnation is by comparison, as well as a four page timeline of highlights across the twenty years of publishing that effectively illustrates the steady decline, most glaringly through the absence of anything notable on the second two pages. #221 has Amazing Fantasy #15 cover swipe number seven-hundred-sixty-five, and continues a "letters page" motif where Todd answers random AMA questions instead of fielding letters of comment on the actual issues currently being published. Todd's "do-over" would be the David Hine run, since he felt it went too far afield from his preferences for the Spawn Universe by telling actual stories with resolutions instead of drifting endlessly without ever definitively addressing anything unless real life lawsuits force him to get rid of Chapel/Angela/Al Simmons/etc. I haven't wanted to slap the guy this bad since he became the worst ever guest on Talking Dead until Spawn Motion Picture Original Soundtrack recording artist/train wreck Marilyn Manson took that dubious prize like it was Mark McGwire's 63rd home run ball. McFarlane swipes one of his Venom covers from the '80s for #222, and there's a "become a character in Spawn" winner who's an Eminem looking motherfucker a decade and change past its freshness date. The overarching story is that White Spawn finds some file folders and gets some exposition from the action figure Tremor and might have been the head of the Spawniverse's Weapon X and everyone shut the fuck up right goddamned now!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Wednesday is Seconds of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents For All Anyone Cares #180

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (1966)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Vol.2 #2 (1984)
Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (1985)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (2011)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (2013)

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (Tower, 1966, 25¢)
As much as I enjoyed the debut issue, the game steps up here. With all the exposition dispensed with, Dynamo visibly leaps into action from the first page. A romantic subplot is introduced, and Len Brown gets dressed down in a way unheard of in period comics. The Warlord is revised by Wally Wood into a darker, more mysterious foe. Wood also takes back his crown as master of beautiful women with the smart and capable Alice Robbins. The physical threat is presented by Dynavac, his garb alluding to medieval torturers/executioners, marking his as a creepy, intimidating presence. He also strongly recalls the initial appearance of Doomsday to such a degree that I'd be surprised if DC hadn't taken a cue from Tower in his design. An exciting story with a twist ending uncommon even today.

NoMan continues to be my favorite strip, thanks to the wildly inventive application of the hero's powers and vulnerabilities. It's also tough to go wrong with an army of "zombie" soldiers for NoMan to toss about like he was channeling Kirby Captain America. My only complaint is that the art by Ayers, Orlando and Wood removed the shadowy dread of Crandall's initial strip.

There's no writing credit on Menthor, but I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Sekowsy was learning his craft on the script himself. There are a lot of amateur mistakes and crazy logic leaps, but the overall feel is reminiscent of his later DC work on Wonder Woman and "Manhunter 2070." It's still fast moving and fun, just with an element of Axe Cop insanity.

Dynamo triumphs in the second half of his story, with striking imagery and a major reveal that thankfully wasn't drawn out, though the resolution was a tad pat. Then there's a text story, "Junior Thunder Agents," which offers a flimsy manual for kids to form their own local fan club and immediately begin having irresponsibly violent adventures involving teen gangs running protection rackets. The big book wraps with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad taking on a straw Cuba and cavalierly losing a member who surprisingly wasn't one of the two brunette males who happened to be rendered nigh-indistinguishable in the story by gas masks. That would haunt them later, not least for it spawning decades of morbid self-pitying monologues from Guy Gilbert. My favorite part was the random inclusion of a nuke-spawned gillman. Well, that and Kitten in yoga pants. She also had the. best. hair.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Vol.2 #2 (JC Comics, 1984, $1.00)
The second and final issue of this incarnation picks up and more briskly advances the story from the debut. Dynamo battles a big purple monster type thing that never gets explained, then teams up with Iron Maiden in the most predictable fashion, given the "couple's" history. Wally Wood's Agents meet Wally Wood's Mars Attacks giant insects, plus some weird celestial overlord works from the shadows, recalling Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. Ronald Reagan worshipers may want to check out his notable cameo. The female Menthor continues to be teased, and would be the worst copyright infringing element once Deluxe and Solson Publications tried their bootlegs. Vulcan was properly introduced instead, as a sonic blaster slowly growing deaf, and a second whiny bitchboy love interest for Kitten Kane, the poor dear. Most of the Agents have a spotlight of some sort, but I got the biggest kick out of the grizzled Squad, with Weed getting the best comic relief moment. To be continued eight months later in an Archie Adventure Series anthology...

Charlie Boatner's dialogue doesn't improve much on Chris Adames', but the overall tone lightens to make the mayhem more of a romp in the vein of Woody. Lou Manna and Paul Bonanno split pencil duties, but the art star is Willie Blyberg, who keeps the look consistent and enriched by lavish inks. Murphy Anderson supplies a nifty centerfold "poster," there's a fun gag image by "Maurizio," but my favorite was the unsigned back cover featuring Iron Maiden.

Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (Deluxe, 1985, $2.00)
David M. Singer offers even more editorial text this month, with both candor and pomposity. The personality sure set the line apart, though.

Dann Thomas' Raven script was better this time, as it toned down the purple prose and focused on providing the origins of the hero's relationship with the nefarious Phoenicia. It was difficult to read for a new reason-- production errors rendering some of John Workman's lettering nigh indecipherable. I like Craig Lawson's design more than Raven's, as he recalls Adrian Chase. The art was more consistent, with Bill Wray doing a decent job over Perez's layouts, but their styles weren't the most compatible.

Tom & Mary Bierbaum made their writing debut on the Lightning story, and for a character history summation with transparent foreshadowing, it was okay. Since there's virtually no action and a lot of repeating panels, Rick Bryant has an easier time with Keith Giffen's pencils. The interaction between the two featured characters is inorganic, but the story does begin to pay off a long in waiting subplot.

There's an ad for "The Deluxe Comics Line of Designer Posters" that you could send away for, but in an example of slitting one's own throat, the Perez Menthor one is a pin-up in this issue, and George's Iron Maiden is used as a centerfold. I'm sure the full sized posters were nicer, but these would do in a pinch, right?

Finally,the team story by Steve Englehart and Dave Cockrum, which remains the weakest link. It's improved by focusing on Lightning, though it covers much of the same ground as the Giffen story. There's no line of dialogue spoken when it could be shouted hysterically at other characters. The story has tonal issues, since it seems to be taking Lightning's deterioration seriously, but then drops in a moment of broad comedy in the midst of the heavily whipped pathos. The result is neither sad nor funny, just kind of dumb, and the grandstanding on display wore out any enthusiasm I had going in.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
Wildstorm in their heyday produced the Vertigo of super-hero comics. This is what that was. Nick Spencer does a great job of painting a portrait of the new Lightning, CAFU is better at being John Cassaday than the real one's been in years, and I especially liked Chriscross' work on the flashback sequences. It was an exceptionally good story for the dollar I paid to read its thirty pages. However, had I paid cover price, I'd be less congratulatory. There are two spreads of a guy running fast with minimal background. There are numerous virtually silent pages. Most pages consist of 3-4 panels with a caption box or a dialogue balloon each. It's an eight page back-up spread across an extra-length issue. Quit writing for the trade, motherfuckers.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (IDW, 2013, $3.99)
This multi-incarnation review project got pushed back by this issue shipping late, so I'll try not to hold that against it. The second outing of the latest iteration digs deeper into Wally Wood's toy box, but then reconfigures the components differently. Guy Gilbert and Lightning are more properly introduced, as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad starts to fill in. I didn't mind Kat Kane's being excluded from that line-up by being promoted up at first, but a major alteration to her backstory bends my nose out of shape. The tone strikes a weird balance between snark (which to be fair was part of the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. formula) and nostalgia (this reads like what you would expect from a Bronze Age issue of Marvel G.I. Joe if it had more period-appropriate art.) Part of what I liked about the Tower and Deluxe Comics series was that it was on the bleeding edge of the four color forum for its time, where IDW is more like JC Comics in recalling an earlier time and properties only contemporaneous to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. In short, it's a competent, mildly amusing book I'm buying more for the property's past glory than any present one, exactly the sort of thing that would have kept me reading DC Comics pre-New 52, but the opposite of what my better inclinations should support.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wednesday Is Ladies Night For All I Care #179

Empowered Special "Nine Beers With Ninjette"
Ghost Projekt #1
Mind the Gap #1
Pretty Deadly #1
Rocket Girl #1
Velvet #1 (2013)

Empowered Special #5 (Dark Horse, 2013, $3.99)
We'll start this all-female protagonist column with a controversial selection, Adam Warren's Empowered. At six years, seven original graphic novels, five specials and two hoighty-toighty deluxe hardcover compilations, Empowered has been one of the most successful super-heroines in the U.S. market. On the other hand, the themes of female bondage, sexuality, competency issues, and a sometimes arch approach to "girliness" probably hasn't helped its feminist standing. The long form, multi-story editions have had their ups and downs, but overall, I still buy them happily without reservations. I find the specials much more bothersome, as they feel like filler material from an anthology, not so much because of the guest artists, but because Warren writes them as such. "Nine Beers With Ninjette" is basically a secret origin story for the long time supporting character, recapping her history to date without much elaboration. I assume this is meant to initiate the theoretical new reader, but I'm not sure there's enough story here to truly entice, and fans of Takeshi Miyazawa's art won't find it in the core volumes. At least when Maidman got his spotlight story, it was to flesh out a satellite character, not play Marvel Saga with Ninjette's tales across multiple volumes.

Ghost Projekt #1 (Oni, 2010, $3.99)
I don't recall when I ordered this book, but I think I picked it up cheap on liquidation. Recently, a television pilot was ordered by NBC, and the back issue became a hot commodity, so I figured I ought to see if there was any steak to go with the sizzle. Based on the first issue, not so much. It's a bunch of hoary post-Cold War commie stereotypes investigating a secret weapons lab in Siberia that conducted unethical, possibly supernatural experimentation. A couple of ugly Americans seem poised to be P.O.V. characters, but the only characters you're likely to root for by the end are police inspector Natasha Fatale Anya Romanoff Romanova (less so) and/or "Frankencat" (more so.) The art by Steve Rolston is adequate for Joe Harris' cliché script, but its cartoonishness ruins any mood or tension that may have been intended.

Mind the Gap #1 (Image, 2012, $2.99)
I'm a big fan of 48 page introductory issues for a standard-sized cover price. I wish I were a bigger fan of the story itself. Creator Jim McCann sets up a very involved mystery around the assault of an affluent young woman who is somehow tied into a grand conspiracy with sinister agents. He layers in dense clues and presents levels of involvement that range from real world espionage to metaphysics. Where Rodin Esquejo offers lovely covers for Morning Glories only to have Joe Eisma shits on the interiors, here Esquejo sees the entire project through. The RIAA-baiting lyric excerpts from songs I know and like (fuck you Phonogram) put me into a positive frame of mine, as does momentary cosplay from a well loved mid-90s grunge video. The problem is, after all that time and effort invested, I don't care about any of the characters or their situations by the end of the extended debut, plus a few actively annoyed me. I was reading it while the tepid Rebecca Hall vehicle The Awakening was supposed to be playing in the background, but the bland ghost story kept winning my attention. Admittedly, Rebecca Hall's pretty awesome, but still...

Pretty Deadly #1 (Image, 2013, $3.50)
Here's the only book in a column covering heroines that features actual real wimmens in both major creative roles. Curiously, there was a hubbub over an L.A. comic store staffer tearing the book in half before a well-known comic reviewer to show his displeasure with the issue. He wasn't wrong about the book being pretentious, but it's also challenging in its surreal narration and bending of genre in a way that intrigues. Keeping up with a column theme, it has strong supernatural leanings, but in a western setting, and has something to do with the incarnate daughter of Death itself. I can't tell you if I like Kelly Sue DeConnick's script at this early stage, but the art of Emma Rios is perfect for whatever this thing is, and I certainly want the opportunity to explore it further in trade paperback.

Rocket Girl #1 (Image, 2013, $3.50)
I kind of hate it when an artist gets first bill over a writer, not because they don't deserve to be on "top," but simply because it's a harmless industry convention. Well, and I'm more likely to enjoy a book from a proven writer than an artist who enlists an editor friend to co-create and write a book. Rocket Girl is such a book. I think Amy Reeder's art is very pretty, but the story is just a collection of tropes, as much from lightweight sci-fi as from kidcentric TV. Also, for some reason the 1986 setting seems to demand that the supporting cast be made up visually of Kyle Baker characters circa Why I Hate Saturn, but without any of the wit. It made me recall that Baker got more story mileage out of his 1986 three-issue adaptation of Howard the Duck: The Movie than what I saw here, which is rather damning, don't you think?

Velvet #1 (Image, 2013, $3.50)
We've got women writing women and women drawing women and that's great, but unfortunately, the best of these books was by two men crafting a story of the most interesting woman. Speaking as a non-fan of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting on Captain America, I was pleasantly surprised by how thoroughly I enjoyed their teaming here. Set in 1973, macho icons of the period are reunited through analogues, but pale in comparison to Peggy Carter Velvet Templeton. Epting pulls down an entirely appropriate Gulacy vibe at times, and the threads draw taut for a cliffhanger that leaves you wanting more. There's even a solid text piece on the history of the spy drama. A great launch!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care #178

The Bounce #1 (2013)
Dawn: The Swordmaster's Daughter & Other Stories #1
Empowered Special #4 "Animal Style"
Green Lantern #23.2/Mongul #1
Grim Leaper #1
Justice League #23.4/Secret Society #1
Mighty Avengers #1 (2013)

The Bounce #1 (Image, 2013, $2.99)
Something I came to realize sometime in the early 1990s is that I greatly dislike the Spider-Man archetype. The "funny" well-intentioned everyman that suburban white boys embrace as their own. Not only is it fucking boring as shit, but the way it generalizes and homogenizes the comic reader demographic is borderline offensive. Spider-Man replaced Superman as the most broadly accepted aspirational super-heroic figure, and by my reckoning we traded down-- lowered our expectation of ourselves. It doesn't help that, like Batman, Spidey has a rogues gallery full of homicidal maniacs that ol' Web-head routinely "locks up" for all of five minutes before they bust loose and kill more people without the hero ever being held accountable for his ineffectual management of the problem.

So here's Jasper Jenkins, who is exactly like Peter Parker in every essential element except-- woooo, he's a pothead! And he gets his powers from drugs! Just say yes! What a twist! How subversive! Blow me, Joe Casey, creator of Stacy X. The Bounce is the edgy bong-hitting Speedball revamp you've been dying for, since he gets to call his lethal bad guy noun/verb adversary "asshole" before they fight to a draw! Imaginative, no? At least the Terry Dodson-flavored art of David Messina is attractive.

Dawn: The Swordmaster's Daughter & Other Stories #1 (Image,2013, $3.99)
The team of Joe Monks and Joseph Michael Linsner were a revelation to me when I read Cry for Dawn during the original Bush Administration. They dealt in cutting edge contemporary horror that was mind-expanding to an adolescent. After the team busted up, I followed Linsner to the Drama one-shot, which I found to be a head-scratcher. When he decided to launch Dawn as an ongoing fantasy narrative, I talked the owner of the comic shop I was working at into ordering heavily-- far heavier than I'd intended-- and we sold that book like crazy anyway. I was proud that a bet I'd helped place paid off, and the book was gorgeous, but the story left something to be desired. I liked the character Dawn as a horror hostess, but Linsner continued the fluffy fantasy elements begun in Subtle Violents that left me cold then and now. Linsner also had a tendency toward dumb, vulgar genital symbolism and borrowed heavily enough from world myth to seem unoriginal while incorporating too many coarse modern elements to demonstrate fidelity to the source material. As a fan, I picked up most of the early product of Linsner's company Sirius, but none of it rocked my world. Crypt of Dawn was especially disappointing, since it seemed like a return to JML's horror anthology roots, but presented nothing of remotely comparable impact. By the time the six issue initial Dawn mini-series wrapped up, I was disinterested in going further with the property, and my dissatisfaction with Sirius had tainted my affection for JML's art style.

I still buy the odd pin-up special and one-shot, which leads us to The Swordmaster's Daughter, a series of loose adaptations of folk tales. The titular story places JML's proxy hero Darren Ashoka into a samurai myth, the longest and most enjoyable of the pieces. Linsner has always had an issue with differentiating faces, so I appreciated the subtle variations between the Daughter and Dawn, though the need to insert his Aryan creations into foreign myth is galling. "Samsara" seems to run long at just two pages, visually pleasant but painfully predictable (apologies to the Sufi.) Finally, "The White Phoenix" borrows from The Bhagavad Gita, which I happened to read a couple of years ago. This was not that, as JML rendered an already problematic text comically simplistic, and yes, of course he manages to work in the curious combination of Vargas/Olivia, Maiden/Megadeth album covers, and splay-legged beaver shot with bonus circle of life pablum. Nothing lays on the saltpeter like Linsner in dunderheaded pseudo-philosophizing mode.

I like the first story, and I would have gone easier on Linsner, but a text piece at the back of the book applied paper cuts to the peter with the salt. Linsner had a bad break-up with his creative partner of fourteen years Eva Hopkins, and he posts a subtweet screed so blatantly one-sided that I had to hop online to research the other side, and found this. I figured out JMS was a probable dick up his own ass some time back, but the Henry Rollins riffing while thoroughly demonizing a relative unknown with a less substantial platform for rebuttal. I used to be prone to emotional histrionics, fantasizing about impossible sexual conquests, and dying my hair colors not occurring in nature, but that sort of thing is pretty unflattering by the time you hit thirty. It's heartbreaking when you see super talented guys like JML and Frank Miller encase themselves in bubbles of their own bullshit for decades, never growing as artists or as human beings, until their former audience looks upon them with disdain.

Empowered Special #4 (Dark Horse, 2013, $3.99)
In the second stopgap floppy since Empowered Volume 7, Adam Warren teams with John Staton to continue coloring Emp's world with side stories. It's great seeing Emp's rising competence and confidence, and Staton's style is closer to Warren's than his other partners in these specials, so that you almost forget that this is still just an EP of B-sides until the LP drops.

Green Lantern #23.2 (DC, 2013, $2.99)
Jim Starlin co-created Mongul back in 1980, so I was hopeful that he might restore the villain to his Bronze Age glory days. Len Wein gave the character an interesting back story in his debut appearance, and his m.o. was expanded by Paul Levitz and Alan Moore in appealing ways. Unfortunately, the Superman creative team from the chronically overrated, thoroughly mediocre "triangle" days offered a reboot of the character after Crisis on Infinite Earths that quashed all of his former grandeur and future potential. In more recent years, he was embraced by Pete Tomasi as the poor, uneducated, sadistic man's Darkseid. Jim Starlin didn't actually write any of those good old Mongul stories, so my enthusiasm for their renewed association was misplaced, since all Starlin did was rewrite the major Mongul beats since the late '80s into one sour introductory comic.

The "Death Star" original version of Warworld is combined with the gladiatorial arenas from Post-Crisis, while the Tomasi origin story from '90s Showcase issues is abbreviated. When Moore created the Black Mercy, it was just the latest in a series of imaginative threats Mongul came up with. Halfwits like Tomasi kept revisiting that one trick, but missed the story point by having it induce nightmares instead of "too good to be true" fantasies. Starlin merely acknowledges both versions here, like he's adapting a Who's Who entry into a story. The plot is stupid and showy; so needlessly brutal that I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't a Keith Giffen paycheck gig. The presence of his occasional muse Howard Porter on art contributed to this cognitive dissonance, and it's good Porter, but still very very Porterry in post-JLA fashion, so it's probably best that no humans were depicted in the story. NuMongul does have an oddly metrosexual quality here though, despite a fairly hideous new costume design that reflects a host of fashion faux pas (Cloud City headgear, Paco Ramone green fingerless gloves over yellow skin.) To sum up the book, I'll point out that the Mongul's familiar chestpiece has now been replicated on both his shoulders and a pair coming out of his ears, with no one seemingly realizing that doohicky actual served a purpose 33 years ago, but now it's just a bunch of ugly excess ornamentation.

Grim Leaper #1 (Image, 2013, $3.50)
I sat on this book for a month or two, because from a quick toss through I could tell that I didn't want to read it. I finally bared down to push it through, but if anything, it was shittier than I expected. The premise is that a guy who keeps getting instantly reincarnated into other people's bodies, each swiftly dispatched themselves in a Final Destination fashion, has to figure out why. He's distracted by a drive toward amore, until he finds a girl in the same circumstance as himself. The end. There are several more issues in this series, but nothing here compels me to investigate further. Kurtis Wiebe's script is lightweight, and the already ugly art of Aluísio C. Santos is made worse through his minimally chromatic coloring. There's also a five page back-up strip that summarizes old movies like The Shop Around the Corner and The Night We Never Met without improving on them in the least.

Justice League #23.4 (DC, 2013, $3.99)
Before I even crack this thing open and get started, let me say that this was the only Villains Month 3D cover book that I didn't get the chance to swap out for a dollar cheaper standard edition. It's flat two-dimension images stacked unconvincingly on top of one another with annoying quirks and blurriness, plus it sounds like corduroy pants when it slides against my fingertips. Your futuristic gimmick technology fails to impress. DC is like a homely chick in the bleachers flashing her deflated pimply breasts at anyone who can be bothered to pay her the slightest attention. The video game ad on the back cover is also 3D, and is it a nipple, a mole, or an infected ingrown hair?

Another reason why the cover is a dog turd is because it features two characters who barely get a cameo in the foreground and the title "Secret Society," but it's really about how the third featured player Earth-3 Alfred Pennyworth became "The Outsider." I have no fuck to give about that false advertisement, especially when it's depicted by Szymon Kudranski, whose art is the closest thing to shitting directly into my eyeballs without enlisting the Secret Society of German Scattologists. 68% of every page is black ink, and what shows through is amateur Photoshop tracing garbage. I want to force assistant editor Kate Stewart and senior editor Brian Cunningham to fight in a pit until one gnaws the other's throat out for allowing this book to be published as is. Geoff Johns' "plot" involved swiping the last scene from Se7en and forcing Sterling Gates to write a script around a bunch of foreshadowing to an upcoming issue of Forever Evil. I'm grateful for the purchase, because I'm down to buying only two DC books on any given month, and this made me realize that I'm still not being critical enough in my choices. I'm officially done giving DC books a chance. I'll buy the surprisingly upbeat Vibe until it gets canceled in a few months, and whatever book Martian Manhunter is in, and that is it from now on. I think Geoff Johns and Dan Didio are seeking the anti-comic equation, an elusive formula for the most absolutely wretched four color experience conceivable. At this rate, it is possible that they will produce a comic so offensively bad that it will convince mankind that God is dead and that we should join him by converting to Crossedisism and bodily obliterate all animal life on Earth, including one another and our own individual forms. I do not want the New 52 to command me to eat my own entrails.

Mighty Avengers #1 (Marvel, 2013, $3.99)
Yes, yes; we're all calling it "Black Avengers" under our breath, and there's nothing wrong with that. I don't know that I've ever read Al Ewing before, but he clearly read the same '80s Marvel comics I did. There is nothing in this book that couldn't have been found in an old Roger Stern or David Michelinie comic from when Big Jim was editor-in-chief, including a sober Luke Cage mentoring a stereotypical Power Man, and Monica Rambeau going by yet another codename for no particularly good reason. I've found the whole Superior Spider-Man thing to be a fun idea, but haven't had a chance to read m/any of his comics, so his appearance was nice. So far, this is Heroes for Hire under Avengers branding, which only makes me like it more. Even Greg Land's art was palatable, though I'm sure Jay Leisten's inks and a reduction in obvious photo reference helps. Not enough happens and I'm not quite bowled over enough to actively seek a trade paperback, but I'm glad this book exists.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Deathmatch Volume One (2013)

At its heart, Deathmatch is just a more lethal variation on Marvel's Contest of Champions and Secret Wars (which is directly referenced in an alternate cover) with off-brand analogues of more famous super-heroes. What does it say about our culture that this is only one of two current books in which super-people are forced into deadly gladiatorial combat by mysterious beings working toward unrevealed ends? It says The Hunger Games made a lot of money, and publishers want some. At least the comic book medium ripping off the old trope is much easier and more gratifying these days than tired Comic Code Approved variations on Ben Hur, Rollerball, and the like.

While Marvel is busy murdering D-list teen characters for profit in Avengers Arena, BOOM! advertised transparent copies of all your favorite heroes in no-holds-barred mortal combat. They didn't quite deliver, not because of fault in the product, but because it's better than it was probably intended to be. While writer Paul Jenkins works in stock types, not dissimilar from generated characters in an '80s roleplaying game (oh so Champions,) they're not blatantly derivative enough to fulfill the role of the Squadron Supreme vs. the Extremists, or whatever. You can trace Spider-Man or the Hulk in the DNA of new introductions like Dragonfly and Nephilim, but different origins, quirks in powers/personality, and the inventive designs of series artist Carlos Magno differentiate the book's characters from their intended parallels. By making the mistake of hiring people who care about their craft and are possessed of imagination, Deathmatch baits-and-switches costumed gore porn with a solid book.

The series is not without fault, however. It recalls Keith Giffen's "Five Years Later" Legion of Super-Heroes stories, involving dozens of characters that aren't thoroughly introduced speaking familiarly about matters rendered obtuse to a reader lacking key information. It's also terribly distracting having obvious swipes like The Rat (Rorschach) working alongside more general types like Sable, because in the back of your mind the reader is trying to figure out "who they really are" instead of focusing on the story. The scripts are disjointed, as if they were first drafts written at different times, or sections were edited out without bridging material replacing them. Then there's the fatigue that comes with the umpteenth out of control faux Superman being managed by ersatz Batman, although the book is good about borrowing from less well worn capes. However, so many characters are killed so quickly, there's a strong detachment from the proceedings, as obscurities the reader isn't invested in fight to the death in less than thrilling fashion. It's frustrating that everyone is keeping secrets from one another and the audience while constantly teasing their revelation. That might make sense in a feudal fantasy setting, but among four color mystery men in a true life-or-death circumstance, the authorial hand is waving inches from your face declaring "I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!" The book lives or dies based on how steeped the reader is in comic book cliché, so the withholding of standard exposition becomes antagonistic.

Deathmatch is interesting despite these complaints. The main characters hook you, and there's such variety in the designs that you want to look at these figures interacting. The plot is never boring, and you do want to find out the truth of all the goings on. The art is quite intricate, and the storytelling sensibility recalls European sci-fi strips more than common American crap. Even if you find the premise unsavory, the writing and art are simply too good to pass on sampling at $9.99, and I'll be back myself for the second volume. The knowledge that the series wraps in a third volume is definitely a motivator when so much in this first edition strings readers along, though. I'd say Strikeforce: Morituri fans should especially give it a peek. Both books are less about violent death than its emotional impact, and are the better for it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ferals Volume 2 (2013)

I’ve heard True Blood called Twilight for (horny) adults. I haven’t read the True Blood comics, but I have read IDW books, and they tend to shy away from sexually explicit material. If that is the case, then perhaps Ferals is the true True Blood of comics, except way gorier. At its essence, Ferals is a What If…? where Jason Stackhouse actually got turned into a were-whatever in Hotshot. There’s wannabe Vikings in this one too, and a Russell Edgington stand-in, but they’re all werewolves in this version. The details are unimportant. It’s a campy, ultraviolent supernatural soap opera with a lot of boning.

This is where the spoilers (for the book, not True Blood) start. I was wary of jumping into this trade about seven months after reading the last, but there’s a very quick recap of the previous volume in the first few pages of dialogue, and none of it matters anyway. Jason Stackhouse survived the bloodbath that closed the previous season, and the surviving F.B.I. agent recruits him to investigate other towns where traces of ferals (werewolves) have been found. He’s saddled with a female partner and a cover identity, so aside from three characters (two quite minor) and a premise carrying over, this might as well be an themed anthology installment rather than a continuing narrative.

Jason Stackhouse is a bit more of a bona fide protagonist this time, since he’s been properly initiated and is basically just going by the numbers in a similar situation to the first volume. Again, the details don’t matter. Nobody is meant to care about these characters. Everyone in the book is simply fodder for fucked-up turns involving either rough carnal episodes or savagery inflicted upon the human/lupine body. There’s also a nice big blockbuster finale that would break the budget of a TV show, so I guess that validates it as a comic book experience, but the story itself is as ephemeral and the choices as arbitrary as the last several (bad) seasons of the vampire show (or the worst of the zombie show.)

Gabriel Andrade continues to be one of Avatar's best artists, drawing out the maximum allowable entertainment value from all the writhing bodies and werewolf viscera. I suspect he'll be recruited for something higher profile sooner rather than later. David Lapham trades in audacity that keeps the reader engaged during the act of reading, but the unsatisfying cliffhanger endings and the emphasis on plot developments over characterization color the lasting perception of the series. I think I'll give it one more "season" to see if it's going to go anywhere, mostly out of love for werewolves and softcore porn, as opposed to the merits of the work taken objectively.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wednesday Debuts the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents For All Anyone Cares #177

I joined Twitter at the first of August, two weeks later the latest volume of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents debuted, and not a single person I follow said dick about it. As a one man corrective measure, I've decided to review T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1. All five of them, spanning nearly fifty years. Before anyone gets pedantic, I'm talking about full color non-reprint first issues of (presumed) ongoing series titled "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" or a reasonable derivation of same. Don't come whining to me about JCP Features, Hall of Fame Featuring the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Blue Ribbon Comics, Thunder, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Action or Omni Comix or any of the solo titles/guest appearances, though if I keep doing this for long, I'll likely get to most of them.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (1965)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Vol.2 #1 (1983)
Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (1984)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (2011)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (2013)

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (Tower, 1965, 25¢)
Cheapjack dime novel publisher Tower decided to cash in on both the comic book super-hero and spy crazes of the mid-60s by publishing an extra-sized anthology title following the adventures of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves. The brainchild of 50s great Wally Wood and manned by his friends, the premise was introduced in a four page prologue in which U.N. scientist Professor Jennings is murdered by the evil spies of "The Warlord." Jennings' legacy is a cache of devices that bestow powers unto top agents selected by T.H.U.N.D.E.R. The first full story centered on one Len Brown, who gladly trades desk duty for the chance to wear a belt that temporarily increases his strength and density. This was not without complications, which include the luscious Iron Maiden and her armored henchmen. Wood's art is glorious, and the story happily flouts the conventions of the day.

The second story debuts aged Doctor Dunn as an associate of Jennings who permanently transfers his consciousness out of his decrepit body into a series of androids. As if that wasn't enough, "NoMan" also gets one of Jennings' devices, a cape that renders him invisible. This serves him well against the odd menace of Demo (hard "e," like "demon.") The art of golden age ace Reed Crandell sets a tense, grim mood, and I dug the creepiness of his inhuman hero. There's also a two page NoMan text adventure by Larry Ivie that was tedious with plot details and lack of panache.

Menthor really really looks like the Atom, especially when drawn by Gil Kane for half the story. However, "perfect" agent John Janus is secretly a spy for the Warlord, though the helmet he wears in costume forces him to perform good deeds against his will. His power set is bog standard telepathy/telekinesis, but his conflicted nature is intriguing. George Tuska pencils half the tale, and there normally would have been a serious disparity, but between some rather hacky non-effort from Kane, consistent inks by Mike Esposito, and Tuska's only being halfway to his '80s nadir, it pans out alright. I'll point out that after having read a lot of Manhunter from Mars strips, the Janus/Warlord dynamic is very similar to old Marco Xavier/Faceless yarns.

I don't actually own a copy of this original first issue, so my review material comes from 2002's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives, Volume 1. I have to say, the forward by Robert Klein and Michael Uslan is shit. There's a bit of useful historical and anecdotal material on the first couple of pages, but then they spend six-and-a-half synopsizing every story collected in the fucking hardcover. I skimmed the passages for editorializing, and found that they made a point of shitting on the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad tales. Ivie and Mike Sekowsky basically sneak a war story into the book, and these two little assholes can't handle that, but it's actually a fun piece. I found Kitten Kane much sexier than Iron Maiden, and loved the varied facial and body types given to the squad members. They're basically the post-war Blackhawks, including the red tunics, and they're a hoot.

Finally, Wood returns to close out the bridging story, as the forces of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. confront the Warlord's evil plot. Dynamo has more room to show off his cocky side, everyone gets a spotlight moment, and you know it's pretty as a pasture to gaze upon. The characters are still being defined, and there are plenty of clunky moments throughout the book, but it's still a gas to read these stories today.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Vol.2 #1 (JC, 1983, $1.00)
As I understand it, Archie Comics wanted to reprint the old Tower stories, and to get the opportunity from new copyright holder John Carbonaro, they agreed to distribute his self-produced relaunch of the property. It only lasted a couple of issues, and upon re-reading it today, I found it to be much better than I remembered. Of course, I remembered it stinking on ice, so that's a backhanded compliment.

Scripter Chris Adames had done a few stories for Creepy, but this series marked the end of his career. The plot is the worst sort of Bronze Age team book drivel, beginning in medias res to launch into violent action. As it carries on into tense discussion between the West and the Soviets, the intent was surely to evoke James Bond, but it functions to distance the reader emotionally from the grand scale tumult and stalls significant character introduction for eight pages. It does not help that the course change is prompted by Lightning standing on a gargoyle atop a rain swept rooftop, cursing his fate as lighting crashes in the background. It's a bit much, yes? This also begins a pattern of dialogue serving almost solely as exposition, even as it describes emotions rather than communicating them.

Continuing a theme of introductory splash pages, the Raven gets to be a flying Wolverine in a wholly unnecessary aside, battering some random punks. The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad shows up to remind everyone that Reagan is in office, but it also offers one of the only attempts at the sort of levity Wood's books were known for. Dynamo pops in for the finale, which in contemporary comic fashion was in no way the conclusion of the story, instead wrapping with an obligatory last page character reveal.

Again, the story isn't inherently awful, but it is so much a product of its time that it chops any specialness the Agents had off at the knees. Instead of truly reviving the spirit of the Tower comics, it just transports their characters right smack dab into 1983, even as their retro look and silly names ensure readers of the time would not embrace them as they would the exact same product already proven on the stands. However, I have to say that the art by Lou Manna and Willie Blyberg (with a sharp assist from James W. Fry) is mighty fine, and makes it a worthwhile purchase if you're already a fan. Manna recalls Wood without aping him, and it's a damned shame he only did a little work for DC in the late '80s and Hero Comics in the early '90s after this.

Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (Deluxe, 1984, $2.00)
David M. Singer was an attorney and associate of Carbonaro's who came under the assumption that the property was in the public domain based on the lack of a copyright notice in their first published comic. He then raised a bunch of Wall Street money and paid top artists several times their normal pages rates for a high end relaunch of his own. Never mind that Singer used material from later, copyright protected issues of the Tower comics and that he even borrowed from Carbonaro's own efforts. Needless to say, Carbonaro sued Singer's effort into oblivion, and his estate now owns Singer's material.

The Deluxe series is what turned me on to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, so I had rosy memories of the books. As with my misperception of the JC series, on re-reading, I found that I had given this book too much credit. Doesn't make it bad exactly, but it's shy of good.

George Perez provides a gorgeous cover and part of a Raven story. Dave Cockrum had to finish the pencils, but it looks like Perez may have inked him for continuity. He based a belly-dancing femme fatale on his own wife, and even on the Cockrum pages, she's drawn exactly the same. Regardless of who laid out what, it's a good looking Bondian adventure, marred by a terrible script by Dann Thomas with painful dialogue and illogic. But then there are pin-ups by Jerry Ordway and Steve Ditko, so you try to put it past you.

Next is a Menthor tale by Journey frontman Stephen Perry (or not) and Keith Giffen deep in his José Muñoz period. Rick Bryant can't tighten Giff up like Bob Oksner could, so the art is fairly ugly and obtuse. The story is well-intentioned but dumb as it buys into a Death Wish scenario as played out from a bleeding heart leftist angle. But then there are pin-ups by Stan Drake and Pat Broderick, so you try to put it past you.

Finally, there's a team story by Steve Englehart and Dave Cockrum. Is it hubristic? Well, Englehart made a point of retaining the copyright to his script as indicted by the indicia, at least until Carbonaro claimed it, even though it's a steaming pile of shit. Everything I criticized in the JC Comics story is magnified here, with the hammiest of dialogue and the most repellent characterization. The cherry on top is the need to drag in a plot point from the second issue of the 1964 series that was actually resolved, but not to Englehart's liking, so he got all Roy Thomas up in its guts. Meanwhile, Cockrum is 100% at his Cockrummiest, so if you adored his second run on X-Men like most of us, there's more of that here. We really needed a couple more pin-ups at the end to cleanse the palate of that sorry friggin' cliffhanger.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
A bunch of indie publishers tried to follow Singer's lead, but the lawsuit put a swift end to that, and Carbonaro's rights were eventually upheld. Throughout the 1990s, Carbonaro shopped the property as a license to a variety of publishers, but revival efforts were repeatedly killed either by market instability or Carbonaro's dissatisfaction with creative directions. DC Comics got a few issues into production of a bid in the early 00's, but Carbonaro didn't care for it, and only reprint material came out of the company while he was alive. However, with his passing in 2009, DC finally progressed with new material for the license.

To me, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are one of the gems of indie super-heroes, so it never set well with me for DC to lay there paws on the property, especially in the scummy Didio era. I'm also not fond of the concept of $4 comics, so I waited this series out until I dug it out of a dollar (or less?) bin at a con.

My apprehension aside, this was a pretty good book, except that it has as little to do with the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents as it can possibly manage. Nick Spencer's script is largely about promoting Nick Spencer as a writer for the Big Two, employing a non-linear narrative and focusing on office workers who bear as much of a resemblance to Everett K. Ross and Nikki Adams as the whole book does Christopher Priest's Black Panther. I hasten to add though, Black Panther was a very good book, and Spencer also turns the Agents into Peter B. Gillis' Strikeforce: Morituri, which was another revolutionary title. Now, the unfortunate part is that 2011 is not 1986 or 1998, just as Snatch wasn't Pulp Fiction, but there are a lot worse things to be.

All the throat cutting and back stabbing and wibbily wobbly timey wimey (and that one blatant Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. rip-off) don't leave any room to get into the characters or even the story really, but it's a pretty good stunt on Spencer's part. The attractive art by Cafu and Bit, along with the promise of Spencer and proper characterization next time, are enough to lure a body back for a second sampling.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (IDW, 2013, $3.99)
Finally, we come to the latest iteration of the property, with IDW publishing the book the year following DC wrapping their incarnation. I'm willing to pay the four bucks a month just to support the team being carried by an independent publisher again. Curiously, their approach is probably the most traditional ever. The book starts with only NoMan and Lightning as active agents, but that's just to create a scenario wherein Len Brown can begin his hero's journey to become Dynamo. Rather than Brown being an everyman in the more common sense, he's just not a trained agent here, but is an exceptional human being solely capable of using the Dynamo belt. Destiny much? Phil Hester's story is safe and familiar, while Andrea Di Vito's art is perfectly sound super-hero stuff. It's nice. It's agreeable. They got Jerry Ordway back for a variant cover. It has nods of the hat to the original series. In other words, it's pussy, so we'll see if it competes with the other second issues next month, or if it just sits in my lap and comforts me with softly purring nostalgia.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

newuniversal: Everything Went White (2007)

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of "Marvel Comics" (as opposed to Timely/Atlas/etc., launched in 1939,) it was decided to update the formula that made the work of Lee, Kirby & company so successful by creating a self-contained line of more realistic takes on comic book concepts. This New Universe would be stripped of most pure fantasy elements, geared for comparatively grounded science fiction, or at least would feature less ridiculous spandex stuff in a real time setting. A "white event" lit skies around the globe for a moment, and signaled the shift from the real world as the readers knew it to one that included manned robot suits, occasional aliens, and modest super-powers. The 1986 launch was much hyped, but the eight core titles were not very well received, half canceled after the first year. Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter was one of the project's primary architects, but he was fighting wars on all fronts between creative, editorial and management, and was himself canned in 1987. Shooter would later place most of the blame for the New Universe's lackluster creative pool and slapdash production on his successor, Tom DeFalco, and on a series of budget scale-backs set by the suits who fired him. Convenient, yes, but it's worth noting that Shooter would later take the same basic concepts and caliber of washed-up veteran/neophyte talent to construct Valiant Comics.

Despite lasting only three years, a lot of readers from my generation have a sentimental attachment to the New Universe, so Marvel celebrated its 20th anniversary with a series of one-shot specials set in the relative glory days of the line, which also served to promote a six issue mini-series that would radically reboot the properties by Warren Ellis and Salvador Larroca dubbed newuniversal. The most obvious comparison to their approach would be how Ronald D. Moore took a corny '70s Star Wars knock-off with some brand value and turned it into the tense sci-fi political thriller Battlestar Galactica. The most obvious contrast to their execution of this approach is that only one of the two pulled it off. Warren Ellis is occasionally a great comic writer, but most often, especially when doing corporate comics, he's a willful hack. In other words, Ellis will write what he wants to no matter what, but he's perfectly willing to plug in the names of someone else's IP into his boilerplate cast-offs. Infamously, he once took a rejected proposal, changed his characters' names with minimal additional rewrites, and turned it into connecting mini-series dubbed "The Ultimate Galactus Trilogy." Ellis is faithful enough to the New Universe properties to make it clear that was not the case here, but his storytelling sensibilities run roughshod over them, and their unambitious employment are set to cruise control.

My favorite of the New Universe books was Star Brand, which offered an obvious author insertion protagonist for Jim Shooter, but it also allowed him to portray a deeply flawed hero with personal insight. Ellis reworks Kenneth Connell as a passive himbo in the 94th unnecessary Akira lift. Justice was one of the longest lived NU titles, featuring a mulleted anti-hero serving as judge and executioner of action movie bad guys. Peter David wrote much of the series, but there's clearly room for improvement in the concept. Ellis instead turns John Tenson into a super powered serial killer. Nightmask was basically a costumed version of the 1984 Dennis Quaid vehicle Dreamscape, but Ellis "improvement" is to trade out a heroic take on Freddy Krueger for Betty Clawman from the contemporaneous failure New Guardians. Instead of assisting with psychological disturbances through cooperative lucid dreaming, Izanimi Randall interacts with newuniversal's core plot device and teleports the players where they need to be. Spitfire and the Troubleshooters was probably the title closest to Ellis' aesthetic, but he does decide to infect its lead character with Extremis all the same, and her role is minor in this collection.

As Ellis is wont to do, the space between the NU characters is filled with archaeological digs that uncover ancient conspiracies, morally ambiguous government agents, a generally pessimistic tone, and 75% of the characters speaking in the same cynical voice as in every other Ellis script. The book isn't about anything besides setting up the revised characters for further adventures that, aside from three one shot specials, never materialized. There's some troubling subtext to John Tenson's first execution that blurs the line between mercy killings and hospice care, but I get the feeling that speaks more to a bungle than Ellis having anything of value to say about "the world outside your window."

While unexceptional and pointless, newuniversal would have been a reasonable excuse to pass some time if not for the atrocious artwork. Salvador Larroca photo references this thing to death. Not only is Bruce Willis the model for John Tenson, but it's specifically Willis playing Hartigan in make-up from the 2005 Robert Rodriguez movie Sin City (itself a comic book adaptation) with only a modification in the type of scar that mars his features. The unmistakable likenesses of James Cromwell, Johnny Depp, Leonard Nimoy and James Gandolfini are applied to prominent characters. Jenny Swann is less clear, but some panels are obviously meant to portray Angeline Jolie. Larroca has a trickier time with the woman in general, as one character seems the vary from Nichole Kidman to Charlize Theron, and I can't quite place the Asian actress Izanimi is lifted from. The artistic references are also there, as Larroca spends a lot of time aping Jae Lee, but there's a lot of Gulacy in there, and a melange of tropes from the 80s/90s wave of painted comics that recalls old Innovation books. The difference between Larroca's more familiar mangacentric approach in the sketchbook and the riffapalooza in the story pages is striking.

According the Wikipedia, Warren Ellis' computer crashed, taking with it files he was using to write those sporadic newuniversal specials, so he's given up on the project. Clearly, it meant a lot to him. Jonathan Hickman's now mining both this mini-series and the original books for Avengers material, so hopefully it will not have all been for naught, but in the meantime, I hear the Valiant revival is doing pretty well...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Chronicles of Wormwood Volume 2: The Last Battle (2011)

There's a term used throughout this collection, "bitching out." Maybe it's an English thing, but that means something else entirely in the States. In what appears to be a prophylactic self-criticism, The Last Battle pussies out in a variety of ways, and seems to ask that you not judge it too harshly as it does so. What I'll be doing in this review is bitching out.

The first volume was like a Cliff's Notes encapsulation of Ennis' career long assault on Christian hypocrisy, as skewered by an unwilling metrosexual Antichrist with the help of a brain-damaged African-American second coming of Jesus Christ and a talking bunny named Jimmy. Presumably it was successful enough to warrant a sequel four years later with art by a higher end former DC Comics talent than was normally seen at Avatar. The problem is, after taking a literal road trip through Hell and taking on God and the Devil in one neat package, there isn't really anyplace else to go with these subjects. Instead, Ennis chose to tell a largely new type of story with preexisting characters who, while likable, aren't necessarily built for this sort of narrative.

Oscar Jimenez was an excellent choice to depict a quieter, more intimate struggle, but after the audacious comedy of the Burrows series, the disparity between volumes is as clear visually as it becomes textually. At about the halfway point, the primary concern of the plot is pushed to the back burner to bring up forced leftovers, including a primary villain with dubious motivation and underwhelming goals. At the same time, back-peddling on a concern related to Jesus also seems a bit pussy, like a means of addressing some unintended subtext by writing it out. Wormwood is still a well intentioned and pleasant enough read if you have an appropriate tolerance for disembowelment/deviant porn/etc., but it seems like a slight and unnecessary follow-up where it might have benefited Ennis to shape his main plot into something fresher in a different context. As it stands, if Rosemary's Baby had given birth to a Two Jakes, well, here you go.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

nurghophonic jukebox: "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe" by Whale

Written By: Whale
Released: 1994
Album: We Care
Single?: Top 40 international hit, #24 on U.S. Modern Rock Tracks chart

While I was a longtime music fan when it came to country and pop, I didn't really get into alternative music until I was introduced to the short-lived Houston radio station The Rocket by a couple of teenagers I worked with when I first started moonlighting at a comic shop. The station was blessed with a complete absence of DJs and very limited-to-no commercials in the early days. I was working most nights as a security guard, and the exposure to a wealth of classic new wave/goth plus the best in contemporary college rock helped keep me vital in the witching hour. Hearing this novelty tune always sends me back to the days of stomping around a parking lot and doing cartwheels to keep myself awake. I'm sure the lolita-chic of the video helped soften my heart to other Swedish bands, including my personal favorite, the Cardigans. Sadly, one day robo-DJs turned up, then more commercials, then super obnoxious live jocks. The Rockets basketball team probably took exception to the name, and Clear Channel ended up turning the station into "The Buzz." Twenty years later, the "modern alternative rock" station is still playing the same goddamned grunge songs like Kurt Cobain was frozen in carbonite, plus when the metal station folded in favor of reggaeton, they added "Mandatory Metallica" for maximum sell-out. I tried to dig up some more Whale when P2P was big, but yeah, you can basically call it a day right here without missing anything.

You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!
You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!

Baby, we don't love ya
Baby, we don't love ya, baby, yeah!
Baby, we don't love ya
Baby, we don't love ya, baby, yeah!
Baby, we don't love ya
Baby, we don't love ya, baby, yeah!

Seeking candy, on the shore
Lost her eyesight, teeth are poor
Left for dead, back for more
Left for dead...

Seeking candy, who sleeps around
Araid of telling, tiny sounds
Left for dead, left for good (seeking candy)
Left for dead, not understood (back for more)

But you... (back for more)
Always came back for more...

You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!
You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!
You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!
You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! yeah!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Seeking candy, out of line
Broken kneecap, velvet spine
Left for dead, left for good (seeking candy)
Left for dead, misunderstood. (back for more)

But you... (back for more)
Always came back for more...

You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!
You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!
You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!
You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!

Baby, we don't love ya, (seeking candy)
Baby, we don't love ya, baby, yeah! (out of line)
Baby, we don't love ya, (broken kneecap)
Baby, we don't love ya, baby, yeah! (velvet spine)
Baby, we don't love ya, (left for dead)
Baby, we don't love ya, baby, yeah! (left for good)
Baby, we don't love ya, (left for dead)
Baby, we don't love ya, baby, yeah! (misunderstood)

You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!
You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!
You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!
You hobo humpin' slobo babe
Get it off, get off, get off of me!

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
(seeking candy)
(back for more)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Victories Volume 1: Touched (2013)

Michael Avon Oeming loved those high end late 80s/early 90s deconstructionist super-hero comics. I don’t personally know the guy or much of anything about him, but there’s some pages here where his storytelling techniques are so Sienkiewicz that he might as well have skinned the guy and turned the cured flesh into a suit and looked into a mirror saying he’d fuck himself. However, Oeming’s surface style is from an entirely different planet, so he can’t dazzle you into forgetting about a pedestrian Frank Miller action yarn through hoity-toity art school jazz hands. His latest creator-owned series The Victories was also sold with the exploitative zeal of a Millarworld travesty. “If you like to get fucked up and do fucked up shit—in imaginary spandex adventures—work out your problems with women and minorities by pandering to your basest desires in another bestselling mini-series soon to be optioned for a major motion picture: ID MONSTER!” I don’t have many reviews of Mark Millar books up on this blog, because I caught on to his one trick early, and it’s odious.

Back to Oeming, I didn’t approach this book as a fan by any stretch, since I’ve never embraced any of his creator owned projects or partnerships with Brian Michael Bendis. I thought he was a good match for Andy Helfer on DC’s short lived licensing of Judge Dredd around the time of the Stallone movie, but otherwise, he didn’t float my boat. Between my history with the guy and my disdain for the type of book Dark Horse made The Victories out to be, you could say I was a hostile audience. Also, did I mention that the book is called The Victories? We’re officially out of good names for super-teams.

The first two issues collected in this volume didn’t leave me questioning my initial prejudice. It’s one of those near future dystopias where half the narration comes from clearly biased news reports and every figure of authority is hopelessly corrupt, so that the populace prays for one brave libertarian avenger to restore liberty. Blech. There’s the usual cussing and ultraviolence, with a particular fetish for dismemberment you’d think would give an Islamic fundamentalist a hard-on. The protagonist is pre-Miller Daredevil making wisecracks like the second rate Spider-Man that he was, but in a Post-Miller/Mazzuchelli world of sadistic super-freaks. The team isn’t introduced until the second issue, predictably a bunch of assholes and a collection of tropes.

A funny thing happened in the third issue, though. For one, the hero turned out to be African-American, which wasn’t quite clear earlier on, because his race is completely inconsequential to the story. Secondly, his cool vigilante name is Faustus, but rather than being an arbitrary selection, that name was relevant to the story being told. Third, while this is meant to be a team book, Oeming was taking the time to thoroughly introduce this one member so that he's fully fleshed out and distinct from any other super-heroes, rather than the endless parade of analogues that are either slaves to a plot or promised depths that are never actualized. Fourth, this isn’t another nihilistic joy ride, but in fact a book dealing with the very real consequences of the types of transgressive acts Brian Azzarello trades in. Finally, The talking heads on the televisions began to sound less like pastiche and more like the writer addressing the all too familiar excesses of partisan media in an increasingly fascistic environment.

Rather than serving as a vehicle for propaganda or jumping on the sleaze circuit, Oeming is employing his many and obvious influences to tell a personal, human story, hopefully the first in an anthology vehicle more in line with Kurt Busiek’s Astro City than Garth Ennis’ The Boys. In some ways, it speaks to a truer form of heroism than the early tales of Peter Parker overcoming impossible odds to face common concerns. While darker and more adult, Oeming’s book is about inspiring people to rise above the horrors of life to make something better of their world. We could use more books like this, and I’m happy that Oeming finally set me straight on where he was coming from. I look forward to seeing what he has in store for the next volume...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wednesday Is J.L.A.te For All I Care #176

Justice League of America #2 (2013)
Justice League of America #3 (2013)
Justice League of America's Vibe #2
Justice League of America's Vibe #3

Justice League of America #2 (DC, 2013, $2.99)
I've always had a fondness for the Secret Society of Super-Villains, so I'm happy to see them get a steady, ominous reveal, as opposed to the bait and switch that was Villains United almost (God help me) a decade back. Besides missing Amanda Waller's girth and her ability to walk the fine line of anti-heroism without falling off, it also seems like a good portion of her brains went M.I.A. as well. In a world with a finite number of powerful, viable super-heroes that the government could wrangle to serve their purposes, you don't throw a whole team at a wall to see who sticks versus splatters against unknown hostiles. Then again, Geoff Johns wrote her, so what was I expecting? A lot of that seems to be in service to rebuilding Steve Trevor, so I'm torn between being glad a classic himbo is back in the game and one of the few female African-American comic book icons being ruined in favor of a blue-eyed, blond haired white male. The lead story is rife with "because" with insufficient "why," and what's the point in teasing a conflict with the main Justice League if you draw their facsimiles as obvious robots? Also, David Finch's proportions were awful in some scenes, but I'll still take his dark mood and detailing over most of the flashier Image style artists DC now employs.

There's also a Martian Manhunter back-up story, which recalled a scene from the '80s event mini-series Legends where our hero saved a different president during a time of paranoia against super-heroes. Matt Kindt's script is okay, but he has a problem with repeating words like "gentle" and "country," sometimes in the same line of dialogue, and should therefore take advantage of (assuming he proofread at all.) The real draw in the artwork. I was very much not a fan of the late Scott Clark's efforts on Brightest Day, but I had at one time appreciated his style considerably, and this final effort is a visual feast. I'm sure there's some digital age cheating going on here, but the fine line feathering used on the figures is lovely, and Scott goes completely insane with the crosshatching on not-John Jones/The Manhunter. There are only three images of the Alien Atlas in this entire story, but I fully expect them to be extensively repurposed, because each one is wicked sweet. This here is a Da Vinci demigod of extraterrestrial origin, and I'll mourn for the pages of Clark art we'll never get to see.

Justice League of America #3 (DC, 2013, $2.99)
I'm mildly amused that the first five issues of this series are placed under the heading of one story arc that will surely be collected as such in a trade paperback. It reads more like a Prelude to Infinite Crisis type thing, collecting disparate issues of comics by varied creative teams that all lead into an actual story, despite having the same writer and only two different artists. There's two pages used to establish Stargirl and an adversarial relationship with Amanda Waller, and then that's backburned. The previous issue ended on a cliffhanger, so there's an action sequence and that part wraps up inside nine pages. Then, mid-issue, a new plot is initiated, crosses over with an issue of Catwoman in between panels, reenlists Green Arrow as a team member despite dismissing him unnecessarily last issue, then ends on another cliffhanger. That Green Arrow thing especially needs to be paid off at a later date, like maybe Steve Trevor wanted to disassociate from Ollie to keep him as an ace in the hole against Amanda Waller, or something. Speaking of whom, if there's one thing that bugs me about this book, it's that the characters are drawn so archly, they lack the layers previous demonstrated by other writers and become shrill. For instance, Vibe is a slightly nervous rookie with sound logic and critical thinking in his own book, where here he's a bumbling neurotic moron who is constantly on the verge of dying or accidentally killing others. It's much. I continue to be amazed that David Finch is willing to draw nine panel pages with each panel featuring a ridiculously fine line on details, even if its weird how he'll cram important information into minuscule boxes while offering disproportionate space to trivialities (like the two page spread of an empty conference table in #2.)

As with last month, the Martian Manhunter back-up is an art driven affair that's a pleasure to look at but otherwise could be done without. There are glimpses from earlier in the lives of Catwoman and Martian Manhunter, which perhaps confirms that J'Onn J'Onzz's comfort with killing is more Denny O'Neil than J.M. DeMatteis, but doesn't say much else. The Martian's natural form has been tweaked to be more "kewl" but less distinctive. Matt Kindt does that repetitive script thing, this time with whole lines rather than just words. This is probably the best art I've ever seen from Manuel Garcia though, with complimentary coloring from Jeff Chang. With this character, I'll take inoffensive and easy on the eyes, but with most I'd set the bar higher.

Justice League of America's Vibe #2 (DC, 2013, $2.99)
Vibe stops a robbery and an alien invasion, but not under expected circumstances nor with any appreciable level of difficulty. This issue felt very much like a placeholder or a series of deleted scenes, weaving in and out of sequences from Justice League of America #1 & 2, advancing subplots without a true core story of its own to tell. Pete Woods' contributions to the art improved from the debut issue, but since he was sharing chores with Andres Guinaldo and a slew of inking hands, the overall quality was inconsistent. I'm not at all keen on Gypsy's new backstory, Cisco remains a calculatingly inoffensive bore, and how many reminders do we need that Amanda Waller is in a shady business? At least there's a gentle humor on display in the script by Geoff Johns & Andrew Kreisberg, a rarity in the New 52.

Justice League of America's Vibe #3 (DC, 2013, $2.99)
Sterling Gates doesn't quite keep up the humor of the previous writers (gone so soon,) but he does immediately move Vibe past being a well-intentioned patsy into a more thoughtful and challenging protagonist. The story itself was dull, probably due to the forced inclusion of Kid Flash as part of the "What The Fifty-Two" line wide stunt. Don't get me wrong-- the series to date has been building toward a confrontation with "a" Flash, and the meeting marks a turning point in the plot line, but there's no emotional resonance to the actual interaction between the characters. The fight/team-up is a boon for exposition, not entertainment. I continue to find Pete Woods to be one of the dullest artists currently working on a regular basis, so it's almost galling that he can't even lend visual consistency by drawing an entire issue on his own. However, secondary artist Fabiano Neves has been toiling at Dynamite for years, so it's great to see him on a decent book I'd actually buy. Unlike Woods, Neves draws Vibe as heroic with consistent facial features from panel to panel, bringing welcome elements of Kevin Maguire, Steve Lightle, and Darick Robertson to the table with a slight Bronze Age vibe. It really perks up a saggy, perfunctory tale. Of course, either artist would be preferable to Brett Booth, who begins a run of hideous covers here. I really liked that guy on Backlash, but it now occurs to me that every character in that book wore a full featureless face mask or were furries, so his predilection toward using Jimmy Durante as his primary model wasn't as obvious.


Blog Archive


Surrender The Pink?
All books, titles, characters, character names, slogans, logos, and related indicia are trademarks and/or copyright of their respective rights holders.