Monday, January 28, 2013

A Frank Review of S. Darko (2009)

The Short Version? Darker, but full of S.
What Is It? Indie drama with some sci-fi/horror elements.
Who Is In It? Lilo, Sol Star, Nomi Malone
Should I See It? Maybe.

As of today, I still haven't reviewed Donnie Darko for this blog because of my ambivalence towards it. I rented it a few weeks after it turned up on the new release rack at the ratty local video store without any foreknowledge, drawn to the intriguing cover art and cast. I was fascinated by it, seeking out answers to the many questions it posed. I evangelized for it in the early years, and still have a framed poster up on my wall. However, the more I learned about the picture, the more it tainted my enjoyment. It went from the puzzling little flick no one had heard of to enough of a favorite of the Hot Topic crowd that Gary Jules' cover of "Mad World" got radio play. The film's official website and commentary track contradicted my personal interpretation of the movie. The Director's Cut proved that George Lucas isn't the only creator oblivious to why his movie resonated with audiences. Richard Kelly's follow-up film Southland Tales was a debacle, his script for Domino was shitty, and I never even bothered with The Box. I'm sure I've sat through Donnie Darko into the double digits, and virtually no film could survive that much analysis by a hypercritical asshole like me in just barely a decade.

On the plus side, I approached S. Darko with a relatively open mind, rather than as the gutting of a sacred cow. This is after all a sequel disavowed by all but one party involved with the original production, arriving direct to DVD eight years later. One should probably lower ones expectations, given the optimism necessary to walk in with the hope this thing would be bearable, much less any good. S. Darko is, in fact, any good. Not great, not even good, but decent enough to not shame the original or be any sort of trial for the viewer. Like most DTV sequels, S. Darko reverse engineers Donnie Darko, then attempts to rebuild it with sufficient enough differences to appear to be something new. Screenwriter Nathan Atkins clearly has love for the original, but no actual insights into it, or interesting tangents to spin off from it. Instead, he just redresses it in the clothing of a bumfuck noir with a bit of Run, Lola, Run spliced in.

A text scroll in a cursive font straight from some store bought editing software announced that this film would take place seven years after the first. Tough to tell, because aside from a gender change and severe lack of Echo & The Bunnymen, the films open exactly the same. Like fifty quintillion other movies, a road trip through the desert leads to a steaming radiator and folks getting stranded in a small town. Donnie Darko was a troubled youth too smart for his own good with geeky friends and a quirky relationship with his family. Younger sister Samantha Darko is a sort of hippy pixie blank with a bitchy, semi-slutty best friend, the sort of odd couple rarely seen outside of movies, in a very movie setting, written by a man who has likely seen more movies than life. Where Donnie Darko bathed in its period setting, S. Darko offers obligatory nods through references to O.J. and a few unfortunate fashion choices. Donnie had a killer mixtape soundtrack with an equally affecting score. This was one area where S. at least tries, with a solid if repetitive score by Ed Harcourt. After a lackluster source track or two, I started thinking of some period singles minor enough to be affordable, and was pleased when I nailed Whale's "Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe." The new stab at The Church was Catharine Wheel, reasonably enough. The cinematography is pretty nice, as well.

Daveigh Chase as Samantha Darko is very pretty, looks creepy in make-up during some green screen sequences, and I suppose does what she can with the character. Briana Evigan is wonderful at channeling the shitty add-on characters in '90s sequels to horror franchises, recalling Rocky in Phantasm III, Julie Walker in Return of the Living Dead 3, and the filmography of Kelly Jo Minter. I seriously mean that as a compliment, because the daughter of B.J. of "the Bear" fame looks hot in short shorts, plays her character type pitch perfect, and is the most legitimate '90s element. The biggest names in the supporting cast include a commendable if minor performance from John Hawkes and a sound Elizabeth Berkley. Not a single character has a fraction of the life of those featured in Donnie, they're all stock taken wholesale from other films, and their stories aren't layered throughout the plot so much as globs of undissolved packaged mix. It's hard to tell if the acting is terrible, or the characters are horrendous on the page, but it's usually a bit of both.

In commentary, the creators tried to lay claim to intentional incomprehensibility. Since they recycle so much from Donnie Darko, if you halfway figured out one, it explains the other. Since the characters are so obvious, the perceived bad guys are, the perceived good-hearted crazies are, and the "left field" turns of a few characters come with a GPS. There are no mysteries here, because your first impressions should bear out. Rather than perplexing, it's plodding, because you're waiting for these nothing characters to get to places you saw coming immediately.

You may get a sense of great disappointment or anger from this review, but neither is true. The film is samey samey, like an album by an okay band full of rewrites of other band's hits. Dido's "Don't Think of Me" isn't Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," but I don't mind listening to it. If you really, really loved Donnie Darko, and it isn't enough to watch other mindfuck pictures-- you need something approaching a carbon copy, S. Darko might be just the tribute bar band for you. That, or you'll shave your hair into a mohawk and roam the studio grounds with an assault rifle.


  • The Making of S. Darko This is great! Fifteen minutes of filmmakers trying to make themselves believe that this was more than a naked classless cash grab, all while produced by "Darko 2 LLC." Vindication through the actress behind the least interesting, most sold-out member of the Darko clan agreeing to reprise her role. Another highlight includes pointing out that "The Director's Cut" sucked, too. Plus, profuse apologizing and hand wringing toward Richard Kelly and his fans.
  • Commentary with Director Chris Fisher, Writer Nathan Atkins, and Cinematographer Marvin V. Rush Less defensive than the "making of" doc, but still refreshingly candid/deluded. How many direct homages do you need in a movie that is already wholly dependent in style and substance on another movie? Considering some of the best things about this movie were source tracks from Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins, don't slag on the music of '95 just because you can't afford 1988 Duran Duran.
  • Utah Too Much Behind the scenes and a music video for a surprisingly alright country novelty tune.
  • Deleted Scenes You don't tend to have a lot of material left on the floor in a four million dollar production, so these are brief and few. The cuts are understandable, but more because they belabor points made elsewhere in the film, rather than any deficit of quality in comparison to the rest of the flick.
  • S. Darko Trailer and additional random trailers, although Notorious featuring the rap sampling of Sparkle Motion's signature song is tres apropos.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

wednesday is a Gothboy Revenge Fantasy for all I care #171

The Crow: Death & Rebirth #1
The Crow: Skinning the Wolves #1
Empowered Special #3
Monocyte #1 (2011)

The Crow: Death & Rebirth #1 (IDW, 2012, $3.99)
I remember first encountering images of Jim O'Barr's Crow in places like CSN and thinking how cool and sexy they were. What a crime that, as best as I can tell, every comic book about the Crow is shit. Armed emo mime vigilante? It's like taking everything people like about the Joker and pouring it from a shot glass into a gut-busting 44oz. convenience store plastic cup and then pissing into that Big Gulp until you reach the rim and handing the heavily diluted and polluted contents to a sensitive guitar strumming lad in middle school. It won't give you cancer or 'nothin', but these comics are just bad and wrong and their very existence is unfortunate.

For instance, the original comic was created as a way for the writer/artist to work through the pain of the death of his girlfriend in a car accident. So of course, he creates a book about a white couple who are raped and murdered by the most stereotypically negroidal subhumans a card-carrying NRA radical could conjure in his tiny little mind, until the boy ghost comes back to smear make-up on to become whiter than white and shoot the darkies all to hell before ascending to a lovely light-skinned heaven. And people love the fuck out of it, and they made several bad movies and a TV series, and Barr has happily licensed this property at varying rates for hands, mouth, pussy, asshole, ears, eyeholes, and other new violently rent openings to any sweaty john with the bills to pay.

The Crow has been turned out so hard with so little conscience that it's ventured into that weird territory of long-toothed horror and softcore franchises where nobodies are handed the keys to the franchise and drive far afield. This little diddy is about a kid bonding with his future father-in-law over feudal swordplay in Japan until his best girl (and their random mutual acquaintance before her) get kidnapped and have old money minds downloaded into their jacked bodies. Both the art and story are passable, but this is still a sci-fi shark jump at a water park that specializes in jumping sharks that has joined Leprechaun and Emmanuelle in boldly going into genre tweaks better franchises would never dream of. It's no Jason X is what I'm saying, and rest soundly in the knowledge that despite the location and other participants, our hero remains as white as ever, peckerwood.

The Crow: Skinning the Wolves #1 (IDW, 2012, $3.99)
I don't know if Jim O'Barr has ever had a "glorious" return to his franchise. I could probably research it easily, since the guy's decades old career is just a string of extremely short-lived failures (typically 1-3 issues) and other people doing the Crow for him. Still, that might be more work than O'Barr put into this book, and I just won't have that.

O'Barr is credited with story and breakdowns, except the finished art looks more like Frank Cho's thumbnails and I suspect Jim Terry deserves most of the credit/blame for the writing and drawing. That would be The Jim Terry, of Nothing Else Ever fame. I'm guessing O'Barr's main contribution was having read that one Wolverine story where he's in a concentration camp, but rather than liberating it, he just keeps dying and reviving to fuck with some Nazi. O'Barr was all "fuck, I can be more stupid and skeevy than that." He called it, if only by dragging it out into a mini-series and having this Crow blowing goosesteppers' faces off in despicable gorenography exploitative fashion. Nothing in this issue gives the impression that the creators see the prisoners as any more human than their real life captors did, and O'Barr's had a Teutonic fixation for his entire career, so this book is for people who see Chris Cooper's character in American Beauty as a role model (though they refuse to own up to how much they truly dug the "faggot stuff.")

Empowered Special #3 (Dark Horse, 2012, $3.99)
Let's take a break from all that trenchcoat brigade spank material for the greater sophistication of titstitstitstitstitstitstitstitstitstits and asssssssssssssssssss. But seriously, this is the latest edition in a series of stopgaps to cover for how much longer it takes Adam Warren to get the original graphic novels done with the thin excuse of bringing in guest artists and color pages. I'm harsh on this book, but let me be clear in stating that it is far more fun and inventive and thoughtfully constructed and vital than any female fronted mainstream comic on the stand, shaming them while still being slutty its own self. I buy them because they deserve to be bought, unlike most of the garbage I review.

Monocyte #1 (IDW, 2011, $3.99)
Menton Matthews III needs to be slapped like a bitch, if only for taking an already horrible given name and rendering it execrable with the pseudonym "Menton3." If he'd used superscript, a closed fist would have been required. Based on his work in this comic though, knuckles may still need to come into play. The story is the worst kind of pedantic teenybopper pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook where I guess the Robo-Republican Party throws down with the Orthodox-Protestant-Scientological-Religion=Bad BishoPriests from that Vin Diesel movie. This is laid out over two pages covered in typeset text, while the rest of the book is splash pages and sparse retarded dialogue. The illustrations are of the Templesmith/Wood school (which if you like, might I interest you in a bit of backhand for yourself?) with occasional flashes of Brom (nowhere near enough.) The "hero" is a bone-dagger firing alien Moses with one eye (mono-sight?) and his adventures are capital D U M B and slight. More intellectual, philosophical, theological, and novelistic consideration can be found in the works of Todd McFarlane, and his take on the Antedeluvians woulda bin da bomb.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Wednesday Spans Time & Geography For All I Care #170

47 Ronin #1
Caligula: Heart of Rome #1
Great Pacific #1
To Hell You Ride #1

47 Ronin #1 (Dark Horse, 2012, $3.99)
The guy who publishes Dark Horse and occasionally co/writes comics nobody gets much excited about has had a hard-on for a piece of Japanese history/folklore for decades. I'm sure Stan Sakai wasn't his first choice to draw it, because he could have probably gotten Sakai to do it years ago. It looks good, and it's kind of nice to see Sakai draw human beings, but his style always make you wonder when the punchline is going to roll in. Might as well have gotten Sergio Aragonés, Sakai so undermines any attempt at dramatic gravitas. It doesn't really matter though, because this is another tale of feudal Japan in an industry stuffed fat with same. You also have to figure the story of the 47 Ronin is as familiar to the Japanese as Paul Revere's ride or the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which is to say overly familiar and likely done better elsewhere.

Caligula: Heart of Rome #1 (Avatar, 2012, $3.99)
I'm loving my new comic book supplier, because instead of offering hefty discounts on five boring ass totally mainstream books as a loss leader, the new guys spread the love a bit to get me to sample books I might actually enjoy. I still have a hearty "fuck you" to publishing at the $4 price point, but at least the odds of getting a trade are much better.

I've enjoyed David Lapham's writing more often than not in recent years, and the stuff he's done that I want to read has tended to be at Avatar. Going into a book from this company called "Caligula," I really expected a lot more incestuous rapey stuff. Everything I know about Caligula came from Bob Guccione, and all that Starz Spartacus stuff isn't much less porny. The cock and the pussy do make appearances here, but I was surprised to find it was in the context of a supernatural serial killer thriller. It's also a sequel, so much of the book is telling what happened in and since the first mini-series. I wish all those Aspen primers worked this well, but as an entity intended to stand alone, I couldn't quite get excited about it. German Nobile's art is nice, but I was getting Innovation flashbacks from the product as a whole.

Great Pacific #1 (Image, 2012, $2.99)
Thirty-one pages for three bucks is a good deal, and I like Martin Morazzo art. Even Joe Harris' story is involving, and yet, it's an ecological thriller. That's like a contradiction in terms. I honestly don't believe a desirable existence for humankind will make it out of the 21st century, and I look forward to dying childless and uninvested once things get bad enough that I'm ready to check out, yet I simply cannot get excited about an ecological thriller. Maybe its the "saving humanity" part I don't like, since if this were a horror title depicting the inconvenient truth of our collective doom, the toxic cynic in me might have appreciated that. Getting back to the smutty talk from Caligula, some things simply don't hit the sweet spot in your brain to trigger an erectile response. Good effort-- wish you guys the best-- but I'm simply not a foot fetishist.

To Hell You Ride #1 (Dark Horse, 2012, $3.99)
Here's another starfucking Virgin style leftover, but that much sadder when the tired old prick emptying his nutsack down the throats of comic industry creative man-whores is merely grizzled character actor Lance Henriksen, who of course gets drawn into the book in a supporting role. Get this: Native Americans get drunk and ornery until the spirits of their ancestors do some fucked up plains full body scalping shit. Nothing as painful as a white guy of Norwegian descent tackling the plight of the American Indian while strip mining their culture for an elevator pitch. Some dude I never heard of does the actual typing up of a purple-tinged slow moving "cinematic" script. Tom Mandrake does his best with it, though the scanning and coloring of his art is kind of funky in places.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Frank Review of "V/H/S" (2012)

The Short Version? More found footage. Yay?
What Is It? Horror Anthology.
Who Is In It? The directors' friends and neighbors.
Should I See It? No.

I'm just old enough to remember all the different ways people used to watch movies, from drive-ins to filthy downtown spankhouses. Grandmothers would tune in to the afternoon Million Dollar Movie showcase, kids would watch the Saturday afternoon kung-fu flicks or stay up late for wretched horror movie presentations hosted by local actors in make-up. It was a huge deal when a 2+ year old movie would debut on network television, less so when tired shit would work its way down to UHF. There was sometimes that one really insane cinephile who had copies of favorites available to project on super-8 film. You used to have to work hard to find a movie you wanted to see, and the when/where/what of your viewing experience was pretty much always determined by a higher power greater than yourself. Even with cable, a programmer decided that you'd be catching bits of a limited selection replayed throughout a month, and that you'd have to stay up until at least 10 p.m. before you could masturbate to European softcore.

Home video changed everything. Betamax and VHS meant never having to ask anyone's permission to watch any movie that you could get your hands on. Every town had a video store, and every video store had uncut obscurities on the main shelves and a back room for pornography you'd have to wait way later than Skinemax After Dark to sneak off with so your parents didn't know you'd pilfered their stash, but was so much more worth it once you did. The horror section fully embraced the grindhouse aesthetic, with covers as lurid and disgusting as the law would allow. I was seriously too afraid to watch some of that stuff until I was an adult, only to find little committed to those spools of tape that warranted the hard sell of the boxes. VHS was gratuitous; it was the freedom to indulge the id monster on anything you were brave enough to walk up to a clerk and ask to check out.

On the other hand, as I said and as with most things, there was a lot more sizzle than steak. The internet changed everything again, and with a few strokes of the keys in a search engine I can see real people tortured to death, or having sex with exotic animals, or whatever else the demented mind can conceive. It's easy to become desensitized, and for all its LCD pandering, memories of the video store and VHS format are comparatively quaint. They mostly recall the '80s, with all its cheese and flash and very occasional glory.

If you're going to make a movies that combines the letters V/H/S in the title, you're creating specific expectations in the minds of people for whom those letters would be a relevant selling point. One of the main complaints film geeks seemed to have about Planet Terror was that on the Grindhouse bill, everyone else had conformed to expectations of '70s exploitation cinema, whereas the soul of Robert Rodriguez's zombie spectacle was clearly from someplace nearer to the summer of 1986. What I saw of House of the Devil was boring as fuck, but as a production it was memorable for its fidelity to the referenced time period, down to releasing it in a collectable oversized VHS box that served as marque advertisement space in the video store days.

The only thing evocative in V/H/S is its selling viewers on one kind of movie, delivering quite another, and totally pissing people off as a result. It is another tedious millennial "found footage" feature of narcissistic self-documentation. One of the obvious reasons why you didn't see this sort of thing among the self-possessed of early generations is because VHS was a cumbersome format that necessitated recording with a hefty camera. Aside from annoying VHS artifacts like blue screens and static between cuts, this movie looks to have been recorded on someone's iPhone. Despite being an anthology with multiple directors and screenwriters, nearly every segment involves the same group of obnoxious buzzed fratboys indulging in voyeurism until being ripped to pieces by one unimaginative and obtuse threat after another. There's a banal lo-fi repetition very much of the internet age, like clicking on one "similar videos" link after another on a hosting site.

The bridging sequence involves douchebags who turn a profit from sharking and home invasions watching a trove of mysterious VHS tapes without regard for the increasing likelihood of getting caught. The first segment might as well have featured the exact same group of characters, only this time covertly recording chicks at a bar and an attempt to score with two in a hotel room that predictably goes very wrong. The second segment chronicles a couple's road trip that plods along until a last second "twist" reveal that's ineffectively set up. If you give it any thought at all afterward, it will come down to logistics, not characters. The third feature is a post-Scream meta summer camp slasher exercise that plays like a looped sample of a song you never liked much in the first place forming the spine of a new tune you enjoy even less. The best of the set involves a believable couple's Skyping sessions that tells a complete, affective horror story. The linking vignette ends early after playing out exactly as expected and far outliving interest. Likely having recognized this, the final segment launches. It once again involves a group of obnoxious guys filming shenanigans, but at least they turn out to be a decent sort, not that it does them any good. The editing on this one was the strongest, but the story and characters were representatively thin, serving to remind how poor and familiar the whole affair was.


  • Cast & Crew Audio Commentary One viewing was enough, thanks.
  • Alternate Ending (10/31/98) Trimmed off for effectiveness.
  • More Tuesday the 17th Because you always want more in a found footage feature, right?
  • Amateur Night - Balloon Night Behind the scenes of the short's ending effects.
  • Webcam Interviews
  • Cast & Crew Interviews Just under thirty minutes.
  • AXS TV: A Look at V/H/S
  • Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery
  • Conceptual Design Gallery - Lily
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Also from Magnolia Home Entertainment

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wednesday Is Everything Old Nü Again For All I Care #169

Cable and X-Force #1 ("2013")
Deathmatch #1
Masks #1
New Avengers #1 (2013)

Cable and X-Force #1 (Marvel, 2012, $3.99)
Like a closeted Nazi, I hate the mutant books with a passion only found in familial intimacy with the subject of persecution. I dropped the first volume of X-Force with #25, pick up a new edition twenty years later, and the title is still so this. Did they ever develop Domino beyond "girl with gun?" Can't tell. Cable's finally free of that technovirus, but he still affects it with technology and a Nick Fury eye patch. Human beings in first world countries don't wear eye patches anymore. Dude's got a billion dollars in weaponry, but he can't buy a relatively common prosthetic for his rogue facehole? I still kind of like Forge, but only kinda. I never liked Colossus, and literally all he does is run through a wall. I'd never heard of Doctor Nemesis, but apparently Marvel now needs to copyright public domain golden age characters created by other companies, because they don't have enough IP to manage already. Not Jean Grey v3.0 is here, but she's not on the one billionth Usual Suspects police line-up swipe cover, so I guess that's a temporary thing. Everybody is mad at mutants again, because a bunch of them pulled some fucked-up shit last year, as is par. In reaction, this is the militaristic Black Panther Party of anti-discrimination initiatives, one of several flavors. I've seriously missed nothing in all this time, have I?

I'll take my fist out of the book's asshole for a second to say that for what it is, Cable and X-Force is surprisingly readable. I haven't had much exposure to Dennis Hopeless, and a quick glance at his bio suggests that no one else has either, but his ability to make a property I detest palatable through snarky dialogue and glossing over mutie minutia is commendable. I see he did a Legion of Monsters mini-series, and he might be doing something with Thanos, so this worked as an advertisement to get me to try his other efforts. The art is pedestrian as these things go. Salvador Larroca has always been that guy who draws like another guy you like better, which in this case is any other version of Salvador Larroca on record. I'd guess he didn't spend five years drawing Iron Man so that he could get stuck doing one of two X-Force titles at this stage of his career. But hey, this didn't suck near as bad as it could have, so let us move along.

Deathmatch #1 (BOOM!, 2012, $1.00)
What does it say about our culture that this is only one of two current books in which super-people are forced into lethal gladiatorial combat by mysterious beings working toward unrevealed ends? I suppose that comics ripping it off is much easier and more gratifying these days than tired Comic Code Approved variations on Ben Hur, Rollerball, and the like on this very old recurring premise.

While Marvel is busy murdering D-list teen characters for profit, BOOM! advertised analogues of all your favorite heroes in no-holds-barred mortal combat. They didn't quite deliver, not because of any 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 RPG, they're not transparently derivative enough to fulfill the role of 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 fails to properly cash-in by baiting-and-switching on readers to deliver work of unexpected quality. Even if you find the premise unsavory, the writing and art are simply too good to pass on at this price, and I only hope I can get as good a deal on the trade I'm now intent on buying. In one issue, this is already better than anything else I've tried at BOOM!, including the vaguely similar but thinner Irredeemable. 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, though we do still get the violent death for those who'd miss it.

Masks #1 (Dynamite, 2012, $3.99)
At some point during the interminable Earth X, I got over Alex Ross. He's still capable of impressing me at times, but I'm not a fan overall, and I in fact have an aversion to a lot of his work these days. I did not expect him to paint the entire 22-page story in this comic, especially after his brief guest contributions to other Dynamite comics sold under the strength of his drawing power. I'm sure producing this work took months of effort, and were I to ever be given the opportunity to have Ross paint that much of a story for me, I'd give it my all.

Let's say though that there was some kind of rush, like Ross had some sort of tax bill that needed paying, and an issue of continuity work somehow paid more than 22 covers, but Ross needed a script immediately. Chris Roberson's the guy DC hired to write the second half of "Grounded" when J. Michael Straczynski couldn't be bothered to finish his critically panned year long Superman epic. It's generally acknowledged that Roberson's half was way less shitty, and he has the spare time after his quit/firing from DC over Dan Didio's delicate feelings when it comes to being called out publicly over his lack of ethics. In this extremely unlikely hypothetical scenario, Roberson makes sense as the hired hand to bring in, and he is without a doubt the least bad writer-lackey Ross has employed, in my opinion.

All this having been established, you'd think a writer would work and rework his script as often as possible until it could match as best as possible the scale inherent in a piece painted by Ross. Instead, this reads like the kind of navelgazing, by-and-for hardcore fanboys, unsophisticated first draft that we usually get when Ross plots a book. This is a comic about the first meetings between vigilante characters popular from 1930s pulp novels and radio shows whose primary audience is currently in nursing homes or dead and will not make the choice between Dynamite's pricing structure on comic books and their blood pressure meds. The biggest of the lot, The Shadow, is to the degree that he is known by anyone whose familial title doesn't end with an "a" best remembered as the subject of a 1995 Alec Baldwin flop that couldn't measure up to the low bar set by Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. I recognize that Dynamite recently started a Shadow series with Garth Ennis, and they bet big on adapting Kevin Smith's unused screenplay for the Green Hornet, but it's probably not smart policy to assume potential readers are coming into this book at all schooled enough in either character to forgo introductions. I mean, the fucking Spider? I've been applauded for my encyclopedic knowledge of comics, but even I only know the Spider from the one issue of a Tim Truman revision I read in the '90s. I never saw the movie serial this interpretation is based on. Why should I give a shit about any of these characters, especially when Ross abandons them after this single issue to replacement artist Dennis "Who?" Calero?

As is typical with a Ross project, instead of dealing with characters who need to be explored and developed, cyphers in costumes get thrown at big dumb implausible elevator pitches. Here, gangsters from across the nation make a pilgrimage to New York in order to secretly take it over and turn the entire police force into their personal army of fascistic crooks (which may be either a contradiction in terms or an oxymoron, but I can't figure which.) Beyond the issues of logistics and profit sharing, is explaining an idea that revisits a nonsensical 1938 pulp yarn more important than allowing enough space for the Shadow and Green Hornet to be introduced and interact with one another. Green Hornet is a crusading newspaperman who pretends to be a masked crimelord in order to infiltrate and destroy rackets. The Shadow is a former criminal enlightened in the East who now uses special powers and a gift for bloodletting to kill the shit out of hoodlums. Shouldn't there be little boxes somewhere in this book that explain either of those things? Better to show brief origin recaps than to just dump exposition into the text surely, but shouldn't at least that be a given. Here's another: how does the Shadow know he isn't supposed to kill the Green Hornet, who is commonly believed to be a bad guy? I just wrote a better first issue than what got printed inside your brain when you read it and pictured the possibilities. Even if you explain a confrontation away with "the Shadow knows... that evil does not lurk in the heart of this man," we need the stupid line and a basic understanding of who either of these guys are to even get what that means.

This is a book with big painted panels and a lack of essential storytelling. Even when Zorro gets arrested by Rondo Hatton, it's played so archly and is so undercooked as to barely register. Is the prosecutor guy that tries to help him the Spider? I just used Google to find out that he's the Black Bat, who I vaguely recall as a minor pulp character who influenced the creation of Batman. That's goddamned esoteric, and not in the good way, like oblique lyrics in a song. More in the impenetrable, using geeky fixations as a shield against socialization and a means of illusory superiority frame of usage. This book has barely been written in the most fundamental sense, and clearly doesn't want to be read by hardly anyone, and I'll gladly oblige it from here on out.

New Avengers #1 (Marvel, 2012, $3.99)
DC Comics is a harebrained operation where guys Marvel doesn't want and who can't get a creator owned project going try to suck off their editors for work, but only after traversing an obstacle course. It's the place to go until your career is killed like a lab mouse injected with ebola. Marvel Comics is a harebrained operation where the same bunch of white guys form a daisy chain, sucking each other's dicks and trading books. They call themselves "architects" because their company has at least a semblance of consistency, even if part of it is regurgitating each other's ideas into one another's mouths while non-"architects" wait to suck the digested shit that passes out of their asses. That's why they call it "The House of I Deals," instead of having their private areas didioled like the second cumming of Jimmy Savile.

Jonathan Hickman is an "architect" smart enough to keep his poor man's Millarworld on the backburner at Image while working on Alex Jones fanfic through increasingly higher profile work-made-for-hire. He just traded for one of Brian Michael Bendis' titles, and reinvented it by plugging the cast of a tangential Brian Michael Bendis mini-series into it that itself was inspired by a Mark Millar mini-series back when he was a quasi-architect. Hickman even got the guy who used to draw as many of fellow architect Ed Brubaker's books as possible but can't now because he got left behind in the divorce now that Ed's devoted to his own poor man's Millarworld at Image Comics. Incest is best in the House of the Mouse.

You probably expect me to start bitch-slapping their rural Alabama mountain bayou offspring at this point, but New Avengers #1 hit me in my sweet spot, which is located in Wakanda. I'm a Black Panther fan, and this entire comic was about motivating the character to join a group he was highly critical of who have since proven to be raging assholes, as predicted. This makes T'Challa the brilliant badass who is also our sympathetic POV character, an exceptional feat of recognizing that shit could only ever be pulled off in the company of extraordinary douchebags comprising the Marvel Illuminati. Even with the usual Hickman wankery of two page spreads devoted to typography and alternate dimensions that will surely lead our heroes to confronting their daddy issues/a global conspiracy conceived by King Máel Coluim mac Cináeda of Alba dating back to 1012/their writer's fixation on iconographic design elements, I'm in for the first trade just to see where this goes and whether he can pull a similar trick with Doctor Strange. I loves me some Sorcerer Supreme, and there's even Captain America in here. It's like Jack Kirby plotting for Len Wein on a John Buscema book. That deserves a chance to unspool.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Danger Club: Death (2012)

I can't remember the name "Danger Club." I'm sure a fair amount of thought went into the perfect way to evoke juvenile heroic teams of past generations, but the adverse effect is that it's too generic to embed in my memory. I keep wanting to call it "Brat Pack," and that's the problem, isn't it? I'm not particularly fond of Alan Moore, but I recognize that his influence and innovations still resound decades after initial impact. Then along comes Geoff Johns, who simply processes Moore's work through the sensibilities of his equally strong Marv Wolfman influence to create thoroughly mainstream derivative drivel and reap massive rewards as a result. I care even less for Rick Veitch than I do for Moore, and the soil of his creative legacy doesn't appear as lucratively fertile, but he still deserves a co-creator credit for this enterprise by virtue of its so blatantly being the fruit of his past imaginings. Marv Wolfman could probably take a piece as well, but he'd have to give most of it to Chris Claremont, if we followed this train of logic.

Alan Moore's Supreme comics opened with a retro splash page meant to offer the promise of a Silver Age novelty story, then spun it into a modern narrative with a punky swagger. Danger Club is so faithful to the technique that you'd be forgiven for thinking it an honorary member of the recent (and sadly failing) alt-comic revival of Rob Liefeld's Extreme properties. The line-up of Danger Club isn't as doggedly analogous as would be necessary to properly Rob, however. There's a sort of Kid Nick Fury, a young Black Zatara, and a Thor-Boy that mingles Ozymandias into its Loki. My favorite twist is a tiny girl who drives a "giant" robot not too much larger than Iron Man and named after a Flaming Lips concept album. The originality is undone by the lead character though, who is not only plainly Dick Grayson, but seems intended on recalling The Protector, a Robin stand-in created for an '80s anti-drug comic when the Boy Wonder was rendered unavailable due to a licensing conflict. That's pretty goddamn specific.

The premise of the series is Lord of the Flies writ large. All of the adult heroes fly off to take part in one of those epic universe-shaking crossover events, but never come back. Their unsupervised wards then descend into savage in-fighting, forcing Robin and his Teen Titans to go all Damian Wayne on their asses. The first issue is Batman's climactic battle with Superman in The Dark Knight Returns, played with the subtlety of kryptonite brass knuckles. When even the name publishers are riffing on Battle Royale, there's no shock value in this sort of thing anymore. From there, the teen heroes begin a multi-part battle against Doctor Blasphemy, including an ill-considered flash forward that appears to show an awful lot of hand. I say appears because the succeeding issues close out a loop started by the aforementioned prophesy, but offers no real resolution to multiple subplots left as cliffhangers in a series that hasn't published an issue since October. Another legacy of the '80s creator owned vanguard I hope the title doesn't repeat is the eternally unfinished story.

Despite it committing many sins of modern age comics, I do actually want to read more. Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones have spent the past several years working on DC's all ages titles, and this effort appears to have been given birth out of their frustrations with the restrictions of that format. Rather than thoroughly explaining gentle single issue stories for children, Danger Club is one layer of ongoing mystery cryptically laid on top of another with a definite aversion to exposition. There's a density to the artwork, both in image and in storytelling, that exposes a desire to do more with the medium than Disney Adventures Comic Zone would ever allow. The characters are drawn as realistic adolescents, part of the target demographic of the creators' work-for-hire paychecks, so the visceral quality to the violence perpetrated against them is stomach churning in a way that denies guilt free indulgence. Bratpack was fueled by a clear hatred of the genre, where Danger Club is by professionals who seem to think the New Mutants stories never rose to the challenge of the gauntlet thrown down by Bill Sienkiewicz having drawn them. There's enthusiasm and a level of overall craft on display here (Rusty Drake's coloring is as good as anything else in the book) that at the very least I can't deny Danger Club's superiority in the current market, even as it dilutes the arsenic works with which past creators tried to poison the genre to its death. Galling and totally dependent on familiarity with decades of other people's books though it may be, if a person is going to read transgressive super-hero comics (and these creators have previously produced the positively niche selection of those that are not these days,) Danger Club is one of the best possible options with which to avail oneself.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Wednesday Is A Valiant Revival For All I Care #168

Harbinger #1 (2012)
Revival #4
Revival #5
Shadowman #1 (2012)

Harbinger #1 (Valiant, 2012, $3.99)
I never read much Harbinger, though I did like the prototypes Psi-Force and D.P.7 when they were in the New Universe. I know that it was basically Scanners meets The Fury meets Firestarter, assuming there's a need to speak of those properties as separate entities. Point being, I have no nostalgia going into this revamp, and judge it on its own merits. Luckily, it has them.

I kind of doubt the old series' protagonist was an escapee from a youth psyche ward carrying a pill dependent buddy on the lam. Not only is the series grounded in a very recognizable reality, but the attention to contemporary details makes the book feel of this time without wallowing in forced "newness." Joshua Dysart's dialogue is solid, and while his plot is cinematically decompressed, there's plenty enough details within that structure to get a feel for the characters, their world, and the trajectory of the story. Khari Evans' art recalls a looser Phil Winslade, perfect for the texture of the story. I look forward to reading the trade.

Revival #4 (Image, 2012, $2.99)
I can't say this enough-- I thoroughly enjoy Mike Norton's art and he's bringing serious game to this title, but he's still an entirely inappropriate choice to draw this story. The book looks friendly and clean and light and super-heroish, even when an adulterer is lying in bed with his disemboweled guts spread all over the sheets. Everything is too beautiful to be horrifying, which means an essential element is stripped out of a supernatural thriller. I wish Hack/Slash wasn't ending, since that book is more about sex and swagger with glossy slasher action that Norton would be better suited to handle.

The cliffhanger from last issue doesn't resolve at all like a thought it might, rapidly letting the air out of the situation. A coroner pokes a charred corpse with a knife and nasty commentary, yet somehow recalls Paul Pelletier's days on Ultraverse books more than Charlie Adlard on Walking Dead. The cast really has swollen like a daytime soap opera, and looks the part, despite aiming for True Blood naughty edge. So many things work on this book, as I truly enjoy Tim Seeley's writing, but those great things appear to work in opposition of one another. It's a shame, really.

Revival #5 (Image, 2012, $2.99)
I've been getting my comics by mail order from one distributor for a decade, but their incompetence since changing hands a year or so back has seen me shop around. I've had copies of these two issues of Revival lying around for a while, and I'm pretty sure I ordered #6 from the old guys. The new guys sent me the trade collection of #1-5 last Saturday, and if #6 had been released, it would have come in a shipment that still hasn't arrived a week after the new distributors'. I mention all this because a) if you're in the same boat, jump into a lifebuoy with better packing material and b) the first arc of Revival didn't end in a fashion worthy of filling multiple paragraphs on its own.

The most interesting character in the series to date appears to buy it in this issue, and that apparent death is the only real closure to be found. Martha becomes a full-on heroine, which contributes to the undermining of the "rural noir" promised on the covers by the cartoony art. A bunch of new subplots kick in, while nothing really resolves. I'm going to switch to trades, because the book doesn't seem to work as monthly floppies, but the next collection needs to supply a better balanced story if I'm going to stick with the series in any capacity.

Shadowman #1 (Valiant, 2012, $3.99)
I made an effort, often far too much of one, to sample all of the burgeoning comic book universes of the 1990s. This explains the complete set of Comics Greatest World that I read once a piece with consistent disappointment and regret. I ended up at DC, since that was the only place that had a wealth of (sometimes interconnected) comics that I wanted to read, whereas every place else I simply cherrypicked a favorite or two. At Valiant, Shadowman was my jam, even though it was rarely all that good of a read. It simply played to my bias for nighttime avengers of heinous misdeeds, plus I loved the name, symbol, and various costumes. Bob Hall added a lot to the lore of the character, and knocked a few issues out of the park, which was enough to keep me around through the end of the first volume. I never had any use for the Garth Ennis hack job that spawned the video games.

I liked the first issue of the new volume disproportionately well when you factor in the actual quality of work. Objectively, it's a shitty half-assed mash-up of common cliche found in any number of other titles currently being published. I don't want to be that fan, but the first volume took a while to find its groove, and this book would have felt fresher by synthesizing the original and later versions of Shadowman into one all-killer, no-filler amalgam. By departing from the source material, writer Justin Jordan dives head first into the orphan with mysterious parents discovering a birthright of power to protect the night from demonic zzzzzzzzzz...

Snores and whining aside, I'll still end up buying the trade. The updated costume keeps enough of the iconic but bland first look, while giving it more of the rugged edge of the Bob Hall version. The stark white skull face is a lot tighter than the old outsized Mardi Gras mask, and the asymmetrical placement of the Shadowman symbol is a smart call. I'm not so sure about the collapsible scythe, but I guess the guy could use a trademark weapon. We've got Jack Boniface back, even though he's the character in name and looks only. I'm pretty sure his absentee father is meant to evoke Maxim St. James, a good thing. Master Darque looks tight, and the raggedy demons on the loose are decent enough early issue fodder. Patrick Zircher's art is fabulous, and Shadowman is looking tough. You know, I'm a fan of the property, and the creative team basically just have to not shake me loose. So far, it's good enough, warts and all.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Empowered Volume 7 (May, 2012)

Over a year after my belated review of the previous volume, a new Empowered came out, and I still waited another half year to read and review it. Like The Walking Dead, I have a love/hate relationship with this book's expansive cast and often meandering, repetitive narrative. Reading one Empowered takes about as long as any three trades from anybody else, and it's sometimes hard to force oneself through another scene of drunken karaoke confessions/living room whines about sexual hang-ups/extended bondage sequences/Caged Demonwolf verbiage. As with The Walking Dead, I'm sick of key surviving characters, miss the dead, and am ready for the book to progress rather than circumnavigate. On the other hand, there has yet to be an Empowered volume lacking at least some amusement, notable character development, keen concepts, and delicious art. I can always justify the purchase.

Overall, the 2011 "season" was an improvement over 2010, not that I'm trying to damn it with faint praise. It still felt "off" though, in part because of its strong focus on Ninjette and the consequence of its scale being significant shrunk. I like Ninjette as a supporting character, and remain curious to see if her infatuation with Thugboy ever forces an irreversible shift in the series' dynamic. Real tension has been drawn from her harrowing upbringing and the constant threat of that past overtaking her present. Still, 'Jette isn't really strong enough to carry an arc as the central character, even with the assistance of intriguing figures like Oyuki-Chan. This volume certainly tries to develop her further, and seeks to resolve a fair amount of loose strings from prior editions, but ultraviolent bootylicious chop-socky only has so much appeal. It probably plays well with the manga fans, but what I love about Empowered is the ridiculously grand world building and mad Morrison concepts. This forces the customary logic leaps of why one should engage in life and death stakes with ancient blade weaponry and uncertain allies when your best friend can just call up a few second string Avengers to take on some rapey Foot Clan wannabes.

My other complaint about this volume is a pair of aggravating narrative devices. The first is non-linear storytelling, most heightened in a prologue sequences of single panel decontextualized teases of sequences from later in the book. They're too vague to be spoilers, and intentionally misleading, which you'll recognize as they come up throughout the book. As such, they're initially irritating and confusing, then come off as cheap. The rest of the volume then jumps around in time. The through story remains Ninjette's conflict with the Ayakami-Clan, but it's constantly sidetracked by a coda for the prior volume and the usual Empowered tangents. The book comes out only as a thick yearly edition, and remains broken up into chapters determined by the artist's whim rather than the page constraints of monthly publication. A typical volume's many gear shifts keeps things fresh, collecting any number of short subjects that often stealthily build to a grand finale. Here, the book starts at the finale, then jerks you around with mundane bullshit that stalls the progress of the ninja clash. The result is the diminishing of everything that isn't directly tied to the clan war. Warren's second trick is old, having Emp break the fourth wall the sell elevated stakes directly to the reader. She did the exact same thing the last time Ninjette was imperiled in a similar fashion, so it's hard for a reader not to recall the old saying "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

Having aired my grievances, I'll say this volume was generally fun, and I was interested in the new details of Ninjette's world. There's indications that Empowered may finally get some respect in the hero world, and she's only ever bound and gagged in flashback. There's foreshadowing of changes to come, and I suspect that Warren will drop some serious business in 2013, fingers crossed.


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