Archive for April, 2008

Aces High, Jokers Wild


George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards: The Hard Call #1

I pretty much quit reading comics from junior high to sometime in my last year in grad school. But in my first year in college, waaaay back in ’87, I started picking up the “Wild Cards” shared-world novels edited by George R.R. Martin.

It was a grim and gritty bunch of sci-fi/superhero novels with a fairly nasty premise — the Earth gets hit by an alien xenovirus designed to rewrite the human genetic code. When people catch this “wild card” virus, 90% of them die horribly and painfully, their bodies mutating to death — this becomes known as “drawing the black queen.” Nine percent of the infected survive, but are gruesomely disfigured — they become known as jokers. The lucky one-percenters are called aces, and they are gifted with superpowers. Luckily, the virus isn’t contagious — you only get it if you’re born to parents who’ve been exposed to the virus or if you stumble across some active spores. And a lot of people who’ve been exposed to the virus are never affected — some folks can be carriers their whole lives without the virus ever activating.

Most of the jokers gravitate toward a New York slum called Jokertown, and they’re pretty universally despised for their deformities. But lots of normal people, or nats, like to visit Jokertown, sometimes wearing Halloween masks, to beat up jokers or just to enjoy the nasty side of town. Aces have things better, but not many people trust them either.

Enough backstory? Good.

In this first issue, we’ve got several things happening at once. First, Croyd Crenson, a long-lived ace known as the Sleeper, awakes from one of his month-long naps with his usual all-new powers and appearance. As usual, he’s ravenously hungry and looking to score some amphetamines to keep him awake when he starts to get drowsy again. Unfortunately, his usual supplier, a pretty nurse in the Jokertown Clinic, is killed by a thief in a dog mask who is able to walk through walls. The killer steals several doses of the “trump virus,” a treatment that can sometimes cure the wild card.

Meanwhile, in a high school in Colorado, a jock named Alex is a first-hand witness to a wild card outbreak during a science fair. Among scores of other students, he watches his kid brother die but ends up manifesting his own electrical-powered ace.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Okay, I’m biased because the “Wild Card” novels helped sustain me through four years of college. So reading about old favorite characters like the Sleeper is really great fun for me. And if you like thoroughly gross stuff, the outbreak in the high school has a bunch of nicely sloppy transformations, including a guy who starts growing fingers out of his mouth and mouths in his stomach, a couple of people who turn into bugs, a guy who starts to change into a tree, and a teacher who actually vomits up his own spinal cord. The Wild Card virus is not a fun disease to get.

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The Kingdom of Gog


Justice Society of America #14

The JSA starts working to hunt down Gog. Sand tracks him to the jungle, while the rest of the Society (there’s a great little scene showing how much they’ve outgrown their iconic meeting table) plans out their attack. Unfortunately, Gog surprises everyone by bringing the fight directly into the JSA’s brownstone. And he’s a lot more than they can handle.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There are lots of nice little moments. Like I said before, the scene with everyone sitting around the meeting table in lawn chairs and stools and recliners is actually pretty funny and gives a good sense of how large the team has grown. Sand gets his first lines in a year or more, and he has a great little scene all of his own. Gog makes a nice, dramatic entrance, and the fight against him is suitably knock-down-drag-out. It ain’t over by the end of the issue either, and the “Next Issue” blurb promises worse stuff to come. Can’t wait for the next issue.


Groo: Hell on Earth #4

Groo the Wanderer, promoted to Groo the General of an entire army, finally tracks down a war he can fight in. Oh boy, fighting! Of course, he has no strategy and cuts down as many of his own men as he does the enemy, but what’s important is he finally gets to fight! Meanwhile, the Sage continues to wander, trying to find some way to stave off multiple environmental disasters. Is there a way to stop the pointless war and to start mending the land?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The allegory is about as subtle as Groo’s fighting style, but the jokes are funny — often very funny — and the solutions to the problems of the war and the environment are elegant and smart.

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Heart of Glass

Lemme tells ya, this is gonna be a world-class busy week. Work won’t be much busier than normal, from the looks of things, but everything after 5 o’clock is gonna be pretty hectic. I have an actual fer-realz social activity to attend Tuesday night. And I desperately need to get busy on hacking together my 20-minute presentation for the great Lubbock Comic Book Expo (coming up May 3 at the Science Spectrum, don’t forget).

And the whole family’s coming to town this week to get ready for the annual Lubbock Arts Festival. My sister Alice is gonna be displaying and selling some art glass this year. For the most part, she works with fused glass and other kinds of kiln-fired glasswork — a little jewelry, some decorative items, a number of plates. Not exactly plates you wanna run through your dishwasher, but stuff that works great as serving dishes, sushi plates, etc.

Anyway, I wanna promote her stuff a little, so any of you Lubbockites will show up and buy her stuff, so we’re taking a short break from comics so we can look at some of her pretty glassware. I can’t guarantee that all of this stuff will be at the arts festival, but it’s pretty representative of her work.






That last one is actually two different pieces — the dragonfly is a separate paperweight that she photographed with the plate.

Anyway, the Arts Festival kicks off this Friday at the Civic Center, and I expect to spend a lot of this weekend helping out with her booth. Come out and say hi!

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All for One, One for All

Titans #1

This is apparently the second half of the “Titans East” story from waaaaay back in November. Someone is attacking all current and former Teen Titans, including the current team, Nightwing, Starfire, Flash, Donna Troy, Beast Boy, Raven, and Red Arrow. There’s cheesecake for both guys and girls, as multiple characters get attacked in the buff. In the end, everyone gets out okay, finds out that most of the Titans East team didn’t get killed, just horribly, horribly wounded, and figure out who’s behind the attacks — of course, it’s a long-time Titans villain…

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’ve got plenty of quibbles. First, at this point, I don’t trust writer Judd Winick much at all. The dude’s got some weird addiction to randomly killing characters. Second, penciller Ian Churchill is a bit of an acquired taste. I didn’t really mind his artwork in this issue, but dangit, he’s sometimes shown tendencies toward Ed Benes/Michael Turnerisms, with cookie-cutter faces and plastic bodies. He’s at least good with action and facial expressions, and his monsters are pretty good, too. I’m gonna give it at least a few issues.

The Goon #23

The Goon and his various allies start mobilizing to find out what’s up with the local zombie population. Pub owner Norton is getting married to a gypsy so she’ll help him get revenge for the death of his mother — but the magic forces at work may be far too powerful for her to deal with. Lounge singer Mirna gets scared out of town by the reappearance of her dead brother, who also animates a giant body of sticks. We’re also treated to the brilliant line “Back off, youse mugs! I swiped this here salmon and I’m gettin’ the squeezin’s!” All that, plus creator Eric Powell is sponsoring a roller derby team! Huzzah!

Verdict: Thumbs up. Oh, Goon, how did I ever live without youse in my life?

Abe Sapien #3

More trouble for Abe, Hellboy’s amphibious pal. He gets chased by ghosts, giant snakes, and malign crows, and his only ally is a dead lady.

Verdict: Honestly, thumbs down. This issue felt like Mignola was padding his page-count to stretch a four-issue miniseries to five. Some nice fighting here and there, but all but about six or seven pages didn’t feel necessary to the story.

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Viva Las Vegas


PS238 #30

It’s the conclusion of our mini-epic set in Las Vegas. Everyone gets moved into the luxurious Masquerade Hotel and Casino — the Flea has gotten a ridiculously large suite, thanks to the Revenant’s credit card. Miss Kyle tries desperately to relax, while the kids are put to work around the casino. Zodon tries to track down a secretive card-counting ring, the Flea sends his insects out to do surveillance, Julie Finster gets some training from the security team, and Poly Mer pulls duty as the casino’s new sign. Julie takes on a superstrong bruiser, and she, Zodon, and the Flea battle the mastermind behind the scheme. And in the end, Julie gets a new costume to replace her old worn-out one, Zodon gets store credit in the galleria, and the Flea gets a suitcase full of candy. Happy endings for all!

Verdict: Thumbs up. This comic is such grand fun, and it’s great to get a nice spotlight issue for Julie Finster, who is really a very charming character, even with her hard-luck life and insecurities added on. Zodon is also fun this issue, as his “Barry Ween Chip,” which replaces his profanity with random non-swears, really gets a workout.

One of the things I’m coming to enjoy most about this series is the fairly realistic outlook it has on superpowers. Of course superhero parents would enroll their kids in a superhero school. Of course casinos would have metahuman security teams. Of course supervillains would prefer running casinos where they could make money legitimately without worrying about getting beat up by superheroes. Of course there would be businesses solely devoted to selling new costumes to super-people. I don’t know why an independent humor comic can get away with this stuff while it completely escapes the notice of Marvel and DC…

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The Greatest Generation

Ohh, if only I weren’t quite so broke…


That, if you can’t see it clearly from the pic, is a hardcover slipcase edition of Bill Mauldin’s classic “Willie and Joe” cartoons from World War II. Specifically, “Willie and Joe: The World War II Years”, published by the always comic-loving Fantagraphics Books. Costs $65. That’s sixty-five smackers, and it actually looks like it should cost even more. That’s one fine looking book. Actually, I’m not even sure where I’d put that. I doubt I’ve got a bookshelf in my whole house that’s large enough to hold that monster.

Mauldin is a cartoonist I’ve been interested in for years. He was born in Mountain Park, New Mexico, a very tiny town in the very scenic Sacramento Mountains in the southern part of the state, which is an area I used to love vacationing in when I was a kid. Mauldin was a soldier during WWII and started drawing cartoons of a couple dogfaces called Willie and Joe. They were real popular with his fellow soldiers ’cause the cartoons didn’t sugarcoat Army life and weren’t real sweet on the brass either. The cartoons got syndicated after Ernie Pyle mentioned them in one of his columns. I’ve heard that Eisenhower enjoyed them, even though Mauldin tweaked the officers a lot, but Patton was generally infuriated by them.

Mauldin picked up a couple of Pulitzers and a Reuben Award for editorial cartooning, and he even appeared in a couple of movies.

Here’s one of Mauldin’s cartoons — I stumbled across it after getting completely soaked in a downpour this morning, so I thought it was pretty appropriate.


“Now that ya mention it, it does sound like the patter of rain on a tin roof.”

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All New, All Different


Young X-Men #1

Cyclops builds up a new X-team, including Wolf Cub, Dust, Ink, Rockslide, and Blindfold. We’ll also be getting a new character named Greymalkin, but he’s only briefly seen during one of Blindfold’s prophetic visions. Their headquarters is, as far as I can tell, in the basement of the still-demolished Xavier Institute. And their first mission is to take down the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants — this time consisting of former members of the New Mutants.

I gotta say, it’s a fairly odd team. Ink has interesting powers — he gains new abilities when he gets new tattoos — but he’s a petty crook. Wolf Cub is a stereotypical feral beast-man, and Rockslide is a seriously overconfident rock-covered guy. Blindfold is blind, and her unique speech quirks make it a bit difficult to tell what she says to anyone — there’s no indication that she has any powers other than precognition and telepathy. Dust really does seem to be the most interesting character — she’s a very traditional Muslim girl, and she looks like she’d be the toughest character in a fight. Wolf Cub threatens one guy, Ink picks a fight with a couple of cops… but Dust skeletonizes a terrorist’s arm and gets a whole squadron of Taliban terrorists to flee in terror. This gal should be fronting her own comic, not playing backup to Ink, Rockslide, and Blindfold…

Verdict: Thumbs up. I dig Marc Guggenheim’s writing, and I’m a big fan of Yanick Paquette’s art. Ink’s habit of calling everyone “cuz” or “cuzzin” is awfully irritating, but I really liked the way Rockslide insists that he’s not joining the new X-Men team unless Cyclops lets Blindfold in, too. All around, it’s pretty good stuff — let’s hope they can keep it going.

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Raise the Green Lantern


Green Lantern #29

A new storyline starts here — “Secret Origin” is meant to be the untold story of Hal Jordan’s life. We see him as a kid, idolizing his pilot father and watching him die in a plane crash. We see him as a teen daredevil, worried over by his mother, resented by his older brother, and looked up to by his little brother. We see him bailing on his family at age 18 to join the Air Force, where he crashes planes, fights with Marines (including future Green Lantern John Stewart) (and is that Radu Stancu, future proprietor of Radu’s Coffee Shop and Kyle Rayner’s landlord tending bar? I do believe it is!), and eventually slugs his commanding officer to get kicked out of the USAF. On top of that, we get a short look at Hal’s GL predecessor Abin Sur interrogating Qull and the demonic Empire of Tears about the dire prophecy of the Blackest Night.

Verdict: Thumbs up. We knew a lot of this already, but the added depth is great for fleshing out Hal’s backstory a bit more. However, I do think that Ragnell is correct that Geoff Johns should’ve done some more research about the Air Force — even I know that a pilot who takes a plane out on an unauthorized joyride and slugs his C.O. is going to be sitting in the stockade, not jaunting off to see his family.


Marvel Atlas #2

I reviewed the first issue of this way, way back in December. Similar to Marvel’s “Official Handbooks of the Marvel Universe,” this focuses on notable countries instead of just people. This issue focuses on Africa, North and South America, and Antarctica. We get a few real countries, like Canada, Egypt, and Peru, plus a number of fictional ones, like Wakanda, Genosha, the Savage Land, and Atlantis. There’s no real plot — a few pictures, a ton of text, a ton of national stats, flags, histories, etc.

Verdict: Thumbs up, but with some reservations. The entries for Canada and the United States, though longer than the other entries, are still mainly a list of names of superheroes and supervillains. Clearly, there’s more Marvel history in those two countries than just about any other. So why shoehorn those two into a book along with the rest of South America and Africa? If I were Marvel, I’da released three volumes for this series instead of just two — one for Europe and Asia, a second for Africa, South America, Australia, and Antarctica, and a third focusing solely on North America. Regionalist, maybe, but this is the sort of project that benefits from being complete, and you don’t get that when you shortchange your most common settings to make ’em fit into a two-issue series.

Nevertheless, this book is great fun. Some of the smaller nations are a bit forgettable, but all the info about Wakanda, Genosha, and the Savage Land make this a Must-Buy purchase.

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Event Fatigue and Secret Invasions

The weekend cannot get here fast enough.

Had one heck of a day yesterday. Busy like you wouldn’t believe. Had multiple projects to upload, had to fix up the site’s front page multiple times. Even my lunch break was less break-like than I woulda hoped — basically, I couldn’t stand the idea of eating the microwaveable chicken-and-noodle glop I’d brought to work, so I went hungry. Not fun, but the chicken-and-noodle glop woulda been a lot less fun. Even now, I don’t feel fully recovered, and I still got another eight or nine hours before I hit the weekend.

Even my comics experience yesterday was less than joyful. There were three different comics due out that I was eagerly anticipating, and none of them made it into the store. The few I was able to pick up were actually very nice, but I was so looking forward to those others, too…

And so that leads to today’s reviews, right?

Not actually. I’m not reviewing anything today. But I will tell you about one comic that I’m definitely not going to review.


Secret Invasion #1

They had a metric butt-ton of these in the store, and I didn’t buy one. Why? Because I’m tired of event comics. I’m tired of pointless spectacle. I’m tired of comics that are driven entirely by marketing. I’m tired of getting hooked by Marvel and DC and then getting disappointed with what I read.

So I didn’t buy this one. The marketing hype for this series — concerning an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” plot by the shapeshifting Skrull Empire — has been unrelenting and seemingly ever-lasting. As always, they promise earthshattering and lasting changes, and of course, the earthshattering changes won’t be lasting, and the lasting changes won’t be earthshattering, and the whole series will end in a muddle that’ll lead, directly and immediately, to more marketing hype for the next mega-crossover event…

So I’m skipping it. I’m tired of being Marvel’s monkey. I’m not going to jump through their hoops for this one. I’m worn out from mega-crossovers, and my pocketbook is definitely showing signs of comic-book fatigue.

Would things be different if “Secret Invasion” had gotten better reviews? Sure. But the reviews, though generally positive, haven’t been very enthusiastic either. Folks are getting weary of spectacle and hype, I think.

Will things be different for DC’s upcoming “Final Crisis”? Honestly, I’m not sure. My inclination right now is not to pick it up — DC has been at least as bad as Marvel at bludgeoning loyal readers with half-assed crossover crap. But “Final Crisis” is written by Grant Morrison, a guy who I pretty much consider one of the Eldritch Pagan Deities of Comics. It’ll be hard for me to resist that. But if I don’t get some pretty solid guarantees that “Final Crisis” is worth all the hype, I will do everything I can to resist it.

I doubt I’m done with event comics forever. They’re awfully hard to avoid these days, and I really have enjoyed some of them a lot. But I really wish Marvel and DC could go a year or two without insulting my intelligence with more of these marketing-driven crossovers. How ’bout some good stories, guys? Why don’t we all focus on making more of those?

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Sketch Club News, Plus Reviews

Before I hit the reviews, here’s some late-breaking news from Will Terrell of the Lubbock Sketch Club:

Well, its another busy week with the Lubbock Sketch Club. I will be on NBC / KCBD channel 11 tomorrow (Thursday) at noon in the New Notebook segment. I’ll be talking about the Lubbock Comic Book Expo coming May 3rd. Tune if you get the chance!

Also, Make sure to come visit us Friday for our First Friday Art Trail! Here’s the blurb….

“Drawing on Inspiration! The Lubbock Sketch Club art show and Sketch Night! The First Friday art show where YOU are part of the fun! Visitors are invited to view the groups exhibit of cartoons, comics, and fine arts, check out the costumed figure drawing demonstration in the studio, and Sketch with the artists in the Sketch Club classroom. Located on the third floor of the Asbury/Hope Shalom building at 20th and Ave T, room 301, from 6-9pm.”

And with that out of the way, let’s hit a couple of quick reviews.

I picked up a couple of comics last week that I wasn’t expecting much from. Frankly, they’d both been so awful in recent months that I was actually expecting to drop both titles. But both surprised me with excellent stories.


She-Hulk #27

She-Hulk and Jazinda learn that Larry Ryan, the guy they saved last issue, is now in jail, accused of killing his wife. Outraged that he’d be falsely accused, Shulkie returns to try to convince the authorities to let him go. Unfortunately, she gets a bit too agitated and tears his cell door open, and that gets her arrested, too. She’s not in any serious trouble, but she’s no longer a lawyer, which was the only way she would’ve been able to get Larry out of jail. Luckily, she still has some friends — no, wait, they’re actually enemies — she can call for help.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lo and behold, She-Hulk’s entertaining again. Her characterization is back on the money, and we actually get her back in a courtroom, thank the heavens! Shulkie really is at her best when she’s kicking ass in battle and kicking ass in a courtroom. She just ain’t any good as a bounty hunter, and she’s even worse as an angst-ridden whiner. Sure, sure, she’s probably going straight back to bounty hunting next issue, but maybe this is an indication that she won’t be angsty or non-lawyerly for long…


Teen Titans #57

It’s a Ravager spotlight issue, as Rose Wilson takes on Copperhead, Persuader, and Dreadbolt of the Terror Titans. It’s pretty much wall-to-wall fighting. Sure, we see Kid Devil getting tortured, and we see Robin and Wonder Girl act like idiots… but forget about them. The bulk of this issue is Ravager beating people senseless, and it is very, very good.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Sure, Ravager’s completely insufferable most of the time, but it’s pretty clear that she’s a character who’s best suited to action sequences. Now if only they can figure out a way to keep her fighting next issue and leave Robin and Wonder Girl out of the comic for a bit longer…

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