Archive for May, 2009

England vs. the Vampires


Captain Britain and MI-13 #13

In the newest depressing comic book news, this is the latest outstanding comic to end up on the chopping block. Its last issue is going to be #15.

As for our story: The vampires have destroyed the artifact that keeps the vampires out of Britain. Norman Osborn calls MI-13 to tell them he can’t help, and the Scarlet Witch calls to tell them that the UK has been magically cut off from the rest of the world — people can get out of the country, but an impenetrable forcefield keeps everyone else out. Dracula finally converts Spitfire to evil. And after that, everyone gets killed, and the vampires conquer England.

Verdict: Thumbs up. An absolutely outstanding cliffhanger.


Justice Society of America #26

It’s the last issue with Geoff Johns writing the comic, which he’s done for almost a decade. There’s not a ton of action in this one — most of the focus is on Stargirl’s surprise birthday party, attended by most of the JSA. It’s a very cute slice-of-life issue, with some nice bits with Starman’s inability to understand the concept of birthday presents, the Wildcats hanging out and enjoying each other’s company, a bunch of superheroes roaming around a grocery store, Courtney’s little brother being a pain in the neck, and Green Lantern wearing a silly party hat.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yes, I know, I’m a sucker for “a day in the life” stories. But I love the nice bits of personality and characterization that get tossed in here — Starman pays for drinks at a kid’s lemonade stand with a combination of C-notes and grocery coupons, Wildcat Sr. is amusingly gruff and loving, Jakeem Thunder, who hasn’t had a lot to do lately, gets a great two-page spread to chat with Courtney. And Stargirl goes to the dentist to get her braces off! Altogether, just a fun little farewell from Geoff Johns to Stargirl, who is probably his favorite character.

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Deadlines and Breadlines II: I hate to say I told you so, but…

Stepping away from comics again for a bit, just so I can rant some more.

Just last week, I had my post about the sorry state of journalism, with regard to salaries — in other words, the reporters who do all the hard work get crap wages, while the big-shot columnists — who tend to be the noxious black mold infecting the editorial pages — get millions of dollars, book contracts, and a guaranteed job for life. In fact, at one point, I said:

You wanna really see some improvement? Take David Broder, Maureen Dowd, Richard Cohen, Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg, Jake Tapper, Joel Stein, Thomas Friedman, George Will, Jeffrey Rosen, and the rest of the no-talent brigade, tie them to the outside of a rocketship using rusty barbed wire and a staplegun, and fire them into the sun. They’re an embarrasment, and they’re a drain on the finances of an industry that can’t afford their prima donna salaries.

Lo and behold, the second person on my list, Maureen Dowd, just got caught blatantly plagiarizing material from blogger Joshua Michah Marshall. Her excuse? She wasn’t trying to copy Marshall, she was just exactly quoting something one of her friends said, who somehow managed to exactly quote Marshall. Gee, what an amazing coincidence, right?

So obviously, the New York Times is faced with having a gossip writer — oh, ‘scuse me, political columnist — who is not only a plagiarist but a liar — a combo that the Times used to punish with a pink slip. How is the Times going to deal with Dowd? It’s a dead-solid bet that nothing will happen to her. After all, she’s a columnist! She gets paid a lot of money! She gets to go on TV! And now she’s extra controversial! ‘Cause controversy sells papers! In theory! (They used to say good reporting sold papers, but now it’s controversy, ’cause they’d have to pay reporters more.)

Heck, maybe Jayson Blair should call the Times up and ask them if he could be re-hired, since they’re all okay with plagiarism now.

Again, what is the New York Times getting for the huge salary they pay Maureen Dowd? They’re getting a plagiarizing, lying embarrassment. They’re getting a nice, fat black eye. They’re getting their reporters — who all know that they’d be fired in a heartbeat if they got caught plagiarizing so unashamedly — asking themselves why they work so hard for a company that pays them so little and values the useless superstar columnists more than the people who do the real work. I hope they’re pleased with the results, though I doubt anyone else is.

I stand by my rocket-to-the-sun columnist solution, with the stipulation that I’d probably need a whole fleet of rockets to make enough of a difference…

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The Dead Rise from their Graves! Also Funny Videos!


Maybe you’ve heard of this “Blackest Night” crossover coming up this summer? If you loves you some spoilers, you might wanna check out DC’s new solicits, with covers that show off some of the dastardly zombie plots that the Black Lanterns will be working on. (Also, Beast Boy needs a real girlfriend.)

Speaking of unspeakable horror, please enjoy this website dedicated to Awkward Family Photos.

Now, as promised, funny videos:

One more little bit of fun for your Tuesday: build your own paper dolls of Alan Moore.

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Mystic Masters and Malign Monstrosities

The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft #1

I didn’t hear about this one before it came out, but I just can’t resist a comic about Providence, Rhode Island’s favorite son.

This one isn’t about horror/fantasy author H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, but on the author himself, struck with a bad case of writer’s block, suffering through editors who don’t value his stories, and with his relationship with his semi-sorta-kinda girlfriend Sylvia at a standstill. He gets mugged by a couple of sailors, visits his mother in the madhouse, learns that Sylvia is cheating on him, and then an ancient cursed book in the library goes and makes things even worse by talking to him and declaring him “The Key and Guardian of the Gate.” And he finally breaks his writer’s block when he comes up with a story about the sailors who robbed him being attacked by a tentacled horror on their boat. But Howard, his elderly aunts tell him, didn’t you read this morning’s paper — that all happened just last night…

Verdict: Thumbs up. On one hand, it’s a nice little meditation on Lovecraft’s (highly fictionalized) life, but it’s also a decent little dose of proper cosmic horror, too. So far, they ain’t showing the monsters, which is exactly the right thing to do — Lovecraftian fiction is hard enough to do without showing the tentacled horrors too early…

Madame Xanadu #10

Nimue has seemingly captured the Phantom Stranger, angering her lover Zatara in the process, since the Stranger was Zatara’s guest. Unfortunately, the capture was merely a ruse on the Stranger’s part as he magicks Madame Xanadu away to propose that she join his association of mystics to help usher in the new heroic age. She angrily rejects him, insisting that he keeps manipulating others even as he points out that she plans to let tough cop Jim Corrigan die to raise a new magical ally. In the end, the Stranger leaves her alone, but Nimue learns that Corrigan’s death has turned him into the Spectre, the Spirit of Vengeance, a terrible mystic juggernaut of death and destruction. Upset that her benign neglect of Corrigan could lead to such a tragic error, she decides to stop using her fortunetelling to benefit only herself and become a freelance seer, helping anyone who needs her talents.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice ending for this first storyarc — the final confrontation between Madame Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger on the astral plane is nicely realized and the debut of the Spectre is shrouded in unexpected menace. As always, Matt Wagner‘s writing is outstanding, and Amy Reeder Hadley‘s artwork is even better. I’ll miss Hadley’s art in the next storyline (which will be illustrated by Michael William Kaluta), but I understand she will be back for future stories.

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“Top 10” and the Bottom Rung


One of the most depressing things I read this past week was on Rich Johnston’s “Lying in the Gutters” column about the recent “Top 10” series:

Were you one of the people buying the “Top Ten Season Two” mini-series who, like me, were surprised that it seemed to just stop rather than finish? A commentary on the randomness of life? That stories rarely end smoothly? That loose plots are endemic of our own life so why not reflect them in fiction?


The series was originally planned and written as an eight issue series with two one shots on top, all written by Zander Cannon, one of the artists from the original “Top Ten” series, with Kevin Cannon. The other artist, Gene Ha, was only available for four issues. Wildstorm seem to have decided that it was only Ha’s name that appealed to the consumer, so they only published his four issues, and the one shot drawn by Da Xiong that accompanied them. Without telling anyone that they would only be getting half a story.

But what a story it was. The first half was the equal of Moore’s run on the title and was certainly the most critically well received of the non-Moore ABC titles.

As someone who was a huge fan of “Top 10” — both Alan Moore’s original series and the new Cannon/Ha series —  this is pretty frustrating news. Bad enough that we got just half the story, with no resolution — but with no explanation about it? With no notification that they were cutting the series from eight issues to just four? I don’t know whether to blame Wildstorm’s origins as one of the first Image studios, with all the “No one cares about the writer, just the artist” idiocy that entailed, or to blame DC’s seeming obsession with cancelling any comic that doesn’t suck. Whoever’s at fault, this is certainly something that can be hit with a big, red “FAIL” stamp.

“Top 10” was always set up much like a police procedural show on TV — a cop show with superpowers — and one of the pleasures of a good cop show, in addition to seeing crimes solved and crooks arrested, is seeing how the characters develop and how their storylines evolve over the course of the season. This latest series of “Top 10” had a ton of great storylines in progress, from Pete Cheney’s ongoing meltdown and Duane Bodine’s misguided attempts to cover for him, to the new Sung Li’s attempts to develop into her own person, to Irma Wornow’s suspension from the force — not to mention the overarching story about the new commissioner’s attempt to force the precinct into his own limited worldview. To throw all that into the dumpster just because someone else does the artwork is pretty spectacularly awful.

More on the subject from Zander Cannon himself.

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Friday Night Non-Fights: Lolli-Popped!

Okay, so Spacebooger has decreed that we’re taking a two-week break from Friday Night Fights, but that doesn’t mean that we actually have to stop the violence, right? After all, it’s been a rough week, and what we all need is a heaping mega-dose of pain and suffering and fisticuffs to make sure the weekend gets started off right! So let’s get right to the Pure Testosterone-Pumped Bone-Breakage!

From April 2008’s, umm, Tiny Titans #1 by Art Baltazar and Franco: Witness the heart-stopping brutality as Plasmus encounters a bunch of the Titans in a local park:


Well, alright, not so much the pain this time. But I think we can excuse it for once, because we all love lollipops. Y’all have a merry weekend…

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20th Century Analog Boys

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910

The first part of a new chapter in the literary-themed adventure series from Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill focuses on the early part of the 20th century. The current League includes former vampire victim Mina Murray, the rejuvenated Allan Quatermain (masquerading as his own son), immortal sex-changing warrior Orlando, ghost-hunting detective Thomas Carnacki, and reformed thief A.J. Raffles. They’re on the trail of a bunch of occultists, led by a fictionalized version of Aleister Crowley, who are trying to bring about the end of the world. Added on top of all this are the daughter of the late Captain Nemo, who becomes known as Pirate Jenny, and a brutal killer (who may actually be Jack the Ripper) named Jack MacHeath, who is better known as Mack the Knife. In other words, a large chunk of this story is based on Bertolt Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera” — and yes, there are characters who actually break out in song during the story. Frankly, this is extremely weird. It all ends with a terrific slaughter, but with the prophesied apocalypse seemingly scheduled for many years in the future.

Verdict: I hate to say it, but thumbs down. While Jenny was an outstanding character, and her storyarc was very satisfying, the rest of this felt like Alan Moore was thumbing his nose at me. Sure, okay, Alan, you’re vastly smarter than I am, there’s no denying it. But do ya have to rub my nose in my own intellectual inferiority?

Secret Six #9

In one of the “Battle for the Cowl” crossovers, Batman is seemingly dead, and the criminals of Gotham City are going wild. A band of kidnappers have targeted the children of wealthy citizens, but Catman and Bane both decide to help stop them — partly because both of them would like to try to take Batman’s place. And Ragdoll is tagging along, because he, disturbingly, has decided that he wants to take Robin’s place. None of the trio is much good at leaving any of the kidnappers alive, but they do manage to save the children and their families — and they all get off some excellent one-liners.

Verdict: A big thumbs up. This one is a huge amount of fun, the action is absolutely top-notch, and like I said before, the one-liners are primo. Ragdoll gets the most, especially when he discovers that everything he says ends up sounding perverted, but Bane and Catman get their share, too. This one’s definitely worth picking up, even if you’re not into the “Battle for the Cowl” storyline.

The Human Torch Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1

Marvel is putting out a whole series of comics focusing on their Golden Age characters to commemorate their 70th birthday. This one, by Scott Snyder and “Atomic Robo” artist Scott Wegener, focuses on the Human Torch from the 1940s — unlike the more familiar Torch from the “Fantastic Four” comics, the Golden Age Torch was an android who was able to set himself on fire. The first story is pretty straightforward — the Torch rescues a woman from a sewer monster, but its venom means he has to discard his human-looking skin. Finding himself despised as a robot monster, the Torch has to decide whether to stay inside where his appearance won’t horrify people, or to go out and save lives anyway. The second story is a reprint from an old “Human Torch” comic, featuring the introduction of the Torch’s sidekick Toro.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a charming story, with wonderful illustrations. The reprint is a nice bonus. Definitely worth a read.

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Batman Kicks the Bucket Again


Detective Comics #853

DC Comics sure does love killing their most popular character, don’t they?

It’s the second part of “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert. (Part I came out waaaaaay back in February.) In this issue, we continue the strange funeral of Batman, attended by his friends and foes, telling stories — always wildly contradictory — about how the Dark Knight died, while a mysterious woman keeps Batman company. We get stories from the Joker, the Mad Hatter, the Golden Age Batgirl, Robin, Clayface, Harvey Bullock, Ra’s al Ghul, and even Superman. And finally, Batman realizes that he’s not dead… but he is dying. How is the woman accompanying him going to help him? What secrets will she reveal? Is there an escape from the other side of the grave?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A strange, fun, bittersweet story, perfectly designed for Gaiman’s strengths as a storyteller. And Kubert was a great match for this story — his artistic style makes the whole thing look modern, gritty, and classic all at the same time, where a popular, more glossy artist would’ve killed the mood. If you didn’t get a chance to read the first part of this story, you might wait to see if DC is going to put out a collected paperback of this story, to go with the paperbacks of Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”


Astro City: The Dark Age, Book Three #1

Charles Williams, former cop, and Royal Williams, current hoodlum, are on the trail of the man who killed their parents many years ago during a superhero battle. But now it’s 1982, in the midst of the darkest period of Astro City’s history. No one trusts superheroes, and the superheroes don’t care much about the people of the city either. We get to see the debut of the new Cleopatra as she helps defeat a villain called the Hellsignor, then we follow Royal, undercover as a henchman at a training camp for the evil Pyramid organization. He’s able to avoid the indoctrination treatments as he tries to track down his parents’ killer. But will he be able to continue his investigation when the authorities raid the camp — and when he learns that Pyramid suspects his treachery?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s been a long time since the last issue of this one, but I’d forgotten how much I liked the Williams brothers. The Pyramid stuff is a nice glimpse into the world of the Hydra/Cobra-style organizations. As always, Kurt Busiek brings a great story and excellent dialogue, and Brent Anderson provides the excellent artwork we’ve come to expect from him.

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Robots and Monsters and Vampires, Oh My!

Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time #1

Atomic Robo, the wiseacre, action-packed atomic-powered robot created by Nikola Tesla, is back for another pulp-flavored adventure, this time set in 1926. Robo is studying for his physics doctorate when he gets some unwelcome visitors — fantasy/sci-fi/horror author H.P. Lovecraft and weird-phenomena researcher Charles Fort. Many years ago, Lovecraft, Fort, and Lovecraft’s father worked with Tesla to banish a cosmic horror from Earth, but it’s coming back — or it’s been here all along… With Tesla unavailable, can Robo help Fort and Lovecraft before it’s too late?

Verdict: Thumbs up. First, anything that teams a snarky robot with Charles Fort and H.P. Lovecraft is guaranteed to appeal to me. And though this issue is extremely talky, it’s also a great deal of fun. The first few pages, with Lovecraft gibbering along with his over-the-top pseudo-racism about Robo’s pygmy ancestry, is extraordinarily funny. If the rest of the story is as good as the first issue, I’ll be glad to come along for the ride.

Fin Fang 4 Return! #1

This has its genesis in a story a few years ago where a bunch of giant monsters from Marvel’s ’50s era, Fin Fang Foom, Googam, Elektro, and Gorgilla, decide to reform, are reduced to human size, and take up jobs in the human world. So here we’ve got this short anthology of stories — first, the Hulk’s pal Doc Samson tries to psychoanalyze the quartet of monsters. Next, Fin Fang Foom’s job as a chef at a Chinese restaurant leads to an unexpected cure for baldness and an equally unexpected loss of the cure for baldness. After that, Gorgilla goes time-traveling and save Abraham Lincoln from assassination; Googam tries to get adopted by a Hollywood starlet to fund his quest for world domination; and the robotic Elektro gets mistaken for a completely different Electro. Finally, there’s a reprint of a Christmas story as Fin reluctantly teams up with Dr. Strange’s assistant Wong to stop Hydra’s giant evil Santa Claus robot.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yes, it’s silly and inconsequential. I like stuff that’s silly and inconsequential.

Captain Britain and MI-13 #12

Dracula and his army of vampires are continuing their war on England and MI-13. Spitfire, because of her vampiric heritage, is helpless to resist Dracula’s orders and is forced to kill a civilian in Dracula’s castle on the moon. The rest of the team, meanwhile, is trying to track down a magical artifact — the skull of Blade’s old friend Quincy Harker, enchanted to prevent vampires from entering Britain unless they’re specifically and individually invited. Unfortunately, Dracula’s centuries of unlife have made him one of the greatest military minds ever, and he’s thinking several steps ahead of MI-13.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good bloodsucking fun. My only regret about this one is that Dracula isn’t nearly as pompous or long-winded as he was in the classic ’70s series “Tomb of Dracula.”

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Deadlines and Breadlines


I’ve still got a nice, tall stack of comics to review, but there are just days ya gotta unpack the rants.

So I get a call last week from a newspaper I’d sent a job application to. Some poor lady on the other end of the line was asking if I wanted to work for them.

Now I’m not anti-newspapers — I’ve worked for several of them in the past and generally enjoyed my jobs there — but we’re all very aware of how unstable the newspaper biz is right now, and I’d long ago decided that any newspaper that called me to talk jobs was going to have to stand up to me quizzing them hard about their financial stability. Yes, part of my strategy is to scare them off from me if they think I’m too aggressive for them — better that than to move several hundred miles away and then get laid off again.

Anyway, the person I was talking to flunked the test bad. She told me they were going to survive — their parent company wasn’t doing so well, but the actual paper was healthy and was the only paper in town, so they just couldn’t possibly close, and they’d already been cut back to the bone, so there was nothing else that could be cut anyway. When I told her that the A-J was pretty healthy, was the only paper in town, and had gone through a number of cutbacks, and it still hadn’t kept me and a bunch of other people from being laid off, she didn’t have much to say.

Then I asked about the salary, and she told me it paid $10 an hour. I told her not to consider me for the position any longer.

Listen, y’all can consider the source on this — I’ve worked at a couple of newspapers and several radio stations, but never in a position of management, never as an editor, never as a publisher… but there are two major things that newspapers are doing wrong right now.

* Underpaying the employees. The newspaper I talked to is a picture-perfect example. They want to hire smart reporters who’ve got all the right education, who’ve spent a few years in college earning their journalism degrees, who they’re relying on to enhance their reputation as on-the-ball members of the journalistic community — and they want to pay them fast-food wages. If some guy walked in off the street, high school dropout, no real skills, no previous writing experience, they’d tell him to get lost. They’d insist that he had to have the education in order to get their poverty-level job. Heck, I’ve got a Masters degree, over a decade of writing experience, and previous newspaper employment, and they still thought I’d be willing to accept $20,000 a year.

This is insane.

I’m not saying reporters should be paid $100,000 a year. But there’s no reason to force skilled, highly educated employees to work their butts off for crap wages. If you can’t afford to pay reporters enough to keep them out of the poorhouse… then just quit. Seriously. Shut down the paper, open up a McDonalds franchise, and you can pay high school kids minimum wage all day long. Eventually, some smart businessman will realize that he can keep a newspaper open, informative, and profitable while still paying the employees enough to keep them and their families comfortable.

* Overpaying the columnists. I’m dumb enough to read a bunch of the columnists at the big national papers. I know, I know, it elevates my blood pressure and just makes me cranky and foul-tempered all day. These guys get paid millions of dollars a year to blather nonsense and lies all over the editorial pages, they go on TV and blather, they go to DC cocktail parties and yuck it up with their fellow multimillionaire columnists, they’re considered big media stars, important opinion-leaders, and their invented bulldada is quickly picked up as the Conventional Wisdom that fuels the talk-show screamathons.

Honestly, they should all be fired. Use their bloated salaries to try to stabilize the newspapers, boost salaries a bit, invest in some new strategies to make journalism profitable. But 95% of the big national editorial columnists are useless hacks who couldn’t keep a job if it weren’t for their guaranteed no-fire positions.

You wanna really see some improvement? Take David Broder, Maureen Dowd, Richard Cohen, Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg, Jake Tapper, Joel Stein, Thomas Friedman, George Will, Jeffrey Rosen, and the rest of the no-talent brigade, tie them to the outside of a rocketship using rusty barbed wire and a staplegun, and fire them into the sun. They’re an embarrasment, and they’re a drain on the finances of an industry that can’t afford their prima donna salaries.

Obviously, there’s more stuff wrong with the modern practice of corporate journalism that I don’t have time to get into. They spent way too long standing in White House briefing rooms saying “WMDs in Iraq? Wow, I totally believe you” and haven’t yet come up with any way to convince us that they’re not going to keep believing whatever lame bullcrap some monied storyteller invents for them. The national papers seem to be run solely to put more reporters on TV. Too many seem to prefer to resent the Internet instead of figuring out how to make it work for them. A lot of them would seem to rather chew their own hands off than report anything negative about public officials or other prominent media pundits. But again, I could go on and on and on about this, and still not get done with my list of pet peeves, so I’ll stop right here.

That’s my two cents anyway.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: According to an e-mail from someone claiming to be Jake Tapper: “i’m a correspondent for ABC News, not an editorial or opinion writer for a newspaper….”

Duly noted. Jake Tapper is, in fact, the Senior White House Correspondent for ABC News. He’s still not getting off the side of that rocket-to-the-sun, ’cause spending your day googling yourself when you should be covering the White House for ABC News would seem to be picture-perfect proof that you’re getting paid too much for not working enough. Unless he’s got some really good questions for Robert Gibbs in today’s press gaggle — and not just the usual “Whyyyy did Wanda Syyyykes have to be so meeeeean to poor iiiinnocent lamb Rush Limbauuuugh?” — then I’m expecting a note on ABC News President Robert Westin’s desk with an explanation about why you’re wasting company time surfing comic book blogs.

(Unless, of course, Jake Tapper didn’t really send me an e-mail. In which case, Jake, someone’s spoofing yer e-mail addy!)

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