Archive for January, 2010

Wizards and Zombies

Justice Society of America #35

Last issue, the JSA was all set to take on the evil wizard Mordru. But this issue, they each find themselves trapped in pocket dimensions fighting off a variety of magical threats. Liberty Belle beats the stuffing out of a cat-man who keeps duplicating himself every time he gets defeated. Mr. Terrific changes the rules on a riddling sphinx. Wildcat meets up with a bunch of snuggly plushie toys. Mr. America gets chased by rat monsters. Dr. Mid-Nite has to contend with zombies desperate for medical attention. Lightning is gonna get eaten by giant electricity monsters. Flash has to deal with oversized superspeed bees. Green Lantern has to take on Mordru all by himself. Dr. Fate, meanwhile, is almost powerless and can’t figure out how he can help.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I was actually prepared to dislike it, but it’s a good story, with lots of personality, good dialogue, a few interesting and elegant solutions, and a nice dose of humor.

Blackest Night: JSA #2

The Black Lantern zombies are attacking the JSA Brownstone, and while Mr. Terrific tries to pool some of the members’ powers to create a solution, the rest of the team tries to figure out how to stop the zombies. But there are an unusual number of zombies with personalities here. The zombified Earth-2 Lois Lane asks Power Girl to let her see the Earth-2 Superman’s body, then to help her die. Black Lantern Johnny Quick appeals to his daughter, Liberty Belle, to go for a run with him. Black Lantern Damage blows himself up to take out a bunch of the other zombies. But was it all a ruse? The Brownstone’s defenses are now all wrecked, and Lois severs her own connection to her ring… just so her late husband can get it.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of weird stuff going on here — I still haven’t figured out if all those zombies were just faking it, or if they really were having some kind of personality break-through. But that point looks to be moot now, as the JSA gets to take on the Zombie of Steel in the next issue…

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Tiny Titans #24

The bats from the Batcave have invaded the Titans’ treehouse, and they’re demanding cake and milk! Well, who wouldn’t, right? But now they’ve drunk all the milk Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, and Blue Beetle were going to use on their Aqua-Oh’s cereal. Luckily, they’re able to borrow some milk from the Atom’s family (Snap! Snap!), but unfortunately, the milk has a strange effect on them — they all shrink as small as the Atoms! The perfect size for the bats to snack on! Can the Atom and his friends help the Titans? The Ant calls on his uncle, Uncle Ant (Uncle Aunt? No, Uncle Ant!), who has the power to enlarge them — but will he enlarge them too far?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Extremely cute, as always, and perfect reading for kids or adults who love goofy stuff. All that, plus guest starring appearances from the Batcow, the Ryan Choi version of the Atom, and more tiny pictures of Bat-villains on the Bat-computer.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #12

The mirror Captain Marvel has been revealed as Mister Mind — and he’s managed to take away Billy’s powers! Though Billy is soon able to turn back into Captain Marvel, Mr. Mind has released a horde of demons on the city and he even manages to drop a skyscraper on Captain Marvel! Meanwhile, Mr. Tawny is trying to deal with losing his shapeshifting abilities and being stuck permanently as a talking bipedal tiger.

Verdict: Ehh, not too bad. Might be a tad predictable, but it’s good all-ages fun. And it’s nice to see Tawky Tawny back in his traditional suit and tie, too.

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Friday Night Fights: A Swiftly Tilting Planetary!

It’s been another week. Another long, cold, fairly miserable week. Another week of alarm clocks, rushed lunches, tense meetings with the boss, wasted evenings in front of the TV. And that’s just for the folks who’ve got jobs. If you don’t have one, it’s even worse. You crave all that stuff that the employed people take for granted. Heck, it’s been a stressful week for all of us, and we all need to blow off some steam before the weekend with… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight, we’re taking our fight from 1999’s Planetary #6, as Jakita Wagner, the Planetary Organization’s resident superspeed tank, runs into William Leather in the secret hideout of the diabolical Four.

Have I mentioned before that you guys need to go get all the Planetary trade paperbacks, if you ain’t got ’em already? Well, I meant it! Go get ’em!

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Bat Out of Hell

Batman and Robin #7

Batman — as in Dick Grayson — has taken Batman’s corpse — as in Bruce Wayne — to Jolly Olde England. While there, he teams up with the Knight and the Squire, England’s versions of, well, Batman and Robin, to foil some terrorist attacks. While there, he visits an imprisoned criminal called the Pearly King of Crime. After getting a surreptitious clue to the location of a mysterious coal mine from the King, Batman and the Squire fight their way into the mine, where they join up with the Knight and a surprise guest star — Batwoman, who ain’t real happy to hear why Dick brought Bruce’s body into the mine — he’s found a secret Lazarus Pit, and he’s going to use it to bring his mentor back to life…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Always fun to see Grant Morrison write about Ol’ Blighty. The Pearly King is just a grand character, the surprise appearance of Batwoman is well done, and everyone gets a chance to shine. Next issue, though, when whoever-it-is gets out of that Lazarus Pit, might be a bit rough…

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #13

Things start off really cool, as Batman makes a short team-up with, of all people, Angel and the Ape. Unfortunately, Bats gets a broken leg when a tree falls on him, leaving Gotham City without its regular protector. But Batman has lots of friends, and Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Aquaman, and Captain Marvel decide to lend a hand. But rather than doing it in their regular costumes, they all dress up as Batman. And from that point on, it’s just pure unbelievable awesomeness.

Verdict: Thumbs way up. The high concept alone is worth the price of admission. You get a ton of superhero guest stars and a ton of Bat-villains running around to get beat up. One of the coolest thing about this issue is how all the heroes still retain enough elements of their regular costumes to keep them recognizable, even while they’re dressed up in a Batsuit. And there are also all the other guest stars who show up on the last two pages, too. If you haven’t gotten this yet, go pick it up. It’s tons of fun.

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Going Green

Astro City: The Dark Age, Book Four #1

It’s 1984, and Charles and Royal Williams are still after Aubrey Jason, the man who killed their parents decades ago. They’ve given up their former lives and turned themselves into semi-paramilitary vigilantes, scavenging equipment, weapons, transportation, and even a base from former villains. But while the ’80s may look sunny and upbeat, times have actually gotten a lot darker, with more heroes willing to kill randomly, more monsters raging on the streets, more murderous gangs — is it all being caused by something evil hidden away from sight? Charles and Royal meet up briefly with the Green Man, a plant elemental, Gloo, a sadistic blob, and Nostradamien, a criminal who can only see awful futures. The brothers pursue Jason to Las Vegas, but he knows they’re after him, and he’ll do anything to get them off his trail.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I really enjoy the Williams brothers — they make excellent protagonists, and their continuing evolution is fun to watch. The background is also pretty interesting, and as always, some of the background characters are people I wish we could learn more about, particularly the Green Man.


Chew #8

Tony Chu, a government agent who get psychic impressions from anything he eats, is visiting a tropical island called Yamapula on the trail of a mysterious plant that tastes like chicken. Why is that important? Because chicken has been outlawed in much of the world after a bad outbreak of bird flu. Tony is briefly tossed in the local clink because he was seen associating with a secret agent who was later found murdered. After beating on a couple of abusive inmates, Tony gets a taste of their blood, learns that they’re murderers, and leads the local police chief to the dead body and then on to where the criminal cartel has stashed the illegal chicken. Well, actually, it’s not really a bunch of chicken that you’d cook and eat — it’s a rooster. A rooster in a luchadore mask.

Verdict: Thumbs up. More bizarre, morbid, violent fun. Lots and lots of plot twists, most of them more bizarre than any of the previous ones, and more intrigue than you’d expect from a comic featuring a part-time cannibal, fighting roosters, and prison swirlies.

The Incredible Hercules #140

Hercules, Amadeus Cho, and the Avengers are still in the lobby of the Olympus Group, trying to stop Hera’s mad scheme to rewrite the universe. Athena has been turned to stone by Delphyne Gorgon, who delivers the statue to Hephaestus, craftsman of the gods, who intends to create a golden automata of the Goddess of Wisdom. Herc and Amadeus fight a robotic dragon, but are soon captured by Hephaestus, who pits them against each other in a test of heroism and friendship. But can any of them stop the secret betrayer who is working against all of them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great action, great humor, and some very clever problem-solving. As always, you should take the time to read all of Greg Pak’s sound effects, because they’re very funny. The backup story with the Agents of Atlas is okay, but mostly forgettable.

Blackest Night: The Flash #2

Barry Allen is just getting his legs as a new Blue Lantern, trying to take on zombified versions of Kid Flash, Firestorm, the Reverse-Flash, and Solovar. Meanwhile, the Rogues have invaded Iron Heights Prison and must fight off the Black Lantern zombies of former Rogues, including the first Mirror Master, Captain Boomerang, the Top, Golden Glider, the Trickster, and the Rainbow Raider.

Verdict: Ehh, not bad at all. I love seeing Scott Kolins do art for Flash comics, and I’m enjoying Barry’s reactions to joining up with the Blue Lantern Corps.

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What's Up, Doc?

Doc Savage: The Silver Pyramid

DC has been pushing Doc Savage hard lately ’cause he’ll be one of the stars of the upcoming “First Wave” series. So they put out this trade paperback of the four-issue “Doc Savage” miniseries from ’87. I’ve just started reading Lester Dent’s original “Doc Savage” novels, so this one, written by Denny O’Neil with art by Adam and Andy Kubert, looked like it’d be good fun.

World War II has just ended, and near-superhuman genius/surgeon/scientist/two-fisted adventurer Doc Savage and his crew of assistants — Monk Mayfair, Ham Brooks, Renny Renwick, Long Tom Roberts, and Johnny Littlejohn — are looking forward to some post-war downtime. Unfortunately, the Nazis — particularly a genius inventor named Wessel — are still looking to put an end to Doc’s adventures permanently. When the Nazis are tracked to their lair, a giant high-tech silver pyramid in the middle of the South American jungle, Wessel manages to get the drop on Doc with a giant raygun that disintegrates him! Doc’s assistants rout the Nazis, but the damage has been done.

A few decades pass, and Doc’s son gets himself killed in a pointless gunfight, then another few decades pass, and Doc’s grandson is a committed pacifist living in Antarctica with the rest of Doc’s old assistants. When they learn that Wessel is still alive and has gotten into his old silver pyramid, intent on destroying the world. Can even the miraculous return of Doc Savage save the day?

Verdict: Thumbs down. So much to dislike. The visual design is incredibly wonky — the story begins in ’45, but the fashions are several decades off — bowlers, top hats, handlebar mustaches, muttonchop whiskers, and all that. The worst is Monk Mayfair. The Lester Dent novels are extremely clear on Monk’s appearance — namely, he looks like an ape. He’s supposed to be short, squat, muscular, arms longer than his legs, and a very ape-like face. In the comic, Monk looks absolutely nothing like that. He’s short and stocky, but there’s absolutely nothing about him that makes him look like a gorilla. In fact, he’s a dead ringer for Wilford Brimley, even when he’s young, and there is no good reason for Monk Mayfair to look like that. It’s a embarrassingly bad oversight that should’ve been caught during the early stages of the comic’s creation.

The story isn’t much better. Doc Savage is seemingly killed at the end of the first issue. He reappears on a distant planet for a few pages in the third. Then he comes back to Earth in the fourth issue. There are a bunch of new characters tossed in, including a psychic Israeli secret agent and some generic hillbilly who are interns with Doc’s assistants in the Antarctic hideaway. Oh, and one of the assistants is very pointlessly designated a traitor. I have no idea why any of this stuff takes place, because it’s completely random, entirely pointless, and utterly stupid.

I even have to complain about the characterization for Doc Savage himself, which is kinda a strange thing to complain about. See, in the novels I’ve read so far, Doc doesn’t have much of a personality — he’s taciturn, hyper-competent, and pretty generic. I think that was all by design — having a hero with no personality made it easy for readers to imprint their own personality on Doc and identify with him better. In this comic, Doc gets a personality — namely, a lot of doubts and insecurities. And that’s not the kind of personality I want to see stuck on Doc Savage.

And a lot of the story is sabotaged almost from the git-go. Doc Savage stories — and adventure pulps in general — seem to work best when you set them close to their historical origins — namely, the 1930s and ’40s, preferably either before or during WWII. Dragging the story from 1945 to the ’60s and then into the ’80s — and aging Doc’s loyal assistants clear into their 80s — puts too much strain on things. Bringing classic adventure pulps into the modern era loses you everything that made the classic adventure pulps special.

It’s a bad, deeply disappointing comic. DC never should’ve published it in the first place, and as many popular old comics that have never been reprinted, it’s really frustrating that they decided to collect it and foist it off on us.

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Lubbock's Comics Connections: Awesome Books

It’s been way, way, way too long since we did one of these profiles of current or former Lubbockites who’ve gotten into the comics biz. For once, I’m going to turn the focus away from comics creators so we can look at some of the folks *selling* comics — namely, Awesome Books at 3009A 34th Street.

I’d actually asked Kenny and the gang for some info about the store all the way back last April. They sent me everything I needed, and then I went and completely forgot about it until last weekend, when I was checking through my transferred files on the new computer. So to make up for my embarrassing forgetfulness, here’s what they sent me back in April…

Awesome Books is the brain child of its three owners: Scott Cunningham, Kenny Ketner, and Derek Moreland.  The trio started planning the business in January of 2008, and it opened its doors officially in mid-June of 2008.

Each owner brings a different set of strengths to the business.  Scott is the book genius.  He worked at Book Alley for ten years, learning the ins and outs of the used book business.  After his time at Book Alley, he sold books online through ABE Books, which is also the online selling method for Awesome Books.  (These days, it’s essential for a used bookstore to have an internet presence, because so much business is lost to the internet before a customer even comes through the doors.)

Derek is the comic book genius.  He is a walking encyclopedia of the comic book world.  On top of that, Derek has ten years of retail sales and management experience, mostly through WaldenBooks and Hastings. (He also worked as a book buyer for Hastings.)

Kenny handles annoying little business details, advertising, scheduling, and crap like that.

Our journey to a functioning (though not yet profitable) business has been an exciting one, and we have been helped by friends and family along the way.  We also made use of the wonderful resources available at the Small Business Development Center.  Anyone thinking about starting a business should definitely take their classes and sign up for one-on-one business counseling.

Our plans for the future include growing the store and finding a way to crack open the racket that is college textbook sales.

Awesome Books isn’t the biggest used bookstore around, but it is one of the most geek-friendly. In addition to the large rack of used and collectible single-issue comics up by the register, there’s also a whole room in the back called the Nerdery that’s devoted to science fiction, fantasy, comics, and role-playing games. They’ve been enthusiastic supporters of all of the Lubbock comic conventions and expos, too.

Go check ’em out, man.

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People Who Died

We’re gonna look at a trio of the old canceled comics that DC has resurrected for “Blackest Night”…

Starman #81

This is the one I think everyone was nervous about. James Robinson’s “Starman” series was one of the best comics of the ’90s — or any decade, really — but his recent DC work has been pretty unimpressive, to say the least. There was a lot of fear that he’d tarnish the “Starman” legacy with some badly-written garbage, but as it turns out, he brought his A-game to this one.

Jack Knight, the Starman from the ’90s series, doesn’t appear, and neither does his dad, the Golden Age Starman who died at the end of that series. The villain here is the zombified David Knight, Jack’s brother, who was very briefly Starman before Jack was. While David slaughters cops in Opal City, we learn that the Shade, immortal darkness-controlling former villain, and Hope O’Dare, lone distaff member of a large family of police officers, have become lovers. With the Black Lantern Starman threatening to wipe Opal City off the map and track down Jack Knight to kill him, is there any way to stop him? Especially after he tears out the Shade’s heart?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This was a huge relief — and I’m glad Robinson was inspired enough by the return to Opal City to put out a great story. It’s a great Shade story, a great O’Dare story, and we even manage to catch a few glimpses of the glorious Opal City architecture. My only disappointment: they got James Robinson back to write it, they got Tony Harris back to do the cover, but I wish they could’ve arranged for Peter Snejbjerg to come back to do the pencils. At any rate, Fernando Dagnino takes care of the art, with Bill Sienkiewicz inking, and while it’s a different look, it looks pretty good.

Catwoman #83

Catwoman tangles with the zombified Black Mask, a gangster who she killed after he tortured her sister. In fact, when he realizes he can’t terrify her, he decides to track down her sister in an insane asylum and finish the job. Selina enlists the aid of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, but will they be able to stop him before he kills Catwoman and her sister?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story, good art, decent characterization, and they even tossed in some set-ups for future stories… if there are any future “Catwoman” comics…

The Power of Shazam! #48

A bit of an odd one here, as this story focuses on a character who wasn’t even around until long after this series was cancelled — namely, Osiris, the young counterpart to Freddie Freeman in Black Adam’s “Black Marvel” family from the “52” series a few years ago. Osiris is resurrected with a Black Lantern ring, but he doesn’t have the murderous attitude of the other Black Lantern zombies. In fact, he doesn’t even know he’s dead, doesn’t understand why everyone is so afraid of him, and successfully resists all of the black ring’s influences. Unfortunately, Sobek, the evil crocodile monster who killed Osiris has also come back from the dead, and he’s still very, very hungry…

Verdict: Thumbs up. It was weird to have a story where one of the Black Lanterns wasn’t evil, and it was weird to have a Captain Marvel comic where Captain Marvel only appeared in civilian guise on a single page, but I liked it anyway. Osiris was a cool character, and it’s nice to get to see him again, even if he’s all withered and rotten…

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Friday Night Fights: When Frogs Go Bad!

Another typically horrendous week is over, and if you’re anything like me, you need to kick your weekend off with a little bludgeoning violence. That means it’s time for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

This evening’s fight comes from 1994’s Hellboy: Seed of Destruction by John Byrne and Mike Mignola, as Hellboy gets acquainted with one of the demonic monsters called the frogs:

Everyone have a wonderful weekend — see y’all back here on Monday…

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Computers and Barbarians

Well, the new computer is up and running. I spent most of the last two evenings downloading programs, uploading my old programs and documents (and not done yet — found another few last night that I still need to extract from the old backup drive), downloading and installing driver updates, etc., etc. I got “City of Heroes” working, but haven’t really had time to play it yet. I downloaded “Old, Blackened Century,” a new album from a metal band called Flaming Tusk — a brief, abbreviated listen-through has me declaring it great, but I won’t have time to sit down and focus on it ’til Saturday. The apartment is littered with empty boxes, receipts, computer disks — and it looks like the dumpster is already overflowing with other people’s garbage.

In other words: Wah, wah, wah, I have a new computer!

I think I can get a review done, so let’s hit it.

Joe the Barbarian #1

Okay, it’s a new comic from super-writer Grant Morrison. It’s published by Vertigo, and Morrison has published a lot of good comics through Vertigo — “The Invisibles,” “Animal Man,” “We3,” and “Doom Patrol,” just for starters. And it’s just one freakin’ dollar!

So we got this kid, Joe. He’s diabetic, his mom’s worried about him, he’s pissed off at his late father, and he’s picked on by almost everyone. He comes home one day, climbs up into his seriously awesome attic bedroom, takes a nap, and when he wakes up, starts hallucinating a whole different world, where his toys and action figures are the inhabitants of a dying fantasy world. He comes to, and realizes it’s been hours since he ate anything. He needs his insulin bad or he’s going to die. Can he make it clear across his house, hallucinating all the way, to get his medicine in time? Or is there something much bigger going on?

Verdict: I’ll give it a thumbs up. It’s definitely not your standard Grant Morrison comic. It starts out slow — heck, it moves glacially slow nearly all the way through. Some folks are already complaining about how slow it moves, but it’s fine with me. If it was anyone other than Morrison, we’d expect that there would be some slow build-up, some time taken to establish character and setting — for Morrison, we tend to expect some explosions and head-tripping straight out of the gate. So I didn’t mind the slow pace. If I’ve got a quibble, it’s that Morrison is a bit too subtle about Joe’s diabetes — I had to read the comic twice before I realized why Joe’s mom kept admonishing him to eat candy and before I recognized the blood-sugar meter next to Joe’s bed. If you don’t realize that he’s diabetic, you won’t understand why he’s hallucinating, or why he’s so worried about it.

And it’s a buck! One little George Washington dollah! Can’t beat that with a stick!

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