Archive for March, 2010

Spellbent for Leather

I’m in a mood to review something other than comics for once…

Spellbent by Lucy A. Snyder

I’ve been a colossal fan of Lucy A. Snyder‘s short fiction for ages and ages — I previously reviewed one of her short story/poetry collections here. I think she does a great job of blending fantasy, humor, and horror, and when I heard she had gotten her first novel published, I made sure I went out and picked it up.

This is an urban fantasy novel — something that’s unfortunately come to mean either “sparkly vampires” or “porny vampires.” Or both. I still remember when it meant “fantasy that took place in an urban setting.” And I’m relieved that Snyder remembers that, too.

So what’s the story about? We’re set in a world a lot like ours, except that magic is real, mostly kept secret, and governed by councils of mages who try to keep everything running smoothly. Our lead character is Jessie Shimmer, an apprentice wizard living in Columbus, Ohio, and being taught the fundamentals of magic by her lover, Cooper. Things get started when a simple spell — a weather spell on the behalf of local farmers — goes seriously awry, stranding Cooper in a hellish dimension, unleashing a giant monster on the world, and inflicting terrible injuries on Jessie. She survives, thanks to the assistance of her familiar, a ferret named Palimpsest, but the corrupt mage council brands her an outlaw, bars her from trying to rescue Cooper, and puts every possible roadblock in her path.

So Jessie, flat-broke and homeless, short an arm and an eye, with the local political boss working to keep her isolated from anyone who can help her, has to somehow shake their magical surveillance, find somewhere to live, track down Cooper’s brother, the only guy who can give her any aid, and figure out how to get Cooper out of Hell. That’s a tall order for an apprentice spellcaster…

Verdict: Thumbs up. This one reads a lot like a comedy-drama-horror-fantasy. You’ve got Jessie running through Hell armed with a sword, shield, and dragonskin armor. You’ve got horrific, soul-crushing demons and malign conspiracies using all the powers of magic to destroy innocent people. You’ve got a ferret who talks like an uptight Canadian librarian, potheads craving a magical marijuana high, and Jessie using a shrinking spell on a belligerent security guard’s underwear. You’ve got a perfectly nice heroine, initially not too talented, advanced, or ambitious, forced to climb back up after being beat down as low as anyone can get, and emerging… well, don’t want to tell the ending, but it is all pretty awesome.

I enjoyed the heck out of it. You should go pick it up.

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Maximum Rock and Roll

The Super Hero Squad Show #3

And here’s the latest issue of the comic based on the “Marvel Super Hero Squad” TV show. And you’ve got all these “fractals” — fragments of the shattered Infinity Sword — and anything that comes into possession of one of them gets massively hyper-powered. Well, one of the fractal shards accidentally gets stuck into a jellyfish in the ocean, leading to it turning into a giant blob monster and attacking the city. Unfortunately, it’s much too tough for the Super Hero Squad to hurt, and it just ate the Hulk. Reptil and the Falcon, assuming the attack of a giant monster must mean the Mole Man is behind the plot, put on a lot of silly disguises to try to capture him. Meanwhile, Iron Man realizes there’s a fractal inside the monster and has Hulk swim through the jellyfish to grab it. And what’s the result of the awesomely powerful fractal on the already awesomely powerful Hulk?



Soooo awesome.

And on top of all that, we also get Thor reliving his glory days in high school, which were completely goofy.

Verdict: Thumbs up, both for Pirate Hulk and Thor playing in a garage rock band with the Warriors Three.

Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #21

After Nova pops off with a line about how easy it’d be to divide the Avengers into various strike teams, Captain America and Invisible Woman call his bluff and ask how he’d really do it. This eventually ends with Nova in the role of reluctant kinda-sorta-pseudo team leader when a couple of mythological figures go to war with each other in Hawaii. Soon after the strike team leaves, Nova, Black Widow, and Invisible Woman run into a 1940s-era superheroine named Sun Girl, who tells them that a fellow Golden Age hero named Gary Gaunt is in trouble. Gary periodically turns into a Hulk-like wild man, but he’s had his problem beat for decades, thanks to a special serum that keeps his monster-side under control. But some burglars have stolen his serum from the rest home, and Gary is afraid he’ll turn into a monster again. Sue Storm and Black Widow go to track the thieves, leaving Nova babysitting a senior citizen, listening to old war stories, and worrying that Gary may turn into a monster again.

Verdict: Nominally, a thumbs up. The entire story is lightweight — I mean, more than is usual, even for an all-ages book. And it’s got an irritating punch-line moral, too. But I love the characters of Gary Gaunt and Sun Girl. That alone made me enjoy reading the story.

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Lubbock Comic Expo coming up SOON!

Color me embarrassed, but I’d completely lost track of time — I didn’t realize until yesterday that the next Lubbock Comic Book Expo was coming up in only a month!

So mark your calendars — it’s going to be held in conjunction with the Lubbock Arts Festival again, and this year, it’ll be a two-day event: Saturday, April 17, from 10 a.m.-8 p.m., and Sunday, April 18, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Like last year’s Expo, this will be at the Lubbock Municipal Civic Center at 1501 Mac Davis Lane.

Not sure yet what sort of programs and events will be going on, but you can certainly bet on lots and lots of comic creators, lots of vendors, numerous programs, and the ever-popular costume contest.

More info coming ASAP!

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Battle of the Sexes?

Girl Comics #1

A somewhat misleading title on this one — you may suspect it’s all stories about female characters, but it’s actually an anthology comic produced by female comics creators. There are plenty of stories here about male characters — G. Willow Wilson and Ming Doyle have a story about Nightcrawler in a German cabaret; Trina Robbins and Stephanie Buscema have a tale of the old Golden Age heroine Venus (the actual goddess of love) trying to fit into today’s fashion scene; Valerie D’Orazio and Nikki Cook have a story about the Punisher tracking a child predator; Lucy Knisley follows Dr. Octopus around the grocery store; Robin Furth and Agnes Garbowska have an adventure with Franklin and Valeria Richards; and Devin Grayson and Emma Rios have something with Jean Gray, Cyclops, and Wolverine. There are also a couple of biography spotlights on real-life Marvel mainstays Flo Steinberg and Marie Severin, not to mention a great introduction by Colleen Coover and that awesome cover by Amanda Conner.

Verdict: I’ll give it a thumbs up. The Amanda Conner cover, the Colleen Coover intro, and the Doc Ock story by Lucy Knisley are 100% great. The bios of Steinberg and Severin are also pretty cool. The rest of it isn’t bad… but it isn’t real good either. Most of it is just… mediocre. I’m still giving it a thumbs-up ’cause I enjoy anthologies, and I’m hoping they’ll knock the next two issues of this outta the park.

The Mystic Hands of Doctor Strange #1

Speaking of anthology comics, here’s a fairly cool one — 48 pages long, all in black-and-white, and all for four bucks — with stories about Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme by Kieron Gillen and Frazier Irving, Peter Milligan and Frank Brunner, Ted McKeever, and Mike Carey and Marcos Martin. The first story is the real standout — Doc Strange having himself committed to a mental hospital to battle an unethical psychiatrist who’s selling souls to Hell to try to make the world a better place. It also features the disturbingly awesome image of Strange’s wife Clea making wildly unexpected plans to rob a bank.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a very cool project — like finding a bunch of undiscovered’70s-era Dr. Strange stories. Again, the first story is the best — a very good plot, excellent artwork, numerous mad, awesome images, and a very cool ethical/moral dilemma for Strange to puzzle out. The rest are a mixed bag — some good stories, some not-so-good stories, but on the whole, it’s more than worth the cover price. Go pick it up.

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Uncharacteristic Muddles

Sometimes even the best comics end up with some not-so-great issues…

B.P.R.D.: King of Fear #3

Abe Sapien, Andrew Devon, and the soldiers they were leading have been captured by a bunch of sub-terrans, while Liz Sherman finds herself inside a real-life apocalyptic nightmare that she thought was only a mental illusion produced by Memnan Saa. Abe is surprised to learn that, um, some skull-faced, black-fire-burning guy whose name completely escapes me, is working with the sub-terrans. The leader of the sub-terrans is looking forward to subjugating everyone and being installed as the king of the world, but the skull-faced guy (Maybe this is the “King of Fear”? I really don’t know.) disrespects him and eventually kills him when the leader attacks one of the B.P.R.D. soldiers. He’s not really on the B.P.R.D.’s side — he still wants to bring about the end of the world — but he wants to do it on behalf of a surprising master…

Verdict: I have to give it a thumbs-down. I’m having too much trouble keeping track of the players. I know I read the comic that featured skull-faced guy, but that must’ve been several years ago, and I don’t remember what his name was or what he was up to. And as long as this saga has been going on, we really would’ve benefitted from some reminders of who all the bad guys are, in addition to the good guys. It’s just too hard to enjoy the story when you don’t even know who all the characters are.

The Unwritten #11

A fictional version of Joseph Goebbels living inside an old novel/movie called “Jud Süss” has just shot Tom Taylor. He gets his hands on Tom’s map and the magic doorknob, but luckily, before he can kill Savoy, Lizzie Hexam shows up and beats Goebbels to death with a movie projector. And even more luckily, Tom isn’t dead — Goebbels’ fictional bullets didn’t have enough weight to them to kill him. But he’s now wandering around inside “Jud Süss” — and the story of “Jud Süss” has been driven mad. Ya see, there was a novel called “Jud Süss” in the 1920s that was about a deeply flawed but ultimately heroic Jew — and the Nazis took “Jud Süss” and turned it into an anti-Semitic propaganda movie. In the world of fiction, “Jud Süss” can’t figure out if it’s a pro-Jewish story or an anti-Jewish story, and that confusion and madness has turned it into something called a canker, a monstrous vortex of terror. Is there any way Tom can survive the insane canker?

Verdict: Thumbs down. I loved the backstory about “Jud Süss” (Mike Carey and Peter Gross include a short essay about the novel, the movie, and the power of propaganda) but the comic surrounding it just wasn’t up to snuff. Tom survives the shooting by a fluke, he stops the canker by fluke, and everyone gets back home by fluke. Lucky flukes don’t make for compelling drama.

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Friday Night Fights: A Spirited Battle!

Listen, man, I’ve had one heck of a week. I had to get out of bed, like, five times since Monday, and I had to go to work, and they didn’t let me play video games at all! What is up with that? Don’t they realize how important it is for me to play video games as often as I can?

Also, speaking of video games, none of y’all bothered to just show up at my door and give me a free Centipede coin-op machine. I give and I give, and no one will donate free Centipede machines to me, except for the ones that dispense actual centipedes, and I don’t want those at all!

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, it’s time for FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight, we’re heading all the way back to the August 10, 1947 edition of “The Spirit Section,” a small tabloid-size comic book that used to be included in newspapers back in the ’40s and ’50s. This is from a story called “Sign of the Octopus” and it was written and drawn by the great Will Eisner. Here, the Spirit wakes up from an impromptu nap, goes off to get some water, and gets a little lullaby, courtesy of Crusher, one of the hired goons of the Octopus.

Mmmm, all that plus spaghetti for supper! Sounds great, Mr. Spirit!

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Sidekicks to the Rescue


Batgirl #8

Stephanie has her big meeting with her ex-boyfriend — Tim Drake, now calling himself Red Robin. He’s angry that she’s back in costume risking her life again, and she’s angry that he keeps treating her like she’s useless. But the League of Assassins apparently followed Tim back to Gotham, and they’ve targeted a heck of a lot of people for death. Stephanie and Tim put on their fancy dress duds to go visit a ritzy party where the assassins plan to attack Dr. Leslie Thompkins. They manage to rescue Dr. Thompkins and the other partygoers by stomping on a dozen of Ra’s al Ghul’s assassins… but there are a heck of a lot more assassins running around Gotham tonight…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very nice action. Great characterization and dialogue. And lots of excellently funny stuff, including the robot drones programmed to speak like fortune cookies, Stephanie’s absolutely perfect zing on the Red Robin costume, and the wonderful patter between Stephanie and Tim.


Red Robin #10

I went ahead and picked this one up because it’s the second part of the story from “Batgirl.” In the aftermath of the big fight, Steph gets to meet Tim’s most recent ex — Prudence, a bald killer for the League of Assassins who’s been assigned to kill Batgirl. So to Tim’s amazement, his “completely useless” ex-girlfriend beats the professional assassin down. And it comes out that Tim was a recent leader of the League of Assassins himself, which doesn’t go over very well with Stephanie. Then a bunch of stuff happens that I had a little trouble following. Vicki Vale is in there, for some reason, and Lucius Fox’s daughter, and a bunch of assassins in funny costumes.

Verdict: Thumbs down, solely because I didn’t know all the background players. The thing Marvel does excellently that DC doesn’t even attempt is putting recap pages at the front of every comic. You don’t increase readership by making things too confusing for new readers to catch on to.

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Where in Time is Bruce Wayne?

Batman and Robin #10

Let’s review a bit. Back at the end of the “Final Crisis” series, Darkseid hit Batman with his big shock-and-awe weapon — the Omega Effect. Everyone assumed it killed him, but Tim Drake — now calling himself Red Robin — has been insisting that instead, Batman was teleported somewhere in the past. Dick Grayson has taken over Batman’s identity, with Bruce Wayne’s son, Damian, becoming the new Robin. The Bat Family is keeping Bruce Wayne’s death a secret — officially, he’s just being an eccentric recluse and never goes out in public. Since Dick learned last issue that the corpse he believed belonged to Bruce Wayne was actually just a defective clone, he now thinks Tim may be on to something.

So in this issue, Damian starts taking interest in the financial dealings of Wayne Enterprises, while Dick-as-Batman gets a visit from a masked man called Oberon Sexton who has evidence that assassins are stalking Bruce Wayne. Meanwhile, Alfred Pennyworth has realized that if Bruce Wayne was displaced in time, he’d try to send a message to them somehow — and Wayne Manor is a really old mansion situated on top of an ancient cave system, offering a time traveler lots of space to leave clues for the future. And so Alfred has begun to notice subtle clues in the paintings of the Wayne family over the centuries. While Alfred does research on the Wayne patriarchs on the Bat-Computer, Dick and Damian do some snooping around the mansion to see what they can turn up. Damian expresses worries that if Bruce comes back, he’ll no longer get to be Robin — did his mother Talia do something to his mind while he was recuperating from his spinal surgery? Is that why he suddenly tries to kill Dick? And what does Dick find once he falls into the basement?

Verdict: Thumbs up. An excellent mystery to start off “The Return of Bruce Wayne.” And mysteries within mysteries — what’s wrong with Damian? Who is Oberon Sexton? Where is the missing Wayne portrait? What does “Barbatos” mean? This is beginning with a lot of stuff to really get the interest piqued, and I can’t wait for the next issue.

Secret Six #19

The Six are on a mission to track down the fate of a kid who got inducted into the Church of Brother Blood, with Black Alice posing as a cultist wannabe. Bane is willing to let the cultists kill Alice, but Ragdoll gets uncharacteristically heroic and leads the rest of the team in her rescue. And this, in turn, leads to Alice getting a crush on Ragdoll. Which is mostly unexpected and creepy and worrisome. Meanwhile, former Six member Cheshire meets up with a bunch of paramilitary kidnappers — and Cheshire being the scary destructive poisonous assassin she is, she wipes ’em out without too much trouble… up until the REAL kidnappers make it to the scene. And back with the Six, they go to make their report to the extremely wealthy father of the kid who’d been abducted by the Church of Blood — and it turns out that the old coot has a really, really nasty surprise in store for Catman…

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, great characterization and dialogue, excellent action, and a few brutal twists of the knife. DC should let Gail Simone write more of their comic books.

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No More Mr. Knife Guy

Detective Comics #862

We get a look at how the serial mutilator Cutter was created, courtesy of a flashback with Bruce Wayne. And we get a look at Cutter today — with knives imbedded into his skin to make it easier to cut superheroes like Batwoman when she comes after him. In the aftermath after Cutter get away, Kate Kane gives her college-going cousin Bette a call — Cutter’s attacks are making Bette consider putting on her old Flamebird costume again. And it might be a good idea, too, cause Cutter actually has Bette targeted. Our second feature sees the Question and Huntress turn to Oracle for help, head out to take down a high-tech computer hub for a bunch of human smugglers, and later find themselves on the biggest mad-science island in the world.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Still enjoying the ongoing Batwoman story. I want someone to give Greg Rucka an ongoing “Batwoman” comic to write — this is all just too good to have to give up when Bruce Wayne eventually comes back. And the backup feature is incredible fun. Cully Hamner’s artwork is just so wonderful and expressive — it’s great to see comics starring three different women who all actually look distinctive from one another. And Babs Gordon plays wheelchair basketball. I want to say that feels weird… but of course Babs Gordon plays wheelchair basketball!

JSA All-Stars #4

Sand is back in action after a very, very long hiatus. And he’s got bad news for everyone — Johnny Sorrow has summoned the King of Tears, an eldritch monster-god, with the reluctant help of the Injustice Society. By the time the All-Stars make it out to where the Injustice Society is waiting, the King of Tears is still in the process of rising from the earth, and it’s a knock-down, drag-out fight from there. King Chimera apparently gets killed by Johnny Sorrow, who gives Stargirl an ultimatum — the King of Tears will kill everyone unless she surrenders and gives up her weapons. How bad are things about to get for Courtney?

Verdict: Ehh, thumbs down. The artwork on this one is entirely freaky, and not in any good way. Johnny Sorrow is probably one of my favorite DC villains, but his characterization seems a bit off, too.

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Neon Lights

Astro City: The Dark Age, Book Four #2

It’s the down-and-dirty ’80s, everything’s nasty and cynical and brutal and cruel, and the Silver Agent has just traveled back in time to stop something from awful from happening. Charles and Royal Williams are chasing Aubrey Jason, a rotten piece of work who killed the Williams brothers’ parents decades ago. He’s got a mad scientist to agree to give him unlimited cosmic power, while the scientist’s vat-grown Dynamoids tear up Las Vegas and battle the local superheroes, like Mirage, the neon-wearing guy pictured on the cover. (Wow, that was a spectacularly long sentence.) Can Charles and Royal stop Aubrey Jason, even with the unwitting assistance of Mirage and the Silver Agent? And dark power has come thundering out of a dimensional vortex into Astro City?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Still loving the adventures of the Williams brothers, and everything in the background is just great, too. What’s really impressing me in this one is how much acknowledged darkness there is in this story. When you look back at the ’80s and the “Iron Age,” a lot of the comic stories were dark and bleak, but they never seemed to be really aware of how dark things were. Kurt Busiek has grasped all the pessimism and nihilism of the ’80s and has brought it out of the shadows to make sure we don’t miss it. Everything from the violence-loving TV viewers exulting in the chaos to the ominous hoofbeats riding out of the alley combine to create an incredibly forboding and frightening picture.

Milestone Forever #2

Well, in the last issue of this swan song for the old comics of Milestone Media, Icon, Rocket, and the Blood Syndicate got their happy endings — this time, it’s time for Hardware and Static. For Hardware, he’s inherited Alva Industries, he’s taken out the bad guys, and he doesn’t know where to go next. For Static, he’s heading out for his tenth high school reunion, meeting friends, and beating up on old enemies. And in the end, just as Dharma had feared, the end of the universe is on the way…

Verdict: Thumbs up. You want my advice? Ignore the stuff with Dharma. It ain’t important. The Hardware story is really good, and the Static story is absolutely fantastic. And even then, it coulda been better — DC has some weird grudge against Dwayne McDuffie, and it looks like they went meddling in his story again. But what we get here is still pretty good and still worth picking up, even if it’s six bucks. Man oh man, how I have missed ChrisCross’s artwork…

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