Archive for July, 2010

Friday Night Fights: Spider-Mania!

Our FNF host, SpaceBooger, has decreed thusly: Anyone who won any of the previous 12 rounds of Friday Night Fights has to post one more battle today, to compete to be the final winner. So here’s my entry: from November 1963’s The Amazing Spider-Man #6 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko:

If you want to vote for your favorite of today’s fights, just click on the button below — the entries won’t be listed ’til around 11 tonight, so make sure you check tonight or this weekend.

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Mummy Dearest

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #18

Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel discover a new intruder inside the Rock of Eternity — a magical Egyptian mummy who claims he was cursed by the wizard Shazam and Black Adam centuries ago and released during Black Adam’s recent rampage. How tough could a dried-up old mummy be? Captain Marvel knocks his jaw off… but he can regenerate himself easily. And he’s got a mystical device called the Horn of Horrors that can summon hordes of demons. Cap can beat up demons all day, but all Mary has on her side is her speed. And the mummy is creating even more demons back on Earth, too. Can the Marvels defeat the mummy and his monsters?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a simple, straightforward story, with a few clever twists. And Mary gets a rare chance to show off her superhero bonafides, too. All that, plus a not-so-subtle setup for some future stories, too.

Detective Comics #867

There’s a new gang in town — the Jokerz, a bunch of private citizens, mostly law-abiding, who have gotten addicted to a low-dose variant of Joker venom. They get called together flash-mob style to run amok, trash places, and cause chaos. Their ringleader is a man dressed up as the Joker, who engineers a regular Jokerz riot into something more deadly when he shoots and wounds a cop, who then shoots one of the Jokerz. When the gang later marches on the Gotham Police Department, Commissioner Gordon orders his cops to use rubber bullets, convinced that the Jokerz aren’t a violent gang. Turns out he was wrong. Now in addition to angering his own cops, a new player is impersonating the Batman and telling Gotham’s citizens to emulate Batman’s vigilante tactics.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice to see the Jokerz outside of the old “Batman Beyond” cartoon, and the Joker impersonator looks like he could be an interesting villain. Only quibble — Batman sure didn’t do very much in this issue… Hopefully, that’ll change later…

Green Lantern #56

Giant-headed super-psychic Hector Hammond gets extraterrestrial help in breaking out of prison, and he goes off looking for Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris. Hal, meanwhile, is in Minnesota, trying to find Larfleeze, who’s busy stealing everything he can, no matter how valueless. Hal eventually finds Larfleeze working on… a letter to Santa? Hey, when you’re the greediest thing in the cosmos, why not try to hit up the Patron Saint of Greed for some more loot? But before long, Hammond shows up and grabs away Larfleeze’s orange lantern, intent on freeing Ophidian, the orange lantern entity trapped inside. Certainly two ring slingers can fight off a floating, paralyzed telepath, right? Well, not unless Hammond eats the orange lantern…

Verdict: Thumbs up. An issue focusing on the awesomely greedy Larfleeze? Oh, yes, I’ll have more of that, please.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Lubbock’s Star Comics has a new website design. Go check it out…
  • Full trailer for next year’s “Thor” movie. Doesn’t look bad. A bit longer than I was expecting, but doesn’t look bad.
  • Whoa, the triceratops we’ve all been familiar with since kindergarten may have just been a baby version of another dinosaur?
  • The “Friends of Lulu” organization advocating for women comics creators is in trouble. Let’s hope it can survive…

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The Brand New Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman #601

The first full issue of J. Michael Straczynski’s run on this title. History has been rewritten — Themyscira was destroyed decades ago, and Wonder Woman has been on the run ever since. A blind oracle grants her a vision of the final days of Paradise Island, after the gods withdrew their protection of the Amazons. A mysterious force attacked the island with superior magical firepower, and Queen Hippolyta died rather than betray where Diana was being hidden. After she leaves the oracle, Diana tracks the men who’ve been pursuing her, but before she can attack them or their shadowy leader, she learns that some of the surviving Amazons are about to be attacked and destroyed. Can she make it halfway around the world in time to save them?

Verdict: I’ll give it a thumbs up. I was not expecting much from this, because in the past few years, J. Michael Straczynski hasn’t done much to justify the very high opinion that people have of him. His work on “The Brave and the Bold” has mostly spotlighted a lot of stories where JMS mangles characters’ personalities, and his just-begun run on “Action Comics,” where Superman sets out to walk across the country, has been greeted with howls of derision. In contrast, this one is… not bad. It’s not the best comic of the week, but it isn’t bad at all.

So why is this one better than his other DC books? My theory is that JMS does his best writing on his own characters — “Babylon 5,” “Rising Stars,” you name it — but when it comes to characters that he didn’t create himself, whose personalities were crafted and established by other writers, he doesn’t do as well, because he gives them the personalities he wants them to have, rather than the personalities that readers have come to expect. And this Wonder Woman, with her completely altered origin and history, with none of her previous supporting cast, is a completely different character than any previous Wonder Woman. Will he be able to write a decent Wonder Woman when the reality-altering storyline is over? Or is JMS hoping we’ll all forget what Wondy was like before he came along? Only time will tell.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4

Welcome to the Wild West, where murderous thugs execute homesteader families and no one defends them… except for a time-traveling bat-obsessed masked man wearing a black cowboy hat and duster. Vandal Savage, the immortal caveman, has survived to the 1800s and has hired Jonah Hex, the West’s foremost hired gun, to protect him while the diabolical Dr. Thomas Wayne tries to open a mysterious box with a bat emblazoned on the cover. Can Bruce Wayne save the innocent, punish the guilty, preserve the future of the Wayne family, and avoid getting gutshot by Jonah Hex? Hmm, well, maybe not all of that…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice Western fun with a little Batman flavor to go with it. I completely approve.

Supergirl #54

We start out with a great moment — with disaster all around and a little kid in grave danger, Jimmy Olsen shows up to save the day. But he runs into trouble soon afterwards after he gets abducted by a Bizarro Supergirl. And where’s the regular Supergirl? Angsting it up at home because she doesn’t want to be a superhero any more after the destruction of New Krypton. When Lana Lang discovers what’s tearing up Metropolis, she calls Kara and convinces her to go take care of the Bizarro. But is Supergirl prepared for the new Bizarro superpower?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great stuff with Jimmy Olsen at the beginning, and decent superheroics, elsewhere. The Bizarro Supergirl is very nicely creepy, and I’m generally happier with the art style than I’ve been with a lot of previous incarnations of the main character. There are also some nice plot complications going on in the background that will be a lot of fun eventually.

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Magic Times

Zatanna #3

The evil and ghoulishly smiling Brother Night still has it in for Zatanna, attacking her with a bunch of mannequins backstage at her theater. She traces him and his allies back to Mt. Diablo, where Night sacrificed a bunch of children decades ago in exchange for hellish powers. Zatanna deals with Night’s minions easily, but he has a trick up his sleeve — he’s enslaved the soul of Zatanna’s father, Zatara! Can Zatanna save her father and defeat Brother Night? Or will their combined powers be too much for her?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice close to Zatanna’s first short storyarc. Brother Night really does make an excellent villain — the rictus grin is so wonderfully creepy. If I’ve got anything to complain about, it’s that there’s not been a lot of development of Zatanna’s supporting cast — but just three issues in, I’m not sure we’d be able to see much beyond cursory characterization.

The New Avengers #2

The New Avengers have been attacked by Dr. Strange and Daimon Hellstrom, both possessed by demonic forces. While Dr. Voodoo sent the mystic Eye of Agamotto to Luke Cage for safekeeping, Luke has now been possessed by some other entity that’s caused him to grow into a giant and join the attack. What follows is a lot of fighting, yelling, running around, and flinging the Eye of Agamotto back and forth. Wolverine stabs Dr. Strange and Hellstrom right before they get unpossessed. Spidey gets put in charge of Cage’s baby. Will the Avengers be able to keep the Eye out of the bad guys’ hands?

Verdict: I think I’m gonna give it a thumbs down. A lot of the character interaction is pretty nice, but it just doesn’t fit in well with the furious confusion of the action. Like I said yesterday, this is an ongoing problem with Brian Michael Bendis‘ writing, and to me, it indicates that Marvel should do what they can to stop treating him like the be-all-and-end-all of comics writers. Find what he does well and let him work on that, but don’t stick him on so many books, ’cause it makes the comics suffer.

Today’s Cool Links:

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The Replacement

PS238 #45

There’s a lot of stuff happening in this issue. Ron “Captain Clarinet” Peterson and Tyler “Moon Shadow” Marlocke are on the run from Dax-Ra’s guards. They manage to evade them and finally meet up with Ron’s father, Earth’s mightiest superhero, Atlas, who isn’t pleased to hear that Ron has been stripped of his powers or that Dax-Ra is plotting against him and his family. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the new substitute Atlas is Forak, an exiled Argosian engineer whose powers are vastly weaker than the original Atlas’. Besides that, he’s got no stomach or talent for crimefighting, Julie “84” Finster has been assigned to try to teach him about superheroing and how to handle life on Earth. Of course, they run into trouble when they get kidnapped by a supervillain who wants to hold them for ransom. Can 84 get Forak to start thinking like a hero and not a whipping boy? Can Atlas get the kids safely back to Earth?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice art, nice storytelling, and unexpectedly high stakes for an all-ages comic. Aaron Williams always brings the fun with this book.

The Avengers #3

World-conquering super-mutant Apocalypse has just made the scene, along with his newest crop of Horsemen — the Scarlet Witch, Red Hulk, Wolverine, and Spider-Man. Obviously, these are Horsemen from an alternate future, since Wolverine and Spidey are current Avengers trying to stop Apocalypse’s rampage. They’re able to run the villains off after a pitched battle, but the problem now is that more timelost threats are appearing, and a small group of Avengers needs to travel into the future to stop their own children before they destroy the space-time continuum.

Verdict: Jeez, I dunno. The best parts were Spider-Man barely saving an armor-less Iron Man and Spidey later realizing after the fact that one of the Horsemen was supposed to be him. And the thing is, though those were pretty fun, they actually felt out-of-place in this all-fighting most-of-the-time issue. There are times I think Brian Michael Bendis should leave superheroics alone and just concentrate on stories with lots and lots and lots of dialogue, because he clearly loves that the most.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • I never thought I’d feel sorry for the Teabaggers ’til now. An Oregon GOP group has gone and stolen a slogan from the merciless, unforgiving, and moderately evil hacking group 4chan. Expect chaos.
  • This is funny but might be a bit rude. A zoologist meets up with a confused but amorous parrot while actor/comedian Stephen Fry makes wry commentary.

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Here, Kitty Kitty

Prince of Power #3

This was a great example of how to combine “awesome” with “hilarious.”

Amadeus Cho wants to become a god solely so he can find where in the multiverse his friend Hercules has been exiled. He’s recruited the aid of Thor, and they’re opposed by Vali Halfling, semi-mortal son of Loki, who has already acquired two of the four ingredients for the god formula for himself. Now Amadeus and Thor have traveled to the Egyptian underworld, where they have to find the Book of Thoth — but first they have to get past the savage lion-headed Sekhmet, goddess of destruction, and the snake-crocodile demon Apep. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Delphyne Gorgon, smokin’ hot green-skinned snake-haired Queen of the Amazons, is kickin’ ass and taking names inside the Olympus Group’s prison level — but to survive, she’s going to need the aid of her hated enemy Athena.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great action all over the place, but there are two moments that really push this story all the way to mega-awesome — the Death Scrunchie and the sudden appearance of Hathor, Goddess of Love… and Lolcats. No spoilers here — so I’d advise you to go pick it up.

Legion of Super-Heroes #3

Well, let’s see, power-copying xenophobe Earth-Man has a Green Lantern ring that drags him off to some distant planet and commands him to save the sentient life on that world — but he can’t actually find any sentient life anywhere. Meanwhile, Saturn Queen is making more plots to kill Legion members. Lightning Lad and Lightning Lass find Saturn Girl and go to help her find her children.

Verdict: Thumbs down. I’ll grant you, it gets better whenever we can see a few more of the Legionnaires, but on the whole, this comic is boring me silly.

Justice Society of America #41

It’s a crossover with the “Justice League of America” comic — which I haven’t read, and don’t have a lot of interest in reading. Apparently, something has gone wrong with Green Lantern’s Starheart-activated powers, and it’s causing other super-people to go crazy for completely unexplained reasons.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Stupid crossovers are stupid.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Lovecraft 101

Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales by Kenneth Hite

Getting a little tired of reviewing comics all the time, so let’s change gears and look at a regular book for once.

A year or two back, a friend of mine noticed the stuffed Cthulhu toy I keep around the house and asked what it was, leading to a fairly lengthy explanation of H.P. Lovecraft, the Cthulhu Mythos, and cosmic horror in general. All went well until: “So if I wanted to read some of this Lovecraft stuff, where should I start?”

Well, that was a tough question. I’d read all of Lovecraft’s stories, and I think he’s a great writer — but he is an acquired taste for a lot of folks, with a tendency to write in a very archaic style that may not translate well for a lot of modern readers. I couldn’t very well tell my friend “Just go read all of them.” Some folks react better to HPL’s shorter stories, some like his longer stories, some groove on his more Poe-esque tales, some adore his more brain-blasting cosmic horror — and it’s hard to predict who is going to like what. How do you pick the right recommendations for the right person?

There’s finally an easy solution. Hand them this book, let ’em read it through over a couple of nights, and let ’em pick what they want to read after that.

“Tour de Lovecraft” is written by Kenneth Hite, a writer and RPG designer who dearly loves all things Lovecraftian. He has a scholar’s knowledge of Lovecraft and Lovecraft research, a geek’s enthusiasm for the subject, and a comedian’s ability to make it all fun to read. His essays on all of Lovecraft’s stories are short and easy to digest — he tackles everything from Lovecraft’s influences and history, his disciples, the scholars who’ve researched his work over the decades, all the way to frank discussions of Lovecraft’s racism and how it affects his stories.

This book makes great reading for Lovecraft fanatics, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that may help novices figure out what all the crawling chaos is all about.

If you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, you owe it to yourself to make sure this is on your bookshelf. It’ll be fun for you to read, and it may help you create some more Lovecraft fans.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Nerds vs. Fred Phelps? NERDS WIN.
  • Alan Moore does have an occasional tendency to be an arrogant douche… but then again, if the major comics companies treated me this way, I think I’d cop a ‘tude, too.

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Get Curly

Tiny Titans #30

The plot on this one seems pretty straightforward — Kid Flash is racing all over town, and everyone he zips past ends up getting crazy curly hair from his backdraft. Cassie and Starfire look fine with curly hair, Rose looks a little weird, and Robin and Superboy look really, really goofy. All that, plus Peek-a-Boo makes her first appearance in the TinyTitansverse and steals Kid Flash’s heart. Anything else? Oh, yeah, Ambush Bug shows up, too. He doesn’t do much, but just the idea that we’ll see more of him here in the future makes me entirely happy.

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, it’s cute, funny, and awesome. My local comic shop mentioned to me today that this series is collected by a lot more adults than kids — do they just groove on the fun stories? Or are they enjoying a Titans series that’s not dominated by angst and gloom?

Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #4

The Avengers end up getting recruited to help bounty hunter Kraven the Hunter capture Deadpool. That leads to two problems: Deadpool is very, very good at getting away from people trying to catch him, and Kraven is very, very good at endangering civilians and making Captain America angry. All that, plus Sue Storm and the Blonde Phantom trail an incognito Sub-Mariner.

Verdict: Thumbs up, but just barely. The whole thing is a little bit too busy, and the ending is a bit weak. I’m also not thrilled about yet another Deadpool appearance in the way-too-Deadpool-centric Marvel Universe. Nevertheless, the art’s nice, the writing is pretty good, and the characterizations are fun.

Marvel Super Hero Squad #7

The Ringmaster hypnotizes the Super Hero Squad and makes them perform in — what else? — a circus, while Dr. Doom sends the Toad, Screaming Mimi, Paste-Pot Pete, and the Melter to infiltrate the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier and steal all their fractals. Can Captain America save the Squad and the fractals?

Verdict: I’m going to thumbs this one down. Ya promise me a circus issue, ya better deliver more than a couple of pages of circus stuff. The dialogue from the bad guys on the Helicarrier was nice, but it really should’ve been a separate story from the one with the Ringmaster.

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Substitutes and Inferiors

The Brave and the Bold #35

I’d pretty much given up on this title — J. Michael Straczynski’s storytelling skills lately have ranged from incompetent to downright insulting. But I’ve got a weakness for both the Inferior Five and the Legion of Substitute Heroes, so I shelled out the dough to check it out.

This story is closely related to a previous “Brave and the Bold” story where the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Doom Patrol teamed up to save the future Earth from a black hole. Now in the aftermath, the Legion of Substitute Heroes have decided they’d like to get some of that Saving-the-World glory for themselves, so they steal a Time Bubble to try to team up with the Doom Patrol before the Legion can. But they arrive too late, the Legion and the Doom Patrol have already left, and they have to go look for a new team to join with — in this case, the Inferior Five. So in between various time travel mishaps, trying to explain advanced quantum theory to everyone, and losing Dumb Bunny’s tail in the Time Bubble’s machinery… the Legion of Super-Heroes and Doom Patrol still save the world by themselves. Oh, well, at least the Substitutes and the Inferior Five are still friends, right?

Verdict: I think I’ll actually give this a thumbs up. The main thing a story starring the Substitute Heroes and the Inferior Five needs to have is a nice big dollop of silly, and this was a pretty darn silly story. Sure, some of the jokes get hammered just a bit too hard, but it could’ve been a heck of a lot worse.

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #2

Well, Spider-Man and Wolverine have gone time-traveling, getting stuck in a future where the human race has been wiped out by Doctor Doom, after uploading his intellect into a planet, but the cavemen who Wolverine trained in the distant past have managed to survive and (barely) thrive. While Spidey does what he can to teach them science and try to find a way to defeat Doom the Living Planet if it ever comes back, Wolverine has locked himself away from the world to avoid the former cavemen who now worship him. Finally, Spidey finds the one weapon that could save everyone — the Phoenix Force — and manages to forge it into a single bullet. But when it’s fired, it’s guaranteed to kill whoever pulls the trigger. When Doom makes his return, is Spidey going to be able to fire that fateful bullet?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of great stuff here, including Doom, the Phoenix Bullet, and Spidey’s replacement costume. The dialogue is nice, the artwork is great, and I’m loving the crazy ideas that are getting tossed around here.

Booster Gold #34

Rip Hunter tells Booster that since he rescued Rani from the future, he now has to take responsibility for her as her surrogate father. Booster isn’t ready for that responsibility, but his sister Michelle takes up the challenge. Still trying to figure out a way to stop Maxwell Lord in the past when he was a good guy, Booster takes another trip to the Justice League International days and runs into Ted Kord, who drags him along on one of his get-rich-quick schemes. Soon, Booster and Blue Beetle are on the trail of some strange thieves who stole a mystic book from the Vatican. Needing to track the thieves off-planet, they turn to Mister Miracle and Big Barda, who aren’t very enthusiastic about helping. After riding a Boom Tube to a quasi-fantasy world, they fight a dragon and come to the attention of a fairly unambitious-but-still-villainous wizard called Hieronymous the Under-Achiever. Can the heroes survive against his magical minions and enslaved subjects?

Verdict: A narrow thumbs up. I like the Bwa-Ha-Ha days of the Justice League just fine, but this doesn’t feel like one of the adventures of the new, more competent Booster Gold — it just feels like an old ’80s JLI tale. On the other hand, it is pretty funny, particularly the geeky Hieronymous.

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Evidence of Absence

Daytripper #8

Brás de Oliva Domingos is now 47, and for the first time, he doesn’t actually appear in this issue. Our focus is on his wife and young son — Brás is traveling on business. But he keeps in touch with frequent phone calls and e-mails, telling them how much he loves them, making up new bedtime stories for his son, and telling them he’s looking forward to coming home soon. And of course, this series being what it is, we all know that’s not going to turn out the way Brás had planned…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good grief, this is just a great series — very likely the best we’ve seen so far this year. If you’re not reading it, you shoulda been, man. Just two issues left of this one…

Batgirl #12

While Oracle fights against the Calculator inside his own subconscious, Batgirl makes her way through the deathtraps in his secret headquarters. Can Stephanie save Oracle and everyone in Gotham City from Calculator and his techno-zombie virus?

Verdict: Thumbs down. It’s an awesome cover, but I just couldn’t get excited about the story. Do we really need Wendy Harris as a second Oracle?

Birds of Prey #3

The Penguin is hallucinating from blood loss, a bunch of rogue cops attack the team with a couple of tanks, Savant and Creote aren’t actually dead after all and have shown up to kidnap Oracle, the White Canary manages to injure Hawk and force him to switch to his unpowered form, and there’s a secret mastermind — maybe several secret masterminds — behind everything.

Verdict: Thumbs down. There’s just too much going on — and even with all the stuff going on, we’re still not seeing the plot advance quickly enough.

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