Archive for August, 2010

Whom the Gods Destroy…

Prince of Power #4

Amadeus Cho is still after the final ingredient that will allow him to attain godhood and rescue Hercules from interdimensional limbo, but Thor has changed his mind about helping him — Amadeus reminds him too much of his deceitful brother, Loki. While Amadeus is able to put Thor down with a combination of science and sorcery, he still has to contend with the almost-godlike Vali Halfling, the actual son of Loki. Meanwhile, Delphyne Gorgon, Amadeus’ dishy, green-skinned, snakey girlfriend, is trying to escape captivity and beat Atalanta, the Parthenon’s sub-commander. Do they stand a chance of completing the ritual to make Amadeus a god? Does he have a prayer of saving Hercules?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Like every issue of this series — and like pretty much everything that Greg Pak and Fred van Lente get their hands on — this is an outstanding mixture of furious action, excellent humor, and brainy plotting. Much, much fun.

Detective Comics #868

The Jokerz gang is still running wild in Gotham, now answered by the Guardian Bats, a bunch of people who’ve been encouraged by a Batman impostor to dress up as Batman to fight crime. In an attempt to figure out what he’s dealing with, Dick Grayson exposes himself to the Joker Juice that the Jokerz use to make themselves look and act like the Joker. Once he gets control of himself again, he and Commissioner Gordon still have to figure out a way to get the Jokerz, the Guardian Bats, and the impostor Batman and Joker back under control. While riot after riot tears the city apart, we finally get a good glimpse of the man behind all the chaos and what traumas have influenced his life.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Mostly a bunch of run-of-the-mill fisticuffs in the street, but the extended origin of the Impostor Joker does a lot to redeem the story — he’s an interesting character, both pathetic and ruthless. Not sure he has much of a future — there’s only one Joker, and he doesn’t take kindly to imitations…

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Satoshi Kon was the creator of some really great anime — one of my favorites ever is his “Paranoia Agent.” He died last week at the too-young age of 46, and he left these last words to his family, friends, and fans.
  • How can science fiction help pull folks through tough times?
  • I’m gonna have to require y’all to watch this. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting a lot from it when I first watched it, but it ended up being just glorious.

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Greased Lightning

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #19

Captain Marvel has had a run-in with a villain called the Vampire Burglar, who doesn’t look much like either a vampire or a burglar, but he’s managed to steal away most of Cap’s life energy, leaving him looking like an old man and not too far away from actually dying. In desperation, Mary and Tawny turn to Freddy Freeman to help them get to the Rock of Eternity — he’s no big fan of the Marvels, but he’s moved to help out. They decide to summon the wizard, even though they don’t know whether Black Adam will return. And as it turns out, Black Adam is exactly who comes back, with extra powers he gained while running around the wizard’s pocket dimension. He’s more than powerful enough to take care of Mary, Tawny, and Black Adam Jr., and even the return of the wizard doesn’t leave them on much better ground. The only hope for Cap is for Freddy to make a very big sacrifice.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very good story. Lots of action, lots of emotional resonance, very fun art. I loved it from beginning to end, quite honestly.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #20

Big Barda comes to request Batman’s aid to find her kidnapped husband, Mister Miracle — and when they go to their suburban home to investigate, they’re immediately attacked by forces from Apokolips, including the Female Furies, who are trying to kill off Mister Miracle so Barda will return to lead them. The heroes are able to rescue Miracle from the rocketship deathtrap he’s been tied to, but he’s in no shape to fight, and Batman and Barda are badly outnumbered by the Furies. Can they figure out a way to get rid of the Furies before a tragedy occurs?

The followup story is a reprint of the Martian Manhunter story from… two issues ago? Holy baloney, that’s weak.

Verdict: Thumbs down. The story with Big Barda was alright — not the strongest story, but not particularly bad. But reprinting a story that’s just two months old? That’s either a wildly inept screwup or the most blatant expression of “We’ve been canceled, we don’t care anymore” contempt I’ve seen in a long, long time. Whichever it is, it’s enough to kill any enjoyment the first story may have left behind.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Friday Night Fights: Brain Pain!

Alright, kiddies, it’s Friday, time for the weekend, and we need some comic book violence to get things started right. Let’s jump right into… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

This is one of my all-time favorites — possibly the most epic battle ever from Grant Morrison’s run on “JLA” — during the “Rock of Ages” storyline, we get a glimpse into an alternate future where the evil New God Darkseid has taken over the world. So from January 1998’s JLA #14 by Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, and John Dell, here’s the all-powerful Darkseid vs. a guy who shrinks and a guy who shoots arrows:

And the coda to that fight, just because it’s a great coupla lines:

Everyone have a great weekend — I’ll see y’all Monday.

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The Nose Knows

Madame Xanadu #26

Sammy is a little homeless boy who’s plagued by a tremendously noxious odor. No one can stand to be anywhere near him, the schools won’t accept him, animals run away from him. Well, except for dogs. Dogs chase him and try to eat him. When he can escape from the dogs, he sleeps in someone’s basement — always the same basement — and he has happy dreams where he’s a brave hero. But even in his dreams, he’s pursued by the Space Witch. Eventually, after much too long lost on his own, he meets up with the Space Witch — Madame Xanadu, of course. And she reveals the great secret about Sammy’s life.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Another strange, sad story from this series. Don’t be put off by Chrissie Zullo’s art — it may look like a bunch of “Precious Moments” figures, but that’s just to draw you into the storybook feel of this tale.

Wonder Woman #602

The alternate history version of Wonder Woman is trying to save a small enclave of Amazons hiding out at a hidden temple in Turkey. She bonds with them for a while, talks to the gods, and goes out to fight the soldiers waiting outside the temple to kill them.

Verdict: Thumbs down. There’s some fighting at the beginning and the end, and the entire middle is taken up with a lot of talking. And it’s pretty boring talking. Come to think of it, the fighting ain’t that great either. It’s just not a very entertaining comic at all.

Today’s Cool Links:

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The Future, Conan?

The Avengers #4

Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine, and Noh-Varr travel to the future to try to stop whatever time anomaly has been caused by their children. What they find is, apparently, a bunch of superheroes and supervillains fighting Ultron in the Destroyer’s body. Back in the present, the rest of the Avengers run into Killraven and his pet Devil Dinosaur, who are on the run from war tripods from futuristic Mars. While Thor takes care of the Martians, a bunch of axe-wielding gangsters from the turn of the last century start fighting in the street. And then the WWI biplanes show up. And more dinosaurs. And zeppelins. And, um, Galactus. Things aren’t much better in the future, where the Avengers’ kids take down the time-traveling Avengers. And when they wake up, they learn that the Maestro is running things, along with future Iron Man, who wants to do something awful to the present Iron Man’s face with a big, jagged hook.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story, good art, some fun dialogue. I’ve got some quibbles with the way the Avengers in the present seemed mostly to stand around inside a building and watch the chaos outside. I mean, Thor is pretty good with the Martian tripods, but couldn’t the street-level heroes be taking care of some of those guys running around with axes?

Spider-Girl: The End

The end of Spider-Girl?!

Okay, we start out in the future, with an elderly Auntie M telling a bunch of kids about the last adventure of Spider-Girl — May Parker, the near-future daughter of Peter and Mary Jane Parker, who inherited her dad’s spider powers and tries to balance her career as a superhero with a normal life as a high school student. Well, a few years back, May learned that she, like her dad, had a clone out there. April jealously wanted all the great stuff that May had, and turned to a symbiote to help her get it. Unsurprisingly, this made April — who now called herself Mayhem — all kinds of unbalanced and crazy, and in one final confrontation with Spider-Girl, when Mayhem’s recklessness caused a huge fire, May threw April to safety before dying in an explosion.

With storytime over, Auntie M sends the kids away, and we learn the rest of the story. Auntie M is actually Mayhem, and May Parker’s death made April even more dangerous, and as she killed both supervillains and superheroes, the government finally okayed a process to bond a bunch of soldiers with symbiotes, in the hopes that they could be used against her. Unfortunately, they turned out to become a lethal army dedicated to wiping out humanity, leaving Mayhem as one of the few heroes who could stop them. But now, there’s a plan to send Mayhem back in time to stop her younger self from killing Spider-Girl. Does the plan have a chance to work? Maybe not if the process accidentally traps April inside a wall…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wonderful art and story. Lots of excitement, great fight scenes, and plenty of the excellent retro Silver-Age-style teen angst that makes the Spider-Girl stories so fun. I don’t know if this is really the end of Marvel’s unexpectedly long-lasting Spider-Girl stories or if Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz can persuade Marvel and readers to give her yet another chance. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that she’ll be back.

Today’s Cool Links:

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All Dogs Go to Heaven


I got this a while back and loved the stuffing out of it, so let’s go ahead and give it a proper review.

“Laika” is a 2007 graphic novel by Nick Abadzis about the first animal to go into space — a small mixed-breed dog named Laika, who was sent up by the Soviets in 1957 aboard Sputnik 2. The first Sputnik had launched just a month before, but Khrushchev wanted a second space triumph to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in November of that year. They decided to send a dog up with the next launch, partly to see if an animal could survive launch, partly for publicity’s sake. And because of the extremely short deadline, they never designed the craft to make it back to Earth. Whatever animal was sent up was doomed to die in space.

This is the background for Abadzis’ story — some speculation about what Laika’s earlier life might have been like (Abadzis creates a life story for the dog that’s equal parts comfort and hardship — pushed from loving homes into cruel ones, and ending up as a stray in the streets of Moscow), and a lot of focus on the men and women who were running the USSR’s space program.

There’s Sergey Korolyov, the lead designer and engineer of the Soviet space program, ambitious and charismatic but also single-minded and obsessive, who starts the story out as a just-released prisoner, forced into the gulags during one of Stalin’s purges, walking across the frigid Russian winterscape and telling himself over and over “I am a man of destiny. I will not die.”

There’s also Yelena Dubrovsky, the official dog trainer, who accepts that one of the dogs she’s training will be sacrificed for the space program, but is bitterly unhappy that Laika, her favorite, has been chosen. She’s actually a fictional character created by Abadzis, but you’ll finish the story thinking she was real.

But the main character and strongest personality is Laika, even if she only speaks in Yelena’s imagination. Her calm, docile, loving qualities are what allow her to win the hearts of the people working on the space program — and also what doom her to her one-way trip into orbit.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Simple but charming artwork, an uncommon glimpse into the early days of Russia’s space program, and beautiful, beautiful storytelling. Abadzis did an amazingly good job with a story that’s informative, entertaining, and just plays the heck out of the heartstrings, especially for dog lovers. Three good reasons you may want this — first, because of the interesting look into the early days of the Space Race from an unusual non-Western POV; second, for the hard-nosed look at life in the USSR, for both the privileged and the common man; third, because like me, you’ve got a weakness for great stories about good, good dogs.

It might take a little work for you to find it, but it’s worth the search. Go pick it up.

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Supergirls and Superboys

Supergirl #55

Hey! Amy Reeder, creator of freakin’ gorgeous artwork on the “Madame Xanadu” series, is now drawing freakin’ gorgeous covers for “Supergirl!” Yay!

In this issue, Supergirl narrowly gets out of Bizarro Supergirl‘s turn-you-to-metal vision by apparently using superspeed to escape before she was completely covered in metal. Aaaactually, I’m not sure the Flash’s superspeedy vibration power really works that way. I mean, if you’re vibrating out of an ice coating, yeah, but not when you’re being turned into metal. Ahh, well. Supergirl rescues the hostages, then gets Dr. Light (the good female Dr. Light, not the very bad and dead male Dr. Light) to synthesize orange sunlight to take away Bizarro Supergirl’s powers. After that, Supergirl kidnaps her Bizarro version to return her to Bizarro World.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great cover, and really nice artwork inside the issue by Jamal Igle. This is all full of quite a bit of wonky comic book science, but the story itself moves along just fine. And next issue, looks like we’ll have a whole bunch of Bizarros hanging around, which is often a lot of fun…

Tiny Titans #31

Superboy, Supergirl, Superman, and the Super-Pets are all attending a birthday party at the Fortress of Solitude for Match, Superboy’s clone-turned-Bizarro. They get several special party guests, like Lex Luthor, the Brainiac Club, and the Tiny Titans version of the Legion of Super-Heroes. All that, plus Jor-El thinks his son is a monkey.

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, cute, fun, and funny. The Brainiac Club is very humorous, and the Little Legion is something I’d like to see a lot more of in future issues.

Justice Society of America #42

I forgot that they were doing a long crossover with the Justice League comic, and that the whole thing was going to be written by (ugh) James Robinson, or I would’ve skipped buying this one. As it is, Jade and Obsidian get merged into one squick-worthy being, there’s a big fight with a fake evil Alan Scott, then there’s a big fight with the real evil Alan Scott, and Doctor Mid-Nite has to try to save Starman‘s life.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Even for an issue of a crossover that I haven’t been following, this one was confusing, bizarre, and just badly written. I sure hope they’ll be done with this crossover before another issue rolls around.

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Spaaaace Weeeaaaklings!

Yet another reason for you to avoid going into space — aside from the colossal expense, boredom, and high likelihood of being attacked and eaten by Radioactive Space Zombies from Beyond the Orbit of Neptune. Apparently, spending more than a few months in space makes you extremely weak.

Astronauts on a mission to Mars could lose nearly half their muscle strength during the long trip, giving them the physiques of senior citizens by the time they arrived, according to a new study.

Prolonged exposure to weightlessness could cause astronauts to lose more than 40 percent of their muscle strength even with regular exercise, researchers said. On a long voyage, a healthy 30- to 50-year-old astronaut could end up with the strength of an 80-year-old.

A 10-month trip to Mars would cause such extreme muscle deterioration that astronauts would find it difficult to perform even routine tasks, let alone move around the Martian surface in spacesuits, according to the study, which was led by Robert Fitts of Marquette University.

They say they’d need to put astronauts on a better diet and improve their ability to exercise to try to overcome the muscle loss, but it might still be a losing battle.

Yet another problem with science fiction — we’ve all spent years reading stories and watching movies about people who go into space for long periods of time, and we’d all love to think it’d be possible someday. But the fact that it would be awesome, and that it makes for great fiction just doesn’t necessarily transfer over into something that’s actually practical.

Seems like the great tragedies of our age — we learn more and more and more through science, and what we learn sometimes puts the smackdown on the dreams and fantasies we’ve held onto all our lives…

And to top it all off, the moon is shrinking. Stupid strength-sapping, increasingly-tiny universe…

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Friday Night Fights: Shadow-Boxing over Innsmouth!

It’s time to kick off another 12 rounds of FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS! And since it’s still H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday, I figured I’d keep the theme rollin’…

This is from the first issue of Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham, by Mike Mignola, Richard Pace, Troy Nixey, and Dennis Janke, from sometime in 2000. It was an Elseworlds story, set in the 1930s, with all the villains getting a little Lovecraftian twist. Ra’s al Ghul was turned into Abd al-Hazred, Mr. Freeze turned out like the dead-but-refrigerated doctor in “Cool Air,” Two-Face got some really unpleasant trans-dimensional scarring, Oswald Cobblepot went nuts and ended up living in the Arctic with a bunch of horrifically tumored penguins, and Killer Croc got crossed with the undersea fish monsters called the deep ones

Hope that’s a good way to start a weekend full of monsters, madness, and cosmic horror…

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Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft!

On this date, horror/fantasy/sci-fi writer H.P. Lovecraft was born in 1890. It’s his 120th birthday! Yay!

For you non-horror fans (it’s a pretty sure bet that people who love horror already know who HPL is), Howard Phillips Lovecraft wrote mainly for the old pulp magazines like “Weird Tales” — he was an obscure writer when he died, but his influence has grown greatly over the decades. He’s now considered to be one of the most influential horror writers ever — only Edgar Allan Poe is more important.

Lovecraft’s specialty was what’s now called cosmic horror, in which the universe is a cold and utterly uncaring place, and humanity is a completely insignificant species, prone to being wiped out at any time by the monstrously alien deities that, for now, slumber near us.

Lovecraft’s Big Bad is definitely Cthulhu, an immense octopoid god that sleeps in an ancient sunken city somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. And a common thread through his stories is that anyone who learns the real truth about the universe — that we’re specks with outsized egos, that we could be wiped out by impossibly powerful creatures that can barely even notice us, that the cosmos operates in an utterly alien fashion that our science can’t even begin to explain — is doomed to madness, despair, and suicide.

And Lovecraft was able to make that intensely nihilistic vision work for readers. In fact, his Cthulhu Mythos has been picked up and carried forward by countless writers, fans, and critics who’ve written new stories about his concepts — and have created movies, music, art, games… and comics, too. Here are a few that’ve gotten at least some of their inspiration from Lovecraft…

So everyone celebrate with a Cthulhu cake and Nyarlathotep punch and Yog-Sothoth pie!

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