Archive for June, 2011


Robert Bloch’s That Hellbound Train

Well, here’s something I wasn’t expecting — a comic based on a classic story by Robert Bloch, adapted by Joe R. Lansdale and John L. Lansdale. “That Hellbound Train” has been one of my favorite old stories for decades — it even won a Hugo Award in 1959. So this looks like it might be a fun surprise.

Our lead character is Martin, the son of a railroad man who filled his head with stories about the Hellbound Train, a ghost locomotive that carried the souls of the damned down to Hell. Martin’s dad was a heavy drinker after his wife ran off with another man, and he died one night after being hit by a mysterious train. Orphaned, Martin was pushed into an abusive orphanage, which he ran away from. After that, he made do with small jobs and petty theft. And then one night, he meets up with a monstrous train out in the middle of nowhere, with a conductor who lights his lantern by blowing on the wick. The conductor offers him a special watch — all he has to do is stop the watch, and time will stop for him. He’ll be able to choose his moment of greatest happiness, stop the watch, and that moment will go on forever. Not a bad deal, right? Right?

Verdict: Thumbs up. So far, this story has all the magic I remember from Bloch’s original. And Dave Wachter’s artwork is gloriously, horrifically beautiful — the Hellbound Train is a gigantic, bloody, smokey, sticky horror, and it’s just flat gorgeous. I’ve got high hopes for this one.

Dungeons & Dragons #8

Adric Fell and his band of adventurers are trapped in the Feywild, where the Faeries, both good and bad, hang out. It’s a wildly dangerous place — filled with monsters, stuffed with dangerous magic, and unhinged from time. After the group saves a gnome and kills the quicklings trying to eat him, they find themselves betrayed, drugged, and strung up to distract the invading Fomorian armies while the gnomes flee to a safer location. Will Fell and his group escape? Do they have allies in the Feywild? And are their allies just as dangerous as the invading monsters?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great action and story, and the dialogue here is just plain fantastic. You’re reading this, aren’t you? You should be reading this.

Dark Horse Presents #2

The revival of Dark Horse’s great anthology series continues, with stories ranging from: A new story about Concrete by Paul Chadwick; Robert Love and David Walker’s story about a small boy in a post-apocalyptic hell; Neal Adams ongoing story about a hero that lives in people’s blood; Howard Chaykin’s tale of a schlubby assassin; Michael T. Gilbert’s new story about Mr. Monster; and David Chelsea’s oh-so-cool adventures of Snow Angel.

Verdict: Actually, thumbs down. I loved the Concrete and Snow Angel stories, but the rest were either not particularly good or entirely forgettable. Yes, even the ones with really awesome artwork. And I hope this gets better fast, because $8 is a lot of money to spend on an anthology series that doesn’t deliver the goods.

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On the Fast Track

Well, I’m back from my hiatus — and not really feeling real refreshed. In this heat, it’s impossible to get too much relaxing done. But I’m back all the same, and I’ve got two weeks’ worth of comics to start reviewing, so let’s get after it.

Tiny Titans #41

Kid Flash is severely over-excitable, and the only solution has got to be a race, featuring Kid Flash, Inertia, Mas y Menos, Peek-a-Boo, and Jesse Quick. Wrapped among all this is Gizmo working on a pencil sharpener, Wonder Girl getting a mask, and Blue Beetle and his backpack trying to run a lemonade stand (and getting called Cucarachita Azul by Mas y Menos). So who’s going to win the race around the world? Probably someone we wouldn’t expect…

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, lots of excellent stuff here, including an appearance from Coach Lobo, Beetle getting called the Little Blue Cockroach, the lemon-free lemonade, and a quick Flashpoint joke.

Supergirl #65

I think I missed an issue somewhere, but Supergirl is now calling herself Linda Lane and interning at the Daily Planet. After she and the blue-skinned alien Starman save a tram from robot flying monkeys, Lois asks her to go undercover at Stanhope College’s recruitment weekend. The student who was targeted by the flying monkeys was a Stanhope student, and so were other recently-kidnapped kids. Lois hopes Supergirl can find out what’s going on. Once she makes it to Stanhope, Kara meets up with her temporary roomie and the campus weirdos. What’s the connection that all of them share, and what is stalking all of them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I always dig ChrisCross’ artwork. The story here seems pretty good, too. The dialogue with Starman is very cool. The campus weirdos are definitely irritating, though — let’s hope they’re all secret supervillains so Supergirl can beat them up later…

Batgirl #22

Stephanie Brown has gotten an assignment from Batman Inc. She has to travel to London to meet with another one of the Dark Knight’s operatives — the Squire herself. In the midst of sightseeing across London, the heroines run across a villain called the Orphan who is planning on stealing the Greenwich Mean. What, you mean like Greenwich Mean Time? Seriously? Yes, seriously, it’s apparently an actual object in the DC Universe. And once he gets it, time gets frozen for everyone in the world except for the Orphan, his henchmen, and Batgirl and the Squire. Can they manage to save time itself and still have some fun at the same time?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Man, am I going to miss this wonderful series. Story, dialogue, humor, action, characterization, art — this one has it all. Best to read it while you still can…

Zatanna #14

Zatanna and her cousin, Zachary Zatara, have just finished a show together, and Zatanna is angry about Zach’s shoddy performance and bad attitude. She pursues him into a trendy nightclub, has to deal with the various indignities and irritations therein, and gets to see him get attacked and possessed by a Japanese succubus who uses Zach’s powers against her. Is there a way for Zee to stop the demon before her cousin kills her?

Verdict: Thumbs down. This was a dull story, seemingly written by people who knew they were about to get cancelled. The art was pretty good, but that was about it.

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Friday Night Fights: Me, Myself, and I

Okay, kiddios, you’ve suffered through another rough week of workday cruelty and not nearly enough maxxin’ and relaxxin’, and what we all need now to get the weekend started off right is big, thick, steamin’ bowl of… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

This evening’s fightfest comes to us from August 2002’s Fantastic Four #57 by Adam Warren, Keron Grant, and Derek Fridolfs. It’s the Thing vs. a whole bunch of deformed and mutated Thing clones!

That’ll do it — y’all enjoy your weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

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Friday Night Fights: Short Sharp Shock

I’m still on hiatus, but there’s no way I can miss out on our traditional beginning of the weekend, can I? So let’s get set for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Today’s battle is from September 1965’s Fantastic Four #42 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Vince Colletta. There’s mind-control afoot, and the Thing has temporarily turned evil and joined up with the Frightful Four. So he aims to take Johnny Storm out of the picture…

And that’s that. Backing away from the computer once again, and I’ll see y’all back here at some point next week.

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Taking a Break

Awright, dudes and dudettes, I’m needing a break pretty bad — and not just from the blog.

So starting today, I’m going to try to spend the next week or so away from comics and mostly away from the computer. Limited net-surfing, minimal e-mail, zero gaming. I’m giving myself permission to do all the typing I want to, but other than that, I want to recharge my batteries, ponder on some future plans, and shake up my attitudes.

Hopefully, I can spend a week reading books and looking at the world. That sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

See y’all when I see y’all.

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Blood and War

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #1

A new miniseries starring our new favorite non-sparkly vampires, still written by Scott Snyder, but with Sean Murphy, last seen illustrating Grant Morrison’s “Joe the Barbarian,” taking on the art chores.

Our lead character in this series is Felicia Book, half-vampire daughter of Wild West lawman Jim Book. It’s 1941, and Felicia works as a vampire slayer for the Vassals of the Morning Star. After proving to a newspaper publisher that his papers are infested with vampires, she returns to the Vassals’ headquarters in the American Museum of Natural History — where she has a reputation as the organization’s leading badass — and prepares to take a sabbatical. She learns that former Las Vegas police chief Cash McCogan is with the Vassals now, and he may have a lead on a cure for vampirism — hidden inside Nazi Germany.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The writing quality is just as high as the regular “American Vampire” series, and Sean Murphy’s art is just seriously awesome.

The Unwritten #26

Tom Taylor has been captured by his enemies, and he’s being put up for auction for a bunch of rich bastiches so they can dissect him and find out his secrets. One of the members of the Cabal is on hand, planning to wipe everyone out and take Taylor for himself, but Mrs. Rausch, the elderly puppeteer, puts a spell on him to keep him silent. Tom’s friends, Lizzie Hexam and Richard Savoy, are drugged in another room — but Savoy became a vampire not that long ago, and it’s not easy to drug the undead. Everyone makes their escape — but what secrets is Tom going to learn from his father’s diaries?

Verdict: Thumbs up. All in all, a good story. Very nice intrigue and action, and wonderful dialogue.

Morning Glories #10

This one is all over the place. Jade is the angstiest and most pitiable of the kids at Morning Glory Academy, and a lot of this story is set in her dreams. And the parts of it that aren’t set in her dreams may also be set in her dreams. And the ending is either set in her dreams or is set in her post-suicide hallucination.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Because I don’t like being this confused.

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Maid to Order

Empowered: Ten Questions for the Maidman

Adam Warren’s plucky, bondage-prone superheroine returns for another one-shot special, this time spotlighting the Maidman, an unpowered guy who dresses up like a stereotypical French maid but still has the bad guys terrified because he’s such an unrelenting badass. In other words, he’s Batman in a miniskirt and apron. The entire story is written by Adam Warren and part of the art is by him, but a lot of the art — specifically, anything in color — is by Emily Warren (no relation to Adam).

While Emp bluffs multiple bad guys by pretending “Hey, Maidman’s right behind you” and then using their panic to take them down solo, the Maidman himself is being interviewed by a superhero celebrity interviewer named Blitzcraig. Can Emp’s diversionary tactics continue to be successful? And what is the Maidman’s secret motive for agreeing to the silly celebrity interview?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Everything about this series is fun and awesome. I don’t know anything else I can say about it but that.

Love and Capes: Ever After #5

Most of this issue is taken up by the sudden unexpected (and offscreen) death of Windstar, a superhero who has only been seen a few times over the course of the entire series. Still, he’s been a member of the superhero community for a long time, so his death sends shockwaves around the circle of friends including the Crusader, his wife Abby, Darkblade, and Amazonia. Mark, Darkblade, and Doc Karma do a thorough investigation of Windstar’s body to find out if he’s going to come back from the dead, Abby and Mark attend the funeral for Windstar’s civilian identity, and they all visit the Liberty League Satellite for a memorial ceremony.

Verdict: Thumbs up. For a comedy book, this is all surprisingly moving. We get plenty of flashbacks to previous interactions between Mark and Windstar, and we spend a significant amount of time focusing on Windstar’s grief-stricken father and his similarly-powered niece. It’s a really nice, emotional story, and it serves as a very nice capper on this miniseries.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Friday Night Fights: Stop Hitting Yourself!

Let’s get right to it — time again for FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Not necessarily Ben Grimm’s finest moment — from August 1977’s Fantastic Four #185 by Len Wein, George Perez, and Joe Sinnott. The FF go up against a bunch of spellcasters, and they force the Thing to beat himself up.

Ya know, my week has felt a lot like that, too.

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Reboot to the Head

Yeah, the DC Reboot is still going on. And it’s still looking like a disaster.

Standard disclaimers: I can’t see the future, and it might turn out fine. Always beware geeks pronouncing DOOOOOOM. And I have no idea what DC’s secret plans may be.

Having said that, I still say it’s looking like a disaster.

Let’s be optimistic and start with stuff that looks good. Because there are a number of comics on the list that sound good and that I’ll probably pick up.

Yeah, I’ll pick up “Batgirl.” I complained about moving Barbara Gordon out of her role as Oracle, but it’s written by Gail Simone, who is one of DC’s best writers, and who has made it clear that she cares about Barbara as a character and is aware of and sensitive to all the issues involved in de-handicapping a prominent handicapped character. I trust that Gail is awesome enough to make this a great comic.

I’ll read the new “Wonder Woman” title, entirely on the strengths of Brian Azzarello as writer and Cliff Chiang as illustrator. I loved what they did in “Dr. 13: Architecture and Mortality,” and I think they’ll do excellent work again.

I’m overjoyed that there’s going to be a new “Blue Beetle” series, starring Jaime Reyes, with what looks like his original costume intact. And it’ll be set back in El Paso. It’s going to be written by Tony Bedard and illustrated by Ig Guara.

I’ll pick up “All-Star Western,” written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. It’s basically gonna be Jonah Hex with some Western guest stars, and that sounds pretty good, especially in the hands of Palmiotti and Gray.

I’ll read “Static Shock,” because I loves me some Milestone characters and because it’s written by John Rozum and Scott McDaniel, and because the art by McDaniel and Jonathan Glapion looks excellent.

I don’t want to fill this up completely with images of covers, but I’ll also read the new Batwoman ongoing, several of the Batman series, Swamp Thing, and maybe Justice League International. I might pick up some of the supernatural-themed comics, but I haven’t decided if they just look too freaky for me or not.

Of course, some of these comics just look awful. And now we shall look at them.

Well, hi there, new version of Superman. Yes, they got rid of the underwear-on-the-outside — and the costume still sucks. Why does Superman need armor? I do not know. But just seeing it makes me not care. I’m really unsure that even Grant Morrison can make that guy interesting.

Well, hi there, new version of Superboy. Apparently, you’re a robot now. I will not be reading you.

Here’s another image of the new versions of the Teen Titans. See, it’s just as bad as you feared. This Superboy has a completely different costume than the one above, and he doesn’t have a logo on his costume at all. There are also three characters who no one can identify. This is going to bite the wax tadpole.

There’s the new Suicide Squad. Harley Quinn is the one in front. Paul Dini should punch someone very, very hard. Oh, and King Shark is now a hammerhead. Apparently hammerhead sharks are cooler than great whites. DC doesn’t know anything about cool, do they?

They’re putting out a new “I, Vampire” comic. You should refer to it as “I, Twilight,” and you should not read it at all.

Besides that, we’ve got comics starring new, high-tech, hyper-violent versions of Blackhawk — I’m sure the kiddies will love reading about these characters who haven’t been interesting in decades. We have a comic starring the grandson of Sgt. Rock — instead of, say, reading comics about the original Sgt. Rock, who was legitimately awesome. We’ve got high-profile comics for characters who haven’t been popular in ages, like Hawkman, Captain Atom, Deathstroke, Jason Todd, and Aquaman. Wildstorm characters like Grifter and Voodoo are getting books, as well as Stormwatch, which will, oddly, co-star the Martian Manhunter. And we have the absolutely insane fact that DC is going to let Rob FRICKIN’ Liefeld draw a comic book for them.

It’s looking a lot like DC’s plan for becoming more successful involves trying to make their comics look like 1990s-era Image Comics. Good luck with that, guys. Not even Image looks like ’90s-era Image anymore.

Let’s also consider that the new DC, supposedly a much more diverse universe, has only one female creator — the aforementioned and impossibly awesome Gail Simone. (CORRECTION: notintheface at Stars and Garters points out that Amy Reeder Hadley will be handling art on the new “Batwoman” series.)

Let’s also consider all the series that we, for some reason, will not be seeing. No Justice Society. No Power Girl. No Secret Six. No Stephanie Brown or Cassandra Cain. No Captain Marvel. That’s a lot of stuff I really, really liked getting tossed on the junkpile. “Secret Six” was one of the best comics being published, the Justice Society books were bestsellers for years (not recently, granted, but still…), and Bryan Q. Miller’s “Batgirl” was an amazingly fun comic. And I’m really a bit astounded that “Power Girl” is getting cancelled. I mean, Jason Todd, Voodoo, and Hawk and Dove get comics, but Power Girl isn’t popular enough? Is it possible that DC Comics is actually just pranking us?

And with this many of my favorite comics getting the axe, do I need to start worrying about whether or not “Tiny Titans” is going to make it?

Ultimately, what irritates me the most about the Reboot is the staggering marketing failure of the entire enterprise. Yes, DC is getting a lot of publicity, but they’re also doing serious damage to their brands. I assume Time-Warner knows what Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, and Jim Lee are up to — and that means either they’re mad enough to think this is all okay, or they think DC is such small potatoes that they just don’t care.

Okay, here’s how I would’ve handled a reboot at DC.

First: I would keep in mind that I was rebooting DC Comics, not re-creating ’90s Image. That’s going to be a serious problem going forward for DC.

Second: costumes. Limit the major costume redesigns to minor characters. You can redesign costumes for Booster Gold, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, and Captain Atom all you want. But you don’t give Superman armor. You don’t give Wonder Woman long pants.

You have to remember that most merchandising of your characters is going to include the classic costumes. You don’t have to make ’em look exactly like they did in the ’70s, but you’ve got to try to keep most of those classic looks intact, partly to keep the marketing folks from killing you, and partly to make sure that new comics readers actually recognize the characters in your comics as the same ones on their Hot Topic shirts.

Ya know what else? Don’t have a single artist redesign your costumes. Jim Lee is a good artist, but when you have him redesign everyone, you end up with a lot of superheroes with pop-up collars, and that looks silly.

Third: Remember that your goal is to sell more comics. Not to get written up in USA Today. Your goal is to sell more comics. So yes, do what you can to bring in new readers. But don’t alienate your current readers. You have to remember that you need them, too. Will they still yell and complain about every single change you make? Yes, they will. But make sure your changes can be defended as something other than publicity stunting — and don’t make them all hate what you’re doing.

And finally and most importantly: Remember that your reboot is absolutely guaranteed to fail. None of them have ever managed to permanently change the status quo. “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was undone. Same with “Zero Hour,” same with “Infinite Crisis,” same with all of them. The DC Reboot is going to be undone, because, well, how could it NOT be?

You have to design your reboot so that, when it’s eventually reversed and the old ways are brought back, the un-reboot doesn’t end up making you look too embarrassing and clumsy. Do it for the sake of your comics, do it for the sake of your readers. Do it for the sake of your own dignity and future job prospects, comic creators.

Thus endeth the lesson. Let they what has eyes to see and ears to hear and noses to smell absorb the teachings and go forward into the glorious future.

EDIT: Some corrections above — and I wanted to point out this list of all the Reboot titles — which includes not only the many characters and titles that are being abandoned, but also the very, very many creators who are getting left out in the cold.

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DC’s Reboot Disaster

Holy bananas, I can’t believe I’m going back into this stuff.

DC’s Reboot is looking more and more like a company-killing disaster. They’re alienating readers, throwing scares into retailers, and running off good creators like Chris Roberson.

A lot of the new titles they’ve announced have not really made me excited — they might be good, they might be bad, but they’re uninspired enough to make me not care whether they exist or not.

Of course, some look pretty good, and I reckon I’ll be reading Wonder Woman, several of the Batman titles, Swamp Thing, and the new Static series.

But too many of the titles announced recently look shockingly bad.

First, there’s this one, from Monday’s announcements:

That one’s called “Red Hood and the Outlaws,” starring psycho former Robin Jason Todd, Arsenal (now with both of his arms again), and Starfire. It’s written by Scott Lobdell and illustrated by Kenneth Rocafort.

Okay, first, you’re rebooting your whole universe, you’ve given Roy Harper both his arms again, indicating that you’ve removed James Robinson’s horrible “Cry for Justice” from continuity, and you can’t bring yourself to erase Jason Todd from existence? I mean, no one likes Jason Todd. He’s the character who no one can believe was resurrected instead of Ralph Dibny or Ted Kord. He’s done nothing since coming back to make anyone think he’s a worthwhile character. Why not reboot him back to the character graveyard?

Second, superheroes should not wear baseball caps. I’m sorry — it just looks stupid.

Third, wait, why is Starfire an anti-hero? Oh, I guess they needed boobs in the series. Siiiiigh.

Fourth, Lobdell? Are you sure? I actually re-read some of his old X-Men books the other night, and they weren’t that good. Has he improved in the last decade?

Then came the Wednesday announcements, including this one:

A new “Teen Titans” series, featuring Superboy, Red Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, and a couple of new characters. Written by Lobdell again and illustrated by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund.

Problems: Where the heck do we start? With Red Robin’s feathered cape? With Tim Drake’s new background where he was apparently never Robin? With yet another completely random costume for Wonder Girl? With the ridiculous Kid Flash costume?

Do we really want to ask why Superboy has his logo Scotch-taped to his back?

Another book by Lobdell. Frankly, not a good sign.

And then there’s this.

“Hawk and Dove.” Written by Sterling Gates. Illustrated by Rob Liefeld.

Yes, Rob Liefeld.


Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee — I will need your resignations on my desk this afternoon.

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