Archive for June, 2011

Brain Games

iZombie #14

Gwen finds herself in an even stranger situation than normal — the most recent brain she’s eaten was from a skeeball nut who wants her team to win the league championship. Yes, apparently, there is a such thing as competitive skeeball. So Gwen is posing as a skeeball whiz from out of town who’s doing the team a favor for her “late friend” — and she suddenly discovers Amon the mummy hanging out watching everyone play. Turns out he really is a genuine over-the-moon near-demented skeeball fanatic. Horatio is having to deal with an unusually large number of zombies than Eugene, Oregon normally has to deal with. And where are Ellie the ghost and Spot the were-terrier? Well, Spot’s stuck underground where he’s been fighting off zombies for quite a while, and Ellie is trying to figure out how to get him free. Meanwhile, with the more-secret-than-normal covert ops group called the Dead Presidents, the team is planning their next moves against a mysterious zombie master — and they may be heading for Eugene soon.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The extremely rational and sophisticated Amon’s obsession with skeeball comes completely out of nowhere and is absolutely hilarious. Plus we’ve got tons and tons of intrigue and more fun stuff with the Dead Presidents.

How to improve this series: Definitely keep writer Chris Roberson on board this series. He’s announced he’ll stay on this comic as long as he can, even though DC just kicked him off the Superman comics after he saved them from J. Michael Stracyzski’s mishandling. Roberson is an incredible writer, and Vertigo needs to make sure they stay on his good side.

Hellboy: The Fury #1

Lots of backstory needed for this one: the sorceress Nimue has crowned herself the Goddess of War and plans to lead an army of monsters to destroy humanity. Hellboy has learned he’s descended on his mother’s side from King Arthur himself, making him the rightful king of England, but he’s decided he doesn’t want to lead the army of England’s noble dead, and he’s set out to battle Nimue’s forces alone — and he’s booked passage to Nimue’s castle through the Russian witch Baba Yaga, in exchange for one of his eyes.

As Hellboy gets to the castle, Nimue is having some serious trouble with unwelcome transformations and a growing realization that she’s merely a pawn of the Ogdru Jahad, who will destroy everything on Earth, including her. Alice Monaghan hands Excalibur over to an impossibly old man, who turns out to be Arthur himself, and Hellboy battles his way through Nimue’s army — and through Nimue, who turns out to be Hecate. Having come so far, is there anything Hellboy can do to stop mankind’s destruction?

Verdict: Thumbs up. So awesome to see Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo doing work this amazingly beautiful.

How to improve this series: Right now, there’s nothing that can be done to improve this. It’s pretty near perfect.

B.P.R.D.: The Dead Remembered #3

Young pyrokinetic Liz Sherman has traveled to a small town with Professor Bruttenholm of the B.P.R.D. to try to stop a haunting. But while the professor and the local priest try to exorcise the house, Liz and a local boy she’s befriended have realized that the house isn’t haunted — it’s the woods around the house. And their attempts to dispel the spirit aren’t turning out well — though Liz assumes the ghost was an innocent woman executed as a witch, it turns out she really was a witch, and not a very nice one. She’s using Liz’s powers to make herself stronger. How will they be able to get rid of the ghost before she kills someone?

Verdict: Thumbs up — but the ending was a lot weaker than I expected. Up ’til then, there was great mood, outstanding art, colossally awesome escalation of the action, especially jumping back and forth between the present and the past. The ending was weak, but it was still fun to read.

How to improve this series: Well, like I said, a stronger ending, with more stuff for Liz to do, would’ve been good. And the art by Karl Moline and Andy Owens was just grand, so I’d like to see more from them somewhere down the line.

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The End of Oracle

The latest news on the DC Reboot is that the new Batgirl is going to be — not Stephanie Brown, not Cassandra Cain — but Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl, who has spent the past 20+ years as the wheelchair-bound super-hacker Oracle.

I can’t say I’m happy with this. I liked Barbara Gordon more as Oracle than I ever did as Batgirl. I thought she was a stronger character as Oracle. Barbara Gordon as Batgirl was just another Bat-character, as stuck in the Silver Age as Barry Allen ever was. Barbara Gordon as Oracle was a paralyzed former acrobat who overcame adversity to become a greater crimefighter than she ever had before. Could she have done that as Batgirl? I don’t think so — without her handicap, she never would’ve been written as anything but a former sidekick.

In fact, this feels to me like we’re actually losing a lot of what made Barbara Gordon important as a character. Can you see Babs-as-Batgirl serving as the Justice League’s secret information broker? Can you see Babs-as-Batgirl founding and leading the Birds of Prey? I can’t. It doesn’t make any sense.

By the same token, can you imagine Babs-as-Oracle swinging through Gotham’s night sky? Well, no, but can you imagine her kicking ass against non-paralyzed opponents? We didn’t have to imagine it — it happened pretty often in “Birds of Prey.” She even made a decent stand against Prometheus, the anti-Batman, in an issue of Grant Morrison’s “JLA.”

Bringing Babs-as-Batgirl back means we’re losing Babs-as-Oracle forever. But we’re also going to lose any possibility of Cassandra Cain as Batgirl or Stephanie Brown as Batgirl. Heck, Babs-as-Batgirl essentially holds the exact same niche as Steph-as-Batgirl — chipper, upbeat, fun crimefighter. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Steph Brown gets killed off again six months to a year after the reboot, just to make sure people stop comparing the two characters. And we won’t see Barbara returning to her role as Oracle — that would probably require re-paralyzing her, and I doubt even DC is cruel enough to do that a second time.

There was this picture that showed up earlier today on the DeviantArt website by Jamie Noguchi — it was linked in an article on ComicsAlliance. It’s generally been portrayed as a happy picture, showing Babs in her moment of triumph, finally escaping the wheelchair to return as Batgirl. Here ’tis:

It doesn’t look happy to me. I keep focusing on the wheelchair and on the invisible character — the adult woman, serious-minded, smart as a whip, capable of running the Birds of Prey, organizing the JLA, keeping every superhero on the planet connected to each other, still able to whup the tar out of bad guys — who is now going to fade away and be forgotten in favor of the jaunty, optimistic, acrobatic schoolgirl. It doesn’t look like a triumph to me. It looks like the final tragedy in Oracle’s life.

More thoughts on this subject from Andy Khouri and especially Jill Pantozzi, who brings an important perspective to all this.

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A Dose of Awesome: Chainsaws!

From time to time, we like to take a break from comic book stuff to examine things that truly make life worth living — things that fill the heart with joy — things that are awesome. And today, we’re gonna talk about chainsaws.

What makes chainsaws so awesome? Well, you can cut down trees with them. Yep, that’s really all you need ’em for. Cutting down trees.

Oh, okay, you can also use them for cutting down people.

Of course, you should avoid doing that in the real world, as it rarely leads to lucrative film contracts — and if you try it, I refuse to accept the slightest blame for it, you lunatic. Who is this person anyway? Jeeves, have this mad chainsaw goon thrown out right away.

Of course, you’re still on the up-and-up if you’re going to use a chainsaw to cut up zombies and monsters. Because that’s completely awesome.

For more examples of why chainsaws are really, really, really cool, you can read this whole page of awesome chainsaw stuff.

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Friday Night Fights: Thingosaurus Rex!

I’ve had a bad case of Severe Brain-Fried Syndrome all week long, so no cute intro tonight, just… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes from September 2000’s Fantastic Four #33, by John Moore and Salvadore Larroca. It can be summed up pretty simply as: Ben Grimm vs. a DINOSAUR!

See y’all next week, provided I get some relaxation time this weekend…

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House of Bane

Secret Six #34

After the last storyarc sent the team to Hell, this issue is a much-welcomed rest break. The serial killer who’s kidnapped Scandal’s girlfriend Liana gets his meeting with the Six, and I don’t think it’s a big spoiler to reveal that it doesn’t turn out well for him. Scandal reconciles with Ragdoll, Jeannette sings an old Irish ballad, Bane goes on a date, and King Shark eats a turkey. But we’re warned that, as always seems to be the case with this book, more bad things are on the horizon.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Awesome dialogue, great action, wonderful art. Bane’s date is a bucket of pure win. King Shark is awesome, even though he’s only in one or two scenes. It’s sad, it’s sweet, it’s funny, it’s profane, it’s awesome.

How to improve this series: I’m not real sure you could improve on this. Gail Simone is one of DC’s best writers, and this is one of their best series. If they don’t preserve this for the Reboot, they’re completely insane.

Avengers Academy #14.1

What’s “14.1” mean? Well, Marvel’s trying to make sure there are some “0.1” issues for their series, to give new readers a chance to jump on board — so this issue is, in part, meant to be an introduction to the series for those who aren’t familiar with it.

After the Academy students battle the oh-so-1970s-weird Ruby Thursday, they decide they want to see how other young metahumans who were tortured by Norman Osborn turned out — Finesse quickly tracks down a kid named Jeremy Briggs, a super-genius matter-transmuter who is now running a very profitable chemical megacorp. He introduces them to some other former “students” of Osborn’s — a kid who used to turn into a monster whose transformations are now held in check with medicine; a healer keeping people healthy in third-world nations; and a cold-controller who, unfortunately, has just been killed trying to stop the Wendigo. And Briggs has an ulterior motive for talking to the Academy kids — he wants them to quit the hero-or-villain business and come to work for him.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a depressing little story, but it’s very well-told. Dialogue and action are good, and the characterization is excellent. I hope we get to see more of Briggs in the future — he makes a great foil for the team.

How to improve this series: Ya know what I think I’d like the most for this title? A new costume for Hazmat. I hate the way the helmet hides most of her face — makes it so hard to get anything but a vague impression of her emotions and reactions.

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #5

While Morgan tries to hold off a horde of undead bandits, Sir Edward ends up getting gutshot, and then seemingly killed by the witch Eris, who is bartering souls of Christians for colossal mystic power. But with one hero surrounded by unkillable zombies and the other shot full of lead and sitting in the Paiute land of the dead, is there any way to stop Eris?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A good end to the series. Absolutely gorgeous art by John Severin and Dave Stewart. Nicely suspenseful, too — it really looks like Sir Edward and Morgan are done for near the end.

How to improve this series: Can’t think of much you could do to fix this. It could’ve been an issue or two shorter, but that would’ve shortchanged the great interpersonal stuff between Sir Edward and Morgan that really made this series fun. We also could’ve found out more about Eris’ motivations and the weird mysteries behind Isaac. But that’s nitpicking.

The DC Reboot

In a way, I don’t want to say very much about this — all we really have to go on is DC’s press releases. There’s no way to tell yet what is going to work and what isn’t going to work and whether it’s going to be a good thing or a bad thing.

But I am not looking forward to this.

Part of it is that DC has tried reboots before — Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis — and they never last. Before long, readers and creators start jonesing for “classic” comics, and everything goes back to the way it was before. This one will be no different.

What else? I hate the costumes, and that’s something DC really pushed hard. Look at that Justice League cover above. The costumes are not good. Superman, Aquaman, and Green Lantern all have corny pop-up collars, and Wonder Woman’s choker is essentially the same kind of collar. And what the heck are those things on Flash’s and Cyborg’s chins? I don’t know a thing about art or clothing design, but those costumes look like garbage — and that’s what you get when you have one guy — Jim Lee, in this case — design all the costumes. His design preferences creep into everything so they all look alike. And these will be the first things that get discarded after the reboot. I mean, look at ’em. Superman looks like a complete dork. And look up the costume design for Green Arrow — it’s a direct copy from the “Smallville” TV series. A series that has been cancelled and which, honestly, was never all that popular in the first place. The costumes are bad, bad, bad.

I’ll admit I’m looking forward to some of the titles. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang working on “Wonder Woman”? I’ll be buying that. But most of the others are just not filling me with very much enthusiasm. Gail Simone writing “Firestorm”? Okay, but why is she being saddled with Ethan Van Sciber as co-writer? It’s an insult to Simone’s writing skills, to be honest. Geoff Johns — a writer I’m rapidly coming to think of as DC’s version of Brian Michael Bendis — is writing too many series. Dan DiDio is writing another, and I’m pretty sure y’all know I’m not a fan of that guy. I don’t trust DiDio or Johns to do good work on these — their instincts tend to lie more with DC’s previous tired gimmicks of Silver Age worship and pointless, over-the-top violence.

The announcement of the reboot threw retailers into a panic, thanks to DC’s decision to release digitial editions of comics on the same day as they release the print versions. That’d be the equivalent of movie studios letting you rent DVDs on the same day they released the movies in theaters — and it had a lot of retailers worried that lots of readers would quit buying from stores in favor of buying comics for their iPads. On the other hand, DC wants to charge the same prices for print and digital comics, which has digital readers scratching their heads, because no one else charges as much for digital as they do for print. So DC managed to alienate both retailers and digital comics fans at the same time.

Another thing that bugs me is this seems more like a publicity stunt than something that’s going to lead to long-term increases in readership. There’s not much here that seems to be designed to bring in new readers — just a lot of stuff to make current comics fans angry. Sometimes, it seems like that’s all that DC or Marvel know how to do — stir up buzz by doing stuff to upset their current readers. Sure, it gets coverage in USA Today, but media coverage doesn’t necessarily lead to more readers, and that’s what DC needs.

And ya know, I’ve already gone on for a lot longer than I meant to on this topic. So I’ll reiterate — I don’t like the idea of the DC Reboot. It’s a bad idea at a bad time, and I worry it’s going to do long-term damage to the comics industry as a whole. I hope I’m wrong, of course… but I worry I might be right.

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In High Dungeon

Dungeons & Dragons #7

We’re still in flashback mode, discovering how Adric Fell and his band of adventurers originally got together. Hired on to guard some wizards traveling to a magically lost city, their band is ambushed by a bunch of elves and eladrin. When the head eladrin (for those not up on their D&D knowledge, eladrin are basically elf nobles, while regular elves are, well, just regular elves) reveals that he’s willing to kill other elves and eladrin to protect the city’s magic, Varis turns on him. But there’s another ambush in the making, as they are all attacked by the Drow (again, for the D&D avoiders, those are dark elves). A small group of adventurers survives, but they won’t last long with all the Drow trying to bust into the small room they’re holed up in. Do they have a chance to escape certain doom?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nicely tense storyline, lots of claustrophobic, tense scenes, outstanding dialogue, and a picture-perfect Desperate Last Stand.

How to improve this series: Well, I enjoyed this flashback storyarc, but I’m fairly glad it’s over now, ’cause I really want to see more stuff with my two favorite characters, Bree the greedy sociopath halfling and Tisha the brooding but dishy tiefling.

Detective Comics #877

Batman escapes from a deathtrap set by Bixby Rhodes, a gunrunner/car dealer, and snags the crook even though he tries to escape on high-tech titanium super-legs. Dick learns from Sonia Branch, non-criminal daughter of the gangster who killed his parents, that her bank has had to deal with criminals wanting to launder money for years, but while the Mob usually respected her wishes not to cater to criminals (after all, they had plenty of other banks to turn to for dirty dealings), other crooks, including Rhodes and a smuggler named Tiger Shark, have refused to take no for an answer. Dick tracks Tiger Shark to his secret underwater lair, but what sort of dangers are lurking in the depths?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very, very nice mystery storytelling. Love the dialogue and characterization by Scott Snyder. (There’s a great bit at the beginning where Dick Grayson talks about what he likes to do after dealing with human criminals all night — he loves nature documentaries, just because they don’t have any humans in them. That’s a great piece of character work.) And I love Jock’s artwork, too. Really, I’m loving the whole series.

How to improve this series: For starters, don’t get rid of Scott Snyder. The guy really is very good with mysteries. Other than that, I can’t think of a lot that would need to be fixed — this is one of DC’s best series.

Xombi #3

The Maranatha is a giant fiery monster of pure anger and hatred, and it’s whuppin’ the tar out of David Kim. Nun of the Above, Catholic Girl, and Rabbi Sinnowitz try to help out, but things look pretty grim once the monster bites David in half — and he doesn’t start regenerating. Well, not for a while. Eventually, he does recover, all while a ghost has this great monologue about what it’s like to be dead and to miss being alive. Will they be able to destroy the Maranatha? Will David be able to maintain his connections to the normal people while living forever? And where’s the mastermind behind this whole thing?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I had my doubts for a while, ’cause it was a lot of hitting and biting for a while, but once the ghost starts that great monologue while David slowly stitches himself back together, it’s pure magic clear to the end.

How to improve this series: Hey, I know you gotta have some hitting in superhero comics, but why don’t we let John Rozum spend more time writing awesome dialogue and characters, okay? That’s a ton of fun.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • All anyone is talking about today is DC’s decision to reboot all their comics and republish everything from #1. I think this sounds like an utter disaster, and a great opportunity for me to read a lot fewer DC comic books — but let’s watch as Siskoid and MightyGodKing break it all down for us.

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