Archive for August, 2011

The Xombi Process

Xombi #6

And almost without me noticing, here’s the final review I’ll get to write of what I’m already considering the lost classic DC Universe. Odd that it’s for such an unusual off-the-beaten-path series as “Xombi,” though…

Roland Finch has taken over the Ninth Stronghold, a giant floating city made out of the skull of a Biblical giant, and David Kim, the immortal xombi, and his religious-oriented magic-wielding friends have stormed the city in an attempt to take it back. While Finch sends his minions (like the Dental Phantoms and the horrific Sisterhood of the Blood Mummies, infested with spiders and armed with  knives that have different powers depending on the phase of the moon), the good guys work to shut down the Stronghold’s power so Finch can’t use it to wage war on other cities. Can David figure out how to stop Finch, defeat his monstrous allies, and still restore the Stronghold to its former glory?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautiful writing and artwork by John Rozum and Frazer Irving. Such brilliant, gloriously off-kilter ideas for such a short-lived series. Will there be room in the new DC for anything so wild or fun?

Dark Horse Presents #3

A new oversized issue of this anthology series. The eight-dollar cover price should be offset a bit by the fact that this issue has quite a few good stories in it.

We get “Treatment” by Dave Gibbons, a futuristic story about a world that combines law enforcement with reality TV. There’s the odd but wonderful “Finder: Third World” by Carla Speed McNeil. There’s Robert Love and David Walker’s “Number 13” which is strange and off-kilter and still kinda heartwarming. There’s Jim Steranko’s fantastic hard-boiled private-eye tale “Red Tide,” along with a lengthy interview with Steranko. Howard Chaykin brings in a new chapter of his offbeat “Marked Man” crime thriller, and Richard Corben contributes his weird fantasy “Murky World: The Sleepers.” We also get the last chapter of David Chelsea’s awesome “Snow Angel” serial. And as always, there’s a new “Concrete” story by Paul Chadwick, in which Concrete, disturbed by the high kill-rate of the supposedly non-lethal taser weapons, begins working with the police to try make arrests a bit more humane using… hugs?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots and lots of stories here. A few dogs, but most of these are good, fun reading, especially the stories by Chadwick, Steranko, Gibbons, McNeil, Chelsea, and Chaykin. If you don’t mind the high price tag, it’s definitely worth picking up.

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21st Century Digital Bat

Batman, Inc. #8

Bruce Wayne is hosting a bunch of business execs inside his newest creation: Internet 3.0, a virtual reality Internet that is super-duper awesome. But they all get attacked by cyber-robot-zombies. Luckily, Oracle, in her digital Batgirl avatar, along with a digital Batman avatar who Bruce Wayne is secretly controlling, show up to save the day. Can the heroes stop the bad guys, unmask the mastermind, and keep Internet 3.0 running properly?

Verdict: Thumbs down. This is really not a very good comic. The computer art by Scott Clark and Dave Beatty is astonishingly bad, and Grant Morrison’s story is about as random and half-assed as I’ve ever seen him do. People get randomly changed into dogs and babies, the backgrounds change constantly and distract terribly from any other characters, and a major story beat involves two of the execs falling in love with each other. I mean, hey, that’s nice, but why should anyone else care? This was lousy work, and it’s too bad that Oracle’s final appearance in the DCU is in this shoulda-been-aborted story.

Dungeons & Dragons #10

Adric Fell’s band of heroes are still trapped in the Feywild, and their only way home is to sneak into a forbidden city teeming with monsters and enemies to steal a book called the Guide of Gates. And their strategy is… to march up to the front gate and have Tisha the tiefling warlock announce that they’re here to steal the book? And lo and behold, it works, or at least it works better than anyone actually expected.

Meanwhile, Bree, the seriously ethics-free halfling rogue, is sneaking around the city causing worlds of havoc and making everyone think they’re being invaded by super-efficient assassins. But will her attempts to keep everyone distracted be enough to save the rest of her friends?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Art, dialogue, plot, and action are all plenty of fun. It’s nice to see Tisha and Bree get a good dose of spotlight time, too.

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Friday Night Fights: Kid Stuff!

It’s been a rough week for all of us, what with the working and with the not sitting at home relaxing and imbibing chocolate milk and all that, so we need to break that all up with the best way to begin the weekend: FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes from April 2009’s Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #4 by Mike Kunkel, as Billy Batson and Theo Adam square off without using their powers.

A punch like that’ll stunt a kid’s growth…

Y’all have a good weekend — see y’all back here on Monday…

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Blood and Fire

American Vampire #18

Not much I can tell you about this one without spoiling it — but it’s the final fight, the battle to the death, between Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones. Who wins? That’d be too much of a spoiler, sorry. You’ll have to go read it for yourself.

Verdict: Thumbs up. All the usual things you expect from this comic — great writing from Scott Snyder, great art from Rafael Albuquerque, and more shocks and surprises than you’d expect. This is clearly going to be a turning point in the series, with one major character gone (at least for now), the status quo shaken up good, and another unexpected character in the wings ready to join the cast. If you’re not reading this, you’re missing out on the best horror series in comics.

Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #6

Former soldier Steven Woods is traveling with Allie, a little girl orphaned in an attack by Godzilla. They have to dodge attacks from survivors because Woods has figured out how to track the movements of the monsters. They also narrowly escape when a new monster makes its appearance — Kumonga, the giant spider. What of the rest of the monsters? Well, President Ogden and his advisers decide the best way to beat a monster is with another monster — in this case, a giant robot, built in Detroit, called Mechagodzilla! Oh man, let’s hope there’s not a design flaw that’ll corrupt its programming and send it on a rampage against humanity…

Verdict: Thumbs up. At this point, I think there’s absolutely no hope for getting rid of the monsters. I don’t know if the rest of the series is going to be about the monsters stomping out every last scrap of civilization… but if it is, I’ll probably keep reading it, ’cause there’s a really nice mix of tragedy, humor, and action going on here.

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Children of Supergods

Supergods by Grant Morrison

So we got Grant Morrison, who is pretty much the most important comic book writers working in the industry today. He’s written “The Invisibles,” “Animal Man,” “Arkham Asylum,” “Doom Patrol,” “Flex Mentallo,” “JLA,” “New X-Men,” “We3,” “Seven Soldiers,” “All-Star Superman,” and tons more. And he’s gone and written a book — a real book! With mostly words and not so many pictures! — about the history of superheroes. Not the history of comic books, but the history of superheroes. So what do we think of it?

This isn’t really a straight history. Sure, we start with Superman’s creation, move on to Batman, Captain Marvel, the Silver Age, Flash, Green Lantern, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and on and on and on. But around the middle, the history starts mixing together with a Grant Morrison autobiography. Not a bad thing at all — like I said, he’s one of the most important guys working in comics right now — so it becomes a personal history of the superhero. From time to time, it becomes a full-on autobiography, as we follow Grant on trips around the world, doing drugs, experiencing ecstatic visions of the beings behind the universe, and working to create his best-known comics.

Where I think things really start kicking off strong is when Morrison starts talking his theories of superheroics — what makes superheroes work vs. what doesn’t make them work. He says — and I mostly agree — that the best superhero fiction is optimistic in tone and speaks to a desire of mankind to aspire to better things. While you can create great superhero comics founded on pessimism or realism — Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” — if you use those to build an expanded comic universe on, you don’t get anything that’s a lot of fun to read. You get the grim-and-gritty ’90s.

Now I’m not the most optimistic guy in the world. I’ve never seen a speck of evidence that wishing for good things to happen is any way to drive off the inevitable disasters that plague us. For every football player who credits God for his latest touchdown, there are dozens of kids dying of cancer, scores of dirty cops looking for a way to cheat citizens of their rights, hundreds of homeless people trying to sleep on park benches, and thousands of newspaper commenters waving their “I’m a PSYCHO” flags like it’s their ticket to heaven. It’s a horrible world we live in, a horrible life to suffer through, and the only escape is no real escape at all.

But having said that, you really gotta have optimism in your superhero stories. They’re just not any fun otherwise. They’re big, over-the-top, thrill-of-the-future science fiction melodramas, and the entire point of all the spandex and capes and spitcurls is, aside from the obvious power fantasies, the desire to live in and create a better world. Why does grim, unsmiling Batman fight crime? To make a better world for his city. Why do the X-Men fight for a world that hates and fears them? Because they want to make a world that doesn’t hate and fear them.

The articulation of the ultimate optimism and aspirations of the superhero genre is probably the best and most thrilling part of Morrison’s book.

It’s not a perfect work, by any stretch. Morrison’s recent interview with Rolling Stone suggests that he soft-pedaled a lot of his opinions to spare others’ feelings. He’s quite complimentary of Brad Metzler’s “Identity Crisis” in the book, but he savages it in his interview. He mentions his disagreements with Alan Moore and Mark Millar in the book, but really uncorks on them in the interview. I think the book would be a great deal stronger if he’d been more honest with readers. (And his Rolling Stone interview would’ve been better if had acknowledged that, yes, he has also written comics that featured rapes.)

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a fun read. It’s a pretty insightful read. Its flaws don’t detract from its strengths. If you like superheroes, you should give it a read.

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Tiny but Awesome

Tiny Titans #43

I know it’s a deeply cartoony image — but man, I love that cover. Is it really just the addition of shadows? Dunno, but it looks groovy.

Superboy, Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad have decided they want their grownup counterparts’ costumes. Superboy snags a Superman costume from the Fortress of Solitude, but runs afoul of the villains in the Phantom Zone. Robin tries to get a Bat-cowl from the Bat-Cow and gets kicked through a few walls by the Justice League of Cows. And Aqualad realized that he can’t wear Aquaman’s costume because it’s been in the wash and is soaking wet. Does Miss Martian have a solution for all their problems?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very funny issue, with a lot of great gags scattered throughout. And I loved Cyborg’s “rebooting” joke, too.

Supergirl #67

In the final issue of the non-irritating Supergirl’s series (and can you believe the character has improved enough that we’re able to call her “non-irritating” now?), the Girl of Steel squares off against Professor Ivo, his powered armor, and his squad of flying robot monkeys. The lost students of Stanhope College use their own scientific knowledge and quick wits to make their own strikes against Ivo. And Lois Lane meets up with a Stanhope student with some critical pieces of evidence. Can Supergirl save everyone and make time for romance, too?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Loved the art, loved the hectic action, loved the dialogue, was pretty fond of all the characters. The only thing I wasn’t thrilled by was the tacked-on romance at the end. And even that wasn’t enough to make this a bad issue. This is another comic I reckon I’ll miss.

Avengers Academy #18

Titania and the Absorbing Man, possessed by the power and minds of gods, are rampaging through the Infinite Avengers Mansion, subatomic headquarters of the Avengers Academy. Titania knocks Mettle clear out of the mansion, Veil gets knocked out while trying to possess her, and the Absorbing Man throws his hammer through Reptil, though his magical nature keeps him alive. With Striker, Hazmat, and Finesse the only members of the team still functioning, they decide that, if the Avengers are really worried that they’re the kids who might turn out to be supervillains, maybe it’s time they started acting like supervillains. Will they be able to use treachery and deceit to stop the bad guys, or is it already too late for them all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent story, and outstanding characterization. The action is pretty good, too. I’m amazed the story is taking this long to tell, but I’m still having fun reading it, so it’s all good.

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Friday Night Fights: Fighting Fish!

Well, here we are again, another Friday, another FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

I know we used a fight from “Savage Dragon” not that long ago, but we’re going back there again, mainly because I scanned a bunch of fights from there a while back, and I’m not just gonna hold ’em all for the next 12-30 weeks. So here we go: from March 1999’s Savage Dragon #59, this is Smasher taking on some guy called Big-Fish:

I dunno about you, but I think I’m in the mood for Cajun grilled fish this weekend…

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The Devil, You Say

Daredevil #2

Daredevil finds himself under attack by Captain America, who wants to arrest him for various long-ago crimes. He manages to convince Cap that he was under someone else’s control during that time and tells him he needs to go prove a man’s innocence. Matt’s investigation soon uncovers evidence that all of Ahmed Jobrani’s previous attorneys had been threatened off his case, and when he learns that Jobrani planned to spend his settlement money to buy back his old electronics shop. And when Daredevil goes there to look around, he finds the sonic-powered villain Klaw — but why are there so many of them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Top-notch superheroics and freakin’ awesome artwork by Paolo Rivea and Joe Rivera. Love the dialogue and action, love the characterizations. Did I mention how much I love the artwork? I just love the artwork.

Power Girl #27

Final issue of this series. And I like the way we see a lot of elements of PeeGee’s older stories brought back, even if just for one issue. After beating up some robots who had been “programmed to reject stratagems from old “Star Trek” episodes,” (Noice one!) Power Girl discovers a holographic message written for her. It warns that three dangerous situations have been set up — and she has only 60 seconds to deal with ’em. She has to rescue her JSA teammate Cyclone, keep a villain called Typhoon from killing a random little girl, and keep Da Bomb (from the awesomely funny JSA #39 in 2002) from wrecking the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Can Kara save all those people in time and stop the bad guys behind the plot?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not necessarily the farewell for the character and her awesome supporting cast that I would’ve preferred, but the story is good, the humor is excellent, the personalities are fun, and I had a good time reading it. I would’ve liked seeing Terra or Vartox or her horrible, horrible cat — but I liked getting to see Da Bomb, who I always thought was hilarious.

Zatanna #16

Zatanna hasn’t been getting enough sleep lately, thanks to all the shows she’s been performing. When she finally gets the chance at some extra shut-eye, she gets a visit from a magic-using kid named Uriah, from Limbo Town, the same place where Klarion the Witch-Boy hails from. Uriah says he wants to be Zatanna’s apprentice, but when she turns him down, he’s off like a shot exploring his way through Zee’s mansion ’til he finds her library. After he finds the magical Book of Maps, he leads her on a chase through a dozen alternate worlds. Will she be able to stop him before he causes some serious havoc?

Verdict: Ehh, thumbs down. This was really kind of a crummy farewell to the character, with too much emphasis on Uriah and not enough on Zee or any member of her supporting cast. But it looks like this title became one of DC’s red-headed stepchildren when they decided they’d stop supporting it, so it’s been passed around from one creator to another an awful lot…

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Tinker’s Gold

The Unwritten #28

Tom Taylor, Lizzie Hexam, and Richie Savoy continue trying to figure out what connection Tom’s father had with the Tinker, an obscure Golden Age comic book character. They know that Wilson Taylor had been assigned to kill the comic’s creator — but when he learns that the creator is actually a beautiful woman named Miriam Walzer, he’s unable to follow through and soon starts a romance with her while he tries to figure out what makes her tick. But he knows he can’t keep the subterfuge up forever, and his relationship with Miriam is likely to get both of them killed. Meanwhile, back in the present, Tom and his friends try to keep a low profile, unaware that the Cabal is busy killing people worldwide who had any connection to Wilson Taylor.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Love the story and art, love the dialogue, and I’m still grooving on this focus on the birth of comics as a medium. And seriously, I just love that cover. Ain’t that a nice cover?

Morning Glories #11

The focus on the individual members of the Morning Glory Academy continues, as we get a look into the life of the entirely rotten and self-absorbed Ike. Turning traitor against his friends has paid off well for him, as he’s been rewarded with a private apartment, which he uses to entertain a veritable conga line of the academy’s prettiest students. But the Academy’s teachers have a new bargain for him — they’ll let him leave the Academy and go home if he does one little chore for them — there’s someone they want killed. So we get some flashbacks to Ike’s past — he was accused of his wealthy father’s murder, but had a perfect, ironclad alibi — despite the fact that everyone really believed he committed the crime. But can Ike be tempted to kill for the Academy? Probably. But is he prepared for who his target will be?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Ike is definitely the least likeable of the Glories, so it’s pretty cool that this story actually gets you to feel some sympathy for the smarmy little weasel. Beautiful art, as always, and plenty of weird mysteries that will hopefully be explained someday…

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The Amazing Spider-Man #667

The “Spider-Island” event finally gets officially kicked off, with Peter Parker discovering that his girlfriend Carlie has amazing spider-like powers. Why does that seem familiar somehow? He convinces her to keep her new powers a secret, at least for now, while they go see Aunt May off as she moves to Boston. Meanwhile, New York City’s mobsters are discovering that they have spider powers, too, and the Jackal gets them organized by giving them a bunch of knockoff Spider-Man costumes and sending them out to spread some mayhem. Spidey is finally able to get into costume to help out — but not only does half of New York now have his powers, but the Avengers and the rest of the city’s superheroes now can’t tell him apart from all of the copycats.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The story is in its early stages, so there’s not a whole lot to be said about it yet. I do, however, just plain love Humberto Ramos’ artwork.

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #3

Meet the Germans’ 77th Brigade — composed entirely of vampires. Not a fun place to be for Felicia Book and Cash McCogan, members of the vampire-hunting Vassals of the Morning Star gone undercover to try to find a cure for vampirism. What he’s discovered is a gun that fires concentrated sunlight, able to destroy almost any vampire. After some successful demonstrations, but Felicia and Cash suspect the vampires know who they are, so they prepare to make their escape, only for the doctor to offer them a far more unexpected method to strike at the vampires.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art, great story — and incredibly suspenseful, too. This has been a hugely impressive story, even compared to the high standards Scott Snyder has already cooked up for the regular “American Vampire” series.

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