Archive for February, 2012

Avengers and More Avengers

Secret Avengers #23

Yalda, a Pakistani woman who has unexpectedly exhibited the ability to absorb and redirect massive amounts of energy, has been abducted, along with her son, by a group of unusual Adaptoids, androids able to mimic superpowers. Though the Secret Avengers were unable to stop them, Ant-Man is able to hitch a ride with them and soon discovers a large underground city full of Adaptoids. Meanwhile, we get plenty of team moments — Beast tells Hank Pym that he’s going to do everything he can to make sure Pym never creates another artificial intelligence again, because all of his robots tend to turn out to be evil. Captain America and Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch from World War II, meet with Peter Parker’s old nemesis Flash Thompson, who’s lost his legs in the war and now serves as the part-time host to the Venom symbiote so he can use it for special ops missions. Hawkeye is dead set against having Venom as a team member, however, and kicks him and Cap off the team’s satellite.

Back in the Adaptoid city, their leader realizes that Yalda will never agree to join them, so he orders her killed. Ant-Man springs into action, but he’s no match for all of them. Yalda is killed, but Ant-Man is able to escape into the city with her child, despite his damaged helmet. The rest of the Secret Avengers finally make it into the city, but will they be in time to save Ant-Man?

Verdict: Thumbs down. So much stuff wrong with this. First, there’s a serious problem with Hawkeye being in charge of the team. As Snell points out, Hawkeye is the last person around who should be complaining about former villains like Venom joining the Avengers. Plus kicking Captain America — Captain Freakin’ America! — out of an Avengers HQ! And just generally complaining and bitching at everyone. Dude just doesn’t have what it takes. Second, I’m really not a fan of creating fairly interesting characters like Yalda just to have her stupidly killed. And the art is just not something I’m having an easy time getting adjusted to. And I am fairly bugged that, despite that awesome Art Adams cover, Venom doesn’t ever really show up in the story. Having said all that, I did like this issue’s treatment of Ant-Man and his completely outmatched struggle against the Adaptoids — very action-packed and desperate in all the right ways.

Avengers Academy #26

Jocasta and Veil are back — and they want Avengers Academy shut down permanently. Jocasta insists that it’s too dangerous, and teenaged superheroes are too likely to be killed. The rest of the Avengers object strongly, and Jocasta calls in backup — corporate supervillain Jeremy Briggs and a bunch of kids from the Initiative who they’ve recruited. They’re all set to have a typical superhero-vs.-superhero fight — and Reptil hits everyone with his tail and tells ’em to settle the heck down and quit acting like idiots. And it works! Everyone basically sits down and debates the pros and cons of teen superheroes vs. teen corporate metahumans. And they do that for almost the entire issue!

Verdict: Thumbs up. I never would’ve imagined that a superhero comic this wordy would work so well — but it does work excellently. There’s no significant shift in the cast of the comic, but all the issues are addressed fairly honestly — and it’s just a good, fun comic to read. Try doing this with a normal Avengers comic and it’d fall to pieces…

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Blood and Honey

American Vampire #24

Vampire-hunting ’50s hoodlum Travis Kidd is facing his nemesis, Skinner Sweet. Wait, isn’t Skinner Sweet dead, stabbed to death with gold during World War II? Well, it doesn’t look like that’s the case at all, ’cause he sure seems to be functional now. Travis’ only advantage now is that there’s a new moon tonight, when American vampires are at their weakest — but even then, he’s fighting a vampire across the hoods of a couple different out-of-control muscle-cars, which doesn’t mean anything comes easy. Can Travis stop Skinner and save his girl before either their cars crash out or the sun comes up?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is glorious stuff. Absolutely amazing action, combined with flashbacks to Travis’ youth, escape from the mental hospital, and extremely brief alignment with the vampire-hunting Vassals of the Morning Star. Rafael Albuquerque’s art is heart-stoppingly beautiful, too. You guys are reading this comic, ain’tcha? You better be reading this comic.

Morning Glories #16

When last we saw Casey Blevins, she was escaping from the Morning Glory Academy by mystically traveling in time. Well, unfortunately, even though she ends up at the base her father used to be stationed at, he doesn’t recognize her, because at this time period, Casey was just three years old — so the military assumes she’s some sort of spy, holds her prisoner, and tries to force her to tell why she’s working with the Chinese. Her only hope of getting out is Ms. Hodge — and since she can make anyone do anything or believe anything she wants just by telling them to, it’s a stone guarantee that Casey’s getting out just fine.

Verdict: Thumbs up. For something featuring a nearly effortless escape from a military base, there was a heck of a lot more tension in this story than I was expecting. It’s all good stuff — fairly mind-bending, too, as tends to be the nature of “Morning Glories”…

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Friday Night Fights: Collateral Chaos!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it’s been yet another heck-of-a-week, and the best way to recover from that and get your weekend started right is with a little of our old favorite: FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us all the way from January 1963’s The Incredible Hulk #5 by none other than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, as a villain called Tyrannus menaces the Hulk, who responds by pulling a Samson on everyone…

And what’s that last sound effect? Barroom? Sounds like where I’m headed next. Y’all have a great weekend — see you back here Monday…

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Death Comes Calling

Dark Horse Presents #9

Another excellent issue of Dark Horse’s always-entertaining anthology series. We start off with a Lobster Johnson story by Mike Mignola and Joe Querio, in which a gangster sells his soul for the chance to beat the famed crimefighter. Beside that, we’ve got a story by Paul Pope about the Apollo 12 lunar mission, Tony Puryear’s ongoing tale of a prison colony that’s part science fiction and part fantasy, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The City in the Sea” by Richard Corben, “Alabaster: Wolves,” a story by Caitlin R. Kiernan and Steve Lieber about an unusual monster hunter and her equally unusual prey, the very funny barbarian/public relations epic of “Skulltar” by M.J. Butler and Mark Wheatley, and Alan Gordon and Thomas Yeates’ remarkable “The Once and Future Tarzan.”

Verdict: Thumbs up. Some of these stories are just flat-out amazing. The Paul Pope story makes me wish he’d write more straightforward history, as his behind-the-headlines look at the 1969 moon launch makes for really fascinating reading. Kiernan and Lieber’s “Alabaster: Wolves” is about to become a miniseries, and this introduction to the characters makes it look like something I’d really like to read. And “The Once and Future Tarzan” is mindbogglingly awesome stuff that definitely needs to be either an ongoing series or a much larger graphic novel of its own.

All Star Western #6

Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham are trapped deep underground. Hex fights off a gigantic mutant bat, convinces the underground tribe of bat-worshiping Indians to let them go free, and they both climb up outside of the mansion of Alan and Catherine Wayne. They enlist their aid to get the police to help raid the workhouse and free all the child slaves. Will Hex be able to apprehend the mastermind behind the slavery ring? And in the backup feature, the Barbary Ghost is close to her final vengeance against the criminals who destroyed her family. But is there anywhere she can go when all her foes are dead?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story, good action, nice art. Hey, it’s still worth reading, and that’s something that can’t be said for most of the New 52.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Archie and the gang get involved in the Occupy movement? That’s… kinda amazing…
  • Margot’s Room” is a nicely terrifying little comic. Go get to clicking. Start at the top, work your way to the floor.
  • All of the “Inappropriate Soundtrack” videos are pretty funny, but I think this one was the best.

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Suspense and Sestinas

I’m in the mood to review something that’s not comics today. In fact, I’m gonna go as far in the opposite direction as I can. Tremble, ye dudes and dudettes, as I review… a book of poetry!

A Sea of Alone: Poems for Alfred Hitchcock, edited by Christopher Conlon

Yes, you read right — a book full of poems that have film director Alfred Hitchcock as their primary point of inspiration. How does that work? It works better than you might expect.

I’d actually had some trouble deciding whether I should review this here. On one hand, it’s a comic book blog, and Hitchcock didn’t have anything to do with comics. On the other hand, I also do plenty of writing about horror and associated genres, and some of Hitchcock’s best known films fit very easily into the horror genre. But what really put this decision over the top was this: it’s my freakin’ blog, and I can review any durn thing I want to, so there!

The book was published just last year and edited by Christopher Conlon. There are a pretty large number of poets who contributed poems to the volume — most probably unknown to you because, unfortunately, working as a poet these days is a good way to not get a lot of attention. Or payment, actually.

As you’d expect, the poems in this book cover a pretty wide range of topics, even if they’re all inspired by Hitch and his movies. There are quite a few that focus on Hitchcock’s life, particularly his less-than-happy childhood and his interests and obsessions as a filmmaker. You also get plenty that are all about the movies, with “Psycho” and “The Birds” probably getting the most attention, though “The 39 Steps” is quite close behind.

Of course, I’ve got plenty of favorites in this book. They include:

  • Steven Vernon’s “Leytonstone Lad,” which spotlights Hitchcock’s childhood;
  • Miles David Moore’s “Shadow of a Doubt: Charles Oakley’s Speech,” which takes a walk through the mind of the killer from one of Hitchcock’s best-loved films;
  • G.O. Clark’s “Alfred,” which pays tribute to Hitchcock’s film cameos;
  • Lyn Lifshin’s “Alma,” dedicated to the director’s long-suffering wife;
  • Lifshin’s “Think of a Woman Terrified by Birds, Caged,” a study of the trials Tippi Hedren endured on the “Birds” set;
  • Kathi Stafford’s “Double Feature at the Pecos Drive-In,” for anyone who remembers drive-in movies;
  • Richard A. Lupoff’s “At the Cosmic Saloon,” which gives Robert Bloch, Janet Leigh, and Anthony Perkins a chance to air their grievances;
  • Marge Simon’s “The Birds’ Lullaby,” a wonderful bit of nonsense verse that gives voice to a bunch of murderous birds;
  • Andrew J. Wilson’s “crop-duster,” almost more visual pun than poem, but the only work in the book to make me bust out with delighted, morbid laughter;
  • and Sydney Duncan’s “Sestina for Alfred Hitchcock” — mainly because I like reading people writing unusual structured poems like sestinas.

And of course, plenty of others besides. I feel like I’m shortchanging some really good poems by not talking about ’em here, but dangit, I can’t just list every poem in the book.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is a really fun book, a nice, easy read, though you ought to take a few days to read it, ’cause that’s the best way to read poetry. I enjoyed some of these poems a lot more than the rest, but there really wasn’t a single bad poem in the book. That’s a pretty good average, folks.

You’ve got poems long and short, complex and simple, dark and… more dark. It’s a good collection. I think Hitchcock would’ve liked it.

Go pick it up.

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The Devil in the Deeps

Daredevil #9

Someone has burgled a cemetery and stolen a lot of bodies, including the body of Fightin’ Jack Murdock, the father of blind New York lawyer Matt Murdock. So Daredevil goes on a trip deep underground, following the trail of the graverobbers. Turns out it’s a bunch of Moloids, the underground dwellers who serve the Mole Man. He has a few skirmishes with the Moloids and doesn’t even realize how close he gets to some of the Mole Man’s giant monsters. But the question remains — why is the Mole Man steal and desecrating corpses? And how is Daredevil going to stop him?

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, beautiful art and writing. It’s neat to see Daredevil in an environment where he’s on an equal level, at least as far as senses go, with his opponents. The sideplot, with the Black Cat searching Matt’s apartment for the trinket he stole from the world’s major criminal organizations, is also pretty interesting.

Snarked #5

Wilburforce J. Walrus, Clyde McDunk, Queen Scarlett, and Prince Rusty have set sail on the Old Gertrude in search of the King — but they haven’t yet shared with the crew that the map to the King’s prison has mysteriously turned up blank. Or that they’re supposed to go to the dreaded Snark Island. That’s bad news, because the whole crew of the ship was been severely traumatized by a Snark-hunting incident years ago. And to add to the chaos, there’s a great big crocodile stalking the ship, determined to eat someone on board — and it’s just gobbled up Rusty! What are our heroes to do?!

Verdict: Thumbs up. Inspired and silly and glorious work here — even better than many of the previous issues. The threat of the crocodile, the flashback to the crew’s previous visits to Snark Island, the crewman who spends his whole life hiding inside a barrel — the whole thing is gloriously fun from beginning to end.

Wonder Woman #6

While Wonder Woman and Poseidon smack each other around, Lennox parleys with the wonderfully creepy Hades. After saving Zola from another pair of murderous centaurs, Wonder Woman reveals her plan to end the war to become Zeus’ replacement — by day, Heaven will be ruled by Poseidon, and by night, by Hades — and they’ll share Hera as the queen. Predictably, Hera is so infuriated at this suggestion that she shows up to confront everyone — and that’s when Wonder Woman’s new scheme against her goes into effect.

Verdict: Thumbs up — and a large part of that is how cool Hades looks: black-clad little tyke with a half dozen flaming candles on top of his head and fountains of melted wax covering half his face. It might be my favorite of Brian Azzarello’s reimaginings of the Greek pantheon.

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The Owls in the Ruins

Batman #6

So it’s Batman vs. the Talon, the elite assassin of the Court of Owls. Fair fight? Probably not when Batman has spent the last several weeks, starving, weakening, going crazy, then getting stabbed through the stomach and beat like a rented mule. Can the Dark Knight survive and escape?

Verdict: I dunno. It’s written great, the art is fine, it’s dramatic, there’s lots of action and suspense and freaky stuff. But I really couldn’t get past the fact that Batman shoulda been dead by Page 5. I like Batman better when there’s an actual human underneath the cowl, not an indestructible behemoth. I wish DC would just go ahead and declare that he’s a metahuman and get it over with.

The Amazing Spider-Man #679.1

Horizon Labs is stuffed full of people doing awesome mad science. In fact, there are seven main labs. One of them is run by Peter Parker. One is run by this weird kid named Uatu Jackson. And no one knows who’s in Lab 6. At least until the day Uatu and Peter discover that the guy in Lab 6 is Michael Morbius — better known as Morbius the Living Vampire! Oh no, and he’s just gone bloodlust crazy! Will Spidey be able to stop him by himself? Or will he need help from Uatu’s mad-science monster-fighting gear?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent action and dialogue and just the right amount of silliness.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – The Long Death #1

It’s a normal day in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense — until ghostly agent Johann Kraus suddenly finds his containment suit taken over by a terrifying monster! And then Johann wakes up — it was just a dream… but as a spirit, Johann isn’t able to sleep. Has his fancy new containment suit given him the ability to sleep and dream again? Before that question can be answered, Johann has to lead a BPRD team into British Columbia near where Abe Sapien investigated a series of disappearances not too long ago. However, Johann has his own agenda, and he leaves the team on their own so he can look for the missing Ben Daimio. And that leaves the team almost defenseless when they’re attacked by a monster. Will anyone make it out alive?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Johann’s dream is as horrific as all git-out. The rest of the story is a lot more mellow, even including the attack by the jaguar demon. Excellent action and horror — yet another great story that makes you wish you could kick Johann Kraus’ insubstantial butt.

Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #12

The final issue! Not a whole lot of actual plot going on in this one — just a review of the current sorry state of the planet — wrecked by giant monsters with humankind reduced to near-savagery — along with a meditation on our species’ ability to persist in the face of certain doom and thrive.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A very nice ending — we get to check in one final time with the series’ recurring characters and we get some hope for mankind’s survival. It’s been a great run — glad I got to read it all.

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Turing Point

Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X #5

In the finale of the latest storyline, Atomic Robo has had himself packaged up and shipped to Hashima Island, Japan, the source of the conspiracy against Robo and the Action Scientists of Tesladyne. It’s the same location that his former employees Louis and Martin and the British secret agent, the Sparrow, have traveled to so they can find a house that was mysteriously, um, housenapped. When they find the house, Robo goes in to look around and finds an artificial intelligence that calls itself Alan, after its creator, Alan Turing. Well, Turing was a nice guy — surely the Alan AI is nice, too? Nope. Alan wants to blast off of Earth to become the ultimate space-computer, and he plans to destroy the planet in the process. Can Robo fight off a computer that controls a vast underground complex in time to save the Earth?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Talky — but if you can’t handle comic-book science talk from computer minds built by Nikola Tesla and Alan Turing, you really shouldn’t handle comic books. Good fun, good humor, good action, and high stakes.

Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #2

Newspaper reporter Cindy Tynan has been saved from gangster Arnie Wald’s goons by Lobster Johnson, and he has her in hiding to keep her safe. Of course, Tynan isn’t real happy about that, but Lobster won’t let her go free until he knows Wald is out of business — and dead — permanently. Tynan is able to clue the crimefighter in on one of Wald’s hideouts, and though Lobster takes out Wald’s goons, the mobster gets away. And when he gets back to New York, he goes about finding some mystical protection…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent art, fantastic action. Don’t know what else I can say — it’s good stuff, so if you love supernatural-themed pulp, this is something you may like.

Batgirl #6

Batgirl has to fight a mind-controlled Bruce Wayne, but she starts to suspect he’s faking the mind control — partly because he isn’t fighting as well as Batgirl knows he can, and partly because Batman can resist any mind control. Gretel makes her escape when Babs engineers an excuse for Wayne to break free of her mental powers, then we get Gretel’s origin story — she used to be a reporter named Lisly Bonner who was trying to expose a mobster, but when her secret was exposed, she got shot and dumped in the bay. But the brain injury awakened psychic powers which she’s using to get revenge on the mobsters who attacked her. Batgirl is able to figure out her secret and she sets up a trap for Gretel — but will she and Bruce Wayne end up getting killed when Gretel takes over the minds of the Gotham police?

Verdict: I have to thumbs this one down. I didn’t mind most of it, but it lost me early on with a couple of game-breakers. First, I don’t buy the idea that Batman can actually resist all mental attacks — he’s got a lot of willpower, yeah, but I don’t buy that he can completely shrug off a telepathic attack so easily. Second, Gretel even says she was in Bruce Wayne’s mind — either she was telling the truth and never realized that she couldn’t control him, or she was lying and knew she wasn’t controlling him, and then stuck around to risk capture. And we also got no explanation for the weird fugue state that Gretel went into during last issue. On top of all that, I’m just really not digging Barbara Gordon’s subplots — I don’t care beans about her estranged mother, and I don’t buy that this obsessed cop would keep pursuing Batgirl when Commissioner Gordon had already told her she didn’t have a case.

The Defenders #3

Dr. Strange, Namor, the Silver Surfer, Iron Fist, and Red She-Hulk are underneath Wundagore Mountain hoping to stop Nul, the Breaker of Worlds from busting up a machine that will destroy the universe. They also have to stop Prester John from trying to escape the universe before everything goes kablooey. Can they pull all that off by themselves?

Verdict: Thumbs down. Here’s the problem with this — if the Defenders had never shown up at all, the end result of this would all be the same. The machine’s guardian would’ve banished Nul whether or not they showed up. And Prester John would’ve gone flying his big spaceship around without really doing any harm, but now the Surfer messed up his trajectory, and… I don’t really see the point. The art is nice, but these guys just ran around for three issues and accomplished nothing. You get better results from the Inferior Five.

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American Batwoman

Batwoman #6

A wide variety of stories here — Batwoman getting into the swing of things as a new DEO agent, Jacob Kane watching over his niece Bette in the Gotham ICU, Maggie Sawyer investigating more child kidnappings and juggling her romance with Kate Kane, and a new villain named Maro engineering evil behind the scenes months ago.

Verdict: Thumbs up. J.H. Williams III is still doing the story, but Amy Reeder is contributing the art for this storyarc. Is it still the most gorgeous comic on the stands? Yes, it is. Yes, it absolutely is. And yes, the stories are still fun — it’s nice to see that Bette Kane and Jacob Kane are still important parts of the supporting cast, even if Kate doesn’t appear to ever deal with them, and Batwoman’s gleeful badassery is still grand fun.

Secret Avengers #22

After Captain Britain joins the Secret Avengers (and gets very angry when he learns that he’s going to be following orders from Hawkeye), the team heads off to investigate an incident in Pakistan in which a woman inhaled a bomb blast and then released it with even greater force, killing hundreds of people. When the team catches up to the woman, who’s being held captive by terrorists who want to use her ability to wage war, they soon find themselves attacked by a bunch of unknown supervillains with strange powers.

Verdict: Thumbs down. I liked parts of it — the introduction of the fire-inhaling woman is well-done, and it’s cool to see that the team’s HQ is now located in a secret miniaturized satellite, but in general, I thought the story was a bad combination of boring and confusing.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #6

The Humanids, the 24-hour artificial nonsentient workforce used by S.H.A.D.E. has started a revolution, a storyline telegraphed from the very first issue. Meanwhile, Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos travel to Vietnam to apprehend one of Frank’s ’60s-era comrades, an atomic-powered superhuman called Col. Quantum, who was part Dr. Manhattan and part the Comedian. Can Quantum be captured? Will the revolt back at S.H.A.D.E. HQ be stopped in time?

Verdict: Thumbs down. This is a title that’s rapidly starting to tire me. The art is weird, the supporting cast is either dull or irritating, the storylines are either dull or predictable, and I just don’t see where it’s all supposed to go from here.

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Friday Night Fights: Starmen and Tigers and Bears!

Alright, people, it’s Friday again, and that means it’s time to get your weekend started off the right way. No, that doesn’t mean you get to play canasta, or paste up new wallpaper, or learn how to line-dance. It means we start things off with… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us courtesy of March 1942’s Adventure Comics #72 by Gardner F. Fox and Jack Burnley. I know James Robinson’s 1990’s “Starman” series would have you think that Ted Knight, the Golden Age Starman, was a bit of sensitive scientific genius, but back in the ’40s, Starman tended to unleash some really serious whupass. How much whupass? Well, how about fighting-bears-and-tigers whupass?

How ’bout you? You ever used a tiger to club a bear into unconsciousness? No? Maybe you’d better try it this weekend.

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