Archive for May, 2012

Friday Night Fights: Boxing and Blood!

Let’s just jump straight into it — it’s time again for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

I’m probably the only modern comics fan who really enjoys some of the really old comics, and this one has always been on my list, just for the sheer imaginative lunacy on display. It’s “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend,” from the early years of the previous century. It was created by Winsor McCay, who also did “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” Every strip involved someone having an absolutely bizarre dream or nightmare, with the final panel focusing on the dreamer waking up and swearing they’d never again eat “rarebit” or “Welsh rabbit” — a meal of melted cheese sauce over toast that was reputed to cause vivid dreams.

So here’s the strip from all the way back on October 10, 1904, featuring the dreamer battling his way through Charles McCoy, Tom Sharkey, Gentleman Jim Corbett, Robert James Fitzsimmons, and James J. Jeffries — some of the best known boxers of the day…

Hope all your dreams this weekend are pleasant and not too cheese-fueled…

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Dispensing Fiction

Dispensing Justice by Fritz Freiheit

It’s been a while since we got to review any comics-related fiction around here, so let’s get to it with “Dispensing Justice” by Fritz Freiheit.

This particular story is set in an alternate version of the 1980s — lots of movies and TV shows are similar, but technology has advanced a lot faster — for example, the Internet is fully functional and widely used — and humanity has had contact with an alien civilization. In 1947, a supernova bathed the Earth in radiation, causing widespread illness and death, but an interstellar civilization intervened and saved the planet. Soon afterwards, the cosmic radiation started giving certain people superpowers, and those people started styling themselves as superheroes and supervillains.

Our main character is Michael Gurick, a genius teenager who recently watched his father, a superhero called the Dispenser, get killed on national TV by a bunch of cyborg supervillains called the Demolition Squad. He’s surprised, however, when his dad then shows up to take him home from school — the government has assigned a lookalike agent to his family so no one will realize there’s a connection between the Dispenser and the rest of his family.

Michael’s mother isn’t reacting well to the crisis, so the Dispenser’s fellow superheroes in the Nova League take it upon themselves to help her adjust mentally and emotionally, leaving Michael with more time to spend with his friends, Kimball Kinnison, a normal kid who’s started to develop psionic powers, and Penny Riggs-Armstrong, daughter of another couple of superheroes, with her own high levels of associated kickassery. Added into this mix are Cleo Fox, blind daughter of Michael’s martial arts instructor, and Achilles and Andy Riggs-Armstrong, Penny’s twin siblings, who love to spend time finding new ways to torture Michael.

And complicating all of this even more? Michael has decided to use his own superpowered intelligence and his father’s old equipment to avenge his father’s death. Can he handle a task that his father couldn’t? Will his friends be able to help? Or is this all going to end really, really badly for everyone?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Now lemme warn you, the first thing you’re going to think when you look at this book is: “Holy hamsters, that thing’s over 375 pages long! And it’s got over 100 chapters!” But whoa, whoa, calm down, cowboy, most of those chapters are only a couple pages long, which helps the story and the action move along at a nice, brisk pace. It’s real easy to sit down at lunch, plan to read only a few pages while you eat your sandwich, and end up burning through 50 or more pages and completely forgetting about your olive-loaf-on-rye.

The characters are entirely grand — Michael, Kim, and Penny seem like fairly realistic teenagers, Achilles and Andy are quite funny every time they appear, and the banter and rivalries among the superheroes in the Nova League are handled very well.

The setting is also a huge amount of fun. While it’s somewhat familiar, the differences that crop up — “Karate Kid” as a movie about learning how to use superpowers, a home with a flat-screen TV in the mid-1980s, “Ghostbusters” being made with computer-generated special effects, and a vast number of geek-friendly board games that I wish we’d had when I was a kid — give you plenty of moments to be surprised by how the setting has been changed from the world we lived in.

And while the action takes a while to get started — Michael and his friends are pretty formidable, but they realize that they can’t go out and start fighting crime without getting some level of training, along with something that’ll bounce bullets, first — once the superheroes and the supervillains get down to fighting, the action is fast, furious, and entirely excellent.

There is a lot going on in this novel, and there’s no way to cover all the material in a fairly short review. There’s plenty of mystery about Cleo Fox as well as an incident with a visit to Congress and some mind-controlling federal agents, too. And lots more besides that. There’s a lot going on in this book, and it’s all pretty fun to read. Even better, there’s a whole series of novels planned in this world, so expect some sequels coming out before too long…

“Dispensing Justice” by Fritz Freiheit. If you like superhero fiction, I think you’re going to like this. Go pick it up.

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Undressed for Success

Daredevil #12

Matt Murdock is on a date with Assistant District Attorney Kirsten McDuffie, a woman who would really like to prove once and for all that Matt is Daredevil. They visit a local amusement park, and Kirsten has Matt blindfold her so she can see what it’s like to be blind. Matt tells Kirsten about his days rooming with Foggy Nelson in college — and how they had to deal with their tyrannical professor. But Matt’s date may be ruined by Daredevil’s crusade against Megacrime.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The best thing about this is the look back at Matt and Foggy’s younger days, with a little legal badassery in defense of each other. It’s a nice break from the ongoing Megacrime saga.

Justice League International #9

OMAC has zoomed up out of nowhere and is beating the stuffing out of the JLI. They finally get him to make sense after they knock a hole in the street and drop him underground — apparently, this cuts him off from mind-control rays the bad guys were beaming at him. And then there’s an attack at the Eiffel Tower that the team needs to thwart, too.

Verdict: Thumbs down. This one’s starting to get a bit ridiculous. The dialogue isn’t improving, and nearly all the female characters have been fridged into the hospital so we’re not even seeing them anymore. This isn’t anywhere near the worst stuff DC is publishing, but it could be so much better, and that’s why it’s so frustrating to read.

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Phone Home

Dial H #1

Man, they’re shoehorning this comic into the second wave of the DC Reboot, and it doesn’t belong there at all. This is a Vertigo Comic, born and bred.

Our main character is Nelson Jent, an overweight, depressed guy who’s gunning for an early grave until a bunch of thugs attack his only real friend, Darren. Nelson makes his way into an antique phone booth to call for help — but the help he gets isn’t what he expected. Instead he finds himself transformed into a spindly, indestructible, smoke-belching monstrosity that calls itself Boy Chimney. He routs the bad guys and gets Darren to the hospital before he reverts back to tubby Nelson Jent — and when he finds out that Darren works for the bad guys, and that they’ll keep coming after him, Nelson returns to the phone booth, trying to figure out what triggered his transformation. When he stumbles on the proper sequence, he ends up turning into a mopey goth called Captain Lachrymose, who can trigger traumatic sorrow in others and then becomes energized by their tears. He goes after the criminals targeting his friend — but he’s not the only person in town with weird superpowers…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fantasy author China Mieville has apparently been wanting to write a comic book for a while, and I don’t know why DC put him off for so long. What he churns out here is grim and deeply bizarre pseudo-superheroics — Boy Chimney may be the scariest thing we’ve seen in any comic in months. And it’s got a great level of characterization, too. Nelson is a really interesting character — his desire to help his friend struggling to overcome his depression. And Mateus Santolouco’s artwork is a great complement for all of this — his jangly, shadow-drenched illustrations work perfectly for what we’ve got going on here. Go pick it up, folks.

The Amazing Spider-Man #685

It’s still Spider-Man, the Black Widow, and Silver Sable against the Sinister Six — and this time, the rest of the world is on the bad guys’ side. After narrowly avoiding getting arrested by S.H.I.E.L.D., the trio contact as many other superheroes as they can (and even a few villains, including the Titanium Man) to help turn the tide against Dr. Octopus. They finally track down Doc Ock’s largest satellite-manufacturing factory — just in time for Octavius to launch them all into orbit. But is Dr. Octopus really the villain this time, or is this going to be his biggest trick ever?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A bit slow-moving, but we are at the mid-point in the series. The best point is definitely the cliffhanger at the end — it hits all the drama, suspense, and action points it needs to keep the story running in high gear.

Oh, and hey, Free Comic Book Day was Saturday, and I got some pretty good stuff. Let’s check it out real quick.

Atomic Robo: Free Comic Book Day 2012

If there’s any serious guarantee on Free Comic Book Day, it’s the guarantee that the Atomic Robo comic is going to be one of the best things offered. And it’s so again! Atomic Robo and the Fighting Night-Shift Accountants of Tesladyne have learned there’s a serious problem with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland that could cause devastation across the space-time continuum. And he’s brought in a special consultant to help out — Dr. Dinosaur?! But aren’t he and Robo terrible enemies? Isn’t Dr. Dinosaur a lunatic? Isn’t Dr. Dinosaur only kind of a genius and mostly an idiot? Well, yes, but to save the space-time continuum, Robo is willing to work with him.

Except… Ah, curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal! It was all a ruse by Dr. Dinosaur to wreck the Collider using Futuresaurus Rex — an armored T-rex with missile launchers! And guns he carries in his teeny-tiny forelegs! So adorable and badass! But Futuresaurus Rex is just as great a danger to Dr. Dinosaur as he is to everyone else, because Dr. D is an idiot who didn’t design a proper remote control for it! Can Robo and Dr. D really work together to save the day?

On top of that, we’ve got stories from other Red 5 comics like “Neozoic” and “Bonnie Lass.” But listen, we all tuned in for Atomic Robo, and everyone knows it…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Huzzah! Dr. Dinosaur! The greatest character in comic book history!

Mouse Guard and Other Stories: A Free Comic Book Day Hardcover Anthology

Okay, I don’t mind telling you, there’s one thing about this that’s gonna blow your mind: it really is a hardcover book. It’s not a huge book — it’s just 48 pages long, and it’s dimensions are a bit smaller than a standard-sized comic book. But it’s an actual, fer-realz hardcover, and they gave them out for free. Archaia Entertainment just stepped up their game in a way that no other publisher could match, that alone should be enough to make them this year’s Free Comic Book Day champion.

Even better: It’s a really good comic book. We get a story of the Mouse Guard as told through a children’s puppet show. We get a story about the characters from the movie “Labyrinth.” We get a story about the Dapper Men, a hilarious story called “Cursed Pirate Girl: Ramblings from an Old Sea Dog Who Likes to Be Called Alice” which is every bit as mad and surreal as you’d expect, and a story by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos about the “Cow Boy,” a pint-sized bounty hunter who’s sworn to capture his own outlaw family members. And they’re all great stories. They’re all worth reading and enjoying.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Publishing this as a hardcover is a great way to get attention, but ultimately this is a winner because the stories and art are absolutely worth any gimmicks. This was an outstanding comic, possibly the best Free Comic Book Day comic ever.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • I bet y’all have heard by now that MCA from the Beastie Boys died last week. I say the only real way to commemorate a great musician is to play their music. So here’s the best music video ever.
  • Here’s one of the Beasties’ classic goofy vids from the ’80s.
  • Here’s a more recent fave.
  • And if you got time to watch a 30-minute mini-movie, here’s a bunch of people pretending to be the Beasties.

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Friday Night Fights: Punching the Strawman!

Wow, another rough week for me — hope it was better for you. But whether it was good or bad, let’s get right into the only thing we need to get the weekend started right: FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Today’s brawl comes to us from December 2009’s Batgirl #3 by Bryan Q. Miller, Lee Garbett, and Trevor Scott. Stephanie Brown is on one of her first adventures as Batgirl and must contend with the Scarecrow…

Ah, Steph — still my favorite Batgirl… DC never appreciated how awesome you were…

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Welcome to the Second Wave

Worlds’ Finest #1

Well, the second wave of the DC Reboot starts with this title (I’m not counting “Earth 2,” which looks awful, is written by James Robinson, who seemingly gets hackier with every word he writes. “Earth 2” was apparently designed to turn DC’s awesome Golden Age heroes into grim-and-gritty 1990s douchecanoes). Most of what we get is backstory — Power Girl and the Huntress were originally the Supergirl and Robin of Earth 2. While trying to fight off a worldwide attack by Darkseid’s minions, the heroines fell into a Boom Tube and wound up on the world of the DC Reboot.

Now, five years after they got stuck here, they’re visiting Tokyo and toasting their successes — Karen Starr has become a wealthy entrepreneur, specializing in high-tech research and development, while Helena Wayne has adapted into a new costumed crimefighting persona. But there’s been an arson at one of Karen’s labs, and among the sabotaged equipment was a device that Karen hoped would return them to Earth 2. But who was the arsonist, and is he tougher than either Power Girl or the Huntress can handle?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good art, decent action, decent dialogue. I do have some quibbles. First is that Huntress’s Helena Bertinelli secret identity ends up getting unceremoniously dumped — which is really too bad, because I always liked the idea that a former mob princess could end up becoming a schoolteacher who moonlighted as a superhero. Seems like everything DC does these days is focused on making their universe smaller and less awesome, instead of larger and more fun. Second quibble? The new Power Girl costume is a complete disaster. It’s not like they gave Huntress a complete redesign — and there are plenty of amateur and semi-pro artists who’ve done cool redesigns of Power Girl’s costume while still making it look classic. But the new costume is really just embarrassingly bad.

Avengers Academy #29

Okay, Marvel’s new thing is the “Avengers vs. X-Men” crossover, which I’ve been able to mostly ignore. Basically, the Phoenix Force is coming to Earth and likely gunning for Hope, one of the younger members of the X-Men. Cyclops thinks the Phoenix will revitalize the mutant population because — I don’t know, it makes no sense. And the Avengers think they can take Hope into custody and keep the Phoenix Force from getting to her because — I don’t know, that makes no sense either. Essentially, the whole point of the crossover is “OMG WE GOTTA HAVE A CROSSOVER, QUICK THINK OF SOMETHING RANDOM WE CAN FOIST ON READORZ”

Aaaaanyway, in an attempt to keep the young students from Utopia and the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning safe from the ongoing war, Captain America and Wolverine agree to let the folks at Avengers Academy take care of them for the time being. They say it’s not a matter of keeping the students prisoner… but it’s mostly about keeping the students prisoner. In addition to a vast number of mutants students, we’ve also got a mind-wiped Sebastian Shaw and a couple X-affiliated scientists. After Hercules proposes some athletics competitions to get the various students acquainted, X-23 gets to chat with Dust. Lightspeed has a race against Transonic, but the surfing competition between Finesse and Loa gets pre-empted when Loa uses her powers to let former surfer Mettle enjoy some earth-surfing. But the good feelings don’t last — most of the X-students can’t bring themselves to trust the kids from Avengers Academy — and Sebastian Shaw has some dire plans of his own.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Once again, this comic goes for a nonviolent method of storytelling. There’s plenty of conflict, but no one goes for random pointless fisticuffs. Most comics would have these kids tearing each other apart by the mid-point of the story — so this is a great, refreshing change. My lone complaint about this story is that, while we get complete introductions to the students and teachers at Avengers Academy on the first page, we’re largely expected to be familiar with the X-kids already, and that just ain’t so.

Today’s Cool Links:

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The Natives are Restless

Snarked #7

Well, Wilburforce J. Walrus, Clyde McDunk, Queen Scarlett, and Prince Rusty are adrift in a lifeboat facing the possibility of having to eat each other to survive when a sudden storm blows them to a tropical island. But they soon find themselves taken captive by the island’s natives, a bunch of birds decked out in facepaint and tribal gear. The good news is they believe the castaways are rain gods because they arrived at the same time as the storm  did. The bad news is they’ve decided they can steal the rain gods’ powers if they cook and eat them. And their lifeboat — the only way they have to escape the island — has been smashed to bits. How are they ever going to get out of this one?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent humor, action, dialogue, art — just an all-around fun all-ages comic. Get it for your kids, or get it for yourself.

Daredevil #11

This is actually the conclusion of a Daredevil/Spider-Man/Punisher crossover — and I didn’t get the previous parts of the story. Nevertheless, from what I can deduce, the “Megacrime” organizations — A.I.M., Hydra, Agence Byzantine, and the Secret Empire — have made an all-out push to obtain the Omega Drive that Matt Murdock possesses — a data drive built out of the unstable molecules from a Fantastic Four costume — containing all their secrets of all the organizations. Daredevil and Spidey have enlisted Frank Castle’s help after making him promise not to kill anyone. And the Punisher has another assistant, a woman named Cole, who is assisting them, too. Or she was assisting them — she just stole the data drive in the middle of a firefight and took off. Will Daredevil be able to track Cole down and convince her to give up the data drive before Megacrime gets to her?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not quite as good as it could’ve been, since I was only getting part of the story. But it’s still pretty good, for all that. Good dialogue and drama, pretty darn good action, and just a lot of the wonderful superheroics we’ve come to expect from this comic since its relaunch.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Here’s a really entertaining article that touches on everything from camp to Fredric Wertham to fetishwear to what makes a fictional character gay or straight, all filtered through Grant Morrison’s recent statements about the “gayness of Batman“…
  • Okay, parents, I expect to start seeing more pictures of your kids and their awesome homemade jet packs.
  • Seems to me Hulu is getting set to go out of business.

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