Archive for June, 2012

Massive Attack

The Massive #1

In the first issue of this new series (though it got some short previews in previous issues of “Dark Horse Presents,” the ecology of the planet is finally falling apart due to environmental damage, leaving billions of people starving and dying. Into the chaos of this new world sails a small ship called the Kapital. Its crew used to be part of a radical environmental group called the Ninth Wave, but their old mission has mostly solved itself — not a lot of whalers around anymore, and mass fishing operations have disappeared. Of course, that’s not a lot of comfort in a world where everything’s dying.

The crew of the Kapital — Callum Israel, Mag Nagendra, a woman who just goes by the name Mary, and a few others — have new missions — survive, and try to find their sister ship, a larger vessel called the Massive, which vanished mysteriously during a storm. The crew of the Kapital doesn’t think the Massive has been destroyed or sunk, because they keep getting brief radar signals that appear to be the Massive, but they’ve never managed to track down or communicate with it.

Unfortunately, there’s a great deal of desperation in the world, and the Kapital must keep an eye out for marauding pirates — and though Callum Israel wants them to remain a pacifist ship, the rest of the crew recognizes that they don’t have that luxury anymore. Can they avoid their enemies, find supplies, find their sister ship, and still have a chance to save the earth?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A great set-up for a new series. Excellent mood, too, with the ever-present and ominous fog helping to bring home the idea that the Earth’s environment and atmosphere have undergone critical and potentially deadly changes. We get some small background on the current state of the world, but most of the emphasis here is on characters, dialogue, and plot developments. And the art’s nice, too. So this one goes in the Win column

Saucer Country #4

There’s so much stuff going on in this issue — Governor Alvarado’s ex-husband recounts his outlandish post-hypnosis memories of his abduction by aliens, but Professor Kidd recognizes the name of the hypnotherapist — a UFO fanatic and publicity hound who may have implanted false memories under hypnosis. The governor’s bodyguards clash with the Secret Service. The hypnotherapist has some shady contacts with a paranoid talk-radio host and a conspiracy-minded ex-military man.

Verdict: Thumbs up — really, this issue felt like a bunch of tiny stories that were there mostly to advance the main plot — no serious developments or action sequences or freaky stuff. But I still liked it. Sometimes, you just gotta do an issue that’s a little slow for the sake of plot advancement. Besides that, the dialogue is nice, the characterization seems very good, and I’m still quite happy with how things are going.

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Undercover Brothers

Batman #10

Spoilers if you haven’t seen this issue. Not that I’m sure it matters, ’cause everyone’s talking about it. But spoilers anyway.

The Court of Owls is almost completely shut down, leading to the Batman tracking their inner circle to their hideout — and arriving to find all of them dead by poison. So that’s the case wrapped up, right? Maybe not — Bats realizes he’s missed a clue, and it leads him to a long-deserted insane asylum just for children, closed after scandals about child abuse. And there, Batman finds the supposedly dead Lincoln Marsh, who injected himself with the Talon serum so he’d be able to resurrect himself.

Lincoln tells Batman that his mother had been injured in a car accident before he was born, and his parents secretly placed him in the children’s home, which had a good reputation when he was a child, in order to keep him safe from the family’s enemies. But when his parents were killed by a lone gunman in Crime Alley, he was forgotten and suffered years of abuse and neglect until he was taken in by the Court of Owls. He tells Batman that his real name is Thomas Wayne Jr., and he’s the new Owlman.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a good story, with good action, great tension and mood, nice dialogue, and a pretty good twist. I’m not all that bugged by Bruce Wayne having a long lost brother — Superman’s supposed to be the last Kryptonian, and no one complains about all his relatives who’ve survived. The “legend of the Bat” wasn’t too badly damaged when everyone thought Dr. Hurt might be Bruce’s father, and I don’t see Thomas Wayne Jr. as a particularly bad plot development. My only concern is that there are a lot of revelations going on lately about the Bat family — the deaths of the Flying Graysons kept Dick Grayson from being turned into a Talon, Dick’s own great-grandfather is a Talon, Mr. Freeze’s Nora isn’t actually his wife, etc. They need to slow the shocking revelations down, or they’ll lose their ability to shock.

The Amazing Spider-Man #687

Dr. Octopus is mentally controlling the Avengers as they attack Spidey, the Black Widow, Silver Sable, and the temporarily turncoat Mysterio. After Mysterio finally deactivates the Octobots with an electromagnetic pulse, the rest of the Avengers go to work trying to stop Doc Ock’s satellites before he can use them to burn the Earth to a cinder. Spidey and Silver Sable head for Ock’s secret hideout to keep him from activating the satellite web, but run into Rhino, who’s willing to let the world be destroyed because he still hasn’t gotten over his wife’s death — and he’s willing to make sure that he and Silver Sable drown. Spidey runs on to confront Dr. Octopus, but he may not be strong enough to escape the villain’s new and improved robot arms. Is there any way for Peter to save the world and make sure no one dies in the catastrophe?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story, good action — heck, there’s a lot packed into this issue. It feels like it’s a double-sized comic, but it isn’t. Any time you can make a regular-length comic feel like an annual, that’s pretty dang good.

Demon Knights #10

After foiling a bunch of pirates who sail the seas on top of a giant sea monster, our heroes get into the main story. They’ve traveled to a town under siege by giant, savage monsters — and they all seem to be coming from the ancient ruins of Camelot! As they ride toward the old castle, they’re attacked by a giant wolf which, when defeated, turns into a normal wolf. All the animals around, in fact, appear to have been changed into giant monsters. When they finally reach Camelot, they discover it’s been turned into a foreboding citadel, and they’re attacked by the resurrected corpse of King Arthur himself! But before they can do anything about the zombie king, all the team but Madame Xanadu are themselves changed into giant monsters!

Verdict: Thumbs up, even if only for Vandal Savage’s hilarious line: “Look! It’s a pirate sea serpent! That is something I have never shouted before!

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Zap Zap

Worlds’ Finest #2

Most of this issue is a slugfest — Power Girl and the Huntress vs. a radioactive monster called Hakkou. In fact, Hakkou makes short work of both of the heroines almost every time they meet, and it seems that he has some kind of connection to their old home on Earth-2. Speaking of Earth-2, we also get plenty of flashbacks to Karen and Helena’s early days after escaping from that alternate Earth, as they get adjusted to their new home and try to figure out how to get back to where they came from. But do they ever stand a chance of leaving Earth-1 behind, or will Hakkou finish what Darkseid’s armies started?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s not great comics, but it’s pretty good comics. The art by both George Perez and Kevin Maguire is lots of fun, the battles are nice and actiony, and the flashbacks are enjoyable. Of course, Power Girl’s costume is still just atrociously bad. I feel sorry for whoever designed it. Or whoever eventually gets blamed for it.

Justice League International #10

What a mishmash. The JLI — down Rocket Red, Ice, Fire, and Vixen, but having recently added Batwing and OMAC — tries to track down the terrorists who’ve been behind a lot of the hits they’ve been taking. They knock out some of the bad guys, but they still get stomped after one of the villains manages to take control of Booster Gold’s and Guy Gardner’s weaponry.

Verdict: Thumbs down. This one is just getting irritating. It was never a really strong comic, but one of the things that I thought made it so interesting was the unusually large number of women who were team members. By now, three of the four of them have been fridged, and they look like they’ll stay fridged ’til this comic gets cancelled. But I don’t think I’ll stick around to see — this title has stopped being even vaguely interesting to me.

iZombie #26

Gwen has been convinced by Amon that she needs to help kill everyone in Eugene, Oregon in order to save everyone on Earth from the coming of the elder god Xitalu. She’s trying to give Ellie and Scott a chance to make their escape, but she can’t locate them anywhere. Ellie and Frankenteen get cornered by the vampire paintball girls, the Dead Presidents and the Fossors battle mind-bending horrors together, Scott’s grandfather gets unmasked as a chimpanzee, leading Scott to turn into a were-terrier in front of everyone. And just as the end shows up over the horizon, Gwen finally locates her long-lost brother.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Is it okay to call this “soap opera on an apocalyptic scale”? Whatever it is, it works great. Common drama really gets cranked sky-high once the end of the world is coming.

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Because You Can’t Spell “Douche” Without “DC”

So DC has solicits up for their September comics, including their new zero issues. And one of them is the Green Lantern comic pictured above, with the new, so-far unnamed Green Lantern.

And yes, that looks like a new African-American Green Lantern wearing a ski mask and waving a gun around. Oh, Geoff Johns, your casual racism is why everyone must love you so.

A few hours after that image was made public, DC said, whoa, wait a minute, he’s not black, he’s actually Muslim.

So he’s still a marginalized and often despised minority wearing a ski mask and waving a gun around. Also, observant Muslims don’t have tattoos, like this guy sports on his arm. And he still looks black. So no matter what, it’s still insulting and racist!

Some days, I don’t know whether the people running DC are just unusually oblivious racists (and sexists) or if they think trolling their readers and trying to get people to hate them is smart marketing. “Hey, everyone’s talking about us! Success!” Too bad your comics don’t sell so well, guys.

Now how long before DC renames their “Stormwatch” comic to “Stormfront”…?

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Hey Sailor

Popeye #1

Long, long years ago, I went through a period where I was really, really into Popeye — and not the familiar Popeye cartoons, but the very old “Thimble Theatre” comic strip by E.C. Segar, the one that included characters that rarely made it into the animated cartoons, like Castor Oyl, Ham Gravy, the Sea Hag, Alice the Goon, and others. So a Popeye comic by IDW that features a ton of old characters, written by Roger Langridge? Yeah, I’m all over that.

First things first: That cover? That cover is pure win.

The story focuses on Castor Oyl, Olive’s brother, hitting on a scheme to find a mate for Eugene the Jeep, a small highly magical creature, so they can sell baby Jeeps to solve the family’s money troubles. Of course, they hire Popeye to take them to the semi-mythical Land of the Jeeps, and Wimpy tags along to keep from having to pay his debts to Rough House, the owner of the diner. They are pursued, of course, by Bluto, who tries to stop them by various dastardly schemes. And when they finally make it to the Land of the Jeeps, what they find is not what they expected.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is so blasted much like reading old Thimble Theatre comics. It doesn’t hurt that artist Bruce Ozella does a great job of replicating the look of Segar’s cartoons, but Langridge in particular seems to be channeling the style of those old comics.

Popeye #2

And the second issue has Popeye butting heads with Olive’s new beau, the famous actor Willy Wormwood. Popeye can’t match Wormwood for sophistication, style, or brains. Wormwood is obviously a villain — how can Popeye and Wimpy get Olive to see the truth? Plus a backup feature about Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle, brilliant scientist and inventor, as he pursues his twin quests of inventing a pill to make your feet two sizes larger and getting a little peace and quiet.

Verdict: Thumbs up. All the stuff I said before still applies. If you haven’t been getting these yet, give them a try. They’re good fun.

Avengers Academy #31

The X-Kids and the Avengers Academy kids finally figure out that Sebastian Shaw isn’t trying to kill anyone — he just wants to escape and to help the X-Kids escape. And the Academy students are really mostly okay with that — they don’t see the value in forcing the mutant students to stay as prisoners. So while Tigra and Hercules are generally in agreement, the campus is wired with cameras, and they can’t just let them walk away, so there has to be a fake fight for the cameras.

Verdict: Thumbs down. I really don’t get the necessity for a fake fight at all. It was pretty obvious everyone was pulling their punches, and everyone got up afterwards and waved bye-bye. So anyone watching certainly wasn’t fooled. I liked the camaraderie between the students and Hercules’ hammy over-acting, but the complete silliness of the fake fight ruined it all for me.

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Friday Night Fights: Mommy Wars!

It’s the last episode of this round of Friday Night Fights, and our instructions are to bring the pain in as few panels as possible. Dangit, I’m not going to be able to do that — I don’t have anything I can think of that’s just a single-panel fight, but here’s the closest thing I can dredge up.

From November 2011’s Alpha Flight #4 by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, and Dale Eaglesham: Here’s Heather Hudson, the Guardian, going a bit overboard in a family dispute with her cousin.

Wow. That’s probably the least polite Canadian ever.

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Gang of Freaks

Dial H #2

Nelson Jent is busy experimenting with the phone booth that turns him into different bizarre superheroes. The Human Virus, the Shamanticore, Pelican Army, Hole Punch, Double Bluff, Rancid Ninja, Skeet — but he always has to turn back into overweight schlub Nelson Jent, and Nelson Jent feels utterly powerless to protect his friend Darren, still stuck in the hospital. He raids one of the criminal syndicate’s targets after turning himself into the digital superhero Control-Alt-Delete, but gets ambushed by the meta who hurt him in the previous issue — he has trouble remembering which powers he possesses with each new body. Meanwhile, the syndicate’s boss, Ex Nihilo, plans to release his own Big Bad, never realizing until too late that his supposed minion was far smarter and more powerful than he was. Will Nelson’s newest persona, the Iron Snail, stand a chance against the deadly Squid?

Verdict: Thumbs up. So very, very strange characters — and vast numbers of them, too, which makes it even more fun. Seriously, the great pleasure in this is how spectacularly surreal it all is. I need more comics like this in my life.

Morning Glories #19

Well, shallow, cynical Zoe is really an enthusiastic murderer, specializing in stabbing seemingly random classmates to death. But nerdy Hunter saw her last killing, so now he’s on the target list, and we get treated to Hunter running for his life, while flashing back on his own mother’s slow death from cancer. So what’s going to be the twist on Zoe’s murder spree? Or will there be one at all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Harrowing stuff — like a combination of the tensest parts of a slasher movie and the weirdest parts of a conspiracy thriller. Man, would I like to see some answers sometime soon, ya know?

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – The Transformation of J.H. O’Donnell

J.H. O’Donnell has been a background character in the BPRD books for a while — a brain-fried occult specialist who’s probably a bit crazier than anyone working for the organization should be. How’d he get that way? We get a flashback to O’Donnell’s trip to catalog the library of a recently-deceased necromancer in 1987. He had Hellboy along for protection, but once he finds the secret entrance to the necromancer’s real library, he finds himself being followed by the greatest occultists in history — all of them dead, all of them very dangerous. And he can’t even count on much help from Hellboy, who has to battle a bull-headed demon in the sub-basement. And once the occultists show O’Donnell their secret faces and whisper their secret spells in his ears, it’s pretty much all over for him…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wonderfully creepy and weird, with outstandingly moody art from Max Fiumara and colors by Dave Stewart. This is just a one-shot, but it’s the perfect kind of eerie horror that Mike Mignola does so well.

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Live Forever, Ray Bradbury!

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Ray Bradbury has died.

What this boiled down to, personally, is that yesterday was not a very good day for me.

Ray Bradbury has been my favorite writer for as long as I can remember. I don’t know that he was every considered a very hip writer — I’ve worked at too many jobs where I mentioned his name to coworkers and got a lot of blank stares in reply. But I know that he’s pretty solidly beloved by science fiction writers, fantasy writers, horror writers, just about every writer under the sun. I’ve loved the stuffing out of him since I was a little kid. I never got to meet him, I never exchanged mail with him, but I always thought of him as a personal friend — it always amazed me that everything he wrote felt like it had been written with me in mind. And more than likely, most of his other readers felt the same way. That’s an amazing gift.

I’ve been trying to remember what my first Ray Bradbury story was, and I’m pretty sure it was “The Homecoming,” which was the last story in a book called “Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum” that I read when I was a kid. And really, “The Homecoming” is very nearly my favorite of Bradbury’s stories — it’s about a normal kid who lives in a family of monsters and his sadness that he’ll never really be part of them. It’s a lyrical story, like so many of his other stories. It’s beautiful and poetic, funny and creepy. It’s a valentine for all of us who grew up identifying with the monsters and counting down the days to Halloween. And it’s also intensely sad. The last few hundred words are about the saddest you’ll read.

My favorite of his novels is doubtlessly “Dandelion Wine,” which is absolutely one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Its description of a Midwestern summer is so perfect that for years I’d re-read it every winter — I needed a dose of that Bradbury summer to get me through the cold months. But now is a good time to read it, too. Read it through the summer, go for walks in the woods, enjoy your ice cream and new sneakers. Ray Bradbury’s summer is something that should never end.

Ray got kinda weirdly political in the past few years, but I could never bring myself to hold it against him. He gave me “The Homecoming” and “Dandelion Wine” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “The Martian Chronicles” and “There Shall Come Soft Rains” and “Kaleidoscope” and “The Halloween Tree” and “The Small Assassin” and “A Sound of Thunder” and “The Toynbee Convector” and “The Pedestrian” and “The Fog Horn” and “Zen in the Art of Writing” and “Hail and Farewell” and “Last Rites” and “The Murderer” and “The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair” and “The Anthem Runners” and “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” and more and more and more and more. I can forgive almost anything for someone who’s given me so much.

I haven’t been the only person to note that the chronicler of Mars died just after the transit of Venus. I can’t have been the only one to wonder that he died just before a summer like the one he wrote about in his Green Town stories. I’m certainly not the only person who’s remembering his glorious tale about how a carnival performer called Mr. Electrico inspired him by jolting him with electricity and shouting at him to “Live forever!” Because he will. I know it. You know it.

Thank you, Ray, for everything you’ve done for us. Thank you for being our friend. Thank you for living forever.

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Superman Smashes the Klan!

Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan by Rick Bowers

I picked up this book a few weeks back, and I wasn’t expecting a lot — I know Scholastic Books publishes a lot of good stuff now, but when I grew up, it was strictly for kids’ books — and not particularly good kids’ books either. But I ended up liking what I read here.

This is basically a history book, with its initial focus on the history of Superman, from the early youths of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, through their initial failures in the comics biz, to the unstoppable success of the Man of Steel, and clear through the way Siegel and Shuster got screwed out of their rights to the character. There’s quite a lot of info about the years when “The Adventures of Superman” was one of the most successful programs on the radio, earning millions of dollars for his advertisers and enthralling legions of fans, both kids and adults.

The book’s other focus is a fairly detailed and warts-and-all history of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi organizations, and hate groups in 19th and early 20th centuries. And a lot of this is stuff that was definitely never taught to me when I was in school, mainly because textbooks have always seemed to put more emphasis on teaching kids the national legends instead of the actual facts. There were times when the KKK and pro-Nazi groups had a lot of political power — and a lot of times when they were mostly devoted to fleecing their members of every dime they could get. And a lot of the time, there were a vast number of people, ranging from everyday citizens to federal officers to Southern newspaper editors, who hated the stuffing out of the Klan.

And it all comes together after World War II when the advertising execs for Kelloggs — who also managed the Superman radio show — decided they wanted to try pointing the power of Superman at the nation’s social ills, particularly racism and intolerance. And what was interesting to me was that the radio producers didn’t just bang out some scripts for Superman to fight some Nazis — they did intense research on how to educate children about racism, and they interviewed people about what the Klan was like behind the white hoods. One of their interviewees was a man named Stetson Kennedy, a publicity-hungry Southerner with a serious mad-on against the Klan — he heroically infiltrated the organization while simultaneously campaigning publicly against it.

And what they came up with were a couple of storyarcs that infuriated the KKK and the rest of the nation’s racists. And that by itself is a pretty awesome victory.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s well-written, it’s detailed, it’s entertaining, and it’s filled with really interesting characters, including Siegel, Shuster, Stetson Kennedy, radio producer Robert Maxwell, education consultant Josette Frank, and even several of the Klan’s leaders, who generally come across as either charismatic lunatics or craven greedheads.

There were a couple of things that I knew already, being a longtime comic fan — but it was still nice to see them pointed out in a book designed for younger readers who probably aren’t as familiar with the history of Superman. The first was that in Superman’s earliest appearances, he was a very, very political guy — and he definitely came across as a liberal, since most of his opponents were greedy politicians, crooks, and factory owners who were making things hard for the common man. The second reminder — there were a huge number of Jewish people who had a hand in Superman’s success, including Siegel, Shuster, their publishers, and even their radio producer — no wonder they were so interested in putting the smackdown on the nation’s hatemongers!

I was pretty impressed that this book didn’t sugar-coat very much. These days, you read the newspapers and watch the news shows, and they’re absolutely devoted to never saying whether any group is right or wrong. If they mention the Klan these days, they definitely never say that they’re evil racist scumbags — that wouldn’t be properly Broderian or moderate — and they might offend some lunatic on hate radio. Rick Bowers really doesn’t do things that way — Superman’s the good guy, the Klan are the bad guys, and that’s really all there is to it. He also doesn’t mince many words about how Siegel and Shuster got mistreated after DC got its claws on Superman, and that’s pretty refreshing, too.

So there’s Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan by Rick Bowers. I liked it — go pick it up.

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Freeze Frame

Batman Annual #1

While it may have the “Night of the Owls” banner on the cover, this comic has very little to do with that crossover. Most of our focus here is on Mr. Freeze, starting from his childhood and his mother’s accident on an icy lake, through his young adulthood as a cryo-scientist in the employ of Bruce Wayne, and through his most recent escape from Arkham Asylum as he makes his plans for revenge on Wayne for stealing his beloved Nora from him. And we get an unexpected twist on Freeze’s backstory before the end of the tale…

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is getting a little controversy because it futzes about a little with Freeze’s tragic origin created by Paul Dini in the Batman animated series. As good as that is, I still didn’t have a problem with the origin and backstory being altered, mainly because I didn’t feel like it was a bad alteration. As far as Freeze is concerned, his old origin is still true — the rest of us are the ones who now see him as a bit crazier than before. And it’s something that gives us a better reason why no one ever let Freeze revive Nora — something that always seemed needlessly cruel. So I enjoyed it, and it gets a thumbs-up, and that’s all there is to it.

American Vampire #27

Calvin Poole, one of the very small number of American vampires — and the only African-American — has stumbled into a small pack of werewolf-like vampires in a small town in the Deep South. He makes a very narrow escape when some sympathetic locals help him out, and the Vassals of the Morning Star give him some tips on how to wipe out this new crop of vamps. But does Calvin alone have any chance against an entrenched pack of powerful vampires?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice, short storyarc with excellent writing, good art, and some nice conflicts and mysteries. Hope we get to see plenty more of Calvin as the series goes on.

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