Archive for July, 2012

Hurray for Blasphemy!

Punk Rock Jesus #1

Well, yes, I had to get it. I’m at least 98% evil, after all.

Here’s the basic gimmick: in the near-future, a mega-wealthy TV network hires a genius genetic engineer to harvest DNA from the Shroud of Turin and clone Jesus Christ. Then they hire a telegenic new Virgin Mary to be the baby’s surrogate mother, tweak the baby’s DNA to make sure he looks Caucasian and not like some awful brown person, and put the whole thing on TV as a reality show. Holy urine-soaked crucifixes, that’s downright sacrilicious!

Having said all that, it’s not nearly as evil as it sounds. Nearly all the players here people I’d classify as good guys. There’s the razor-edged security expert who’s working off the bad karma of years as an IRA terrorist, the genetic expert who’s doing the job mainly for the funding she can use to help save the oceans, the teen mother who’s going through this mainly to pay off her family’s debts and who worries that she’s a bad mother for even agreeing to all this. Our one serious villain is the TV network exec who thought up the whole scheme and who seems to have a completely nonfunctional moral code. To list all the awful things he does would constitute some major spoilers, so you can discover those for yourself.

The story is pretty brainy, too. If you know anything about the Shroud of Turin, you know it’s almost certainly not Jesus’ burial cloth — carbon dating places its age at around 750 years old. And this is actually addressed in the story — a scientist and a very excitable preacher debate that, and several of the “J2” project members admit that they don’t think the baby is actually the Son of God.

My primary objection is that there’s a certain level of strawmanning going on for most of the religious folks. They range from the furiously angry near-terrorist group that protests the J2 project to the excitable preacher in the debate who has no grasp of either theology or science — he’s really only there to get slapped around by the scientist.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yeah, seriously, not saying that just to be a contrary little cuss. It’s a great little concept — how would Jesus — or a clone who’d been raised as a Jesus substitute by the mass media — grow up? It’s a pretty sure bet that he’s not going to be the blond mild-mannered martyr from “Baby’s First Bible” — after all, the comic is called “Punk Rock Jesus.”

I enjoyed the initial focus on Thomas McKael, the ex-IRA terrorist/security chief. We get a glimpse of his terrible, terrible childhood, then meet him all grown up and razor-edged.

I like all the other characters, too — with the very, very notable exception of Slate, the utterly rotten TV executive. He’s definitely someone you’re going to love to hate.

I love Sean Murphy’s art, probably more than I do his writing. It’s all black and white, amazingly expressive. If there’s a single moment that really strikes me as remarkably good art, it’s when Gwen, the baby’s mother, having an anxiety attack just before she gives birth, sorrowfully frets that she’s a bad mother. The next panel features razor-edged security goon Thomas McKael with just a very subtle hint of sadness on his face. It’s a beautiful moment, considering his childhood, and a great piece of characterization.

All that, plus the twist in the final pages is pretty amazing.

Batgirl #11

Batgirl faces off against a team of supervillains called the Disgraced — winged warrior Katharsis, acid-secreting Bleak Michael, superstrong Bonebreaker, and the leader, Knightfall. They want her to join them, and of course, she says no. They attack, and she does pretty well for a bit, but they get her down, they get ready to kill her — and she gets rescued by Det. Melody McKenna, a Gotham cop who actually hates Batgirl’s guts. She gives Batgirl the low-down on socialite Charise Carnes, Knightfall’s alter ego — and she reveals that there’s another member of the Bat-family who’s coming after her.

Verdict: Thumbs up. For once, I didn’t even mind Barbara not being able to beat up her attackers — after all, there were four of ’em, so she did alright. Good action, good dialogue, some very, very ominous stuff happening back at her apartment, and a very interesting team-up on the way next issue.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Keepsing the Faith

Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty

Well, huzzah, finally a chance to review some more superhero prose fiction.

This one is “Playing for Keeps” by writer and podcaster Mur Lafferty. It was published back in 2008 and won the Parsec Award for Best Novel. It focuses on the heroes and villains of Seventh City — and on the Third Wavers, the people who have the most useless and ridiculous of powers. They’re legally banned from dressing up in costumes, taking superhero names, or fighting crime. They’re distrusted by civilians, ignored by villains, and held in utter contempt by the superheroes.

There’s Peter, who has a superpowered sense of smell; Tomas, who has superstrength in five-second bursts; Michelle, a waitress who can carry any tray, no matter how overloaded, without dropping it; Alex, who can heal one square inch of an injured person at a time; Collette, the world’s greatest chef; and Ian, who can shoot powerful jets of, well, poop.

And there’s Laura “Keepsie” Branson, our lead character, a bar owner whose power makes it impossible for anyone to steal anything from her.

The action gets started early when Keepsie is briefly kidnapped by a supervillain called Doodad, who secretly slips her a strange metal sphere. And then every superhero and supervillain in Seventh City is desperate to get that metal sphere away from Keepsie. What makes it so important? No one will tell her. But they’re all willing to dish out plenty of pain and suffering on any Third Waver who gets in their way. Will the Third Wavers discover the secrets behind the world’s superpowered beings? Will they be able to survive attacks by the most powerful people in the world? Will they be able to keep Seventh City from being destroyed?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Really enjoyable characters — Keepsie, Peter, Ian, Tomas, Michelle, really all the Third Wavers. And the villains, especially Clever Jack. And all the superheroes, even though you hate all of them and want them to die in agony. Good action scenes, too — as desperate and frantic as you’d expect from a bunch of people with lousy powers facing off against people with really good powers. Good dialogue — nothing spectacular, but I was happy with it.

And it’s a nice brainy story, too. All the Third Wavers have useless powers — but of course, they’re not all that useless. If they can be leveraged the right ways, they become very, very powerful. I’m not telling you what they can do, ’cause that’d spoil too much of the surprise. But it’s often really good and really unexpected.

If I’ve got any complaint, it’s that the setting is a lot bleaker than I generally prefer in my comics-based stories. I mean, society seems to be functioning pretty normally, but nearly every single superhero we’re introduced to is a psychotic, willing to torture the Third Wavers and murder scores of civilians. Laws have been passed to prevent anyone designated as a Third Waver from using their powers to fight crime, and even nicknames based on their powers are frowned upon. That’s a pretty dark, grim setting, once you think about it a little.

Still, that’s a small complaint for a story that is, on the whole, exciting, fun, engaging, dramatic, and grandly written. Go pick it up.

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Dial H for Horror

Dial H #3

The local mobsters are after Nelson Jent — and without getting to his magical phone booth, he’s got no powers. He does have a protector — a woman who calls herself Manteau. She extracts him from the attacking gangsters, and he’s able to remove the dial from the old phone booth. Nelson learns that Manteau gets her own random surreal powers from her own version of the dial, but she’s able to keep her own memories and personality intact with her cloak and silver mask. In fact, Manteau has found evidence that nearly all early research into telephones and telegraphs was encouraged and assisted by someone known only as “O” — and O appears to have created the dials that Nelson and Manteau use. Meanwhile, Ex Nihilo and the Squid are after a man with a connection to other dials, and a dark figure from another dimension is stalking Nelson and Manteau. Will Nelson be able to help Manteau stop the bad guys? And will he be able to handle the shock when his dial turns him into a woman?

Verdict: Thumbs up. China Mieville’s superhero/horror series is all kinds of surreal. There’s still a lot of stuff here that confuses me — the bad guys’ motivations, for one, but I also trust that’ll be revealed eventually — but I’m also enjoying the revelations we’re getting. Manteau is a very interesting character, frequently changing form and yet remaining reliably constant as a person.

iZombie #27

We’re very near the end of this outstanding series. Gwen has found her long-lost brother — only minutes before she needs to kill everyone in the city to save the rest of the world from the monstrous god Xitalu. And she rapidly discovers her parents and all her friends and allies, all right where Amon has told her she needs to absorb every soul in the city — and then Amon plans to feed her to Xitalu to force it from our world for another few centuries. Will Gwen go along with the plan — or is it already too late for everyone?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The tension gets cranked way, way up. The final issue comes out next month — and I really don’t know if this is going to have a happy ending or not. Still looking forward to seeing how Chris Roberson wraps up his work at DC…

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Ron Perlman is THE BEST.
  • H&R Block, of all people, put together this infographic that compares the financial situations of Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker. Entertaining? Yeah, but also enlightening in ways you might not have expected.
  • Here’s a short cartoon that works to explain what the Higgs boson is, and why it’s so important to physics.

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Friday Night Fights: Memorial Mayhem!

It’s not too far past the Fourth of July, is it? I can still shoehorn in some properly patriotic pummelling here, can’t I? Then hold on to your stovepipe hat, ’cause it’s time again for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Today’s battle comes to us from July 2011’s Secret Avengers #13 by Nick Spencer, Scot Eaton, Rick Ketcham, Jaime Mendoza, and Frank G. D’Armata. The scene? Nazi war machines have invaded Washington, D.C.! And there aren’t enough superheroes around to stop them? Luckily, we don’t need superheroes when we’ve got… THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL!

Stand up and salute, citizen! Any country so dedicated to beating up Nazis that it’ll spontaneously animate its memorial statuary is a country that deserves your unending loyalty! Now head over to Spacebooger’s place so you can vote… Vote… VOTE for your favorite battle!

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The Sweet Science

Popeye #3

So there’s this guy called George W. Geezil — not a guy from the Popeye cartoons, but an old character from the “Thimble Theater” strips — and he’s had a mad-on about Wimpy for as long as anyone can remember. Wimpy always mooches his hamburgers and just generally irritates the tar out of him. “You are flies in mine zupe!” he’s always yelling. And Geezil hatches on a scheme to get rid of Wimpy once and for all — he’s got himself a masked monster of a prizefighter called the Phantom Crusher, and he wants to put on a big boxing match between Wimpy and the Phantom Crusher! Popeye doesn’t like an unfair fight, so he decides he’ll act as Wimpy’s trainer in the weeks before the fight. Can he get Wimpy to eat his spinach and exercise? Not if we know Wimpy. So does Wimpy stand any chance against the Crusher? Not if we know Wimpy. But what happens when Popeye discovers that the Crusher and Geezil are resorting to cheating?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Vastly silly fun from beginning to end. Excellent action, even if it is fairly silly action. Great dialogue, even if it’s pretty silly dialogue. This is something to get if you enjoy a nice dose of silliness in your comics. And if you’re dork enough not to enjoy silly comics, more pity on you.

Worlds’ Finest #3

Huntress and Power Girl are still fighting the highly radioactive Hakkou in Tokyo, and he’s definitely got them on the ropes, until Huntress manages to douse him in radioactive coolant, causing him to flee before he absorbs too much radioactivity. From here, we get a flashback to the heroes’ earlier days on our Earth, as they try to research their alternate-universe counterparts and as Kara makes her plans to discover more about Michael Holt’s dimensional research. Back in the present day, Power Girl saves a jet from crashing, then the heroes discover that Hakkou has absorbed so much radiation, he’s turned into a giant monster! Can they stop him before he destroys Tokyo?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story, good action — I gotta admit, I’m getting a lot more enjoyment out of the middle section, drawn by Kevin Maguire, about Helena and Kara’s more civilian-level adventures exploring the new world they’ve found themselves in. Not that George Perez’s work is anything to sneeze at — but he does get stuck drawing that awful Power Girl costume…

The Amazing Spider-Man #689

The Lizard has been turned back into Curt Connors — but inside, he’s still the Lizard, enraged at being transformed into a weak, amputated human, furiously trying to figure out a way to get himself changed back and then kill everyone he can. His devious mind realizes he can use Michael Morbius’ weaknesses against them all — he knows the Living Vampire hasn’t drunk any blood in a while, so he keeps mentioning blood to make him think about how hungry he is, and once Connors is left alone in Morbius’ lab, he pumps a bunch of blood into the air vents. Morbius snaps and puts the bite on one of the scientists at Horizon Labs. While Spidey pursues Morbius across the city, Connors lures Max Modell into his lab for some unorthodox experiments.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good action and dialogue. Some good twists and turns in the story, too. You can tell Dan Slott is having a lot of fun writing Spidey — let’s hope Marvel doesn’t take him off the comic when they do their soft reboot this fall…

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All Hail the Lizard King

The Amazing Spider-Man #688

Morbius the Living Vampire thinks he’s finally figured out a way to change the Lizard back into Dr. Curt Connors permanently — Spider-Man has his doubts, because after his last transformation, the Lizard had declared that he’d finally killed Connors’ personality, and capped off that claim by murdering his own son, Billy. And Spidey isn’t real happy with Morbius anyway, because he discovered that the vampire discovered his potential cure by digging up and experimenting on Billy Connors’ corpse. But the Wall-Crawler is also upset with himself for letting Silver Sable die last issue, and the Lizard has killed too many people while hiding out in New York’s sewers. Can Spider-Man and Morbius really cure the Lizard once and for all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent action, plenty of Spider-Angst — it’s been a while since Peter Parker was as unhappy as he’s traditionally been — and a nice little twist to wrap things up.

Fatale #6

In the present day, Nicolas Lash wonders what happened to the beautiful Jo, he meets up with a private eye who tells him there’s a safe deposit box with his name on it. If Lash claims it, the private eye wants a ten percent finders fee. But when they check out the box, it’s empty — and the bank manager remembers the private eye being here before with Jo. And then the supernatural hitman comes after Lash. And people, that’s just the prologue!

In the main story, our timeline is focused on Los Angeles in 1978, where our protagonist is Miles, a B-movie actor hoping to score some coke and an invite to a hot party that may get him some better roles. He goes looking for one of his dealers, a girl named Suzy Scream, at a sleazy party sponsored by a sleazy debauchery cult. And when he finds Suzy, she’s just killed the cult leader because he’d been trying to stab her to death — and there’s some oddly horrific home movie playing in the basement, too. Miles sneaks Suzy out of the party and crosses paths with Josephine, now living as a recluse to avoid accidentally ensnaring the innocent with her supernatural powers. But what is Josephine going to say when she sees the movie Miles smuggled out of the party?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Outstandingly creepy, especially the sequence from the ’70s. I mean, everything from the ’70s. I think sometimes we forget what a very unusual decade the 1970s were — cults were out and proud, sex was kinky, drugs were everywhere, sideburns were long, fashion was awful, film was brilliant, and Marvel Comics had multiple comics for sale that had the awesomeness of Satanism as a selling point. The violence and supernatural elements added on here merely increase the creepiness of the setting by a few degrees…

Today’s Cool Links:

  • A friend of mine wrote this, and he’s a really great guy. And I think it’s worth asking ourselves: Why do our soldiers need to rely on a guy working on his off-time to get them the counseling help many of them need?
  • Short video on what probably happened when DC told Alan Moore about “Before Watchmen.”
  • Sometimes, you have to feed the trolls. Sometimes, you have to feed them the barrel of a gun.

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Happy Fourth!

Holy John Philip Sousa, Batman! It’s Independence Day! That means it’s time to post a whole bunch of patriotic comic book covers!

(Please remember to use your fireworks safely and responsibly.)

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Bloody Hollywood

American Vampire #28

Vampires have attacked and gravely injured Henry Preston, and his wife, the American vampire Pearl Preston, wants two things — revenge and to make sure Henry is cured. Calvin Poole, another American vampire, comes to Hollywood to help his friends, and the two of them fight off an attack from rival European vamps who want to finish all three of them off. Cal convinces her to go to the local office of the Vassals of the Morning Star for help, and Agent Bixby tells them that there’s a secret coven of vampires in L.A., hiding out in the homes of Hollywood’s elite. Pearl agrees to help hunt them down, but she’ll have an unexpected partner — Agent Skinner Sweet.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Action, great dialogue, Rafael Albuquerque’s art, and the return of Skinner Sweet? Come on, folks, if you’re not reading this yet, the first issue of a new storyarc is a great jumping-on point…

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – Exorcism #1

BPRD Agent Ashley Strode is on hand for an exorcism of a child in Indiana when everyone is surprised by the possessing demon speaking directly to her and telling her it will never let the child go free unless she sees to it that another demon trapped on Earth goes free. Additionally, if the demon is freed, the monsters and other horrors plaguing the world will be eliminated. The attending priest is furious at her for talking to the demon, but the Bureau thinks it might be worth it to send Agent Strode to Mexico to meet with Father Ota Benga, a priest that the demon had mentioned as “the keeper of the cage.” What Ashley finds is a 154-year-old African priest whose faith and willpower was so strong he willingly accepted possession by a demon over 100 years ago to save an innocent victim. Ota Benga himself is the demon’s prison, and that’s what’s allowed him to live so long. Can the demon be destroyed before Benga dies?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent story — scary and dramatic and funny. And combined with Cameron Stewart’s wonderful artwork, this is definitely something worth reading.

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Welcome Back, Tallulah Black!

All Star Western #10

Tallulah Black is back in Jonah Hex’s life, thanks to getting pitched out of the Wayne Casino by a crook’s bodyguard. While she terrorizes Amadeus Arkham, Hex hunts down Alan Wayne to see if he knows anything about the man Tallulah accused of being responsible for her injuries. And the Court of Owls send an assassin after a maniac in Arkham’s asylum. All that plus a backup feature starring the Western dandy Bat Lash!

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is one of my favorite issues of this comic, partly because I think Tallulah Black is a wonderful character, and I love the way Gray and Palmiotti handle the way she inspires both desire and revulsion in Arkham. Plus there’s the Bat Lash backup — Lash is one of my favorite of DC’s old Western heroes, and he’s rarely been handled as perfectly as Gray and Palmiotti write him here. And it doesn’t hurt that the art chores for the backup are handled by the great José Luis García-López. And let’s not forget Moritat’s outstanding artwork in this issue, either — he handles Tallulah’s scarred beauty perfectly. All in all, just a plain wonderful comic, and I hope Gray, Palmiotti, Moritat and García-López can keep this level of awesomeness going for a while.

Justice League Dark #10

John Constantine leads Zatanna, Deadman, Doctor Mist, Andrew Bennett, and Black Orchid to the mystical House of Mystery — now that they have a map to the Books of Magic, he wants Constantine wants all of them off the grid while they decide what to do with it. The Books of Magic are terrifically powerful, and he doesn’t like the idea of turning them over to the government, or anyone else, really. Unfortunately, Constantine can’t resist the temptation to check out the map when no one’s watching him, and that unleashes the new rebooted versions of the Demons Three, who manage to steal the map and escape. Meanwhile, Madame Xanadu has a vision of what will happen if Constantine gets his hands on the Books of Magic — and it involves everyone on Earth dying…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story, nice art, nothing really earthshattering, but it’s a good read.

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