Archive for August, 2012

The Marvels of the World

Captain Marvel #2

Carol Danvers is going to take a vintage plane once owned by her idol, a butt-kicking pioneer female pilot named Helen Cobb, up into the air in an attempt to both prove that the plane was sturdy enough to set the altitude record Cobb claimed but could never confirm, and to try to do her idol one better by breaking her record. Unfortunately, something goes wrong, and Carol ends up thrown back in time to World War II. Can she find a way home without upsetting the course of history?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good writing and art, nice action, dialogue, you name it. I’ve got high hopes for this book.

Batwoman #12

Batwoman and Abbot, the cultist werewolf who has teamed up with her a few times in the past, go on the hunt for Bloody Mary. They visit a house of mirrors and watch Mary’s origin story — a girl forced to marry an older man, she went mad when he was unfaithful and killed as many attractive girls as she could, only to end up hanged and then haunting mirrors for eternity. When Mary finally appears, Batwoman shatters her mirror and interrogates her about where Maro took the children he’d kidnapped, and who runs Medusa. But Mary tells them that Medusa isn’t a criminal organization — she’s a monster out of myth. Not feeling up to taking on a mythological monster, Batwoman and the D.E.O decide she’ll need to team up with someone who knows how to deal with mythology: Wonder Woman. Meanwhile, Bette Kane’s road to recovery begins, and Kate Kane’s relationship with Maggie Sawyer hits the rocks.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Outstanding art and writing. It’s a blast getting to see Bloody Mary again. I do wish we could spend more than just two or three pages per issue with Jacob Kane and Bette Kane. And I’m looking forward to seeing how Batwoman and Wonder Woman end up (not) getting along…

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All of the Robos

Atomic Robo: The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific #2

It’s 1951, and Robo is stranded on She-Devil Island in the Pacific Ocean. His experimental plane was attacked by sky-pirates, but he was rescued by Captain May Carter and her Flying She-Devils. Looking for answers about the pirates, Carter takes Robo and Val, a Russian pilot, on a flight to Pete’s, a bar located on a beached aircraft carrier. The crowd at Pete’s is deeply unfriendly, but Pete and his shotgun keep the party civil. They find an old man who claims the pirates were flying “ghost planes” and gives them a lead on where they hole up. But when they find the airstrip, Robo ends up detonating a booby trap. He’s fine, of course, and they return to She-Devil Island to find that the She-Devils’ ace mechanic has disassembled Robo’s experimental plane engine for spare parts. And after that, the ghost planes are back. With bombs.

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, a solid, fun story, with great personality, dialogue, artwork, and surprises. Do I have to keep ordering y’all to go read this comic? Well? Just go read it!

Atomic Robo Presents Real Science Adventures #5

Another batch of short stories and continuing tales from the Atomic Robo-verse. The British secret agent Sparrow faces certain death at the hands of the Nazis; Robo spends a few weeks hiding out in rural China in 1942; Bruce Lee takes a break from training Robo to whup some kung-fu gangsters; Robo meets up with an old Nazi war criminal; and Robo investigates an ominous Bloop.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Favorite story? Definitely the one about the Bloop, but that’s ’cause I’m a total sucker for spooky real-world stuff like that. But the whole thing is great. It’s a great concept — Brian Clevinger does the writing, and a bunch of different artists put their own spin on it.

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All of the Bats

Batman #12

This issue introduces us to a new supporting character in the Bat-family, one who we’ve actually seen a few times in the background of previous stories. Meet Harper Row, a young lady living in a rough neighborhood. She works as an electrician underneath Gotham City, trying to keep the city’s aging infrastructure functioning. She lives with her brother, who has to deal with gay-bashing thugs at school and on the streets way too often. Harper gets to briefly hobnob with Gotham’s elite after winning a ticket to a Wayne charity event. Soon afterwards, she gets a punk-rock haircut (in response to bullies beating up her brother and slashing his hair). And soon after that, she and her brother have a close encounter with the Batman after he saves them from an attack. This sets off Harper’s own obsession with the Dark Knight, as she goes on to use her job skills to discover how Batman moves about the city. Will she be able to aid Batman, or is her adventuresome spirit going to get her into more trouble?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice change-up and a focus on a new character — Scott Snyder had hoped to use either Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown, but of course, they got nixed by DC (the DiDio/Johns/Lee machine has reasonlessly decided it hates both characters), so he came up with this new character. She’s extremely likeable and fun, and I look forward to seeing more of her. And kudos to Becky Cloonan, the first woman to ever draw an issue of either “Batman” or “Detective Comics” — she does a great job — very expressive, fun artwork, and I’m hoping we’ll see more of her, too.

Batgirl #12

Barbara is visiting Detective McKenna, a dirty cop with an obsession with Batgirl, hoping to get a lead on Knightfall and her crew of superpowered murderers. But they get a visit from Batwoman, who has been put on the trail of McKenna by the D.E.O. She has no trouble cleaning Batgirl’s clock — of course, Batgirl seems to spend every issue getting her ass kicked. But they team up when Knightfall calls McKenna and demands Batgirl return to them so they can kill her. Can they handle the superpowered lunatics in the Disgraced? And will they learn the secrets Knightfall is hiding?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I am getting tired of everyone using Babs Gordon as a punching bag, but this was mostly an excellent issue. Good dialogue and action, good character work for both Batgirl and Batwoman. And it’s nice to see Babs’ psychotic brother, James Jr., still keeping his hand in the game.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Some sad news to start the week off: Joe Kubert has died at the age of 85. The man drew the best dang war comics the world has ever seen — and seriously, if you’ve never done so, go out and read as many of Kubert’s Sgt. Rock comics as you can — and he founded the Kubert School to teach people how to make good comics. Hats off for one of the best guys in the comics biz.
  • Dang, Fantagraphics, this is just low-class. Not even DC or Marvel go casually dissing independent comics creators, especially ones as successful and interesting as Molly Crabapple. It’s deeply disappointing that the foremost independent comics publisher thinks it’s okay to treat any comics creator this way.
  • A great essay by a deaf man who gets a new hearing aid and is able to hear music for the very first time.
  • We all need more laughter in our lives.

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Friday Night Fights: Squirrel Power!

Okay, kids, let’s get right into it — it’s Friday, and we’re all feeling punchy, so that means it’s time for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from October 2011’s The New Avengers #15 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato, Wolverine has to face off against the Marvel Universe’s most unstoppable badass.

Winner and still champeen — Squirrel Girl!

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Jesus Camp

Punk Rock Jesus #2

Chris, the supposed clone of Jesus, is the focus of a monumentally successful reality TV show — and also a figure of great controversy, with scientists denying his divinity and Christian fundamentalists demanding either his release from the island where he and his mother Gwen are kept — or his death. Slate, the slimeball who runs the show, sets out faking some miracles on Chris’ behalf, while Gwen starts to drift into depression and alcoholism. Dr. Epstein announces that she’s conveniently pregnant with a girl — she claims she’s used her cloning expertise to get around her inability to have children. Gwen wants to see her parents again and persuades Thomas McKael, the show’s taciturn Irish security chief, to take her on a secret field trip. But there’s no way to take one of the stars of the most popular TV show in history out into the world without attracting a lot of attention.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Sean Murphy’s art is just fantastic, and the characterization he’s doing is also great fun. Slate is turning into a wonderfully despicable villain, and even minor characters, like the hacker, Tim, are given good personalities. This is great fun, so far — hope it continues being so enjoyable.

The Massive #3

The Kapital repels some pirates trying to board the ship, we get a quick flashback of how Callum Israel and his crew decided whether to stick to nonviolence after the global disasters destroyed the environment and the economy, and everyone docks back at one of their secret bases, a small town called Unalaska. Plus we get more details about some of the catastrophes that have befallen Earth’s populace in the last few years.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent storytelling, good development of characters, strong mood and worldbuilding. I know, that’s all kinda dispassionate, but I feel like I have to say more about this than just “Me like comic, it am fun.”

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #3

Dracula — who may not be the historical Dracula, but is at least the leader of all of the Carpathian vampires — has been awakened and is able to control the mind of Gus, Felicia Book’s son. Agent Hobbes believes he’s trying to turn Gus into his new Renfield — a human servant who is utterly dominated by the vampire’s will. The Soviets think they can contain Dracula, but they don’t know how much danger they’re in. And Felicia and Hobbes run into a vampire organization called “The Firsts” which consists mainly of the last surviving members of vampire clans killed off by the Carpathians.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not bad — lots of vampires, lots of mystery, good action. The only problem has gotta be that the Carpathian vamps just aren’t as charismatic and fun as the American ones…

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Shadow of the Devil

Daredevil #16

Daredevil has been rescued from Latveria, but he’s not out of the woods yet. The Avengers are trying to rid him of the nanobot infestation that’s robbed him of his senses. This mainly involves a miniaturized Ant-Man running around Matt’s brain shooting nanobots with a blaster gun. As a side effect, both Daredevil and Ant-Man are getting mental bleedover — briefly sharing each others’ memories and senses. Tony Stark and Stephen Strange are trying to assist, but they’re hampered by patchy communications and by not being miniaturized inside Daredevil’s brain with a blaster rifle. Will Ant-Man be able to cure Matt and escape from the nanobots? And what kind of surprises are waiting for Matt back at his law firm?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art and writing. A nice cool-down issue — or at least the first half of the story is. After that, the tension and surprises ramp up pretty quickly. As always, a great read, and one I hope you’re reading.

Worlds’ Finest #4

Power Girl and Huntress now have to deal with a highly radioactive Hakkou who’s now Godzilla-sized and wrecking ships in Tokyo’s harbor. While Huntress rounds up ships to help get survivors out of the water, Power Girl works to clean up the oil spills. While they try to neutralize Hakkou, we get another flashback to the heroines’ past, as they clean up some riffraff in Rome and Helena reminisces about her parents.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s all pretty good, but this one really scores with a few smaller details — it’s cool to see Helena effortlessly trash a bunch of thugs without even dropping her ice cream, it’s cool to see her Batman T-shirt and her interaction with the cat, and it’s cool to see the brief return of Power Girl’s cleavage window. The art by both George Perez and Kevin Maguire is fun, exciting, expressive.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • I’m not all that big on Doctor Who, but here’s a short episode — a spoof, really — that stars Rowan Atkinson, Jonathan Pryce, Julia Sawalha, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley.
  • Sometimes you just get to meet awesome, unexpected people and learn from them.
  • Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore are looking to fund a new comic through Kickstarter.
  • Here’s something I never would’ve dreamed up — Christian fundamentalists apparently hate mathematical set theory.

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Baby Showers

Love and Capes: What to Expect #1

Tom Zahler is back with a new mini about Abby Spencer, her husband Mark — better known to the world as the superhero Crusader — and their assorted friends and family. Abby’s pregnant, which brings many changes to their lives. Not even considering the mundane concerns — no alcohol, no caffeine, getting good prenatal care, putting aside money for college — there are other things to worry about when the baby’s father is a superhero — namely, what do you do about the danger of a super-baby kicking a hole in mama? In addition, we get to meet the second Doctor Karma, we learn if Mark can keep his big secret from Darkblade, and we get to sit in on the scene when Mark and Abby break the news to their parents.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent humor, characterization, and dialogue. Really, I’m looking forward to this series so much, and I don’t know what else I can say about it.

Avengers Academy #34

Apparently, this is going to be the final storyarc before the series cancellation, which is too danged bad.

In the aftermath of the closing of Avengers Academy, the students are mostly on their own, until teenaged CEO and all-around shady character Jeremy Briggs calls Hazmat and Mettle to let them know he’s discovered a way to remove their powers and let them live normal lives. The rest of the students come along, mostly to make sure Jeremy isn’t planning on doing something rotten to them. But as it turns out, Jeremy’s “Clean Slate” formula returns Hazmat and Mettle to the forms they had before they got their powers. Unfortunately, he’s decided he wants to dose everyone in the world with Clean Slate — he thinks superheroes and supervillains are a huge problem, and he wants to make sure that the only people with powers are himself and whoever he decides is suitably loyal to him. And they’ve all been breathing in the Clean Slate formula ever since they got there.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent intensity and characterization. We always figured Jeremy was a bad guy, but it’s nice to see that his level of villainy got cranked up extra high for this storyarc. I am disappointed, however, that the other teachers from the academy won’t be around for this arc.

Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch

A quick one-shot for fans of Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s great “Beasts of Burden” series. This collects the three stories that appeared a few months ago in “Dark Horse Presents” — so if you don’t shell out the bucks for DHP, you can still read them. So we’ve got a light-hearted story with the gang forced to deal with a chicken-stealing goblin, and second one with the wise dog telling some puppies about a heroic dog who fought against evil, and final one, particularly creepy, about a lost herd of sheep.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent stories, with the last one being my favorite because it really is wonderfully eerie. Wonderful art and wonderful empathetic storytelling. These stories aren’t just about monsters and ghosts — they’ve got concerns about heroism, friendship, philosophy, and mortality.

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Friday Night Fights: Balance of Power!

Well, alright then, it’s Friday, and that’s awesome. But it’s impossibly hot, and that’s not awesome. That’s so very not awesome. And there’s not a durn thing we can do about it, other than try to stay air conditioned and shaded and hydrated. But we can lessen the agony of all this heat with… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes from January 2010’s Justice Society of America #33 by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, and Jesus Merino, as Power Girl faces off against a villain called Blue Moon, whose strength waxes and wanes with the phases of the moon.

That’ll do it for me. See you guys on Monday!

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Zombie’s End

iZombie #28

So it’s time for the final issue of Chris Roberson and Michael Allred’s wonderful supernatural soap opera. Xitalu, an eldritch monster-god from between dimensions, is preparing to devour the entire world, starting with Eugene, Oregon. The treacherous mummy Amon has a plan to Xitalu away for a few centuries by having our heroine, intelligent zombie Gwen Dylan, absorb the souls of everyone in the city — including her friends and family — then he can then feed her to Xitalu so he’ll go away. Equally treacherous mad scientist/Frankenstein monster Galatea wants to download Xitalu into Frankenteen so she can gain all of Xitalu’s power for herself. As the seconds tick by and everyone gets closer to being eaten alive by Xitalu, is there any way for Gwen to save everyone?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nicely-done ending, with lots of suspense and tension — and everyone in the cast gets at least a brief moment in the spotlight. I’m still not sure if this one got cancelled because it wasn’t selling well enough, because DC didn’t like Roberson talking smack about them, or just because DC is a bit dim (though I’d bet on that last one). But I’m glad it got 28 fun issues.

The Hypernaturals #2

In the distant future, the newest Hypernaturals superteam has just been wiped out by an unknown foe. The temporary replacement team — Bewilder, Thinkwell, Halfshell, and Shoal — finds themselves under assault by a flesh mob, a bunch of regenerating monsters made of all the debris around them. They’re able to escape — barely — but it leaves them with some serious problems: one of their greatest foes, Sublime, is apparently back, their current team is missing and presumed dead, and the replacements include two rookies, one who overthinks everything and another who’s too hotheaded. Bewilder and Thinkwell go out to recruit some former team members, including the down-on-his-luck Clone 45, who doesn’t even have his powers anymore.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I think I’m having quite a lot of fun meeting these characters. It’s very much a Legion-of-Super-Heroes thing with the serial numbers rubbed off, but it still comes off fresh, interesting, and a lot of fun. Looking forward to plenty more.

Dial H #4

Abyss, a creature of pure darkness, has appeared in the city, and Nelson Jent, Manteau, Squid, and Ex Nihilo are unable to stop it. Abyss disappears temporarily, Squid gets shot full of holes, Manteau is captured by Ex Nihilo, and Nelson gets left behind without powers. It turns out Ex Nihilo is a doctor at the local hospital, as well as a “nullomancer” — a sorceress who specializes in magically altering nothing — literally nothing. While she tortures Manteau for information, Abyss starts wrecking downtown, and Ex Nihilo, using Manteau’s dial, goes to try to capture him. Squid, meanwhile, goes to Nelson for help — he’s wounded, maybe dying, and he wants Nelson to help him rescue Manteau and then get back to his own homeworld. But what can Nelson do when he can’t get his dial to work anymore?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Tons of stuff happening here, and it’s all wonderful fun. Scary, surreal, intense, even inspiring. China Mieville is a pretty dang good comic book writer, ain’t he?

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Sisters Are Doin’ it for Themselves

Chicks in Capes, edited by Lori Gentile and Karen O’Brien

It’s always great to have a chance to review something that’s not a comic book, ain’t it? What we got today is “Chicks in Capes,” edited by Lori Gentile and Karen O’Brien.

We’ve got a pretty wide-ranging collection here — several well-known comics writers have stories — including Trina Robbins, Barbara Kesel, and Valerie D’Orozio — as well as plenty of other writers who aren’t as familiar with comics readers. This collection’s particular gimmick is that all the authors are women, and all the stories are about female superheroes.

So what do we have in the table of contents?

  • “Inanna: Witchwoman” by Trina Robbins — A woman living in an oppressive religious dictatorship learns that she has illegal superpowers.
  • “Mischief” by Elaine Lee — A shapeshifting heroine has a really, really, really bad day.
  • “The Birth of Lady Sekhmet” by K.G. McAbee — An Egyptologist finds herself empowered by the ancient gods to stop an immortal sorceress.
  • “Nightingale” by Valerie D’Orozio — A look at what it’s really like inside an insane superheroine’s head.
  • “Diary of a Superchick” by Jennifer Fallon — Proof that superheroines come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes have the weirdest powers.
  • “Kirby Girls” by Barbara Randall Kesel — A bunch of superpowered galpals hang out in a coffee shop and dish about life.
  • “Carpe Noctum” by Cathy Clamp — A heroine battles burglars and tracks down the secret villain who killed her mentor.
  • “The Survivor: Coming of Age” by Gillian Horvath — An immortal with precognitive powers takes a proactive approach to evil.
  • And another half-dozen more…

Verdict: Thumbs up. With some reservations. A lot of the characters in these stories aren’t really very heroic. Several of the characters may actually qualify as outright supervillains — D’Orozio’s Nightingale may be insane enough that we can’t trust her observations about who the bad guy is, Horvath’s Survivor is taking down bad guys before they commit the crimes she’s pursuing them for, and Kesel’s Kirby Girls seem more like the characters in “Sex and the City” than superheroes. There are other stories where the characters skate the line between right and wrong — or just sail right over it into gleeful evil — and non-heroic superheroes are one of the things that’ve always bugged me about a lot of prose superhero stories.

But for that complaint, it’s still a pretty good bunch of stories. The stories by Robbins, Fallon, McAbee, and Clamp are outstanding and thrilling superhero tales, and even if the lead character isn’t particularly heroic, D’Orozio’s “Nightingale” is a wonderful story with plenty of zing.

The other stories aren’t about cookie-cutter characters, either — some of the heroines are comic-book heroic, some are less so, some are tricksters at heart, some are more interested in the finer things in life, some are obsessively devoted to their quests for justice, and some actually do think a lot about shoes or gossip about their boyfriends when they’re not kicking ass. Thank goodness — I would’ve been weirded-out if all the characters were exactly the same.

And with one of the Big Two comics publishers so often going out of its way to diss superheroines and female creators and fans, it’s nice to see so many excellent women writers putting together a huge collection of stories about superheroines. There’s a lesson there for any publishers willing to listen.

Go pick it up.

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