Archive for September, 2012

Friday Night Fights: Pipsqueak Punishment!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, if you’re in the mood to get the last weekend in September started off right, then it’s definitely time for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

SpaceBooger gave us an assignment this time — he wants our fights to have a bit more back-and-forth than usual, with no character completely dominant. So I’m pulling this one from July 1990’s Avengers West Coast #60 by Roy and Dann Thomas, Paul Ryan (No, probably not that Paul Ryan), and Danny Bulanadi. Magneto has shown to cause some trouble for the West Coast Avengers, and the winsome Wasp scores the first blow by flying under his helmet and zapping his ear.

And that leads to this:

Stop hitting yourself, Magneto! Stop hitting yourself!

Ah, but it’s all part of his strategy, it seems.

Because that’s what a master villain does. He hits himself in the head to knock out his enemies.

Don’t forget to visit SpaceBooger’s site to vote for your favorite battles, okay?

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Staring Down the Barrel

The Goon #42

Holy cheezwiz, look at that cover. Is that cover not just absolutely beautiful? Yes, it is, kid, don’t contradict me.

The story inside ain’t quite as good as the cover, but it’s still pretty good. Someone’s sending supernatural warnings to the Goon — and the warnings then try to kill him, too. This leads to several pretty funny situations, particularly Goon having to wear Franky’s clothes. So who’s behind the warnings/threats? You can bet it’s a familiar player.

Like I said, not as good as the cover — but that’s probably one of the best covers of the month. It’d be hard for anything to live up to that.

Happy! #1

New miniseries by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson. We follow a scumbag ex-cop-turned-hitman as he kills off a serial killer and then a bunch of other hitmen who were out to kill him. Unfortunately, he gets injured and sent to a mob-run hospital, where they plan to torture him for information. Luckily, he’s got a very unexpected friend who’s going to try to help him.

Yeah, I’m not even going to try to spoil that one, ’cause it’s such a nice twist to the story. And yeah, I liked it enough to plan on getting the rest of the series.

Finding Gossamyr #1

The folks running the local shop asked me to give this one a try. It spotlights Denny, an autistic kid who’s a math whiz — more like someone who never answers anything wrong — and Jenna, his sister, his sole guardian. He has a chance to enter a prestigious academy for math geniuses, but he has to try to solve an impossible math problem first, one that’s stumped other mathematicians for centuries. And Denny refuses to solve the problem when he sees it — but he’d done enough work on it to intrigue the teacher, who can tell he’d be able to solve it. Can Denny be forced to solve it? And what are the possible consequences if he does?

This one? Loved it. Obviously, a fantasy story, with our two heroes traveling to a world dominated by what seem to be evil elves and good orcs. The writing and characterization are excellent, and the art is just plain gorgeous. Go pick it up, if you can — it looks like it’ll be a very fun all-ages series.

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Role Reversals

The Mirage by Matt Ruff

This is really not the typical book I’d be reviewing here. Primarily, it’s a pretty high class novel, and as you know, we ‘uns down heah lahk to spit on th’ floor frum tahm to tahm, and even read them funnybooks what they got down at the drugstore.

Anyway, believe it or not, this novel has a few very important elements we’d recognize as comic readers. It’s essentially a story about a parallel universe, and it closely matches up with the concept of the mirror universe, where good and evil are switched around, like on “Star Trek” or DC’s Earth-3. But in “The Mirage,” it’s not good and evil that are switched — it’s East and West, and Christianity and Islam.

Here, the Muslim world is wealthy and powerful, the world leader in almost all areas. America and Europe are mostly uneducated backwaters, poor, fractured into many smaller nations, and dominated by fundamentalist Christians, including a faction of extremists who crashed jetliners into the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad back on 11/9/2001, kicking off a war in which the United Arab States launched a War on Terror by invading America in an attempt to bring democracy to its shores.

I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing when I read the description the first time. But the interesting thing here is that it’s just the religions and hemispheres that get switched in prominence — good doesn’t replace evil or vice versa. The villains we’ve come to know remain villains in this other world, too. Saddam Hussein and his sons are turned into crime bosses; Osama bin Laden is a corrupt, insane, and genocidal senator; even as far back as World War II, Hitler remains the mad dictator, just with his aggression directed toward Africa and the Middle East rather than to Europe and America.

Our lead characters in this story are a group of Arab Homeland Security agents — Mustafa al Baghdadi, Amal bint Shamal, and Samir Nadim — who stumble onto the discovery that many terrorists — and many civilians as well — believe in something they call the Mirage — that the world as everyone else knows it is a lie, a reversal of the way things are supposed to be, with America on top and the Muslim world on the bottom. It sounds like some mad theory cooked up by a bunch of cranks — but sometimes they have evidence with them — newspapers, clippings, videos, and more that seem to be from this mirror universe. And many people — both American and European terrorists as well as powerful UAS conspirators — are dedicated to destroying the Mirage and getting the world back to the way it was. Can the Homeland Security agents stop them? Should they stop them at all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a fantastic piece of high concept, isn’t it? Takes a little bit to get the idea of it across, but once it does, you just wanna track it down to see how it all goes down. I loved our main characters, I loved the wonderful tics and twists in their personalities, and how they got mired in all these bizarre adventures while trying to track down the mystery of the Mirage.

I loved the concept of including passages from The Library of Alexandria, the alternate-dimension version of Wikipedia, to tell a lot of the backstory of the world’s prominent people, history, and culture. And the culture is definitely different — what we’re looking at isn’t just “America with an Arabian flavor.” The UAS is a vastly more conservative place than the USA is — alcohol is mostly illegal, it’s still highly controversial that there are female politicians, and a search on The Library of Alexandria for “gay rights movement” pulls up nothing at all. The UAS is a place that’s a lot more liberal-minded than real-world nations like Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, but it’s still being run on the very conservative principles of Islam, which means it looks like a vastly different place than we’re used to as more secular Westerners.

If the book has a failing, it’s that it probably overdoes the alternate-universe cameos by famous (and infamous) people. Our heroes meet up with bin Laden, Saddam, George Bush, Dick Cheney, and many, many more. We even discover that in the altered history of this world, LBJ was somehow the president clear up to the end of the 20th century. While you do get a thrill of discovery when you meet many of these alternate-universe versions of these folks, after a while, it starts to become a bit too familiar. This is a trick that should be used sparingly, but it’s really used far, far too often. Excusable, I think, when we’re talking about the UAS version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” starring Omar Sharif, but a bit tedious when we meet up with a few too many mirror-universe celebrities.

Still, for all that, it’s a hugely interesting and entertaining book. Challenging in a lot of ways, probably infuriating for some folks, but still definitely worth reading. Go pick it up.

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The Vanishing

Hey, I got a lotta comics last week, and they were all pretty good. I don’t think I got time to review all of ’em, but here’s some of the stuff I thought was cool.

Snarked #12

The final issue of this series?! What the heck, no one had any clue this one was ending. But it’s a good ending. Our cast of heroes has to do battle with the Snark — who is also a Boojum. That means he can make you disappear, throwing you forward in time 20 years, if you look at him without wearing special goggles. And a very important cast member loses his goggles…

What we’re left with is a bittersweet ending, but still a very sweet tale. Y’all go get it if you’ve been reading it, or pick up the eventual trade paperback. It’s a good one.

Sword of Sorcery #0

I liked it. A fairly familiar story — young outsider discovers she’s actually a princess in another world — but it’s well-told and entertaining. The backup feature, featuring a far-future sci-fi variation on the “Beowulf” story.

The sticking point for a lot of people is the attempted rape in the “Amethyst” story. It’s not a good thing, and it’s entirely unnecessary for the story. It reads like someone decided to prove it’s “not a little girl’s story” which happens just too damn often.

Perhaps more depressing, however, are the comments at the end of Chris Sims’ very nice article about it — most of the commenters seem to have an attitude of “Hey, we want comics with more rape!” Maybe we get the crappy comics we deserve.

Oh, also? The Who’s Who page in the back says Amethyst was first introduced in this very issue. It’s not so. Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld made her first appearance in April 1983, in Legion of Super-Heroes #298. She was created by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Ernie Colón.

Avengers Academy #37

It’s the students’ final stand against Jeremy Briggs’ villainy. A few surprising choices are made. And it’s a very good issue — great action and dialogue and a moral core to the tale that carries it over the top.

Only one more issue of this, and that’s a huge disappointment.

Wonder Woman #0

A wonderful little story about Princess Diana’s teen years, stealing a harpy’s egg to commemorate her birthday, getting her teen angst on when people make fun of her (supposed) origin as a clay statue, being trained by Ares, and battling the minotaur. It’s a very, very nice story, and I had a blast reading it.

And again, the Who’s Who page gets things irritatingly and insultingly wrong. It says Wonder Woman’s first appearance was in 2011. But she had her debut in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941. She was created by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter. You’d think they’d get this right because Marston’s name is on Page 1 as the character’s creator, and he sure as heck wasn’t around in 2011.

Womanthology: Space #1

A new anthology focused on spotlighting the work of women creators gets started, this time with the focus on science fiction. We get stories by Bonnie Burton, Jessica Hickman, Sandy King Carpenter, Tanja Wooten, Allison Ross, Stephanie Hans, Ming Doyle, Jordie Bellaire, Stacie Ponder, and Rachel Deering, and they’re all pretty good…

And since this is a new miniseries, we can look forward to a few more months of cool comics created by women. Too bad DC and Marvel aren’t so good about working on that…

Batwoman #0

We get a short look back at Kate Kane’s younger years, from her childhood, through mourning the death of her mother and the supposed death of her twin sister, being accepted to West Point, then being drummed out of the military, trying to find a purpose to her life, and the long, hard years of training that her father put her through to make sure she was really ready to become a crimefighter.

It’s a great story. It’s got great action, the plot zips along like lightning, and there are tearjerker moments you won’t believe. It’s an astoundingly good comic book.

And again, because it’s important not to let DC tell stupid lies about this stuff, but Batwoman wasn’t created in 2011, no matter what the Who’s Who page says. The modern Kate Kane debuted in 52 #7 in 2006.

Today’s Cool Links:

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A Dose of Awesome: Neil deGrasse Tyson!

It’s been way, way too long since we took a look at the world’s many awesome things, so let’s remedy that very quickly and ponder the awesomeness of the coolest astrophysicist in the world, Neil deGrasse Tyson!

The very bare bones facts about Neil deGrasse Tyson? He was born in Manhattan, raised in the Bronx, an astronomy fanatic in his teens, actually gave astronomy lectures at the age of 15, and attended Harvard, UT-Austin, and Columbia. He was also, apparently, hotter’n a three-dollar pistol. I’m a straight man, and I don’t mind saying that at all.

Tyson is currently the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space and a research associate in the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History.

So he’s a distinguished scientist — big deal, there are lots of distinguished scientists. Well, not many distinguished scientists were personally recruited by Carl Sagan at Cornell, had college hobbies that included competing on the wrestling team, crew, and competitive ballroom dancing (or won a gold medal at an International Latin Ballroom dancing tournament), or is the host of “NOVA ScienceNOW “on PBS, much less a regular guest on all the better news shows, like “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” and “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Yes, those are the better news shows, and you know it.

Tyson was among the leaders of the movement to have Pluto demoted to a dwarf planet — which I originally wasn’t real happy about, but once I read his book “The Pluto Files,” the reasoning made a lot of sense. Pluto had no real similarities with the terrestrial planets, like Earth and Mars, or the gas giants, like Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune — and it had a lot more similarities with Kuiper belt objects, of which there are thousands. If astronomers had known how many objects there were that were similar to Pluto back when it was originally discovered, I don’t think they would’ve ever considered Pluto a planet at all.

He’s a huge “Star Trek” fan, he collects comics, he’s appeared on “Stargate: Atlantis” and “The Big Bang Theory,” he’s been spotlighted in “Symphony of Science” videos, and he’s written tons of science books that are non-scientist friendly.

A fourth grader once asked him what would happen if two black holes collided with each other. Tyson liked the question so much, he got the kid a full scholarship to any university he wants to attend someday.

Basically, the guy loves science, and he loves talking to people about how awesome science is. That’s pretty danged awesome!

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More First Appearance Blunders

No time or interest in doing any reviews this week (suffice it to say that Batgirl #0, American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #4, and Punk Rock Jesus #3 are all solid winners), but I do think it’s probably important to, once again, point out that DC is listing their first appearances wrong again.

Of course, Barbara Gordon made her first appearance as Batgirl in Detective Comics #359, way back in January of 1967.

None of these zero issues have mentioned who actually created these characters, but I’d like to mention that Batgirl was created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. That’s an awfully nice pedigree — two of DC’s most important creators got together to create this character, and it seems a bit like a slap in the face for the company to pretend that Batgirl wasn’t created until 2011. I do think that DC should show a bit more respect for their past than they do.

And on a related note, DC is now retconning their histories from the very beginning of the Reboot! They’ve now edited the trade paperback of the new “Teen Titans” to say that Tim Drake was never one of the Robins, and that there have never been any previous incarnations of the Titans — again, despite the first issue of the comic saying the exact opposite.

As we talked about previously, it’s just really weird how focused Diane Nelson, Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, and Bob Harras are on declaring that past continuity is no longer in effect. It’s irritating when it comes to rewriting characters’ personalities (Starfire), appearances (Amanda Waller), or relationships (Clark Kent and Lois Lane) or just erasing some characters completely from the company’s history (Wally West, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, Donna Troy, and who knows how many others). But when they start doing that for things that really just don’t matter, like whether or not a kid calling himself Red Robin was ever one of Batman’s Robins (instead of his “Boy Wonder,” whatever that creepy little turn of phrase is supposed to mean), that it just gets… well, weird.

I don’t know if it’s some “It’s my sandbox now” fan fiction thing, if it’s a badly thought-out marketing ploy, or if it’s just the company’s new enthusiasm for trolling their own readers (and creators, I guess). Maybe they’re delusional enough to think that they’re the only people in the history of comics who really know what’s best.

Maybe they’re just idiots. Depressing to think that so many idiots could take over all the top rungs of the company’s ladder, but it’s not like it’s never happened in the past.

The thing is, it’s making me less and less angry every time they pull something like this. They’re rewriting things almost at random now, seemingly desperate to manufacture some fan outrage and/or mainstream media coverage, and it’s looking more to me that they’ve completely lost control of things. They’re fairly lucky that the real bigwigs at Warner Brothers don’t care much what happens in the not-exactly-profitable comics division… but at some point, they’re probably going to do something that the bigwigs will care about, and then there’s going to be some serious trouble.

And hey, DC freelancers, writers, and artists — I do hope you’re taking notes. The tell-all memoir about this amazingly messed-up period of the company’s history is probably going to be a best-seller…

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Friday Night Fights: Fountains of Pain!

Citizens, gather ye ’round. It’s Friday night, we’re ready for the weekend, and we always like to kick things off with a little dose of… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from August 1999’s Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #1 by Geoff Johns, Lee Moder, Dan Davis, and Tom McCraw, in which the Star-Spangled Kid punts a whole dadgummed water fountain at a mind-controlled classmate.

And that should do it for me. See youse mugs on Monday.

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The Stupid, It Burns

Seriously, I try to write more positive posts about comics. I mean, I love comics! There’s so much great stuff in comic books, both old and new, and I wish more people read them and took them seriously. I always enjoy this blog more when I can talk about the fun and awesome side of comics.

But holy guacamole, sometimes the Big Two just make it too danged hard to think about comics in a positive way.

Obviously, there’s the bit about Marvel killing off Charles Xavier in the newest issue of their AvX crossover nonsense. I honestly have trouble getting too excited about this one — not because, as the creators said, that Professor Xavier is boring and irrelevant — Cyclops and Emma Frost seem a lot more boring and irrelevant, and they’re the ones who the creators clearly love the stuffings out of — but because it’s been done before. Xavier has been killed off so many times, for all kinds of dumb reasons, and he always gets brought back. Because Charles Xavier is a good character, and the fans like him a lot, and they keep putting him in movies. So of course they’re going to resurrect him in a few months. I’m really more irritated that Marvel thinks everyone should care about yet another pointless character death.

Now something that does make me wanna kick the slats out of certain Marvel creators and editors is this “Avengers Arena” thing where the creators assemble a bunch of good teenaged characters, many of them with big fan followings, many of them coming off of well-received series, and promise to kill most of them off.

In other words, yet another shallow, mostly brainless exercise in cheap bloodletting, once again of teenagers, because apparently, comicsdouche manchildren think it makes ’em look “mature” instead of like the standard comicsdouche manchild.

Everyone knows it’ll probably end with X-23 as the winner. Yeah, even though they’ll “kill” her in the first issue to make everyone think they’re shaking things up.

Interestingly, there’s not a lot of dirt-level stupidity going on right now at DC Comics. Doesn’t mean DC isn’t still winning the Stupid Sweepstakes. After all, the Diane Nelson/Dan DiDio/Geoff Johns/Jim Lee/Bob Harras band of idiots already has amnesiac sex-addict Starfire on their tally, as well as the “Superman will never date Lois Lane” idiocy, which really trumps anything Marvel can do for stupidity.

However, I do want to point you to this excellent post by Siskoid on DC’s astoundingly bad communications and public relations problems. Try to imagine a major media company that has less skill at talking to the public or the media — I doubt you can do it, can you?

And as long as we’re dropping links in here, read this powerful essay by Brandon M. Easton on racism in the comics industry. It’s depressing how common this crap still is, isn’t it?

And that’ll do it for me, at least ’til Friday Night Fights this evening. Let’s everyone cross our fingers and toes and hope I can come up with something positive and uplifting to say next week…

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Odds and Evens

Odd Places by Guy Anthony De Marco

“Odd Places” is a book of short stories — sometimes very, very short stories — by Guy Anthony De Marco. Most of the collection is either horror or morbid humor (is that a genre? Doesn’t matter, I’ll call it a genre anyway). There are a couple of mysteries, a couple slice-of-life tales, some fantasy, some science fiction, a little poetry.

There are a buuuuunch of stories in here, but some of what you’ll see are…

  • “Angelic” – an impossibly beautiful woman chooses the local sad sack, which leads to love and other complications
  • “The Box” – a fortune-telling crate foretells future fame for a special baby
  • “Bridges” – a war story where an American soldier learns the value of mercy
  • “Crazy Taxi” – in which cabbies are judgmental but funny gods
  • “Dead Meat” – in which a rancher needs to get a very special herd of cattle processed
  • “Death Grip” – in which a man learns he can see death coming — and learns how to stop it
  • “I Hate Sunday School” – which features a really rotten Sunday School teacher and divine intervention
  • “I Wish Momma Sang the Blues” – in which a series of barnyard misunderstandings lead to some legal trouble
  • “The Prize” – which stars a robot and an uncle with a questionable sense of humor
  • “The Satan Clause” – Hey, why does Santa wear red?

And plenty more besides.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of really fun stories in this one. My faves probably included “The Box,” which has a wonderfully Twilight-Zoney twist, “Dead Meat,” which is excellently squicky, “All in the Family,” which is squick-inducing for an entirely different reason, “Death Grip,” “Lyssa Makes a Friend,” and the two mystery stories, which were short, but satisfying.

And speaking of short, that’s what you’re going to get a lot of in this book. Some of the stories here are just a page long, some just two or three. Even the longer stories are nice, quick reads. The entire book is stuffed full of stories, but because so many of them are so short, you’ll zip through it very, very quickly. Makes it an excellent book if you only have time to read a few pages at a time.

But don’t mistake short stories for throwaway stories — there are deeply affecting tales here, and a bunch of them are likely to stick with you for a while — even the micro-fiction, some of which fits a vast amount of dynamite in just three or four paragraphs.

You’ve got great plots, great twists, some scares, some laughs, and a heck of a lot of wonderfully created characters. I think it’s worth your time.

Go pick it up.

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Adventures in Comics Sitting

Love and Capes: What to Expect #2

Abby and Mark continue their pregnancy preparations, including volunteering to babysit a friend’s baby to see how they handle pre-parenthood. Things don’t go as planned, though nothing truly disastrous happens.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Okay, not a whole lot happens in here. No smackdowns against crazed supervillains, no terrible crisis to solve, no danger or derring-do. But it’s a good, fun, funny story, so heck yeah, it’s a thumbs up.

Worlds’ Finest #0

We get a look back on Power Girl and the Huntress when they were Supergirl and Robin on Earth-2. Robin has her debut adventure, with the permission of her mother, Catwoman (though daddy Batman disapproves). Superman trains Supergirl for potential attacks by Apocalypse. Tragedy brings the two fledgling heroines together.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very nice writing by Paul Levitz, and amazingly appealing art by Kevin Maguire. Honestly, I’d rather read about Robin and Supergirl than almost anything else DC is publishing right now.

Avengers Academy #36

Jeremy Briggs has depowered most of the Academy members, and he’s planning on depowering the rest of the world’s heroes and villains, too. Hazmat has gotten her powers back, Striker has gotten his face scarred, Mettle gets his powers back, but only letting Hazmat burn his flesh away, and White Tiger and Reptil have to persuade their own magic powers to come back to them. Will they be able to get the rest of the team’s powers back? Will they be able to stop Jeremy from releasing the Clean Slate virus?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I like these characters a lot. Even without their powers, they’re a lot of fun. Also, Hazmat and Mettle are just so awesome. I’m gonna miss this series so very much.

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