Saturday, September 29, 2007

Captain America & Deadpool Save the World

Cable & Deadpool 45: "Band of (Oh) Brothers" (Nicieza & Brown).

This book deserves a more fitting end than it's getting.

Cable & Deadpool is going to be canceled. Cable is already dead. Cable is going to get his own ongoing series. Deadpool, on the other hand, is very much alive. Deadpool will not be getting his own series.

Instead, Deadpool has to finish out the string on the current Cable & Deadpool series.

Which is a shame, because this is one of the ten best books Marvel is pumping out these days

In C&D 45, our irascible non-hero gets accidentally shot back in
time alongside Bob the Hydra agent and end up fighting alongside Captain America and Bucky in World War II in a single-issue romp that has Cap and Bucky trying to stop Arnim Zola and Wade and Bob trying to get to Zola to see if he can send them back to the present.

The gags are amusing enough, but what makes the issue is Nicieza's decision to have Bob narrate the story. Bob's moral quandry is deciding which side to be on since he finds himself dropped down in time next to Captain America, the bane of Hydra's existence. He informs us that he's an American first and a Hydra agent second, but it's not an easy choice.

Except that it is because his real choice is to run and hide, which he can't do because Deadpool wants to help - or at least tag along with Cap and Bucky in order to get to Zola. And that's what makes the book worth reading. Humor books can get old and directionless rather fast, but character bits like Bob's desire to run and hide or his pondering about whether staying in the past would be all that terrible provide a solid backbone to keep things moving.

Seems wrong that Deadpool is apparently going to be in limbowhile Cable gets yet another shot at solo-book success.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thor 2 & 3: KRA-KA-WHISPER

Thor 2 & 3 (JMS & Coipel).

JMS' Thor is allegedly slow moving.

I hear this complaint all over the place in regards to the title but I don't buy it. Could the stories move faster? Sure, but to claim (as some have) that "nothing happens" seems a bit absurd to me. In the first issue, Thor returns. In the second issue, Thor brings Asgard to Oklahoma. In the third issue, Tony Stark arrives and there's "finally" some action as Thor and Iron Man have a bit of a throwdown.

Could all of this have been accomplished in the first issue? Yeah, sure, but JMS' take seems to be that the return is as much the story as whatever it is that comes next. I'm finding it a solid strategy that plays to JMS' writing strengths and I'm just flat-out enjoying each issue. The art by Coipel, Morales, and Martin makes this one of the most gorgeous looking books on the shelves and provide a perfect visual component to JMS' stories.

JMS' approach in the first three issues is to take the signature story moment (the return, Asgard coming to Oklahoma, Stark) and build a single-issue story around it. In doing this JMS is keeping the book new-reader friendly and developing long-term sub-plots for the long-term readers. In issue 2, for instance, the signature moment is Asgard's arrival in Oklahoma. JMS' Thor is solemn and serious, so he builds in the response of the locals to provide some levity and contextualization. JMS is taking a comic-realist approach to Thor, having the local population react to the arrival of Asgard into their midst - the cops don't like it, the population doesn't quite know what to make of it, and the owner of the land wants to be compensated. We see the "real" commenting on the "fantastic."

Issue 3 inverts this idea, where the "fantastic" comments on the "real." Thor's quest to find the missing Asgardians - whose souls have been trapped in the souls of mortals - begins in New Orleans and allows JMS to use Thor to comment on the real-world devastation of the city, first by Hurricane Katrina and secondly by the United States government's (and by extension the superhero community's) failure to provide help for the people of New Orleans. A mortal man (who turns out to have Heimdall's soul trapped inside of him) rips on Thor for not helping during the storm or in the repairs, accusing him of bringing a false hope to the people of the city. It's a powerful moment when the man tells Thor he won't allow him to use the city as a "some kinda movie set," but it's not a bombastic moment.

That comes next as Iron Man arrives to have a chat with Thor. Whatever one thinks of Tony Stark's behavior from the beginning of the Registration Act, through the Civil War, and into the Director of SHIELD present, I don't think any writer has been harder on Stark than JMS. Where Bendis attempts to give a more well-rounded view of Stark, and the Knaufs deal with the burden being placed on him, JMS treats Stark as an outright bad guy. In Thor 3, JMS doesn't give us a Stark that's controlling everything, but one that is a government lackey. The dialogue is filled with accusations of Tony being a stooge for the political leaders behind the Registration Act.

What's discouraging is that JMS puts these accusations not just in Thor's mouth but in Tony's. It's one thing to have Thor drop phrases to Tony like, "As for your masters," but another to have Tony plead with Thor for a resolution by arguing for a compromise between the government and Thor by saying, "An approach along those lines would make sure my superiors don't lose face." It makes Stark seem weak and sniveling, not as a guy looking to do the right (albeit misguided) thing. For a book that's so smart, it's a childish shot by JMS and it makes him come off as a guy who just wants to take shots at Civil War and not as someone interested in doing anything with it. His decision to have Thor simply check out of the conflict is a better development because it's built not only on Thor's sense of god-driven superiority but on his mission to return all his fellow Asgardians to life.

You would think, however, that JMS has to have Thor address Captain America's death at some point. That Thor doesn't even acknowledge Cap's death to Stark sits like a gap in the story and feels like an unresolved issue until it is addressed.

JMS might take his sweet time in putting everything back the way it was (whatever that means) but I, for one, am enjoying the heck out of the ride.

Friday, September 14, 2007

New Avengers 34: Skrulls Need Not Apply

New Avengers 34: "Trust, Part Three" (Bendis & Yu).

There is a Skrull story coming, right? The "Trust" storyline is based on the concept of (wait for it ...) trust, stemming from the revelation that Elektra was a Skrull and the New Avengers don't really know each other all that well, so no one knows who they can trust and who they can't and ... and ...

Well, two issues ago there was this whole matter of a plane crashing and Spider-Woman maybe or maybe-not being a Skrull and ... and ...

And since then the Skrull plot got hijacked by the arrival of the Hood plot last issue and that led into this issue's Wolverine v. Hood throwdown and ... and ...

And now the Hood plot has been hijacked by the Symbiote plot.



I understand what Bendis is getting at - that life is so busy that you can't always deal with whatever issue you want to deal with in a given moment. The Hood is going to send Deathlok against the Mighty Avengers so you head to Avengers Tower to protect the people who want to arrest you and ... and ...

And there's a whole mess of symbiotes running around and causing confusion. Which makes sense, because over in Mighty Avengers, that team is fighting ... um ... isn't the Ultron story still going on? Did I completely miss the end of that story or has it not come out yet?

I guess I don't really mind all the new stories getting in the way of old stories since that's been a consistent theme throughout New Avengers and Bendis has announced that all of this will come to a head in the 8-issue Secret Invasion mini-series coming out in April 2008 that Bendis promises will put:

"the exclamation point on this Skrull story. The miniseries in and of itself has a beginning, middle and end like Civil War, but if you’ve been following what’s been going on – it’s a huge payoff, but if you’re just reading Secret Invasion, you’ll get a full, large-scale Marvel Universe story. The conspiratorial aspects of the story pour through both Avengers titles, and then comes to a head in Secret Invasion. Whoever is a Skrull is revealed right away, their plan is revealed and executed and things are left changed. Once you find out who’s a Skrull and who’s not, you’ll see that it’s impossible to put things back the way they were. And like I said – that’s a part of the story. The one thing that identifies this storyline and why I’m so excited to do it, because I’m one of the people responsible for all of the divisions within the Marvel Universe – this story certainly has the ability to be the uniter, uniting things for the first time in literally three years, or even more. There’s nothing like having someone else’s ass to kick to pull all the sides together. But the pieces will definitely be in place to see something that we haven’t seen in a long time."

Great, but does that mean we have to wait until January 2009 to see the Hood story continue?

Don't get me wrong - Secret Invasion sounds awesome and with Bendis and Yu working together I'm sure it'll be great. But what about now?

Now we've still got the New Avengers working through trust issues and Doc Strange has to cast another spell to try and convince everyone they are who they say they are. This time around it's a spell that reveals a "visual projection of the true nature of the individual," which would have some suspense if you didn't see the cover.

NA 34 is a weird reading experience - there's both lots of things happening and lots of nothing happening. It's like being in a car that's spinning its wheels incredibly fast - fast enough to get the car to slide around a bit but not really move forward. Then when it does it lurches and you end up someplace other than where you thought you'd be. When Bendis is writing dialogue like he does here I could read him all day, yet eventually I'd like to see some conflicts resolved. I want to see what happened with Spider-Woman. I want to know what's going on with Skrull Elektra's body. I want to see Deathlok kicking some ass. I want to see a conflict between Avengers New and Mighty ...

But I wouldn't be surprised at all if we all tuned in next issue and instead of battling symbiotes the New Avengers ended up having a picnic with Woodgod.

Which would be cool, but I'd like to see the book move forward instead of continually moving sideways.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Black Adam: The Joys of Sacrifice & Cannibalism

Black Adam: The Dark Age 1 (of 6) (Tomasi & Mahnke).

Black Adam was the most interesting of all the characters in 52, so it's a shame to see what's become of him.

In 52 we saw the transformative power of romantic love, as Teth-Adam's relationship with Isis brought him to new heights of personal joy. More importantly, the political part of the story was crafted to give Adam some standing with the audience - he wasn't the good guy, necessarily, but he had some level of justification for his actions. Combined with the redemptive power of Isis' love Adam's story had a real strength to it - a strength that DC lost when Isis died and Adam went beserk with grief.

It's only gotten worse for Adam. After a brief dip into Countdown to play creepy-guy-in-the-shadows with Mary Marvel, Adam gets his own LS in which he is so determined to get Isis back that he has his followers beat his face to an unrecognizable pulp so he can get back across the Kahdaq border without ID, then has some of his followers sacrifice themselves to assassin's bullets so he can escape, and then eats his final follower's body for strength to climb to the Lazarus Pit where he brings Isis back to life.

Yeah, what part of any of that makes Adam appealing?

I give Tomasi and Mahnke (whose art is as strong as ever) credit for making the story appealing when Adam isn't. I can't root for Adam to succeed because he's crossed too many lines and seeks no redemption, but I can get interested in reading about his exploits, and The Dark Age is a mildly interesting book. The first issue is solid without ever totally pulling me into the story. It clings too much to the surface when the story cries out for depth.

The second issue is supposed to come out tomorrow and I'll give it a look but if that book doesn't improve things I won't be sticking around for the back 2/3 of the series.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Don't Forget the Back-Up: Avengers Classic 3

Avengers Classic 3: "Crack in the Armor" back-up feature (McDuffie & Oeming).

I'm not a huge fan of monthly reprints. I'm not really sure what the point is - if you want to read the original Avengers series, why not just go buy an Essential TPB or Masterworks? What's the appeal of buying readily available stories as a monthly comic at current prices?

Obviously there are people out there who want (or will) buy their comics that way because Marvel and DC occasionally roll them out. I give Marvel credit for offering two new incentives for buying Avengers Classic - the super spiffy Art Adams covers and the Dwayne McDuffie and Michael Avon Oeming back-up feature.

And while I can't say that Adams' cover and the back-up feature are worth the $2.99 alone, they are excellent compliments to the Lee/Kirby reprint.

In AC 3, the back-up features Iron Man testing out his new red and gold (and roller-skate capable) against Giant-Man. McDuffie works in the right mix of action and character in the 7-page story. We get to see Iron Man and Giant-Man throw down against one another in a training session for the fun, but the highlight comes after the battle, as Pym questions why they have to keep making themselves more powerful and admits that his own quest for more power comes from an inferiority complex.

There's a great bit, too, where Pym lets Iron Man know he's Stark, which Stark denies, but Pym doesn't buy it. Pym doesn't press the issue, but it's nice to see a more playful, subtly cocky Pym to go alongside the self-doubt.

McDuffie and Oeming display Tony's fondness for alcohol nicely, too, having him remain behind in the limo as Pym enters the Mansion, and having a shot of Stark positioned between the Iron Man mask and bottles of liquor. It's a great image by Oeming: Stark in the Iron Man suit and holding a glass of alcohol, positioned between the mask and the bottle after warning Pym to get a "release valve" to deal with his self-doubt.

You want to explain Stark to someone, show them this page from AC 3. Back-ups often get overlooked, but McDuffie and Oeming's work here deserves any attention it can get.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Superman 666: Busiek & Simonson Goodness

Superman 666: "The Beast from Krypton" (Busiek & Simonson).

I know this book came out a while ago but I just got around to reading it now and it's the epitome of what a great stand-alone issue can be - engaging, a bit out of step with the status-quo, showcasing different talent, and giving us a different side of the character.

It's fun to see Busiek riff on the "666" issue designation but it doesn't overwhelm the plot; instead, Busiek uses it as a set-up to showcase a darker part of Clark's personality. The premise is that there's a demon from Krypton who hitched a ride to Earth with Kal's rocket and now he's trying to turn Clark into a Kryptonian "Beast of Hell" that will bring about the end of days, Krypton-style.

Clark's mind enters a dream and we see the turn slowly unfold as Superman openly resents anyone and everything associated with his life - from beating up bad guys to Perry White's cigars to Lois. We get to see a "what if Superman turned on his duties" plot unfold that highlights both the grand struggles of Superman and the daily struggles of Clark, and gives a hint to the pressure that is exerted on being the world's number one superhero.

I won't ruin the twist that allows for the issue's resolution, but like a good stand-alone issue 666 puts everything back in place while still allowing for future stories to draw from the issue's contents. Double-sized as it is, Superman 666 feels more like an annual than a regular stand-alone issue but Busiek and Simonson take advantage of that extra space to deliver a solid Superman story.

And hey, you can't go wrong with a Phantom Stranger appearance, either.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why Aren't You Reading X-Factor?

X-Factor 22: "The Isolationist, Part 2: Natural Order" (PAD & Raimondi).

Almost everyone who reads comics has that one book that they read and love and don't understand why everyone doesn't read it and love it.

X-Factor is that book for me.

There's nothing universe-changing about X-Factor; PAD has carved out a nice little corner of the Marvel Universe to play in and he pretty much keeps to himself while still managing to touch intelligently on the issues surrounding the MU. There's a constant feeling in the book that PAD actually thinks about what's happening n the MU beyond a plot point. Reading X-Factor is reading the work of a writer who asks, "What does it mean when there's only 198 mutants left? What impact does the Civil War have on mutants? What does being able to make duplicates of oneself really do to the original?"

Whenever I ask people why they don't read the book I often get comments from non-X fans like, "I don't read the X-books. They're too confusing and there's too many crossovers and the newer characters all suck." X-fans will tell me, "It's not really an X-book."

Here's why I like X-Factor:

1) The most consistently good writing of PAD's career.

2) Clear, straightforward art from Pablo Raimondi.

3) Interesting angles on stories. In the current arc the idea of asking for mutants to be protected under the Endangered Species Act is being tossed around, and a side-plot focuses on two Disney-esque teen singers who sing racist anti-mutant songs to packed houses. Whatever angle PAD chooses, it's usually smart and interesting as opposed to being LOUD and UNIVERSE ALTERING.

4) The cast. Under PAD's direction, Jamie Madrox has become one of the more interesting characters on the company's roster. Surrounding Madrox is a group of solid characters: Siryn, Monet, Rahne Sinclair, Rictor, Strong Guy, and Layla Miller that compliment each other well. PAD has smartly teamed-up Theresa and M and they play the good cop/bad cop routine very effectively.

Overall, X-Factor is just a very strong book and month-in, month-out one of the most enjoyable reads out there.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Flash 231: The Flashy Four

The Flash 231: "The Wild Wests, Part One: Growing Up Fast" (Waid & Acuna).

Tragedy, thy name is Flash.

Of all the things I was expecting or hoping to get out of the new Waid run on Flash, a sense of despondency was not one of them, yet as I read through Flash 231 I was filled with a sense of dread. Or rather, I was full of the characters' sense of dread for their own circumstances, which drag the whole book down a notch and point us right back towards the dregs that was the pre-Guggenheim Bart Allen-as-Flash era.

Flash 231 is an OK book, and Wally and Linda's kids are fun, Impulse-like characters, but the story itself is a drag and that alone makes Flash 231 one of the most disappointing comics of the year, so far.

Wally and Linda have a pair of twins who have these crazy powers and they've aged rapidly and it all makes Linda miserable and puts Wally on Good Husband Alert. You can see that he's walking on egg shells around his wife and while he's trying to do the right thing by her, and Linda's trying to the right thing by him, and they're both trying to do the right thing for their kids ... I get the sense neither Wally nor Linda are in a happy place right now.

If the focus remains with the kids (Jai and Iris), this might not be so bad. There were several times in the issue when it felt reminiscent of the gone-too-soon Leave it to Chance series by James Robinson and Paul Smith where the kid ends up feeling left out by the grown-ups (chiefly, her dad) and their grown-up business and has her own adventures. In such a story one of the keys is that the adults are so wrapped up in their own business that they forget to keep a tight eye on the kids; that happens here, but instead of leading to a kid-driven adventure, it simply allows the kids to hear some vague, worrisome foreshadowing about why they need to become superheroes.

The overall focus of the book is split between the kids and the parents, however, and that, combined with the very unexpected high-comic book-sci-fi feel ends up making Flash feel very reminiscent of Waid's Fantastic Four run. That's not a bad thing, necessarily. It might be fun to watch people who can't hang in an FF plot try to muddle their way through. Certainly some of Linda's frustration stems from her inability to expertly know the machines they need to keep her children healthy.

The end result, however, is that we've got two uber-concerned parents and two hyperactive kids working their way through a lukewarm Fantastic Four plot. (Remember when Franklin was artificially aged? Remember how much that sucked? Flash's take isn't that bad.) I'm going to stick around at least to the end of the first arc, but I hope the mood of the book (and the art, too, for that matter) lightens up considerably. When a sense of the tragic pervades a book like Flash, there's a real danger of drama turning to melodrama simply because of the family dynamic.

I don't think Waid has turned into Robin Williams (the funny guy who wanted to be taken seriously who's now forgotten how to be funny), but after the demise of Bart Allen I was hoping for something fresh and fun. Waid's given us a fresh take on the title, but the story is still a drag.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

New Avengers 33: We've Got Bad Guys!

New Avengers 33: "Trust, Part Two" (Bendis & Yu).

Holed up in Chicago after last issue's plane crash, the Avengers continue to be wracked with issues of trust and doubt. Bendis has made a wise decision in pitting Cage and Spider-Man as the main antagonists of this arc, with Wolverine increasingly playing the voice of reason caught between them.

In an arc that is about trusting the people you ally yourselves with, Cage's demanding leadership grates extremely well against Spidey's humor. With the exception of Luke and Danny, there's not a lot of history between the members of the New Avengers. I have no idea what speed Marvel Time is working on right now (it can't still be 7 years since Reed & Co. went up in the rocket, can it?), but Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, and Clint Barton have been aware of each other since very nearly the beginning, and Cage, Danny, Jessica Drew (who's not around this issue at all, which is a letdown after how last issue ended), and Logan have been on the radar for around 75% of Marvel Time. (If we assume - always dangerous, I know - that Marvel Time has compressed itself roughly equally over our decades.) Logan is the oldest member of the team given his backstory, (even if he didn't "arrive" onto the radar until our 1970s), so it's fitting that he's playing the Voice of Reason.

It might have been more effective to put Maya Lopez, the most recent addition to the Marvel Universe on the roster, at the front of this story to get a fresh perspective on the Avengers. Sometimes we forget out here in the real world that our perceptions of characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine are very different from the perceptions others have of them inside the MU. Bendis is keeping us wide, however, and that stylistic choice keeps us as off-balance as anyone in the text. It's not a bad choice, of course, but it puts a greater emphasis on momentum. Reading about a character who's confused and not gaining any momentum is one thing, having the reader not feel that momentum is another. The theory being that it's better to read about someone who's frustrated as opposed to being frustrated as a reader.

Detective fiction (which is what Bendis always seems to be writing in his Avengers work) works on the principle that there's a mystery to be solved. Bendis' best work is his detective work, but in Avengers the expectation from the audience isn't just the need to have a mystery solved, but the need to have some action to go along with it. (Note - I'm perfectly okay with stories that are all-talking as I am with stories that are all-action, but if you're going to tease action, like with a Skrull invasion, for instance, than you need to deliver on it.) If there's a weakness to Bendis' New Avengers run, it's that the action scenes have left something to be desired. The most recent ninja throwdown is a good example. It's fun to watch that level of carnage, but Yu's art doesn't help as he's much better drawing fewer characters instead of crowded panels. His action sequences are often hard to follow and a team battling countless ninjas just makes it worse.

Bendis turns his attention to villains in NA 33, as the Owl attempts to sell a captured Deathlok to a consortium of villains that includes Madame Masque, Crimson Cowl, Dr. Jonas Harrow, and the Wizard. A visitor arrives, tells the Owl he's doing this without permission and Cowl takes the Owl out as a "cautionary tale." We know from the solicits that this is part of the Hood's takeover of the super-villain community, but it'd be nice to hear it in the text. It wouldn't hurt anything if we'd heard the name. Sometimes Bendis wants to drag these little mysteries out too far, which hurts the reveal from being as effective as it could be. Make us wait on the big mysteries but solve these little ones sooner.

Yu's villain sequence is much more effective than previous fighting sequences, but he takes extra room and has fewer characters to deal with than usual in this book.

NA 33 is a satisfying read on its won, but frustrating given the lack of follow-through on Jessica Drew and more of the Avengers challenging each other as possible Skrulls. The issue is a rare case of a single-issue reading better as it is than it will in the TPB.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Atomic Alert: Alex Ross Returns to Marvel

Marvel has announced that Alex Ross is coming back to the company for a 12-issue 2008 maxi-series entitled Invaders/Avengers that will see the World War II Invaders tossed forward in time into the Marvel present.

An Alex Ross project is always reason enough to get excited, but the promise of this being an in-continuity story gives it a bit something more to look forward to, as Ross and partner Jim Krueger usually operate outside of continuity.

It's interesting that two of Marvel's big summer announcements (Invaders/Avengers and JMS & Chris Weston's The Twelve) mine the company's deep past. DC has historically been the better company at doing this, so it's cool to see Marvel following suit. One can only hope this bodes well for a future Agents of Atlas project.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

X-Men 201: Mystique's Marauders

X-Men 201: "Blinded by the Light, Part 2 (of 4)" (Carey & Ramos).

Mike Carey is doing a good job tearing the X-Men down. I wasn't thrilled with his previous arc that saw the destruction of Providence, but the current arc is much better. Instead of an arc built on chaos and the unknown, "Blinded by the Light" is a systematic takedown by the known.

Last issue dealt with the various betrayals of the X-Men by Mystique, Lady Mastermind, and the Malice-controlled Omega Sentinel as the Marauders engaged in a sneak attack. This issue the battle continues as the X-Men are taken down and virtually out - the Emma Frost-controlled Cannonball escapes, grabbing Iceman on the way out the door.

There's not a lot of story here, except that the vague revelation that there's much more to the Marauders plan than we've seen. What Carey does well is focus the story around Emma, Bobby, and Sam which gives all the chaos a central thread to take us through the story. A sub-plot with Kitty and Peter provides a nice balance.

If I have a complaint of Carey's writing, it's that this is an X-Men franchise story and not an Adjectiveless X-Men title story. The inclusion of Cyclops, Emma, and Logan take a bit of the focus away from the cast that Carey has established in the book prior to X-Men 200. It's not a bad thing, necessarily, but I'd like to hear something from Lady Mastermind and Omega Sentinel about what their motivations/thoughts are during this attack. It was also a bit disappointing not to see appearances by Cable and Gambit after last issue's takedown, but I'm sure that's coming.

If you don't like Humberto Ramos' art I can see that ruining the story because this issue displays all of his excesses, but I like Ramos' art and I think he makes a better match for Carey's writing style than Chris Bachalo. Ramos likes to draw people standing dramatically and people exploding into action where Bachalo's strength is often more conceptual. The previous arc seemed to be built around Bachalo's strengths while this one is better suited to Ramos. Whether Carey is consciously working his plots to meet his artists' strengths I couldn't say, but the result of the current story, so far, has been pretty successful.

In the back-up, we've got Part 5 of the Endangered Species event. It's good to see a focus on the Beast, but the story hasn't been all that gripping, yet. Solid, but not "must read," by any stretch. Endangered Species is basically just Beast moving from place to place, on his quest to somehow undo Wanda Maximoff's "No More Mutants" decree from House of M. This installment has Hank dealing with the horror of Neverland and, in a bit of a surprise, has him coming face-to-face with the Dark Beast. The strenth of the back-up tale here is that the quiet solemnity balances out the frenetic main story.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Until It Gets Taken Down ... Marvel SDCC Movie Teasers

Thanks to John Warren for passing along this link to the SDCC sneak-peak clip from the Iron Man movie. It looks beyond amazing.

Here's a YouTube clip of the Hulk from Hulk 2.

WWH: Slapping Around the X

World War Hulk: X-Men 2 (of 3): "Sworn to Protect" (Gage & DiVito).



The positive: a near-start-to-finish throwdown between the X-Men and the Hulk. The negative: Too much talking.

That there is too much talking in an all-out action issue might seem like the wrong complaint, so let me clarify - it's not that there's too many words in WWH: X-Men 2, it's that they're the wrong words coming from the wrong people.

WWH: X-Men 2 is an enjoyable issue - it's what I refer to as an "ultimte back-issue comic." When I was a kid, digging through the quarter bins or even venturing through the long boxes, I used to want to get the biggest bang for my buck, so I'd look for books that promised lots of characters and lots of action. If I was going to drop $20 for Daredevil 181, I wanted to balance out my budget a bit with cheap issues of Power Man & Iron Fist or Defenders or Justice League of America. Anything that promised to give me lots of comic goodness for not so much cash.

That's what WWH: X-Men 2 brings to us - lots of X-Men getting knocked around by the Hulk, who's more than happy to make them wish the they had that duck insurance. On that level, the book is an unqualified success, and much of that credit goes to Andrea DiVito, whose fight scenes are crystal clear.

The problem with the issue is that, as a part of World War Hulk, it doesn't match the intensity of the main LS, and I think the reason fo this is that Gage tells this story as an old-school Hulk romp. There's plenty of dialogue being passed back and forth and Gage's Hulk is all-too ready to engage the X-Men in conversation. The WWH-Hulk works best when he says as little as possible - too much talking plays to the idea that this is a game, or just another Hulk battle. When Hulk is taunting Emma as he's trapped her in diamond form under his foot, it doesn't work because it doesn't feel like this Hulk would bother to have that chat. Instead, he should just put his foot on her and let the force of that foot do all the talking.

The Wolverine fight works a bit better because of their history, but even this scene would've been stronger if Gage had told the story from Xavier's or Logan's POV. What other books have done better than WWH: X-Men 2 is to give a sense of how bad it is when the Hulk decides to get serious. The first issue of this series did that, but issue 2 doesn't.

Early in the fight, Hulk knocks Logan into the far woods and removes him from the battle for a few minutes. That would've been the perfect place to use Logan to get the seriousness of the fight across to the readers. If he's standing in the woods, watching as his wounds heal, having an internal dialogue on the action I think the whole issue would've gone up a few notches in its overall effectiveness.

It could have turned a very good, very enjoyable issue into a great one.

Countdown 40: The Broken Record Update

Countdown 40: "Small Wonders" (Dini/Bedard & Giffen/Garcia).

There's just not enough momentum building up in Countdown to really recommend that anyone start reading it. If you've been reading it you might be willing to stick around and see how it ends. If you're not reading it, I don't know why you'd want to start. Every advancement of the story just feels like baby steps, at best, and wheel-spinning, at worst.

Here's how much space was devoted to not much advancement in issue 40:

1) 3 pages for a fight to break out in the Palmerverse,

2) 2 pages for us to find out Jimmy's running around town as Mister Action,

3) 2 pages depicting Mary Marvel sitting in the audience of a Zatanna magic show and thinking about killing one of the passengers,

4) 2 pages of Holly Robinson watching the ex-Harley Quinn turn a single mother and her son away from the Amazon shelter,

5) 3 pages on Apokolips, where we have a new plot introduced on the New Gods' spying on Darkseid to see if he's responsible for Lightray's death,

6) 3 pages back in the Palmerverse where the inhabitants decide to help Donna, Jason, and "Bob" after Jason threatens to slice one of their noses off. The P-verse inhabitants tell them Ray isn't around, but they can point them in a possible direction,

7) 4 pages of Trickster and Piper convincing the Penguin to let them spend the night in the basement of his club, with a last panel toss-in of Oracle sending the Question after Piper and Trickster.

In other words, nothing happens. A bunch of set-up for future pay-offs is done, but that's it. There's no sense of any of the plots moving to an actual "can't-wait-till-it-gets-here" pay-off, either. All of that would be okay if the waiting was worth it on its own, but it's not. There's so little time spent with anyone that there's little enjoyment, as touching base with all of the various plots feels forced.

The only scene that works on its own in the entire issue is the Trickster and Piper plot.

Disappointing, but not unexpected, unfortunately.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

SDCC, Day Three: Spidey Creative Teams Announced

The big news coming out of San Diego today was the announcement of the new Spider-Man creative teams to take effect this fall after the JMS/Quesada "One More Day" arc. Marvel is going to cancel the Sensational and Friendly Neighborhood Spidey titles and replace them with 3 monthly installments of Amazing. The idea behind the move is that there's going to be one place to get one main Spider-Man story instead of three divergent stories like we have now. I think it's a good move - Marvel consolidates the story without sacrificing the amount of content being published. Each successive arc will have a different artistic team, so each arc will be internally consistent in terms of creators. Spider-Man editor Steve Wacker will also rotate the artists, so it won't always be the same writer/artist combos.

The opening teams are as follows:

Dan Slott, Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell
Marc Guggenheim, Salvador Larrocca and Jason Keith
Bob Gale, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning and Jeromy Cox
Zeb Wells, Chris Bachalo, Tim Townshend and Antonio Fabela

I think those are four pretty solid teams - no complaints from me on any of the artists or writers. Can't wait to see how this plays out.

Superman 665: Jimmy Olsen's Pal Superman

Superman 665: "Jimmy" (Busiek & Leonardi).

Superman 665
is allegedly a Countdown tie-in, according to the cover, but on the inside it's something called a "Countdown Dossier Special."

I have no idea what that means, except that this issue features Jimmy Olsen and Countdown features Jimmy Olsen, but there's no apparent connection between the two stories. You'd think, because 665 is a tie-in that would speak ill of 665, but you'd be wrong. Instead of this seeming like an off-issue of Superman, 665 helps to illustrate why Countdown has turned so wrong, so quick.

Superman 665 tells the "secret origin" of how Jimmy and Superman became pals and Kurt Busiek does a great job of showing that the relationship isn't just "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen," but "Jimmy Olsen's Pal Superman." Both characters get something out of the relationship - Jimmy, his parents having gone missing, gains a friend and not another father figure (that's more Perry's role), and Superman finds someone he can let his guard down with and just relax.

665 is the kind of issue that Busiek writes better than anyone - a personal, humanist story of an individual existing in a world where there just happens to be superheroes. In 665 that individual is Jimmy Olsen, but the introspection that normally accompanies that central character in a Busiek text is given to Superman instead, so we experience Jimmy through Superman's eyes.

It's not a deep, powerful story, but it is an engaging, fun tale that goes heavy on character examination without sacrificing story. If Countdown offered half of the depth that Busiek offers here the story would not fall so easily off the tracks.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Reacting to San Diego, Day One

Pulled from various sources, here's some highlights from Day One of the San Diego Comic Con. News seems better out of Marvel than DC after one day, but the best news comes out of Jeff Smith's Cartoon Books, where he's announced his next project will be Rasl (pronounced "Rassle"), a sci-fi romp about an interdimensional thief that's aimed at an older audience than Bone and, according to Smith, is more "James Bond than Bugs Bunny."

Can't wait - first issue is hoping to ship in January.


The Twelve: A year-long mini from JMS and Chris Weston that will focus on Marvel's pre-Marvel World War II characters: "The disappearance of The Twelve from Marvel history for so long is explained that these heroes were kidnapped during the final days of World War II by German Nazis. 'None of these characters has been seen since the fall of Berlin, so I picked that as the point to say that nobody's seen them because they were grabbed by the Nazis and put into cryonic suspension," explained Straczynski."

Captain Marvel: Since his somewhat odd (because he didn't do anything, really) re-appearance in Civil War, Captain Marvel has just sat in limbo (or the Negative Zone), but Marvel has announced a new Mar-Vell mini-seris. Brian Reed, who's doing an excellent job on Ms. Marvel, will write and Lee Weeks will pencil.


- Countdown: Surprisingly, nothing of note came out of the Countdown panel, according to what I read in the Newsarama report. For the biggest series the company has right now to generate no real news ... strange and yet not surprising, unfortunately. Really the only new news is that the title Countdown is going to be changed to Countdown to Final Crisis as of issue 26.

I've ripped DC plenty here for building up the Rogues storyline in Countdown but then having the pay-off come in Flash and this was addressed when "DiDio said that what's important to the main characters of the weekly series will happen in Countdown, but things like the death of Bart Allen will happen in The Flash. He added that "comic books are built on history and continuity" and that a big thing about Countdown is featuring the interconnectivity and richness of the DC Universe."

The second half of that explanation doesn't jibe with the first half. Why does "comic books being built on history and continuity" apply to Flash but not Countdown?

The Spirit: Darwyn Cooke is leaving The Spirit after issue 12. Bummer.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mighty Avengers 4: Punching!

Mighty Avengers 4 (Bendis & Cho).

I've been looking at my monitor for about five minutes tying to think of something to say about Mighty Avengers 4 and there's not a lot coming. It's not a bad issue, at all, either; it's just that there's not a whole lot to mull over. It's an antithesis of New Avengers 32, and almost as good.

The Avengers continue to deal with the female Ultron, bringing in Hank Pym and dealing with an AI Iron Man armor Tony Stark created to activate in the case of his own death. The Avengers figure out the new Ultron is simply repeating things that have already been done and they come face-to-face with a fleet of Iron Man armor, showing that Ultron is using one of Stark's recent tricks. Femtron maybe kills the Sentry's wife in order to lure Bob into a trap.

It's a big, slick, solid, fast-paced, old school heroes vs. villain tale. Frank Cho's art is clear and easy to follow and Bendis stays out of his own way more often than not.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Atomic Alert: Buy this TPB: Jeff Smith's Shazam!

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil (Jeff Smith).

I'm not going to spoil anything major about this comic because I want everyone to experience as much of this series as fresh as can be, but I do want to encourage everyone to at least flip through TMSOE when it hits the shelves as a TPB. This is one of my favorite comics of the year - any genre, any company. Jeff Smith does as good a job matching his story with his pacing as anyone in comics.

The Los Angeles Times' Geoff Boucher has a blog entry up about the Shazam! movie currently in production, but they could do a heck of a lot worse than simply taking Smith's story and adapting it if they wanted to do a kids' movie. And why not? Kids movies can be franchises, too, and it'd be cool to have a superhero movie that walks that path.

The innocent-but-curious-almost-to-a-fault character type works really well in a story like TMSOE, and really makes me wish James Robinson and Paul Smith would get back together and give us more stories of Chance Falconer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Checking In with Countdown

Countdown 42 & 41 (Dini & Various).

I haven't posted on Countdown in a couple because, honestly, it's not living up to early returns. Too many characters, too many plot-lines. It's amazing to me that Dan Slott can juggle multiple plots/characters so well and Paul Dini and his writing partners are doing so poorly. I think some of the difference is that, with The Initiative, Slott's really got one story taking place in one main location while Dini is trying to tell a universe-wide story.

Countdown is suffering from the same problem that afflicted 52 - there's too many plots just spinning out on their own with no center to hold it together. The Monitor plot here is supposed to be the center, but we don't get enough of it to hold that center.

I'm still not sure why the Rogues are even in Countdown - after getting their plot's big pay-off in another book (still a dumb, dumb decision). Same goes for the Holly Robinson/Amazons plot.

So much of Countdown is about characters suffering an identity crisis (no pun intended) but Dini would be better, I think, pairing up some of these issues. Jimmy Olsen and Holly Robinson would make a solid pairing, I think; Jimmy is trying out a superhero identity, and Holly is sliding out of one. Mary Marvel and Piper & Trickster might work, too, as Mary is falling under the influence of Black Adam's power and Piper & Trickster have walked that morality line for years.

If those two plots were combined, Dini could work them around the center plot of the Monitor, Donna Troy, and Jason Todd searching for Ray Palmer.

There's just too little focus in the series for my liking.

BTW, Newsarama is reporting today that the total cost out of yours and my pocket for buying Countdown will come in at around $321.

Iron Man & Marvel Movie Cross-Promotion

Comic Book Resources's cool "The Comic Reel" column has a link to MTV's Movie Blog site for an article about Hillary Swank and Samuel Jackson joining the Iron Man cast.

According to Avi Arad, Swank and Jackson are filming cameos, which would make sense since the film has already named Jeff Bridges, Terence Howard, and Gwyneth Paltrow to the big supporting roles.

What's most interesting about the Arad feature quotes is that these small, big-talent cameos will start to crop up more and more as Marvel starts to seriously cross-polinate their film franchises:

The existence of Jackson’s hard-boiled superspy reveals a newfound willingness by Marvel to begin mimicking the way its comics mix different characters into each other’s storylines on a regular basis.

“It’s because now we have control over the properties,” Arad explained, citing the new era of Marvel funding such upcoming flicks as “Iron Man,” “Nick Fury” and “Captain America,” after a decade of holding hands with studios like Sony for Spider-Man or Fox for The Fantastic Four. “Now you can mix and match. It used to be different studios having different characters. You try and get three major studios to sit together and cross [promote],” he laughed. It’s too tough.”

Based on Arad’s comments, fans might find it hard to not feel a bit speculative as to why a double-Oscar winning A-list actress would make a cameo in a superhero movie. Since “Iron Man” is laying the groundwork for the “Nick Fury” movie that Marvel hopes to begin filming relatively soon, one theory is that Swank will be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent alongside Sam the man. But just as probable, it seems, is speculation that Swank might be setting herself up for a starring superhero flick down the line. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from her last award-winning performance, it’s that she certainly has the physique to pull it off.

So instead of doing what they've been doing, where one film might leap from another (Elektra from Daredevil, Wolverine and Magneto from the X-Men franchise), Marvel will start cross-polinating their characters thoughout the films it controls, giving the movies a greater sense of appearing in the same shared universe.

Pretty cool, I think.

Monday, July 23, 2007

WWH: Initiative Style

Avengers: The Initiative 4: "Green Zone, Part One" (Slott & Caselli).

SMASH! LEVEL: We've Got Looters!

MAN EVENT: The Initiative vs. Looters!

Four issues in and I'm totally sold on The Initiative. Slott is spinning out one-plot-too-many perhaps, but he's been able to keep everything going without ignoring anything, so while I'd prefer he dump one sub-plot in order to give a few more pages of characterization elsewhere, The Initiative moves at such a rapid pace that I'm guessing Slott has a quiet issue built in somewhere before the end of the fist year's worth of stories just to let everyone catch their breath.

Contextually, Initiative 4 suffers a bit from covering ground we've seen a few times already, taking us back to the beginning of World War Hulk, with the Hulk's arrival and Stark's suiting up with his latest Hulkbuster armor. What saves this rerun is that Slott uses the Initiative's reaction to the Hulk's arrival to drive a wedge between Stark and Rhodey. It's Hank Pym that knows about Project: Achilles and the Hulk-specific SPIN tech, not Rhodes.

Rhodey gets into it with Stark, but Stark tells him, "I trusted you with the most important part: building my army."

So much for the Initiative as a police force, I guess.

Stark recognizes that the arrival of the Hulk could be the event that unites the pro- and anti-SRA forces, but Rhodey is more focused on making sure the recruits aren't sent against the Hulk or his forces. The Initiative crew goes out on side-duty, helping to evacuate the city. The rawer recruits (Hardball, Cloud 9, Komodo, Slapstick) are arguing about how involved they should get in the activities when Rage (who I'm not even sure should have to go through the Initiative training - he is a former Avenger, after all) jumps in at the first opportunity to take out some looters.

Rage has been one of those characters just floating through Initiative, so far, seemingly there just so Gauntlet can make his inevitable rip on the New Warriors as Rage scowls in the background, so it's nice to see him let his emotions out and cut loose a little. That it's looters they go after is even better as it brings an old-school vigilante flavor to the issue, setting off the difference between how things used to be (save the neighborhood) against how they are (train to serve in a superhero army).

After the Hulk and Iron Man knock Avengers Tower down, Rage rallies the troops to go join the main battle, and he not-so-delicately reminds Triathlon exactly who has the most seniority with the Avengers. It's a great moment and illustrates, I think, just how tapped in Slott is with this book. As much as it's cool to see all the background cameos, it doesn't appear they are just thrown it to be easter eggs to long-term fans. There's a reason why Rage has been sitting there, scowling and biting his tongue at Gauntlet's taunts, and Initiative 4 is that reason. This book, as much as anything, is Rage's moment to shine by not only letting his anger loose but to act as a hero instead of a soldier, and to show genuine (if perhaps unwise) leadership to the younger recruits.

Stefano Caselli's art has won me over, too. I was lukewarm on him at first, but he gets better with each issue.

Avengers: The Initiative is no longer "quickly becoming one of Marvel's best books." It is one of Marvel's best books.

WWH: Manifesto of Hate?

World War Hulk: Front Line: 2 (of 6) (Jenkins & Bachs/Martinbrough).

SMASH! LEVEL: Collateral Damage.


WWH: Front Line 2 skirts around the events of WWH 2, depicting what's going on while the Avengers and FF are getting their asses handed to them. Jenkins has made a smart decision to separate the main FL story - Ben Urich and Sally Floyd's coverage of WWH - from the sub-plot of Danny Granville's search for the killer of Arch-E.

Jenkins does a very good job hitting on the issues that come up around the Hulk's return; in that sense, FL plays the role of fandom inside the Marvel Universe, asking the questions we're asking. Daredevil brings up the fact that, during the crisis, the Super Human Registration Act has disappeared, and Jenkins uses the rest of the to offer a social commentary on how the poor neighborhoods are affected differently than high-income areas.

For her part, however, Sally Floyd is unhinged. She wants to see a conspiracy theory everywhere she looks and she has an attitude of a columnist much more than a reporter. She off-handedly brands the Hulk's actions as a "Manifesto of Hate," which I don't think is supported by the facts. Makes me wonder just how much of he judgment is skewered by her end-of-Civil-War siding with Stark and Richards.

Front Line is a solid comic, but as Baloo pointed out about WWH: FL 1 in the comments section, Ben and Sally have a tendency to bury the big story, so as I'm reading I do wonder, "Now, will this story actually see print?"

World War Hulk 2: EPIC. TIMES 2.

It's going to be World War Hulk Day around the Anxiety as I've got the afternoon off and several WWH books to work through (WWH 2, WWH: Front Line 1, WWH: X-Men 2, Ghost Rider 13, and Avengers: The Initiative 4) so I'm going to knock them off one at a time. For those not familiar with how we're handling WWH around these parts, we're looking at the books through the lens of how much action each books packs between its covers. I'll get through as many books as I can. On with the show ...

World War Hulk 2 (of 5) (Pak & JRJR).



I don't know if it's possible for WWH to get any better than this issue.

You can describe the issue in about 10 words: Hulk kicks crap out of Avengers. Hulk kicks crap out of Fantastic Four (OK, 13 words), but that doesn't come close to accurately representing the all-out action awesomeness of the issue. It's hard to imagine that this is only the second issue - the two huge battles that take place between the Hulk and his Warbound and the Avengers and Fantastic Four are as befitting the final battle as whatever I could have hoped we'd see in WWH 5.

Pak & Romita build the action-upon-action sequences smartly, beginning with the relative quick throwdown between She-Hulk and her cousin, then moving through a beatdown of Avengers Team-Up, and ending with an absolutely classic Hulk v. Fantastic Four battle that has extended one-on-one bouts with both the Thing and Reed Richards.

Each round has someone trying to make peace with the Hulk, but he's just simply not buying it. Pak wisely keeps Hulk's dialogue to a minimum, allowing JRJR to get across Hulk's hurt and anger and determination.

Romita is really the star of the issue - battles are appropriately epic but also crystal clear to follow. There's no questioning what's happening in a given panel, something Leinil Yu (New Avengers) and Ed Benes (Justice League of America) would do well to learn. Romita also fills the book with plenty of smaller moments that elevate the book - from the Sentry's blank expression as he readies himself for the possibility of having to confront the Hulk to Jen's frightened look after the Hulk has planted her beneath the city street.

If you want SMASH! out of the World War Hulk Experience, then WWH 2 is the issue to get.

And if you like WWH, be sure to check out Marvel's World War Hulk Hub.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Captain America 28: Did the Red Skull Just Apply for the Position of Captain America?

Captain America 28: "The Death of the Dream, Part Four" (Brubaker & Epting/Perkins).

It's hard being the best comic book on the shelf at a given time because the expectations are so high with each subsequent issue. Yet that's the burden Captain America is faced with and those are the expectations that Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Mike Perkins continue to meet month after month.

In Cap 28, Bru continues his masterful job of moving the story forward along several fronts. We've got: Nick Fury (who we finally see), Falcon, and Sharon Carter hunting Bucky; Bucky hunting Tony Stark and the Red Skull; Stark hunting the Red Skull; and the Red Skull's plan continuing to evolve through the working of Dr. Faustus and the new Serpent Squad.

Yeah, that's right, the Serpent Squad. How cool is that? The new Squad is led by Sin, the Red Skull's daughter, who's not wearing a snake get-up/persona. Of course, eels aren't snakes, either, so that means two members of the new Serpent Squad aren't snakes (Sin and Eel), and two are (Cobra and the new, male Viper). But, hey, whatever - it's just a name. I'm more concerned with what they add to the story and what they add is the terrorist muscle to the Red Skull's plan (the exact details of which we still don't know).

One of the things I really admire about Bru's writing in Captain America is that he treats everything straight - whether it's Cap's death or the Serpent Squad it's all imbued with a sense of realism that really enhances the story. Professor X shows up to help Stark interrogate Crossbones and it feels logical, not forced.

The big news that comes out of the issue is that Steve Rogers left a personal note with a lawyer for Stark during Civil War, to be delivered only if Steve died. We don't know what the note says, but it causes Stark some consternation. My guess is that the note tells Tony to put someone new in the Captain America costume, given the amount of attention that issue has received here, in Fallen Son, and all around fandom. Before the lawyer arrives in his office an agent of SHIELD is applying for the position of Captain America and Stark makes a big deal about how "No means no" on this issue.

Couple things on this. One, the name of the agent applying for the job is "Agent Hermann." Now, not all bad guys have German names, not everyone with a German name is a bad guy, and not all SHIELD agents with German names are spies. But "Hermann" just so happens to be the name of the Red Skull's father: Hermann Schmidt. And as Falcon and Sharon discuss elsewhere in the issue, whatever the Skull's plan is he needed Steve dead to accomplish it, because otherwise he would've enjoyed rubbing Steve's nose in a successful mission's completion.

Is Agent Hermann a Skull operative? A Faustus-brainwashed SHIELD agent? The Skull's son? Sin's boyfriend? The Red Skull himself?

Heck, for that matter, is the note from Steve even legit to begin with?

I don't think this is the last we'll see of Agent Hermann, though the great thing about a book like Captain America is that the suspicion level is so high that you start suspecting shadows and piecing together puzzles that aren't even there.

Second thing on a potential new Captain America: I bet if we see one it's Sharon Carter. Just a feeling, but she's at the center of this story and the person most in need of a new challenge right now. She's the only character in the story having personal identity issues, having just left SHIELD, and while she would be against the idea of putting on the costume - as would Bucky, Sam, Clint (no matter what that piece of garbage Fallen Son 3 tries to imply), and most everyone who knew Steve - if that note from Steve makes it clear that he wanted a new Captain America to replace him then the question becomes not whether there should be a Cap, but who should it be.

And if that note says Steve wants Sharon (or Sam or Bucky) to take over ... that "frees" Marvel to have a new Cap running around until Steve Rogers is fished back out of the North Atlantic ice.

I never get tired of writing about Captain America. Brubaker, Epting, and Perkins and the rest of creative continue to deliver one hell of a good comic.

Atomic Alert: Halo: Uprising

Coming in August from Marvel is Halo: Uprising, a 4-issue LS from Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. Set to take place between the events of Halo 2 & Halo 3, Uprising "begins the tale of the heroic Master Chief's struggle to reach Earth before the evil Covenant's engines of war get there first! Set in the time period between Halo 2 and Halo 3, Halo: Uprising answers all those questions that fans have been asking for years, and introduces new characters into the Halo mythos!"

The notion that I'm excited about Halo: Uprising would be wrong, but the inclusion of Maleev will certainly get me to read it. I like that Marvel is assigning two its top talents to a tie-in book instead of just relying on the built-in Halo audience to buy it no matter who was working on it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

JLofA 11: Where the Justice League is Defeated by a Building

Justice League of America 11: "Walls" (Meltzer & Ha).

It's a weird ending for Brad Meltzer's Justice League run - after two big, complex story-arcs, Justice League of America 11 & 12 will be stand-alone issues (though 12 is reported to end with a cliffhanger to help set up the Dwayne McDuffie run). Meltzer's run has been hit-and-miss; there have been good moments, but he has seemed to be more interested in plot than character, which is fine - that decision doesn't cause a book to sink or swim on its own. With as huge a cast as Meltzer was dealing with, however, the decision to focus on plot robs the story of the natural cohesive unit that is a central character (or characters).

The good news is that of the two characters that Meltzer has seemed most interested in exploring (the poorly renamed Red Arrow and Red Tornado), one of them gets the show virtually to himself this issue - Red Arrow.

The plot is as simple as it gets - Roy and Mari are trapped inside a collapsed building. It's a nice coincidence that JLofA 11 comes out a week after New Avengers 32, where the Avengers "enemy" was a malfunctioning plane. Such "ordinary" conflicts help to ground the characters a bit and allows the writer to remind us that they're humans as much as they are superhumans.

Roy is the unquestioned star of the issue and JLofA 11 takes place mostly in the dark, cramped insides of a collapsed building. The sparse nature of the story contrasts effectively with the Jupiter-esque density of Meltzer's first 10 issues. I like Roy and I like Meltzer's take on Roy and if you gave me the choice to buy a Brad Meltzer-written Red Arrow series or Justice League series, I'll take the first option.

That said, JLofA 11 isn't a great issue. It's a solid issue, a nice catch-your-breath tale, but it's not overly memorable.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

All-Flash, All-Better?

All-Flash One-shot: "Justice, Like Lightning" (Waid & various).

Wally's back, Waid's back, Bart's gone ... but is the Flash title any better?

We've only got one issue down, but so far, so good. That's not going to come as a huge surprise to anyone who's read Waid's Flash before. Waid is the definitive Flash writer of this era and he slips effortlessly back into Wally's head right from the start of All-Flash 1.

Wally's internal monologue is a primary trait of Waid's approach to the character, so it is a potential cause for concern when, near the end of the issue, Iris Allen tells Wally to "stop living inside your own head all the time." I wonder if that's Waid dropping a stylistic forewarning on us that the internal monologue isn't coming back.

The plot of the issue has Wally chasing down Inertia to make him pay for his role in killing Bart. Wally catches him and, essentially, freezes him in time as punishment. It's ... odd. Not that I'm for having Wally kill Inertia, but this particular punishment - immobilizing and putting him on display at the Flash Museum - seems just as wrong. I know Wally thinks he's punishing Inertia, and certainly it's not pleasant for a speedster to watch history unfold before him, but putting him in the Museum also, in an odd way, celebrates Inertia's murder of Bart. It's one thing to have replicas of villains in a museum devoted to a hero, but to put a murderer - the actual, immobilized murderer - in the middle of the museum ...

Doesn't seem like the right thing to do to a murderer. Wally says he wants Inertia to have to look at a picture of Bart as punishment, but he could accomplish that in a jail cell or JLA cell or at S.T.A.R. Labs. I know Wally thinks he's so connected to the speed force that his immobilization of Inertia is non-reversible, but there's the practical matter that Wally just put an actual, living villain in the center of a museum where the public visits on a daily basis.

Not. Smart.

Villains, you know, tend to get out of these traps to cause more trouble.

The rest of the issue sets up the upcoming Flash series (reverting to the Wally numbering with issue 231) effectively. Wally drops the requisite vague statements about his "special" kids, Jai and Iris, and there's a memory/foreshadowing set of images from Iris about what's coming to pique our interest. Which is sort of accomplishes - it's not a surprise to anyone that Wally's kids will eventually put on costumes, is it? More intriguing is what looks to be a Batman costume coming out of a Flash ring.

Things look good for Flash, but I'm still irked that Guggenheim was removed from the book - I know he's said in interviews he knew it all along, but his run proved how valuable a character Bart Allen is and what a wretched thing the Dan Didio regime did to the character by making him a boring, angst-ridden twenty-something.

Didio commits the crime, Bart serves the punishment. Doesn't really seem fair, does it?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Atomic Alert: Final Crisis Teaser

Newsarama was given the first teaser for DC's post-Countdown event, Final Crisis. As John Warren and others have pointed out, Final Crisis is TEN MONTHS AWAY. That's the entire NFL season, including Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, and Draft. More after the image ...

Not a lot to get excited about, really. It's a nice picture (done by JG Jones), but it's six heroes standing in front of some kind of lightning-spouting storm. I guess the biggest news is the presence of Hawkman alongside DC's Big Five instead of Aquaman or Green Arrow.

I'm sure I'll be buying Final Crisis when it comes out (especially if the rumors about Kurt Busiek writing it are true) but it's hard to get excited about yet another Crisis LS - especially when it's ten months away.

Spiders Rule the 2007 Box Office @ Intermission

With almost half the year remaining but most of the blockbusters out in theaters now or even done with their runs, I thought I'd take a look at the 2007 U.S. box office returns through this past weekend (ending 7-1-07) to see how the sci-fi/fantasy offerings were faring.

Unsurprisingly, they're dominating. I'm using the stats from Box Office Mojo (which can be found here - but be warned that this link will show the updated 2007 box office returns and not the snapshot that I'm using as I write the post.) All-time figures are taken from IMDB, and represented in (parenthesis) below. Here's the current 2007 top 15:

1. Spider-Man 3: $335 million. King of the Year, so far, but it's been a trend of diminishing returns for the Spider Franchise. The first film took in $403 mil (7th all-time), the second $373 mil (10th), and the third (15th) isn't likely to match either of those numbers. It's still a lot of money for a movie that sucked the fun out of popcorn and sunshine.

2. Shrek the Third: $318 million. I enjoy the Shrek movies but they're always "wait for the DVD" films for me. Shrek 3 will wind up somewhere in between the final results for 2 ($436 mil, 3rd) and the original ($267 mil, 33rd).

3. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: $304 million. Top three spots are all "three-quels," but that won't last the year, I'm guessing. At World's End was another disappointment, though certainly not to the level of Spidey 3. Needs to make a paltry $1 million to match the total of the first PotC movie. PotC 2 is out of reach, having taken in $423 mil (6th).

4. Transformers: $224 million. Best summer movie of 2007. It's opening was less than half of Spidey 3's, but it hasn't suffered nearly the drop-off in ticket sales, either. It'll be interesting to see just how high this film climbs.

5. 300: $210 million. I'm surprised this film broke the $200 million mark. Sin City only took in $74 million, had more famous directors and cast, and a more popular set of Frank Miller books to adapt, yet Zach Snyder's stylish Greek epic struck a chord.

6. Wild Hogs: $167 million. What the fuck is wrong with you, America?

7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: $150 million. Not bad for 5 days work. Or for the 5th movie in the franchise.

8. Ratatouille: $145 million. Movies about rats that cook always do box office magic.

9. Knocked Up: $138 million. The little movie that could. Or something.

10. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: $127 million. Is $127 million disappointing? The first FF movie did $154 million. Is $127 million enough to get a third movie made?

11. Blades of Glory: $118 million. Didn't bother to see it.

12. Ghost Rider: $115 million. I'm surprised this film did this well, because Ghost Rider has a hard enough time selling enough copies to keep a monthly comic going and, more importantly, the film was wretchedly bad. I bet Sony execs are happier with this film's box office than Fox is with FF 2. If Eva Mendes doesn't clean up at the Razzies this year, though, I'll never take that awards show seriously again.

13. Ocean's Thirteen: $113 million. Very enjoyable, but these Ocean's movies never really do as well as you'd figure they'd do.

14. Live Free or Die Hard: $104 million. Very good movie and will likely become the highest-grossing Die Hard film. Currently, that distinction is held by Die Hard 2, at $117 million.

15. Meet the Robinsons: $97 million. I'll catch it on DVD. The dinosaur was pretty funny in the commercials.

All-in-all, I'll say what I've been saying since Fellowship hit the theaters - we're living in a cinemaic golden age for the sci-fi/fantasy crowd. 2007 has given us less quality than in recent years, but the box office performances suggest these types of films are going to continue to get the bulk of the yearly budget from film studios.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This Week in Universal Annihilation

Nova 4: "Alone" (Abnett/Laning & Chen/Denham) and Annihilation: Conquest - Wraith 1 (of 4): "Chapter One" (Grillo-Marxuach & Hotz).

Annihilation: Conquest gets up and running this week as the Wraith LS and the Nova tie-in get off the ground. It's a good, but not great week for Annihilation: Conquest as one book hammers the story forward and the other comes off a surface-oriented attempt at cool.

This issue is something of a do-over of Nova 1, which came out a loooooong three months ago. Like Nova 1, Nova 4 has Rich flying around space smashing things and talking to the Worldmind.

Unlike Nova 1, Nova 4 doesn't suck.

The difference is that there's a purpose here to all the running around. Rich is headed to Hala as the issue opens and ends up stuck inside the Phalanx's Cordon. (It's kind of neat that A&L keep having characters state that it's impossible to cordon off Kree space from the rest of the universe, only to have another character follow up on that, as the Worldmind says here with a "and yet it is so." Comic. Book. Science. If you're going to use it, you might as well have some fun with it.) The Phalanx send some Kree Sentry units after him so it's not just random go-go policing action on display in the book. There's a reason for Rich to go to Hala and a reason why he gets attacked. Simple, but it makes a world of difference in the book.

It helps, too, that Rich has a greater sense of who he is this time around.

Tossed in to the mix are two females playing bad cop/good cop on the issue. In the bad girl corner we've got Gamora, so-called "deadliest woman in the galaxy" and Rich's ex-lover who has been assimilated into the Phalanx. First she tries to kill/capture him by sending 100 Sentry robots after him, and then she decides to personally go after him. Should be fun.

In the good girl corner there's the introduction of Ko-Rel, a Kree medical officer, who's stranded on a Kree frontier planet where Rich happens to crash land. Ko-Rel investigates the crash and a burned-up Rich transfers his Nova power to her at issue's end. Makes you wonder if this is setting up the rebirth of the Nova Corps. Personally, I hope not. Let Rich be the one-and-only for a while longer.

A&L deliver a tight, action-packed issue that builds expertly off the change in the status-quoo brought about in Annihilation: Conquest - Prologue.

Over in Wraith, we're introduced to, well, Wraith, I guess. Wraith says he doesn't have a name, which is fitting since he seems to be a derivative of a handful of characters. Part Ghost Rider, part Lobo, mostly Man with No Name, Wraith is the mostly-silent and mostly-deadly type and he's not an uninteresting character, but more of a blank character, so far. The key to making a Man with No Name character work, however, is that his actions have to be interesting and Wraith's aren't.

He can hurt the Phalanx, but isn't all that interested in fighting them. He's Kree, he's not that interested in helping the Kree resistance (in a Matrix 2 derivative scene), but he does help them escape when the Phalanx arrive to bust things up. He escapes into space, but ends up getting captured and sent to a prison where his interrogator is revealed to be an assimilated Ronan.

Now that's interesting but nothing that came before it really has me intrigued to find out whatever information Ronan is potentially going to get out of him.

Wraith is a character that desperately wants to be cool, and while he's got a cool look and a potentially cool revenge kick going, it's hard to be cool tooling around space on the back of a freakin' space-cycle. It's only one issue and Wraith has potential (both as a character and as a series) but so far it's just all too derivative of other characters to work for me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lanterns and Arrows of Green

Green Arrow: Year One 1 (of 6) (Diggle & Jock); Green Lantern 21: "Sinestro Corps, Chapter One: Fear & Loathing" (Johns & Reis).

I'm more down than up on DC these days, so it's good when two books come across my desk that really work. Lucky for me, Green Lantern and Arrow have long been two of my favorite DC characters.

Andy Diggle and Geoff Johns are coming at these tales from the opposite ends of their respective characters' careers. Diggle is taking Ollie back to his pre-Green Arrow days in a origin story for the Emerald Archer, while Johns is taking Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps into a new era of Ring on Ring crime.

In Green Arrow: Year One, Diggle quickly moves us through the spoiled rich kid bit, placing Oliver against a hardcore ex-British Special Forces operative whom Ollie has hired to shepherd him through all kinds of "extreme" activities. The guy betrays Ollie by issue's end, stealing $14 million from him and dumping his unconscious body into the ocean. It's a good set-up, it's well-paced, and Jock's art works well. Good stuff.

Over in Green Lantern, Johns gives us Part Two of the Sinestro Corps War, which promises to reveal secrets of the GLC and its power source. Johns is great at mining the past in order to push his pockets of the DCU forward - he's doing it with Justice Society and he's doing it here.

GL 21 picks up after the Sinestro Corps One-Shot, with Lanterns dead and dying as the SC continue their assault on the GLC all over the universe. The focus of the issue is on Jordan, of course, and Johns does a solid job setting up several battle fronts - the GLC vs the. SC, Jordan vs. Parallax/Kyle, Jordan and his allies vs. the Lost Lanterns, and the in-fighting amongst the Guardians.

That's a lot of plots to put in motion, so it's a good thing this storyline has two titles to run across.

Johns has a simple concept here - Hope vs. Fear - but one that can go down plenty of paths. Green Lantern is definitely a book to check out if you haven't been reading it.