Archive for the ‘Reviews – Comics’ Category

Review: “Parallel Man: Invasion America” #1

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Full disclosure right up front.  Christopher “Chris” Jones is a friend that I see at the Midwest Comic Book Association cons in Minnesota, and we’ve known each other for about a decade.  We talk on Facebook, but I’ve never had him over for dinner or helped him move, so that’s made clear our level of friendship.

Not…I mean…it’s not like I’d deny him dinner if he was in town.

Chris has been making a name for himself as the go-to guy at DC Comics for comic books based on animated series.  From various Batman animated-style books to “Young Justice,” Chris has expertly captured the varying animated styles.  Because he’s a cartoony-style artist, right?

Parallel Man - Main character in action

Parallel Man – Main character in action

In an America conquered by China, a mobile refinery dwarfs other vehicles.

In an America conquered by China, a mobile refinery dwarfs other vehicles.

Washington DC is attacked by futuristic weaponry.

Washington DC is attacked by futuristic weaponry.

Actually…no.  He’s got a lot of art muscles he hasn’t been able to show off with his Cartoon Network assignments, and the new sci-fi book “Parallel Man” allows him to showcase his l33t skillz.

“Parallel Man” tells the story of one alternate Earth (The Ascendancy) that has decided to invade other alternate Earths to loot their resources and enslave their populations, and one renegade, Agent Morgan, who has other plans.  This first issue involves a chase sequence on floating bikes that takes place across several alternate Earths.

The science fiction isn’t really anything new to comics, where alternate Earths go back to the days of Gardner Fox, but the specifics of the premise are intriguing.  The action is exciting without being too violent.  Reading this, I began to realize how warped my expectations have gotten from the last 10 years of reading the increasingly gruesome violence of the DC Universe.  In one scene, the Ascendency grabs two suspects and I was surprised to see that it didn’t include a bloody execution!  (I hope that isn’t a spoiler.)  That’s actually rather refreshing.  It hearkens back to the days when comics were beautiful and action packed without death and dismemberment left and right.

Even if the story doesn’t trip your trigger, it is worth it for the art alone.  Chris gets to invent whole new worlds every few pages.  After a decade of needing to stick on-model for every TV imitation comic he was doing, it must feel good to cut loose…and I think it shows on the page.

You can order Parallel Man: Invasion America in comics shops right now with Diamond code Aug141505. Parallel Man #1 hits shelves October 8, 2014.  It will also be on Comixology. 

The Keeper Box: Detective Comics #526

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Amongst my collection of some 30 boxes of comic books, I have one long box of precious comics that I won’t sell.  Now, at long last, I reveal…what is inside…THE KEEPER BOX!

Detective Comics #526

The cover of Detective Comics #526

Aniversary issue

Writer Gerry Conway
Artist Don Newton
Inker Alfredo Alcala
Colorist Adrienne Roy
Letterer Ben Oda
Cover Artist Don Newton, Dick Giordano
Editor Len Wein

In this special anniversary issue marking Batman’s 500th appearance in Detective since issue #27 (and yes, that’s right, #526 is the right number, not #527… though that’s one of those “when is the real millennium?” puzzlers that reveals you as a math nerd).  After building up in Batman #359 with the origin of Killer Croc and his claim as the new king of Gotham’s underworld who will finally kill the Batman, this story opens with a gathering of many of Batman’s arch-foes.

All My Enemies Against Me!

The Batman Rogue's Gallery

This two-page shot knocked my socks off back when I was 13.  Even back then, I realized that these gatherings of Batman super-villains were uncommon.  These days, I know, it’s pretty much nothing to see so many villains together.  Still… what a shot! (more…)

it’s about ducks and dogs and Disney

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

A Guidebook to the Carl Barks Universe (test).

Did you know that Jack Kirby created the comic adapting 2001 A Space Odyssey?

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

I did. I used to own a few issues, specifically the ones featuring “Mister Machine”, later to be brand-identified as Machine Man.

In any case, here are two articles plus some original art:

2001 A Space Odyssey Comic Book, Jack Kirby, Arthur C. Clarke

This stuff was apparently right up the King’s alley. No real surprise that the stuff that appealed to me was the stuff these guys just ignored and supposedly that the King hated. It’s hard to say.

Of course I just love Machine Man and apparently they do not. I hesitate to declare that the King hated Machine Man.

the Darker Seid of Life

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

By all means we at Monitor Duty should have written dozens of histories and recaps and essays about DC Comics’ vile Kirby demon, the evil New God Darkseid.  By now there should be hundreds of references and odes of love.  If kicked we might see it happen in the future, but I do not care to do that now.

Recently when I should have been working I googled for Grant Morrison interviews about Darkseid.  To tell you the truth I do not think that Mr. Morrison has anything profound  or unusual to say about the character but I like the way he puts together words and descriptions.   He puts together ideas that are not necessarily new or great in ways that are interesting and entertaining.  Honestly that is a good thing.  It does not matter whether the ideas are his or not.  His 52 co-writers claim that his virtue is not his creativity but his fearlessness.  He will go where his fellows will not and that seems like a strength to me (and a burden to editors and marketing staff).

Grant Morrison successfully delivers upon the marketing and communication of old ideas mixed together in way that editors would not let less experienced writers attempt.  That is the only reason I bother looking for his interviews.  I like his words; Ienjoy good poetry.  I do not care to give him credit for new meanings or new ideas.

Here is a quick Darkseid link dump.  It might be nice if, in the future, Monitor Duty has the greatest and most authoritative Darkseid link directory.  Let us leave that for the future.

  • Marc Singer, who is not the Beastmaster, writes a defense of Darkseid against the Howling Curmudgeon, in that he declares why the character is a good one, but insists the biggest injury upon the character is its overuse.  They agree on the character’s three best stories but alos there are moe good stories with the character.  The most profound note is that the character is used best in stories where he seems to die a permanent death.  I think that the character is not made better by having no inner conflict, but to have the character have an inner conflict is to write him out of character.  Most good characters have inner struggles; to an extent it easier to see the super-villain in this case as a plot device.  In this light most villains are plot devices more than characters.  I can think of exceptions like Lex Luthor (depending on the writer, of course) and Doctor Doom, both of whom are self-realized as Darkseid is.  Yet Luthor (again depending on the writer) has a character arc involving his own jealousy, need for attention, his place in the world, and possibly friendship with Superman.  Doom struggles with vanity above all.  Darkseid has not issues.  He merely is.  He will never grow and he will never learn.  He will simply act, conquer, enslave, and at the end of the story arc in question he will die.  Occasionally he gets trapped in the Source Wall or something.
  • A lot of this comes from a September calling for Darkseid essays.  Who has the time?  The point is that Darkseid “is a person” and I cannot say it is wrong because I sadly have read less Kirby New Gods material than I should, due to cost constraints.  As it is, what I declared in the point above is that recently Darkseid is a more a plot device, an abstract menace (as Galactus has almost always been) because while he may have been a person with a personality most writers simply treat him as an abstract personification of a dark ethos.
  • The best response is this: by Keith Giffen in his Ambush Bug mini-series.
  • Andrew Hickey insists that Darkseid’s desire to seize control of all life, the universe, and the entirety of creation and existence is borne out of fear of death.  Mr. Miracle is the logical counterpoint and the arch-enemy of Darkseid because as an escapological archetype he is positioned outside of the constraints of control.  Yet Scott Free himself is still not a direct and successful contrast because Darkseid name him and set his purpose.  That is Mr. Hickey’s point anyway and I am not certain I buy into it.  This plays all into ideas of “degrees of freedom” but as a Liberal Democrat (in the UK political sense) Mr Hickey’s views about what is acceptable as a definition or execution, application of freedom is suspect.
  • The first Darkseid story I ever read was not the entire story but the final chapter of a JLA/JSA team-up story.  As was the the fashion at the time the occasional/formal meeting between the League and the Society finds it self linked to a third super-team, in this instance the New Gods.  I remember Justice League of American #184 (and here is the cover) because the New Gods were not only definitely super-heroes in this incarnation (and there is nothing wrong with that) but Darkseid has a personality, he is a villain with motivations and relationships.  In point of fact the bulk of the story is about relationships as well as a rise to power.  Upon his return from his most recent death in the New Gods strip from Adventure Comics, Darkseid punishes the Injustice Society for accosting his son Orion, clearly with a view of propreitry and seeing Orion as a creature, a prince, someone whose fate is more tied to Darkseid’s whim than mere encounters with bad guys.  Orion’s group consists of a Leaguer and a Society member.  All the split-groups  (I love how they follow the Gardner Fox tradition) consist of such a configuration.  For isntance Batman’s group has Mr. Miracle and the Huntress because both are versions of him in the different worlds of the different teams.  At this point each team resides in a different dimension of the DC Comics storytelling.   Because Darkseid has his relationship with the New Gods he seeks to teleport Apokolips to the spot where Earth-2 resides, destroying Earth-2 and thus landing his domain inside a universe where there would be no heroes, and no heroic New Gods.
  • OAFE assesses/contrasts two Darkseid action figures making his size and sculpt major emphasis.  The Mattel version, which is the one really looked at, comes with a Mother Box as his accessory, and despite being smaller than the DC Direct Darkseid figure, is apparently just better.  Of course there is a brief history asserting that Darkseid only recently became a Superman villain despite that his first appearance was in a Superman comic.  He also discusses Grant Morrison’s formulation of the Anti-Life Equation.

I think there is something to be said that properly written the villain is a character but this applies to every character.  It is also important to note that the ending of the story as well as how often the character appears has serious impact for story quality.

The Birthday haul (a/k/a “Game reviews to come”)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

I had a lovely little birthday party with my wife, Melinda, and niece, Jenny.  They bought a glittery banner and I realized I’ve never had a banner for my birthday party before.  They also restarted a long-abandoned tradition of lighting a candle on the cake for every year I’ve been alive, and there’s a reason why we abandoned it: the lighting took forever and the cake is now covered in wax, and now the top of the cake looks like a squirrel couldn’t find his nut and dug everywhere for it.

Here are my presents, presented not to gloat over the big haul (it’s not) but to show what a wonderful wife I have:

Carnival Games: Mini Golf This was from my wife. Fun for the entire family. Review to come.

Wii Worms A Space Oddity This was from my niece Jenny.  Allegedly.  Next time, Melinda, tell Jenny what “she’s getting me” so that she doesn’t take it from my hand and say, “What is it?”  It kinda spoils the subterfuge.  Anyway, it’s a Wii version of a game I’ve found addictive on the computer.  Will that translate to Wii play?  We shall see.

Wii Deal or No Deal This was “from Melinda”, inasmuch as when we were at Sam’s Club buying my cake and steaks earlier on Sunday I threw it in the cart and we counted it as one of my presents.  It’s a bargain game.

Peanuts And then here is a present from my cats Nina, Doris and Natasha.  (I named “Doris” so that she could be criminal partners with Natasha.  Would have been Boris but who names a female kitten Boris?)  The cats have good taste.  These are the original Peanuts cartoons from back when the Peanuts gang was first being conceived.  It’s rather dark stuff for the time, which seems odd considering that Charlie Brown and Snoopy came to symbolize the tired, trite and boring of the comics page.  Charlie Brown, the boy who never wins anything, who loses every kite he’s ever tried to fly, who is ridiculed by his friends and is tricked repeatedly by a girl who offers to set up a football for him just to mock him when he falls on his back.  Charlie Brown, whose baseball team is a bunch of losers who would rather hold rubber cats, fluff their naturally curly hair, hang on to their precious blankets or debate philosophy than play ball, and whose meanest pitches get batted back at him so hard he winds up lying in his underwear on his pitcher’s mound.  In a world of Blondie, Family Circus, Alley Oop and Prince Valiant, that’s actually pretty edgy.  I think my favorite moment is when Charlie Brown actually wins something, and it’s a coupon for a free haircut.  He points out that his dad is a barber and gives him haircuts.  And he doesn’t really have a lot of hair.  (Maybe I just like that because it’s meta-referential; the strip rarely commented on itself.)  I’m anxious to dig into this volume.

Venture Bros. Season 3 on DVD Surprise!  I got one more present on Monday.  My buddy Robert Bavington (who has done many of the costumed Fuzzballs for this site and Fanzing) sent me the season 3 box set.  I’m over the moon.  Thanks, buddy!

First new comics in ages!

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Recently, I finally found a copy of the out-of-print TPB “Hitman: Local Heroes”. Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium is still one of the best comic book stories I’ve read.  It has page-turner panels, splash pages, hilarious dialogue and a unique premise.   If Hitman were to ever be adapted to the screen, it would make a great framework for the first film.  Take that storyline, add in some of the establishing bits from other stories such as Natt the Hat’s return, and you’ve got a terrific movie.

In order to pad out my order and get free shipping, I grabbed some of the comics I’ve been missing out on ever since Jimmy Jams closed their store.

Here’s what’s on my stack:

Booster Gold #13-16  — Elongated Man appearance! Awesome!

Ambush Bug Year None #4, 5 (still need 6)

Sojourn #26  — Unfortunately, reading CrossGen comics makes me melancholy. How I miss that company.

Birds of Prey #123, 125  — Can’t get 124 because it’s a Joker/Babs showdown.

Green Lantern Corps #31  — I miss this book a lot, right up there with Booster Gold.  I need to get the rest of this arc.

The All-New Atom #17-25 — This completes the series for me (I’d read the trades).  The stupid listing for issue #25 told me it was the one where a beloved character dies.  Thanks a lot, dude.

Pull List Review – April 16, 2008

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Batman and the Outsiders #6 – You may recall that last month BATO shot to the top of my “Most Anticipated” list, due to Ralph and Sue Dibny exchanging their Thin Man homage for a Topper homage. Unfortunately, they don’t appear this month, but I’m sure they’ll show up before the end of the story. This issue has a terrific opening that’s cute and page-turn thrilling. It’s great to see Sapphire Stagg again; unfortunately, there’s no recap of where their relationship is. With all of Rex’s deaths, that Shift character, Java (her husband) being dead and then rejavanated…. I don’t know if she’s Rex’s wife or not. Hopefully we’ll get more character development on that front. Meanwhile, the issue is good, so long as you buy into the whole Dixon “real world” feel. Sometimes it’s a tough sell, trying to believe that a bunch of superheroes… most with strong ties to the JLA… can’t get to the moon. I mean, the JLA had a base there for years. Batman must still own a teleporter somewhere. It’s hard enough believing Batman is so self-reliant that he can’t call for some power-ringed help when it happens in Batman’s own books, but when you pull this in a title like Outsiders one begins to wonder if Batman just likes making his job harder by setting up artificial barriers.

Artificial barriers also crop up in Dixon’s Robin #173, where Tim mentions that he can’t always go running to Batman for help. Again, it looks like a character growth lesson, and really it’s just a way to explain how characters can have adventures on their own without the joined universe intruding. Some good writing here as well. The return of Spoiler is played in reverse of how one would expect in a comic book story. Usually, the dead character returns, the mourning friend is guarded but hopeful, then finally accepting, and then it turns out it’s a clone/robot/Durlan/pretender and our lead character is crushed. Here, Tim is obstinately unaccepting and doesn’t buy it for a second, and it may actually be true. I have a hard time believing Tim is so pig-headed he won’t even listen to what she’s saying (we can all see what’s about to happen when he ignores her warning), but stress of seeing a dead girlfriend can do that to a person. Plus, Chuck believes in finding the flaws in your heroes.

Flawed heroes and page-turn panels also crop up in Tom Peyer’s The Flash #239. I was balking at the flimsy premise that a villain named Spin who can manipulate public sentiment could turn people against the Flash just because he kvetched that crime-fighting didn’t pay and he was hurting for cash… in Keystone of all places, people should be sympathetic upon hearing that……….. and then in a brilliant bit of writing, Peyer has Wally noting that “Those aren’t real human reactions”. Right there, that one line saves the whole story arc.

Suicide Squad #8 – Back in February I complained on a message board that a sudden bit of Bush Derangement Syndrome had intruded into what was one of my favorite books of the year. A company called Haake-Bruton, led by a guy looking like and with a similar name to Cheney, suddenly shows up, and we’re treated to the sight of a bunch of overweight old white men swilling wine in goblets and smoking cigars, talking about all the money they’re going to make as they watch some virus-infected brown-skinned people expiring inside glass tubes. I think the only thing I can say about it is that it’s so over-the-top that it’s not worth the outrage. However, now that I’ve read the ending, I have to say that the descent into caricature and some fantasy political catharsis for the writer and his fellow travelers (they get some wish-fulfillment as Deadshot puts a bullet through pseudo-Cheney’s brainpan) really tainted what was a dream project. The Suicide Squad is one of my all-time-favorite comic books, and it’s Ostrander who drove it. Ever since he lost control of Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller has been completely out of character in a half dozen other books. Half the writers who use her seem to think she’s a villain or a traitor to the USA. The character bits in this book have been a joy to read…reminiscent of the old “Personnel Files” stories… but John Ostrander’s more overt politicizing of the book have not helped the story. Hey, I’ve read The Authority, V for Vendetta and other books that are far more political and/or challenging to my personal ideals, but it’s done as part of a coherent plot. Here, the pseudo-Halliburton is just a big straw man. The virus they’re planning to sell is never mentioned again, because it was never more than a big puppy-killing scene to get you hating the villains so that you can enjoy their thrashing in the end. I know Ostrander is a better writer than this. Here’s hoping he gets a new ongoing Suicide Squad and with this bit of bitching out of his system he can focus on a stronger story.

(You know, back when I wrote a Suicide Squad fan-fic at the height of the whole impeachment debacle, I made Al Gore the good guy even though I disliked him even back then, because it was a good story. Bring back the Ostrander who could write convincingly realistic presidents Reagan and Bush 41 even if he wasn’t on their political side.)

Finally… Countdown #2. Hey, Darkseid is dripping with arrogance and superiority as he threatens somebody. Haven’t seen that before. And I’ll bet $100 that he’ll be back to do it again someday soon, no matter what happened in this issue. I’m so bored. I did have to wonder…if Jimmy Olsen grows to the size of a skyscraper, and The Atom is inside him when he enlarges, does the Atom enlarge?

Pull List Review – March 26th, 2008

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Small load this week.

Countdown to Final Crisis #5: I knew it. I knew it last week as soon as Hal Jordan did something so dumb as to spread a disease to other planets. It’s not our Earth. What a cop out. Still, it’s a creepily-told story that does a good job of setting up Kamandi-Earth. Unfortunately, the cover is trite. The first thing I thought when I saw it was, “Pssst. ACT!”

JSA Classified #36 featuring Wildcat: I’ve heard this book is canceled. There have been some good stories, but all too often this title features boring filler with the same old tired JSA characters. Wildcat is a character who bores me to tears. A boxer who punches people but does it with a cat mask on his head. At least Grant Morrison did us all a favor. He finally addressed the problem of making an ancient boxer relevant by pointing out that he must be magically young somehow. (Though, like the similarly-prominent Alan Scott, it’s never explained how the public deals with a Ted Grant who is magically more vital than he should be for his age.) Last month, I was surprised when this new Wildcat story had Green Lantern asking Ted why he still felt compelled to run around punching people while wearing a costume. ‘Bout time. Unfortunately, this story is quite padded and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, though it’s probably just the flashbacks that make this play so slowly.

Green Lantern #29: An excellent read, well worth the $3. Though Johns has been developing Hal Jordan for three years, giving him more personality than he’s shown in the past, I haven’t really LIKED the Hal that Johns has created. This issue really helped flesh him out, and we got to meet a surprise guest when John Stewart appears as a marine. Remember when John Stewart was just a bitter punk in an afro who was the backup G.L.? Thanks to the Cartoon Network changing his personality completely, they’re rewriting the past of the character in the comics…and I LIKE it! Plus, I finally feel like his two brothers have distinctive personalities. I realize I’ve used the word “personality” three times in one review, but that’s really what this story is about. It’s not often I think a 22-page story that’s all character development is worth it, but this one is. Still, I think Johns has been falling back on the worst Green Lantern cliche: every plane Hal flies comes down in a flaming mess of metal. Yes, as a writer I can see how disasters are more exciting than safe landings, but Hal must have destroyed about a BILLION DOLLARS worth of planes by now! How in the world is it that he has any career worth talking about?

Suspension of Disbelief ends

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

One of my favorite comics-related weblogs, and most underrated weblogs has ended as of the last day of 2007. Loren Collins’ Suspension of Disbelief has been there to correct the record and lend advice whenever the creators of our fictional worlds committed major and noticeable errors regarding the real world elements that are included in these fantasy universes. One of my favorite (albeit guest-) posts is this one, which although the image is broken, indicates a moment where George Perez is drawing New York and putting two famous buildings in close visual proximity whereas in real life the two famous landmarks in such geographical disparity that you would have to look in two different directions at once to see both edifices simultaneously. In theory the geography of the Marvel Universe’s 616 earth is nearly identical to the real world, that is, the fictional world is a pastiche… and George Perez didn’t research the real world skyline before creating the fictional view.

Just as Dr. Scott from Polite Dissent is a doctor correcting medical errors in comic books, Loren Collins used his legal training to correct the legal errors in comic books, actively seeing trials depicted in issues and then criticizing how realistic the trial portions were, as we have little choice but to imagine that many of the legal structures of the comic book universes are the same as the real world, except when explicitly declared otherwise. In which case there is speculation or conjecture as to how the law is different, where the differences are never explicitly stated.

In many instances the mistakes actually detract from the quality of the comic, and distract the reader. It works that way for some lawyers, doctors. For Phil Meadows he cannot merely enjoy a building without deconstructing it in his head and I could not watch Smallville’s political election plot lines without getting a sense of nausea. President Luthor did it to me worse.

My buddy Jim MacQuarrie often covers stuff that Loren misses, although his usual mission in the course of the weblog is/was to correct the many archery errors that crop up because pencillers who draw Green Arrow, Hawkeye, or Speedy often mess up royally as to how it actually happens, regardless of the ease of research. Even writers screw it up sometimes. Archery can only work in a certain way to even work, and despite that we can let little things go, some things we would not and should not. MacQuarrie is in a good position to catch that stuff, given that he “is an NAA certified archery instructor. Naturally, his arrows are green.” He also did other things, whatever he noticed, and is Christian enough to notice when the Simpsons screwed up Ned Flanders in a Super Bowl episode.

Suspension of Belief was meant to be a group blog, but that never quite worked out. For one thing most of the registered group guys aside from Loren or MacQ posted one or two articles at best. For another I never registered as I intended to, to write about a few of the things I noticed. Hopefully if my short attention span can maintain cohesion I can write about that stuff here on Monitor Duty. (Although sometimes Loren got to it eventually, as he did with the question of whether Jonathan Kent was running for State Senate or US Senate). Another one like that is one that should been done long ago and this particular article should have been proliferated to the far reaches of the internet: Loren’s logical and legal dissection of Civil War’s Registration Act. As it is it was the lack of relevant topics near the end which led to a lack of regular posting which led to Loren Collins ending the weblog. He will continue the purposes of Suspension of Disbelief over at “the CBR blog, Comics Should Be Good.” That is unfortunate, as I do not read that weblog regularly, or anything at Comicbook Resources. I do not intend to. (Well, I will make exception for the work of August deBlieck, Junior and some other stuff as it pops up). I do not read Comics Should Be Good for several reasons, despite the weblog’s quality. However in a few months I will make it a point to go back and review all of Loren Collins’ work on that blog, to see that disbelief remains effectively suspended.

I hope I can keep my mind straight long enough to affect parallel work here.

Also: us professional comic book readers, sophisticated adults that we are, are well-aware that Suspension of Disbelief is what we engage in so that we can truly enjoy a man who can fly, without saying to ourselves, “wait! a man cannot fly!” That is part of why Superman Returns was awful. It had non-Superman moments that rendered proper disbelief suspension impossible. The weblog I eulogize was so titled because it addressed the bits and pieces that were incorrect from the standard that we view a world, and thus interfered with the Suspension of Disbelief.

Brave & Bold #9: The Mark of Greatness

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Mark Waid continues to be one of the absolute treasures of the comic book industry. 

Brave and the Bold 9

I hadn’t been reading the new “The Brave and The Bold” series, and I have a feeling that I will need to hunt down issues 1-8 if they are anything like #9.

Here’s what is in this single issue:

  • The Challengers of the Unknown in their old purple outfits.  No post-modern team of past-their-prime lost men, no X-Files-ish group, no Chaykin, just the plain old Challs.
  • Robby Reed with his HERO dial.  He’s not a grown-up mess trying to chase down the dial.  The dial is just a cool McGuffin generating an excuse to whip up new superheroes, not a dangerous superweapon.
  • The Metal Men.  The real ones, bearing no resemblance to the current characters in the mediocre mini-series.
  • The Blackhawks.  No Chaykin adult nonsense full of womanizing and communism.  Chop-Chop is even called “Chop-Chop”, and he has his old costume.
  • The Boy Commandos.  Kids.  With Guns.  Shooting at people with the guns.  Killing people with the guns.  It’s a team as outrageously incorrect for our time as you can get, and there they are in all their glory.
  • The Hawkman and Atom team is reborn for our age, with the new Hawkman (yes, he’s been “straightened out” for several years, but I’ll always miss the Silver Age character) and the All-New Atom.

If I ran DC…(well, if I really ran DC, Mark Waid would just be in charge of the universe)…but if I ran DC now, I’d find some way to give Mark his own spin-off line where he could publish all the “old school” comics he wanted.  No post-modern spins on superheroes, no need to revise origins, no need to reinvent the works of others …just an emphasis on telling a good story.

I wish Mark Waid had been assigned the Metal Men mini-series.

Pull List Review for October 17, 2007

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

There were some good comics in today’s pull list. 

Even in an era of overlong, write-for-the-trade, never-ending soap opera books, it’s possible to get a self-contained story that puts them all to shame.  In Birds of Prey #111, Tony Bedard tells a self-contained story about the Calculator and Oracle finally facing off, and it rocks!  It’s funny, it’s intense, it’s creepy, it’s cute, you could enjoy it even if you never read BoP before and yet it moves the overall storyline forward.  If Bedard keeps up this level of quality on a monthly basis, it will not only keep the Birds of Prey going but it will secure it a place as one of DC’s best books.  For now, it’s definitely the best use for $3 you can get this week.  ***Highly Recommended*** and kudos, Tony. 

UPDATE:   I’ve been informed that, sadly, Tony’s three excellent single-issues were just fill-ins, so ignore what I said about the future prospects for BoP… but I have to say, DC would be wise to lure him to the gig permanently!

Worst of the week:
Justice League of America #14 – McDuffie’s usually a good writer, as the animated JLU show proved, but this installment is weak.  For one thing, it seems like something he could have written in a half hour, and it certainly didn’t take me long to read it.  $3 for five minutes’ reading of the third of four chapters just isn’t much bang for your buck.  The book abounds with huge panels containing one word balloon.  There’s a two-page spread of the JLA in bondage that seems to exist only for cheesecake exploitation as well as a cheap way to use up two pages.  (Speaking of exploitation: I hate to give DC Comics any more ideas given the amount of degradation in comics over the last few years, but I must say just from a plot perspective that it IS odd that supervillains trying to get Superman’s goat wouldn’t be raping their captives, especially when that’s Dr. Light’s thing and he’s on the team.  I mean, I’m GLAD we don’t see that kind of thing in comic books… but it’s one of those Austin Powers-y “Why don’t they just shoot him?” things that one wonders about.)  I’m guessing McDuffie had other work to get to and just slammed this out after breakfast.  So little plot takes place in this installment that you could reasonably skip it and use the $3 to rent a three-hour movie instead.  I also have to ask: is Superman really so easily played at this point in his life?  He has been dealing with low-blows from Luthor for a decade or more in his time, and when Luthor is openly taunting him with images of the JLA members captured and beaten, is Superman really so weak and stupid that he can’t think up a better response than giving Luthor exactly the reaction he was hoping for?

That said, the book does have some good dialogue.  It’s not a total waste or anything.  But compared to the amount of content in other 22-page books this week, it seems a bit light.

Other books on my pull list this week:
Shadowpact #18 – At first I wasn’t even buying this series, but after getting the first few issues cheap at a convention I was hooked.  Bill Willingham has a knack for compelling characters.  Unfortunately, it looks like he’s left the book and I’m still feeling out his replacement.  Plus, the cover gets dinged a point for using the “chalk outline” convention.

Metamorpho Year One #2  –  I like the character but so far I haven’t seen anything I haven’t seen before, since I’m familiar with his origin and past adventures.  Hopefully newer readers can appreciate it more than I can.

Death of the New Gods #1 –  Do I need to announce spoilers when the title tells you ALL the New God characters will die? I love Mr. Miracle and Big Barda, so this just seems like Identity Crisis rehashed.  Another of my faves, gone.  I will be skipping the rest of the series.

Countdown #whatever – I really loathe this title.  I actually went to the extreme of canceling it from my pull list two months ago, but at Jimmy Jams the deal is that you commit to buying all the comics that have been ordered for you.  In the case of this weekly comic, that means I’m buying another $36 worth of comics before I can stop.  This series has been really, really bad.  The installments are progressing at a snail’s pace, with plots crossing over into other books without telling you which ones you need to read before what (like, be sure to read “Death of New Gods” before this week’s Countdown where they tell you Barda is dead, or “Hey, why don’t you all go buy Flash #13 – it might be important to next week’s plot!”).   This is a bad book and unlike 52 I don’t care about a single character in it.  I know it’s all building to the next big supermajumbo crossover but I suddenly realized it’s not worth $156 to watch Jason Todd, Donna Troy, Jimmy Olsen and Pied Piper as they all take a Lemmiwinks inactive adventure with the promise that it will someday lead somewhere.

I Can Write Almost As Much as Alan Kistler!

Friday, June 15th, 2007

Check out my new blog I just started for an in-depth look at why comic books have lost my general readership and how I long for the good ol’ days of JLA with Grant Morrison and Mark Waid!

It’s a long one that I should go back and edit sometime, given that I finished it at 3:30 AM!

The Limits of Meta-Fiction

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

I picked up the first issue of the Heinberg-Dodson run of Wonder Woman, not because I was a fan of the character or those creators, but to give the character a shot. I was, to put it nicely, decidedly underwhelmed, and I was not surprised when I heard Heinberg was getting yanked from the book.

What did surprise me– and excite my interest– was the announcement that novelist Jodi Picoult was going to be writing it. She’s a very popular writer and, from what little I’ve read, very good with complex issues of identity and morality. She’s lauded for her convincing female characters, and so I thought I’d give it a try.

As always with Wonder Woman, I found myself once again underwhelmed.

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52 Week Thirty-One

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

I gather from various message boards that, while 52 is selling quite well in general, most of the people I know aren’t reading it, or they dropped it. They don’t like Montoya the smoking drunk depressed whining drifter who is now going to become The New Question despite not having the personality to be the Question. (No matter, apparently, to DC. Just plop the no-face on her and call her The Question, even if Vic Sage’s outlook on life is what The Question is all about. It’s more important to get rid of the Charlton white guy and replace him with an Hispanic lesbian.) They don’t like Booster Gold becoming a parody of his personality of 20 years ago, even if that one was never a slick shill to begin with, before going out in a blaze of glory. They don’t like the meandering pace of a lot of these subplots, like this space plot that goes on forever. They don’t like the Steel/Natasha plot which is entirely dependant on his not getting a word in edgeways whenever they talk. (A friend observed that, not me, but it’s a good point.)

Me, I’ve been buying it and liking bits of it. You really can tell that it’s by an assemblage of writers, though.

Some bits don’t even make sense, like when Detective Chimp tracks down Ralph Dibny even though he should be trapped in that blood-dome at the time according to his own series, Shadowpact. (A surprisingly good book, by the way. I wasn’t going to buy it, but I purchased the first few issues cheap at FallCon and got hooked. Haven’t read this good a team book since Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, and that’s a high compliment coming from me.) The actions of Ralph and his JLA buddies during the resurrection ceremony are puzzling, because there’s no harm in just going through the ceremony and seeing what happens, and if it’s a hoax it’s a bizarre hoax with no purpose. (How is anyone profiting from it?)

As you all might imagine, it’s Ralph Dibny’s plotline which is keeping me interested. For those of you not reading, the short version is that Ralph has stopped taking Gingold and was near suicide when a mystery regarding the “Cult of Conner” who desecrated Sue’s gravestone sent him chasing Wonder Girl and her buddies. He discovered the cult was going to bring Sue back to life (as a trial run before bringing back Superboy), and he sneaked Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Zauriel and Metamorpho into the ceremony. He wanted their opinion, since all four had come back from death; they all told him that Ralph was getting scammed, and they stopped the ceremony only to find that it had begun to bring Sue back to life before it was stopped. Since then, Ralph has begun a journey with Dr. Fate’s helmet through the physical and metaphysical world on a quest to bring Sue back to life (and learning from Dr. Fate that all magic comes at a cost).

The highlight so far has been seeing Ralph finally getting some resolution to Sue’s murder by confronting Jean Loring. Using the Spectre’s powers, the two travel back in time to Ralph’s house (I know, they’ve already retconned part of “Identity Crisis” so that it happens in a house instead of what was clearly an apartment) the night Sue was murdered. The best part is that Ralph forces Jean to be sane, so that she doesn’t have the “excuse of insanity”… which I took to be a mild dig at Brad Meltzer’s feeble excuse for Jean’s actions. No, strike that…the BEST part is when they first appear back in time and bump something before Ralph makes them intangible, thus finally explaining why Sue heard a bump. See? It wasn’t just a red herring to throw us off the trail…it was proactive retroactive continuity! Meltzer wasn’t jerking us around, he just set up a story that wasn’t even conceived of at the time!

So, so far I’ve been fairly satisfied by Ralph’s journey, even though the character is still pretty much wrecked. They could bring back Sue tomorrow and it wouldn’t be the same two characters I know and love. In fact, Ralph as he is being written just doesn’t even seem like the character I knew. He’s almost mean, and terribly self-centered.

Then we come to this week’s story…and I’m not really shocked, but I am disgusted. Ralph meets Wonder Girl in Metropolis and he’s drinking from a flask! Now, I was a little disappointed that Gerard Jones made Ralph Dibny a drinker back in Secret Origins #30, but as I got older I realized it was probably because Jones and other writers see Ralph and Sue as very comparable to Nick and Nora Charles, and Nick drinks like a fish. OK, so Ralph drinks at parties and special occasions, I can accept that. But here he just looks like a drunken bum. Ah, wait… maybe he’s just drinking water. He must need to have some sustenance while traveling with Dr. Fate. Or maybe he’s drinking gingold, which he’d need to have in a travel container and a hideable flask would make sense. He has gingold extract which he is carrying with him, since he used it on a demon. (Ahem! We’ll ignore the fact that it only works on a small portion of people, whereas the vast majority of people are deathly allergic to it… plus Ralph has the meta-gene, as shown in Invasion #3…AND demons aren’t human.) Perhaps I’ll turn the page and he reveals it’s gingold when he stretches again.

Oh, no, wait. Panel 7. Ralph offers the flask to Wonder Girl, and she sniffs it and says, “Eeew. No.” So it must be something awful. Great. So Ralph’s gluggling down cheap liquor.

WAIT A MINUTE. Cassie Sandsmark is underage! Ralph just offered liquor to a minor? I’m assuming that DC made her 18 so that they weren’t showing an underage sex scene in the Teen Titans Annual #1…and yes, I’m still puzzled as to how Cassie and Kon-El could suddenly be 18 before the One Year Later jump when Robin is barely driving age…but the drinking age is still 21.

And the very next word balloon is a bit of editorial butt-covering when they realized that calling it the “Cult of Conner” means they’re jeopardizing Conner’s and possibly Clark Kent’s secret identities, so in a cumbersome bit of exposition, Cassie mentions that it was a good thing that that’s just what Ralph and Cassie were calling it in private. Jeez, how bad can a single panel in a nine-panel page get?

It was my understanding that Mark Waid was the guy handling Ralph’s part of the story. I have to say, if that’s true, this isn’t what I expected from the guy who wrote one of the best Elongated Man birthday mysteries ever.

On to other parts of the book. I’m guessing Xaos is swarming with insects, and there are only so many names to go around, since the original Xax of Xaos died fighting the Qwardians and Guy Gardner’s criminal gang in Green Lantern #198. Let’s hope there’s another Xax his ring can go to.

And while we’re talking about editorial butt-covering, the cover of this issue has the subheading “The First Death of Captain Comet.” I’m guessing that there was some mis-communication and they thought they were free to kill him off, not knowing about Mystery In Space which made a dramatic deal about Captain Comet dying.

Let’s get on to the big clue this week: Ralph Dibny has figured out who is under the mask of Supernova. Here are the clues:
* WHO it is under the mask “makes sense”
* The powers were not expected of the person, until Ralph figured out the “one device that could tie them all together”
* Superman being out of the picture was the key. “Two Keys if you want to be cute about it.”
* He addresses Ralph as “Ralph” and wishes him good luck. (So it’s not Lex Luthor.)
* The person under the mask does not know Wonder Girl well

Who could it be? The person requires a device of some kind. I’m wracking my brains…and I’m sure some of my guesses are impossible if I were to go back through every issue looking for who is around when Supernova appears. Here are my guesses:

* A Green Lantern
* Mr. Miracle
* Steel
* Sinbad

I’m sure none of them are correct. What do you all think?
*

Review of Civil War # 1-2 (spoilers)

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Well, I finally read Civil War # 1-2 (waiting for the next printing of # 3), and I have some thoughts on what I’ve read. The standard spoiler warnings apply, but also be warned that this is a long article, nearly five thousand words long.

In the first couple sections, I make some points about crossover stories in general, before I plunge into Civil War itself. You can certainly skip ahead, but I do come back to the points made in the beginning sections; that’s why they’re there. :-)

So here we go!

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Cinnamon: El Ciclo

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

I’m going over a few of the better books I bought from Scott Beatty during his last clearance sale. “Cinnamon: El Ciclo” is fantastic! I wish I’d bought this and supported it at the time. It’s a taught thriller with compelling characters, plenty of violence and grit (though without anywhere near the swearing and gore you will read in the average DCU comic these days!)… and I just wish I’d known it was a five-parter and Scott was only selling me the first four installments! Now I’m going out of my mind to try to find part 5. Wish I lived closer to “The Source”; guess I’ll be picking it up in October.

The Plot in brief: a young woman named after the DCU’s old western character (what a simple way to explain the new character!) goes on a crusade against the band robbers who shot her father…and ends up being hunted by a daughter of one of the men she killed. Cinnamon goes to make her last stand, not knowing that her quarry is currently involved in a high-profile runaway case.

If you find this in a dollar box or something, grab it. This thing ought to be adapted into a low-budget movie! It’s just the right length and certainly reads like one.

Here’s what happens when you neglect a comic character

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Justice League of America #1 debuted today. Brad Meltzer’s story is off to a slow start, typical of the “write for the trade” style. Sure, once it’s all assembled, there will be action in the story, we just don’t get to see it in this installment. That said, it makes for an intense read with some touching moments and solid drama, and I’m especially pleased to see the attention paid to some second-string characters I’ve loved for years, namely The Metal Men and Red Tornado.

First off, the Metal Men. I’m somewhat glad that the Infinite Crisis simply wiped out the 1993 mini-series and re-established that they are robots, not human souls trapped in robot form.

And the “somewhat” is only on account a’ I had a pitch to bring the Metal Men back and it too is now scrap alongside the “Merry Adventures of Elongated Man and His Wife”, my Captain Carrot mini, my Suicide Squad focused on Captain Boomerang, my story about Robin camping with his dad, my Blue Beetle mini that would make Ted a serious character again, my plans for a Guy Gardner Warrior mini and everything else I ever planned to pitch to DC. You know how Ronald Reagan said he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left him? I’m still a lifelong DC fan, but over the last several years, the DCU has pretty much moved beyond anything I’d want to write. Forget “want”…almost none of the characters I’d want to write are available or in the same shape they were in before. The only thing left in my pitch pile for ideas I could throw at Dan Didio if the situation came up are Elseworlds stories, and DC isn’t really doing those anymore. At this point, I’m pretty much a mere spectator…and at $3 a pop for everything on the stands, maybe not even that for much longer. (I’m unemployed, remember?)

So…ahem…sorry for the diversion. Back to the Metal Men. I detailed back in my first contributions to Fanzing about how the Metal Men had been through numerous revamps mainly due to the differences in writers and the progression of the initial concept. The early issues of Metal Men had the characters as solid robots with very limited shape-changing abilities. I even remember an early issue where they made a point about how one was exposed to enough flame to start melting; this is radically different from the robots today who change shape at will. (What’s the big deal about Mercury being liquid if they all can liquefy, I wonder?) Although years before such ideas as nanorobotics and liquid metal T-1000s, it came to be accepted that the robots weren’t the ordinary kind with nuts, bolts and wires, but were solid metal clear through. It’s pretty batty to insist that their outer casings’ properties would apply to their interiors if they aren’t made of the same metals.

John Byrne finally redefined them very well in Action Comics, where it was revealed that the robots were made of a special Magnus polymer which duplicated the properties of the metal assigned by the Responsometer… and the Responsometers were shown to be microscopic. Well done, John! Then this was ignored in the 1993 mini, when the responsometer became the size of a casaba melon.

And now, in 52 (or should I say “then” in 52?) the Metal Men are back to being solid metal robots with wires and hoses and nuts and bolts, and they can be disabled just by taking off their heads. This is actually the first time in Metal Men history that separating their heads deactivates them.

Why are the Metal Men brought back only to be feebs? They’re not feebs! They could be one of the coolest teams around if they were written right. Argh!

This is one of the problems with being a minor neglected character. Here’s another:

How old is Traya? You know, Traya, who was adopted by Red Tornado and his “wife” Kathy Sutton when RT found her in a war zone way back in issue 152 of Justice League of America from 1978? Believe it or not, she actually looked to be about 12 years old in her first appearance! They moved the age back a bit when she was brought back to the USA and adopted, but let’s be charitable and say she was as young as 7.

Now, granted, there’s that 10-year timeline. Even there, when it was written back during Zero Hour, six years would have passed between Traya’s introduction and the “present”, and the present is many years back. If Traya was seven when she was adopted, she’d have been a budding pre-teen during Zero Hour. And how many years have passed since Zero Hour? During the time since then and now, the Justice League has gone through a whole ‘nother run. And let’s not forget, the DCU just threw on a whole whopping ‘nother year!

Even within “Young Justice”, Traya went from a little kid watching Pokemon to a small teenager attending a private school…and that was with the same writer doing the stories!

I don’t know how many “years” have passed, but here’s what’s happened in the DCU during the time that Traya appeared up til now:

  • Robin went from a freshman in college to splitting with Batman to becoming Nightwing to a cop in his late 20s.
  • Firestorm’s Ron Raymond went from a high schooler (I don’t think he was even a senior) to a college student, to a famous male model, to a senior respected hero, to dead.
  • Booster Gold was years away from his first appearance, let alone 20 years of stories that have happened since then.
  • The JLA was still in their satellite. Since then, there’s been JLA Detroit, JLI (Giffen’s era), the post-Zero Hour sucky team, the Morrison era, five years of post-Morrison stories and a skipped year where they don’t exist.

Traya has to be about 15 now. Instead, she’s three feet tall and looks to be about five years old!

No matter how flexible you want the DCU timeline to be, I don’t think kids can age backwards.

P.S. According to the Unauthorized Chronology of the DCU, Traya’s story occurred in “Year Nine” and we are now in “Year 23”, so Traya would be drinking age about now! Mind you, that’s unofficial and I think the timeline there is too literal to work, but even if you cut it in half, there’s no way Traya is as young as she appears in JLA #1.


UPDATE
: I just re-read it and noticed another thing. Lian, Arsenal’s daughter, who was BORN several years after Traya was adopted, now looks to be about three or four years old.

REVIEW: “Cobb: Off The Leash”

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

Cobb I promised my bud Beau Smith that I’d review his comic “Cobb: Off The Leash” when it came out, and I apologize that I haven’t had time to do so til now. And yes, I said buddy. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you all that I like Beau Smith, he and I correspond by e-mail from time to time, and by the time we finally meet at some convention I’ll probably have enough “buy you a beer” offers from him to pass them around the entire bar. I even named a prison after him in “Metro Med” #0. So I may as well admit, I’m fully compromised here. Beau’s been warned that I’m going to be honest with what I like and dislike about the book, because my first commitment is to the Monitor Duty readership. I just wish I hated the book because a bad review is the only kind you all will believe is genuine.

Unfortunately for “my credibility”, and fortunately for Beau, “Cobb: Off The Leash #1” is intense, joyfully violent, quite humorous and full of promise that the two remaining issues will just be even more packed with excitement now that the setup is done. Cobb has been getting great reviews and there are only a few hundred copies of the first issue left.

Short review: Go buy it right now.
Long review: Read on!

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Civil War #2

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Marvel’s new event seems to be returning to the sad standard set by debacles like “Day of Judgement” and “Genesis” in the nineties. The plot developments have, no doubt, been interesting, but the pretty pictures and “big event” status of the book don’t hide the fact that the pagecount and actual CONTENT is pretty light, and that the dialogue and character development is shallow and mediocre. All of Marvel’s icons seem to have been stripped of their past and backstory, left only with the basic characterization that defined them in the ’60s. Reed Richards is far too absent-minded; it’s like an issue of The Thing given life. The problem is, that book treats Reed and Sue as a comic foil for Ben’s own adventures. To have Richards portrayed so one-dimensionally in a major company crossover speaks to a problem with the writing.

[YE OLDE EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve moved the rest of this post to an extended entry just in case you haven’t heard about what happens at the end of Civil War #2.]

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