Friday, May 30, 2008

Trade Secrets: Crayon Shinchan Vol. 1

So tell the truth. You love Shinchan, right? I mean, what's not to love? He's a five-year-old obsessed with, well, pretty much exactly the same thing that obsesses most guys whose ages end in the number five (15, 25, 35, you get the point): what happens under people's clothes.

OK, maybe I should back up for a second. For anyone who hasn't turned on Cartoon Network lately, Crayon Shinchan (or Crayon Shin-chan, or simply Shin-Chan) is an anime series based on the manga of the same name by Yoshito Usui. The show (and the manga) centers around the antics of five-year-old Shinnosuke Nohara, an adorable little creep who makes life hell for his poor parents (as well as anyone in the immediate vicinity). Shin-chan is always doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, whether it's drawing an elephant face on his crotch (I don't really need to explain this one, do I?) or hiding in his principal's car, then threatening to claim attempted kidnapping.

Often, the anime gets you to laugh (in disbelief, if nothing else) simply at the absurdity of Shin's sheer audacity, and the manga functions in much the same way. This inaugural volume consists of short 3-page chapters, most of which are standalone "stories, all united under the title "Mom and I Are Best Friends." Understandably, most of the hijinks here revolve around Shin torturing his poor mother, Misae, though another cycle of stories, "Kindergarten Is Paradise," begins toward the end of this volume.

The black and white artwork is crude (though there are 8 pages of color), but that crudity is very much in keeping with the vulgarity of Shin himself. A more refined style probably wouldn't make this nearly half as well.

A warning note: Crayon Shinchan may look as if it's a book about a kid drawn for a kid, but it's absolutely not. CMX clearly labels the book with a parental advisory sticker, and the advisory is warranted. Crayon Shinchan features nudity, sexual humor, and adult language. This one's decidedly NOT FOR KIDS!


In addition to the comics material here, there's the standard "you're-reading-this-book-the-wrong-way" page, as well as two short text features, one on the manga itself and one introducing the Nohara family.


All in all, if you're looking for a little lighthearted (but naughty) fix of Shinchan, it's hard to go too far wrong with this title. This certainly won't be to all tastes, but if it's even remotely up your alley, I'd recommend picking this one up.

  • Yoshito Usui

  • Crayon Shinchan Vol. 1

  • DC Comics' CMX imprint, 2008

  • 122 pp.

  • 7.99 (paper)

  • ISBN 978-1-4012-1715-0

Monday, May 26, 2008

Trade Secrets: JLA Presents: Aztek the Ultimate Man

I've finally done it. I think.

I've finally made the switch from floppies to trades. Oh, don't get me wrong. I'll still pick up the occasional monthly book, but no longer will I spend $2.99 a pop for my five minute fix of comics crack. Now don't think for a minute that this wasn't a hard decision for me. I mean, it's not that I was buying a lot of books all that regularly anyway, but there's something about the satisfaction of that weekly trip to the LCBS that scratches a certain itch, you know?

Well, to accompany my momentous decision, I'm back with a new feature: Trade Secrets. What is Trade Secrets? Simple, really. I take a look at a recent trade and tell you what I thought about it. Neat, huh? And our inaugural guests in the Trade Secrets spotlight are none other than GRANT MORRISON (and mark millar), representin' and keepin' it real with DC's new JLA Presents: Aztek the Ultimate Man.

Now, those of you who remember Aztek can skip this next bit. Those of you who don't, well, here's the skinny: back in the day, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar co-wrote this short-lived series (10 issues) about Aztek, the Ultimate Man!!! (Sorry, got a little carried away there for a second.) The back cover copy has this to tell us about Aztek:

"Trained from birth, he is the pinnacle of human perfection, his unique armor giving him powers and abilities far greater than most of Earth's heroes. Like all those who came before him, his life has been dedicated to guarding against a great and ancient evil bent on the destruction of humankind. Like his predecessors, Axtek does not know when evil will strike...only that he must be ready when it does."

Dramatic and original, no? Alright, to be fair, there's no indication that Morrison and Millar are any more responsible for the cover copy than, say, Marketing, but it certainly points very clearly to one thing: the book trades (no pun intended), as much other work by both Morrison and Millar does, on its relationship to the standard tropes of superhero comics. (As if to underscore the metacomics approach often associated with Morrison, DC has chosen to highlight Morrison's role over Miller's, granting him "top billing" over the title, while Millar is relegated to second banana status down with the penciler [N. Steven Harris] and inker [Keith Champagne]. Further, they've tried to give this a little bit of mainstream cachet by associating it with the JLA -- probably not a bad decision, given the fact that Aztek's own title was unable to wrap up his storylines, leaving much of that burden to be carried by Morrison's run on the JLA, soon to be reprinted in DC's new Deluxe format.)

The book is set in one of the DCU's trademark fictional cities, in this case, Vanity. (Really? They couldn't come up with something a little more, um, believable? I mean, I know "you will believe a man can fly" and all, but my Coleridgean suspension of disbelief was wearing a little thin right away. It just seems a little...well, dopey.) In any event, Vanity is, as you might well surmise, "not a nice place." In fact, it's so "not nice" that new villain-types (most of them mind-numbingly dumb--but that's sort of supposed to be the point, 'cause it's metafictional, you know?--the Piper, Synth, Death-Doll, Fixit, the Lizard King, Deathgrip, Bloodhound, Tattoo, and AWOL) are positively popping out of the proverbial woodwork. This is the sort of nod towards "city-as-character" that was exploited to such good effect in James Robinson's Starman, but here it just feels a little flat.

Likewise, the story itself never seems to gather any real momentum, and it certainly isn't aided by N. Steven Harris' workmanlike pencils. There's some interesting layout work here, but on the whole the facial expressions are awkward and not very expressive. I was getting a sort of poor man's Jackson Guice vibe from the art, but, to be fair, I don't want to sour you on Harris' current work based on this particular trade. Heck, I don't even know what Harris' current work even looks like!


Well, that'd be a big fat nothing, and in the case of Aztek, a hero many buyers may not be familiar with, it's also too bad. A foreword or editorial note or even a marketing blurb telling a reader where to go for more Aztek-y goodness would have been a great service to the reader.


Borrow a friend's copy, but you can probably safely skip a purchase. Heck, you could probably even find the individual issues for far less than the cost of the trade.
  • Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, and N. Steven Harris
  • JLA Presents: Aztek the Ultimate Man
  • DC Comics, 2008
  • 240 pp.
  • 19.99 (paper)
  • ISBN 978-1-4012-1688-7

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Messiah Complex(ities)

They've been sitting in the "To Read" pile next to my bed for weeks now, staring at me with silent reproach, asking, "Why are you reading that DC Spotlight: Raven before us? We're an X-Men crossover. X-Men, dude! You know you'll like us better than that emo goth chick."

And they were. Better than Raven #1, that is. Which is not the same thing as saying I liked them. I wanted to like them. I really did. I have fond memories of the X-Men from "back in the day" (well, back in my day). I vividly recall my first issue of Uncanny X-Men (#167), received one Christmas as a stocking stuffer. It featured the wrap-up/epilogue to the Brood story (with lovely Paul Smith art) and guest-starred my second favorite teen team from the 1980s, the New Mutants. (Oh, Sam Guthrie, you hillbilly heartthrob, you.) This was when the X-Men as a "franchise" was still in its infancy, mind you, and a crossover didn't need to span a whopping thirteen parts, as "Messiah Complex" does. As I was saying, I wanted to like them. I really did.

And it's not that I disliked "Messiah Complex." There was a lot of fun, interesting stuff going on here. But, not having read the merry mutants for a while, I was led to believe (via editorial hype, of course) that this would be a great place to jump back on, as the mutant status quo Would Be Altered FOREVER! EVER! Ever! ever. er. (Wow, nice echo in here.) Well, in a world of a thousand dystopian futures (past) and endless incarnations of the Phoenix force as red-headed hotties, "forever" needs to be understood as a fairly flexible term. X-Men no more? Yeah, wait two issues.

Ah, but cynicism be damned. This was a valiant effort from almost all quarters, and in no way ranks with the atrocities that have been foisted on readers of the X-titles in the past (I'm looking at you, X-Tinction Agenda).
Some highlights?

  • The Purifiers' attack on Cooperstown (as depicted by Brubaker and Silvestri in the crossover's first chapter) is truly horrific. (Between them and the Church of Hala, the Marvel U's faith-based initiatives are really going great gangbusters.)

  • The Marauders are resuscitated as something approaching a genuine they should be. (Though Sinister's whole endless clone solution to the untimely deaths of villainous flunkies is starting to wear a little thin. Let's really let dead mean dead, okay, Joe?)

  • Silvestri and Tan look great on this stuff.

  • It's always good to see Warren Worthington back in action.

  • Layla Miller. Heartbreaking.

  • I'm looking forward to the Young X-Men book simply because the "New X-Men" kids are generally pretty engaging. A little emo sometimes, but hey, you'd be emo too if your classmates kept getting offed every other issue.

  • Scott, you're so...bad-ass. I love it.

  • Deathstrike. Fine with me. She talks too much.

  • Nice to (ever so briefly) see Forge. Even if he was unconscious.

Some lowlights?

  • Ramos and Bachalo look...not-so-great on this stuff. They're both entirely competent artists. They're just not working for me here.

  • Thirteen parts. Really? You really needed thirteen parts for this? Really?

  • Predator X. Talk about anti-climactic. Though using Pixie was an effective device for bringing the fight to the rest of the X-Men, this seemed a little pointless to me. And chewing on mutant corpses? Um...ew.

  • Cable and Lil' Red as the new Lone Wolf and Cub? Not really feeling it. Sorry. (Though I can't wait for the special 150th issue of his solo title when he has to explain puberty for her.)

  • Put the sorry-ass prophecies of Destiny to bed already! They make Mystique all teary, and I don't like my Raven teary. I like her being viciously amoral.

  • If one more depressing mutant asshole comes back from the future, I swear to God I'm gonna open mutant detention facilities myself. (I'm looking at you, Lucas.)

  • Really? Thirteen parts?

  • God, this stuff isn't even remotely new reader friendly. The recap pages are nice, but try to make sense of those flashbacks without any prior knowledge.

My biggest criticism of this crossover is that I think it might have been better served had the various threads been more self-contained. That is, the X-Factor stuff really could have stayed primarily in X-Factor, the New X-Men stuff in New X-Men, and so on. I can't see a particularly compelling reason (from an aesthetic makes perfectly good sense from a sales standpoint) for so thoroughly intertwining the narratives. The clarity of the various plotlines suffered as a result, I think.

Pity the poor X-titles. They're in the untenable position of trying to please a fanbase who have a great deal invested in the complex histories of the books, but it's this same complex history that renders them distinctly unattractive to new readers. It would be nice if these books could find a way of jettisoning some of their baggage without having to resort to either Skrulls or Mephisto to make it work.

Well, at least I can finally get to those Divided We Stand stories now. Almost caught up! Hooray!

Monday, March 10, 2008


There are days, and then there are days, you know what I mean? And then, every so often, there are MONTHS. Well, this has been a MONTH, no doubt about it, full of presentations and productions and more presentations, basically all things that are less than interesting to you, Gentle Reader, so I'll just dispense with any further explanation. Suffice it to say that I was gone. And now I'm...


Once again, 50/50 involves a trip to my LCBS (Monarch Cards & Comics), where, with the help of my assistant, the lovely and talented Ed (yeah, that's right, Ed, you're my assistant...who's a minion now, huh?!), I randomly select two comics from the 50-cent bins. Then, I pit the two unlucky titles against one another in an effort to satisfy your bloodlust, you savages. This week, 50/50 watches through the window as Marvel and Image get it on, with Micronauts #44 (1982) giving it to Common Foe #1 (2005).

Given my proclivities (careful, now), this would seem to be a simple match, right? 80s Marvel versus...well, Image. Not so fast. Let's take a quick look at that cover to Common Foe. Whose name is gracing those creator credits? Is that a Giffen I see before me? This could be trickier than I thought. Well, let's take a look, shall we?

Covers --

Micronauts (my pick): Two words - Gil Kane. 'Nuff said, right? Well, not quite. It's Gil Kane (and quite lovely Gil Kane), but the coloring is a little, shall we say, garish. We've got Marionette, Acroyear, and Bug featured here, charging toward the reader (who is placed in the position of the enemy, if the guns intruding at the bottom of the image are any indicator). Marionette waves a standard (a magenta standard, no less, which, given the red, yellow, and orange in her costume, is already a questionable decision), and the sky in teh background shades from red at the top to a light orange at the bottom. These colors are more at war with one another than the Micronauts are against the forces of Mari's brother, Force Commander (also identified in the issue's creative credits as then-editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter).

Common Foe (Ed's pick): A more muted color palette here sets off some moody artwork by Esad Ribic depicting a soldier being attacked by two creatures, a ruined plane in the background. It's a simple yet effective composition, with a nice lighting effect as the muzzle flash of the soldier's weapon illuminates his terrified face.

Round One: Micronauts - 0; Common Foe - 1

Story --

Micronauts: Without going into too much detail, the Micronauts were a band of tiny adventurers who inhabited the Microverse (makes sense, I suppose), though they occasionally came to Marvel Earth, as well. A licensed property (based on a line of toys from Mego), they existed alongside the Marvel Universe proper. Along with Rom, Micronauts was one of the longest-running of Marvel's licensed titles. Others included Shogun Warriors, Godzilla, and The Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior.

In any event, this issue finds the Micronauts' forces (composed at that moment of Devil, Bug, Nanotron, Microtron, Commander Rann, Marionette, and Acroyear) divided, Commander Rann, Devil, Nanotron, and Microtron battling Computrex (a living computer) and Professor Prometheus (a cyborg whose human "half," now dead, is well along in the decompsition process) on Earth, while Bug, Marionette, and Acroyear, fight the good fight in the Microverse. There's nothing incredibly innovative about the story (told here by Bill Mantlo and Gil Kane), but it's energetic and jam-packed, hardly a panel wasted. It's stories like these that really illustrate what comics were like pre-"decompression." There are explanatory captions and thought balloons and villains conveniently explaining how they survivied their last encounter with the heroes. It's all quite wonderfully old-fashioned. (Three inkers, though? Really? This is starting to seem more modern all the time.)

Common Foe: The copy on the back cover explains the premise best: "World War II. Amid the blood and chaos of the Battle of the Bulge, a battered squad of American soldiers and a platoon of German infantry do everything they can to kill each other. But to survive the night, the two enemies must come together and united (sic) against an ancient evil hell bent on destroying everything in its path." And now you know almost exactly as much as I know. This issue begins with the men on the run from the creatures, then flashes back to show the two forces (Allies and Axis) playing cat and mouse in a bombed-out urban landscape. None of these characters are provided much individuality, so I found it difficult to care about their individual fates, and the source of the supernatural silliness receives no attention here. All in all, not one of Giffen's better efforts. Nice work from artist Jean-Jacques Dzialowski, though, with some interesting layout choices.

Round Two: Micronauts - 1; Common Foe - 0

Oh, boy. We're all tied up. Time for a third round.

This is what I call the lightning round. It's sudden death, ladies and gents. I start with page one, and whichever one contains something that tickles me, there's our winner.

Micronauts: OK, done in one. Page one contains this gem of opening recap text: "Computrex lives! Professor Prometheus does not! Together, they've trapped those Micronauts who remain on Earth in the ruins of the Human Engineering Life Laboratories--H.E.L.L.!" How can you resist any group that would give themselves H.E.L.L. as an acronym. I know I can't.

*le sigh*

The real world needs to be more like the comics.

Well, that's another 50/50, and the little guys take it this time, the Micronauts triumphing over supernatural hijinks in WWII. Tune in next time when we set the heroes of the Greatest Generation against Garth Ennis. Yikes!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sublime Sounds

Five songs you really ought to hear:

Aceyalone - "Shango"
Air - "Cherry Blossom Girl"
Basement Jaxx - "Rendez Vu"
Jacques Brel - "Ne me quitte pas"
Chara - "Crazy for You"


This post inaugurates a new feature here on the blog: 50/50! What is this 50/50 of which you speak, you ask? Well, simple. I go to my LCBS. I randomly pull a comic from the 50-cent box; I ask my friendly neighborhood retailer (Hi, Ed!) to do the same. Then I buy the two books for a mere dollar and they beat the shit out of each other here in the blog. Nifty, huh? And awaaaay we go!

This week, the 50/50 Deathmatch is all-Image, as Hazard #4 (August 1996) goes head to head with City of Silence #3 (July 2000). Let's take a look, shall we?

Covers --

Hazard (my pick): a bland, unimpressive cover, a cop holding a gun to a woman's head in the foreground while a dark, leather-clad type comes toward him from the background. You know what, just go ahead and shoot her. I don't much care. This all seems to be happening under a pier. Very Baywatch.

City of Silence (Ed's pick): very design-oriented, large black bars letterboxing an image of a dreadlocked man thrusting his tattooed hands toward the reader. Nice-looking cover, though perhaps a slightly tighter logo would help clean this up a bit. The back cover gets a treatment too, with some crazy-making folks lookin' all bad-ass against a wild cityscape.

Round One: Hazard - 0; City of Silence - 1

Story --

Hazard: Oooo...nanotech (very 1990s), angsty hero, some sort of mob angle, a villainous couple aiming to make our hero their last project before they retire to California, and some OK hard-boiled dialogue. All of this is apparently linked somehow to the Wildstorm Universe, though I only got that from reading the letters page. And the recap for new readers is at the top of said letters page. At the back of the book. Thanks. All in all, a big mess o' mediocre, brought to you by Jeff Mariotte (Story) and Roy Allan Martinez (Pencils -- substandard mid-90s Image with a touch here and there of Berni Wrightson, though this may be due to Gerry Alanguilan's inks).

City of Silence: Dark future, cyberpunk, sex scene right off the bat, technomagick, Russian cannibal military werewolves?! What the hell? Who wrote--oh, Warren Ellis. Never mind. Actually, this was a really engaging story and, for being the third part of three, pretty easy to pick up on. Nice art from Gary Erskine, though D'israeli's ultra-limited color pallette doesn't do a whole lot for me. Another fun one from Mr. Ellis; nothing Earth-shattering, but fun nonetheless.

Round Two: Hazard - 0; City of Silence: - 2

Result --

KNOCKOUT! City of Silence easily walks away with this one. Good on ya, Warren. (And way to go, Ed!)

(P.S. Wikipedia tells me that City of Silence was initially meant to be an Epic publication called Silencers, but when Epic folded in the mid-90s, Silencers went with it. Until Image came along and rescued the project from obscurity.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bullet Points

  • Action Comics #861

Oh, if only I had an Interlac font handy to show my true appreciation. Thank you, Geoff Johns, for penning tales that are appreciative of continuity without being slave to it. Though this is Chapter 4 of an ongoing storyline that I've no other familiarity with, I was easily able to come in on this one and fully enjoy it. I've heard from some corners that the current Shooter run on Legion feels like the real return to greatness (I've yet to sample that), but this would certainly do for me in a pinch. As a child mostly of the Levitz and Giffen eras, I never really warmed fully to the reboots that returned the Legion to their "teen" roots, so it was nice to see the more adult Legion depicted here. I'm not sure I'm in love with the story itself so much as thrilled to see these characters again, but Johns tells a quick-paced tale with good action, some nice character moments (the Spider Girl/Radiation Roy interaction is particularly poignant), and one page that I could all too easily imagine penciled by Giffen (Storm Boy going under the knife). I don't really know the status of the various Legions currently appearing in the DCU, but it would be nice to think that there's a place (maybe even a clubhouse somewhere) for a Legion that's all grown up. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go get my ProFem prescription filled. (Kidding! Geez...)

Grade: B+

  • Jack of Fables #19

Bill Willingham: no-brainer. By which I certainly don't intend to imply that the man has no brain. Rather, if Willingham's name is in the credits, pick up the book, and chances are you won't be disappointed. This has been true for me since his Elementals days (if only some miracle would free up those characters!), and generally speaking, it holds true for his current DC output. Fables is a solid, fascinating title, and while I wasn't sure how well Jack would carry his own book, he's a pretty fun rogue to follow. That being said, however, this issue didn't make a whole lot of sense to this reader who hasn't checked out the book in some time. Little attempt is made to bring the reader up to speed, and while I'm not saying that every issue needs constant recap, some context would have been nice, particularly as this issue moves the characters all over Americana. That being said, this is an attractive, amusing book. I'd probably rate it a bit higher if I had any clue what was going on. Great Bolland cover!

Grade: B

"Age is not defined by years, but by regrets..."

If the above statement is indeed the case, then the Fighting Yank, the focal character for the #0 issue of the new Alex Ross/Jim Krueger book, Project Superpowers, ought to be a veritable Methuselah. And with good reason. As we discover in this introductory tale, Bruce Carter (the secret ID of the Fighting Yank), now an old man, is literally haunted by his past actions, "the things a soldier does." For the Fighting Yank stands as yet another instance of that much-loved son of comicdom, the Golden Age hero. (Though, truth be told, all of the characters present here are, apparently, heroes who have become "public domain." And far be it from me to, at this particular moment, interrogate the implications of the fact that the vast majority of superheroes, by and large emblems of the fight for justice, humanity, and common decency, belong to the "public" only insofar as the public dollar allows for their publication. Rather, it's the realm of the corporate that is most heroes' true domain. But, as Peter David might say, I digress.)

When I refer to the "Golden Age," of course, I mean specifically the era surrounding World War II, a period that holds an enduring position in the American imagination, as evidenced by the continuing spate of films and television documentaries about the period. I'm loath to speculate as to the reasons for our fixation on this particular moment, and others have done and will do a far better job of it than I can manage here. Suffice it to say, however, that the "Greatest Generation" still exerts its influence over our fantasy lives.

As far as superheroes are concerned, this has most commonly been inflected as a kind of nostalgia for a simpler era, a period when we knew who was good (we were, we being Americans) and who wasn't (the Axis powers clearly weren't). Of course, this has been problematized in a number of ways, and sometimes the thrill of nostalgia has existed side-by-side with a more critical historical understanding of the time. In superhero terms, we need look no further than Roy Thomas' fantastic evocation of the Golden Age in a couple of much-loved books from my youth, All-Star Squadron and its post-Crisis follow-up Young All-Stars. For instance, Thomas introduced Tsunami as a Japanese foe for the All-Stars, but later issues found her working with the group as they tackled the compexities related to the internment of Japanese Americans by the United States government. Marvel, of course, had its own Invaders (also a project from the fertile imagination of Thomas), a generally more straightforward rendering of the Golden Age, soon to return to the spotlight in a 12-issue Avengers/Invaders maxi-series spearheaded by...surprise! Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, and Stephen Sadowski, the team bringing you Project Superpowers. Weirdly enough, Marvel also has JMS' The Twelve, also a series about Golden Age heroes who find themselves in the modern world.

Oh, btw, did I mention that that's what this book is about? Golden Age heroes, among them such "stalwarts" as the Green Lama, Death-Defying 'Devil, the Flame, and the Mighty Samson, find themselves trapped in, of all things, Pandora's Box (!), ostensibly as the expression of hope. Well, without explicating the plot in its entirety, I'll give you this: Ross and Krueger have crafted a winning introduction to their story, presenting a central character, the Fighting Yank, who is either terribly misguided (though well-meaning) or straight-up nuts. Without explaining who most of these characters are, the creative team has done a nice job providing us with a primer to the mood and feel of the series, if not to the specifics of the host of characters who promise to be a part of the story as it unfolds. (And I don't mean to slight the artistic end of things here through omission; the book, with the exception of some excessive computer coloring effects, looks beautiful. And priced at one dollar for a full-length story, it almost feels like Golden Age prices!)

Each of these series (and I guess I'll have to wait to pass judgment on Avengers/Invaders) seems to exhibit some anxiety about the state of contempoary heroism and, indeed, contemporary society, by juxtposing supposed Golden Age sensibilities against more "modern" attitudes. It remains to be seen whether these gems from yesteryear can remain untarnished by the demands of a modern era, but it seems just possible that these "old" heroes, unburdened (at least initially) by the weight of regret, could be the keys to allowing us to reconnect, not with the jaded weariness of an aging readership, but with that confident vigor of a genre finding its voice.
Grade: A-

(Incidentally, a shout-out to Ed, wonderretailer and fellow All-Star fan, of Monarch Comics, my LCBS. If you're not tuning in to the Monarch Comics Briefing, over at Fist Full of Comics, you're missing out on a great listen, as the always-entertaining Ed and Victor tell you what's what. And while you're there, post on the friendly boards! Tell 'em Celephais sent ya!)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Bullet Points

I should have mentioned before my previous post that I'm coming to these reviews "fresh," in the sense that I haven't followed a title regularly for years. Consequently, the only information I bring to current storylines is what I've gleaned from comics news on the internet. So, if I ever seem to harp on about accessibility, it's only because I don't know what the hell's going on.

  • Countdown #13: "Only a human could believe such nonsense."
Well, suffice it to say that this series didn't turn out to be the critical darling DC might have hoped for. Slow-moving plotlines that haven't intersected have resulted in a LOT of online criticism (which doesn't necessarily translate into sales terms, of course, but...). This issue's story focuses on the final fate of Earth-51, about which I know next to nothing, other than that Superboy-Prime ("Shut up! Shut up! I am not a boy! I'm a man! A man! I'm--I'm SUPERMAN!!!!" -- Sure is a lot of exclamation points, Superb--uh, Superman, sir.) is pretty peeved that Monarch has popped in for a visit, rolling out heat vision and whoopass rather than the welcome wagon. A lot of bombastic dialogue follows, and Red Robin gets his Punisher on. What should take maybe 10 pages fills an entire issue. All I'm sayin' is, maybe this countdown could have started from a lower number, like, say, 12? Art: serviceable.

Grade: C

  • Countdown to Adventure #6 (of 8): "I love it when the sexy ladies talk tough..."
You know what? So do I, and plenty of sexy ladies (Alanna Strange, Starfire, Ellen Baker, even little Aleea Strange--OK, so that last one's not sexy, but...) get to do exactly that in the lead story. There're some crowd-pleasing one-liners in this book ("Step away from my husband or I will end you." "Bye-bye, Mister vicious son-of-a--"), and it's a reasonably satisfactory action romp. Writer Adam Beechen makes all of the characters sound remarkably similar, though. This is the worst sort of contemporary television writing, characters drawing from some kind of weird collective unconscious rather than channeling their own personalities. Nothing to get too excited about. (Though I always love me some Starfire.)

Excitement seems to be the name of the game in the Forerunner backup, however, as the titular character takes Golden Eagle (and I mean takes) as a lover. It feels the teensiest bit prurient. (Not that I'm a prude or anything...oh, who am I kidding, I'm a total prude.) Not much idea what's going on here, though Adam Dekraker's solid inks over Fabrizio Fiorentino's pencils provide a little more kick than the polished but bland art in the main story. I'd be most happy if this book actually counted down to a new launch of Adventure Comics. It'd be a blast to have a solid anthology title set in the DCU.

Grade: B-

  • The Death of the New Gods #5 (of 8): "Now that indeed is a sad and long story."
And so Kirby's most well-known DCU creations rage, rage against the dying of the light. You ask me, it's about time, really. More well-known creators have tried to revive this moribund franchise (without much success) than just about any other set of characters. Without the insanity of Kirby's astonishing inventiveness and take-no-prisoners artistic approach, Orion and the gang have had a hard time of it in the DCU. We'll always have the Fourth World epic, but it may truly be time to let most (if not all) of these characters go. Some new wrinkles regarding the Source seem to be at the heart of this particular installment, and a match between guest star Superman and Apokoliptians Kalibak and Mantis (love that costume) serves as the title bout.

It's always a pleasure to see Jim Starlin's work, here taking on DC's cosmic mainstays, but this story, like Countdown, also feels like it's suffering from the bloat.

Grade: B-

  • Green Lantern #27: "I trust the Guardians as much as they trust me."
The little blue dudes are batshit crazy. Who watches the watchmen, indeed? It's about time someone takes out these little fascists. At the moment, Green Lantern, in his role as interstellar cop, serves as an interesting counterpoint to what Marvel's doing with Iron Man. Both men are representative of the power of an institutional establishment, an establishment that may be more interested in order than it is in justice. In any event, there are some interesting questions underpinning this character, and it's clear that Johns has no intention of shying away from the complexities while still delivering an action-packed adventure tale.

I'm not totally sold, however, as it's the details (Scarecrow's near-brush with the Sinestro Corps--not sure what's happening with his clothes on pages 4 and 5, though; Sinestro's chilling presence, also noted as a high point over at the Absorbascon) that are more compelling here than the actual plot itself. I'll be interested to see exactly what the Alpha-Lanterns are capable of.

Grade: B

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"No one can get in, right?"

And with that, Grant Morrison (via Joe Chill) ably describes the accessibility of Batman #673.
I mean, damn. If I hadn't been reading comics off and on for the past 30 years (not to mention faithfully perusing comics news on the web), I wouldn't have the slightest idea what's going on in this issue. As it is, I can sort of/kind of/barely follow what's happening here. Sure, I can always check out synopses of previous issues online, but for one of DC's flagship titles, you'd think they'd make it a little bit easier on a fella.

As it is, it appears that Bruce has suffered a heart attack. Consequently, the issue devotes itself to the tried and true trope of the near-death experience: a fragmented journey through the Bat-psyche that potentially sets our hero up for a change of "heart." While the origins of Bruce's psychological obsession have been well documented over the years, Morrison's treatment, as obsessive as Batman himself in its relentless circling around motifs of death and rebirth, both literal and figurative, serves as the first stage, at least, of a literary version of the ritual described by Morrison on the story's first page: "During a seven-week retreat known as Yangti, the practitioner undergoes an experience designed to simulate death and after-death." Tony Daniel's art depicts a monk (?) partially silhouetted in an arc of light, a curvilinear form that Daniel cleverly carries into the next panel, the S-curve continuing as light falling across Bruce's face in closeup. The accompanying text in this panel reads: "And rebirth, too."

POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD! (Ready for rumors, kids?)

If Rich Johnston's reports for Lying in the Gutters at Comic Book Resources are to be believed (and they most often are), Batman either was or is headed for the big sleep. This could, of course, be as temporary as any comic book death typically is, but with Morrison heading up 2008's ominously titled Final Crisis, it seems entirely possible that DC could be preparing for a change of somewhat greater magnitude. By going back to the beginning (the murder of the Waynes, Batman's revenge on Joe Chill, etc.), Morrison invokes that seldom seen sister of the "origin": the conclusion. After all, some would argue that every good story contains its ending in its beginning, and it certainly wouldn't be unlike Morrison to take such an interest in what we might call narrative deep structure.

The very structure of the tale here, the Batmen and Mites of Bruce's imagination existing on multiple levels of time and space, could even be seen as a precursor to what some are positing as the ultimate goal of Morrison's upcoming Crisis: the restoration of hypertime. And if, as Morrison has asserted, Final Crisis starts with the first boy (Anthro) and ends with the last boy (Kamandi), this issue of Batman certainly depicts some of the signature "middle boys": the young Bruce Wayne and the various Robins, their absence beautifully evoked by an image of the empty costumes in their trophy cases. (And yes, I'm well aware that Stephanie Brown was not a "boy." Her status as Robin, however, puts her in a strange liminal state not occupied by the "girls" of the DCU.)

Part of Morrison's concern here, then, seems to be an examination of the limits of mortality, not only for human beings such as Bruce, his parents, Jason Todd, or Stephanie Brown, but for more ephemeral concepts, such as the Batman himself (and, by extension, perhaps the DCU itself). The young Bruce Wayne "dies" with his parents only to be reborn as Batman, just as the death of Joe Chill seems to have birthed something else, a grander narrative that has led us to the image of the doppelganger, this figure holding Bruce captive, Hostel-style, at the issue's conclusion. (Based solely on my reading of this issue, there seems to be a strong case to be made that this is Joe Chill's own son, come to (re)enact some sort of parallel narrative to Batman's own origin, with Bruce taking on the role that Joe formerly filled.)

Anyway, enough of the heady stuff. How was the issue, you ask? Well, now that I've worked through all of the above, actually I'm a lot more inclined to say that it was really pretty darn good. Morrison entertains and challenges in the same breath, and Tony Daniel's art is usually effective and occasionally quite evocative.

Bruce's captor concludes the issue by asking "How lucky do you feel right now, Batman?" Well, Batman's probably feeling pretty unlucky right about now, but as a reader, I feel like I'm in pretty good hands. (Good thing I've been reading for 30 years, though.)

Grade: B+


...which, for you uninitiated, stands for New Kids on the Block. Or, in this case, kid. As in singular. As in there's just the one of me. Lucky you.

It's a new year (Well, a month into a new year -- 2008, for those of you either not paying attention or abusing your prescription sleeping pills), and that means that it's time for a new blog.

--Hold up a second. Really? Does the blogosphere really need another blogger? I mean, I spend half my day the way it is trying to keep up with the latest, the trendiest, the hippest and snarkiest. I'm not sure I've got time for another one.

Oh. Um. OK. I guess I was just...I mean, I thought...uh...

--And what's your blog about anyway? Please tell me this isn't another blog devoted to "reviewing" your favorite comic books/music/movies/RPGs/J-culture obsessions. That shit is tired, brah.

Well...oh. Really? I mean, I was kinda thinking I might...

--You might what? Bore me to tears by telling me all about your dumb love for Strangers with Candy, Coil, and Daniel Craig?

I'm sorry. Were you saying something? I got...distracted.

--Or maybe you'll try to show how "smart" and "political" you are by applying feminism or queer theory to pop culture, particularly the genre trash you geeks are so obsessed with.

Wow. Um...I You might want to, uh, move along or something, 'cause I really don't think you're going to like it here.

--Or wait. I've got it. You're going to post some extended essay on Rufus Wainwright, Robbie Williams, and the pressures of pop revivification.

Actually, I thought I'd just save that for class. See, I'm taking a course on Performing the Past, and...

--Jesus. You're a doctoral student, aren't you? Let me guess. Cultural Studies.

Actually, Theatre. Now step away from the comment button, or I may have to get nast--

--I'm out. Loser.

Gee, that wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.