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