Friday, September 30, 2011

The Bill September 28, 2011

With Fear Itself finally winding down (just in time for the next big event to wind up, I guess), I think it's time we talk about what is quite possibly the best tie in to the event. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll probably be able to guess what book I'm talking about. If not, well, you don't have to wait very long to figure it out.

The Best Fear Itself Tie-in:
Avengers Academy # 19
Writer: Christos Gage
Artist: Tom Raney

I've been in the tank for this book since it started and I have no signs of getting out. Start to finish, this book is amazing with rare missteps and this Fear Itself tie-in is no exception.

Let me start, though, with a negative. While I do think what they're doing is great, I also think they spent a little too much time on it. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, maybe it's a desire for the compression of old, but this was a story that should have been told in maybe three issues. As it stands, I'm mildly upset that the characters, their interactions, and their progression has been put on hold for so long. Dammit, I need closure on some of these people! COME ON!

Ahem. Sorry.

Moving on, what really impressed me about this run was how it made me care about the villains. I get that these 'Breakers of whatevers' are supposed to be foreign and we ought to be afraid because we don't know what they're saying, but it just doesn't work that way. Instead of being intrigued by the weird looking symbols, I find myself just skimming past and seeing whatever character more as a cypher than a person. Christos Gage fixed that problem: he just had them speak english.

It threw me as weird when it first happened, but as the storyline went on I was happy for the change. Suddenly, I was more afraid of these new gods (not to be confused with New Gods) and actually understood their motivations. And because of that, I was more scared for the kids and their survival. Weird how that all works...

So, this issue was the culmination of the conflict that's been ongoing for a few months. The kids, trapped in their miniature and rapidly expanding headquarters, were forced to make some pretty hefty, heroic decisions about how to survive. And because this is a book with no really big names, and the stars are all brand new characters, I was preparing for the worst. I don't want to spoil the end, but it was certainly unexpected.

In the end, Christos Gage delivered not just another great issue, but another great tie-in. Similar to his Thunderbolts Secret Invasion tie in, he was able to thread this book's storyline with the larger story in Fear Itself without making me feel like I'm getting only half the story. It's a hell of a talent, one that I wish some other writers had.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fantastic art of Tom Raney. I've been a big fan of his for a while, and this book was no exception. He's got a clean line and can do wide screen like the best of them, I hope he's on this book for a long time.

Now, with all this Fear Itself malarky over, I can't wait to this book to get back to the business of being awesome all on it's own.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

InsaNINETIES - Fighting American

I'm straight up confused at how Rob Liefeld was able to publish Fighting American without getting his ass sued. Seriously, just look at this cover and explain to me how this was okay with the Marvel legal department:

And that's just the start! Just wait to see what happens when we crack the cover!

First though, a bit of backstory. You see, back in 96, Marvel was in dire economic straits and, in an effort to make some money, they farmed out a few characters to comic legends Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld (yes, he's a legend even if he's the butt of every comic joke on the interwebs). It was a very controversial move at the time, to say the least.

The deal was the two would get four books - Iron Man and The Fantastic Four for Lee; The Avengers and Captain America for Liefeld - and a year to do all the continuity-free stories they always wanted to do. It was like a proto-Ultimate universe, but without the option of the original recipe to fall back on. The results were a mixed bag.

While Lee's books were fine, Liefeld ran into scheduling and sales issues. That is to say his sucky ass books were late, and Marvel wasn't having any of it; they fired him.

Down, but not out, Liefeld did what any self respecting creative type would do and quickly respun his plots and pages into this:

At which point he was promptly threatened with legal action by the powers that were at Marvel. After what I can only assume must have been some ridiculous negotiations, Marvel agreed to let Liefeld release his book as long as he altered the costume a bit and never had the American in question throw his shield. The result was Fighting American:

"But," I hear you saying, "you said you were surprised that Marvel didn't sue him. Sounds like they threatened and he relented. End of story." (sidenote: you should really stop talking to your computer, people are going to think you're crazy)

That's the thing, I thought that was the end of the story too until I picked up an issue from a quarter bin and saw this hulking brute:

Followed quickly by these familiar commandos:

And not to mention, Fighting American's spunky girl sidekick:

The book is littered with blatant Marvel rip-offs and no one said a word about it!

Crazy, right? It's like Marvel focused on the character on the cover, that they totally ignored the ones underneath it. I'm honestly shocked, and kind of impressed, that Liefeld got away with it. Not that it mattered really.

Fighting American is like most knock-off books: incomprehensible and generic. In the issue I had, the second of his entire run, he fought The Hulk Smash before indulging in a ten page flashback and ultimately deciding to retire as Fighting American.

Ultimately, Fighting American met the same fate as Doom's IV, Bloodstrike, Prophet, and (probably) The Infinite: Obscurity. It's too bad too, Fighting American could have been a real classic....

I'm lying. But it could have been alright...

Okay! It would've been mediocre at best...

Fine! It would have been terrible. I just wanted to see him to more crazy Marvel knockoffs. A blue and orange Iron Man, an all-black Spider-Man, or a Red Goblin? The possibilities are ENDLESS and would have been have been ripe for late aught's blogosphere snark.

Sigh... A man can dream, right?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

And Now, Bears with Lasers

That is all.

Stolen from an unknown issue of the Buck Rogers series by Scott Beatty and Carlos Rafael. I think I'll go buy the series first thing tomorrow.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Bill September 22, 2011

Typically, my favorite books are the ones that operate on the fringes of their respective universes. While there's some merit to the talent on the bigger books, I find that those fringe books are the ones that chances are really taken and real change can take place. This week, I had roughly four of those types of books come out (along with some bigger books), but only one really took those said chances. Which one am I talking about? Come check me after the title and find out.

Not Your Ordinary Teen Book:
Vengeance # 3
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Nick Dragotta

Hands down, this is one of the most baffling, challenging books I've read in a long time. Ostensibly, it's a book about an underground, neo Teen Brigade, but in practice it's much more... complicated.

I'll be totally honest with you, I had no idea what was going on the first time I read this issue. It's so dense and obtuse, it borders on incoherence. On a second read, in sequence with the previously released issues, the book begins to make more sense, but not much more. I don't mean that in a bad sense, more that there's an ongoing mystery that, three issues in, they haven't revealed the major aspects of, but things are building to... something.

The weirdness of Joe Casey aside, what brings me back to this book is the stellar art from Nick Dragotta. A weird mix of Marcos Martin and Frank Quitely, with a dash of Steve Ditko, he imbues the characters with a classic look focused through a modern day lens. His line work is creative, clean, and perfectly suited for the material.

I honestly don't know what to think about this one. On the one hand, it's reliance on big trippy visuals and its heady plot mean it's definitely not for everyone. On the other, there's something about it that just intrigues me. For how whacked out all the ideas are, the book is very firmly planted in the Marvel Universe and adds a juicy new layer to everything.

I can't in good conscious give this book a full on approval, but I can't give it a bad review either. In the end, it'll come down to execution. So far, I'm down for the ride, I'll let you know how it works out.

Hopefully I survive the experience. See you next week.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wolverine is a Creepy Old Man

Ol' Logan's creepy, feral turn 'courtesy' of Wolverine #105 by Larry Hama and Val Semeiks. And don't worry, they find Mr. Winky eventually...

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Definitive Star Wars Viewing Order

Since the release of Episode III, Star Wars fans everywhere have argued about in what order n00bs should watch the movies. Some argue that you should watch them numerically, 1-6, an experience the story the way it was meant to be told. Others argue that you shouldn't start with the shitty ones and should watch them 4-6 and 1-3. Hell, some argue you should just ignore the prequels all together. I, however, argue that such linear approaches to watching these modern myths lessen their impact and have devised my own, dare I say perfect, viewing order: 4, 1, 2, 5, 3, 6.

The crux of this order comes from the moment in Episode II where Anakin loses his hand. In the theater I remember being upset that there wasn't more of a moment for Anakin's loss of limb like there was for Luke. I couldn't believe they would drop the ball on one of the most connective moments between father and son. "Foul," I cried out, "George Lucas has lost his damn mind!"

And then it hit me: It doesn't matter if Anakin loses a hand. It only matters that Luke does because it explicitly shows him on the same path as his father.

So it got me thinking about how to watch these movies when they were all finished. Obviously if I watched Empire before Clones, I would want a big deal made of Anakin losing his hand. However, if I watched Clones (and by extension Sith) before Empire then the magical "I am your Father" moment and the lead up to it is lost. So I took a page out of the non-linear storytelling that Tarantino loves so much and came up with my order: 4, 1, 2, 5, 3, 6.

Let's break it down by movie, shall we?

Episode IV: A New Hope

Let's just cut to the chase: A New Hope is everything that a fan wants from a Star Wars movie. It has action, romance, space battles, lightsaber battles, quippy one liners, and truly fantastic set pieces. If this movie doesn't get your motor running, you need to check your pulse because you might be dead. It's the perfect introduction to the larger world that is Star Wars with enough hints to get you hooked, but with enough resolution to make you satisfied by the end.

This movie establishes that Obi-Wan and Anakin were friends in a more civilized age, fought in the clone wars, and ultimately that Anakin was killed by Darth Vader. It sets the stage for a lot of things that, if seen in numerical order, might not jive as well as it would as an introduction.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Operating as a flashback, Phantom shows us the world that Obi-Wan hinted at in A New Hope. Seen on it's own, or first, it might scare people off with it's wooden acting and confusing character choices, but with a bit of investment from a previous movie Menace becomes much more engaging to watch.

You know, for all the shit it gets, Menace isn't that bad. It's the only happy chapter of the saga and acts as a nice contrast to the rest of the movies. A contrast you'll see almost immediately with the next chapter.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Here's where things start getting fun and/or dark. Still in flashback mode, Clones illustrates the friendship and friction that Obi-Wan and Anakin had. You see the flares of that Skywalker impetuousness, the Skywalker compassion, the start of the Clone War, plenty of action, and a hint of despair.

It's here that you start to see the beginnings of The Empire, the tragedy of Anakin's path, and the threads start coming together.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Back to the "present", we find Luke on the next leg of his journey. Without the guiding hand of Obi-Wan, Luke is sent to train with Yoda who is more than reluctant to continue with him. Yoda thinks he's too old (which has been set up by him making the same argument about Anakin in Episode I and all the younglings in Episode II), too headstrong, and, probably, too whiny.

While Luke trains there are hints to his connection with Vader and explicit examples of him acting just like Anakin. So when Luke rushes in to save his friends because he just loves them so much (similar to Anakin in Episode II) and as a result gets his ass beat by a Sith Lord (again, just like Anakin), you expect that Vader is going to make another notch on his 'Skywalkers killed' belt. Then, right when you know that killing blow is going to happen, Vader drops the truth and shatters Luke's (and the audience's) world. Seething with questions of how such a thing could happen, it's time to turn to Episode III.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

With the idea of tragedy and betrayal lodged in our minds, we turn to Revenge of the Sith. Here we see Anakin and Obi-Wan fighting side by side in the Clone Wars, we watch a conflicted Anakin make terrible decisions while stumbling down his dark path, and ultimately Anakin's rise as Darth Vader.

Watching it this way, you feel Anakin's sadness as he's put into the suit, but not in a way that disturbs the reveal in Empire. Further, the birth of the twins isn't such a big deal because now you know their parentage (the Leia thing is admittedly still a bit wonky, but you can't win them all, right?)

Finally, with all the backstory in order we turn to the grand finale.

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

The greatest thing about Jedi, to me, is Luke's ambiguity. From the beginning he's dressed like his father, freely choking people, and generally on the verge of headed to the dark side. All the way until the end and his big showdown with Vader in the presence of The Emperor you're not entirely sure what side Luke's going to come down on. In the end you realize that he represents equal parts of the light and the dark, he's the balance of the force. And, as foretold back in Episode I, Anakin 'returns' to bring that balance to the forefront by killing The Emperor and, at the same time, ensuring his own demise.


And there it is, the complete Saga virtually all plot twists intact and all the movies represented, perfect for the uninitiated viewer. Now if you could only find someone who's been living in a cave all their life so they'd be legitimately surprised by these overly spoiled twists....

The Bill September 16, 2011

If you've been following the comic news sites like I do, you'd think that DC was the only company out there with a major shakeup of their publishing line. Somewhat obscured by the fanboy anger at the DC reboot, Marvel released it's attempt at a major shakeup. One guess what I'm talking about. Come check me after the logo to find out just how right you are.

The Big Change:
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli

True story, this comic was the first polybagged issue I've had to open in a good ten years. Suffice to say, I'm not as good preserving the bag as I once was. I swear they used to be easier to open.


So hey lookit that, after months of hype and leadup, the new 'blatino' Spidey has finally hit the scene. Huzzah! Is it a clinic on how to reinvigorate a franchise without totally alienating the core fanbase? Or does DC have the upper hand in this round of universal shakeup? The answer, honestly, is a little of both.

The good stuff about this issue is very good. The issue starts a nice little setup scene set in the past with Norman and an underling as they try to recreate the original OZ spider in a neat bit of symmetry with the first first issue a decade ago. The story jumps forwards a few months and we meet Miles, a runt of a kid with two devoted and loving parents who desperately want him to have a better life than they've had. The familial interactions (with the parents and later an uncle) are fantastic. The characters are warm, the dialogue snappy, and best of all, nothing seems forced. And then, right when things were picking up speed, it ended.


I have a weird relationship with Bendis. I find that he has some truly fantastic ideas and can write some great characters, but I rarely feel satisfied after I read one of his books. Worse, I often feel cheated when I buy one of his monthly books because it feels like I'm only getting half a story. And that's the main problem with this issue: I felt like I only got half a story.

I get it; he's not writing for the issue, he's writing for the trade. Hey, that's great when you're hammering through an arc of Daredevil, but when you're working on the first issue of major new character that's going to be getting a ton of press, you really ought to write for the issue. As a long term reader, I get that Bendis probably won't put Miles in the costume until the fourth issue and while it bothers me, I'll still give it a chance. A new reader on the other hand, I don't know if they'll be as forgiving. They came for Spider-Man, promised to them on the cover and in the press, but all they got was some kid who gets bit by a spider.

This is in no way a bad issue, it's just a little disappointing in a way opposite of Justice League #1. Justice League was high on action and spectacle, but low on information and deep characterization, whereas Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is the reverse. Neither is totally right, both have their merits, but ultimately I'm worried about their ability to hook a new reader.

That said, the store this week was packed and I snagged the very last copy of this comic from the shelves, so something must be working. Here's hoping it keeps up, and that this run of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man lasts as long as the old.

The old Ultimate Spider-Man that ran for 130+ issues, not Ultimate Comics Spider-Man that only ran for 13 or so. Just to clarify.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lobo's New Look in 3 Panels

The three-ish panels to scar your brain courtesy of Lobo #13 by Alan Grant and Carl Critchlow. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to wash my eyes out with bleach

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Bill September 8, 2011

After a few weeks of going on and on about the biggest comics on the block, I thought it was about time I took things in a different direction. This week, no DC Reboot bashing (or praising, as I hear Action Comics #1 was pretty good) and no Marvel zombie-ing (although I could go on and on about Spider-Island: The Avengers if you want). Instead we'll focus on something that's not getting the press it deserves. Come check me out after the graphic and I'll fill you in.

The Best Comic Featuring a Cowboy And a Bear:
Reed Gunther # 4
Writer: Shane Houghton
Artist: Chris Houghton

This book was a hard one for me to resist.

Maybe it's my soft spot for Westerns, Buddy Movies, or big, fun concepts; there's something about Reed Gunther that I just really love. It's probably the fun, airy dialogue and the expressive and energetic artwork, that always does a lot to endear me.

I first heard about this book via a random internet posting (on either Comics Alliance or Bleeding Cool, I can't remember) from the creative team reminding the wider audience that "All Ages" does not mean "Just for kids". The ad urged comic stores not to drop the book into the pit of Archies, Marvel Adventures, and assorted Johnny DC books (AKA the books that will never sell) and instead place this book with all the other regularly selling books. Through it's simple, effective art work and
fun wordplay, the ad enticed me to search out the book in question and boy I'm glad I did.

Truth be told, I actually bought an issue a few weeks ago during a slow week. In that issue (the first issue), Reed and his bear companion (bearpanion?), Sterling, saved a pretty girl from a giant snake monster with a healthy dose of hilarity. It was a welcome reprieve to the Giant Crossovers I'd been getting, but I didn't have the instant desire to rush out and buy all the rest instantly.

As it turns out, this week was pretty slow and the new issue of Reed Gunther was out. Never being one with strong willpower when it comes to comics, I opted to check out the new issue to see if it got better. And boy am I glad I did.

The newest issue finds the titular hero (and his bearpanion!) in the wilds of New York City facing off against Monsters, Government henchmen, and mistaken identity while he searches for some mysterious idol. Try to tell me that doesn't sound awesome! It's got humor, action, and big adventure; what more do you want from a comic book? Exactly! Quit messing around and go buy the thing already.

Go. Go buy it now. I'll see you next week. Now scoot!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Question About Wolverine You Never Wanted Answered

I got a text from a good friend of mine the other day that read: I just realized that Wolverine has to be uncircumcised. My friend sends me weird texts sometimes, he's funny that way.

As I tried to prepared a witty response, I couldn't help but to fall into this mystery of Wolverine's... Lil' Berserker. To wit, I discovered that what my friend had stumbled upon was true, but it was only the tip of the... iceberg. I was going to say 'iceberg'!

First, we need to have an understanding of Wolverine's healing factor. While super charged and fast acting, his healing factor isn't a remedy for the ravages of time. While it's quick to heal a fresh wound, the factor isn't constantly working to heal Wolvie's body. His cells die off just like anyone else's, creating that awesome hair style of his and keeping him from looking like the walking tumor that is Deadpool. I suppose this is just a roundabout way of saying that wounds received before puberty (when the factor kicked in) wouldn't be healed. And by wounds, I mean circumcision.

Speaking of, the next step in this horrible journey is to research the history of circumcision itself. Long story short, the practice became prevalent in the US and Canada around 1900 as a response to the rise of germaphobia. It was widely believed around that time that the penis, because of it's general function, was full of disease and the removal of any... extra folds, let's call them, would make them less 'dirty'. So, giving your baby a circumcision was the way to ensure they would be strong healthy men around the 1900s. And guess who was born around that time?

Strangely, it's never mentioned in the comics if young Mr. Howlett here was circumcised, but we can surmise that odds are he was. Coming from a well-off family that struggled with health, it's not a big stretch to think the Howlett's might have nipped the tip from their son. Therefore, statistically speaking, Wolverine's Lil'Berserker probably wasn't wearing any turtlenecks when he was a kid.

Here's where it gets fun.

So if we accept the fact that Wolverine was probably cut as a baby and that his healing factor doesn't regrow old wounds, then he must still be circumcised, right? Wrong!

Check out this scene from Wolverine's Civil War tie in:

Wolverine had all the flesh burned from his body, only to grow back moments later (A fact that's ridiculous, but is fodder for later articles) good as new. Back to factory condition, in most cases. See, I can make the argument that the healing factor would regrow as the aged man Wolverine is instead of a man-sized baby version of himself by virtue of some triggered blueprint in the man's brain. However, I would argue that any scars that he accumulated over the years would be wiped clean, including baby's first surgery.

Therefore, Wolverine is not circumcised because it grows back that way after severe crotch trauma.

And now you know.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Bill September 1, 2011

After months of bitching in anticipation, DC's big gamble finally became a real book in my hands. How's it stack up? How am I going to differentiate myself from 95% of the rest of the blogosphere? Join me after the graphic and let's find out.

The Big Story:
Justice League # 1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Jim Lee

"Are these books always four dollars," the FutureWife asked as I forced her to read the issue in question. After I nodded in the affirmative, she retorted, "seems pretty light for four bucks..."

To me, that about sums up what I expect a new fan to think about this book. It looks nice and it reads okay, but the price is a bit high and the page count seemingly lacking (In reality it's fine, I'm just pointing out what a new reader would thing). That's not a good combination when you're trying to win over new fans.

The substance of the book is less 'Justice League' as it is 'Brave and the Bold'. Instead of trotting out new or lapsed storytelling techniques for this introductory issue of 'The New 52', the powers that be opted instead to rely on that tired old decompressed method that's been the rage for the past few years. So instead of seeing the team come together in this issue, we saw Green Lantern and Batman meeting for the first time and chasing down a lead. It wasn't a bad story, it just wasn't a special one.

Justice League #1 didn't feel like something that needed the entire universe to be reset for and that's a major problem. Where it should have been fresh and new, it instead felt like well-worn territory with a fancy new coat of paint. Sure, the attitudes of the heroes changed a bit - Hal, for better or worse, sounds a lot more like Ryan Reynolds now, for instance - but for the most part it felt like something that could have been told in the pre-Flashpoint Universe with some minor tweaks.

For all my bitching, I really wanted to be blown away by this book. I wanted to totally eat crow while writing this review, feeling embarrassed by over-reaction to the snippets of details I had. Alas, that's not the case. But instead of feeling vindicated, I feel sad for DC's big shakeup and what I see as a big missed opportunity.

That said, I did witness two non-fans coming into my comic store to buy all the new number ones. So regardless of what I - or the rest of the blogosphere, for that matter - thinks, the big relaunch achieved it's goal of getting new faces in the stores. I just hope they're forgiving enough to stick around for next month...