30 January 2005

The SideKick: Comic Books! Wow!

Greetings to all in the Interverse,

Once upon a time, not long ago, when people wore pajamas and lived life slow...before comic book stores, conventions and all that has grown from it (for better or worse), I was a youngster getting my fix from the local newstand.

Back then, there were no rules to collecting. I would walk in, past the temptation of Playboy magazines, and finger through the comic book wire rack; that crappy contraption made of reject coat hangers wrapped in licorice pinching the spines of various Archie, Richie Rich, X-Men, Avengers, Batman and Spider-Man titles.

Back then I picked up whatever "looked good," judging a book by its cover in its purest sense. Back then I could care less about what happened last issue. I wanted to see Thor slam his hammer into Absorbing Man; how Batman was going to escape the Joker's treehouse of terror; or if Archie would go for Betty this time.

Back then "see you in 30"...well, it actually kind of means what it does now, only back then, when I didn't get my conclusion to the Batman-in-peril story it wasn't because it was running late but because the newsguy didn't order Batman that month, or the three copies he ordered were already snatched up by some luckier kids. It was pure luck to come back in 30 days and get the next issue of the book I had picked up the month before. Most times, if I came back the next month and it wasn't there I'd just get something else...or buy candy instead.

Can it be that it was all so simple then?

It was, and yet it still can be.

Welcome to the SideKick.

I'm Stephen Maher and every month or so I'm going to bring you reviews from random comics, stuff I picked up at my local newstand or comic shop. The criteria for picking them up may be something simple like a hot Michael Turner cover, the creative line-up, or simply chance. The critique will be based on how the issue holds up as a stand-alone issue.

  • The "Previously in..." page be damned! I'm not going to read it. To me, that's cheating.

  • "To be continued..." be damned! I'm not falling for it. Not in this column anyway.

To quote Dennis O'Neil from The DC Guide to Writing Comics:

"One of the recurring and embarassingly valid criticisms of modern comic books, particularly the adventure & fantasy titles, is that they're extremely difficult to understand on the most basic level." (pg 24)
It's one of the reasons why it's hard to grow the fanbase of comic books and why new series don't have good life expectancies.

Anyhoo, I'm not going to waste any more time with the preamble. Let's review a comic, shall we?

Supreme Power # 10
J. M. Straczynski (writer) & Gary Frank (penciler)

I've been reading bits and pieces of this series over the last few months, in no particular order whatsoever. At first it just worked out that way, my friend had a copy lying around here and there. In a lot of ways, this series is the reason why I decided to write this column. Every issue I've read, regardless of order, has stood out for its solid storytelling, compelling characterization and handsome artwork.

Supreme Power is a vastly different take from the 80s Maxi-series, the Squadron Supreme (belated RIP to creator Mark Gruenwald), Marvel Comics' JLA knock-off. The only resemblence to those heroes under the DC Bullet is the wealth of character developement Straczynski has injected into these long forgotten capes.

Issue 10 introduces Power Princess (the Wonder Woman type), an ancient warrior goddess seemingly awoken to save Hyperion (the protagonist, Superman type) and be his mate. What's fascinating about this issue is how no one outside of Power Princess (called Princess Zarda by her servant) is named. A casual reader could pick this up and have no idea what's going on, appreciate Gary Franks' stellar artwork but put it back on the rack. Not so fast though there's actually something deeper here, something intentional in its obscurity.

This issue typifies the general theme of the series: Identity. All of the characters come to the series with a clean slate and they are mortally aware of it. For superpowered folk though mortally aware translates to weakness (physically, mentally or emotionally). We see Power Princess regain her strength when she is reminded who is was and we see Hyperion nursed back to health after Power Princess defines him, "I am the woman you love."

We have a similar exchange on page 16 where Dr. Spectrum (Hyperion's foil, the Green Lantern type) withdraws from his woman, a strange fishbird like creature, saying, "And when I come back, I'll bring you a gift. I'll bring you a name."

Straczynski flexed his poetry muscles with that one. Nice!

Gary Frank captures the emotional frailty of these characters with a maturity that harkens back to George Perez (Crisis on Infinite Earths) and Steve Dillon (Preacher). An added bonus is the breath-taking beauty he bestows upon Power Princess. She is nude the entire issue but she is no pin-up girl. You can feel the care he and Straczynski are putting into this series.

If you're a budding writer or artist with aspirations of making comics when you grow up, pick up the next issue and note how it holds its own despite being part of (I think at this point) a larger, 5-part story arc.

That's the SideKick, my friends. Until next time,


28 January 2005

ménage à trois: 1/26/05

[One Marvel, one DC, both published the previous Wednesday, plus a random indie from whenever I feel like it, each reviewed quickie-style: 1 Minute=bad, 10 Minutes=good. Connections, if any at all, may be forced purely for the experience.]

There's a saying in Hollywood about the difficulties of working with kids and animals, and with good reason. As a father of two and past owner of several pets of various species, I completely understand! It's with that in mind that Robin #134, Araña: The Heart of the Spider #1 and We3 #3 come together for this week's animal kingdom of four-color fun.

Post-War Games, all of DC's Batbooks are getting fresh starts and of them all, Robin is probably the most in need of one. In the past year, Tim Drake has quit being Robin only to be replaced by his girlfriend, who gets fired shortly after and then gets killed during the War Games crossover! Meanwhile, in Identity Crisis, his father gets killed, and in Teen Titans, a trip to the future shows him replacing Batman, but with a Punisher-like edge. When it's all said and done, he leaves Gotham City for Blüdhaven, which Nightwing, the original Robin, has abandoned due to the injuries he suffered in War Games. That's a lot for a kid still in high school to handle, not to mention a new reader to digest! Appropriately, this issue is entitled "Always Starting Over," and Bill Willingham takes the opportunity to summarize all that's happened, including a quick flashback to how Tim Drake became Robin in the first place, but he does it pretty smoothly without making it feel like a recap, moving the story forward in the process. From Tim's first day at his new school, to Bruce Wayne's surprise offer to legally adopt him, to the stunning last page that teases "Why is it the only famous poem concerning a robin is about a dead one?" - Willingham sets the stage nicely for Robin's new adventures, while offering a perfect jumping-on point for new readers. Damion Scott and Sandra Hope's artwork, though, is squarely in the love or hate it camp. While I love the energy they bring to it, like small breasts and big hips, it's a matter of personal taste: 7.5 Minutes

Over in the Marvel Universe, high schooler Anya Corazon gets her own fresh start, spinning off from her debut in Amazing Fantasy to star in her own, clumsily-titled series, Araña: The Heart of the Spider, as part of the Marvel Next line. As one of the higher-profile comic debuts in recent years, Anya's received a lot mainstream press for being a Latina heroine, even being named one of Latina Magazine's Women of the Year! (Considering my low opinion of that magazine, I'll not wonder aloud whether she'd still have been honored as such if she were a couple of shades darker...) One of the benefits of her being introduced in the Amazing Fantasy arc is that we're spared an extended origin tale here as writer Fiona Avery jumps right into the action with Araña taking on a group of thugs while fighting a cold that inhibits her full control of her powers. Her partner, Miguel, the Mage to her Hunter - and, in some ways, Batman to her Peter Parker - has a great bit where he convinces a reluctant informant to talk by telling him she drinks the blood of her victims. Roger Cruz and Victor Olazaba do a nice job with the slightly-mangafied but nicely-detailed artwork, capturing Anya's youthful energy which is really the driving force of the story. In these days of decompressed stories dragging out a couple of issues longer than necessary, Avery does a good job of delivering a complete story while [re]introducing the main cast - including a couple of sidekicks and Anya's father, an investigative reporter - and laying the foundation for the larger tale. Like getting to 2nd base on the first official date with a friend: 7.5 Minutes

At the risk of having my Comic Book Geek Card pulled, I have to admit to not getting the hype surrounding Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's We3 mini-series from Vertigo. It is without question beautifully drawn, as one would expect from Quitely, but the story just didn't move me the way it seems to have so many others. Three animals - a dog, cat, and rabbit - escape from a secret military experiment where they've been enhanced into killing machines but have been slated for termination, tearing across the country ripping people and other animals to shreds in search of "home." In this final issue, they're seemingly trapped, and the military releases an even more deadly version, an even bigger dog, that they inevitably lose control of also. People die, things blow up, and there's a bittersweet ending. Told mostly from the animals' perspective, with the kind of minimalist script most comics get blasted for, Quitely absolutely outdoes himself, humanizing the animals and adding some depth to the gimmick, almost making it worth the $2.95. Morrison's story, though, is not only predictable, it ultimately has no real point to make. It's like Jerry Bruckheimer hooked up with Pixar to make a political satire, but forgot the satire: 5 Minutes

Contest: 100 Girls Pinup

No, it's not some more juvenile, soft-core porno from Chuck Austen! It's a good old-fashioned fan art contest from Arcana Studios.

100 Girls is the highly-acclaimed series from Adam Gallardo and Todd Demong. If it's not on your regular pull list, then you're missing out on one of my early favorites for Best of 2005 [reviews here and here]. In anticipation of their first trade paperback collection, First Girl (FEB052560), they're holding a contest for artists' "finest pinup inspired by 100 Girls (color is optional)!"

The top three winners will be published in 100 Girls #5, plus each will receive a collection of signed 100 Girls goodies.

All entries are due by Midnight PST, March 21, 2005. Full details are here. Good luck!

27 January 2005

The Woodshed: Wolverine: The End #6

[Some comics get bad reviews, but the really special ones get taken to The Woodshed.]


Despite the shipping delays that saw this SIX issue mini-series take FOURTEEN months to finish - #1 came out in Nov 03, #6 in Jan 05! And neither Joe Quesada or Kevin Smith had anything to do with it! - I was originally planning to review it as a whole. After developing some initial thoughts after reading the final issue, I always make a point to reread the entire arc to refresh the story in my mind and give it a proper review. In this case, however, I refuse.

The first page sums up the first five issues in four short paragraphs, the highlights of which are: a reclusive, centenarian Wolverine once again picks up his quest to discover the truth about the organization behind the Weapon X program, traveling to Japan, encountering his older brother who may or may not be lying to him, pushing him off a cliff, and later tracking him to Las Vegas for a final confrontation. The next 23 pages are one long, drawn-out cat-and-mouse fight scene between the equally matched brothers, lightly seasoned with choice scripting like:

Wolverine: "Well, that's the difference between you and me, Bub--while you've been busy blaming the Man, I've been working him to find me a job an' a place to live. You don't deserve liberation."
Um...what? Sounds like some ex-hippie-turned-Wall Street stock broker rationalization to me!

Later, his brother reels off a string of secrets he knows the answer to that Wolverine never will...and neither will we 'cause this is The End and he gets impaled on Wolverine's claws, his dying words: "I wish I'd had more time to tell you...about Rose... I was always so proud of you little brother...Logan..."

Dude, you just spent the last 3 issues trying to trick him into siding with you, lying about your plans, then trying to kill him by any means necessary, and then you want to try and pull off a melodramatic, Terms of Endearment death scene?

And the best part? It isn't even really The End because Wolverine lives, still not really knowing the truth about Weapon X!!!

The writer responsible for this fiasco, Paul Jenkins, is actually one of my favorites, and I understand he's fallen ill recently causing him to miss some deadlines and the cancellation of Spectacular Spider-Man, but that doesn't get him a free pass on this one. As far as I know, artist Claudio Castellini is healthy so he doesn't even have that as an excuse for his truly ugly work here that defies human anatomy while channelling some of the worst of the 70s horror comics. And even though Castellini doesn't give him much to work with, colorist Paul Mounts' muddy work gets some of the blame, too.

If comic books were like cigarettes, Marvel would be in court on a class-action lawsuit for knowingly publishing tainted crap like this!

Wolverine: The End? To the woodshed!

25 January 2005

Interview: Kirkman on Moon Knight

T.S. Eliot said "April is the cruellest month," but he certainly wasn't referring to Marvel's solicitations for April 2005. Excepting the final issue of Paul Jenkins' Spectacular Spider-Man which, being the only Spider-Man title I cared for does rate as being somewhat cruel, there's the return of two of my childhood favorites: Power Pack and Moon Knight!

Written by Robert Kirkman
Pencils & Cover by Scott Kolins

"RING OF THE MASTER" Part 1 (of 5)
The Ringmaster is sick of sitting on the sidelines. He's out to make a name for himself. Unfortunately for Spider-Man and Moon Knight, they are caught up in the middle of his master plan. This is the start of a brand-new story arc for the new hit title. It's an excellent jumping-on point for new readers. Find out what everyone is talking about.
32 PGS./Marvel PSR …$2.25
I checked with Marvel Team-Up writer Robert Kirkman via email to get the scoop:

Comic Book Commentary: There's been rumors of Moon Knight's return for a while now, how did you end up getting him into Team-Up and where does this appearance fit into his future plans?

Robert Kirkman: Discussing the future plans of Moon Knight is a big no-no. There ARE future plans from what I've heard, but that's really all I can say. It wasn't too hard to get him into Team-Up... I just asked.

CBC: Did you follow any of his previous series, or reference anything from them for his Team-Up appearance?

RK: I'm not using too much continuity in his appearance in Team-Up. He acts like him and does Moon Knight stuff, but I'm keeping things pretty open for readers who are new to the guy, which I assume there are many.

CBC: If you were offered the chance to write an ongoing Moon Knight series, would you do it? If so, how would you approach it? If not, who do you think would be good for it?

RK: Bendis seems to like the guy. I'd love to see him take over the book. I certainly would do a Moon Knight book. I haven't been asked, though, and I wouldn't know what I'd do with it until I was asked.

CBC: Considering the number of "B-list" books cancelled over the past year or so - Alpha Flight, Inhumans, Thanos, Warlock, Weapon X, etc. - is it realistic to think an ongoing Moon Knight series can be successful? Are mini-series and titles like Team-Up the only way fans can get their fill of their favorite non-mutant characters not named Spider-Man?

RK: Yes, yes it is... that is why everyone should be buying Marvel Team-Up.

CBC: Is Moon Knight the New Avengers' mystery ninja guy?

RK: I have no clue who the mystery ninja guy is. Could be Moon Knight... might not be.

21 January 2005

ménage à trois: 1/19/05

[One Marvel, one DC, both published the previous Wednesday, plus a random indie from whenever I feel like it, each reviewed quickie-style: 1 Minute=bad, 10 Minutes=good. Connections, if any at all, may be forced purely for the experience.]

Back-to-back trips to Miami and Ft. Collins, CO last week meant a double dose of comic books this week as I missed my pick-up for January 12th and, as such, was unable to post its ménage à trois. The good news, though, is that this week I get to pick the best from two weeks worth of comics and, instead of ripping a disappointing dud like Wolverine: [Not Really] The End #6 like I would have done, I get to moon over my first ever issue of Ultimate X-Men (#54), along with Teen Titans #20 and Azteca Productions' El Gato Negro: Nocturnal Warrior #1.

Brian K. Vaughan became one of my favorite comic book writers purely on the basis of his superlative Ex Machina. After reading the first Y: The Last Man TPB, he became one of those writers that I seek out their other work. I drew the line at the Ultimate X-Men, though, because as much good as I'd heard about the series, I just wasn't trying to go there. But then I saw Vaughan would be introducing Ultimate Longshot, one of my absolute favorite characters from my younger days, and that he was paired up with Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger, whose artwork I loved on Ultimate Fantastic Four, I couldn't resist. I'm not sure if Vaughan is simply a better writer than Mark Millar, or my connection to the regular X-Men was even more tenuous than that to the Avengers, but whatever the case, his revamped X-Men ring truer than Millar's Ultimates despite their arguably being even more drastically different. A badass Colossus, formerly of the Russian Mafiya, makes more sense to me than a Rambofied Captain America, and a punked-out Dazzler is like making gold from lead. But, for me, this is mainly about Longshot, and how Vaughan has completely revised his admittedly ridiculous original story while still retaining its heart. On an island off of Genosha, mutant "criminals" are hunted as part of its highest-rated TV show, Hunt For Justice, a Running Man knockoff, and Arthur Centino, aka Longshot, is its longest running contestant, but is running out of time. His archnemesis Mojo has been reenvisioned as a slimy, albino TV executive - "There are merits to storytelling tools like decompression." - who produces the spectacle. Professor X sends his "more passably human X-Men" to investigate, leaving his more action-oriented students behind, itching to jump into the fray. Like bumping into an old high school girlfriend, only hotter and more experienced: 10 Minutes

For everyone that complained about Identity Crisis leaving too many plot threads hanging, Geoff Johns' latest issue of Teen Titans nicely picks up a couple of them - Lex Luthor's battlesuit and Dr. Light - weaving them around Tim Drake's (Robin) emotional breakthrough/down while [not] dealing with his father's death. Johns possesses as deft a pen as there is in comics today, able to juggle action, characterization, and multiple plotlines without missing a beat. Summarizing things is pointless as Johns tightly weaves what at first seems like a standalone story told through Robin's eyes but quickly becomes a key link between the events of Identity Crisis and this summer's big event that kicks off in the highly anticipated DC Countdown in March. I have a feeling the time travel storyline currently in Johns' other team book, JSA, is ultimately connected to that same big picture. There's something to be said for reliability and consistency: 8 Minutes

At first glance, El Gato Negro: Nocturnal Warrior has all the signs of a vanity project gone awry. The anachronistic Japanese-styled title logo, the derivative hero name and costume, the black-and-white art that randomly varies between moderately detailed to pictograph-simple, sometimes in the same panel! And yet, underneath it all is a solid story introducing a Chicano-flavored hero in a full-length 32-page comic. No decompression here! Reading it, I couldn't help but remember my own Elementary School efforts at creating a comic book with my best friend, Tracy, the heart and soul we put into it, despite being in way over our heads. There's a similar energy here in Michael S. Moore's scripting and Efren Molina (credited as a "guest" penciler? in the first issue?) and Richard Dominguez' artwork that it keeps you turning the pages, overlooking some of the clichés and half-finished panels, and simply focusing on the beauty that lie just between the lines. El Gato Negro, the Black Cat, is a legendary South Texas vigilante from the sixties, an "old wives tale," who has seemingly reappeared, fighting crime once again, much to the underworld's, and at least one law enforcer's, chagrin. Dominguez is credited as the creator, co-plotter, inker, letterer and publisher, marking this as a labor of love to the nth degree, and one that I will happily drop another $3 towards for the next issue. Energy and ambition can take you a long way sometimes: 8 Minutes

18 January 2005

Review: Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2

Comic book writers are a special lot, even among creative types, fitting somewhere between performance artists and mimes in mainstream perception. Whereas Mark Salisbury's excellent first edition, published in 1999, featured many of the Modern Age's future Hall of Famers - including Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller and Grant Morrison - Tom Root and Andrew Kardon tap the current crop of writers dominating the industry, including Brian Michael Bendis, Andy Diggle, Brian K. Vaughan and Bill Willingham. Unfortuntely, like its predecessor, it sees fit to only include one female and not a single writer of color in the bunch.

Interspersed with script samples and highlights of specific titles they're best known for, the real meat of the book is the interviews themselves where the writers discuss craft, inspiration and the business of comics, while offering - not always purposefully, I think - glimpses into their personalities and motivations. At times these glimpses can be turnoffs, and other times they can uncover a previously unknown and interesting layer.

Mark Millar: I'm very interested in a career in politics, maybe, at some stage when I'm older and fully grown-up. [Millar is 35.] Most people who've been reading this book probably have a real job in the real world but read comics in their spare time. Because these fictional realities are where I spend ten hours a day, reality has essentially become my hobby... You might be daydreaming about being Superman or Batman, but I'm sitting here daydreaming about pushing a Private Members's Bill for a fairer welfare system through Parliament.
While many of the writers have achieved mainstream success at various levels, there's a few purely independent creators like Dave Sim and Jill Thompson represented, too. Several of them are also successful beyond the world of comic books, having written novels and screenplays - and, in Kevin Smith's case, directing well-known movies - making this a great resource for aspiring writers of all types.

Bruce Jones: Movies, TV and comics have a lot in common, in that it's a collaborative effort and you're always working with someone else. When you're working on a novel, you're kind of alone. That's got its good side, because it's all yours, but then when it bombs you really look bad!
The honesty of the writers is often refreshing, like Ed Brubaker admitting that "sometimes it gets tiring writiing a company-owned character when you have ideas for them and the company tells you no." Or Greg Rucka admitting his Elektra series "feels like a failed experiment."

Overall, its continued lack of diversity aside, Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2 is another strong volume from Titan Books and I only hope there's not another five year wait for the next edition. Surely there's more women and at least a few people of color on the writing side of the business, though. Right? Right? Bueller?

Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2, by Tom Root & Andrew Kardon (Titan Books, August 2004)

Review: The Fantastic Four Official Website

Well, I just went through the newly launched Fantastic Four Official Website and I must say that I am very impressed. Two things are a must for getting the entire feel for the website: you have to have broadband access, and you have to view it full screen. There is a lot of Flash animation going on and dial up won't cut it. As for the full screen, it just makes the experience much more enjoyable.

After picking your region, you are taken through a slick intro that simulates a computer mainframe giving a countdown. When the count reaches four you are thrusted into what seems like a corridor in space. As you're being propelled down different corridors, each one features a different hero, each tailored to their respective powers. The Thing has rock formations on the walls, while Sue Storm's walls are invisible. After all four heroes are introduced, it's revealed that what you are actually traveling through is the Fantastic Four logo. The logo then pulls back and we are treated to the "splash page" of our four heroes.

At this point I was pleased, but what got me was the site itself. I don't want to give it all away but the transitions on the site are unlike any I've seen online. Since the site just launched today, and the movie is six months away, not much content is available. What they do have is the standard wallpaper selection and a handful of pictures of the cast. But like every other movie website, as the date nears more goodies will be added. One thing I did notice, under the Quick Links they haven't updated the web address for their trailer. When you click on Trailer & Videos the page cannot be found, so there is no link to the trailer. [NOTE: Click on the image above for the direct link.] Come on Fox, this is the big show, fix it!

Fantastic Four Official Website gets 8.9 out of 10.

PSA: Free Comic Book Day 2005 Announced

Free Comic Book Day 2005 will be celebrated around the world on May 7, 2005, a date voted on by comic book retailers. As in years past, on Free Comic Book Day anyone can walk into a participating comic book specialty store and receive a free comic book, with no purchase required (while supplies last).

"This year marks the fourth annual Free Comic Book Day," said Free Comic Book Day Committee spokesperson Barry Lyga. "Its success has been proven beyond a doubt, as stores enjoy record crowds, fans get a holiday all their own, and new readers discover the wonders of the local comic book shop."

The available comics will vary by store, but all are special editions published specifically for the event. They range from all-ages-friendly titles to fare intended for sophisticated readers. "The selection of titles is a testament to the diversity in the industry," said Lyga. "More than anything else, Free Comic Book Day exists to show that there is a comic book for every age, reading level, and taste. This year's variety of available free titles once again makes that point."

09 January 2005

Indie Spotlight: January 2005

[From the ridiculous to the random to the superb, a quick roundup of notable indie comics (aka, not Marvel or DC proper, though Vertigo, Icon, Image, et al, do qualify) I picked up in the past month. Release dates may vary.]

Skyscrapers of the Midwest #1 (Pictures and Stories by Joshua W. Cotter; AdHouse Books, $5) qualifies as one of the oddest comic books I have ever read. On first glance, the black-and-white artwork is very "children's book," like Sanrio's preschool character Miffy drawn in shades of grey. The shotgun-loading skeleton farmer on the cover, the fake ads promoting "Healthy Habit" Fun Brand cigarettes, and the overall grim fairy tale feel are definitely not the stuff of Noggin's preschool programming, though. A varied collection of short and really short stories primarily featuring young anthropomorphic cats experiencing some of the worst moments of childhood - the kid not picked for a game of kickball, something's wrong with grandma, the dark side of day camp - Cotter beautifully communicates the raw emotion and vivid imagination of childhood, both in his words and his woodcut-style art. "The Flight of El Jefe" is probably the strongest story, a tale of the opposite extremes of childhood where the pull of imagination and the push of social acceptance collide. Overall, a great read that stuck with me long after, nicely presented in a hefty, 56-page comic that's well worth the $5 cover price. If there's a #2, I'll be back for more.

Quit City #1 (Written by Warren Ellis, Art by Laurenn McCubbin; Avatar Press, $3.50) is part of Ellis' interesting experiment "to publish a group of imaginary first issues of imaginary series from an imaginary line of comics on an imaginary fifth week." It's the kind of stunt few creators can get away with, though judging from the initial sales numbers I saw for one of the other issues, I'm tempted to say that the experiment failed. That said, separated from the gimmick that spawned it, Quit City is a solid story of one woman's struggle to deal with the ghosts of her past. Set in an alternate reality where aviators are still heroes and an elite band of them called Aeropirataca fights terrorism from the skies, Ellis' protagonist, Emma Pierson has quit - "the girl who pulled her own wings off," she says - and returned to a home where she is a hero to everyone but herself. McCubbin's art is distinctive and she makes interesting use of grey tones throughout the book, accentuating the shades of grey that define Emma's reality from others' perception of it. Ellis' characterization and pacing is strong and, while his intent was to give a sense of this book being part of a larger whole, he actually succeeds in telling a compact and engaging story that's perfectly capable of standing on its own.

The Lurkers #3 (Story by Steve Niles, Art by Hector Casanova; IDW, $3.99) continues Niles' second entry in his Meeednight Pulp imprint, an entertaining blend of pulpy noir and the undead. There's someone digging up the corpses of young children for dinner and now they've gotten so bold as to snatch a living kid from its mother's arms. Detective Jack Dietz, fresh off a run-in with a posse of undead offering their help, teeters on the edge of sanity as he rushes to investigate. Despite the fact that there's really only two-and-a-half scenes in this issue, it's arguably the best one yet, both for The Lurkers and its sister title, Secret Skull, and the first time I don't feel a slight tinge in my wallet over the steep $3.99 cover price. Casanova's art is especially strong this time, too, from the incredibly creepy cover to the varied styles he uses on the interior.

100 Girls #2 (Written by Adam Gallardo, Art by Todd Demong, Colors by Lucas Marangon with Marina Quevada; Arcana Studios, $2.95) continues where the stellar first issue left off, with Sylvia Mark running away from home and an unidentified organization that's tracking her poised to pick her up. The action jumps off quickly as Sylvia gets a surprise assist before taking matters into her own hands and laying the smackdown hard on the bad guys. And I mean hard! Gallardo tells a fast-paced story while continuing to develop the primary characters, exposing new layers to Sylvia and her pursuers while deepening the overall mystery, and Demong matches him every step of the way with cinematic angles and fluid perspectives that bring it to life. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite comics being published right now.

Dan's Top 3 Comic Book-Themed Video Games

[Three ground rules. 1) All games considered must have its origins rooted in a published comic book, ie: Marvel, DC, Image, etc. Power Puff Girls and the Simpsons do not qualify since they were "born" on screen. 2) WOW factor must be taken into consideration when ranking the games. WOW factor is defined by how the game was recieved by comic fans/gamers when it came out. This is very important because it opens up the field to any console/arcade game, any year. ie: I would argue that of the two Spider-Man games based on the movies, Spider-Man 1 would rank higher than Spider-Man 2 because even though Spider-Man 2 had better graphics and GTA-style game play, Spider-Man 1 laid the foundation. Spider-Man 2 built on and improved that model, but its WOW factor was diminished because of it. 3) Only games I have actually played can make the list!]

3. Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu (2003)
Hands down, the best Batman game ever made. Video games haven't been Batman's strong suit over the years, but this one comes through. A run of the mill brawler brought to life by great animation and a plethora of gadgets/combos to unlock. Not to mention co-op play, and the ability to choose from Batman, Robin (Tim Drake), Nightwing, or Batgirl (Barbara Gordon). In addition, the main villian of the story was specially created for the game by fan favorite, Jim Lee. It's head and shoulders above any other Bat-game made, and it's a can't miss for all Bat-fans.


2. X-Men - Arcade (1992)
You can't go wrong with 6-player mutant brawler action. Die Sentinals, Die!! I remember burning through lunch money playing this game at Time Out, back in the day. For its time, this game had top-notch graphics. Multi-player brawlers were nothing new to the arcade, but how could you resist playing as everyones favoirte muties? My one complaint, what's up with the miniature Sentinals? Those suckers are suppose to be ginormous!! The success of this game spawned another Marvel-based team brawler, The Avengers. It featured Captain America and Iron Man among others, but it pales in comparison to X-Men. The children of the atom rule the second spot!

1. Spider-Man - Atari 2600 (1983)
Behold the pixelated materpiece that is Spidey! Nuff Said!!!

08 January 2005

ménage à trois: 1/5/05

[One Marvel, one DC, both published the previous Wednesday, plus a random indie from whenever I feel like it, each reviewed quickie-style: 1 Minute=bad, 10 Minutes=good. Connections, if any at all, may be forced purely for the experience.]

A double dose of Marvel this week, thanks to the late shipping New Avengers #2 and nothing of interest from DC as I bailed on both Toe Tags and Detective Comics this month. (I did give in and pick up last week's Batman #635 which turned out to be a good decision.) Joining Team Bendis this week is The Tomb of Dracula #4 and Ape Entertainment's Point Pleasant, making for strange but oddly satisfying bedfellows nevertheless.

Naysayers aside, Brian Michael Bendis simultaneously washes the foul taste of Disassembled away and shoots down the theory that he can't do cinematic team action with his pulse-pounding, 100 mile-an-hour second issue of the New Avengers. From the dark, claustrophobic fights in the prison depths that includes the most vicious beating of Spider-Man I've ever seen depicted, to Foggy Nelson's impassioned plea for help, to the Sentry's wordless three-page return to superheroing, to the Purple Man's wonderfully evil powerplay...this is the comic book equivalent of multiple orgasms. The art team of Finch, Miki, Morales and D'Armata nail the story's dark atmosphere and tone, and the freeze-frame, black-and-white intros of various villians is a great touch. Oh, and the return of the letters page, including a few wonderfully self-righteous negative ones! Brilliant! Ironically, Bendis has proven in two issues that you don't need an Ultimate universe or an All-Star spin to successfully reinvigorate a franchise as the Avengers have arguably never been this good. You just need a good story and a writer that's truly invested in the characters. While the purists continue to complain about Hawkeye's death - who knew he had such a rabid fanbase? - or that Spider-Man and Wolverine (who still hasn't appeared) are on the team, they're missing out on balls-to-the-wall action mixed with just enough characterization to keep it interesting. Bendis knows how to please: 10 Minutes

The Tomb of Dracula is ostensibly a peripheral tie-in to the latest Blade movie, though you'd have to figure that out yourself as Marvel has made no effort to overtly connect the dots for anyone, despite having an unacknowledged Blade appear prominently on two of the first three covers - covers by none other than Bill Sienkiewicz! - and not so prominently on the fourth. That might have as much to with the fact that this series (mini-series?) has a very old-school feel to it, paying homage to the seminal Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan run of the 70s as Robert Rodi spins a tale of Dracula's millenial acension to godhood and Blade and company's attempts to prevent it. Jaime Tolagson, Tom Palmer and Scott Koblish provide the art, evoking Herb Trimpe's G.I. Joe more than Colan's definitive Dracula, but it serves the book well. In this age of decompressed, six-issue story arcs, Rodi might have been better served with another two issues to tell his story as he squeezes a lot of information in here and the climax comes a little too quickly. In light of Conan's recent ressurection, it would be nice to see someone take a stab at an ongoing Blade series, but I suspect that's not going to happen in this case. A pleasant diversion with potential for more: 7 Minutes

Midtown Comics, my LCS and personal mecca, has a great rebate program that gives you a $20 credit for every $100 you spend. While those credits have started coming around a little too frequently for comfort in recent months, it allows me to experiment on comics I wouldn't normally buy, especially indies. As such, I found myself picking up Point Pleasant this week, a Twilight Zone-ish spin on the true story the movie The Mothman Prophecies was based on. I've never seen the movie and am only vaguely familiar with the story, but writer Chad Lambert constructs his take on it in such a way that knowing the source material isn't vital to enjoying the story as he fits it in seamlessly. In 1967, 46 people died in Point Pleasant, WV when the Silver Bridge collapsed. Rumors of a curse placed on the land by a slaughtered native American in the late 18th century and the huge winged monster it unleashed, the Mothman, persist to this day. In the year 2736, the Paranormal Preservation Society begins an investigation into the mysterious events that led up to the tragedy. Told in four parts - but all in ONE issue! - using time travel as its framing device, Lambert uses the standard tropes to tell an engaging story with an effective, if not terribly surprising ending. It reminded me of the short stories in the old Twilight Zone Magazine - the first and only magazine I ever submitted fiction to, which ceased publication a month after I recieved my rejection letter! - solid genre tales by writers who genuinely loved the formula. The black-and-white art is effective, if not terribly polished - though the cover by Steve Black is wonderful - and the use of different artists for each era works well. The Paranormal Preservation Society itself is a well-executed idea that could serve as the source for many more stories in a similar vein. If Lambert writes it, I will come: 8 Minutes

04 January 2005

R.I.P.: Will Eisner (1917-2005)

from WillEisner.com:

Will Eisner passed away on January 3rd, 2005 at the age of 87 following quadruple bypass heart surgery.

Our condolences to Will's wife, Ann, and his family, friends and colleagues. A true giant in comics, he will be missed, personally and professionally.

More information will be posted [at WillEisner.com] as it becomes available.

from Newsarama.com:

There will be no funeral service, per Will's wishes. "Will and I hated funerals," his wife, Ann, said the morning after his death. "We made plans long ago to avoid having them ourselves." He will be buried next to his late daughter, Alice, who died in 1969. Surviving Will are his wife, Ann, and his son, John.

Cards may be sent to:
Will Eisner Studios
8333 W. McNab Road
Tamarac, FL 33321

Unofficially, in lieu of flowers, you might consider a donation in Will's name to the American Cancer Society - his daughter died of cancer - or the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which Will was known to have supported.

03 January 2005

ménage à trois: 12/29/04

[One Marvel, one DC, both published the previous Wednesday, plus a random indie from whenever I feel like it, each reviewed quickie-style: 1 Minute=bad, 10 Minutes=good. Connections, if any at all, may be forced purely for the experience.]

The Big Two ended 2004 with a so-so week, the edge going to DC thanks to the New Avengers' no-show, and despite the underwhelming Legion of Superheroes relaunch. The highlight of the week, Adam Strange #4, is joined by Marvel's self-indulgent What If...Jessica Jones had Joined the Avengers and Viper Comics' acclaimed Dead@17: Revolution #2, making for a mixed bag, heavier on the tricks than treats.

While Identity Crisis has received much acclaim as the mini-series of the year, Andy Diggle and Pasqual Ferry's Adam Strange is turning out to be the sleeper hit that most people didn't see coming. Still don't see, really, judging from its modest sales numbers. I certainly didn't, only picking up the first four issues last week after reading Diggle's interview in the excellent Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2 and realizing he had a sci-fi background from his days editing 2000 AD. Since The Losers was one of my Top 5 for 2004, I figured I'd follow him over to Adam Strange and was glad I did. Diggle writes a gritty sci-fi tale, Flash Gordon with a Lawrence Block edge, and Ferry's art complements it to a tee. (And he gets to do his own covers!) Even the lettering stands out on this title, perfectly capturing the space opera/noir tone. In this issue, Strange barely escapes being executed as a scapegoat, saved in the nick of time by a questionable ally and continuing on his mission to figure out what happened to his adopted planet Rann and his wife and daughter, all of whom have disappeared without a trace. He then runs into the Omega Men, freedom fighters from the Vega System and a group I vaguely remember from my childhood days. Together, they get closer to figuring out what's going on and, judging from the rumor that this series plays a role in DC's upcoming "Crisis 2" event later this year, it's apparently something big. Diggle does it again: 9.5 Minutes

I hated Brian Michael Bendis' Avengers Disassembled story arc. Let's just get that out of the way. And I'm not even a big old-school Avengers fan, either. It was just sloppy, ill-conceived and, judging from how good New Avengers #1 was, I suspect somewhat self-serving. Featuring his lead character from Alias/The Pulse and being told not by Uatu but by a Bendis look-alike (DC needs to snag artist Michael Gaydos for Gotham Central immediately!), What If...Jessica Jones had Joined the Avengers feels a bit like he's flipping the bird to everyone that complained about Disassembled as it imagines a completely different outcome had his heroine of choice been a member of the team. After recapping her actual origin and exit from the superhero stage, Bendis methodically posits an alternate future where Jones accepts the Avengers' offer to join the team, becoming a formidable ally, falling in love with Captain America and single-handedly averting the Scarlet Witch's mental breakdown. What If...? or Wha...huh?!?! Fan fiction is cool, in its place, even monotone stuff like this. Unfortunately, this isn't its place: 5 Minutes

The reason I've always been leery of most independent comics is that the highly acclaimed ones rarely live up to the typically hipper-than-thou hype. It's the Napoleon Dynamite syndrome. The highly-acclaimed Dead@17: Revolution doesn't quite fall into that trap, but it comes close. A potentially interesting storyline, including political intrigue and demonic possession, is hobbled a bit by its being overly reliant on a previous chapter ("season?") that I haven't read, with characters that, two issues in, I still don't have a good sense of because I feel like there's information being referenced that I'm missing. And not in an everything's a mystery kind of way; more like an inside joke I don't get. That said, the second issue tells a brisk, soap operaish story in its too brief, decompressed 19 pages. The inclusion of a 5-page sneak peek of the Oddly Normal mini-series, while intriguing in its own right, doesn't make up for the main story's shortcomings. While there's nothing wrong with a quickie now and then, even moreso with an appealing surprise guest, when you're expecting something more substantial, it's a bit of a letdown: 6 Minutes

01 January 2005

Review: Warlock #1-4

Like many of Marvel's b-list Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creations, Adam Warlock has remained something of an enigma - a putative fan favorite that has never been able to sustain a solo title. An interesting character in search of a re-interpretation that unlocks its true potential.

While this new spin by Greg Pak and Charlie Adlard doesn't come close to Alan Moore's now-legendary take on Swamp Thing, it had some potential to at least make an ongoing Warlock series worth killing some trees for. Taking his original genesis as the secret project of a group of scientists seeking to create the ultimate weapon, Pak updates it as a quest to right the world's wrongs by creating a savior for the failure that is the human race.

Inexplicably cancelled after the second issue shipped - presumably shortening the story arc from the standard six issues to four - an interesting premise and solid presentation are ultimately undone by a loopy, seemingly contradictory triple-cross, Wha...huh?!?! conclusion that feels more like a beginning than an ending.

Janie Chin, art student in an unclear-how-far-in-the-not-too-distant-future New York City, is hired by Beehive Productions to revise the design of the lead character for their "big superhero movie," a super-being artificially-created by a secret group of scientists called The Enclave to "save humanity from self-destruction and establish a utopian dictatorship to rule the world." Chosen because she was the only applicant "to show a complete understanding of the cultural, historical, emotional, and visceral impact this design must have," she works from what she's told is the original design for the character - which is, in fact, the original Adam Warlock of regular Marvel continuity, suggesting that either he never existed in this storyline and it doesn't take place in regular continuity, or...um, that she's just too young to remember him? While I'm not a big stickler for continuity, especially in a story where even the "when" is vague, this becomes an important question later in the story.

Janie quickly realizes her design isn't for a movie character at all because Beehive Productions is revealed to actually be The Enclave, and her design is for a new version of their Warlock project, one with the same power of the original but with the understanding that one lacked. And, of course, "the cultural, historical, emotional, and visceral impact [it] must have."

The new Adam Warlock is "a vengeful god...[with] the heart of a man," the mysterious Mr. Smith, Janie's champion at the Beehive/Enclave, explains to her at the end of the second issue. His new look, solidly presented by the talented Adlard - featuring an odd costume that makes a bit more sense in the final issue - updates Warlock's dated look, though in more of a standard super-heroish way than the described "savior whose visage is both terrifying and inspiring."

In the third issue, Janie witnesses first-hand Warlock's destructive capability, his "vengeful god" act, but finds him lacking in "the heart of a man" department and tries to reason with him, to appeal to a sense of compassion he wasn't programmed with - in fact, he has a fail-safe device disguised as a bindi to prevent such compassion - and when that doesn't work, vows to stop him herself.

Then the final issue comes along and shakes up everything we've seen in the first three issues, so much so that if Marvel had pretended they never existed and simply released an expanded 48-page stand-alone issue, compressing a few of those earlier moments into a five-page introduction to properly set the stage, they might have had something good on their hands.

Instead, we get confusion and contradictions, as the mysterious Mr. Smith turns out to be...

Despite the fact that I'm probably one of only a few thousand readers that followed the series through to the end - even Midtown Comics only had about 15 copies of the final issue on the racks Wednesday afternoon, and they order a ton of everything! - I still won't spoil anything here as his identity is a key element of the "surprise" ending. Suffice to say that that revelation, along with a couple of others in the final issue, confuse or contradict much of what came before it, not the least of which is Janie's boyfriend, Danny, and his two-page appearance at the beginning of the third issue. More than Mr. Smith, the truth about Danny's character, a major twist in the final issue, comes not from left field but rather from the parking lot. Of a whole 'nother stadium. In a completely different city!

As much as I generally liked the potential suggested in the first three issues, I have to wonder if Pak had something else in mind for this arc, if the unexpected cancellation and seemingly rushed conclusion forced him to drastically alter the ending of the story and he did what he could to connect as many dots as possible in the limited space he had left. Instead, the fact that there's one major clue to the ending in the first issue makes we wonder if this was simply another ill-conceived high-concept that hit a sudden roadblock and Marvel wisely cut bait and moved on. Perhaps looking to completely wash their hands of it, Warlock #4 only shows up on their web site via a Google search as it's not listed with their releases for the week. Apparently denial is the ultimate weapon.

Warlock #1-4 (Marvel, $2.99/ea); Story by Greg Pak, Art by Charlie Adlard.