Monday, July 25, 2011

Random Trains of Thought 7/25/2011

- Well, another San Diego Comic Con has come and gone. Naturally that brings a lot of thoughts to the forefront. Combined with some other things going on, I've got a few more things to ponder than most days of the year. So why the hell not put it down, you know what I'm sayin'?

- No lie, I'm pretty much completely on board the Superman soft reboot. A friend of mine, who's oddly not even a fan of Superman, was annoyed at this relatively recently and the fact that anything is even being rebooted, despite it only being some aspects of the universe. Truth is, I kind of think Superman needs it.

This was done once before, after COIE, and it certainly worked. Now's about as good a time as ever. I have to admit, throwing Grant Morrison on Action Comics did a lot to alleviate my fears - and honestly, I'm sure that's what DC was counting on for fans like myself - but that's not all of it. I think it's rather interesting, after all these years, to go back to the Golden Age style Superman and update him. Back then, you could say he was sort of anti-authoritarian, standing up for justice and what was right, not necessarily for the law and legality. That's an approach we haven't seen a modern take on; and frankly, it adds an interesting edge to a character that's been floundering lately.

Superman's not a character that should be floundering, either, yet we're coming right off the heels of a highly publicized and widely derided storyline in Superman and an afterthought of a backup in Action Comics causing more ridiculous controversy than I've seen in... months. Try naming a story worth a damn in the past few years and you're going to come up short. One can argue all day long whether Lois had anything to do with it, much less other elements, but something had to change.

- Not sure about George Perez taking Superman, basically the "other half" of his regular ongoings. Love his art to pieces. Not so sure he's a writer with modern enough sensibilities for leading a new initiative into the future like Grant is. The thinking probably goes along the lines of "well, he handled Wonder Womans reboot after COIE and that's pretty much one of her few generally liked eras, lets see if he can do Superman". I guess time will tell if he's up to the task. Even if he's not, his art will always be awesome.

- Seems like females in comics happened to be a prominent discussion at SDCC this year. Whether DC is improving in this regard depends on the individual viewpoint, but I noticed that Dan DiDio asked a good question in "who should we have hired" and interestingly, the fan not only couldn't answer but fumbled the recovery. When you sit and think about it, most are wrapped up in exclusives, Marvel and creator owned work. I suppose DC and Devin Grayson could always try talking to each other again, but that's about it.

Grant Morrison encouraged women to send their work in, but even if that happens the industry still has a ways to go, not just on a corporate level but a fan one. It sounds like the audience was, after a while, telling the people who kept bringing up female characters and creators to sit down and shut up. Embarrassing behavior, really.

- Boy that... protest against the DCnU... really worked out well, dinnit'? Of the five hundred people who RSVP'd, apparently twelve, give or take, actually showed up and it lasted all of fifteen minutes. I've heard of all bark and no bite, but goddamn.

I kind of had to raise my eyebrow at the folks who did show up, too. Most of them were in Joker and Harley Quinn costumes. Which is fine, but the person who organized it by all rights sounds less upset about the relaunch and more upset that Harley and Joker aren't together and continuing their "love story", as it were.

I'm not going to make fun of anyone about it, but I genuinely have to ask; are these guys seeing a different relationship than I am? Because Joker and Harley are about the best representation in comics of an abusive relationship, compounded by the fact that the guy manipulates the girl and her emotions. I've seen real relationships like that. It's sickening. So... how is the fictional equivalent encouraged by some and something some folks want to see more of? I genuinely don't get it. The B:TAS episode Mad Love alone should be enough for most everyone to feel bad for her and prefer to see her get away from him.

- I'm a little pissed that DC is revisiting the "Urban Legend" concept for Batman. You may recall that I feel the idea should be thrown into a toxic waste dump and never seen again. However, they're basically using this as an excuse to have Batman operating before Superman, the first Public superhero, and keep his continuity - or the best stories involving him - intact. The concept's still about as intelligent as sticking a fork in an electric socket, but at least it's just being used as a way to fit most of his continuity in and not like in Zero Hour, where the dude was thrown in the street with his back broken and then suddenly, whoop, everyone totally doesn't think he exists months later.

- I'm going to be honest; I'm more or less on board with this relaunch. When I sit down and look at it, there are more books after the relaunch I'm either seriously considering or keeping an eye on than prior. The New 52 sounds like a concentrated effort to diversify the genre's they publish instead of forty variations on the superhero book and I'm down with most of the horror and edge books as well as my usual favorites in the superhero area. Swamp Thing, Frankenstein and Animal Man alone are enough to get me excited.

- Something I'm not so sure about, however, is the rejigging of the Teen Titans. I'm not overly familiar with Scott Lobdell - and hear as much bad about his work as I do good - I'm not fond how how 90's some of the new designs are and - not just because Beast Boy and Raven aren't there - I really don't care about the lineup. Save Bart, I've never given a crap about the Young Justice four.

This one's going to take a lot of work to sell me on.

- So, someone is finally going to smack Cyclops around for his dickery? And it's going to be Wolverine? Well god damn, it's almost like Marvel knows exactly what I want! Except for the fact that they tend to go in asinine directions and will probably make Cyclops seem in the right. I'm not buying the "neither side is portrayed as right or wrong" crap. Civil War peddled that too and we know how that turned out. They'll have to sell me on it.

- CABLE REBORN ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? Who the hell wants this? Who ASKED for this? Why can't we just leave 90's relics in the past? Next you'll be telling me they're thinking about bringing the Scarlet Spider ba-

... Really? Really?

Hahaha. Haha. Oh screw you Marvel.

- I'm now expecting an announcement from Marvel on the return of Armored Daredevil any day now.

- Oh hey, they can even bring back Teen Tony! I mean, if we're going to dredge up the shit from the 90's, why not just go all out and be done with it? No holding back now guys!

- I suppose it could be worse; they could always assault us with another dose of Onslaught for the third time in four years.

-Capcom's not even trying to mask their dickery anymore, are they? They're jerking their fans around, it seems like they're currently burying the Mega Man franchise out of spite over Inafune leaving. They're not localizing several cool looking titles AT ALL. Now, suddenly, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 about six months after the original hit stores? Activision usually takes the cake for sheer dickery, but Capcoms making an honest try.Link

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ultimate Comics Avengers: Next Generation (comics)

Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Carlos Pacheco
Collects: Ultimate Comics Avengers #1-6

After the events of Ultimatum, which sucked, the world is starting to recover. That sure won't last for long though, because the Red Skull is back. Worse still, he's Captain Americas son; and now Cap knows. When Cap goes rogue, Nick Fury is brought back on the job to do two things; neutralize Americas Greatest Douchebag and take out his son.

Cue, Project Avengers, who in the Ultimate universe are a black ops squad.

Obviously, the Ultimate universe sort of went down the toilet over the years. It started when several of the ongoings started to kind of suck, then Loeb took over the Ultimates and that went about as well as you expected. Then Loeb sort of finished the job with Ultimatum, after which the only real option is to relaunch because good lord did you see what went on in that book? Since Marvel doesn't like producing crap any more than any company, they made a few decisions with this relaunch to try and rebuild its reputation.

First step, get Mark Millar involved again. To their credit, given the success of his Ultimates run, it really wasn't a bad plan. But did it work out?

Now, before I talk about anything else, can I just note that I love the Ultimate Comics trade dress that came with the relaunch of the line? It really works. Simplistic, yet still appealing.

Personally, I'm hot and cold on the Ultimate universe. It's accessible for sure and - at least in the boom years of the line - they did a lot to try and differentiate it from regular Marvel. Sometimes, it works in both small and subtle ways. Others, not so much. The Ultimates - which are basically Ultimate Marvels version of the Avengers - never really appealed to me, because whenever I've seen them they've been less Earths Mightiest Heroes and more Earths Mightiest Assholes. Sure, an asshole can be a great protagonist, but it can also be difficult to give a crap when they have next to no redeeming qualities, yet are supposed to be the premiere superteam.

This is remedied a bit by making the book about a black ops squad; it seems a minor change to quibble over, but it's easy to accept your protagonists as pricks when their root concept or place in the world doesn't require them to be at least somewhat good other than for the hell of it.

Ultimate Comics Avengers actually worked out better than I thought it would. Part of that is because I expect little from Mark Millar these days, so my expectations are easy to exceed. Another part is that they've gone back to trying to put new twists on familiar concepts; and aside from accessibility that's a core draw for the Ultimate universe. Everyone knows of the Red Skull and the fact that he's an old Nazi. Great a villain as he is, we don't need a repeat. But framing him as Caps son brings a different edge to the typical adversarial relationship and had some potential.

Whether it actually worked is tough to say. I was interested in the parts we got in relation to Cap and his son, but it turned out to be few and far between. The two only meet twice in the story. Both scenes are brief. Everything else comes from exposition and flashbacks. We get a sense for what this all means in the grand scheme, but Millar never actually shows it in regard to Ultimate Cap, save for a scene or two at the end of the book. Most of the book he's either fighting the Avengers or smacking around his comrades out of nowhere.

Seriously, I'm not telling you anything new here, but Ultimate Captain America is such a douchebag. Sure, learning the terrorist who just whupped you is your son is definitely an understandable shock to the system. Less understandable is the reaction, where he goes rogue by kicking his friend in the face, beating the snot out of allied soldiers and blowing a hole in the side of his transport plane to escape. I mean, waiting until you'd landed and could escape into NYC is for pussies, right?

Some of Millars other choices also tend to make one scratch their head. Nerd Hulk? What? I mean, the concepts not bad, but even "Professor Hulk" didn't sound this stupid. And the point of Ultimate Iron Mans big brother, aside from the fact that Ultimate Tony himself was busy in other stories?

Regardless, this is one of Millars better efforts. When he wants to, Millar can be a capable storyteller and can reel you into the story. The problem is that this fact can get lost beneath his shock and schlock tactics that reel people in with the lack of good taste but frequently leave nigh unreadable messes ripe with wasted potential. He doesn't fall into some of his usual traps here - at least not as bad as usual - and aside from essentially reusing a scene from some of his earlier comics work he pens a downright readable story, even if most of his protagonists are reprehensible people. If he could reign himself in more often, we'd be in business; but I can't blame him, because that would make him less money.

I haven't even mentioned the art by Carlos Pacheco, but if I need to tell you how great his art is you don't pay enough attention to comics.

The Score: 7 out of 10

Well, it wasn't the best thing I've read all year, but it was readable and kept my interest. I may be rating this a hair too low, but I'm not a hundred percent sure how I feel about it; it's not bad, but I don't think it's something I'll race to re-read. Still, it wasn't bad and next volume features Ultimate Punisher. I'm a pretty big mark for the Punisher in general and I didn't hate this at all, so I'll be back. Give it a look, but don't expect gold.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Marvel Zombies 4 (comics)

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Kev Walker
Collects: Marvel Zombies 4 #1-4

One of these days, the last bit of potential is going to be wrung out of the Marvel Zombies concept. It's going to happen. This cannot possibly sustain itself forever. But today is not that day; and given that 5 has the same writer, tomorrow does not look good either.

Having generally fended off the attack by the Marvel Zombies universe last time, Morbius and ARMOR decide it's time to go on the offensive. There are, after all, a couple rogue zombies that made it past the dragnet in the chaos of last volumes climax, so time is running short. His response is to get together an all star ghoul squad of Marvels more prominent monsters to throw down.

This includes Man-Thing and boy oh boy, do I love me some Man-Thing (though I admit I love his DC counterpart, Swamp Thing, more).

What follows is a darkly humorous story with some heart to it. Our heroic monsters naturally have some personal issues to work out. It ain't easy having fangs and/or fur. There's also a possible death sentence hanging over them; the good doctor Morbius has made a vaccine, but it carries an inherent danger. Like all vaccines, there's a chance of contracting the disease and this isn't your garden variety flu. Under normal circumstances, you contract this, you're done. Each team member thusly puts out a "last will and testament", of sorts, each of which help frame the events.

Hell, even Zombie Deadpool - or Headpool as Marvel dubbed him - has a few moments where you feel sorry for him.

The jump to bringing the virus into the 616 universe seems to have revitilized this franchise. There are real stakes now; despite the fact that we know the heroes will win the day - because if they didn't, there wouldn't be a regular Marvel universe anymore - there are still consequences that could come about. ARMOR is literally ready to nuke the island at one point just to stop the virus. These miniseries are genuinely enjoyable, to the point where I can't really imagine going back to the barren, essentially dead universe we started out in.

Kev Walker again illustrates our zombie tomfoolery and Marvel really ought to just make a horror ongoing and put him on it. That's about as good a praise as I can really give for this. But I can't think of any horror ongoings he could be put on. Well, unless he wants to jump over to DC to partake in the DCnU.

The Score: 8 out of 10

I don't know how long this franchise can last, but as long as Van Lente is on it, I'll read it. I mean, the dude basically uses the water cycle to mix the zombie virus into a sentient cloud that kills or turns everything it rains on. Who else could come up with that?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Brightest Day vol. 1 (comics)

Writers: Geoff Johns, Peter Tomasi
Artists: Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason
Collects: Brightest Day #0-7

You know, I'm a Geoff Johns fan. I'm not afraid to admit that, despite how much he's derided by certain sects of the comic fandom these days. Even when he screws up, his pre-One Year Later Teen Titans run - of which I'm an unabashed fan, despite generally not caring for the Young Justice four save Bart - earned enough goodwill for me to give him some leeway. But at some point, enough is enough with some of the crap he pulls in his comics.

The hyper-violence is a large part of what annoyed the piss out of me this time. I generally cut him more slack for Infinite Crisis than most of the internet, because it wasn't something he did a lot at the time. But by this point, it's beyond moronic. Is there any damn reason to show senseless slaughter in this comic?

No, there isn't. But we get at least three separate scenes of gratuitous violence, all three pretty much crossing the line of good taste. There is no reason whatsoever for Black Manta to just suddenly slaughter everyone around him because Aquamans back. The plot is not served one bit by a family being butchered to reveal the new villain. There is absolutely nothing gained by a couple being beheaded and their skin ripped off. What the hell is this Geoff?

Then there's the namedrop midway through the prologue issue. To quote WWE superstar The Miz, really? Really?

Then there are the times where I'm reminded just why I like his work so much, points where he and Tomasi seem to touch magic. The Martian Manhunter has a scene in a middle issue that is just touching and quickly reminds me just why he's a great character. Ronnie Raymond - despite being hit with a bit of character regression - has a short bout of believable self destruction over Black Lantern Firestorms actions. Aquaman is, for the first time I've ever seen, an interesting character to watch, especially in conjunction with his now equally interesting wife, Mera.

I never in my life thought I'd want to see more Aquaman aside from badass Aquaman with the hook, but there you go.

Most of this book takes place in the immediate aftermath of Blackest Night. All the main characters were resurrected at the end of that event. Naturally, there's some acclimating to be done, especially for someone like Deadman, who's been away a long, long time. Some characters are farmed out to have their stories post resurrection told in the ongoings, but about six stick around here to be renovated by these two writers.

You may as well call this DC Third Stringers: Rebirth, because that's what they accomplish here. Most folks have a couple plotlines they like from this series, some they're alright with and some they hate. Other than the Hawks - who, lets face it, will probably never be interesting short of Grant Morrison writing their ongoing - I actually liked just about every running story in this book. If there's any problem here, it's that things don't seem to really kick into gear until the end, where we start getting hints of where the overall story will go.

Better still, I've yet to actually read Blackest Night and I don't feel penalized for it.

Both Ivan Reis and Pat Gleason are great artists in their own right and both make this a good looking book. I honestly don't expect that from weeklies - or even, in this case, bi weeklies - so it's a pleasant surprise that not only did they keep up the pace thus far, but they put out some pretty respectable work. Both are going on books in the DCnU I'm interested in, so I look forward to more of their work in the future.

Oh, one last thing; the colors in this are great. Wish the vast majority of books looked like this. Just vibrant work; there's a panel late in the book of a clean, restored beach that just looks gorgeous with the coloring.

The Score: 8 out of 10

This is by no means perfect - and Geoffs trend towards heavy amounts of violence is starting to piss me off - but I'm actually invested in characters I never gave two craps about before and I'm looking forward to reading volume 2. I think it says something when only one plotline out of about six really lost me. Hopefully this holds at this level; if it does, it may actually manage to match 52, which actually had an iffier ratio of interesting plots to dull ones.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Batman vs The Undead (comics)

Writer: Kevin Van Hook
Artist: Tom Mandrake
Collects: Batman Confidential #44-48

You know, sometimes I feel a little bad about how easy it can be to rope me into reading a comic based on general concept. But come on, you've got to cut me some slack here. A comic that promises Batman taking on zombies? How... how could you possibly expect me to resist?

You may recall I enjoyed this teams previous project, of which this is a direct sequel. Obviously we've had a change of format - I guess the miniseries didn't sell all that hot, so we're rollin' in Batman Confidential this time - but the goofy, overwritten fun is the same as it was last time. So of course I enjoyed myself.

Being a sequel to the previous story, many characters are retained. Crazy mad doctor is back, only this time he wants an undead army, so off to New Orleans he goes. Naturally, the vampire and werewolf he created are around because man they hate that guy. Of course Batman finds his way there, because dude escaped from his city and that's not gonna fly. Batman has no jurisdiction. Oh and Superman shows up at some point because I guess the creative team figured they may as well involve everyone from the previous round.

Like I said, it's goofy and overwritten. A master of the form, it isn't; and it even has a few problems that would normally annoy me. Doctor Fate, for instance, shows up for no other reason than to hint where our heroes should go and drop a prophetic vision on our heroes for some dramatic tension moving forward. Big no-no; if you're going to bring in Doctor Fate, you should at least use him or have a tangible reason why he's showing up. But this is one of those things that is just so enjoyable, such screw-ups are overlooked easier than your typical comic.

Everything I said about the art last time holds true for this one as well. It's fair work and if nothing else it suits the story. Mandrake still draws the beasties well. Another fair showing on his end. This type of story seems to suit him.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

Like last time, this is not high art. You're probably not going to be raving about it months from now. But it's a good time and if you enjoyed the previous story you'll enjoy this. I hope we get another sequel, because this has been consistently entertaining. Sadly, I'm not sure how likely it is now that Batman Confidential is over. Regardless, you could certainly read worse than this.