Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Spider-Man: Season One (comic)

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Neil Edwards
Original Graphic Novel
Also Included: Avenging Spider-Man #1
Clearly, the gears are a spinning over at Marvel headquarters, because I have to say this new graphic novel line is a good idea.

Unlike DC, Marvel never really changed their continuity around all that much. As such, they've had less need to retell or revise the origin stories of their heroes. They're the same as they were when they first debuted in the 60's. The flipside of that being that said origin stories are not likely to appeal to anyone who may wish to try a Marvel comic.

Lets face it; Stan Lee - along with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko - may have built a universe from whole cloth, but the stories of their day are very, very dated and can be a bit of a chore to get through.

So, have a creative team produce an original graphic novel updating the origin stories of their most popular characters? A good move by Marvel. Including an issue of a modern day comic of said character - introduced as a "where are they now" after the main feature - to entice them into the monthly grind? That one's a shrewd move. Credit where it's due here; this is a slick, modern, well put together hardcover

The only iffy part is the branding*, but everything else more than makes up for it.

I probably don't need to recap much of the story; it's an iconic tale that everyone knows by heart now. Peter's a nerd who is bit by a radioactive spider, thus giving him amazing powers. At first he tries to take advantage of them for his own gain, but when his uncle dies in a manner that he could have prevented, he realized he has a responsibility to use those powers for good. The Amazing Spider-Man is born.

Cullen Bunn is a new face at Marvel who rose to prominence seemingly overnight. He tackles this in a manner reminiscent of an older comic; lots of thought balloons and a few too many instances of characters talking to themselves at length. I'm not sure if this was a conscious choice - perhaps Bunn was trying to update the storytelling styles of the day for this - but I'm not sure it worked as he may have hoped. There are several instances where it might have been appropriate for Bunn to pull back a bit and let the art do the talking.

The art, by the way, is pretty solid work. It's clean, expressive and does a fine job of telling the story. Neil Edwards doesn't reinvent the wheel or anything here, but at the same time, he doesn't really have to.

There's nothing offensively bad about this graphic novel; it's an alright retelling of Spider-Mans classic origin. It doesn't touch the best - I've long felt Ultimate Spider-Man is the cream of the crop in Spider-Man origins - but it's a step up from the original. If I had to choose one thing that struck me as an issue, it would be the odd pacing and structure.

The story itself feels like it's reached it's natural climax and endpoint when Peter discovers that his uncles murderer is the same man he let go earlier in the story. Instead, the book moves onward into Spider-Mans first real adventure against the Vulture. Trouble is, Vulture was barely mentioned in the first half and it's treated as a part of the same story. Since this part was not separate from the origin - as, say, another chapter in the book - it ends up feeling like a very long denouement instead of another adventure.

As for the extra - a copy of Avenging Spider-Man #1 to show what Spidey is up to in current continuity - it's a pretty fun opener to what seems to have been a multi-part storyline. Spidey teams up with Red Hulk to fight the Mole Men. It's some good fun. It's bolstered by art by Joe Maduriera, who hasn't done interior work on a comic in a good long while.

The Score: 7 out of 10

There are some issues here, but it's not a bad retelling of Spideys origin. I'd say it's worth a look for a newbie. Everyone else won't find much they haven't seen before. Regardless, the line is a good idea; I just hope the overall craft is on a higher level for the other installments.

* The "Season One" moniker is odd. It gets across the general idea; this is starting right from the beginning. It also accomplishes the goal of differentiating their line from DC's "Year One" tagline. But a "season"? That's television terminology that denotes a run of episodes from a serialized program. It's... odd, considering this is a single story, not to mention a comic book. It also breeds expectation; if there's a season one, shouldn't there logically be a second season? Time will tell  if there will be a Season Two, but as of this writing there's no word.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis vol. 2 (comics)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: John Romita Jr., Brian Hitch
Collects: Avengers (vol 4) #7-12, 12.1

After a fun romp full of time traveling hijinks, Bendis looks to keep up the pressure by upping the stakes. The Infinity Gauntlet is back on the board; meanwhile, for the first time in forever, a Hulk joins the team. The threat is big, but does the story deliver?

This is the book where the Illuminati - that secret cabal of Marvel heroes that gathered to figure out big problems in secret - is outed to the rest of the superhero world. They'd disbanded a while back, but they are forced to reform when it becomes apparent that the Infinity Gems are being snatched from their hiding places. Since they were the ones that hid them, it falls to them to figure out what the hell happened.

Apparently, Black Bolt decided to be an utter moron and leave his behind unguarded when he and his city left Earth, so the Hood has it. Meanwhile, Steve Rogers - now taking the position as the head of security or whatever the role is - throws a tantrum because no one told him about a secret group of heroes that had disbanded before he came into power anyway. So Tony Stark is threatened with expulsion from the Avengers because I guess it was Steves time of the month.

Obviously, the stakes are high - reality itself is on the line here - but the book feels like it's more concerned with drama. This is really about the Illuminati members having to explain themselves to other people and the simmering tension between Iron Man and Captain America over long standing issues. Steve comes off like a whiny ass here and it's not a look that fits him; that A doesn't stand for "Whiner". At least it should have waited until AFTER the gems were recovered. To top it all off, he comes across as a major hypocrite in the end.

So, it's mostly drama with some fights mixed in; and while I've got little issue with some good drama, it probably shouldn't have been front and center. We're talking a gauntlet that can give complete control over reality itself, which is a huge honking macguffin. Yet the story feels like it's more about the B plot of in-fighting and outing the disbanded group for their "crimes". That shouldn't happen.

Not to mention that - as you can tell by my sarcasm - Steve blows the whole thing out of proportion. Yeah, sure, the Illuminati have proven themselves useless in the past, but we know that, not Steve. Besides which, it's not like they picked terrible parking spots for the gems; they're stuffed in alternate dimensions, separate pocket universes, so far under the sea that almost nothing could survive the pressure and so on. Had Black Bolt not succumbed to incompetence, the whole thing might not have even been an issue.

As for the fight for the gems, it's fairly decent, but it doesn't feel on par with what you would expect from a story involving a group of gems that could end reality. Mostly it's a fight to keep hold of the gems off a coast somewhere, while the Watcher needs to show up to explain why The Hood doesn't just wish the heroes out of existence. It could have used more punch; if anything, Bendis should have used someone other than one of his pet characters - The Hood - for this one, because he's far from menacing and doesn't give much reason for us to care.

The point one issue we get here is probably one of the first to actually present a starting point for something rather than throwing out just another chapter of a given book. I suppose you could look at it as a prologue to "Age of Ultron", a miniseries slated to be the final Bendis Avengers story that was teased in the previous volume. It's quick, fairly interesting - we see a Spaceknight for the first time in forever, but it isn't Rom - and puts Ultron back into play for the future. Unfortunately, there's no telling when Age of Ultron will actually hit - I believe it's been over a year out and still no sign of it - so it's just kind of there.

Unfortunately, that can be seen as a proper way to describe this volume on the whole; it's very readable, but ultimately just kind of there.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

This was a step down from volume one. The fun and the believable threat from the first volume is missing, to be replaced with excess drama. Not good; after all, an appearance by the Infinity Gems should feel like an event. I'm still in for more - it was still okay, if unremarkable - but I hope this was just a bump in the road.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis vol. 1 (comics)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Collects: Avengers (vol 4) #1-6

The Avengers are not a team that I've ever really cared to follow for a long period. Obviously, it's the premiere team book at Marvel and is branded as the "Worlds Mightiest Heroes". Problem is, the Avengers always struck me more as the "Worlds Mightiest C-Listers". I'm sorry, but I cannot give a goddamn about a chick who bangs crying robots or a dude from Eros whose power revolves around giving people orgasms without sex. With people like that it's easy to wonder if Cap just let anybody join off the street. Meanwhile, Spider-Man and Wolverine - two of Marvels best characters - didn't join for forty years.

Bendis kind of rectified this with New Avengers - Spider-Man and Wolverine were finally on the team - but Thor was gone at the time and the book had a different tone. Mighty Avengers restored the tone but went back to a bunch of C listers, Iron Man and the Sentry being the only holdovers of the "big guns". This is the first time all the stars seemed to align for the kind of Avengers book I was looking for; a team mostly comprised of A listers, a big sweeping threat, a large scale and even some time travel thrown in for good measure.

So, now we have the setup I've always looked for - the best of the best taking on the things no one hero can - but is the book any good?

Good might be subjective - Bendis has his fans and detractors - but I think it ranks pretty well. More than that, it's fun. Bendis just throws everything at the wall here; this thing has Kang, Ultron, an old Hulk that resembles Maestro, a cameo by Devil Dinosaur, Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen, Killraven, Martians. We even see the Next Avengers from that animated movie. Bendis plays the "broken timestream" angle to the hilt, ably showing the chaos or eras and alternate timelines slamming together. As such, there is no shortage of cool things to look at.

The overall plot is fairly straightforward; the timestream is wrecked and only our heroes can fix it. It doesn't sound too much different from other Kang plotlines in Avengers. That said, Bendis has some nice moments throughout. It's nice to see Thor just flat out smack Kang several blocks away as soon as he shows up, mid-speech; sure, he was actually there for their help this time, but it's not unreasonable to assume he was there to try and take them down for about the billionth time. I also liked how the storyline looped around in the end, giving context to the first pages of the first issue.

I'm not so sure about his Tony Stark though; while he has several moments where he tries to humanize him, he also plays the characters smarmy douche side to the hilt. That's not necessarily a bad take - it's not like Iron Man is new to being portrayed as kind of a dick - just not one I'm sure the character needs right now when Matt Fraction has worked overtime to get the character back on track after Civil War wrecked him.

JR Jr.'s art is something I'm a bit split about. There are aspects to it I love, such as how rounded and slick he draws Iron Mans armor, almost as though he were a sleekly designed robot. He's also good at drawing a number of crazy things, which is exactly what you need in a story involving time travel. Then there are the glaring instances of his style seeming to almost change; one page things will be slick and simple while the next will be sketchy or scratchy. There's an inker change for the last two issues of the story, too, so there's a noticable shift there as well; it's especially glaring when two pages from the beginning of the story are reprinted at the end in a scene giving context to what we saw at the beginning.

Love the colors though. Bright, flashy and striking. It helps give this book that "over the top heroics" feel it needs as opposed to the darker, muddier coloring prior Avengers books dwelled in for a good while there.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

Maybe I like this because it's my first big scale Avengers story. Maybe it's just because I haven't read Avengers Forever, which I've seen called as the ultimate Kang story. Regardless, I enjoyed the opening of the "Heroic Age" quite a bit. It's not perfect - and JR Jr.'s art can be weird at times - but it's a solid opener that delivers the Avengers I'd hoped to see for a long time. It's worth a look.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Siege (comics)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Collects: Siege: The Cabal, Siege Prologue, Siege #1-4, Avengers: The Way Things Are

I make no bones about the fact that I kind of hate Marvels events. I crap all over them at every opportunity and for good reason. Most of them are terrible. The worst part being that they even drag down writers who are normally excellent. Modern Marvel events are, frankly, the pits.

So, it's kind of shocking to me that I found one I got some genuine enjoyment out of.

Norman Osborn - the big swinging dick in the US military after the inexplicable climax of Secret Invasion - decides that he doesn't like the fact that Asgard is on earth. When the President informs him that he's nuts for wanting to take on a bunch of Norse Gods, Norman decides he's going to go ahead and do it anyways. So, he and the Dark Avengers start their attack and it's going surprisingly well until a bunch of the real Avengers show up. A bunch of Thors friends show up to help him. Who could have EVER seen that coming? Norman's insane, sure, but come on.

It seems like every big event Bendis does is the "culmination of everything he's done on Avengers", but this is the one that comes closest to doing exactly that. Siege is the little bow on top of numerous plots Bendis has played with over the course of his long run on the Avengers books, from things that were there in the beginning such as the Sentry to more recent developments like Dark Reign and the Superhero Registration Act (Mark Miller instigated it, sure, but Bendis is the one who played with it the most). If you want to be cynical about it, this is the Marvel Universe finally moving back to a more manageable status quo, but we could do worse than getting a decent event comic out of it.

This event is the exact opposite of Bendis' usual style of decompression. At four issues, it doesn't waste any time. The war on Asgard is incited in the first, it plays out over the next two and the final obstacle is dealt with in the fourth. As such, Bendis gets straight to the point, putting in all of the little moments that were frankly long overdue. Without a padded number of issues, it finishes before it's worn out its welcome*.

The end result is a feeling that things of consequence are actually happening. One of the problems with Secret Invasion - the previous event Bendis handled -  is that it was about eighty percent filler. We'd waste entire issues on interludes with our heroes twiddling their thumbs in the Savage Land or a crashed ship full of "abducted heroes" that ended up being nothing more than a glorified fakeout. Whereas in Siege it doesn't feel like there are a string of wasted moments. Most every scene matters.

Barring a bit of tiring hyperviolence**, there isn't much wrong with the event. It's not the most exciting, gotta-get-all-the-tie-ins thing going, but the fact that I enjoyed it is significant. I didn't necessarily think it was great, but I admit that it may partly be due to my detachment with the linewide plots over at Marvel. A lack of investment kills some of the power of a book like this, because it really relies on how invested you are in the ongoing saga of the Marvel universe. Since I don't give much of a crap about the heroes going underground, who is in charge or whatever, it doesn't mean as much to me. I just stick with the books I like.

One other note; the presence of Olivier Coipel on art is welcome. It feels like there's a nice visual bridge from the Thor ongoing to this event due to his work on that book. Considering Asgard is a major part of this event, that's a handy thing to have in the plus column.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

Pretty good work all around. If you are heavily invested in the ongoing saga of the Marvel universe, you'll get even more out of it than I did. I think if you're going to check out an event from Marvel, this is probably the one to go with. Or you could just give it a look if you're in the mood for a flashy superhero punch up with gods, bright spandex and clashes of epic proportions. You could do worse.

* This is a lesson that Marvel - geniuses that they are - promptly forgot two seconds later. The next event they did had eight issues. The one after that will clock in at a staggering twelve issues of two teams punching each other. Amazing how they learn nothing. Even more amazing is that people buy into it.

** I'm not one of those guys who thinks gore and heavy violence has no business in superhero comics, but I don't see any reason we needed to have someone ripped in half on panel in full view, complete with organs flying everywhere. Worse still, the trick isn't working anymore. What should have been shocking didn't even make me flinch. Comics ought to pull back for a while, because it feels like they've gone down this road for so long that it's old hat. Scenes like that should garner some kind of reaction.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Superman: Grounded vol. 2 (comics)

Writers: J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Roberson
Artists: Eddy Barrows
Collects: Superman #707-711, 713-714

It's impossible to tell how much of this was planned from the start. I'm not sure whether JMS was involved with any of these issues. I'm not even a hundred percent sure how I feel about these comics. But it's clear this is Robersons show now and that part two is a different animal.

The walk across America takes a backseat as Grounded limps to the finish. Roberson chooses to explain Supermans odd behavior last volume as a symptom of depression - over losing his father figure and New Krypton in short order - before telling a bunch of single issue stories in whatever locale won that contest DC did. The result is enjoyable, even if it's at the expense of a satisfying ending to the Grounded plot.

I simply did not expect Robersons writing style. It's old school all the way; he piles on the thought balloons, captions and outlandish concepts. It's clear he also loves him some Superman continuity; dude throws in a mention of Bluperman of all things. I got a kick out of the mention of the Superman from DC One Million. It seems like no one ever references - or uses, for that matter - the toys Morrison creates.

The downside is that some of the conflicts either don't work or come out of nowhere. There's one issue where Clark Kent renounces his Superman identity for all of ten minutes, but this is immediately following one that ended with a smiling Superman reaffirming his faith in Truth, Justice and the American way. Somehow he pulled a Shawn Michaels between issues and lost his smile in favor of a return to mopeyland.

It's one of many examples of how disjointed this collection feels, with each issue barely connecting, if at all. That extends to how this volume feels next to the last one; given the wildly different storytelling styles, there is no way you could comfortably read them one after the other. This is not really Robersons fault, but it's a clear indicator of the behind-the-scenes hijinks surrounding this story.

It's unfortunate that JMS bailed on DC, because a lot of these problems stem from it. They threw a fair amount of promotion - and even a contest - behind Grounded, so it wasn't like they could just up and abandon the whole thing. Meanwhile, it's pretty clear Roberson wanted to do his own thing, as he barely serviced the overall plot until it was down to the wire. I don't think anyone got what they wanted out of this mess.

Despite all that, Roberson manages a number of issues that are at least enjoyable; as opposed to the first volume, which could only be enjoyed ironically or in mocking. He clearly loves the character and that comes through in spades. His Superman feels authentic, especially compared to the one JMS gave us last volume.

The cherry on top is that Roberson knowingly slips in a "happily ever after" for the character, given that these are the final issues before Superman received a hard reboot for the New 52. Bonus points for doing it without having Mr. Mxyplkt kill everybody. Grounded is hardly a proper sendoff to a version of Superman we've followed for twenty five years, but in doing this Roberson at least gives us some closure. Not every book had the time or luxury before Flashpoint and the relaunch.

Oh, and Roberson actually has Superman doing things. You know, saving people and stopping disasters. The things JMS never bothered with; too busy writing Superman taking on the mighty strawman argument. That certainly counts for something

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

I can't comfortably score this higher. It's a step up from the tripe we got last time, but everything surrounding it is the proverbial albatross around its neck. Check it out if you want to see what Roberson could have done with him, but otherwise I recommend ignoring Grounded as a whole. It's a shame it will probably be Robersons only crack at the character, given his departure over DCs decision to do Before Watchmen.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

X-Men: Prelude to Schism

Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artists: Roberto De La Torre, Andrea Mutti, Will Conrad, Clay Mann
Collects: X-Men: Prelude to Schism #1-4

This book is a bit of a failure; on the one hand it's generally enjoyable, but it's not really a prelude to anything, which is problematic when the main reason you're likely to read this book is because of it's "prelude" branding.

If you didn't already know what Schism was going to be about - or what the differences are that would lead to it - then this isn't the place to look, because you won't find anything about it here. There's a lot of hand wringing over a vague "threat" but not much else. Everything is so ill defined they could literally be preparing for just about any kind of threat from Krakoa to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Each issue is centered around the same fifteen minutes, just with a shift in POV, and those fifteen or so minutes aren't exactly riveting. Cyclops ponders the course of action! People talk! Wolverine wants to fight whatever the thing that's coming is! Kitty Pryde wants to run from it! Watch Cyclops consult two different advisors on what he should do, then stand around and think about how he can't control his powers without a visor! Edge of your seat excitement all around!

So, yeah. Not exactly going to be in the Eisner nominations. Even being as horrifically vague as it is, the book still seems to contradict Schism; Wolverine here is gung-ho about everyone going to fight, when Schism's big split is over Wolverine feeling that the X-Men have been drafting kids to war too much for too long. This miniseries could have been drafted at the last minute or in the works for a while, but either way Jenkins clearly wasn't told much about where it was going.

Much of the book is inner monologue and flashbacks. I can't say I'm a fan of all of it - a fair bit of it may as well be the POV characters mentally fellating Cyclops - but it does allow Jenkins an opportunity to highlight the differences of each characters approach to life and struggle. This goes hand in hand with flashbacks detailing key moments in the early lives of each character. It's nice to see - I even learned a thing or two I didn't know prior - but while it's ultimately pleasant to read, I didn't go into this hoping to get the life story and origins of the four principle characters. Plus it doesn't really lead to Schism in any appreciable way.

Overall, this was a very weird read; it has its good points but it doesn't hit its stated goals in any real way. Paul Jenkins makes it readable. But was it necessary? I'm afraid the answer to that one is a no.

The Score: 5.5 out of 10

A bizarre collection that feels as though it were green lit to get an extra tie-in volume out there. Schism itself looks like a pretty good read, but I'm afraid this is just okay. It doesn't even truly serve as a prelude, which kills any worth the book may have had. I cannot recommend it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Avengers vs X-Men: It's Coming (comics)

Writers: Too many to count.
Artists: I lost track.
Collects: House of M #8, X-Men: Second Coming #1, X-Men Schism #5, Avengers: The Childrens Crusade #7, Magneto: Not a Hero #1, Avengers X-Sanction #1, material from Point One

On the one hand, I get why Marvel does this. On paper, it sounds like a good idea. Take a smattering of comics that lead up to an event and collect it in a volume. I get it. But man, these things are, ultimately, stupid.

As you can tell, not a one issue collected in here amounts to a full story. We either get the beginning of one or the very end, with one lone instance of an issue culled from the middle of a story. Some of it seems loosely connected at best; how exactly is "Magneto: Not A Hero" relevant to a big fight between two teams over Hope and the Phoenix?

What we're left with is a series of moments that mean nothing. We see this Hope girl throughout the collection, but who the hell is she supposed to be? Other than being the first mutant born since M-Day, why is she even significant? Does she even have powers? The event is supposed to be about the Phoenix, so how does she play into the big old firebird? And why is Cyclops such a dick?

To be fair, I don't think that last one can be adequately answered, much less in one volume, but otherwise none of the reasonable questions you may have are supplied with answers.

For something that is supposed to prime you for the coming event, it ultimately tells you little unless you've already read the damn stories and kept up with press releases. Which, you know, are clearly things the mythical "new reader" does regularly. I guess you could say it's meant to be a refresher course for regular fans, but come on; we're talking about the people who don't forget a single moment of continuity and bitch about it regularly. Perhaps it's even for people like me, who don't pay a lot of attention to Marvel events; but again, this thing doesn't tell you much, so if that's the case, allow me to say that it did a pretty poor job of it. Not matter what its purpose may be, it fails.

They'd have been better off printing a checklist of trades to buy that might be relevant to the event, should anyone wish to brush up, but then again, they can't exactly charge you twenty dollars for that.

My Opinion: Burn It

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Captain America: The Trial of Captain America (comics)

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Daniel Acuna, Butch Guice, Mitch Breitweiser
Collects: Captain America #611-615, #615.1, Captain America 70th Anniversary Magazine

There's a real feeling of coming full circle with this volume, as the chickens have come home to roost. As you may recall, last volume ended with Baron Zemo blowing Buckys past as the Winter Soldier out of the water. Here, we realize just what that means as America turns on him and he is brought to trial for his crimes.

It is, of course, gripping stuff brought about at the perfect time. By this point - including the fifty issues of volume 5 before its numbering was switched back to volume 1's - Bucky has been the star and focus of Brubakers Captain America for longer than Steve Rogers. Hell, even when Steve was the front runner the book was at times as much about Bucky as it was him. So by now, we care about him, we've grown to like him in his new role and we've largely accepted him. Time to throw a wrench in the gears; his past - which you could be forgiven for thinking Brubaker had forgotten after so long - is the perfect tool.

It raises a few good questions as well - the kind only comics could ask - about the nature of being controlled. Obviously, such a thing would have to utterly wreck the legal system, because good grief, how do you deal with that? How can they be held responsible? If they can't, then who do you blame? Going after Russia isn't going to be pretty or productive, especially given the changes since the Cold War. It's all tricky; the closest comparison I could think of is being forced to kill someone else by threat of your own life, but at least there you have the smallest measure of control and options in the matter.

Regardless of this, the Marvel populace goes to crucify him, because they are morons easily swayed when shiny keys are dangled in front of them.

Obviously, the legal details are fudged somewhat, as they always are in fiction. I don't find this to be a real problem. Look, I'm no expert in legal matters; a lot of the time I'm generally clueless about the intricacies. I am, however, a guy who, for several years, watched CourtTV regularly. Even the cases that are full on media circuses - Michael Jackson, Phil Specter, Scott Peterson, take your pick - are nowhere near as engaging as Phoenix Wright would lead us to believe. If they were, it'd be the hottest spectator sport going.

As it is it's a lot of standing around, dully arguing minutia while talking heads argue whether the case is just during recesses. It can be interesting, but entertaining it is not. On top of that, if anything exciting happens you can catch it repeated ad nauseam on the news. So generally, I accept that fiction is not going to follow the legal system to the letter, because overall it's pretty boring. Bru manages what seems like a potent mix of legal realities and fictional ones, managing to keep our interest through them.

He also understands that a full four or five issues in a courtroom - no matter how fudged the rules are for the sake of being entertaining - is going to get dull real fast. So while all this is happening, Sin - daughter of the Red Skull - has reared her ugly head and started to cause trouble. Thus, Bucky has to struggle with the decision to stay put - when escape would be simple if he chose - and leave it to Steve Rogers or to escape and suit up as Captain America one last time to track her down and stop her, even if it means ruining his case. Guess which one he chooses?

So, the story is fine. The art kind of wavers. We've got no less than three artists working on this volume and it shows. I'm not an art expert - and it's part of why I don't talk about it much unless there's something to say - but the shift is pretty noticeable. It's not going to sink the book, of course - at this point in Brubakers run, you're probably long past the point where some rushed art will cause you to drop it - but it's unfortunate.

At the end of the volume is another one of those lovely point one issues. As usual, It's not really a great jumping on point. In this case, it acts as more of an epilogue to the trial than anything; Steve is struggling with the decision to take back the identity in lieu of Buckys legal trouble. While he angsts about that, he has to deal with a pretender to the mantle. It's a pretty decent read, but accessible? If you were to jump into this cold after watching Caps feature film, you'd probably end up wondering why Steve was out of the costume to start with.

I don't think Marvels writers really know how to handle these things. Few of them are properly structured as a place to jump on the book; either they're positioned as another chapter of it or as setup for something else entirely. I'm sure they have good intentions - and the idea of an issue being put out from time to time which will catch up new readers is a very good one - but by now I'm convinced this "point one initiative" just isn't working.

The Score: 8 out of 10

If you've been following the book all along, then this is a definite purchase. Ed Brubaker has yet to really fail on Captain America. This volume is largely payoff to long running plot threads, however, so a good point to get on board it is not. I'm sure you could get the gist of things but I don't think you would get nearly as much out of it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Terminator: 2029-1984 (comics)

Writer: Zack Whedon
Artist: Andy MacDonald
Collects: Terminator 2029 #1-3, Terminator 1984 #1-3

I may have mentioned before that Dark Horse are pretty much the kings of the licensed comic. Well, here's more proof. Dancing in the raindrops of the films - hell, the second half takes place directly after the first one - we get another winner from a company that knows what's up with this kind of thing. Other entertainment mediums may struggle with the licensed product, but Dark Horse makes it look simple.

What we get here is a two part story spanning the advertised time periods. We follow Ben, a new character to the franchise, as he struggles to survive in the hellish future alongside the woman he loves and Kyle Reese. Things get wonky when they rescue an old man who claims he is also Kyle Reese; only thing is, he claims to be Kyle after he'd been sent back in time. But that couldn't be true; Kyle died in the first film, didn't he? Sure, Ben wouldn't know that, but we would. Things turn out to be more complicated than we thought and it isn't long before Ben himself travels to the past to save Kyle, Sarah Conner and the future.

The best compliment I can give is that Zack Whedon immediately sets about making us care about Ben - a character we have no pre-existing attachment to like we do Reese or the Connors - and succeeds quite handily. It's easy to buy into Bens life and struggles, not to mention his ultimate reason for going back in time. By the end of the book, I'm ready to continue on with whatever awaits him in the future, which is, of course, a win, I'd say.

The cherry on top is that the first half of the book allows us to stay in the future for a while. One thing I always wanted from the franchise is more of the future we only glimpsed in the first two films; Salvation, of course, doesn't count because that movie was a colossal failure. Only on occasion would we get a real glimpse into the lives of the resistance; one of the few times I can recall offhand happened in another winner from Dark Horse, Robocop vs Terminator*.

The book admittedly plays fast and loose with the aspects of time travel, which I imagine will be a turn-off for some. By the end of the book, we seem to have steered clear of the road that would take us into the events of T2. But to be fair, the franchise has always played along these lines; "no fate but what we make" and all that. Hell, most of Robocop vs Terminator was about the guy with top billing changing the future. If you don't think about it a great deal, it works fine. But if you're a stickler for it "making sense", well... you probably should just stick with the first film, but regardless, this probably won't work for you.

If there's a downside to this book, it's that I don't really understand the thought process behind a move late in the book. This comic spends a fair amount of time putting a particular toy back into play, only to shove it right back in the toybox by the end. I suppose it's possible Whedon is merely moving the pieces into place in case he doesn't want to contradict the second film, but I'd rather he just gone full bore with it, or at least kept this piece in play for now.

Other than that, the only thing particularly wrong with this book is that there's no more available right now and no word on a continuation.

The Score: 8.5 out of 10

I really enjoyed this one. Easily the best Terminator comic I've read thus far that wasn't a crossover. I hope more Terminator from Whedon is in our future, but for now this is a rock solid entry in the franchise. Well worth owning if you're a Terminator fan; if you're not, then yeah, don't buy it, but in that case what are you doing reading a Terminator review in the first place?

* I don't really get what is stopping a trade paperback of the original Robocop vs Terminator miniseries from happening. It seems Dark Horse has the rights to both again. Hell, they just did a new RvsT crossover which has its own trade coming. I'm pretty sure a collection of a Robocop and Terminator crossover by Frank Miller and Walt Simonson would sell more than enough to make the endeavor worth it. Am I missing something here?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Superman: Earth One (comics)

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Shane Davis
Original Graphic Novel

Seems like everyone judged this one before it ever came out. I guess hoodies are an immediate sign of awful. To be fair, people took a dump on it after release too. But was it warrented?

This was a step I'd ultimately expected earlier than this. A line of original graphic novels - continuity free - with star talent on board to give an accessible take on long standing superheroes. Given how the trade market has grown, it seems like a no-brainer; but then, the realities of OGNs don't exactly work the way we imagine they do*. Regardless, DC finally got around to it, with Superman the first to get the treatment**.

This book got some flack from Snarky Comic Bloggers for its portrayal of Superman. Obviously, a lot of folks have some strong opinions on Superman. The SCB's were ultimately right with their points, but there was a difference they seemed to overlook; they were talking about the iconic one we know best.

This was meant to be a different Superman starting out his career in a different manner. The pre-Flashpoint Superman was essentially the same character no matter what part of his career you go to. This Superman is a different animal. He's not the Christ-like figure meant to inspire us and lift humanity though example.

What JMS does is give us a Clark Kent who is recognizable as a young man, not an immediate messiah. This Clark Kent is going through the difficult transition into manhood. He has all this power, but what should he do with it? His parents wish he would protect the world, but is that what he wants to do? It feels like his destiny. Does any young man want to choose a path they feel has been laid out for them? This Clark Kent wants to help the people of the world, but he wants to live a normal life as well; he wants to see if he can use his powers in another way to help the people of mankind, whether it's as a scientist or otherwise.

The whole world is ahead of him, with possibilities galore. But what does he want to do with it? What is right for him?

So, right off the bat, this is a Clark Kent who is not the same one we usually know. We've all been there; our whole life ahead of us, but no real idea what we want to do with it. It's all a big question mark. A time of self-discovery. A time period we could imagine being all the more confusing with super-powers of the sort he carries.

It's very relatable in a way that Superman typically isn't. Not saying that is a problem with vanilla Superman late in his career; by that point he knows what he wants to do and how to do it. He's not supposed to be relatable. But early on, he's a young man fresh off the farm he lived on his entire life headed to the big city, not to mention a young man with powers and an alien nature. Of course he's going to be confused. Of course he's going to need to find his way.

It's an opening that feels proper. Superman as a character is one that has always wanted nothing more than to be one of us. Here, despite being an alien, he feels like one. We all know he'll get to where he's going, but in seeing this journey it feels just a bit more natural.

So, obviously I thought it was a pretty respectable story. It's not perfect though. It has it's moments were it tries to get a bit cute. Jimmy Olsen in particular has a nice role in the story, but JMS tries a bit too hard to convince us he's cool.

Then there's the villain that coaxes Clark to his destiny. Tyrell is, frankly, the most forgettable new villain in the past decade of comic books. He's only there because the book needed a villain; not even a link to the destruction of Krypton - a dumb and entirely unnecessary twist - could make this character interesting. While I appreciate that JMS didn't go to the Lex Luthor well right away, he whiffed hard with Tyrell. Hopefully volume two will use a recognizable villain.

My Opinion: Read It

It's far from perfect, but this is a nice start to the Earth One line. It's a take that I think was worth exploring and it redeemed JMS a bit in my eyes after the mess that was Grounded. If you're a new reader, you may get even more out of it; it's a pretty good continuity-free foot in the Superman door.

* Several pros have mentioned that OGN's are longer term sellers, assuming they're a hit. They take money and time to put together; when they do get out the door, they're not the immediate cash the monthlies represent, which obviously a company needs for day to day operation. A lot of people fantasized about comics going "all OGN", but they've long been kidding themselves. It's nothing more than that; a fantasy.

** The second project is Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. It was horribly off schedule at the time of this writing - it was supposed to hit in the fall the same year Superman did - but eventually it managed to see release. The review can be found here.

*** Some people were actually pissed about this because it adds "revenge" as the motive for Supermans interference. Only... it doesn't. By the time Clark finds out this dudes connection, he's already decided to put on the suit and help people. The reason to be pissed is because it's a worthless addition and adds nothing to the story. Definitely a misfire.