Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias

Before Watchmen Wednesday! 

This is exactly what I feared when I started hearing about Before Watchmen. Len Wein is tremendously loyal to the source material, but that leads to an entire collection that feels like it could have been left on the cutting room floor. It feels like the reason why we never really saw all this history for Ozymandias is literally because we didn’t need to see it.

Other than a few pages where we see him traveling the world to hone his powers, Ozymandias spends this entire series setting up the actions we know he takes in the core Watchmen series. Do you want to see him clone sweet Bubastis? Do you want to see him actually hire the sci-fi writers and scientists he will use for his master plan? Would you like to watch him scout locations for his arctic base? If that type of minutia scratches an itch for you, then you will actually like this series. For me, I found the main plot to be tedious and unnecessary, which weakened the aspects of the book I did enjoy.

I found it interesting that Ozy had been engaging in pretty morally repugnant behavior for a long time. I always enjoyed him as an “ends justify the means” type of hero, but having him kill off his assistants and employees certainly moves him into clear criminal mastermind territory.

I also enjoyed seeing the repeated confrontations with the Comedian. These two are pretty evenly matched, so their fight scenes (narrated by our unreliable narrator Ozy). Wein does a nice job keeping it unclear if Comedian would actually have had any wins or not; Ozy claims he lost on purpose in pursuit of different goals, but there is no way for the reader to be sure.

Jae Lee’s atmospheric and ethereal artwork is an interesting choice for the series. I almost think he brings more mystery and gravitas to the scenes than they actually need. Lee has always excelled in strange locations and atmospheres, and there isn’t a ton of call for that here.

On the scale of Watchmen projects, this one is skippable. We already saw Ozymandias’ finest moments in the main series itself.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Wonder Woman v4: War HC

Duh, I read the collection before this one, right? Because I’m having a hard time remember what is going on here. Like, I honestly wonder if I finished it or not, because I don’t remember Hera’s new status quo, or what exactly Hermes did to Diana, or who that big nude guy in the arctic is supposed to be.

And my gosh, there are so many different children of Zeus running around now that I can’t figure out who half of them are anymore. I’m not sure if Brian Azzarello is trying to be particularly difficult or not, but I can’t make myself care about Lennox, or Wesley Willis, or any of the other folks when their motivations are so opaque to me. I honestly don’t understand what anyone aside from Wonder Woman is even trying to do in this story.

I’m lost.

I’m fascinated that Azzarello would use Wesley Willis as the inspiration for a Greek god’s mortal form, but heck, it is interesting, I’ll give him that. It is kind of like the returning Neptune; I wouldn’t have thought a big frog-fish-blob was the natural choice for the king of the seas, but I guess it works.

I’m also pretty thrilled to see Orion showing up. Highfather gets a moment, but this collection is Orion’s time to shine. He’s a bit of a boor, well a big jerk actually, but his heart SEEMS to be in the right place. Other than being a sexist pig, this is a pretty cool take on the character. That said, I like the old one more. There is no reason that Cliff Chiang’s brilliant redesign couldn’t have just been used on the real Orion in the old DCU.

Just like in the previous collections, the art is the strongest part of this series. Chiang’s work is deceptively simple. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say it is similar to Darwyn Cooke’s style; deceptively simple, exciting, and it cuts to the core of each scene.

I remain puzzled how the Wonder Woman who appears in this comic bears little to no resemblance to the one I’ve been reading about in Justice League. As I’ve said in the past, this feels like a Vertigo Wonder Woman series, with complicated, complex takes on Diana and her pantheon of relations. It isn’t bad, but it sure doesn’t feel like Wonder Woman.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Movie Review

I’ve been raving about this one for days, so it is time to post my official review.

I LOVED Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This is probably my favorite Marvel movie other than the Avengers. Heck, I’d be hard-pressed to say which film I enjoyed more.

The amazing thing about this movie is that it does so many things so well. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with the screenwriters, have jammed this full of everything I look for in a comic-book movie. Heck, it has what I look for in any movie!

From an action movie perspective, the Russos never let things get boring. There are action sequences peppered through the entire film. The audience never has to go more than 10 minutes before you get another set piece where stuff is blowing up or people are getting punched. Best of all, while Captain America definitely dominates the screen time, there are plenty of moments for the excellent supporting cast as well.

And that cast. What a glorious exploration of the Marvel U. Captain America, Black Widow, Falcon, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, the Winter Soldier, Alexander Pierce, and MORE! Brock Rumlow is there for you eagle-eyed comics fans! Batroc shows up in the first few minutes of the film, and he’s wearing purple and orange! This movie exults in the depths of Marvel’s catalogue of characters. Black Widow, Falcon, and Fury are particularly riveting; I found myself almost equally invested in them as in Cap himself.

The villains? If I had to pick a weak point, I guess I’d say the fact that Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce doesn’t pose a physical threat might weaken him a bit. Winter Soldier is the heavy, of course, and he does a fantastic job. When the Soldier has his face mask on? Geez, that is one intimidating bad guy, especially seeing how well he can whip Cappy’s shield right back at him! But for those of us who know the Winter Soldier’s tragic back story, we know he doesn’t REALLY count as a full-on villain, right? And Rumlow is definitely a presence, but he’s there to plant a seed for the future, he’s not a prime time baddy now.

One of the most refreshing things about seeing comic characters on the big screen is seeing how the Hollywood lens can refocus our heroes. Cap’s physical prowess in this film is amazing. I enjoyed seeing him dive out of planes, run rings around his foes, beat the holy heck out of thugs while his shield “pings” away at them. But the scene that blew me away the most was a chase sequence. Watching Cap bull his way through an office building showed off his power and determination perfectly. I found myself cheering for every crash.

There are some folks who have complained about how a square like Cap can’t be a convincing or interesting hero. I say that type of comment says more about the reviewer than it does about Cap. Chris Evans is PERFECT as the sentinel of liberty. He’s honest, courageous, and funny while retaining his edge in combat. Cap doesn’t kill anyone he doesn’t have to, leaving most of his foes breathing but unconscious. Evans’ makes each line of noble dialogue sound eminently reasonable; this is the type of hero you’d WANT to protect you. Keep Man of Steel, this guy is a hero.

That is not to neglect Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow or Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. Black Widow basically co-headlines the film. If you want a more nuanced, conflicted character fighting a murky past, then the Widow is the character for you. Johansson plays her to perfection; she makes ominous comments about not really being anything to anyone and references her dark past, but she’s clearly having fun teaming up with Cap and doing the right thing.

Anthony Mackie’s Falcon? This is a hard part to get right. He’s got to nice enough be instantly accepted as Cap’s new best friend, but still be enough of a hard-ass to get assigned with Cap-level tasks. Mackie does both.

So yeah. The Winter Soldier has everything. Comic book history. Easter eggs for longtime fans. Great characters. Top notch action. Excellent pacing. I’m going to go out and say it; this will probably end up being my favorite film of 2014.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Invincible #101-109

There is pretty much no way I will ever drop this title. Maybe there is something Robert Kirkman could do to get me to drop it, but I can’t think of what that might be. Heck, I would have been OK if Bulletproof had taken over as Invincible permanently. After getting a few issues of his subplots, I’m still bummed that we aren’t seeing much of that guy anymore. (Maybe I need to pick up Invincible Universe? Is it any good?)

Part of what makes this book so fascinating is Kirkman’s willingness to shatter the status quo every few issues. After months of foreshadowing, Kirkman finally pulled the trigger on Robot’s turn two months ago. Robot had been my favorite supporting character for a long time, so I basically kept forgiving him each of the suspicious, dangerous decisions that he kept making. I figured he had it covered. That lasted until two months ago when Robot stranded Invincible in an alternate reality. What’s especially nice about this setup is that Kirkman has been very liberal in his use of alternate realities and dimensions. They’ve been appearing in the title since the single digits, and we’ve even seen multiple Invincible’s before, so this is right in line with the established “world” of the book.

Robot was cool about it, at least, leaving Invincible in charge and explaining why he was stranding his friend in a hostile world. I always say that Kirkman has the most reasonable characters in comics, and once again, I totally get why Robot thinks his actions are necessary. The though process turns Robot into an antagonist instead of an ally, but I can see how he got there. I’ll probably still be rooting for the guy in the upcoming face off.

I appreciate Kirman’s use of time too. Invincible spent a year trying to figure out how to get home. A year! Want to know how many comics that year took up? One. Marvel would have done a 10-issue maxi-series and tie ins to tell the story Kirkman knocked out in one month. I appreciate the heck out of that type of economical storytelling. Now we get to see the stuff we WANT to see in the very next issue. Why waste the reader’s time doing anything else? (The answer, of course, is selling more individual issues that accomplish no plot movement.)

Ryan Ottley. That guy is a machine. He has been delivering whatever is asked for years now. Ultra-violence, strong acting, and pin-up shots, he can do it all. His character designs are new, but feel classic even on a first appearance. He is also the ONLY artist in comics that draws super-women with different body shapes. Atom Eve’s zaftig look would never appear in a comic from Marvel or DC.

This would be one of the last comics I would ever drop. Heck, I might like it more than Walking Dead.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Superior Spider-Man: Goblin War

Time to look at one of the most consistent books on the stands. Great since issue one...

Dan Slott has been doing some amazing things on this title. Who would have thought that so many of us would be distressed at the thought of losing the Doc Ock-driven Spider-Man? With Peter’s return in Amazing just around the corner, I know I’m very torn about it. I love Otto’s Superior Spider-Man, and I haven’t been this invested in Spider-Man in years. Could there be room for both?

For now, this is still Otto’s show. Things are finally starting to turn for the guy, though. He spent 20 or so issues getting Peter Parker’s life in order; getting a girlfriend, graduating with a doctorate, starting a company, hiring an army, and putting J. Jonah Jameson in line. But all of that is crashing down in the current Goblin War storyline. While Otto may have been able to handle everything that has come his way so far, the Green Goblin might be beyond him.

I can’t remember exactly what Norman Osborn’s status is right now, but it sure sounds like him behind the old mask. Surrounding himself with his goblin family has set up a nice gauntlet of flunkies for Otto to work through before finishing the story too. Monster, Menace, the Goblin Knight, and the many, many flunkies on the scene provide plenty of scaling villains for Otto to deal with.

I’m happy that Spider-Man 2099 seems to be coming back into the spotlight too. I loved the character from his first appearance, and giving the reader a straight-up good guy to root for is a very wise move.

Slott clearly has affection for Spider-Man history too. His use of Roderick Kingsley has been inspired; Kingsley “franchises” out-of-use villain IDs to losers in exchange for a cut of their take. Kingsley also remains one of the smarter villains in the book, sending doubles and replacements to keep himself safe. One thing I really like about Slott’s villains is how he mixes in different eras of characters, with 90’s characters like Stunner and Cardiac playing important roles too.

One area where this book shines is in the use of a supporting cast. There aren’t a lot of comics that still utilize the supporting cast like in the old days; it seems most heroes just hang out with other spandex folks now. Not Slott’s Spider-Man. Mary Jane is doing fine on her own, with a new boyfriend and occasional links back to the main story. Aunt May is still around and still important. Otto’s girlfriend, coworkers, Jonah, and the rest round out a cast that makes this book feel like a lived-in world. The regular Avengers appearances are icing on the cake.

I’m amazed at the pace that this book comes out. I felt like I hadn’t read an issue for awhile, and when I opened up my Comixology account, I had 4 issues waiting! I swear it had only been a month or so since I’d read an issue. For a guy with an online reputation for lateness, Slott is pumping this book out very quickly.

He wouldn’t be able to hit this schedule without the assistance of his very able artistic bullpen. Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and more swap storylines to make sure each chapter has a consistent look while maintaining a decent through-style. I think I like Camuncoli the most right now, but there aren’t any real weak links on this title. I particularly like the Goblin Knight design; I don’t love Phil Urich as a villain, but if he has to do it, at least he looks awesome.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I’d keep reading this book if it keeps going after Amazing returns. This comic is so GOOD, it will be holding its spot on my sublist and adding another for Amazing in a few months. 


Friday, April 4, 2014

Batman and Aquaman #29

I really, really want to like this book. When the rest of the DCU rebooted, Peter Tomasi just kept on keepin’ on, telling his style of Batman stories set in a Gotham I recognize, featuring versions of the characters that I knew and loved. I appreciate that a ton. Now factor in that this book has become a rotating “Batman &” title? A new, modern Brave & the Bold?

And how can I not mention the spectacular art from Patrick Gleason. His action scenes are dynamic, his acting is cartoonish and clear, and his splash pages are always worth it (unlike most new 52 titles). The guy is a great storyteller; the sense of transition from panel to panel is seamless, so nice that I actually notice it in this book. When he surprises you, it is by design (like in the Aquaman issue where Batman suddenly appears on the cockpit of Ra’s Al Ghul’s jet).

Hell, a recent issue actually had Batman stop by Noonan’s bar, with the surviving Hitman characters still hanging around enjoying a beer! A nod to one of my top 2 or 3 titles ever!

So how could I not love this book? Well, the problem is two-fold. One, Two-Face was the villain for far, far too long. I’m not sure how long the story actually went, but it felt like at least six issues of wheel-spinning and examination of a character we already know everything about. And Carrie Kelley, the Irish mobster who was the foil for this months long story never felt like a true threat to Batman. Her ties to Bruce Wayne were interesting, but I never thought she had a chance to even threaten the Dark Knight. At no point in the story did I have any doubt about the outcome; Bats had it under control.

Now that the focus is shifting, I’m very hopeful for the future. It seems Tomasi has inherited Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated storyline, so the main plot will have a lot more punch to it. After all, as a big Damian Wayne fan, I’ll go along for the ride to see if he has a chance to come back.

The other great indicator is that Two-Face won’t be guest-starring in every issue now. It feels a lot more like Brave & the Bold when we get a real DC hero as a guest star and they go up against a real DC villain. That’s what I want from this book! Using Gleason any other way is foolish, he should be going on a tour of the DCU and trying to put a good spin on those crappy costumes!

So if Tomasi has truly refocused the book to include better guest stars, more dangerous-feeling plots, and credible villains, then I’ll stay aboard. But right now this is a very, very shaky book on my list.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hawkeye #12-17

What the heck is going on in this comic? The issues are coming out in no order that I can discern. The story is now following two entirely separate plotlines set on opposite sides of the country. And the most recent issue I bought had a bunch of cartoon animals in it. And I think it was a Christmas issue? In March? I didn’t even read it. Instead, I’m afraid that issue is the final nail in the coffin for this title.

I know it is sacrilege to bag on the internet’s favorite Marvel title. But I’m a comic guy, a self-described nerd who likes super-hero comics. I want Hawkeye in his real costume, and seeing David Aja put Clint on the cover wearing his real suit is just teasing. I certainly didn’t sign up for random issues to pop up every six weeks. And based on the covers, I have absolutely no idea what is happening in any particular issue. Are following Clint and Barney Barton versus the Mime? Or are we going to check in with Kate at her local grocery store? Or are there more dog-focused issues coming?

The weird part is that I can appreciate most of this. I actually like Kate’s interludes in California. I like the low-stake, personal cases that are so important to her. I love the development of Madame Masque as a much higher-tiered villain who is obsessed with an annoying sidekick. It’s good stuff!

And the Clint and Barney story! It’s good! It isn’t the high adventure I want, but it is certainly entertaining. The easy banter between the brothers feels real, and the easy reconciliation between guys who have had so many problems feels real too. You can’t help but root for the guys; their bonds are so clear, even when Hawkeye’s teammates are expressing doubt in Clint’s familial faith.

But I feel like if I’m going to buy a “different” comic than my normal ones that at least it should come out with some discernible pattern or order. I should have some idea what I’m bringing home from the comic store. Marvel is putting out too many quality books for me to bring home a title every six to eight weeks and have no idea what is between the covers.

I have to hope/believe that Marvel will fix this printing pattern in the eventual trade. I’ll check back in after a few months and see if I can better follow the book in that format.