Friday, December 19, 2014

Batman: Noel HC

It took me three years to read this hardcover. It isn’t that it is super long, but I felt that a Christmas story like this should be read about the holidays, and the narrative is so dense and purple that I’m afraid I couldn’t get through it. Three years in a row I tried, only finally managing to finish this year.

Let’s get the good stuff out first. Lee Bermejo’s art is beautiful, realistic, and striking, as always. His Catwoman looks poured into her shiny leather suit. His Superman is a golden god with a unique take on the S-symbol that has clearly inspired other artists. The Joker is a horrific, realistically-scarred madman. You can’t look at Joker and not feel queasy. Every aspect of the art is a triumph. The flashback costumes of yesteryear. The batmobile that looks like it is ready to rocket off the page. Even the coloring is luxurious.

But man. The story. This is the story of Scrooge if he were Batman with a cold. Bermejo never lets an opportunity for convoluted language and symbolism to pass him by. Bermejo is so desperate to make sure this story is “adult” and serious that it is an absolute chore to read. My god, I’m exhausted just thinking that Bruce Wayne’s quest on crime is the same as Scrooge’s lack of Christmas spirit.

This is a beautiful comic that hurt me to read. So overall, an EVIL comic, but let’s not take away from Bermejo’s immense talent. As an artist, he’s unmatched. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Aquaman #36

Never underestimate the power of a good guest-star. My feelings on the new 52 are old news at this point, but I still found myself excited at the prospect of a Martian Manhunter vs. Aquaman throw down when this cover was solicited. After some positive reviews from my local comic store, I decided to drop a few bucks and see how Aquaman is doing these days.

Color me surprised! Jeff Parker is one of my favorite writers, so I had high hopes for his take on the character. He doesn’t disappoint, with a proactive, intelligent Aquaman with lots of allies and a lot of help working on Atlantis’ current problems. The last I saw Martian Manhunter, he was on the outs with the league, but things certainly seem like they are totally fine here. J’onn is trying to help Aquaman figure out what happened to his mother on the night of her death. Unsurprisingly, things are not as Aquaman believed. Seeing an eventual battle between the two heroes was probably inevitable.

What makes me the happiest here is that I don’t need to worry about the new 52 continuity at all. Tula is here as an Atlantean guard. Mera is still the supportive partner/equal that she’s been the whole time. I don’t have to pretend that Martian Manhunter isn’t meeting Aquaman for the first time. Believe it or not, that goes a LONG way for me to be able to enjoy these comics. I simply cannot re-read origins and “first meetings” over and over again as DC editorial tries to figure out what happened and what didn’t.

Man, seeing Paul Pelletier’s fantastic art really drives home how much I’m missing in the DCU. A lot of the creators are folks whose work I really like! The dang continuity and ever-present dour tone are keeping me away from comics I normally would have bought!

Pelletier’s Martian Manhunter is pretty awesome, but I sort of wish I could see the “real” take on the character; you know he’d look even better. I haven’t seen Mera’s powers used to make a giant, hard-water proxy before, but man, that is one incredible looking page. Very nice stuff.

So. Amazingly enough, I think this GOOD comic is going to have me buying Aquaman. At least until I have to pretend that I don’t know who someone is in the new 52. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

My newest obsession, Spotify!

I usually talk comics. Occasionally TV or movies. But I'm just as obsessed with music. I've actually been focused there in recent days. So no new comic review... BUT

If you enjoy Alt Rock, Indie Rock, or heck, just plain Rock, check out my current obsession, Spotify! I've been making mix tapes and CDs since 1992, and I'm getting all the playlists up onto Spotify. If you enjoy my comics reviews, perhaps you'll enjoy seeing how I became obsessed with Brit Pop in the 90's!

Here is my 2014 Playlist. If you dig it, give me a follow! (My username is 12167692409).

Monday, December 8, 2014

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #17

(To be honest, this is more a review of the whole run.)

How do I continually get my heart broken by series like this? Regular readers know that I don’t care for a lot of the headliner Avengers titles these days. Instead, the best team books seem to be the ones hanging out on the fringes of the Marvel U. Heroes for Hire, Mighty Avengers, MODOK’s 11, Mystery Men, Thunderbolts, I could go on and on about the best Marvel team books. And Superior Foes deserves to be in that conversation.

I picked up this series because when I chatted with artist Steve Lieber at a con, and he seemed really excited about the book. Not only did I get a great Snow Job sketch, but I also found a fantastic series.

Historically and almost thematically, this series picked up after Jeff Parker’s wonderful run on Thunderbolts. I wasn’t tremendously familiar with Nick Spencer’s work, but from the opening pages of the first issue, this series boasted top notch characterization, laugh-out-loud moments, and an entertainingly confusing plot. The Sinister Six (who have only 5 members) consist of Boomerang, Beetle, Speed Demon, Shocker, and Overdrive. This mix of classic, new, and legacy villains was a delightful ensemble. Even though Boomerang was a raging jerk, you couldn’t help pull for the guy. With supporting appearances from Mach-V, Chameleon, Silvermane, Punisher, Owl, and a lot more, this was firmly planted in the Marvel U.

Of course, as we learned in this issue, we have had a darn unreliable narrator for the entire series. Boomerang isn’t exactly trustworthy. The last issue (like many of the others) has a lot of late reveals and explanations that our guide didn’t want to let go too soon.

Spencer really proves himself in one aspect. He leaves the Marvel U richer than he found it. Boomerang has had some moments of characterization before. But the new Beetle being Tombstone’s ambitious daughter? Overdrive pining to eventually become an Avenger? Who knew that Speed Demon had a soft spot for dogs? And Shocker, truly, his potential is the most surprising (or not). These goofballs are the type of characters that drew me into the Marvel U when I first discovered it as a kid. The costumed villains can have lives just as rich (or richer) as those of the super-heroes.

Aside from a few fill-in issues that couldn’t live up to the standard set by the rest of the series, this run is the child of Spencer and Lieber. The book wouldn’t have worked without Lieber’s art. In addition to solid super-heroics, Lieber shows off a tremendous sense of comedic timing. His art direction seamlessly flows between drama and comedy. And his action scenes? He rarely if ever delivers them straight. If there is a fight in an issue of this book, you are going to get something new and special. The pacing of the fight scenes keeps the book moving at an amazing pace. Sure, the world is never at risk, but a LOT happens throughout this run. Lieber’s gritty but clear pencils are key to making that fast pace work.

Folks, this is an EXCELLENT comic. The type of comic you can look back on fondly and realize that you’ve discovered a hidden gem. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Energy Analyzer in December

The Energy Analyzer is going dark for much of December as I focus on one of our favorite annual traditions, the Twelve Days of X-Mas.

Here's a hint about this year's selections...

Monday, December 1, 2014

Avengers: Adapt or Die TPB

In my ongoing confusion about Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers opus, a little clarity is appreciated. So we are finally getting the sort-of-origins of the Mapmakers. I even appreciate that the beings are sort of tied to some existing villains in the Marvel U (the now-headliners in AIM). But man, why did this origin story have to involve YET ANOTHER ALTERNATE EARTH. 

Seriously, folks, This is getting ridiculous, right? All of Hickman’s Avengers. Superman/Batman. Earth-2. Multiversity. Half the DCU. Are we really so out of normal story ideas that one Earth is not enough? And we can’t even just have 2? I mean, this zeitgeist confuses the hell out of me. I like What If’s as much as anyone else, but seeing the Evil Avengers running around as the spotlight characters just seems pointless when it is so hard to get quality time with the real Avengers. 

And now we are adding in time travel too. I know this is going to be a major plot point coming up, but man. Why can’t we just get normal Avengers stories? Why are there two or three or four versions of characters running around?

I hope folks aren’t coming to this book hoping for action starring the Avengers. Because when the real Avengers are lucky enough to be on-panel, they very often are just talking. Animatedly talking, sometimes, but discussing things. The action and quality fisticuffs I enjoy in my comics are almost always reserved for alternate versions of our leads.

Maybe it is just me, and I read comics totally differently than other folks. But for me, the types of conflict happening in Uncanny Avengers and Mighty Avengers are much more what I’m looking for from Marvel’s premiere super-team.

Again, Marvel is putting top notch artists on this title; you can’t say Hickman has had to suffer with sub-par artists. Salvador LaRocca and Esad Ribic are some of the biggest guns in Marvel’s arsenal. I just wish they were working on a title more my speed. The art is the undisputed highlight of this run for me.

This EVIL comic is another huge miss for me. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Multiversity: Pax Americana #1

Well, no one can accuse Grant Morrison of pandering. I consider myself a fairly sophisticated comic book reader, but this was a difficult comic to get through. In addition to the unique presentation of the story (Morrison starts at the end and works backwards), the art is a challenge as well. I noticed that the sense of motion on the page was unique, but it took interviews for me to realize that Morrison was explicit in his instruction to artist Frank Quitely. Most if not all of the pages lay the motion out in a figure-eight style; infinity on a comic page.

There are a few ties to the overall Multiversity plot, but more than any of the other one-shots so far, Morrison seems to be telling a self-contained, experimental story. Clearly, Morrison is challenging himself (and his readers) with this one-shot. That might even be more of the goal than furthering the Multiversity core plot.

I have a ton of affection for both of the “sources” for this issue. I love the Watchmen; it blew my mind when I first read it. It obviously still holds up as one of the best stories ever. But at the same time, I have sort of moved away from the dour, grim, and depressing attitude that permeates its pages. Alan Moore’s intellectual exploration doesn’t accept much of the inherent joy of super-hero comics. And that is the tone that Morrison is directly channeling here. Captain Atom isn’t really Captain Atom in any way I recognize. He’s totally the distant, thoughtful Doctor Manhattan.

That brings me to the other source. The Charlton super-heroes. My exposure to them began in DC comics, the versions of the characters we see here are in no way related to their DCU counterparts. They have the same mental afflictions, guilt, and neurosis of the Watchmen. It is almost painful seeing Quitely’s beautiful take on Blue Beetle, Nightshade, and Peacemaker, but to see the characters in such a unique and off-putting presentation. This is Rorschach, not the Question. This is Nite Owl, not Blue Beetle. Heck, in a world that produced a million Before Watchmen titles, I wonder why DC didn’t just make an Earth-Smiley for the Watchmen to live on.

This is a challenging, challenging read. Much like the issue of Earth-Me, this comic takes characters I am very fond of and presents them in a way that really leaves me wanting more. This is good stuff. The story is interesting. The art is absolutely wonderful and immersive. But man, am I the only one who finished this and thought “man, I’d really like to read about these characters in a normal book?”

So I probably sound like a moron. I can accept that. This is a comic that simply must be re-read in order to understand Morrison’s message (or even get close). I understand sales were insane at my comic shop, I wonder how most people responded to this? Surely the average new 52 fan isn’t keen on treating a comic book like a college-level English discourse?

This is a GOOD comic, because it is so challenging. But I can’t give it an EXCELLENT, because Morrison is determined to make me work while I read. This comic isn’t one for relaxing and unwinding. You’d better bring some paper to take notes.