Friday, November 29, 2013

The Shade TPB

See, now this feels like James Robinson wrote it. There is a certain, verbose, introspective nature to Robinson’s best work. A sort of smug tone that comes through, an unapologetic aloofness in both the character’s voice and in the plot itself. Robinson’s best work has this, found in Starman, The Golden Age, and even his Malibu series Firearm. It was totally missing from his average run on Justice League. This wildly variable level of quality is so vast that at my comic store, a group of readers have even voiced the belief that Robinson doesn’t write all the books that bear his name.

I’m not in any position to say that.

What I can say, is that this feels like Robinson again. There is no need to dwell on Justice League Cry for Justice when we’ve got good stuff right here. Picking up The Shade after all these years, Robinson picks right back up. The Shade almost inhabits a different world than the rest of the DCU, but in the age of the new 52, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, during the Shade’s expansive world tour and flashbacks, there are very few pre-existing DC characters. Vigilante looks just how we remember him; although I’m pretty sure he and some of the other heroes here don’t work with the new 52 timeline of active superheroes. While Deathstroke is wearing the wrong costume, he sounds just right.

The story involves Shade tracking down his descendants and either helping them out, or taking them out. The plot is largely secondary. This is a world tour of Robinson’s DCU, meeting superhero vampires and Outback/dreamtime demigods. I read it in a few nights, and even I lost track of the overarching plot a few times. This is a trade you read to meet some of Robinson’s new ideas rather than see the development of a superhero universe. And frankly, that’s exactly what I want. When you can’t stand the new 52, seeing it pretty much ignored is perfect.

Of course, Robinson’s case is strengthened by teaming him with tremendous artistic partners. The storytelling in this book is uniformly excellent, even with different artists taking the many chapters and characters. Cully Hamner, Javier Pulido, Frazer Irving, Darwyn Cooke, Jill Thompson, and Gene Ha is a pretty ridiculous set of collaborators.

A self-contained story with fantastic art. One that harkens back to “my DCU” more than the new 52. The energy analyzer says that makes for a pretty GOOD comic. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Avengers Arena v2: Game On TPB

For those of you coming in late, this is Marvel’s version of Hunger Games and Battle Royale. Master of Murderworld and X-Man villain, Arcade has decided to up his game by kidnapping a slew of young superheroes from schools all over the Marvel U, then pitting them against each other in a fight to the death. I’m still not entirely convinced that this isn’t in some sort of virtual reality program, because I have a hard time believing that killing existing intellectual property for a series like this is worth it. Even Darkhawk is somebody’s favorite…

After the initial slaughter of the opening few issues, Dennis Hopeless has reigned himself in. Instead of killing characters every issue, he’s doing it every few issues, and he’s going for his own creations as much as existing Marvel characters.

Longtime readers of the blog know I hate it when authors kill off characters without doing their own “work” to make that death mean something. When Hopeless kills off a few of the Murderworld contestants in this collection, he makes sure that they all had at least a few moments in the spotlight. Not enough, for the one pre-existing character who dies, but at least he seemed somewhat competent before being dispatched.

More importantly, Hopeless is building up Apex to be a pretty solid villain in her own right, making her as much or more of a threat to our heroes as Arcade. Arcade’s drastic upgrade in power is explained, but I just don’t buy it. This is way above his pay grade, and the fact that he’s killed off these super kids is just impossible to swallow. If this is for real, and he’s dispatched these characters and killed off others, then I have to think Wolverine and some others might be killing Arcade the next time we see him. (I also have to assume that Constrictor survived his revelatory moment with Arcade. Upgrading Arcade isn’t worth killing an existing villain like that either.)

This book looks fantastic. Kev Walker’s designs look like they’ve been around forever, even on new characters. His Darkhawk is a nice blend of the original 90’s look with the bulked up version introduced during War of Kings. Best of all, his work with the revamped and powered-up Nico from Runaways is tremendous. Walker also excels with his facial expressions, the acting is so important in this book, and Walker nails it.

For me, I won’t really know how to grade this until I see how Hopeless wraps up his story. I am going to show some confidence that he’s not going to kill too many more original intellectual properties, so I’ll say this comics is GOOD.


For those keeping score at home, here’s the tally for this, the second Avengers Arena trade:
Still alive and kicking: X-23, Hazmat, Reptil, Cammi, Nico, Chase (now Darkhawk), Deathlocket, Apex, Cullen Bloodstone, Anachronism,
Dead: Mettle, Juston & his Sentinel, Red Raven, Nara, Kid Briton,

Missing: Chris Powell (original Darkhawk)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Deadpool v2: Soul Hunter TPB

Just to catch you guys up from the reboot of this book last summer; Deadpool’s Marvel Now series has tongue planted firmly in cheek as he opened the series fighting the re-animated bodies of the dead American presidents. This included fighting Ronald Reagan on a space station and William Taft in a bathtub. So Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn haven’t exactly been aiming for drama. This is meant to be a fun, irreverent book.

The status quo heading into the second trade is an update to Wade’s weird voiceovers. He’s got a co-pilot in his head, deceased SHIELD agent Preston is now wandering around in Wade’s mindscape; able to both see what he’s up to in the real world, and explore the depths of Wade’s memories during downtime.

Through the use of an inspired “inventory issue,” Deadpool gains a new nemesis in Vetis, a demon with big plans. Vetis has been storing stolen soul power in his victims for decades, now he wants Deadpool to go and “collect.” Naturally, this involves Wade killing a lot of people.

The plot is largely secondary here; there more to facilitate some interesting team-ups and give the core cast time to make jokes. Iron Man (circa Demon in the Bottle) and Daredevil get some panel time, but the biggest guest appearance is the Superior Spider-Man. It is interesting that Otto Octavius’ take on Spider-Man has so much less patience for Deadpool than Peter Parker. Parker always makes concessions and often looks the other way; Otto does not.

Of the core cast, Preston, Ben Franklin, and the inept wizard who raised the presidents make for a good supporting cast. Deadpool only works when he’s got people to bounce off of; Duggan and Posehn know that and make it work. They also introduce some potential game-changing back story for the future.

The artwork from Scott Koblish and Matt Hawthorne is professional. I’m not overly familiar with either guy, but I can’t complain. They had big shoes to fill since the departure of Tony Moore, but the art is fine.

While I enjoy Deadpool in team books, I rarely love his solo series. This is no exception. This is competent and it has real laughs. I think fans of Deadpool’s lighter side will really dig this. But for me, this is definition of a FAIR comic. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Aquaman v2: The Others TPB

Aquaman ANGRY! Aquaman SMASH!

OK, it’s not quite that bad, but man, Geoff Johns really does like darkening up his heroes these days, huh? This collection is a long revenge-fest. Aquaman has many reasons to want Black Manta dead, and he states his goals clearly and repeatedly. I think two or three issues end with Aquaman promising to kill Manta.

That’s not to say Manta doesn’t deserve it. The book opens with him hunting down and GUTTING a former teammate of Aquaman’s from The Others. I’m not sure if Manta meant what he said about filleting the hero’s family, but if he is serious, then his level of villainy just went up to Joker level. And honestly, bad guys that bad do need to be put down. My problem is that I just think that is too far for serial super-comics. If bad guys were doing things that bad, how could they live past one or two confrontations?

The focus of the book is on The Others, a forgotten super-team, these were his teammates before he joined the Justice League. As always, Johns shows off his inherent chops for super-heroes. These characters only need to show up on panel for a panel or two before their archetypical designs and personalities start to shine through. Jungle Woman, super-spy, Russian patriot, supernatural avenger. This is a perfectly built super-team, with all the required roles met and checked off. I’m not sure I could name them all just a few days after reading this book, but they certainly entertain from cover to cover. I think the Russian Vostok might be my favorite. His combination of power but fear of crowds immediately gives him an interesting conflict.

One thing I really appreciate in Johns’ reboot is the power and importance he gives Mera. She’s Aquaman’s wife, and second banana, but it is pretty clear that she’s at least his equal in power, and it sure seems she’s a more level-headed hero at this point too. Actually, amend that, I just remembered that DC announced that the two of them aren’t married, because married heroes are too boring. So I guess that makes her his queen, but not necessarily wife. I’m sure all the mythical kids reading this violent, gory comic are a lot more likely to connect with the heroes since they are boring and married like old people. Ugh.

Ivan Reis is on art for this collection, and his work remains solid. As I said, the character designs for The Others is so good, it feels like I should already know all these heroes. They’ve got iconic, classic looks that look modern too. I gotta say, they don’t look particularly “new 52” to me, though. Not enough collar or lines on the uniforms. Reis has drawn Black Manta before, but man, that guy looks threatening for a big-headed swimmer. I also like that Reis draws Mera a bit slimmer than the average overdeveloped superheroine.

This is one of the better new 52 books, people. It is violent, gory, and fairly mean-spirited. It is based on betrayals, past mistakes, and “everything you know is wrong!” type reveals. For me, that means this is only a FAIR comic, but maybe it is more your cup of tea. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thor: The Dark World Review

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience seeing Thor: The Dark World. It is a lot more “Star Wars-y” than I would ever expect from a Thor film, though. There are a couple sequences on an alien (dark elf) spaceship that felt like they came straight out of the rebooted Star Trek franchise. And the battle for Asgard involves elf fighters and spaceship versions of Viking longboats. I had to laugh in the theater, the sound effects and feel of the whole sequence was like Empire Strikes Back or Chronicles of Riddick.

Chris Hemsworth clearly enjoys the role, and watching him strut confidently around the screen is a joy. The ladies want to be with him, the men want to be him. As a big fan of female heroes, I wish Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif did more than give sidelong glances in between butt-kickings. She has so much potential. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is a walking plot device. She does what she can, but she spends so much time being moved around the board as a living MacGuffin that when she finally has an impact on the story, it felt like too little too late. I am also fully convinced that Marvel Comics needs to find a way to get Idris Elba’s Heimdall into the comics. He goes from an afterthought to a supporting character with potential with nothing but Elba’s gravitas.

Stealing the show, once again, is Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Honestly, how is it not a problem that the “villain” of the Marvel U has the most charisma out of any of the leads? Whenever Loki is on screen, the sense of humor involved goes up, but the dramatic weight of the scene doesn’t suffer for it. Thinking back on the film, almost every highlight involves the trickster son of Asgard.

As for the villains, they don’t hold up as well as the other Marvel movies. I think Christopher Eccleston tried his best, but he can’t act his way out of that much makeup. Malekith the Dark Elf is never more than a generic big bad with vague motivations. He has a few lines of dialogue that briefly raise the stakes, but not as many as Tom Hardy’s Bane from the Bat franchise. It takes a lot of good lines to raise a villain’s personality through masks and prosthetics. I have no problem with the inclusion of Kurse. There were enough nods to the comic to make the villain feel familiar, and Kurse is also the source of the most “comic-booky” moments of the film. Tell me you didn’t smile when he picked up that enormous boulder and tossed it at Thor. Physics be damned!

Perhaps I sound too down on this; it is a fun movie, filled with whimsy and action. Alan Taylor clearly has affection for the comic source material, and the feeling of adventure and excitement that permeate the film are hard to resist.  It is a tad long, and a tad too space opera, but if you want to see super-heroes banging ancient weapons off each other, this movie hits the spot.

Thor is GOOD!

(And other than the previews, pretty kid-appropriate too. My 8-year-old loved it.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

World War Z (2013)

Time for my occasional movie review!

I saw World War Z last night, and wow, did it shatter my already low expectations. The film had many problems, so I’m going to limit myself and only talk about a few of them.

As a zombie film, it totally misses the point. The entire creeping dread of a world going “zombie” doesn’t work if people turn 12 seconds after being infected. That movie, involving living monsters, was called 28 Days Later. An incubation period that short leads to an entirely different style of film, not a classic zombie movie. The 12 second incubation would also curb any possible spread of the virus worldwide on normal aircraft. While I believe I did see a zombie driving a garbage truck, I’m reasonably sure they can’t pilot aircraft. Let that sink in, a zombie was driving a frigging truck.

Now, before someone pops in to defend it, I heard the line of dialogue where the incubation period was at first a few hours, or minutes. If the virus is adapting and changing that rapidly, then sign off on the Earth, cause messiah Brad Pitt’s “fix” isn’t going to work.

One of the most haunting aspects of a good zombie story is the knowledge that these monsters were once people. Usually, a good, slow turn gets the point across nicely, but seeing zombies in their un-agitated state does it too. Normal clothes and surroundings can hint at the average life each zombie once led. This movie avoids that thought at all costs. In an attempt to hold a foolish PG-13 rating, the zombies never have any personality. They are chomping, leaping images created by a computer. They act more like angry frogs than any zombies I’ve ever seen. Hell, if you are doing fast zombies, you might as well put some chubby people in there, the zombies don’t all have to be marathoners if they are CGI anyway!

So those are some generic complaints on the lack of zombie-ness in the movie. Now the specifics.

Brad Pitt is the only person in the world with a functioning brain, eyes, and ears. No one, not even trained scientists or political leaders are capable of putting simple facts together. Nope, the world’s only and best hope is an unemployed pancake maker who thinks stacking suitcases in front a curtain will stop a horde of zombies.

Rarely have I seen a movie that so gleefully exists just for the main character. Convoluted, moronic set pieces await Brad Pitt all over the world. Innocent morons waiting to be eaten, zombies capable of jumping up onto helicopters, and more; they are all just waiting for Brad (and the camera man) to arrive so they can get things going. Honestly, the same plot is just repeated around the world: Brad arrives, surveys zombie situation, meets a few bozos, zombies overrun the bozos.

The action is shot with shaky cam. Shaky cam and CGI are a ridiculous mix. The zombies have superpowers that come and go as necessary. The entire world doesn’t take reasonable precautions, even in a zombie apocalypse. I mean, you built a wall to keep the zombies out; wouldn’t you want to keep an eye on it? Or a frigging camera? Who knows when the zombies might get the insane ability to turn into an undead escalator?

This was a good book, people. With great settings, characters, and unique situations that really said something about zombies, and yes, about society. That is what good zombie stories are supposed to do. Author Max Brooks did it. Director Marc Forster couldn’t. As a film, this was amateurish, insultingly stupid, and impotent. As an adaptation of a good book, it is devastatingly inept and ineffectual.

World War Z is POOR.

(And for those of you who liked it, I will try to help you. I’m going to put up a list of GOOD zombie movies so you can compare them.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

X-0 Manowar: Planet Death TPB

I think it is time we had a talk about Valiant Entertainment.

I was a HUGE fan of the original Valiant back in the day. So I’m the target audience for this modern day relaunch. I have to say, overall, I’m very impressed. I’m collecting these new Valiant books digitally. Comixology has regular sales of just about the entire universe, so I find myself buying almost every book in the line when the appropriate sales kick off.

The creative teams on these books are fascinating, generally consisting of what I consider B-level Marvel and DC talent. Since those tend to be my favorite types of creators, the quality of these books is remarkably solid. You’ve heard of these writers, you’ve heard of the artists. This is good stuff.

Planet Death wraps up the initial “spider-alien” storyline that dominated the original X-0’s attention for so long. Aric is a Visigoth, captured by cruel aliens and forced into slavery until he discovers the holy armor of Shanhara. The aliens, known as the Vine, are furious with Aric for escaping and making off with their holy artifact. After repeated attempts on his life (including a pretty sweet fight with Ninjak!), Aric gets tired of it and heads to the Vine’s homeworld. He is a total maniac, killing dozens or hundreds of spider-aliens as he brings the planet to heel. Hence the title, Planet Death.

Robert Venditti does a remarkable job actually putting some moral conflict into this black and white story. He actually has some spider-aliens we can root for! I’m not sure if they are good, but they are definitely not as bloodthirsty and cruel as most of their kind. It is a neat trip seeing Aric very slowly come around to the idea that he doesn’t have to slaughter the entire Vine race. It is also a delight seeing the human slaves of different eras and locations come together to throw off their captors (along with some interesting alien allies too).

Cary Nord and Trevor Hairsine handle the art, and it is wonderful. The X-O Manowar looks just like I remember it (even if it has been modernized, it FEELs right, an important distinction from the soulless new 52 costumes). One of the neater aspects of the art is the absolute lethality of the Shanhara armor. I mean, the laser beams practically burn off the page due to the strong coloring.

These Valiant books are darn good. And when you can get them for 99 cents each in a digital sale? That’s a STEAL! GOOD!

Monday, November 11, 2013

B.P.R.D.: 1948 TPB

So I recently complained about not knowing what was happening in Superboy volume 2. I was totally lost; felt dropped in the middle of a story I had no investment in.

This is the opposite of that. I started off in the same place. I have absolutely no memory of what happened in the last couple BPRD flashback books. Other than Professor Bruttholm, I don’t remember any characters. But IT DOESN’T MATTER. This book has everything you need to get invested in the current mystery. This book has horror, gore, action, and a great set of characters that pulls you right in.

A friend of mine just said “how can a comic keep being this good” and honestly, I just don’t know. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi have been putting out these excellent stories for so long, spanning genres and artistic styles in a magnificent fashion. Hellboy fans will adore these books, of course, but all you have to really like is good stories to get something out of this collection.

Set in 1948, this story is wrapped up with alternate dimensions, atomic bomb testing, and the early days of the BPRD as a military offshoot. One of my favorite aspects of these early days is the way the field agents are basically just US military troops with weird orders. I love monsters, because you can shoot them. And man, do the BPRD guys shoot a lot of monsters in these comics. No cheating vampires or ghosts with no rules, these are big, tentacle monsters that want to eat you.

I’m not a huge fan of Max Fiumara’s art, but honestly, his stuff didn’t bother me here. His monsters look so otherworldly and spooky that I’m willing to look past his odd faces and somewhat cartoony human drawings. Every scene has a strong sense of setting, and again, the action is fantastic. The jump cuts between the soldiers and the monsters sets each conflict in utter clarity.

This scary comic is GOOD!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Justice League: The Nail TPB

Wow. I forgot how much I absolutely love this series. Alan Davis might be my #1 favorite comic artist (certainly top 5), but man, I love his writing too. He hits all the necessary beats in a good Justice League story, and even more impressive, he does it without Superman.

In this world, a nail in the Kent's tire keeps them from adopting young Kal-El, which means the world develops very differently. We still have a Justice League, but here it is Hal Jordan, Batman, Wonder Woman, Barry Allen/Flash, Martian Manhunter, Hawkgirl, and the Atom. Just including the Manhunter guarantees I’ll like it, but Davis gives him such a great depth of character and emotion, it reminds me of the beloved DC New Frontier.

This book does have some deaths. As an Elseworlds, that was sort of a staple in the mid-90s for an alternate reality. The great part is that the deaths always mean something. Hawkgirl is constantly drawing strength from Hawkman’s sacrifice, and Batman gets some extra motivation (and a new partner) from the developments here too.

The series does suffer a bit from Davis’ clear desire to draw as many DC characters as possible. But do you blame him that he wanted to draw Ultraa the Ultra Alien and found any excuse to do so? We also get the whole Green Lantern Corps!!! I also have to appreciate the use of a great 90’s era Superman villain as the big bad too. The reasoning is sound, and this guy was a major antagonist in the triangle Superman era.

Reading a book like reminds me how much I used to absolutely adore the DCU. I think it is time to break out some more Justice League minis! Alan Davis and his comics are GOOD! (Actually, they are EXCELLENT!)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wolverine: Covenant TPB

The last Wolverine series sort of ended with a whimper. I don’t remember hearing anything about Cullen Bunn’s closing arc on the book, which is too bad. He and artist Paul Pelletier deliver an action-packed travelogue through the Marvel U. 

Sure, these are new locations, populated by new baddies of Bunn’s own design rather than Marvel classics, but he does a great job fitting them in to existing Marvel lore.

One exception is the inclusion of Ulysses Bloodstone as a member of the Covenant. As a super-secret organization, I’m not sure how useful a monster hunter would be, but I do like the idea of old timey-heroes and… ‘tweeners being out there looking out for the world. Bunn covers all his basis, with a hulking sorcerer, a lady adventurer, a tinkerer/inventor, a Shadow-type vigilante, and briefly, Wolverine.

Of course, Wolverine parted ways with the group real quick, and that’s the crux of this story. Softie Wolverine didn’t pull the trigger years ago, and now his target is a threat to the entire Covenant.

I’m not sure I ever really bought in to the danger of the chaos that the Covenant is trying to stave off. I certainly never worried overmuch about the fate of the dreamer either (even when she is shown to have ties to the awesome Celestials). This definitely has the feel of a fill-in story, but thanks to Bunn’s interesting characters and Pelletier’s top-notch ability to draw action, the fill-in doesn’t equal wasted time.

In the old rating, this would have been a FAIR, but the Energy Analyzer finds this comic to be GOOD. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Iron Man: The Secret Origin of Tony Stark

I knew it. There was no way that Kieron Gillen could have originally been planning on this Guardians of the Galaxy, evil robot 451 kick for Iron Man. It never felt quite right. I loved the first five issues, but since then, I’ve been disconnected from this volume of Iron Man. I’m hopeful that my feelings will change now that the story is getting a pretty radical shift in direction.


So Tony Stark is adopted. The evil robot 451 meddled with Howard and Maria Stark’s child, and when Howard tried to negate that meddling, he paralyzed his own son. In order to hide the fact that their son wasn’t exactly what 451 wanted, they adopted Tony. That means that the REAL Stark son has been sitting in a hospital waiting to hear that he can come back into the world. This is a status-quo changing event, and I think it could add a lot to the Iron Man mythos. Especially considering who the other Stark is…

Arno Stark. The evil Iron Man of 2020. Only 7 years away from us now, Kieron Gillen gets to play with some fantastic Marvel continuity and bring Arno into the real Marvel U. Will he be a villain? Will he be a hero? I don’t think any of us can know for sure, but it is going to be fun to find out.

It’s an odd situation. I certainly haven’t loved the last 10 issues of Iron Man. This whole space storyline has felt like a bad fit for the comic. But it may end up being worth it in exchange for this exciting new status quo.

So the last few issues? EVIL. But my excitement for the next issue? GOOD

Friday, November 1, 2013

X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2

What a delightful little crossover. If you can forget for a moment just how much all these $3.99 titles have cost, this is a great throwback to the X-crossovers of the past decades. No one does time-travel better than the X-Men, and no one does crossovers better either.

When I last updated you all on this one, we only had a crew of X-Men from the future, a team in the present, and the original five X-Men from the past. In the course of the story, we get a whole different team of future X-Men, and a glimpse of the possible future that warped some of the characters so badly. (Special Agent Dazzler is sure important for a character that just stands around bantering with Maria Hill.)

There are tons of nice character moments scattered through the latter half of the crossover, but the best moments seem to belong to Iceman. I’m reading this series with my 8-year-old daughter, and man, she LOVES Iceman. Everything he says, she laughs. When Iceman and Beast travel with Magik to the future? She could barely concentrate on any other aspect of the story. “Dad, I just want to see what happens to Iceman and Beast.” I love it. I’ve never been prouder.

As they often do, there are a few remnants of the time-traveling groups sticking around the regular Marvel U. We might have a new Brotherhood of Mutants. I think there is a new student at the Jean Grey School. But best of all, the original X-Men and a VERY important member of the school staff are switching teams.
My number one complaint about the post-AVX X-universe is that not enough characters are siding with Cyclops. Wolverine is a crazy murderer too, and his moral superiority is absolutely crazy. So seeing SIX characters join up with Cyclops evens the odds a whole lot. My interest in Uncanny X-Men just shot up a ton.

The status quo going forward is going to be fascinating. Kinder, gentler, pretending Wolverine? Smug, possibly winning Cyclops? And the return of Nightcrawler?

Guys, the X-books are where it’s at. You can skip the Avengers these days, you want to be reading X-Men. GOOD