Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Batwoman, Volume 1: Hydrology

 I haven't really been blown away by Batwoman up to this point. Her origin and previous appearances have been stretched all over the DC Universe, starting with 52, and finishing with a back-up strip in DETECTIVE COMICS. Personally, I found the character interesting, but her appearances have been muddled by Greg Rucka's insistence on continuing his ridiculous "Crime Bible" storyline, and his relentless desire to shoehorn in his bizarre, out-of-place shapeshifters that marred his run on DETECTIVE COMICS years ago. I purchased the BATWOMAN: ELEGY collection, and while I found the characters and storyline interesting, something about Rucka's writing just didn't gell with me. (I've always found Rucka to be hit-or-miss, and he's usually "Miss" when it comes to Bat-titles.) I was, however, keen to see how Batwoman was faring in The New 52 Universe, and with Rucka gone, I was also eager to see how J.H. Williams made out as a Writer/Artist.

 The short answer is: Not too shabby.

 His art, as usual, is spotless, crisp, and inventive. There's not a single panel that isn't a work of art, and he cycles through different styles at such a breathless pace that you'd almost swear that there were two or three brilliant artists collaborating under one pen-name. The overarching storyline revolves around a ghostly Woman named La Llorona, who is kidnapping children all over Gotham City. Williams and Co-Writer W. Haden Blackman mix in a slew of juicy subplots, involving DEO operatives Agent Chase and Director Bones, Batman, Batwoman's deceased (?) Sister, and her spunky Cousin, Bette, AKA Flamebird. As soon as I closed the book, I was ready to dig in to the second volume, which, happily, is already available. My one beef...? I still don't get "The New 52"....This is clearly based in pre-New 52 continuity, as they reference Batman, Inc., previous Batwoman adventures, the DEO....there's no new continuity to be had here. I just can't wrap my brain around DC's intentions as far as this massive reboot goes. If you can put that aside, however, BATWOMAN, VOLUME 1: HYDROLOGY is one hell of a good read. (Oh, one more beef.....I'm one of those "Mature Readers" that they put on the labels of comics that aren't kid friendly, and I usually don't care about sex and violence in my funnybooks, but ever since I became a Dad, I've been a bit more sensitive, and this book has a fairly graphic Lesbian sex scene, with some strongly implied oral sex. Not a big deal, but more than I would expect for a mainstream, all-ages book.)

DC Comics provided a review copy.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Resident Alien, Volume 1: Welcome To Earth!

  Now this is a refreshing change of pace from what I've been reading....a small-town murder mystery, with a reclusive Doctor-cum-amateur-sleuth as our hero. The only thing separating RESIDENT ALIEN, VOLUME 1: WELCOME TO EARTH! from your typical Matlock/Murder She Wrote whodunit is the fact that the kindly, reclusive Doctor is, in fact, an Alien. Alien as in "Little Green Man" Alien.

 After crashing to Earth 12 years ago, the nameless Alien has been quietly passing as Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, using telepathy to mask his true appearance, and biding his time waiting for a rescue that may never come. Harry's quiet life comes to an abrupt end as he's asked to look at the body of a murder victim by the local Sheriff . The victim is the town's only Doctor, and soon Harry is called upon by The Mayor to fill in for the deceased Doctor until a permanent replacement can be found. As he gets involved in the day-to-day lives of his Patients, Harry finds a lust for life that has been sorely lacking, and also discovers the joys of solving a mystery, as another dead body is found, and the possibility that the small town of Patience may harbor a Serial Killer becomes more and more real.....

 Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse have outdone themselves with RESIDENT ALIEN, creating a memorable cast of characters that are a joy to read, especially the loveable Alien, Harry. The mystery is engaging, and the solution took me by surprise. I'm looking forward to revisiting Patience and Harry again, hopefully in the very near future.

 Dark Horse provided a review copy.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Uncanny X-Men: Fatal Attractions

 Man, am I a sucker for a Marvel Omnibus. I love the format so much, I find myself buying books that I just know I'm not gonna like. I avoided THE X-MEN like a plague from the late '80's on, starting around issue 213 or so, when Chris Claremont's massive, preachy blocks of text cluttering each panel became unbearable.
"I'm the best there is at what I do, yadda yadda yadda!"
"I know, in my heart of hearts, yadda yadda yadda."
"By the Bright Lady!"
Cliche piled upon cliche, catch phrase after catch beloved X-Men were gone, replaced by preachy snorefests. Did anyone really talk like Claremont's characters?
And once Claremont was booted from the books, things just got worse.
THE UNCANNY X-MEN: FATAL ATTRACTIONS reprints 22 issues, mostly of varying degrees of awful, with a few gems thrown in to make the $99.99 MSRP easier to swallow.

 First off, the bulk of the collection is written by Scott Lobdell, who is, easily, the worst Writer ever to work in comics. He follows the Claremont "Blocks of text" lead, and makes it his own. Characters talk, and talk, and talk, and TALK....yet say almost nothing. (I was reminded while reading Sean Howe's excellent MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY that Lobdell was an aspiring Stand-Up Comedian. I can see why he never made it, as there is not one single word in his stories that conveys any form of humor or personality whatsoever.) Other issues in the collection are written by Fabian Niceiza, who is a good writer in most cases, but not here, and Peter David and Larry Hama, who are both excellent. (I'd forgotten how ham-fisted David's humor could be earlier in his career, as witnessed by the unfortunate "Rahne and Simpy" sequence contained in this book, as well as the "APEX Tech" joke that no one on Earth would get at this point, except me.) The story revolves around the return of Magneto, and contains the famous "Holy crap, he sucked the Adamantium out of Wolverine's body!" fight scene. The art is typical early '90's Image ripoff, aside from a few folks like Romita Jr.and the Kuberts, who do their own thing. The collection features all of the covers and variants, a massive gallery of related poster, pin-up, and trading card art, and a Marvel Age article about how the Hologram covers for the original anniversary issues were created. The MSRP is $99.99, but I got it for around half-price at Barnes & Noble using a coupon and my Member's discount. Don't pay full price!

 I really can't recommend this book....the story is a meandering mess, the art is terrible in places (And great in a few others, to be fair...), and the villains, who take up the bulk of the book, are dreadful. (The Acolytes...could they have lazier names? They all go by their last names, which are awful.....Cortez, Voght, Kleinstock, and my favorite, MELLENCAMP...who thinks this shit up?) That said, the book itself is a thing of beauty....sewn binding that lays flat no matter where you open the book is a MAJOR selling point to geeks like me. Even if the story within is sub-par, Marvel at least gives you a beautiful physical product.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe

 This is the book I've waited my whole life for.
I've been reading comic books in general, and Marvel Comics in particular, for 40 years. I started when my Dad bought me a few comics when I was two, and aside from a brief poverty-induced break from the medium in the mid-1980's, I've never really stopped. And aside from a self-imposed boycott in the 1990's (When Marvel bought their own distributor and was putting Comic Stores out of business left and right...), Marvel has always been my drug of choice. My image of Marvel has always been the happy, smiling Bullpen that Stan Lee used to describe: One big, happy family, sitting around the office, laughing and creating and bringing happiness to kids and adults everywhere.
Not so much, as it turns out.....
I've always been aware of the problems that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had with Stan Lee, the problems that Steve Gerber and Steve Englehart had with Marvel in general, the tension that Jim Shooter caused...but I never knew, until now, just how deep all of those wounds were. Lee is portrayed as a thoughtless ass, Kirby an old crab stewing in his resentments, Ditko as a strange, obsessive loon.....This is a truly heartbreaking read for a longtime fan, such as myself. These are people that I grew up idolizing, and to find out that they're a real shock. Howe keeps all of the involved parties on equal footing, and never skews the narrative to portray any one person as "The Bad Guy".I was, however, shocked to find that Jack Kirby, forever portrayed as the wronged party, threw his CAPTAIN AMERICA co-creator Joe Simon under the bus when Simon tried to regain ownership of the character. Not even Saint Jack was without sin......

 This is a phenomenal book, and I could easily talk about it for pages. If you're enough of a Marvel fan to know the names of the players, you're sure to love this book. I can't recommend it enough.

Monday, January 14, 2013

G.I. Joe/Transformers, Volume One

A Reminder That Not Everything From When You Were A Kid Was Great.....

I was probably 15 years old or so when Marvel released the G.I. JOE/TRANSFORMERS mini-series, and it was so hard to find on the newsstands in The Bronx that I was only able to buy issue #3. For over 25 years, I've been burning to know the rest of the story. (Because "Knowing is half the battle!"...)

Now I know, thanks to IDW, and I wish I had stayed ignorant.

The original mini-series is a hot mess....It's written by Mike Higgins, who I believe was an Editor at Marvel, and it shows. The story is terribly overwritten and wordy, Herb Trimpe's pencils are murdered by the horrible Vince Colletta inks, the coloring is terrible, and all of your favorite characters are mainly offscreen. Cobra Commander appears in issue #1, and by issue #2, he's dead...killed off in an issue of G.I. Joe. Optimus Prime is dead when the book opens, and is never seen again. Snake-Eyes is a bit player, as is Scarlett. Where's Megatron? So we're left watching the also-rans go through their paces for four excruciating issues. Bad, bad stuff.

Next up is a four-issue arc from late in Marvel's G.I. JOE run, which is written by Larry Hama and (Mostly) drawn by Chris Batista. This story is a vast improvement, but still leaves a lot to be desired. The art takes a huge nosedive in the final issue, where a mob of mediocre talents pitch in to meet a blown deadline.

I was never much of a fan of THE TRANSFORMERS (Although that, strangely enough, never kept me from buying the comic every month when I was a kid....), and G.I. JOE always had just enough of a ridiculous aspect to it to keep me from fully buying in, but I still had high hopes for the crossovers.....I guess you really can't go home again. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

STAR WARS: BLOOD TIES- BOBA FETT IS DEAD by Tom Taylor and Chris Scalf

 When I first heard that Disney had acquired the STAR WARS property, the first thing I thought was "Wow, that's the end for poor Dark Horse...." Not "Poor Dark Horse" like the loss of STAR WARS is going to put them under. What I meant was "Poor Dark Horse" like, these people literally kept the franchise alive in the 1990's, when everyone else had stopped giving a shit. Dark Horse kept the high-quality comics coming, and I really do feel that they kept STAR WARS alive at a time when everyone else had moved on. And the thanks they get? Disney is going to pull the license and publish in-house, through their other new toy, Marvel Comics.
Good luck with that.
Anyway, ya did good, Dark Horse. A lot of the time, you even did great.

 So as we tick down this last year of Dark Horse STAR WARS books, we get their second BLOOD TIES offering, STAR WARS: BLOOD TIES- BOBA FETT IS DEAD. I liked the concept of the BLOOD TIES umbrella, which was set up to explore the relationships between SW characters that had, say it with me.....Blood ties. The first offering, STAR WARS: BLOOD TIES- JANGO AND BOBA FETT was better than expected, so I was anticipating the follow-up. I wasn't expecting a direct sequel.....especially one that relies heavily on knowledge of the previous installment, and doesn't really give any kind of recap. (I read thousands of comics and hundreds of books a year, I work over 60 hours a week, I watch movies and read magazines and play video games and have a Wife and kids and a mortgage and I've been shoveling feet and feet of snow for the past two weeks.....I'm sorry, but I don't remember every detail from a mildly amusing trifle of a story I read almost two years ago.) The plot finds Boba Fett dead, assassinated by a team of Bounty Hunters. Someone starts picking off the members of the hit-team. There's a red herring involving the Son of one of Jango Fett's clones, who was the maguffin in the first BLOOD TIES mini-series, but you know from the title alone that Boba Fett is, indeed, NOT dead. So the mystery and intrigue that Author Tom Taylor imagines he's cooking up never exists, except in his mind. Plus, on a personal note, I don't ever need to see Boba Fett unmasked. That's like seeing Judge Dredd helmetless. Can it happen? Sure. But it shouldn't.

 The art, by Chris Scalf, strives for painted photo-realism, but often veers into just looking like pictures someone cut out of a STAR WARS magazine and pasted together. I love Boba Fett, but there was almost nothing that I enjoyed about this book.
(Dark Horse provided a review copy.)

Joe Hill's THE CAPE and THE CAPE: 1969

 I read the one-shot adaptation of Joe Hill's short story THE CAPE a year or two back, and I really enjoyed the tale of a pathetic loser who finds a magical cape that enable him to fly. You can imagine the heartwarming moment where he decides to become a Super-Hero, and use his powers to help others, can't you? Well, not so much. This guy decides to use his power to get revenge on his ex-girlfriend, taking her out for a flight before dropping her to her death. Hill turned my expectations on their ear, so I was stoked to find that there was a follow-up mini-series on the way. THE CAPE collects that one-shot and the four-issue mini-series that followed. Hill is listed as a "Creative Consultant", so who knows how much he actually contributed to this book, but regardless, it's pretty good stuff. The mini-series opens up after the first murder, and contains more psychotic payback in the same vein. The art, by Zach Howard, is pretty good, in a Chris Bachalo kind of way, although there were panels where you really had to work to figure out what was going on. But how did this nut get the power of flight, you may ask....? Well, read on for........
 wherein we journey to Viet Nam, circa 1969 (Just like the title of the book implies! Neat, huh?) and find our crackpot Super-Villain's Dad shot down behind enemy lines, where he's taken prisoner and generally treated badly. I won't spoil the weird origin of the Super-Power behind The Cape, but I will say that, as far as origins go, this is a corker. Not at all what I expected, and it was interesting to learn that the power was not necessarily where you thought it was originally. Howard's art still suffers from a few hiccups, and the story was nowhere near as strong this time around, but overall, THE CAPE: 1969 is not too shabby.
IDW provided a (Complete! Thanks, IDW!) review copy.