Monday, September 30, 2013

365 Comics...271: The Secret Society of Super-Villains #8 (1977)

Oh man, I love this so much.  In the late 70's and early 80's DC just knew how to pile in the characters in their comics.  The more spandex on the page, the better it was.  The anthology books like World's Finest or Adventure Comics would do this both by filling the books with multiple stories but then filling the stories with so many characters.  Team-ups and crossovers were the norm.  Team-up books like DC Comics Presents and The Brave and the Bold used tentpole guys like Superman and Batman to showcase their lesser known heroes,  but since every other book had a multitude of capes teaming up, and not to forget back-up features,  new characters (and new iterations of old characters) could be introduced and used all over the place.

But I like this the best, just a random assembly of characters fighting over a Maguffin.  Captain Comet and Kid Flash versus the Funky Flashman, Star Sapphire,  Gorilla Grodd, Copperhead and the Trickster.  Thats some deep DC cuts right there.  So awesome.

Art by the great Rich Buckler (later of my favourite Blue Ribbon/Red Circle/Archie Adventure Heroes comics) and story from one of the best of the era, Gerry Conway (Conway is like a Dan Slott or Fred Van Lente of today, not super high profile but a great genre writer and much liked).

I need more of this.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

365 Comics...270: Young Avengers #10 (2013)

Mother: You cheated on our deal.

Loki: No,I followed it to the letter. I brought you Wiccan and let you sink your spell's teeth into him.  It's not my fault that someone interfered with it.

Mother: Yes it is, Loki. YOU interfered with the spell.

Loki: Well, yes I did... but me NOT interfering wasn't part of the deal either.


I really need to go and read Gillen's run on Journey Into Mystery.  Loki is the best.  The only problem with all these great young Loki storues is that Tom Huddleston can't play him in the role.

365 Comics...269: Itty Bitty Hellboy #2 (2013)

Roger just can't seem to keep his funky underwear on... but I'm wondering why he needs it in the first place.

365 Comics...268: Wonder Woman #23.2: First Born (2013)

I'm actually rather proud of myself for sticking to my plan of only buying two of these Villains Month books, but then again none of the other books even remotely enticed me (well, actually I was a little curious about the Lobo one, until I saw a preview and then realized I didn't give a shit about the character, the story, or the universe it was taking place in.  I was only interested in the controversy,  which I'm now thinking is just another part of DC's marketing plan.  Do something to upset people, make an even bigger stink out of it by prentending there's nothing to make a stink out of, and pray that the hype will bring new [always temporary] readers to the book).  The only books I bought were connected to my  narrowing list of regular DC monthlies, and futher whittled down to those that had the series creative team involved (see 365 #247 for the other).

First Born is actually a worthy and necessary aside to the ongoing Wonder Woman monthly saga.  Azzarello takes full advantage of this Villains Month opportunity to present First Born's origin and pained history, as well as set up some elements for the future and even tease the book's end game a little.  I'm guessing that it's one of the few - perhaps only - Villains Month books that would actually be presented even if there was no Villains Month to spur it on.

By the by, the cover has nothing to do with the book... just another excuse to show WW all trussed up.

365 Comics...267: Saga #14 (2013)

I'm trying to decide whether I want to fill in the semi-annual reader survey and send it in.  I don't remember the last time I defaced a comic (intentionally at least).  It's not like I'm in collector mindset, since may Saga run isn't likely to be sold ... but then again if a lot of the readership tear it out and send it in then a mint condish ish might be a collector's item.  Man, that was a 90's sentiment.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

365 Comics...266: Powerpuff Girls #1 (2013)

I guess I didn't say everything I had to say about Zero #1 (I didn't actually say much) so this week at Thor's Comic Column I get it all out.  Also, I dive into the new Powerpuff Girls comic which is really quite amazing and worthy of a 4.5/5 rating...however yesterday while reading through it with my daughter we realized that the characters aren't introduced at all in the book.  My daughter was asking what each of the PPG's names are, and the only one of the three called by name is Bubbles, and I already knew her name.  Wow, that's a bit of an epic fail I failed to mention in my review, and probably would have knocked a 1/2, if not a full rating point off the review.  It's pretty new-reader unfriendly in that regard (simple captions in the book when the girls appear would have solved it easily and simply).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

365 Comics...265: Zero #1 (2013)

Only 100 of these things left to go.  Somehow that doesn't seem like a lot.  Sometimes it feels like I read a hundred comics in a month (it certainly feels like I've been buying that many with all 3-for-a-buck books and discount trades that have amassed).  The pile of unsorted, read books beside the bed is now 3 feet tall, it's at the point where I kind of dread sorting it.  It's like the beginnings of those newspaper skyscrapers you see on Hoarders.   But at the same time as I dread filing through all these books, I'm also strangely proud of it...I mean how many other media can be consumed so quickly...Songs I guess if you're going by that metric.  It's generally faster to listen to a song than read an isdue of a comic,  and an issue of a comic is faster than an episode of television, and an episode of TV is on average faster than a podcast episode which is faster than most movies...I've lost where I'm going with this... something about comics being an incredibly digestible storytelling medium.  I love em.  They're like potato chips, I just want to consume them until they are all gone,  and I don't care how bad they are for me, and how raw my mouth gets from all those jagged edges and the dehydrating effects of the salt...oh those salty, salty comics.

Anyway, Zero#1 from Ales Kot, whose Lovecraft-meets-hip-hop (a crass oversimplification) mini-series "Change" I enjoyed enough to keep a lookout for more work from him but wasn't about to pick up his Suicide Squad, not right away at least, since, you know, you can't trust DC anymore, and good thing I didn't hop aboard too because Kot bailed after,  what, 3? 4 issues?
Zero may be a spin on Universal Soldier, but at least Kot feels like he has a story to tell here.  It's an intriguing cover-to-cover read, and I'll be back for more next month.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

365 Comics...264: Supergirl #16 (1984)

I thought I had all of Ambush Bug's appearances -- they weren't that many after all  -- but it turns out I was missing this less than key appearance in Supergirl.  At this stage the Bug had faced off against Superman twice,  once when Supes was teamed with the Doom Patrol (I want to say DC Comics Presents #52 off the top of my head) and the second teamed with the Legion of Substitute Heroes (DCCP #57 maybe?) but this is immediately before he turns up in Action Comics as the fourth wall-breaking commentator on corporaye comics culture as we came to know and love him (just saw the finale of Batman: the Brave and the Bold cartoon in which Bug appears and it is glorious).

This issue finds AB ready to turn over a new leaf and starts stopping perceived  crimes (which aren't really faux pas at best) only to spy Supergirl and think something has gone horribly wrong with Superman,  turning into a bit of an Impossible Man-esque/Bat-Mite-ish pest.

The B-story is something ridiculous about stolen instruments,  magical music, and Supergirl's alter ego's boyfriend getting kidnapped to conduct a mystical orchestra.  How the A-plot and  B-plot dovetail into one another is deus ex machina at its hoariest, quite terrible.  And some art from the great Carmine Infantino that looks often like he's putting only the minimal amount of effort into it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

365 Comics...263: Avengers Academy: Second Semester tpb (2012)

This volume of Avengers Academy comes out of Fear Itself in an awkward state, and it takes some time to recoup.  I have to wonder if Christos Gage's expansion plan for the Academy was  interrupted by the crossover, which meant fast tracking some of his other plans, like the Reptyl-future-mind-swap story (which seemed like it should have been a slow-burning plotline, but it was actually only four issues long).  There's a distinctive sense of repetitiveness to this volume, which is basically, heroes show up at the Avengers West Coast mansion and the Academy kids fight them, before they all simmer down and get on with some other challenge.  Seriously, it happens three times, with X-Men, with Veil and Jocasta returning and with the Runaways.  That's what leads me to think Gage had this planned his series a little differently, as the redundancy is just shocking.  As well, some of the new recruits last all of seven issues, and get no face time.  Power Man, Batwing, Rocket Racer, and Machine Teen, we hardly knew ye (okay, I don't think any of you have had more than a line since you showed up).
Gage is usually a pretty great writer, but half of this volume features some insanely clunky dialogue and the character conflict feels almost universally forced or contrived.  The discussions around sexuality were well-meaning but completely unnatural.  Issue 26, which closes out the awkward "future Reptyl" arc ends with a fantastic closing splash with a 50-story tall Giant Man with long white beard, and in control of Cerebro, implying that Pym leads these at-risk-youths into the future as tyrannical villains he was supposed to stop them from becoming.  The idea that Pym might actually the bad guy of the book (and Gage's reminder from Jocasta that he's been far from the perfect hero) are intriguing elements that will have me riding this through to the finish. (another 11 issues to go).

I still like the main cast, I like Lightspeed, and outside of Avengers Arena, I haven't seen anything of X-23, but I like her too.  Even Butterball is kinda my new favourite hero. (he's indestructible, can't be hurt, can't die, and he likes Crystar: The Crystal Warrior).  I'm guessing that the turkey company will put a stop to it if ever they tried to give him his own series though.

365 Comics...262: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (2013)

If I were to give my 11-year-old any comic book title I'm currently reading, this would be the one.  It's clean, sure, but it's everything I remember comic being like when I was a kid, which is not to say that comics I read as a kid were perfect (going back and reading them, it's quite clear most were anything but), but it's to say that Phil Hester captures the feel of classic, pre-grim'n'gritty superhero book perfectly.

I profess to be a THUNDER Agents fan, but truth of the matter is I've only read the DC series that preceded this one, one reprint issue (365 Comics #35), and that oddball one-off I found recently (365 Comics #87).  I have a few original issues sitting in boxes, most of the 80's comics, and a couple of DC's reprint Archives, all waiting to be read.

But the fact of the matter is, I am a fan, a growing fan
.  I'm attracted to the characters, the aesthetic, and the mythology (both in the series and about the property itself).  My only hope is all the classic THUNDER Agents doesn't disappoint.

365 Comics...261: Action Comics Weekly #629 (1988)

I've been waiting 25 years (almost) to know who Mockingbird is in the Secret Six corner of Action Comics Weekly.  It's not something I've lost sleep over, but the persistence of "say, who was Mockingbird anyway" would creep up in my brain probably once a year or so.  I never did spoil it for myself by reading up on the series -- not that there's a whole lot to read up on -- but this issue, as promised by the cover -- The Secret Of Mockingbird!  And, well, it's disappointing if only because it's had 25 years to build up to something of meaning in my brain.  In actuality it's not really much of consequence at all.  We always suspected that Mockingbird was one of the original Secret Six, and, well, that suspicion has completely panned out.  I don't know why it was so enticing to me, considering I have no sentimentality, or familiarity, even (outside of this series at least) towards those originals, so this reveal landing with a nonchalant "Huh."  And, in actuality, it was revealed who Mockingbird was last issue.  This issue just gets into depth how he survived the plane crash and what his ultimate goal was.

I admit, I liked believing that Mockingbird was a bit of a nefarious character, even if his objectives were good.  It was a great fake-out by Pasko and made for some truly engaging reading (well, for me anyway, can't say the same for so many of the lettercolumn yahoos who seem to like Green Lantern at its most dire).

The lettercolumn this issue, actually, was replaced by what I think to be the cover of the next issue (I don't have a copy...yet), sporting an image of Superman under the big top with an elephant on his back.  I like the image so much, I'm posting it here:

The great Action Comic Weekly reader's poll - my submission:
1. Secret Six (I guess the Mockingbird reveal was still worth it)
2. Blackhawk (always a charmer)
3. Black Canary (Duburke's art: stunning)
4. Superman (a rare good chapter)
5. Green Lantern (it's not good, but it's not bad either)
6. Nightwing (it's says Nightwing on the cover but it's all Speedy, getting beat up, again)

365 Comics...260: Avengers Arena #15 (2013)

I still feel bad for slagging this title early on.  It's become one of my favourite books.  My initial reservations were about the obviousness of its influences, and the perceived slight of character, but Dennis Hopeless has spent the better part of the last 15 issue doing little but building his characters.  He's made fan favourites out of new creations while honoring those he's getting to play with -- and in some cases,  destroy -- in his sandbox by paying attention to what's come before and moving their stories forward (even if that movement results in death).

The letter columns at Marvel, along with the recap pages, are just a couple of Marvel's secret weapons in their war with DC.  Nothing promotes fan interaction and fan appreciation like a writer or artist or editorial team taking the time out to both construct a letter column and respond to praise, criticism, and questions.  DC's tactic seems to be to keep shoveling advertising (or "news reports") in readers faces, concerned more with selling new books than keeping the reader engaged and invested in the one they're already buying.

Hopeless' lettercolumns have been some of the best reading, particularly as he deals with the hate mail and vitriol after doing something nasty to someone's favourite character.  But as the series has gone on, the letters have been getting more tame, even the people upset with him have come to trust him on his storytelling journey (and those truly upset have left the book by now).

I wasn't initially very enthused by this cover, but I find myself staring at it a lot.  Mike Deodato Jr. has captured the barbarian feel quite well here in that line-heavy
Brazilian style of his.    I think if you take the bottom Marvel bar with Agents of SHIELD TV add off it would be quite amazing (or a retro Marvel top banner with little faces in a box under the price box... retro Marvel covers would suit this series so well..!)

365 Comics...259: Smallville Season 11 #17 (2013)

These busy weekends and weekdays AND week day nights are making it challenging to get anything done that requires creativity or even a modicum of critical thought.  So over the next few hours (or minutes, your time) it's Comic Book Catch-Up (or "catsup" as the generic brands call it), quick little posts about comics (which, really, is what 365 Comics was in part only supposed to be anyway).

Holy crap, how have I had this comic for almost two weeks and not talked about it yet.  It's Smallville for Cristos N. Gage's sake.

I am, if you haven't noticed, and extremely vocal supporter of this continuation of the Smallville television series, and I have to wonder if it's the first comic book spin off of a TV series, movie or book that is so vastly superior to its source material.  Let's just say it is and move on.  Vastly. Superior.

This a book every fan of DC comics prior to, say, summer 2011 should be reading.  If you aren't, here's just a taste of what you're missing:

- one of the absolute best iterations of Wonder Woman put to paper, immediately right up there with Rucka and Azzarello.  You should see what she does to a tank with a length of chain.  Ridiculously amazing.
- Director Bones and the DEO
- Felix Faust
- The 1940's-era Shadowpact (for real!)
- A squee-inducing last panel

I've said it a lot when talking about Smallville S11, but Bryan Q. Miller should have been in charge of the New 52, because his re-imagining of so many DC characters so far have been so vastly superior to what's come out of the New 52, and far better than the TV show even at its best (not being hindered by budget or cast will allow for that).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

356 Comics...258: Actions Comics Weekly #627 (1988)

The seams in ACW's production schedule were really starting to show at this point, given that last issue promised, I believe, a new Phantom Stranger episode, but instead we got a double dose of the restarted Nightwind (and Speedy) feature.  I notice in the letter column someone complaining that the Nightwing feature had too much Speedy for their liking, so I guess adding the "and Speedy" here was meant to address that this was indeed a team-up and not just a solo effort like the cover image would have you think.

These ACW Nightwing stories are, for some odd reason, collected in the new "Old Friends, New Enemies" trade paperback (I love that DC is just using this issue's ACW cover by the great Gil Kane for its solicitation, but I believe they actually used ACW #613's cover for the actual release).  This, I believe, marks the first time any of the ACW stories have been collected, mainly because, well, they're generally not that great and I don't believe anyone is clamoring for them.  If anything, the Blackhawk and Wild Dog features, easily the series' most popular, should be assembled.  I'm surprised there's not a Wild Dog Omnibus out there collecting everything in its entirety, except that, well, it's Wild Dog and who really gives a crap.

The Great Action Comics Weekly Poll:
1) Secret Six : it seems to be a toss-up in the letter column whether people love it absolutely or genuinely dislike it because it's not superheroes.  My favourite part is that Frank Springer keeps forgetting to draw Mitch's gloves, so it's up to colorist Carl Gafford to color them in (or white them out, actually)

2) Black Canary: universally reviled by the lettercolumn response, but I love the slow burn pace and the ridiculously moody art by Randy duBurke.  This issue, Black Canary gets arrested as a streetwalker.  Seriously.  It's a pointed comment on her fishnets and bustier costume that she fits right in unquestionably on a street corner.

3) Green Lantern: it's trying so hard to be something good, but it just keeps missing the mark.  Here GL and Captain Atom pursue an extremely powerful alien who has been misconstruing Earth's customs and causing rampant death and havoc, with Cap being far too aggressive in his resolution.  Priest just can't seem to find the right voice for Captain Atom.

4) Nightwing: what people are complaining about Black Canary for, for not being superhero-y enough and not being interesting, and just being Joe Average detective stuff that the layman could be left to do... that's how I feel about this Nightwing story.  Part 1 features a nonsensical sequence aboard a ferry to Northern Ireland where Speedy's off on some family heritage hunt (why Dick is there with him I don't know).  Part two finds them traipsing around Ireland, embroiled in a drug smuggling plot that's connected to Roy's past at the Central Bureau of Investigations.  This is really a Speedy story overall, using the far more popular Nightwing as a hook-in for the fanboys.  Also, dated SNL sketch reference ("-- And we run into drugs. Coincidence?  Or could it be--SATANNN?") and an ill-formed analogy ("So that's why I'm here.  'Roots--The Super-Hero Generation.'  Did you ever think you'd see 'Kunta Kinte' with red hair?"). Also Tom Mandrake is perfect for moody mystical stuff like the Spectre or Batman vigilante stuff, but bright spandex superheroes really aren't his bag.

5) Superman: It's a two-page ongoing serial and it wastes a third of its space with Clark daydreaming about how he would handle a situation as Superman, while in the middle of a chase sequence.  A fully visualized day dream, then rationalize out of existence.  Woof.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

365 Comics... 257: Ultraman #1 (1993)

The road to acquiring this comic was a convoluted one for sure. 

I can't say I ever saw an episode of Ultraman, nor did I ever really know what Ultraman was really all about, save that it a giant space man fighting giant monsters..which l guess is all you need to know.  The offspring of Gojira and Gamera and the like, the forebearer of Power Rangers and the like, it is something I'd like in irony and appreciate in context of the subgenre, but I've just never approached it.  If there were any reason why I was even aware of Ultraman at any point it's because of seeing the solicits for comics such as this while flipping through Previews when the diameter experienced a brief nostalgia revival in the middle of the '90's.

I purchased the great (if occasionally glitchy) Masters of the Universe 30th Anniversary Commemorative Collection,my childhood favourite which my four-year-old has become a fanatic of, but as we rapidly blew though the 16 discs (130 episodes) we discovered that one of the discs was corrupt.  Contacting the manufacturer by email they were surprisingly responsive and easy to deal with.  It was about a week before the replacement disc showed up, but with a bonus copy of Ultraman with 10 episodes from the first series. 

I haven't watched it but I put it on for my daughter one Saturday morning as I was jetting off to work a booth at the Fan Expo.  My brother-in-law was babysitting informed me later in the evening that she loved it.  The next day at the Fan Expo I was digging through a 50 cent bin and found a bunch of UItraman comics (from three different publishers no less) so believing that my daughter was a newfound fan I picked them up (after first making sure they're acceptable for a 4-year-old). 

Weeks later l discovered that the first Ultraman mini was written by Dwayne McDuffie, one of my personal favourite writers.  Woo!  Bonus McDuffie l wasn't even aware I was missing.  This was published by "Ultracomics", which was a division of Harvey Entertainment --you know, Richie Rich, Wendy an Hot Stuff-- who also had a division called "Nemesis Comics" which published a great Frankenstein spin called ''Frank" (advertised in this issue), drawn by McDuffie's Milestone partner Denys Cowan.

True story.

Monday, September 16, 2013

365 Comics...256: Manhattan Projects #14 (2013)

One of the things I lament the loss of in the information age is unfettered creativity in SciFi.  All too much in SciFi the concepts and technologies and even supernatural abilities need to be grounded in some form of accepted science rather than veering way far away from any modern thinging and just aiming for wild speculation... hell not even speculation, just pure, outrightmafe-up bullshit.  The SciFi of the 1950's and earlier were riddled with scientific inaccuarcies and implausibility (one movie postulated that the Earth could slip out of its orbit and start hurtling towards the sun and pulled a pretty meaty dramatic film out of it) but as entertainment they would work.  I don't know if it was naivete or more willingness to suspend one's disbelief, but modern creators who craft stories so wild tend to be dismissed as silly or archaic.

Manhattan Projects somehow manages to slide on this, I think because Hickman uses real life scientists from history to tell his wildly impossible story, they lend a natural air of authenticity to even the bighest of bullshit science,  while at the same time Hickman is so talented a writer as to make work an alternate history of some of our greatest super-scientists, and send it off in utterly ridiculous directions.

It's such a fascinating book that kind of has only gotten better as its moved on.  I had, early on, wondered how it would survive  past its first arc, thinking incorrectly it once again being another of Hickman's great mini-series.   I also considered dropping the title,  back around issue 9, but I've stuck with it and have been nothing more than enthralled.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

365 Comics...255: My Friend Dahmer OGN (2012)

A few years back I was sent Derf's thoroughly enjoyable Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by the publisher (SLG Publishing) for review, and I remember thinking that I would need to keep an eye out for more from the writer/artist.  His illustrative style is somewhere between Peter Bagge and R. Crumb, yet strangely more accessible than both, not as cartoony as Bagge or as grimy as Crumb.  His storytelling was offbeat, humourous and distinct and I definitely connected with it, even if it might have been a bit alien to my own experiences.

I had assumed at the time (and since) that Derf was a more prominent creator than he actually was.  His style seemed wholly formed and quite assured, so I had figured that he had numerous works out there that I just haven't been exposed to shopping at a generally mainstream comic book store.  Last year I became aware of his new book, My Friend Dahmer, about his teenage friendship with notorious serial killer/cannibal Jeffery Dahmer, as it had hit not just industry trade attention, but major news sources.  It wasn't something that appeared in my shop but it's something I meant to seek it out, though eventually forgot to do so.  I happened to find a copy today and I snatched it up without hesitation.  Looking in the cover fold-ins I learned that Derf has been publishing a newspaper comic called The City for years, but has only one graphic novel predating Punk Rock and Trailer Parks called Trashed, about his time as a garbage collector.

But as great an impact as Punk Rock and Trailer Parks had on me, My Friend Dahmer will easily be his standout work.  It's a personal memoir as well as a fractional biography of Jeffrey Dahmer predating his first murder.  Derf has a lot of personal connections to the story, but went beyond it, doing his homework, researching the interviews and calling up old class mates and teachers to ensure that recollections were validated and accurate as much as possible.  In an extensive Notes section at the back, Derf clarifies the sources of information, provides some behind-the-scenes information, and owns up to any liberties or assumptions made in the making of the book.

But the story itself is at once a memoir of young men in the late-70's and a contrasting portrait of a serial killer in the making.  They're not mutually exclusive, however, and Derf ponders how people slip through life, unnoticed, the damage mounting, their inner demons taking over.  Here his portrait of Dahmer is sympathetic to a point, but distanced at the same time.  Dahmer was all too aware of his own dark urges and sought to fend them off with alcohol and a fascination with roadkill, but Derf and his circle of friends were never close enough with him to identify any problems, or conscious enough of mental illnesses to know that he needed help.  There's a lot of "what if moments" which in hindsight seem so clear, but as Derf invests you in the time and era, it's so obvious how it all played out under the radar.

It's a fascinating book, not nearly what I was expecting, but I'm not actually sure what I should have expected.  It's more sad than depressing, Dahmer quotes his own tale as "a sick, pathetic, miserable life story, that's all it is."  That about sums it up.

365 Comics...254: Ozma of Oz HC (2011)

I kind of fell off the Oz horse after a very enthusiastic hop on earlier this year.  Following a viewing of Oz: The Great and Powerful, I started accumulating Oz in various media, but it was the Marvel adaptations by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young that I've been most keen about acquiring.  I'm keen on the hardcovers, but I've been trying not to buy them until I'm ready to read them and Ozma of Oz has been sitting at my bedside for about 5 months now.  Every other week or so my daughter will come into my room early in the morning to wake somebody up to feed her breakfast and she will mull about until someone complies with her request.  During these mulling periods she invariably spies the book and says "Papa, are you done with this one yet?  When can I take it into my room?"

Well, with bit of breathing room this weekend at the in-laws and I was able to finally dive in.  What I've come to appreciate about Marvel's adaptations is the passion the creators have for the material.  It's so evident that Eric Shanower isn't just an uber-fan, but a bit of an Oz historian, actively researching the background of each of the books, the influences and the many adaptations.  Shanower is obviously keen on presenting as faithful an adaptation of Baum's books as possible, and as evidenced by their continued presence on the adaptations (they're currently on The Emerald City of Oz, the sixth of Baum's books), both he and Young are keen on seeing through their adaptations (though it seems Marvel is restricting how faithful their adaptations can be by limiting the issue count now to 5, down from 6, down from 8).

Shanower states in his foreward that Ozma of Oz has long been his favourite Oz books, and I can see why.  It's so packed with clever confrontations, neat character concepts, returning favourite characters, the broadening of the Oz mythos and landscape, some very witty exchanges, and Dorothy returning.  I haven't read what comes beyond this one, but I absolutely love the film Return to Oz, and it's just tremendously pleasing to see the origins of some of my favourite sequences from the film, but also to see how much grander in scope they were.  Return to Oz actually combined Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz quite organically, but having now read them both I think the sequences that Return borrows from them are generally better in the books.  At the same time the film trims the fat, and there's a lot of fat in these stories, so many conversational digressions that are at once tedious and part of the series charm.

The "choosing the ornament" sequence here, and as adapted in Return To Oz, is one of my favourite fairy tale concepts ever.  I'm wondering if there are mythological inspirations or if this was something completely out of Baum's imagination that has since penetrated as a genre convention (see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for example).  It only gets better here, as it goes on for longer, since the travelling party/army is so huge (and Ozma's army in this book is so thoroughly entertaining, and the Hungry Tiger is a great addition to the cast that I was unfamiliar with previously), and while longer doesn't always make it better, it's just more of my favourite could I not like that?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

365 Comics...253: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #25 (2013)

Also this week on Thor's Comic Column I dish my thoughts on both Buffy Season 9's conclusions and Buffy Season 9 as a whole.

I wish I liked it more.  Buffy is a very important figure in popular culture.  She remains one of the strongest female action heroes in history, one whose identity is still clearly feminine and couldn't be swapped out for a dude.  She is a rich and flawed character, and one whom time does not stand still around.  Buffy over seven TV seasons grew immeasurably as a person, accepting her role as slayer but defying (or at least challenging) its conventions. Season 8 comics gave her a new role as figurehead,  pushing her forward from her season 7 role as mentor.  Season 9 really finds Buffster spinning her wheels, unmotivated, and really having story pulling her rather than her driving the story.  The pregnancy thing early on was wonderful, but what it turned into was weak, and from there on it felt as if Buffy took a back seat to what the rest of her cast was going on about.

I'm wondering if Joss' busy Avengers and SHIELD schedule has impeded on his ability to guide the Buffyverse any longer.  His touch does seem to be fading from the book.

Friday, September 13, 2013

365 Comics...252: Mighty Avengers #1 (2013)

How the bread is made:

I spent around three and a half to four hours last night writing up my review of Mighty Avengers #1 for Thor's Comic Column, which is far longer than any review should really ever take.  Usually a full-scale, pro-style review takes about an hour to write up and a few scattered moments beforehand thinking about the material and finding a direction or angle.

For Mighty Avengers, I really wanted to focus on the book itself, the surprising fun stuff that Al Ewing does, and the annoying interference of the Infinity event on it.  I wanted to talk about the cast choices, and my own issues with Superio Spiderman.  I wanted to dig into the +/- of Greg Land as artist and the multitude of decisions made here that will invariably sink the title rather than bolster it as intended.   But at the same time, I couldn't avoid the exterior cultural elements to it, like how the editorial mandate of a predominantly African-American cast reflects how far the comics mainstream still has to go before they get it.  Beyond that, there's the dismissive internet reaction to a "black Avengers", and the larger implication of such a book.

Bleeding Cool just reported about how underordered the book was and it took me right back to the 90's and the general comic fan and retailer reactions towards Milestone comics, which were, and remain, favourites of mine.  But those books were explicitly created and designed to fill an identifiable void in mainstream comics, not just in terms of characters but creator voices.  The intention was never exclusivity, though that's the perception that stuck with Milestone through to the end.  Kids these don't see race quite the same way anymore, but comic makers, moreover the editors and publishers still think that "Affirmative Action Avengers" is somehow worthy of a pat on the back (and a spraypainted logo on the front).  For all the shitting I do on DC for their editorially mandated comics and stories, I can't ignore that Marvel is complicit in this department as well.

But touching on race is always a delicate issue.  It makes me uncomfortable, same with religion and politics (to a lesser extent) because l really wish it wasn't still such an issue, that we could all just be a big happy planet of people who can accept each other regardless of what we look like, treating and accepting each other as individuals and not as crude stereotypes.  But that's not this world and it seems that race never stops being an issue so long as disparity and prejudices exist.  And ignoring it doesn't make it go away.

It took me so long to write my review because mainly it's a topic l don't focus on very often.  I live in one of (if not the) the most multicultural cities in the world.  I am arm-to-arm with all different people every day, l have a day job which has me dealing with hundreds of people internationally.  The thought of "racial tension" seems archaic to me and counterproductive to daily living.  But I know it's not gone away.  Toronto is a lovely microcosm of cultural commingling but it's not the norm.  And even it's not immune to prejudice and hate.  I know racists and homophobes and misogynists are still out there, far too many in positions of power and that there are still so many issues to be dealt with to get us to a world or a country or a comics community of acceptance.  I'm a comic reviewer, I saw an issue and l commented on it, as is my station. 

But in doing so I had to spend so much time making sure that my points,  both about the book and about the larger context of "black-focused comics" wasn't lost.  I wrote at least a dozen paragraphs and I didn't even touch upon the overzealous $3.99 price point.  Marvel should be all too aware, rather than oblivious to the uphill battle this book would have in the market.  Even if $3.99 is more the norm than the exception to the rule at this point, the milking of the Avengers franchise (which has gotten pretty ridiculous) and the tie-in shenanigans are less incentives and not so deserving of "bonus pricing" (which also includes digital download).  A $2.99 price point may have been all it took to put more eyes on the book.

As a fan of the medium, I want it to not just appear inclusive,  but actually be such.  I want the Mighty Avengers to succeed so that there is a prominent predominantly not-white guy superhero team book on the stands that eventually transcends its predominantly non-white guys image and delivers great stories and characters and shows DC and Marvel that anything can be successful.  I just want it to succeed on the backs of its creators who have actual stories to tell and not on the misguided pushes of the publisher and editorial. 

I probably wont stick with it in the short term, but I will come back in a few months, post Infinity, when She-Hulk and Blue Marvel are on board, and see how it's going.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

365 Comics... 251: Godzilla King of the Monsters #19 (1979)

Yesterday, six weeks after I saw it, l finally managed to crack off my review of Pacific Rim.  I was commenting on how few truly great giant monster movies there have been and I think it holds true for comics too, unless you count Galactus as a giant monster as he's solid gold almost every time.  l did a review recently of Godzilla: the Half-Century War which was hands down the best Godzilla story l've seen or read.  Issue 19 of the old Marvel Godzilla series, on the other hand, is about as awful as anything involving Minilla, the big guy's tiny smoke-ring blowing adopted son. 

This book features a 5-7-foot tall Godzilla roaming the streets of New York aimlessly after Hank Pym irradiated him with Pym particles.  His best friend Rob Takiguchi finds him and covers him up with a floppy-brimmed hat and a trench coat but their somehow casual appearance makes then a target for thugs (first) and Dum Dum Dugan and his boys (second).  It's all thoroughly ridiculous and embarrassing.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

365 Comics... 250: Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions (1982)

Like the later additions to DC's Super Friends cartoons, Marvel's Contest of Champions seemed to serve the purpose of introducing a host of multicultural and international heroes, though the thinly characterized additions are at times little more than crude stereotypes in ugly costumes.

This issue showcases the Russian Vanguard in a fight against the Thing, while Le Peregrine from France loses to Angel.  The West German champion of electricity Blitzkrieg tries to best Storm, Shamrock, with her luck o' the Irish faces Captain America and Collective Man from China faces the Canadian Sasquatch.  Of the characters introduced, the Collective Man is the most interesting... he can split into 5 beings and he can tap into the collective power and knowledge of his countrymen, though not without taking its toll on him.  l love when a power set has some negative implications of use.

It's also interesting to read a big 'heroes gather' book from a time before Wolverine was a mega-star.  Here Ben Grimm says "You're one of those New X-Men, ain'tcha?" to which Wolverine replies, "You knoe it old-timer. The  name's Wolverine.  And I'm as mean as it sounds." (Wolverine calling someone "old timer"...)

Logan also replies to Le Peregrine's initial statement with a "Yeah, frog, guess you're right.   Looks like you an' me are teammates."  Frog!?  Did Logan not have any francophone friends in Canada?  Oh, wait, he's from Albera isn't he?   But people are all using pejoratives in this book... Angel calles Vanguard "Red" and "Ivan" in a derogatory fashion (Cold War and all, I guess) and Le Peregrine "Frenchie".  Terms like Russkie, Blacky, Squirt, Shorty, Short Stuff, Pipsqueak, Half-Pint, Lassie, Sonny, Little Man...the Marvel Super Heroes were in some real need of sensitivity training.

Strangely enough the competition was to retrieve the four pieces of the golden globe of life but since it could wind up in a tie the heroes serving Grandmaster needed to retrieve 3 pieces in order to win while Death's champions only needed 2 to win the contest.  But something got mixed up along the way as when the 4th round begins, the Grandmaster is up 2 to 1 and the announcement is that his team consists if Captain America,  Sasquatch snd Blitzkrieg,  but when the opposing team, Shamrock namely,  retrieves the final piece, somehow the Grandmaster is crowned the victor 3-1.  I've pulled out issue 1 to see if they show the selected teams and indeed, looks like Mantlo and his editors (Gruenwald and DeFalco) alk had brain farts on that one.  Oops.

Monday, September 9, 2013

365 Comics... 249: God Is Dead #1 (2013)

Time was Vertigo was the HBO of comic books, the premiere place for stories to get told.  These days Image firmly holds that title, while Vertigo is kind of like Netflix original programming.  Marvel and DC and Dark Horse are ABC, NBC and CBS respectively, representing the mainstream where Valiant has taken the Fox role that Image had at the turn of the Century (Marvel I originally had as CBS, the usual Ratings leader but switched it to ABC since they're both owned by Disney).  IDW is like Showtime... they're doing some really good stuff but there's a lot of fluff in there.  Dynamite is kind of the TNT, with some simple old school 80's style stuff that feels both like an homage and just dated. Avatar, well, it's the Starz of the comics world, trashy and dirty.  It's not that quality cannot arise from Avatar but, like Starz, there is the hurdle of gratuitous primaI impulses (sex and violence and coarse language) that any reader must overcome in order to discover an interesting conceit or fun story.   It's not something you feel proud about reading.  Its the place where you would expect to find Zeus telling the other Deities about the Earth under the realm of man "this bitch is ripe and wet and spread wide open for us. Let's take her"

Avatar is the place creators go in order to act like Mark Millar where they think nobody will be paying any attention to them.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

365 Comics...248: DC Universe Vs Masters of the Universe #1 (2013)

I kind of gave up on DC's MOTU relaunch part way through the inaugural mini series and despite favourable raves from the He-Man buffs at my LCS, I just can't seem to get into it.  The latest Mattel-mandated costume change had me curious but more in a "just how much will I hate this" kind of way.  The sheer fact that He-Man has put on more clothes whilst Teela's warriors garb has gotten more revealing is really all l needed to know about these changes and who they're targeted at. 

I have a deep rooted nostalgia for DC Comics Presents #46 where He-Man teams up with Superman (after they challenge one another of course) so despite my reservations for both New 52 DC and their handling of MOTU I figured l needed to give this a shot.  Plus it's Villains Month and I'm down a few books on the month so I had room to try it out.

What a boring comic book.  The only "versus" that happens here is Marlena (Prince Adam's mom) socks Constantine in the jaw and Skeletor messes with Black Alice.  Yawn.  No sign of any of DC's major players and on Eternia He-Man and crew  are doing a lot of waiting for stuff to happen as Evil-Lyn teases out the plot.  Yes we're in set-up stage but it's a plodding introduction that's milking a captive audience of both time and money.  This is a story that needed to start in the middle and fill in the background aling the way.

Though I quite resoundingly did not like this book,  I am just that kind of nerd who is going to give it a second chance,  when I could be putting it towards something admittedly worthwhile, like more Action Comics Weekly back-issues.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

365 Comics... 247: Green Arrow #23.1: Count Vertigo (2013)

Bleh.  So "Villains Month" has started, or as I'm calling it "Taking a break from DC Month". As I only have a handful of titles I read from DC anyway and always looking to scale down even further l find it easy to pass on this entire initiative... well mostly anyway.  l have a regular pull of just over a half-dozen New 52 titles, and of those 7 only 2 of those series' creative teams are involved in a Villains Month tie-in, Green Arrow and Wonder Woman.  So, months ago. I decided those were the only two I'm getting and I'm sticking with it, finding it rather easy to do so (even with all the hullaballoo about retailer allocations and sudden "analog" variants put aside).

There's very little appealing to me about "Villains Month" and Count Vertigo just affirms it.  It's one thing for an ongoing title to take a break and focus on one of it's major villians, if that's the creator's whim, but it's a whole other thing for it to be corporate mandated across the entire line whether it services the ongoing story or not.  In this case, given the events of GA#23 it's not really much more than a diversion, an aside that doesn't really fit within the flow of the ongoing story. I can also foresee that Wonder Woman 23.1: First Borne, given the events of WW #23 are going to be likewise.

These very well may be stories that the creators had in mind for these characters and would have worked in regardless, but in this context they don't feel at all necessary.  Beyond that, I couldn't imagine reading 52, or even half or even a half dozen of these things as they'll all be primarily done-in-one stories, largely origin stories, and most of them featuring characters who are designed to work best in contrast to the hero they battle.

This whole thing seems entirely a gimmick (did the pointless lenticular covers give it away?) and I'm struggling to find any redeeming value from the proceedings.  In fact, the only title I know for sure had planned to weave the Villains Month book into their ongoing story, Batwoman, was not allowed to participate.  I'm certain this was one of the many editorial interferences that caused Williams and Blackman to quit the book.  Of my 7 DC books, consider that one dropped (though l love Kate Kane) once they're done.

Friday, September 6, 2013

365 Comics...246: Action Comics Annual #1 (1987)

Reading this book made me sad.  No not for anything sentimental John Byrne put in his extremely straightforward script.  Nor was I sad for its limp attempt at a Batman/ Superman team-up and an equally flaccid vampire tale set in the Bayou (years before Sookie Stackhouse though so that's gotta count for somethin' right? Nah).  No it was the realization that Arthur Adams wasted a significant amount of his precious illustration time on this highly insignificant story.  Art Adams work needs celebration and showcasing, not ho-hum stories in drab environments. 

And while I'm bitching, how do you have a Batman/Superman team-up book where Batman and Superman never get to team-up (they spend only 2 pages together in the aftermath)?  And a book that takes place in the swamp but no Swamp Thing? And why was that vampire girl wearing n Mr. Peanut T-Shirt (weirdest product placement ever)? l didn't know vampires liked peanuts and/or ironic t-shirts so much.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

365 Comics... 245: A Marvel Movie Special: James Bond: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

I was doing structured write-ups of all the Bond films over on my other blog but by the end of the Moore years I got a little worn out... kind of like Moore himself. 

This adaptation (part 1 of 2) of For Your Eyes Only (one of the stronger entries in the Moore years, l thought) is actually quite faithful to the film and writer Larry Hama (he of Marvel's G.l. Joe fame does a really good job of condensing the story to a brief comic though the action sequences suffer for it.  Howard Chaykin provides pencils and it's an unnotable effort in his career, certainly little of what would become of his distinct style is on display.

I know VHS & Beta were still in their infancy when this came out and so watching film at your leisure wasn't possible, so comic and novel adaptations were the way to relive it... but why do 1 still see comic book adaptations of new films?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

365 Comics...244: Avengers Academy: Fear Itself (2012)

Not too long ago (365 Comics #229 in fact) l was complaining about the seeming scarcity of the 3rd Volume of Avengers Arena.  Well, I found it, at the latest Toronto Fan Expo.  I had not realized it was a Fear Itself tie-in which probably explains my difficulty in finding it, since I noticed that many retailers were filing all the Fear Itself trades with one another under "F".  The booth purchased it at was kind enough to file it in with the other AA trades but it still doesn't identify itself readily as there's no "Volume 3" indicator anywhere.  I'm guessing Marvel was anticipating more sales from Fear Itself trade waiters than AA trade waiters but I expect that's a short term thing and that it will be republished as Volume 3 next time (if they don't do the omnibus thing instead).

Looking at the advertising in the back for the Avengers: The Initiative series I'm wondering if l shouldn't go back and read those too (but then l really have avoided most of the "Osborne Years" at Marvel and don't really want to go back.  Anyone have any thoughts on if it's a worthwhile precursor to Avengers Academy?  Or is my perception that I'm not missing anything accurate?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

365 Comics...243: Wonder Woman # 23 (2013)

On, wow.  Didn't see that one coming at all.  I love this book.

A spoiler filled interview with Azzarello from hitfix revealed some interesting bits about the brightest of the original New 52.:

By not being so tied to the ongoing continuity of the New 52 ... does that allow you and Cliff the flexibility to tell the stories that you want to tell?

We're allowed to do it because we're doing something right. [Laughs] We pitched this thing, this story, and we're following the pitch. We're not surprising editorial. We're doing what we set out to do. We're on a mission.

How long will the mission last? Do you have an end date to your run on "Wonder Woman" planned?

[Laughs] You'll have to wait. I don't want to give you a number, but I do have an ending.

Aw, I don't want it to end, heh.

And that's one of the best covers of the series...