Thursday, May 30, 2013

356 Comics... 148/149/150: Adventures of Superman #1/Smallville Season 11 Special #1/Deathmatch #6 (2013)

This week was a tiny, tiny week for me, compared to most anyway, consisting of four books I was very excited about.  I generally get quite excited about my books each Wednesday, but usually there's a clear or narrow shortlist of contenders for the top of the pile.  This week all four books were contenders, and I really did just close my eyes an pick one to start.

Adventures of Superman is another "digital first" book from DC, one which you may or may not have heard about as it was surrounded by controversy when it was first announced with Orson Scott Card as writer.  What's interesting then is the stink of OSC -- an active opponent of gay marriage opponent -- writing a Superman story was big enough for DC to shelve the story.  I'm sure DC's original logic was "OSC, a famous sci-fi writer, also has written some mildly successful comics (Ultimate Iron Man), his Ender's Game is a big film for the fall, and Man of Steel is a big film for us in the spring, so... synergy".  Given that this is just a one-shot, work-for-hire story by OSC, one has to wonder just how big a stink will be raised when the promotion for Ender's starts ramping up?

Anyway, I wasn't going to buy Adventures of Superman originally (I obviously didn't digitally) but I've been jonesing for a real Superman story.  DC comics as of late (and by late I mean the past two years) has not been cutting the mustard (whatever the hell that means) when it comes to telling Superman stories.  Morrison's Action Comics was a redefinition of Superman, but it never really felt much like Superman to me.  The Scholly Fisch back-up stories seemed a bit more like Superman stories, but even then they're just vignettes, and not full blown stories.

Adventures of Superman feels like Superman to me, much more than anything in the New 52, but that's because AOS is not in the New 52 (can we stop calling it that please?).  Superman in each of the three stories here is clad in his basic blue spandex with his red undies and yellow belt, and to me, that's an easy starting point for feeling like Superman.  Jeff Parker and Chris Samnee's tale is all Superman as a character, as he doesn't want to fight a junkie who suddenly manifests serious telekinetic powers, he want to help him.  While I typically don't associate stories revolving around drug fiends and bandying the words "crystal meth" around liberally with Superman (not really a book I would give to a kid), everything else just screams Superman.

Jeff Lemire comes in with a typically Jeff Lemire-esque tale of rural kids playing Superman out in the woods, pretending to be from the big city and cycling through the rogues gallery (Brainiac, Bizarro, Lex Luthor, etc) in rapid order.  It's a cute tale, though unlike Samnee's exceptionally clean and simplistic, animation-quality illustrations in the earlier tale, Lemire's Superman, rendered in his shaky freehand style is kind of gnarly looking.  Otherwise it's a charming story.  Finally, a Bizarro tale from Justin Jordan and Riley Rossmo.  Who doesn't love a Bizarro story?  This is a fun one, and Rossmo's art is superb... making me wonder what the hell exactly is going on with Rossmo in Bedlam.  There his art is very challenging, very difficult, while here I see the superstar-in-the-making Rossmo that I saw in Dark Horse's Debris last year.

The only real problem with AOS is that it's an anthology of 10-page-and-done stories with no ongoing stories, not unlike the aforementioned back-ups in New 52's Action Comics, (though the Parker/Samnee tale seeds in a thread that could be ongoing).  It feels like Superman, but it doesn't feel enough like Superman. 

But these days it's through the Brian Q. Miller-written Smallville Season 11 series that I get my main Superman fix.  Miller's working more in a DC Universe sensibility rather than a straightforward "Superman" sense, with the most prominent stories featuring the introduction of Batman to the Smallville world, the return of Bart Allen, and currently Booster Gold and the Legion of Superheroes (with Wonder Woman in the pipeline).  This Season 11 Special one-shot takes that a step further and removes Clark Kent from the equation almost entirely, as Detective John Jones and Batman team up to hunt down a murderous white martian who, it turns out, is just a lost and scared young female named M'gann (erm, spoilers I guess).

The story itself is probably the weakest Miller's told (though it has some of the strongest character moments of the 11th season), as the whole "letting M'gann off the hook for the countless murders" that wrapped up the book seemed a little too... easy.  I have a hard time with heroes who start out as murderers and are never brought to justice for their crimes but instead have to atone for it by doing good.  It's Angel, or Arrow too.  It's something you have to just roll with, but it's one the least appealing heroic journeys to me.

I love Miller's expansion of the Smallville universe (there's an oxymoron if there ever was one), as if that wasn't evident by my monthly salivating over each issue.  Miller's reimagining of Batman and Nightwing is amazing, and the kind of rebuilding of character the New 52 was supposed to take care of.  His Martian Manhunter is saddled with a bit of dorky Smallville backstory (he worked with Jor-El? Really?) to be an effective relaunch of that character, but he does utilize him generally quite well here.  With the Wonder Woman storyline coming up, I'm excited to see how BQM handles revamping the Amazon (one of the only New 52 revamps to really work out the gate).

That the Smallville Special highlighted the failures of the New 52 brought to mind an article/open letter Paul Jenkins distributed recently, in which the writer mirrors fandom's concern over editorially-driven structure of DC and Marvel, and puts the spotlight on the increasingly unsatisfying environment for the creative talent at these companies. 

"It bugs me," Jenkins says, "that the creators were a primary focus when the mainstream publishers needed them, and now that the corporations are driving the boat, creative decisions are being made once again by shareholders."  He's of course referring to the fact that the corporate stakeholders (Disney and Warner Bros) are treating their characters like they treat Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, that they need to be controlled and monitored and not led astray by, you know, creativity.  With a book like Adventures of Superman, it allows DC to keep having the cake it's eating, by giving the appearance that creators an outlet to explore the character that's outside the "mainstream" version, while it still dictates what that mainstream version is.  Again, though, it's appearances, because if it weren't just about appearances that Orson Scott Card story would be seeing print (but that's a whole other debate about whether you can separate the artist from his/her politics).

Ironically, Smallville (and other digital first books, like the Batman Beyond or video game properties) comes fully out of that licensed property shadow and seem to have a liberties that the New 52 do not, possibly because they're dead properties that can now only live in comics.  The New 52 is what's supposed to build/drive interest in new toys, paraphernalia, apparel and other such merchandise, Batman Beyond isn't selling much else new beyond comics to the small and devoted.

But I don't think Jenkins is vilifying working for DC or Marvel, or writing corporate characters.  Creators, beyond just taking a job, frequently have a lot of love for the properties they're working on.  But if guiding those characters can only be done with one's shoelaces tied together, it's a frustrating journey no matter how vibrant the landscape seems. 

Deathmatch is Jenkins' outlet to express his frustration with DC and Marvel, creating his own stable of characters that he can do with whatever he damn well pleases, and he does.  If Deathmatch has a hindrance, it's not that there's no recognizable properties or strong editorial constraints, it's that he builds a great world of characters, and promptly starts destroying them.  There are a lot of original creations and a few analogs of the Big Two pantheon, but here he can have Superman kill Wolverine and editorial outrage. 

Last month's issue got a bit unruly, as the heroes started to revolt against the cage they've been imprisoned in, and while story wise it was an important element, the script didn't quite have the emotional center the previous issues did.  This issue makes up for it in spades, with a lot of great character moments, and a resonant (no pun intended) battle between Mink and Melody Toon.  As the cast list dwindles, the more connected we become with the remaining cast, and the more we come to understand their connection together.

I wonder if there's more in store for the surviving characters following the series' conclusion, because I quite like what he's doing here with all his creative freedom.  Actually, I just hope that once this story is over that there will still be a "Jenkins-verse" left to explore. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

365 Comics... 147: Quantum & Woody #2 (1997)

I mentioned in 365 Comics #22 (Quantum & Woody #1) that I was going to have to do some deep discount bin diving to try and pull together a run of the series, and it would seem others are having the same thought because I managed to find less than a haIf dozen issues of the series in the past 120-odd days.  I think with Valiant relaunching the series shortly (without Christopher Priest, sadly, as I had hoped he'd make his return [365 comics #79: The Crew # 1])  there's a lot of interest in the old series so those cheap bin copies are getting snatched up (likely hoping to turn a dollar or two profit on ebay).

I did say back in 365#79 that I would throw my support behind Priest and buy up any TPBs of Quantum & Woody should they get released that's assuming Priest would see $ from those sales) but it seems there's u ways to wait yet.  Comixology, where I got my first fix for free, had a 99¢ sale a few weeks back where I meant to snatch up a bunch of issues but only managed to get this second issue before the sale ended.  Hopefully it'll be back for the first issue of the new Priest-free series which I wont support, or went support at first but then new and enjoy ten years from now.

Monday, May 27, 2013

365 Comics...146: Space Punisher tpb (2012)

Back in 365 Comics #104 I had just read the first issue of Space Punisher for free (through the Marvel 1 initiative at Comixology).  I knew I wanted to read the entire mini-series but also knew it would have to be economically feasable to do so.  At three bucks per issue and 3 of a 4 issue series remaining, that meant a steeply discounted trade (cover price = $12.99)or equally price reduced issues.  We're fortunate to have a lot of remainder and used book stores here in Toronto, as well as our fair share of comics peddlers, so I knew one of those two options would happen.  The third option would be to wait for a 99 ¢ sale on Comixology that may never happen.  That actually would have been my preferred method because, well as much as I damn well enjoyed this book, I'm kind of embarassed by it.  It is ridiculous or a level beyond, say, that movie Lockout... this is Sci-fi superhero grindhouse.  It's exceptionally violent but numbingly so and so extreme it's unbelievability that it comes off like a next-level Loony Toons type of affair.  Frank Castle looks like a Pro Wrestler... I think that sums it up nicely.  If the WWE were to make a 40 million dollar sci-fi movie with Marvel properties it would be pretty much be this.  It is stoopid amounts of fun, though.

I should also note the deceit on the back cover: "collecting Space Punisher #1-5"... No bonus 5th issue here folks.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

365 Comics... 145: The Marvelous Land of Oz HC (2010)

What is really attracting me to Marvel's Oz adaptations, particularly at this time is, foremost, consistency.  Currently writer/Oz fanatic Eric Shanower and artist Skottie Young have just wrapped up the final issue of their fifth adaptation "The Road To Oz".  That's an impressive 46 issues from the same creative team, something you don't see too much of in comics anymore, certainly not in licensed or adapted properties.  That type of creative devotion is typically reserved for creator owned work.  I don't know if Shanower and Young (or Marvel for that matter) plan to continue adapting Baum's novels but I hope they do, and together, because having a consistent storyteller and a consistent visual style really helps the series feel like a uniform whole. 

With being in the public domain anyone can take the characters and the world and tell the stories their own way, and we rarely get to see much of Oz as an expanded world, particularly in keeping with Baum's original tales.   The mid-80's feature Return To Oz is my preferred Oz movie but it builds its own tale by borrowing liberally from The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz.  The recent Oz: the Great and Powerful borrows minutely from Baum's texts opting more for an original take that dovetails (quite nicely) into the stripped-down MGM version of The Wizard of Oz.

As I've been reading these adaptations I've been keeping Oz: The Great and Powerful's contributions to Oz in mind but find that the pieces dont really fit into Baum's continuity... particularly Oz's relationship with Glinda and his actual magical ability.

l found the Marvelous Land of 0z to be quite playful and entertaining, and although General Jinjur and her army's raison d'etre for taking over the Emerald City could be perceived as sexist (acquiring gems and frocks) as farce it's actually pretty darn funny (the rallying the soldiers scene reminded me of the French Foreign Legion scene in Kyle Baker's The Cowboy Wally Show).  There's a lot of Python-esque moments in this one which makes me sad I hadn't discovered this when I was younger.

365 Comics...144: Archer & Armstrong #0 (2013)

I've never read the classic epics... Beowulf, The Odyssey, The Iliad, Gilgamesh etc.  I mean who has the time to read these long, plodding, primitive scripts when there's so many comic books to read?  Plus, comics can tell these tales so much more consicely, if not at accurately, like in this Zero lssue of Archer & Armstrong wherein Armstrong relays the true story of Gilgamesh in oh about 20 pages or so.  Of course the true story of Gilgamesh is all about Amstrong and his two brothers finding the Spider Alien technology that would inevitably grant them their immortality... just like the original epic, right?  I'm ready for the test.

Friday, May 24, 2013

365 Comics... 143: Nowhere Men #5 (2013)

The wife and I are working our way through Fringe for the second time (but in many cases throughout the first and second seasons it's our first time through, as we didn't catch wise to the show's geeky greatness until late into the second season), and it was while watching an early second season ep this week that I started thinking about how Nowhere Men is like a step-child of Fringe.  Basically Nowhere Men is Massive Dynamic: the Comic Book.  It's not so flagrant a copy as that, it is it's own great thing for sure, but for those that aren't reading it, it's a nice shorthand explanation into it's world of superscience and high industry that revolves around it.  It also has the added sci-fi element of being an alternate reality where scientists, not musicians, actors or athletes are superstars.  I like the concept of a world where science, intellect and the contribution to human progression are celebrated.  Our own world should surely endeavor to do such (says the guy writing a blog about and celebrating comic books).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

365 Comics...142: Godzilla: The Half-Century War tpb (2013)

I will have a longer, more formal review of this ready for tomorrow's Thor's Comic Column (next week at latest) but I had to just say ''wow" over this, because... wow.

I'm not a die hard Gojira buff but I, like most nerds, have a soft spot for the king of all monsters... and as much as I enjoy him in a silly way it's always great to see him used well in a serious context and as a serious threat.

This book I can only hope is the template for Pacific Rim (yes I'm aware the production timelines overlap and that they're definitely independent productions) since James Stokoe provides jaw dropping imagery of kaiju rampages and giant robots fighting them.  It's not the sole focus of the book but its plenty awesome.

This is way up there as one of the best Godzilla stories I have read/watched... it transcends most of the films for sure.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

365 Comics...141: Batman Incorporated #11 (2013)

This is one of those old-timey "gotcha" filler issues the publishers put out because they know most of the readers will buy it anyway... whether it's because they're completists or because they're not paying attention they know it's going to sell, if not as well than close enough.

Batman Incorporated is Grant Morrison's book, and frankly it doesn't need filler.  We know Morrison is going to be late at some point, he always is. But with Batman Inc. so on the fringes of the Bat Universe (despite the impact Damian's death is having) it's not a big deal to wait for Grant's next issue, especially since we're so close to the end of his Bat-run. This is just a frivolous aside and had I been paying closer attention I wouldn't have bought it (fair warning though, as it wasn't like this fill-in was unplanned and noted accross many blogs).

Had Batman Inc. been more of a Batman Family title each month, perhaps an anthology at twice the size or having a back-up feature with other Inc characters in the spotlight this issue wouldn't stick out and irk me so much.  But they didn't do that and here we are with an exceptionally average (despite a lady with tiger-heads for hands) and unnecessary entry in an otherwise grand-scale series. 

After Morrison wraps up there will be a Morrison-less coda and an extra-sized special which seems commercially exploitative rather than  creatively necessary.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

365 Comics...140: Non-Humans #3 (2013)

It's been a bit of a wait since last issue but it's worth it.  It's a dense read, and even though it clocks in at 26 pages (more than your average DC or Marvel book) it feels even more substantial than that.  I really enjoy this world that Glen Brunswick and Whilce Portacio continue to build.  In fact I like the world building (and character building) so much that it feels almost like the main story is getting in way of a great hypothetical societal drama.  With the opening few pages focusing on Detective Aimes' son, his non-human girlfriend and their non-human "family" it almost seemed we moved past the NH killer but I'm also glad we didn't.  There's a revolt brewing and it's devious and dastardly and actually quite serious (kind of a Conquest of the Planet of the Apes vibe only somewhat less sympathetic given the distinction between freedom fighting and casual genocide), and where before we were shown the world's shades of grey, here we quite clearly are seeing its blacks and whites (it's a gradient metaphor not a racial one).  Also, Portacio's art makes the NH's feel extremely NH... they kind of creep me the eff out.  It's very effective given the heavy subject matter.

I've forgotten already... this is a 4-issue series, right?  Man, I want there to be a follow-up... it doesn't even need to be the same cast.  I  just want to explore this world more.

Monday, May 20, 2013

365 Comics... 139: Avengers Academy vol.2: Will We Use This In The Real World? (2011)

When I get into something I tend to want to just plow right through it, Consume Consume Consume.  So it goes with Avengers Academy whose first volume I just read and loved last week (365 comics #135).  I didn't love this volume as much, mainly because for a series starring a cast of newcomers the focus here was a little too much on the established cast... primarily Dr Pym/Giant Man and Tigra.  We've established of late that I'm historically not much of an Avengers buff so the ongoing drama of Hank Pym (whom it would seem has about 50 years of over-the-top BS to deal with) is a real energy suck in this volume.  Likewise hearkening back to the Korvac saga for a 2 issue stint seemed like great fan service but to the uninitiated it was a sub-mediocre, ridiculous story that went a whole bunch of places illogically (the whole putting the Academy kids into their adult bodies from potential future timelines still makes little sense).

The few things that did click well though were:
-Quicksilver (I'm not convinced his being used properly but every scene he's in is intriguing)
-Speedball's power ramp-up.
-Finesse and Taskmaster, a particularly fascinating meeting
-Hazmat and Mettle getting closer (I know what's coming...)
-Hazmat's day out with Leech
-The young heroes dance (there better be a rivalry with some other hero training school that culminates in a series of friendly but spirited competitions at some point)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

365 Comics...138: X-Factor #256 (2013)

Woah, I didn't see that coming at all.  Certainly not the end to the Hell on Earth War I was expecting. Not at all.  Brilliant but massive and complex and I just don't know that Peter David can wrap up all these characters' arcs in what few issues are remaining.  And the deaths this issue... we know one of them didn't actually happen but what about the rest?  Can that one guy even really die.  What'll happen to Jamie?  (Y'know I'm just not connecting with Polaris at all, as u leader or a character since she returned). Do we know why X-Factor is getting cancelled?  Was it sales? Trade sales?  Or did David want to move on?  I doubt that. (Was it Polaris?)  I really just don't want it to end... it's been a wonderful constant for ten years).

Saturday, May 18, 2013

365 Comics...137: Batwoman #20 (2013)

Kate's sister is still alive but in DEO custody so in order to bring her home she needs to find out Batman's secret identity.  Yeah, good luck with that Kate.  The Batman I know would already know that this was happening and have some plan in place to deflect suspicion,or cause doubt or let the DEO know that he knows and also let them know he's none too happy about it.

Perhaps Kate just needs to hang around some kids... they tend to know who Batman its instinctively.

Friday, May 17, 2013

365 Comics...136: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol 3

A few thoughts about UCS-Mv3:

-I was surprised after the build up in vol 2 that the Prowler / Spidey team-up resolved itself so quickly.  It seemed like it had a longer way to go then it actually did
- I was actually kind of saddened by the way that arc interesting supporting character / nemesis taken out of the equation
-the Spider-Man: Murderer public fallout of the story didn't really work for me. It would have been more interesting were Miles to feel responsible even though the media was on his side

-I stopped reading the Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men just before Divided We Fall since Hickman and Spencer left the books but given the fractured country and the Hydra separatists angle it looks like it turned out to be an interesting story.  I like that the Ultimate universe takes more chances and risks... it's not "our" world, but as Ultimate Spider-Man proves, its still filled with people.

-When I heard about Divided We fall, I wondered how it would fit in with Miles Morales' much more down-to-earth reality.  Turns out quite well. Bendis has been weaving universe-building stories for a decade or more so he knows how to incorporate a character into a crossover event

- Miles joining the Ultimates isn't my favourite thing and Cap (whose Ultimates iteration is kind of harsh, but I guess he's supposed to be more militaristic) is right about most of his reasons for not wanting Miles to join the team.

-I don't like the Ultimate spider-Woman's costume. At.All.  Bleh.

-David Marquez is a great sub for Sarah Pichelli on art.  Pepe Larraz is not as great a sub for Marquez.  Larraz draws Cap funny... not funny ha-ha

-why was Ultimate Spider-Man fighting Elasti-Girl from the Doom Patrol?

-Miles frequently doesn't seem all that concerned with keeping his face a secret.

-I really wonder if in the new Spider-Man fiIm series, which follows more the USM iteration then 616, if they will kill off Andrew Garfield and replace him with a young mixed race kid. It would be awesome but probably traumatic for young Spidey fans

- issues 11-18 for $19.99.  Yes Marvel thank you. Thats much better than the $20 for 5 you've been giving us.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

365 Comics...135: Avengers Academy Vol. 1: Permanent Record (2011)

My buddy SJ had been telling me about this series for a long time, expressing his love for it whenever I saw him (which isn't enough).  Quite often he would say it's his favourite Marvel title on the stands (perhaps even his favourite comic book at one point?  I don't quite recall).  As we've established, I'm not a Marvel-head.  I like a few characters, and I'll read specific writers, but I don't generally just pick up a Marvel book for any other reason... oh, unless I'm reviewing it.  Which is what happened with Avenger Arena: Murder World (365 Comics #33), a quasi-Avengers Academy spinoff which I denounced as nothing more than a flagrant Battle Royale/Hunger Games rip-off.  That charge hasn't changed at all, but at the same time, it's no longer a denouncement.  Writer Dennis Hopeless is matching everything that made Battle Royale (in all its iterations) and Hunger Games so exciting.  His characterization has really firmed up along the way, and I've started to get curious about those characters I don't really know already.  Which leads us back to Avengers Academy.

The series kicks off at the start of the "Heroic Age" which signalled the end of all the general doom and gloom in the Marvel U following Civil War, Captain America's death, World War Hulk, political figure Norman Osborne, the Skrull invasion, and a whole plethora of events, mini-events, and happenings I largely ignored.  The kids of the Academy (almost all-new creations for the book, Super Hero Squad's Reptyl excepted) were brought in under the perception that they're the "next Avengers" but in truth they're more likely "at-risk teens" who teeter the line between good and villainous.  All of them were recruited by Norman Osborne for "the Initiative" in the dark days, and many of them were subjected to torture and other offenses that scarred them psychologically.  With a complicated past himself, Hank Pym leads training at the academy, which also counts Tigra, a tortured Speedball, ex-con Justice and former evil mutant Quicksilver among the faculty, so it's a damaged group.

It's a very conventional gathering of superpowered teens, very reflective of Xavier's school, but that's what works so well.  It's very back-to-basics, with a great hook with the "at-risk" aspect, leaving the reader to wonder if all of these kids will make it out as heroes.  Christos Gage purposefully doesn't break any molds here, working with the tropes long-established by teen-focused series like Teen Titans, X-Men, Young Justice and New Warriors.  There's a lot of melodrama and teen angst, and it works incredibly well.  I'm a few years late (and Mettle, my favourite character immediately, was unceremoniously killed in the first issue of Avengers Arena, which only now I'm getting retroactively angry/sad over) but I'm going to be hunting the remaining volumes of the series because I don't have enough to read/catch up on as is.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

365 Comics...133/134: Avengers #1/New Avengers #1 (2013)

I'm an avid Jonathan Hickman reader, ever since the Nightly News in 2006, I've read pretty much every thing he's written and I've never been disappointed.  He's an idea man, a grand idea man, but he knows how to execute his grand ideas and seed them with complex and interesting characters.  His work at Marvel -- most prominently Secret Warriors, Fantastic Four and FF (and S.H.I.E.L.D. which bridges the two) -- resulted in some of the most impressive and awe-inspiring reading out of the House of Ideas ever.  He was the obvious choice to take over the Avengers, having just worked some remarkable magic on the Ultimates as well, and, for the first time, actually made me excited to read an Avengers comic.

I've mentioned before that I'm wasn't much of a Marvel kid.  Until the 1990's and X-Men #1, I only had a handful of issues of scattershot titles to my name.  I don't think I had read an issue of the Avengers prior to the 90's and I doubt I read more than a half dozen in that time.  Even in the past decade, I can honestly say I haven't a single issue of Bendis' Avengers run, not that I have anything against Bendis (his Daredevil run is incredible), but the grand-scope, sweeping Marvel epics have never been my thing.

I don't really get a sense that the Avengers or New Avengers is, akin to Bendis' run, a big lead in to some big epic, like Infinity, which Hickman is also writing, but then again, I don't know for sure.  I haven't been paying that close of attention, obviously, having just gotten to the 1st issues of each series now.  Yes, as big a fan as I am of Hickman's, I'm not willing to cough up $3.99 per issue when I can wait for a steeply discounted trade (but probably a hardcover because, well, I've waited long enough already).  On top of that both Avengers and New Avengers are twice-monthly books, which is both impressive and costly.  Plus, I find reading Hickman's stuff is better in large doses (and look nicer on the shelf).

The first issue of Avengers (no "The", don't they usually have a "The"?) did not disappoint.  From page 1 I could tell "grand scale" was in the cards.  Also, I like Tony calling Cap "Old Man" (does he always do that?  As a non-Avengers, non-Captain America, non-Iron Man reader, I don't really know these things), that's endearing.  Seeing the Avengers crew from the film take off to Mars (how'd they get there so quickly) and have their asses so brutally handed to them by... who the hell are these guys?  I see "Hyperion" name checked, are they Squadron Supreme?  I just don't know Marvel all that well.  Speaking of which, I only recognize some of the characters from the last page...
Captain Universe (I think), Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Cannonball(?), Falcon and Wolverine.  Who are the rest?

Even without knowing everyone and perhaps some references floating over my head, I still love this first issue tremendously.  I'm in on the trades for sure... with going twice monthly, they should be popping up rather fast and furiously.

The New Avengers I liked even more because I dig Black Panther.  I wish I was more a devoted reader of Black Panther, but I sadly haven't been.  But the first issue of the New Avengers is a great Black Panther solo story, for the most part, dovetailing into his reluctant acceptance of the Illuminati after initially rejecting them.  It's a curious mix... Black Panther, Captain America (pulling double duty between Avengers books), Dr. Strange, Black Bolt (!?), Tony Stark, Reed Richards, and Namor (where's Prof. X?  Is he dead again?), and that they're the New Avengers means that they're not so much the Illuminati anymore, doesn't it... this will be the team dynamic though, with these big brains trying to convince each other they have the best ideas to manipulate the world for the better, and Panther trying to resolve it.  Hickman's experience with Richards and the "counsel of Reeds" from his Fantastic Four run should provide an interesting angle to the whole thing.  Nobody pulls off super-intelligence like Hickman.

I need to get those steeply discounted hardcovers asap.  I want more of all of this and now.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

365 Comics...132: The Indestructible Hulk #1 (2012)

What I like about this first issue of the new "Marvel Now" Hulk series is not Mark Waid's take on Banner/Hulk (though he does have some good ideas in that department - - "I'm not a mopey teenager... I'm one of the smartest guys on the planet"), but rather Waid's obvious interest in SHIELD Agents Hill and Coulson.  They've been seen around the Marvel Universe for a while now but since The Avengers movie hit (smashed, more like) they've been featured more and more prominently.  I don't think they'll ever be holding their own title but they would indeed make for great supporting players in any number of Marvel U titles.  A Hulk book seems as good a place as any.

Given that the last Hulk book I read (King-Size Hulk : 365 Comics #106) from 5 years prior seemed to be focussed more on building a "Hulk family" (or a spectrum of Hulks ... hey it worked for Green Lantern) it's good to see a book focussed on Bruce Banner that seems to have an interesting take on his relationship with his burlier half. I've said before I'm not a super-keen Hulk fan... but I'd read more of this for sure.

365 Comics... 131: Young Justice #1 (1998)

A cheeky, silly, pun-infused first issue, Peter David's script is so shameless that I'm having difficulty determining if it's entertaining or painful. My wife loves the series so I will give it (and her) the benefit of the doubt.  I never have been crazy about Todd Nauck's art which is probably the main barrier I have to digging out my wife's series run.  I'm going to get through the Young Justice cartoon (which I'm quite enjoying so far early in the first season) before I consider reading more.

"Foolish males!  Once I was mere Nina Dowd, but no longer.  Now I am... Mighty Endowed!"

Saturday, May 11, 2013

365 Comics...130: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (hardcover, 2009)

Beyond the 1939 film, which I never cared all that much for and yet have seen countless times, I didn't really know much about the grand scale of Oz.  Oh, I saw (and loved far more) Return To Oz, so I had an awareness that there was more than just the Wizard, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion out there, but I never pursued it.  I've never even read L. Frank Baum's original text.  I've always intended to look into all of it more, even having purchased an annotated copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,  I just never got around to delving deeper, until recently.
The world of Oz is indeed a fascinating place, as is its origins in Baum's feminist influences, and also its incredibly expansive publication history.  Over 40 "official" books are contained in the series (over a dozen by Baum and the remainder by six different writers), but with the Wonderful Wizard of Oz entering the public domain in 1956, countless iterations and interpretations of the characters, series and land of Oz have manifested.  Considering the diversity of Oz almost from its inception (newspaper serials and a stage plays appeared even before a sequel did) it's actually quite unfortunate that the Judy Garland-starring film has dominated the public's perception of Oz, to the point that everything, even Baum's sequels, are deemed derivative or inferior.

With Oz The Great and Powerful [review] recently bringing the Land of Oz back into the public conversation, I've decided to finally satiate my curiosity and really delve into Oz, starting with that annotated edition I picked up a decade ago... which I got a little overwhelmed by about halfway through its 400 pages.  So, not unexpectedly, I turned to comics.  Marvel has been steadily adapting  Baum's Oz books for the past 4 years remarkably with the same creative team of Eric Shanower and Skottie Young (they're currently on their fifth series, adapting Road To Oz) so it seemed like the best place to turn (there's a reprint of the 1930's newspaper comics serialization out there that I wouldn't mind seeing either).  

Back when I was first getting into comics, I saw some ads for Eric Shanower's extensions to Oz and I was intrigued (they looked like they were gorgeously illustrated, as well), but I never did get them.  Yet Shanower's name stuck in my mind, as has his association with Oz.  So seeing his name as writer on the Marvel books lends them a sort of authenticity in my mind.  Reading his introduction to this volume, it's more than evident that Shanower is an Oz obsessive, a lifelong fan, and member of the International Wizard of Oz club.  Beyond his five comic books (all now available from IDW and Comixology) he's written a novel and short stories about Oz, as well as illustrated for the books of others.  He's passionate and devoted, as well as talented, so the perfect guy to go to for any alternative to Baum's original text.

Skottie Young also seems quite passionate about Oz, and intent on making it work.  His devotion to character design (as seen in the back-pages on the collection) is evident, having constructed a Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Toto, and Wizard that are as appealing (if not moreso) than Baum's original artistic collaborators (W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill).  By design his Dorothy isn't quite as memorable as they detail "the character can't be too specific as she's a sort of Everywoman."    The coloring by Jean-Francios Beaulieu is amazing, and deserves as much of the accolades as Shanower and Young.  The appearance of  lavish cel animation, Beaulieu's colors define the environment and contribute immensely to the awe and majesty of Oz.

If you've only ever seen the 1939 film, it's an incredible discovery reading Baum's source or a faithful adaptation such as this.  There's so much left out of the MGM movie, the horrifying origin of the Tin Woodsman and his enchanted axe, for one, or the lengthy journey that follow's the Wizard's departure by balloon.  Most adaptations of the Wizard of Oz tend to stick to the compressed film iteration, and while the full story is kind of choppy, hopping from scene to scene, resolving the situations without building much tension, it's still a an engrossing world, one I'm keen to continue exploring.

Friday, May 10, 2013

365 Comics...129: Bikini Cowboy (2012)

Originally published last year by a Californian art house boutique press (and a price that reflects it) and simultaneously published to iTunes in four parts, Bikini Cowboy recently came available through Comixology at a very reasonable $5.99 (for a 377 page book).

It's an anachronistic western with a jubilant yet badass protagonist (like an old-west nonviolent Tank Girl) who roams the desert in a bikini with a surfboard under her arm and a whip wrapped around her waist.  The bikini thing seems like a gimmick in promise but story wise it has relevance (really..its a choice the character has made, partly the byproduct of having trained with a Hawaiian sorcerer).  It also not just an abstract element of the book but quite frequently addressed by the characters around her.  The crux of the story finds Whiskey Jill taking a tween-ish orphan boy into her care as he's pursued by his nasty guardian and she's pursued by The Marshall, a violent man of God who really doesn't cotton to Jill's liberal ways.

The book makes a strong, confident protagonist out of Jill and doesn't sexualize her to any overt degree. It's partly that creator Luke Weber's cartooning style doesn't lend itself to sexiness and because I don't think it's his intent to sexualize her any more than any woman comfortably wearing a swimsuit in hot weather should appear (one scene excepted, which is young Rod's POV as he wakes to find Jill bathing in the pond before him... his first awareness of sexuality).  At the same time the men of the 1800's can't help but sexualize Jill for her not-of-the-era attire, tossing all manner of derogatory slurs her way.  Too many in fact.

Given Weber's virtually puerile illustrations it's a stark juxtaposition against the crassness of the language.  Imagine if Rango's dialogue were supplanted by Deadwood's.  It's not the only uncomfortable element to Bikini Cowboy, as Jill frequently plays into Rod's boyhood crush on her, feeling uncomfortably close to pedophilia rather than playful as I think was intended.  It's a precarious line which Jill toes too often.

Weber's an amazing draughtsman , and his pages look great. The western environment is wonderfully and richly detailed without overpowering the simplicity of his characters.  There's a bisqueness to the pacing of the book and the abundant reference to religion seem to recall Doug Ten Napel's work but Weber puts more care into his pages (TenNapel frequently works freehand and steam-of-consciousness) and Weber's view is more an indictment of religion (the worst people in this book are the Bible thumpers), instead celebrating spirituality.

It's not a perfect read but it's not devoid of charm.  Its certainly worth its modest digital price.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

365 Comics...128: Smallville Season 11 #13 (2013)

What can I say about Smallville this month that I haven't said already?  Well how about Booster Gold... more? Blue Beetle too...more?  A trip to the 32nd Century...?  Legion of Super-Heroes?  Earth under siege from the Kryptonian denizens of Argo? Come on!  Tell me that doesn't sound awesome.  And it is.
Brian Q. Miller is channelling all that is good about Geoff Johns and putting it in the BQM blender to serve up a mighty fine coctail.  Drawing from John's  Smaellville scripts where he introduced Booster, Beetle and the Legion, as well as looking to his Action Comics work from a few years back toying with Earth Man (Kurt Niedrigh) and 30th century Earth xenophobia as well as the war with New Krypton.  But the great thing is Miller takes all these many, many elements and plugs them into Smallville continuity seamlessly.  Miller knows the world of this show, he knows the characters and he knows DC characters and stories and marries them all together gleefully. 
Look at that cover! Awesomesauce!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

365 Comics...127: The Private Eye #2 (2013)

Yay! New Private Eye.  New BKV. New Marcos Martin. And on a Tuesday (a proper new release day). Yay! 

Support awesome comics.
That is all.

Monday, May 6, 2013

365 Comics...126: Amazing Spider-Man Presents: The Black Cat #1 (2011)

Okay so what did I know about Black Cat before reading this issue?  well, I knew her platinum hair and her cleavage-bearing, fur-cuffed leather wardrobe and that she's an ace cat burglar.  She's Spider-Man's Catwoman (although I'm certain some fanboy out there can tell me how one informed the other and that Catwoman is the knock-off).

What do I know about Black Cat after reading this issue?  Apparently she has the power to cause bad luck around her (which isn't used very well or consistently here), and she's likes to be seen as a "good burglar" in that she's non-violent.  A criminal with a heart of gold beneath heaving bosoms barely contained by her garb. I cant imagine doing the thing she does with the girls all out like that.  Catwoman usually zips up, as well as keeps her hair contained.  How many times has the Cat set off a lazer-triggered alarm because of her hair? She enjoys aerobic sex with Spiderman (masks on) at construction sites and gets peeved when people doubt her integrity.

Its a mildly enjoyable book but kind of pointless unless you're a big Black cat fan.  A 7 page preview of ''The Grim Hunt", a Spider-Man tale by Joe Kelley and Michael Lark which made very little sense except perhaps as a Saw homage starring Spider people. Shrug.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

365 Comics...125: The Strain #1 (2012)

It's not that I dislike books.  Quite the opposite.  What I dislike is reading books, which isn't entirely true, I just get bored with the process of reading.  With a 4-year-old and an 11-year-old taking up much of the time that work doesn't, there's not a lot of time left for movies and TV and internet surfing and podcasts and music and boardgames and comics and books, so something had to give.  Considering how slow and impatient a reader I am, it was a fairly simple choice.

As a result, despite my interest and access to the books, I haven't read any of Guillermo del Toro/Chuck Hogan's Strain trilogy.  Oh, I've given them as gifts, because I've heard they're good, and those gifts have been appreciated, but I haven't even considered reading them myself.  I just don't have the time to devote to one book, never mind three.  But a comic book adaptation... not quite the same, I know, but it's the same story in, like, 1/8th the reading time.  It's all about being patient.

The first issue is currently free on the Dark Horse Digital service, and it's a quick set-up, a Fringe analog where weird things seem to be occurring on a plane that just touched down and the CDC and a Hazmat team are on the scene alongside the police.  But writer David Lapham takes more time to establish the main protagonist and supporting characters, as well as hinting at a mythos to the nasty things happening in the story... it's longer-form thinking, apparently breaking down the story into well-paced chunks.  It doesn't yet get to the crux of the story or the threat, but it doesn't have to.  Fans of the books (or lazy but curious readers like me) will already have bought into it strictly because we want to read it.

Cost-wise, it's cheaper to read the book, unless you value your time more.  Of course, the Strain is being adapted to television for FX in the fall, but I imagine it'll deviate much further than the comics do from the source, the same way The Walking Dead has.

365 Comics...124: Sweet Tooth Volume 5: Unnatural Habitats (2012)

(See 365 Comics #49, 50, 51 and 75 for comments on volumes 1-4)

Volume 5 kicks off with a 3-part interlude that looks back roughly100 years at a situation that occurred between British missionaries and Inuit natives of Alaska that telegraphs some of the backstory for the contagion that destroyed most of the population and created animal-human hybrids in its stead.  Matt Kindt (MIND MGMT) takes over art chores for the arc and I don't think you can find a more like-minded and complimentary artist to take over for Jeff Lemire.  The art shift serves dual purpose to establish a different tone and feel for the flashback, where things get heavy and gruesome (as things have a tendency of winding up in Sweet Tooth).

The four chapters that follow serve to close out the Project Evergreen sub-plot that was introduced in Endagered Species.  How it plays out, along with Jepperd, Gus and Dr. Singh's stories, seem quite Lost-like, jumping between tangential characters and plot reveals.  The end of this two-volume arc moves along at a brisk clip (as the series generally does) only this late in the game it almost feels over-simplified as a result.  It's definitely winding towards its end-game (volume 6 arrives next month), which will make or break the whole series for me.  I've enjoyed the ride, but even at this stage, I'm still not quite certain my real feelings towards it.  I'll most likely need to reread the run to figure that out.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

365 Comics... 123: Alpha Flight #1 (1983)

I've long lamented the under-representation of Canadian superheroes from the Big Two, something I'm sure most international readers of superhero comics feel at one time or another, so it's really surprising to me that I never caught onto Alpha Flight in my 30 years of comics patronage.  I'm fairly certain that I'veint most read less than five stories starring Alpha Flight or its members (Wolverine excluded) over the years, and I guess I always assumed that the book's Canadianness was only token and not a True North representation.

With the Marvel 1 project I finally have cost-free opportunity to see this Canadian super-team for myself and it's not great, but my 12-year-old self would have loved it completely.  Alpha Flight's first issue introduces (or reintroduces) the characters from the pages of the X-Men by way of writer/ artist John Byrne, and also introduces Canada with some well-researched  details and a gleeful naivite:

Vindicator: The Prime Minister didn't even bother to come and bid me adieu.

Heather Hudson: Well I didn't vote for him. 

(If you don't get it, we don't vote directly for PM like Americans do their President, our PM is the leader of the party who has attained the most seats in our House of Commons).

But here's the thing about Canadians, we love it when our neighbours to the south acknowledge our existence, even if it's wrongheaded, misinformed or just to make fun of us.  We kind of get off on it.  AIpha Flight is delightful and quaint in that 80's storytelling way with plenty of melodrama and unintentional goofiness that has an appealing camp value now (eg. Puck's cartwheeling method of mobility is ridiculous and maybe more than a little demeaning to Little People). 

I would read more Alpha Flight for sure... for free.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

365 comics...122: Action Comics Weekly #601 (1988)

I was reading Superman comics semi-regularly when Action made the switch to a weekly publication schedule and an anthology format, and I'm pretty sure I liked it, but at 12 years old with a very limited comics budget it was costing me an additional $8-$10 a month, or another 6-8 books I could otherwise be buying.  It was a fairly shrewd move on my part to drop the book after 13 weeks but I have to say I've always kind of regretted it.  we're not talking huge life-altering regret but one of those pop culture things you wished you could have experienced in the moment. 

ACW wasn't the best thing ever or the best anthology even or ever the best superhero anthology of its time (unless it was the only superhero anthology at the time which I guess by default would make it the best), bet it was fun and interesting for a DC buff in the making like me.  Outside of Who's Who I hadn't seen many of these characters in action (no pun) so it was first exposure to Deadman and Blackhawk and Wild Dog and the Secret Six.

While ACW was quite obviously set up as a home for wayward characters who couldn't sustain a series of their own (seems odd today that Green Lantern was out a series) or as a proving ground to see if they could (I'm curious to dig though the issues to see if ACW actually launched any series), it wasn't shy on the talent.  Though few of the industry's big guns at the time were working interiors, the covers came from the likes of Gibbons, Perez, Bolland, and the Kubert Bros.  Inside was veteran city with work from Gil Kane, Dan Spiegle, Curt Swan, Mike Grell and Marty Pasko.  It wasn't a flimsy excuse for a new talent showcase, the PTB at DC wanted it to still be something, while still giving proven-but-young talent the spotlight as well (Christopher Priest, back when he was still Jim Owsley wrote the GL story, within which Katma Tui is murdered, Dan Jurgens illustrates Deadman and Rick Burchette does his best Chaykin impersonation on Blackhawk).

I have about a 45 issue deficit on ACW so it's going to take some dolIar bin hunting and some pocket change to complete the run but I am terribly exited to see what I missed (and to finally get some closure on this whole Mockingbird mystery).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

365 Comics...121: Animal Man #20 (2013)

With all the Rotworld stuff dominating the series for the past 15 issues or so one could almost forget that Jeff Lemire had set Buddy Baker up as the star of an independent dramatic film about the life of a superhero.  Issue #6 showed off a part of the film (as illustrated by John Paul Leon) and this issue continues with the rest.  As a film it strives for a sort of The Wrestler vibe but as a story it doesn't have enough unique dramatic punch to elevate it to the ''Academy" level... which Is one of the dangers Lemire faced in shoving the reader the actual film, that the "show within a show wouldn't live up to the reputation it needs to have to keep the rest of the story credible.  A SAG award or like a Cable Ace maybe... an LA film critics award... you know, small accolades, but an academy nod is pushing it.  I get why its being pushed but I worry it's too far in an overdramatic direction. But we will see. Otherwise Animal Man has survived the elimination review it was going through unknowingly this issue. We'll put you back down for review in 5 issues.