Thursday, December 29, 2005

New Comics Day

I present to you the last comics I will buy in 2005!

All Star Batman + Robin
X-Men/Power Pack
Spider-Man/Black Cat
New Avengers
Silent Dragon
Rann-Thanagar War TBP

This week I was in an arty kinda mood, so I picked up some random books that looked good. I've always liked Ed McGuinness, and damn if he doesn't keep it going on Batman/Superman. Over in Catwoman, Pete Woods has a complex but delicate line, and it guest-stars Zatanna. I already read New Avengers regularly, but Frank Cho on issue #14 focusing on Spider-Woman is a treat and a half. I'm all but ready to give up All Star Batman, but Jim Lee drawing Black Canary is almost a crime to pass up. Rocketo automatically aims to please but they changed the cover stock :-( and it has less of a heft than the previous issues. GuriHiru on Power Pack, Ryan Sook on X-Factor, Terry Dodson on Spidey/Black Cat, Leinil Yu on Silent Dragon... this was a hell of a week for art!!

If you read this here blog with any regularity, you'll recount my near-gushing over this year's Rann-Thanagar War miniseries. I had to pick up the trade just to have something to indiscriminately flip through-- altho that's about the limit of this edition's worth. The presentation is terrible! Far be it from me to speak ill of Brian Bolland, but his cover does not represent the feel or tone of this book at all. It's not bad art by any means, but it was a bad decision to choose him for it. Ivan Reis was the painfully obvious choice, I can't fathom why he was overlooked possibly just to get Bolland's "name" on the cover. The book is listed everywhere with Reis for the cover-- was there a mixup? Was art lost? Late? Signed an exclusive with Marvel and not used out of Spite? Who knows. Combine this with a glaringly bad logo design run through a cheesy Photoshop filter for no reason at all (or at least ineffectively), add in some planetary textures out of place with Bolland's art, throw on a self-serving Infinite Crisis logo, and you've got a nice example of everything -not- to do with a collected edition cover. I won't list the people responsible for this edition by name, but they can be found on page 2. Bad dog! Bad dog!! THANKFULLY, the guts of what make Rann-Thanagar War so great remain intact, that being the actual content of the book.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Off the Nightstand: The Contortionist's Handbook

I was looking forward to this one, based on the affable recommendation of Sam Sugar and his altruistic campaign to give wider recognition to an amazing novelist, Craig Clevenger. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I can now vouch for Sugar's enthusiasm to promote him.

The Contortionist's Handbook kinda came out of nowhere to me, I read across quite a few genres but can only categorize it somewhere between "good things to know" and "exceptional fiction." The story follows a man who is an expert at changing identities, a skill he puts to use to maintain his preferred lifestyle but more importantly to avoid the life he fears the most. The story is framed by the protagonist's interview with a social worker and weaves through the ins-and-outs of a rightful desire to avoid being declared a threat to oneself. The detail here, as with the whole of the book, is as addictive as the many drugs and neurosis that are exploited. The exposition on what accounts for one's public identity is a handbook in itself. That's not what the book is about, tho, that's just the plot. The book is about a deep, deep desire to stay out of the system-- the one that is in place to keep society in order, but also the one that is waiting, maliciously, to turn against you and destroy your life with no other prompting than the events of one unfortunate day.

I tore through it, one of those "Gosh it's getting late, I should put it down," to "Holy crap it's really late. One more chapter" kind of books. It's short, 200 pages or so, but it is packed to the brim. I mean packed. The book starts off with a clever catch, then it gets weird, then it gets weird, moving to wickedly tense and then keeps it that way. And the ending, dammit, it's brilliant. I read that last page and finished, and loudly vocalized "Asshole!" at four in the morning, cursing the author and flipping through those last pages again to make sure I didn't miss anything. Clevenger is a talented wordsmith, yet not pretentious at all. He covers wide gamuts of bureaucracy, drugs, medication, sex, fetish, love, addiction, fear, family, and the plain, simple reality of his character's life. It's a damn good read.

Get The Contortionist's Handbook, and Clevenger's followup, Dermaphoria, which I have already added to my cue.

While you're at it, visit the man himself, Craig Clevenger.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Comics Recap: Makeup Sex

Restoring my faith in comics one book at a time...

Justice #3
Something about this book really appeals to me, and it's not just the art. It's strange because it takes on a serious tone in alot of the scenes, and is in essence an adult re-retelling of the Superfriends which could easily go awry. But Krueger and Ross really nail the characters in a very short span of pages. This issue spends time with Martian Manhunter, and it captures the character about as well as can be done. MM is so often relegated to watchtower observer or backup muscle in other books its nice to see a story that "gets him" and reminds us why he's been around so damn long. The presentation of the book plays such a strong role in the attachment to the characters it portrays, Ross has found a wonderful niche painting over Doug Braithwaite (while I'm sure he could have done the entire thing himself the additional layout support must ease a tremendous production burden). The moody lighting, color schemes, and Ross' seemingly ever-present high-noon skylight give the main characters alot of weight, here Gorilla Grodd can be considered a freakish menace and seeing what Cheetah is up to becomes downright spooky. I can't wait to see what future issues have in store and the hero/villain combinations they showcase.

Hawkman #47
Here is some good eats! I've mentioned before that Chris Batista draws a hell of a Hawkman, and a damn sexy Hawkgirl while he's at it. This ish really shows that off, as it's jampacked with halkfolk of all sorts. It's a continuation of fallout form the excellent Rann-Thanagar War miniseries, and looks to pick up right where it left off. It almost reads as one giant fight scene, but there is actually a ton of stuff going on. I gotta give it to Palmiotti and Gray for managing some great fight sequences while pushing the story forward. A key storyline from past issues of Hawkman is wrapped up and they even throw in a Durlan invasion. Just when that gets rolling, the cliffahnger has the re-appearance of Blackfire with her own invasion force. It's non-stop, and its awesome!

Tom Strong #34+35
I was looking forward to the Dr. Permafrost story in issue #35, and Peter Hogan does a fine job tying in past events and characters. Having the whole thing drawn by Chris Sprouse was even better. But I was really suprised by Steve Moore's issue #34-- I had put it off for a while for whatever reasons though now I think of it as one of the better Tom Strong stories, Alan Moore or no. It's self contained in this one issue, and has some great twists and turns while exploring the fate of a fictional/non-fictional character. The world created by Armond Delatour and Tom Strong's interaction with that world provides a great story. I had some trouble with Paul Gulacy's art, it's not my preferred cup of tea, but he certainly makes use of his pages. The story is dense and it does take alot of art to keep pace. In a time of comics decompression and ridiculously stretched out stories wrought with splash pages and little if any background images, "The Spires of Samakhara" is a lesson in getting your money's worth.

X-Men/Power Pack #1+2
Guys, girls, this is a really great book. It's probably the best X-men book on the shelves right now. Obviously it is targeted to younger readers, but by doing so it stays true to a kind of story that the the mainline books do not (my humble opinion, of course). The art, first of all, is just sublime. The GuriHiru tag team has a crisp and open style with an animated flair and manga roots-- altho not too much of each, which is what makes it so accessible. The coloring is about as perfect as it gets for this style of art, mixing the traditional animated cuts with soft blends. Every scene is constructed by a careful palette and the characters pop off every panel. Kids are hard to draw well, but GuriHiru deftly captures the adolescence-thru-teen years of Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie Power. Katie often steals the show because she's so darn cute! The X-Men characters fall in just as well, remaining true to their iconic images. The stories are fun and light... and funny, the scene in issue 1 with the Wolverine costume party is a clever summation of the character. The art was what hooked me, but writer Mark Sumerak takes the Power Pack kids and turns them into a family I'd actually like to follow-- no small feat considering I had zero desire to read the original Power Pack books those many years ago. Give this book a try (and the original Power Pack miniseries by the same team from earlier this year), you may be surprised.

Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #3
If this book proves anything, it's that DC needs Guy Gardner as a Green lantern. Call it odd, but I have followed Guy from his humble days in Green Lantern, over to Justice League, even over to his own mismanaged series Guy Gardner: Warrior. Maybe a Gardner retrospective is in order... but back to the Corps. I really dig this book, and the look has a lot to do with it. Penciller Patrick Gleason is a great fit-- he's got the knack for all the various human and alien characters and can go nutty-cosmic when he needs to. There are two inkers on this issue, Prentis Rollins and Christian Alamy, and they cover each others tracks pretty well. I haven't seen any of Gleason's pencilled pages, but from what I can see the inking is taking things a long way. And yet leaves the pages open enough for the wonderful colors of Moose Boumann. This issue in particular stands out, the whole of it is rendered in warm oranges/reds and that bright Lantern Green-- it's awesome. Letters by Pat Brosseau are not to be left out of the equation, it may seem like I'm trying to name everyone but I can't tell you how many books are trashed by sloppy, unthoughtful lettering. As with alot of the secondary trades, sometimes you can tell you're doing allright if no one notices-- but I notice, man!

Green Lantern Corps is benefitting from alot of pieces falling together and just overall good production. The inkers mesh with the penciller, the colorist really knows his shit, not only can the letterer read a page but the book is printed on nice stock so the blacks of the letters match the blacks of the page. There are a few instances of "Comicraft Syndrome" but things a re much more in sync than the majority of big company books. By contrast, the telltale digital lettering over on Green Lantern #6 really stands out over the painted art, but here it fits just right. Storywise, it's very character driven (I could use a little more sci in my sci-fi, personally, but it's early) and has yet to draw too deep from the clusterfuck that is Infinite Crisis. Corps is shaping up nice, I hope it keeps its quality and is picked up as an ongoing after the initial six issues.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Not bad at all

Everyone has weather like this, right?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

New Comics Day

DC, back with a vengeance... and a CRISIS!!!!

Infinite Crisis
Green Lantern
Green Lantern Corps
Top 10: Beyond

Flipping through Infinite Crisis, there does seem to be a flurry of goings on, but as of yet I am not convinced. Convinced of what, you ask? Exactly.

I also get a double dose of Green Lantern this week. I'm really digging Patrick Gleason's art on Corps, with his mix of slick characters and dirty renderings (played part by the inkers, too).On the core GL book, we see the appearance of artist Simone Bianche, and wow.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I Ain't Afraid of No Bird Flu

Hey, is anyone going balls out this season and cooking a Turducken? What's nifty about the Turducken-- aside from its opulent tasty goodness-- is that they stuck with the name "Turducken." There were a few other possibilities but I guess they didn't have the same ring?






Perhaps it's derived from the building process, turkey over duck over chicken. But come on, "Chiduckey?" Pure gold.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

New Comics Day

This has already been a crisis week for me, but alas sans-Infinite.

Ultimate Iron man
X-Men/Power Pack
Uncanny X-Men
Jingle Belle

For someone who is about to swear off Marvel I sure seem to have alot of Marvel books in my stack this week. I have to give X-Factor a try, if only for the presence of artist Ryan Sook. The prospect of a Peter David X-book isn't so bad, we'll see how much it ties into the whole "Decimation" nonsense. From what I've read and seen, it looks to be a continuation of his Maddrox series, which I can take or leave at this point. Uncanny again casts its siren song with Bachalo on interiors, altho the last few issues really do him a disservice with the menagerie of inkers thrown onto the pages. Some inkers mesh well with Bachalo's kinetic style, others miss his beats entirely and it's a shame. 'Cause really, the book is pretty (and Art Adams can't draw everything).

Did anyone else see the appearance of the Dark Horse Archive editions? They came out the gate with Solar and... Nexus. Damn I wanted to get that. But the price was a little steep in addition to my already substantial holiday spending tirade. Nexus stories really are different, they run from fun sci-fi romps to dead-serious morality plays. The book is set in a lush futuristic landscape with plenty of detail but more-so to establish the situations rather than forcing readers to plod though exposition detailing why a spaceship works the way it does. Anecdote Alert! Many years ago I had a back-and-forth with Nexus writer Mike Baron. He was a wonderfully nice guy, and open to my crazy ideas of sneaking Nexus "easter eggs" into the videogames I was working on at the time. He got the thumbs up from "The Dude" as well, altho sadly I've never even met one of my all-time artistic heroes. Steve Rude's art comes from a place so pure and driven I often imagine what byzantine highways of the mind must be traveled to reach it and the strength of discipline it takes to stay for any length of time. Currently Rude is found on his new endeavor, The Moth, but one needn't look further than the wealth of Nexus back issues for some true modern comics masterpieces.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Comics Recap: Dark Days

The Ultimates #9
Holy Joe! Massive airships falling from the sky! Hundreds of flying super soldiers wreaking havok! Epic scale, city-wide destruction! A super team fighting for their lives! A malevolent manipulating force! Bryan Hitch drawing the hell out of it all!

Weren't those first few issues of The Authority awesome?

What am I, an idiot? Look, a little Hitch goes a long way, but this is just rehash. All of the more intriguing aspects of The Ultimates seemed to have been dropped in favor of the comic book equivalent of the Hollywood car chase. It may be nice to look at, but I feel a little cheated. Shame on you, Millar!

Amazing Spider-Man #526
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #3

The Other parts 6 + 7
Amazing Spider-Man wasn't initially what got me reading comics, but it sure got me collecting them. At the peak of my collection (most of which is long gone), my ASM library topped over 300 issues. A spattering of pre-100's and then from 100 right on up to 400 when I stopped. After reading "The Other" storyline I've been thinking alot about those old books and how great they were. Tons and tons of great story-lines that I remember fondly. As I thought where it was that ASM strted going downhill, it was the late 200's, most notably marked by the appearance of one Todd McFarlane at 298. The McFarlane issues themselves were pretty good, but the tone of the book certainly changed. He was followed of course by Erik Larsen, who was followed by the seemingly endless run of Mark Bagely. Stories were primarily by David Micheline and JM DeMatteis, but by 400 I was not feeling it anymore (and with some cursory glances after I quit, it only went downhill from there...). Occasionally an issue would catch my eye, but it wasn't until 500 when Straczynski and JRJR came on that 'ol Spidey was exciting again. Some of the 'Straz stories were out there, but I liked how he played with the mythos and managed to throw in some new ideas after all these years. And Romita Jr? Good books. But after JRJR left, so did my interest.

Why the walk down memory lane? Because with "The Other," Marvel is attempting to re-invent, I don't know, something with the Spider-Man world. As a well-versed Spider-Man reader, I find them to be failing miserably. Halfway through an extremely unnecessary 12 parts I still find myself at a loss as to what is going on. 'Straz is back writing in this unorthodox round robin they have going, but it's already a sloppy mess. What we know is that Peter Parker has a fatal malady, arch-nemesis Morlun wants to eat his soul (and his eyeball-- for realz! Morlun graphically pulls out Spidey's eye and eats it), and Parker's body is physically changing somehow. We still don't know what Peter was diagnosed with. If this was an issue say, in the 100's, the cliffhanger would have been Peter getting the news from the doctor,

"I'm sorry Mr. Parker, your condition is fatal!"

Then on the very first page of the next issue the diagnosis would have been announced,

"I'm afraid it's true Mr. Parker-- you have Necrotizing Fasciitis and there's nothing we can do about it!"

Hell, if Stan Lee was writing, Peter would have gotten the diagnosis, visited the Fantastic Four for a second opinion, lament on his fate while buying flowers for his date with Betty Brant, and stop a mugging in Central Park on the same goddamned page.

This issue is one drawn-out fight scene between Morlun and Spider-Man. It's violent and brutal (with aforementioned eyeball snacks), and features an entire page of just Morlun pummeling Spider-Man's face on the ground, then leaving him for dead.

As we move onto part 7 in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, death appears to be the case. But not before Morlun gets to smack Mary Jane around, harsh enough to wake Peter from his coma-- or not Peter, really, but some creepy Monster Peter with fangs and spikey hands that lead to Morlun's demise. Then the Avengers show up and Peter dies. Seems like such a waste at the launch of a new Spider-Man title, especially with Mike Weringo on art.

Spider-Man/Black Cat #4
I, like many other faithful readers, waited about 3 years for this book to get back on it's feet. For me the draw is primarily art by Terry Dodson, though Kevin Smith can usually write a good story. Usually. What I remembered as a generally fun team-up story turned into an unpleasant therapy session centered around the rape/not rape of Felicia Hardy. Weather it be tied to the current events or something in her past, the rape subject overshadowed the story on what read more like a bully pulpit than an actual plot point. I cant say that there isn't a medium more proper than another to use as a forum, but this issue just turned me sour. Rape seems to be showing up alot more in mainstream comics over the past few years, in case you haven't noticed. I'm sure there's some easy Freudian explanation to all this, bunch of middle aged guys writing out their power fantasies and whot not, I don't know. Like someone lit a lightbulb and everyone else went, "Oh, we can write rape into our stories now? Great!" As if chick's don't get a bad enough rap in comics as it is.


Unfortunately I read all four of these comics in one sitting, each more depressing than the last. By the end I was so depressed I wondered why I read comics at all. I took a serious moment to consider giving up comics altogether and what that would entail. Would I miss it? Nature abhors a vacuum, something would fill the void. Right now I don't know if I need to give up comics cold, I know there are still good books, wonderful, engaging books. Marvel, however, has seriously let me down. Something in the back of my head tells me their books wouldn't be hard to give up at all.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

New Comics Day

DC lets me down two weeks in a row!!

Strangers in Paradise
Y the Last Man
Danger Girl: Back in Black
Spider-Man/Black Cat (??!!)
Ultimates 2
FNH Spider-Man

This appears to be the week where good-but-infrequent comics escape from the wormhole. Boneyard, for those of you not in the know, is usually a good read in a semi-horror/semi-humor flavor. Strangers in Paradise, after years and years continues to amaze me by its consistency of quality.

I don't need to buy everything that Warren Ellis writes (nor anything that Top Cow publishes), but throw in art by Cully Hamner on Down and you have yourself a deal. The art looks good, though just from flipping the the book the colors left me a little wanting. It's not nearly as nice as the spectacularly paletted Matador (Stelfreeze's same studio), but let's give it a chance.

Spider-Man/Black Cat... holy crap. Jinky Esperanto was a cheerleader I knew in high school, I wonder if she'll go out with me now. Yes, really, her name was Jinky.

Monday, December 05, 2005

For the Record

I was able to spend time this weekend with the Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith DVD bonus disc. It was enjoyable in that special film-geeky combination that Star Wars and bonus discs employ. But I would like to note that the "Deleted Scenes" section is incomplete. Oh yes, I say with authority, it is incomplete.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Waiting for the Phoenix

I was over at The Beat, which pointed me to this article in the LA Times about a faltering Hollywood. Check it out.

Now the easy thing to ask Hollywood is to stop making crappy movies. But as the article suggests, All movies are not necessarily crappy, just some may not live up to a theater going experience. I'm a film buff, and I'll shell out for non-blockbusters, 'cause I just plain like going to the movies. But the crux of the LA Times article is that Hollywood is headed for a crumble and the studio-film industry may be ready to implode.

This would be fucking fantastic.

Why? It has nothing to do with any selfish pleasure derived from a bloated business getting its due. Well, maybe a little. But the real reason I would love to see this happen is in the hopes of film history repeating itself. The last time Hollywood collapsed under its own weight, the late 50's thru the 60's, Studios became desperate. They started handing out film production to unknowns because they worked cheaper and weren't entrenched in the Hollywood quagmire. In alot of cases, new, young directors were given previously unheard of opportunities to do their own films after meeting their initial studio obligations...

Lucas. Dykstra. Tippet. Speilberg. Coppola. Scorcese. Cameron. Carpenter. A lot of wild stuff was borne out of 70's film, and as these creators matured the 80's saw some of our favorite movies of all time.

Media today is a whole 'nother beast, and I'm not even mentioning the boom of digital delivery or on-demand services. I love going to the theater and seeing a great movie, hopefully there is still room for that in our near-future culture. I'm sure there is a new generation of great filmmakers paying some indy dues at the moment; If the studious become desperate enough for new business they will have to eschew their robotic ways and dip into the creative pool because it's all they have left to do. And maybe, just maybe, we will start to see some really good stuff getting us all back into those theater seats.