Thursday, September 20, 2007

Everybody's Linking For The Weekend

Well, not just the weekend, but until I get back here's some stuff to check out.

DC changes the content of some Superman titles. I'm annoyed by the change, but at this point it's better to move forward and let "Camelot Falls" play out in the Annual. Plus the Confidential story sounds pretty awesome, and at least we should get one more tale of the Forever People before Jim Starlin kills them.

Speaking of which, Jim Starlin kills the Forever People.

Anyone remember Mad Scientist Toys?! I ADORED these as a kid. I had Dissect-An-Alien and the Monster Lab. Oh man, that's hours of gooey memories.

rob! at The Aquaman Shrine shows off some sweet JLA stock art. I have a t-shirt which uses a very similar picture to that one.

Mike Sterling demonstrates the awesomeness of Beta Ray Bill.

Finally, Bill Tucci goes all fanboy talking about his upcoming Sgt. Rock project in his Hellion for Hire column: Part 1 and Part 2.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What Looks Good?

Well, I may be getting married this Saturday but that doesn't mean I can't make it to the comic shop by Friday! Grap a shipping list and follow along!

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #56 -- How can this series be ending? How? Dan DiDio... why do you torture me?!

Flash #232 -- "A married superhero with kids? Pfft! Never work!" (Guest commentary by Joe Quesada.)

Annihilation: Conquest: Quasar #3 -- With her psychic lover transformed into a dragon, our heroic space lesbian must... ah the heck with it. It's Annihilation, you know it's good.

Terror, Inc. #2 -- The first issue feature Terror ripping his head off and replacing it with another. That is the pinnacle of awesome.

Ray Harryhausen's Wrath of the Titans (Sketch Ed.) #1 -- Missed this one the first time out, so I'm on the hunt... I'm after you!


Choose the training! Increase your Spirit with 'Bottle Cut!' Since I will be out of the country next week, enjoying fun in the sun with my bride, here's a special sneak preview of next week's 4-Color Arrivals:

JLA Classified #43 -- Woo, Martian Manhunter!

JSA Classified #30 -- Mr. Terrific fighting Neo-Nazis... sounds about right to me.

Justice League of America #13 -- Yeah, I got burned by the relaunch, but... but... Injustice League!

Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes -- I almost get the feeling that Bedard is doing his warm-up for Batman & The Outsiders, but this book is sweet under his watch.

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters v.2 #1 -- The first one was the darling of Brave New World, so I might check this out.

Wonder Woman Annual #1 -- The initial story finally finishes. I wonder if we'll get a backup too?

Annihilation: Conquest: Star Lord #3 -- DC launches a new Suicide Squad book a few months after this series? Coincidence? Yeah-I-think-not.

Captain America: The Chosen #2 -- ATTENTION COMIC BOOK NERDS: David Morrell wrote the novel "First Blood." Not the film Rambo: First Blood Part 2. If you are unsure of the difference please check Wikipedia. Thank you.

Iron Man #22 -- Mystery! Action! The Mandarin! The Initiative! Oklahoma!

Iron Man: Hypervelocity TPB -- Not buying it myself, but if you missed this fast-paced series you should definitely pick up this trade.

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man #5 -- Parents, make sure your kids have enough IRON in their diet.

X-Men: First Class v.2 #4 -- Or, I suppose you could let them read about some hideous mutant freaks.

Hopefully there will some good indy stuff too... lookit all the superheroes.

So what looks good to YOU?

Monday, September 17, 2007

What I Read This Week

All-New Atom #15 -- Ryan gets snatched -- literally -- back from the pages of Countdown and must deal with a pair of daikaiju which are rampaging over Ivy Town. That alone would give this issue the nod, but add to that the substitute heroes of Ivy and you have superheroing comedy of the highest order. It's great to see a series which is set in the present continuity but has its own unique voice.

Detective Comics #836 -- The Dynamic Duo have to shut down the Scarecrow before he pushes Gotham over the edge with unrelenting terror. But they are not dealing with a crazy chemist anymore! I hope this development sticks for Scarecrow, playing into his psychiatry background moreso than his chemical fetish. This makes him substantially more interesting to me, and avoids the same-old Scarecrow cliches of people running mad in the street due to fear gas. Mandrake's art is low-key and expressive, a good pairing for this tale. Batman may get the press thanks to Morrison, but Detective is the better series by my reckoning.

JLA Wedding Special -- AKA Dwayne MacDuffie saves this relaunch. With apologies to Brad Metzler (I liked Identity Crisis, honest!), his JLoA had the cutting edge of a Nerf ball. In this special, MacDuffie not only rips on Metzler, but sets up a storyarc which seems (*gasp*) exciting and lays the foundation for what he wants to do character-wise (it's unsurprising to see John Stewart pop up). DC fans will enjoy this one quite a bit.

JLA Classified #42 -- Woo, Martian Manhunter! In the days before the Justice League, J'onn J'onzz makes contact with another alien outsider -- the Kryptonian called Superman. But with Lex Luthor making a stink about a secret Martian invasion, how will the Manhunter be able to earn the trust of his adopted homeworld? A nice J'onn story, touching n his life on Mars as a child as well as the isolated and lonely time he has on Earth. Again, I know I am more prone because it is the Martian Manhunter, but I thought this was a fun tale and I really look forward to the next chapter. This compares very favorably with the recent MM miniseries, which I am also reading right now; if you were turned off by that, this should be more to your liking.

Superman #667 -- Camelot? Yup, still Falling. But we're coming to the endgame at this point, and honestly, I have enjoyed "Camelot Falls" quite a bit so I am not complaining. Faced with the possibility that he is going to unravel the natural order of the universe, Superman faces an age-old dilemma: Does his actions unnaturally influence the world and the course of humanity? Big Blue decides to take the fight directly to its source, the ancient Atlantean wizard Arion. Busiek handles Superman extremely well, mixing a big, burly brawl with Subjekt-17 with pathos and charm, and the art is grand and epic when it needs to be without being overbearing -- Pacheo throws a couple of full page panels and one two page spread which are perfect for a comic starring the Man of Steel. Busiek has single handedly gotten me re-interested in Superman.

Justice Society of America #8 -- Following the battle with Vandal Savage a few months ago, the JSA are holding a charity benefit for the local firehouse when they are pressed into service at an industrial blaze. But what is the source of this inferno, and what are the consequences of extinguishing it? The prologue to "Thy Kingdom Come" plays like a DC from 20 years ago; the pacing and character bits play like something from the early "Post-Crisis" days. The setup for the next arc is good, but the real star here is the front half of the issue, with the team at the firehouse, which Johns has a ball with and the fans will eat up. Really, really enjoyable superhero stuff.

Trials of Shazam #8 -- Atlas is no more... so who will hold up the world? Freddie has to find another god to take his place, and I hope his name begins with 'A.' Porter's art is as good as ever, and that's a given on this book. And while Winnick -- and this series -- has a bad rep online, I just don't see it in the pages. We've got a good tale here, with an updating of the Captain Marvel mythos which is sure to piss SOME people off, some good conflict and a nice cliffhanger. If you haven't bought into this series yet you are not going to, but at least give it a shot. It's substantially better than you have been lead to believe.

Heroes for Hire #13 -- Yes, I did buy stuff other than DC this week. Hard to believe, I know. Also hard to believe is that this comic went on sale and the world, in fact, did not blow up. The goofy cover notwithstanding, this issue continues the WWH tie-in, with the HFH crew at the mercy of Hulk's alien underlings. The backup with the new Scorpion finishes as well, with a nice twist towards the end. Pretty cool overall, with mostly character sketches carrying the day, including Misty, Humbug, Col, and Shang-Chi. HFH is a consistant book, delivering a good dose of all things Marvel every month. About the only complaint I have is that Devil Dinosaur didn't show up and stomp the heck out of the Hulk, but that's a pretty unlikely scenario.

Nova #6 -- The Nova Corps, reborn? Uh, yeah, let me know how that works out for you. The third chapter of the Annihilation: Conquest prologue is a downer, and with good reason: with Richard as one of The Select, the Phalanx will shortly control the most powerful supercomputer in the universe! It's a harsh survival story for Ko-Rel, Nova 0001, as she tries to avoid both Richard and Gamora on her mission. A:C is going to be absolutely insane. Although, I am wondering, how is this series going to work during it? Jump after? Continue to tie-in? Side stories? Hrrm.

The Pick of the Pile is Justice Society. I know its a cliched pick for me, but the book is just that good. There was a lot of good titles in this batch, so it was close, but the Society won out in the end.

So what did YOU read this week?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Love & Romance

No, this is not a post about my impending nuptials.* No, this post is instead about that oft-forgotten genre of comics from a bygone era known as Romance. This and this got me thinking about the genre and had some thoughts percolating.

Whenever a comics discussion starts heading towards the "superheroes are so over" territory, typically someone brings up the fact that at late as the 70s and early 80s, we had a lot of other genre material available from the "big name" publishers, including Western, War, Horror, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Adventure, and yes, Romance. And while most people can and will make an argument for increased output for a lot of those stories, hardly anyone ever laments the passing of Romance comics into oblivion. (Yes, I know that's not true, bear with me for a little bit.) "Bring back Jonah Hex!" they'll shout, "And Sgt. Rock, too!" Horror has a pretty high crossover rate with the typical superhero fan (witness: Marvel Zombies in all its decadence), as does Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Adventure is tough to nail down, but comics like Moonstone's The Phantom or Dynamite's Lone Ranger fit, and MR titles like 100 Bullets are the spirtual successors. But Romance, no dice. It seems the only Romance that your typical comic fan wants is a hot love interest for their favorite character, who hopefully doesn't wind up stuffed into an appliance of some sort.

That is, if by "typical comic fan," you ignore the massive crowd who get their comics in the form of manga.

Now, I'm not a manga guy. I've read a few different series, but never really got into the whole Asiaphile scene. (By the same token, I don't care for most anime either; give me tokusatsu or give me death!) But I know a trend when I see one. And when you go into Barnes and Noble and see row after row after row of those squat little digests peering out at you with their double-digit volume numbers, even a lunkhead like me gets the drift. And even a manga-philostine like me understands that some of the most popular genres of manga do, in fact, involve the Romance genre. Shojo and Josei-type mangas are marketed to and primarily purchased by women, and while they go across the board in terms of theme and setting, a lot of them do deal with love and romance. And I suggest to you that this is brillant. Marketting something to women that they might actually enjoy? Get out of town!

And I am not just being chauvanistic here. Based on my experiences with women, my fiancee included, there's a good swath of them which enjoy romance novels, soap operas, and romantic comedy. Romance is, like Superheroes, Horror, Westerns, et. al., well suited to a disposable medium, but can aslo sustain itself for longer periods if care is given. Much like Iron Man's been kicking butt and taking names for 45 years, so too has the various familes in Salem been having trials and tribulations on Days of Our Lives. The connection is there. I used to work for the library at Clemson University, and every year we would have one of the largest book sales in the state. And every year, both when I was a student and when I was working, there would be countless romance novels donated. And every year, every one of them would be sold. The interest is there.

Now I am not saying that if Publisher ABC puts out a Romance comic that women will flock to buy it. The Direct Market model pretty effective prohibits that from happening. But there are options, including circumventing the DM. Publish in digest form, like Archie does, and make it into an impulse buy like a romance novel. Advertise in periodicals girls and women actually read. Hire artists who can draw actual anatomy, and not super-anatomy, and can draw in a style which differentiates itself from manga. If teen girls are seeking out shojo manga in bookstores, they are already aware of the medium and the way it works, so why not tap into that with new product which stands out by being homegrown? I refuse to accept that a digest of Romance comics produced in America that is advertised and sold alongside YM and Seventeen would not make money.

Now, I'm not a publisher, marketter, or even an economist. But at this point I am tired of the the bellyaching about how hard it is to get women into this hobby while at the same time not offering anything that most women would read. Put up, or shut up, I say. Expecting women -- young or old -- to simply buy Wonder Woman and Ms. Marvel because they are girls is (to quote Geo-Force) not only ridiculous, but also insane. I can't be the only seeing this, right?


*You ever notice that "nuptials" are always "impending?" Never "upcoming" or "coming soon?" Why is that?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fair Trade -- The Complete normalman

The Complete normalman
This is going to be a little convoluted, but I promise it has a point, so stick with me here. When I was a young lad of about the age of 12, there was a company starting up you may have heard of called Image Comics. They got all sorts of press and attention from Wizard and Comic Shop News -- the only sources of info on comics as 12 year old could get -- and us readers were bombarded with ads and hype for the new series. Spawn! Youngblood! WildC.A.T.s! To a lesser extent Savage Dragon and Cyberforce! And something called Wetworks which... well, I won't got there. But there was another title in there which didn't get as much play, and looked somewhat different from it's high-sheen and hatch-marked compatriots.

That series of course was ShadowHawk.

'Hawk was not the greatest comic book ever produced. And it generally gets saddled with the "dog" status of the Image launch titles (sales wise it was, at least). But as a 12 year old I ate it up. I adored ShadowHawk. This brutal, metal-shorn maniac had captured my attention, to the point where when Spawn guest-starred in the second issue, my brain read it as "Oh good, Spawn will get a rub from appearing in ShadowHawk." And we all know how that turned out. Heck, when I made that 12 year old attempt to become a comic book artist (who didn't have that dream?), I drew the cover to ShadowHawk #3. So obviously there was something about the character which appealed to my psuedo-adolescent mind.

But the other noteworthy aspect about ShadowHawk was (here it comes!) that it introduced me to the work of Jim Valentino, 'Hawk's creator. I knew who Todd MacFarlane and Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld and Erik Larsen (heck, I owned a few of their comics... well, except Liefeld. Honest!) were, and had at least heard of Jim Silvestri. But this Valentino guy? What did he ever do? Guardians of the Galaxy? Huh? I was intrigued with his new creation and sought out his older work.

Which (finally) leads me to The Complete normalman. Unlike his fellow Image Founders, Valentino was much more at home doing indy comics than working for the Big Two. And, I would soon discover, he was much more suited to doing his indy comics than he was doing superheroes in general. And then we have this little gem. What do you get when you combine those two dissimilar elements together?

You get the story of norm, put into a rocket as a baby by his CPA father, who is convinced that their planet Arnold will blow up in half an hour (it doesn't) only to drift in space for 20 years to land on the planet Levram (read it carefully), which is populated entirely by superheroes. In fact, no sooner does norm land there than he is brefriended by the inane Captain Everything (possessing the power to create a power for every plot twist) and dubbed "normalman." But would you want to live on a planet of high-powered lunatics who spend all their time brawling and causing general mayhem? Yeah, neither does norm, who desperately tries to return to Arnold. But along the way, he will face deadly peril, travel to other dimensions, overthrow a dictator, fight in a war, sire a race, fall in love, travel through time, run for president, get fall down drunk, meet a host of other indy comics stars, and just about anything else which could theoretically happen in a comic book.

What's even more impressive than the astounding amount of cliches is the way Valentino weaves them into an ongoing narrative; no matter what hackneyed device is in the crosshairs, the jokes come organically and flow into the story instead of standing out. Everything from the Silver Age of heroics to EC horror to Archie-style romance ("Love stinks!") to Elfquest and Asterix is lampooned, skewered, and roasted to a golden brown for our enjoyment. But then we take a moment and realize that we're part of the joke as well, and that none of Valentino's gags would mean a thing unless we loved the medium and the genre as much as he does, and recognized all of the potshots and guffawed at what we take for granted with "normal" (how peculiar a phrase!) comics. But it never veers into spite: though norm is typically very cynical, the naive and trusting Captain Everything happily glomps along with every development and twist, every shocking death and subsequent resurrection. Valentino has characters count the pages between fights scenes and declare that they are making "Kirby poses" or wielding "space vacuums," but it's good natured, the result of too many nights staying up late reading the latest 4 Color goodies, instead of having axes to grind. It leaves the reader smiling more often than anything else.

And it's funny as all get out. Witness: The Legion of Superfluous Heroes, whose rollcall lasts for several issues! See: The Unnecessary A-Men, the Tight Teens, and the Cloned Kids -- superpowered teens all, and all exactly the same! Cower Before: Sgt. Fluffy, Agent of S.C.H.M.U.C.K.*! (*Stands for nothing-in-particular.)
normalman-Megaton Man Special
Collected here is literally everything normal: the first short entries from Cerebus and A-V in 3-D, the original series, a few other appearances, then covers and other art. One of the best reads in the volume is the normalman-Megaton Man Special which features two of comicdoms great lunkheads getting a whirlwind tour of the comics industry, as well as the normalman 20th Anniversary Special, which sees norm and Cap head to San Diego Comic Con!

As a genre, superheroes is taken entirely too seriously by its fans. If you have ever found yourself arguing about the best Green Lantern, or rationalizing how Psycho-Man couldn't possibly bypass Mr. Fantastic's energy-shield generator, then this trade is for you. You'll laugh, sure, but you might just gain a deeper appreciation of the characters whom we shell money out for each week, as well as the creators behind them.

What I Read This Week

Action Comics #854 -- The finale of "3-2-1-Action!" is slightly more confusing than it needs to be, but that's only because I don't read Countdown. And honestly, if I could afford it I probably would. But anyway, Jimmy and Superman's friendship goes in new directions here, as the readers also get to catch up with Krypto finally. Busiek can probably write good Super-stories in his sleep, and art is clean and pleasing.

Action Comics #855 -- The long-awaited Bizarro story from Johns/Donner and Eric Powell starts off with a bang, but cannot sustain itself for the entire running length. I suspect a good deal of that has to do with Morrison doing a similar story over in All-Star not too long ago. Powell's Superman looks like an import from 1942, in a good way, and his Bizarro is quite nice. Pretty good start to the new story, but a step down from the previous arc. (Side note: Are we ever getting the end to the Zod/Phantom Zone story?)

Outsiders: Five of a Kind #5 -- Grace and Wonder Woman mop up a mess left behind by their respective sisters as Bats puts Ms. Choi to the test. A lot of bloggers hate Grace Choi because of Winnick's seeming crush on her, but I don't have a problem with her; couple that with the fact that I have been more interested in Diana in the last few years and you have a pretty decent little one-shot which leads direct-ed-ly into...

Outsiders #50 -- ...the last issue of the title. Taking a drastic left turn from the last installment, both in tone and appearance, it is here that we get the first true taste of the new Outsiders team and how they intend to operate. I got a sort of Defenders vibe from this, but that's not really accurate; I guess the earnestness of the relaunch is what is fueling that. I enjoyed this issue a lot more than I thought I would and the pendulum has swung back over to "Anticipating" for the upcoming Batman & The Outsiders. Also, the new(est) Suicide Squad shows up, and it's a pretty cool bunch!

Annihilation: Conquest: Wraith #3 -- The fight is on as Wraith must battle against the Phalanax's programming, find some allies, and escape from his torture chamber before Ronan turns him into another willing soldier. But just how tight is the Phalanx's hold on the Accuser? Strong sci-fi-style hero mag, as the "Kree with no name" and Ronan set the stage for the climax next issue.

Iron Man: Enter The Mandarin #1 -- Is it Silver Age? Is it Modern Age? Who knows! And who cares? What I know is that this retelling of sorts of the first meeting of Iron Man and the Mandarin is fun, fast, and thoughtful story from the team of Joe Casey and Eric Canete which is engaging and smile-provoking. Folks who only know the "nu-Marvel" Iron Man would do really well to check this miniseries out and see some old school Shellhead. I could not remove the grin from my face to see Happy Hogan as Tony's driver and Professor Anton Vanko working for SE's Research Division.

New Excalibur #23 -- Everything is going to hit the fan in very short order: with Great Britain still suffering from a technological blackout, the skirmishes between Excalibur/Shadow X and Albion and his Shadow Captains are growing more and more violent. But what did you expect when Iceman has begun to push an avalance into London?! Another Shadow-Xer falls, Brian and Kelsey have some very short if insightful dialogue, and it looks like one of Excalibur might be too far gone as well. The finale is next issue, and then we segue into a crossover mini with the Exiles which is supposed to shake up both teams... wow, it's like Five Of A Kind all over again. Pretty cool Excal story, but not much to offer beyond that. (With Marko going evil in a "main" X-Book, I guess he'll be leaving the team?)

Captain America: The Chosen #1 -- Cap at war? It looks that way as a soldier who's convoy is ambushed is joined in his firefight by the Sentinel of Liberty in this Marvel Knights tale written by "First Blood" author David Morrell and grimy, harsh linework by Mitch Breitweiser. This comic is sure to turn off Liberals, with it's "US vs THEM" foreign policy and it's somewhat heavy-handed dialogue. But I think if you can put your frigging politics aside for a little while and, I dunno, read the story then you might find something a little deeper than what it first looks like. Also, it was nice to read a story with Cap in it and not just groan my way through it ala Civil War.

Wonder Woman #12 -- The other epilogue to AA I read is less interesting than Five of a Kind, and does little except to re-affirm that, yes, nothing has changed so Gail Simone can come in and do what she wants in two months. Wonder Woman and Nemesis fight Everyman and locate Sarge Steel, while the world remains distrustful of the newly-dispersed Amazons. Pass on this one.

JSA Classified #29 -- Nazis Nazis Nazis! Starting out in the closing days of WWII as the original JSA fights to stop a rocket launch, our story shifts to the present, where Mr. Terrific becomes aware that a politician he has been supporting may have some proverbial skeletons in his closet, if you'll pardon the reference. Decent set-up issue which is a bit uneven in places -- the art by Alex Sanchez, varies from sublime (the sound effects) to ridiculous (Mr. Terrific's face). But overall it's not bad, I like Mr. Terrific and this should be a fun 3-parter.

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man #4 -- It's a psuedo-flashback to the "Bob & Dave" era as Justin Hammer hires the Spymaster to sabotage an experimental power core at Stark Enterprises! Unfortunately, turns out that is just a ruse, and the real target is Shellhead himself -- AND his company! Slam-bang AA action, with Tony's supporting cast stepping up into the spotlight as well. Both Rhodey and Pepper play key roles this time out, and we also see the emergence of both Justin Hammer and the Spymaster (who has a new costume). Kids may not understand the business side of this tale, but the armored action will keep them happy. Oooh this is a good series.

Pick of the Pile is pretty straightforward: Enter the Mandarin is an old-fashioned adventure yarn which most Marvel fans will enjoy. But I was more impressed with how strong Outsiders was. Bedard seems to be putting a ton of thought and love into this series and that shows in the final product. I mean, I'm excited about purchasing a book featuring Catwoman for crying out loud!

So what did you read this week?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Everybody's Linking For The Weekend

Rob! over at the Aquaman Shrine shows off this awesome Ocean Master profile from Who's Who.

Jim Shooter on the Legion?! Apparently!

From Newsarama: A Joust comic book and movie?!! I remember the Golden Age of video games, when things didn't have to make any sense! (In all fairness, the Joust concept is so wide open that you could probably do a sort of high fantasy, coming-of-age story out of it.)

Check out the Weird Movie Podcast courtesy of the folks bringing you Sword of Dracula.

A new comic blog with a great purpose: discovering if "90s X-Books" are as poor as everyone seems to think. Go check out Not Blog X!

Finally, Rick kicks it old school with Worlds Finest #159, available for your reading pleasure! Awesome!

Friday, September 7, 2007

What Looks Good?

Planning a wedding is murder on your ability to post on your comic book blog. Check out the Shipping List and follow along!

All-New Atom #15 -- Can this issue top Jet Pack Hitler?!

Annihilation: Conquest: Wraith #3 -- If more Marvel was handled like the outer space/sci-fi books, the company would be better off, I think.

Detective Comics #836 -- The new take on the Scarecrow freaks the bejeesus out of me.

Iron Man: Enter The Mandarin #1 -- Appropriate considering the story in the main mag, this flashback tale looks so awesome I may have to break out my old Tales of Suspense reprints.

New Excalibur #23 -- As the only fan of New Exaclibur, I am contractually obligated to say that this series is awesome. Lucky for me I actually think that. Neener neener neener.

Outsiders #50 -- The door closes on the Outsiders to be reborn as the Outsiders (with Batman). My interest is vaguely piqued.

Sword of the Atom TPB -- Tiny guys with tiny swords and tiny babes in tiny fur bikinis. It's tiny-tastic! Also: Jean Loring is insane.

New Line Cinemas Tales of Horror #1 -- Anthology with a NOES tale and a story based on the new TCM, so I am about half interested.

So what looks good to YOU?