Thursday, January 31, 2008

What Looks Good?

I'm serious, sometimes you need to plan your "weekend getaways" so that they only take a weekend. Good thing I have some Four Color Goodness to help get me back on track.

Trails of Shazam #11 -- Admittedly, this miniseries has been going so long, it feels like an ongoing. But I'm still enjoying it, and the big finish is fast approaching.

Captain America: The Chosen #6 -- This title has kinda flown under the radar after the first issue, but this harsh war story with Cap a psuedo bystander has continued to impress.

Futurama Comics #35 -- It's the future of comedy... TODAY!

Project Superpowers #0 -- Pay no attention to The Twelve behind the curtain. This Golden Age revival looks more interesting to me, anyway.

So what looks good to YOU?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Everybody's Linking For The, Uh, Tuesday

Bleah. Going out of town for the weekend really put a damper on my ability to update this thing. Here's some links I meant for last week to tide you over until I get my stuff together.

G Kendall continues his look at "Fatal Attractions;" specifically, when things started going awry.

Who's Who? Mera, that's who, says rob!

Frank presents: J'Onn J'Onzz: International Man of Mystery.

Rick sets the Wabac Machine and checks out some sweet JSA action.

The sharpest photo of Pluto and it's moons ever taken.

And, in a serious note: Heath Ledger, 1979-2008. My condolences go out to his family.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fair Trade -- Harvey Comics Classics Volume 2: Richie Rich

Harvey Comics Classics V.2: Richie Rich
Continuing on the mini-theme from the other day, I just recently finished this volume of Richie Rich comics, lovingly constructed by the good people over at Dark Horse comics. if you want to read about The Poor Little Rich Boy, then look no further than this tome.

And believe me, tome is the correct word. Clocking in at a whopping 400+ pages and weighing at least 2 pounds, this is a definitive collection of Richie Rich strips, from his earliest appearances as a backup feature in Little Dot through being the star of his own title (and later, many, many more titles) in the 1960s. Collected are 125 individual stories (the cover pictured above is an early version) which run the gamut from simple, worldess one-page gags to complex, multi-part adventures.

For what is at it's core a simple concept, the various creators who worked on Richie at Harvey got a lot of mileage out of the basics of the character which were there right from the start. The very first strip tells how privledged young Richie ditches his boring dance lesson to go play baseball with the neighborhood kids, then takes down a bully. These aspects -- the desire for normalcy and friendship, standing up for the less fortunate -- became the core of the character, and the stories would be built on this foundation for decades to come.

The book is divided into two halves, the Golden Age and the Silver Age. The Golden Age stories are never longer than five pages, and primarily revolve around Richie having fun with his poor friends Freckles and Pee Wee. The villain of these pieces is usually his greedy cousin Reggie Van Dough, a sadistic little SOB who takes great pride in showing off his wealth and having fun at the expense of others. Of course, he gets his comeuppance in the end, either in the form of Richie finally getting fed up and tricking him, or, just as frequently, Reggie's own arrogance and stupidity. The character of Reggie would soften up over the years, but he remained a constant in Richie's world even as late as the 1980s when I first discovered the character.

Bathing in style!  Richie Rich #1
The Silver Age section focuses on Richie's own title, launched in 1960. The stories continue along a logical path, with Richie having fun with his friends and otherwise trying to be a regular kid. In this half, Richie's status as a headliner is put to good use, as we get a handful of multi-part stories, ranging from ten to fifteen pages, including the Johnny Quest-esque "Mutiny on the Oceanic." With this development, we also get to see a lot of zany inventions and creations, such as a camera that de-ages whatever it shoots. These never seem to work quite as expected, but usually get put to good use against the seemingly endless gangs of crooks trying to rob the Rich Estate. Also introduced is Cadbury, who at first Richie is skeptical about, but the butler's seeming knowledge and skills in every conceivable field soon win the young man over. Cadbury gets to take center stage in a few strips as well, as does Pee Wee in a few shorts. Irony the Robot Maid even pops up near the end!

The other important change in the Silver Age is the introduction of Gloria Glad, Richie's girlfriend. Though a lot of her stories are formulaic ("Don't spend so much money, Richie!"), they offer a nice contrast to the tales of fishing and baseball with Freckles and Pee Wee, and also allow for the love interest angle for the adventure stories. Gloria's father is a fun character as well, as we see his horrified reaction to the increasingly extravagant gifts Richie buys his daughter, seemingly driving him to a nervous breakdown. (This is ironic, since Gloria's father is nowhere to be seen in the Richie Rich film, but her mother, a minor character in the comics, has a substantial role.)

My favorite story from the book is a five-pager from the early 60's entitled "Anyone Who Sees A Psychiatrist Needs To Have His Head Examined!" The gist is that Gloria, in an effort to break Richie of his spending habit, gets him to see a shrink. Richie's sardonic commentary about his treatments are hilarious, as he comments that his doctor is more than willing to help him stop spending money -- by taking all of his money from him! It's strips like this one, that poke fun at more adult topics which fly right over the heads of young readers, which really make the character appeal to all-ages.

Yo, this is my GROOM ROOM!  Richie Rich #16
The trade itself is very handsomely put together, with nice glossy paper and heavy stock. There's 64 color reprodution pages, which accurately capture the feel of the old Harvey newsprint -- at least the handful which I still have in my possession. The balance of the book is in sharp, beautiful black-and-white, a real treat to someone who likes inked pages as much as I do. The stories look clean and almost modern in black and white, especially with the high-sheen paper. There is one oddity, though: due to how her eyes are colored normally, Gloria's eyes look a little... strange... in the black and white pages. Also included is a short (but informative) historical summary by Jerry Beck, as well as a two-page interview with artist Ernie Colon, one of the many who worked on the strip. Neither is all that long or in-depth, but at this point they're just gravy anyway.

With a list price of $19.95, this is a little more expensive than your typical black-and-white reprint trade, but it's also a much nicer package than your average Essential or Showcase volume. Richie Rich is one of the most enduring characters ever to grave the comics page, and with this volume, readers can discover (or rediscover) just what made The Poor Little Rich Boy so popular in the first place. A perfect volume for parents to read with their kids, or just to enjoy on their own.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What Looks Good?

Here in South Carolina, the last couple of days have been nothing but Democrats railing at each other. Oh brother. Break the endless cycle of finger pointing by heading to your local comics retailer and spreading the love.

(Be sure to call ahead before you do, though... I have mixed reports on whether new comics have been delayed a day due to Martin Luther King Day on Monday.)

Wonder Woman #16 -- Another title I can't really afford, but I am really enjoying the new mythology that Simone is spinning here.

Showcase Presents: Aquaman V.2 -- Just in time for him to be resurrected in the pages of Final Crisis! (*crosses fingers!*)

Iron Man #25 -- Double-sized issue. Shellhead and the Mandarin, does it get much more classic than that? Well, I suppose you could throw some Communists in there, but we'll stick with Mandy.

So what looks good to YOU?

And Now, Your Moment of Zen

For those who are thinking about steppin'...

This Public Service Announcement Brought To You By The Ghost Who Walks.
... best think again.

Make your own motivational poster and share the wisdom!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

4 Color Cinema

Richie Rich
Richie Rich

Kicking off a little mini-theme here at the Bunker, today I'm taking a look at a piece of 4 Color Cinema which never even gets mentioned as a "comic book movie" nowadays. Based on one of, if not the most, prolific characters ever to grace a comics page, Richie Rich stands as a bit of a throwback in terms of both it's titular star as well as the actor portraying him.

Rich is of course played by Macaulay Culkin, who in 1994 was already four years removed from his turn in Home Alone, and had already began to appear in such middling fare as Getting Even With Dad and The Pagemaster. No longer the Hollywood darling he had been, Culkin nonetheless had a pretty bankable name for children's entertainment, and so the most recognizable child actor of his generation stepped into the shoes of The Poor Little Rich Boy. Now, Richie himself had been facing some downturns as well -- by this point, Harvey's publishing had taken a nosedive from their peak in the 60s and 70s, and there were only a few Richie Rich titles on the stands by 1990, of which only one was being published at the film's release. (Oddly enough, Marvel would release an adaption of the film in 1995; see below.) So the film itself is a bit of an underdog. And really, it lives down to that in a lot of ways, with a pretty pedestrian plot and ordinary action setpieces. But it's not all bad -- fans of the character take solace.

The story involves Richie's desire to be a kid and have fun -- an altogether typical Richie Rich plot device, used countless times in the character's early days and still pretty frequently later on. So as Richie tries to be just an ordinary kid, with a loving family and regular friends, behind the scenes the scheming businessman Lawrence Van Dough (A Rich Industries executive) plots to eliminate the Richs and claim their fortune as his own. When Richie's parents plane crashes in the Bermuda Triangle, the Poor Little Rich Boy must fend off Van Dough and save the day, with the help of his faithful butler Cadbury, the quirky Professor Keenbean, and his newfound friends.

The adaption, published by Marvel of all people.
Pretty typical Richie Rich stuff, really, but when you have had so many adventures appear in so many titles for so many years, certain patterns start to emerge. So while it's not the most original or inventive plot, it certainly is appropriate for the character as well as the target audience -- that is, children, and Richie Rich fans such as myself. The performances are fun and light, with Culkin turning in a pretty good approximation of the Poor Little Rich Boy (despite being a bit older than the character was portrayed). As Richard and Regina Rich, Edward Herrmann and Christine Ebersole fit the bill perfectly, capturing the senor Rich's absent-minded good nature as well as Mr.s Rich's love of the finer things. John Larroquette plays Lawrence Van Dough like a good comedy opera villain, overflowing with verve and gladly chewing the scenery, while Michael McShane (who still holds the title for having my favorite line from Office Space) is fun as the off-center Keenbean. Of special note, though, is Jonathon Hyde as Cadbury. Hyde is best known to American audiences for his roles in Titanic and The Mummy, but his background is stage acting, and it shows. His relationship to Richie -- especially after the Richs are missing -- is very endearing, and really harkens back to the source material. It brings a certain sense of authenticity to the film and sells the concept of a Boy and his Faithful Butler quite well.

The cast is rounded out with a few child actors who portray Richie's friends and schoolmates, allowing the filmmakers to have a little fun. While not blatantly so, Richie's friends are for the most part actual characters from the Harvey series -- Freckles and PeeWee, certainly, along with Reggie (though, he is not Richie's cousin this time out). Most notable is the inclusion of Gloria Glad, though she has been updated for the times -- no longer the pretty girl in a pretty dress, she's now a tomboy, and the pitcher for the gang's sandlot baseball team. All in all the kids work nicely and never really get annoying, which is admirable.

The film itself is no great shakes, but there's entertainment to be reaped from it, which is better than a lot of mod kid's movies can say. The silly excesses which the Richs wealth can buy, for one, as well as Keenbean's strange inventions breed smiles. And there's a good deal of gags which work without resorting to bathroom or rude humor. I think it helps if you already like the character and world of Richie Rich. Nonfans won't love it, but you won't be bored by it, either. A good pick-up of you have kids, or if you have fond memories of reading about Richie Rich's adventures when you were a kid.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What I Read This Week

Flash #236 -- Mark Waid's rather short return to the character he made me dig comes to a close here, as "The Wild Wests" wraps up in fairly satisfying form. I liked how the main story eventually connected to the Rogers-scripted/Braithwaite-pencilled backup (which also finishes up here), and Rogers' art remains a great fit for the title. Waid is pretty game here, and shows off his skills at writing the Justice League as well as the Flash-clan. I think that this story would have been better off as a four parter, because the middle chapters seemed a little slow compared to the two ends, but overall I enjoyed it alright, and am looking forward to seeing how new series writer Tom Peyer explores what Waid established. The "Fast Life" shorts have been a lot of fun, so I am a little bummed to see them go, but at least they went out on a high note -- I don't think anyone can really complain about these backups, honestly.

Graveslinger #3 -- The Weird Western gets a little odder this time out, and the first thing you notice is the art. Seems that John Cboins, who handled the first two issues has been replaced Nima Sorat, and the change is pretty drastic. Cboins lonesome pencils were really visually interesting to me, while Sorat uses a lot more color and makes the pages "pop." I like both styles, honestly, so I am not complaining per se, but it was a little jarring. The issue itself is a mixed bag. Jeff Mariotte and Eric Denton are certainly game for writing the Old West, but the proceedings come a little off the rails here as the plot meanders to a fairlynon-Weird range war before the undead pop up on the second to last page. Again, it's not that I didn't like it, but the whole thing is a little lackluster. I strongly suspect that this is do to the serailized format. Now, you know that I am not one to champion this idea, but Graveslinger seems better suited to the collected format (or even an OGN) than to single issues. I am definitely going to re-read the entire series once the fourth and final issue comes out, and test my theory.

No Pick of the Pile this week. Both books were alright, but neither was really standout to me enough to apply the title.

So what did YOU read this week?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Everybody's Linking For The Weekend

This can only end badly -- real-life superheroes, or "Reals," patrolling the streets.

Rick shows us some true marketing genius at work.

Kendall busts out one of my favorite mutant crossovers, "Fatal Attractions," with what was my favorite gimmick cover from my youth, X-Factor #92.

I always liked this classic Clark Bar ad! Thanks, rick!

Mike Sterling makes the obvious Godzilla-Cloverfield connection plain for all to see.

BONUS: Disco Beaver From Outer Space.

Bully makes all the right connections.

Finally, Playboy misses the point somewhat about Wonder Woman. Let the nerd-rage begin! (NSFW)

Fair Trade -- The Phantom: Death in the Deep Woods

The Phantom: Death In The Deep Woods
Take a journey into the African jungles, where legend speaks of a terrifying spirit who haunts all those who stand for injustice and greed. This Man-Who-Cannot-Die, the Ghost-Who-Walks, has stalked the darkest part of Bangalla for the better part of five centuries, and he does not tolerate crime in his adopted homeland. So if you serve evil, and you find yourself deep in the woods on a dark night, watch your back -- because The Phantom will be there.

Collecting the first four issues of Moonstone's relaunched Phantom series, written by Ben Raab and with art by Pat Quinn and Nick Derington, Death In The Deep Woods tells two stories of the Kit Walker, the 21st and current Phantom. For those not in the know, the title of the Phantom is a hereditary one, passed from father to son for generation after generation, each donning the mask and purple and black costume, leading to the legend of the undying hero. And since this hero must produce an heir, the Phantom is a family man, with his wife Diana, their daughter Heloise and son, also named Kit.

The first story (both are two-parters, and as a result this is a pretty short trade, all told) revolves around Diana's work as Bangalla's representative to the United Nations. Namely, an anti-terrorist bill she is working on has attracted the unwanted attentions of a certain Middle Eastern extremist, and he has designs on silenting her. Unfortunately for him, the lady is protected by the Ghost-Who-Walks! The second tale is a little more experimental in nature. Raab introduces a foil for the Phantom in the form of Kua The Undying, a towering member of the Bandar's rival tribe, who has menaced the Phantom many times over the centuries. Turns out that Kua himself is a multi-generational creation, who's mission is to kill the Phantom and enslave the Bandar. Kit has his hands full with Kua, who is smarter than he looks and has plans to strike at the Phantom where he is most vulnerable.

Both stories are fast moving and energetic, with a lot of action crammed into a slim page count. Phantom himself is sort of a Batman figure, using not only his physical strength but also his mystique (Old Jungle Legends) and psychological tactics to take out his opponents. But he's not nearly as grim as Bats, though, adding some levity and almost a swashbuckling-type of tone to the adventure. Raab makes Kit extremely readable, and the reader begins to identify with him very quickly. Same goes for the supporting cast, including Diana and the kids. They are handled not as baggage, but as integral pillars supporting the entire structure. Diana is no stay-at-the-cavw mom, either: she's as much a hero to Bangalla as her hubby is. The Bandar tribe add a nice element as well, and are not portrayed as superstitious or ignorant savages. Even the Phantom's two animal assistants -- the timberwolf Devil, and horse Hero -- acquit themselves nicely.

The art has a nicely weighted feel to it without looking too photorealistic. Quinn and Derington never forget that they are drawing a comic book, and keep things grounded in that reality. The action is intense, but since this series is wat I would call can Adventure strip -- as opposed to a Superhero one -- things do stay relatively low key, but in a good way. I do have to say, though, that Phantom throws the sickest punches this side of Jim Aparo. Don't believe me? Check this out (click to Phantom-ize!):


I rather liked this trade. It's a bit pricey at $14.95 for 120 pages (in addition to the 4 issues, there is also a two-page short explaining the character's history), but it reads really well and is a lot of fun. I was already a Phantom fan before I bought it -- the only reason I didn't buy these as singles is that I didn't know they were being published, which will teach me to pay more attention to Previews -- but even a Ghost-Who-Walks novice can pick this up and enjoy. Definitely worth reading if you want something a little bit different from your typical superhero fare.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What Looks Good?

I work hard for the money. So hard for it, honey. I work hard for the money so you better treat me right. By buying lots of comics!

Flash #236 -- Mark Waid, we hardly knew ya. Well, other than those years and years you wrote this title the first time. Ah well, the conclusion to "The Wild Wests" should be engaging enough even if Waid is on the way out.

Graveslinger #3 -- The Old West and the Living Dead. To call this comic "grimy" is an understatement of epic proportions.

Another light week... which is not all bad, as I am trying to cut my expenses down a bit. Well, that's the plan, anyway!

So what looks good to YOU?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Not Blog Ex? -- Excalibur #57

Excalibur #57
For Whom The Bell Trolls!

Credits: Alan Davis (plot); Scott Lobdell (script) (Script), Joe Madureira (Pencils), Joe Rubinstein (Inks), Kevin Tinsley (Colors), Ken Lopez (Letters).

Excalibur (Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Meggan, Captain Britain, and Cerise) are in the sewers of London, searching for Sat-Yr-9, and getting nowhere, when they come upon two men who have been transmuted into gold. Turns out that this is the work of one Mr. Tom Jones, an old associate of the original X-Factor, who tries to contact them before being captured by an unseen force. Excalibur agrees to help the police investigate the golden men, with Meggan using her feral senses to track who they think are the perpetrators, leading the team to a face to face encounter with the Troll Associates. The heroes outclass the trolls in combat, who retreat when Captain Britain is turned to gold, and Meggan gets a golden handprint on her arm as Tom rushes past her. Meanwhile, on the Blackbird, Beast briefs the other X-Men (Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit, Rogue, Jubilee, and Psylocke) on Tom's alchemy powers while enroute to London. Back under the sewers, Nightcrawler has sent Cerise to fetch Feron, and Meggan is leading the hunt when she too succumbs to the transmutation, enfuriating Nightcrawler enough to lash out -- right into Beast and the other X-Men. Joining forces, Psylocke leads the team to Tom, imprisoned with his mother in the Troll's lair. Cyclops orders Gambit to blast the door, only for Wolverine to realize too late that the door is wired with plastique. KA-KOOM.

Continuity Notes
The first three pages have 3 seperate footnotes on them, but Beast's flashback doesn't have any. Plus, when Nightcrawler runs into his old friends, we get more footnotes. Just to be on the safe side, I suppose. Nightcrawler makes reference to Phoenix being taken to the stars, and Kylun leaving to see his family, both recent events in the title.

I Love The 90s
Jubilee says "Word" at one point.

I liked this issue better than the previous two I reviewed (available here). The plot moves along nicely, and Lobdell's dialogue is fine. There's an interesting narrative structure, as the story is being narrated by an unknown and unseens storyteller to a group of other creatures, which leads to some humorous caption boxes as he guesses at what our heroes would say in certain situations. The presence of the X-Men is tolerable, although the fact that Psylocke seems to be there specifically to use her powers and doesn't even seem to react to or notice that her brother has been trasmuted to gold is a little weird. Notice that the team is (with the exception of Psylocke) made up of characters featured prominently on the cartoon series, which was airing at the this time. The Troll Associates are amusingly bizarre, but other than Phay (the shapeshifter who speaks in quotes), none of them have much time to shine.

Joe Madureira's linework is a mixed bag. His Cerise is powerful and elegant and his Nightcrawler a bit quirky, but his Cap is oddly stiff and unnatural. Even more strange is his depiction of the X-Men, who look awkward and a little flat the entire time. Still, I like his work in these pages better than his later, more manga-esque stuff, so it's not too bad. All in all, a much better introduction to the adventures of Excalibur than the previous storyline (Lobdell even does a roll-call of sorts to introduce the heroes), plus the X-Men crossover is handled pretty well. Worth reading.

(I need to re-examine how I am going to handle these entries. At this point I am kind of in the middle of Davis' run, and I'm not thrilled with that, but I wanted to read this issue. What do you guys think? Should I go back to the start of Davis' return run at #42, or back to the launch of the series, or keep going, or... ? Any feedback would be appreciated.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

What I Read This Week

Annihilation: Conquest #3 -- We're running up to the midway point of these series, which means that the spit really hits the fan here. Our cast of heroes is split up into three groups, and for two of them, war truly is hell. While Quasar and Adam Warlock deal with Ultron's forces in the High Evolutionary's haven, Star-Lord and his team are suddenly in a firefight on Hala. Can Ronan, Wraith, Super-Skrull and Praxagora make enough progress to save the cosmos? Another rock-solid piece of space opera, with DnA's snappy scripting a good match with Tom Raney's "kinda-but-not-really" plasticy pencils. This is truly epic, "widescreen" stuff, but in the true tradition of space opera, it's presented with enough grounding through the beleiveable (and likeable) heroes that the reader doesn't lose the connection. Great escapist fare.

Superman #672 -- Deep inside LuthorCorp's secret Moonbase, the new Insect Queen prepares her army and finalizes her plans to infest Earth. Unfortunately for her, Superman is hot on the trail of Lana Lang, and is bearing down on the Hive. Plus, what is wrong with Chris Kent? Busiek's new take on Insect Queen is interesting. He speech (or should I say "zpeech?") impediment is a little silly, but I like how he sticks to the anthromorphized bugs aspect from the previous issue, and even gives a rationale for how she found Earth, and chose Lana as her new form. It's a little repetitive during the backstory exposition, though, and Lana's responses kept reminding me of Bill Cosby's Noah routine -- "Riiight!" Pete Vale's art is top notch though, handling the mundane and the fantastic equally well, and making the Queen look sexy as well as bizarre at the same time. The Photoshop'ed posters in Chris's room are obvious, but they made me grin so I can't hold that against the art. I think you have to like Busiek's work in general, and it's neo-Bronze Age sensibilities, to really like this title, and I happen to fall into that field.

Drawing From Life #2 -- Jim Valentino's collection of short autobiographical comics returns with eight more original pieces illustrating various points in the creator's life. Jim, or "Kid," as he is called in the strips, explores chasing fads as a junior high school student, dealing with the Denver police, and getting in touch with his "spiritual side -- that is, going to a series of lectures to get a girl's number. Of interest to most comic readers are a trio of tales about the industry: one is a dedication to the late Clay Geerdes, the underground "comix" guru from the 70s, and the other two are both tales of Jim's time with the Image boys -- one set during the infamous 1992 San Diego Comic Con, and one from San Diego this past year when the Founders had their panel. I mark out for Jim Valentino in a way most bloggers reserve for Grant Morrison and Ed Brubaker, so I am definitely the target audience for these stories. The crips black and white printing is very pleasing to the eye and Valentino's work lends itself very well to these sorts of cartooning. Really great sutff, even if most readers will see "Valentino" and be turned off, thinking, "Ugh, he created ShadowHawk."

Transformers: Beast Wars: The Ascending #4 -- It's the final issue of the mini, which of course means it's time foe the Big Fight At The End. But seeing as this is a Transformers miniseries, written by Simon Furman at that, it's time for the Big Fight At The End Where Characters Die Trying To Stop Unicron -- or in this case, at least, his agents. It's familiar ground for Furman, who has been writing this kind of Cybertronian war stuff for decades now. It's a satisfying conclusion to the storylines both on prehistoric Earth as well as Cybertron, but there is little to recommend of this particular issue to anyone who is not already a Transfan. The ending seems to set up a sequel while hinting at stuff we already know happens, if that makes any sense.

Transformers: Beast Wars Sourcebook #3 -- At the risk of Dave Sim calling me an "emotion-based being," let me tell you a little story. Since this series began being published, I have eagerly waited for the profile of my favorite Predacon who has never had one -- Sky Shadow. A Fuzor (that is, his beast form is two animals merged together -- in this case, an iguana and a dragonfly), he was one of the first Beast Wars toys I ever owned, and he stood on top of my computer monitor for many, many years. He's got a great personality as well -- scheming, duplicitous, gregarious and cruel. So I really wanted to see how Ben Yee and/or Simon Furman would flesh him out. So when I got this comic in my hands, I flipped to the last page to see if he would be covered in this pages. That last profile? Silverbolt. AHHHH! I have to wait another month! Anyway, insanity aside, this one covers a lot of major characters, including Rattrap, Scorponok, Rhinox, Quickstrike, and Bigbot himself, Optimus Primal. One more issue remains, which, one imagines, will contain Sky Shadow! You should already know whether you need to buy this one or not, folks.

The Pick Of The Pile is Drawing From Life, unsurprisingly. A:C continues to be top-shelf type stuff, but I am a sucker for Valentino as well as auto-bio-comix.

So what did YOU read this week?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Everybody's Linking For The Weekend

Let's get things started with this sweet new Iron Man movie image.

Also, check out the third Director's Commentary on Freddy vs Jason vs Ash.

Frank unconvers an heretofor unknown (to me) adventure of the Martian Manhunter involving a UFO, sour milk, and Quentin Tarantino.

Meanwhile, Rick shows us why Haney and Aparo rock the party that rocks your body.


And finally, this may be old news to some readers, but this is an amazing, hugely in-depth retrospective on what used to be the most controversial Spider-Man story ever, The Clone Saga. So if you have some time, please check out the Life of Reilly.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What Looks Good?

Comics are finally back on Wednesday! Celebrate this return to normalcy in the usual manner, won't you?

Superman #672 -- The new Insect Queen has arrived, and she's got something in mind for Lana Lang. Old villains and old supporting characters given a new twist? By Busiek? Naaah!

Transformers: Beast Wars: The Ascending #4 -- Sadly, the last issue of this series chronicling the ongoing shadow war on prehistoric Earth by two factions of partially organic alien robots who can transform into animals. Unless IDW produces a followup, I fear the comic book rack will have lost a certain touch of realism.

Light week this week, but since I didn't go last week, it'll be a double-up at least.

So what looks good to YOU?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

4 Color Cinema

Kull The ConquerorKull The Conquerer

Okay. You got me. I confess. I'm probably stretching it a bit here. Kull is a character more identified with his pulpy origins than with the 4 Color world. But hey, Marvel has put out more than one attempt at Robert E. Howard's lesser-known barbarian hero over the years, so I think this qualifies. And since this is my blog, so it has been written, and so it shall come to pass! (Alternately, "By this blog, I rule!")

Our story opens in the ancient kingdom of Valusia, where the barbarian, Kull of Atlantis (Kevin Sorbo!), fights for his life against a band of soldiers. The barechested strongman does well with his axe, but is less successful with a sword when he does battle with the captain, Taligaro. It seems that this battle is a tryout for a place in the royal guard -- a tryout which Kull fails not for his martial skills, but for not being of noble blood. All this is interrupted when a messenger informs Taligaro that his father, King Borna, has gone mad, and begun slaying his heirs! Hurrying back to the castle, Kull is caught up in the palace intrigue, and when he stops Borna's rampage, he finds himself crowned as the new King of Valusia!

Of course, heavy is the head which wears the crown, as Kull finds himself stymied in court, where he is unable to rescind the law allowing free Valusians to own slaves, as well as his private chambers, as the seer Zareta treats his advances like a complying concubine and nothing more. Nor is public much better, as Taligaro, his cousin Ducalon, and the scarred wizard Enaros all conspire against him. Taligaro and Ducalon both want the crown, but Enaros is planning to resurrect the ancient sorceress Akivasha, who's return will plunge Valusia into darkness. Needless to say, he's successful, and the stunning Akivasha soon has Kull under her spell, and the kingdom in her palm. Can the barbarian, along with Zareta and the priest Ascalante retrieve the only power which can defeat the evil Queen and restore peace to the folk of Valusia?

Kull does it the Marvel way!  KULL THE CONQUEROR v.2:no.1Now, I enjoy a good sword and sorcery film. As a young kid, my brother and I would often watch Conan The Destroyer (the mirror monster rocks), and live out our muscle-bound dreams with He-Man and other Masters of the Universe toys. The more adventerous, and less mature, nature of Destroyer and MOTU was designed to be kid-friendly, and it was glad gobbled up by the both of us, as well as lots of others our age. Later developments in the genre would push towards more of a high-camp style (as opposed to the only moderate levels of camp in Arnie's sequel), and then eventually return to the substantially more earnest roots established with Conan The Barbarian. (Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy is not strictly sword and sorcery, but just as Howard and Tolkien tapped into the same essential aspects of Middle-Aged myth and legend, so too do their respective adapted works flow along similar paths). You had your choice of supremely silly, or supremely serious.

Kull ties into the same spirit as Destroyer, insofar as while the story is treated straight, there are elements of levity and camp which lighten things up and make it more of a family-friendly affair. It doesn't weigh the proceedings down with the massive importance of everything, but neither does it rely on lame punchlines and other unwelcome elements which had become more commonplace in the wake of "Hercules, The Legendary Journeys," which of course also starred Sorbo. Yes, there is some humor -- at one point Kull is urinated on by a camel -- but it's not so absurd as to take one out of the story. Speaking of which, the tale itself is pretty straightforward barbarian stuff, with magic, monsters, dungeons, battles, and gods liberally distirbuted. The design is nice -- not too ostentatious but not too muted either. It's not exactly Howard, but considering how far the material could have strayed, it's pretty close. Elements are borrowed from "By This Axe I Rule," as well as several other Kull and Conan tales, and it rings pretty true to those not intimately familiar with the source material. This is probably the best way to tell a Kull story -- begining with gaining the crown and thus being unfamiliar with what it means to rule, as opposed to the monarch who is already sitting on the throne.

Sorbo is game as the oft-barechested hero. He'll never be considering a "real" actor, but he does this sort of fantasy work very well, bringing the right gravitas to the role when necessary and certainly looking the part. (My wife was very appreciative of him.) It's disappointing that we never saw him take up the axe again. Tia Carrere's casting betrays the film's timeframe if nothing else, but she is appropriately vamp-y as the resurrected sorceress Akivasha. She has an exotic look which fits well into the Hyborean setting. Ditto for Karina Lombard, who plays Zareta. I've never seen her in anything else, although apparently she has done some TV work recently, including "The L Word" and "The 4400." As Zareta, she is strong and smart without falling too much into the maiden in need of rescue stereotype. Her first few scenes involve her standing up to Kull, and actually making it stick, which used to be something of a rarity. Litefoot, playing Ascalante is given precious little to do, because he is an interesting choice for the pacifistic priest. Rounding out the cast include the suitably menacing Thomas Ian Griffith as Taligaro, a weird Edward Tudor-Pale as Enaros, and a bizarely out of place Harvey Fierstein as Juba, an evidently gay pirate lord and merchant (seriously, at one point he says "You know I can't stand the smell of fish!").

By This Axe I Rule!  KULL THE DESTROYER #11That last bit also seems to carry over onto the film's advertising campaign, which I personally remember being really, really unappealing. Playing on the popularity of Sorbo's "Hercules" series, the trailer for the film uses the "comedy" voice over guy and is jokey beyond belief. It leads the viewer to think that it's just a big screen version of the post-modernist barbarian gig from that show, even though the comedy is actually really limited. I'm of the opinion that this had a lot to do with the film's failure, since while that kind of goofiness has a certain charm on television, most people don't want to pay money for it. Had Kull the Conqueror been advertised as a straight adventure movie which just so happened to star that "Hercules" guy, maybe the film wouldn't be as obscure as it is today.

In any event, Kull the Conqueror is definitely worth a rent if you enjoy this sort of Big Dumb Sword and Sorcery type of movie. It's got a lot of heart and a good cast, and is certainly highly entertaining for it's entire running length. It's not going to knock off either film starring that other barbarian, but the King certainly does rule, to borrow a phrase.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Discount Bin Finds: Justice League of America v.1:no.245

I couldn't get to Borderlands this past Friday, so I did not end up getting any new comics this week (shock piles upon shock!). So, thanks to a little inspiration from my fellow comics blogger and Martian Manhunter enhtusiant Frank, I figured I would bust out this little gem, which I picked up for a cool 33 cents back last spring. Enjoy!

Justice Leage of America #245 -- "The Long Road Home," by Gerry Conway and Luke McDonnell
Steel, looking worse for ware, as typical, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #245
In this "Crisis on Infinite Earths" tie-in, Steel (Hank Heywood III) is mysteriously thrown into a strange and alien world, where he must battle weird creatures and technology! We meet up with young Hank (scribe Gerry Conway politely slips in a note that our hero is but 19 years old), he's disoriented and just about dead on his feet. Unluckily for him, some strange bugs have the notion to change his situation to dead in their stomachs. Steel is saved by a mysterious (and beautiful natch) woman named Olanda, who takes him back to her high tech shelter to recover. It turns out that he is in fact on Earth, in the faaaar future, thanks to a time warp effect from the Crisis, and his host is none other than the Lord Of Time, and that he has come here to the year 1,000,000,000 (!) to live out his years. I suppose so that he wouldn't feel lonely, Lordy also cloned himself several times, producing six "sons," and Olanda, his favored "daughter." Needless to say the Six didn't take too kindly to this, and stole the LOT's Time Cube, amassing an army of technology with which to get their revenge. Too bad they didn't count on one hot-headed hero to bust things up!

Meanwhile, back in the present in a storyline no one really cares about, the remainder of the Justice League stands and watches J'Onn J'Onzz drop some knowledge on the hospitalized Commander Steel's backside. You know, because it's a Justice League comic and not and issue of Showcase.

As a standalone issue, this is a nice enough Steel story, with a lot of action and some history thrown in for good measure. Steel gets his second costume here, the one which exposes his hair, but with little fanfare and I doubt much reader concern. It's a nice touch to have the baddies not be just generic Futurans, but to tie back to the old, old, incredibly old school JLA foe the Lord of Time. Too bad that I'm pretty sure neither the Six nor Olanda ever showed up again. Luke McDonnell's pencils are nice enough for the era, but there are some weird anatomical examples on display here, including the cover (itself part of a nice little tradition of showing the Heywood family in tremendous pain). Nothing eye-aching, but a few panels require a double-take. Conway though. Oooh Mr. Gerry Conway. I mean, it's plain that he really likes the character of Steel, and as such his portrayl of an angry young hero is pretty good. The main story is a nice twist on the "dystopian future" premise, as well, even if it does fall victim to a few of it's trappings. The rest of the League doesn't fare as well, as the female team-members have three lines total, with Gypsy not even getting to say "boo." Dale Gunn has a bigger role. Still, there's a few instances in the 23 pages of story here where one is forced to wonder if he being totally sincere with the reader, or that he is playing around. What do I mean?

Let me just say that any comic featuring the line "Send a Kill-Bot. We need the interloper alive." is either genius or madness. I leave it to you to decide.

Perfectly servicible comic which is only very loosely tied to "COIE," but that's okay since it would be indecipherable otherwise. Worthwhile if you like Steel, or the Heywood clan, otherwise it's safe to pass.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Everybody's Linking For The Weekend

Everyone's favorite comics nutjob, Dave Sim, has a new book coming out, sure to cause controversy and much gnashing of teeth.

Damian and rob! pull off a team-up of epic proportions!

Frank, in his retrospective about The Crisis, exposes my secret shame.

Adama's love of Rocket Red PROVES that he is a communist!

And finally, Rick knows that being an undead supernatural monster is no match for moist sponge cake and creamy filling.

What Looks Good?

What better way to start off the first weekend of the new year than by heading down to your favorite comic book shop and buying a few comics? I'm sure your retailer -- and the synapses in your brain -- will thank you!

All-New Atom #19 -- As Damian can attest, I really dig this series. So it is very unfortunate that I really can't afford it anymore. *sob*

Countdown to Mystery #4 -- See what I said for ANA and then add a dollar onto it. *sob*

Shark-Man #1 -- I don't know anything about this series or this character, but anyone named "Shark-Man" will get a look from me. I know this first came out back in 05, right? Or something?

Annihilation: Conquest #3 -- Last issue: Someone DIED! This issue? We'll have to read it to find out, in order to make blogging about it easier! Honestly, though, A:C has been strong so far, and I am very much interested in the next chapter.

Transformers: Beast Wars Sourcebook #3 -- Profiles profiles profiles! I'm very much looking forward to seeing the write-up for Sky Shadow, my favorite toy-only Predacon. Yes, I am a loser.

Patrick The Wolf Boy V.4 -- If you can find this, I heartily recommend the adventures of the semi-lupin Patrick. Think of it as a primer for the upcoming Tiny Titans.

So what looks good to YOU?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Characters I Like -- The Forever People

One thing that you can definitely say about the current state of comic book readers -- especially the ones who take the time to blog about it -- is that there certainly is a big heaping helping of Kirby Love out there. While most of Jack's creations were popular right out of the starting block, a good chunk of his later work is only really being fully appreciate now, nearly fourteen years after his death. One of those creations is my focus today, a quintent of adventurers from beyond the stars who didn't fit the normal heroic mold. They fought against injustice, yes, but they just as often preached peace and tolerance, and a greater understanding of just what lay around you. They were the Youth From Space, a perceived threat to the establishment for their age more than their origins, but who desired only the best for all. Unleashed upon the comic world in 1971, the Forever People were doomed to be the least popular stars of Kirby's "Fourth World" opus.

Along with The New Gods and Mister Miracle (plus the already established Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen), The Forever People told part of the saga of the New Gods, a powerful pantheon of alien beings involved in their own mythological struggles. Among this group, we had the "civilized savage" Orion, the wise Highfather, the cruel Desaad, the fun loving Scott Free and his tough-as-nails wife Big Barda, and of course the tyrannical Darkseid. But stranger than all of these were this group of five young Gods, come to Earth on their space-faring motorcycle, in order to find out what this "humanity" thing was all about, and spread their message of tolerance. Think about that for a moment. Was "The King" having a little too much of the Happy Smoke when he concocted this crew?

It all sounds very Hippie-like, admittedly, and that's probably one of the reasons why their title dropped off quickly, sales-wise, once the ball was rolling. But it's an unfair assesment. The Forever People aren't Hippies, they're a Kid Gang, just like the Newsboy Legion or the Boy Commandos before them -- a group of youths operating without direct adult supervision for adventure or what-have-you. They may have been a little older than the Newsboys, but the concept and motivation was the same. Kirby was always intrigued with youth throughout his creative days, and that is most evident to me in the Forever People.

Let's meet our cast, for those of you unfamiliar with them, as I was not too long ago. First off we have our handsome leading man, Mark Moonrider. He's not the most interesting guy you'll ever run into, but he's the closest thing we have to a "by the book" character in these pages. Moonrider can fire blasts of Kirby-energy from his hands, dubbed the Megaton Touch. His de-facto girlfriend is Beautiful Dreamer, who can create illusions and pull other psionic tricks. She's a real sweetheart, one of my favorite "Kirby Girls" in that she seems your typical waif (unlike Barda, who was a powerhouse), but holds her own with just about anything Darkseid throws at them. The brains of the outfit is Vykin, AKA Vykin the Black as he was initially called. The first major Black character in DC Comics, Vykin is well spoken and smart, and also sported magnetic powers as well as the team's Mother Box. (Really quickly, a Mother Box is a living, sentient supercomputer which acts as a sort of mentor and guide to various New Gods.) The muscle of the group comes from Big Bear, replete with his mane of wild hair. In the mold of Kirby's other strongmen like The Thing, Big Bear is not just a one dimensional lunkhead; in his massive frame lurks a joyful and boisterously poetic soul. Rounding out the crew is the youngest and most naive, Serifan, a big fan of Westerns who comes equipped with his mysterious Cosmic Cartridges, each with a different effect.

I'd be remiss not to mention Infinity-Man, the gestalt member of this group. Using the Mother Box, and by shouting the word "TAARU!" (alternately, "Tarru!" or "Taruu!"), the Forever People switch places with the immensely powerful Infinity-Man, older brother of Darkseid and a much more traditional cosmic hero. Infinity-Man has those sort of vaguely defined powers which work so well in the 60s and 70s but rarely fly today. He's the heavy hitter, called in when things are at their darkest and violence is the only resort.

And therein is what makes the Forever People so very interesting to me -- the exact thing which one would expect to turn me off to them. One of the strengths of the Fourth World saga is the sheer number of characters (let no one ever say that Jack Kirby didn't have a lot of ideas) involved in it. This allows both your heroic and villainous characters to come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of motivations and methodologies. Orion was harsh and brutal, while Lightray was free-wheeling and fun-loving; it's also important to remember that Darkseid was calculating and analytical, disinterested in Desaad's malicious and sadistic torture traps. The Forever People were a band of idealists, believing in the power of friends and reason. Their fight was just as much with their words as it was with their fists. This dichotomy makes these characters (as written by Kirby) stand out from a lot of other fare from the era. Kirby recoknized that the youth of the late 60s and early 70s thought they could be a positive influence on the world and make it a better place. But he also knew that words can only do so much, and that to affect change there must always be conflict. And so when the words and deeds of the Forever People are not enough to stop Darkseid's agents, they must call upon Infinity-Man, as even the most peaceful of goals inevitably must be hard fought; it seems that their motto must be "To secure peace is to prepare for war."

Powerful scenes abound in their initial series. Darkseid's agent Glorious Godfrey proclaiming from his pulpit the teachings of Anti-Life, wherein you may enforce your will upon everyone around you; Beautiful Dreamer casting an illusion for an untrusting older man, showing him that they are just kids, and not a threat; Serifan utilizing one of his cosmic cartiridges to demonstrate the depths of universe. This was an off-beat book in a series of off-beat books, a little left of center and all the better for it. It's not one dimensional like a lot of so-called "Hippie Lit" was at this point, raising drugs and music to deity-like levels, but neither is it a jackbooted, "love-it-or-leave-it" creed either. (I mentioned a while back that Moonrider saying that the Forever People could "wage war" freely on Earth was strangley militaristic comment for him, and I still hold by this.)

Wither the Forever People?  DEATH OF THE NEW GODS #4
Like all of the New Gods, the Forever People are currently involved in the Death of the New Gods story (which inevitably will tie-in to Final Crisis), and seem primed to be madeover for the new century. And why not? The concept of these mobilized, active peaceniks is just as relevant today as it was 35 years ago when they were made. Think about your resident angry young left-winger -- couldn't you make something superheroic out of that? I bet you could. And with any luck, maybe the powers that be at DC will realize what made the Forever People special, and not jettison that in the next year.

These are the Forever People, and they are characters I like.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

What I Read This Week

Iron Man #24 -- Fitted with a dampener device which prevents him from using his Extremis powers, and officially told by the CSA that his investigation in Omaha is finished, what is Tony Stark to do? The same thing as you or I -- fake an exotic vacation while smuggling in the classic Red-And-Gold armor in order to dig deeper. But the Mandarin does not approve of snooping from his Western enemy! A nice mix of action and machinations this time out, as about half the page count is devoted to a struggle between Iron Man, Captain Ultra, Doc Samson, and Mandarin's super-powered goon, and the other half fleshes out not only what Mandy is doing, but Tony's realization about how he is tied into all of this. The Knauf's continue to examine not only the poltical ramifications of Tony's position, but the pyschological effect it is starting to have on him -- and it doesn't look like things will be letting up for the Golden Avenger any time soon. Abd what can I say about Butch Guice, who continues to offer an off-beat but very raw and powerful rendition of Iron Man. Fans may be turned off to the character but should give this series a shot, because I can't imagine anyone not being impressed with this story. Also, the cover features a cute homage to two Shellhead creators on a t-shirt I am considering screening.

Flash #235 -- In the frontend, Wally West leads a trio of Justice Leaguers (Wonder Woman, GL John Stewart, and Black Lightning) to the home planet of the undersea invaders who have been plaguing Keystone City. But it seems that not all is as it seems for the Scarlet Speedster! The backup story features Wally and Impulse visiting the Flash planet, where Bart apparently saves the day and dooms tomorrow at the same time. Williams' art remains bright and interesting, with a sort of Kollins vibe to it, but Waid's work in the features is lacking. This is a filler piece, designed to push "The Wild Wests" to 6 parts. It's draggy and uninspired. The backup is better, with Rogers tapping into (ironically) Waid's work from the 90s in writing Impulse, and Braithwaite's lush pencils, which remind me in their style of Alex Ross. Mediocre issue all around.

Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash #3 -- The biggest horror crossover in the history of New Line Cinema rumbles towards the halfway point as Ash and Jason come into conflict, and then S-Mart becomes a slaughterhouse. Freddy gets what he wants, but how will this effect Mr.s Voorhees' baby boy? Suffers from being part of the middle act -- there's a good set piece in S-Mart, but we know the result of it because it's a predictable twist required for the story. More disappointing is the art -- I'm not sure if Jason Craig just did layouts and someone else finished, or what, but the art takes a noticeable downturn this time out, and looks all herky-jerky and with none of the smooth linework of the last two issues. The story is still involving for a horror fan, but the art was a major turn off for me. Bleah!

The Pick Of The Pile is an easy choice this week. Iron Man has been a very strong title since the end of Civil War and that does not change any here. Intrigue, mystery, action, and a bigger plot all combine to make a very enjoyable modern superhero comic book story.