Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Believe me... men have tried and died. The League is growing stronger every day, though, as other disgruntled @$$holes come out of the woodwork, ready to rant. Rumor has it that I’ve even been known to be an @$$hole from time to time myself, and there are a few comics on the reading stack that people sent me recently...
Anyway, here’s Cormorant to let you know what’s up this week:
Face front, True Believers, Cormorant here with what just might be the most offbeat review column of the year!!! I ain’t lyin’ like I was that time I promised, “This Column – Everybody Dies!”. Nosiree, any review column that covers the likes of THE POWERPUFF GIRLS, G.I. JOE, AZRAEL, and TIGRA has legitimate claims to weirdness, and in addition to these…let’s be charitable…“eclectic” reviews, we also have a new installment of the @$$hole Casting Couch featuring the Big Red Cheese himself, Captain Marvel!
Now that’s a sexy mix.
THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #28
Writers – Story 1: Jennifer Moore and Sean Corolan. Story 2: Ian Boothby
Art: Phil Moy
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
Yes, I’m reviewing the latest POWERPUFF GIRLS comic.
As I’m sure many of you know, THE POWERPUFF GIRLS is that cartoon that plays on Cartoon Network when JOHNNY BRAVO and DEXTER’S LAB aren’t on. It’s pretty entertaining stuff, combining old school Astro Boy-type anime with fifties GERALD MCBOING BOING expressionistic design, and with a pop art humor and sensibility that’s akin to REN & STIMPY without the fetishism. Visually it’s a like ice cream. The girls themselves are so cute (icons of cuteness) they cause insulin shock. And it’s all served up with enough irony to send camp-addicted homosexual men and girls with horn-rimmed glasses everywhere to the next level of nirvana.
That’s the cartoon. Unfortunately, the comic book (at least on the basis of THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #28) loses a bit of the charm for grown-ups.
But before we get into that, how about some synopsis?: The first story is almost completely without dialog, and deals with Princess Morbucks, the richest and most spoiled girl in Townsville. Princess Morbuck’s jealousy of the Girls is stoked throughout the story until she and the Girls have a fight and Princess winds up in jail. The End. In the second story, the Girls are trailed by an anthropologist who’s studying them. Having the anthropologist study them makes the girls too self-conscious to fight crime effectively, (flagrantly creating what’s referred to in social science as the Hawthorne Effect, whereby the object of study is affected by being studied; and where consequently the data is polluted. In other words, not only is the anthropologist a nuisance, she’s a bad scientist. (Sorry, I was a sociology major in college.)). By the end of the story, the Girls are able to ditch the anthropologist by giving her something new to study.
Since I imagine that much of the audience for POWERPUFF GIRLS would be drawn from the fans of the TV show, I think a comparison to the show is a good to approach this evaluation. That said, Phil Moy’s artwork looks just like cartoon, but when the images make the transition to the page, something is lost. The cartoon is partly a satire on other cartoons, other animation styles; however, as a static image, that satire doesn’t play. This is not simply a matter of the backgrounds not doing a VOLTRON-type blurry-flurry, but more a matter of pacing: the rhythm of the show doesn’t translate very well to the page.
Further, the writers don’t really seem to be shooting for the level of humor you find on the show. The situations essentially play at a single, surface level: Princess is a straightforward brat, an inverted Richie Rich, while the anthropologist is just a nice but annoying woman in khaki. Sure, Mojo Jojo still rephrases everything a million times like an evil Japanese villain, and the idea that the Girls are being studied by an anthropologist in the first place is a bit of an oblique approach, but overall, the camp/irony of the show seems left out.
So on it’s own terms, THE POWERPUFF GIRLS is a very light and simple comic with an exaggerated artistic style. In other words, it’s a comic for children.* If this is the level you tend to go for, by all means, check it out. Otherwise, give it to your friend to give to his daughter like I did, or skip it altogether.
*One caveat: Princess gets her face bashed in pretty good at one point. I don’t know if I’d want my 7 year old looking at that.
My Rating: I believe it was Gore Vidal who once said: “THE POWERPUFF GIRLS is more fun than a fistfight with Norman Mailer on the Dick Cavett Show. And Bubbles is my favorite!” But I’m afraid Vidal was talking about the cartoon, and I’m sure even he would agree that the comic is a just few notches above a coloring book with the colors filled in, or maybe even THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG.
BLACK PANTHER #41-45 – “Enemy of the State II”
Writer: Christopher Priest
Artist: Sal Velluto
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
I’ve been admiring BLACK PANTHER from afar for a few years now without ever having read an issue. I’d heard that it was intelligent, political, funny, and one of Marvel’s best-kept secrets. I also knew that I liked Christopher Priest’s writing on the one volume I’d picked up of his superhero buddy comic, QUANTUM & WOODY, and I still have fond memories of his 80’s FALCON miniseries for Marvel. Nevertheless, I found it hard to believe Black Panther was an interesting enough character to support an ongoing series, so over the course of the last year, I’ve picked up a handful of issues of BLACK PANTHER to sample the title at friends’ urgings. Having had mixed feelings about nearly every issue, I decided to make a point of closely following the current five-part story, “ENEMY OF THE STATE II”, to pin down my feelings on this book.
The story begins simply enough, with guest-star, Iron Man, being called to investigate the death of the head of a rap label that was also a CIA front. Seems this dead guy should have been untouchable for his connections, but a multi-national coalition of subversive intelligence agencies called XCon is shaking up the power structures of the CIA (among others), and might just be trying to stage an elaborate coup to take over the United States altogether. Iron Man, whom Priest has apparently established as a somewhat bitter rival with Black Panther in issues past (not sure I like that development) pursues these matters, as does the Panther himself, assisted by another guest-star, Wolverine.
By the second of the five issues, things start to get complicated. Insanely complicated. In fact, even the word “Byzantine” is an understatement. Brace yourself for elements as disparate as Black Panther’s nation, Wakanda, annexing an island in Lake Superior as part of his Machiavellian scheming, a mystery involving the magic idols known as King Solomon’s Frogs (no kiddin’), a bizarre subplot involving a second Black Panther who’s drawn in the Jack Kirby style (whereas the rest of the book has a Neal Adams feel), sidebar political debates between guest-star George Bush and ongoing supporting character Queen Divine Justice, and enough political and economic sparring between Black Panther and Iron Man to make your head spin. What I found most frustrating about the story is that there’s almost no use in trying to grasp how all these intricate scenarios and characters fit together – Priest seems as obsessive as writer Howard Chaykin gets at times at keeping readers distanced from what’s really going on, and every plot point gets turned on its ear as a ruse or a double-cross. Sometimes even a double-double-cross.
In the end, much of what has happened is revealed through long-winded exposition and flashbacks, most of which I found to be rather forced. You know how the “big reveal” at the end of THE SIXTH SENSE suddenly made everything slip into place so effortlessly and without the need to explain what had happened at length to the audience? Well, in “Enemy of the State II”, the “big reveal” occurs in the fourth of five issues, it is explained at great expository length , and even when it’s done you’re still left scratching your head. And then the final issue re-complicates matters. All told, I’d be hard-pressed to summarize just what the hell happened over the course of these five issues without drawing up a timeline. Apparently the book’s solid cult audience is happy with Priest’s love of non-linear storytelling and hyper-intricate plots, but I felt more than a little like this was a hubristic exercise for Priest to dazzle the audience with his intelligence rather than tell a dramatically satisfying story.
And speaking of hubris, what of the Panther himself? In the scattering of previous issues I’ve read, I’ve gathered that Priest’s take on the Black Panther is to play him not as a superhero, but as an unknowable-but-brilliant king -- arrogant, secretive and Machiavellian. The stories never focus solely on the Panther himself, lest he become less enigmatic, but always on how others perceive him and on how he manipulates them. Priest has even revealed that Panther’s membership in the Avengers was a ruse on his part to spy on them, the notion being that he felt they might be a threatening tool of the American government and a potential danger to his African kingdom of Wakanda. It’s a unique interpretation, I’ll give Priest that, but what disappoints me is that in elevating the Black Panther to a level of superiority not seen since Grant Morrison’s take on Batman in THE JUSTICE LEAGUE, he tends to diminish all others around him. Iron Man has always been one of Marvel’s more human, flawed characters – alcoholism and all – but Priest actually indicates that he gives tacit approval of the XCon shadow government that once toppled Wakanda’s government and may have designs on a coup in the U.S.(!):
Tony Stark: “I don’t like everything XCon does. I don’t much care for how they do it. But this is a new world, T’Challa. And you, more than anyone, should recognize the complexity of it.”
What the hell, man?! The once-heroic Tony Stark is shown to be willing to compromise his integrity for the sake of cowardly pragmatism? This is a level of deconstructionist realism that I don’t care for at all as applied to one of Marvel’s oldest superheroes. Naturally, the all-noble Panther’s not willing to compromise, and Priest even goes on to have him chastise Stark for being condescending, for never having considered him his equal, and for never extending real friendship to him (“You’ve been to Wakanda many times, but I have never once been invited to your home.”) In this, Priest may even be suggesting racism on Stark's part, but at the very least he’s making Stark out to be arrogant, weak, and a poor friend. Coupled with the sheer number of times Iron Man and other characters admit that they’ve underestimated the Panther or that he’s always one step ahead of everyone, I found his constantly hammered-home air of superiority to be very off-putting. On a certain level, I have to admire that Priest has found an original role for the previously underwritten Black Panther, but it’s not a role I care to follow on a monthly basis.
It can’t all be bad, though, right? No, it’s not, and maybe that’s why this book is so frustrating. Priest is bristling with wild and fascinating ideas for international intrigue that break the rules of standard superhero beat-‘em-ups, though I think I’d find his plots far more palatable in a more linear format. Likewise, Priest’s trademark humor can be hilarious at times, even laugh-out-loud, but what worked in the context of the sitcom-styled superhero comic, QUANTUM & WOODY, often seems wildly out of place in a comic as serious as BLACK PANTHER can be. Even Priest’s cool ideas about cutting-edge technology end up being undercut by his need to explain everything in detail. Check out Iron Man’s techie dialogue about his new stealth armor, for instance, and keep in mind that he’s blathering all this in mid-combat with the Black Panther:
“Reactive plasma discharge, T’Challa. This armor’s primary layer is treated to react to Vibranium, releasing a powerful plasma discharge – powerful enough to bring Thor to his knees. I realize your uniform’s Vibranium Microweave absorbs a great deal of blunt force – as well as breaking down the cohesion of light-based and EM-wavelength beams…”
Enough. That’s just bad writing -- a clumsy attempt to showcase both the Panther’s genius and Priest’s own cleverness with comic book pseudoscience. And it’s only one of many lengthy examples. I like techie stuff, but it needs to flow naturally. Considering Priest’s obvious desire to inject realism into this book, it’s truly bizarre to find such old-school expository dialogue. Some characters can even be seen talking to themselves as if they’d been plucked from a Silver Age comic book. Less explaining, more showing please.
Final judgment: I honestly wish I could say that this book is the winner its ardent fans claim it to be, but unfortunately, all of its winning qualities are bogged down in painfully convoluted plotting, exposition overload, an uneasy mixture of humor and seriousness, and diminished portrayals of well-known Marvel heroes for the sake of elevating the Panther. Priest has said that the book will take on a new direction as of issue #50 in response to the marketplace’s resistance to his particular style. I wish the book well, but I don’t think it can possibly change enough to draw me back in.
TALES OF TERROR: THE EC COMPANION
by Fred Von Bernewitz and Grant Geisman
Published by Fantagraphics Books/ Gemstone Publishing
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Last night, as I snored in my bed, I was awakened by two ungodly voices moaning, "Buuuuuzzz! Buuuuzzz Maaaveriiiiik!"
I pulled the pair of .45s from under my pillow and sat up. Two spectral forms glowed, hovering at the foot of my bed.
"If you're those things that butt-probed me before, I know you're not aliens, a'right? You're Sexually Perverted Transdimensional Beings From The Order Of Lam and I'm going to find some way to kick Crowley's dead ass for bringing you into our sphere of reality!"
"We are not here to butt-probe you, o man! We are departed spirits, returned from the pit of damnation to make amends for our past sins," the ghosts said.
I reached for my Camels. "No shit? That would explain the hellish glow. So who are you, or were you, and what do you want with me?"
"In life, we were Dr. Fredric Wertham and Senator Estes Kefauver. We persecuted the comic book industry with senate hearings in 1954. We were particularly unfair to William M. Gaines, publisher of EC Comics."
"Hey, honey, you want to get in on this?" I asked, elbowing my wife awake.
Candi sat up and squinted at the specters before dropping back on her pillow. "Are those the @$$hole J@ckoffs from AICN, or whatever you call yourselves? Never mind, I just wanna sleep."
The ghosts said, "We need you to come with us, Buzz Maverik."
“What the hell?" I said. "How can it hurt going off with two strangers from beyond the grave in the middle of the night?"
"Touch our robes."
"Kiss my ass."
Suddenly, I found myself and the two spooks in a darkened store. I recognized it as Phat Phantasies, the comic shop I patronize. We were the only ones there. Naturally, I started looting.
"Cease your lawless activities, Buzz Maverik."
"Are you nuts? This is the only way I'll ever be able to own those DC Archives and the FROM HELL tpb and the BIZZARO COMICS hardcover."
"We are only interested in one book..."
"No, fool! TALES OF TERROR! THE EC COMPANION. It offers a complete checklist of all the great EC comics, especially horror titles like TALES FROM THE CRYPT, and things like WEIRD SCIENCE. It also has a transcript of Bill Gaines testifying before our committee and it details the comics code."
I said, "I've never had the opportunity to read too many EC comics, though. I know they were ahead of their time and better than the other comics of their day. They influenced people like Stephen King and George Romero who paid homage to them in CREEPSHOW, and there was a TALES FROM THE CRYPT show on HBO that was cool."
The tormented spirits, who always spoke in unison said, "Clearly this book isn't for everyone. It is more for the hardcore EC fan, but it does have some interesting interviews with artists like Johnny Craig, whom WIZARD magazine listed as one of the ten most influential comic book artists of all time. You'd probably like to see more reproductions of the art and even some of the stories, wouldn't you, Buzz Maverik?"
"You bet your asses. So why are you guys showing me this?"
"We wronged Bill Gaines, EC Comics and the comic book industry. We're trying to get a reduced sentence in Hell. You can let people know about this book."
"I'd like to help you guys, but this book is just a little too inside for me to recommend. If it were a little more accessible, I could see fit to endorse it more highly."
"Just get it on AICN, that's all we ask."
"Will do. Now could you guys teleport me home?"
"Because those are cop cars pulling up outside."
Title: TIGRA #4
Writer: Christina Z
Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Being a medium geared towards testosterone-filled young men, comic books have not been the ideal place to look for well represented women characters. In the old days, most comic book women had a single role: the damsel in distress. They were tied to railroad tracks and forced to wait for their knight in shining spandex to swoop down and save them and that was about it when it came to character development. Recently, that role has shifted to cheesecake shots of female characters sticking their asses out, looking seductively over their shoulders at the reader, and sucking on a finger with “come hither” written across their eyeballs. Is it a wonder that the phrase, “I like to read comics.”, never works as a pick-up line in bars?
Sure there have been a few exceptions. Independent comics have done a lot to expand AND damage the role of women in comics. I wouldn’t say that well endowed uber-babes like Lady Death, Vampirella, or Bazooka Jules have done a lot to vanquish this narrow viewpoint, but for every T&A comic on the racks, there are well represented females tearing it up in stories like the early issues of KABUKI, DAWN, and GHOST WORLD (I know there are many more, but I’m mostly a Big Two collector, so sue me if I don’t know the state of today’s indie comics). What I’m trying to say is that, recently, there has been a surge of interesting mainstream comics being produced that center on females who are not your typical comic book fare. BIRDS OF PREY, ALIAS, CATWOMAN, and WONDER WOMAN all focus on well developed women characters who look at these fantastic situations from a female perspective. Another noble endeavor is the Marvel Icons mini series focusing on that Feline Femme Fatale, TIGRA. This mini-series is another worthwhile glimpse at a character who has faded into the shadows in recent years.
Tigra used to be an Avenger. She used to be married to a police man. She used to be happy. But all of that has changed. The story follows Tigra’s search for her husband’s killer and her investigation into the conspiracy he was involved in before he died. To uncover the truth, Tigra (AKA Greer Grant Nelson) must infiltrate a secret organization of vigilante cops known as the Brethren of the Blue Fist.
My only complaint with this series is that because Tigra has been out of the loop for a few years since her stint as a West Coast Avenger, I was in the dark about her history and powers. But after re-reading the series and doing a little research on the character, I don’t think an origin re-cap was really necessary. All we need to know is that she’s a feisty werewoman. Other than that fantastic fact, her story is set in the real world and tales of Cat People Cults would be stretching the boundaries set in this world of crime and intrigue.
Just because I ranted about women in comics at the top of this review doesn’t mean that this is a revolutionary story when it comes to the women’s role. It’s not. There is no part where we see Tigra beating her chest screaming “I am woman!” This is a typical story centering around a character in search of herself and direction in her life. It just so happens that the main character is a woman. The fact that it is unremarkable that the main character is female makes it remarkable. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that TIGRA was written by a female writer.
I haven’t read anything from Christina Z before, but I plan to look for her work in the future. This is not some guy trying to understand the story from a female perspective. This is a talented female writer who has a good eye for action and intrigue. The book has enough touching moments to show the heart inside that furry little body of Tigra’s and lets loose with the action to show the intensity behind those claws. What I most liked about the final issue of this series is that the book focused on Greer Grant Nelson and not Tigra. Greer’s furry alter ego has very little screen time in this issue and that takes a lot of talent to pull off. Christina Z makes us care about Tigra whether she’s furry or not.
The real star of this mini-series is Mike Deodato Jr. This is absolutely the best art I have ever seen him produce. It makes his past work on AVENGERS and WONDER WOMAN look like refrigerator sketches. Deotato’s pencils and inks this series and makes this world dark, dark, dark. Reminiscent of Colan’s TOMB OF DRACULA work, Deodato fills the page with so much black that you wonder how you are following the action on the page, but you are. A lesser artist would resort to cheap “ass in the air” poses and given Tigra’s choice of a thong bikini as a costume, who would blame him? But Deodato doesn’t do this. Tigra looks sexy and mysterious without resorting to cheap centerfold poses. She flips around from panel to panel like a cat and is in shadow most of the time. To top it all off, Deodato also draws a kick ass Captain America, who shows up at the beginning and end of the series.
I would recommend this comic on its art alone, but the added bonus is that it is a well crafted tale written with respect for the female character. If mainstream comics keep producing this type of quality material centering on female characters, the myth that comics are just for guys might disappear. And who wouldn’t like a few more women hanging around the comics shops. I know I wouldn’t mind.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev
Published by Marvel Comics
A Jon Quixote review with spoilers. Sort of.
I wasn’t going to review DD this month. I expressed my disappointment with Bendis’s uninspired rehash of a still-warm story with my review of Daredevil #33. As this month would just continue that same lukewarm storyline, I didn’t think that this issue would elicit a feeling strong enough – either good or bad – to warrant a review.
I was wrong.
In Canada, Daredevil costs five dollars. For my five bucks, I expect…well, something. Something between the pages to make me glad I read it. But with issue #34, I don’t just feel like Bendis picked my pocket, I feel like he gave me a vigorous molestation while his hand was down there. This comic took me just four minutes to read, cover to cover. That’s 75 bucks an hour to read Daredevil. The experience breaks down roughly like this:
Thirty seconds, to determine the Wilford Brimley looking guy was supposed to be artist Maleev’s take on J. Jonah Jameson.
Another fifteen seconds wondering whether Maleev drew the issue with his foot, or with a pen clutched in his fist.
Ten seconds to be reminded that Bendis writes a good Peter Parker. Another five seconds noting that Spider-Man wears the same sunglasses that I do. Ray-Bans. Good choice.
Forty seconds for J. Jonah Jameson to discover that both Peter Parker and Ben Urich know Daredevil’s secret identity, but, other than saying it’s not Matt Murdock, refuse to tell him who. Jameson asks this question twice.
What JJJ doesn’t ask is how a beat reporter and a young photographer from Queens are privy to this information, where and when they learned it, or why they know. Since Jameson, for all his faults, has been established over the past 30 years as a proficient and experienced journalist in his own right, I took another thirty seconds to marvel at the atrocious mishandling of this character, by a writer who many consider to be the best in the business. Here, Jameson is short-tempered and incompetent. This conversation is pointless, other than to show that Murdock has friends who care.
Sixty seconds. Foggy argues with Matt. Ten pages of talking heads over splash pages, most of which are inked so heavily that they barely warrant cursory examination; it’s mostly Daredevil jumping over buildings. It’s not horrible, but dark and not much to look at, which is unfortunate, because the conversation is your basic “don’t be a hero” lecture. It does illustrate that Murdock has a friend who cares, which is important, because I had no idea.
Then, the book closes with two more pages of Daredevil jumping over buildings. That took about twenty more seconds to read, mostly because I was wondering just how stupid Bendis’s Daredevil must be to go swinging over the media mob swarming Murdock’s building. Yeah, yeah, he doesn’t care anymore. I get it. It’s still stupid.
The remaining thirty seconds were spent counting the pages to make sure I got the full twenty-two. They were all there.
I like Bendis, but I’m at the point where I can’t wait for him to leave the title. However, I get the impression that he’s going to outlast me. With this sort of pacing – where each issue contains copious amounts of nothing – this story alone is probably going to wrap up around the time Daredevil: the Movie hits DVD.
And for those who will rush madly to defend their favorite writer with unbridled enthusiasm, I have a question. Read the issue. Write down everything that actually happens. Since this is a dialogue-heavy, character-driven issue, write down every memorable line of dialogue, and every developmental step a character takes. Now, answer me this:
Two conversations. Zero plot advancement. Lots of splash pages. So how long do you think Bendis spent writing this issue?
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Title: AZRAEL #91
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Artist: Sergio Cariello
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
I have gazed into the eyes of the beast and yet I still live to tell the tale. Of course, I am talking about my recent purchase of a comic book that I have avoided like the plague for many, many issues. I’m talking about AZRAEL. But fear not, readers. I know the mere mention of this character evokes an involuntary neck spasm to most fans of good comic books everywhere, but don’t run. Old Uncle Ambush Bug is here for you. Sit tight. I’m reviewing this for your own good.
I picked up this issue for numerous reasons. I am a completist and AZRAEL #91 is part of the “Bruce Wayne: Fugitive” mega-crossover. Since BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #30 ended with Batman throttling Azrael like so many Homer and Bart moments from the SIMPSONS, I was wondering how it was going to end. I was also curious because I had collected AZRAEL up until about the 50th or 60th issue and was actually surprised to see that the comic was still being published, but since AZRAEL is Denny O’Neil’s baby and he almost single-handedly made Batman interesting through the 70’s and early 80’s, I guess he can do whatever the hell he wants to do at DC, even if that means writing a character that no one really cares about. Finally, I am a glutton for punishment and wanted to see if the comic was as bad as it was when I left it years ago.
To catch people up to speed, Azrael was the replacement Batman when Bruce Wayne was on the mend from a broken back in the “Knightfall” storyline. He went a little nuts towards the end of that arc, but Batman felt sorry for him and allowed him to play Azrael in his city. Batman has dubbed Azrael as his super special secret agent for a while now, which means he is kind of humoring him, keeping him busy, and all the while keeping tabs on him by sending Az on different super special secret missions. In recent issues, Azrael has gone nuttier than squirrel squat due to a blood imbalance. He now talks with an imaginary St. Dumas, a saint that was so super special that he had an Order of followers built after him, and decides that since Bruce Wayne has sullied the Mantle of the Bat by murdering Vesper Fairchild, he is the only one worthy of wearing the cape and cowl.
I’m going to start out this review with some good things to say about Azrael #91. Okay…well…uhmmm…the staples were in the right place and the comic was neatly folded.
Azrael is one of those unneeded spin off characters that we saw so much of in the nineties. Like Catwoman, Elektra, and Venom, Azrael is best used as a protagonist for the hero and shouldn’t be in a series of his/her own. Usually, the only time these characters are interesting is when they are dealing with Batman, Daredevil, and Spider-Man. It’s the conflict that makes them cool. Without that conflict, the lack of potential for these characters becomes apparent. Sure, in the hands of a good writer, these characters could be interesting, but seeing them every month takes away what made them special in the first place, that is, their interactions and conflicts with the main character. Bullseye is the perfect example. There’s never been a Bullseye series, but he’s a pretty damn cool character. Why? Because it is special every time he shows up in Daredevil and we are not oversaturated by unneeded appearances. Basically, Azrael was a cool character design by Joe Quesada that made a few memorable contributions to the Batman mythos, but has since lost whatever steam it ever had.
The reason I quit reading Azrael in the first place is because I thought the character had been stagnant for a very long time. There was this whole Hulk-thing going on where Azrael and his alter ego, Jean Paul Valley, were separate beings and the trigger was the Azrael costume, but this concept was shattered when Azrael changed costumes about six times throughout the series. So I guess the separation between the two identities is all in his head, which is a decent concept, but because Azrael struggled with this dual identity for about sixty or so issues, the idea quickly became wrung out and stale. A typical Azrael issue: Az fights someone and loses. Az struggles with his loss and blames it on the fact that he has a dual identity. Az decides to throw in the towel. Az has to face earlier foe sans costume. Az wins and feels good that he won sans costume. Everyone sits and drinks punch, waiting for next disaster. So it’s not the best storyline in the world, but at least it has a logical evolution of the character. The problem is that after that story, there’d be another story following the exact same plot around the corner.
AZRAEL #91 keeps the tradition going as Azrael has a conflict between his sane self and the loo-loo-koo-koo version I talked about above. By now, Denny O’Neil has perfected this type of story, so it runs smooth enough. Denny obviously knows the Batman characters and adds a few interesting twists to the “Bruce Wayne: Fugitive” storyline. He even shows a little conflict in the Batman character, who is fighting the notion of taking this mad dog down for good. Once again, Batman is interesting, not Azrael, which is not good since this is his book.
There are some laughably lame sections of this book that I have to point out. One panel has Azrael hauling two crates plainly marked EXPLOSIVES out of a construction site. The next panel has a cop stating the obvious, “Crate fulla explosives”. So lame, so bad. The issue also succumbs to the “This is my comic so I have to be more powerful than my guest stars and surprise them” syndrome. Yes, Azrael single handedly takes out Nightwing and Robin and fights Batman to a standstill even though we all know Oracle could probably take Az out in a pinch as long as it wasn’t in his own title. Finally, there is a continuity blunder towards the end of the issue, where Azrael sets a bomb up to fake his own death (ugh). Az says there are fifty-eight minutes on the timer. Three minutes go by, which is indicated in caption, and then the bomb goes off for the cliffhanger ending. Sorry for the spoiler, but you guys ain’t going to read the damn thing anyway.
Art-wise, Cariello does an okay job. His pencils are kind of cartoony, which doesn’t fit the tone of the issue. One can tell that the artist has practiced a lot on his Batman renderings because they are the best of the bunch. Which is another bad thing, since this is an Azrael comic. I can tell that O’Neil has some decent action going on in the script of this book and Cariello tries his damnedest to capture it all, but the results are mixed. Some of the panels seem crowded and the action is either awkwardly placed or hard to understand.
I can’t recommend this issue, but you already knew that, didn’t you? Denny O’Neil is not a bad writer. The story was slightly entertaining in a “Final Season of THE X-FILES” sort of way. Az has just been played out for waaay too long, but this Energizer Bunny of a comic still keeps on chugging. You’ve got to respect that on some sick and sad level.
There are those who would curse me for being so harsh and mock me for purchasing this book, even though I have loathed it for so long. To those posters, I have this to say: Someone has to tell you what’s bad out there. Someone has to buy these books and let the rest of the world know that they should stay away from them. I have recognized this challenge and accepted it. It is my duty as an @$$hole, as a comic book collector, and as a human being to inform those who read this column of the difference between what is good and what is good’s sick, evil twin. I hope you all appreciate what I have done. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to wash out my eyes with bleach and floss my brains now.
David Goyer & Geoff Johns – Writers
Leonard Kirk – Penciler
Keith Champagne – Inker
Back-Up Story Art: Snejbjerg (One name, and that’s not misspelled.)
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
In our last episode of Village Idiot Reviews JSA, our hero Village Idiot gave extensive commentary on how JSA managed to convey the scope of a company-wide crossover in a single title’s story arc, how Johns and Goyer manages to use comic convention and marry it to DCU history in a rich reading experience, and how “In JSA #36, Captain Marvel has his feet held to the fire in a manner that is perhaps not as realized as it might have been, but powerful enough. We’ll have to see how it turns out next month.” (Our hero also misnumbered the issue once in the review.)
And now we come to JSA #37. The sense of scope is a little smaller, the sense of character history is still there, but Captain Marvel does NOT get his feet held to the fire at all. I had actually expected more climax and more development along the lines of the conclusion of the previous issue, especially on the “Captain Marvel having to kill somebody” front. Instead, a healthy portion of the issue was focused on another character’s “development” in a manner that I felt played false, even though it fell in accordance with the signposted trajectory of the storyline.
JSA #37 is the last installment of the “Stealing Thunder” story arc. Supervillain/gorilla aficionado Ultra-Humanite took over classic JSAer Johnny Thunder and his genie Thunderbolt, and then took over the world. Six months later, a newly formed JSA resistance battles back against Humanite and his army of mind-controlled powerhouse superheroes (Superman, Captain Atom, Wonder Woman, et al.). Through luck, pluck and virtue, the JSA is able to free the superhero zombies only to be assailed by a seemingly endless supply of Really Big Angry Albino Gorillas. By the end of the previous issue, JSA #36, Captain Marvel discovers that he must kill the possessed Johnny Thunder in order to stop the mayhem. With much mental agony, Marvel hurls a lightning-charged metal spike through Thunder. (Lightning? Thunder? Ah the connections.)
In JSA #37, we learn that the spike did the trick, and the fight is all over. No longer in Ultra-Humanite’s possession, Johnny Thunder reverts back to an old man, albeit with enough juice for a prolonged, tearful death scene with Jakeem Thunder, the new wielder of the genie Thunderbolt. Meanwhile, Sand pops in on the Brain In The Jar that is Ultra-Humanite’s real form. The villain/de facto JSA member Icicle shows up to put Humanite down for good, and he and Sand scuffle. Any more info than that would give away the surprises in the book, and frankly, I like you too much to do that to you.
But wait, don’t call yet, there’s more: There’s also a backup story featuring the new Crimson Avenger, a spooky supernatural character who is driven to avenge stuff. (Hold on, didn’t that used to be The Spectre’s gig?)
Now it seems that I lay alms at the altar of Geoff Johns every week with this column, but this time around, I was a little disappointed. I had thought that the end of #36 was the beginning of the climax, but no, that was the climax; so either there was a flaw in the pacing somewhere, or I simply missed the rhythm. More distressing is the fact that Captain Marvel essentially kills Johnny Thunder in JSA #36, crying about it as he does it, but instead of exploring that anguish in #37, Johns and Goyer chose to focus on Jakeem’s anguish over Johnny Thunder death. This is the core of the story, and I believe that this intended to be a capper on Jakeem’s character development from a selfish, self-centered kid to more responsible, caring adult. (This was a note hit by the storyline in previous issues as well, as Jakeem assumed an increasingly active role in the new makeshift JSA.) However, so much emphasis was placed on Jakeem’s grief that it seemed awkward and forced. After all, Johnny Thunder was a man he didn’t really even know, and yet the scene tried to play with all the emotion of the death scene in CAMILLE. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel merely looks on, along with the other mournful superheroes.
I felt the interaction between Icicle and Sand played much better. Icicle is a hero by circumstance: he saved Sand from Ultra-Humanite’s suspended animation, and then went on to fight the Humanite alongside the JSA because a Humanite-led world wasn’t too cheery for the villains either. But of course, there’s always a hope for redemption when it comes to these guys, both on the part of the heroes and us, the readers. Is Icicle redeemed by the experience? Maybe, maybe not. Johns and Goyer took a hard line with this aspect of the story, and I liked it.
As for the Crimson Avenging Back-Up Story, the premise of a female superhero cursed to experience unjust deaths, and then compelled to avenge them with her magical trigger-less Colt pistols was interesting enough to have me curious to see what happens next. There’s also a nice sense of legacy involved, an element that seems part and parcel of JSA, making it an appropriate back-up tale. This story was just a taste, and I think it will give Johns and Goyer some darker grist to work with than the more cheery JSA.
And now for the Doctorwho2 Memorial Artwork Discussion Paragraph: Leonard Kirk’s art is fine. Nothing spectacular; the art didn’t stand out as a striking value in one direction or the other. The pictures reminded me a bit of Jerry Ordway; a bit like traced photographs with thinly-lined comic embellishments. I think I may prefer work that looks a little more finished along a traditional comic art style. But overall, it was fine. Meanwhile, Snejbjerg’s art in the back-up reminded me a bit more of Rick Burchett’s work on Batman: heavily lined, heavily shaded, very noir, very suitable.
Overall, “Stealing Thunder” was a very enjoyable story arc mainly for the action and the gee whiz elements, and a bit less for the attempts at character development. In the end, I feel Johns and Goyer cashed in the wrong chips, not enough to ruin the story, but enough to end it with nagging dissatisfaction.
My Rating: If you’ve come this far with JSA, my God, don’t stop now. On the other hand, if you’re looking to jump on, perhaps you’d better wait for the next issue.
G.I. JOE Vol. 2 TPB
Writer: Larry Hama (except for one story, but you can safely ignore that one anyway)
Artist: Mike Vosburg (except for that same story – just don’t worry about it)
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Cormorant
At my local comic shop, I notice that there’s still a strong following for Image Comics’ well-intentioned but ultimately lame G.I. JOE relaunch, and yet the trade paperbacks reprinting Marvel’s original JOE comics barely sell. That, my friends, is a damn shame. It’s a case of nostalgia outselling quality, and folks just don’t know what they’re missing. I think there’s a perception that the old series is too “kiddie”, whereas the new series, being aimed at the adult nostalgia market, is thought to have re-envisioned the series for adults. Whatta load of crap. Relatively speaking, the old series is far, far more sophisticated on just about every level. Let’s take a look at a few stories and see why a guy like me, who several weeks ago went apeshit for a comic based on an opera, is not embarrassed to recommend these tales of military adventure.
The trade opens with “The Pipeline Ploy,” a tightly-plotted game of cat-and-mouse between the Joes and agents of the terrorist organization, Cobra, staged imaginatively along the Alaskan oil pipeline. Screenwriter William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) has often advised storytellers to begin scenes as late as possible into the action to avoid wasted screen time, and G.I JOE writer Larry Hama exemplifies that notion with an opening that hits the ground running: A G.I. Joe helicopter filled with infantry reinforcements is setting down amidst a snowy landscape pockmarked with blasted tanks and craters where Joe troops and Cobra troops have reached a stalemate. As the replacements are briefed on the situation, we learn that the Joes have spent the last week investigating reports of Cobra activity along the pipeline. The shit hit the fan when the Joes ambushed a column of Cobra tanks, and the resulting firefight is what necessitated the need for back-up. The remaining Cobra tanks turn tail, mistaking the Joe helicopter for a tank-killer gunship, and a squad of Cobra infantry stays behind to keep the Joe infantry suppressed. What follows is a series of kick-ass skirmishes that leapfrog along fifty miles of pipeline as the Joes try to gain the upper hand in what appears to be a Cobra plot to introduce a plague toxin into the pipeline (but may in fact be a ruse to hide something even more sinister). The reason I mention the plot in detail is to dispel the myth that these stories were as ridiculous as the better-known G.I. JOE cartoon, which featured such unlikely schemes as Cobra blackmailing the world – yes, the whole mutha-lovin’ world -- with a device that could control the weather. Hama doesn’t deal with that bull. His writing is closer to Tom Clancy’s sensibilities, albeit filtered through a world of larger-than-life good guys and bad guys that wouldn’t be out of place in a S.H.I.E.L.D. comic.
The second story is even better, and not just because it features the return of the memorable Eskimo mercenary, Kwinn, last seen in G.I. JOE #2. This time around, the setting is the fictional South American republic of Sierra Gordo, a jungle-swept country on the verge of revolution. After an opening car chase in San Francisco (which, as we know, is the place to get involved in car chases), the Joes uncover evidence that Cobra may be smuggling MX missile guidance chips out of the U.S. among video game chips bound for South America. The trail leads to Sierra Gordo where they run headlong into the schemes of the wonderfully sleazy Cobra scientist, Dr. Venom. Laugh at the name if you must, but this scumbag’s a keeper. Like Alan Rickman’s charismatic Hans Gruber in DIE HARD, he’s an intelligent schemer you can almost root for, but when he gets his just deserts, it feels goooood.
The setting also affords Hama another opportunity to incorporate the realism that always, always keeps the sillier stuff from getting out of control. Take, for instance, the scene in which the Joes’ team leader, Stalker, gets a nasty bite wound from a crocodile in the jungle. He collapses from his injuries, awakens to find they’ve built a fire to keep him from going into shock and cook the now-dead croc, and then in a truly hardboiled moment, he chews their sorry butts out. The fire, he’s certain, has given away their position, and what’s more, “River mud would’ve kept me just as warm and raw meat goes down just as easy to a hungry man!” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Snake-Eyes became the fan-favorite for the book because he was enigmatic and looked so damn cool, but Stalker is the superior character in my mind, exemplifying the discipline and smarts of the ideal soldier. When next we see him, he and the other Joes have turned the clearing around the doused fire into a defensible position, complete with a long trench and traps staged in the surrounding jungle (think PREDATOR). Hama loved to incorporate real military tactics, as Stalker’s overview of their defenses reveals:
“This zig-zag trench will afford us maximum fields of fire for minimum expenditure of labor. More heat for less sweat. We’ll set all the paths with Malayan tiger gates and trail maces. Beaucoup nasty. And these punji stakes will go in hidden pits behind every tree that could give cover to an assault force.”
Now how cool is that? In the cartoon, the Joes were running around like dorks firing laser guns that never hit anyone. In the comic, they’re impaling mercenaries with fucking spikes. You tell me which one is cooler. And the great thing is, Hama rarely makes the Joes out to be cool with easy take-downs of villains or cheesy Schwarzeneggerian tag lines. These guys work for their victories in the comic. Whether its Snake-Eyes, Kwinn and Dr. Venom making an unlikely and protracted escape from Sierra Gordo aboard a stolen World War II bomber, fan favorite villain Destro driving troops almost to death to save his femme fatale, The Baroness, or a Coney Island manhunt to nab a vital Cobra courier named Scar-Face, these action heroes gotta sweat.
Of course, Hama does give the Joes some cool lines too, but more often than not, the lines are cool because they’re tough-as-nails, not a trite “Stick around!” gag. When the Joe field commander, Hawk, calls their fighter pilot for some air support in taking down a Cobra factory, he explains the situation thusly: “I want you to make it hotter, Ace. Paste that factory for me. Make it go away.”
Hell. Yeah. Man.
Now, I won’t jerk you around into thinking these comics all read like four-color versions of movies like BLACK HAWK DOWN or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Hama’s scenarios can be surprisingly realistic, but this is still a larger-than-life comic, it still features dialogue simple enough that it wouldn’t scare off the ten-year-olds buying the toys in the 80’s, and sometimes, a character like the nutso Cajun Marine, Gung-Ho, will just wade into a trio of Cobra troops and take all three out with one mighty swing of his rifle. But the series is still smarter than it ever had a right to be. It’s also got memorable villains like Destro, the almost noble arms dealer, a surprisingly moving friendship between the mute Snake-Eyes and the mercenary-turned-ally, Kwinn, and action scenes staged with a canniness to rival Hollywood’s 80’s actioneers like DIE HARD, PREDATOR, and ALIENS. The art may be too straightforward for some folks’ tastes, but penciler Mike Vosburg is a helluva storyteller and that’s what really counts in my book. I’d take his clean-line art in an instant over the detailed-but-muddled art of the relaunched series.
Final Judgment: G.I. JOE is honestly good enough to buy without being ashamed. Hama’s stories are the equal of Hollywood’s smarter action films. He effortlessly juggles multiple plot lines, always keeps the momentum strong, and crafts simple-but-memorable characters to keep you coming back for more. It helps if you read G.I. JOE Vol. 1 first, but this is the volume where things really get good, and you won’t be lost if you just dive right in. Put away your spandex comics and your slice-of-life indies and let the old-school G.I. JOE put some damn hair on your chest.
GOTHAM KNIGHTS #30/AZRAEL: AGENT OF THE BAT #91
Writers – Devin Grayson/Dennis O’Neil
Pencilers – Roger Robinson/Sergio Cariello
Inkers – John Floyd/James Pascoe
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
It was the best of crossovers, it was the worst of crossovers.
Two installments of the “Bruce Wayne: Fugitive” storyline hit the street last week, and together the two issues make a single story. But really, the two issues are so dissimilar in so many important respects that they seem to constitute two distinct Batman stories: two Batmans if you will. So for the sake of reasoned inquiry, I’ve decided to compare and list the similarities and differences between these two Batmans in one handy review. I give you now, A Tale of Two Batmans:
GOTHAM KNIGHTS: Written by modern writer Devin Grayson.
AZRAEL: Written by legendary writer Denny O’Neil.
GOTHAM KNIGHTS: Not so bad.
AZRAEL: Not so hot. In fact, that’s being a little generous. It wasn’t very good.
GOTHAM KNIGHTS: Tells the story of Azrael going off his nut and rampaging in Gotham City and the Batcave like he did in Knightfall, complete with the old Azraelicious Batman costume.
AZRAEL: Tells the story of Batman going to confront Azrael at his castle and take him down.
GOTHAM KNIGHTS: The dialog is fairly reasonable.
AZRAEL: The dialog is often ludicrous. Robin to Batman: “If you ask me, he’s less of a problem than you are! Or did you conveniently forget that you’re wanted for murder?” [Cringe] Batman to Azrael: “You’ve been what you’ve always been – treacherous!” [Groan]
GOTHAM KNIGHTS: Batman fights Azrael in the batcave in a battle that’s pretty gripping.
AZRAEL: Batman fights Azrael in Azrael’s castle in a battle that’s, well, they never really get around to fighting. Batman does call Azrael treacherous though (see above).
GOTHAM KNIGHTS: Seems consistent with where the “Fugitive” storyline is now. (But wouldn’t you have thought they would have brought Azrael into things sooner? After all, he is the “Agent of the Bat.”)
AZRAEL: Either O’Neil didn’t get the memo about Batman coming to terms with the whole being Bruce Wayne thing in BATMAN #603, or these issues are out of order and were intended to have been out earlier in story arc. To have Batman remark that he’s “not Bruce” TWICE in this issue, after reaching the breakthrough realization that he IS Bruce a couple of weeks ago is pretty lame.
GOTHAM KNIGHTS: The art is good. Robinson’s work is very vivid, very sharp, with nice expressionistic touches here and there. The last full page shot of Batman savagely clutching Azrael’s throat is a great piece of comic art.
AZRAEL: The art is a little (and I do mean little) cartoonier. Not bad, but a little gaudy and not as cool as Robinson’s. This might have been because it was colored with happier colors, a move that seemed discordant with not just the previous issue, but the overall story.
GOTHAM KNIGHTS: The story ends dramatically with Batman savagely clutching Azrael’s throat.
AZRAEL: The story ends goofily with big rocks about to fall on Batman.
My Rating: I’d recommend GOTHAM KNIGHTS #30 no problem. But if you get one, you pretty much have to get the other. It’s like sitting though half a movie. I guess it all depends on your tolerance for bad dialog and goofy plotting; maybe this review will help by letting you know what you’re in for. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think Azrael is the killer.
Bug here, with the second edition of the @$$hole Casting Couch. Last time, we cast Marvel’s first family of heroes, The Fantastic Four. This week we are casting the first family of Marvels. The Power of SHAZAM is on this week’s Couch. So step right up and name your picks for Fawcett City’s most powerful protectors and most reviled villains. There’s no rumor for a SHAZAM film to hit the big screen anytime soon, but let’s let those WB studio execs know who we think is perfect for each role.
I think this is a perfect film for director Brad Bird (IRON GIANT). Captain Marvel has always been the hero with the heart of a child. Bird has proven himself to be a creator of wondrous worlds seen through the eyes of children. I see this film as a super hero version of HARRY POTTER, where a world of mythic fantasy is revealed to a trio of youngsters. The film shouldn’t take itself too seriously -- that’s not what SHAZAM is all about – but should avoid 1960’s-style BATMAN campy-ness.
Billy Zane (TITANIC) has the acting chops to pull off the title role that requires equal parts heroism and cheese. If he bulks up again like he did for THE PHANTOM, he’d be perfect as Captain Marvel.
I’d cast Billy Batson younger than Mary Marvel and Marvel Jr. to add a little conflict between the three characters. His extraordinary performance as the Quiz Kid in MAGNOLIA tells me that Jeremy Blackman would do a great job.
Mary Marvel: Sure, she played a coked out junkie in TRAFFIC, but young Erika Christensen would be pretty good, clean, and wholesome as the mini-skirted super heroine that stole Cormorant’s heart.
Captain Marvel Jr.: Justin Long (JEEPERS CREEPERS, TV’s ED) would do a decent job as the gimp who whines his way into getting a portion of the power of SHAZAM.
Richard Harris (GLADIATOR) would add a little class to the film as the Wizard who bestows his ancient power onto the kids.
Dr. Sivana: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that BLUE VELVET’s Dennis Hopper would steal the show as the cranky mad scientist with a chrome dome.
The voice of Mr. Mind: Call me kooky, but wouldn’t it be cool as hell to hear Marlon Brando’s voice coming from a mind controlling worm from outer space? Thought so.
Black Adam: Captain Marvel’s arrogant arch-nemesis, Teth-Adam, should be played by Arnold Vosloo (THE MUMMY) who already knows a thing or two about Egyptian stuff.
This week’s super special guest caster is Buzz Maverik, who used to Wisdom of Solomon to pick these fine choices.
Denzel Washington (TRAINING DAY) as Captain Marvel
The SMART GUY kid as Billy Batson (he's bound to be a teenager by now).
Bill Murray (GHOSTBUSTERS) as Uncle Marvel
Sarah Polley (GO) as Mary Marvel (which should horrify her little indie-film ass)
Robin Williams (INSOMNIA) as Dr. Sivana
John Lithgow (3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN) as the voice of Mr. Mind
As always, I invite you all to agree, disagree, tear us a new one, or put together your own cast. I’m sure every @$$hole in the Talkbacks has an opinion or two. What are they?