JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER DVD
Directed by: Dave Bullock Written by: Stan Berkowitz and Darwyn Cooke Release by: Warner Bros. Reviewed by: superheroLet's face it. For years Warner Bros. animation has been the pinnacle studio for super-hero animation. From “Batman: The Animated Series” to “Justice League: Unlimited” the Warner Bros. Studios as well as producer Bruce Timm have taken the DC Universe to heights that few comic fans ever dreamed television animation could ever reach. Sure there have been some missteps along the way, such as BRAINIAC ATTACKS and BATMAN: MYSTERY OF THE BATWOMAN, but for the most part almost every animated project based on the DCU that Timm and Co. have produced has been stellar.
Of course, last year gave us the straight to DVD movie THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN which many thought was sub-par compared to previous efforts. I, for one, really enjoyed it. Of course I personally thought that the original DEATH OF SUPERMAN storyline from the comic books was one of the dumbest and most convoluted messes that ever graced the pages of comicdom. So I was more than pleasantly surprised at the pared down animated version. I thought it captured the spirit of THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN comics and maintained a discipline in the storytelling that was obviously lacking in the original printed story. While it wasn't the best of the straight to DVD projects (That still goes to BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER…which you can see my review of here) it was a fun and somewhat gripping superhero adventure with some neat character moments. Better than the comics in many ways with some original twists that provided for some great entertainment value.
Which brings me to JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER. THE NEW FRONTIER is latest in Warner Bros. Animation's attempts to adapt a modern classic comic book storyline for the small screen. Does it live up to the source material? Is it better than the book it was based on? Is this the new holy grail of comic book animation?
Well, the answers to those questions would be: Hell yes. What are you, high? Ummm…not really but almost.
Let me go back for a second to the actual series THE NEW FRONTIER by comics mastermind Darwyn Cooke. When the THE NEW FRONTIER came out in the shops I was both excited and skeptical at the same time. I'm a big fan of Cooke's artwork but FRONTIER had a lot of hype surrounding it as well as a pretty inflated price tag for each issue. I wanted to buy the series but the way things have been going in today's comic marketplace I decided that I'd probably just wait for a trade collection or a hardcover edition. When the book came out, though, I couldn't resist the promise of Cooke's glorious artwork. I caved immediately, bought the first issue, and ended up being…somewhat disappointed. Not with the artwork. Cooke's work was as stunning as ever. But I thought the writing left a little to be desired. Specifically it was the sequence where Hal Jordan is portrayed as a pacifist jet fighter pilot who's never fired a gun on an opponent during wartime. That bit just seemed over-the-top silly to me and took me right out of the story. I just couldn't get past it. So after I read the first issue I decided that I would wait for a collected edition of THE NEW FRONTIER. I was still going to get the damn thing but more for the artwork than anything else. And if I was going to get it I wanted to get it in the best edition I could so I'd be able enjoy Darwyn Cooke's work in the best way possible: oversized and on high quality glossy paper.
I ended up receiving the hardcover as a Christmas present and when I sat down to read it I was just stunned. It ended up being a more enjoyable and fantastic read than I could have ever imagined. Once I got past hippie war hero Hal Jordan there was a dense yet terrifically entertaining read within the pages of THE NEW FRONTIER. In short, THE NEW FRONTIER easily became one of my favorite comic works of all time. It lived up to the hype and surpassed it and I was glad I had gotten the chance to read it. If anything THE NEW FRONTIER convinced me that waiting for a collected edition was the way to go with a mini-series like this one because the all around reading experience ended up being fully satisfying from beginning to end, something it obviously wasn't for me when I read the first issue of the comic.
So now back to the DVD. What can I say about this thing to convince everyone that it is the absolute cat's meow, the bee's knees of superhero animation? Well, the first thing I'll say about it is that if you want to see something that brings Darwyn Cooke's art to life then you're definitely going to want to pick this up. While many of the animated universes that Bruce Timm has helped bring to life have always been rooted in the art form of Jack Kirby and Alex Toth, and those art styles are obvious influences in Cooke's work, there is a special artistic quality here that takes certain segments to another level. I'm sure many fans may have already become accustomed to the Kirby/Toth style that Warner Bros. animation has embraced over the years and some may not be initially impressed with the look of this DVD release. But there are some sequences here that are really beautiful to look at. The one area that stood out to me as pure Cooke was the opening sequence, where a slightly disturbed cartoonist is illustrating the origins of "The Source". It's short but effectively gorgeous and it sets the tone for the whole movie while also letting you know that you aren't just watching another episode of the regular Justice League 'toon.
While there are certain limitations to the budget of this project there are still some really amazing moments in the film. You can tell a lot of love went into this movie, as much of the story is preserved in one way or another and much of the grandeur of the action remains. As a matter of fact there were definitely a couple of sequences that made me outwardly say, "Oh, cooool". Let's just put it this way, if the bit where Ferris aircraft tries to launch a mission into space doesn't make the five year old comic fan inside of you giddy with glee then your inner child has left the building, my friend.
What's also really great about NEW FRONTIER is that it really takes the Golden/Silver age versions of the characters and gives them their moments to shine. There's a bit of a departure from the regular character designs that you'll usually see in a DC Universe cartoon and I found that refreshing. Particularly cool was seeing Batman when he first shows up. In his first appearance he looks a lot like he did when Bob Kane first drew him. It's actually the original Batman that you see fighting in this movie and it's really, really fun to watch. Actually, a big part of what makes this movie so great is seeing classically designed versions of DC's greatest heroes in action. Superman has his black "S" shield, Batman has short black gloves on, and Wonder Woman sports an outfit that is very reminiscent of her golden age uniform.
Not only do the characters look great but they sound great as well. The voicework here is top notch. A particular standout for me was Kyle MacLachlan. I never thought that they got Superman's voice completely right in any of the Superman or Justice League cartoons but MacLachlan, for some reason, just nails it here. To me, his voice is exactly how I always imagined an animated Superman should sound. Jeremy Sisto does a really solid job as Batman as well. While I'll always hear Kevin Conroy's voice whenever I read a Batman comic I was impressed with Sisto's take on Batman, particularly because I could have sworn I heard a hint of Adam West attitude in his delivery. I could have been imagining it but there was something in Sisto's manner of speech that reminded me of the 60's caped crusader and it made me smile almost every time Batman spoke.
All in all THE NEW FRONTIER should pretty well live up to expectations. Sure, there are some weaker moments here and there as well as areas where the animation can seem a bit stiff. A specific disappointment for me was when Hal Jordan (SPOILER) is summoned by Abin Sur and given the Green Lantern ring. The sequence kind of felt limp to me and just smacked of a missed opportunity to do something incredibly special. I mean, he doesn't even recite the oath, for cryin' out loud!
In the end, though, THE NEW FRONTIER delivers a quality super-hero experience in spades. Look, I've gotten my hands on a preview copy and I've watched it twice and already pre-ordered the two disc DVD set. If that doesn't tell you how much I enjoyed this thing then I don't know what will. Run don't walk to pick this one up when it finally comes out. I can't imagine you'll be disappointed.
Discovered as a babe in an abandoned comic book storage box and bitten by a radioactive comic fan when he was a teenager, superhero is actually not-so mild mannered sometime designer & cartoonist, Kristian Horn of Los Angeles, California. He's been an @$$hole for three years. Some of his work can be seen at www.kristianhorn.com.
CLAN DESTINE #1
Writer/pencils: Alan Davis Inks: Mark Farmer Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugOK, for some of you, the return of CLAN DESTINE means nothing. I'm sure there are some who have never heard of the title and don't really feel that pang of nostalgia when you heard that the property was going to begin a new chapter. Yet I'm sure there are others who flipped when the announcement was made that the book was coming back or more accurately surprised as hell to find a new CLAN DESTINE book on the shelves since it's a book that received very little by way of adverts or publicity. I was one of those surprised by seeing it on the shelves, BTW. Either way, the good news is that Alan Davis has brought back his family of offbeat misunderstoodlings. The bad news? Well, after reading this book...there really isn't any bad news to report.
CLAN DESTINE is the story of the Destine family, an immortal family of heroes whose superpowers range from super strength to telepathy to invulnerability to super-agility and beyond. They aren't mutants, but some kind of weird inbred family of red-haired, cool costumed, neatly characterized super freaks. The Crimson Crusader and Imp are still fledgling/wannabe super-heroes. Walter/Wallop is still their uptight paternal figure. And the rest of the clan is still basically marching to their own drum, each with their own motivations and agendas that, more often than not, conflict with the agendas and motivations of the rest of the members of their family. Reading this issue of CLAN DESTINE, you realize that writer/artist/creator Alan Davis hasn't missed a beat and basically starts the story where it stopped close to fifteen years ago.
And therein lies the only problem I had with this book. Aside from a family tree diagram on the first page and a hopscotch narrative provided by some voices from the shadows, we really don't get a lot by way of back-story or history of the Clan Destine. I know that information is a click away. I'm sure a trip to Wikipedia would answer any and all of my questions, but I don’t think a comic book should require such research in order to be enjoyed. Even though I dug this book thoroughly, I doubt that those of you who I mentioned at the beginning of this review (you know, the ones who wouldn't know the Clan Destine from the Destiny's Child) would be able to understand just what makes this family tick or be able to leap right into the story without a few questions. Hell, I bought every issue of CLAN DESTINE and I had questions. I haven't read a CLAN DESTINE book in over ten years, so I wasn't necessarily up to date with how the original series ended and what the family has been doing since. If I had trouble remembering what this family was all about, imagine how in the dark a new reader would be. In this first issue, the Crimson Crusader mentions that they aren't mutants, which lead me to ask the question, “Well, just what the hell are you creepy bastards then?" Not a good question to have on the tip of your cerebellum in a first issue.
But nevertheless, this is a fun story. At its heart is the theme of family. Adam Destine, the head of the family, has difficulty relating to the rest because his immortality makes him look younger than the others. Walter has an overwhelming desire to protect the family, especially the two children, Crimson Crusader and Imp. The kids are ornery and eager to get started in the superhero biz, with their family slowly coming to terms that it is better to supervise the development of their powers than have them sneak out and learn them on their own. Cuckoo is the spacey telepath. Argent is stiff, stern, and unable to connect with the family in a maternal way. And Dominic is the weird uncle of the family with his mullet and feather cape. Kind of remind me of my family… Yet the interaction between the family is what makes this book stand out as a true gem and it made me forget the fact that I had forgotten so many of the details of the Destine family and their previous series. Davis' handling of these characters made all of that insignificant and I just wanted to see more of the family dynamics dynamically play out.
Davis' crisp clean style, highlighted by Farmer's inks, still remains some of the most professional artwork in modern comics. The women are beautiful, the men muscular and powerful, and the depiction of powers is unique and fun. Check out the way Walter's hair turns to fire when he utilizes his super strength. Too cool.
So although I had a little difficulty with the details, there is enough here for me to give this book a strong recommendation. If you're new to the Destine Clan, you might be scratching your head as if you aren't able to get the joke. But I advise you to put all of that aside and appreciate this book for what it is at its core: an exciting book about an exciting family with super powers. If you can do that, you'll enjoy the hell out of it like I did.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for close to seven years. Look for his first published work in this March's MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 from Cream City Comics . Bug also knows that intelligence, like time and space, is relative.
Writer: Peter Tomasi Artist: Rags Morales Inker: Michael Bair Publisher: DC Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoThe complaint I’ve had with NIGHTWING in recent years is that he’s seemed adrift. For years, he’s been portrayed more as a brawler than the complete package that he is: not quite as good as Batman, but tops in the world as a fighter, strategist and detective. After all, when your character can’t be stronger, he has to be smarter (or else you have to expect us readers to be stupid, and require us to needlessly suspend disbelief to cover sloppy writing).
Enter Peter Tomasi, a welcome defection from the ranks of editor to writer. His BLACK ADAM series was about as good as a book could get (where the outcome had already been written) and this is his second issue of NIGHTWING. To sum up the situation so far: Dick has acquired a yen for skydiving and New York and a museum, of which he is going to be the curator.
I know, I was thinking the same thing: “Museum curator! How can I contain my excitement! Because that’s worked so well for all sixteen of HAWKMAN’s cancelled titles….”
But wait. Before you judge too harshly, there IS a difference. Dick is assuming the mantle of curator as a cover story. He’s not a curator who’s playing superhero. He’s a superhero who’s playing curator. It’s a role that fits into his overall strategic plan, and in that sense, I can dig it. It’s more “Pretender” (Jarod, not Chrissie Hynde) and less “The Librarian,” so I don’t expect long discussions on the merits of digital hammurabi and whatnot.
There are no “Holy Crap!” moments, but there are a half-dozen or so neat touches. The scene where a night watchman stumbles onto a conversation between Superman and Nightwing was a classic. I laughed out loud when Superman posed for a picture (look at Supes’ face – good job, Rags.) I loved the way the guard was suitably star-struck, and the casual way Dick talked to Superman. I also appreciated the camaraderie between Dick and Wally West later in the issue. As I like to say, there were a lot of neat moments.
That’s not to say it was perfect. The conversational love fests may have gone on a little too Vaughan…I mean, too long. (Heh.) The thought that a bunch of superheroes have the time to help Dick with some high-speed remodeling is a neat idea, but one would think that kind of thing doesn’t happen very often. Still, it was nice to see a bunch of folks together when it’s not a normal team and not a funeral or COUNTDOWN non-event.
And I’m not sure even Bruce Wayne would buy a bunch of buildings (as if all buildings are always for sale) without a clear cut plan. Of course, Tomasi DID stress just last issue that there is no one Batman trusts more than his family, so that may have been Tomasi’s way of selling to the reader the trust Bruce has, to purchase buildings for Dick with little more than the shopping list in hand. If that was deliberate, then hats off.
Oh, and did I mention there is a plot? Someone is digging up dead bodies for no apparent reason. I don’t have a clue, and that is appreciated. Did I mention that Morales did a great job on art? Not eye-popping, but sturdy work.
You know, the thing that really surprises me is how…I dunno, not just smart , but how “pure” Tomasi is writing Dick. Classic. Innocent even, though not naïve. If you read the BLACK ADAM series, you know Tomasi can get down and dirty. But just like with Ennis’s DAN DARE, I was stunned that a writer can so utterly switch gears, as Tomasi has done here, and simply serve the character. It’s not a return to Silver Age, and none of the aforementioned dead bodies are returning as characters that died twenty years ago, hanging out at the Coffee Bean.
The book as a whole doesn’t really feel “classic” per se. But it had a definite direction, and that is very much appreciated.
Dante “Rock-Me” Amodeo has been reading comics for thirty-five years. His first novel, “Saban and The Ancient” (an espionage/paranormal thriller) was published 2006. He began writing for AICN Comics in 2007 and his second novel (“Saban Betrayed”) is due 2008. He’s often told he has a great face for radio.
THE TWELVE # 2
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) Art: Chris Weston Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheLast week in the Talkbacks, Barking Frog received a heaping pile of “talk” flung at him for his review of ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN. No matter what your feelings are about the book or BF’s review, I think we can all agree that Miller’s interpretation of Batman is a much darker image of the Caped Crusader than what Bob Kane had originally intended for the Dark Knight almost 80 years ago.
After reading the second issue of JMS’s THE TWELVE I’ve come to the realization that Miller and JMS aren’t creating comics in a vacuum, but rather holding a mirror up to us as a society and saying, “You’re bleak, the infallible hero can’t penetrate your cynical cerebellums and the cost will ultimately be your humanity.”
If issue number one of THE TWELVE was about the yings of awakening and discovery, issue two serves as the inevitable yangs of loss and disillusionment. For anyone that missed issue one, a Nazi with a nitrogen fetish deepfreezes 12 of the Golden Age’s most forgettable D-listers and happenstance buries them underground for the next sixty or so years. Some German construction workers unearth our Herocicles and they are left to go out into the brave new world they were fighting so valiantly to defend during WWII. Unfortunately, they wake up in our world.
They wake up to a world without jet packs and hover cars, a world in which everything they once loved and cherished has disintegrated to dust, a world where the opportunistic douche bag of this title, the Blue Blade, can not only be an opportunistic douche on the radio, but also on the moving picture box called television (I’m glad no one explained the internet to these guys; they spent two panels piecing together the concept of TV).
It’s in this subtle indictment of society that JMS’s writing truly shines. What would our grandparents and great grandparents think of our world today if they still had all of their vim and vigor? What would the generation of builders, doers and action takers think of our internet-induced malaise and apathy towards all institutions. If my 85 year old grandmother wasn’t slowly being ravaged by the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in a North Carolina nursing home, I think she would pour a scotch, light a cigarette and say, “Quit bitching on the internet, go outside, build a fucking jet pack, and head to Mars before the Chinese beat us.”
I also applaud the way JMS has developed rich back stories and personalities for these twelve Timely Comics characters. Where Krueger and Ross have created an exciting overarching story with public domain characters in PROJECT: SUPERPOWERS, and focused very little on intricacies of the characters, JMS has done just the opposite in THE TWELVE. This really shouldn’t be a good book, but it is. JMS has taken the simple “fish out of water” story, doused it with the old stick them in carbonite until we need them later plot device, and yet because of the fullness of the characters I was entranced by every turn of the page. We’re only at the second issue (I won’t count the repurposed shill that was issue 0) and I already have a deep vested interest in the fate of THE TWELVE.
If I had to throw any stones at this title I will say that action junkies should beware. Thus far, this title has been less focused on the super and more on the heroes, but that can really be said for most of JMS’s self-managed projects. RISING STARS was not a book for the Ritalin takers of America. JMS took the time to craft the personalities of the Pederson Specials before he sent them into high flying, ass kicking excitement. While I appreciate the slow build, I will never fault those folks that are thirsting for out of gate thrills and spills. JMS, if you want to appeal to a broader comic audience, it’s time to assault some panels with the action turned all the way up to 11 a little earlier in the book’s run.
I’m a big fan of detailed art in books, especially backgrounds. If Image did one thing to shoot themselves in the foot back in the early ‘90s, it was to draw every character standing in either the white nothingness of the Matrix ready room, or put a background behind the characters that was some unidentifiable pattern akin to my prom picture backdrop in 1991. The first time I read THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS I threw the book down after the first page because I couldn’t stomach the indiscernible character depictions. My point is that while I buy comics for the stories, I will cop a walk if the art is abysmal. Thankfully Chris Weston delivers a visual depiction that is just as detailed and real as the characters themselves. Weston has given each character their own distinct look and feel apart from their costumes. Even when no one is suited up, I can still tell the Phantom Reporter apart from Captain Wonder, which just adds another whole unique dimension to set this book apart from the other standard fare in my pull box each week.
Did I like this book? Hells Yes! Would I recommend this book? Quite honestly, if COUNTDOWN is one of the best selling books out there, I would not recommend THE TWELVE for the masses. While I loved it, it is a vast departure from most mainstream titles, and if A plus B equals C, we can assume THE TWELVE is not for the average comic reader.
I’m signing off to either go build a jet pack, invade China from my base on Mars, call my grandmother, or reread RISING STARS.
THE BOYS (#1-14)
Writer: Garth Ennis Art: Darick Robertson Publisher: WildStorm Productions (#1-6), Dynamite Entertainment (#7-14) Reviewer: barking_frogI cannot help but make comparisons with PREACHER in talking about THE BOYS. Ennis has done substantial runs on other titles -- HELLBLAZER, THE PUNISHER, HITMAN -- but his high-water mark is PREACHER, and Ennis himself has stated that THE BOYS is his effort to "out-Preacher PREACHER" [ Newsarama.com ].
Short answers first, then...
Does it out-Preacher PREACHER? I'm cautiously hopeful that, eventually, it may. At this point it's close, but doesn't quite measure up -- it lacks the very elusive quality of 'heart'. But THE BOYS is also developing more slowly than PREACHER did, and Ennis has 80% of the run to go.
Is it more violent and offensive than PREACHER? This is the issue that divides people on Ennis -- some readers seek his work out for its offensive content, others avoid it out of hand for same. Considering he's one of the best storytellers in the medium, I feel both parties miss the point. But, if you're an Ennis fan in large part because you enjoy dismemberment and forced sex, this series might be a really special treat for you -- it does succeed in being more explicit than PREACHER.
If I don't especially enjoy dismemberment and forced sex, should I read THE BOYS? Absolutely. It has all of Ennis's trademark black humor, quirky and often distinct characters, realistic subtext, and memorable dialog. The only handicap of significance I detected is that it starts slow in terms of character development -- but even in the early stages it's a page-turner, better than 85% of the titles out there.
Unfortunately, the slow start could result in readers dropping off in the first two story arcs (six issues, the contents of the first TPB). I read the 14 issues that've been published to date in two big chunks over a couple days, and at the end of the first day had made up my mind THE BOYS was going to have character writing inferior to Ennis's normal high standard.
In the first seven or so issues there are only two characters Ennis really builds on, and briefly at that. Those characters work. They have a potential Romeo and Juliet situation on the horizon that seems promising. They're individual and real -- we know people like them, or we might even be people like them. One is Wee Hughie, the "everyman" character we empathize with as he's sucked into the cold and impersonal world of the five supers named the Boys. The other is Annie January, or Starlight, sort of Wee Hughie's opposite number as a new recruit for the corporate-funded celebrity supergroup The Seven.
But there are so many characters who fail to engage us taking up so much page count, Ennis's two protagonists get literally lost in the crowd.
The leader of the Boys is the mysterious Billy Butcher, who seems to be Ennis's focal character after Wee Hughie and Starlight -- yet it's issue #6 before Ennis makes an attempt to connect us with him emotionally.
This is a far cry from e.g. Tulip in PREACHER, who we immediately connected with because we could feel her desperation in her first background scene when she fumbled a hit and merely blew a bodyguard or aide's jaw off. It was just as explicit as Ennis ever is, yet we could also empathize with her -- whereas Butcher, after six issues of being just a 'hard guy', seems disconnected. His dialog late in #6 is a stale framework on which to hang what should be strong character motivation.
The Female and the Frenchman, two more of the Boys, as of issue #7 don't even have definable personalities. They're described as "muscle" and are Very Dangerous People -- the Frenchman is French, somewhat incoherent (seemingly even beyond the fact he only speaks English 40% of the time), he talks to himself -- and the Female is probably insane.
That's the sum, up to about that point; most of the characters are cutouts who add little of consequence. We connect more with a minor member of the Seven, who is at least pissed off he's not getting a full percentage of his action figure sales, than we do with three or four of the Boys.
This was worrisome, because ultimately the best fiction is about the inner lives of real people, and as of the second story arc's conclusion it doesn't seem there are going to be enough real people with inner lives in THE BOYS to do the job.
But by the time I reached issue #14, my opinion on the character writing had changed. Ennis is fleshing out Butcher and the Frenchman. I now believe he has a plan for each of his characters -- something I wasn't sure about at first.
After flipping through the first few issues of PREACHER for comparison, I think I see the reason for the difference in THE BOYS.
THE BOYS has a much larger cast than PREACHER. In early issues of PREACHER, Ennis introduced his characters by ones and threes; in THE BOYS he's been introducing characters by fives and sevens. The end result is that in PREACHER, Ennis could flesh out his cast as soon as he introduced each character, giving the series a much more three-dimensional feel early on.
In THE BOYS, due to its nature as a super-group book, it's impossible for Ennis to give us more than a brief sketch of each character he introduces. On top of that, the need to get all his pieces on the board at the outset means he's unable to spend much time even on key characters. This is the classic JLA problem of doing character development when in each issue you can only give two pages on average to any given member of your cast, and there almost seems to be a divide right around #7 prior to which Ennis is focused on introducing characters, and after which he's developing them.
The result is a more slowly maturing book than PREACHER was, but I encourage the reader to stick it out -- with #8 and #9 we at last start to see the characters begin to really interact, and the title only improves after that.
Returning to Ennis's wish to surpass his work on PREACHER, THE BOYS might already out-Preacher its predecessor in one area: setting. PREACHER took place in more or less our world, but Ennis had to create a new world for THE BOYS. At first glance it looks like "generic superhero world", but Ennis has done more than that. His superheroes are tolerated and feared by their governments, not celebrated and loved, or used and discarded, or hunted and destroyed -- which are all things we've seen before.
Instead, it's a world where government fears the supers may organize and take over, but doesn't have enough power to do anything active about it without precipitating exactly the kind of organization it fears.
So the U.S. government (at least) uses the Boys, unusually high-powered supers who (we assume) each has a reason to hate other supers. The Boys are CIA-controlled, and operate the way you'd expect a CIA-controlled unit to operate -- they terrorize other supers, gather potentially damaging information on them, and occasionally beat down or kill a super when an example needs to be made or a super won't fall into line.
It makes for a dark and interesting story environment, with the supers and the government in a peculiar balance that works in the story's present but leaves the reader feeling things could go to hell at any time -- and that the Boys might be the agency tipping everything over the edge.
The result is that the setting does more than just provide geography and backdrops -- atmosphere infuses everything and works approximately as another character, interacting with the cast and shaping things. The supers use, disregard, and destroy the lives of non-supers and weaker supers as the world tries to balance the superhero presence.
I have to wonder if THE BOYS isn't a commentary on the comics industry, with the supers and their followers in the role of the major industry publishers and the mainstream fanbase that for 40 years has exhibited an appetite for little besides superhero comics.
Ennis has always been public about his lack of love for the superhero genre, and he does like to follow ideas to their conclusion. It's unlikely that superheroes in the real world would maintain a benevolent stasis alongside regular society. Ennis isn't the first to nod in that direction -- Moore did it in the early 80's with MARVELMAN/MIRACLEMAN. But here we are 25 years later and the Big Two publishers are still surviving on the continuity of that same proposition that supers could exist in the world without significantly changing it.
As a non-mainstream author who's been successful telling his own kind of stories, I wonder if Ennis will use the Boys to vicariously show the mainstream comics industry what he thinks of it. Ennis also told Newsarama.com , in answer to the question of where THE BOYS came from: "It comes from 17 years working in an industry dominated by one genre. I've never been a big fan of superheroes, but I can't pretend I'm not aware of them. You look at that stuff and you go, 'No, no, that's not what would happen, this is what would really happen...' and you carry on from there."
THE BOYS was in the best 1/6 of comics titles on the market -- where 2D characters with poorly defined motivation are the rule -- even in its first two arcs. Now that all the players are introduced and he's hit his stride, the title's pure classic Ennis. Unless you're automatically turned off by the explicit sex, violence, and language the author regularly employs, I recommend you check out Ennis's mad, bad, dangerous, humorous, morbid world and its characters in THE BOYS.
Edward Livingston-Blade AKA barking_frog considers PREACHER mandatory lost-on-a-desert-island reading material, and sincerely hopes Ennis can top himself with THE BOYS (what pun?). Edward is presently working on the second and third installments to a six-part prose superhero/adventure cycle that's part of The Man Who Wasn't There.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #549
Written by Marc Guggenheim Art by Salvador Larroca Published by the House of No Ideas Reviewed by Stones ThrowOkay, the good: that cover is absolutely gorgeous and one of the best to grace a Marvel comic in a long time. Sal Larrocca deserves a pat on the back, a beer and a blowjob for that iconic depiction of Spidey.
The bad? Well, how long have you got?
I’m not going to go into the “Marvel’s ret-con of the Spider-marriage was ill-conceived and…” bit, because A) it’s been done to death already, but also, 2) because I was one of the few guys who were willing to look past (meaning, not pay for) the terminal lack of imagination displayed in ONE MORE DAY in favor of what Marvel sold the new status quo as: a chance to forget the last decade or so of not-so AMAZING SPIDEY in favor of a return to the iconic roots of the character. I hadn’t read a main universe Spider-Man book for the longest time, and the news that they were bringing on guys like Dan Slott and Zeb Wells to re-focus Spider-Man sounded good to me.
Then Dan Slott’s first issue came out and it was one of the most painful reads of the year so far. Since Marvel had about a thousand more imaginative, dramatic and credible ends for the marriage, the only way they were going to get readers to get past the almost willful stupidity of OMD was to completely ignore it and focus on moving forward with new stories. That wasn’t what I saw though. The issue opened with Pete copping off with a girl in a nightclub and saying “this isn’t what it looks like”. Elsewhere there were smug winks to the reader about how funny it was for Spidey to be living with Aunt May again and talking about wheatcakes, or Pete saying “Please…I’m too young to get married”. Hey, Joe! We get it! Stop talking down to your audience! Combine that with a lack of imagination in the story, an absence of action and a preference for set-up over substance and you got probably the worst first issue status quo-setter possible.
I read Ambush Bug’s positive review of the last issue, the end of the first three-issue arc, and decided to give it another try. Sure enough, I found a well-crafted Spidey yarn ably assembled by old skool maestro Dan Slott. There were still a few annoying in-jokes and I had to close my eyes and imagine Ross Andru or Gil Kane in place of Steve McNiven’s clinically lifelike art, but I started to think that maybe there was hope for the relaunch yet.
Well, consider those hopes dashed. Just as I suspected they were getting into the swing of things, this issue simply confirms all the worst doubts I had. Number one, it’s not a Spider-Man story. It’s a group of editors and writers sat around a table trying to brainstorm what a classic Spider-Man story should be, instead of getting talented people who are right for the job…say, Dan Slott and John Romita Jr…. and letting them do their work. Ever noticed how, even if they’re working similar ideas, an episode of SEINFELD has so much more heart and soul than an episode of FRIENDS where a football team of writers are scripting punch lines? It’s the same difference here. They’re doing what should be the right things, but it just isn’t working.
The process is wrong. Rather than coming up with a great story for Peter Parker that uses a new villain, they’re saying, “Spider-Man needs new villains. We better get some,” and the generic blandness of the new bad guys is a testament to this. Menace? Freak? Mr. Negative was a bit better, but even then a Kingpin for Chinatown is hardly a beacon of creativity. Likewise with the two, new, potential love interests for Peter. They’re not characters. They’re editorially mandated ciphers.
“Spider-Man needs subplots.” “Uh…how about the Daily Bugle gets a new owner?” Oh, the inspiration! For the love of Roy Scheider, stop treating your audience as if they can’t tell better!
But the most distressing thing about these new issues is the lack of Peter Parker. Spider-Man’s always been the superhero whose secret identity is the most vital to his stories. Telling Spidey stories is a delicate balancing act between the superhero battles and the everyday pressures, but the best of ‘em give you the sense of perspective that it’s always Peter Parker, the richest character in comics, under the mask. This issue completely fails in that regard. We get Spidey the wise-cracking loon, the snarky dumb-@$$, and (very briefly) Pete the loveable slacker, but never the feeling that it’s a real guy struggling in there, or the sense of complete immersion and empathy that the best stories give you. Leaving aside Bendis on ULTIMATE SPIDEY occasionally it almost seems like a lost art, but just pick up any of the ESSENTIALS and you’ll see what I mean.
I’m not even sure who this guy is. He has a carefree existence living at home with his Aunt and hangs around playing baseball with beautiful girls and his stinkin’ rich best friend.
Dan Slott is a talented writer who knows his Spidey well enough that he made it briefly seem like it might work. But this issue just stinks. Even the art, beautiful cover aside, isn’t that good, just seeming rushed and unfocused. And what’s worse, I’ve got a feeling that with this policy of rotating teams we’re in for set-up upon set-up without there ever being any substantial pay-off. But, hey, Marvel, keep up with that customer-is-always-wrong approach. I’m sure you all know much better than the fans. It’s not possible you just have a bad book, right?
FABLEWOOD ANTHOLOGY OGN
By Various artists/writers Publisher: Ape Entertainment Reviewer: Ambush BugFABLEWOOD is a feast for the eyes, the heart, and the mind. This fantasy anthology is done by a handful of talented artists and writers, all fully capable of telling the type of story that stretches the imagination. I found this book to be a real showcase of talent. I’ll go over the entire book briefly, but my observations don’t do this book justice.
Story one is called “Solace” by JP Ahonen, which tells a heart-wrenching tale about a young child accepting the death of his parents. The characters are alien in this story, but the emotions are all too human. A very well told tale to start off the book.
“Die a Hero” is a nicely written story by Steve Kinder with lush pencils by Kevin Crossley that shows an epic battle between man and monster from both perspectives.
“A Vicious Circle” by JJ Naas and Elanor Cooper tells a fun and cute story about a group of wannabe magicians and their quest for power.
Scott Hallett brings us “The Spirit & the Woods”, a PRINCESS MONONOKE-like story about wood spirits that is as visually imaginative as that film.
Due to the stylized font, I may misspell the writer/artist behind the wonderful reading experiment that is “Mandala”, but Joe Thfurhart’s story is one of the book’s highlights both in its mandala-shaped storytelling style and the cool mix of cavemen and giant robots.
“Blessings” features the lively pencils of Ryan Ottley bringing William Ward’s brief story about a death on a battlefield to life.
Joe Suitor’s “From the Pages of Monoluminant” is beautifully illustrated with a clever narrative twist.
Axel Medellin Machain brings us “The Ancient Pact”, telling a tale of revenge that is confidently drawn and an example of good sequential storytelling.
“Under the Midnight Sun” by Dusty Neal and Chris Studabaker was another of the shining highlights of this book told from the perspective of a tree’s shadow who’s futile goal is to see the sun. The shadow’s quest is heartwrenching, as is the extremely emotive and sketchy artwork.
“Unworthy” by Daniel LaFrance is a morality tale about one woman’s bitter fight against obstacles both physical and gender-biased. This is a stark and moody story.
Sarah Mensinga’s “Fish” is a cute tale that focuses on a language barrier between a pirate in peril and a mermaid. The characters and interactions are adorable in this sweet tale.
“A Tale of Two Shifters” is from the GOBLIN CHRONICLES book (reviewed in a previous Indie Jones column) written by Troy Dye and Tom Kelesides and drawn by Collin Fogel. It’s another tale with cutesy goblin outcasts working together despite differences in a war-torn fantasy land. This was a fun installment that continues to flesh out the GOBLIN CHRONICLES world.
Jonathon Dalton’s “The Cloud-Leapers of Blue Pine Mountain” looks to be taking a lot of inspiration from Japanese ink drawings. This is a beautiful tale of a culture’s sacrifices during a war and what that culture must do in order to persevere. It also has a nice battle between a boy and an albino monkey, so it’s gotta be good.
This is one of the best anthologies Ape Entertainment has produced. For those of you who like to see new and fresh voices in comics, this book has quite a few of them. Although there isn’t enough space to go too much in depth in each story, hopefully this brief synopsis will help steer any of you who seek to find what the future of comics holds. Look no further than this book.
DOKTOR SLEEPLESS #5 Avatar ComicsI’m sure I’ll have a more in-depth review of this title in the future, but first, a quick note/question. As somebody who loves music, and loves comics, I’m all in favor of seeing the two intersect, and I would never question Warren Ellis’ commitment to finding new and interesting music. This issue focuses very heavily on a the lead character (who is a villain, not an anti-hero, mark my words) expounding on various musical acts and what he thinks of them, what they represented and what they accomplished. So here’s my question, and I know some of you are about to flip out on me, and I’m okay with that: WHAT’S THE BIG FUCKING DEAL WITH MANIC STREET PREACHERS? Look, I thought some of their stuff was okay, but I didn’t think them the second coming, I don’t think they broke much new ground sonically, and I don’t really care that Richey ghosted on us over a dozen years ago. So why were these guys the focus of both last years’ PHONOGRAM miniseries and this issue of SLEEPLESS? I’m going to be called a cretin, I’m sure, but as somebody on the outside looking in I gotta ask: what’s the power the Manics hold over comics creators? That aside, slightly less development in this issue than in the previous four, but I’m intrigued by the way Ellis is working his usual bizarre fascinations into something I’ve not seen from him before. A highly promising series from one of my favorite writers of the last decade and a half. - Sleazy G
HALLOWEEN: NIGHTDANCE #1 Devil's Due PublishingIt's been proven by many people who have tried to bring the 80's-90's slashers to life in comics that doing so is not so easy. HALLOWEEN: NIGHTDANCE does a pretty good job of that. A lot of this first issue is focused on set-up, mind you. The narrative crisses and crosses back and forth between a couple and a girl who apparently has been taken hostage by some unseen force (seemingly Michael Myers himself). I found this set-up to be kind of long, but once Michael Myers appears, I was happy to see that writer Stefan Hutchinson and artist Tim Seeley have done their homework when it comes to how to make Michael scary (something even the makers behind the HALLOWEEN movie sequels have failed to do). I really liked the way Michael slowly emerges from the darkness in this book as he did in the first movie. That's something that no film or comic has been able to do since the original and its first sequel, but this comic does it very effectively. For that, I'm grateful that somebody is getting Michael right for a change and the story seems to be in good hands. – Ambush Bug
SPACE DOUBLES #2-3 Th3rd World StudiosThis flip book offers a good amount of sci fi entertainment. Each installment reads as if it were an OUTER LIMITS episode. Books are split into two stories in each issue. Issue two brings us “Sympathizers” by Justin Robinson and Aneurin Wright, a tale hinging on Asimov’s Laws of Robotics insuring that robots do not harm humans and how that mandate applies to an alien invasion. The O. Henry twist ending is a pretty good one for this well crafted tale. “Saucerful of Secrets” by writer Jason Hall with art by Ron Chan & Rich Ellis takes us to the not so distant future where the length of people’s loves are determined by how interesting their blogs are and how one man with a mundane life takes control of his own destiny. It’s ideas like this that permeate SPACE DOUBLES and make flipping through the pages such an imaginative experience.
Issue #3 folds more sci fi fun. “Everywhere I Look…Bugs” by Scott Closter and art provided by Philip Schaufelberger is a story that should not be read by those who have a fear of insects. I like the way this story skews reality and gets into the mind of a person whose life has become an obsession. On the flip side of this issue is a story called “Escape Pod” by Mark Smith with moody art by Matthew Huyuh. This was a pretty bleak tale and I think that’s why I liked it so much. And the fact that it ends with the line “kisses and rayguns” left me smiling and chuckling to myself. Some of the concepts presented in SPACE DOUBLES are worth more than a half a comic to develop and I guess that’s my only criticism of this imaginative book. It’s full of ideas both fun and new and worth a peek to anyone with an appreciation for the stars and the possibilities that lie in the cold, dark space that they fill. - Ambush Bug