FINAL CRISIS # 1
Writer: Grant Morrison Artist J.G. Jones Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheWhen I had finished reading the first issue of the highly-anticipated FINAL CRISIS, I felt the same way I did after I had lost my virginity in the back of a senior's car when I was ahem-teen years old (forgive me for being elusive, but my Mother reads this column). It was an event I had built up in my mind to be the "end-all-be-all" of existence, but after two-and-a-half minutes of awkward coitus my paramour and I were both left the over-arching feeling of "that's it?" While certainly not the experience of a lifetime, FINAL CRISIS was meant to be the lynchpin for two years’ worth of crisis upon mini-crisis, countless craptacular countdowns and a war that spanned the cosmos. After over two years of build-up it's easy to understand the insatiable thirst of DC fans that could only be quenched by the most earth shattering title of all time. This was a damn fine book, but I would be a hack and a charlatan if I led you to believe that this was the most monumental title to ever hit the stands.
Before I focus on the story, I'm obliged to give the standard SPOILERS AHEAD warning.
As I said earlier, from a story perspective the book was good, it just didn't blow my mind. Morrison has ample aptitude in writing gritty crime noir tales, but is that really the correct approach to address the death of Gods and the rebirth of an entire universe? I was also left scratching my head a few times at scenes that seemed to be utterly inconsistent with all of the "build-up" books.
The freshest parts of the story book-ended the piece. Essentially all of humanities' woes can be attributed to the New Gods kick starting our imagination with the discovery of fire. Some will gripe that it took two pages for Anthro the Caveboy to have this gift bestowed upon him, but for me, it just gave me more time to spend with Jones' art work. I was also impressed with how Morrison tied the discovery of fire to Detective Turpin of Superman fame lighting a cigarette lamenting how humanity takes a good idea and uses it to inevitably bring about our demise. If there was ever a good PSA to quit smoking it's this book. Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth is a fitting caboose to showcase that no matter how enlightened we try to become, our inevitable future will be wearing loin cloths and once again flinging our poo at one another.
So what didn't I like? Well, pretty much everything in between. While I liked how Morrison treats the death of Orion as a crime scene for both the local police and the galactic defenders of the Green Lantern Corps, something about this approach bothered me. I was the first to applaud the introduction of the Alpha Lanterns in GREEN LANTERN, but I'm unsettled by the fact that Hal Jordan, Jon Stewart and Guy Gardner are no longer the go-to guys when the shit hits the fan. I only hope that the Alpha Lanterns’ dispassionate ways end up being a foible rather than a virtue and my old favorites can swoop in to save the day. Time will tell.
There were also a few inconsistencies of logic that ripped me out of the story. For some reason, The Question thinks it's a good idea to send mortal Turpin after Dark Side. While Dark Side is no longer the apocalyptic bad ass he once was, I still wouldn't send a 60-something detective with emphysema after him.
I was also unsettled by the fact that Superman and Batman had to debrief the Justice League about the New Gods. Perhaps in six months’ time when everything is rebooted this would have been appropriate, but I know from past readings that most of the people sitting at the table had dealt directly with the New Gods at one point or another throughout history. Also, wasn't the Justice League watching Orion and Dark Side battle in the final issues of COUNTDOWN? Did they forget? Is it really a mystery as to which New God has put the Green Lantern Corps on high alert?
And finally, for the love of God please stop having bad guys sit around a table at meetings like they just read Miss Manners’ guide for appropriate meeting etiquette. They are the underbelly of society: if they have to sit at a table at least have a basket of kittens in the middle so they can snap their necks or juggle them as they plot the take over of the world.
I'm not digging the Monitors. Aren't they Gods of 52 separate universes? I can appreciate that earth is the keystone of the multiverse, but to have them emulate humanity should piss off the other several billion planets in their charge. I don't care enough about them yet as characters to be concerned about their emotional turmoil, either. If they are being set up as the New New New Gods, then for God's sake go tell their story in a separate tale or a spin-off. This is about decimating and rebuilding what we have become accustomed to over the past twenty years.
FINAL CRISIS is supposed to be the launch point for a new age of the DC universe. Well, if the last age was an abyss of darkness, this new age seems to be a Petri dish of clinical sterility. Everything felt too just too damn neat and tidy to truly be a Crisis, and it was quite certainly too tepid to be a FINAL CRISIS. Perhaps I'm just wired for alliteration, but I see crisis and chaotic going together as naturally as Bert & Ernie's unrequited puppet man-love. I'm not giving up hope, but Morrison needs to kick up the energy a thousand fold in coming issues to make this event truly worthy of the title CRISIS.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. Optimous is looking for artistry help, critical feedback and a little industry insight to get his original book AVERAGE JOE up, up and on the shelves. What if the entire world had super powers? Find out in the blog section of Optimous’ MySpace page to see some preview pages and leave comments.
GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN #1
Writer: Joss Whedon Penciler: John Cassaday Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeJust a couple months after bidding a tearful goodbye to the instant classic Y: THE LAST MAN, here I am again to give that fond farewell to another emotionally charged fan favorite series. And, just like the last time I did this, I imagine I'll be spending the majority of these upcoming words here remembering and thanking the crew involved with this series and what they did during their tenure, which overall I would say, yes, is probably easily one of the top X-title runs I have personally ever read. There's been little rough patches here and there, and obviously the inconsistency in time between issues was rather nagging, but between the pitch-perfect characterization Mr. Whedon bought and the outstanding artistic presentation by John Cassaday, yes, I would daresay this run did live up to be one of those rare "instant classics".
As those two aesthetics above were so integral to the series as a whole, so too were they to this finale. The best moments to me came from, well, of course there's the obvious one as a much beloved X-Man makes the ultimate sacrifice, but it was the "little" things that made it work. From Colossus' resolve to one of Emma's few displays of genuine emotion; hell even characters like Agent Brand and Armor got their little quirks in, just like Spider-Man in his limited guest time got in some trademark wisecracks. Though I think some of the overall plot points that have been driving this "epic" X-story for its duration have been kind of hit or miss, like the existence of Danger seems to have been kind of frivolous to me, and the Breakworld's weapon of choice to annihilate Earth was obviously a bit too contrived to get to the end point we see in this issue, but it still was powerful enough to overcome this misstep, just as that fantastic characterization I keep reiterating was enough to typically wash away any bits of awkwardness or occasional breakdowns this title has sporadically had since its inception.
And obviously John Cassaday's art deserves a large round of applause. We all knew he was good - great actually - going into this, but I'll be damned if he didn't still make an impression. There have been some absolutely breathtaking panels and pages in this title. From the two-page Fastball Special to cap off the first arc, all the way up to something happily unexpected like the two-pager in this issue of our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man swinging above NYC. From the little things like someone finally depicting Wolverine as the squat little scrapper that he is, to the stature of Colossus, to the rendition of a more feline Beast out of Morrison's NEW X-MEN run, everything has been pretty much spot on with smooth lines and great detail. Give the man a hand.
Sure, this book hasn't reinvented the wheel or anything during its life. I don't think you'll ever see a descriptive term like "seminal" being placed before it, hell I doubt I'd even rate this in the top two or three dozen of runs I've read, but like I've said before, there's a lot to be said about a solid story, told in an exciting manner and with a great handling and reinvigoration of long time and beloved characters like these X-Men. There's just a base joy there that's hard to deny. To this day the return of Colossus, easily my personal favorite X-Man, still excites me to think about. To provoke that kind of response has to reflect well on the people involved in it (and that no matter how hard I try to bury him, it looks that occasionally my inner fanboy will dig his way out and take over, albeit fleetingly). If you're an X-Men fan, I'm sure all that I've just said is rather superfluous, and if you aren't an X-Men fan, or at least have been sort of neutral on them, then I think you owe it to yourself to see how exciting these merry band of mutants can be when handled expertly. Simply one of the best things Marvel has done this decade. Now all that's left is a nice little Omnibus treatment to supplement my burgeoning oversized hardcover habit. If anything deserves the treatment, it's this.
Humphrey Lee is a long time AICN reviewer and also a certified drunk whose claim to fame is making it up four steps of the twelve step program before vomiting on steps five and six and then falling asleep on steps one through three. Also, chances are, he's banged your mom (depending on the relative hotness of said parental figure) and is probably the father of one of your younger siblings.
ACTION COMICS #865
Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Jesus Merino Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: SquashuaContinuity. That's what it all breaks down to. Continuity. The fan community at large shits a brick every time a new Supergirl iteration shows up, and rightly so, but it's the sole nerd alone in the corner of the forum who even notices that yet another Toyman is frolicking about the DC Universe. Certainly, each could be (and probably have been) chalked up to a creator taking liberties to earn a paycheck, knowing their individual Toyman would be ignored in the long run as one in an ever-increasing quantity of continuity errors. Assuredly, these gaffs would vanish from the spotlight.
Not quite. With ACTION COMICS #865, Geoff Johns has done for The Terrible Toyman what he's done to many members of The Flash's Rogues Gallery. "Which Toyman", you ask? Why, all of them. From the original bow tie wearing Winslow Shott to the scrawny Giffen-esque “Superfriends” iteration, and including the toy-like masked doll from “Superman: The Animated Series” and even Hiro from SUPERMAN/BATMAN, the ToyMEN get their due.
After a proper and long-overdue compare and contrast to longtime Superman villain The Prankster, Winslow Schott gets a reprieve from his out-of-character, mother-obsessed, skinhead alter ego whose stigma for murdering Adam Grant (the son of longtime not-quite-Jimmy Olsen-level Superman supporting character Cat Grant) has haunted him ever since. Without spoiling anything, I'm not saying the "reveal" was entirely believable; in fact considering the involvement of Hiro, I suspect the whole or part thing is an elaborate hoax to maintain a state of delusion. Then again, the fan in me wants this concept to work out for the better, and as evidenced by the last couple pages insinuating the return of a certain long missing supporting urban cougar, it seems The Terrible Toyman's cover story perpetrated might be accepted as a canon ret-con.
The art was excellent for this issue; Merino has a keen eye, fully rendering every detail of each panel. All flashbacks were tastefully done in a watercolor style, evoking a dream-like quality. What I most enjoyed about this story is that, again barring appearances elsewhere by Hiro the Japanese Toyman-boy, we as readers can finally move on and accept The Terrible Toyman for the Superman antagonist he once was and might be again. For all intents and purposes, Toyman has resolved his own personal Sue Dibny rape charge.
Kuax'kua plucks and strums the fibre electric between worlds, writhing in amorphous ecstasy with each pulsing nanobyte of digitized information. A fount of queries and feedback cloaked as an unassuming sass-imbued avatar, this shapeless servitor scribes only of that which fuels its emotion, driving all observers to a slow and inevitable madness.
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski Artist: Oliver Coipel Inker: Mark Morales, Danny Miki and John Dell Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoI liked this issue, even if the cover was more exciting than the contents. Coipel's art was outstanding, as usual. Fandral, whose mental blade seems a bit swifter than others, gets in a few good lines. And Loki's machinations are not so two-dimensional that they may be easily discerned. Also, I'm really glad that JMS doesn't have Loki using his, uhn, feminine wiles on anyone, because that would just be weird.
In fact, Loki raises an interesting question: what are you people DOING with your lives?!? We spend most of the issue answering it to one degree or another. Though there were many good scenes, my attention was particularly drawn to an exchange between the human William and a few warriors, trying to learn the basic concepts of basketball, and failing. I mean, what are they, idiots? And then it hit me: yes. Kind of. And suddenly, a much bigger picture unfolded in front of me.
Here's the thing – if you were functionally immortal, you would have all kinds of time to learn whatever you wanted to do. I mean, just look at all Bill Murray did in “Groundhog Day”, and he was there for maybe, what, a year or two? Over several thousand years, you could be an expert in…everything.
So how is it that the Asgardians have lived all this time, and yet so few of them have managed to accomplish anything other than mead-drinking and wench (or perhaps mimbo) bedding? Why is that? Either they don't have much ambition to do more than that, or most of them are dumb as posts…or both. Kind of explains why people will still fall for Loki's tricks after an eternity of ankle-grabbing. You'd think they would learn. But they haven't, either because they lack the capacity or the drive.
These are cultural nuances that must be understood if you're going to world-build, and that is the task JMS has set for himself. The problem with having a bunch of characters (other than your hero) is: they need to be doing something with their downtime. They don't just sit on a shelf until the writer pulls them off (at least, a good writer should give them something to do.) And that's what JMS does with this issue, and he's showing us in a way that makes sense. He's showing us why, in all Asgard, only a handful of people show any initiative or cleverness because, among Asgardians in general, they're unique. Some are thinkers and strategists, sure…but most simply go about their day-to-day tasks, never questioning, never growing, never curious about anything outside sustenance or battle. So when I see someone trying to teach basketball to a crowd of beefcake, and they're clearly not getting it…well, for the first time, it really makes sense to me. The whole culture. Not the old Norsemen, who themselves had a great love of games and puzzles. I mean Asgardians. These would be the people you find taking tolls on the highway, or working the assembly line. Most folks in those jobs fight a never-ending battle against boredom. But the Asgardians? Battle lust notwithstanding, they would find those tasks completely fulfilling.
This is a comic about Thor, but it's also a comic about Asgard. It's about time we fleshed that out, don't you think? And I wonder – what WILL happen if Asgard becomes a city full of gods who each have their own agenda, a striving to do something different? Hmmm…
Sure, I think these events will tie into a greater picture, but for now, it was a very enjoyable, well-drawn and thought-provoking comic…with some troll-killing, too. How much more do you want?
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.
Writer: Grant Morrison Art: Tony Daniel (pencils), Sandu Florea (inker) Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugIt there's one thing to learn from this issue of BATMAN, it's this:
Never, ever show your chick your comic collection.
In this issue of BATMAN, the Dark Knight, who for the last few issues has been smitten with fellow thrill-seeker Jezebel Jet, does the dumbest thing a guy can do...he shows his girlfriend his comic collection.
Well, it's not his comic collection per se, but it might as well be. Batman lets Ms. Jet into the Batcave and proudly takes her on the tour like a kid showing off his first doop in the toilet. As one would imagine, Jezebel's reaction is not what Bats anticipated. You see, when you show your girlfriend your comics, at first, if it's a cool girl, she may think it's kind of quirky, even attractive in a dorky sort of way. But soon enough the questioning starts and in this day and age, when comics are barely worth the paper they are printed on and those collecting them are doing so simply for the love of comics, it's hard to answer those questions.
"Where are you going to put all of these things?"
"How much money are you spending?"
"Couldn't you be more productive spending your time elsewhere?"
These are basically the same questions Jezebel asks Bats and he really doesn't have any answers for her. You see, Jezebel tosses in something that shatters much of the mystique of both what makes Batman tick and what makes comic book reading so fun; she brings in real world sensibilities to it. As soon as someone starts asking questions like that, it's time for the ugly lights. Show's over, my friends. There's no way to logically explain why you read so many comics Likewise, there's no logical way for Bats to win this debate with Jezebel. In the end, you end up either giving up comics (if you want regular nookie) or you stand firm and drop the girl. It looks as if it also means one has to hang up a pointy eared cowl if this one is going where I think it's going.
Morrison definitely sets up a new way of dealing with Bats' new love. Someone manipulating him to hang up the cape and cowl is something that hasn't been tried before. But reading this issue gave me an ooky feeling. It made me squirm to see Batman buckle and falter under pressure like he does here. I know this is all a way for Bruce to hang up the cape and cowl. Maybe pass it on to Jason Todd or Dick Grayson. But in doing so, Morrison diminished the character of Batman for me.
Bats has always been portrayed as a bit unhinged, but there was something in the logical way Jezebel went about shooting holes in his life's work that made Bruce seem more sad than anything else. Never have I got the feeling that Batman was a loser until this issue. It may have been the sincere way Jezebel was doing it--something that suggested that she may be just a concerned girlfriend and not a part of some plot to take down the Batman. I can't really put my finger on it, but this issue did more damage to the character to Batman than twenty back-breaking Banes or a hundred smiling fish flinging Jokers.
On top of knocking over the Batman's sandcastle, Morrison also introduces some subplots that tarnish the reputation of both Thomas Wayne (suggesting he was a drug and alcohol addict and possibly took part in a conspiracy to kill Martha Wayne and fake his own death) and Alfred (who may have taken part in the cover up). Now, Morrison is an idea man. He's always got good ones. Or at the very least they are imaginative and original ones. I don't want to shoot down what he's doing this early in the game. But if there is one thing I know about comic book icons it's that they are built upon a foundation. Do what you want to the structure, but when you start chipping away at the foundation, the whole thing is going to collapse upon itself. Thomas and Martha Wayne tried their best to raise a good son. Alfred is a loyal and dutiful servant and much more to Bruce. The Batman's fight is just and good. These things are what have built the structure of all Batman stories since his inception. Start pointing out cracks in those truths and one starts to see the Batman as something less of a hero. This isn't a new concept for Morrison. Morrison has been suggesting Bats is certifiable since ARKHAM ASYLUM. It's an interesting angle to play and I'm intrigued by the story so far with Bruce's paranoia reaching a fever pitch and a cadre of new villains waiting to take him out when he cracks. But in the past, although Morrison's ideas have proven to be imaginative, the story itself has often left me wanting. There's a disconnect between the imagining of these ideas and how they will work logically within the parameters of the story. In the end, we've ended up with a mixed bag of ideas and little story to hang it upon.
I want to give this arc a chance. Morrison seems to have a specific goal in mind and he's steering Batman unflinchingly into the abyss. The new villains are imaginative, and although many of them have yet to be named, artist Tony Daniel's designs definitely make them original looking, especially the Hunchback character and the sad clown holding a flower that changes color from panel to panel. Again, these are good looking characters and interesting ideas. Here's hoping that Morrison can bring these ideas together with a story that makes sense, doesn't irreparably crack the foundations, and most importantly, is entertaining to read.
In the meantime, learn from this issue, my comic book brethren. If you want to keep collecting comics, keep it to yourselves and leave the girlfriend out of it.
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 MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 (AVAILABLE NOW!) from Cream City Comics.
ANGEL: REVELATIONS #1 (of 5)
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa Artist: Adam Pollina Color Art: Matt Hollingsworth Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoA re-imagining of Angel's origins….as superfluous as this might seem, I'll bite for an issue.
We start out with a priest who seems a little brusque, but may be trying to help the people he meets. We get a few excellent sections chronicling Warren's loneliness despite his success, and his sense of secrecy and shame that he's not like the other guys. He wants to reach out to his father, but doesn't want to be seen as less than a man. Then we end with a scene that shows OH MY GOSH, THE PRIEST IS EEEEEVIL!
Wow. Never seen that before. (Actually, I think it's about as common as bitter ex-Catholics - no coincidence there, I'm sure.) And I suppose with a title like ANGEL, writers can't help but trot out words like "sinner" and "annunciation" and feel like they're being clever.
But just like the author obviously has things he must get off his chest (a service for which the reader is paying him) I feel like I have something I must get off of mine. For free, even: Okay, WE GET IT ALREADY! Anytime we see a character with a priest's collar, or holding a bible, or seems to be a part of any mainstream religion: they must be evil, are always the villain, play poker with kittens, and will eventually prove to be a racist, child killing psychopath, and probably homophobic to boot. We get it. We fricking get it! Now please, for the LOVE OF GOD (irony intended) could we please find someone who can write a story that doesn't trot out this tired, worn out, smells-like-your-therapy-session storyline?
Needless to say, it really bothers me when a story reads like someone is desperate to push an agenda, which is FINE if it would simply be done some cleverness or originality. And if you read the reviews for "Good Boys and True," or any of Roberto's other variations on this same theme, you know that may not be on the horizon. Whatever he's brought to the table, he's mined this vein many times before (and he's not the only one. On the plus side, if I wanted religious clichés twice in a month, I'd normally have to pick up two issues of Starlin's HOLY WAR. Now I have a choice. Whoopee.)
As far as the art goes, what's up with Pollina? It's a very interesting style. I liked his stuff on the old X-Force, but these characters look like they lost a bet with a taffy-puller, and makes me feel like the title should be ANGEL: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. I'm not saying it's bad, just takes some getting used to. Actually, the second time I read it, I appreciated the overall style, mood and "camera shots" MUCH more than the first time. He crammed a lot of small stylistic things that I missed the first time. I'm not sure it lends itself to super-heroes, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, Pollina has already proved to me what a talented artist he is. Let's see where he goes.
But the overall direction…all I can say is, based on the first issue, I can't imagine liking where this is going, since we've all been there dozens of times already. Reverend Stryker, Reverend Craig, Matthew Risman and the Purifiers…I KNOW Aguirre-Sacasa is a better writer than this. I hope I'm right.
Writer: Matthew Sturges Artist: Phil Winslade Publisher: DC Reviewed by: BottleImpRemember the INFINITE CRISIS spin-off series? THE OMAC PROJECT, VILLAINS UNITED, etc? The only one of these series I had eyes for was DAY OF VENGEANCE. Why? Two words: Blue Devil.
If you read my Bargain Bin review of the BLUE DEVIL comic from the ‘80s then you already know my love for the character as he was originally conceived, as well as my disdain for the way Blue Devil has been dealt with over the past decade. But at the time DOV hit the shelves, Blue Devil hadn’t been seen too often around the DC Universe, so I figured I’d give the series a shot to find out what the creative minds at DC had in store for him. From there, I fell into the ongoing SHADOWPACT series—I had grown to like the Detective Chimp character, and while I didn’t really know much about the others in the group, I thought their visuals were interesting and I was willing to see how the series developed. Unfortunately, development seemed to be a four-letter word when it came to the Shadowpact team. I waded through a few issues of hellishly bland storytelling, an absolute absence or character development and mediocre art before giving the series up (the final nail in the coffin was when Blue Devil began sporadically to speak in rhyme—I knew where that was going and I wanted no part of it).
Flash forward to a couple of years later as I’m browsing the racks at my local comic shop. I picked up #24 and idly flipped to the last page when I see it: the original Blue Devil design! Could it be that DC was going to bring the character back to its roots? I bought #’s 23 and 24 and discovered that Blue Devil had managed to win his soul back in the courts of Hell, and was therefore transformed back to Dan Cassidy. However, to help his teammates fight against the demon hordes of the Sun King (who was one of the goofiest looking villains ever—a giant sun with a chubby face; all he was missing was two scoops of raisins) Cassidy donned the prototype Blue Devil suit he had originally built. Knowing that the next issue was to be the last of the series, my fanboy-ness was running wild. Maybe the whole reason for this mediocre comic book series was to bring Blue Devil back to his former glory (what little of it there was)! After all, I reasoned, maybe the Sun King was SUPPOSED to look goofy, just like the sillier villains that used to grace the BLUE DEVIL series… and the courtroom case in Hell was handled with a little humor, not with any heavy-handed melodrama… was it possible that SHADOWPACT was intended to bring back the days of fun comic books? Eagerly I awaited #25, wondering what Sturges had in store for my favorite B-List ‘80s superhero…
Turns out he had zilch.
Within the first 6 pages the original suit is busted and Dan Cassidy turns back into a demon. And there’s no real reason that it should happen. His demonized brother, “Jack of Fire,” kills himself with Blue Devil’s mystical trident so that Cassidy gets his powers back, his soul back, and a standing rank in Hell. It’s an act that doesn’t fit in at all with the actions and personality of Jack of Fire as I’ve seen in earlier issues. It’s not crucial to the outcome of the battle with the Sun King. It’s lazy writing, pure and simple. The status quo needs to be maintained, so shit happens without reasonable motivation just so we can get there quickly with as little fuss as possible. Remember that turd of a movie called “Fantastic Four?” Remember how Ben Grimm bitched and moaned about wanting to be human for the whole movie, only to change himself right back into the Thing after, oh, about ten minutes of not being covered in latex? Remember how his being the Thing did not really make a difference in the climactic (and I use that term loosely) fight with Dr. Doom? That’s exactly how it happens in this comic. Shit, the least they could have done is try to come up with a more interesting design for Blue Devil upon his re-demonization. But no, he still has the same stupid yellow horns, the same stupid outfit with the stupid black t-shirt with the stupid crest in the corner like he’s wearing a superhero polo shirt.
The funny thing is, the few pages where BD is drawn in his original duds look really good. I think Phil Winslade might be a classic Blue Devil fan, too.
Anyhoo, the long and short of it is that SHADOWPACT ends as it began: in a blaze of blandness. And it appears from the blurb on the back page that the blandness will continue in REIGN IN HELL, whenever that comes out. My advice to the DC editorial staff? Scrape off the chuff characters—Ragman, Enchantress, et al—and focus on the only characters worth keeping: Blue Devil and Detective Chimp. It’d make a great buddy book—think about it!
Oh well. At least I’ve got my complete run of BLUE DEVIL and my Justice League Unlimited Blue Devil action figure to feed my monkey.
THE CURRENT STATE OF MARVEL UK
An @$$-itorial by Stones Throw, taking in THE ASTONISHING SPIDER-MAN #29 and MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL #69 Marvel UK homepage A pretty detailed fansiteI’m not sure to what extent this is common knowledge, but Marvel has had a fully-functioning British division for a good few decades. In the 1970s big names like Jack Kirby and John Buscema contributed pages to magazines like MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL and HULK WEEKLY. Alan Moore began his Captain Britain in the pages of THE DAREDEVILS, another reprint magazine. Marvel UK achieved its highest prominence in the 1990s when the original book DEATH’S HEAD was a hit in the #1 crazy market.
European publisher Panini got the license in the mid-90s. The main thing they publish are monthly “Collector’s Editions” which sell in newsagents and supermarkets and reprint three or so US comics every issue. It’s kind of interesting in that the audience is both kids who get their parents to buy them and older Marvel fans. Like a guy named Paul who’s going to university in the autumn wrote into this week’s SPIDER-MAN saying how he collects every title. Yeah Paul, I wrote a letter like that when I was 10 or something. Good luck with the university.
But I am a fan of the Collector’s Edition format. It’s great for getting a sense of the lost tradition of action-packed Marvel comics utilizing continuity and the shared universe, and it’s also the best place I know to find original size and color back issues. So when I noticed the comics rack in Borders I decided to check in with how they were holding up.
There’s currently seven Collector’s Editions on British newsstands:
ASTONISHING SPIDER-MAN ESSENTIAL X-MEN WOLVERINE AND DEADPOOL AVENGERS UNLIMITED MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL FANTASTIC FOUR ADVENTURES and MARVEL LEGENDS (Brubaker’s Cap, Ellis’ Iron Man and Jurgens’ Thor).
I have to say that my first reaction was sadness: AVENGERS UNLIMITED has passed “Avengers Disassembled” and is now on NEW AVENGERS and ILLUMINATI in its main features. I get why they want to lead with modern stuff, but at the same time I regretted seeing something that I held up as one of the bastions of cool, original Marvel moving onto the stories that did away with tradition in favor of self-awareness and events over character. But from the philosophical perspective it’s all part of the big picture, ain’t it? Anyway, intrigued by the always interesting back-ups, I stumped up £5 for two CEs.
The Spider-Man title is currently reprinting that crappy “Other” storyline from a few years back. I’m not sure how well this is going down with the core audience (there were letters complaining about the lack of action), but in these Marvel movie-heavy days, the line is evidently doing well enough for ASTONISHING to go fortnightly. Cool and all, but mightn’t it be disadvantageous to the aim of appealing to Brit kids who aren’t otherwise able to get to a comic store? Still, the three reprints were:
“The Other” Part 6 by Reggie Hudlin and Mike Deodato Jr. – didn’t read it.
SPIDER-MAN: BLUE # 3 by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale – pretty damn fantastic. Loeb and Sale get right to the heart of the emotion and excitement of the 1960s classics while losing the cheese. Sale’s art beautifully combines Ditko and Romita influences. But you knew that already.
And AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 254 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz – my main reason for purchase. They’re on the original black suit/Hobgoblin days in the classic reprints and this issue is heavy on the weirdness, with Spidey just back from dimension-hopping with Starfox and Captain Marvel and wearing his SECRET WARS costume, but DeFalco and Frenz manage to sell it with their portrayal of Pete’s dangling-around-the-breadline existence.
Otherwise, it’s whack. The Red Ghost is in New York building a Cosmicizer to increase his powers. But he needs funds and since he doesn’t want to expose himself to the FF, rather than just sell an invention he enlists the Black Fox to rob a jewelry store with his Super Apes, even though he can freaking walk through walls! (Now I understand why this guy launched himself into space in a plastic rocket.) Predictably, the Super Apes go wild, screwing up his plan to evade attention. It’s completely crazy but Frenz’s art lets it scrape by. We get a good sense of how Spidey survives – mostly running away and letting his enemies do themselves in – and Frenz’s use of the black suit with the big, white spider is practically expressionist. Fun with cliffhangers, subplots and a capital F.
MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL is the most eclectic of the lot. Dan Slott’s SHE-HULK has been leading for a while. Given that Slott combines old school Marvel virtues like continuity and obscure characters with humor and modern sensibilities, I’d say he’s the ideal guy for this format. This purchase was also my first exposure to THE ORDER, the Kurt Busiek series from which Matt Fraction’s mini took its name, a cool read with art from Ivan Reis. Busiek excels at coming up with interesting visual ideas and then fitting a good story around them, a talent in full evidence here as the original four Defenders enslave humanity.
MWOM is great for older reads too. I remember one Frank Miller-drawn issue of MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE it reprinted where Nick Fury brings poker buddies the Thing, Beast, Wonder Man and Ms. Marvel along when a SHIELD helicarrier is invaded by the Yellow Claw (Jarvis stayed home). This issue’s was a Michelinie/Layton IRON MAN in which Ant-Man comes to Tony Stark’s rescue when his armor cuts out after a grueling fight with the Hulk (think the choice of those two characters has any significance?). Michelinie and Layton show us what we’ve always wondered: just how does Iron Man’s suit work?, and the results are surprisingly cool and credible.
Things get rounded out with a six-page Lee/Ditko sci-fi story from AMAZING ADULT FANTASY. My one complaint is with the next issue page. “Planet Hulk” begins next month, taking the modern tale count up to three for three. MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL was meant to be the most off-beat Collector’s Edition, and debuting with the early days of Frank Miller’s DAREDEVIL and Herb Trimpe’s HULK was a genuinely ballsy move. While the new line-up is no doubt motivated by the upcoming Ed Norton movie, I’d hate to see MWOM lose its maverick reputation.
The cool thing is, though, when I started thinking of runs I’d like to see appear in MWOM, I checked the Panini website and found they’d already been stealing my ideas. TOMB OF DRACULA, Stan and John’s SILVER SURFER, Gene Colan’s DAREDEVIL, and Steranko’s NICK FURY and CAPTAIN AMERICA have all featured. Seems like smart guy editor Scott Gray’s already way ahead of me, but even so I’d like to make some suggestions. Ahem. Lee and Kirby’s THOR. Gerber’s DEFENDERS, HOWARD THE DUCK or MAN-THING. DOCTOR STRANGE, particularly the Englehart/Brunner run or Roger Stern. MASTER OF KUNG-FU. Nocenti’s DAREDEVIL. INFINITY GAUNTLET. RUNAWAYS. Any of those would make great additions to the general vibe of MWOM.
So I’m pretty pleased with the current state of Marvel UK. If it was up to me, the ratio of classics to modern tales would be weighted in the other direction, but you have to admit it’s fairly awesome that the kind of stuff I listed above is making it onto mainstream UK newsstands and being read. It’s nice to see there’s a place for the lost history of Marvel amongst the youth of today. So yeah, good job guys. Keep it up.
GANTZ V1 (Manga Preview)
Volume 1 to be released by Dark Horse Manga July 29, 2008 Preview online here. By Hiroya Oku Publisher: Dark Horse Reviewer: Scott GreenThere's GANTZ; then there's everything else. Hiroya Oku uses the freedom afforded by manga to erect the perfect adolescent playground, then distorts it for teensploitation done right. The manga opens with Kei Kurono standing on a subway platform thinking back and forth between the airbrushed reality of the skin mag that he's leafing through and the unappealing real world in front of him. In his internal monolog, he has an unkind, cutting assessment of everyone around him.
If the grind of school and unpleasant social interaction wasn't enough to fill Kei with frustration about the mundane grayness of his existence, his long absent childhood friend Masura Kato turns up and reminds him that as a boy, Kei was the kind of fearless, quick thinking kid who seemed never to be bound by the social or even physical rules of the world. This "why the hell aren't I special?!" revelry is brought to an abrupt end. A violent death plucks Kei from a life indistinguishable from that of the despised shmos that surround him. Reincarnated into a sci-fi, alien hunting "game", the kind which only a sociopathic middle-school boy could love, Kei is given sex, danger and significance, and still find it all to be dumbfounding.
Upon their premature deaths, Kei and Kato find themselves in an apartment room that is bare except for a large black sphere. Company includes a dog, a stereotypical male school teacher, an older politician, a mean eyed, eighth grader, a pair of yakuza toughs, and a pretty boy actor/model/whatever. This decidedly male audience takes note when the body of a naked teenage girl begins to materialize, anatomical cross section by anatomical cross section. After some problems with the yakuza fellows and the dog paying the young woman some unwanted attention, the black sphere begins broadcasting text messages. The assembled are given sci-fi-ish guns, "cosplay" style skin-tight black suits, instructions to find a truly ugly kid called an "onion alien", and an hour to do it. The quest precedes in a fashion that is disorganized, gruesome, and ultimately lethal.
In the ICHI THE KILLER movie, the eponymous crybaby sadist rushes into a room and begins eviscerating gangsters with a blade mounted on the back of his foot. CGI blood sprays everywhere. As do chunks of internal organs. In this, Takashi Miike realized a facet of the potential of CGI effects... to bathe in crazy gore. In GANTZ, Hiroya Oku realizes a facet of the potential of comics/manga...to create the ideal extension of adolescent/arrested development fantasy.. hot, naked or scantily clad young women and violence that is graphic enough to provoke a reaction.
Oku's style of illustration is enhanced by a bold, digitally inked presentation. As with Masaki Segawa's (BASILISK) work, the strong lines and gradient shading lends an impression of volume to the manga. There's depth of field to the action and volume to the fleshy characters. At the same time, Oku has an effecting skill at capturing body types and facial features. It's not that his anatomy is great. If you study a panel of characters standing around, you'll notice that some of his intensions for perspective or posture outstrip his ability to maintain precision. Yet, there is always details like a shoulder blade or a badly fitting jacket that lend an impression of reality too each character. In a scene of a severed head flying through the air, the tears welling at its eyes, blood tricking down the nose, the details in ear and the shape of the chin all gruesomely scratch in the suggestion that something terrible has just happen to a person. This similarly pays dividends for less splattery images. When Kei and Kato look around and see a group of strangers willing themselves to be comfortable on the bare hardwood floors of the after-death waiting room, there is a real disquieting impression being walled in people you don't know and don't want to deal with, that you don't find in every instance of the thriller trope concerning being locked somewhere with unfamiliar faces in the midst of a bad situation.
There's no question as to the audience for this manga. Kei Kishimoto, the naked girl, not to be confused with protagonist Kei Kurono, is naked for 25 pages before Kato gallantly gives a jacket to cover herself. This is graphic, fully anatomical nudity, including pubic hear, and plenty of attention to how her breasts react to different postures. As a counter-point, Kurono is briefly naked, at which time his genitals are obscured by a mosaic effect.
Hiroya Oku does not have quite the same, porn credentials as "OH!GREAT" (TENJHO TENGUE, AIR GEAR) or BLACK LAGOON's REI HIROE (aka TEX-MEX), but his primary pre-GANTZ work was sex comedy Hen. Drawing well endowed, sexy, if maybe a bit too baby faced, women is evidently a strength and a passion for Oku. Because the situations of GANTZ are frequently incompatible with glamour and desire, chapter title illustrations are generally pin-up style character shots that don't fit into the story; the cast doing things out of character, such as posing for a group picture. And, more often than not, these focus on the body of a woman, such as an image of Kishimoto posing naked except for the shoulder piece of one of the black suits draped over the top part of her breasts.
Genshiken: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture features a scene in which the character Madarame, the character that most geeks don't want to identify with, but who most will identify with at some point, explains why some one could be turned on by anime/manga. Basically that the media are invoking the abstract idea, but point being, there is a pop culture tradition being invoked here and pornography is cooked into the make-up of GANTZ. To borrow a term from entry on the work of Benkyo Tamaoki in "Secret Comics Japan", a male geek should answer for himself whether they are hard-up enough for GANTZ to be "useful," but Oku seems to be working his hardest to provide the quantity and quality of content for that purpose.
This column has generally been critical of anime and manga with intellectual pretentions that simultaneously leverage base interests in sex and violence. Why does GANTZ get to have its cake and eat it to; indulge in prurient interests and comment on them?
Part of the reason that GANTZ can evade this is a function its position as a senein title. Because it is for older audiences, it is the pure form of the idea. It does not need to reflect the concept from around the corner of content limitations. You can discount something that is neither sufficiently salacious nor smart in its social consciousness. The whole idea that you are enjoying something that the subjects are clearly pained to be participating in, and that that discomfort is part of the work's message is liable to break the contract of a guilty pleasure. When the sex and violence are titillating and shocking respectively and the implications have resonance, then the crossed wires are working in favor of the author's intentions.
One volume in, saying that the implications of GANTZ amount to any sort of well developed thesis is premature. Personally, I'd take the under on the probability that it leverages ideas as intriguing as those of a smarter Afternoon manga like BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL or EDEN, to say nothing of something that isn't driven by the need to offer serialized excitement. Yet, Oku does not willfully ignore the mindset of his readers or the implications of what he is depicting. Almost as and offshoot to the school of serving up wish fulfillment where the results are terrible, there's an engaging dimension to how is fantasies are subject to human nature.
Fans of the GANTZ anime should note that the second half of the animated series was invented for that work. There are cases where anime adaptations of manga leverage the source to build something well formed in the anime's own right. I'd argue that the laudable qualities of the anime version of BESERK are largely distinct from those of the manga. One can debate the very different directions of the FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST anime and manga. Yet, it seems as often as not, an anime adaptation that goes in a different direction from the manga turns out inferior. After 23 volumes, the manga version of GANTZ is still running in its Japanese serialization. I don't have a basis to assess the comparative qualities of the two, complete works, but, based on images floating around (GANTZ cast in uni-wheel mecha versus dinosaurs, GANTZ cast versus men in black, GANTZ cast versus yokai and divinities), I can say that the GANTZ manga becomes stranger than the anime ever was.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for close to seven years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column here.