Writer(s): J. Michael Straczynski w/ Stan Lee and Chris Giarrusso Artist(s): Olivier Coipel, Marko Djurdjevic, David Aja & Giarrusso Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeEvery day, every hour goes by and trends keep appearing and cycling on teh Internets and in our terminology derived from it. Things like, well, calling it "teh Internets" for one. But you've got LOLcats, Rick Rolling, people getting pwned and those that rulzored them, etc etc etc. The one that seems to be running around the most right now, at least from where I've been wandering these days (mostly a lot of video game sites, so you probably get what I mean) is the calling of pretty much anything and everything as "epic". Epic win, epic fail, movie and video game trailers being referred to as "epic", epic boss fight, epic cover art, epic deuce I just dropped...epic epic epic. It's misused at the least, over-used at the most, but really, it's just goddamn annoying and not really very cute any more. But here I am, with something like 100 pages of THOR comic in front of me and really, all that's coming to me is, "WHOA...that was pretty epic..."
I guess I'm Epic Fail on hypocrisy....
It took me a while to warm up to this new run at first, I'll admit that. The first three issues or so felt a little too "decompressed" (remember when that was the hot word running around the forums?) to me. A handful of issues just to have Thor come back and then fight Iron Man because it was the fun thing to do then apparently wasn't cutting it. It wasn't until the more middle issues, taking cue at the end of that issue with the hot hero on hero action, where Thor started to go around releasing the essence or what have you of his fellow Asgardians that I started to buy into this approach to the series and how it was juggling the humanity aspect, not just from Donald Blake's perspective, but that of Thor's and the Asgardians’ as they set themselves right outside a small Mid-Western town and occasionally mingled with the mortals and so on. And then there was Loki...
If there's anything to respect with this issue, it's watching the seeds of the now mammarily equipped God of Mischief become sown as he/she finally plays the hand...it has been cycling for seven or eight issues now as she (yeah, that's what she is now, I'll settle on that) has moved the players around for a while now, and done her own bit of dirty work gathering the ability to pull the resurrectiony shenanigans she did with this issue. All resulting in the mother of all slugfests, hands down one of the best I've ever witnessed in a comic book I would have to say, and we have ourselves one displaced God of Thunder because of it, as he unwittingly committed grand patricide under unknown circumstances. It's all very Sandman-like, with one immortal sibling setting up the next to do something highly forbidden without the proper knowledge - and that kind of execution I can respect.
What I love is that this isn't a case anymore of "Loki tries this, fails, comes back in ten issues to try again". This is going to be long term, and that's not a crack on the erratic appearance of this book on the shelves. This is going to play out for a while it seems, and "people" are going to get hurt, and I have a feeling that when Loki finally does fall, she's going to fall hard. JMS has really made that character truly devilishly despicable, and I think it takes a lot of skill to command that kind of feeling of loathing at a figment of ink and paper that anytime they're on the screen you wish someone would just smash their face in. The only thing I'm really wary about in the upcoming days for this book is its involvement. We've got the Dark Avengers here, and it looks like Doom and Latveria are going to become involved and I'm not sure if that's the right direction. One, like I alluded to just a bit ago, this isn't exactly a book known for it's timeliness, so I'm not so sure mixing it up with the current Marvel status quo is a smart idea, and secondly, I just don't think I really like the idea of Thor playing too much in the Marvel Universe in general. It's one thing to drop in and drop a badass line before rallying the troops to stomp some Skrulls, but it's another when he gets involved too regularly, mainly because he and his fellow gods just play on power levels the non-cosmic beings of the company line aren't capable of hanging with for the most part. But, I guess that's always been the case with Thor and is a debate for another time.
All in all, I have to give big ups on this package. I've admittedly been one of the biggest critics of Marvel's pricing policies and FUBARs the past couple years - re: AXM: GHOST BOXES - but I'm anything but dissatisfied with this final product, which I think could also qualify for the current usage of the 'e' word. There's just so much damn content here, and it's highly appreciated. From the fantastic main story that was aces from the top down and commanded a huge page count, to the pretty amusing Stan Lee joint that I was at the least excited for to see more David Aja art (for fuck's sakes get this guy on a regular gig soon!) and the Giarrusso mini-Marvels story was just as endearing as you'd come to expect. That content was already worth the fiver and then some, and there's some decent reprint material in back and a cool little collage of every single Thor cover to this point that was neat to glance over. At the end of the day, though, this was a stellar chapter in a run that I think could become a classic one as long as the creative team sticks it out long enough and keeps giving it and the material it's rooted in the respect it deserves and the modern touch that will make it stand out above the past. There weren't many of them to begin with, but far as I can tell this is going to the one and only book getting the "economic shitter" price bump that I'm going to be sticking with, and if there were any sort of barometer of how good this book has been, that would be it. I'm a man of my principles, but even I'm willing to brush those aside for a hell of a comic, which this undoubtedly is to me.
Here's to six hundred issues for a book that I sometimes can't believe has lasted as long as it has, and here's to a hell of a kick start to the next six hundred adventures of the Fabio locked hammer wielder. May there be much smashing in your future...
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, Facebookand a Blogger Account where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.
Editor’s Note: Sometimes when two @$$Holes want to review the same book, we build an arena with the cushions from the moldy couch that Schleppy sleeps on in the spare room of @$$Hole HQ and have the two reviewers battle it out in a death match. The winner of that death match gets to review the book. When that fight comes to a draw and both Holes are left bloody and broken, but still alive, we give up and run both reviews. This is one of those occasions.
Ok, that may not be true, but it’s a lot more interesting than admitting that two of us reviewed the same book this week. Enjoy the double shot review.
Writer: Neil Gaiman Pencils: Andy Kubert Inks: Scott Williams Publisher: DC Comics Reviewed by Stones ThrowIn THE SANDMAN, Neil Gaiman wove an intricate tapestry of ancient myth, legend, and folk tales into a touching and tragical-type story featuring an enigmatic, melancholy and black-clad lead character, then wrapped it all up with a beautiful funeral story called THE WAKE (dreams? Wake? Funeral? Get it?), which was illustrated by Michael Zulli.
Now, if he did exactly the same thing, only replace “myth, legend and folk takes” with “Batman comics”, “The Wake” with “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”, and “Michael Zulli” with “one of the Kubert brothers”, would that not be about the best thing ever, or at least the best comic of the last week?
Well, now that the annoying intro is out of the way, I can tell you that the answer is yes. Yes, this is about the best thing ever, or at least the best comic of the last week. See, I knew it would be good, but I wasn’t really counting on anything quite this good. Chances are that it wasn’t going to be closely tied into whatever did happen in R.I.P., and what with the title (a reference to Alan Moore’s classic “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”, by the way), Gaiman’s somewhat below-par recent comics work in 1602 and THE ETERNALS for Marvel, and the one other Gaiman Batman story I have read, a hilarious short in the pages of BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE featuring Batman and the Joker “on call” in a studio’s actors’ room, I had this pegged as a somewhat campy take on classic Batman with added poignancy.
Well, it is that, but so much more besides, as well. What it really resembles is the great SANDMAN arc “World’s End”, with friends and enemies alike standing up to tell their story of the death of the Batman. “World’s End” was, of course, itself a take on Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES (which I believe featured Dane Whitman, aka Marvel’s Black Knight, and the Squire, who appeared in Grant Morrison’s run on BATMAN a few months back).
Anyway, Neil Gaiman follows Grant Morrison’s example by taking Batman’s entire history as up for grabs. Makes sense to me. With a character as old as Batman, ignoring the history or aping one particular era is almost certainly going to lead to dull comics. But I also think he’s more successful since he’s very obviously not trying to make it fit into one conventional timeline. The Catwoman who stands up to narrate “The Cat-Woman’s Tale”, is a different Selina Kyle to the one we saw enter in her Catillac (don’t worry, Gaiman also brings back the Joker’s and Two-Face’s cars). The implication seems to be that being a fictional, serialised character Batman’s lived many lives, and that he could never have just one death. Is that why Gaiman takes a leaf out of the death of Robin Hood for the conclusion of her story? You’d have to ask someone smarter than me. But I know that when I first got to the end of “The Cat-Woman’s Tale”, it seemed as wrong and sad as all hell. Then I looked up the original ballad of the death of Robin Hood, and it felt even sadder.
That’s Gaiman’s special skill, demonstrated over and over again in SANDMAN, and once more here” being able to remold traditional stories to make them affecting once again. What I would love is if he subverted our expectations again and had the story wriggle out from the frame structure into more of an adventure mystery (in the pages of DETECTIVE COMICS, too), as suggested by the appearance of the “real” Bruce Wayne on the last page.
But going by this comic, whatever Gaiman and Kubert give us is likely to be way better than anything I can expect. Whatever happens to the Caped Crusader, I’m there next month.
And now for an alternative review
Writer: Neil Gaiman Pencils: Andy Kubert Inks: Scott Williams Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugHonestly, I think may need to take a break from DC Comics for a while. I love DC Comics. I grew up appreciating the diversity and complexity of the characters--the wonderful traditions and vivid costumes and rich history. Out of all of the comics universes out there, DC's is the vastest. Marvel has its merits, but there's just something mythic about DC that I can't help but find myself attracted to.
That said, the way things have been run at DC and the way their top tier books are being handled leave a horrible taste in my mouth these days, Batman especially. The mismanaged mess that was FINAL CRISIS/BATMAN RIP really made me step back and ask myself for the first time since I started collecting comics whether or not DC was for me anymore. It jaded me. It made me not care anymore. And I hate that I feel this way.
Take BATMAN #686, for example.
It's a perfectly good book. The art is superb and hopefully this will be the year that Andy Kubert will get a chance to shine because he's been producing great stuff for years and now he's working on this high profile book (his brother Adam is doing similarly awesome work in BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS which I also review in this column). The detail and the paneling, the attention to structure and articulation of body posturings, all masterfully done.
And the story by Neil Gaiman itself is pretty kick ass as well. We've got a dead Batman in a coffin. A crowd of friends, family, and foes gather to pay their respects and tell a bunch of stories, and we have a nice twist where everyone there thinks that they were the ones responsible for the death of Batman. This should be a great story. Structurally and imaginatively speaking, it is.
I should be able to read this book and weigh it on its own merits. I should not be thinking about Morrison's fever dream-like narrative that made my head spin. I should not let my dislike for FINAL CRISIS and the bungled editorial and the lack of effect on DCU proper and the utter lack of continuity or consistency in all of DC's books effect the way I feel about this issue. But the last few years have been such a downward spiral for DC, I can't help but feel disdain for all things DC while reading this book.
I can't help but notice that this is yet another "dead Batman" story in a year where we have had too many to keep track. I can't help but feel disappointed that this is yet another alternate universe/Elsewords story cast with a set of characters that used to be so distinct and textured enough to be understood no matter what the alternative permutation explored, but now are mere shadows of that due to the multiple earths concept. I can't help but feel as if this is yet another story with the sole purpose of being THE Batman Story rather than a story that understands, draws from, and expands the history of the character.
More than any other company, DC needs to pull back, regroup, and redefine what their company and comic book universe is all about. Event overload has not just affected the readers, but the characters the stories are about. No one knows what the DCU is about anymore, and it's a sad thing because I'm a reader who loves the characters and desperately wants to continue reading about them. Solid stories with the goal to establish the DCU and the characters heroing and villaining around in it is what's necessary here, not another hyped up “what if” story.
BATMAN #686 would have received my whole-hearted recommendation in any other year. But because it dropped at the time it did, I can't help but find it to be another vanity project that takes more away from what the DCU once was than adding to it.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Check out previews to his short comic book fiction here and here published in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 and MUSCLES & FRIGHTS on his ComicSpace page. Bug was interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics. Look for more comics from Bug in 2009 from Bluewater Productions, including the just-announced sequel to THE TINGLER for their VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS ongoing series.
THE OUTER SPACE MEN OGN
Writer: Eric C. Hayes Artist: Rudolf Montemayor Publisher: The Outer Space Men LLC Reviewer: Optimous DoucheI don’t fuck around with my science fiction. My brain is an endless repository for Star Trek the Next Generation, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan; I want my science fiction to prescribe to some semblance of “fact,” or at least the highest caliber of plausible bullshit. So when I pulled apart the tri-fold cover of the hefty OUTER SPACE MEN tome, my Sci-Fi nerdar went on full alert. Spread before me was the introduction to a 1960’s line of toys that not only scoffed at my erudite Sci-Fi sensibilities, but also kicked Darwinism square in the nuts. Aquatic behemoth men from Jupiter, winged humanoids from Venus and an elephant octopus from Neptune, what the hell was going on? Did I just uncover the lost prophecies of Ed Wood? I immediately flipped the book over to read the brief abstract on the back. Being part of the ADD generation, naturally I skimmed: 1960s heroes…reimagined for 21st century…there’s a dude named Electron +, giggle…eco-terrorists and rainforests. OK Ed Wood meets Captain Planet. Can I do this, can I devote myself to over 100 pages of nostalgia for a set of toys I never played with?
The answer is not only did I read these 100+ pages, I devoured them. Mainly because when all was said and done, this story had very little to do with toys or a preachy message about conserving our planet. Instead, writer Hayes used these devices to tell a complex and unique tale that served up “scientific” answers to man’s greatest questions of religion, creation, God and most importantly the Devil. Hayes and Montemayor have not only resuscitated THE OUTER SPACE MEN, but crafted a story that left me admiring its concepts long after I closed the last page.
While I personally have no forgotten love for the Outer Space men toy line, Hayes certainly must. That’s the only way I can see him taking these lifeless poseable action figures with very little back-story and flesh out an entire team of classic archetypes: Commander Comet, the angelic humanoid from Venus serves as the team’s…commander obviously, Colossus Rex from Jupiter is the hulking amphibian muscle of the team, Electron + the robot from Pluto and Orbitron from Uranus are the brains of the team, Xodiac from Saturn serves as the soulful team member and Alpha 7 the classic green antenna Martian serves as the comic relief. I’m sure Hayes used some of the team’s obvious physical attributes to designate their place on the team, but what truly astounded me was the level of back-story that accompanied each placement particularly in the case of Electron +. Electron +’s estrangement from the rest of team was palpable in every page. Alone on what some debate is even a planet these days, Electron +’s place on Pluto is our purview to the rest of the galaxy. In every page I could feel his longing to belong and yet still always be an outsider. I haven’t felt this much for a robot since I watched Haley Joel Osmont say “mommy” in “A.I.”
It’s difficult to express the originality of this book without giving away the plot surprises that made it worth reading. Let’s just say that we are not the only earthlings to ever occupy this planet and our beliefs in heaven and hell are more than the scribbling of prophets, but instead are the figurative interpretations to actual events that happened in Earth’s pre-history. Hell is a place and you don’t have to die to get there.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give special note to Montemayor’s accomplished art work throughout the book. Whether traversing space, planted firmly on terra firma or exploring the solar system that once was, Montemayor set the tonality of each scene with effortless clarity and originality. Even the Outer Space Men themselves leverage our modern macabre sensibilities towards art work without deviating too far from their innocent origins. The only place where I was somewhat pulled out of the book is when they sue a blog page authored by a modern day prophet too move the story. By doing away with any kind of border or landing page, I needed the dialogue to tell me I was reading a blog as opposed to an e-mail. This is a nit though in what was otherwise a superb piece of work.
I’m going to close this review out by throwing on my corporate marketing hat, simply because I think this book is being short changed with how it’s currently positioning it self. I understand that this title is paying homage to the toy line and many old time fans will traverse this title based solely on that fact alone. However, a book that melds sci-fi, ancient religion and mythology in one beautiful package is absolutely the stuff comic fans thirst for, even if we couldn’t tell you the difference between an Outer Space Man and Mork from Ork. For round two of the marketing campaign to push this book, I can only hope that Hayes’ refreshing story will start trumping the nostalgia card.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. "What if the whole world had superpowers? Find out in the pages of Optimous’ original book AVERAGE JOE. Read the first full issue on Optimous’ New Blog and see original sketches by fellow @$$hole Bottleimp. If you are a publisher or can help these guys get AVERAGE JOE up, up, and on the shelves in any way, drop Optimous a line."
Writer: Mike Costa Artist: Ramon Perez Inker: Ramon Perez Publisher: DC WildStorm Guest @$$hole Reviewer: WilliamTo paraphrase the great "I'm still around and I'm going to outlive you all" Roger Ebert, I hated hated hated this comic book. I rarely dislike a comic book so much that I felt it was an utter waste of my time, energy and money to have ever come across it, but much like Batman recently did with his once in a lifetime exception with Darkseid, so will I with this comic.
So, where to begin? I usually pick up around two extra comics each week at my local comic book shop, ones that would be outside of my usual subscription list. I do this because I like to experience new comics that I otherwise wouldn't have, and if they seem interesting enough I'll simply add them onto my list.
I saw this comic just last week and it seemed good enough to grab. The cover showcasing some photo of WWII soldiers posing over a dead Chimera was definitely the deciding factor. (It reminded me of the great NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake that came out a while back, the one with the amazingly sexy redhead Patricia Tallman. In the end credits you see photos of people proudly standing next to dead zombies and such). And to be honest I've never actually played any of the Resistance games, but I am aware of their concepts so that the idea of reading something expanding upon the video games seemed interesting enough.
Boy, was I wrong. I think this was definitely a case of the old bait-and-switch, as what was promised on the cover definitely didn't happen within the comic. First off the comic started good enough with a standard dogfight between some WWII fighter planes and some Chimeran ships, but it all goes downhill from there. I paid $3.99 (ugh, I know) to get some Chimeran action, to see what kind of neat insight might be given about them, to see some one-on-one fights between them and some soldiers (such as the cover alluded to), but instead most of the rest of the comic is devoted to...wait for it....some high ranking officials fighting amongst themselves because they caught some of their subordinates in a panty raid with some of the office girls. I'm serious about what I just wrote: most of the comic is dedicated to a panty raid and the aftereffects of it among some of the senior officers. I thought it was a joke at first, but when the comic ended on page 17 (more on that in a little bit) with a hint about some atomic bomb stuff it was already over. I thought to myself "What? This is what I paid $4 bucks for?" I reread the comic book to see if I missed anything in between, but things were as they seemed the first time.
That's just the first part. The second thing that I hated is the aforementioned 17 page storyline. I'm serious, only 17 actual pages are dedicated to the original story because the rest of the comic was some inane short story about some son and his dad being separated during the war, where once again the Chimera are mentioned but are completely M.I.A. Oh my goodness I seriously felt I was duped at this point. How can you have an entire comic book about the Resistance and the Chimera, only to not have any actual Chimera within it (other than the brief intro dogfight between some Chimeran ships)? I mean come on, WildStorm--you have to do better than this.
I don't know whether to blame WildStorm or the writer Mike Costa for the lack of anything in the comic book. It was as if the comic itself was on some imaginary movie budget restraint, where the action within the comic equaled higher costs for WildStorm and thus they had to be careful about anything extravagant. Maybe a lot more interesting stuff is going to be revealed as the comic book draws itself out, but at $4 bucks a pop you can count me out. It'll probably be by the 10th issue and the $40th dollar (plus tax) that an actual Chimera reveals itself if they continue at this pace. Artist Ramon Perez fares no better at this, either. His pencils/inks were very very simple, and the characters were sometimes hard to even tell apart. Two of the senior officers especially looked like the same person.
Anyways that's my rant, and it'll be interesting to see if anyone else felt the same way too. I don't really mean to be so mean-spirited about the thing, it's just that when I'm spending $4 for one comic book I expect higher standards nowadays.
GRIMM FAIRY TALES VOLUME 4
Written by: Raven Gregory, Ralph Tedesco, and Joe Tyler Art by: Way Too Many To Name Published by: Zenescope Entertainment Reviewed by: Ryan McLellandZenescope's fourth volume of GRIMM FAIRY TALES has hit and you'll never have more fun watching your childhood being ripped apart. All those dark and twisted fairy tales that you might not remember being that gruesome are made even more sinister within Grimm's pages.
For those unfamiliar with the series, GRIMM FAIRY TALES takes those stories of old and brings them to the present where the story usually interweaves with some poor sap’s life. Just as a lot of these tales had harsh morals coupled with death and gore, these modern takes go one step further. They do so amazingly well as it is a series that is definitely skewed for adult readers. Well, you can always read it to kids at nighttime if you wanted to – it would be fun to see them wake up screaming in terror.
The fourth volume is packed full of stories including “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, “The Snow Queen”, “The Sorcerer's Apprentice”, “Rapunzel”, and the two part story of “Snow White and Rose Red”. The Snow White/ Rose Red story is the cream of the crop here, a fun retelling of the two sisters as ripped to shreds by Grimm's most constant writer Raven Gregory. The second part is drawn by Kris Carter whose artwork leaps off every page - never has a bear fight with hottie babes looks so great.
But it's what GRIMM FAIRY TALES is so great at: hot babes, violence, and stories that have held up for centuries. While all Zenescope's series are top-notch, GRIMM continues to be the shining star of the line and has yet to disappoint me in any capacity. And should you ever come upon a tower that holds a gorgeous babe with long hair you'll think twice about climbing up to see her after reading this incredible collection.
Ryan McLelland has worked in movies and comics journalism for the past several years before joining the @$$holes here at AICN. Ryan’s comic work has already graced comic shelves with Arcana’s PHILLY, WISE INTELLIGENCE, UPTOWN GIRL, and THE SENTINELS ANTHOLOGY. He rarely updates his blog but when he does it can be read at www.eyewannabe.com
BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS SPECIAL #1
Writer: Pete Tomasi Art: Adam Kubert Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugI've said it before and I'll yodel it now: I'm a sucker for team books. Even if the book isn't very good, like TITANS or TEEN TITANS or SECRET WARRIORS, I'll still find something fun in watching all of these dynamic personalities bashing into each other. Since Giffen's JLI, it's been quite common to see a mish-mash of heroes coming together and attempting to get along for the greater good. Usually, though, they end up bickering with one another so much the villainy takes a backseat to the heated back-and-forthings of these powerful individuals.
But THE OUTSIDERS are different. Many of the characters Pete Tomasi has chosen to fill out this new team have worked together in the past. Sure there have been different incarnations of the Outsiders through the years, but the original roster is the one that always comes to mind when the name is mentioned. Tomasi brings back Black Lightning, Metamorpho, Halo, Katana, and Geo-Force (along with a few new additions to the team) and the result is the sort of nostalgia that just might make this team of Just-A -Smidge-Lower-Than-A-Listers something fun to read.
But this is one of those group recruitment issues where a purpose is mapped out and players are chosen to take part in the process. Each character gets a page or two to establish where their lives are at the moment. Although not much time more than Alfred asking each one if he could have a moment is spent explaining why these teammates would choose to team up, I'm willing to set that minor beef aside because Tomasi had to bring them all together somehow. Tomasi never really lets us see Alfred's bartering and I don't know if it's necessary. Maybe simply being asked by Batman's butler is convincing enough to team up.
But this was a fun issue, mainly because there seems to be a lot of potentially cool stuff going on between these characters, especially with the inclusion of new members the Creeper and the new Owl Man. The Creeper alone is enough to make me buy this book. I've been waiting to see a bit more of the bouncing Etrigan/Joker meld in a team book for a while. His menacing grin seems the perfect choice to spice things up with this established team. The inclusion of Owl Man is interesting as well. Kind of a Batman wannabe, sure, but a character with enough history on his own to make it not be too annoying.
Adam Kubert is simply amazing. Much like his brother and father, his dynamic sense of panel and placement shines in this issue. Kubert has to do a lot of different scenes and characters in this book and all look phenomenal.
OUTSIDERS has been a book that gets a bad rap from time to time. Winick made it preachy. Dixon stormed off. Tieri tried to pick up the pieces. But it looks like Tomasi's sense of respect for the past and new school dynamic storytelling may bring back the spice this book once had. The characters are in place. The art and writing are damn fine. I'm hopeful that this rendition of the Outsiders lasts for a while.
A look back at the enigmatic Bloodwynd. By BottleImpThis week, RAIDERS OF THE LONG BOX asks the question: “What happens when a character is created purely as a plot device, and no one knows what to do with it after the plot is resolved?” The character in question: DC’s Bloodwynd.
Created by Dan Jurgens, Bloodwynd first appeared in JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #61 as a mysterious ally with a taste for flashy jewelry in the new post-Giffen League’s fight against the villain The Weapons Master. Bloodwynd was immediately offered and accepted membership to the JLA by mastermind Maxwell Lord, though many of the League’s members were apprehensive about this hero whom nobody knew. Blue Beetle in particular mistrusted Bloodwynd, and future issues carried the subplot of Beetle trying to learn more about the League’s newest member.
A few months pass, the JLA is called upon to stop the threat of Doomsday, and during the battle Bloodwynd in engulfed in a raging inferno. Blue Beetle sees something that the reader cannot see, but is suddenly beaten to a pulp by Doomsday and rendered comatose. Superman is (seemingly) killed, Booster Gold’s suit is destroyed, and the League membership is changed once again. The only members to remain active: Guy Gardner and Bloodwynd.
Flash forward to almost a year later when the League is trapped in an alternate reality ruled by a Fascist JLA created by Doctor Destiny. During the confrontation with the league of that world, Bloodwynd changes his form to reveal that he is, in fact, the Martian Manhunter. The JLA escapes the alternate world with the aid of a revived Blue Beetle, leaving one question: why did Martian Manhunter take this alternate identity?
The following two issues reveal that the REAL Bloodwynd became trapped inside the Blood Gem (the source of his still-unspecified powers) while a creature called Rott used the Gem’s power to take control of the Martian Manhunter and force him to assume Bloodwynd’s identity and join the JLA, so that (in a totally convoluted way) Rott could use the Ray’s power (who wasn’t even a member of the JLA at the time Bloodwynd joined, but whatever) to escape imprisonment in the Blood Gem and…well, I’m not sure what he was going to do, because Rott got sucked back into the Gem pretty quickly.
Within these two issues (#s 76 and 77) Jurgens also gave the reader the real Bloodwynd’s origin. Turns out his ancestor Clemma was a slave on a plantation owned by a bastard named Jacob Whitney. In order to gain their freedom, Clemma and the other slaves used an ancient magic ritual to create the Blood Gem, which she used to rip Whitney’s soul out from his body and trap it within the Gem. As the Gem was passed on from generation to generation, the evil soul of Jacob Whitney grew stronger by drawing the dark sides of the Gem’s protectors’ personalities into itself. This collective evil eventually manifested itself as Rott. Therefore, the bearer of the Blood Gem was locked in a constant struggle for dominance with the evil within. Not a bad origin, right? There’s some pretty good stuff to work with…or so you might think.
But after Jurgens left JLA, nobody seemed to know what the hell to do with Bloodwynd. His powers (which the reader could never really be sure of, since the character was actually using Martian Manhunter’s powers for the majority of his appearances) were left largely undefined, and he was reduced to the worst kind of comic book character: a generic one. New JLA writer Dan Vado tried to add intrigue to Bloodwynd by implying that he was once in league with the villain Dreamslayer, but who gives a shit about Dreamslayer? This all happened at a low point for the JLA title—a time marked by forgettable plotlines and terrible, Liefeld-esque artwork (right down to artist Marc Campos drawing pages sideways instead of putting the effort into making them interesting compositions without forcing the reader to flip the book around). Bloodwynd slowly faded into obscurity, popping up here and there when the need arose for a generic magical character. After DC rebooted Dr. Fate as a knife-wielding demon-slayer (the less said about that the better), Bloodwynd became a sort of Surrogate Dr. Fate, whenever the story needed a magical hero to be mysterious and cape-ey, even within the new FATE series. Hell, Bloodwynd even had that whole funky border-around-the-word-balloon thing that Fate had. But his appearances dwindled more and more, until Bloodwynd was given the ultimate insult.
Remember the INFINITE CRISIS tie-in series, DAY OF JUDGEMENT? Pretty much every magical character that ever graced a DC comic made a cameo appearance, including a talking ape wearing a Sherlock Holmes hat. Guess who wasn’t invited to that party?
And why not? Sure, Bloodwynd’s costume was a little fruity, what with the gem-studded garter belt (an aside: the whole guys-wearing-garters thing that happened in the 1990s…what the fuck was that about?) and the Dracula cape, but let’s face it, no more ridiculous than many superhero outfits. The name is horrible—“Bloodwynd” sounds like a digestive condition you’d get from a steady diet of Taco Bell—but again, dumb comic book character names are nothing new. Was it a race thing? You know, I think it may have been, though not in the obvious way.
If a writer wanted to deepen the characterizations and personality of this blank slate of a superhero, they’d probably have to go back to the heart of his origin: the abominable practice of slavery. Now since most comic book writers are white, I’m thinking that trying to write about the “Black Experience” would be uncomfortable at best, and probably impossible for many (one exception is Gerard Jones, who plunged headfirst into writing about race within the short-lived GREEN LANTERN: MOSAIC series, but that’s a LONG BOX review for another day). Even with the best intentions, there’s always the possibility of a writer accidentally straying into racial stereotypes, or doing the opposite and dealing with the racial issue in such a safe and non-threatening way that it becomes a non-issue. I guess it just seemed safer to ignore this key aspect of the character (not to mention Rott, who as far as I could tell was never mentioned again) and write Bloodwynd as a guy with white tights and a cape and indeterminate magical powers, and go no deeper than that. And as every good comic book writer (and reader) knows, safe equals boring.
Since Bloodwynd showed up in the middle of the 1990s crappy-comic explosion, it’s a cinch to find his appearances in the cheap boxes at your local comic shop. I picked up a bunch of issues for prices ranging from a quarter to a buck apiece—here’s a rundown of some of the more interesting picks:
JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #61-62: First appearance and Blue Beetle’s suspicions begin. JLA #69: Battle with Doomsday; Beetle sees Bloodwynd’s secret. JLA #72-75: “Destiny’s Hand” storyline that reveals Martian Manhunter as Bloodwynd (#74). JLA #76-77: “Blood Secrets,” Bloodwynd’s origin revealed. JLA #88: Ugh. Damn your inconceivable influence on comic art, Rob Liefeld! Read it at your own risk. SHOWCASE ’94 #5: “Hero of Choice,” some nice artwork by Max Douglas, but ultimately Ruben Diaz’s story turns Bloodwynd into a mishmash of Dr. Fate and the Spectre, with a dash of Marvel’s Ghost Rider thrown in for good measure, and adds no depth to the character. FATE #5: Bloodwynd is part of a magical Board of Directors reviewing the current Fate (Jared Stevens) and his ability to possess the power of Nabu. Scratch your head as Bloodwynd (still a new character in the DC Universe) is treated as an old acquaintance by the likes of the original Green Lantern, Doctor Occult and Felix Faust.
And Dan Jurgens, if by some miraculous chance you happen to read this review or have it mentioned to you, I’ve been kicking around an idea for a while that I think would bring Bloodwynd back to the DC Universe in a way that would both honor the origin you wrote and keep the character viable for future stories. Let’s do lunch sometime.
When released from his Bottle, the Imp takes the form of Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from the Northeast. You can see some of his artwork athere. He’s given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.
GO WEST! VOL 1
By Yu Yagami Released by DC CMX Reviewer: Scott GreenYu Yagami's GO WEST! is an energetic, enjoyable comedy western, not to be confused with RURONI KENSHIN creator Nobuhiro Watsuki's brief shonen adventure, GUN BLAZE WEST. Lacking a solid hook in its heroine, her predicament or her high concept, GO WEST! is not likely to become the next manga series to follow enthusiastically. However, even if it isn't anything powerfully compelling it's still distinctly fun to read the manga's Buster Keaton-esque romp through the cacti and saloons.
GO WEST's Yu Yagami has a clever approach to developing comedy homages to genres. I wouldn't call these works parodies because rather than satirizing his subject, the intent is more along the lines of erecting absurd, humorous situations out of recognizable building blocks affectionately borrowed from other genres. This pattern is demonstrated throughout the Yagami titles released in North America. THOSE WHO HUNT ELVES featured a trio of accidental modern adventurers, a martial artist, a schoolgirl military geek and an actress, running rough shot over a fantasy world. Rather than play the role of hapless strangers in a strange land, they literally attack their ridiculous problem, charging out into the world, stripping the clothes off elves in search of the magical tattoos that will send them home. Yagami's DOKKOIDER mixed character types from various works of sci-fi, particularly tokusatsu serials (ULTRAMAN, POWER RANGERS) with corporate politicking and a sitcom's apartment complex of troublesome neighbors. HIKKATSU! STRIKE A BLOW TO VIVIFY grafted post apocalyptic wear and tear onto a martial artist's quest, but rather than featuring an action hero like FIST OF THE NORTH STAR's Kenshiro wandering the deserts, the manga followed a young man looking to help people by perfecting his "Repair Blow," a strike based on the principle that hitting a broken TV will cause the malfunctioning machine to correct itself.
As might be deduced from it's title, GO WEST! is Yagami's western. While the summary on the back of CMX's release of the book makes GO WEST! sound marvelously incomprehensible, in fact, the high concept is rather simple. A young Asian woman gets off the boat, and entering America she declares that she is Naomi, no last name, 18 years old, in the country to locate her parents, who were missing since she was born. She immediately begins moving west, and meeting people who formulate assumptions about her, some of which are sane, some of which are far more questionable.
The journey starts with being measured for a casket, which might have been one of the saner ideas because it's prelude to Naomi traipsing into the course of a showdown in which a gunman in a black overcoat shrugs of a barrage to the chest before dropping his three opponents. Naomi thuds to the ground to find a scorpion staring into her eyes. She jumps up, and almost lands on a rattle snake before capping off her slapstick routine with a near trampling by a cattle stampede. After being informed that this jarring experience is par for her western course, Naomi hooks up with the first of her bizarre traveling companions. Far from a creature of "inherent deep kindness, docility and warmth," the horse that she meets is a rampaging beast insistent on running west in a straight line.
The core of the volume expands the manga's western cinema references, but also drives home its attitude of playful political incorrectness. "White, Black and Yellow" is about as classy as it sounds. Naomi is described as "yellow" by several characters, as well as by the design notes appendix. "White" is "Gunman," a bounty hunter modeled after THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY’s Clint Eastwood, down to the pattern on his serape, but markedly older. "Black" is Mingo Bomber, an afro sporting, dynamite chucking, kung fu kicking wanted man. Throughout my reading of the book I thought Mingo was wearing a black suit, a la PULP FICTION's Jules or a Motown singer. It turns out that the dark coloring and how the character was framed obscured the reference. A gray toned design in the appendix revealed that it's the Lee Van Cleef look from a FEW DOLLARS MORE. So, the story develops into a three way standoff of White, Black and Yellow gunning down each other with devastating revelations and challenges to those revelations.
In his comic strip afterword, Yagami jokes about doing research by visiting western themed amusement parks, Western Village, the western area at Tokyo Disneyland, the frontier village at Universal Studio Japan... Almost like a video game, this is the west as stage-like town square set pieces, surrounded by empty badlands to be travelled through. This plastic cactus of a world neither deserves nor asks to be taken seriously, and that frivolity proves to be an asset to the manga. Rather than simply turn a blind eye to plausibility and verisimilitude, the manga embraces its faux west as the ideal stage for its style of reference adorned visual comedy.
Much of GO WEST's success should be credited to Yagami's commands of the tools afforded by the medium. It's a manga that leans heavily on visual humor, and between the pantomime gesticulations, the cartooned expressions and occasional, well placed metaphorical imagery, Yagami wrings the most out of the available panels. With a thin lined, thin figured style, characters don't look bolted onto the page. With this light presence, it's as if the characters don't need to wait for the next panel to start moving. It's as if they're always ready to spring up or broadcast their next reaction across their face. This is the perfect visual attitude for the quirky, often physical, often slapstick interactions.
CMX's translation is remarkably adept at carrying the tone of the manga into the localization. The work's charm is enhanced when there's a distinctive voice to the manga, and beyond that its characters. Dialog like "I'll tell you a joke...there was this slim-hipped little filly who didn't know her right from her left and said she was headin' out west on her lonesome" is not necessarily natural, but this isn't a naturalistic manga. In moments like that "joke," the English wonderfully captures the playfulness of GO WEST!
A few of the gags in GO WEST! turn quick enough to prompt a laugh, but the manga does not generally have the sharpness to elicit laugh out loud mirth. It's more fun than funny. While I wouldn't rank GO WEST! high in a list of hilarious manga comedies, scenes like Naomi on her maniacal horse, plowing through the western landscape, straight through a cactus field, past a tranquil watering hole, careening through the path of a bear are as amusingly exhilarating as any Dragon Ball fight scene or Initial D race.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for over seven years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column here.