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Friday, October 28, 2016

A Review of Dr. Strange

We close in on a shot of Benedict Cumberbatch's hands.

Pristine. Glowing white. An enviable ivory warmth of presence that only an exceedingly few but fortunate Hammersmith-born gentlemen can claim to possess.

Not idle or overly callused, these immaculate hands convey a message of strength and purpose. From the mundane task of washing up to the practiced act of putting on a rubber glove, these hands, twenty feet wide and luminous, are conveyed to me through my 3D glasses as a presence in and of themselves, possessing a complexity, an aura, that no other hands can or ever will possess.

These are the hands of Doctor Steven Vincent Strange, master of medical science and, as the function and crux of Marvel's newest movie in a string of blockbusters, a master of the mystic arts.

"Forget everything you think you know," Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor),The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and all the other people in the movie take turns telling our eponymous hero.  It could be said they're speaking directly to us, the viewer.  Far from the militaristic posturing of a Captain America or The Avengers, removed somewhat from the Randian corporation of an Iron Man, and a bit more grounded than the space romp Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange is a love letter to the fans of the Marvel Universe in a way that is neither pandering nor condescending.

It has one purpose, and that purpose is clear in everything that went into this film, from the casting to the acting to the fluid choreography and 3D MC Escher kaleidoscopic landscapes in the Mirror Dimension. Entertainment. Pure and simple entertainment, with as little baggage as is possible while still conveying a substantial message. That means high drama, careful pacing, a comfortable confusion of plot, and, arguably the earmark of the Marvel Cinema brand: humor.

There were enough solid laugh-out-loud moments nimbly interspersed throughout the dizzying fight scenes that it demands being seen again and again, as if in some sort of mystic time loop designed to disrupt an Elder Being from the Dank Dimension. We can call this the Mister Doctor Bargain.

But back to Dr. Stephen Strange's hands. They are the focus that carries us throughout the film, drawn back to the center of the screen again and again, these sculpted specters of nuance embodying the film's strengths and weakenesses. We watch them perform miracle surgeries. We watch them as they are swallowed by a collapsing dashboard during the catastrophic slow motion car crash. We see them strung up with metal bars, and the linear scars that criss-cross them after countless surgeries. We see them shake uncontrollably. We see one hold still bearing a magic set of tiny brass knuckles as the other forms a sparkling circle capable of transporting an individual almost anywhere.  The scars of Dr. Strange's hands stand as a reminder to him throughout the movie. He is principled insomuch that his hero's code is the Hippocratic Oath, but his real drive comes in those trembling, scarred hands. Overcoming their tremors may come second to saving the world, but every glance the camera gives them increases their aura.  All the arrogance of a photographic memory and wit of the hero are helpless before these stitched, wounded digits.

This film isn't just the hero's journey of a brilliant man overcoming egotism to undergo an apotheosis and uncovering secret truths about the Multiverse before discovering that sometimes you must fail to succeed.  Mordo and The Ancient One are members of a worldwide network of people mapped with subtle scars of their own. They've fought a hidden battle going on behind the scenes of the Marvel Universe Earth 199999 for thousands of years, an occult protection racket based in Hong Kong, New York, and London, doing what they can to undermine the cosmic villain Dorammamu, an eternal being of the Dark Dimension using the zealous Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) to overcome Earth and invade the Material Plane.  This crux plays out in a manner that proves satisfying. The film will meet critical scrutiny and the Internet Legion of Shame with light-hearted banter and a highly advanced Windows Media Player visualization setting.  This is the new world of entertainment, played out masterfully for future generations of moviegoers to envy as the Age of the Megafranchise. Note the film was released in Hong Kong and the final confrontation takes place there. Note that Benedict Wong, playing Wong, is himself a double echo and does a brilliant job as a straight man librarian guardian sorcerer. Note that Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) is Stephen's grounding throughout the film, the last tether of the life he once held. Note the alignment shift, or lack thereof, by Mordo by the end of the film. Note that Thor and Dr. Strange will be a better duo than Iron Man and Hulk.

If there is an Internet, and I believe there might be, there should be a score of memes dedicated to the Mister Doctor Bargain within a fortnight of the film's official opening.

Doctor Strange premieres stateside on November 4th.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Comics Aren't Just for Fans, Anymore.



Here on the eve of the official American release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, we'll examine how the film medium has impacted the comic book medium, what truly motivates them, and maybe, time permitting, we'll dig into the 'pataphysics of their eschatological mimesis.

Let's look at motivations first: Gillette has an ad running right now that sums up the condition of the modern superhero's multiversal constant of cash. It depicts a razor cycling through the superpowers of The Avengers, turning the bathroom of a faceless male onlooker into a war-zone.

"Sure! A razor could be built using Avengers-inspired technology," a steely-voiced narrator intones, "but it clearly shouldn't be." At this, the super-razor hulks out and collapses the sink into a pile of rubble.

Sure, cinematic mega-franchises could be built using comic book inspired story-lines, and maybe they shouldn't, but they certainly will.

The primary motivation for the excess to be found in the film's plot and performance, as well as the accrued product placement in and around it is nothing new, and relatively simple.

THERE WILL BE A RETURN ON INVESTMENT.

All individuals involved in this new and terrible future have these words tattooed on their foreheads, in florid script like Leto's Joker, though visible only with They Live sunglasses. As the people funding these films seek a return on investment through megamillions grossing, so to does the individual moviegoer invest their time and money into visiting the temple of theater and losing themselves in an entertaining spectacle, for any number of reasons. But anyone with even a passive stake in the experience should know their place. An ant on the rim of a teacup perched on a giant pile of cash.

Imagine it's a gala fundraiser for fun. James Spader will be there. A small child will make a mess out of their Hulkbuster highchair with noodles shaped like Tony Stark's helmet.  Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver will disavow any ties to their father Magneto, holed up as he is in a revived 20th century Fox camp, while they are trading up for an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Mickey Mouse Club Hydra tie-in origin.  A tiny Ultron will push a Target shopping basket filled with Subway sandwiches and T-Mobile phones into an Audi. The Fantastic Four comic book will be canceled (for a time), and placed in a tomb designed by Bob Iger, who will then do a jig to celebrate. This will compound the frustration of every fan still being trolled by the awful marketing campaign for the Josh Trank film due out in July.  Corporate synergy meets spite in the name of cash, as fictional families and cities crumble around warring corporate titans like so many Gillette-annihilated bathrooms, eerie echoes of America's own corporate-sponsored perpetual secret and public wars bouncing off the wreckage.

It's worth noting that this fancy robot mayhem is being released roughly in conjunction with the comic crossover rehash rebooting cosmic super-event Secret Wars, wherein the Marvel Comics Universe (Earth 616) collides and fuses with its Ultimate Comics counterpart (Earth 1610).  The timing for this has been carefully calculated, as new readers or prodigal ones are welcome to join in the "starting from a blank slate" offered by the eschaton/apotheosis, which will consume these two universes (and more!) for months to come.  Various titles offer renewed takes on dead or dangling plots from decades gone by, and will, in theory, infuse a renewed enthusiasm into readership.  Marvel even went so far as to provide a Secret Wars spread detailing (with ISBNs!) what books you should read from the past twenty years to keep up with the upcoming amalgam battles.

It may help to go over a bit of the retconning and ham water that led us to this point. The Ultimate Comics line was conceived in the early days of the Bush Administration as a means of proving the Marvel brand was capable of casting off the "immature baggage of the past" for the cultural cachet of the present and future, specifically in a more cinematic manner.

Decades of stagnant backstory on the part of this or that Status Quo superhuman can wear down the interest of that elusive and ever-expanding target audience, The New Arrival. The New Arrival is a more casual creature, chill, with none of the loyalties of a true fan, but also none of the bitterness or cleverness that comes with a critical faculty for the stuff, either. Movies, being more immediate in their presentation and proliferation (and profit margins), are an excellent bait for The New Arrival, with titles finding that unique balance of "blank slate" and Status Quo upheaval/reinforcement as the perfect hook.

Such was the motivating factor behind Marvel's Ultimate Comics, the Baby Daddy of the current Marvel Mega-franchise.


The slick wide screen action movie dialogue and pacing of Mark Millar (Kick Ass, Kingsmen: The Secret Service) and Brian Hitch's movie star appropriation schema made Marvel easier to digest for the simpleton movie executives and new (youth dollar) readers.

It was in this spirit that Nick Fury (1610) "traded up" for the likeness of one Samuel L. Jackson, who is more than willing to provide his talents for the character in as many films as they will pay him to do. In current continuity, the original Nick Fury (616), after killing The Watcher and stealing one of his eyeballs, became a haunt of the Blue Area of the Moon called The Unseen. A while ago, a convenient Nick Fury Jr. (also a Samuel L. Jackson lookalike) manifested in true soap opera/lost son/sad trumpet style within Universe 616, clearly to avoid confusing New Arrivals who didn't know (or can hardly bring themselves to care) about the fella that spent time with the Howling Commandos half a century ago.

As the pool of knowledge for the fictional universes expand, so too is the term "fan" itself watered down.  Two sets of knowledge, one obscure and clumsy, one overly slick and refined, vie for objective validity in a subjective reality. "Fandom" and its antagonistic social media camaraderie comes in many forms, and the bitter nerds of yesterday serve as models for the bitter nerds of tomorrow.

This New Arrival is broader and deeper than the pimply white male nerd specter that has dominated the market's attention for ages.  In an age where Spider-Woman shame-Googles her own butt and Twitter sees a hashtag campaign started to fire a writer started because a trauma victim lacked reading comprehension skills and tact, we find ourselves with a lady Thor who can make Mj√∂lnir dance like a chitauri on a hot tin roof, and a certain Sam Wilson standing in for a powerless Steve Rogers.

The militarization of mainstream comic books has ever been tied to its origins and upbringing, and the devastation once contained to constraints of a paper-based media has been made more real in the expanded cinematic universe, a reflection of the standards set by the consumers voting with their cash and time.  As technology has advanced and the medium along with it, the narrative has adapted to fit the moral climate and political allowance of society at large, which can be seen throughout plots driven through every era of the industry as a whole. As a result, the corporate oligarchy is reinforced or reasonably deconstructed in the narratives, which gives strict rules over suspension of disbelief that fans can react or overreact to accordingly.

Once thought to be the childish arcana of nerds and simpletons, in years past comic books have shown their mettle for progressive storytelling, especially with independent publishers.  Yet the health of the mainstream industry is inextricably tied to that market, with many authors and artists seeking approval or at least a paycheck from the monolith before branching out accordingly with such beauties as Promethea, Saga, or East of West.  Furthermore, any melancholic nay-sayers should remember, the stakes have been raised since the first Avengers film grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, and with that, the ability to help the people funding these PTSD-flashback inducing Inception drum thrumming city-annihilating drama rambles get a major return on their investment.

Mainstream Comics are not just for fans of the comics anymore. They haven't been for a while. Mainstream Comics are for New Arrivals first.  Instant appraisal for the uninitiated is demanded, in all things.  Comics, by virtue of accounting for a lower percentage of sales than cinema, act now as a testing grounds for plots and ploys that may be reproduced digitally later, one way or another, which plays with the overall image society chooses to project unto its masses, in memes or simulacra.  The new mythology has taken root, and whether or not it will reach its saturation point sooner or later is, to some extent, dependent on the quality of the product provided.  No pandering, and no idiotic glad-handing, if you can manage it, Hollywood.  Will the time come that the vaunted Disney-cum-third-act-Tetsuo finally overtakes all major imaginary universes after Star Wars chokes out Star Trek with J.J. Abrams's hands, creating a monopoly over vast swaths of nerd entertainment, as if Pepsi and Coke fused, or DC and Marvel, for that matter?

At times it seems Marvel is capable, with their plot-driven characters, of moving more freely than DC.  While the metahumans of DC Comics shift more subtly due to their greater iconic and cosmic ties, they are to a certain extent incapable of the frailties of folly Marvel Studios has found success with in rehashing, for instance, The Guardians of the Galaxy (the key is always a relatable protagonist).  Common sense has it that competition between companies is positive for the market and the consumer, and it helps the industry at large if they are both successful and strong in their undertakings.

We will see massive adulation and careful criticism of the hooks and MacGuffins produced in this Whedon-soaked romp of robots and responsibility. Those that contributed to this spectacle will find that they will be richly rewarded for doing so.  The strength of mythology found in comic books will find its proving ground once again, as a marketable venture for Hollywood and beyond.

What of the small folk in the two respective universes, hung in stasis between Wednesday shipments? What about the minor nuances of a stable environment wherein characters can grow, change, and adapt in a manner that audiences will respond to?  Are the laws governing the metaphysics of flying men off limits to everyone but Benedict Cumberbatch's rendition of Doctor Strange?

As the abyss stares also, so will the commodification of superheroes continue to gain steam in the world of cinema.  In this brave new age, medias blend into one another as through a semi-permeable membrane, fundamentally altering one another, and the results are given relevance by Vox Populi in the form of cash.  Cash enough to buy a small country.

The future of Mainstream Comics could be presaged in the speculation bubble that arose in the 1990's, or perhaps it can be best summarized by commercials for razors and shopping outlets.  In either event, there is a potential for pleasant growth or vapid regurgitation.  We could see Lazarus or Frankenstein's monster, in the wide-screen mega-events yet to unfold.

Whatever the case, remember, we watch these things to enjoy them.

Watch carefully, see if you can spot the strings.

Friday, March 8, 2013

DC New 52 Dark and Intriguing Titles, Projections

EARTH 2

The real trick of introducing old characters as new in a parallel universe is to find a new world mythology to alert the reader to the primacy of the plot. Earth 2 does this, to an extent, and best serves when it breaks away from tropes of the DCU. Art is fantastic, and while we get scant traces of backstory, that isn't what drives a title such as this. Origins wrapping up, the next phase is establishing more world boundaries. Likely what will come of the world is we'll see more cross-pollination (or the illusion of such) and the introductions of new/old villains with their own spin.



GREEN LANTERN

The establishment of the New 52 Universe left a few interesting continuity gaps or contexts, not the least of which are centered in the Green Lantern mythos. The larger brush-strokes of the content can be secured in Geoff John's legacy in the series, and with the latest rush of removing Hal Jordan from his standard duties or adventures, we see the man actually confronting death, while his erstwhile proxy of Muslim heritage attempts to grapple with the intersection of their will and destiny. A new standard of art for Doug Mankhe's work seems to have taken root in the Green Lantern series, which is welcome and fitting. The stories have a flow, a richness given by the layouts.  One cosmic catastrophe after another may become tiresome for the average reader. No breathers, even in death.



SWAMP THING


The retrofitting of the Alec Holland story into his role as Avatar of the Green climaxes with the death of his true love, the Avatar of the Rot. The weaving of storylines that brought us to this point had our green champion cross over the retrofitting of Animal Man, the Avatar of the Red.  What comes next will likely be a let-down after so much development, jump scares, and the occasional resurrection, There can be a stronger development in the relation of the different arenas of existence, and that could be what is to come. 


Thursday, February 28, 2013

One-Line Reviews for Recent Titles


AQUAMAN #17
Written by: Geoff Johns
Art by: Paul Pelletier and Art Thibert
Variant Cover by: Paul Pelletier, Art Thibert

Steadily, the New 52 DC Universe has carefully hedged its bets with Aquaman, a bad joke given good substance, and the results come through in the story by Geoff Johns and the beautiful care taken by Pelletier and Thibert. 

8.5/10





ALL-STAR WESTERN #17
Written by: Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by: Moritat
Backup Art by: Staz Johnson
Cover by: Bill Sienkiewicz

The DC New 52 has given new life to the Jonah Hex franchise (and the western comic genre) with All-Star Western, but the real treat comes in the expansive unfolding of DC's old west universe, under a variety of talents.

8.5/10





BATMAN INCORPORATED #8
Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Chris Burnham


Though this issue moves at a break-neck speed, marking the death of Damian Wayne, Batman's sidekick/son, the scenario seems too contrived and falls flat, a rare bad note in Morrison's symphony, nonetheless beautifully rendered by Chris Burnham.

7/10






THE FLASH #17
Written by: 
Francis Manapul
Brian Buccellato
Art by: 
Francis Manapul

Since he reshaped the entire DC Universe by running really fast (again), Barry Allen has been having establishing shot adventures in his hometown, most recently concluded here in his battle against overly intelligent primates (again), but the stale material of pre-chewed storyline is competently handled by Manapul and Buccellato, while the art shows new potential in the formalities.

8/10






AVENGERS ARENA #5
Writer: Dennis Hopeless 
Cover Artist: Dave Johnson
Artist: Kev Walker  

The second-rate villain Arcade has redesigned Murderworld to thin out the Avengers Academy by forcing them into mortal battle with one another, which seems like a tired premise and would be if not for clever character development by Dennis Hopeless and near-perfect visuals by Dave Johnson.

9/10





UNCANNY AVENGERS #4
Writer: Rick Remender
Penciler: John Cassaday
Inker: John Cassaday
Colorists: Laura Martin and Larry Molinar
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editors: Tom Brevoort and Daniel Ketchum

The extension of the Red Skull's plot to pit humans against mutants presents the first major threat to the newly integrated team of Avengers that include Havok, Rogue, and the Scarlet Witch; the solid script by Remender and award-winning artwork by John Cassady make this book a high-quality treat. 

9/10







UNCANNY X-MEN #2
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis 
Penciler: Chris Bachalo 
Cover Artist: Chris Bachalo 

With the new relaunch of Uncanny X-Men, we see a disgraced and power-fragmented Cyclops attempting to assemble a school for wayward teen mutants in the hope of defending themselves against the various threats of humanity, given weight by Bendis and sculpted by Bachalo.

8.5/10






YOUNG AVENGERS #2
Writer: Kieron Gillen 
Artists: Jamie Mckelvie with Mike Norton


Kieron Gillen delivers a no-frils superhero team comprised of a younger generation of interesting characters, and Jamie Mckelvie and Mike Norton are having a good time with narrative design, in terms of asethetics, making this a surprisingly impressive exercise.

8.5/10






Thursday, February 21, 2013

DC's Green Lantern comics: Wrath of the First Lantern

GREEN LANTERN #17
Written by: 
Geoff Johns
Art by: 
Doug Mahnke
Christian Alamy
Cover by: 
Doug Mahnke
Mark Irwin
Variant Cover by: 
Doug Mahnke

Many years ago, when Grant Morrison was writing a brief successful title for DC Comics called "JLA: Earth 2" the antimatter Green Lantern's ring said a word echoing from ages past and total obscurity, which has now emerged, center stage and super powerful. Volthoom, the First Lantern. It feels weird knowing that Hal Jordan is so very unsuccessful in his own title. He's practically dying to get back into it, since he and Sinestro found their way into the space between life and death that house the spirits of the Black Lantern Corps, well... here's the thing. Our "First Lantern" Volthoom is a psychotic cosmic sadist. Conceptually possessing the power of a god, the ability to tweak reality via different individual's "lifeline constellation" and feed on the emotional spectrum that it triggers within each character. This will no doubt as the series continues (alternating between each title until it exhausts itself with Volthoom's inevitable undoing via his own hubris/sacrifice of one for the many/etc.) be an opportunity for the characters proper timelines (since the reboot) to be explored. Doug Mahnke needs more awards for his work on this title. Geoff Johns would appear to be heading out (leaving the Green Lantern title soon) with a bang or two.

9/10




GREEN LANTERN CORPS #17
Written by:
Peter J. Tomasi
Art by:
Fernando Pasarin
Scott Hanna
Cover by:
Andy Kubert
Variant Cover by:
Andy Kubert

Guy Gardener has gone through enough phases by now that the human centipede 4D creature featured on the first major splash-page of this issue is more freaky in some ways than any other of the First Lantern's visits. This all calls to mind the spirit of Grant Morrison, who briefly touched the Green Lantern mythos (which has for so long been Geoff's baby) with Final Crisis, years ago, and also in the aforementioned Earth 2, which mentions Volthoom in passing (certainly other instances of this name arising have occurred, but with this run of the Green Lantern books we really get to see what he does). But specifically, the end of Morrison's fantastic series The Invisibles reaches a point at which the main character Dane acheives a heightened awareness of dimensional superstructures. This runs parallel to the power of Volthoom the First Lantern. With this particular issue of GL Corps, he feasts on the emotional spectrum (he prefers pain and despair) of the oddly effervescent Guy Gardner. It's worth noting that this veers into his brief time as a Red Lantern and focuses on the red herring of death and doom (in store for Jon Stewart next issue). Overall, a pretty decent issue. Fernando Pasarin has a quality to his detail-work that serves the wordy but worth-a-reread script by Peter J Tomasi.  Story flow works, and this doesn't feel especially "tacked onto a crossover", which is the risk run with such events.

8/10




GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS #17
Written by:
Tony Bedard
Art by:
Aaron Kuder
Cover by:
Aaron Kuder
Variant Cover by:
Aaron Kuder

In the constellation of titles that compose the Green Lantern sector of the DC Multiverse, it is Green Lantern: New Guardians that tips the hand of the editors in terms of their long-term plans. Aaron Kuder's art is fantastic and fractured, and Tony Bedard clips the back-and-forth between Kyle and the First Lantern into something more natural than the concurrent GL Corps and also more intriguing. Since the reformat of the DC New 52, Kyle Rayner has been removed from the planet at large (barring a brief crossover with Blue Beetle, R.I.P.) and spends a good deal of his time galavanting about the galaxy willy-nilly or dealing with Artificial Solar Systems or the Rainbow Brigade of Emotion he's been gathering up and helping to develop a back-story/character(pointing to the title without explicitly labeling the group as such). Volthoom seems to have more trouble with Kyle than the other characters he's been poking with a sharp stick. Certainly this will all lead somewhere. Probably a near-miss on cosmic extinction and a heroic sacrifice. And probably new guardians. The old ones rotted through.

8.5/10


Thursday, January 3, 2013

On the Nature of the Industry: Free Association.

Where Mutantkind's Utopia has produced a GMO seed to wipe out world hunger, you can bet Monsanto's watching.



Remember, Comic Books are Big Money now. 

It's gotten to the point that it's lazy to even allude to the tag line ("Comics are not for kids anymore") so frequently and freely repeated as an introduction by lazy journalists over the years for their hum-drum research of the new mature themes expressed by the once-chemically-castrated medium. It's an industry joke to just say comics aren't for kids.  When were they last for kids? Unless you're talking baby goats, there are no more kids. The Internet is raising this new batch as the Television raised those of us born into the ad-blasted 80's, and none of them are children. Even the simple reference parenthetical presented here is simply to conjure the final nail in its coffin, on a tapestry of blog blubber. 

Nobody gets to use that term which shall not be repeated.  Anymore. Ever.

Your average mainstream comic book is for two kinds of people. Teenagers and people with the same interests as teenagers (though, in Reality a divergence of sex and age and status ever-expanding, providing a common watering hole of nerd culture expressed in 10,000 neon Pokemon balls of media, much of it becoming interactive in a new and initially awkward way, most meeting the aesthetics ranges expected from medium to major overweight/out-of-shape/ malformed/ mutated service industry hopefuls). Intangibles emerge immediately. The service of these forms is exemplified in the minute variance of theme available  (many notable exceptions notwithstanding) in mainstream comic book media. The Gangster Ethics that Alan Moore describes prescribes a thuggish glare to the industry that often accompanies fame for these age-old standing standards of character, or lack thereof. These are stories that most often struggle with the idea of the Hero's Journey, attempting to subvert or integrate it through the use of panels and script.  

Heroes are heroes, but the Big Two share a copyright on "superhero" so that is, for the most part, what they have made a point of presenting over the century or so since the medium was first developed in a Yiddish fever dream, and these garish supergods spilled from our third eyes and onto our experiments in the second dimension, where the ink still boils... but the concept of superheroes is off-limits, technically. If labeling a superhuman creatively,you generally have free reign to call them metas. Or mutates. Mutants has the X connotations, another trademark alley exchange. Superhuman is itself an adjective, it is the act of being super in your heroics that everything breaks down. Superheroes, Heaven forbid anyone get hold of that outside of the rigid patriarchal monotone conditioning of a company in the tender clutches of a media conglomorate

You'd think it'd get tiring after a while, but comic books  draw from and speak to something primal in our psyche and by extension culture and society that no other medium does with quite the same smirk in your mind's eye. As Grant Morrison noted in an interview with the Onion A.V. Club, the combination of text and image on a page presented in a sequential format creates a hologram in the mind of the reader. 

When one reads a comic book, as much as if not more than in the instance of a standard novel, there is a creation of voice and noise where there seems to be only silence, but moreover there is a sense of image and movement that cannot be replicated in any medium, something to do with a thing McCloud called "the gutter". Moore has a great deal to say on the topic as well, in The Mindscape of Alan Moore, but we don't have five hours here to get into the intricacies of that (for now). Let's look at the history first, being mindful that comic books are a wholly unique medium that stand apart and in several cases above all other media, in terms of human collaboration, internal exploration, and general aesthetics.

It's due to the auspices of panicky McCarthyism that the mainstream superheroes we're just now coming to terms with in Megaplex Excursions were born. Developed in this Era of Cold Warriors, the Comics Code Authority was like a vice-grip on the balls of creativity, for the "sake of the children", which immediately infantilized the medium as a whole. A sense of surreality in culture was expressed in the acid-washed sixties of loose hook-ups and rainbows of irony and nostalgic sadness. Nobody even considered what it meant to be Captain America, goodhearted weakling turned Imperialist Liberator, or Superman, the Overman come to life in bold primary colors.  

Here we have an industry with its roots tangled tightly around brightly-lit lurid spandex creatures bred by men of subnormal intelligence, who were underpaid for their futile efforts, vilified at dinner parties, ripped off and bound in a rinky-dink contract that hardly provided for enduring legacy... These are the roots of the current standard of mainstream comics, and though considerable strides have been made this has marked the industry in toto. The current standard? You better be able to write for mainstream television if you write for comics. You don't need to even graduate from high school, though. You better be able to get along with other writers. As an artist, it is really spectacular if you are from another country. Overseas. South America if at all possible. It's also an industry to be flexible in. And careful. The Internet will immortalize your failures and your accomplishments side by side, with robots in the comment section arguing about something irrelevant.

We're past all that now, or so we'd like to think. We have stronger female role models within the story. Women do read comics. A great number of adults read comics and enjoy them on a regular enough basis. THEY TAKE TIME OUT OF THEIR DAY TO SIT AND ENJOY THE MAGIC OF WORDS AND IMAGES COMBINING. Mainstream Comics today are infinitely adaptable while remaining rigid within the Status Quo, insofar as they can resurrect their own characters to fit any storyline (or clone them, or rewrite history itself to nullify marriage contracts, in order to avoid the messy and potentially controversial issues that on occasion come up in the editorial bullpens). In this manner comics become an infinite game, and suffer from the drawbacks as such. So long as collaborators exist to produce them, they will be created regardless of their content, so a fair portion can be considered deadline pap, at best. This is all tangential to the real point. Comics are Big Money, now. 

Since Disney bought Marvel, you'd better believe that making that business investment palatable is a number one priority, but there is also likely a sense of freedom in some manners that have allowed for an interesting progression for different camps, those writers with enough clout in the Marvel pits to have played musical chairs, to some success and some "we'll see". Bendis can still draw everyone into an Ultron Soup.  

And in the meantime, the rise and fall of DC Comics has come and gone. A new Universe with a new set of rules, for the fifth time or more, COIE the only standard for the limitless reboot, conceived by the continuity conscious Alan Moore then retooled as the means to explain how octogenarian superheroes can be translated into the rough trade of the Megamillions post-Star Wars Money Cage. 

In the end, we'll see the law of diminishing returns at times, but the pendulum always swings the other way in the end. Comics will mature as a medium while somehow maintaining a bond with the vox populi by virtue of its aforementioned ingratiating nature. Comics cure an itch in the mind of many, and all the results, fair or foul, are reflected back into the medium immediately. Reflexive containment of a conceptual structure. Word bubbles and snapshots of moments in memory. Let's take it as seriously as we are able, and laugh where it is appropriate.


Even money says this goes down in history as the single grossest Joker scene of all time. Thanks.

Friday, November 23, 2012

New Releases from Marvel (+Now!)

Every True Spidey-Fan in the country knows what's up with this image. Do you?


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698
Writer: Dan Slott
Penciler: Richard Elson
Colourist: Antonia Fabela
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Stephen Wacker

There's a certain air of gravitas surrounding the only title left standing at the three digit mark at Marvel, and it couldn't be in better hands than the brilliant Dan Slott and the fluid Richard Elson.  

A little-known aspect of geekdom that some casual purveyors, high-minded critics, and snobbish dilettantes rarely find pleasure in is the purchase and reading of a new comic book, serialized and standardized for our consumption, and then immediately re-reading it. 

This is in fact the unstated goal of any comic book writer and indeed the artist as well, but along different lines.  A comic book writer wants you to come back to the story with a fresh pair of eyes after the big reveal several issues into an arc. Old dialogue (and even the character's internal monologue) works differently with the new parcels of information presented, a bit down the line, twisting or turning meaning, while huge chunks of storyline form in increments, serialized as they are, episodic as they can be. 

With this issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott has achieved this effect in the cleverest way possible. After following the story with a wary eye since the refreshingly easy taste of Slott's cleverness with Spider Island, and the too-even assembly of Doc Ock's global frying master plan thwarted (or so it seemed), this reviewer found himself re-reading this and every issue since that latter arc in a frenzy of double-meanings and undertones and foreshadowing.  Nothing is forced. Nothing is actually conveyed as trite, even when going through well-worn territory (read: recent Hobgoblin story).  With this issue, and indeed, his entire arachnid-based oeuvre, Dan Slott has proven to be one of the absolute finest Spider-Man writers of all time.  Do readers agree? The issue's already in its second printing, if that's any indication.

10/10





That's right. Iron Man is showing up with a jet crate full of champagne, loose women, and nukes.


IRON MAN #2
Artist: Greg Land
Writer: Kieron Gillen

Let's face it. Tony Stark is a prick.  

With the fifth reboot/relaunch/volume of the Iron Man comic, we find that primary concerns of Mr. Stark include a: his attempts at altruism and atonement for being a de facto weapon-supplier being cooked up by friendemies into hubris-flavored crow, b: he's very very cool looking when he's drawn by Kieron Gillen, and c: corporate piracy and take-overs are a threat to any good superhero CEO.

Certainly, the inner monologues are snappy, and the tech is high-grade. There's some cockiness to the manner of presentation, and stiffness in certain scenes, but we can chalk that up to first-day jitters. However, there is an underwhelming sense of drive here. Sure, Pepper Potts is pissed that she can't be ... I'm looking for a "p" word here... paid? Rescue? Matt Fraction drew out the last issues of Iron Man into an entirely-too-large spectacle, which while pretty and making all the right buzzes and clicks, didn't feel any more substantial by the end than this iteration of the series does at its outset.

Naturally, with the oncoming blowback towards corporate overlords of America, even now bickering to get the middle class to blame the poor for their own inept malfeasance, we can expect perhaps a message from Tony Stark at some point in the future (infuriating super-rich prick that he is) to all of his fans.  Something unbelievable clever and simultaneously hollow that amounts to "Hey, I'm not a bad guy, I'm just a white male power noble fantasy mixed with high-tech knight moral code. I'm the billionaire that sleeps with all the women you'll never get. Don't hate me because I'm better than you. I do good things." 

Sales for this title can be expected to pick up once the next movie comes out.  


7.5/10



Sometimes you have to wonder why robots would want murals depicting their annihilation of all mankind.


X-TREME X-MEN #6
Cover Artist: Kalman Andrasofszky
Writer: Greg Pak
Penciler: Stephen Segovia
Inker: Stephen Segovia

Remember back when Marvel was the "House of Ideas"?  

Remember the classic and not-so-classic run of "What If?" and "What the...?" and then later "Exiles"?

X-Treme X-Men delivers the essence of all that in a "steampunk alternate reality heroes joining forces to stop evil Charles Xaviers throughout the multiverse" package.  It's fun. It's functionally one of the most fun comic books being released in stores today, and for some reason simultaneously the most "out of the loop" in the entire company's universe.  X-Treme X-Men is like that cool cousin you only see at family reunions that has a crazy mother (your aunt, Astonishing X-men), but they used to be really geeky and stupid (Claremont's original X-Treme X-Men).  Now they've got a special oomph to them, though. They'd be a black sheep if your family even cared enough to notice them. 

X-Treme X-Men isn't a guilty pleasure, that's insulting. It's an anomaly, a set-up for early cancellation (think Firefly), by virtue of how quirky and good it is. But each issue is packed with snappy and interesting story, the art always somehow perfectly fits the quirky appeal of the story, and it flows well.  Overall, a real treat. Greg Pak deserves some Offbeat Title of the Year award, truth be told, and in this issue Stephen Segovia's jagged style moves like an angel with dirty wings.


8/10



Admit it. You've always secretly wanted to set an elephant on fire with Ben Franklin's ghost.


DEADPOOL #2: "WE FOUGHT A ZOO"
Cover Artist: Geof Darrow
Writers: Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan
Penciler: Tony Moore
Colourist: Val Staples
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Editor: Jordan D. White

There are two reasons you're buying this comic, really. One, you know who Brian Posehn is, or you were at the comic book shop and you noticed Geoff Darrow's talented muckety muck all over the cover. 

You're not buying this comic because you love Deadpool, so don't pretend otherwise.  Deadpool's readers, myself among them, have been jerked around by this schizophrenic suicidal burn victim merc with a mouth for well over a year in the series before the Marvel NOW! revamp/rerun.  It's time for change, to borrow a line from the President of the United whatsit. 

Brian Posehn loves comics, but the biggest worry one has about a comedian writing a comic book is (oddly) that sometimes that just doesn't work.  We saw Kevin Smith flounder and flub Green Arrow and Daredevil (they called those "a tad talky" back in the day), and we've seen Gilbert Godfrey screw up that time he wrote an issue of The Punisher (lie), but almost immediately in this arc of the series we are introduced to all the elements necessary to expect a good run out of this comic, plus a sassy fat black lady that works for SHIELD (who enlists Deadpool in a "hurry up and get to the hi jinks" heated moment to stop resurrected dead American history figures).

The real test and payoff for this series is still a few issues away, but for now, the quips are fresh, the plot moves along at a steady pace, and Tony Moore's art honestly exudes how much fun he's having with it. When everybody stops laughing for a moment to catch their breath, we'll see if the stitch in our side is from all the laughs or inoperable lung cancer. 


8.5/10



There are currently 9,876 dimensions overlapping with Marvel 616. Next stop? Jersey City. It always ends up like this.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #1: "Castaway in Dimension Z"
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Writer: Rick Remender

We start this issue out with a flashback to a young Steven Rogers witnessing his father beating his mother, who not only stands her ground but teaches the future Captain America a lesson he'll carry deep into the future.  This gives Rick Remender's skills as a master of efficiency in scene dynamics a chance to shine. It also gives John Romita Jr. a chance to draw a bruised-up puffy face, his wheelhouse. 

In all seriousness, this issue of Captain America proves Rick Remender has the stones to run with the big dogs, as if there was ever any real doubt.  He goes through the checklist of perfect set-ups to establish character while paying homage to the arcs immediately preceding this one. Sharon Jones and Captain America's relationship, taken out and hung up on the wall for everyone to mull over. Zola and Dimension Z, hearkening to the first shows of promise Remender provided in the old days of Fear Agent.  

All the elements are present and everything is accounted for. John Romita Jr. is practically a seal of approval for writers at Marvel, at this point. He's familiar enough with the histrionics of the medium to convey everything more efficiently than he once did, and perhaps Rick Remender pushes that a bit with the script.  

In all honesty, this reviewer has not bought a Captain America comic book since 1995, when Mark Waid and Ron Garney involved themselves in much the same tones as can be seen here, in the old star-spangled super soldier.  For Remender and Romita, there will be an exception made, for however long it takes.


9.5/10



Would you attend a Power Point presentation put on by Bruce Banner? If the projector breaks we're screwed.


INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #1
Artist: Leinil Yu
Writer: Mark Waid

Speaking of Mark Waid, bless his soul for taking on this particular project, after the various Hulk fracases of previous years inevitably sizzled back into status quo territory (as they always do, no matter how many different colored Hulks are actually produced, how many edges to Banner's psyche are explored, whatever)...

The difficulty, of course, comes with the fact that besides being a force of nature in purple pants when he goes green, Banner is a scientist, and he is overshadowed by Tony Stark and Reed Richards, and heck, even Peter Parker's got a job at Horizon Labs these days.  Waid pulls this to the forefront almost immediately, and then moves in with that SHIELD edge, now involving the inevitable Maria Hill interview.

After years of working on the series Irredeemable (and seeing it all the way to its natural and satisfactory conclusion) it's good to see Waid returning to the mainstream and one-upping any misconceptions about his status as Silver Age Standard.  With Leinil Yu as ever giving us cinematic expression with each panel, the major thrust of the new Indestructible Hulk is rather straightforward, but opens up to great realms of potential.  

If everyone involved wasn't already vetted, this reviewer would be concerned about the status quo creeping back in, or worse, the botched attempt at revamping the status quo, then the mangled attempt at un-botching the revamp, then throwing the whole thing out the window and trying to multiply to solve the problem, then trying to divide it, subtract it, and add it again.  I have just summed up nearly a decade of the various Hulk series up to this point. If anyone is capable of taking down that mess and putting it back to work right, dividing by zero, practically squaring the circle, it's Mark Waid. Godspeed, I say.


8/10



Comic Book Reviews for Recent DC Releases


"Yeah, can we just try to drive home the point that Aquaman's a total bad-ass every chance we can? Great. Thanks."


JUSTICE LEAGUE #14

Written by: 
Geoff Johns
Art by: 
Tony S. Daniel
Richard Friend
Backup Art by: 
Gary Frank
Cover by: 
Tony S. Daniel
Richard Friend

Have fans had enough shenanigans to last a lifetime with this hacked-together driftwood that DC is producing with recent issues of Justice League? You know you're in trouble when your main event story arc is so waif-like it feels like it's being bullied by the backup story with Shazam! (which for some reason makes one think there are sick times in store for the beleaguered Billy Batson). The art, as ever, is pretty in a refined sugar kind of way.

Honestly, there isn't much to say for the story of the Justice League up to this point. Stuff is happening, sure, but there's rarely any extension of tension in the content.  The whole thing feels forced like absolutely nothing else Geoff Johns has ever written, and much like the Star Wars prequels, these issues cannot be undone.  They're canon now, we can only move on.  It feels like Johns is removed even further from his comfort zone with the (temporary) removal of Hal Jordan from the team, and the focus on a (forced forced forced forced) relationship between Wonder Woman and Superman felt like it lacked the passion it might have had with, say, years of actual build-up, as it has been rumbling in the background of the main arc for a minute now.  But the final page/panel of this issue is the greatest and most frustrating tease of all, as it seems to imply that something has been going on under the surface of these hollow automaton pose-a-thon caricatures the entire time. 

But that's just a tease, maybe. Nothing to see here yet, kids, move along.


6.5/10



What is this goofy mess? Superman looks, like, twelve years old. Heck, Jason Todd has more crow's feet than him.


RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #14

Written by: 
Scott Lobdell
Art by: 
Pascal Alixe
Cover by: 
Kenneth Rocafort 

A genuinely guilty pleasure of this reviewer is the smart and slick surprise sleeper, Red Hood and the Outlaws.  Whether taking on Obese Asian Mob Mistresses, fighting smoke ninjas, or taking on alien menaces, the jumping bean of the major arcs in this series seems to lead us into a nostalgic singalong.  With Starfire (amnesiac nymphomaniac alien princess) and Arsenal (that, um, goofy bro with the trick arrows and a big mouth) backing up Jason Todd (Robin II, aka Red Hood, aka dead man walking) in his misadventures, there's no way to successfully summarize the main thrust or moral to this comic book. And it wouldn't work any other way.  That... and Pascal Alixe's art could make anything look cool.

Red Hood and the Outlaws succeeds where many other titles along the same vein or corner of the DC New 52 essentially fail.  The failure of Teen Titans, or The Ravagers, or whatever other mess being spawned by Image-hacks of Christmas Past, is that the overarching plot crushes any real chance at characterization, which in turn kills investment in the overarching plot.  Instead of fleshed-out dialogue and events, flattened stick-puppets in flashy costumes react verbosely again and again to some (likely misunderstood) villain with nigh-infinite powers and an endless array of schemes within plots within schemes, amounting to bupkiss, since nobody involved is easy to access or relate to.  

In Red Hood and the Outlaws, we're put in third person limited omniscient perspective with essentially a cast of three characters, and each character's motivations are explored alongside the demons and angels of their personal backstories that inevitably pop up.

With this issue, Superman shows up and the standard superhero slugfest ensues. Except it doesn't feel forced or stupid. Scott Lobdell has grown increasingly comfortable with this comic, as evidenced by the spunky manner in which he chooses to approach it. It's not stale, it's not automatically painful, and where it lags, Pascal's art kicks in and distracts. Well played, overall, and consistent with what it promises.


8/10

You know you're in trouble when the slobbering alien starts firing yellow dwarfs at you.


GREEN LANTERN NEW GUARDIANS #14
Written by: 
Tony Bedard
Art by: 
Aaron Kuder
Cover by: 
Aaron Kuder
Variant Cover by: 
Aaron Kuder

Good old Kyle Rayner. More approachable than any other Green Lantern in the sector, and possibly the savior of the entire universe, soon enough. For some reason I have a soft spot for Green Lantern: New Guardians. It's quirky and moves at a brisk pace, exploring the potential for cosmic DCU done right. The art is consistent and quiet at times, then dazzles with the technological wonders of computer content playing with the chromatic content generated in the Green Lantern sector of the DCU New 52. It feels less forced than some titles and characters, you aren't forced to jettison decades of hard-won memories in the nostalgia fields just to enjoy the actions taking place. Characters are explored, up-sized, fleshed-out, and turned around each issue, and the cast of characters is such that the protagonist of any story might be explored tangentially to the overarching plot, namely the Guardians of the Universe are evil as hell and have raised a Third Army, rendered Hal Jordan and Sinestro moot, and are even now finding new ways to make readers hate them every issue. It's all building up to something big, and the spine of that mega-event is New Guardians. Expect its spotlight to brighten soon.


8.5/10


The classic "Fat Mobster type strikes a deal with a Demon", you know, the usual. No bigs.


DC COMICS PRESENTS #14: Blue Devil & Black Lightning 

Written by: 
Marc Andreyko
Art by: 
Robson Rocha
Cover by: 
Ryan Sook

It's nice that DC has seen fit to use DC Comics Presents as a testing ground for all the characters that don't get their own continuous series.  Black Lightning had an interesting investment in the Final Crisis storyline of universes gone past, and Blue Devil found himself in the breakroom of the Justice League Headquarters not a few times over the years.  Now the two of them team up to stop a demon and his soul-trafficking mobster with a skin condition and a glandular problem. Overall the art gets kitschy when everything slows down, but in certain pages the kinetics of it give the action an enhancement. Not a bad story, but by the numbers with just enough developments to keep a reader reading. Maybe.

7.5/10
Joker's back. And he's playing mind games with Catwoman to an absolutely ridiculous extent.


CATWOMAN #14
Written by:
Ann Nocenti
Art by:
Rafael Sandoval
Jordi Tarrogona
Cover by:
Trevor McCarthy

This issue of Catwoman is aggravating, due to its ties to the current crossover in Bat-titles "Death in the Family"... yet compelling in its own right. This particular issue goes with the new format of all Batman related titles, namely "Let's all have a heart-to-heart with the Joker", better known as "Death of the Family", wherein the Joker, having had his face surgically removed off-camera, somehow develops superhuman-like powers, not unlike Wolverine, where he can simultaneously be everywhere at once and at the same time develop elaborate death traps, break the neck of every policeman in a station save one, kidnap Alfred, recreate every single action he'd ever made up until this time and monologue until you want to claw his face back off. Here he continues with his amazing new Joker powers by conning Catwoman into paralyzing herself and get a bunch of bat-symbols all over her.  Nothing really feels like it's heading anywhere, and by the time we get to our stop on this ride, we may have already fallen asleep. Catwoman started fresh and still has a bit of that in it, but not for quirky cross-overs that feel like "talkies".


7/10


All the overlapping conversations of 100 Bullets are finally revealed in Wonder Woman, for some reason.


WONDER WOMAN #14

Written by:
Brian Azzarello
Art by:
Tony Akins
Dan Green
Cover by:
Cliff Chiang
Variant Cover by:
Cliff Chiang

Brian Azzarello is doing a good job with Wonder Woman and retooling the mythology of her new place in the DC Universe. The overall reverence for the gods and goddesses, fitting, one would suppose, is the circulatory system that makes this book function. Gone are all the mismatched peculiarities and baggage of the previous volumes, now at least her motives are clear and present. The interactions with all the offshoots of deity and godlings and established scions has been ongoing since this series began, and it seems to sit in its own remote location in the DCU New 52, far away from continuities that would muss it up. This is positive, for the time being, allowing Azzarello to enrich Diana in the manner in which she deserves. Where the Justice League's Wonder Woman feels more teeth-gritting and over-archetyped, the Wonder Woman in her own title is more regal in her bearing, fearless but not beligerrant, and overall inhabiting both her godly namesake and another thing entirely, a far cry from when she was a gimmicky drama queen or a murderous misandrist.


9/10