Monday, July 30, 2012

Mainstream Reviews for Recent DC Releases


Not sure if Meta or simply well-played nose-thumbing.

Here we have a dilemma.  There are poignant ways to go about the process of homage, and it's a rare and delicate thing that DC Staffers or Corporate Masters have in mind for the controversial Before Watchmen series.  True, characters and plot-points in Watchmen were themselves derivative from previously created characters, and thus beholden to similar strictures of critique, but that is not to say that they are beholden to the exact same strictures as this series, indicative as it is of a more common malaise in this day and age: prequelitis.  

It's a polarizing issue.  On one hand, it seems like DC is cashing in, and some fearful pundits point to the injustice of Moore's (if not Gibbons) legacy being besmirched by inferior product. Another argument goes something like: "If the creator or creators of the project don't like it, they should look to how bad their predecessors had it. Besides, DC owns the characters, they can do as they like."  On yet another hand, there is admittedly rich territory to mine in the mythos that Moore laid out, perfect and self-contained as it is.  

This series was inevitable, however dubious it seems.  

I recently passed a copy of the graphic novel Watchmen to someone that had never read it before.  Our conversations concerning plot and character were in depth and appreciative of the aesthetics inherent in the comic's structure.  It's still a classic and deserves a classic's respect.  It's interesting to note that Alan Moore's manner of approach was then and in many ways still is a righteous example of the medium's potential unleashed. Pacing, segue, and breathtaking detail combine to create effects no camera could hope to capture, and no future savant could properly match.  This new reader asked about the movie, and then I told him about the Before Watchmen project, as magnanimously as possible. He then made the next logical cognitive leap and likened the project to Lucasfilm's dreadful prequel trilogy.  To an extent, he has a point, but the qualifier from the project, ambitious as it is, is this.  Each of the series are self-aware to a fault, and their style is distinct to each creator.  

The talent called out for these projects is solid.  The characters are familiar enough to the legions of fanboys turned pro calling the shots that a justifiable love becomes apparent, even if it can't match the stark intensity that Moore's project possessed.  There is plenty more to be said, but for the sake of some sense of brevity and in the interests of keeping from straying into either malignant critique or sycophantic praise, I'll give that the best example of the potential for the various series (thus far) is Before Watchmen: Minutemen, written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke.  Cooke's style is best suited for this particular trip back in history, with DC: New Frontier preparing him quite well for bygone idealism gone sour.   


Justice League of America, still in-fighting after years of teamwork and struggle. I'm falling asleep now.

Tedious splash pages and uncharacteristic actions lend a hot-headed spin for the whole team in Justice League of America (JLA).  The more I read JLA the more distant I feel from the characters I had become accustomed to for so many years, and more frustrated with their less charming simulacra.  My first true JLA experience was the first issue of Grant Morrison's supremely refined run, which took in all running plotlines at DC whole cloth and spun a series that lasted through multiple cosmic crises, without missing a beat on who these characters are.

More than archetypes or stereotypes, the heroes of this particular group need to personify the super aspects of their superhumanity, with their years of experience backing up their every action, while embodying the human side in as elegantly as possible.  Stories with the universe's big guns need to reach far and they need to matter.  Instead, the plots plod along with no sense of potential as a crew of people that still don't seem to know each other at all simply deal with and react to matters that possess no sense of history or weight.  There's no drawing out of tension in the story, feeling like an overproduced jog through styles.  It often seems an excuse to needlessly splash-page, and smacks of Jim Lee's influence far more than the minutiae macro-scripting usually provided by Geoff Johns.  The first part of the series involved an invasion from Apokalips that occurred "Five Years Ago"... but what's actually happened in the time between then and now? Blackest Night? Brightest Day? Final Crisis, certainly not. Final Night? Zero Hour, perhaps, but Crisis on Infinite Worlds? Has Superman died? Did anyone even care? Who knows? I understand the draw to "here and now" the New 52 seems dead-set on, but what's happened in the past five years in the New DC Universe?

It seems the new reader gets less bang but more importantly the years-long loyal fan hasn't got much to go on, either. The entire team bickers and plays out their roles like rusty parodies of themselves.  There seems to be no breathing room for personalities in the larger-than-life splashpage world, so each character degenerates into their roles as near-stereotypes fused with near-archetypes.  Flash seems overly timid, while Green Lantern seems little more than a jock with a ring, whereas Superman is more like a quiet boy-powerhouse than a force of nature, and Wonder Woman is an unapproachable too-foreign hothead.  Batman? Oh, he just slinks around commenting on what useless twats he's working with, not much use or insight.  Cyborg practically runs the show in terms of being a linchpin of the team's dynamic, their teleporter, their go-to guy, but even that feels forced.  Perhaps Geoff Johns (and even a fan or two) remembers that the real linchpin of the team was and always will be the Martian Manhunter (we get only a brief glimpse of the one time the JLA attempted to recruit him, a two page firefight, but maybe since he's recently ditched Stormwatch he may yet show up again).

Recent arcs are general and truncated awkwardly. There's a "new" villain with a vendetta against the team, but the vendetta is vague and silly, his powers emotionally manipulating but ultimately empty, because the punch they're supposed to pack relies on content that no reader of this series actually has (yet, I know, yet).  This is the fundamental flaw and underpinning critique I have for the series (at this time).  Perhaps one sticks with this series in part out of a pouty nostalgia and partly in vain hope that the comic might accomplish a difficult task: feeling something for these newly-minted replicas of characters that knew and understood one another in a discarded universe and have had years, decades, almost a century of history together, up in a puff of comic fluff.  Perhaps what I want out of this series will take years to get to, or perhaps in the attempt to please everyone punches are pulled by editorial restrictions.  Johns is a long-haul writer and a capable scribe, so perhaps forthcoming events will shape/round out the missing back-stories, or maybe, just maybe, issue zero won't seem like filler.


It's all a conspiracy. No, really. Kinda. Mostly.

Complex, quirky, and variable, we have a comic here in many ways like a strange gem with a spirit of Bosch inhabiting it. Dial H is one of the more fascinating new series to emerge from DC's stables.  When a fat chain-smoking schlub named Nelson Jent uses an alleyway pay phone to get help for his friend (who fell in with a real bad crowd), he accidentally dials up powers from a vast array of quirky characters.  Bitten by a radioactive concept originating from the 60's wash of surreal characters (the original Dial H for H.E.R.O), the series has a bent to it that reminds one of Morrison's old Doom Patrol run, while simultaneously owning the bits of backstory that new readers and even some old readers are likely ignorant of.  The story by China MiĆ©ville explores a ground-level classic format, that unfolds like Japanese origami to reveal layers quite unexpected.  The protagonist, Nelson, plays out a perfect down-on-their-luck fool, and we root for him against all opposition, which itself truncates and expands and gains texture as the story plays itself out, in simple and complex strokes.  The art by Mateus Santolouco is a perfect compliment to the progress of the plot, intriguing and complex enough to revisit again and again.  Each character presented is so weirdly bent and surreal you have a giddy expectation of the next transformation. A fun read, and self-aware enough to pull off what seems at first blush to be silly and atonal in nature.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cerebral Superhero Movie Undercut by Tragedy and Political Farce

When blowhard weight-watcher Rush Limbaugh made the bold declarative statement a few days back that there was a liberal conspiracy tying Bane, the villain in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, to Bain Industries, the company that presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney retroactively retired from, those people capable of analytic thought and comic book historians all had a hearty chuckle.  But to postulate such a ludicrous decades-long-in-the-making conspiracy out loud is par for the course where people such as Rush are concerned, speaking without thinking, again and again.  He's since backed off of that assertion and now likens Batman to Romney, while Bane is an Occupy Wall Street villain.  This, again, is a crass distraction tactic grossly misrepresenting the intent of the film's creators, but acutely points out the major thrust of the film's message, nonetheless.  Batman as benevolent billionaire (an image that Romney would prefer to project, minus the Howard Hughes overtones gossiped about in the film's first act) and Bane, a genius terrorist displaying talking points of "power to the people" while holding a city hostage under threat of destruction via neutron bomb (very much a fever dream version of what the Occupy Movement ostensibly stands for in the mind of paranoid delusional neoconservative shills).

Then, on opening night, at a Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado, a gas-masked young man named James Holmes allegedly opened fire on a crowd of movie-goers, killing a dozen and injuring dozens.  News reports were murky and details were erratic surrounding this, the death toll and numbers injured rising and falling.  Hints at an MKULTRA or Manchurian Candidate-style implementation of psychotic outsourcing.  Rumors and politicization occurred immediately, mostly by ultraconservatives, raving about values systems without a hint of irony (or perhaps forgetting the automatic weapons they promote decent God-fearing Americans as having a right to bear, even if mentally unstable).  The suspect didn't shoot himself, as so many mass murdering lone gunmen are wont to do.  People say he calls himself The Joker, and his house, a booby-trapped mess of firearms and explosives, will likely be a rich resource of speculation for the weeks and months to come.  Sadly, out of all the confused news reports, attempts at aggrandizing oneself on the shoulders of senseless murder or pointing fingers in tearful anger, only The Onion actually nailed it on the head.  

This tragedy and the embarrassment of the aforementioned Limbaugh Flip-Flop (let's coin that, see if we can get a gif of a whale with Rush's face, beached and flopping, circulating throughout tumblr) unfortunately overshadow a film that stands at this point in time as one of the most cerebral superhero films to grace the silver screen.  

We all had a good time with The Avengers, though perhaps our misgivings about Nick Fury's secret shadow masters (remember, the ones that tried to nuke New York?) might have been directly addressed if the universe there operated as it does in Dark Knight Rises.  Bane's introduction is immediately engaging.  The cast of characters is introduced to us at a sane pace, their stories emerging more organically than many standard billing dramatic films.  The spice peppering the film is a simultaneous resentment and endorsement of entrenched power structures.  

The Dark Knight Rises is "a thinking man's" blockbuster cinema done right.  Bane's "Goatse" mask synths his voice into perfect Vaderesque villainy without immediate cries of shenanigans coming to mind.  "I am a necessary evil," he tells the nefarious industrialist before snuffing out his life.  Tom Hardy sells the role without the aid of facial expressions, getting a chuckle from the audience in the midst of outright carnage. Christian Bale does justice to Bruce Wayne, as was expected, and Michael Caine portrays his textured concern as Alfred Pennyworth with exceptional depth.  In fact, every single actor in this film (with one exception, catch phrase: "hothead") bring their roles to life quite skillfully. 

The movie goes through the checklist of superhero set-up but does not in any way seem rushed or slap-dashed together.  Nolan's choice of scenes inter-cutting throughout the movie make this a film about the subjectivity of each character's reality and the assumptions they make about the nature and circumstances of their reality, being acted upon. These are expressed continuously throughout the film, from Bane's constant nonchalant murders to Selina Kyle's most quotable potable whispered into Bruce Wayne's ear as she picks the valet ticket out of his dinner jacket: "There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. … When it hits, you're all going to wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."

The class warfare promised by Bane's scheme is only blinked across the screen at certain intervals.  The idea of icons and symbols are tossed around nimbly, the old themes of fear and the brilliant undermining of realism and fantasy alike play themselves out in grander and more minute scales throughout.  It's a controlled game, with nary a chink in its armor.  Pacing is the watchword of this film. There's no lag or pause that was not well-timed or carefully planned.  What could have been an awkward clustering of special effects and villains (see: Spider-Man 3) instead hits home with a real sense of character and, more importantly for this film, palpable pathos.  

There's a bitter irony surrounding the fact that this movie, hardly an open advocate for gun violence despite the near-constant gun-play (remember, Batman hates guns), became the target of a gun-toting madman's murder spree, and there's an even more bitter irony played out in the doublespeak of the villain Bane being mirrored by pundits, politicians, and philistine pigs to serve their own dubious agenda.  These facts, and the facts surrounding the haul of critical accolades and worthy praise already resting at its feet (and that of the trilogy as a whole) secure this film not just as a fitting portrait for the cultural zeitgeist of America today, but quite possibly the high-water mark of superhero film-making as a whole. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The San Diego Comic Convention is Virtuous and Good

Doczeitgeist: Reports from a being whose powers are able to warp reality as a lucid dreamer alters a dream. Doc Zeitgeist, the Parapersona Prime of the new and terrible aeon, tweeting live via astral projection from the San Diego Comic Convention International 2012. RVM interface/Begin feed:

I'm in a small alcove in the San Diego Comic Con's shadiest section, selling bootleg copies of an inferior episode of The Dukes of Hazzard.

LIVE UPDATE: My digital streaming reading of "Cagney & Lacey meet Simon & Simon" fanfiction has been cancelled. Meet me on the veranda.

Met a guy at #CCI who gave me his business card, then wrote his real # on the back. "Motivational minute"? Looks like a used car salesman.

CCI UPDATE: saw @warrenellis put a cigarette out in an ashtray made of Desolation Jones back issues. Four for a dollar. Supplies are limited.

CCI update: Smoking bathsalts before entering the costume contest as Dr. Doom is NOT advisable. Attacked @reedrichards, attempted face-nom.

CCI UPDATE: @mattfraction and @reggiewatts just gave a keynote speech in the sub-basement of Hard Rock Hotel San Diego. Topic: churros&soap

CCI‬ UPDATE: Dana on Mission Bay may be 7 miles away from ‪#CCI‬, BUT they have no qualms about me building a campfire in my room.

CCI‬ UPDATE: belay that last tweet. The fire has spread. Gonna run down the hall screaming "I will show you the life of the mind!" w/shotgun

I knew felony charges would come with this ‪CCI‬ trip. When I saw Bradbury and Harryhausen in 2006 I bonked their heads together

CCI‬ UPDATE: hotels in San Diego charge a Transient Occupancy tax of 10.565%. Bum bathing in a fountain told me this can be avoided

CCI‬ UPDATE: Drank Old Crow with a guy that told me he was@tonymillionaire... I asked for an autograph and he tattooed the name OTTO on me

Marvel panel will include extended sneak peek version of@Avengers 2 where Iron Man's actuary spends a half-hour weeping and drinking rum.

SDCC‬ LIVE UPDATE: Just arrived at @TheLordDarkseidAFTERPARTY, found myself facing a wall.  CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

AFTERPARTY‬ HAS TWO PARTIES, One Real, one fake!@TV IN A FISH TANK!! Kickstarting a ‪#hernia‬ and liver shutdown!

CCI‬ UPDATE: Woke up in Barstow with new tattoo & quart of absinthe resting on my forehead. How? Caught ride back with migrant workers

CCI‬ UPDATE: Patrolling panels: 10-4 You can't spell patrolling without "troll". You can't spell Saturday without "turd".

CCI‬ UPDATE: Stumbled into room 25ABC thinking it was Scott McCould's CAC panel, discovered Q's about Zot! somehow still apply to Groo

CCI‬ LIVE UPDATE: Preparing for an informative orientation session, complete with slideshow & condescension. THANK YOU RONALD REAGAN!

SDCC‬:most disturbing event I'm scheduled to appear at is Twilight Fan Fiction group, 12-1. Sweetlolapops will oil me down with sparklejuice

CCI‬: Dressed up as Danger Mouse to attend the Eisner Awards. Nobody got it until MetaMouse won one. I yelled BOOYAHWEH, then ran out.

CCI‬ 2-3 @ImageComics Experience: Hope it tops the 2006 "Todd McFarlane talking about the time he hit Jim Lee in the Nuts" Symposium..

SDCC‬ ‪#CCI‬: It's sad to watch the many tweets of people that aren't here scroll by, as I sit atop a pile of fangirls sipping from my chalice

CCI‬: It seems like the @marveluniverse is always hinging on Cyclops' love life. That and resurrections. Lotsofem

Axioms taken from ‪#SDCC‬ ‪#CCI‬ "The Tree of Comics must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of mainstream and independent failures"

SDCC‬ When I get to Tromatize Yourself Panel, I'm gonna re-enact the old Mayor-disemboweling scene with the fattest ‪#Troma‬ fan in the room.

CCI‬ LIVE UPDATE: ‪#Tarintino‬ crashed a ‪#BeforeWatchmen‬Panel, Twitter splodes.. I crash a ‪#HelloKitty‬ Panel (room 8AB) and nary a peep

SDCC‬ I mistook the @Gameofthrones Panel for the @SkyrimPanel and started screaming DOVAHKIIN DOVAHKIIN / NAAL OK ZIN LOS VAHRIIN!!

How is comic formed? They need do way instain editors who kill their comics, because these comics can't frigth back?

Creator's rights? HA! In my day we got paid in bumblebee nickels and had to draw with onions tied to our belts. ‪#Comics‬

Note to self: Clothesline entire room at Kickstarter Event, room 26AB. Hug the competition. Hug them until they beg for mercy.‪#notes‬

SDCC‬ 3-4pm, Indiana Jones Fan Group, wherein grown men will openly weep, confess the trauma that was Indiana Jones & Crystal Skull crapfest

CCI‬: I swear to God I am going to headbutt that Iron Man Extremis statue, just as soon as the crowd taking Instagrams disperses. ‪#Fun‬

New Superman movie. Alienated and ... well, yeah. Alienated.

CCI‬ 2012: Das Bosoms what wake me. Weak sauce:unstable particle symbiote suit. I milk cows on a farm. For justice. ‪#DrWho‬ panel. ‪#wah‬

CCI‬ Axel Alonso did a breakdown for that reboot revamp jumpstart kickback for post ‪#AvX‬ continuity, @MARVEL NOW: …

CCI‬ Update: Nothing better than sloppy wet pizza sitting on the tracks in front o the convention center. Free WiFi connected to‪#bums‬

SDCC‬ ‪#CCI‬ 2012: To review, Neil Gaiman's writing‪#BEFORESANDMAN‬ but nobody is calling it that. ‪#DjangoUnleashed‬looks good. Godzilla's back

SDCC‬ UPDATE: Ben Kingley has played a foul mouthed mobster, Gandhi, and now, the Mandarin. ‪#IronMan3‬ is gonna be glitterbombing cosmicstyle

CCI2012‬ Gonna crash "Where do Ideas Come From? Banishing the Blank Page" and pass out rolls of butcher paper, pencils, and lead paint

SDCC‬ 2012: Final @Marvel panel involves @DanSlott and it's happening forthwith. I'm going to ask about Rocket Racer. Where he at? Yeesh.

SDCC‬ Somewhere in @Marvel offices someone loves that freakin' raccoon so much he's become a cornerstone of continuity.

Men who are comfortable with powerful women are more powerful men. — Joss Whedon ‪#Firefly‬ ‪#SDCC‬ quotes ‪#QnA‬ @NathanFillion

Saturday, July 7, 2012

All-New Uncanny Impressions of Avengers vs. X-Men.

As discussed in prior installments, the megacrossover world shaker Avengers vs. X-Men is still in full gear, with the arrival of the Phoenix (and its subsequent fracturing) literally remaking the dynamic of the world as a whole.  Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik and Namor each share a fraction of the Phoenix's infinite energy (call them the Phoenix Five), and rather than prove the Avengers right (that is, destroy the world), they issue a declaration of Pax Utopia. The entire world receives free energy, ample food, clean water, and the annihilation of weapons of mass destruction. All military conflicts come to a halt. Deserts are irrigated. Sentinels are annihilated.  Food is plentiful.  The status quo so firmly established as a matter of course in the Marvel Universe 616 is deviated from strongly, and ably, thanks in no small part to the squad of extremely talented writers collaborating on this particular blockbuster.   

The various tie-in titles do a fairly good service to not upsetting the dynamic of reality and accenting the storyline (unlike, say, the truncated battle sequence depicted in "brawl title" AvX between Captain America and Gambit).  We see Emma Frost come into opposition with Avengers Academy, Rachel Summers (formerly Phoenix in her own right) calling her loyalty to the new world order into question, and Rogue scuffling with Ms. Marvel, who sows the seeds of doubt before being tossed into a Limbo prison.  Magneto serves as a John the Baptist.  Hope Summers trains in a mystical cityspace with the masters of Iron Fist and takes lessons from Spider-Man to prepare for confronting the Phoenix once more.

This twist has taken the Marvel Universe in a new and interesting direction and polarized fans in a fashion that simple slugfests never could.  Do you believe that the Phoenix Five's intentions are as pure as they seem, and that true peace can be established in a world where garishly costumed superhumans shatter concrete with wrist flicks?  Do you agree with the Avengers that such drastic changes always come with a cost, a backlash is inevitable, and that the more these mutants embrace their new powers, the more distant they will become from their core codes of morality?

There is also the notable issue of the Scarlet Witch at hand as well.  Her role in House of M (remaking the entire world to be one where everyone gets their heart's desire in a Magneto-run "utopia") has apparently been redeemed since, well, since for some reason every single Avenger has forgotten how badly she upset them and how dangerous her powers are, and oh yeah, she dismissed an entire race of beings with a fragment of a sentence.  Perhaps it's because she slept with Hawkeye that she gets a free pass.  It could also be that she alone seems capable of taking the Phoenix Five to task, and her connection to the Life Force (as established in Young Avengers: the Children's Crusade) is that common bond with the Phoenix that may prove interesting in the upcoming remaking of reality itself, not just the world, in a recently announced universal relaunch called Marvel: Now!

In more recent issues of the main title, we see the stark divide between the forces and note that the grey area (ha! as in, um, Jean) is vast on both sides.  In the most recent issue, Emma Frost nearly kills Hawkeye in a fit of anger (but don't worry, he's getting his own series soon, plus he'll completely forgive her once they have sex).  Internal strife among the Five will no doubt disassemble them (and Colossus is still the Juggernaut, in case you were curious). Charles Xavier's marginalization continues to expand and contract.  Captain America seems to have a born soldier's need for constant battle, his irrelevance in a world of perpetual peace perhaps an unspoken catalyst to his continually antagonizing the Phoenix Five.  Iron Fist's established ret-conned history with the Phoenix Force will grant him a +5 to his relevance.  Then again, maybe everything that's happened for the past ten-plus years in Marvel is about to be erased.  Or perhaps Hickman will simply set the Avengers out to "solve everything".

In terms of scripting duties, it's very interesting to note the emergent variations of style with each issue, and as every section of the story unfolds, the shift in artists seems fitting to the content.  Marvel, all foibles and wisecracks aside, is clearly bringing their A game.  Regardless of the final outcome, readers that have cared for and enjoyed each of the titular teams involved in this conflict are in capable hands.

What comes next, however, remains to be seen.  After years of established wetworks, continuity and character building, a relaunch (restart? reboot? revamp? remake?) of the Marvel Universe titles (Marvel NOW! NOW! NOW!) may cause fans to cry foul, or even worse, call "mimic", since as most comic readers are well aware, about a year ago the DC Universe erased its elaborately decorated chalkboard and started fresh (but in some spots shaky) with The New 52.

Regardless of outcome, the story continues to be intriguing and this reviewer, for one, will continue to buy it, if only to see where the trail leads.  If the end result proves ridiculous, then the purifying flame of my caustic wit will burn it away.