Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August's Number Ones

We're past the halfway point of  August, and already some tantalizing new comics series have come out. Let's take a look at a few of them. As always, I hope to suggest things you might like, and steer you off things I didn't.
Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman by various creative teams, first issue by Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver for DC Digital. Out-of-continuity stories about Wonder Woman? Yes, please. It's not that I haven't enjoyed the New52 series, but it's been a drawn out affair that doesn't leave room to show other colors. The alternative is Diana as Superman's violent girlfriend in Justice League and S/WW, and handing the Amazon over to David Finch is likely to make me drop the book and not look back, so... I welcome a Wonder Woman anthology likely to give us more interpretations with open arms, and am pretty stoked there's a book called Sensation Comics again. But do I like the first story? I'm not sure I do. On the one hand, it's Gail Simone on Diana again, featuring Oracle, which is awesome. We're clearly in a pre-Flushpoint continuity, and that's great. Unfortunately, before WW is called in to Gotham to help Barbara Gordon, our Amazon Princess is too long absent from her own series. Not a fan of Ethan Van Sciver's art either, and there's something wonky about Diana's lower half, switching between shorts and a bikini bottom from panel to panel. Ultimately, "Sensation Comics" only "features" Wonder Woman, so turning in a Birds of Prey-ish story is within the bounds of reason. I just wish the focus was more on Diana in this first issue.
Keep reading? I read Legends of the Dark Knight until I got bored with it. I read Adventures of Superman until I got bored with it. So I'll read this until I do the same. I just find it unfortunate the first story isn't one I particularly appreciated (it's a two-parter, so it's hard to judge). It'll be followed by a story drawn by Cat Staggs whose art I don't like at all, so it may take me a while to declare the new Sensation a winner. For those who insist on print editions, the first three issues are supposedly out in stores today under the same cover.
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Joe Casey, Nathan Fox, Jim Rugg, and Ulises Farinas for Dynamite. I'm always game for a little Kirbyverse, and enjoyed the previous iteration that threw everything in the same pile (also at Dynamite). This series is a cold reboot and has nothing to do with the previous series, giving us a brief "origin" of Captain Victory as an immortal strategist forced to jump from clone body to clone body, and surrounded by a crew of odd Kirby designs holding back the darkness. But instead of sticking to the space opera genre, an accident sends an immature Captain Victory body to 20th-century Earth to have adventures of its own. And then another body crash lands on some alien(?) world. The use of multiple artists here may indicate the series will take place across various planes of existence. Joe Casey insists he wants to honor Kirby's creations by making the stories as crazy and balls-to-the-wall as the King's own, and it's a set-up that could certainly help him do that. The art is dynamic and more than a little indie, which I like, though it sometimes makes the designs look ugly and the action hard to read. Still, the potential is immense, which isn't something I've ever said about any issue of Captain Victory (Pacific, Topps or Dynamite), ever before.
Keep reading? Internet pal Michel Fiffe is doing art for the second issue, so just on that basis, I'd say yes, but my interest in Kirby concepts is well served by this series, which can only get more coherent and interesting through its first few months.
Dark Ages by Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard for Dark Horse. Medieval soldiers vs. alien monsters is the brief, and I appreciate the way the former understand the latter in religious terms. I also like Culbard's simple, clean line. His monsters are memorable, his colors atmospheric and his action flows like animation. I can't connect to any of the characters, however. They're not exactly cookie-cutter, and the narrator is meant to be our POV character, but... it all left me a little cold. Like the premise is more important than the characters. Ah, I know what it felt like: Cowboys & Aliens. Not bad by any means, but ultimately unremarkable.
Keep reading? I hate to pan this series - I think it'll work for other readers, and even more myself in trade format - but as a serial, it has failed to get me to read a second issue.
Terminal Hero by Peter Milligan and Piotr Kowalski for Dynamite's Creators Unleashed label. Speaking of disappointments... While initially glad to find Jae Lee only did the cover (his inability to draw backgrounds drives me mad), I found the story itself lacking. It's all about a man who gets an experimental treatment for his brain tumor and develops mental powers and hallucinations. Not a particularly original story, but it's the way it's told that bores me. I like Fletcher, the lead character, but the changes in his life are abrupt and glossed over in a most undramatic way. It's weird. He's getting better and then there's a hallucination and then he uses powers and then... It just moves from one thing to the other without really letting us feel it through some necessary transition. Or rather, that we don't see immediate consequences to some on-panel horror, and that makes the narrative disjointed, its peaks resolving into flat lines.
Keep reading? No, sorry. I had hopes, but they were dashed.
Hexed by Michael Alan Nelson and Dan Mora for Boom! Of all the series selected for this piece, Hexed was the one I thought I'd like least (just too many supernatural genre series vying for my attention lately), but ended up liking best. I didn't even know it was a follow-up mini-series to another Hexed mini now some years old, but it makes sense. There's some huge backstory at play in this story of an art thief with magical powers called Lucifer and her world. And yet, it worked without my knowing anything about it. (I mean to look for it now.) It's a rare book that has female characters vastly outnumber male ones (without it being the point of the series, that is), and they're all interesting. The dialog is sassy and the ideas, if dense to the new reader, are fun and interesting. I don't know if Lucifer is really connected to the Biblical devil, but she does have devilish opponents as interesting as she and her allies are. Dan Mora takes over art duties left by the original series' Emma Rios (who still supplies the cover), and his manga-inspired art meets hers halfway, with a fluid, dynamic line that manages more reality than Rios' usual style.
Keep reading? Yes, and I'm also going to go and find myself a Hexed vol.1 collection somewhere.

So not my most positive of capsule reviews, but maybe we can find more winners in a couple weeks when August has run its course.

Babylon 5 #44: Comes the Inquisitor

"No greater love hath a man than he lay down his life for his brother. Not for millions, not for glory, not for fame--for one person, in the dark, where no one will ever know or see. I have been in service to the Vorlons for centuries, waiting for you: Diogenes and his lamp looking for an honest man willing to die for all the wrong reasons."
IN THIS ONE... Delenn's worthiness is tested by a Victorian agent of the Vorlons. G'Kar works hard to smuggle weapons back to the homeworld.

REVIEW: Whatever the Vorlons are, they want confirmation that Delenn is the right person to head the army of light. Their questionable means - have her tested by a Victorian sadist who just happens to be Jack the Ripper. Urm... On the one hand, the notion that the Vorlons are angels who nabbed Jack/Sebastian from London (and I sort of knew as soon as 1888 was invoked) to show him his "holy crusade" against corruption was itself corrupt and turn him into an agent who would go on to test and break people the same way is intriguing. The most dangerous sin in Babylon 5 is Pride (as we've seen again and again) and the Vorlons must make sure their "heroes" aren't motivated by it. Delenn and the also-tested Sheridan prove they aren't in the fight for fame, glory or the need to prove something by showing the trait of heroic self-sacrifice, not when the stakes are epic, but when they are personal. It's a good scene, but it would ring a little more true if the two characters willing to sacrifice themselves for the other weren't in a romantic relationship. Can you sacrifice your life for a stranger's, with no emotional predisposition? In the context of JMS' statements across the whole of the show's production, I find it remarkable that he keeps attacking sinful Pride, because it appears to be one of his defining traits (just looking at his statements about this episode and how he stridently defends his use of Jack the Ripper as yet another example). This is either highly ironic, or a personal exorcism, a writer working through his faults by exposing and examining them in his fiction.

On the other hand, I have to wonder why Kosh's exercise was necessary in the first place. As a Minbari, Delenn is culturally hardwired for self-sacrifice, and has already given up her position on the Grey Council by turning herself into a "freak". And she should really be able to run circles around Sebastian in the early interrogation scenes; she's a master of zen wisdom and cryptic debate. Perhaps the solution to both problems is the same - her new human turmoil. It's what makes her emotionally vulnerable when hard-pressed by the journalist in And Now for a Word, and the same happens when up against the Inquisitor. And perhaps it's the reason Kosh is no longer sure about her. Has she integrated human sin and made herself less worthy in the process? Or of course, Kosh didn't need confirmation, but Delenn DID, and the process was meant to assuage HER doubts. I feel like I'm trying to win a No-Prize here, which is why I'm so ambivalent about it. Same thing with the secret identity of Sebastian. What a strange detail. The Vorlons are kidnapping serial killers and both reforming them and using their sadistic qualities? Keeping them alive through the centuries? Bizarre. The Victorian attitude adds color to Sebastian, but making him the Ripper might be a step too far. I'm not saying it doesn't work - how he projects his sin on Delenn, how they avoid making him a mysterious killer, etc. - but again, ambivalence.

G'Kar too is being tested, by everyone. First he is tested by the arms merchant who pushes to see if he can put his money where his mouth is and pay the high price he's asking to get guns to his people. Then he's tested by Garibaldi who knows everything and gives him a chance to either fess up or disappoint him. G'Kar passes this test as well, and is rewarded with a place to run his guns through, it just isn't Babylon 5. A great Garibaldi moment (damn, have I finally warmed up to him?). We may still find G'Kar lacking in that he's doing exactly what he not so long ago accused the Centauri of doing, but the situation is hardly the same. If it were, Garibaldi would hardly be helping him on the sly. And G'Kar is tested by his own people, who won't contribute to the cause unless he can prove he can make good on his promises. And with the help of Sheridan and the Rangers, he manages to get that proof. Seems everyone is on the Narns' side these days, so long as they don't ask for anything big. And then there's Vir, the one repentant Centauri who's been against his people's plans from the beginning. He's the only one who fails his test, unable to obtain G'Kar's forgiveness for the lives of all the Narn killed in the Centauri action, an incredible moment in which G'Kar cuts his hand open and lets each drop of blood represent a life lost. Amazing stuff, and why people keep talking about G'Kar as the show's best character.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: The Narn and Klingons both enjoy cutting up the palms of their hands. DS9 would eventually broadcast an episode called Inquisition in which Bashir was tested by a creepy operative. Of course, Jack the Ripper also exists in the Star Trek universe, as the alien entity Redjac.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - While I'm unsure about some of the choices this episode makes, the high points are quite high, the theme is present throughout, and the G'Kar plot thread is damn near flawless.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Update on Space-North America: It's All Coming True!

Yesterday, we saw North America stolen by aliens bringing it to a galaxy shaped like North America. It was crazy. Then frequent commenter Wayne Allen Sallee mentioned this nebula* discovered way back in 1786.
OH. MY. GOD. New Brunswick, California, Ontario and Mississippi should start working on their clamp shelters RIGHT NOW, because it's happening, kids. IT'S HAPPENING!

*The story/prophecy was told in 1958 when words like universe, galaxy, nebula and constellation were all pretty much interchangeable.

Babylon 5 #43: The Long, Twilight Struggle

"No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand. The Centauri learned this lesson once. We will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years... we will be free. "
IN THIS ONE... With the Shadows' help, the Centauri force a Narn surrender. Draal returns. Sheridan gives G'Kar sanctuary and meets the Rangers.

REVIEW: The Narn-Centauri War heats up and boils right over, and here they had me thinking it was going to last forever. I guess I bought what the Narn propaganda machine was selling. But like a game of Axis & Allies, one side must use a strike fast and hard strategy, while the other must slow things down to a crawl to win. The Narn seem hopelessly outclassed in this conflict. Their only strategy is to strike at supply lines to extend the war and hope the Centauri will exhaust themselves, leaving the homeworld open to get enough ships together, and even that plan is intercepted by the enemy who sets up a Shadow ambush while it bombards the Narn planet with outlawed WMDs. Even a heads up from Doc Franklin - who naturally sides with the underdog - doesn't help. Nobody listens to G'Kar and, as usual in B5, pride does them in. Two cool space battle sequences in this one, the first showing the Shadows doing more than just slicing stuff open with a beam. They're launching fighters, combining ships into creepier shapes, collapsing boom tubes, and even taking the odd hit.

Londo swears this is the last time he'll call on the Shadows, but news at the end of the Republic annexing worlds adjacent to Narn space probably means his pal Refa will ask him to again. At his core, Londo, selfish as he is, remains an honorable warrior, and it hurts him deeply to see his people cheat their way into universal domination. He would see the Centauri fight their own battles, not resort to Shadows and outlawed weapons, breaking every treaty along the way. I'm not even convinced he agrees with the outrageous terms of the Narn surrender, except perhaps throwing G'Kar off the Council. It's an intense moment and the episode's best. G'Kar in pain, shamed by his people's defeat and having to beg Sheridan for sanctuary. His great speech about freedom. Londo harsh and angry, delivering edicts that are possibly repugnant to him, and refusing any "U.N." (Earth/Minbari) involvement. But even the asylum Sheridan grants G'Kar might be short-lived. He acted on his own authority, and if G'Kar's luck stays the same, he'll be at odds with Earth in short order.

Sadly, the return of Draal isn't as interesting. The Minbari at the center of the planet below the station has been turned into a friendly ghost, and recast as a younger man. There's an in-story explanation, which is fine, but John Schuck plays him a bit... big. It's a comedy Draal, and I don't think it's particularly funny. The idea seems to be to reintroduce the character so the audience can be reminded of him, and Sheridan can meet him, but it's all a bit tedious when watching the episodes back to back like this. There are a couple of good elements to it though. One is the exotic musical theme that accompanies his lurking through the station in the first arc. Very nice, distinctive. The other is that he makes Delenn reveal the existence of the Rangers to Sheridan, which in turn leads to a rousing speech from him to this "army of light". For all the romance between Sheridan and Delenn on the show of late, there are still things that could keep them apart. It's not the first time he's caught her keeping secrets, and for the second time in a row, she gets to react to his being in a hurry (this time with a hint of a tone?). Having to stand together against the darkness might be the best thing to happen to their relationship.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I find Draal's return mostly tedious, but the Narn defeat is as much eye candy as it is raw emotion and awesome speeches.

Monday, August 18, 2014

New Brunswick Can't Get No Space-Respect

This splash page from Mystery in Space #44 (DC, 1958) is all sorts of crazy. A spaceship tows an intact North America through space to a galaxy shaped just like North America, for God's sake! And yet, I get stuck on the fact that my province, poor little New Brunswick, is where the Easternmost clamp has to be. Sorry Newbies, nobody cares about your parcel of abused woodland. If the Southern clamp were on Louisiana, I'd take it as a genocidal move to wipe out Acadian/Cajun culture, but no, on that side of the great river, it's Mississippi and Alabama. And if Los Angeles didn't bite it to the West, I'd say the aliens definitely had an agenda against economically challenged regions. To the North, Northern Ontario. I don't think anyone lives there, so whatever.

Listen, aliens. I WANT MY PROVINCE BACK!

(Not a provincial election message.)

Babylon 5 #42: Divided Loyalties

"I guess this wouldn't be a good time for me to suggest we all join hands and sing Kumbaya?"
IN THIS ONE... Lyta Alexander is back with news of a PsiCorps sleeper mole, and last appearance of Talia Winters. (These events may be connected.)

REVIEW: This episode may start with an innocuous, light-hearted scene, but it actually fits the theme of the PsiCorps shocker to come. I like how the station rations and recycles everything, including newspapers, and how print news is tailored to each reader's particular interests (and biases, just like TV news?). It's a nice bit of world-building, and a little more serious than the public restroom scene (which I still appreciated, but it's not the first time go in there). And who doesn't like Sheridan and Delenn flirting? He stays just a little too long while she gets her copy, and though the Minbari don't lie, she still tries to impress him and has to save face when it appears she protested too much about disliking gossip. (Of course, their courtship continues more explicitly in the garden scene, and it's sweet how very innocent it is.) Thematically, it's a scene about customization and information gathering. And that's just what the A-plot is about.

The return of Lyta Alexander smacks of her interchangeability with Talia Winters. Not just because the latter replaced the former on the cast (and soon, vice-versa), but because both characters are ostensibly on the same path to betray their untrustworthy organization. While I like what little I've seen of Lyta, and am intrigued by her quest to join the Vorlons - is Vorlon a state of mind, or is it perhaps something we, or at least, telepaths, can evolve into, sort of like how Ironheart evolved into HumanityNext - but Talia has something she doesn't, namely relationships with other members of the crew. Her friendship with Ivanova is in fact written like a romance, and an intimate one at that. This episode has a odd moment where it looks like they're about to kiss, which is followed by a scene in which Talia reaches for Ivanova in bed and wakes up, realizing Susan's gone. As a plot contrivance, it's supposed to draw suspicion to Ivanova as the sleeper agent (an attempt is made on Lyta's life while she's missing), but as background, it's the same kind of thing Chris Claremont used to do with the female X-Men. I'm not sure it's believable Ivanova would risk such physical contact with a telepath, even if Talia does show incredible respect and restraint around her. And when Ivanova finally shares her dark secret with us (well, Sheridan) - that she's a weak latent telepath - it's put into terms a gay person might find familiar. The scene is about her coming out of the closet to a friend, and only that friend, who then shares her secret. Still, that would be a great cover for a "programmed" PsiCorps agent, as since B5 doesn't mind doing permanent harm to its characters...

But it's not Ivanova. The mole is Talia, and I'm not sure I like that. Originally, it was going to be Laurel Takashima, and after two years, that would have been a shocker. But JMS didn't have that option and moved the plot line over to Talia Winters, he claims. Apparently, it's there from the beginning and why Talia is so aggressive in seeking Ivanova's friendship. That's as maybe, but making a PsiCorps operative a PsiCorps mole isn't exactly shocking. She wasn't the most trusted person in the cast to begin with. If JMS really had wanted to make the switch, why not to Ivanova, who was also a replacement character and in the same position as Laurel? JMS swears it has nothing to do with Andrea Thompson being difficult and wanting a bigger role (appearing in only 8 or 9 episodes a season, I can't really blame her), but that sounds bogus to me. Because losing Talia creates a whole lot of loose ends. She was investigating PsiCorps and hiding the underground railroad. She had powerful, evolving powers left her by Ironheart. She was said to be "the future" somehow. That's all gone. And the worst of it is, while I'm sure she'll be mentioned again, she won't reappear again. She doesn't even turn up again as a vicious villain who knows everyone's weaknesses. A huge waste. So you'll forgive me, Mr. Straczynski, if I don't quite buy you're "it was all planned from the beginning". If it were true, she would have welcomed Garibaldi's advances, not spurned them. Come on now. And while I wouldn't want Claudia Christian off the show by any means, at this point, Ivanova's arc has played itself out. Just the right time for the character to take this dramatic a turn.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The episode's conclusion is wasteful, but I can't deny how exciting this thriller is, nor how interesting the characters moments are.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

This Week in Geek (11-17/08/14)


Three DVDs this week, Orphan Black Season 2, Community Season 5, and on the advice of a new time travel podcast by fellow Canadian internauts David Fiore and Elise Moore called Another Kind of Distance, Portrait of Jennie. They're getting me to be buy all the time travel movies I don't already have! Belated birthday gift from favorite friend Isabel: Casablanca and Theater of Blood!


DVDs: Reviewed Pacific Rim when it came out in theaters, and I don't think my opinion changed viewing it in a different format, though perhaps my appreciation for the film has grown. My main problem with it before was that the dialog was lackluster and the characters too archetypal. Visually, of course, it's flawless. This has led me to look at the movie in a different way, and I really do believe you could take out all the dialog and completely understand what's going on. Guillermo del Toro gets so much visual detail in that you don't need the words. I like how, in the extras, he talks about eye candy, but also eye protein. Does that make him the anti-Michael Bay? I sort of think so when I compare what Bay has to say about his process and del Toro's thoughtful, rapid-fire commentary track. A second disc holds nearly two hours' worth of featurettes about all sorts of elements and sequences, revealing among other things how much of the film was actually filmed practically, plus bios of certain characters as we look at their lives through the drift (these satisfactorily explain what's up with Raleigh's accent), animatics, design art, deleted scenes, and a blooper reel. A nice package.

The Fighter is David O. Russell's attempt at a sports movie, so of course, while I think the boxing sequences are excellent, it's a lot more about the character drama and creating characters and dynamics we haven't really seen before, but that have the undeniable carp of truth. It's a true story too, filmed where it happened, with some of the people who lived it, and with the principals involved and on set as Mark Whalberg and Christian Bale played them. Bale's role as the crack head former boxing star is transformative, but he still doesn't steal every scene, not sharing the stage with the equally outrageous Melissa Leo, or the steely emotion-behind-the-eyes performances of Amy Adams and Wahlberg, the latter an up-and-comer who doubts himself because he's been so mismanaged by his family. By turns funny, touching and exciting, The Fighter also delivers on sports action. Wahlberg is visibly boxing for real and the fights were filmed in a short amount of time by HBO crews skilled in capturing event fights live. It all looks very real, because it nearly is. I'm really discovering O. Russell's stuff in what was for me the blank between Three Kings and American Hustle, and I haven't hit a sour note yet. The DVD includes a director's commentary and a making of that doesn't skimp on talking to the real people represented in the film.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - Hamlet 2000

Babylon 5 #41: Confessions and Lamentations

"All life is transitory: a dream. We all come together in the same place in the end of time. If I don't see you again here, I will see you in a little while in the place where no shadows fall." "Delenn… when I do see you again… call me John?"
IN THIS ONE... A plague wipes out the Markab species.

REVIEW: Let's start with my own confession - I think I've finally hit the point where I can say I'm neck deep in this world and its characters. This is the first episode that got me to laugh out loud (at everyone's reaction to how poorly the Minbari dinner date went) and tear up (mostly at Delenn's soulfulness). I can't even process right now why Confessions and Lamentations left me so thoroughly gutted. After all, it's very nearly just a traditional medical mystery episode. I say "very nearly" because the story does feature a couple of vicious twists that make it rise above the usual fare, in particular how Doctor Franklin doesn't create the treatment in time to save the Markab living on the station, and then how the entire species is made extinct by the disease. The Markab have been one of the most visible alien species in the Non-Aligned group, and the show has just jettisoned them. That in itself is shocking and shows the value of developing background aliens in at least some detail, but it's not where my grief comes from.

Nor is it in the allegorical/political aspects of the story, at least, not consciously. The main reason the Markab's disease is so hard to treat is because it's all tangled up in a social stigma. The Markab believe, because of where the disease first historically cropped up, that it is a punishment for immoral behavior, and so even checking for the illness is considered a grave insult, an accusation. While the model for this is explicitly the Black Plague, which was believed to be a visitation from the Devil, the Drafa plague can stand in for any illness with an attached stigma. While JMS has protested the link to AIDS, methinks he doth protest too much. Doc Franklin even mentions it, which I thought was giving away the game a little. But Markab being assaulted in the corridors as a "carrier" doesn't quite make sense - you'd be exposing yourself to the plague - until you add the "only junkies and gays can get it" element. Today, we have the incredibly stupid idea that vaccines are dangerous, which has made infectious diseases explode in the Western world. The point of all this is that treating illness according to political or religious belief is dangerous. Drafa does not spare the "moral" - it kills an innocent child, no problem - though one could argue it's punishing the sin of pride which made the Markab trust in their purity more than the available facts. A poignant irony that still resonates today.

So what is it about this episode? For me, it's how the characters react to this emergency with acts of kindness and sacrifice. Delenn and Lennier are at the top of the list, "space elves" whom I somehow still expect to be above it all, but are remarkably empathic and sensitive creatures. They actively feel others' pain and are obliged to offer comfort and succor. So being confined to the a space where everyone else dies must be unbearable, and that is their sacrifice even if they can't be infected. Delenn, a sort of Sister of Mercy, gets all the best, surprisingly touching speeches, but Lennier's quiet, controlled grief is just as potent. In the middle of this is Sheridan admitting his feelings for Delenn in a simple, implicit manner. "Call me John." Letting her go into what becomes a tomb (and the direction very much bears this out in the closing moments) is HIS kindness and sacrifice. Similarly, Garibaldi's is very simple, risking contagion by giving a hurt Markab his hand. Obviously, this is Doc Franklin's plot and I'm always taken by his passion. He snaps at interns, he rages when his friend Lazarenn, the only progressive Markab on the show, dies (and again, great direction with the stark shocking light change to indicate the termination of a patient), some of which is no doubt fueled by the stims he's been taking. And yet, there's clear focus too, and though I'm sure real scientists can poke holes in the episode, a believable, logical investigation the viewer can understand, not the hand-waving technobabble similar shows have gotten us used to. So they killed off an alien race no one actually cared about, but through the visceral emotion of the main cast, C&L MADE us care. Delenn is right, nothing should limit our compassion.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: As contrast, I offer Voyager's Learning Curve, broadcast two days early, about Neelix's stinky cheese infecting the ship. I should probably limit comparisons to Deep Space Nine given the gap in quality between Voyager and everything else ever.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A surprisingly powerful episode.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Reign of the Supermen #541: Achilles

Source: Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane #40 (1963)
Type: Precursor
You've all heard of Achilles, right? Buff, invulnerable dude from Ancient Greece, got dipped in the River Styx, lovers with another buff dude Patroclus... Ok, maybe not the last one in DC's Silver Age continuity. But yeah, that guy. What we DIDN'T know what that he was a dead ringer for Superman. Looked just like him, and dressed in the same colors too. We find out when Professor Potter comes back from an archaeological expedition with quite the treasure trove. I mean, all of Greek Myth's artifacts were in the same cabinet? A wooden cabinet with a glass-plate door?
Apparently so. That's our girl Lois Lane dressed à la Grecque as part of the opening day event. Also on site is her rival for Superman's affections, Lana Lang, covering it for television. Convinced there was never any such person as Circe - despite Circe turning Superman twice into a lion man, once 5 years before and another this very year (1963) - Lois twirls her wand around wishing to be back in Ancient Greece to prove it. Of course, it works. So there she is in Athens, wearing Helen of Troi's jewels (O vanity!) and getting chased by brigands. A girl looking just like Lana, even down to the frock Lana was wearing at the exhibition, gets Achilles to help her.
He beats the tar out of the ruffians and tells Lois - sorry, LISO - that she has the girl in green Ilya (Lois keeps calling her "The Lana Lang of 500 B.C.") to thank. Fast friends in a way they never were in 1963, Lois tries to pay her kindness with flashy jewelry, but Ilya wants something a little more... intimate.
While she goes off to buy a mansion, she instructs Lois to see the Oracle for advice. The Oracle is full of wisdom:
Lois, your destiny is not to be with Superman, but with Achilles. Well, that's fine. Even if it means living the rest of your life without modern accommodations. Still, Lois immediately puts her mind to finding the key to Achilles' heart. And she'll get help!
Hilariously, Lois doesn't think it strange that she frequently falls in love with heroes in the past while a double of Lana competes with her. No. What's strange is that this time, the "Lana" is helpful. So not long after that, the girls spot Achilles going off to defeat a dragon - y'know, just like in all the Greek myths(???) - and Circe shows up demanding Achilles marry her or she'll cause trouble (and yet, Lana neither sees the irony of this, nor learns  a lesson from it). Achilles hates her, so it's a no, and he's off to fight the monster. But Circe's threat comes true and Achilles is bitten on his kryptonite-like heel by a poisonous snake. Ilya gives Lois Mercury's winged sandals (clue! it should be Hermes'!) and instructs her to fly to the great hero and save him.
Before Lois/Liso and Achilles can set the date, Circe shows up and sends the time-tossed reporter back to her own time where the real Lana finds her. Lois is quick to tell her story.
Wait. What's this? "That's what she thinks"? Oh, that's right. SILVER AGE. So what REALLY happened is that Lana saw Lois magic herself into the past, grabbed the sandals of super-speed and flew back through time to the right spot, making sure to tell Achilles her name, because having seen a statue of him and knowing he was Superman's double, she could, as "Ilya" be in a perfect position to throw Lois into his arms so she could keep Superman all to herself in the present, only requiring she fake being the Oracle and about a hundred coincidences. OF COURSE.

That damn Circe ruined everything for everyone.

Babylon 5 #40: Knives

"How fitting you should die with a song on your lips!"
IN THIS ONE... Sheridan is possessed by a hallucinatory life-form. Londo must duel an old friend who has fallen out of favor.

REVIEW: The last episode written by someone other than JMS (Larry DiTillio) until Season 5, Knives is, like other "guest scripts", something you could remove from the canon fairly easily. There are several references to continuity (Franklin's father, the Babylon 4 time anomaly), as if to tell us it's all one big story, but the use of these elements doesn't meaningfully change those elements. The one exception is Refa's appearance, since it creates the potential for Londo to once again fall out of favor now that he's given disreputable men all the power. His intention to keep a closer eye on the political arena will surely bring him in conflict with his untrustworthy ally again.

Of the two story threads, the Centauri plot is the most worthy, having, like the best of B5, irony and political maneuvering. As soon as Londo's friend Urza plays the assassin and mock-threatens his life, we know he's to die by London's hand somehow. That's just how this universe works. (And what a bad joke to play on a VIP during war time. Dude.) And sure enough, Londo is put into a position where he must betray his friend or risk his new position of influence. Surprisingly - I'll share Vir's pride about this - Londo chooses the latter. It's perhaps not a strong dramatically as if he'd eventually acquiesced to Refa's threats - he's a fool, not a rat - but it's an interesting twist. His shame is thus not about betraying Urza (whom actor Carmen Argenziano pushes right to the limit in the scenery-chewing department), but about killing him. Urza asks for this, leaving himself open to the blade at a crucial moment. Apparently, the victor must adopt the loser's family into his own, which saves them from the dishonor awaiting him at the conspirators' hands. It wouldn't really have gone any differently had he known Londo was one of those conspirators to begin with, but Londo still must face his guilt.

Sheridan's thread is very much weaker, like something pulled from a stock, and not very interesting, Star Trek episode. An incorporeal creature jumps from a dead alien to the captain and makes him hallucinate. Sheridan avoids the alien's fate - committing suicide after the visions drive him mad - by working out the emotional puzzle it is trying to transmit. I don't buy it one bit, and I'm not even sure the episode is playing fair with its audience. If Sheridan really worked it out (and there are too few clues for this to be convincing), why does he take off in a Starfury without consulting anyone? Because he has to appear erratic so we don't know he's solved this week's problem. It's a damn Superman Silver Age story, with the explanations all at the end. I'm also not keen on the idea that the creature is from Sector 14's time anomaly, which just feels like JMS plugging the Babylon 4 element so we won't forget it (and to make sure Sheridan's been told about it). It's lame and does nothing with it. That could have been any glowy part of space. Immensely forgettable.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: What is it with science-fiction writers and their silly obsession with baseball? You'd think the fact Sisko has this quirk would have kept Sinclair and now Sheridan from sharing it. It's kind of fun to see a whole baseball field inside Babylon 5's inner circumference, but it's a waste if they only use it as a fancy batter's cage. You want to keep this up, JMS, we better start hearing about a B5 league.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Another non-JMS episode that could be largely jettisoned without our losing much of anything. Is the problem that other writers don't get it, or that he wouldn't let them do anything of substance with his toy box? Either way, the Londo thread kind of saves it, but not by much.

Friday, August 15, 2014

July's Number Ones Part 3

Completing the exercise of looking at new series and mini-series launched in July to help YOU, kind reader, decide what you should support with your comics dollar.
Supreme Blue Rose by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay for Image. I've never really read much Supreme, on account of its Liefeldian origins, even if Alan Moore fans swear by it. But while Supreme Blue Rose takes place in that universe (or re-invents it?), it's at a pretty extreme tangent. I'm told it makes references to Supreme, but I can't really see it, except for the couple panels in which we see a superhero's first appearance. The stories is instead somewhere between detective story and art house, as journalist Diana Dane is hired to uncover the mysteries of a certain super, if he exists, for a mysterious employer. This is the most mainstream sequence, with the rest of the issue taken up by surreal dreams and non sequiturs. It's Warren Ellis, so I expect it to evolve into something interesting, and certainly, Tula Lotay's art is beautiful - I don't know what to make of the color scribbles all over this mag, but I like the effect - but the first issue odd to the point of opacity. Lotay's sketchbook tacked on the end actually adds to the mystery, revealing more bizarre ideas to come. So I don't know what to make of it, but I'm into it.
Keep reading? Yes, but I'll save tentatively. I'd like to have a better handle on what's going by the second issue. This may be one for the trade-wait.
Bodies by Si Spenser, Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay and Phil Winslade for Vertigo. Tulay Lotay on a second book? Part of one, at any rate. What Si Spenser (Vinyl Underground) is doing for Vertigo is actually pretty interesting, though it comes short of the experimentalism I at first was ready to credit him. The 8-issue mini is about a mutilated corpse that shows up in four time frames, each inhabited by a different detective, and each drawn by a different artist. 2014, 1890, 2050 and 1940 also each have their own particular vibe. There's the slick, progressive world of the present, the purple prose of the Victorian Age, the art house sensibilities of the amnesiac future, and the gritty noir of the 40s. At first, I thought the story would feature a single mystery jumping time frames every 6 pages without explanation, an exploration of the genre over time, not to be read literally. Instead, the mystery of the four-times-found body is just that, a mystery. Not that there's anything wrong with that, not at all. It's quite intriguing actually.
Keep reading? Mini-series aren't as tough a sell, though they may make trade-waiting even easier. It's a yes, by the way. A better hook than other recent Vertigo offerings.
New Suicide Squad by Sean Ryan and Jeremy Roberts for DC. I asked for requests and this is what I got, so I borrowed a copy. I hated the New52 series when it came out and only checked in again when Matt Kindt came on as writer. The writing seemed better, and I may yet complete the reading, but it was all tied into Forever Evil and stuff... I was in no hurry. But as a huge fan of the Ostrander series, even Kindt, whose Super-Spy and Mind MGMT I quite like, came up a little short. What are former editor Sean Ryan's chances? Not good. The dialog is terrible, the mission lacks finesse, and the new members, except for Black Manta, are awful and redundant. Jokers's Daughter on top of Harley Quinn? Deathstroke (isn't he box office poison by now?) in addition to Deadshot? Just because Amanda's new co-boss (there's another redundancy) thinks the redundancy is a good idea doesn't justify actually slapping a "New" on the team. These are boring choices, and the only way to actually make me care would be to have killed both off in the first issue to show you mean business. The art is stiff and a little anatomically suspect as well. A big snooze fest. I said of the original New52 series that the Suicide Squad only really worked if you had generated a ton of villains, both cool and lame, over the course of your continuity. This shows that three years on, the New52 continuity is still too brief to have created enough super-crooks to put in the meat grinder. You either know they'll survive or don't care a jot if they die because they were more or less created for the series.
Keep reading? No sir. Another franchise for Deathstroke to kill off.
Low by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini for Image. How many series can Rick Remender write at the same time? Low reminds me of his work on Black Science, a series I gave a thumbs up to, but then failed to follow assiduously. With Low also fall through that crack? I think I like it more, actually. Low is set during Earth's dying days, when the sun has expanded and the last of humanity has fled to the ocean bottom to live in domed cities or nomadic (pirate) ships. The focus is on one city's "first family", privileged but with heavy responsibilities, its last couple is raising twin girls, the end of the line. It's all end of the line stuff. But Remender reveals in the text page that the protagonist here is Stel Caine, the optimistic woman in the group, and so this is to be a story OF optimism. How do we get out of the dark? Or make peace with it? That's an interesting theme. The world Remender creates is detailed, a balance of the alien and the recognizable, and Tocchini's fluid line is perfect for it (though his action scenes could be clearer). It's a sexy comic, with plenty of nudity, but the art avoids exploitation by simply omitting nipples and genitalia. Not hiding it, just not drawing it. It's an affect I think retains the beauty and sensuality of those moments without distracting from them or objectifying the characters. Well done.
Keep reading? I wonder if projects like this are easier to green-light because of the success of books like Saga. In any case, I mean to support those I can, and this story seems to be worth my time.

And I guess we're already well into August, and the summer is still producing new titles so... See you soon.

Babylon 5 #39: In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum

"I want to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price. I would look up into your lifeless eyes and wave like this. Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?"
IN THIS ONE... Sheridan detains Mr. Morden against everyone's advice.

REVIEW: Morden's been operating on the station with impunity for a while now, so it's satisfying to see him get grabbed by security, even if it's on an unrelated matter. Well, it's all related. Sheridan is finally going through his dead wife's stuff, and Morden was aboard the Icarus when it apparently blew up. So what's going on? Morden won't say, the creepy mo-fo, despite Sheridan's best Jack Bauer interrogation techniques. I've rarely seen someone be so badass while failing. The silent treatment, just letting Morden keep talking and hang himself (he only does the former). How he manipulates Talia into touching Morden's mind after she expressed ethical objections and gets a great slap out of her. The irony is that because he'll never get anything out of Morden, Delenn and Kosh are forced to finally spill the beans about the secret history of the universe.

The episode answers questions, but asks new ones too, pushing us ahead. Thousands of years ago (a wink to how long Sheridan is ready to hold Morden), the First Ones, including the Vorlons, helped keep the ancient Shadows at bay. If Sheridan makes a move against them too soon, they'll attack before the forces of good are ready (and boy, we're pretty freaking far from ready by the looks of it). He HAS to release Morden. Perhaps he can be mollified by the information that the Icarus is what woke the Shadows up (and ooh, they don't have to look like literal shadows), and so might be alive as their slave. His promise to go one day to Z'ha'dum is a future Kosh seems to believe will be fatal. One of the freakier pieces of information is Kosh saying the encounter suit is so he and the Vorlons won't be recognized. "By who?" "Everyone." Brrr. What does THAT mean? Are we hard-wired to recognize shadows and angels for what they represent? Sheridan's anxiety does spike when he catches a glimpse of the Shadows who hang out with Morden in his cell, and that's what finally convinces him to let their agent go. Not the ethical appeals made by Garibaldi, Ivanova or Talia. Not Vir's legal wrangling (despite his complete hatred of Morden; his early speech makes me hope he'll be the instrument by which Morden gets his comeuppance). No, something more primal than that.

The ironies keep piling on. A small subplot features the Ministry of Peace (we're in Orwellian territory here) recruiting for its new Nightwatch program as fascism continues its rise in Earth politics. It all seems so innocuous, right? Just report on your neighbors who express dissent so we can get them help, the proper information, etc. Uh-huh. Security Zack joins up for the 50 creds a month to do nothing but wear an armband. Yeah, that'll end well. So why insert this thread in this episode? As ironic counterpoint. This is an episode where Sheridan goes too far and tramples on a man's rights, but he's working for an organization that, if not now, soon, would be quite comfortable with giving him the right to if he asked. Another small subplot of note is Doc Franklin's, pushing himself with "stims" to get through 36-hour shifts (that'll come back to bite him, I'm sure), but also discussing his faith which isn't, as previously thought, atheistic. The "Foundationalist" idea that religions are bogus, but that there's a greater unknowable Divinity beyond what we can understand and express is thematically linked to the revelation about the Vorlons, I think. JSM is peeling back the layers of the B5 universe and there are beings of greater scope behind what we see, and surely something greater beyond that, and so on.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Important revelations abound, but the shows does best when it explores the innate paradoxes and ironies of existence. That's where this episode lives.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Who's Space Cabbie?

Who's This? The taxi driver on page 19 in Who's Who vol. XXI.
The facts: Created by Otto Binder and Howard Sherman, Space Cabbie first appeared in Mystery in Space #21 (1954), returned in 24, and became a recurring strip between issues 26 and 47 (1958), making it HIS book. Besides Binder and Sherman, Gardner Fox, Gil Kane and Bernard Sachs would all work on it. A couple of stories were reprinted in the 70s, and he got a small role in DC Comics Presents #78 in 1985, the Forgotten Villains team-up. Like a lot of Limbo-ed characters, he was featured in DC Challenge (#7-8 to be exact).
How you could have heard of him: The stuff of cheeky cameos ever since, Space Cabbie has been in everything from the Justice League Unlimited tie-in book to Lobo (his biggest role in modern comics, chasing down space bikers with the Main Man), from Starman to Books of Magic, from JLA: The Nail to Ambush Bug: Year None. Keith Giffen apparently intended to introduce Space Cabbie (or Cabby) in the New52's Threshold, but I don't think he got to it before the book was cancelled.
Example story: "The Luxury Limousine of Space" in Mystery in Space #45 (1958) by Otto Binder and Bernard Sachs, reprinted in DC Super-Stars #6 (1976)
I've got to say, while the premise seems ridiculous (or, as it was created by Otto Binder, the father of the Marvel Family, shall we say whimsical?), I found this Space Cabbie adventure quite fun. I could see him headline a cartoon show, for example. One thing though: Don't expect scientific accuracy. In fact, expect scientific INaccuracy. You'll have a more positive experience. So how does a space Cabbie adventure start? With someone hailing a space cab, of course!
Don't you just hate it when your space limo breaks down? How's this jewel tycoon going to get to Mars in time for his appointment? Why, Space Cabbie has a turbo-charged atomic motor and is the best pilot in the Solar System, that's how! But he will have to take some dangerous shortcuts:
Right! Space hurricanes with vertically-falling rain. WHY NOT?! Getting pushed by tiny comet? I BUY IT! A cab driver okay with "You'll get your tip later"? It can't all be credible, I guess. But he really does get a tip later, new luxury space cab! This thing has pure gold trimmings and all the options - perfumed air conditioning, hi-fi space radio, and even cosmetics dispensers for the ladies, and free cigars for the gents!
But wait! Now, nobody wants to give him a tip because he obviously doesn't need the gratuity. And the damn thing is so wide, all the parking spaces cost double. Never mind the gas prices! Or the fact it can't squeeze into the usual space turnpikes like the famous Asteroid Tunnel (clearance 12 feet). Sadly for Space Cabbie, he can't exactly trade it in, because someone already bought his old car. Sadness, until he sees car fleeing a bank robbery and tanks off after the crooks. Not easy, because his new heap isn't nearly as fast or maneuverable as the old one. So he hatches a plan. He takes the taxi sign off the top and lures the criminals into jacking his ride. When they approach, he'll call IPPY (what they call the Interplanetary Police in this future, and the reason THEY don't have their own strip) so they can make an arrest. Except the baddies jam his radio! Well, maybe he can put his fancy meteor deflector to good use.
Unfortunately, using like a tractor beam like that means the car becomes vulnerable to deadly meteor showers in the area.
That's some really bad weather, but thankfully, he's clear of it and riding his makeshift space magnet. The crooks are about to shake him loose when those IPPY IPPY shakers show up out of the blue (the black?) and force them to surrender. So how did Space Cabbie get them there without the benefit of space radio? Would you believe his space limo's stash of distributable lipsticks?
That's right, a single lipstick was used to write that big S.O.S. (ladies and rock stars? yay or nay?) and the cops somehow saw it from afar. With their space goggles or something. Can anyone say "Silver Age"? I knew you could.

Despite the silliness, I quite liked this unassuming little story, and I'd love to see some crazy Space Cabbie adventures at some point in the future (hopefully not concurrently with the year his stories take place). I wasn't kidding when I said I thought it would make a fun cartoon. Every week, a new fare brings a world of trouble on S.C. Shenanigans ensue. What do you think?

Who else? Thought about the Space Museum, but that's a "What" and might be a little similar to this entry. Instead I'm moving on to a horror character I know nothing about.

Babylon 5 #38: And Now for a Word

"We have to make people lift their eyes back to the horizon, and see the line of ancestors behind us, saying, 'Make my life have meaning'. And to our inheritors before us, saying, 'Create the world we will live in'. I mean, we're not just holding jobs and having dinner. We are in the process of building the future. That's what Babylon 5 is all about. Only by making people understand that can we hope to create a better world for ourselves and our posterity."
IN THIS ONE... ISN presents "36 Hours on Babylon 5" a news program smack dab in the middle of a skirmish between Narn and Centauri.

REVIEW: It's rare for a space opera show to go out on a limb and do a novelty episode like this one, in the style of a news special. It's a fun idea for sure, so the DVD formatting issues are doubly annoying. See, if there's going to be text superimposed on the news footage or interviews, and there frequently are, the image will be zoomed in, and in the case of interviews, badly cut people at the forehead. It. Is. AWFUL. Lots of blurry images too, and a distracting tendency to pop in and out of zoom-in mode. So gross. Even if I try to ignore the technical bugs (after all, the broadcast version had no such problems), the ISN Special Presentation isn't flawless. I'd say the main issue is that it doesn't know if it's straight news, a parody, or a sly comment on how people act differently in front of the cameras. It does all three at different moments, but these should probably be mutually exclusive.

Looking at the straight elements first, there's the actual story of the episode, or what the episode would have been about even if ISN's star journalist hadn't been aboard. Essentially, the Narn-Centauri conflict has come to Babylon 5, with ships blowing the crap out of each other right outside. Sheridan's forced to take action, which could compromise Earth's position with either power, and there's immense loss of life. Not that you'd believe it watching that smirking anchor. The characters we know and love are "real" even if they are trying to sell their agenda - disingenuous Londo playing hurt fowl, G'Kar playing the sympathy card, Franklin's outrage and impatience, Sheridan's great speech to make people realize the politicians are selling them a load of crap - but the journalist (whether it's the fault of the actress, director or writer, or all three) has failed to make a crucial choice. Is she a biased propaganda monger? An honest newswoman getting at the/a truth? Or a tone-deaf sensationalist (who, among other things, attacks Delenn just to see if she can make her cry)? I can't tell. It keeps shifting.

Babylon 5 does love its whimsy. Apparently there was a lot of horsing around on set. A fun show to work on, etc. Maybe, but when you're telling a story about war, maybe you want to reign in the onscreen shenanigans, eh? I'm not saying the episode isn't amusing - it is - and I'm not saying I disliked it - I quite liked it - but taken as a whole, the humor doesn't sit easily side by side with the tragedy. What works best is character-driven humor, things like Ivanova intimidating one of her crew during an interview just by standing a ways behind him, or the journalist saying her name wrong and describing her as "perky". But when they make jokes about the WORLD, I'm not so sure. The odds of B5 failing put up on the screen, or the cheesy PsiCorps commercial (the subliminal message is amusing if unrealistic), or the senator fawning over the journalist in his interview, well, those are stepping over the line into parody. I might also add the mixed metaphors and catch phrases (there's a Julie Chen moment in there), but those aren't so much parody as they are exactly what news programs do. At least the interviews are used to give us a little more background on the characters and their worlds. Delenn's crystal cities and G'Kar's tragic story about his father are highlights.

Ultimately, despite the tonal problems, the episode works because of its raw emotion. The camera dares stay on people a little too long, or capture them when they don't think we're looking, which is ironic, because the normal episode doesn't have a camera there at all, yet feels more rehearsed. Each actor in the regular cast understands his or her character well enough to show the right level of comfort, discomfort, media savvy or lack thereof that character should have. The outer space scenes, caught from floating cams around B5, foreshadow Battlestar Galactica's documentary style. In general, though the journalist could have shown more nervousness to sell her moments (coming closest when she catches a glimpse of Kosh), it's a good attempt at capturing the situation's urgent immediacy. It just could have been a little more improvisational to make it believable.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A worthy experiment (which actually rates lower on DVD because of all the technical problems) even if it is tonally compromised. There are a lot of nice speeches and moments in there, whether I think the montage is actually credible.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

July's Number Ones Part 2

Been a while longer than I'd planned - got distracted by a certain map - but here's the second part of my capsule reviews of new series that came out in July. For what it's worth, it'll probably spread to three. Anyway, are these things you'd be interested in? If not, save a dollar; if so, spend one.
Storm by Greg Pak and Victor Ibanez for Marvel. I'm all about Marvel's commitment to giving female heroes their own books, and Storm is a good-looking entry that doesn't seem to tie too much into X-shenanigans, which for me, is often a reason not to follow a book. Nightcrawler, for example. Other mutants are present, but it really is about Storm and not some meta-arc. But can they promise me it'll stay that way? One thing the book fails to do is present a clear premise or status quo. What will the title be ABOUT? I have no clue. Reading between the lines, it perhaps links back to Storm's status as a "goddess", and will treat her heroism as a vocation. In the first issue, she saves a village from a tsunami, gets involved in a fight against a military regime and connects with one of her students. It's all over the place, but thematically linked. I've heard some readers complain that Storm's skin is too thin, letting herself get angry and/or motivated by hurtful words. Maybe Pak is trying to characterize her as volatile and mercurial, like the weather. That's also a sound approach. It just hasn't all come together yet and this first issue feels like a spotlight issue or one-shot special. Where do we go from here?
Keep reading? On the fence. Pak hasn't sold me on his series, but he hasn't turned me off of it either.
Ragnarok by Walt Simonson for IDW. Ok, took me a second reading to latch onto the premise, but this is the Thor story that could never happen. Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse, has happened, and we pick the saga up centuries(?) later. The Gods are dead, the Nine Worlds have fallen, what takes their place? Simonson's protagonist is a blue-skinned Elf assassin on a mission to kill a dead god (ostensibly, Thor), but it's the scenes from Ragnarok itself (Thor vs. the Midgard Serpent) that shine brightest. I'd hope for more "flashbacks" in future issues. The art is indisputably gorgeous, though - and I may be alone in this - I've always found Simonson works best with flat old school coloring. While colorist Laura Martin does an excellent job by modern standards, for me, it makes Simonson's art too detailed, harder to read. Regardless, it's an uncompromising dive into material Simonson knows extremely well, immersive and with few explanations. It's not as mainstream as Thor was, but promises to be a comparably epic journey.
Keep reading? Hard to get into, I fear this reader may need to catch himself up with each published issue, so... wait for the trade and read bigger chunks of the saga all in one go?
The Devilers by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Matt Triano for Dynamite's Creators Unleashed label. In the rash of new books about people battling the occult (Doctor Spektor, Outcast, The Empty Man, etc.), The Devilers is an immediate favorite. We're presented with a world at war with the forces of Hell itself, the Vatican in flames, and people with extraordinary abilities must be assembled to fight them. Pleasantly, while the Catholic Church's holy ground is ground zero, the Devilers have members from all the great religions. The story has a darkly humorous tone, but promises epic battles that would be at home in superhero comics, and found myself loving its irreverence. Triano's art fits the subject matter, in his element whether he's drawing facial expressions or really crazy demons. In issue 1, we get to know one of the Devilers rather well, and I would look forward to exploring the others as we move forward. Lots of potential.
Keep reading? Definitely. Looks to be a great action-horror series. Unleash all the creators you want, Dynamite!
The Life After by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo for Oni Press. Fialkov has a SECOND series dropping in July, and I'm not entirely sure what to think of it. Which is kind of exciting, really. And I'd hate to blow the book's surprises, but it's hard to talk about it without doing so. I'll try to keep the spoilers as mild as possible. But then, if this is a vision of the afterlife, I'm not entirely sure how it works yet. My spoilers might yet be disproved. So okay, the story seems to fit at the crossroads of the Matrix, Dark City, the Diving Comedy and Second Life, and our protagonist's dreary, repetitive life is shaken up when he gets off the bus at the wrong stop, from which point, it's like a page of From Hell. What's going on? I'll have to get a second issue to find out. All the while, Gabo's anxious art gives the book an indie feel I respond to, detailed and only slightly surreal.
Keep reading? Another religiously-themed winner from Fialkov, it gets a second issue by virtue of the questions it asks. Hopefully, I'll like the answers.
Spread by Justin Jordan and Kyle Strahm for Image. Essentially a zombie apocalypse narrative, the Spread reimagines the threat as an infection that turns living beings into Lovecraftian monsters. It's also a survival piece, because the damage is long done and the protagonist, a silent badass called "No" (I find this a little confusing, personally) is "Spread immune" and fighting to keep a baby called Hope (not coincidentally) alive. That's right. It's Lone Wolf and Cub with monsters, and just as gory. Jordan's set-up works well enough, but the real star at this point is Strahm's art, bringing a sense of graphic fun to the insane graphic violence he produces for the book. The snowbound locations also create a stark contrast with the bloody creatures and their victims. It's like an amped-up version of Sweet Tooth.
Keep reading? Yes, I'd be interested in seeing how far they can take it. In the text piece at the end, Jordan talks about societies in decay and gives the Mad Max trilogy as an example, showing he's thinking about the long term. If he can mutate this book like the Spread mutates people, he might be able to sustain interest for a while yet.

Next time, and I won't make you wait long, five more #1s to close out the month.