Friday, September 30, 2011

New 52: Week 4 Batch 2

This is it - the final 6 books from the New52! Before we get into it, I want to talk a little bit about sex & violence, if I may. I've condemned both in these reviews, and plan to do so again at the bottom of this post, and yet, I'll also be giving rave reviews to books that use both. How is it that Catwoman is objectionable, but I, Vampire's nearly naked vamp cover isn't? Why bitch and moan about the gore in the Green Lantern books, but give Jonah Hex's violent adventures a gold star? For me, the answer has something to do with how appropriate such scenes are for the comics franchise they're found in, but also their redeeming value in the story being told. I find extreme sex & violence in superhero books to go against the genre, especially where characters who used to be G-rated are concerned. It's fine in war books and westerns. It's fine in DC Dark's horror books (though having Justice Leaguers show up in each is jarring). In those books, the sex & violence seems far less gratuitous (but it can be, see Voodoo below). If the shock is part of the story, then fine. If the same story could be told without the entrails or boobs, then it's bad. And if the story is really ONLY about the entrails or boobs, it's even worse.

All-Star Western #1
I guess Palmiotti and Gray's Jonah Hex was doing well enough to continue into the new DCU, but they've opened the book up to other western stars with that title. We still start things off with Jonah Hex, in a story set in old Gotham City (not in the West, but ok) in which Jonah teams up with Dr. Arkham to catch a serial killer in the Jack the Ripper vein. It's the closest you're gonna get to Hex's Victorian Adventures and it's pretty awesome. New readers will be introduced to Jonah through Arkham's psych evaluation-type narration, and the well-known Gotham acts as the series' midwife. The art by Moritat is beautiful, giving off a real sense of time and place (Gabriel Bautista's colors give the whole thing the feeling of a daguerreotype too), and while the violence is raw, it's not exploitative. I hope the art team stays on for more than an arc, though Hex has usually been well served by his artists in the past. And I also can't wait to see who else can show up in the book's pages. DC has some interesting western stars in its catalog.
Don't call it a reboot: It's not. Even Gotham City seems pulled from the recent Gates of Gotham mini-series.
Upgrade? I was an irregular reader of Jonah Hex, but opening the door to other features may counter the fatigue I once felt at the sameness of his stories.
Will read? They got me. They got me good.
Recommended? Definitely. Not only is it a great book for western fans who might not be into superheroes, but hey! Batman fans! Read this, you'll like it!

Blackhawks #1
The old WWII pilots have been re-imagined as G.I. Joe in a world of superhumans. As an old comics reader, I wish there was more of a connection between this team and the original (at least the Island, come on!), but that scarcely matters to the new reader. Blackhawks is a paramilitary team with cool vehicles and gadgets, culled from every country in the U.N. and where everyone has a codename. They undertake missions to fight metahuman terrorism (or at least, that's the focus of the first issue). Mike Costa provides some good action scenes before throwing us into the characters and their soap opera. There are a lot of characters here, but those we spend time with are distinctive and promising, as is the subplot of one of their own developing her own powers by accident. The idea that the team is covert and is pissed that someone snapped a picture of their logo on their secret vehicle isn't well thought out, but the comic scores enough points to make me forgive the lapse in logic. Graham Nolan and Ken Lashley have a dynamic style, that's yes, a bit Jim Lee and a bit Marc Silversti (what is it with the new DC and Image-style art?), but has a rough edge that makes it its own animal, well suited to these characters.
Don't call it a reboot: Lady Blackhawk likely went through a makeover, but otherwise, there's no reason these guys couldn't have evolved from the WWII aces.
Upgrade? Nothing to compare it to, and too early to tell if these Blackhawks are inherently better than the originals.
Will read? Made enough of an impression, yes.
Recommended? Though there are metahuman elements, Blackhawks plays as enough of a paramilitary scenario to appeal to war comics fans, and fans of the G.I. Joe concept in particular. I hope it does well, because the potential for something different at DC is certainly there.

Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men #1
I read this hours ago, and I'm still not sure what to think. Gail Simone and co-plotter Ethan Van Sciver have completely re-imagined Firestorm and turned it into a narrative that I can't for the life of me predict the direction of. Ronny and Jason are now teenagers at the same high school, one a football star, the other a brilliant A-student who's hiding a tube of the next era of physics sent him by the now dead Professor Martin Stein. Some kind of organization is after the canister, but Jason activates it turning him and Ronny into different versions of Firestorm, and by the end they seem to combine to create an entity called Fury. Add to that archive shots of other Firestorms (and a Firehawk) and you've got an attempt at a completely new mythos for the Nuclear Men. It's a lot to absorb, and a touch violent for a teen hero comic in my opinion, but it's a very intriguing base that should have readers coming back for more. Vildiray Cinar's art is up to snuff, solid without being particularly distinctive, and it's not so concerned with splash pages and dead air as other books. A lot happens - good value.
Don't call it a reboot: It's totally a reboot. Perhaps the biggest reboot of all.
Upgrade? Mmm... To early to tell? Certainly it should make Firestorm more exciting than it had been of late. I'll miss Professor Stein though.
Will read? Yes, I think this is a better book than Simone's Batgirl.
Recommended? New and old readers really can get in on the ground floor of this saga. They seem to be playing a long game, so the first year should be interesting.

I, Vampire #1
When I saw I, Vampire solicited, I didn't register any interest. Wasn't the world overdosing on vampire stories already? But then a lot of stories by this Josh Fialkov guy cropped up and I loved them all. I, Vampire is the best I've read from him though. Supported by gorgeous art by Andrea Sorrentino. He's kept the original premise from House of Mystery fairly intact. Andrew Bennett is a vampire who makes his lover Mary immortal, but she is corrupted by evil and builds an army of vamps Bennett - who doesn't drink human blood - vows to take down. It's the same basic tale, but very well told, going back and forth between a flashback of happier times and Mary's opening salvo against humanity. The vampires can turn into wolves and even bigger creatures, setting them apart from the vamps in most contemporary fiction, high-powered shapeshifters. It's a personal love story set against all-out supernatural war. The stakes are high. The mood is deep and dark. Definitely one of the big winners of the New 52.
Don't call it a reboot: I'm afraid it is.
Upgrade? I'm sure there are a lot of fans of the original DeMatteis/Sutton series from the early 80s, but this has a sharp, modern feel that I'm gonna call an upgrade.
Will read? You bet. Without checking, I'll go and put this in my Top 5.
Recommended? Definitely. It's an awesome horror book, with dark romance and fierce action.

Justice League Dark #1
Peter Milligan took this concept out for a spin during Flashpoint with the Secret Seven, and he disappointed me. JLDark is all kinds of awesome however. I barely resent the fact that the other Justice Leaguers show up in their ugly costumes, because they get their asses handed to them by magic. The weirdness on show reminded me of Milligan, Morrison, Gaiman and Delano's work on books on the cusp of going Vertigo, and Mikel Janin's art thrives on the resulting imagery. JLDark is another team book that doesn't manage to assemble the team before the final page, but at least its (future) members actually show up! Introductions are cursory, but do the job. There's enough going on here to pique interest in another issue rather than make the reader impatient. It's more like Stormwatch than Justice League that way.
Don't call it a reboot: Hard to say, though it's probable some history was lost for each of these characters.
Upgrade? For Zatanna who's lost her solo book, probably not. Compared to the similar Shadowpact, I think it may be an upgrade. Of course, no Detective Chimp so...
Will read? Yes, Milligan used to be one of my favorite writers, but I haven't been this enthusiastic about his work since X-Statix. Plus, I wanna see where he takes Shade next.
Recommended? I recommend it for fans of high weirdness and horror, and I hope you'll get into this large cast of characters quickly. It may help that some of these have more presence on the stands. Zatanna just ended a series, John Constantine still stars in the long-running Hellblazer, Madame Xanadu's younger self is in Demon Knights, and Deadman is the focus of DC Universe Presents' first arc. Plus, there's that big "Justice League" at the top. Every little bit helps.

Voodoo #1
The positiveness ends here. I have nothing against a superhero who makes her living as a stripper in principle. And Sam Basri certainly draws pretty girls well. But his glossy art and good draftsmanship is wasted on this Ron Marz story because NOTHING HAPPENS! People have conversations, few of which are germane to the plot, while in the foreground, the sometimes-African American heroine (depends on the light) strips for the reader. Five pages are devoted to a strip show, seven more to a private lapdance, and another three take place in the dressing room, or rather the undressing room, where the club's various strippers walk around in their underwear or less. That's 15 lascivious pages out of 20! May just beat Catwoman's record! We find out that Voodoo is an alien shapeshifter, but not much else. Is she on our side or not? What about the guy who's bugging her, what's his story? Why does an alien scout have to hide as an exotic dancer anyway? Unfortunately, boobs are more important than answering those questions and the reader isn't given a reason to care.
Don't call it a reboot: Voodoo used to be in the Wildstorm universe. Now it's not. That's a reboot.
Upgrade? I never read those older series, but I can't imagine that it is.
Will read? There were words?!
Recommended? NOT SAFE FOR WORK! And further, NOT GOOD TO READ! T&A shots aplenty, but how about a story with that? Skippable in the extreme.

So there you have it, Voodoo made me end on a sour note. The rest of the crop is rather good though! I was very impressed with All Star Western, I, Vampire and JLDark, and will also continue with the Firestorms and the Blackhawks. So is it all over? Not exactly. Next week, the SBG will take a look at the entire relaunch and crunch some relevant numbers. See you then.

Reign of the Supermen #345: DC Fifty-Too Superboy

Source: DC Fifty-TOO! (2011)
Type: Fan-made reimaginingThe new 52's Superboy was ok. That is to say, not as disastrous as I had thought. But Jordan Gibson's pitch for Jon Morris' DC Fifty-TOO! project is so much sweeter. He keeps Krypto. He keeps the Legion. He pays tribute to All-Star Superman with that logo. And he uses the phrase "can basically go anywhere in space and time to have a crazy, fun adventure!" You've got me sold, Jordan! And that costume that merges various designs isn't half bad either!

Follow the provided link to find out more.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

New 52: Week 4 Batch 1

Last week! I'm gonna go ahead and use the same format I did for the past three, and start with the best-known names, with the other half-dozen to follow tomorrow. As usual, these capsule reviews are geared towards the potential new readers DC claims it is wooing.

Aquaman #1
One thing Geoff Johns does in this Aquaman relaunch is make it a proper introduction to the character. The powers we don't see in action are at least discussed, his origin is told, Arthur repositions himself as a man who wants to explore his human, not Atlantean, heritage, and all with Ivan Reis' excellent art. Bit heavy-handed however. Most of the information we get because an obnoxious blogger corners Aquaman in a diner (it's tell, don't show), and Johns gets pretty strident (pun not intended) about defending the character. Though there's action and characterization, most of the issue is spent on repeating old Aquaman jokes and deflating them. Telling new readers that they're wrong to denigrate Aquaman only makes sense if you expect new readers that are antagonistic towards the character. For readers who do like Aquaman, they may resent the hell out of being told that Aquaman's no one's favorite and making Arthur suffer the indignity of having that thrown in his face. If you start the series out with Aquaman as a laughing stock, I'm sorry, but you have did him in yourself.
Don't call it a reboot: Unknown. Looks intact, but his history may have been shortened to exclude various eras of his career.
Upgrade? This is pretty much exactly where we left the character in Brightest Day, except the new Aqualad is nowhere to be seen. I hope he shows up later.
Will read? As a card-carrying member of FOAM, I sort of have to. And want to.
Recommended? Aquaman's a badass, and I want new readers to find that out. I just wish Johns hadn't been so gauche in showing it. Hell, new readers will probably get a hoot out of the comedy.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1
Let me tell you how pathetic I find The Dark Knight. First of all, it's a Batman comic designed as a showcase for David Finch. He's an artist I don't like (his perspectives and compositions are as bad as Liefeld's, he just hides them in more intricate detail so many readers won't notice) and an improvised writer, who here gets help from Paul Jenkins (showcase no more). Fans laughed at relaunching this book which took the better part of a year to get to #5, and now it's right back to #1. And this new #1 is just awful. The art is everything I expect it to be, and so is the script. Batman's first person narration is pretentious and overdone. Bruce Wayne swings on ropes without his costume, risking discovery. Anytime a woman shows up, it's a pin-up or ass shot. It's the second Batman book this month to feature an Akrham Asylum break-out, which tells me there's absolutely no editing going on. And don't tell what they've to Two-Face this issue makes him remotely more interesting, because it doesn't. It just comes off as silly.
Don't call it a reboot: Batman Inc. is mentioned, so it's business as usual.
Upgrade? You'd think having help from a co-plotter would help. It doesn't.

Will read? Not a chance.
Recommended? Avoid at all costs. New readers, you want to read Batman and if you have another 3$ in your pocket, Batman and Robin. That's it. You shouldn't even be thinking about picking up Dark Knight.

Flash #1
Francis Manapul is an excellent artist, very well suited to the Flash. I could recommend this book on the art alone. But can he write? Yeah, he can (here with the help of Brian Buccellato). Barry Allen, the fastest man alive, shares superheroics with the wacky world of SF CSI, making this a mystery book as well as a high concept superhero comic. What's here is solid enough, and acts as a pretty good introduction to the character, one I wouldn't mind handing to someone. Longtime fans will gripe at Barry's marriage being undone, Iris West relegated to pesky journalist who bugs Barry, but hasn't really met the Flash yet. For those fans, it's even worse. Barry's on a date with another woman. But as a reboot/relaunch, that's fine. Maybe they can get a will they/won't they dynamic going. Works for half the tv shows out there. What the book needs, however, is a good villain. Like many comics in the New52, the title hero faces off against nameless goons, which again makes me feel like the villains of the new DCU have been short-changed. Certainly makes that cliffhanger stand out as one of the most boring this month.
Don't call it a reboot: Marriage undone, playing the field, probably didn't die in the Crisis and come back. Totally a reboot.
Upgrade? Nah. It's the same series it used to be, without the deeper, richer history and relationships.
Will read? Yes. Enough of a Flash fan to do so, and Manapul's first effort wasn't bad.
Recommended? A solid superhero comic that uses its CSI element better than Johns did in the previous volume. Manapul's art is very nice as well. A good intro overall.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #1
One of DC's more confusing efforts, New Guardians starts with a needless re-origin of Kyle Rayner in a flashback that isn't advertized as such. After that, there's a caption that says "Present day", and when we return to Kyle, he's got a different uniform, but he has to explain to a kid that he's not Hal Jordan. Entirely plausible, but it still makes it feel like Kyle's a rookie, and if you miss that caption (I did, at first), you'll get the feeling Kyle's history's been erased. Hopefully it hasn't, because that would make Tony Bedard's series clash with the rest of GL continuity, one of the few untouched chunks of DC's continuity. Looks like Bedard tried to make New Guardians a better jump-on point for new readers with that origin, but it really isn't. New readers won't really know what the heck is going on with all those colored rings, and like Justice League, the team isn't assembled by the end of the issue. The cover, in fact, acts as a spoiler about who will appear in later issues. The art by Tyler Kirkham is good enough, though derivative of Jim Lee's, and of course, it must include that staple of Lantern comics, gory violence. You only have to wait for page 9 before someone gets graphically disemboweled. So a slow start, though at least it presents an intriguing mystery.
Don't call it a reboot: A small one. Kyle's origin has been tweaked.
Upgrade? Only insofar as Kyle's gotten to lead his own series, whereas he was relegated to sharing the spotlight with two other Earth Lanterns in GLC before.
Will read? I am interested in the Lantern sector of the DCU, so yes. I hope New Guardians starts to move a little faster though.
Recommended? With reservations. New readers are unlikely to understand concepts developed during the War of Light without the help of trade collections despite being thrown a bone with Kyle's origin (which is predicated on some Oan event they won't recognize anyway).

Savage Hawkman #1
Carter Hall is a cryptologist (I guess he helps decipher alien languages or something? he's not a cryptoGRAPHER) who used to be Hawkman. He decides to burn his old wings, but the Nth metal has other ideas. It transforms him into a new-look Hawkman and he must immediately fight the horribly named Morphicus, an evil pile of alien vampiric goo. I didn't think much of Tony Daniel as a Batman writer, but Hawkman's more of a blank slate. Maybe he can do something more original here? It's not a bad start, one that gives the character a new beginning without voiding his past (couldn't have more series in the relaunch gone this route?). Philip Tan's art isn't strong on faces, but is helped along by the painterly colors of Sunny Gho. Tan loses some stiffness when he gets into the more fantastical and action-based scenes, so there's potential there.
Don't call it a reboot: Though some elements have definitely been de-emphasize, it doesn't feel like a reboot. Dialog seems to point to a more or less intact history, though probably without Thanagar in the mix. Let's call it a more streamlined history, then.
Upgrade? Still wondering where the JSA will be, because this is definitely its Hawkman, and not Earth-1's Katar Hol (who I'm kind of missing at this point). The new paradigm still has to prove itself, so I'm not gonna call it an upgrade quite yet.
Will read? Give it a couple more issues. I've been wanting a competent Hawkman series for a while. Is this it?
Recommended? A good jumping on point, with everything you need to understand the series. Doesn't quite stand out as one of the series new readers really should read, but perhaps if it keeps up a kind of Supernatural/X-Files mood, it could find its niche.

Superman #1
George Perez didn't just write this comic, he drew the breakdowns for Jesus Merino's pencils. And it shows. Where a lot of DC's #1s have wide open spaces, a low average for panels per page, and lots of splashes, Perez' Superman is dense almost to the point of claustrophobia. This thing took a lot longer to read than the rest of the line, and I'd call that a good thing. Perez does a lot of things right. For one thing, he successfully tracks how media works these days, turning Lois into a frontline tv news producer, throwing tweets and web exclusives into the mix, all the while keeping old-fashioned guys like Clark and Perry plugging away in the dying print media. That's the real star here, and all the action (a battle against a Kryptonian fire monster) is seen through the news broadcasting process. The soap opera elements recall the late 80s and early 90s, again a good thing, even if I might decry the loss of Superman's marriage (but I'm moving on). Superman isn't THAT brooding, at least not yet. It all seemed justified to me. So it's a hit as far as I'm concerned. If there's a flaw, it's Superman's new costume, and I imagine it's not a coincidence that Perez and Merino often draw him at a distance or in close-up, giving the suit as little play as possible. Other redesigns that look awful: Jimmy's Bieber haircut and the crazy-ass new Daily Planet building. There was talk of making Perry a black man, but it's Morgan Edge who gets a new ethnicity instead. The supporting cast shows a lot of variety, actually, even if the roles were small this time around.
Don't call it a reboot: Completely.
Upgrade? Chris Roberson had brought Superman back from the brink after JMS' false start, so I'm not ready to call it an upgrade, but it's certainly not a DOWNgrade.
Will read? Yes. I liked it more than I thought I would. Reminded me of the franchise's better years. So long as I don't look at the suit directly.
Recommended? A resounding yes. There was a lot of exciting stuff happening, and not just with the superhero - Lois may turn out to be the true protagonist of this book. And you can't beat its content-per-dollar value.

Teen Titans #1
Just horrible. I knew I didn't like the costume redesigns, but I find Brett Booth's artwork disagreeable in general. Generally poor, he has trouble with page layouts, choreography and clarity. But writer Scott Lobdell is more guilty still. Not only does he pull off the New52 trick of taking too much time assembling his team (only three members have speaking roles, despite that being less than half of what's on the cover), but he also writes Teen Titans like it's an X-book. We're told upfront that there's a veritable "plague" of metahuman teenagers. That's not the DC Universe, is it? We meet up with Red Robin who feels the need to assemble these fugitive teens, Kid-Flash who screws up royally on national tv, and Wonder Girl, completely revamped as... well, I can't make sense of who she is really and what her abilities are. So nothing happens much and the Teen Titans don't actually exist by issue's end. Annoying AND ugly.
Don't call it a reboot: Tim Drake was Robin, but his Red Robin series may well have been erased. Wonder Girl's been rebooted entirely. Kid-Flash too, probably. I'm calling it a reboot.
Upgrade? The franchise had had a lot of trouble since, well since Marv Wolfman left it, frankly. Even so, this is a step WAY DOWN from where J.T. Krul left the book last month.
Will read? You can't make me.
Recommended? Not on your life. You do not want to crack this thing open, trust me. Boring, badly drawn and confusing.

The quirkier books I REALLY want to read will be tomorrow (but also Voodoo, so it's not gonna be all roses), I hope you'll come back for that. Of today's crop, Teen Titans and Dark Knight are clear losers, while all the others are imperfect, but pretty solid, Superman especially.

Reign of the Supermen #344: Superman, Enemy of the Bat

Source: Elseworlds 80-Page Giant #1 (1999)
Type: ElseworldsWhat if Kal-El's rocket crashed in Crime Alley, killing the Waynes instantly? Simple. Young Bruce survives, but is horribly disfigured and swears vengeance on the infant from another planet picked up by multi-millionaire Lex Luthor. Baby Kal-El, raised by Luthor, becomes a gun-toting corporate lackey, while Bruce becomes Batman and gets his hands on the only pieces of kryptonite not disposed of by Luthor. They meet. Bang bang. And Batman uses the last bullet to send himself to his parents.
Voila. World's Deadest. It's obvious, really.

I imagine this Earth also features Abin Sur crashing into Barry Allen's lab, Oliver Queen getting stranded on Paradise Island, and Baby Arthur raised by Dr. Erdel.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Approaching Closing Time

Being 10 and 1 things about Doctor Who's Closing Time. You are approaching spoilers. This will be your only warning.Craig's return. A sequel to The Lodger, Closing Time nevertheless didn't follow up on the mystery ship that was camo-ed over Craig's old apartment. But that's ok. Instead, we focus on Craig himself who, with Sophie gone for the weekend, must take care of their newborn, Stormageddon/Alfie. The story falls very well within the thematic fabric of the season, as Craig makes the ultimate leap to adulthood (something Amy and Rory were robbed of), and introduces the youngest companion ever, keeping things within the realm of Moffat's fairy tale world. Craig even manages to die and return to life, which is must this season. And as far as the season goes, it's a nice change of pace from the rather dark and/or emotional episodes that surround it. It all came off as sweet, and yet worked within the context of the Doctor's impending doom. Writer Gareth Roberts writes the goofiest 11th Doctor, and though he'll likely never write something I'd call "powerful", he still brings the comedy, quirkiness and heart that are key to the Whoniverse. I hope he has another Craig story in him for next year.

Companions and partners. A fun surprise was the appearance of Amy and Rory in the shopping mall. It did cause some Continuity Police Action among fans though. The problem, it seems, is the newspaper at Craig's house, which bears a date just before the Lake Silencio event. It's so small onscreen as to be almost invisible, so it's likely a production goof just like Rory's 1990 badge in The Eleventh Hour. Because of that, people have been wondering if the Amy and Rory seen in Closing Time aren't the same Amy and Rory seen in The Impossible Astronaut, i.e. BEFORE that episode. But if so, they should already be on a plane to America. And how did Amy get into modeling (her career apparently, which is a step up - and not an unbelievable one - from kiss-o-gram) in between A Christmas Carol and The Impossible Astronaut (2 months apart). It's possible she became a model in the two years between the Doctor's trip to the moon and back in The Eleventh Hour, but it seems odd that she would still live in Leadworth if that were so. The easiest explanation is that the newspaper should be ignored and the Williams are actually from AFTER The God Complex. Sure, the Doctor says he dies "tomorrow", but his tomorrow isn't necessarily Craig's. Time travel. A better fit for Closing Time is probably sometime in 2012. Disagree? You're free to do so.

Colchester. What are Amy and Rory doing in Colchester? It's not a big enough city for a non-UK citizen like me to know where it is, but through the magic of the Internet, I managed to spot it in Essex, in Eastern England. Leadworth, where we presume the two former companions still live, is meant to be in the English Midlands, which would probably make the best shopping destination Birmingham, right? Then again, we have no proof the Doctor dropped the two off in Leadworth at the end of The God Complex. Those houses didn't look all that villagey to me, so maybe he gave them a house in Colchester (which would be strange). Maybe they're just visiting family. Or doing a perfume tour. Or the universe is playing its tricks of fate.

Taking it like a man. When compared to how the 10th Doctor took his impending death, Doc11 is a freaking ROCK. Is his serenity character growth through regeneration, or a sign that he has a plan that could yet get him out of it? Matt Smith's portrayal of the Doctor here was excellent, dialing back the silliness he can't help but exhibit in Craig's mundane world, and letting a sort of resolve shine through. None of that "I don't want to go" stuff. At least, not yet.
Cybermen, which ones? The fact that the show hasn't found the means to redesign the Cybermen is really making Cyber-continuity annoying. They look like the Cybus-men from the parallel universe, but they act and feel like the classic Cybermen from our universe. Cyber-ships, Cybermats (I was really happy to see them again - with teeth! - and that they could be defeated with a cookie sheet!), a Cyber-controller with a differently-shaped head, "You will be like uzzzz" instead of "Delete!". They're ours, all right. It may be fanwanky of me, but I really hope we eventually get some kind of onscreen explanation that makes the time-tossed Cybus-men meet our Cybermen and get "assimilated". As for their use here, it really wasn't the focus of the episode. I can understand some viewers being disappointed with how little they mattered or how easily they were defeated, but them's the breaks. More Stormageddon!

The power of love. Not for the first time, the enemies are blown up with love. And this time, the show acknowledges it. The Doctor tries some kind of technobabble explanation, but it's so much easier to call it what it is. While I'd like the Cybermen's heads to lose their explosive properties (it's just dumb, emotional overload or not), I find this perfectly sensible within the fairy tale rules of the present-day Whoniverse.

Setting up the finale. The Doctor picks up those blue envelopes and a Stetson, all seen in The Impossible Astronaut. That makes him the "Future Doctor" that gets killed (but see the next item). Meanwhile, the Silents catch up with River Song just after she becomes a doctor and put her on the road to killing "the best man she's ever known". The episode ends with her in a spacesuit at the bottom of Lake Silencio, presumably acting on a programmed impulse to assassinate the Doctor. It's all coming to a head and the time loop is closing. Can't wait to see how many connections the finale makes with the rest of the season.

Has it really been 200 years? If the Doctor in Closing Time is The Impossible Astronaut's "Future Doctor", is he really 200 years older than Season 6's "Present Doctor"? In other words, have there been 200 years of (companionless?) adventures between The God Complex and Closing Time? Or was the Doctor lying about his age in the season opener to fulfill some secret plan? We can assume he at least had the adventures Amy and Rory notice in The Impossible Astronaut - spending time under ladies' dresses and walking across set in Laurel and Hardy pictures, and whatever else he's rattled on about. Would that include, for example, a number of adventures with River Song (their wedding, for example, wink wink)? We'll find out more next week, but in Closing Time, the Doctor does talk about being really old (900, 1100, what's the dif, right?). If he IS older, that opens Matt up for offers from Big Finish, but more importantly, it also slows down the Doctor's regenerations. The Face of Evil did much the same with the 4th Doctor. Without such holes in his history, it just looks like the longest-lived hero on tv changes bodies every couple years. Such a man would not have made it to 909. Or 1109.

Shhhhh. Speaking of the fourth Doctor, the hypnotic shushing in Closing Time has to be a tribute to Tom Baker's frankly annoying shushes designed, it seemed, only to step all over the other actors' lines. That Doctor did have hypnotic abilities, and their use in this limited form did make for a fun running gag. Seems that every time he sees Craig, we discover a new Time Lord power. Hm.
Petrichor. Remember that word from earlier this year? Petrichor is the smell of rain, something I wouldn't have registered had it not been one of the TARDIS' passwords in The Doctor's Wife when Amy had to imagine "the smell of dust after rain" to unlock a door. Now it's the name of her perfume? Mmm, musty. (And another indication that the scene occurs after The God Complex and not before The Impossible Astronaut, or Amy would have remarked on the word.)

Eyepatches. I read an interesting theory on Madame Kovarian's eyepatch and I relate it here: What if it's what protects her from forgetting the Silents once she looks away? She certainly doesn't seem to have a problem working openly with them. I'll add this to the theory: The eyepatch might do so by projecting the image of a Silent continually right into the optic nerve.

That's it for me this week, but Closing Time or not, there's one more episode to go before we can put the chairs on the tables and turn off the lights. So see you next week!

Reign of the Supermen #343: The Commander-in-Chief of Steel

Source: Elseworlds 80-Page Giant #1 (1999)
Type: ElseworldsOk, is THIS Earth part of the 52?

Imagine the DC Universe if Superman, leader of the Supercrat Party, became President of the United States. Further imagine that all his villains are part of the Vipublican media. Lex Luthor kinda looks like O'Reilly, doesn't he?
On his 853rd day in office (a magic number if there ever was one), Superman is a President in Crisis, sheltering the storm and red skies as best he can from the White Fortress, his press secretary Jimmy Olsen constantly under fire. Will he survive what LEX News calls Superman Revenge Week? Or will his presidency fall to the evils of Special Prosecutor Zod and the Apokolips Teabaggers?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

RPG Talk: Nobody Wants to Wear a Hat

Being a list of uses for headwear in role-playing games, but first an appeal to readers for help with RPG content.

RPG Talk. It's not the most popular thing on the Blog of Geekery, but I feel like it's a vital one for it to be well-rounded. I used to have this hat filled with random topics I would turn into RPG articles, topics submitted by you, gentle readers. I still have the hat, but it's empty now. So this is my request for suggestions. I like to feel challenged, so don't be shy about making it esoteric or a complete non sequitur. Non-RPG geeks who like the other content can take comfort in the fact that I'm a nut for superhero games and Doctor Who role-playing. So the content has a good chance of intersecting your interests. Comments section at the ready. And as a reward, here's some actual content on the very topic of... hats!

Helmets and other headgear (hats, caps, tuques...) hold a special frustration for me as a GameMaster. Many games have them, of course, usually offering some kind of armor bonus for the head area. Makes sense. However, since I like my games rather light on rules, the armor bonus rarely figures into the games. You really need some kind of called shot to go for the head, or else a random hit location system, and even when I do use those, they often go flying out the window when I'm in the crunch of battle. The GM is often running multiple opponents, and it's easier to not sweat the small stuff and make the attacks relatively generic. If you're like me, it's important to throw the characters a bone from time to time, and make baddies go for the head, face or jugular. That way, they can feel like they bought a helmet for a reason. But what if you're a player and your GM neglects your well-prepared armor combos?

I once had a player (shout out to Ti-Cass!) who used a helmet as a small shield, taking it off his head and bouncing bullets off the interior. It was a great moment, and it inspired this post. The lesson I learned is basically this: Don't underestimate the multi-functionality of your helmet. You bought the damn thing, and its dinky +1 bonus to 2% of attacks isn't justifying the expense. Well, here are other things you can (and should) do with it.
-Use as a bowl. Shows how much of a hard man you are.
-Ask your GM for a bonus if you're trying to hide your identity and your helm has a faceplate of some kind.
-Hats of all kinds are good for hiding things, especially turbans. I bet nobody frisks your head.
-Strap a chain to it, and your helmet could make a nice flail in a pinch. That would be a badass custom weapon. Especially if the helmet has spikes.
-Need to trap a small creature or a magic bead is rolling away? Throw a helmet on it.
-Raising any kind of headgear over cover is sure to draw fire. Good for distractions, subterfuge (your helmet keeps watch while you go round the hill) or making them waste bullets, arrows and spells.
-Headbutts that hurt. A lot.

Tell you what. You start using those tricks a lot - and ask for bonuses each time - the GM will definitely start trying for head shots to teach you a lesson about taking the damn thing off so much!

Reign of the Supermen #342: Rock'n'Roll Clark Kent

Source: Elseworlds 80-Page Giant #1 (1999)
Type: ElseworldsWas this Earth ever part of the 52?

Imagine the DC Universe as the music industry. Lex Luthor started out buying the rights to the swing classics of the All-Stars and the jazz recordings of the Blackhawks, before discovering the Heroes and becoming the most powerful man in popular music. Clark, Ollie, Barry and Arthur were the Beatles of Earth-Whatever, with Clark in the Lennon role. After the band broke up because he wanted to do more experimental stuff with the much-hated (one assumes) Lois Lane, Lex's attempts at getting the band back together again resulted in, what else, the death of Clark. Is it a coincidence that rock god Doomsday's star rose just after that? Did Doomsday perhaps have a thing for Catcher in the Rye?

Teen bands like the Titans, the emo stylings of Bruce Wayne, and divas like Princess Diana now dominate the charts. Or have they all been relaunched through aggressive mp3 sales?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Star Trek #1420: Where No Man Has Gone Before (Reboot)

1420. Where No Man Has Gone Before (Reboot)

PUBLICATION: Star Trek #1, IDW Comics, September 2011

CREATORS: Mike Johnson (writer), Stephen Molnar (artist)

STARDATE: 2258.5 or .6 (after the Star Trek movie)

PLOT: After finding the S.S. Valiant's black box, Kirk follows the trail through the Galactic Barrier where its strange energies turn his friend Gary Mitchell into a powerful psionic. Gary soon starts to show disdain for the "lesser beings" around him. Meanwhile, the ship must crawl to a dilithium-cracking station to effect repairs.

CONTINUITY: The comic follows the events of the tv episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before", with changes based on the new J.J. Abrams continuity (for anomalies that cannot be accounted for, see Divergences). Scotty's assistant Keenser appears (Star Trek).

DIVERGENCES: The original stardate was 1312.4. Of course, Kirk and co. were supposedly older in the tv episode, but that doesn't account for the number being higher earlier. The Galactic Barrier is green instead of pink.

PANEL OF THE DAY - The anomaly gave Gary Mitchell heightened juggling skills.
REVIEW: Yes, it's based on the Samuel Peeples' script for the second Star Trek pilot, and only gets us halfway through that episode (it takes two comics to tell an hour-long episode). Yes. And I agree that new stories would have been preferable. However! This new Star Trek #1 does more than replay the same story with recast likenesses. For Trekkies, I believe there's still some interest generated by the "What if" nature of the new Trek timeline. We get the same basic events, but twisted by subtle differences because of the new history. For example, the tense relationship between Kirk and Spock means the comic opens with Kirk playing chess with Gary instead of Spock.Gary and Kelso are aboard because Kirk could basically get all his friends on board (stuck on the night shift because of Chekov and Sulu), but psychologist Elizabeth Dehner isn't there because of a failed and unforgiven relationship with McCoy (who, like Chekov and Uhura, is aboard during these events for the first time). Kirk's new characterization also voids all the talk about his shy years and that certain blond research assistant. Scotty gets to play the comedy and the Spock/Uhura relationship is given a moment. I found it to be an intelligent extrapolation of what the story would be with the changes made by the film. The changes are a bit subtle, perhaps too subtle to make this first part all that different, but without Dehner, issue 2 should diverge a lot more from it. So as a fan of classic Trek AND What If stories, I did enjoy it. The art by Stephen Molnar is good, with strong likenesses and cinematic panels, but the new Enterprise interiors prove difficult to translate into comic art. The backgrounds are rather flat and lifeless as a result.

Reign of the Supermen #341: DC Fifty-Too Composite-Superman

Source: DC Fifty-TOO! (2011)
Type: Fan-made reimaginingThe Composite-Superman, an Amalgamonday favorite, has made it into the second round of Jon Morris' DC FIFTY-TOO! project, which is churning out one cool idea for a book after another and putting DC's official New52 to shame. Matthew Allison's Composite-Superman is real whack, and I'd read the hell out of it (as well as his Creeper series from the first round).

You can see more of Matthew's weird and beautiful work at http://loafdish.blogspot.com/

Sunday, September 25, 2011

This Week in Geek (19-25/09/11)

Buys

Three DVDs purchased this week: The Avenging Eagle and 13 Assassins for my Asian cinema collection, and Castle Season 3 for my non-Asian, non-cinema collection.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: I flipped the fifth season of Angel this week, and thus the whole series, and I've got to say they took a real risk. Giving Angel and company the evil lawfirm of Wolfram & Hart changed the look and feel of the series, and I've got to admit that the first episodes often sat wrong with me. I realize that was the idea - exploring whether going to work for "the Man" corrupts one's ideals - but the bright color palette and absence of cheery Cordelia all worked against our sympathy for the characters. The show soon hit its stride again though, producing some of the most moving (or funny!) episodes of the entire series. On the comedic front, the addition of Spike to the cast, another risk given how he'd gone out in Buffy, gave Angel his real will they/won't they romantic interest (I say this with tongue in cheek, just like the episodes do). On the tragic front, the final fate of each character gets us some truly wonderful and affecting moments. Given that they got the cancellation order relatively late, I'm surprised they could pay off as much as they did, and even the interrupted Illyria story still somehow makes dramatic sense. Overall, I think I enjoyed Angel more than I did Buffy. As far as extras go, seven episodes have commentary tracks, and there are outtakes and plenty of featurettes, many of them with a retrospective feel that covers all five seasons. The themes covered include the season itself, the hilarious muppet show, the celebrations for the 100th episode, Angel's stuntman, recurring villains and the show's best moments. As I store away my full-series box, I'm looking into the Buffy and Angel comics written or overseen by Whedon's team. Let's see where thing went after that brilliant final scene.

Kung Fu Friday took us to Japan this week with last year's 13 Assassins, an authentic samurai epic from director Takashi Miike. Owing something to both history and Seven Samurai, the film has an elder samurai assemble a team to kill the Shogun's decadent and psychotic brother whose actions threaten to end an era of peace. Some of the 13 are fairly generic (students of others, for example), but enough of them are distinctive to make their victories and defeats resonate, as the second half of the film takes us through a massive battle in real time. The violence is harsh and realistic, and Miike doesn't rely on music or editing to make his points. It's Spartan and thus much more subtle film-making. To my taste are the lasting ambiguities of the film, from the impervious mountain man's almost spirit-like appearance to the final smile to what happens after the credits fall. The more I think about 13 Assassins, the more I like it. The DVD features almost 20 minutes of mostly illuminating deleted scenes and an 20-minute interview which made me laugh because the interviewer seems trained only in puff pieces, but the director is adamantly the opposite. "That was cool!" "It's not meant to be." I like what he has to say beyond that simple contrast, but he also lets the film speak for itself.

Books: Elric Book 5 - The Bane of the Black Sword is a return to form for Michael Moorcock's tales of the Albino Prince, his best since Book 1, and it's all down to the language. Book 5 has that Shakespearean turn of phrase, a formalism shared by both the characters and the omniscient narrator that gives this epic the right feel and this reader the most aesthetic pleasure. I've felt that the previous three books' prose had been a little plain in comparison. Again, the volume is divided into three Elric stories, but it adds and epilogue in which some other characters we've met defend the fabled city of Tanelorn from attack (as a prologue to Stormbringer? We'll see). The other tales finally allow Elric to get revenge on that pesky wizard, and even find love. And the more I read, the more I enjoy his companion Moonglum. After Book 4, I thought I might take a break from the world of Elric, but this book has propelled me right into the pages of Book 6 - Stormbringer.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.i. To Be or Not to Be - BBC '80

Reign of the Supermen #340: Superman One Million

Source: 1st - JLA #23 (1998)
Type: Alternate futureFaster than a speeding tachyon, more powerful than a collapsing star, and able to leap between planets in a single bound... It's your Superman Squad member of the week! Kal Kent, the Superman of the 853rd century! Kal's agreed to join us today and tell us about the far future, in his own words.

"Hi, gentle SBG readers. Someday you too will live in the future - maybe even as soon as tomorrow - so it's important to be ready (Captain Jack told me that, and he was right). By my time, it's lucky I have super-brainspeed, because Siskoid's Blog of Geekery has billions of posts (even though he died in the 21st century - wow, what a lot number, just looking at it makes me head swim). But you don't have to worry about that. I know you want to know about your favorite medium: COMICS! You live in uncertain times, on the cusp of world-altering change. Well, I can't spoil you TOO much without making the timeline collapse, but I can slip a FEW nuggets under Ms. Monitor's nose.

As you know, I'm a member of Justice Legion A, and if that sounds like an Amalgam of 2 or 3 teams, it's because it is.
In the future, the only way to create new ideas is to combine the crap out of every comic book concept available, and all comics companies are merged in order to do so (how else do you explain our call to arms? Or the fact we appear to have more than one?). This became even easier when comics stopped being digital and went entirely Headnet. "Readers" (to use your quaint word for it) would just pick what elements they liked (or select "random") and the fictions would be created for them. No reader had the same experience as any other, and soon, general laziness set in and Headnet started making some of these combinations available to the public. Justice Legion A, B, C, right up to ZZZZZ and beyond are all available on their own channel. Here in the 853rd century, there's what will be a brief flirtation with nostalgia thanks to the discovery of a galaxy where every planet was forested, but by now, imagination is a thing of the past, and those comics tend to be rather repetitive.
Nothing like the comics you read now, thankfully! Oh you wanted to know a little something about future history? Let me just say then that if the far future isn't exactly an era of peace (it's got superheroes, after all), it IS an era of LOVE. Yes, we finally got down and learned to love the Rocket Red.
My expressions may or may not translate well. Anywho, that's all I was really allowed to reveal about your future. I hope you found it a message of hope (at the very least, it means your hedonistic culture survives). My thanks to Siskoid to whom I will say - Beware the Ides of March - and I'll see you in the Funny Headnet."

Siskoid's Blog of Geekery would like to thank Kal Kent for his time, and yes that's a sort of joke.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cat of the Geek #129: Polly Esther

Name: Pururun
Stomping Grounds: Samurai Pizza Cats
Side: Good
Breed: Animaloid
Cat Powers: Heart-shaped projectiles and sword. A flute that charms opponents ever closer to her razor-sharp claws. Sometime pop star. Doesn't need no man.
Skills: Eat 2, Sleep 2, Mischief 4, Wit 6, The Power of Love 8
Cat Weaknesses: Short and violent temper. Her secret love for Speedy.

Reign of the Supermen #339: Superman Robot X-3

Source: Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #30 (1962)
Type: RobotWe end our week-long theme of mechanical Supermen with the tale of X-3, another Silver Age tale that reveals those Superman Robots to be more trouble than they're worth.

Lois Lane is doing a story on Professor Burke's super-telescope, which can provide image and sound of stuff happening on other planets in real time. The science isn't important (and I mean that in a variety of ways). What's important is that one of the planets Lois Lane sees is one where Superman gets home to his mermaid wife, mermaid son and mermaid pet after a hard day's work. Scenes of this alien domestic suburbia of course destroys her very soul.
Lois feels like the other woman who's just found out about her beau's fishwife. Naturally, she gives Superman a little cold shoulder (it doesn't help that he calls his last space mission "easy as pie") and runs back to the super-observatory to creep the happy family. Like any family, they've got their problems:
Strange? Yes, but it's just so the next time Lois sees Superman he can claim his latest mission was like "taking candy from a baby". She slaps him and they have a big argument and Superman doesn't know what the hell she's talking about. After he talks to Professor Burke, he kidnaps Lois and brings her to Planet Suburbia where everything is revealed.
AND LOIS BELIEVES NONE OF IT! Well, she HAS been burned more than a few times by Superman's super-dickery. So Superman explains and tries to make it convincing... Shortly after he created his army of Superman Robots and trained them, he was exposed to Red Kryptonite and turned into a ghost. Just then, an astronaut's capsule got stuck in permanent orbit, so the robots sprang into action. X-3 put the capsule on track, but got hit by a meteor and was destroyed.
Boy, that's unlucky. X-3 has to tell the rest of the story... X-3 floated in space until he fell on a small planet (the science isn't important). Meanwhile, on the former water-world of Varda, the last surviving mermaid, Mooki, fled her dying planet in search of water (THE SCIENCE ISN'T IMPORTANT!).
She finds X-3 and rebuilds him, but she's too dried up and dies, leaving him with a final telepathic message (THE SCIENCE! YOU KNOW THE REST!) that though she did her best, he wasn't rebuilt to fly off planet. After he buries her, X-3 builds his own robot Mooki and makes her his wife. He also builds a son, Nipper, and they live in a Robot Paradise that is the envy of Lois Lane. Superman, gentle soul and bestest future husband of all, lets X-3 have his Eden, and I guess, they're still there now.

Friday, September 23, 2011

New 52: Week 3 Batch 2

The second half of this week's DC releases, being titles that are perhaps a little less in the current public eye than yesterday's.

Birds of Prey #1
Like Justice League, Birds of Prey features an entire team on its cover, but only two members in the story itself, and therein lies the problem. I liked what Duane Swierczynski did on Immortal Iron Fist, but like this issue, his plots are paced a little slowly. The issue itself moves at a good clip thanks to well-choreographed action scenes by Jesus Saiz, but that's just incident. The PLOT is moving at a crawl. How long before we get a full team up and running? Black Canary is assembling that new team, which Batgirl won't join. Katana rates a mention. The only partner she's found to date is Starling, a new character who's something of a wild girl. Not unpleasant, though details are sparse. We're a far cry from the heroine showcase the book had grown into since its origins as a Black Canary/Oracle book. As with many New52 books, the book lacks strong villains, pitting its heroines against henchmen in camo-armor that make them nearly invisible. The who and the why remains nebulous. Don't get me wrong, I liked it well enough, but as an introduction to these characters, it left me wanting more.
Don't call it a reboot: Ambiguous, but it looks like there have never been Birds of Prey before, and Barbara Gordon may never have been Oracle at all (makes sense since she got her start working for the Suicide Squad, which has been rebooted).
Upgrade? I wasn't reading Birds of Prey regularly, but I didn't get the feeling it needed to go back to square one. So it's a downgrade as far as I'm concerned, but not a drastic one.
Will read? I like Swierczynski and Saiz enough to follow them through the first arc, and hopefully the story'll pick up.
Recommended? New readers can get in on the ground floor, and it's definitely one of the more solid heroine books DC's putting out (as opposed to, say, Supergirl and Catwoman). Slow to start, waiting for the trade (as with Justice League) may be indicated.

Blue Beetle #1
Another franchise that hardly needed to be rebooted completely, I feel like Tony Bedard' re-origin of the Blue Beetle will retread already exhausted ground. BB's former series was all about a teenager finding a way to juggle life and superheroics. Having him start over means it has to happen all over again. Not to say, Bedard doesn't write a compelling superhero story here. The alien scarab that turns its bonded wearer into a weapon gets a prologue that ties it to the rest of the DCU via an appearance by a Green Lantern, and we catch a glimpse of its former wearer. He's kept Jaime's supporting cast around, and it was one of the former series' strengths. And for once, a writer uses recognizable DCU supervillains (the Brotherhood of Evil) as a plot element. I sometimes feel like Jim Lee and co. spent all their time redesigning the heroes, they completely forgot about the villains. All that, and Ig Guara's art, make this a solid superhero effort. But couldn't the very same story be told a little later in Jaime's life, introducing his origin in flashback and allowing him to have grown somewhat in the role? Even the Brave and the Bold cartoon - ostensibly the impetus for giving him a series again - made him an ESTABLISHED rookie. I'm just afraid the book'll come off as redundant.
Don't call it a reboot: It is, even if there wasn't all that much to reboot.
Upgrade? It looks pretty much the same, except they've erased all his stories and made him start over. Small step down, then.
Will read? Bedard proved himself on "cosmic" comics like Green Lantern Corps and REBELS, though he had a tendency to drag out story lines. Will he bring in Blue Beetles from space? Could be an interesting angle. I'll support this book for now, but I've got an exit strategy.
Recommended? If you've never read a Blue Beetle comic, then it's new to you, and it's not bad at all.

Captain Atom #1
J.T. Krul probably did the right thing by not only rebooting Captain Atom entirely, but also bringing him closer to his derived cousin Dr. Manhattan. Perhaps it can attract Watchman fans, and besides, the character had been abused so much, he was just starting to get usable again. I fear some redundancy because Captain Atom's been given matter-manipulation powers and that's Firestorm's bag. It also brings the character very close to Jim Shooter's Solar, though that shouldn't matter to potential new readers. I'm not a fan of J.T. Krul, but I do like his reinvention of the character. Dr. Megala is involved (no General Eiling as yet) and the Captain's powers are still a new and undefined force (even to us, because they're clearly not as they were). The fluid, moody art by Freddie Williams II strikes me as halfway between Frank Miller's and Michael T. Gilbert's, giving the book a distinct and stylish look. The style almost positions the title in the DC Dark sub-line. I still don't know what to make of the mysterious happenings on both sides of the United States, but I figure Captain Atom's existence is causing reality to break down at the quantum level. Again, that's not unlike Solar Man of the Atom (if it's true), but I'll be at least interested to see where it's going.
Don't call it a reboot: There's no indication that any previous story about Captain Atom has survived the new continuity.
Upgrade? For all my affection for the original Bates/Broderick series, there's no denying that Captain Atom has been broken for a good while now. The only way to redeem the character at this point is to reboot him.
Will read? I've been hot lukewarm and cold about J.T. Krul's work in the past, but this is the best I've read from him. He's got me in the short term.
Recommended? Doc Manhattan being in the zeitgeist could help this series get some traction and I do recommend it for its "science gone wrong" elements. It's got real potential (I'm as surprised as you are).

DC Universe Presents #1
DCUP is going to be an anthology series à la Showcase, sticking to characters for the length of a single arc. Good for the trade paperback business, but not necessarily enticing to that vaunted new reader pool. Deadman's at least appeared in Brave and the Bold on TV, so it might attract the curious. Paul Jenkins writes a fairly good story, re-introducing the character's origin and giving his mission the familiar feel of Quantum Leap. I don't think he quite earns his cliffhanger, because we barely see what one of these karmic missions is supposed to be like. What we do get is a lot of narration, and Rama's pretentious zen claptrap. I didn't really dislike it, but I did feel a little bored, and I met such sights as the stripper or the Iraq veteran who wears his helmet into town with a raise eyebrow. The last few pages almost redeem the issue, but you do have to read the first 15 to get there. Bernard Chang's art is good though, unless he's responsible for my raised eyebrows, in which case he's just weird. Not sure how the story connects to Boston Brand's appearances in Hawk & Dove either.
Don't call it a reboot: It's the start of his career and some details were changed, but Deadman's still recognizable.
Upgrade? Not really.
Will read? DCUP may have features I like better down the road, but Jenkins' Deadman left me cold. I'm in for a second issue, but it's got to grab me.
Recommended? Hard one. Just because I found it a little dull doesn't mean everyone will think the same. Since this will be arc-based though, I recommend waiting for the trade on every arc. That way, you can check on the buzz before you spend your first dollar.

Legion of Super-Heroes #1
Let's get this out first: There's no way the Legion could stand another reboot right now. It's been rebooted so many times, it's become a running gag and a major gripe with fans. Paul Levitz doesn't do that here. What he ALSO fails to do is provide a true jumping-on point for new readers. The Legion is a huge team of super-heroes who operate a thousand years from now. It's not just about getting to know them, but about being introduced to their world. None of that happens here, and even current readers need to catch up with changes that have occurred off-panel, like the Academy kids having joined and the Legion reeling from having Lost some members. We even jump into an espionage squad mission in medias res (a mission that makes some Legionnaires get out of costume). New readers will have it harder, trying to figure out who the recently dead Legionnaire is and why they're being shown a scene about him, or having to google what Dominators and Durlans are. Francis Portela's art isn't a big help, as I dislike his stiff waxen figures and overwhelming background detail. And why the HELL is there a sniper on the cover?!
Don't call it a reboot: It flows right from Adventure Comics and the previous LSH volume.
Upgrade? Nothing's changed.
Will read? I'm a Legion fan and was following it before.
Recommended? I just can't. Levitz makes no effort to introduce the 31st century and his huge cast to new readers. For hardened Legion fans only.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1
The other book that's been making waves about its sexual politics (in addition to Catwoman), Red Hood and the Outlaws features a sex kitten version of Starfire that's essentially been lobotomized, has sex with everyone else on the team, and has superfueled ADD that's made her forget her time in the Titans. She does a lot of cheesecake posing too. Frankly, it's pretty insulting to women and to my intelligence. And it's really too bad, because I was entertained by everything else. Scott Lobdell's made the Jason "Red Hood" Todd and Roy "Arsenal" Harper duo genuinely funny, created an intriguing new character in Essence, and though his plot could be clearer in places, set up a Big Bad that puts the Outlaws (terrible name, but at least it's not the Outsiders.. hold on, why ISN'T IT the Outsiders?) in their own corner of the DCU as international rogues who might take on real world, SF and supernatural problems. Same with the art. Aside from the ghastly and gratuitous cheesecake, Kenneth Rocafort has his own dynamic style. A bit obsessed with panel shapes to the point of causing clarity issues, but like Lobdell's script, it holds promise.
Don't call it a reboot: Jason Todd hasn't been rebooted (or at least, not much). Roy Harper's got both arms, so I guess he's been saved from Krul. And Starfire is a completely different character.
Upgrade? Yes for the boys, dear God no for the girl.
Will read? Lord help me, I actually want to. Shame about Starfire's characterization, because it's actually putting that desire into question. I certainly don't want to support that kind of thing.
Recommended? This could be a great action-adventure-comedy, if it weren't so demeaning to women. Maybe critical retroaction will affect some changes. In the meantime, I'd advise new readers to steer clear unless the above caveats don't bother them.

So to my surprise, Red Hood and Captain Atom weren't as bad as I thought they would be, and none of these six are without redeeming value. Only Captain Atom really intrigued me, while the others never rose above "ok" or at best, "promising". This week has truly been the weakest of the New52. Hopefully we'll get some actual winners next week. I have high hopes for I, Vampire, Aquaman and Firestorm, but dread Batman the Dark Knight, Teen Titans and Voodoo.

Reign of the Supermen #338: Robot JLA

Source: JLA Classified #2 (2005)
Type: RobotsSynopses of Grant Morrison stories hold a satisfaction all their own:

When The Ultramarine Corps (which I will always call the Global Guardians) is taken over by fairy-like Sheeda parasitic riders (from 7 Soldiers of Victory) allied with Mister Nebula and a man-eating Gorrila Grodd while the bulk of the JLA is bring distracted in the new-born universe of Qwewq, Batman must open the "Sci-Fi Closet" to defeat them. With the Squire tagging along, he Boom Tubes his flying saucer to Pluto, where he has a secret stash of Superman Robots he redesigns into a makeshift Justice League while the Squire attempts to contact the real Justice League in Qwewq. Sadly, the robots don't last very long.

And yes, that means there's a Superman robot in drag playing Wonder Woman.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New 52: Week 3 Batch 1

Third week and it's the shortest with 12 new DC #1s, the 13th actually being Justice League which came out on Week Zero (and I mean that in a number of ways). My promise to review every single one, with an eye towards making recommendations for new comics readers, is weighing on me this week, perhaps because I'm far less enthusiastic about the majority of these books. Still, needs must. The more high profile, recognizable titles today. The rest tomorrow. Can you STAND IT?!

Batman #1
Well, this is certainly a better Batman book than Detective Comics, but I still feel some ambivalence towards it. Writer Scott Snyder reintroduces all the elements, including Batman, his rogue's gallery, his three Robins, Gotham City, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred and the Bat-Cave. It's done pretty well, and with enough devices that it's never tedious, even to this tired old comics reader who knows them all. Snyder's Batman is definitely a detective - which is why I can't believe they switched titles on him - but he's also big on gadgets, which wasn't particularly true of Snyder's Dick Grayson Batman. At times, the script reminded me of the 1989 movie, at others, of "The Batman" cartoon. And if Snyder was working with an artist like Jock, as he was on 'tec, it would be firing on all pistons. Instead, we've got Spawn artist Greg Capullo on pencils, and I'm afraid I can't get too enthusiastic about that. His Americanime style is in places too cartoony for the Batman's gritty world, and Capullo has trouble maintaining the relative sizes of characters. His Dick Grayson is a head shorter than Bruce Wayne and looks about 16, but his own book says he just spent a year being Batman. Tim is a head shorter than that, and Damian another head shorter than Time (for a whopping three heads shorter than Batman). And then the new mayoral candidate shows up and he's a 6 inches taller than Bruce... depending on the panel. Capullo provides some good pictures, but it's uneven as a whole, and I'm just not sure he's the best fit for Synder's scripts.
Don't call it a reboot: Batman and his cast look generally younger, but nothing seems particularly out of place.
Upgrade? Snyder on Batman is better than not Snyder on Batman.
Will read? Snyder's building a mystery that interests me. I'm just waiting for the art to change to commit to it.
Recommended? I think that if you're going to read only one Batman book, it'll have to be this one or Batman and Robin. Neither was a homerun for me, but Batman at least does a good job of introducing all the key concepts with art that will likely appeal to people despite my own misgivings. It FEELS like the main book of the franchise.

Catwoman #1
I think Red Lanterns is still the worst book of the New52, but Catwoman certainly gives it a run for its money. The only nice thing I can say is that Guillem March draws some nice cartoon cats. His women, however, are distorted when they're trying to look sexy, and in any case, Judd Winick is having him draw what can only be called a step back for DC and society in general. Selina is consistently falling out of her rubber bondage costume, at least, when she's not showing her "goods" to distract her old pimp, or giving it up to Batman in a fetishistic wet dream that ends with the revelation that Batman is a premature ejaculator. I kid you not. This thing is RANK. Though mostly action-based (if you know what I mean), the story's first person narration is in overdrive and truly annoying. This is the kind of comic that puts in perspective the DC architects' publicized visit to the Maxim offices. It's for that demographic and no one else. And perhaps not even that.
Don't call it a reboot: It's probably not, though it reintroduces the idea of Batman and Catwoman being friends with benefits.
Upgrade? I wasn't reading Gotham City Sirens, but I can't believe it was worse than this!
Will read? If you look through these, you'll find I'm pretty lenient and give most titles at least a second issue. Not this one. No way, no how.
Recommended? Are you just skipping to the end?! Of course I don't recommend it! DC had a recognizable property with the potential for attracting female readers here, but they blew it royally. I feel dirty just having read it.

Green Lantern Corps #1
As with Green Lantern, so with the Green Lantern Corps. The book really hasn't changed its cast, its look or its writer. However, Peter Tomasi does realize this is a first issue, and starts Guy Gardner and John Stewart off on Earth, dealing with their personal lives or lack thereof. It's a good introduction to both, and the start of a new storyline that acts as a jumping-on point, continuity baggage from the previous series kept to a strict minimum. Artist Fernando Pasarin is adept at creating interesting aliens and environments as well. But for all its strengths, the book has the weaknesses it's always had under the Johns/Tomasi reign. Within less than two pages, we get our first decapitation, with more gore to follow. At this point, it's business as usual to the point of being cliché, and worse, it makes the non-Terran Green Lanterns look disposable. It's not even shocking anymore to see them go down in pieces, it's just gratuitous and silly. So if you liked it before, you'll like it again, and if you didn't, ditto.
Don't call it a reboot: It's not. Follows directly from the previous series.
Upgrade? Kif-kif. No change up or down, but I might give "up" the advantage seeing as it's not burdened by the interminable "events" of the past few years.
Will read? Yes, I'll continue to do so despite its excesses. It's still a fairly good book, and it features my two favorite Lanterns.
Recommended? GLC does a good job of introducing its two leads, has solid art and imaginative designs, and sets up its mystery villain fairly well. If you're not a fan of gory violence, you might want to skip it however.

Nightwing #1
Kyle Higgins trained on Dick Grayson's voice in Gates of Gotham (co-written by Scott Snyder) and he does a good job with it here. I like his Nightwing. It's not particularly groundbreaking, but it's solid superhero stuff. By having Dick's old circus come to town, Higgins flirts with the idea of his returning to the trapeze life, and you know, that would be a pretty cool concept for a superhero's secret identity/private life. Pretty sure it won't go passed the first storyline, but in the meantime, it's nice to see Dick in his element (which was one of the strongest elements in the Flashpoint mini-series that featured him). The action is good, and Eddy Barrows is energetic and well-paced. I liked his work on Superman, but he really gets to cut loose here, only infrequently letting his enthusiasm get in the way of clarity (a very minor complaint). The weakness for me was the lack of any recognizable (or well introduced) villain. I don't know who that guy is at the end, but despite being featured in a couple scenes, he looks awfully generic to me. Giving him a name would have gone a long way, you know?
Don't call it a reboot: Dick mentions having been Batman for the past year, so it's not.
Upgrade? From being Batman? Not really. However, the issue makes me believe his being Nightwing again could be a good thing.
Will read? The issue has convinced me to stick around.
Recommended? New comics readers interested in the Batman universe (i.e. Gotham City) shouldn't ignore this book about a former Batman and former Robin. It just might turn out to be a solid monthly action book, which I can't say of every other Gotham book, including some with a higher profile.

Supergirl #1
Supergirl has JUST arrived and she immediately gets into a huge brawl with armored Russians (but not Rocket Reds, for some reason). That's pretty much it. Michael Green and Mike Johnson haven't written much else (despite there being TWO of them). Ok, some first person narration, and it gives you the jist of the Krypton she left, but in small doses. There's no real indication of what the book or character will be like. Here, she's all instinct and believes she's dreaming, so we can't really infer anything from her actions. The only thing that's for certain is that her redesigned costume just doesn't work. Think what you will of its appearance on the cover, it's as good as it gets. The interiors make it clear that even the book's artist Mahmud Asrar can't make those boots and armor joints look anything but awkward. Otherwise, I do like his fluid art, and want to also commend colorist Dave McCaig for some gorgeous work, giving snowbound scenes some variety and texture.
Don't call it a reboot: I have to, because it reboots Supergirl completely.
Upgrade? There's little to go by, but Supergirl had just found her way in the last year or two, so it's a shame to have her reset like that.
Will read? Not a big chance.
Recommended? Sorry no. If only this much happens in the first issue, I can only imagine how quickly the plots will advance.

Wonder Woman #1
Ok, this is a weird one. Wonder Woman has definitely been pushed into the DC Dark corner of the universe, where Swamp Thing and Animal Man dwell. Regardless of whether the book is good or bad, I think asking if that's an appropriate choice for the character has some relevance. Wonder Woman is one of the "Big Three" and is as recognizable as Superman or Batman. Neither of those characters inhabits the same world exactly (one light, one dark), so giving Diana a more supernatural/mythic environment gives her her own sandbox. And yet, the tone here is so dark that you're wondering if she's a superhero anymore. "Wonder Woman fights monsters" is a perfectly good premise, but playing that dark, violent and disturbing may alienate one potential new reader pool, namely young girls. I don't know how many parents would hand Wonder Woman comics to their young girls as a form of empowerment fiction, but Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's story may be too adult for that. Then again, it's a Greco-Roman Buffy the Vampire Slayer and that wasn't particularly nonviolent. And some may claim (as many comics writers have) that WW is impossible to write for, that no one understands the character or her world, or how to make it financially successful. Maybe an important paradigm shift is exactly what's needed. That's my preamble, take it for what it's worth. Me personally? I liked it. I've always loved Chiang's art, and here I feel like Wonder Woman's walked onto the set of Roberson and Alred's I, Zombie. There's a supernatural mystery and strong action, etc., but it could stand to be just a tad less gruesome.
Don't call it a reboot: Too early to tell. Wonder Woman hasn't been herself all year anyway, so it's hard to say if this is an evolution of the character, or a complete revamp.
Upgrade? Anything's better than what JMS weighed down the character with, so the bar wasn't set high. The creative team vaulted over it.
Will read? Yes. DC Dark is turning out to be my favorite corner of the DCU.
Recommended? With strong warnings, yes. If you don't mind the gore and more adult take (i.e. aren't planning to hand it to younger children), it's a strong repositioning of the character in the Buffy mold. The art is easy on the eyes too.

Of that half-dozen, the tasteless Catwoman has a big "DO NOT READ" stamped on it. The best book was probably Wonder Woman, though like Batman, Nightwing and Green Lantern Corps, it comes with caveats attached. Tomorrow might offer a crop of less mitigated reviews, but looking at what's left, I wouldn't be so sure.