Thursday, November 27, 2014

Superman #36 - A Review

Ulysses - strange visitor from another world, possessing powers far beyond those of mortal man - has come to the conclusion that humanity is doomed.  Unable to think of any way to turn his amazing powers toward fixing the world of his birth, he has instead elected to take six million people to the Fourth Dimension, to the better world which raised him. Naturally, this is a source of great concern to Superman, who is starting to wonder if the paradise which Ulysses spoke of is truly as grand as he claims.


Geoff Johns understands Superman as few writers today do.  His Superman is the epitome of hope and idealism, as he should be.  Johns also realizes the importance of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to the oeuvre of Superman and does a fine job using them to explore the problems with Ulysses' promises from another perspective.


What can I say about the art of this book that hasn't been said already?  John Romita Jr. is in fine form here, with inker Klaus Janson giving the finished art a much lighter touch than usual, as befits the lighter and brighter aesthetic of Superman compared to other projects JRJ and Janson collaborated on in the past.  This vibrant feeling is further enhanced by the colors of Laura Martin.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

All New Invaders #12 - A Review

Fans of James Robinson's Times Past stories from his classic Starman series would do well to pick up this issue of All New Invaders.  In truth this issue isn't about The Invaders, instead centering upon another classic hero team of yesteryear - Freedom's Five.  The WWI equivalent of The Invaders, this flashback issue is all about four of The Five teaming with the Iron Fist of that era against an even greater menace than The Central Powers - Martians!


This sort of story is Robinson's bread and butter and he weaves new details into the history of the Marvel Universe even as he delivers a ripping yarn.  One nice touch is that The Crimson Cavalier - a French hero who was never given an official history - is retconned as being an ancestor of the mercenary Batroc The Leaper.  Similar development is given to the equally obscure Sir Steel - a British hero whom Robinson reveals was a blacksmith rewarded with the legendary magic armor of England's greatest knight!


The artwork of this issue is something to behold.  Marc Laming teams with Barry Kitson on the pencils for the flashback scenes that take up most of the issue, their usual styles subverted into something that more closely resembles the comics of The Golden Age than their usual solo work.  P. Craig Russell lends a hand with the inks, crafting a finished project that is truly amazing!

Red Sonja: The Black Tower #3 - A Review

In my many years as a comics reader and a critic, I have read an awful lot of Red Sonja comics and a lot of awful Red Sonja comics. So when I say that Red Sonja: The Black Tower #3 is the single worst Red Sonja comic ever written, please understand that opinion does not come from hatred or ignorance. It comes from the scholarly consideration of one who is well-versed in the mythos of Hyboria, who understands just how badly this story conforms to the universe it is supposed to be set in.

When one thinks of the sword and sorcery genre, what comes to mind?  Muscular heroes in impractical armor?  Giant animals and fanged demons?  Sensuous sorceresses and decrepit wizard-priests with a glint in their mad eyes that matches the glint on their sacrificial knives?

How about flying saucers, laser swords and robots?



That is the plot of Red Sonja: The Black Tower #3 in a nutshell.  Having twice escaped the wicked town of Lur with her life, Red Sonja (now sporting an eye-patch and a skunk-stripe for no reason that is ever explained) returns leading an allied army of every damn nation in Hyboria to fight the forces of The Black Tower.  Forces, it must be noted, which have already killed every wizard, pirate band, barbarian horde and noble line that it pleased them to go after.

It's Barbarians vs. Aliens and it's every bit as stupid as the premise suggests. And yet, the biggest problem with this series is not the ludicrous concept more befitting a 1980s syndicated cartoon than the oeuvre of Robert E. Howard.  It is the fact that writer Frank Tieri has a bad habit of telling us the story instead of allowing the text and artwork to show us the story.

What is worse, Tieri throws aside whole sagas in sentences.  How Red Sonja united all of these armies under one banner - or how she tamed a giant dragon so she could ride it into battle - is not explained.  You just accept that Sonja somehow got every nation in Hyboria to work together and that she took a crash-course in dragon-riding from the Pern Correspondence School.


I'm still not sure I can fairly criticize Cezar Razek for his artwork on this series. The artwork is competently done, though it is riddled with explicit gore and gratuitous fan-service - even by the standards of sword-and-sorcery!  For instance, one wonders why Sonja has the body of a very shapely 17 year old cheerleader without any scars or signs of hard-living save for the loss of one eye AND the hair of a forty-something woman.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Flash Episode Guide: Season 1, Episode 7 - Power Outage

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.



Plot

A battle with an electricity-siphoning metahuman leaves Barry feeling drained.  Literally.  And while this shocking new villain launches an attack on STAR Labs, The Clock King takes hostages at police headquarters... including Joe and Iris West.  The Flash may not be able to save this day, but Central City is not without heroes...


Influences

Flashpoint
(the character of Blackout) and every classic Flash comic where Barry Allen lost his powers temporarily.


Goofs

How is Barry able to fix drinks for an entire line of people at the coffee shop?  Assuming Barry had some training as a barista or that there was an employee guidebook he could read through and that his super-speed would allow him to manually replicate the actions of most of the appliances present (grinding the beans, etc) that still doesn't explain how he'd  know everything the people in-line wanted, as there wasn't any indication that they had already ordered!

The raccoon-eyes make-up on Blackout just looks weird.

The Clock King misquotes Thoreau, saying "As if you could kill Time without wounding Eternity." The original Thoreau quote said "injuring Eternity".  This seems a bit odd given how meticulous he is about everything else.  Nearly as odd as Joe West - who has never shown any inclination towards scholarly reading - recognizing Tockman's quotes.  (Perhaps this was a bit of subtle humor on the part of the writers, showing hidden depths to Joe's character and showing that Tockman is not as smart as he thinks?)


Performances

Robert Knepper is as delightfully unbalanced as ever as William Tockman. He was one of the best villains in the second season of Arrow and it's nice to see him again, though I had hoped we might see him as part of the new Suicide Squad.


Artistry

The music throughout the episode is wonderful, particularly the subtle use of clock sounds around William Tockman.


Flash Facts

Farooq aka Blackout was created for the Elseworlds story Flashpoint, which was set in an alternate universe created by Barry Allen's going back in time and changing the past.  As in the comics, he has electricity manipulation powers.

Barry using his super-speed to get ready for work in seconds and stripping a criminal at super-speed, leaving them unarmed and in their underwear are both running gags from The Flash comics.

William Tockman - aka The Clock King - is a combination of several comic book and cartoon villains who used the name of The Clock King.  I wrote an article about the history of The Clock King, which can be read here.

The Arrow/The Flash version of Clock King seems to be a combination of the original William Tockman version of The Clock King from the comics (same name and the motivation of needing money to take care of a sick sister) as well as Temple Fugate - the Clock King created for the Batman: The Animated Series, with whom he shares an amazing gift for precision and efficiency. He also borrows a number of Temple Fugate's time-related catch-phrases and puns.  (i.e. he comments on the "striking resemblance" between Joe and Iris.  Striking!  Like a clock!)

There are some names among the list of people killed by the particle accelerator accident that Dr. Wells lists off that may be familiar to DC Comics fans.  Ralph Dibny (The Elongated Man), Grant Emerson (Damage), Al Rothstein (Nuklon aka Atom Smasher), Ronnie Raymond (Firestorm), Will Everett (Amazing-Man) and Bea DeCosta (Fire aka Green Flame) . The one common link between all of these heroes is that they all had powers that involved their bodies being changed on the molecular level.

Another reference to the number 52. We clearly see two signs in The Pipeline that label it as Intake 52.

Iris notes that her best friend is always swearing he'll never run late after The Flash apologizes for not being there to save her from The Clock King.  Barry running late is a frequent running gag in The Flash comics.


Technobabble

The homicide victim Barry examines was burned to death by heat in access of 2,400 degrees.

The soot pattern around his body is consistence with that of an arc-blast.  An arc-blast is when high-amperage currents travel in an arc through the air.

Cisco uses the same facial reconstruction software used by archaeologists to identify the homicide victim.  Thanks to Felicity's reprogramming, he can use the same program to match the face he created to a DMV record.

Barry's DNA was changed by the particle accelerator blast.

Blackout does not electrocute people.  He siphons electricity from other sources. His attempt to siphon the electricity from Barry Allen's body results in Barry losing his powers.

By Cisco's estimate, it will take 20,000 kiloamps to jump-start Barry's system.  This is more electricity than is run through an electric chair.

According to Blackout, the average human body generates 342 watts of electricity.  The numbers here seem a bit off, as what limited research I've done on the subject suggests that the average human at rest, generates 110 watts/hr.  However, that increases to 550 watts/hr during vigorous amounts of activity.  Averaging the two numbers comes close to 342 watts but not exactly.


Dialogue Triumphs

(After winding up late for an appointment at STAR Labs after thwarted a mugger who tried robbing him)
Barry:
Sorry guys.  I got a little held-up. (beat) You had to be there.

Barry: I love being The Flash.  I love everything about it. The feeling of running hundreds of miles per hour. Wind and power just rushing past my face. Being able to help people. I'm not sure I can live without it, Caitlin.

Clock King: It should take you less than three seconds to discard any thought of rebellion and comply. I take it I don't need to count out-loud?

Capt. Singh: You've got demands. I want to hear them. But first let the civilians go.
Clock King: Would you prefer I sent them out alive or dead? Please be more specific!

Dr. Wells: You were right. I don't care much for people, Barry. I find them misinformed and short-sighted.
Barry: So why do you do what you do? Why get up in the morning?
Dr. Wells: Because I believe in a better future.


Continuity

As the episode opens, it has been 311 days since Barry was struck by lightning.

The computer in Dr. Wells' secret room is named Gideon.  Gideon is capable of scanning future news media for specific references in a matter of seconds.

Joe West briefly flashes back to the attack by The Yellow Man in F106.

Cisco makes reference to Felicity enhancing the STAR Labs computers in F104.

The Clock King is seen for the first time since A214.

Barry's power loss results in the future being changed, according to the newspaper headline Wells examined.

After the future is changed, the major news story on the day Barry was supposed to disappear was about the United States Postal Service permanently closing down.  Curiously, the other articles have also changed, with the Wayne Tech/ Queen Inc. merger falling through and red skies continuing to threaten the world. (F101)

The Clock King makes reference to his dying sister - his whole reason for turning to crime. She died sometime between A214 and this episode.  His request for a furlough to see her one last time in person before her death was denied by the district attorney of Central City.

Barry makes reference to what Oliver Queen said about him getting his powers for a reason. (F101)

Girder, last seen in F106, is killed by Blackout.

Joe West is surprisingly well read.  He recognizes The Clock King's quotes from Ben Franklin ("You may delay, but time will not.") and Henry David Thoreau ("As if you could kill Time without injuring Eternity.")  Curiously, The Clock King misquotes this last line as "wounding Eternity".

Wells memorized the names of every person killed by the particle accelerator accident.

Blackout's body is put in a body bag and locked in a cell in The Pipeline.

As the episode closes, it is 312 days since Barry was struck by lightning.

Wells takes a blood sample from Blackout's dead body, saying he must learn how it was possible for him to steal The Flash's speed.  The Mist (last seen in F103) can be seen in his cell in the background while this occurs.


The Fridge Factor

Averted, as Iris takes down The Clock King by herself, after palming Eddie's gun while pretending to give him a final kiss.


The Bottom Line

A decent episode but not a great one.  While it's good to see The Clock King again, he seems woefully underused and one wishes for an episode in which The Flash must literally race against time to outmaneuver his plans within plans.  Likewise, Blackout suffers from a ludicrous make-up design and an uninspired power set.  Still, Caitlin Snow gets a few nice character moments with Barry, Dr. Wells gets some more definition and the opening with Barry having fun while using his powers to make his morning easier is as fun as the classic comics.  And even though it is a little forced, it's nice to see Iris saving the day without The Flash having to step in.

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Three #9 - A Review

John Constantine is, to put it politely, up a certain creek without a certain steering implement.  His plan to kill Superman has fallen apart, his one immediately available ally is dead and he's been left alone to face The Wrath of God Himself (i.e The Spectre), two Sinestro Corps members (including Sinestro himself) and a fear-ring empowered Superman who is mad enough to curse openly!  There's nobody who can get ol' ConJob out of this one... but maybe a spirit can save him where No Body can?


Given that the title of this chapter is Dead Man, it spoils little for me to say that everyone's favorite avenging acrobat is the source of Constantine's salvation.  But that's the wonderful thing about a Tom Taylor story and his work on Injustice in particular - there's still plenty of surprises even after the resolution of last week's cliffhanger.

For instance, this issue tackles an interesting question - what happens when Deadman attempts to possess someone who is already possessed by another spiritual force?  Like say, Shazam?  Or The Spectre himself?  The answers to these questions, based on the minutia of the DC Comics universe, are worth the price of the book even if you ignore the riveting story... which you shouldn't!


The artwork is just as wonderful as the story.  Bruno Redondo does his usual stellar job, with dynamic choreography and figures that seem to jump off the page even when they're just standing there talking. And the pencils are made all the bolder by the inks and finishes of Juan Albarran.