Sunday, December 30, 2012

Aquaman #15 - A Review

The action kicks into high gear in this second chapter of Throne of Atlantis. Naturally, as this is Aquaman's book, the focus is upon Aquaman as he, Mera and Batman work to save people in Gotham City in the wake of a record-breaking tidal wave.  At the same time, Wonder Woman and Superman happen across Vulko - an exile from Atlantis, who is desperately seeking a man he calls King Arthur...

As is the case with most Geoff Johns stories, the plot is secondary to the characterization.  It's been a running plot point for the last few issues of Justice League that Batman and Aquaman have been butting heads over the team's leadership.  This issue shows that despite their differing styles of leadership and tactics, both heroes respect one another as equals.  It also shines a spotlight on Aquaman's central conflict - namely, that he is an outsider of two worlds.  He is capable of understanding both the surface world and Atlantean natures but is helpless to feel totally comfortable with either of them.  

The artwork by veteran artist Paul Pelletier differs greatly from that of Ivan Reis, yet is no less enjoyable.  Pelletier's figures seem cleaner than Reis' though that may be due to the inks by Art Thirbert.  Thirbert's work is somewhat inconsistent, with stray panels seeming to barely have any inking at all while others are saturated in darkness.  Despite this apparent unevenness, the artwork still looks good.

If you haven't been reading Aquaman or Justice League - or gave it up for a time - you owe it to yourself to give it a chance now.  Both books feature exciting scripts with some great character development and amazing artwork.  Highly recommended. 

Justice League #15 - A Review

Justice League #15 kicks off the long-awaited Throne of Atlantis crossover between the Aquaman and Justice League titles.  Yet for my money, the best parts of the book have little to do with the crossover and everything to do with the people behind the costumes and superpowers.  Take for instance the page below, which has done far more to define Clark Kent as a character than anything I think I've seen in any other book in the New 52 so far.

It's the little moments like this that have made author Geoff Johns beloved as a writer and made this title worth reading, though it was far slower to get going than many would have liked.  The backbone of the issue is found in scenes such as this, the scene where Cyborg talks with his father and even the scene where Aquaman and Batman team up to take on several of The Scarecrow's minions.  But don't think for a second that doesn't mean the action-packed moments aren't good too.  Far from it!  And Johns' plot involving an Atlantean invasion of the surface world offers excitement aplenty to go with the fine character scenes.

The artwork by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado - most recently seen on Aquaman - can be summed up in only one word.  Phenomenal.  Reis has an amazing eye for detail  and Prado knows when to merely outline Reis' pencils and when to shade them heavily.  Reis is also a good visual storyteller, whose panels flow naturally and easily even on the two-page spreads.

I wish I could praise the Shazam back-up story as highly.  The artwork by Gary Frank is as wonderful as Reis's work but the base concept of Billy Batson as a juvenile delinquent leaves me cold.  It doesn't add anything to Billy as a character to make him a smart-ass punk.  Indeed, his basic decency and inherent nobility was one of the things that set him apart from other teen heroes in the past.

Incidentally,  whatever happened to The Wisdom of Solomon that's supposed to warn Billy away from being dishonest or foolish?  I can't help but think it must have gone the way of Wally West and Donna Troy, since the plot of this story is dependent on the "hilarity" that ensues after Billy uses his powers to hack an ATM so he can get the money to buy beer.  There are some brief moments worthy of the Captain Marvel legacy, such as Billy and Freddy's joy at discovering that Billy can fly but these moments are too brief and too few in number.

This issue is worth picking up if you haven't given Justice League a shot before now.  But do yourself a favor and skip the back-up story.

Green Lantern #15 - A Review

The biggest problem I've had with the Rise Of The Third Army crossover has been how the titular Third Army seemed like afterthought at times.  We've caught glimpses of the Third Army in action.  We've seen The Guardians discussing how quickly the Third Army has advanced.  But apart from one scene in Green Lantern Corps, where Guy Gardner was among a group of Lanterns being decimated by the Third Army, there's been little sense of urgency regarding the threat.  The Third Army became one subplot among many, confined to a few pages summary while the writers got on with whatever stories they were writing before the crossover started.  

 Even Geoff Johns has been guilty of this but I can hardly fault him for it.  Johns has always been at his best writing stories about people who have superpowers rather than ordinary high-action superhero stories.  Johns' ability to write and create interesting characters has always been his greatest strength and his best works have always been those that told smaller stories about relationships rather than the grand, epic space operas we usually associate with Green Lantern.  Given that, I haven't really minded that the past few issues focused more on car-thief turned Green Lantern Simon Baz and his coping with his new powers as well as his sudden status as a suspected terrorist.  Strictly speaking, Simon's story is far more interesting than watching more groups of random aliens being converted by The Third Army.

Thankfully, Johns brings the crossover down to Earth in this issue - literally and figuratively.  The various plot threads Johns has been spinning for the past few months have finally start to come together as another Green Lantern shows up to see what's going on in Sector 2814.  We also start to get some answers about just what happened to the recently disappeared Sinestro and Hal Jordan.

All of this is ably illustrated by Doug Mahnke and a team of inkers.  Mahnke's utilizes perspective to interesting effect on several panels, creating an effect I can only refer to as "reverse-Kirbyism".  Mahnke takes the style pioneered by Jack Kirby where items in the foreground seem to reach out toward the reader and flips it, putting fixed objects in the foreground and focusing the art on background objects as they move away from the reader.  It's a striking effect, adding increased visual interest to certain scenes - the dynamics being different when we see a shot man falling away from us rather than falling towards us.

Green Lantern continues to be a solid read, with excellent scripting, wonderful artwork and a unique, interesting new hero in the character of Simon Baz.  The series greatest flaw, as it has been for several years now, is accessibility.  Johns has revitalized and expanded on the Green Lantern mythology but new readers who just came onto this title with Simon Baz's first appearance will miss out on a lot of the background.  Good as this is, I'd recommend tracking down a copy of Green Lantern: Rebirth and starting from there rather than trying to jump into the current series.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Doctor Who: Series 7 - A Mad Theory

WARNING: The following article, while highly speculative and wildly improbable in scope, does contain several spoilers regarding Series 7 of Doctor Who. Do not read further if you do not wish to have certain plot points from Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen revealed.

Right.  So here's what we know so far.

1. The phrase "Doctor Who?" has become the arc words for the new series, being repeated several times and held up as being significant. 

2. There is a woman named Clara Oswin Oswald who has been alive during at least three separate points in space and time and died in two of them.

3. One version of Clara was transmuted into a Dalek but proved to be strong-willed enough to resist their mental programming.  This Clara used her connection to the Pathweb - a hive-mind educating all Daleks - to erase all the information The Daleks had on The Doctor (Asylum of the Daleks).

4. The Daleks response to The Doctor introducing himself as they were stricken with amnesia regarding their greatest enemy?  "DOC-TOR, WHO?"

5. Another version of Clara was alive in 1892.  This version of Clara died thanks to the intervention of a being known as The Great Intelligence, which attempted to take over the world using killer snowmen (The Snowmen).

6. The Great Intelligence is an established Doctor Who villain, who fought The Second Doctor twice.  In their first encounter (The Abominable Snowmen) The Great Intelligence used robot yeti as minions.  In their second encounter (The Web of Fear), The Great Intelligence used the London Underground as part of its' plans.

7. It was suggested in The Snowmen, that The Eleventh Doctor's actions were responsible for inspiring The Great Intelligence's actions later, when The Second Doctor first confronted The Great Intelligence..  The older Doctor openly mocked the idea of using physically fragile men made of snow and ice as foot soldiers, thus inspiring the creation of the Yeti robots.  The Doctor also showed a map of the London Underground from the 1960s to The Great Intelligence while describing it as a strategic weakness for the London area, thus setting up the events of  The Web of Fear.

8. Also in The Snowmen, The Doctor seems to have trouble remembering The Great Intelligence and his encounters with it during his second incarnation, saying the name "Great Intelligence" over and over after he sees Mr. Simeon's business card as if trying to remember.  This may be a nod to the facet that the two serials featuring The Great Intelligence - The Abominable Snowmen & The Web of Fear are largely missing and considered lost, the "found" episodes consisting of one part out of six for both serials... or is it a hint of something greater?

9. Consider that - so far - both of the episodes involving Clara Oswin Oswald have also involved a theme of lost memories.  The future Oswin Oswald blocked out her memories of being turned into a Dalek and later removed all memory of The Doctor from the Dalek hivemind.  The Doctor later seems to have had his own memories altered.

10. According to Doctor Who Magazine, the mysterious disembodied mind House from Neil Gaiman's episode The Doctor's Wife was originally intended to be The Great Intelligence, but this was changed for some reason...

11. Neil Gaiman is writing another Doctor Who script for the later-half of Series 7 - one which has been revealed to be devoted toward making The Cybermen - another villain introduced during The Second Doctor's time on the show - into a serious threat once again.

12. A lot of Neil Gaiman's stories deal with the theme of the power of stories shaping reality.

13. The Cybermen, symbolically as villains, are devoted toward the destruction of human emotion and creativity.

14. Neil Gaiman has also written a lot of stories based on the Cthulhu Mythos, which are full of beings from beyond time and space who do not understand basic human emotions.

15. Another name used for The Great Intelligence is Yog-Sothoth - the name of one of the more prominent beings in The Cthulhu Mythos.

All that being said... here is my speculation.

1. Someone is altering the fabric of space and time in a fairly fundamental way. 

2. Either as a side-effect or a direct result, this is altering the memories of time-travelers as to personal events that already happened to them.

3. Clara Oswin Oswald, as a living paradox, is a symptom of the damage being done.

4. The Cybermen are going to be tied in to The Great Intelligence in some form or fashion.

5. Whatever is happening will be suggested to be tied into the destruction of The Doctor's "fictional" adventures in our reality.  I.E. The episodes "lost" to us are literally erased from time in The Doctor's personal continuity.  This destruction of time is being overseen by The Cybermen, who are mostly working at the points in time where they most frequently fought The Doctor (i.e. his 2nd incarnation).

6. The Doctor's battle for his own past will lead to the sudden discovery, secretly facilitated by the BBC just in time for the show's 50th anniversary, of all the lost Doctor Who stories ever.... perhaps recovered from a rumored cache in Zimbabwe

I freely admit this is a mad idea and that most of this is improbable and most likely all of it is untrue...

... but think about what a great story that would be!  The Doctor fighting for his own past and securing knowledge of his adventures for the people of a dimension where he isn't real?  Sounds like something Neil Gaiman would write, doesn't it?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Captain Marvel #8 - A Review

I'm a deep believer in the Stan Lee dictum that every comic should be written as if it were going to be someone's first comic, because it very well might be.  At the very least, if the story itself cannot recap the action thus far, there should be some manner of summary page at the front of the comic.  Sadly, this lesson is frequently lost in these days of decompressed storytelling and writing for the trade.  Thankfully, Captain Marvel #8 gives us both a summary page and a first page that gives new readers a chance to catch-up.

Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick has made this title something unique and special. Sharing the writing duties this time with Christopher Sebela, DeConnick spins a tale that is action-packed but filled with a lot of wonderful character moments as well.  The odd friendship between Carol Danvers and Monica Rambeau grows even stronger as the two are forced to bond in a rather literal fashion.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Dexter Soy deserves an Eisner nod for his work on this title.  There are some panels that I can't believe aren't painted, such is the level of detail and quality achieved with simple pencils and ink.  Coupled with DeConnick's scripts, this book is a must-read for all fans of strong heroines, big action and good comics.

Supergirl #15 - A Review

Supergirl #15 is a fine issue of its' own series but a poor issue of the H'El On Earth mini-series.  Considering my opinion off that crossover as a whole, I do not consider this to be a bad thing in the slightest.  I'd much rather read more flashback scenes of Kara's life on Krypton and see more scenes of her trying to cope with the loss of her home than watch Superman slap around yet another menace from his homeworld that seeks to destroy the Earth.

Mike Johnson's script tells us previous little about the crossover, save that Superman and Superboy have apparently teamed up after both being confronted by the villainous H'El, who has somehow taken over the Fortress of Solitude and allied himself with Supergirl in order to go back in time and save Krypton.  The damnable thing is that - for those, like me, who have only been reading Supergirl - there is no reason to believe H'El to be anything other than what he claims.  Well, ignoring that  a) he's an evil looking goth boy named Hell and b) the story goes nowhere if he really IS trying to bring Krypton back with no strings attached.  From Kara's point of view, given how most of the people on Earth have treated her and how her homesickness has been entirely dismissed by Superman, there's no good reason for her NOT to work with H'El, even if his plan would destroy the Earth.

The artwork by Mahmud Asrar is as it should be - strong as the Girl of Steel herself.  Under Asrar's tender care, Supergirl has remained one of the best-looking titles of the New 52.  His take on Krypton - and, to a lesser degree, The Fortress of Solitude - is particularly breathtaking and alien. 

This is a poor issue for new readers to start the series with, purely because of the unfortunate crossover tie-in with the other, lesser Super Family titles.  It stands well on its' own so those already reading this series need not worry about breaking up their collection.  The scenes with Kara and her best friend are worth the price of admission alone.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Arrow #12 (Web Comic) - A Review

Subtitled 'Limbo', Arrow #12 has nothing to do with dancing under a stick and everything to do with a state of uncertainty.  Oliver Queen's night of crime-fighting takes a decidedly darker and more personal turn when the path he's tracking to a drug shipment turns into a walk down memory lane.  However, the memories that wash over Ollie are not pleasant ones and he must struggle to bring the drug dealers to justice while combating his own personal torment as he lays siege to a yacht not unlike the ship he lost his father and lover on.  

Though I'm not a psychologist and have no psychological training apart from some college-level course work, I've felt that Arrow has done a good job of portraying Ollie's Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  At the very least, it's done a better job than earlier Green Arrow stories which never examined the psychological trauma Oliver Queen would have likely experienced after being shipwrecked for any length of time.  The script by Emilio Aldrich continues in that vein, showing that for all his heroism Ollie is still a deeply troubled man.

Aldrich's script is well depicted by Julian Totino Tedesco's artwork.  There is a roughness to Tedesco's work that fits the harshness of the story.  Reminiscent of Jock's work on Green Arrow: Year One,  Tedesco utilizes thin lines and heavy silhouettes to dramatic effect.  The final product seems detailed yet sketchy, but not in a way that suggests incompleteness.   

If you haven't given the Arrow web-comic a shot yet, this would be a good one to set your sights on trying.  The script is thrilling, the artwork stunning in its' subtlety and it's an all-around good read.  Highly recommended.

Doctor Who 2012 Christmas Special - The Snowmen



England.  1842.  A cold young boy, who doesn't like playing with the other children, hears his snowman talk, assuring him he doesn't need anybody...

Fifty years passThe cold young boy is now a cold old man and a Doctor.  Doctor SimeonHis company is wandering about London, gathering up snow and filling a great glass globe in the doctor's office.  He plans to save the world...

Elsewhere in London, an equally cold and even older man broods in his house in the cloudsHe too is a Doctor.  And he too has planned to save the world countless times in the past.  But he has put such things behind him and nothing the few friends he has left in this world can do will bring him forth to adventure or explore, much less save the world.

One woman may be able to bring forth one Doctor to stop another with a single word.  A woman who is both a barmaid and a governess.  A woman The Doctor met once before.  A woman who likes making souffles.  A woman who may offer a solver of mysteries the greatest mystery ever...


* From the very moment we see snowflakes with fangs raining down on the Earth from space, we know this is going to be something special.  Steven Moffatt brings forth outlandish ideas and childish fears like a fountain gushes water but he usually makes them work.  The man who brought us life-stealing statues and shadows that eat people has now given us something new to be afraid of - carnivorous, telepathic snow that remembers.

* The new opening gave me chills.  It's the perfect thing for kicking off the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, encompassing parts of the introductions to all the classic Doctor Who episodes.  The journey through space.  The flickering tunnel of light.  And Matt Smith's face looking back at us.  Perfection.

* Sir Ian McKellen's voice work, unsurprisingly, is brilliant.

* It's nice to see Madame Vastra and Jenny appear again.  It might be nicer to see them take the center stage.  Sherlock Holmes is big again - in no small part to Steven Moffat's other project right now.  Why not give Madame Vastra and Jenny their own spin-off ala Torchwood?

* On that note, every single Sherlock Holmes joke.

* Strax the Sontaran Butler.  Every bloody moment he's on screen is comedy gold.

* Matt Smith playing the Doctor as a more subdued figure.  It's too early to tell how long this may last (he seems manic enough at the end) but Smith does a grand job portraying how The Doctor's most recent losses have changed him yet again, reducing him to a state not dissimilar to where he was after the loss of Rose Tyler - the companion who also shook up a very old, very cold Doctor.  Perhaps it's no coincidence that the woman who shakes him out of his doldrums works in a bar called "The Rose and Crown"?

* Jenna-Louise Coleman.  I loved her back in Asylum of the Daleks.  I love her even more now.


* While Moffat's script is strong, it's also full of references to previous episodes.  While that's fine for long-time fans of the show, the Christmas Specials have usually been open and accessible, requiring no previous knowledge of the show in order to watch them. For all it does right, The Snowmen is still the middle of about three separate stories, making this poor fodder for trying to convert your family members who haven't heard of Doctor Who before this holiday season.

* The 'one word' test The Doctor has Madame Vastra is a bit unbelievable.  While it's totally believable that The Doctor would be so petulant about refusing to help people who fail to interest him or to get to the point (there's Sherlock again), we are damn lucky Clara chose the word "pond" instead of "pool".

* Clara could be shaping up to become another of Moffat's Mary Sue female characters, ala Amy and River.  A brilliant woman who has the added benefit of having some form of apparent immortality or reincarnation?  Doesn't get much more Mary Sue than that.


If you've been watching Series 7 so far, it's brilliant.  If you've never seen Doctor Who before, it'll be confusing.  If you have family who are just now hearing about the show or saw it on the cover of TV Guide, this is not the episode to use as an introduction to the series.  I'd suggest The Christmas Invasion for that.  But for those of us long-term Whovians, it is a delight.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Hawkeye #6 - A Review

Hawkeye #6 is not just a holiday special.  It is the culmination of the last five issues of barely-contained brilliant insanity.  Titled Six Days In The Life of Hawkeye (or Six Nights In the Life of Hawkeye if you go by the cover instead of the title page) , this issue covers exactly that.  We focus on Clint Barton's actions across the better part of a week, all out of order, as he attempts to take a vacation, finish moving into his new apartment and catch up on some TV.

Naturally things aren't that simple and Clint once again runs afoul of the Russian mobsters who have been a pain in his butt since the first issue.  Matt Fraction depicts all this with the trademark humor we've come to expect from this book.  Amazingly, despite this issue being rather continuity-heavy, Fraction's script still follows the Stan Lee rule of "every comic is someone's first issue".  New readers might not laugh at the references to previous issues but at least they can follow along with the story easily enough.   

With this issue, David Aja returns to be Fraction's partner in crime.  And what a partnership!  Aja's style is simplistic but never simple.  Stylized but not annoyingly so.  Colorist Matt Hollingsworth also contributes to the proceedings, utilizing a muted palette that leaves everything looking softer and more realistic.  The one exception to this is the bright costumes of the superheroes besides Hawkeye and the various shades of purple that seem to surround Hawkeye no matter where he goes.  The complete effect is something unique and memorable.

It's been said before and it will be said again for as long as this book is around: Hawkeye is one of the best books on the market and a must read for all fans of good comics.

Off Target: Green Arrow (Vol. 2) #89

I've skipped ahead in Cross Roads again to cover a story that is as topical today as it is stupid.  The comic we're about to go through is an anti-gun story.  Please note that this is an entirely different thing than being a pro-gun control story.

Without going too deeply into my own personal beliefs on the subject, I do believe the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution does grant citizens the right of gun ownership.  However, I also believe that a tremendous amount of personal responsibility should go along with gun ownership and that the state should take steps to see that gun owners are routinely tested and regulated on a level similar to what is required of people who drive a car.  Licensing.  Testing.  Regular independent inspection.  All that.   

This comic lacks such distinction or subtlety.  In this story, guns are bad and that's it. End of conversation.  There is no argument or discussion of the many cases in which private citizen gun ownership has proved beneficial to society.  And as offensive as this all might be to gun hawks, this comic is just as offensive to those who favor sensible gun control as it suggests that anyone who wants gun control must want the complete destruction of every gun everywhere and that there is no middle ground.

All that being said, let's get into Green Arrow #89 and get ready to be annoyed! 

The Unseen Shooter returns and still can't aim worth crap.

We open in the middle of the action as Green Arrow - newly arrived in Gotham City - has stumbled across a group of five men running out of a gun shop after closing time.  Sorely annoyed about his lot in life of late, Ollie decides to vent his frustration on the would-be robbers.  As usual, Ollie is so lost in his own thoughts that he doesn't notice someone sneaking up behind him. But hold off on your drinks for a moment, Green Arrow Drinking Game players - Ollie is not knocked unconscious with a blow to the head!  This time, he is tasered. 

New Rule: Ollie is tasered or otherwise electrocuted - Take 2 Sips.

When Ollie wakes up, he's in the back of the robber's van.  The robbers are tending to their wounds and explain that they brought Green Arrow with them on their boss's orders.  And who is their boss, you might ask?  Why it's none other than obscure Batman villain, occasional anti-hero and star of his own ill-advised solo series back in the 1990s...Anarky!

Quick Explanation.  Anarky was a character created by Batman writer Alan Grant and artist Norm Breyfogle, based on Grant's own philosophical beliefs.  After learning of the evils of the world through a pen-pal, privileged preteen prodigy Lonnie Machin became inspired to rebuild society from the ground up as the superhero Anarky.  Lonnie is a master hacker, a brilliant engineer and the very model of a modern Marty StuAnarky was meant to explore the ideals of anarchism through superheroics but came off instead as the annoying younger brother of V from V for Vendetta.

And while I'm asking questions, why the hell do you have a giraffe's neck?

For those who have to know, the reason his costume has that ridiculous giraffe's neck is to disguise his height and make him look like adult.  No.  Really.  That is what that child prodigy engineer decided would fool people into thinking he wasn't just some kid in a costume.  See why Anarky didn't get much exposure after 1999? 

Anarky quickly introduces his crew to Green Arrow explaining that these men are far from merry and that all of them had their lives changed by gun violence.  In no particular order, their ranks include...

* a paramedic whose invalid mother was shot by a burglar after he failed to find anything worth stealing in her apartment.

* a teenager whose younger sister was paralyzed after getting caught in the crossfire of a gang shoot-out.

* a soldier whose wife died after a drunk man with a gun broke into their home and thought he'd walked in on his wife cheating on him.

* a young man who played with his dad's gun, after he took it out of where it was locked up, took the bullets from where they were separately locked up and accidentally killed his brother.

* the son of a gun shop owner, whose father was killed by a man with a semi-automatic rifle, despite being armed himself.

The thieving, ill-defined, poorly drawn good guys.

Even if you're pro-gun control, Anarky's argument is complete bullshit.  All of these stories are tragic but despite the common link of a gun being involved, all of these stories are also born out of human stupidity, corruption and the contrivance of the author. 

* Most burglars don't carry guns because doing so risks a heavier sentence.

* Gangs are involved in crimes other than attempted murder and are just as dangerous to a community for those reasons but Anarky isn't doing anything to bring those criminals to justice.  Indeed, he's formed his own gang to pursue his own goals!    

* A man's inability to control his drinking was just as much the reason for the soldier's wife dying as the drunk man's owning a gun but Anarky doesn't suggest robbing liquor stores and destroying the product. 

* The young man playing with the gun, retrieving it from where his dad hid it and the bullets from the OTHER place his dad hid the bullets, is just an idiot.  An idiot who is still able to overcome his father's sensible precautions for keeping his gun away from his children... but still an idiot. 

* The gun shop owner who was killed despite being armed himself is purely a contrivance to neutralize the old joke about how the easiest way to commit suicide is to rob a gun shop.  In real life, most of the incidents where this happens do not end well for the robber.

Green Arrow agrees that their motives are noble but points out that robbing gun shops and stealing guns from gang members doesn't do anything to address the root of the problem.  Anarky agrees and their vehicle conveniently stops as they arrive at... "the root of the problem".
Surely no one will question a teenager being a night-shift employee at a gun factory!

Ollie then proceeds to outline precisely why Anarky is a short-sighted, impatient idiot and points out that the company will just rebuild the factory.  Ollie fails to point out all the problems that will be caused by people being put out of work by the factory closing.  He also doesn't ask why Anarky bothers robbing the gun shops when he knows it's ultimately pointless, much less while in route to "the big plan".  

Still, I have to give Kevin Dooley credit for portraying Ollie as having a brain in this moment yet being sympathetic to Anarky's cause while still recognizing that he is wrong for all the right reasons.  Ollie may be a rebel at heart but he's a good man first and foremost.  He puts the Good in Chaotic Good.  He's also, unlike Anarky, not a complete idiot.

This is too stupid even for me.  And I fought a super-model murdering Jenny Craig wannabe!

Ollie walks off, leaving Anarky and his gang to their work  The gang begins to spread plastic explosives (we're told later they're Semtex but they're drawn like bundles of dynamite) around the plant.  At the same time, Anarky - apparently thinking that phone calls are an impersonal way of conducting terrorist activities - confronts the factory foreman in person to demand that he evacuate the building immediately.  He also quotes more statistics.

Listen, brother.  Nearly 40% of all accidents represent nearly half of all accidents!

I'm not going to bother refuting every single point on this page.  Suffice it to say, there have been arguments over whether or not the Second Amendment suggests an inherent right to own a gun for years and - to the best of my research ability - at the time this comic was written no court decisions had ever been made at the federal level one way or the other.  And yes, guns are responsible for accidental deaths and injuries second only to cars... so why not regulate them as intensely as cars rather than getting rid of them outright? 

The factory is evacuated and Anarky and his followers retreat to a safe distance.  Anarky notes that they have to be quick about triggering the explosion because they don't want to set their explosives off after the police arrive on the scene, noting that they are victims of society too and that there must be no innocent deaths.  Well, apart from all the families that will starve to death because you're about to put thousands of people out of work.  But hey - at least they won't suffer a quick death at the hands of a gun!

There's just one little hitch in the plan.  Somehow - the trigger on the explosives isn't working.  For all his genius, Anarky apparently can't build a simple bomb properly.  An anarchist who stinks at blowing things up - oh the irony!  But lo - help is on the horizon! 

Rereading my contract.  Looks like I'm stuck here for 11 more issues.

Yes, Ollie returned.  Why?  Oh, you're not going to believe this...

It's time to make my bow stand for something again. Even if it's something I disagree with!

So... you're about to commit multiple felonies to make your heroic identity mean something again, even though you don't agree with what you're doing in the first place?  Ollie, did you get hit in the head again while you were off-panel?

The sequence which follows is even more ridiculous.  After breaking through the police barricade in Anarky's van, Ollie starts shooting out the factory windows with ordinary arrows.  That is not the ridiculous part.  He then gets on top of the speeding van, while being fired on by the police officers.  This also is not the ridiculous part.

Are you ready for the ridiculous part?  Because this next sequence is so unbelievable it requires special theme music.  Click the link and read on.

I have not altered these images in any way.  Oliver Queen just triggered a factory explosion by shooting a fire arrow through a broken window.  Just think about that.  Somehow, he was able to hit a small target without any way of seeing it or knowing where it was, save possibly through the description of Anarky's gang. 

That would be awesome if it weren't so stupid! 

Ignoring that the police were almost certainly caught in the explosion and probably killed by the shrapnel of the factory blowing up, plastic explosives do not work that way!  Indeed, the main benefit to plastic explosives is that they are more resistant to accidentally going off.  Heck, Mythbusters devoted a segment to showing how C4 could be used as a cooking fuel without triggering an explosion.

The issue ends with Ollie in a local diner, responding to one man discussing his Second Amendment rights with all the reasoned discussion you might expect from this story so far.  That is to say, none at all.

Remember kids: guns are evil. That's why I kill people with a bow!

This comic sucks!  Not just in terms of its' politics but also in terms of its' artistry or lack thereof.  The pencils by artist Michael Netzer are sloppy.  The inking by Rob Leigh soaks too many details in shadow.  And the actions of the characters are driven by the story.  There's not once bit of subtlety in this comic.  It demonizes gun owners directly and gun-control advocates indirectly by suggesting that getting rid of all guns everywhere is the ultimate goal - a suggestion which is as untrue and prejudicial as suggesting that all gun advocates want to arm preschoolers.

Next time  - something equally offensive but far less political.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sword Of Sorcery #1-3 - A Review

I've somehow managed to go three months without reviewing what is easily the best original anthology comic released in recent memory.  I thought I had reviewed the first issue, but hadn't.  I just recently bought a copy of the second issue.  And the third issue came out this past week.  Know then that I only review these books together as a means of catching myself up and not because each issue isn't worthy of individual attention.

The main focus of Sword of Sorcery continues to be Christy Marx's revival of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.  Over the past three issues, Marx has slowly given us glimpses of The Gemworld. it's people and its' politics.  There are a number of houses, all with their own functions and magical powers.  There's allegiances, treachery and all manner of drama to equal anything one might find in the Game of Thrones series.  Imagine Tamora Pierce writing She-Ra and you might have some idea of what this book is like.

We've seen this sort of thing before in countless books, comics and cartoons aimed at young adults.  The hero raised in seclusion by one parent or a foster parent.  They discover the power that is their birthright as a teenager.  They learn of the villain seeking their destruction, because they are destined to overthrow them or take their power.  It's all very Joseph Campbell but Marx infuses this title with enough humor and personality to keep it fresh, though some of the fish-out-of-water humor as Amy adjusts to life in a fantasy world is equally familiar.

Thankfully, the artwork by Aaron Lopresti and Claude St. Aubin is always fresh and exciting.  Most recently seen on Justice League International and Green Lantern Corps respectively, both artists make use of thin pencils and light inks to give this book an open, hopeful appearance. Coupled with the vibrant palette utilized by Hi-Fi, this remains one of the best looking series on the shelves.

Less impressive is the back-up series Beowulf by Tony Bedard.  While the concept of re-imagining Beowulf as a genetically-engineered super-soldier in a post-apocalyptic future is a novel one, the novelty of the concept quickly wore off.  This story might have been serviceable as a one-shot but as a serial, it drags for anyone who knows the original story and can see this is all going even before the monster Grendel's "mother" appears to explain it all for everyone who hasn't read the original epic.  The gorgeous artwork of Jesus Saiz is wasted here.

Despite the back-up being a bit boring, the revival of Amethyst makes interesting reading and thus makes this book worth the buying.  The whole series is available for digital download if your local comic shop doesn't have any back issues.  It's well worth the tracking down and catching-up - believe me!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Off Target: Green Arrow (Vol. 2) #86

I have to warn you of all of three facts before I start this review.  The more sensitive among you may wish to sit down first.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Right.

First, I should state that - for what my opinion is worth - this issue is probably the best chapter of Cross Roads.  Whereas most of the comics making up this mini-series were awful, this one is merely average.  I usually have higher standards than "does not offend me by existing" but after the adventures with Rival and Deathstroke I can deal with something that is merely mediocre. 

Next, I should tell you that this comic was written by Doug Moench.  Now, don't try and get up, you Linkara fans out there!  Despite the stories Linkara reviewed in the past, most of Moench's output at DC Comics was pretty good.  At the time this story was released, he was the writer on Batman and was in the middle of Knightfall.

Finally, I should note that while Jim Aparo did the finished pencils for this issue the actual layouts were done by the infamous Jim Balent.  Sit back down, Linkara fans!  Rest assured that while Jim Balent may have designed the action of this issue, special guest-star Catwoman (whose book Balent was the artist on at the time) will have a relatively realistic figure.  Well, realiistic may not be the word for it but at least Selina Kyle does not appear to be smuggling bowling balls in her bra.

So with all that said, let's look at the cover of Green Arrow #86.

A woman in a cat costume is beating up men in downtown Dallas? Is it A-Kon Weekend already?

The cover's not that bad, ignoring that the Dallas skyline does not look like that from any angle.  At least, not any angle where there would be a building high enough to have those buildings in profile.  Still, I'll give the cover artist credit for doing a decent job of capturing Reunion Tower in accordance with The Eiffel Tower Effect.  I'll give further thanks to Jim Aparo for not portraying anyone wearing a Stetson or riding a horse anywhere in this book as opposed to, oh every other portrayal of Dallas in the media.

Bitter?  A bit. 

Our story begins in the thick of it, with Ollie fighting a group of thugs in a museum basement, using fossilized bones as a makeshift club.  Primitive even by Ollie's standards?  Yes, but there is a reason for it as we discover when Ollie begins to flashback to earlier in the day and how he came to be here without his bow and quiver...

The Dallas Museum - We Only Have The One.

I should note at this point that there is no museum in Dallas that is just known as The Dallas Museum.  There's a LOT of museums in Dallas and they're all pretty specific in their focus to the point that I can't think of one that would have both a display of medieval weapons AND dinosaur bones.  However, I'm willing to write this off as one of those incidents where the DC Universe may have landmarks that the real world does not.  So now that I have defended the intellectual honor of my hometown, let's move on.

Ollie's bump-of-trouble proves correct and he follows the three thugs into an Employees Only area, where he walks in on them accosting the curator.  They say they were sent by a man named Strait just before Ollie starts unpacking a can of whoop-ass.  And that brings us back to where we originally came in, as Ollie tackles the curator out of the way when one of the heavies pulls a gun, knocking over a shelf-full of bones and - somehow - scaring the thugs off with the sudden commotion.

Remember The Green Arrow Drinking Game, kids!  Do a shot every time Ollie is hit in the head!

The curator is oddly unconcerned about the untold millions in damage Ollie's stunt just caused - dinosaur bones are not cheap!  Instead of chewing Ollie out or asking how he's going to pay for all this, he instead takes Ollie back to his office and explains that the three men work for Lyle Strait - a local antiques dealer who specializes in pre-Columbian South American artifacts.  Or as Ollie succinctly puts it "Inca stuff". 

The curator explains that the Peruvian government's restrictions on the trading of "Inca Stuff" has made it difficult for antique dealers to acquire pieces that museums would be interested in.  Naturally he was astonished when he stopped in Strait's shop and saw a set of the most well-preserved Incan figurines he'd ever seen.  When Strait emerged from his backroom, he was carrying a gun and seemed jumpy, though he had an explanation when confronted about the figures...

We can't just call the cops! If we do, then we don't have a second or third act to this story!

Ollie persuades the curator (whose name we find out is Ben in the flashback, though he never tells his name to Ollie) to wait two days before calling the cops.  Why?  Because Ollie wants a shot at busting the thugs himself.  Ollie follows Ben's rather vague description that Strait's shop is "on Houston Street, near the Stemmons Freeway" after failing to get the name of the store or directions.

These directions are less helpful than you'd think as Stemmons Freeway is I-35 and Houston Street runs semi-parallel to it through most of the West End of downtown Dallas.  Regardless, Ollie eventually finds what he thinks is the place.  He's about to sneak in through the skylight when his hand is snagged by a certain felonious feline femme fatale.

Huh.  I never noticed before that Catwoman color-coordinates her lipstick to her costumes.

Catwoman explains that she isn't involved with the thieves Ollie is looking for but she is planning to steal the artifacts from Strait.  Indeed, the only reason she hasn't broken in yet is that a thief named Chacon - the smuggler who has been stealing the artifacts for Strait to resell - is supposed to deliver a prize artifact tomorrow night.  She further explains that she's been hired by the Peruvian government to recover the artifacts.  Ollie, not being a complete idiot, doesn't buy her story completely but does suggest that they should stop strangling each other and start working together since they're both out to stop the same smuggling operation.  And that brings us to the reason why most Catwoman fans either quietly ignored this story or complained about it loudly.

I guess there's ONE thing Green Arrow did before Batman. *rimshot*

Yes. This happened.  Ollie and Selena apparently have a one-night stand, for want of anything better to do while keeping an eye on one another to make sure the other one doesn't run off and steal the Incan artifacts from Strait on their own.  I can't honestly say this wouldn't be out of character for Ollie because... well, he's single now, he has a thing for sarcastic brunettes and... IT'S CATWOMAN!  Why Selena sleeps with Ollie is a bigger mystery, though this doesn't seem nearly as disrespectful to the character as the first issue of the New 52 Catwoman book.

Anyway, the two sneak in to discover Chacon's men pulling their guns on Strait.  Seems they've been made a better offer by a new business partner, who means to put Strait out of business... permanently!  And this mysterious new business partner?  None other than... the curator Ben Boguns?!.

This is why you always let the rogue search for traps first. Newb!

The alarm doesn't deter Boguns from gunning down Strait, using a rifle aimed through the hole in the Sun Disk, though he does send some thugs to see what's going on.  Ollie does his best to hold them off while Catwoman cracks the safe.  With the figurines secured, that leaves only the sun disk to recover.  Unfortunately, it's at this point Strait's men come to see what the shooting was about and all hell breaks loose as Chacon and Boguns hop in their van and make a break for it.

Judging by Ollie's expression, the unfinished business involves a sudden need for a restroom.

After retrieving the keys from Strait's body, Ollie and Selena give chase using Strait's own Ferrari.  Boguns tries to shoot at them, using the Sun Disk as a shield.  But as Boguns quickly learns, it's a bad idea to use a circular object with a hole in it as a shield - particularly against the world's finest archer.

You can already guess where this is leading, can't you?

Nooooo! Who would have thought he'd trained to shoot a small circle in the center of a big circle?!

The disk goes flying but somehow Ollie manages to snag it, making a one-in-a-million running catch... from a moving vehicle.  Landing on his elbows.  Without breaking anything. 


Oh, just go with it!  We're almost done.

... how did she grab that without losing control of the car?

And so our comic ends with Ollie calling up the Peruvian Department of Antiquities, who - oddly enough - seem to have someone who speaks English answering their phone.  Satisfied that Catwoman was being honest with him and that he really was recovering stolen goods - because turning out to be a thief after killing several people the night before would be terrible - Ollie decides that he has had his fill of Dallas and that he's going to make his way to New Orleans. 

Wait, that's not Reunion Tower... that's the Wigsphere!

This comic.... is okay.

Yes, the plot is contrived.  Yes, Ollie is portrayed as being unconcerned with racking up a body count.  Yes, the sheer physics of the penultimate page is painful.  And yes... Ollie and Selena Kyle hooking up is just wrong on so many levels.  And yet, somehow, this issue works as a straight-forward action movie on paper. 

There's a lot of little things caused by the characters not thinking ahead but nothing that can't be dramatically justified.  Our heroes are portrayed as being competent, apart from Ollie's not thinking like a thief when dealing with the safe.  The plot is solid enough, though the bad guy is responsible for bringing Ollie in at a moment when he should be trying to avoid attention.  And the artwork is good, making this comic readable if unlikely to get the heart racing.

The next comic we cover in Off Target will definitely get your blood pumping but not for the reasons it intends... 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Gail Simone to follow Gail Simone on Batgirl!

In the words of Groucho Marx, "let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons and necking in the parlors!"  For Gail Simone is back on Batgirl, babies!

The New Writer of BATGIRL is... GAIL SIMONE!

Let it never be said that an organized, polite protest can't change things. :)

Doctor Who: A New TARDIS Set For Christmas!

SOURCE: New TARDIS Interior Unveiled

Why the change?  Showrunner Steven Moffat explained at a screening of this year's Christmas special...

“I thought we’d been getting progressively whimsical with the interior of the TARDIS. And I started to think, ‘Well, why is that? It’s not a magical place. It’s actually a machine.’

“And actually potentially, as you’ll see more spectacularly later, quite a scary place sometimes. We make a lot of use of that.”

Personally, I rather like the new look.  There's a nice nod to the classic look with the honeycomb in the background and the console looks like it did in the Tom Baker era.  And the cool blue lights make everything look mysterious.

What do you all think? 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Arrow #11 (Web Comic) - A Review

I am of two minds regarding 'Huntress Year One' - the eleventh chapter of the Arrow web comic.  On the one hand, the story by executive producer Mark Guggenheim is well-crafted and does provide a plausible direction for the character of Helena Bertinelli following the events of 'Vendetta' while simultaneously paying homage to the character's roots in the comics.  On the other hand, there is one aspect of the story that I fear exists only for the purposes of crass titillation and diminishes Helena as a character.

The basic gist of the story is that having left Starling City and Oliver Queen behind her, Helena travels to Sicily trying to find the sense of the belonging that she lost when her mobster family had her fiancee killed.  What Helena finds instead is La Morte Sussurrata - an Italian branch of the Hashshashins (a.k.a that group from the Assassins's Creed games) who agree to train Helena in their ways... for a price.  It is this price that bothers me in several respects but not for the reasons you might think. 

Helena Bertinelli, in the original comics, was portrayed as a woman who was willing to play off her sexuality to complete a mission.  Even in Gail Simone's run on Birds of Prey, Helena was willing to agree to a date with a perverted rental car agent named Josh to get information and wound up having a one-night stand with the guy.  So as sleazy as it is, I can't dismiss the idea that Helena would agree to sleep with agents of the Assassins Guild in exchange for training as being entirely out of character.

The problem is that Helena says that she was "trading on the only assets I had".  While I can understand her being cut off from her family's fortune in the wake of her father's arrest (even if the Mafia didn't lock her out, The Feds almost certainly would have frozen Frank Bertinelli's personal accounts), it does raise the question of how she got to Italy in the first place if she was completely without resources.  And granting that she might not have the money put aside to buy her way into an elite, secretive group of assassins, what does it say about the organization that they're willing to take in prospective students purely on their sexual availability? 

The one aspect of this book I'm not conflicted about in the least is the artwork  Mike Grell is my favorite Green Arrow artist of all time for a reason and this issue showcases Grell's skill as an artist and inker.  To my mind, nobody can ink their own work to elicit a shadowy, dramatic feeling like Mike Grell.  The action scenes - depicting Helena and Ollie's fighting in flashback - are well choreographed and well displayed.  And I feel it worth noting that despite being famous for showing off athletic figures in his artwork, Grell does not make the panels in which Helena is seen "paying for her education" exploitative, despite the sleaziness of the situation.

Would I recommend this issue?  Yes.  While I'm conflicted about how Helena apparently sleeps her way into The Assassin's Guild, the conflict made me think more than most of the comics I've read in recent memory.  Ignoring that, the story is a good one and is well told.  Mike Grell's excellent artwork only seals the deal. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Conan The Barbarian #11 - A Review

I fear I've grown bored of Brain Wood's thoughtful take on Conan The Barbarian.  And by thoughtful, I mean there are more pages of people standing around talking than there are scenes of honest combat.  While this sort of thing is okay in moderation - and indeed, I enjoyed last month's issue which was mostly scenes of Conan and Belit discussing their relationship - two issues in a row of Conan brooding on his place in the universe is a bit much. 

By my count, this issue has two and a half pages of combat compared to five pages of Conan having hallucinations while on an inexplicable vision quest that serves no obvious purpose in the story apart from padding the page count..  This is, to my mind, unacceptable.  Does this mean I want nothing but mindless action in a Conan story?  Of course not!  Robert E. Howard wrote many thoughtful scenes of Conan philosophizing but those scenes were interspersed with scenes of Conan kicking ass.  This book, by contrast, is all talk with little action.

At least the artwork by Declan Shaley is appropriately atmospheric.  What precious little action exists is paced well and ably illustrated.  And Shaley manages the difficult task of drawing a Belit who looks sickly yet strong at the same time, though her appearance does not stay consistent between the two scenes we see her in - her blotchy skin vanished when it comes time for her to bail Conan out of a fight.