Thursday, January 31, 2013

Arrow Reviews: Season 1, Episode 12 - Vertigo

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


With Thea's plea-bargain on charges of drug possession and driving under the influence rejected, Ollie starts perusing every avenue he can to help his sister.  As The Hood, he hits the streets seeking all the information he can find regarding the designer drug Vertigo and who created it.  As Oliver Queen - Loving Brother, he turns to Laurel to seek help influencing her father to influence the judge determined to make an example of Mia to all the other Vertigo users.  And as Oliver Queen - Captain in the Russian Mafia, he uses his connections and money to arrange a meeting with the man who makes Vertigo - a dealer who goes by the unlikely alias of The CountCan Ollie keep his head as events spiral out of control?

In the island flashbacks, Ollie is forced to participate in the regular combats the prison guards orchestrate between themselves and the inmates.  Seemingly killed by the treacherous Yao Fei, Ollie is truly rendered unconscious and his body left to drift down-river.  Ollie awakens out of sight of Fyers and his men, finding new direction in a map left on his body by Yao Fei.


Green Arrow: Year One (the island sequences), Green Lantern/Green Arrow #75-76 (a.k.a. the infamous "My Ward Is A Junkie?!" storyline)


The dramatic "cliffhanger" of a seemingly dead Ollie being rolled off a cliff by Yao Fei is somewhat flat given that we know Ollie is alive and well five years later.

Why does Ollie take his Vertigo sample to Felicity Smoak?  Since when does IT handle chemical analysis?

The after-effects of Vertigo leave Ollie unable to use a bow accurately yet he's somehow able to throw knives and darts accurately during his assault on The Count's lab.


Count Werner Vertigo first appeared in World's Finest Comics #251 (July 1978).  Originally a Black Canary villain (she faced him alone in his first appearance), Count Vertigo was the main villain of the 1983 Green Arrow mini-series and was a frequent foe of both heroes afterward.  Unlike the character we see in this episode, he did possess a royal title and was hereditary ruler of the small Eastern European nation of Vlatava. 

In the comics, The Count suffered from a hereditary inner-ear condition that affected his balance and eventually deafened him.  He was able to correct the imbalance with a special earpiece and discovered that by tinkering with the ear-piece that he could temporarily infect others with his condition.  It was later suggested in the pages of JSA that Vertigo's condition might be a variation of Ménière's disease - a real-world condition which does cause intense vertigo and hearing loss in those who have it. 

Count Vertigo's portrayal over the years has gone all over the map, with him alternatively giving up his grudges against Green Arrow and Black Canary to try and reform (often as part of the Suicide Squad or Checkmate) or joining various incarnations of the Injustice Gang or other villain groups.  This may be a result of his bipolar disorder, which was also revealed in the pages of Suicide Squad.

The Vertigo drug shares the same black and green coloring as Count Vertigo's costume in the comics.

While McKenna Hall is an original character, the last name Hall is a common one among DC Comics heroes.  Of particular note is Carter Hall a.k.a. Hawkman, who had an antagonistic relationship with Green Arrow when both were members of the Justice League.  Also of note are Carter's son Hector Hall (a.k.a. The Silver Scarab, The Sandman and Dr. Fate) and brothers Don Hall and Hank Hall a.k.a. Hawk and Dove.

The name Anatoly Knyazev is dropped at one point as someone who in the Russian Mafia who was very impressed with Oliver Queen.  In the comics, Anatoly Knyazev is the secret identity of KGBeast - a Cold War era assassin from the Batman comics, who became a mercenary after the collapse of the USSR.


When injected directly into the bloodstream, Vertigo affects the Thalamus region of the brain.  The Count says this is where all the information from your pain receptors is collected (Technically true - although the Thalamus actually regulates all the sensory and motor signals - not just pain).

Dialogue Triumphs

Dealer: C'mon, man!  I'm just trying to make an honest living!
The Hood: There's nothing honest about what you do.

Ollie: Took down three Vertigo pushers tonight, Diggle.  Last one finally knew a name.  The Count.
Diggle: The Count?  That's worse than The Hood!

The whole scene with Quintin and Laurel discussing Thea Queen and how she's just like Sara Lance was before her death.

 (As they're exiting the meeting with the Russian mob, Ollie carrying a seemingly dead body over one shoulder)
Diggle: I can't believe you killed that guy.
Ollie: You really have a low opinion of me?
(Ollie opens the trunk of the car, puts the body in it, looks around, and then touches the man's neck once he's convinced they aren't being watched.  The dead man gasps suddenly and tries to sit up.)
Diggle: Woah!  That's a neat trick.  Are you going to teach me that one day?
(Ollie punches the man, knocking him out again)
Ollie: No.

Diggle: (deadpan) Fantastic.  I'm looking forward to my new and exciting career as a drug dealer.

(As Ollie is waking up after being dosed with Vertigo)
Diggle: Morning.  How you feeling?
Ollie: I feel like I'm getting the worse hangover of my life.
Diggle: And that coming from a guy who spent most of his twenties in a hangover, that's really saying something. 

The scene where Moira and Thea finally reconcile.

Dialogue Disasters

Seth Gabel tries way too hard to channel the spirit of Heath Ledger as The Joker and fails miserably at conveying the same sense of madness or menace. 

(After giving Felicity Smoak the lamest excuse ever for why they need a fluid sample analyzed, David Ramsey and Stephen Amell deliver their own commentary on the script for tonight's episode)
Diggle: Your BS stories are getting worse.
Ollie: I'm well aware.


Oliver used to date McKenna Hall back in his wild days.  The two got kicked out of a club after McKenna stripped in public.  She now works as a police officer in the SCPD vice squad.  She's part of a joint task force along with Detective Lance investigating The Count.  She gives Oliver a copy of all the information the police have on The Count.  Sara Lance shoplifted at some point in the past but her father was able to use his pull in the SCPD to make the charges disappear.  Ollie contacts his man in the local Russian Mafia, Alexi Leonov - last seen in 103.  He recognizes Ollie now and requires that he kill an underling to prove his loyalty.  Ollie using a paralyzing touch to render the underling seemingly dead - a trick he apparently learned from Yao Fei on the island, as we see Fei use the same trick to fake Ollie's death in a flashback later in the episode.  Later, Ollie revives the man while pretending to dispose of the body and asks Diggle to arrange a new identity for him.  Ollie tells Thea what Moira told him of their father's cheating on her, which we first heard in 111.  Moira overhears Ollie doing this and is less than amused.  Ollie uses the police file on The Count as a token of good faith to arrange a meeting.  56 people died in the creation of Vertigo.  Ollie is given a half-dose of Vertigo as The Count makes his escape.  Diggle tries to neutralize it using the same antidote flower Ollie used on him in 103 - apparently Ollie trained him in how to do so sometime between that episode and this one.  Ollie survives, but wakes up feeling like he had the worst hangover of his life and continues to experience nausea whenever he looks down from a great height.  He's unable to shoot straight with a bow but decides to go after The Count anyway, relying on his martial arts skills.  Oliver confesses to Detective Lance and Detective Hall that he faked the drug deal with the Russian Mob to try and lure The Count out into the open.  Detective Lance tells him that if he interferes in police business again he will put him behind bars.  McKenna Hall apologizes for placing Ollie at the scene but Ollie says she was only doing her job.  Ollie turns to Felicity Smoak to analyze Vertigo and figure out where the water used to make it came from.  The Hood barely beats the SCPD to the lab, injecting The Count full of Vertigo just before Detective Lance arrives.  Detective Lance refers to what he said about The Hood just being a killer, not a hero, in 104.  Thea accepts a plea bargain deal for two years Probation and 500 hours of community service at Laurel's law firm.  The Count is left a gibbering wreck by Ollie's injection and the doctor treating him says she's never seen anyone survive that high a dosage of Vertigo, saying they have no idea what effects that much of the drug may have on him.  Felicity Smoak meets Oliver at The Big Belly Burger and shows him the copy of The List that Walter Steele gave to her in 108.  Oliver denies having knowledge of The List.  Felicity tells him that she got the book from Walter Steele before he disappeared, that it belonged to Moira Queen and that Walter found it in their house.

In the flashbacks, we see Deathstroke again, taking part in the fights organized by the guards.  Ollie is forced to fight Yao Fei, who seemingly kills him before pushing his body off a waterfall.  In truth, he used a paralyzing touch to put Ollie under and revived him just before pushing him over.  Yao Fei also planted a copy of a map on Ollie, seemingly pointing the way to another sanctuary.         

The Fridge Factor

McKenna Hall doesn't come off as a particularly competent police officer, what with her giving copies of police documents to billionaire playboys with suspect pastsEven if she DOES tell him to leave the policing to the police.  Then again, she does use a rubber glove to pick up the needles dropped by The Hood as the police storm The Count's lab...

The Winick Factor

Granting that Ollie is stoned out of his gourd, you'd think that Diggle would have suggested they think of a more plausible excuse than the BS story about an energy drink before going to Felicity Smoak to ask for a fluid analysis.  At the very least, you'd think he'd realize that handing her a hypodermic full of a mystery substance might be a bad idea. 

The Bottom Line

A mixed bag, overall.  The ensemble cast does the best with what they have but there's too much plot weighing down the story to allow it to keep moving.  Seth Gabel as The Count is the biggest problem, hamming it up in a way that doesn't fit the more realistic tone of this show.  A lesser problem is Janina Gavankar as Detective McKenna Hall, who doesn't really get to do much or showcase much personality.  Really, there's nothing here that feels all that gripping or necessary until the final scene and even the revelation that Moira may have been lying to Ollie all this time falls flat.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Arrow #17 (Web Comic) - A Review

Two Minute Warning is a welcome return to form after last week's disappointing issue of Arrow.  Our story centers upon Ollie and Tommy taking in a football game.  Naturally things don't go smoothly as Ollie recognizes a star athlete turned criminal acting suspiciously.  Ollie's hunch pays off as it turns out the pro has plans to bomb the stadium and - for added insurance - has the trigger rigged to his pacemaker.  Shooting them all and letting God sort it out is not an option.

The script by Jake Coburn is action-packed and well-paced.  I particularly enjoyed how he found a way to bring back one of the few trick arrows we've seen Ollie use in the show in a way that makes sense.  There are some contrivances in the script - such as Ollie having brought his Arrow gear with him to a football game and just happening to look back and recognize a football player ex-con acting suspiciously - but none so bad as to strain credibility completely.

The artwork by Xermanico is far better than what we saw from them previously in Arrow #14.  The established cast is well-caricatured as before but the inking issues I noted before have been corrected.  There is still some loss of detail in the middle-ground characters but it's less annoying this time as the focus is on generic mooks rather than our main characters.

Bottom Line: This issue of Arrow is easily worth the one dollar download.  It's not perfect, but it's a solid Green Arrow story.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

'Taking The Man out of Superman' Or 'Why I'm Now Worried About Man Of Steel'

SOURCE: Justice League May Not Fly Unless Man Of Steel Soars, Plus Why David Goyer Compares Superman To E.T.

Despite some fan concern over the first two trailers for Man of Steel (specifically, one trailer that didn't show Superman at all and one trailer which suggested that Pa Kent would tell his son off for saving lives), I've generally had high hopes about the upcoming movie.  That got shot to heck this morning as I read several comments by David S. Goyer - writer of Man of Steel as well as several other superhero movies and comics.

“He’s an alien. You can easily imagine a scenario in which we’d be doing a film like E.T., as opposed to him running around in tights. If the world found out he existed, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history. It falls into that idea of trying to humanize the inhuman. He’s made out of steel, he’s not made out of flesh, metaphorically speaking. We are portraying him as a man, yet he’s not a man.”

I want to trust Goyer.  Having co-written JSA with James Robinson and Geoff Johns, I know he understands superheroes and the inherent hopefulness of the genre.  And the voice-over in the trailer, where Superman talks about his father thinking people would be afraid of him but how he believes differently... that hits the optimistic bullseye that should be the heart of Superman.  But it's still worrying to hear the writer of this movie talking about humanizing the inhuman and Superman not really being a man.

It shows a serious lack of understanding in Superman's character to not think that his humanity is his greatest defining feature.  That despite being an alien by birth, Superman is the epitome of humanism.  As Mark Waid noted in Kingdom Come, Superman's greatest power has always been an " instinctive knowledge of right and wrong... a gift of (his) own humanity."  The minute you take that away - the minute you make The Super more important than The Man, the character ceases to be Superman.

Maybe Goyer was taken somewhat out of context?  Maybe he meant that this movie will look at Superman from that perspective of the outsider being humanized until the world realizes that he is a man like any other at heart?  We can hope so, anyway.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Green Lantern Corps #16 - A Review

By chance I happened to converse with someone today who - in the middle of a discussion regarding what comic writers should be fired for gross incompetence- said that they needed to fire whoever "gave Guy Gardner his family back and fluffybunnified his dark and painful backstory."  Clearly they have not been reading Green Lantern Corps lately!  Given Guy's current status, I find it hard to compare Guy's lot in life to anything fluffy!

He was recently drummed out of the GLC after being set-up by The Guardians.  He was arrested on vigilante charges by the same dirty cop who got him kicked out of the regular police force.  And, oh yes, his abusive father STILL hates his guts.  Personally, I think the whole thing reeks of melodrama and I long for the days when Guy had worked past his family issues and became the man who did what was right without giving a damn what others thought.  At least Guy is still tough as nails and proving he doesn't need a ring to fight the good fight.

The Rise of The Third Army storyline continues to move apace, with more of our players beginning to team up with one another.  Simon Baz shows up in this issue and proves to be of a similar mind to Guy Gardner when the fighting starts.  We also see John Stewart piecing together that The Guardians are up to something on his own, as he works with the Star Sapphire Formerly Known As Fatality to restore the remains of Mogo - The (Ex) Living Planet.  Peter Tomasi balances all these storylines with his usual able ability to balance action, humor and drama in equal amounts. 

To my mind Fernando Pasarin is easily the most underrated artist working in comics today.  Look at the pages above and marvel at how much complexity Pasarin can work into a single panel.  Marvelous stuff, well-backed by Scott Hanna's amazing inks.  This is one of the best-looking books on the market today and it's easily the best of the Green Lantern titles.

Green Lantern #16 - A Review

With Green Lantern #16, the Rise of the Third Army storyline is finally starting to move somewhere.  Despite the larger plot dominating the story, Geoff Johns still manages to infuse this issue with the wonder that lies at the heart of the Green Lantern concept.  He also adds several of the the quiet character moments that are his trademark.

Case in point: B'dg - an alien who looks something like a cartoon squirrel, has the ability to communicate with squirrels if not other wildlife.  It's a small point and it's been raised before in other Green Lantern stories but I just love the idea that there are Green Lanterns that have superpowers apart from those they gain from their rings.  I also love how they might not even consider what they can do a superpower because everyone on their planet can do what they can do.. 

A similar scene later centers around newbie Green Lantern Simon Baz attempting to use his ring to heal his best friend, who is in a coma.  A Green Lantern ring is supposed to do whatever the wielder wills - why not heal the incurable?  Johns has been pushing this idea since the New 52 revamp but never quite so effectively as he does here.

The artwork by Doug Mahnke and a team of five inkers is as wonderful as the script.  I've praised this book before as having one of the finest art teams in the comic world and I stand by that statement now.  Colorists Tony Avina and Alex Sinclair also deserve praise for giving this book an amazing visual glow.

If you haven't been reading Green Lantern, this is actually a good issue to jump on with.  Much of the on-going storyline is explained here and while there may be some points of confusion it's not enough to derail the main action of the story.  Highly recommended. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Demon Knights #16 - A Review

I'd been looking forward to this issue for a while and not just because it's the only thing from DC Comics I picked up this past week that wasn't part of a crossover!  As a Paul Cornell fan, I was anxious to see if this book - which was his baby - was still being written at the same level of quality to which I've become accustomed.  The answer, thankfully, is yes and while this first issue under author Robert Venditti is a bit of a slow-starter after the climactic conclusion last month, there is reason to believe it will build toward something greater.

Our new main villain is quickly established as Cain - lord of the vampires.  (If you're suddenly feeling an urge to put on a black cloak and grab some ten-sided dice, I feel your pain - Malkavians forever!)  He and his hordes of darkness are Working Up A Number Six on medieval Europe - a fact that has not got unnoticed by the Muslim scientist Al Jabr,  Now Caliph of his own city, Al Jabr has gathered many of his old colleagues to make a stand against Cain before he reaches his apparent goal of Themysira.  For Cain's right-hand is an Amazon and if she can guide the way to her sisters and they could be turned, the whole of the world might fall prey to the vampire armies!

Bernard Chang's artwork lends a welcome sense of continuity to this story.  It is a comfort to see this book looking as excellent as ever after the sudden jump-forward in time.  Chang's art subtly reassures us that despite the separation of much of our cast that there is still a book here worth reading.  If you haven't given Demon Knights a chance yet, this is the perfect time to try it. 

Conan The Barbarian #12 - A Review

I'd complained in recent months that Conan The Barbarian had become something close to a talking-heads comic.  What little action existed was sparse and it seemed that we had more pages devoted toward Conan and Belit talking about their relationship than we had honest action.  That changes with this issue, though the opening does start with Conan brooding on his own in a tavern.  This time, however, Brian Wood is quicker about getting on with the story and we see more of the ready wit that lies at the heart of Conan's character.

I am somewhat torn on Brian Wood's script in one regard.  While the plot regarding the sickly crew of The Tigress is played-out well and the action scenes in the second act are well-paced, I am concerned about the surprise revelation that is tossed out at the end of the comic.  I cannot even hint at it without spoiling all, so I'll say nothing here.  Suffice it to say, it is bothersome that we only see this part of the story from Conan's point of view and not from Belit's as the tragedy involved touches her even more deeply than it does our favorite barbarian.  Hopefully we'll see things from Belit's perspective soon, if not in the next issue. 

Declan Shalvey's artwork is as amazing as ever, simple without being simplistic.  The inks and shadows are largely kept light, giving all the artwork an appearance not unlike that of painted woodcuts.  The coloring by Dave Stewart helps throw the action into sharp contrast, accomplishing with one tinted panel what a pint of drawn blood can not.

Conan the Barbarian is still a worthy read, though a slow-paced one that reads better in trade collections than as a monthly comic.  Brian Wood touches upon these classic characters with a thoughtfulness unseen since the days of Kurt Busiek.  The artwork by Declan Shalvey is top-notch.  Still the finest fantasy comic on the market, despite my issues with the pacing.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Batman #16 - A Review

Batman #16 continues the conceit put forth in the opening chapters of Death Of The Family - i.e. that Batman is the King of Gotham and his rogues gallery make up a sort of demented court.  It's an idea that makes sense in the twisted mind of The Joker (the jester of the court, naturally) who has recruited his fellow baddies in remaking Arkham Asylum into a fortress worthy of their lord and master.  The main action of the issue centers upon Batman infiltrating Arkham  and working his way past the various traps and dangers.

Scott Snyder plays the characters perfectly against one another and there a lot of great Joker lines and good character moments here.  Sadly, the new layer of paint does little to disguise the cliched plot.  How many Batman stories have involved the inmates taking over the asylum?  More than I care to try and count.  The back-up story Snyder co-wrote with James Tynion IV proves more interesting, examining the relationships between Batman's rogues in greater depth.

The artwork continues to be all-around excellent.  Former Spawn artist Greg Capullo continues to deliver some of the best work of his career, drawing upon his background in horror comics to depict a truly disgusting and nightmarish Joker, whose maggot-ridden face has begun to sprout flies.  The back-up story by Jock is also well-illustrated. 

Despite an excellent script and amazing artwork, Batman #16 fails to overcome the feeling that we've seen this before.  It is not a bad comic by any means but we've seen the base story many times before even if the execution is top-notch.  Definitely worth a read, though you'll want to start with the first few issues of Death of The Family.

Captain Marvel #9 - A Review

Never have I seen so great a disconnect between the quality of artwork and the quality of writing than Captain Marvel #9. The writing by Kelly Sue DeConnick is as fine as ever, of course.  The script for this issue, focusing on Carol Danvers trying to get through a typical day-in-the-life, presents a wonderful jumping-on point for those who have not yet begun reading this title.  The title page even gives us a basic summary of our hero and the book, satisfying the old Stan Lee dictum that every comic book should be built as if it were going to be someone's first comic ever, because it probably will be. 

Sadly, once we get past the title page and the recycled Dexter Soy artwork, the pencils and inks of Filie Andrade drag this comic into the abyss of mediocrity.  The kindest adjective I can apply to Filipe Andrade's artwork is "stylized".  Sadly, it is the style of someone who appears to be aping Aeon Flux after having a couple of stiff drinks. 

To call Andrade's figures disjointed would be putting it mildly.  As it is, I find this manner of artwork visually displeasing and it killed my enjoyment of this issue. I still recommend Captain Marvel as a series to all comic readers but I'd also suggest skipping this issue.  If you need an introduction to this series, start with Issue #7 instead. 

Knights of the Dinner Table #194 - A Review

Knights of the Dinner Table is a comic I've picked up monthly without fail for over a decade now.  Despite this, it's not a comic I review all that often.  There's more than a few reasons for that.  Chief among them are that it's now more of a magazine than a comic book, with over half its' pages now devoted toward articles on game reviews, gamer war-stories and content for publisher Kenzer and Company's own RPG releases.  I also can't really critique the artwork, most of which is copy-pasted from the original character sketches by writer/artist Jolly Blackburn's original comics nearly 20 years ago.

Another issue is that the humor of the comics in KODT is aimed at a niche market that doesn't include the greater number of comic-book readers.  Unless you're an old-school pen-and-paper gamer, much of the humor will likely be lost on you.  That is not to say that there isn't some comedy based on the character's personalities.  Indeed, KODT has a huge cast and the brunt of the humor now comes from the conflict between warring factions and personalities.  Even with the helpful Stan Lee style footnote boxes at the bottom of some pages, it is hard for a new reader to pick up the newest issue and understand immediately about what is going on and who hates who and why.

Case in point.  As this issue opens, the cast is newly returned from a big gaming convention.  Brian, one of the titular Knights, has been thrown off his game and finds himself unable to focus on anything gaming related after seemingly having been given a  set of cursed dice by gamer goddess Felicia Day.  In truth, the dice were sent to him by Shelia - girlfriend of Bob, one of Brian's gaming group, who has longed nursed a grudge against Brian for several reasons, including nearly getting Bob killed by a semi-feral dice-hording cat.  The rest of the Knights know about Shelia's trick but all of them - even those not sworn to secrecy by Shelia - are reluctant to break the bad news to Brian. 

At the same time, local game shop owner Weird Pete has announced a Liberation Day sale at his store, in honor of his recent victory over Brian in a World War Two board game the two have been running for years. This crosses-0over with Bob's conflict between his oldest friend and girlfriend (Bob works Pete's store) and brings us an update on Crutch. Crutch, a local biker/petty thug who got into gaming while in prison, recently decided to start game-mastering his own crew but has proven unable to get a team together. And then there's the on-going story of Pete's gaming group, The Black Hands, and their attempts to take over the kingdom their characters live in through running a farm that is becoming more and more of a forced labor camp/militia.

And that's just the story lines covered in THIS issue!

Knights of the Dinner Table used to be a fun comic full of simple jokes but it has grown heavy under the weight of its' own expanded universe.  It's a fine thing for those of us who have been reading since the beginning (or, at least, somewhat closer to the beginning) but that same rich universe makes this book largely inaccessible to new readers.  I can't recommend this issue whole-heartedly but I will suggest that comedy fans look into acquiring one of the KODT Bundles of Trouble or Tales From The Vault collections that either collect the smaller strip collections or self-contained story-lines.  You can also check out Kenzer And Company's collection of free web-strips

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Arrow Reviews: Season 1, Episode 11 - Trust, But Verify

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


A string of armored-car robberies in Starling City gets Oliver Queen's attention.  Quickly figuring out that the robbers are using military raid tactics and military-grade weaponry, Ollie follows the trail to Ted Gaynor - head of a local securities company, whose name is on The List.  John Diggle is familiar with Gaynor, who was his ex-CO and who offered him a job before Digg was hired by the Queen family.  Diggle is convinced his CO couldn't have anything to do with the robberies but Ollie can't believe his name wouldn't be on The List if things he were completely honest.

Malcolm Merlyn calls his son Tommy, claiming he wants to reconcile after going a bit far with his "tough love" tactics.  A dinner between the two with Laurel Lance goes well enough... into Malcolm tries to push Tommy into agreeing to close down a free medical clinic his mother once owned/worked at.  

Back in the Queen home, Oliver and Thea both think that Moira is acting oddly.  Thea has noticed something is up between Moira and Malcolm but incorrectly guesses they are having an affair.  This pushes Thea over the edge at her 18th birthday party, where she samples a gift from her friends - a new designer drug called "Vertigo".  This leads to her joy-riding in her present (a new convertible), being hospitalized and - eventually - being arrested for Driving Under the Influence.
In the Island flashbacks, Ollie tries to infiltrate Eddie Fyers' army in order to rescue his savior.  He is quickly discovered, imprisoned and learns that the man he trusted and was risking his life to rescue has apparently been working with Fyers the whole time!

Green Arrow: Year One (the island sequences), Green Lantern/Green Arrow #75-76 (a.k.a. the infamous "My Ward Is A Junkie?!" storyline),  the Michael Bay film The Rock (disenfranchised soldiers turn criminal) and a recurring theme of trust misplaced throughout each of our little scenes.


Honestly, the whole cast is firing on all cylinders this week.  Would that we had gotten this episode last week when the show returned from the holiday break.  To single out my top five, in no particular order...

Ben Browder gives an excellent turn as this week's special guest villain Ted Gaynor.  Most recently seen in the Doctor Who episode A Town Called Mercy, Browder has a certain indefinable gravitas as an actor that makes his turn here the greatest of the one-shot villains we've seen so far.  Shame we won't be seeing more of him.

Long regulated to comic-relief duties, Colin Donnell gets to add some much needed depth to the character of Tommy Merlyn.  We learn a bit more of his past, including the violent death of his mother and how that seemed to close his father off to him.  His coolness in talking about this as well as his father's continual betrayal of his trust stands in stark contrast to the playful persona we've largely associated with Tommy so far and it is a credit to Donnell's skill as an actor that this change seems totally natural.

John Barrowman, as Malcolm Merlyn, doesn't appear for long in this episode and it's no surprise to anyone he plays the charming jerk as well as ever.  He also gets one brilliant moment of silent acting as we see him looking at a picture of himself, his wife and his young son with regret as he stands in the hideaway where he keeps his Dark Archer gear.

David Ramsey - who I feared might become sanctimonious as John Diggle - is finally allowed to be wrong about something while still saving face.  I must confess I feared we were getting into Magical Negro territory given how often Diggle has been right about Ollie lying to his family being bad, Ollie needing to spend more time with his family and less time fighting crime, Ollie being stupid to get involved with Helena Bertinelli and Ollie being wrong to spend time with his family when he should be out fighting crime.  Ramsey does a fine job portraying Diggle as the tough man of principle who won't back down in his beliefs and is man enough to apologize when it turns out he was wrong.... even if he was wrong for all the right reasons. 

Willa Holland has stolen several episodes as Thea Queen and this episode is no exception.  It is a tricky thing to play a character who can be wise in so many ways and yet so foolish in others.  The only other actor I can think of who manages this trick on a regular basis is Matt Smith as The Doctor.  While Thea is wise enough and people-savvy enough to know that something is going on between her mom and Malcolm Merlyn, she isn't experienced enough to realize that sometimes the most logical explanation (i.e. affair) is not always the correct one.  Her immaturity also comes through in her response to her mother apparently betraying her trust and her father's memory - i.e. taking drugs then going for a joyride.


The action sequences with the armored car robberies are incredibly well-shot and well-paced.


The Blackhawk Squad Protection Group is a reference to the comic Blackhawk - a military comic series first published by DC Comics in 1941. The series focused upon an elite international team of pilots collectively known as The Blackhawk Squadron. Their leader was an American of Polish heritage name Bart Hawk, who also went by the codename Blackhawk.

Ted Gaynor was also a character in the Blackhawk comics published during the 1980s. There, he was a Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps who was appointed to the squad at a time when they were one man short. He proved to be an ill-fit for the team, being far too militaristic and blood-thirsty and he was quickly dismissed. He would later team-up with the villain King Shark in a bid to get revenge on the team and died in single combat with Bart Hawk himself.

Malcolm Merlyn makes reference to a colleague of Moira Queen's named Carl Ballard, who is attempting to gentrify The Glades.  Carl Ballard is also the name of the first criminal fought by the Silver Age Atom in Showcase No. 34 (1961).

One of the names we see on the same page of The List as Ted Gaynor is Samuel Rosenberg.  This is also the name of the author of Naked Is The Best Disguise - a book which proposed a formula of sorts that could be applied to the narrative structure of every Sherlock Holmes story.  Curiously, the same formula seems to fit the story of this episode...
  • Detective goes to scene of crime (Ollie investigates previous robbery sites)
  • He conducts a vigil (Ollie stakes out Blackhawk's offices and later their planned routes)
  • Reference is made to illicit love (Thea believes her mother and Malcolm Merlyn are having an affair; Diggle's possible feelings for his brother's widow, Moira claiming Robert Queen cheated on her)
  • Reference is made to severe punishment and the deaths of many people (Merlyn's plans for Starling City, Ollie's imprisonment on the island, Diggle's time in Afghanistan with Ted Gaynor)
  • Arrival of violent person, (Knox enters the picture, triggering Diggle's bump-of-trouble)
  • Reference is made to reversal of sexes (Laurel being the dominant one in her relationship with Tommy, Moira Queen taking over the company both her husbands ran)
  • Physical combat. (Ollie and Diggle fighting the Blackhawk soldiers at the end)

Another name we see on the same page of The List as Ted Gaynor is Gregory Davenport.  This is also the name of the author of a well-regarded manual on Wilderness Survival.  Perhaps the book was used as reference during the island sequences and the name being on The List was a tip of the hat?

Dialogue Triumphs

(Regarding his father's dinner invitation)
Tommy: Apparently he wants to mend some fences but... thanks to him I can't afford a fence, so I can only assume he's got some other agenda.
Laurel: Well, there's only one way to find out.  Maybe he really is trying to extend an olive branch?
Tommy: You really do look for the best in people, don't you?
Laurel: Lucky for you. 

(After Gaynor threatens Carly's life)
Diggle: You're forgetting one thing, guys.
Gaynor: Oh yeah?  What's that?
Digg: I'm the one with the grenade launcher!

(After Ollie shoots Gaynor dead, saving Diggle's life)
Diggle: You're late.
Ollie: You knew I was coming? 
Diggle: Next time you plant a bug on someone, be a little more subtle about it. (beat) I wish you trusted me though.
Ollie: I trusted you.  But them?  Never.

Diggle: I screwed up, Oliver.  Obviously, Gaynor wasn't who I thought he was.  I was wrong.
Ollie: Yeah, but... you were right too.  When you told me that I trusted the list more than I trusted you?  Diggle, the truth is that after what happened to me on the island... it's difficult for me to trust anything.  But you do.  And that reminded me why I chose you as my partner.  It's because you see the best in people.

Dialogue Disasters

Emily Bett Rickards's delivery of the line "So no wine then?" is painfully flat.  There's no pause or inflection at all.


Thea notices that Moira seems far too well-adjusted in the face of Walter Steel's disappearance.  Diggle calls Ollie's hideout "The Arrowcave" for the first time.  The robbery we see is the third one perpetuated by the armored-car robbers.  Diggle says it has been two months since they found out Robert Queen didn't write The List (109)  Ollie uses knock-out darts to bring down the soldiers in the Blackhawk offices.  Ollie explains that he found a message his dad left him explaining The List " a few years ago".  He did not find it on the island.  Tommy Meryln's mother was killed when he was 8.  She apparently ran a free clinic, which Tommy still has legal control over.  Ollie's skill with a bow is such he can shoot the gas-mask off of someone, by putting an arrow through the filter.  Thea Queen is now 18.  One of her friend's birthday present is a dose of a new designer drug called Vertigo.  After his wife died, Malcolm Merlyn shut his son out and disappeared for two years - the implication in the video as Tommy talks about this being that this was when Malcolm first began his training as the Dark Archer.  Ollie allows Diggle to cross Ted Gaynor's name off of The List at which point Diggle says he doesn't want to know any names on The List until Ollie tells him who they are.  Thea Queen is arrested for DUI at episode's end.  Vertigo is apparently well-known enough as a designer drug that Ollie has heard of it and it's apparently big in The Glades.        

The Fridge Factor

Laurel doesn't get much to do in this episode apart from be supportive of Tommy as he deals with his daddy issues.

The Winick Factor

Again, Ollie's apparent technical skills are lowered so that we can bring in the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl Hacker that is Felicity Smoak to explain it all.  Granting that the military-grade encryption used by Blackhawk is probably a bit more difficult than the police department computer hacking we saw Ollie doing in Year's End (109), Ollie is still a flipping idiot to keep going back to the same employee and having her do all these things.  Are there no other IT people at Queen Industries?

The Bottom Line

Delightful.  A solid episode with a good script and good performances from the entire ensembleThe theme of trust betrayed neatly works its' way into every single relationship in the story and the actors play all the conflicts to the hilt.  The action sequences are also top-notch.  Apart from my usual complaints about the character of Felicity Smoak (am I alone in finding her incredibly annoying?), I have nothing bad to say about this episode.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Arrow #16 (Web Comic) - A Review

Subtitled 'Sins Of The Father', Arrow #16 is a step backward in several respects.  Much of Ollie's character development in recent issues and episodes of the show seems to have been lost, as Ollie is back to killing minions willy-nilly.  It's a minor point but a caption box noting this story took place early on in Ollie's vigilante days would not have been amiss. 

The script by Emilio Aldrich is somewhat repetitive, covering much the same territory as the television episode Legacies.  Like that episode, the main plot of this issue centers upon a family of criminals and Ollie's attempts to help one of them make amends for his past crimes.  The circumstances are just different enough to maintain interest but one can't shake the feeling that we've seen this before.

The real unpleasant surprise of the issue is the artwork by the usually excellent Mike Grell.  For the most part, this issue looks good.  The problem is one ridiculous action sequence, where Ollie seems to escape capture by throwing arrows with enough force to cut into the flesh of the drug dealers he is fighting. 

I could believe Ollie managing this with darts and we've seen him use those in the show before.  I could see him having arrow-shaped darts just for the sake of keeping to his theme.  But as drawn, given the proportions of everything else, it looks like Ollie is THROWING arrows at people!  For shame, Mike Grell!

As much as it pains me to say this, you can probably skip this week's Arrow comic unless you're a Mike Grell completist or a die-hard Arrowhead.  The story is lackluster.  The art, while generally excellent, falls apart along with all sense of proportion in the final action sequence.  Truly disappointing on all fronts.   

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Supergirl, Vol. 1: Last Daughter of Krypton - A No Flying No Tights Review

SOURCE: Supergirl, Vol.1 - Last Daughter of Krypton

The greatest problem with Supergirl as a character has always been establishing her as a separate entity from Superman and developing her into something more than “Superman’s cousin”. This proved a daunting task for most writers, given the impetus behind Kara Zor-El’s creation was a desire to get more girls to read comics. For the longest time, that’s all Supergirl was – a girl with Superman’s powers. Over the years, many writers have tried to differentiate Supergirl from Superman by giving her different powers and a different background, to varying degrees of success.

Thankfully, the New 52 revamp of 2011 gave DC Comics a chance to create a Supergirl that was free of all this baggage and authors Michael Green and Mike Johnson rose to the occasion. Though the background of this Supergirl may be familiar to long-time comic fans, Green & Johnson’s Supergirl is an entirely new character. They accomplish this through an angle I don’t think any writer has considered in the five decades since Supergirl’s creation – culture shock.

Attacked by Russian soldiers shortly after her awakening from suspended animation after her ship crashes in the Siberian wilderness, this Kara Zor-El is quickly established as both an intelligent, logical young woman and a typical teenage girl. Her intelligence is established in how she deduces that she is truly on an alien world and not just dreaming. Her nature as a realistic teenager is established later on, when she finally meets her cousin Kal-El. Or rather, a man dressed in the seal of their house who claims to be her infant cousin Kal-El, grown to maturity while she was asleep.

To say that Kara is skeptical of Superman’s story would be an understatement. To say that she is stunned at his apparent apathy over the destruction of their world would be a greater understatement. To say that she is angered by his suggestion that she should forget about her life before and join him in protecting the relatively primitive people of Earth who view her as either a potential test subject or a monster is so great an understatement as to require the use of an entirely different word than understatement.

This is a brilliant conceit and it makes Kara all the more realistic and, oddly, more sympathetic as a character. After all, how many teenagers do you know who would cope at all well with having to move just before the start of their senior year? How would you have coped with that? Now throw in the “everyone you know is dead” and “everyone here hates you and wants you dead” angles and you’ve got the recipe for some high drama, even ignoring the other superheroic elements of the story as Kara finds her footing, copes with her loss and – eventually – finds her own path to heroism.

Artist Mahmud Asrar deserves an award for his work on this book. Not only does he present the action well, with the story following naturally from panel to panel, he avoids the trap so many previous Supergirl artists have fallen into by indulging in fan service. There’s nary a cheesecake pose to be found and Asrar’s Supergirl looks like a real teenage girl who hasn’t quite finished growing into her figure yet.

All in all, Supergirl is one of the best hidden treasures of the New 52 line. I consider it a must-read for anyone who enjoys quality comics and stories with a strong female protagonist. Furthermore, I’d consider it a worthy purchase for any library with a graphic novel collection aimed at young adults.

Supergirl, vol. 1: Last Daughter of Krypton
by Michael Green, Mike Johnson
Art by Mahmud Asrar
ISBN: 9781401236809
DC Comics, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 13+

River Song is Dinah Lance? (Arrow Casting news)

SOURCE: 'Arrow' scoop: 'ER' actress is Laurel's mom


John Barrowman isn't the only Doctor Who alumnus playing a major role on Arrow. has confirmed that Alex Kingston - better known to Whovians everywhere as River Song - will be playing the part of Laurel Lance's mother.

No word yet on if her first name will be Dinah or if she will be wearing fishnets.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Off Target: Green Arrow (Vol. 2) #88

There's a problem - let's call it The Archer's Complaint, since it comes up just as much with Hawkeye as it does with Green Arrow. 

THE ARCHER'S COMPLAINT: What good is a guy who is really good at using a bow in a world where magic is real, aliens exist and super-powered beings are an established fact of reality?

There's two ways a writer can cope with The Archer's Complaint.  The first method limits the character's activities to dealing with low-level street crime and real-world problems.  This tactic was used by Mike Grell on Green Arrow and is currently used by Matt Fraction on Hawkeye.  The second method showcases the character's mental skills and gives them technology that allows them to level the playing field.  This method was used by Joss Whedon in the Avengers movie and pretty much everyone who wrote Batman in the last two decades.

I mention this because writer Kevin Dooley did not choose either of these paths when he was writing Green Arrow.  Whether it was because he was honestly unable to think of stories where Oliver Queen could be an effective hero or he actively hated the character I have no idea.  Either way, I can't help but notice that the stories Dooley wrote for Cross Roads were the ones where Ollie proved completely ineffective until he changed his methods and standards, whether it was by destroying private property, abandoning finesse for raw power or outright killing an unarmed man that the law wouldn't touch.

With that in mind, let's play some Comic Book Limbo and see how low we can go with Green Arrow #88.

Hey, Wally?  Could you run down to Academy and get me a bow that isn't broken?

This cover is a complete lie.  There's no armored soldiers anywhere in the book.  Ollie isn't in costume once in the whole issue.  His bow never gets broken.  The Flash never shows up.  And - SPOILER ALERT - Ollie never fights alongside his former colleagues in the Justice League.

We open on a typical New York City street.  In typical New York City fashion, a missile is about to rain down fiery doom on the populace.  Luckily, The Martian Manhunter is on the scene.  So is Oliver Queen, but nobody notices or cares about him.

For one thing, you can't get theater tickets without taking out a loan these days...

As Ollie watches J'onn effortlessly catch the missile, deflecting it towards a second missile, he thinks back on his days in the Justice League and wonders if they might still have a place for the World's Finest archer.  He dismisses the thought just as quickly, thinking there's nothing a man with a bow can do against a madman in a jet armed with heat-seeking missiles and starts wondering if the other heroes just humored him. 

Get used to this self-loathing, folks.  We're going to be seeing a lot more of it.

Ollie leaps into action after J'onn punches his way through one of the jet's engines and the plane starts to fall downward.  This leads Ollie to try and shoot the cockpit glass with an arrow.  Wait... Why?  What was he hoping to accomplish?  Kill the pilot in case he was trying to steer the plane to where he could hit someone when he crashed? 

... that you'd be so stupid? Neither can I, Ollie.

No, Ollie's arrow didn't do anything.  It's Martian Manhunter again, righting the plane and bringing it down safely.  The police come up to take the pilot into custody as Ollie looks on.  This would be an ideal time for Ollie to step in, say hi to his buddy J'onn and offer to go commiserate over some cookies and milk at one of Manhattan's many fine diners.  Ollie doesn't do that.  Even though the whole reason he came to NYC was to get in touch with his old friends.

Hey, don't insult crap!  It makes for a very effective fertilizer!

No, Ollie isn't trash-talking himself, for once.  In the minute or so while his back was turned, Ollie's car was stolen.  A surprisingly clean-cut and well-dressed homeless man tells Ollie about how the whole neighborhood has been going to hell in a hand-basket and how the cops are more interested in harassing the homeless then catching criminals.  I'll give Kevin Dooley credit for this much - that is totally accurate in regards to how Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ordered the police to handle the homeless in New York City at that time.

Okay.  Let's pause to consider something.  We're only six pages into this book and we've already had an apparent terrorist attack with a stolen jet, a car theft and now a bank robbery.  All of this has happened within walking distance of the Justice League Embassy.  All of this happening on the same street with the span of about five minutes.  Unlikely?  To put it mildly.

I'll grant you the jet attack since it may have been aimed at the Justice League Embassy itself.  I'll even grant you the car-theft may have been a crime of opportunity, since everyone was distracted by the sudden jet landing.  But I don't think it likely that the neighborhood around a public superhero base would be the kind of place a car thief would routinely hang around waiting to get lucky OR that someone would try to rob a bank near one.  There's a reason the crime rate tends to be lower around police stations and the same principle should apply here.

Anyway, Ollie runs toward the sounds of gunfire and finds several police officers pinned down by heavy fire.  As Ollie tries to figure out how he can stand up to a bunch of robbers with high-powered guns, Wonder Woman shows up.  Ollie thinks she has things well in hand and he doesn't have to get involved... until he sees two men with guns sneaking up on Wonder Woman, ready to shoot her in the back at point-blank range.  Ollie is about to shoot at the men, but Diana has matters well in hand again.  This time, Ollie does try to say hello, but the uniform cops are having none of it.

More depressed than ever, Ollie wanders off into an alley and starts playing a variant of kick-the-can that involves shooting it with an arrow rather than kicking it.  After his "can-arrow" passes through an open window and nearly hits a civilian, who sticks his head out the window to yell at Ollie, Ollie hears a ruckus in the next alley over.  By sheer coincidence, it's the homeless man Ollie spoke with earlier getting harassed by some random thugs who seem to be under the mistaken impression that the homeless man has something worth stealing.  Ollie thinks this is just the kind of thing he can handle... right up until someone sneaks up behind him and knocks him unconscious.  

Everybody playing the drinking game at home, do a shot for Ollie getting knocked out.

Ollie comes to in the hospital sometime later.  Curiously, despite the fairly strict rules hospitals have about visitors - particularly the victims of violent crimes - the homeless man is waiting with Ollie in his room.  It is he, rather than a nurse, who explains that Ollie got hit from behind by the muggers' look-out. To add insult to injury, he reveals that the only reason Ollie is still alive is because he managed to pull a gun away from one of the muggers and scared them off with it.  So not only is Ollie completely ineffective at fighting alongside other superheroes - he can't even stop a simple mugging!  Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!

Shockingly, there is someone who may be having an even worse day than Ollie and he just woke up in the next room....

Yes, it's Guy Gardner - ex Green Lantern.  Referring to the events of Emerald Twilight (which was going on at the same time as this story), Guy explains how Hal Jordan - greatest of the Green Lanterns and Oliver Queen's best friend - has killed The Guardians of the Universe, absorbed their energy and gone mad with power.  Ollie offers to help as Guy leaves the hospital but Guy is quick to dismiss his help.  "Bow 'N' Arrows Don't Just Hack It," Guy says.

I'm not upset about this part because Guy Gardner honestly is thick-headed enough to not realize that - on the odd chance that 'more force' isn't the solution - maybe having the best friend of the guy you're trying to stop on hand might be a good idea.  Particularly when said best friend has a proven track record of being able to talk to the power-mad lunatic and get him to think about things he never considered before.  I AM upset because Ollie is honestly hurt by Gardner's words about bows and arrows not cutting it and doesn't dismiss them as... well, Guy Gardner being Guy Gardner.

Lacking anything better to do at the moment, Ollie follows the homeless man to the cardboard shantytown where he's currently staying.  He introduces himself as Bernie Feinstein and explains that he's a computer programmer who is down on his luck.  He then introduces Ollie to the rest of his friends, including the guy who runs the place.

In the middle of this, Ollie is distracted by a newspaper on the ground which talks about Lamoreaux Industries (i.e. the company run by the incestuous rapist Ollie killed last issue) being taken over.  The paper indicates that the CEO died of a heart-attack.  Technically true as Ollie attacked his heart with a cloth-yard shaft.  Ollie muses as to whether or not that would have happened without him doing what he did only to be surprised as Ned asks if he's ever killed someone and is then told that heroes don't kill when he says that he has.  Before Ollie can respond, shadowy figures come out of nowhere, guns a-blazzing.

I'm sure I can find some way to make this bad situation even worse!

Given Ollie's track record so far in this comic and what we've seen of Kevin Dooley's story-telling style so far, what do you think happens next?

A) Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman, who were finally tipped off that Ollie was in town after Guy Gardner signed in at the JLE and told them Ollie was in the hospital when he left, show up just in time to help Ollie fight the corrupt police.  The issue ends with them going back to the Justice League Embassy for chili, Oreos and milk

B)Ollie single-handedly repels the corrupt police officers, who run away like the cowards they are having not expected anyone to fight back, thus proving the power of one man standing up for what is right.

C) Ollie rallies the homeless men into an army, striking back at their oppressors, thus justifying his status as a modern-day Robin Hood.
D) Ollie nearly gets shot in the back and is saved only after Bernie throws himself between Ollie and the corrupt cop.  Bernie dies in his arms and Ollie is chewed out for trying to be a hero as the shanty town is completely destroyed and the homeless people are left with nothing.




Pencils down.  Everyone have an answer ready?  Good.



Anyone who didn't say D, smack the back of your hand for not paying attention!

o/` No one knows what it's like... to be the bad man... to be the sad man... o/`

And so our comic ends with Ollie handing an envelope full of money to Ned (apparently, Ollie's Vegas winnings are still in it) and Ollie saying that he lied earlier when he said he wasn't living a life discarded.  Ollie then decides to go to the one place on Earth depressing enough to match his current mood - New Jersey! 

No, really!  He decides to go to Gotham City.  It's in New Jersey!  Look it up in the DC Atlas!   

This may well be the most depressing comic I've ever had the misfortune to read.  This comic holds the idea of heroism down and uses it for a toilet.  Our hero doesn't accomplish one heroic thing in the whole book.  Hell, he doesn't even manage to accomplish his stated basic goal of meeting up with his old friends!

If anyone needs me, I'm going to be doing something more cheerful than reading this comic.  Maybe listen to The Smiths while looking at pictures of abused animals.   

Sunday, January 20, 2013

John Carter: The Gods Of Mars - A No Flying No Tights Review

SOURCE: John Carter- The Gods of Mars

I stand as one of the few who seems to have appreciated the 2012 movie John Carter. I firmly believe it to be a good film that was destroyed by bad marketing. Originally titled A Princess of Mars after the pulp novel that inspired it, the film that became known as John Carter had its title changed repeatedly.  Reportedly, various executives worried that fathers and sons wouldn’t pay to see an action movie with the word “Princess” in the title. Never mind that the plot of the story focuses on a soldier traveling to another planet and gaining superpowers! Then they demanded all reference to Mars be removed from the title and the advertising in the belief that – since no movie with the word Mars in the title had ever been a blockbuster hit – people hated Mars.
Throw in an ad campaign that emphasized generic CGI desert landscapes over any of the truly alien wonders of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom and you can see why John Carter may have been doomed from the start, cinematically. To my mind this is a crying shame, because it had the potential to be so much more. The script had a perfect blend of action, comedy, drama, and romance. You had a strong, likeable hero. You had an equally powerful heroine. Heck, you even had the boy and his dog angle in the form of John Carter’s loyal companion Woola the calot! What more could a franchise ask for?

I mention all this because John Carter: The Gods of Mars is a direct sequel to said film, presented in comic book form. I also mention this because this graphic novel is similarly troubled in its presentation. The artwork on the front and back cover bears no resemblance to the interior artwork by artist Ramon Perez. Perez’s artwork is competent enough, though his panel-flow is confusing at times and his character designs leave much to be desired. Far too many characters resemble one another and it is fortunate that the story keeps John Carter’s true love – the warrior princess Dejah Thoris – out of the action for most of the book, as there is no way of distinguishing her from Thuvia, another Red Martian warrior woman, who teams with John Carter for most of the story.

A larger problem is the book’s coloring which, according to the credits page, was handled by no less than four individual colorists/coloring companies! The palette changes wildly from chapter to chapter, with the coloring used for John Carter’s skin changing frequently. Why is this a problem? Because coupled with so many characters looking alike, it is hard to keep some of the characters straight when Carter’s skin is as red as the Red Martians in some panels or as white as the White Martians in others. Things become even stranger in the flashback sequences, where Green Martians are yellow and the Earthman is the same shade of blue as the Black Martians.

The story, at least, is action packed and a fair adaptation of the original Gods of Mars story by Edgar Rice Burroughs. In fact, I dare say it’s a good enough adaptation that anyone who hadn’t read the original A Princess of Mars or seen the film John Carter will be completely lost as to who is fighting whom, and why. Sam Humphries’s script could have benefited from a recap at the start.

Another eyebrow raiser is this book’s all ages rating. Considering that the John Carter film was rated PG-13 and the language used in this adaptation is at a higher level than what I’d consider fitting for the “under 8” audience Marvel’s all ages works are aimed at, I’d recommend this book for Young Adult collections if I were inclined to recommend it at all… which I’m not. Give this a miss and consider the excellent Warlord of Mars series published by Dynamite Entertainment instead.

John Carter: The Gods Of Mars
by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sam Humphries
Art by Ramon Perez
ISBN: 9780785165132
Marvel Comics, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages

Joel Hodgson's Riffing Myself - My Review & Thank You Letter

Joel Hodgson got me through middle school.

That statement may require some explanation.

I first stumbled across Mystery Science Theater 3000 back when I was twelve years old and channel-surfing.  At the time it was only possible to have two TV sets in the same house wired for cable.  So whenever I wanted to watch something that wasn't on the local UHF station on the old TV in my room, I either had to do it on the set in my parents bedroom during the day or wait until everyone was asleep and sneak into the living room.

I watched the show in secret because MST3K was the greatest thing I had ever seen and I had just assumed - like most of the other awesome things you become obsessed with when you're 12 - it was something my parents would disapprove of.  Never mind that they'd let me stay up to watch the old Mad Movies show on Nick at Nite with them and this was virtually the same thing!  That kind of logical reasoning doesn't enter into your head when you are twelve.

Thankfully, my parents were cool with it and I think it's fair to say that MST3K  had a direct effect on developing my acerbic, reference-heavy sense of humor as a teen.  It certainly had an affect on my writing career, as my first published reviews as a teenager were written for an MST3K fanzing (Digest Digest) under the pen name Joey The Lemur.  My first experiences with the Internet were the MST3K Fan Forums on Prodigy.  My first web-development gig was doing research for the Daddy-O's Drive-In Dirt section of what eventually became the official MST3K news website.  And you certainly don't spend over ten years working as a riffer at Rocky Horror shows without being something of a MSTie.

Yes, I owe a lot to MST3K and - by extension - the shows creator, Joel Hodgson.  But how did he get me through middle school?  Because as cheesy as it may be to say this, I learned a lot about how to cope with life by watching MST3K and Joel's example.

Like Joel, I was a smart, unorthodox personality trapped in a bad place.  Okay, my Junior High School wasn't a satellite in a geosynchronous orbit around the Earth but I still felt trapped there.  But Joel didn't let his situation get him down and he responded to the stupidity and absurdity around him with the only weapon he had left - humor.  So too did I began to use wisecracks to riff my life and cope with the stupidity and absurdity around me. 

Even later on in life, Joel's wisdom helped me.  The idea that "people don't mean to be obnoxious - it's just that they're all screwed up inside" helped instill a badly needed sense of empathy into my teenage self.  Even now it helps me keep my cool with particularly unreasonable patrons at the library I work at.  He also helped me find ease with myself, advising that you shouldn't worry if everyone gets your jokes.  "The right people will get this," he said in an interview for a documentary on MST3K.  Someday, I'm going to have to write a book on Zen and Mystery Science Theater 3000.  But I've already said far too much about myself in what was meant to be a review of a magical stage show. 

So Joel?  If you happen to read this?  Thank you.  Thank you for everything, from my first laugh at your wisecracks watching Cave Dwellers when I was twelve to the laughs you gave me tonight as I saw Riffing Myself.

Now, as to what got me thinking about all this and writing all this down...

Most people probably wouldn't find enjoyment in a complete stranger showing a couple of hundred slides from their childhood. Then again, your average MSTie is not "most people" and Joel Hodgson is hardly a stranger.  Even if you didn't grow up watching him on MST3K (as I think most of the assembled audience, most of whom were around my age, had), Joel has a casual ease to his performance that makes him seem less like a presenter and more like a co-worker showing you some cool new video on YouTube.

Riffing Myself is not your typical one-man show.  It has more in common with Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth than most of the solo performance pieces you'll find performed in small theaters around the country, where one actor tells the tale of their warped adolescence though a combination of interpretative dance and Inuit throat-singing.  Joel is simply Joel, answering the questions of where he came from and how he created MST3K, while showing us some photos, sketches and the occasional video to try and explain himself.

Riffing Myself explains a lot, detailing Joel's childhood dreams of being a magician and his early career as a prop-comic.  Or, as he described himself, "Comic.  Magician.  Spy."  There's a lot of trivia to be learned that even die-hard MSTies might not be aware of, like how the two inspirations for Joel's costume as a comedian were Sean Connery's James Bond and the guy on the box of the Mystery Date board game.  Joel also talks about his early work as a ventriloquist and how that directly influenced his love of puppetry and the eventual construction of The Bots.

I shan't say anymore than that (a magician must be allowed to keep his secrets, after all) but the evening was delightfully educational even for a hardened MSTie like me who has been around the block a few times.  If you get a chance to see Riffing Myself, by all means take it.  Upcoming show dates are on and I hope The Texas Theatre of Dallas will book him again for a later date.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

FAME: Taylor Swift - A Review

I thought I was prepared. Foolishly, I had thought myself ready. There was no way it could be that bad, I told myself.  But though I had swum in the dark seas of Bluewater Productions before, nothing could prepare me for the horror that was FAME: Taylor Swift

Her heart's been broken so often, Tony Stark had to give her an arc reactor.

Usually, the problem with the artwork in Bluewater Productions graphic biographies is that they appear to be images pulled from Google which were then run through the Cartoonize filter in Photoshop.  That's not the case here.  I honestly believe artist Eric Adrian Marquez drew every single page of this book... because a computer would not produce work this sloppy.

The artwork in this book is not so much sub-par as it is unfinished.  Many panels - mostly the ones depicting groups of people - lack any inking other than a solid black outline around Taylor Swift herself.  Even then, the details of her features are not fully inked and what little inking there is appears to have been applied with a black Crayola marker! 

The writing is just as bad.  Awkward, run-on sentences that mix tenses are the rule - not the exception.  And for an extra slice of horror, consider this - Bluewater Productions is involved in several literacy promotion programs

Good news, Rob Liefeld! We finally found someone even worse at drawing legs and feet than you!

Why?  Why did they publish this?  How could they publish this?  How could anyone with an ounce of artistic spirit or human decency expose the public to something like this?

Why they chose to draw Joe Jonas as an offensive Asian stereotype, I have no idea.

I don't think this comic was created by humans for the purposes of entertainment.  I think it was created by the servants of beings from beyond to alter our perceptions and open the doorways for their dark masters.  Gaze upon the poorly-rendered face of Ellen Degeneres and know their true names!


Thursday, January 17, 2013

World's Finest #8 - A Review

World's Finest #9 offers us three pencilers this month and - strangely enough - regular co-artist George Perez seems to be the odd-man-out artistically.  This is not to say that Perez's artwork is bad.  It is not.  All of the artwork in this issue is top-notch.  But Perez seems to be playing against type with his assignment this time around and the issue suffers somewhat as a result.

Renowned for his big, bold classic superheroic style, Perez's pencils seem out of place depicting the solo adventure of The Huntress that opens this issue.  It looks good but it doesn't look RIGHT, to my mind at least.  Perez's pencils seem somewhat over-inked - perhaps an effort to make the scene appear darker.  The colors by Hi-Fi don't help matters, presenting a bright "shadowy" rooftop that lacks any shadows. 

Hi-Fi also provides the colors for a series of flashback pages, drawn by Cliff Richards.  These pages depict Huntress's past, thinking back on her training under her father and mother - the Earth 2 Batman and Catwoman.  Here the bright colors are somewhat less intrusive and Richards' inks are more appropriate to the setting.

The final portion of the book, focusing upon Power Girl is illustrated by Cafu with the coloring duties performed by Rosemary Cheetham  I've enjoyed Cafu's recent work on Action Comics and Green Lantern Corps and the pencils here are typical of his fine work.  I think it might have been better had he and Perez switched sections, as Perez's work depicting Power Girl of late has been excellent.  

The script by Paul Levitz is a call-back to his recent Huntress mini-series.  Helena's actions there resulted in a price on her head and - finally - someone is trying to collect.  After a close-call with one group of assassins, Helena recovers and thinks back on her past as her best friend Power Girl starts dealing with the organization that placed the hit.

Despite this tie-in to a previous story, this issue is a good jumping-on point for those who have yet to give this wonderful book a chance.  The story is fun and action-packed.  The artwork is all-around excellent, despite my quibbling about George Perez being out of his comfort zone.  All in all, this is one of DC Comics best titles right now.

Arrow Reviews: Season 1, Episode 10 - Burned

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



After a string of fire-fighters (including her best friend's brother) are discovered burned to death in the line of duty by fires far hotter than the flames around them, Laurel Lance seeks out The Hood to find help in investigating the deaths when the police and fire departments refuse to investigate.  Just one problem - Oliver Queen is out of the vigilante businessHe says he's focusing on his family and friends in the wake of his step-father's mysterious disappearance but Diggle thinks Ollie's confidence has been shaken in the wake of his battle with The Dark Archer six weeks earlier.  Can Ollie pull it together and find his balance again before another fire-fighter dies?


Green Arrow: Year One (the island sequences), Robinson Crusoe (Ollie's learning survival skills) and every sport movie where the hero regains his lost confidence in time for the big game.


Granting that they already determined there were no prints on it and couldn't glean any information from it, I still can't believe the forensics officer who Detective Lance had examining the phone he got from The Hood would just hand the phone back to him without it being in a plastic evidence bag.  I also can't believe Detective Lance would just leave the phone sitting on his desk afterward. (Maybe he was counting on Laurel pocketing it?) 

Why doesn't Firefly throw his fire-bomb directly at the fallen Hood instead of throwing it between him and Ollie, creating a firewall to cover his escape?  (While unconfirmed in the episode, it's suggested that Lynns isn't willing to kill anyone except the men in his company that he thought left him to die.)

How DOES Ollie know that the firefly tattoo was used by eight particular fire-fighters in a disbanded company of the SCFD? 

Not really a goof but more of a character note.  After all the nagging Diggle did about Ollie spending too much time fighting crime as The Hood and needing to spend more time with his family in the wake of a stressful time, now he's nagging Ollie about spending too much time with his family and not doing enough vigilante work?


Firefly was originally a man named Garfield Lynns, but this is virtually the only factor all the various versions of Firefly in the comics and other media have in common.  Originally a Batman villain, Lynns first appeared in Detective Comics #152.  In this version he was an out-of-work visual effects expert whose attempted to rob a theater by faking a fire.  Inspired to greater acts of crime after Batman mistook a distant firefly for the light of Lynn's cigarette while chasing him in the dark, Lynns used his talent for illusion and optical effects to confound Batman. 

Firefly's origin was revamped slightly following the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline which rebooted the DC Comics universe.  Now a theatrical pyrotechnician, Lynns' also suffered from severe pyromania and believed special messages were being delivered to him through the flames he made.  Working as an arsonist for hire, he constructed a special suit which not only allowed him to survive intense heat but also gave him the power of flight and an insect-like appearance.  At one point he got caught in one of his own fires and became burned over 90% of his body, much like the version of Firefly we see here.

No version of Firefly, as far as I can tell, has ever been depicted as a former firefighter.   

The second fire of the episode is at Stagg Chemicals - the second reference to a company with the name "Stagg" in the series.  The first was a reference to Stagg Enterprises in Legacies(106), which in turn is likely a reference to Simon Stagg - a corrupt businessman and the main villain of the Metamorpho comics.

Reference is made to the Nodell Tower Tragedy.  The name be a reference to Martin Nodell - a classic Golden Age comic book artist, who is credited with the creation of Green Lantern.


Joanna's hint that her brother's death may have been murder is due to his coat having been soaked with turpentine and ignited, triggering a fire in excess of 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  This was double the 250 degrees Fahrenheit temperature of the fire in the building.  This is consistent with my own research on the subject, which clocks the ignition temperature of turpentine as 488 degrees Fahrenheit.

The bug Quentin Lance uses to tap the cel-phone that The Hood gave him is a crystal VHF transmitter, hidden in the speaker that cannot be back-traced.

Dialogue Triumphs

(Ollie tells Diggle to give any leads he has regarding the police )
Diggle: Well, isn't the whole idea of being a vigilante that you do the police's job for them?  You know, Oliver, you've been spending a lot of time around (the Arrow Cave) lately.  I thought after six weeks you'd be anxious to hood up.  Hell, I've even prepared the whole 'You've got to slow down' speech.   

Tommy: I was thinking that we could throw a fund-raiser for the fire department.  Raise some money for the families?  
Ollie: ... that's a great idea.
Tommy: We could do it here.  Keep the overhead low?  Make sure we maximize the proceeds to the firemen?
Ollie: Who are you?  Where's my friend Tommy Merlyn?  The guy who once rented out a pro football stadium so he could play strip-kickball with models?
Tommy: That guy needed a swift kick in his lazy ass.

Diggle: So Laurel's on her own against a murderer who burns people alive?
Ollie: I can't right every wrong in this city.
Diggle: No, I get that, Oliver.  But maybe you're not back to 100% like you thought.
Ollie: Maybe I'm not
(The two spar, with Diggle pinning Ollie to a desk only for Ollie to reverse the hold and pin him)
Ollie: What did that prove?
Diggle: That this is one sturdy desk.

The whole scene between Thea and Moira about how Thea does know what Moira is going through.

Diggle: So what's next?  More training?
Ollie: No.  We go hunting! 

Dialogue Disasters

Joanna's LaBeouf impression when she sees the fireman in formal uniform walk in after Detective Lance. ("No, no, no, no...")

Thea's ridiculing Ollie's attempt to pronounce Zack Galifianakis' name.  I can't do it either and I haven't been shipwrecked for five years.


Ollie tries and fails to pin a bouncing tennis ball to the wall, replicating a feat we saw in Pilot (101).  Diggle has connections with Interpol and the FBI.  This episode opens six weeks after Year's End (109).  Joanna has a brother named Danny, who is a firefighter with the SCFD and is Firefly's first victim.  According to the news, The Hood was active for four months before disappearing for six weeks.  Quentin Lance gets back the cel-phone that Oliver gave him as The Hood in Year's End, having passed it to his CSI team to try and learn something about it.  They found no finger prints besides Lance's and the phone was military grade, with totally untraceable parts.  When speaking to Laurel in her apartment, Ollie (as The Hood), refers to the conversation between her and her father at the end of An Innocent Man (104).  Diggle also has a contact - a friend of a friend - in the SCFD investigations department.  Tommy Merlyn is still working on developing a club over Ollie's lair, working the job Ollie gave him in Vendetta (108).  Firefly drives a 1970s model Ford pick-up, has a scar on his right-wrist from a severe burn and a tattoo of a firefly on his right hand.  Ollie also finds out this was a common tattoo among the men in Engine Company 15, though it is unclear how.  Firely makes use of an incendiary grenade in his first fight with The Hood.  Laurel's research reveals that there were eight men in Engine Company 15 and that four of them are dead, with three having been killed in the past few weeks.  The fourth one, who died two years earlier in a fire at the Nodell Tower, was named Garfield Lynns.  Ollie's aim is accurate enough to shoot a moving Zippo lighter at close range.  Moira Queen takes over as Queen Enterprises CEO.  Joanna takes a leave of absence from CNRI and gives Laurel her brother's Fireman's badge as a thank you gift to The Hood.  By the episode's end, we find out that Quentin Lance figured out that Laurel still have the cel-phone The Hood gave him, contrary to what she said earliy about The Hood taking it back.  She gives it back to him but he tells her to keep it, saying that they might need to call The Hood again.  It turns out that Quentin Lance has the phone The Hood gave him bugged so that the next time Laurel calls him, the police will be able to listen in.           

In the flashback, we once again see Yao Fei being abducted by Deathstroke and Fyers as in Year's End (109).  Oliver gets into a fight with one of Fyers and Deathstroke's men, fails to jump him with a knife and the two go tumbling over a cliff.  Oliver survives the fall.  The other man does not. Oliver takes his clothes and armor, discovering a map among the gear in the pockets.

The Bottom Line

A disappointing outing for the show's first episode after a month-long break.  The best bits, as per usual, are the smaller character moments between the supporting cast as they bounce off one another in brief duets and the acting in these scenes is excellent.  A shame then that the actual plot of the episode is the kind of half-assed, villain-of-the-week production I feared Arrow might be when the show was first announced.

The biggest problem is the script lacks the courage to make anyone a true villain.  What happened to Garfield Lynns is tragic but his CO's actions in ordering his men out of the fire were completely justifiable and it was Lynns' own stubbornness that caused his scarring.  At the same time, Lynns is shown to be moral enough not to want to do harm to anyone except the firefighters who he thinks abandoned him, which eliminates most of his menace as a villain, since it is made clear he doesn't want anyone innocent to be hurt by his actions.  Had the script made Lynns' CO out to be a coward who really DID abandon him to the fire, Lynns might be a sympathetic villain if not a threatening one.  Since it doesn't do either, Lynns comes off as something of a lukewarm threat - no pun intended - and it's just as well that he literally rolls over and dies near the episode's end.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Batgirl #16 - A Review

Batgirl #16 concludes Gail Simone's contribution to the Death of the Family storyline and it is every bit as eerie and disturbing as we could have hoped for.  With her mother's life placed in danger, Barbara Gordon has little choice but to play along with The Joker's latest sick scheme.  A scheme which, for some reason, requires her to marry him!

Simone's script is full of psychological torment, as Barbara finds herself pushed to her limits and beyond.  An opening flashback (with a cameo by Dr. Andrea Letamendi of the wonderful Under The Mask blog) sets the stage, showcasing Barbara's understandable anger at The Joker for what he did to her.  The theme continues into the later part of the book, as Barbara is given a chance to act upon her anger and does not freeze up.  Indeed, she finds herself with no reason at all to hold back and is oddly unfrightened by this!

The art in this issue is all-around amazing.  Indeed, if I hadn't looked at the credits page to see that this book had two separate art teams, I never would have guessed it!  Ed Benes pencils and inks the first half of the book with his usual skill and an amazing (for him) lack of fan-service.  The team of penciler David Sampere and inker Vincent Cifuentes close the book out with equal skill. 

I have nothing else I can say about this book, save it is great.  Just look at the sample scans above (I included one from each team) and I think you'll agree Batgirl is one of the best-looking books on the market as well as one of the best written.  Batgirl is a must read for all fans of quality comics!