Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hawkeye #11 - A Review

This month's issue of Hawkeye, like last month's issue, sees Matt Fraction and David Aja playing with the idea of how graphic fiction works.  However, this issue is very different from Hawkeye #10, which played with stories being told through multiple viewpoints, with ideas being introduced out of sequence.  This month's issue, by contrast, is told entirely from the perspective of Lucky a.k.a. Pizza Dog a.k.a. Arrow a.k.a. Hawkeye's Dog.

The only story I can think of that has attempted to tell this kind of story in quite the same way is the episode of The Simpsons where Bart took his dog to obedience school and we were treated to a dog's eye view of the world, with everything rendered in black and white and all human language depicted as a series of drones except for certain key words. The language is treated in a similar fashion here but Lucky's perspective is further augmented by pictograms depicting what Lucky smells and hears that the humans around him miss.  It turns out they miss a lot and Lucky has a run-in with his former owners in the Pottsylvanian Mafia trying to investigate a murder that occurred right under Clint Barton's nose.  

This is, to put it simply, a brilliant idea and it is very well-executed graphically and textually.  I imagine dog lovers - even those who aren't usually comic readers - might get a kick out of this story, just for the novelty value.  The one flaw?  The final scene, which would really have benefited from having the full dialogue that Matt Fraction writes so well.  What happens is clear but I really want to know the exact words that are said!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Larfleeze #1 - A Review

I remember a colleague on Twitter asking earlier this week if there was really a demand for a book starring Larfleeze - The One and Only Orange Lantern of Avarice.  I highly doubt it and I say that as someone who has generally been amused by Larfleeze's appearances in the pages of Geoff Johns' Green Lantern.  Sadly, this first issue gives me little optimism for this book having a long life.

Your enjoyment of this story comes down to one important question - are you a fan of the Keith Giffen & J.M. Dematteis Justice League series?  If the answer is yes then you will love this book.  Larfleeze is basically Chuck Jones' Daffy Duck (i.e. I'm a coward, but I'm a GREEDY little coward) with the power to back up his laughably overblown opinion of himself.  He is joined by a new comedic foil - an alien slave, er butler who plays the L-Ron to Larfleeze's Maxwell Lord. 

Most of the plot of this issue (what little of it there is) has Larfleeze retelling his life's story to his current slave - er, butler - as he waits for an inevitable death on the edge of the universe.  How he got to this point is unexplained but I'd wager it has something to do with Larfleeze's making war on The Green Lantern Corps in the pages of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps in this month's issues of those titles.  Way to kill the suspense, editors! 

The artwork of Scott Kolins is equally divisive.  Either you like it or you don't and I most assuredly don't.  Kolins underinks his work to a ludicrous degree given the intricacy of his line-work.  This problem is only aggravated by Kolins' regular colorist Mike Atiyeh, whose efforts at providing a "tint" to a scene generally leave everything nearly the same color.  There are several points where only Kolins' habit of highlighting important figures with a thicker black line than everything else save the characters from blending into the background entirely.

Bottom Line?  I won't be back next month and if I can't be sold on this title I doubt even the rest of the Green Lantern family of books will be able to prop it up long.     

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Doctor Who #10 (IDW Vol. 3) - A Review

Picking up right where last month's issue left off,  Doctor Who #10 continues this dramatic steampunk storyline as our heroes find themselves trapped in a strange empty void with no ground and few safe zones.  The Doctor seems to have been trapped for slightly longer than Clara, claiming he has been working as "The Smith" who fixes all the broken things for about three years.  Of course that's a drop in the bucket for a Time Lord - he's far more concerned about the fact that his best efforts to find the TARDIS (let alone summon it) have proven unsuccessful. 

The script by Andy Diggle and Eddie Robson is full of the wit and humor one would expect of a story featuring the Matt Smith version of The Doctor.  More, there's an honestly engaging mystery at the heart of the main plot, to say nothing of the subplot involving the secret mission of the American pilots Clara befriended.  The fast pace of this issue more than makes up for the slow start last month, as we see The Doctor coping with the multiple mysteries as well as the hostile aliens who run the local Black Market.

Andy Kuhn's gritty art style matches the story perfectly in it's dirty but straightforward simplicity.  Best known for his work on the series Firebreather, Kuhn's artwork isn't pretty but it is full of detail and character.  That's not usually my cup of tea, but for this story it works.

Conan The Barbarian #17 - A Review

Conan The Barbarian #17 continues the tale of Conan and his lover, the pirate queen Belit, sharing a vision while strung out on Yellow Lotus.  Their shared vision is lavishly illustrated by artist Davide Gianfelice and colorist Dave Stewart.  The later paints a vivid palette across the intricate designs of the former, giving us visions of Conan and Belit's past that are both horrible and beautiful in equal measure. 

The script by Brian Wood focuses a bit more on Belit this time around, showcasing her own internalized fears and personal conflicts in the wake of recent events.  Wood deserves high praise for devoting so much of this series toward showing things from Belit's perspective.  Of course the tale is Conan's and it is his name in the title of the book but we already know well of Conan's thoughts and feelings of his time with Belit based on the original Howard story Queen of the Black Coast.  And while Howard did write a fair bit about Belit's perspective and thoughts (Indeed, Belit is easily one of Howard's most well-developed heroines) the fact remains that Conan dominated their time together on the page, despite their relationship clearly being one of equals.  

My comments on last month's issue remain equally valid this month.  The artwork by Davide Gianfelice and Dave Sewart looks amazing but your enjoyment of the story will be entirely dependent on your ability to enjoy psychodrama in the realm of Hyboria.  Those who can get past the fact that this story takes place entirely with the realm of dreams and feelings will find their blood-lust sated, for this issue has action and adventure aplenty.  It just happens to also have Conan and Belit trying to work past their relationship problems at the same time.

Jim Joe, Den Of Thieves - A No Flying, No Tights Review

Full Dislosure: JimJoe – Den of Thieves was published by Dog Ear Publishing – a vanity publishing house. This note is included as a courtesy to those libraries that have a policy against adding such materials to their collections.

In order to off-set some of the negativity that is to follow in this review, I’ll say this much for JimJoe – Den of Thieves at the start: with a six-year-old dropping the F-dash-dash-dash word on Page Three and the most prominent female character in the story being introduced to us through a gratuitous nude scene, JimJoe – Den of Thieves makes it abundantly clear from the beginning that it is not suitable reading material for children. Unfortunately, it’s not suitable reading material for adults either.

The story opens on six-year-old Arrow Brown (or Harrow Brown, depending on the page) fleeing for his life from an unseen assailant. This is JimJoe – Arrow’s imaginary friend, who is quite real and pushing Arrow to do bad and/or dangerous things. JimJoe disappears shortly after Arrow is hospitalized after being hit by a bus while fleeing JimJoe.

Twenty years later, Arrow runs his own car-customization business and is married with a six-year-old son of his own – a son named Aspen, who has started talking to an imaginary friend named JimJoe. In short order, Aspen is using curse words, the family dog is almost strangled to death, and Arrow himself is nearly killed after Aspen plays with the buttons at Arrow’s garage,  nearly dropping a car on top of him because JimJoe told him to. In order to save their family and their sanity, father and son will team-up with an understanding psychiatrist and an old priest who may be the only one who recognizes JimJoe for what he truly is…

The script of this book is made up of the worst horror movie clichés imaginable. It offers no unique spin on the done and overdone idea of a child’s imaginary friend turning out to be a real monster. The characters are all cardboard cut-outs that conform to the usual stereotypes, with the old priest being an alcoholic with an ever-ready hip flask. Of course Arrow’s wife of eight years doesn’t believe a word of his crazy story about a murderous imaginary friend and immediately starts treating him like a crazed lunatic killer who is only just now showing signs of being a psychopath who will drag their son down with him. Yet Dr. Ziggy, a psychiatrist client of Arrow’s who promised him a favor after Arrow pimped out his car, completely believes Arrow’s story despite only having met him once before!

The artwork of the book is equally amateurish. The entire book is rendered in a series of uninked pencil sketches. This becomes problematic during the night scenes, which are rendered on a solid gray background. The box-placement is awkward on several pages, with the story flow difficult to follow. Worst of all, the artwork has as many continuity problems as the writing, with the pregnant Rachel’s enlarged stomach disappearing completely in some panels!

Even the book’s back-cover speaks to the poor workmanship that went into crafting this graphic novel. You know it’s a bad sign when the author’s biography spends more time talking about his work as a business consultant and entrepreneur than his work as a writer. The blurb describing the plot is filled with misspellings, grammatical errors, and a seemingly random placement of commas. ‘Is’ is used in place of “His” and “as the climax of the battle between Arrow and JimJoe approach” rather than “approaches”. One also wonders how the reader is meant to be surprised by the astonishing twist “as the climax… approach” when the blurb ends with the promise of “an astonishing twist.”

JimJoe – Den of Thieves
by William Marquis
Art by Emiko Sawanobori
ISBN: 9781457509322
Dog Ear Publishing, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: (18+)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Avengers Vs. X-Men The Abridged Version - Parts 6-8

Want to read the latest big crossovers but lack the patience to sort through tons of tie-ins or the time to read them all?  Let us sum it up for you with our Abridged Versions.


SCENE: Utopia - The Island Home of The X-Men, Off The Coast Of San Francisco.

Wolverine, nearly burned beyond all recognition, suddenly sits up screaming. 

Spider-Man: Good morning to you too, Crispy Critter.

Wolverine: What happened?

Spider-Man: You were going to kill Hope.  She set you on fire and ran for it.

Wolverine: That's right... starting to remember now...

Wolverine: You were a REAL big help during that fight...

Spider-Man: Uh, I'll handle the sarcasm, thank you.

Wolverine: So what happened after that?

Spider-Man: Well, after they found out Hope ran off, all the X-Men surrendered.  Right now they're all on the Hellicarrier.  I think Cap and Tony are still trying to figure out what to do with them.

Wolverine: Oh hell....

Spider-Man: What?

Wolverine: Didn't you see Avengers?

Spider-Man: Of course.

Wolverine: What's the only reason anyone ever surrenders themselves into SHIELD custody? 

Spider-Man: .. like a great man squid once said, It's a trap!

CUT TO:The Deck Of The SHIELD Hellicarrier

Captain America: I don't care if the UN does recognize them as a sovereign nation -

Iron Man: Which they don't.  Cap, I agree with you.  But they haven't broken any laws!

Captain America: That doesn't mean we can't lock them up so they're out of the way while we find this Phoenix Girl.

Iron Man:  I'm sorry... am I talking to Steve Rogers or John Walker?  Because the Captain America I know would never advocate locking up people who hadn't committed a crime.  And I can't tell you how much it scares me that it's ME having to point this out to you!

Dr. Strange suddenly appears, carrying Magik.  He hovers next to Cyclops.

Dr. Strange:  Hey, Scott!  Here's Magik - safe and sound.  I have her in a holding spell.  Nothing to worry about.

Wolverine: HEY!

Cyclops: Oh crap. Magik!  Backdoor!

The X-Men all disappear as "Magik" turns into Dr. Strange.

Captain America: What the -?

Dr. Strange: I'm sorry, Steve.  She overwhelmed me when I followed her into her realm.  The illusion spell masked us both until she was in position to teleport herself and her comrades away.

Captain America:
Wait?  So the only reason they surrendered...

Wolverine: ... was to get all their leaders in one place so they could escape at the same time!

CUT TO: Long Beach

Cyclops: Nice job, Magik. Now, to think of a plan.

Magneto: That grand escape wasn't part of a plan?

Cyclops: No, believe it or not I'm just making it up as we go along.  I suppose we should try and win allies among all the X-Men who were teamed up with Logan, now that the US Government and The Avengers have turned on Mrutantkind.  And we should probably try and get a hold of his Cerebra unit so we can track down Hope.

White Queen: Do you think she's alright? 

Cyclops: Are you kidding?  She's probably besides herself!  Poor girl just got run out of the only home she's ever known.  And she's never been out on her own before.  She's probably hiding somewhere, waiting for us to find her.

CUT TO: An Electronics Shop In San Francisco.

Hope works on some metal device that straps on to her wrist.

Hope: There!  A working Pip-Boy 3000!  Now, to program on the Wristlojackimator app!

CUT TO: Avengers Tower, Manhattan Island.

Wolverine is on the phone with Rachel "Phoenix" Summers while Captain America listens in.

Wolverine: What do you mean she's in five places at once?

Rachel Summers: Just that.  Her energy signature is in five different locations - all of them hard to get to.  I can't get Cerebra to narrow it down further than that.  

Captain America: We need better than that!  If we don't find that girl before The Phoenix gets here, the entire planet is doomed!

Rachel Summers: That's a slight exaggeration, isn't it?  I mean, I've been tapping into the Phoenix Force for years -

Captain America hangs up the phone.

Wolverine: What the hell, Steve? 

Captain America: I don't have time for words, Logan!  We've wasted enough time talking!  And I don't listen to killers.  Now,where is it we're sending our people to look for this girl?

Wolverine: Wundagore Mountain, Latveria, Tabula Rasa, Wakunda and... The Savage Land?  Don't we need to contact the UN to get approval to go into some of these places?  Or at least call ahead?

Captain America: No time!  Avengers Assemble!

Wolverine: Huh.  How did I become the calm, reasonable one?

CUT TO: Upstate New York - The Jean Grey School For Higher Learning

Rachel Summers (telepathically): Scott, can you hear me?

Cyclops (telepathically):
Yep.  Got something for me?

Rachel Summers (telepathically): Yeah, but you'd better hurry.  The Avengers are already on the move.  So, when we find Hope, do you want me to talk to her?  Because I could totally use my experience...

Cyclops (telepathically): Ring Ring!  Oh, sorry, Rachel. I have Emma on the other line.

Rachel Summers (telepathically): ... did you really just think the words "Ring Ring" at me?

Cyclops (telepathically): Dammit, Emma!  Cut me out now!  Now!

CUT TO: Avengers Quinjet, En Route to The Savage Land

Captain America:
Let's talk, Logan.  Alone.  Out on the loading dock.

Uh... okay.  About what?

Captain America: About you trying to kill this girl.  About you not following orders.  About how I don't think I can trust you.  You're sitting this one out. 

Wolverine: Bit late to be talking about this when I'm already here, ain't it?  Besides, you weren't there!  You weren't there to see what happened to Jean! You may think you can lock this girl up somewhere but you can't! 

Captain America: Damn it!  I didn't want it to come to this, but you're not listening!

Captain America tries to punch Wolverine.  A fight breaks out.

Wolverine: You can't win this alone, Cap.

Captain America: I think I can... but I don't have to.

Giant Man sneaks up behind Wolverine and smacks him across the back of the head.

Wolverine: Gah!  Why didn't I smell-

Captain America smacks Wolverine across the face with his shield.

Captain America: Now, Sharon! 

Sharon Carter opens the bay doors.  Wolverine is sucked out of the plane and falls into the Antarctic wasteland.

Wolverine: Not again!


SCENE: Antarctica. 

A polar bear crawls toward a beer can.  We eventually see that it is Wolverine, wearing the bear's carcass as a coat/shelter.  This is simultaneously badass and stupid.

Wolverine sees another can, following the trail of beer cans to a jet.

Hello, Logan.

Wolverine: Goodbye, Hope.  SNIKT!

Hope: Wait!  You can't kill me!

Wolverine: If you think I'll spare you just because you brought me beer.... wait, how did you get beer?

Hope: Where did you get a bear skin?  We're in the Antarctic!  There's no polar bears here!

Wolverine: I'm asking the questions, here girlie!

Hope: Okay, fine.  I have a fake ID.  Seriously, I show up in a stolen plane and your first question is how I got beer?

Wolverine: Fair enough.   Listen, you don't ask about the bear skin, I don't ask questions about the plane OR how the hell you found me and I'll give you one minute to give me a reason not to kill you.

CUT TO: Space.  The Final Frontier.

Thor: Zounds!  That cliff-hanger was so long it skipped an entire issue!

Beast: Yes, we're still here!  And - oh dear - so is The Phoenix!

The Phoenix blows everyone up.  Thor watches helplessly as The Phoenix devours another planet.

Thor: Methinks... we could have planned that better... ugh....

CUT TO: Antarctica 

Wolverine: Clock is ticking.

Hope: I think I can control the Phoenix.

Wolverine: I know you can't.

Hope: But don't I deserve the chance to try in case you're wrong?  Look, you help me get off the planet and I'll let you kill me if it turns out The Phoenix is more than I can handle.

Wolverine: Okay.  Fine.  It will take the length of a flight for this beer to thaw anyway.

CUT TO: A Former Hellfire Club Safe House.

Cyclops: Have you found her yet, Emma?  What do you see?

White Queen:
Our people fighting their people,Scott.  It's really quite tedious.

We're treated to one page for each of the five locations Hope's signal has been detected.  Everyone is fighting everyone else, but we don't actually get to see the result of any of these fights except Captain America knocking Gambit out with one punch.

White Queen:
I'm just going to listen to Captain Amercia's thoughts.  Once he knows where she is, we'll know.

Captain America (over phone):
Have you got The Phoenix Killer done yet, Tony?

Iron Man (over phone): Working on it.  Good news is Beast, Reed, T'Challa and even Hank Pym think this will work.

Captain America (over phone): Even Hank Pym.  That's cute.

Iron Man: I am Irony Man.

Captain America (over phone):  Hold on, Tony.  Please contact all the other teams and tell them to head back to base.  We know where the girl is going!

White Queen: They found her!

CUT TO: The Blue Area Of The Moon

Wolverine: Good thing I knew about an AIM base with a rocket that was launching today.

Hope: I know.  That was lucky!

Captain America: Well, this is where your luck ends, little lady.

Hope: What the - Logan, you sold me out!

Wolverine: I promised to get you off-planet.  That's as far as it goes, kid.  You can't handle this.

Hope: So you're going to just hand me over to the people who left you for dead in Antarctica?

Wolverine:  Hey, yeah!

Wolverine is blasted by Cyclops, who shows up along with White Queen, Colossus, Namor and Magik.

Cyclops: I miss doing that.  But this this is no time for nostalgia.  Hope, you're coming with us.

Captain America:
Like fun she is!

Hope: Look!  The Phoenix is here! 

Everyone: Oh crap!


SCENE: The Blue Zone Of The Moon

All Hell Breaks Loose as The Phoenix latches on to Hope as everyone fights everyone else. 

 Hope: No!  I can't contain it!  Logan... kill me!

... I'll try!


Cyclops blasts Wolverine again as Iron Man arrives piloting what looks like a Transformer with Iron Man's color scheme. 

Iron Man:
Alright!  Let's do this!  Woo-hoo!

Quick montage of The Avengers looking on dumbfounded, a man who isn't a Vorlon saying "And so it begins again...", Professor X getting a headache along with his son and Scarlet Witch losing control of her powers.  Then Iron Man flies his new suit right through The Phoenix as everything explodes.  Again.

Iron Man: Hey, Steve!  Did it work?  I couldn't see anything through the flash of light!

Captain America: Uh... maybe?

Captain America looks up to see five figures on fire.  It is Cyclops, White Queen, Namor, Magik and Colossus in new versions of their costumes. 

Cyclops: I hate to say I told you so, Captain-

Captain America: No, you don't!

Cyclops: You're right.  I don't.  In fact, I love it.  But we were right.  The gift of The Phoenix was meant for her.  Not us.  You people did something... to it.  And now she... now WE are The Phoenix.

Captain America: Dammit, Tony!

Iron Man: In my defense, it's probably totally Hank Pym's fault.

Giant Man: Hey!

The Phoenix Five: It matters not.  Now we shall take her home to heal.  And then we shall heal the world.  We will evolve society and build a better tomorrow.

Captain America: Dammit, quit talking like hippies!  Besides, the young lady has made her decision and she stays with us.

Technically, her decision was for me to kill her.

Captain America: Shut up, Logan!

Wolverine: Hey, Tony?  Are we sure he isn't a Skrull?

The Phoenix Five take off and fly for Earth.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane - A Review

It would be all too easy for me to say that The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is a good book and that people who have enjoyed Neil Gaiman's writing in the past will enjoy this book as well.  It would be true but it wouldn't actually tell you anything about the book.  Nothing useful, anyway.  Not what the sort of people who read book reviews would call useful.
Thinking on it, that's the laziest sort of writing for a critic to indulge in, isn't it?  A "For those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they would like" sort of thing?  And yet I struggle to think of a better way of describing this book without using phrases like "This novel is built around a typical Gaiman conceit".  As if anything involving Neil Gaiman could ever be "typical"!

While I'd never sully this book with a word like "typical", it would be fair to say that we've seen Gaiman use some of these props before.  Yet like the improvisational artists who turn unlikely objects into other unlikely objects as part of a skit, Gaiman plays with his toys in entirely different ways this time around.  There is a trio of women, for instance, who will draw inevitable comparisons to The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone of Sandman but are most definitely NOT witches or The Fates.  Precisely what they are is open to interpretation, as is much of this novel.  There's also a character who may well be the closest we ever get to seeing The Doctor from Doctor Who as an eleven-year-old girl with reddish-brown hair.  Still not a proper ginger, yet.  Sorry Doc. 

Likewise, the basic plot - largely told in flashback - seems reminiscent of Coraline at first, in that it deals with the magic of childhood.  And by "the magic of childhood", I mean the sinking sensation in the back of your head at all times up until you discover boys and/or girls that adults know a lot of things you don't and yet there are monsters in the world that only you can see hiding in the shadows and that they're just waiting for the right moment to eat your body, your soul or worse.  There's always an "or worse".  You know that too when you're a child.
There's also several cats.  Cats are nice.  Unlike Coraline, none of the cats talk in this book.  At least, not to the people.  Not with words, anyway.  Not with telepathy either, but I wouldn't put it past Gaiman to include a telepathic cat in some story in the future.  
You can have that one for free, Neil.  I don't mind.
In the end, there is little I can say about this book that wouldn't give away the whole game except for a few short sentences.  It's a modern fantasy.  It's about the magic of childhood, by which I mean horrible things happening to children that should never happen to children, as viewed through the lens of maturity.  There's cats, a clever girl, a well-meaning boy who prefers books to people, a wide variety of monsters and a threat to the whole universe and maybe even something bigger!

In short, it's the sort of story that you'll enjoy if you're the sort of person who enjoys Neil Gaiman stories. And I did enjoy it.  Perhaps that is all that needs be said.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

World's Finest #13 - A Review

It's sad that with the wide variety of art teams that have worked on this book over the past year, that DC Comics would decide to abandon the idea of having different teams illustrate the portions devoted to Huntress and Power Girl on their own and opt to have the worst of all possible teams start illustrating the whole book.   I can usually ignore artwork I don't enjoy for the sake of a good story.  Yet even I couldn't look past the artistic flaws in World's Finest #13 to enjoy what would have, in the hands of a better art team, been a damn fine issue. 

To be quite blunt, Robson Rocha's figures are distorted to Liefeldian proportions.  Individual panels may look decent enough but any attempt to depict figures in motion results in lines warping in ways that suggest an oil painting that got wet and began running.  Robson's faces also look oddly spaced, with the area around noses and between eyes looking distorted and strange. 

These problems are only aggravated by Wayne Facher, who I contend is the laziest inker in comics today.  There are many panels where the only detailing went into the backgrounds and the figures just barely stand out against said backgrounds.  There's even one point where the lines detailing the leg-holes of Power Girl's leotard go uninked and only the attention of the colorist presents Power Girl with the appearance of clothing in the far shot!

With all respect to Paul Levitz, whose continuing tale of two heroines investigating the mystery of a continued Apokolyptian presence on Earth One has been nothing but exciting, I can no longer continue to purchase this title.  It is clear to me that the art team doesn't give a damn about providing quality work.  As such, I can't give a damn about supporting this title anymore. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Avengers Vs. X-Men The Abridged Version - Parts 1-5

Want to read the latest big crossovers but lack the patience to sort through tons of tie-ins or the time to read them all?  Let us sum it up for you with our Abridged Versions.


SCENE: The Planet Birj 

Nova: In the name of the Nova Corps, I swear I came here to warn your planet of impending doom!

Terrax: I, Terrax - former herald of Galactus - care little for what you lame Green Lantern rip-offs say.  I shall stay and fight this world-destroying menace you speak of.

Nova: Fine.  I'm going to Earth to get some more commercially viable characters to do something about this.

Terrax: Terrax is commercially viable!  Indeed, I have a part in Guardians of the Galaxy!

Nova: Big deal.  So does Yondu.

Terrax: Who?

Nova: Exactly.

Nova flies off to Earth just seconds before The Phoenix Force destroys Terrax and The Planet Birj.  Jim Starlin writes an angry letter to the Marvel home office, which is promptly ignored.


SCENE: Washington D.C. 

Bwahaha!  AIM rules!

M.O.D.O.K. gets ready to fire his evil science gun.  It suddenly misfires.

M.O.D.O.K.: What?  Something random and unfortunate happened to me?  Who is responsible for this?!

Scarlet Witch: Me.  I'm here to stop you.

M.O.D.O.K.: What the - I thought your powers didn't work like that anymore?!  Aren't you some bad-ass reality warper who got rid of most of the mutants on Earth with a single spell? 

Scarlet Witch: Eh, I think it's down to whoever is writing me at the time.  Either way, I can still kick your ass.

Ms. Marvel: Mind if I join in the ass-kicking?

Spider Woman:
Me too!
The Three Heroines beat up M.O.D.O.K. and his AIM mooks.

Ms. Marvel: Good to see you back in action, Wanda

Scarlet Witch: Thanks, Carol. But I should be going. 

Ms. Marvel: No!  You totally should come by The Avengers Mansion and say hi to all the guys! 

Scarlet Witch: I don't think that's a good idea.

They go to The Avengers Mansion.  It is not a good idea.

Vision: Carol, what on Earth made you think I had any desire to see the ex-wife who turned me into a mindless weapon to be used against my friends?  Or that she had any desire to see me and be reminded of why she is no longer a part of our team and a pariah among both the superhero and mutant communities?

Carol: Umm... because we needed to explain why Wanda isn't part of The Avengers anymore and is an outcast among the mutants to all the people who haven't read a Marvel Comic in years and this clumsy, awkward scene that makes me look like a clueless bimbo at best and an emotionally insensitive bitch at worst was the easiest way to accomplish that?

Vision: That does seem logical.

Carol: Dammit!  If anyone needs me, I'll be with Kelly Sue Deconnick figuring out how to retcon this in my book.  Or, at the very least, getting me out of this thong leotard and into a costume with actual pants.

Wanda: And I'll just go somewhere else until I'm needed to become a Deus Ex Machina.  Again.


SCENE: Utopia - The Island Home of The X-Men, Off The Coast Of San Francisco.

Cyclops: Hope!  You are too precious to be going off at night risking your life as a vigilante!

Hope: You're not my dad!  And all appearances to the contrary, despite the artist drawing me as being the spitting image of Jean Grey despite being only 15 years old in this chapter, I'm not your dead wife!

Cyclops: That has nothing to do with why I'm so protective of you!  Even though I've given you a costume that's the exact same color scheme as Jean's!  I'm protective because, as you well know, you are the Mutant Messiah - the last mutant child born on this planet, with amazing powers to manipulate the X-Gene and copy the powers of the mutants around you that we can only begin to understand

Hope: Nice exposition!  But you left out the bit about how you're pretty sure I'm going to become a conduit for some giant cosmic fire-bird called The Phoenix.

Cyclops: Who told you about The Phoenix?

Hope: Why didn't you tell me about The Phoenix?

Cyclops: Well, I didn't think you were ready, but okay.  Hope, there comes a time in every red-haired mutant girl's life, when...

Hope: Gah!  Forget it!  I'm going out.

Hope copies Cyclops' powers and knocks him out with a blast of her own energy blast vision despite it being well established that Cyclops is immune to his own powers.  That's why his blasts don't rip his eyelids to shreds.  She then flies to the mainland with a stolen jet pack.  

No.  Really.

Hope: Looks like a bunch of bad guys are robbing that bank  I must stop them!  For justice!

Serpent Society:
Hey!  It's a teenage girl.  Let's kill her!

Before you do that I have to know, are any of you mutants?

Puff Adder:
I am.   

Hope: Oh good.  Because my power only works on mutants.  Otherwise I'm just an ordinary teenage girl.  But I probably shouldn't tell you bad guys that.

Cyclops and White Queen show up just in time to find Hope beating the unconscious forms of the Serpent Society. 

Cyclops: Hope!  Stop it! 

Hope: Fine.  But I'm not going to lose control when The Phoenix comes for me, like how I lost control of my temper now.

Cyclops: I know.  You're special.  You're going to save us all.

White Queen: Or kill us all.

Cyclops: Either way, you're still special.

White Queen: ... not helping, Scott.


SCENE: Some Unnamed Alien Planet. 

Some Unnamed Alien Planet is blown up by The Phoenix.   It takes all of three pages.

CUT TO: New York City

Thor: Zounds!  Some object is falling from the heavens at great speed!  Avengers Assemble!

Captain America:  Wait!  That's no falling object!  That's Nova!

Ms. Marvel: Who?

Captain America: You know?  The Green Lantern rip-off?

Iron Man: I thought that was Quasar?

Captain America: No, the OTHER Green Lantern rip-off. 

CUT TO: Utopia - The Island Home of The X-Men, Off The Coast Of San Francisco.

Cyclops: You aren't training hard enough, Hope!  You must be ready to fight the humans who want to take away your powers and have the means to do it!

Hope: What the hell?!  Why are you training me so hard now?  Last chapter, you didn't even want me fighting!  Why is it so important I train?

Cyclops:  Don't question me!


Hope suddenly bursts into flame, sets Cyclops on fire and sends Cyclops flying.

Hope: What just happened?  What's happening to me?!

White Queen: It looks like you just manifested The Phoenix Force.  Wait... didn't we discuss this last issue?  Why are you confused?

CUT TO: Washington D.C.

Iron Man:
And basically that's it, Mr. President.  Nova told us that The Phoenix is coming.  Our readings have confirmed that as well as the fact that several planets have already been destroyed by The Phoenix. 

Mr. President: So what does that mean, Mr. Stark?

Captain America:
What it means, Mr. President, is that a big world-threatening crossover event is coming.  But this time we want to make sure The Avengers are represented.  That's why I'm seeking out an expert on this Phoenix Force who can tell us what to expect!

CUT TO: Upstate New York - The Jean Grey School For Higher Learning

Wolverine: It's a giant fire bird.  It killed Jean Grey and brought her back.  A few times.  It was kind of a big deal.   

Captain America: Fascinating.  Do we know where it's going? 

Wolverine: All the mutants do.  For some reason.  There's this teenage girl we figured The Phoenix would come for some day.

Captain America: For some reason?

Wolverine: Yep.  Mostly because she looks just like Jean and there's some prophecy or something.  I was busy with something when they were talking about it.  Think I was fighting ninjas in my own book.  Or maybe it was during that mini-series...

Captain America: Will you and your students help me in the fight to come?

Wolverine: No.  I built this school to keep these kids from fighting.

Captain America: That's a shame.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to beat up Cyclops before this is over.

Wolverine: Well, when you put it that way, I'm due for some vacation time.  And I won't even charge you my usual crossover appearance fee.


CUT TO: Utopia - The Island Home of The X-Men, Off The Coast Of San Francisco.

Cyclops: So as you all know, it's my belief that The Phoenix is returning to Earth to save The Mutant Race, which has been diminished to 200 people - give or take - and that Hope will be the new Phoenix host.

Namor: Why?

Cyclops: The Phoenix is a force of destruction AND creation and we're way overdue for some creating.

Magneto: In other words, you're making a completely unjustified leap of faith.

Cyclops: Pretty much.  Hey, Captain America's here.

Captain America: Yes, and Logan's told me about this teenage girl you have that you think is going to be the next Phoenix host.  We need to take her into protective custody.

Cyclops: Since when do you get involved in our storylines?

Captain America: Since when do you believe in prophecies?  I thought you were a cool, logical leader who didn't trust to luck?

Cyclops: Well, I thought YOU looked for the good in everyone and trusted people enough to speak directly to them about your concerns instead of getting second-hand information from the ex-assassin who tried to break up my marriage and split the Mutant community!

Captain America: Are we throwing down then?

Cyclops: I guess so.

Cyclops blasts Captain America.

Captain America:  Right.  AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!

The SHIELD Helicarrier decloaks as The Avengers swarm Utopia.

Cyclops: Oh crap.


SCENE: Utopia - The Island Home of The X-Men, Off The Coast Of San Francisco.

All hell breaks loose as the X-Men begin to fight back against the invading Avengers.  This is the closest we get to seeing any of the battles promised in the advertising leading up to this event, though we don't get to see most of the battles promised and none of them last for more than a few panels at a time.

Also, none of the fighting takes place in Paris. 
Wolverine:  Much as I'd love to join Cap in slapping Slim around, I've got to end this the only way I know how - kill Hope.

Hope: You can try.

Hope catches on fire.

Oh crap!

Hope sets Wolverine on fire and runs away.

CUT TO: Space.  The Final Frontier.

A group of Avengers hovers in space.

Here it comes, Avengers!  Make ready for battle!

Beast: The power level of The Phoenix is off the charts! 

Vision: Should that truly be surprising to you?  Haven't you studied the Phoenix more than any other scientist on Earth?

Beast: Well, yes.  But haven't you ever heard of dramatic tension?

Ms. Marvel: Here it comes!

Thor: Methinks this be a mighty cliff hanger!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Only Human - Why Man Of Steel Divided A Fandom

NOTICE: In case the title doesn't make it obvious, this article will contain spoilers for the movie Man of Steel as well as several classic Superman comics.  Do not read any further if you have not seen the movie.

Also, A Special Thanks To David Tai for being my sounding board.


It's been one week since Man of Steel was released in the United States and tempers are still burning bright.  There are many things about the movie that angered Superman purists but nothing more than the climactic final battle where Superman snaps the neck of General Zod.  The fact that this was done to save the lives of a family after Zod said he wouldn't rest until he'd killed everyone on Earth and that Superman showed immediate remorse for the action didn't matter to these Super-fans.  Superman doesn't kill.  Period.  He always finds a better way.  That's the rule, clear as crystal.

I understand that viewpoint.  Certainly there's plenty of textual evidence for that view of Superman.

* Kingdom Come - one of the greatest comics ever, in my mind - was built around an ideological war between "the man who would kill" and "the man who wouldn't".  A new hero called Magog was the former with Superman being the later.

* What's So Funny About Truth, Justice And The American Way? pits Superman against The Elite - a quartet of reckless young superheroes who have no qualms about killing.  In the end, Superman proves that his moral code does not make him weak as he wins a duel against The Elite without resorting to lethal force.

* Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow had Superman willingly exposing himself to Gold Kryptonite - the kind which permanently removes a Kryptonian's superpowers - after he was forced to kill Mr. Mxyzptlk in order to save all of reality.  Why?  The panel below says it all. 

This point of view is so deeply entrenched in the oeuvre of DC Comics that a goodly number of twisted alternate realities and dark futures came about directly because of Superman deciding that any act - including killing - was acceptable in the name of saving lives.  To name a few examples, there's the 'Brave New Metropolis' episode of Superman: The Animated Series, the 'A Better World' episodes of Justice League and the recent hit video game Injustice: Gods Among Us.  That would seem pretty cut and dry except there are also many examples of Superman killing that are just as much a part of canon as these previous examples

* Superman killed Doomsday before his own apparent death in The Death of Superman.

* In Final Crisis, Superman destroys the essence of the god of evil, Darkseid, by singing a song of hope that counters the vibrational frequency of Darkseid's life force.

* Superman killed multiple alien invaders in Secret Origins - the three-part pilot episode that opened the Justice League animated series (Go to 6:51 on this video if you don't believe me).

* Superman also ensured the death of General Zod and two other murderous Kryptonians in the Superman comics of John Byrne.

Heck, depending on how you define "Life" Superman may be a killer hundreds of times over.  Do sentient machines count as life?  Superman seems to think to given his treatment of The Red Tornado in the classic Justice League of America comics and Tomorrow Woman from Grant Morrison's JLA run.  So how do you justify every time he's ripped apart Brainiac or Amazo over the years?

Ultimately, this sort of nit-picking is pointless.  This goes beyond comics to a serious philosophical and spiritual truth - is it just to take a life in order to save another?  Examples can be given to justify both sides of the argument as valid and the history of Superman is such that both sides have a good case purely on a textual level.  And any examples given will be countered by people insisting that the other examples don't count for one reason or another.  And that's fine!  There's room for both of us in the fandom!  Some people want Superman to be the perfect example for all humanity to follow.  Others prefer to allow Superman the same latitude for lethal force as a police officer.

I fall into the later group, personally.  I don't have any problem with the idea of Superman killing for the same reason I don't have a problem with a soldier killing in the line of duty.  It's unfortunate and regrettable and it should always be the last resort but sometimes it is necessary.  I also recognize that there is a world of difference between killing and murdering.  Now, if Superman had ever committed premeditated murder, I'd object to it strongly.  But in that moment, Clark is forced into the role of a soldier and sometimes a soldier must kill to save lives.

What I find fascinating is that this outcry has erupted over Superman and Man of Steel in a degree that I don't recall for any other superhero movie in recent memory.  Batman is just as well known for having a personal code against killing as Superman.  Indeed, depending on the era, Batman's code against killing may be even stricter than Superman's!  Yet I don't recall anyone making as much of a fuss over the ending of The Dark Knight, where Batman is forced to kill Harvey Dent in order to save the life of Jim Gordon's son.  And I didn't hear anyone use the phrase "disaster porn" to describe the collateral damage The Avengers caused by taking the fight to Loki's alien army in the middle of Manhattan while numerous people cried foul over Superman's battling Zod in the middle of Metropolis.

I've been thinking about why this is so over the past week because I think it's something deeper than Superman being the first superhero and, as such, the one who should set the standard for all other heroes to approach.  I think it's because of the grand irony behind who Superman is as a character and all the roles he is meant to fulfill.

Simply put, Superman is meant to be simultaneously more than human and more human than human.  He has to look and act like one of us while simultaneously being an alien outsider.  To quote Batman (through the pen of Jeph Loeb in Superman/Batman #3) "It is a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then ... he shoots fire from the skies, and it is difficult not to think of him as a god. And how fortunate we all are that it does not occur to him."

I think that may be the key for some of Man of Steel's detractors.  I think some people want Superman to be a perfect god watching over them - not a flawed man with powers that set him above and apart the common man.  And there lies the grand irony.  We want Superman to be the most human of us all - compassionate, brave, noble, sacrificing - and yet we deny him that most human of traits. Imperfection.

How many sayings and songs are based around the idea of humanity being inherently imperfect?  "To err is human."  “To be human is to be beautifully flawed."  "I'm only human/ Of flesh and blood I'm made / Human / Born to make mistakes."  I could go on but that's ultimately one more debate that's far outside the scope of one column.  

One final thought: Man of Steel succeeds in showing us a Superman who is, in that sense, very human.  He clearly has a hard time during the battle scenes.  And why shouldn't he?  He's a farm boy with no combat training facing down an army of genetically engineered soldiers that were groomed for combat since before birth.  Even though he has a better grasp of how to use his powers, it's still a tentative thing as he never really explored the limits of what he could do.  I personally found that to be interesting and I think it addressed the repeated complaints that Superman is too perfect, too boring and that he never has to work for a victory.

I think that's why this movie was called Man of Steel instead of Last Son of Krypton.  Steel doesn't occur naturally.  It has to be forged - put to the fire and shaped.  Clark Kent can't become The Man of Steel without facing the heat and a beating, so to speak.

Some people say Superman should be perfect and perhaps they're right.  Perhaps this take on Superman has come too close to the Earth he's meant to soar over.  I do think there's one thing we can all agree on, though.  This debate - and all the little debates within that larger debate - are encouraging people to talk about Superman and comics and philosophy.  More, they're actually thinking about these characters and these questions.  And for a librarian who loves the comics medium, Superman and people using their minds, even if I disagree with what they think and what they say, that is a good thing.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Injustice: Gods Among Us #23 - A Review

WARNING!  The following review does contain SPOILERS for the movie Man of Steel Do not read any further if you do not wish to be spoiled.  Thank you.

Injustice: Gods Among Us #23 centers upon the planet Apokolips invading Earth.  Having heard of Superman's more proactive policy on fighting evil-doers, the tyrant god Darkseid has decided to test Superman's new-found combativeness.  The test arrives in the forms of multiple Boom Tubes, hordes of Parademons and Darkseid's son Kalibak leading the assault. 

By sheer luck Tom Taylor has written one of the most timely and culturally relevant comics in recent memory with this week's issue of Injustice: Gods Among UsIt's quite a coincidence that this issue mirrors the basic plot of the movie Man of Steel in several important respects, with an invasion of super-strong aliens and a leader who taunts Superman regarding his moral code and unwillingness to kill.  It's also fortunate that this comic arrived as it did at the height of a spirited Internet-wide debate regarding one question - Is it ever acceptable for Superman to kill?

Opinions are divided and passions burning hot on all sides of the issue.  Some would argue that as an ideal of heroism Superman should always find a way that doesn't end in death.  Others say there is a world of difference between killing and murdering.  This later group offers Superman the same benefit of a doubt given to soldiers and police officers, who sometimes must take a life in the line of duty.   

Injustice seems to side with the former attitude, as the problems of this world begin with Superman killing The Joker.  Yet that act of death is an act of revenge - not a desperate meant to save a life.  And Superman's actions in this latest issue seem more in line with the ending of Man of Steel, with Superman turning his heat vision up to a lethal degree on those who would threaten his world. 

It's an intense debate and I don't think there's an easy answer.  I think we can all agree, however, that the fact that we can have this debate intelligently is a good thing and that anything that gets people talking about Superman is good for the character as a whole.  I can't remember hearing so many people actually caring about Superman in recent memory.  

Tom Derenick's artwork lends an appropriate sense of gravitas to the proceedings.  Denerick's characters are larger than life and seem to jump off the page at the reader.  That is entirely appropriate to this high-action issue, where the emotional turmoil packs as many punches as the villains.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Demon Knights #21 - A Review

Whatever else may be said of Demon Knights after it ends its' run in two months time, no one will deny that the series aimed high.  Though I fear Robert Venditti's scripts lack the wit of Paul Cornell's (the humor in this issue being limited to a few dry remarks between Vandal Savage and Jason Blood) I cannot accuse Venditti of cowardice in shying away from the more controversial aspects of the series.  The romance between the transgender Sir Ystin and exiled Amazon Exoristos could easily have been abandoned in the 30-year gap between story-lines and Venditti deserves credit for continuing to explore this character thread.

The artwork is more problematic, with inker Wayne Faucher proving the dangers a second inker can do to a book in ruining it's uniformity.  This first scan above depicts the artwork as pencilled by Chad Hardin with Hardin providing his own inks.  This work looks more stylized but it is a style that I think fits the story, seeming somewhat ethereal in how lightly it is shaded.  The scan below shows Faucher's work, which ruins much of the stylization of Hardin's pencils, placing everything within a standard outline.

I will miss Demon Knights once it is gone.  This book was one of the hidden treasures of The New 52.  That being said, I suspect that when I think of this series in the future and reread it I may find myself skipping over these issues towards the end. 

Green Lantern Corps #21 - A Review

I must confess to being somewhat more anxious about the new creative team for Green Lantern Corps than I was for the main Green Lantern title.  Though I've always been a big Geoff Johns fan, I found Peter Tomasi's take on the many characters in the GLC to be a more reliably enjoyable read.  I was somewhat reassured when I heard Bernard Chang (whose recent work on Demon Knights I'd enjoyed greatly) would be taking over the art duties and that the plotting would be done by Demon Knights writer/new Green Lantern writer Robert Venditti with the actual scripts being written by Van Jensen of the excellent Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer series. 

So did the book measure up to my hopes?  Yes, but it was nothing like what I'd expected and I'm quite relieved by that.

The events of this issue take place concurrently with Green Lantern #21 but it appears this issue starts at a slightly earlier point.  The primary focus of the issue is John Stewart and Yrra of Xanshi (a.k.a. the former villain formerly known as Fatality) as the two work to save an endangered planet while discussing their relationship... or lack thereof.  The rest of the issue shows us the new status quo for The Corps command structure, as Salaak retires from his post as The Guardians' majordomo.  Four new characters are forcibly recruited into the Corps, seemingly arriving in time for Larlfleeze's attack on Oa in Green Lantern #21.     

Already Jensen has proven himself capable of handling this diverse cast of characters.  Indeed, he's given John Stewart and Yrra more character development and analysis in this one issue than they received during the entirety of the Wrath of The First Lantern saga, pointing out how incredibly screwed up Yrra's become in recent years as he recalls her history for new readers.  Star Sapphire brain-washing aside, it makes little sense for her to be head-over-heels in love with the man who was directly responsible for her homeworld blowing up - an incident which inspired her to become a slayer of Green Lanterns and eventually a Sinestro Corps member.  Ah, but when does love ever make sense?  And no sooner do I start to question why the love-empowered Yarra simply can't use her ring to detect the love in John Stewart's heart instead of asking him repeatedly if he loves her, we get a simple, logical explanation why she doesn't. 

Another welcome touch is the return of Soranik Natu.  One of the best Green Lanterns created over the past decade, Soranik had a lot of baggage that caused her to disappear from the series as The New 52 began - presumably because it was easier to ignore Sinestro's daughter/Kyle Rayner's ex-girlfriend than to try and fit her into the new timeline.  Thankfully, Jensen ignores these issues and focuses instead on presenting Soranik as the awesome character that she is.

Bernard Chang's artwork proves as skillful as usual.  Chang's excellent eye for detail displays itself in every panel of this issue.  It bodes well for the series - so dependent on diverse and physically distinct characters - that Chang is signed on for the long-haul.

Apart from my continued concerns that this book may soon become too heavily interlocked with the other series in the Green Lantern family of books to stand on its' own, I have no complaints about the new Green Lantern Corps.  The scripts are solid.  The artwork is grand.  And despite being heavily dependent upon the continuity of the series so far, Jensen does a fine job of explaining it all and making this book accessible to new readers.  If you haven't read a Green Lantern book in a while or are just a fan of good science-fiction, this is the book to get!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

#Batgirl #21 - A Review

The element of the unknown is the key to all top-notch horror stories.  There is nothing so scary as that which we do not understand and cannot perceive.  Batgirl #21 offers us many horrible sights, including a seemingly mobile ventriloquist dummy with murder and/or sex on its' mind.  Yet the most disturbing aspect of this story is that we still have no clue just how Gail Simone's new Ventriloquist character does what she does at the end of it.  Magic?  Psionics?  Or is that creepy demon doll actually alive...?

Simone is second to none when it comes to crafting disturbing imagery.  Yet this issue hits many other emotional touchstones, with several sweet moments between Barbara and her roommate and a touching opening where Dick Grayson checks up on how Barbara is doing in the wake of recent events.  My favorite moment, however, involves another star-crossed couple - Jim Gordon and his ex-wife Barbara.

Thankfully Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion prove professionally capable of handling such variety.  There are many art teams that can handle high-action, horror or the softer scenes that center around two people talking but surprisingly few can manage all three.  Batgirl is one of the few titles today where the artwork truly equals the writing. 

Batman #21 - A Review

There's no small irony that I should read this story on what is Father's Day in America because the scene in this first chapter of Batman: Zero Year that most surprised and delighted me involves fathers.  It's a short flashback where we see a young Bruce Wayne with his father, as the elder Wayne works on a car and lectures Bruce about wandering off and exploring the city.  Before this moment, I never really thought about how very little we see Bruce interact with his father in all the various retellings of Batman's origins and how this moment, more than any scene I can think of, shows the depth of love required to make Bruce choose to become Batman. 

Of course there's far more action to Scott Snyder's story than that.  There's a flash-forward depicting a Gotham besieged, Batman's first encounter with The Red Hood and an entirely different threat in the form of Bruce Wayne's treacherous uncle.  All of this will be pleasing to Bat-Fans, of course, but the heart of the issue lies in the aforementioned flashback and the art team of Greg Capullo and Danny Miki do their usual stellar job in depicting it all.

The back-up story by Snyder and James Tynion IV proves equally enjoyable.  This story tells another tale from Bruce Wayne's past as he wandered the world seeking out the teachers and trainers who would help shape The Bat.  In this case, Bruce learns how to drive from a master thief in Rio.  The action and excitement of this story, set entirely during a high-speed police chase, is perfectly depicted by American Vampire artist Rafael Albuquerque. 

Constantine #4 - A Review

Shagged out and burned out from his recent trials and tribulations in London, John Constantine decides to take a day off from the business of balancing the cosmic scales.  Alas, things are rarely that simple for John and what is meant to be a day of smoking, drinking, seeking out old friends and slouching around is quickly complicated by shadowy stalkers and portents of conflict.  And then there's the matter of the crime-boss/voodoo priest who is out for John's blood and/or soul...

The script for Constantine #4 does a grand job giving us a day-in-the-life story while still expanding upon John's world without seeming overly expository.  Obviously there's some set-up for the upcoming Trinity War storyline but the plotting fits naturally into the narrative.  Zatanna's rather complicated relationship with John is also explained for those of us who are coming into this title without having seen the two working together in Justice League Dark.

The artwork by Fabiano Neves is competent enough though one aspect of it does disturb me somewhat - John's lack of expression.  With a few exceptions (chiefly when he's having the crap kicked out of him) John has the same stoic neutral expression throughout the book.  While I can understand him trying to keep a poker-face up while starring down Papa Midnite or putting the fear of god into a rube, I would expect him to smile somewhat when dealing with Zatanna as he tries to pour on the charm or when he's over-tipping his tobacconist.

Apart from that, the story is well-depicted and the flow of action from panel to panel is good - John just looks far too dour in most of the pages of this book.  It isn't enough to make me not recommend the title - this is a damn good series!  But there's a reason John is called The Laughing Magician and the art should reflect that. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Man Of Steel - The SPOILER-FILLED Analysis

I'm not kidding when I say that column will be a spoiler-filled review and will likely feature some discussion of the merits and flaws of Man of Steel in the comments. Those seeking a spoiler-free review are welcome to go here for my spoiler-free review of the movie.

For the rest of you... SPOILERS AHEAD!

I'll be sticking to my usual format for movie/TV reviews this time (The Plot, Good Things, Problems and The Final Verdict) -  with two additional sections I feel necessary given the circumstances - The Plot Holes and Fanboy Rage!  The Plot Holes, I think, is self-explanatory.  Fanboy Rage will basically cover everything about the movie that Superman purists of one stripe or another are already screaming about elsewhere on The Internet..


Once the center of a mighty intergalactic empire, the planet Krypton has fallen.  Zod, General of Krypton's military and Jor-El - a scientist - are unlikely allies who agree only on the inefficiency of their planet's government and how their policies will eventually see their world destroyed.  But while Zod engineers a military coup, Jor-El plots the theft of The Codex - the blueprint from which all Kryptonian life is artificially generated.  Jor-El then sends The Codex into space along with his secretly-born infant son Kal-Le - the first naturally born child on Krypton in generations.  Jor-El hopes his son will bring about the salvation of his people on another world.

Thirty-three years later, Clark Kent is wandering the Earth seeking purpose.  He has known his whole life that he is different but has no idea why.  Still, the teachings of his compassionate adopted parents have served him well and inspired him to use his strange powers to help people as best he can.  His activities win the attention of a bold reporter named Lois Lane, who chances upon the young drifter as he discovers an alien spaceship that responds to the strange metal key he's carried his whole life.  Soon Clark learns the truth of his birth - that he is Kal-El of Krypton!

Little does Clark know that his activation of the key also activates a distress beacon - one that attracts the attention of the only survivors of Krypton.  They are the followers of General Zod, whose sentence for treason was cut short when the destruction of Krypton stopped the rocket meant to carry them into The Phantom Zone.  Now, with Zod and his army desperate for the means to rebuild Krypton and the means to do so at the expense of all life on Earth, Clark must fight to save the world he long hid from.


* This film gives us an image of a Krypton that truly feels like a living alien world, right out of the pulp-fiction that inspired the original aesthetic of Krypton in the comics.  The design team did a great job on making everything - sets, costumes and vehicles - look like something from another world.  We even get to see Jor-El riding what basically amounts to a four-winged space dragon!  

* At the same time, David S. Goyer's script does a good job of making the world of Krypton emotionally accessible despite its' alien nature.  The mining of Krypton's core for energy sources destroying the planet mirrors real-world concerns about fracking and I'm sure the average American will sympathize with the Jor-El's frustration with his do-nothing politicians.

* The opening sequence with Russell Crowe does a fine job of establishing Jor-El as a character.  It reminded me a good bit of the portrayal of the character in the first episode of Superman: The Animated Series.  Crowe does a grand job portraying Jor-El as both a man of science and a man of conscience.

* Ayelet Zurer doesn't get much screen-time as Lara Lor-Van, Superman's mom.  Still, she does a fine job with what limited material she has, starring down Zod at his sentencing and emoting as she contemplates never being able to see her son grow up but realizing what is best for him.

* On that note, the movie does do a fair job answering such questions that are long asked by smart asses the world over, like why Jor-El didn't build a rocket for his whole family.

* Despite apparently being obsessed with racial purity and ensuring that only certain houses are allowed to continue on in the new regime, Zod is actually made into a somewhat sympathetic figure.  I hate to make this comparison in light of Star Trek: Into Darkness but this incarnation of Zod is basically Khan - a perfectly bred warrior whose only real purpose in life is protecting his people.  There's some dramatic irony in that his ultimate conflict with Clark comes down to Clark taking up the same role on behalf of the people of Earth.

* Just get this one out of the way now - Henry Cavill NAILS the part of Clark Kent.

* Was anyone else reminded of  Steve "Hercules" Reeves.during the part where a shirtless, bearded Clark was holding up the flaming oil derrick? 

* I like how the flashbacks showing Clark's childhood are interwoven into the narrative of the movie.  Nice way to neutralize the complaints about EVERY superhero movie starting with the same, boring origin story.

* Diane Lane does a good job as Martha "Ma" Kent.  Her best moment?  The scene where she comforts a young Clark, who can't fully control his super-senses and is freaking out as he hears everything and starts seeing through his classmates.  "The world is too big." he says.  "Then make it small." she says.  Perfect.

* By the same token, Kevin Costner plays Jonathan "Pa" Kent with the reserve one would expect of a mid-Western farmer.  The one time the facade breaks?  During the scene - pretty much lifted directly from Geoff Johns' Secret Origins - where a tearful Clark, having just learned of his alien nature tearfully asks if he can just keep pretending to be The Kents' son.  He pulls him tight and says, voice cracking, "You ARE my son."  And there we see the anguish of every parent who wants nothing more than to protect their child from the evils of the world realizing they really can't.

* The performance that surprised me the most?  Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  I think Adams is a great actress but I'm so used to her playing sweet and innocent characters (Enchanted and The Muppets) that I had a hard time imagining her as the tough-as-nails Lois Lane.  But even before we see her downing scotch in a bar, it's clear that this Lois Lane is no shrinking violet.  I know I wasn't alone in these feeling so believe me when I say that the complaints about Adams as Lois have about as much merit as the complaints about Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises.  

* On that note - the script does a good job of showing us what a good reporter Lois is.  The interlude where we see her following the stories of a mysterious man helping people and following the trail to Smallville and the Kent farm is an effective one.  

* The moment when Clark first realizes he can fly?  When he "pushes" while in mid-leap and keeps going up?  Magical.  Absolutely magical.  The sheer joy on his face as he realizes what he's doing is one of Cavill's perfect moments in this movie.  

* I don't think any version of the Superman origin story has ever had Pa Kent die in such a fashion.  And now I'm wondering why not?  On the surface, it should be a silly scene - the man risks his life to save a dog and then just stands there as the tornado bears down on him having just enough time to nod to his son before being ripped away by the wind... but somehow it works.  More than anything, this scene sets up how Clark truly is Jonathan Kent's son and how his father's example sets the tone for the man he is.

* The reoccurring theme of Hope vs. Fear is powerful and resonates through the film.  Perhaps the most blatant example of this is how Zod attempts to turn the people of Earth against Clark by broadcasting about the alien who has been hiding among them for years when all Clark wants is to help people.   

* Not surprisingly, there's a lot of Christ imagery throughout the film as well.  Some of it is obvious, such as Clark's cross-pose as he exits Zod's ship and floats into space.  But some of it is a bit more subtle, such as a scene where Clark turns to a priest for advice and we see a stained-glass window of Jesus directly behind him.  I believe the scene was meant to be Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane at that would certainly be fitting given that Clark is being asked to sacrifice himself to save the people of Earth at that moment.

* Another great moment - Superman agreeing to be handcuffed despite how utterly pointless it is.  He has no reason to say no and if it makes everyone else feel safer...

* Another moment I like which shows Superman to be more than just dumb muscle.  Clark can't fight Zod in a straight one-on-one fight.  Zod is a trained warrior.  Clark isn't.  So Clark presses the only advantage he has.  He's used to having to control his senses reflexively.  Zod isn't.  Nothing like the sudden sensory overload of seeing across an entire spectrum and hearing everything in the immediate area to even up a fight.

* Zach Snyder's direction is largely effective.  Nobody can produce a CGI spectacle like Snyder and when the time comes we do get that spectacle.  The CGI isn't overwhelming or obvious for the better part of the movie.  I don't know if it's Nolan's influence as producer or merely Snyder's timing as a director improving but there's very few moments where Snyder falls into the habits that made Suckerpunch so annoying to watch.

* Hans Zimmerman's score is amazing.

* Another great Superman moment - Clark staring down the soldiers, until their commander says "This man is not our enemy."

* Another great character moment?  Ma Kent going through the ruins of her home grabbing the photo albums.

* A great line for Zod and one of the better jokes in the movie.  The recording of Jor-El arguing with Zod, regarding genocide, "And I'm arguing it's merits with a ghost."

* I do like that this movie doesn't make the battle Superman's alone.  The American military and scientists (shout out to Dr. Emil Hamilton showing up as a DARPA member) have a role to play in the battle against Zod and his followers.  It feels genuine and realistic.

* A Lex-Corp truck can be seen in the background at one point.  So... in this reality Luthor is an established businessman and wasn't in Smallville?


* There's a fair bit of casual cursing in this movie - most of it occuring in the scenes where a young Clark is bullied and in a later scene when Clark confronts a trucker who is sexually harassing a waitress.  It seems like much of this was included just to push the movie into the PG-13 category, for fear that teenagers wouldn't want to see a PG-rated Superman movie.

* Science Nitpick - Lois is walking around at night, in the Arctic circle, with her face uncovered?  Even after she's been warned about it going down to 40 below at night?  I know Amy Adams' face is nice to look at but come on!

* While there's a lot of subtle nods to the comics, most of them don't add up to very much.  The only people likely to know the significance of one of Zod's minions being named Jax-Ur are also the same ones who will scream bloody murder about him being a soldier instead of a scientist.  That's assuming they don't drop dead of a heart-attack over "Jenny Olsen".

* Really, the inclusion of The Daily Planet staff is kind of pointless.  Apart from giving Lois somebody to rally against when she tries to publish her piece about alien life being real, Perry White doesn't really do much.  Jenny Olsen does even less.  And I just barely noticed that the one other guy in the office was meant to be Daily Planet sports reporter Steve Lombard.  And now I hate myself because I'm wondering why there was no Cat Grant.

* The product placement.  Dear gods, the product placement!  One expects this sort of thing in movies now but the IHOP appearances were almost comical after a certain point. 

* I said that Zack Snyder's direction has improved and it has.  But there's still some moments - particularly in the final third of the movie- where he falls into the old habits of filming fight-scenes up too close and pacing things far too fast to be perceived by the viewer.

* Lois Lane falling to Earth as everything around her is being sucked into the Phantom Zone portal.  I'd be willing to buy some explanation about why it only affected the Kryptonians (ala the portal to The Void in the Doomsday episode of Doctor Who) if one had been given. 


* So the whole reason Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van had a child naturally was because of their concerns about Kryptonian children being bred in pods for specific roles - thinkers, soldiers, workers, etc.  They think the world would be a better place if everyone were allowed the chance to decide what they want to be on their own.  All well and good... except they basically force their own child into the role of becoming a bridge between two worlds in the hope of creating something better for them both.  Hypocritical much? 

* How does Clark come to wind up at the Arctic Circle, anyway?  There's no indication that he's following some kind of signal, ala the crystal in his ship in the original Superman movie though the movie does seem to depict him continually working his way north.

* Why is Lois taken on board Zod's ship?  It's not like he knows about the relationship the two have.  Indeed, he doesn't realize until later that emotionally blackmailing Kal-El with the lives of innocents would work.

*At one point one of Zod's minions says that Clark's greatest weakness is he actually cares about people and that the Kryptonian soldiers have evolved past the need for morality.  Yet all of Zod's motivation is based on his morality - i.e. I commit acts of violence to protect my people.


* This isn't a superhero movie!  It's a science-fiction movie!

Given how tired the general public is of the same-old, same-old superhero movies, I welcome anything that helps this film stand apart.  Besides, the very heart of Superman lies in the sci-fi pulps of Americana.  Any true Superman story that involves Krypton MUST involve science-fiction in a pretty heavy way. 

* Superman isn't doing enough to save people in harms way!

Given that Superman spends most of the fight in Smallville having to cope with two trained soldiers, I'm willing to cut him some slack given that he does go out of his way to save people when he gets a moment (i.e. catching the soldier who falls out of the helicopter). 

* Superman doesn't do anything to protect Metropolis while millions of people are dying!

At that moment, Zod is using a Kryptonian World Engine to forcibly terraform the planet.  This requires his ship to be on the opposite end of the world from where they park the World Engine so they're effectively digging into the world from opposite ends.  Given that the World Engine itself is an unknown quantity (i.e. they don't know what defenses it has precisely) and that the American military - who Superman is working with - will have a far easier time mobilizing to deal with a threat on their native soil, logically, it makes sense for Superman to deal with the World Engine while the Army/Air Force try to deal with Zod in Metropolis.

* Superman doesn't kill!  Not ever!  

This is a sticking point with some Silver Age fanboys and I understand their outrage.  But the fact remains that there are several incidents of Superman ending a sentient beings existence.  It's just nobody made a big deal about it when it happened to a non-humanoid alien or a sentient robot.  And that's ignoring that Superman killed bad people as a matter of course in the original Golden Age comics by Siegel and Shuster.  It's also worth noting that Superman only kills Zod after literally every other option has been exhausted and once the alternative is allowing Zod to cook a family alive with his heat vision.  More importantly, he does not take any pleasure in it and immediately screams and starts crying afterward.  I will admit to being disturbed by the idea of Superman killing.  Yet I'd be more disturbed by a Superman who showed no revulsion at doing so.

I don't believe Superman is defined by an oath to never take a life.  I think Superman is defined by his willingness to sacrifice himself for others, be it sacrificing his ability to live a normal life or making the ultimate sacrifice to save the people of Earth.  We see him willing to make that sacrifice in the mid-way point of the movie when he first surrenders himself to General Zod.  THAT is who Superman is.  And while I believe Superman will always act to preserve life and will never take the easy way out, when it comes to saving a life or compromising an ethic?  No choice.  Life comes first. 

* Jenny Olsen?  It's Jimmy Olsen!  And why is Perry White black?

Honestly, their presence in the movie being utterly pointless is of far greater concern to me than their gender or the color of their skin.



Great performances and a good script make this movie a must-see on the big-screen this summer.  Zack Snyder's direction does get a bit annoying, especially during the final third of the movie when the action goes up to 11.  Still, everything else makes up for it and for all the faults the script holds, the good far outweighs the bad.