Sunday, August 31, 2014

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2 - A Review

I read this issue of Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor the day after the premiere of the second episode of the Eighth Series of the Doctor Who TV series. I mention this because - as those who have been reading my reviews of the new series so far may have noticed - I have not been overly fond of the new series so far. And while I have been able to articulate some specific flaws in each episode, there's been something larger wrong that I have been unable to put words to. At least, that's how I felt until I read this book and the problem suddenly became clear to me.

When I read a Doctor Who story, I expect to see something I've never seen before. The first two episodes of Series 8 have given us nothing but more of the same-old same-old. This story, by Nick Abadzis, is truly original in every respect

I shan't spoil everything here but suffice it to say Abadzis introduces a frightening new villain with a most unusual method of traveling. Abadzis also introduces such concepts as the Psychosphere - a part of the Earth's psychic landscape most people can't perceive directly. And Abadzis also captures the diction and dialogue of The Tenth Doctor perfectly, right down to the occasional bad pun.

By the same token, artist Elena Casagrande does a prefect job of capturing David Tennant's distinctive likeness. But a Doctor Who artist must be capable of much more than simple caricature work and Casagrande makes the grade here as well. The other humanoid characters and exotic alien creatures are equally well depicted and the action of the story flows naturally from panel to panel.

All in all, this comic will be a welcome treat for any and all Whovians. The artwork is great. The story is engaging. If you're any kind of fan of The Doctor, you should give it a try.

All New Invaders #9 - A Review

If Invaders #9 has a weak point, it's that there is very little that actually happens in this issue.  Oh, there are battles aplenty in the background but these are not the focus of the story.  The main purpose of this book is to bring Captain America into the fight and to allow our villain to explain just what the heck a Deathlok is and how he has acquired a collection made up of "all of them".

That being said, this issue accomplishes both of those goals with style.  In a time and place when most authors are content to let blurbs on the credits page tell readers the story so far, James Robinson still follows the old Stan Lee edict that every comic should be written as if it were someone's first.  Robinson seamlessly fits this exposition into the narrative through The Winter Soldier giving Captain America a SitRep on what is going on and the villain of the piece - who loves hearing himself talk - explaining how he assembled his army of extra-dimensional cyborgs.

Steve Pugh matches Robinson's quality script with his amazing artwork.  While the combat sequences of this issue are somewhat limited in scope, Pugh still manages to depict them with amazing detail given the relatively minute focus in each panel.  Action fans may be disappointed but fans of great artwork won't be, even if this issue features a slightly higher amount of talking head scenes than usual.

Doctor Who, Series 8 - Episode 2 - Into The Dalek


I am reminded of a line from my favorite comic series of all time, Starman - a line spoken by Oscar Wilde as he visited America.  "I've found there is much to admire in America.  However, on closer examination, I find that everything admirable has been imported from somewhere else."  

That is Into The Dalek in a nutshell.  There are good elements to this episode but almost all of them have been stolen from other, better Doctor Who episodes.  Capaldi does a fine job trying to sell it but even he can't fight the inertia that keeps this episode from going anywhere.


En route to meet Clara for coffee, The Doctor slows down long enough to rescue soldier Journey Blue from The Daleks and return her to her ship.  Faced with a death sentence for invading their secure facility, The Doctor is temporarily spared so that he can tend to a patient captured by the soldiers - an injured Dalek who has somehow developed a capacity to appreciate beauty.

Can a Dalek be reformed?  The Doctor is skeptical but it's a question he'd like to answer.  Much as he would like a solid answer to a question that has apparently consumed him since his regeneration - Am I A Good Man?


* The opening scene before the credits is a good one and Peter Capaldi's talking down a soldier by firmly and politely (but with a bit of sarcasm) insisting that he will not be talked to in terms that involve orders or do anything because a gun is pointed at his head is perfect.  We're still getting a feel for this new Doctor and this is a great scene which lets us know that this is not a Doctor who suffers fools gladly but neither is he actively cruel towards them.

* Danny Pink - another teacher at Clara's school, who has been teased as having a big role to play in the coming series - is introduced quite effectively.  His background as a soldier who has returned home to become a teacher is an interesting counterpoint to the theme of the episode - the idea of change and someone who was trained to kill becoming a creator and nurturer.  If only Clara had been given this kind of depth when she was first introduced...

* Cliche as the "being-shrunk-and-going-inside-something's-body" troupe is (Classic Who already did it with The Invisible Enemy), the idea of exploring a Dalek from the inside is interesting enough and the Dalek Antibodies are delightfully sinister.

* The line "I AM NOT A GOOD DALEK.  YOU ARE A GOOD DALEK." is a great one, though it was shamelessly cribbed from the Series 1 episode Dalek.  If only Daleks had thumbs, so that Dalek could give The Doctor the snaps before rolling off.


* If Deep Breath was Steven Moffat stealing from his own stories to create a "best of" Doctor Who episode, then Into The Dalek is Moffat looting the rest of the series' history.  Virtually every element of this episode has been utilized before and utilized far better in other Doctor Who stories.  An exploration of The Doctor being no better than his worst enemies morally?  Dalek from Series 1.  The Doctor's bias against soldiers for what they represent?  The Poison Sky and The Doctor's Daughter from Series 4   The concept of a broken Dalek turning good?  Moffat's own Asylum of the Daleks from Series 7!  I could go on, but I think that's enough to make the point.

* Granting that the series has always had an anti-authoritarian vibe and The Doctor has never had much use for military thinking in general, a lot of the anti-soldier talk here seems a bit over the top.  I can see what the writers are going for, drawing parallels between the human soldiers, The Daleks and The Doctor all being united in their common hatred and refusal to question the efficiency of that hatred.  But what they are trying to say and what they actually say are worlds apart in content and tone.

* The soldiers on The Aristotle are remarkably shallow even by the standards of soldiers in a Doctor Who story.  Journey Blue in particularly is woefully underwritten and could have benefited from some of the time used to develop Danny Pink.  And don't think we didn't notice the feminine/masculine colors being used as ironic contrast to the characters and their roles with Blue being a female soldier and Pink being a male teacher.

* I challenge every Rose Tyler hater out there who has dismissed her character as the biggest Mary Sue in history to watch this episode and make a convincing case that Clara Oswald isn't much worse in that regard, as we see an ordinary school teacher start crawling around inside a Dalek's brain and start pulling random things to unblock its memories without getting electrocuted.


Uninspired and a little bit dull at points, Into The Dalek will serve only to remind the fandom of stories that utilized the same story elements far more effectively.   Quite possibly the most generic Doctor Who story ever.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Ten Best Moments From Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Two (So Far)

I haven't written a lot of reviews of Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Two despite it being one of my favorite series right now.  I feared I was growing repetitive in describing my love of Tom Taylor's writing and how well he has developed the base concept of a rather simple video game into a complex tale that has given some of my favorite characters the best portrayals they've had in years.  To that end, I've decided to showcase my ten favorite moments from the series so far, in the hopes that this will explain what I feel unable to articulate in an original manner.

1. Ollie And Dinah Forever.

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #1

It's no secret to most of my regular readers that I'm a big fan of Green Arrow and Black Canary.  Yet few writers in recent years have managed to write them effectively as a couple on those rare occasions they've been portrayed as a couple.  At best, they're written as sitcom fodder with Ollie as the bumbling dad and Dinah as the long-suffering mom.  At worst, they're outright hostile to one another and seem to survive purely on fantastic make-up sex.  Taylor is one of the few who writes them as a real couple who truly love each other. And nothing better showcased that than the first scene of the first issue - a flashback in which we see Dinah defending her man's honor against the bikers who were flirting with her, much to Ollie's amusement.

2. "You want me to say something?"

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #1

In the Injustice game, it is revealed that Green Arrow was the first hero to die in the rebellion against the tyrant Superman.  Taylor revealed the exact specifics during Injustice: Year One and began exploring a question that the game left unanswered - how did that world's version of Black Canary react to the death of her lover at the hands of Superman?

Not well, to put it mildly.

With that one sentence, after Superman approaches her following Oliver Queen's funeral, Dinah Lance makes it clear that no quarter will be asked or given in the coming conflict.  And we learn just how powerful Black Canary is and how very painful a sonic scream is to a man with super-hearing at point-blank range.

3. Where WERE The Guardians When Krypton Died?

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #5

When word of Superman's actions reaches the planet Oa, Ganthet of the Guardians of the Universe takes it upon himself to travel to Earth to plead with Superman to abandon his current actions.  Superman agrees to a meeting but then asks Ganthet to answer one question honestly after Ganthet cites the infinite wisdom of The Guardians as reason enough for Superman to heed his words.  It is a question that Ganthet does answer honestly and the answer leads to Superman telling him to get off his planet.

This scene is a powerful one.  But more importantly, it shows Taylor's talent for asking questions that have rarely, if ever, been addressed in recent comics... such as why was the destruction of Krypton - a disaster that was the sort of thing The Green Lantern Corps was founded to prevent in the first place - allowed to happen?

4. Barbara Gordon's OTHER Secret Life.

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #6

With Gotham City being the first city on Earth to "benefit" from the instillation of one of Superman's armies and the GCPD now redundant, Jim Gordon turns to his daughter for answers.  He reveals that he knew about her secret life as Batgirl and guesses that she must have some way of getting a hold of Batman.  Barbara says that she does but then she reveals that while her father figured out a lot, he didn't know everything... as a panel slides aside to reveal The Birds of Prey, who were in the middle of a strategy session when Jim Gordon came into the building.

It's nice to see The Birds as envisioned by Gail Simone back in action and Taylor writes all of the heroines involved quite well.  But it's also gratifying to have it confirmed that Jim Gordon knew damn well who the vigilantes in his city were and that his daughter was one of them. Taylor balances the humor of the scene as well as Jim Gordon's righteous anger perfectly.

5. Harvey Bullock - Bad Ass.

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #10

Harvey Bullock is a hard cop in a hard city.  He's a slob and a jerk but he's doesn't play games with the law.  And even after the GCPD is all but shut down by the presence of Superman's army, he still patrols the streets because his badge and his oath mean something to him.  At least, they mean enough for him to put himself between a pair of love-birds breaking Superman's curfew and the Super Soldier ready to go Judge Dredd on them.

Is Bullock's stand futile?  Of course.  And he knows it.  And yet, this scene is the quintessence of the series as a whole - morality versus security.  It symbolizes that there is a difference between Law and Order and that Superman's quest for peace has become so absolute that even lawful policemen have no place in The New Order.

6. All The Small Things.

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #11

It's always been my contention that any Green Lantern could match Superman - not necessarily through raw power but through sheer creativity.  That certainly proves to be the case here as one of the smallest of Green Lanterns - the squirrel-like Ch'p - is able to neutralize Superman's brain through sheer force of will.

7. Girl Talk.

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #13

Another of the interesting questions raised but unanswered by the Injustice game is how Harley Quinn goes from being The Joker's henchwench to one of the most trusted leaders of the resistance against Superman.  Taylor started Harley on the path to redemption in Injustice - Year One with an unlikely good deed by Green Arrow turning Harley's heart.  This issue - which starts off with a fight between Harley and Black Canary - turns hilarious and then touching as a pregnant Black Canary begs for a time-out from the fight to deal with a sudden bout of morning sickness and Harley begins to wax nostalgic about her own pregnancy.  If you are a fan of Harley Quinn, you owe it to yourself to read this issue if you don't read any other issues of Injustice.

8. Harley IS Practical, In Her Own Way...

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #15

Okay - maybe there's ONE more issue Harley fans upset with her current direction in The New 52 should pick up, if only for the scene where Harley sneaks into the hospital where Black Canary is giving birth to deliver a care package of gifts for the baby... including a baby-size muzzle.

Why?  The panels above say it all.

9. The Charge Of The Light Brigade.

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #15

Guy Gardner has always gotten a bad rap as a Green Lantern and I think Taylor has done a great job of showcasing all of the better points of Guy's character throughout this series.  Yet while Guy gets a lot of awesome moments and funny moments, nothing quite tops the ending of issue 15, where he calls ahead to tell Black Canary that The Guardians are sending a Brute Squad to take Earth back from Superman and his new found allies in The Sinestero Corps.

Dinah asks if he thinks they can take the planet without blowing it up.  Guy admits that he isn't sure, which is why they are bringing their own.  And then we pull back to see Mogo The Living Planet bringing up the rear of a gigantic crowd of Green Lanterns!

10. Jim Gordon - Earth's Greatest Hero

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #20

Watching Jim Gordon go from honest cop to freedom fighter over the course of the series is one of the more satisfying subplots of the book.  His fight with Cyborg in this issue - another symbolic battle between Man versus Machine that repeats one of the common reoccurring themes in the series - is one of the best so far.  But nothing quite matches the end in which Jim Gordon - a common man pushed to uncommon ends - looks down on the world he is trying to save and bids his daughter and spiritual son Batman farewell.

Think I missed a moment?  Have a favorite I left out?  Let me know in the comments.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Doctor Who, Series 8 - Episode 1 - Deep Breath


Deep Breath is not a good introduction to the series for newcomers, nor is it a good introduction to the new Doctor.  Yet Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman manage to make it all work despite a weak script that will be inaccessible to new viewers and redundant to the devout fans.  Serviceable but not quite good.


A dinosaur running loose in the streets of Victorian Era London is unusual even by the standards of The Patemoster Gang.  And a dinosaur vomiting up The TARDIS is unprecedented!  This is how Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax are introduced to the latest incarnation of The Doctor.

As The Doctor deals with the trauma of his most recent regeneration cycle going badly, Clara Oswald finds herself struggling to cope with the idea that the manic young man she knew as The Doctor is now a depressive older man who could be her father!  But they'll have little time to rest and recover, as a series of spontaneous combustions claim the lives of several Londoners and put The Doctor on the trail of an enemy that seems oddly familiar, though he can't explain why.


* From the very first minute he appears on screen, Peter Capaldi owns the role of The Doctor.  Capaldi has a great presence as an actor and he commands the center stage like no actor since the days of Tom Baker.  Indeed, comparisons can be made between Capaldi's performance here and Baker's performance playing an equally muddled post-regeneration Doctor in Robot,  Yet favorable parallels could also be drawn to Peter Davison's performance in Castrovalva.

* Talking of the classic series, there's a lot of nods to it throughout the episode.  Most of them aren't particularly subtle (like The Doctor's dismissing the idea of a long scarf as silly) but there are a few soft touches, such as the sound-effect of The Cloister Bell from The TARDIS when The Doctor first passes out while talking to the dinosaur and Madame Vastra repeating the words of The Brigadier when The Third Doctor regenerated into The Fourth Doctor - "Here we go again."

* With one exception, Clara isn't given much to do but bandy words with The Doctor and Vastra.  That said, Jenna Coleman does a fantastic job with the banter and her telling off Madame Vastra is the first real sign we've had in a while of the spitfire Clara from The Snowmen.

* The one thing Clara does get to do apart from be sarcastic (i.e the sequence in which we see her attempting to blend in among the clockwork androids) is a truly tense and exciting scene.  I put this down more to the direction than the script but Coleman plays it well and the whole affair is well-shot.  That later interrogation scene and the resulting flashbacks also give us our first glimpse of Clara's life outside the context of saving The Doctor.  It's a bit late to try and turn her into a fully-developed character but it's still a nice touch.

* The sequence with The Eleventh Doctor begging Clara to stay with his future self is surprisingly effective.  And it seems fitting that - after all the talk in this episode of The Doctor treating Clara like a pseudo-girlfriend or her viewing him as a sort-of boyfriend - The Eleventh Doctor should call up like a drunk-dialing ex, promising that things will be okay even if they are different now.  It also serves as an effective metatextual commentary on the fans who came onto the show during Matt Smith's tenure who may be reluctant to embrace Capaldi as the new Doctor.


* Clara's drama in this episode - being unable to cope with The Doctor now being this combative older man - rings false.  Indeed, I'd go so far as to say it's complete hogwash.  Remember how she's supposed to be The Impossible Girl - the woman who scattered herself through space and time, throughout The Doctor's life, knowing every single face he ever wore including the one he tried to hide away from himself?   I ask, because Steven Moffat seems to have forgotten that point!  And yes - granting that knowing that The Doctor has worn other faces is a bit different than coping with a Time Lord in the midst of post-Regeneration birth pains - we're talking about the young woman who saw The Doctor even within the grizzled, cynical eyes of The War Doctor.  Clara should be the last person in the universe to doubt The Doctor.

* Moffat's script seems far too derivative of his previous work on the show.  Granting that he's apparently building toward something and has claimed in interviews that he's tying some of his earlier one-shot stories into the narrative for this Series, one can't help but feel that there's little originality at play here.  The clockwork robots from The Girl In The Fireplace come off as second-rate Cybermen.

* Unlike most of the other stories which introduced new Doctors, this episode is a poor introduction to Doctor Who for any newcomers who might have decided to give the show a shot with the start of the new Series.  Prior knowledge of who exactly Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax are is rather essential to the episode's story and they're not given much introduction beyond "Grumpy dwarf", "the green one" and "the not green one".  One wonders if that is how Steven Moffat describes them in his own head.  It would explain a lot...

* Ironically, Moffat's attempt to develop Jenny and Vastra may prove to be annoying to long-time fans of the show, as said development primarily consists of continual reminders that "Yes, we are lesbians in a cross-species relationship".  Vastra, Jenny and Strax are all played like one-note parodies of themselves and the same old jokes are retold to diminished effect.

* While one can get away with slapstick in Doctor Who, one cannot get away with Hanna Barbera stock sound-effects when people are hit in the head.  The bit with Madame Vastra putting The Doctor to sleep is a mood killer.  Ditto Strax's method of taking the paper up to Clara.


The weakest introductory story for any Doctor since the series returned in 2005.  Steve Moffat's script is uncharacteristically weak, simultaneously focusing on established supporting players while giving them far too little to do as the plot slowly develops.  The only thing that saves it in the end is the performances of the cast; particularly Peter Capaldi, who manages to make the new Doctor into an engaging figure despite there being very little development of his character.  It's not a bad episode but it's unlikely to be as fondly remembered in years to come as The Christmas Invasion or The Eleventh Hour.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Batman #34 - A Review

One of my favorite Batman stories of all time is an oft-forgotten tale called "The Nobody" from Shadow of the Bat #13.  The story in this months's issue of Batman - titled "The Meek" - reminded me of that story, despite there being no direct links between them nor any common plot points.  The only real common thread between them is that both stories showcase Batman's concern for even the lowest members of society and how Bruce Wayne is truly a modern-day knight.

The plot here concerns a serial killer who targets the homeless.  The twist here is that unlike the vast majority of Gotham City's murderous madmen, this killer wishes to be as anonymous and unknown as the people he kills.  This adds a horrific aspect to the story not found in most modern Batman stories and this too reminds me of the old Shadow of the Bat series from the 1990s.  It is to the credit of co-plotters Scott Snyder and Gerry Duggan that they are able to make so mundane a story work within the context of Batman's world.  Not because his world cannot abide such horror but because the idea of a mad killer working without a gimmick in Gotham City is a surprisingly novel one.

The artwork by Matteo Scalera also reminds me of the gothic-horror based Batman comics of yesteryear.  Scalera's style is exaggerated without seeming cartoonish and the inks are used to great effect, particularly in the scenes with Batman exploring crime scenes.  Colorist Lee Loughridge also deserves praise for a uniquely limited palette that makes use of muted blues, yellows, oranges and grays to subtly suggest sudden intensity and mundane ennui in equal measure.  

Red Sonja #11 - A Review

I've grown used to Red Sonja being a great read since Gail Simone and Walter Geovani took over the monthly book.  There has been a good mix of action and humor, well displayed and well drawn.  Yet I didn't quite expect Red Sonja #11 to be as good a book as it is simply because I did not expect this book to be about Something Important as well as a rollicking good sword and sorcery tale.

The book opens with an action-filled recap which reintroduces us to the current plot. Sonja's current quest involves the retrieval of six artisans in order to secure the freedom of a thousand slaves.  After the recap, we return to the business of Sonja's efforts to rescue the fifth artisan.  An astrologer by trade, this artisan has some rather revolutionary ideas about the heavens and how they operate.  These ideas have made him a target of the local church, which would rather people looked at the feet of the priests than at the skies above.

The historical parallels of this tale are obvious but the targets of Simone's criticism aren't.  While Sonja herself believes this stargazer to be a madman, her anger is reserved for those who would mistreat another over a belief that does no harm to others.  The tale is not Science versus Religion but Spirituality vs. Theocracy, as Sonja considers the simple faith practiced by her family in a humble hut of a church compared to that practiced by the priests hidden away in a great stone temple with golden statues.  The parallels to the modern conflicts between small churches and the mega-churches that are run like big business are inescapable.

Walter Geovani captures this all with his usual flare.  His linework is simple, yet filled with subtle detailing.  His inks are perfect, being just dark enough to add definition without obscuring the fine pencils.  Simply put, this book's artwork is stunning!

Sheena #3 (Moonstone Books 2014) - A Review

Sheena #3 opens in the thick of the action, as the jaguar men - who had only attacked in stealth before - make their presence known.  The Queen of The Jungle has fought many strange things before but beasts that walk as men are unusual even by her standards!  Can she conquer this new supernatural evil while simultaneously protecting an ancient temple from looters and the treacherous Colonel Pinto and his secret police?

The final chapter of "Return of The Jaguar Men" delivers the classic pulp action one would expect of a Sheena comic.  Paul Storrie's script - based on a plot by David de Souza - brings things to a satisfying conclusion while simultaneously setting up material for future stories.  It is gratifying to see this classic heroine written as being more than a beautiful bruiser and Storrie's script offers Sheena ample opportunity to showcase her cunning and intelligence as well as her ability to fight.

The artwork by Shawn McCauley is comparable to the work of Bruce Timm and Darwyn Cooke.  Stylized and streamlined, McCauley's linework is simple yet is rendered deeper by atmospheric inking.  The final effect is reminiscent of Will Eisner in his prime.

Batgirl #34 - A Review

I am sorry to see the team of Simone, Pasarin and Glapion leave Batgirl.  For the better part of three years, they have delivered one of the best books the New 52 had to offer.  And they deliver one hell of a satisfying conclusion in Batgirl #34.

Gail Simone's script ties up most of the on-going subplots from her run, as Batgirl moves to stop the gang-leader Knightfall from enacting her plan to cleanse Gotham City of all undesirables.  She does this with a team made up of darn near every awesome superheroine Gail Simone has written in the past as well as the heroes of Simone's recently canceled series The Movement.  Some may say this is indulgent on Simone's part but I don't care.  It's nice to see Misfit again, however briefly.

What can I say about Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion that I haven't said before?  Precious little, save that I will look forward to their future projects and am glad to see that Glapion will be taking over the inking duties on Green Arrow.  I can also say that Matt Ryan does a fine job on the two pages that he inks here and that if the title page didn't inform me there was more than one inker working on this book, I never would have known.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Green Arrow #34 - A Review

Green Arrow #34 is Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino's final issue working together on this title.  This lends this issue a certain bittersweet aura, for what these two creators have managed to do in so short a time is truly miraculous.  Before Lemire and Sorrentino came along, Green Arrow was on the fast-track to cancellation after having had three different creative teams try - and fail - to make the book interesting.

Lemire's script here - as in more recent issues - will doubtlessly remind readers of the current Arrow TV series and not just for the presence of John Diggle, revealed in issues past to have been Ollie's hereunto unmentioned partner in the fight to protect Seattle.  Heck, this issue even borrows a few catch-phrases from the show (i.e. "failed this city").  But that is where the similarities end.  Lemire may have added in some elements from the show but only as window-dressing for his own unique ideas.

It has been a challenge for me to describe Andrea Sorrentino's work on this title every month.  "Good" doesn't begin to do it justice, but neither would a thousand words describing Sorrentino's attention to detail or the way colorist Marcelo Maiolo uses differing palettes to emphasize the panels within panels that Sorrentino utilizes to enhance the action of the issue.  Suffice it to say, I shall miss their work as much as I will miss Lemire's scripts.

Earth 2 #26 - A Review

It is a rare thing for a comic writer to recap the events of the previous issue in-story for the benefit of new readers in these days where dozens of websites can give you a synopsis of the on-going story-line of nearly any comic you can name.  It is rarer still for this action to be taken in a story's final chapter!  Yet Tom Taylor opens Earth 2 #26 with such a sequence.

Taylor has made Earth 2 his world, after inheriting the title from James Robinson.  Taylor plays the tapestry of the DC Universe like a virtuoso pianist, putting forth ideas that are uniquely brilliant yet obvious expansions on what has come before.  A good example of this is Taylor's method for using this world's Queen of Atlantis to stop a telepathic New God.

Such cleverness is sure to please old-school comic book fans but not half so much as Taylor's understanding of these characters, as they are viewed in a new light through the prism of another reality.  Though Jimmy Olsen may now be a hacktivist with built-in WiFi and Lois Lane an android, they are very much the same people we know and love on Earth One.  And Val-Zod - the new Superman of this world - is cut of the same heroic cloth of idealism that formed the core of The Silver Age Superman.

This issue shall be the last for artist Nicola Scott and she will be sorely missed.  For my money, Scott is one of the most consistently underrated artists to work at DC Comics in recent years.  Thankfully, though Scott will not be on Earth 2 anymore, her Twitter feed has promised that big things are in the works.  I look forward to seeing them.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Thoughts On A Funny Man's Passing

There's an old joke about a man who went to a psychiatrist complaining that all the joy had gone out of his life.  That the world had become a grey, drab place and that he saw nothing worth living for.  The psychiatrist suggested that all the man needed was a good laugh to remind him that there was joy in the world and that he should go to the local comedy club.

The man started crying.  "Doc," he said.  "I'm the closer there!"

I don't know if anyone has ever done a formal study regarding the rates of professional comedians and comedic actors who suffer from Depression.  Given my own personal studies - as a student of comedy and as a Depressive - I'd be willing to bet it's rather high.  The funniest people I know suffer from Depression.  And the funniest people I've admired have suffered from it as well.

It is too early as I write this to know the circumstances - the hows and whys of Robin Williams leaving this world.  But when I went on Twitter after hearing the news - seeking confirmation that this was all just a sick joke or an ugly truth - I saw something unexpected.

I saw people telling stories about their own battles with depression and drug abuse assuring one another that they weren't alone.  I saw dozens of people in a scant few minutes, all passing on the numbers where you could call and talk to someone if you felt depressed or suicidal or thought you needed help.  Everyone on my wall was just opening up and sharing and trying to shine a little brighter against the dark of the electronic ether.

I think that's a far greater testament to Robin's ability to touch people than any other words of memorial I could write about my love of his movies and his writing and his stand-up.

Oh Captain, My Captain!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Movie Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy

I've never been a big fan of the cosmic portion of Marvel Comics' universe.  In fact, I'd sooner chew off my own arm than endure your average Jim Starlin story.  That's not to say that Starlin is a bad writer but I don't enjoy the sort of stories he writes, which are big on back-story and heavy details about various worlds and alien races that it is automatically assumed the reader is familiar with.

There was one scene early on which made me particularly nervous.  In it, we are introduced to our villains as they discuss peace treaties and vows of revenge against this world for what another world did and I immediately began having Star Wars prequel flashbacks (Jar Jar Binks!  The horror.... the horror...)  For a fleeting minute I was worried that the film's comedic trailers were a feint - a ruse to lure me into the theater for two hours of Thanos and his minions mumbling about Death and Eternity and other broad concepts that are made literal in Marvel's cosmology.

Thankfully, Guardians of the Galaxy is not that kind of film.  And the script by Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn is firmly focused upon the characters rather than the cosmic.  The same can be said of Gunn's direction, which treats the film as a buddy comedy rather than a traditional science-fiction epic.  This proves to be to the film's benefit as Gunn's decision to explore the humanity of various alien beings and cultures ironically highlights their differences compared to Earthlings and Earth culture, making the worlds we see truly alien.

The plot is fairly standard stuff for a space opera.  The big bad guy wants a cosmic McGuffin and sends his minions out to get it.  One of them, the assassin Gamora, decides to turn traitor and steal the item from Peter Quill - a.k.a. Star Lord - the thief who stole the mysterious orb, cheating his own gang to do so.  A run-in with two bounty hunters - the mobile tree Groot and the enhanced cybernetic being known as Rocket - leads to them all being thrown in jail, where they make an unlikely alliance with a murderous man known as Drax The Destroyer in order to escape.  Hilarity ensues as the group find out exactly what the orb is and the crew of self-interested rogues must become unlikely heroes in order to save the galaxy.

This would be pretty dry stuff were it not for James Gunn's direction and the charisma of the cast.  It's impossible to single any one actor out for praise as they all do such a fine job of playing their parts.  I can't speak to the accuracy of the characters compared to the books (I heard one Marvel fanboy complain that Drax has been changed completely) but the characters placed upon the screen are interesting and unique beings with their own personal tics.  And I can't think of any movie that has better utilized its soundtrack.

Do I have anything bad to say about this movie?  Relatively little.  I think the movie could have benefited by developing Gamora a little more - perhaps by giving a flashback of her traumatic childhood as we see Quill's?  Something more could have been done to develop her beyond a one sentence explanation of why she chooses to betray Thanos, much less why she chose to betray him at this particular moment.  And Karen Gillan is criminally wasted as Nebula, who is similarly undeveloped.  Hopefully the two of them will get more exploration in the upcoming sequel.

Bottom Line: Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most original science-fiction works I've seen in a good long while.  It's not your usual summer movie but that's okay - it isn't meant to be.

My further thoughts on the film can be found on Kabooooom Hangout: Guardians of the Galaxy.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Red Sonja #0 - A Review

Most of the time, when a comic receives a #0 issue, it is to tell an origin story in the wake of a reboot.  Despite having undergone a major revision of sorts when Gail Simone took over the title, Red Sonja #0 is not an origin story.  Instead we are treated to the tale of Red Malak - a robust fellow who claims to be the widower of Red Sonja, whom he describes in terms befitting an angel rather than the hard-drinking, foul-smelling harridan we know and love.

Naturally, regular readers of this series will quickly realize that something is not right and soon the real Red Sonja starts unraveling the mystery of her grieving husband.  Simone's story is full of humor, though it seems somewhat unbelievable that Red Malak should find so many willing to believe his stories.  Methinks Malak missed his calling as a bard if he is that adept at spinning tales.

The artwork by Noah Salonga serves the story well.  There are clever contrasts between different pages, as we see the story as Red Malak tells it contrasted with Sonja's memory of the same event.  There is not much action but what little exists is well displayed.

On the whole, I'd still recommend those who are new to the world of The She-Devil of Hyrkania begin with the Queen of Plagues trade-paperback rather than make this book their first exposure to the world of Red Sonja.  You'll get a better feel for the setting and a lot more action besides!  Still, this issue isn't a bad read and will please all of Sonja's fans.

The Sandman: Overture #3 - A Review

Reviewing The Sandman: Overture is quickly becoming a difficult task.  Not because I have any difficulty articulating my feelings about the book but because it is impossible for me to find good images I may use to showcase the artwork of J.H. Williams III.  Most of the artwork in this volume is spread across two glorious pages and the layout of my blog does not lend itself well towards such dimensions.  Thankfully, there are some pages with an even break between panels, so I can share some of this excellent work with you as I speak on how great it is.

This particular volume offers much that will please long-time fans of the series.  The Three Graces (or Fates or Furies or whichever mask they wear at this moment) make an appearance and a few references are made to other aspects of the series lore.  Perhaps the most exciting of these involves us discovering the origins - or at least one version of the origins - of Dream's sometimes=seen but rarely mentioned lost-love Alianora.

The only reason one might have for not reading this series is having not already read Neil Gaiman's Sandman before now.  If that is the case, you would do well to travel to your closest library or bookstore and make arrangements to get a copy as soon as possible.  Then, once you are all caught up and have ceased thy wailing about how foolish you have been to have lived so much of your life without experiencing such bliss, you can read this series.

King Conan: The Conqueror #6 - A Review

Until this final chapter, Tim Truman seemed content to avoid any major changes to the story in his adaptation of Robert E. Howard's The Hour Of The Dragon.  Indeed, the entire text had remained untouched, as far as my expert eye could tell.  And Truman's only addition to the tale was a frame story, depicting an aged Conan as he related the events of his adventures to a scribe recording the history of his reign.

The script here replaces what was originally a nameless virgin primed for a sacrificial altar with Zenobia - the slave-girl who saved Conan's life and won his heart several chapters earlier.  Truman's change is a minor, but understandable one.  The final chapter of Howard's original tale was chiefly concerned with epic battles between thousands of soldiers and Conan's direct role in the action was rather limited.  This change not only allows Conan to play the hero but also enables Zenobia to be directly involved in the story's conclusion, when originally she disappeared from the narrative completely after saving Conan's life.

While Howard purists may argue about the changes in the script, all will agree that Tomas Giorello and Jose Villarrubia do a fine job of depicting the action.  These two artists set the gold-standard for Conan artwork with their run on the series several years ago and I shall be sad to see them gone.  Hopefully there will be another collaboration between them and Tim Truman shortly.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Doctor Who: Beautiful Chaos - A Book Review

Wilfred Mott is having a good week.  His beloved granddaughter Donna Noble has returned home from her travels with The Doctor for a quick visit.  More, the amateur astronomer has discovered a new star and is being honored with a dinner at the Royal Planetary Society, where the star will be officially named after him!  It almost makes the fights that are sure to spring up between Donna and his daughter Sylvia worth it.

The Doctor doesn't "do domestic" but he's all too eager to attend the dinner as Wilf's guest - if only to get away from Sylvia (who does NOT approve of her daughter running around with this Doctor fellow) for a few hours.  But The Doctor soon discovers that Wilf's new star is but one of several new stars suddenly lightning up the skies of Earth.  And what this means is that an old enemy has returned - an ancient force from The Dark Times who seeks revenge against The Doctor and all of humanity!

There is little I can say about how wonderful Beautiful Chaos is that is not already said in the book's introduction.  Actor Bernard Cribbins - who played Wilfred Mott and read the audiobook - is said to have thought the novel to have been written by Russel T. Davies under a pen-name because it did such a grand job of capturing the characters from the show.  High praise indeed!

Russell T. Davies himself said he found the story of Beautiful Chaos so touching it moved him to tears.  Writer Gary Russell may doubt RTD's sincerity on that point but what nobody can deny is that Davies apparently liked Wilfred Mott's lady-friend Henrietta "Netty" Goodheart enough to give her a mention in the final Tenth Doctor story The End Of Time - an honor I don't believe has ever been accorded to any character introduced in the Doctor Who novels!

It is Wilfred's relationship with Netty that is the core of this book.  Netty has Alzheimer's Disease and her bad days are beginning to outnumber the good ones, though Wilfred enjoys her company enough to muddle through things.  Theirs is a muted romance, with neither of them truly willing to push for a stronger commitment given the tragic ending they both know is coming.

Their relationship adds a welcome note of humanity to the tale, which would be a perfectly serviceable Doctor Who story without it.  Fans of the classic series will likely figure out the identity of the villain long before The Doctor thanks to Russell's masterful foreshadowing.  Fan of the new series will be glad to see The Doctor, Donna and Wilf captured in all their glory and the whole story acts as a welcome coda to Wilfred Mott's story in The End of Time.

Bottom Line: This book is a must read for all Whovians, great and small, classic and new, young and old.