Thursday, June 26, 2014

King Conan: The Conqueror #5 - A Review

There is precious little I can say about King Conan: The Conqueror I have not said already in previous reviews.  There is even less that I can say about this issue in specific.  It is all climax and build-up for next issue's final battle between King Conan and the dark forces that have lain siege to his kingdom.

Tim Truman's script does a fine job of adapting the original Robert E. Howard story but there is little he can do to speed the pacing of the climax.  Still, while there is little direct action, the drama of the story is well-played.  And the grim humor of Conan's character is evident throughout, serving as a striking counterpoint to the urgency of his situation.
The artwork by Tomas Giorello and Jose Villarrubia is also of the highest quality.  Giorello is one of the best modern artists to tackle Cimmeria's favorite son and Villarrubia's use of color is second to none.  The only bad thing about this series is that we have but one issue left to look forward to.

Superman #32 - A Review

To be quite blunt, I don't like a lot of the changes that The New 52 has brought to Superman.  I don't like having both of The Kents dead.  I don't like the idea of Superman and Wonder Woman dating.  And I don't like Clark Kent having been turned into Peter Parker with better musculature.

As such, I quite happily wrote off the Superman books a while ago.  I was never the biggest Superman fan to begin with, although I did like what Grant Morrison was trying to do with Action Comics before his departure.  I was looking forward to what Andy Diggle was going to do before he decided to leave that series after one issue.  And I was enjoying Supergirl before it was decided it should tie in more closely to whatever Scott Lobdell was trying to do with the Superman books at the time.

So what brought me back for this issue?  Two creators whose work I've always respected, even on the rare occasions when I didn't enjoy it - Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr.

Johns seems to be trying to re-establish the connections that earlier writers forsook.  This issue sees Clark being rehired at The Daily Planet and Perry White encouraging Clark to try and build more personal connections with people - something his life as Superman afford him little chance to do outside of his circle of superhero co-workers.  The book also introduces a new hero, who promises to be someone Clark can bond with on a more personal level than with Batman or Wonder Woman.

I think Johns hits the meta-textual nail on the head with White's assessment.  One of the biggest problems with Superman books of late - and many Superman stories in the past - is that there has been too little of Clark making connections with other people.  "The 'Super' has been put before the 'Man', to paraphrase Mark Waid in Kingdom Come, and the books have suffered for it.  Superman cannot just be about punching giant monsters.  It has to be about helping people as well.

Thankfully, when the time for monster-punching does come, John Romita Jr. proves as skillful as ever in depicting the action.   Whether he's choreographing involved fights or rendering talking heads, Romita is one of the best.  He's held up as one of the greats in the business for a reason and that reason is evident throughout this issue.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Conan The Avenger #3 - A Review

Conan The Avenger #3 finds our hero in a conflicted state of mind.  His father taught him to never trust a wizard, yet Conan now finds himself in the employ of one - a so-called witchunter who uses his powers against evil sorcerors.  The witchhunter has promised to rid Conan of the ghost that haunts him in exchange for his help but Conan is uncertain whether he wants to be free of it, since the ghost in question is his beloved Belit and she seems to be protecting him from harm.  These thoughts and an empty purse weigh more heavily on Conan's troubled spirit than current events in the city of Punt, where a panicked populace blames the king's sister for the witchcraft that deforms their children and curses their lands...

This book has many problems but the greatest of these is a severe lack of Conan.  Our favorite barbarian doesn't show up until well past the halfway point of this issue.  Even then his story seems to be an afterthought compared to the politics of Punt and the growing civil unrest.  This presents another problem - why should the reader care about the political struggle when Conan can't be bothered to give a damn?

Fred Van Lente's fails to capture the spirit of the Conan mythos.  I've written before of how Van Lente's scripts thus far have lacked the sense of weird mystery that is a large part of the Howard oeuvre.  That problem is also present here.  For all of Conan's waffling regarding whether or not he can work for a wizard, he seems remarkably at-ease with the idea that the love of his life is haunting him or is unable to rest because of his own conflicted heart.  This seems terribly out of character for Conan, who is far more passionate about those he cares for and is usually depicted as being ill at ease with anything that smacks of the unnatural.

I've also written about their being certain logic problems with the scripts in this series so far.  Previous issues brought us slavers who seemed more interested in stealing from passed-out drunks than selling them for a profit.  As one would expect from a slaver!  This issue sees Conan having the good fortune to find the only two prostitutes in Punt who are willing to indulge in a threesome and let him crash at their place without requiring any payment in advance.

The good news is this is artist Brian Ching's last issue.  The bad news is that he delivers his worst job yet in this issue.  This does not look like professional quality artwork.  This looks like a poor first attempt at a quick-sketch for a storyboard.  Ching has somehow managed the trick of delivering artwork that is indistinct yet still cluttered with line-work!

Only the most devout of Conan fans need bother with this issue.  The rest of you would do better to wait until next month.  I don't hold out much hope that the story will improve, but at least the artwork should be better.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Red Sonja #10 - A Review

Red Sonja #10 continues Sonja's quest to procure six artisans for a dying lord's "going-away" party.  This issue finds Sonja pitting herself against the finest swordsman in the world -  Osric The Untouched.  He is named such because no opponent has ever drawn his blood and because of his unique oath...

Gail Simone continues to display her trademark humor even as she disassembles one of fantasy's great heroines.  On the surface, this issue has many moments of comedy built around the idea of Sonja meeting her match in combat and the deconstruction of how silly the classic Red Sonja oath was by applying it to a male character.  Yet there are some truly touching moments, such as when Sonja's current companion - the courtesan Aneva - takes up a sword to try and protect a humiliated Sonja and the scene in which the thought of failing the lives she's sworn to protect hits Sonja with a force even she cannot withstand.  

Walter Geovani's artwork is, as per usual, excellent.  His linework is clear.  His inks perfectly balanced.  And he varies his angles from panel to panel, creating the effect of multiple cameras filming a scene rather than a static view as from a seat watching a stage play.  It is a small detail but it makes the work all the more vivid.

Batman Eternal #11 - A Review

Let's not mince words or waste time.  Batman: Eternal #11 is one of the worst comics I've seen in recent memory.  Indeed, I'm not sure what aspect of it troubled me most.  The idea of Alfred the Butler being a deadbeat dad who abandoned his wife and daughter?  Barbara Gordon being depicted as a thoughtless thug?  The artwork that seems more appropriate to an issue of Heavy Metal than Batman?  How about all of the above?

The main focus of the issue is on Batgirl as she storms a South American television studio in broad daylight, seeking an actor who she has determined was involved in framing her father for murder.  Hilarity ensues as the actor is also chased by adoring fans and a supervillain.  The issue also features a subplot involving Alfred trying to make amends with his estranged daughter - an MI6 agent who just happened to wind up in Bruce Wayne's care.  There's also some brief vignettes involving Catwoman that probably mean something if you've been reading her book (it isn't explained well) and Stephanie Brown researching her father's criminal past.

To say that Batgirl is horribly out of character in this book compared to how she is depicted in her own title would be an understatement!  How is it possible that I picked up three comics this week and the one featuring a murderous berserking redhead didn't have "Red Sonja" in the title?  Barbara Gordon is a thinker.  A planner.  She does not lose control and she does not lose her temper.  Her major defining flaw in recent years has been being too cool and clinical - not being a cliche fiery redhead or Irish spitfire.  And she certainly doesn't need the likes of Jason FRELLING Todd giving her lectures on self-control!

The artwork by Ian Bertram isn't all that bad but it is ill-suited to the story in question.  It has a quality that is reminiscent of Frank Quitely, though Bertram draws bigger eyes than he does.  It also makes me think a little bit of the exaggerated yet detail-driven style of Simon Bisley, though Bertram's style is much cleaner and brighter.  In any case, this look just doesn't fit the aesthetic of Batman very well and the whole book looks odd as a result.

Red Sonja: Sanctuary - A Review

Red Sonja: Sanctuary is a sequel to the one-shot Red Sonja: Raven.  I never wrote a formal review of that story but I did read it and my memories of it are not fond ones.  Thankfully, the title page of this issue summarizes that story for anyone who missed it or can't remember it.

Tracking a series of brutal crimes, Sonja discovered Raven, a young woman who had also been blessed by the goddess Scathach to act as her sword arm.  Unfortunately, where Sonja uses violence in a measured manner, Raven is a blunt-force instrument, willing to kill the innocent and even the young in order to assure that women are no longer threatened by the evils of men.  Though over-matched in speed and strength by her younger counterpart, Sonja managed to defeat Raven, leaving her bereft of everything.  Everything, that is, except for the company of a young girl named Eleanor, who had sworn to take Raven's life herself in order to avenge her father's death at Raven's hand.

As this comic opens, a gang of mercenaries seeks to bring Raven to justice for her past crimes.  Sonja beats them up, tracks Raven down herself and finds that Stockholm Syndrome has set in for young Eleanor.  Eleanor has forgiven Raven for killing her dad and the two decided to establish the Hyborian equivalent of a women's shelter.  After thrashing the mercenaries a second time and stealing their clothes after warning them to stay away from Raven, Sonja decides to join the family and forswear her own life of violence.  At least until something goes wrong and she has to pick up her sword again because, honestly, we all know Sonja remaining a pacifist isn't going to stick!

Marc Mason's script is serviceable but not nearly as ambitious as it could have been.  For one thing, nothing is said of the fact that Sonja abandons her oath to live a warrior's life in order to protect others.  Granted, she finds another way to try and help others but it seems odd that Sonja wouldn't agonize over the choice a little more or ask her goddess for approval.  This is doubly vexing given that - in the previous chapter - Sonja was able to commune with her goddess and get direct answers to her questions.  Of course, the idea of anyone being able to speak to the gods in a Hyborian setting is another can of worms that may upset Howard purists.

The biggest problem with the story is Raven herself and her lack of real character growth.  Given that Raven's base goal in this story is identical to her goal before (i.e. build a place where women can thrive without being exploited by men), comparisons could have been drawn between Raven's old violent separatist methods compared to the more peaceful separatist ideology she adopted after her reformation.  A point could have been made about how separatism - peaceful or war-like - fails to address the issues that made it necessary in the first place.  Unfortunately, such complexity seems beyond Mason, whom I don't think had any message in mind for this story beyond "Raven is kind of nuts."
Thankfully, the artwork by Noah Salonga is a definite improvement upon Red Sonja: Raven, which featured close-ups on the female characters's posteriors when they were speaking and appeared to have been inked with a black Sharpie marker at points.  Salonga's work is subtle.  His figures are lean and angular, suggesting a speed that fits well with the fast-paced story.  I enjoyed Salonga's previous work on Legends of Red Sonja and with any luck he'll be tapped to draw more adventures of the She Devil in the future.

All in all, Red Sonja: Sanctuary is not a bad comic but it is a problematic one.  The artwork is good but there  much more could have been done with the story.  Thankfully, the ending is open enough to allow for a third part to this story.  Perhaps Marc Mason will address these issues there.

Friday, June 20, 2014

All I Really Need To Know I Learned Watching Cheesy Movies With Puppets

All I Really Need To Know I Learned Watching Cheesy Movies With Puppets 
Or: Five Ways Mystery Science Theater 3000 Got Me Through Middle School

You wouldn't think it from my writing output, but my first fandom wasn't science-fiction or fantasy.  And the first publication I wrote for – a fanzine called Brainfood - had nothing to do with comic books.  No, the first thing that drove me head-first into the deep-end of the geek pool was a little show called Mystery Science Theater 3000. 

A quick bit of background for those of you unfortunate enough to have not stumbled across this fine little program.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 (hereafter MST3K) was the brainchild of comedian/magician/spy Joel Hodgson.  It started out on a local UHF station in the Twin Cities before running for ten years across three cable networks from 1989 to 1999.

Set in “the not too distant future”, MST3K centered upon a janitor named Joel who was shot into space by mad scientists for the purpose of acting as a test subject for their twisted experiments.  Their ultimate goal?  Find a movie so bad that they could drive the populace of Earth insane by forcing them to watch it and then take over the world in the ensuing chaos.  Funny stuff, but this plot was just dressing for the core of the show – Joel and two robot friends watching some of the worst movies ever made and making fun of them with the wit of The Algonquin Roundtable and the abandon of a theater full of teenagers.

Packed full of sarcasm and referential humor, the show was a perfect stepping stone for a smartass lad like me who had cut his teeth on what few Mel Brooks and Monty Python movies his parents would let him watch.  MST3K definitely had an influence on my sense of humor.  But looking back, I think Joel Hodgson actually taught me a few things about life in between the riffs and wisecracks. 

1.  You can use comedy as a weapon.

Every other comedy nerd out there probably just thought “Well, duh!  Of course comedy is a weapon!”  All the great comedians from Groucho Marx to George Carlin used comedy to attack the ills of society as they saw them.  Heck, Mel Brooks once said “The only weapon I've got is comedy”.   And that’s just modern comedy.  I’m sure there are 17th century French satirists I've never heard of who wrote whole novels about the power of comedy as a weapon.

And yet, with the possible exception of Eddie Valiant’s battle with a gang of cartoon weasels, I don’t think any piece of entertainment has made the idea of comedy as a weapon more literal than MST3K.  Every Saturday morning Joel, Tom Servo and Crow faced their tormentors with the only weapon available to them – pure snark.  And the idea that I could do the same thing helped make middle-school a bit more tolerable… even if most of my classmates didn't get my jokes.

2.  Don’t worry about making yourself understood. The right people will understand you.

Isolation is a problem for a lot of teens and a lot of us still haven’t fully left that awkward loner phase as adults.  We felt alone because nobody understands us – not our parents, not our teachers and certainly not our classmates.  

Maybe you were a brain in a village of idiots.  Maybe you were gay in a small Red State town.  Maybe you were a dreamer who wanted to move beyond a town and see the wide world.  In any case, the need for social bonding was there but you were unlikely to find it in the world of middle-school, which is built upon a foundation of superficiality and conformity.  You were better off not wasting time trying to follow the crowd and just finding someone – anyone – who accepted you for you.

Unlike the other lessons on this list, this wasn't something that was preached directly during the show.  But in a documentary on the show – This is MST3K – Joel Hodgson said some words that came back to me as I was despairing over the fact that most of my classmates didn't get my sense of humor.

“We never say ‘Who is going to get this?’  We always say ‘The right people will get this’. “

That phrase clicked with me and made me realize the futility of trying to change myself for an audience that was never going to accept me anyway.  From that moment on, I decided to please myself instead of my so-called peers.  Eventually, I found my audience and my friends.  But until that happened (after high school, not surprisingly) I was at least happy with myself.

3.   “People don’t mean to be obnoxious.  It’s just that they’re all screwed up inside. “

Empathy comes as naturally to the average teenager as flight does to a walrus.  When I was a lad, I nursed a rather extensive persecution complex and was fairly certain that even if the whole world wasn't out to get me, a considerable chunk of my classmates were united in some grand conspiracy against me.  Even after puberty, a lot of adults still have trouble grasping the idea that the people who annoy them probably aren't doing so out of malice.

In Episode 302 – Gamera, Joel tries to drive this lesson home to Tom Servo and Crow, after they forge a make-shift voodoo doll in order to inflict pain on the movie’s child hero, Kenny.  Is Kenny annoying?  Absolutely!  His voice is grating, he’s kind of a weirdo and he gets away with things that should get him grounded until he is 30 over the course of the movie.  But as Joel points out, ignoring the fact that Kenny is a fictional character, none of that is his fault and he’s got kind of a messed-up home life that fuels some of his more obnoxious traits.

Thinking on that, I started realizing things about my own tormentors.  That one bully’s parents were in the middle of a divorce.  That the guy who kept pushing me into the lockers was being beat up by his own dad.  This didn't excuse their behavior but that knowledge probably did keep me from retaliating in kind or worse.

4.  You don’t have to accept the ending they hand you.

In Episode 509 - The Girl in Lover’s Lane, the robots are filled with rage by the film’s ending.  The heroine – a kind, loving waitress named Carrie – is killed, the hero is blamed for the murder and the whole thing is incredibly bleak and depressing even after he is cleared of any wrong-doing.  Carrie’s death was a fridging before the term was ever coined – a pointless death that did nothing to advance the plot and accomplished nothing save giving “Big Stupid” even more angst.

Joel comforts the bots by pointing out that there’s nothing to stop them from writing a better ending to the movie and that you don’t have to accept the bad things people throw at you.  The same concept applies to life.  There are many people who will try and bully you into accepting things as being the way they say they are.  That you're a loser and a failure and that nothing will ever be better.  But you don’t have to accept it.  You can fight for change, even if all that change is amounts to a fan-fiction that lifts your spirits.

5.  Surviving Is Winning

Episode 323 – The Castle of Fu Manchu was widely held to be the worst movie MST3K had tackled for a time.  Certainly the episode’s host segments billed it as such, with all of the skits ending with one of The Bots having a nervous breakdown and Joel doing his best to try and comfort them before even he is reduced to tears.  By the end of the movie, The Mads are drinking a champagne toast to their victory even as Joel, Crow and Servo wail and lament. 

And then, as Dr. Forester gloats one more time, Joel gives a speech that for my money ranks right up there with the “Anyone can win a fight when the odds are easy…” speech from Amazing Spider-Man #33 for sheer awesome and defiance in the face of certain doom…

"You haven't won, Dr. Forester.  You've lost.  And I feel sorry for you.  You're nothing but a sad little man in a hole in the ground, who can only feel power by hurting others!  Well, we've won!  Because we've survived!"

In recent years, the It Gets Better movement has done a lot to reassure LGBT youth that however bad things are for them in their formative years, things will get better once they become adults and that they just have to hold on a little longer.  Similar movements for geek girls and awkward-looking people have also done a lot of good in preaching the message that I learned from MST3K during my awkward years – that survival itself is a victory condition.


I got bullied a fair bit in middle school.  And there were occasions when my jokes weren’t enough.  When I felt all alone in the world.  When I gave in to the hate.  When I felt like there was nothing I could do.  And on those occasions, I just remembered that this was all temporary.  That eventually I’d be free of that place.  I just had to last a little while longer and eventually I’d get to someplace better.

And I did.

Today, I get paid to write about the books and TV shows I once got made fun of for enjoying.  I’ve gotten to meet some of my favorite creators and even befriended a few of them.  I’m part of a Rocky Horror troupe and I get to make people laugh with my own wisecracks as I riff on the movie.  And all of that is awesome and if you’d told my teenage self about all of that he wouldn't have believed it. 

And yet, the most awesome part of my life is my day job as a teen librarian.  Not just because I’m getting paid to talk about books and comics and computers and all the things I like.  But because I get to create a safe place for those awkward teens like me.  A little Satellite of Love in the back corner of the building where – even if just for a little while – they know they aren't alone.

I had the good fortune to meet Joel Hodgson once after a performance of his show, Riffing Myself.  For those who haven’t seen the show, Joel explores his own past and discusses a lot of his influences - including all the kids show hosts he grew up watching.  Until then I had never really thought about how MST3K was a more mature take on shows like Captain Kangaroo and Peppermint Place.  And I wondered if Joel had ever thought about inspiring another generation of kids who liked magic and ventriloquism and other weird things to be better people in the same way that his idols did.

Well, like it not Mr. Hodgson, you influenced at least one of us.  And I thank you for it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Batman Eternal #10 - A Review

Batman Eternal #10 was of such dramatically dismal quality compared to the earlier installments I'm contemplating dropping the title.  Part of this is due to the artwork of Riccardo Burchielli, whose work on Conan The Barbarian I found utterly appalling and his work here is not much better.  I will say that Burchielli does do a good job depicting the misshapen and horrific creatures that make up Professor Pyg's gang.  Unfortunately, the normal human characters look equally misshapen and horrific.

Colorist Dave McCaig doesn't help matters with a muted palette that sucks the life out of the action.  Worse yet, the palette is unevenly applied, with skin tones changing from panel to panel with no indication of any change in light or position!  At some points Catwoman looks like her animated incarnation from the later episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, where she had blueish-white skin whenever she was in costume.  Again, this might be acceptable as an artistic choice were it evenly applied... but it isn't!

The script by John Layman is equally problematic.  I already raised objections to the idea that Barbara Gordon should be portrayed as a violent hothead, even allowing for her feelings regarding her father's imprisonment coloring her judgement.  I have even greater objections to this issue, in which Bruce Wayne asks Jason Todd to keep an eye on Batgirl and make sure she doesn't do something stupid and get killed.

I am going to say that again, because I think it's rather important.  And if you can imagine this next line being read by comedian Lewis Black, so much the better.

Bruce Wayne asks Jason Todd - his ex-sidekick who has anger-management problems up the wazoo and no qualms about killing - to keep an eye on Barbara Gordon - widely regarded as the most cool and logical of Bruce's protegees - and make sure she doesn't do something stupid and get killed.


I'll give it one more issue.  That's it.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sheena #2 (Moonstone Books 2014) - A Review

When we last we left The Queen of The Jungle, she was launching dual investigations into a group of soldiers enslaving the local natives and reports of a jaguar attacking a local archaeological dig.  The case has quickly become personal for Sheena (a.k.a. heiress Rachel Caldwell) as her pet jaguar Yagua has been implicated in the attacks and is being hunted by the ruthless Colonel Pinto of the Val Verde Secret Police.  And that's ignoring the rumors of a race of jaguar men, who legend has it made use of the recently uncovered temple to perform dark rites involving human sacrifice and cannibalism!

Sheena #2 is an improvement on its first issue in every respect.  As I noted in my review, the first issue was an enjoyable read but I feared it presumed too much in thinking the reader would already be familiar with the established cast first introduced in the 2007 Sheena mini-series.  By contrast, this issue takes care to introduce us to all of Sheena's supporting cast and identifies them all by name.

This issue also features a number of good character moments that the first issue lacked.  My favorite of these involves bodyguard Martin Ransome - a man's man if ever there was one - showing he's more than dumb muscle after being called 'Sherlock Holmes' sarcastically.  There's also a funny bit where Sheena fights against the bimbo stereotype she normally plays at being in her secret identity, in a tribute to a classic joke.  

The artwork by Shawn McCauley is a perfect match for the story.  McCauley's general style is exaggerated in a way that is reminiscent of the great Will Eisner - fitting given that Eisner was one of Sheena's co-creators!  This streamlined style lends itself well to the issue's fluid action sequences but also allows the characters some intricate expressions in their close-ups.

Bottom Line: If you're a fan of classic pulp adventure comics, Sheena should be on your pull list.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Justice League United #2 - A Review

A madman named Blyth is kidnapping the beings of a thousand star systems for nefarious purposes and has hired the bounty hunter Lobo to keep his captives subdued.  The good news is that a new Justice League is aware of the situation.  The bad news is they're currently stranded on the distant planet Rann.  And even with Supergirl having stumbled across them and Hawkman launching a one-man rebellion from within Blyth's prison, it still seems that the new Justice League's tenure is over before it truly began.

I love this book so much.  And it is almost entirely due to how Jeff Lemire writes my favorite heroes.  Specifically, how he can portray them as being competent in a fight but still let the humor of their personalities conflicting with one another come through in a believable fashion.  This is most apparent in the snarking between Green Arrow and Animal Man, but it also comes through in Stargirl's first encounter with Supergirl.  And there is one glorious but amusing sequence where Martian Manhunter  gets a laugh-inspiring moment as he deals with a group of Rannians who have threatened to imprison him indefinitely.  

Unfortunately, I don't think the artwork is quite up to par with Lemire's story.  Mike McKone's artwork isn't bad but - as in the first issue - he is not above recycling panels.  A larger problem with this issue is the inking, which was overseen by three different inkers including McKone.  As a result, there are noticeable and distracting differences in the individual pages, with some seeming to have barely gotten any inking besides a black outline around individual characters!


Invaders #6 - A Review

James Robinson is one of the best idea men in comics history.  He can build whole scenes around musings about what life would really be like in a world where superpowers were a reality.  And while that often leads - to give an example from Robinson's Starman - into serious discussions about why super-scientists who develop amazing technologies in the name of fighting evil never use those same technologies to improve the lives of humanity in general, this issue of Invaders offers a scene which explores the difficulties in psychoanalyzing a mechanical man whose existence defies all the standard tropes of modern psychiatry, in a comedic fashion.

Thankfully - for those unlike me who don't find such examinations of the reality of a super-powered world interesting or amusing - the book does a bit more than wax philosophical.  And for those - like me - who care little about the Original Sin event running through several Marvel Comics books at the moment, this book can be enjoyed without any outside reading being required.

The focus of this issue is a young heroine named Radiance, who - thanks to the events of Original Sin - has learned a dark secret involving her grandmother (the Japanese heroine Golden Girl), the original Invaders team and something they did (or didn't) do during the Second World War.  Raiding a SHIELD base looking for confirmation of what she knows she demands to speak to some of the heroes involved.  And in goes newbie SHIELD agent and long-time superhero Jim Hammond a.k.a. The Human Torch...

The artwork by Mark Laming proves the equal of Robinson's excellent script.  The clarity of the action and the character design is not lost among the intricate details of Laming's pencils.  And as befits a comic featuring to characters whose powers are based around light and heat, there is a bright and vibrant aspect to every moment thanks to the coloring team at Guru-eFX.

Batgirl #32 - A Review

Barbara Gordon has 99 problems and a bitch IS one.  A billionaire bitch named Charise Carnes, to be specific.  Carnes fancies herself a savior of sorts and under the guise of Knightfall has recruited a small army of metahumans to act as her enforcers, administering eye-for-an-eye justice on the petty criminals of Gotham City.  This is something Barbara would have issues with, even if most of Knightfall's recruits weren't supervillains she had fought once before and her semi-boyfriend weren't one of Knightfall's victims.

Throw in the facts that Babs thinks she killed her own brother, that her father has a mad-on for Batgirl because he thinks she killed his son, that her mom has disappeared, that her semi-boyfriend is now suing her father for accidentally shooting him in an unrelated incident, that her roommate is an accidental eco-terrorist and that her dad is now (per the events of Batman: Eternal) in jail awaiting trial on charges of killing hundreds of people through incompetence and it's been a bad few months.  And yet things are never so bad in Gotham City that they can't get worse.  Because Barbara has been singled-out by a shadowy government organization that recruited a former friend, who wants to recruit Babs to become a spook and is prepared to do anything to get her to enlist.

If this seems like a bit to take in, it is.  And yet Gail Simone effortlessly explains it all over 20 pages.  All of Batgirl's current subplots are run down as this issue progresses, making it a perfect jumping-on point for those who have yet to give this book a chance.  As if that wen't enough, the final pages hint at a team-up that will be a nostalgic treat for fans of Simone's run on Birds of Prey.

The artwork of Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion matches Simone's script in its high quality.  Pasarin is an excellent choreographer of action and the issue's fight-scenes are laid out well.  Glapion boasts an impressive ability to shroud a page in shadows without obscuring any of the fine details - a feat that is surprisingly rare among many professional inkers.  The artwork of this book is dark and atmospheric yet it is never hard to see the fine details of the original pencils.

Bottom Line: If you haven't given Batgirl a chance, this is the perfect issue to start with.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Green Arrow #32 - A Review

Green Arrow #32 opens with Oliver Queen returning home and finding out about the rioting that is destroying his hometown.  He doesn't get a chance to breathe, much less react, as a gang of super-villains - both old enemies with a grudge and newcomers looking to make a name for themselves - show up looking to collect a price that has been put on his head.  Meanwhile, Ollie's former partner-in-crime-fighting John Diggle learns the history of the mysterious Richard Dragon, whose actions have kicked off the gang-war.

Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino have turned this book around and transformed it into one of DC Comics best titles.  The action sequences as depicted by Sorrentino are well portrayed and Lemire's gives each character a unique voice.  Colorist Marcelo Maiolo should also be singled out for praise.  The final product of their work combined is astonishing!

If you've been looking for a way to get into Green Arrow, this issue is the perfect place to start.  Those who only know Oliver Queen through the TV series Arrow will quickly find themselves caught up on the status quo of this series and learn how different the stories are while still being similar enough in tone and content to be familiar.  And fans of good street-level action-based comics will enjoy this book whether they are fans of Arrow or not.

Earth 2 #24 - A Review

I remember having a conversation at a convention a few months back, describing Earth 2 to a skeptical comic fan who loved the Golden Age heroes but didn't like much of what The New 52 had offered so far.  He was excited about the concepts as I described them - how they were taking the basic idea of the original characters (man who can run fast, man with a magic ring, woman who can fly, etc.) but creating whole new takes on those base ideas while staying true to the core character.   So we have a Jay Garrick who is still a curious science student who is now blessed with the power of the Roman god Mercury and an Alan Scott who is given the power to harness the energy of the Earth itself through the engagement ring he bought for his lost love.

The part where this skeptic froze up was when I described Jimmy Olsen and how he has a superpower in this world.  He said he wasn't sure that he could get into any series where Jimmy Olsen had powers.  Now, ignoring that Jimmy developed superpowers more than a few times back in the day (temporarily, of course), that doesn't change that Tom Taylor still writes Jimmy like Jimmy.  Indeed, Tom Taylor writes one of the best takes on Jimmy Olsen I've ever read.

Sure, the boy has the power to absorb and recall information like a sponge and is a living wi-fi connection but that's completely incidental to who Jimmy is.  Jimmy is honest.  Jimmy is courageous.  Jimmy is an idealist in a world of cynics. And all of that comes to the front in this issue's most glorious scene, in which Jimmy Olsen delivers a The Reason You Suck Speech to Batman.

And yet, Jimmy is still enough of a fanboy to want to be Robin and enough of an egoist to think he'd be doing Batman a favor.  Hell of it is, I think the kid's right and this new Batman would be lucky to have Jimmy as his moral compass to keep him from going over the edge.  God knows he needs one.

I didn't say much about the artwork of Eddy Barrows and  Eber Ferreira  in all of this talking.  How could my words do it justice without panels to show off right then and there?  Just look at the pages above and I think you'll see for yourself how good it is and why I think everyone should be reading this book.  I said as much then and I'll say it again - this is one of the best books on the stands and everyone should be reading it.

Batman Eternal #9 - A Review

Batman Eternal #9 finds The Caped Crusader leaving Gotham City for a time.  With the GCPD out for his head, Batman decides to head to Hong Kong and track down the crime bosses who assisted Carmine Falcone during his five years in exile.  He is assisted in this endeavor by Batman Incorporate's agent in Japan.  At the same time back in Gotham, Catwoman begins planning her own strike against Falcone.

After reading this issue, I want to see more comics with the Japanese Batman.  It's just such a cool concept to have a Batman flying around Tokyo and that his sidekick should be a flying schoolgirl called Canary.  I know, I know... just get Dinah in there for an issue to give her some martial arts training and we'll have something awesome.

I slammed Guillem March's artwork pretty hard in my review of Catwoman #1 but there's nothing at all bad about it here.  Perhaps the previous focus on Selina Kyle's anatomy was due to the script and not the wandering eye of the artist?  Regardless, there is no odd male-gaze in the artwork in this issue despite the main female characters being clad in skin tight leather or school girl uniforms and the fight choreography is well played out.  Even the colors of Tomeu Morey don't seem so grating in this issue, where the oddly bright coloration actually fits the setting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #8 - A Review

Somehow, I've missed Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #7.  Thankfully, that didn't matter too much.  Only one of the stories in this issue - Breckinridge Elkins: Mountain Man - is a continuation from that issue and it turns out the first part of the adaptation is available to read elsewhere on-line.  I'm not much for Westerns, but Howard's natural humor comes through in the script and artwork of adapter Gary Chaloner and I found it to be an enjoyable read.

The rest of the issue is of similar high quality.  Dan Jolley spins a Solomon Kane tale in rhyming verse, with epic artwork by John Nadeau.  John Arcudi (of The Mask fame) delivers a humorous tale of daily life in Hyboria and the dangers of accusing a small-town blacksmith of shoddy workmanship.  The artwork of Frank Bianacarelli depicts a Cimmeria well in line with Howard's descriptions of a grey and dismal land.

The only real slow spot in the issue is the first part of Conrad and Kirowan: A Book And Its Cover.  Based on characters Howard created for a series of supernatural detective stories that owe much to his pen-pal H.P. Lovecraft, this tale is a good read that suffers from being included alongside such high-action adventures as the ones described above.  Academics sitting around a study discussing dark magic is not quite so exciting as the action contained elsewhere in this issue.  Still, the artwork by Alberto Alburquerqeue is skillfully done and the story is not bad at all - just incongruous to the rest of the book.

Conan The Barbarian fans will want to pick this issue up for the reprint of the Roy Thomas and John Buscema's adaption of the classic Conan story The Tower of The Elephant.  This reprint features colorization by artist Moose Baumann and, for once, colorization has actually improved upon a classic!  If you haven't read the original story, you're in for a treat and if you have... well, this reprint makes it seem like you're reading it for the first time.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A-Kon 25 Cosplay Pictures - Part Three

Two characters from Monster High.

The Geeky Seamstress as Bombshell Wonder Woman

Caitlin Glass as Black Canary.

Daenerys Targaryen.

Mia Moore as Taiga from Toradora!

The Shredder and April O'Neil from the classic TMNT cartoon.

Rude & Esper Terra from Final Fantasy 7 & Final Fantasy 6 respectively.

Deathstroke vs. Two Green Arrows.  This is unfair to someone, but I'm not sure who...

Oracle a.k.a. Barbara Gordon

Bombshell Batgirl

Black Canary

An unnamed original character.  Nice outfit, isn't it?

Daria and Jane, looking less than excited about being here.

Suzeaux Ryette of Airship Isabella.

She Hulk

A-Kon 25 Cosplay Pictures - Part Two

Jigen from Lupin The 3rd.

Alas, I didn't get all of this group of Disney Princess Sailor Scouts.  But I did catch three of them!
That's Glitzy Geek Girl as Sailor Ariel.

Pedo Bear helps Thor Girl look heroic.  

A golden Dalek

Star Lord, Gamora and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Princess Celestia from My Little Pony

Steven and Pearl from Steven Universe.

Zapp Brannigan from Futurama.

The Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

My pal Sam as The Lone Wanderer from Fallout 3.

Harry Dresden.

Lemongrab, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline from Adventure Time.
PB and Marcie are my friends Karla and Kara.

A gaggle of Adventure Time characters.

Karla and Kara with two Banana Guards.

The always lovely Princess Marty (aka M. Alice LeGrow) with some random Comic Book Guy.