Monday, March 5, 2012

Pre-criticizing the Avengers.

The only thing that bugs me about the Avengers movie (especially for a Joss Whedon joint) is that Black Widow's the only female character. Okay, Maria Hill, SHIELD's 2nd-in-command, will get like five lines in two hours. But I get that having the Wasp either means having Giant-Man also, and two characters with similar powers/themes doesn't help streamline a movie, or combining the two characters into Giant-Girl or something like that one "young readers" line of Marvel comics. Scarlet Witch is also a bust because she's a mutant and Fox owns those, plus she's got crazy, potentially hard-to-explain powers. So I've been drawing up a list of other lady Avengers through the years who could pop up as new recruits or whatever in Thor 2, Iron Man 3, etc. Automatically crossed off are She-Hulk, Valkyrie, both Spider-Women, and Mockingbird who's basically just American Black Widow, because derivative characters would make for a boring Avengers sequel. Here's what I came up with, any takers?

Sausage party.

Jessica Jones, aka Jewel- Ordinary New York girl gets super-strength and endurance from a car crash involving radioactive chemicals. Pretty straightforward Marvel origin.

Monica Rambeau, aka Captain Marvel II or Photon- New Orleans cargo ship captain gets exposed to extradimensional energy (Cosmic Cube, perhaps?) and gains the ability to transform into any type of electromagnetic energy. Also, all the Avengers except Nick Fury so far are white, so having an Avenger of color would be another step towards diversity, not counting alien hybrids, bringing us to...

Carol Danvers, aka Miss Marvel or Warbird- Air Force officer wounded in an alien encounter, revived with Kree technology, gains super-strength, -speed, and -endurance, flight and energy powers. With Jewel and Photon's powers she's two birds with one stone, but Photon and Jewel are cool too.

A little more outlandish, though ready-made to tie into the franchise if it turns out Thanos shows up at the end of Avengers 1 like the rumors say, are...

Sersi- One of the Eternals of Earth (Thanos is an Eternal of Titan), Sersi is basically immortal and depending on the comic, either has illusion powers, teleportation and telepathy, or (best option) molecular transmutation. Lead to gold! Wood to glass! Airplane to dragon! Who the fuck knows! I feel like Joss would have a fun time writing her if he came back for the sequel. Read Neil Gaiman's Eternals,

Heather Douglas, aka Moondragon- Her family killed in an attack by Thanos, young Heather is pitied by other Eternals who aren't dicks like Thanos, and trained to be a crazy psychic monk on Titan. Yes, the moon of Saturn. It's hella complicated and dumb, but hey, sexy bald arrogant telepathic martial-arts monk! Another character Whedon would probably swoon over if he hasn't at some point already.

Then, just to round things out with a newer character...

Daisy Johnson, aka Quake- The daughter of supervillain Mr. Hyde, Daisy naturally has the power to induce and control localized earthquakes, but somehow she isn't a mutant. I dunno. But Bendis likes her so she may even have a SHIELD cameo in Avengers 1.

Also considered were Hellcat (boring powers), Silverclaw (ridiculous powers), Firebird (too Phoenix-y), Echo (too close to Black Widow), Lionheart (involves weird magical bullshit), and Moonstone (too evil). Any thoughts, nerds?

P.S. Don't type "avengers women" into Google Image Search with SafeSearch turned off. Bad idea.

P.P.S. I'd be okay with including Hank Pym and Jan Van Dyne, I really would. I love those characters. I just doubt it's in the cards for this version of the Avengers. (That's me saying: "Please disagree with me in the comments section and come up with a way to put "size-changing people with marital troubles" into a media-friendly package.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan!

Well, I feel like an asshole. After a solid week of nothing but fervent, foaming-at-the-mouth positive reviews of Captain America all over the internet and other, harder-to-acquire media, I saw it this Saturday night.

Yeah, it was pretty good. Wait wait wait don't hit me!

Maybe I'm misinterpreting the vibe. Maybe I should read more than a couple sites for my reviews, especially when one of them is Ain't It Cool News. I might as well check Fox News to see if they think Republicans are still pretty neat. But I had expected this glorious, perfect WWII epic, and it was... for the first three-quarters. Eh, maybe two-thirds. Three-fifths? Nah, three-quarters. 75% was every bit as great as Iron Man, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk. The rest of it wasn't bad, but it was closer to Ang Lee's Hulk or maybe Green Lantern. Must... not... derail... review... with Green Lantern... review...!!! Whew. Okay. I'm over it.

Anyway, I loved most of it. I didn't quite tear up, but when li'l Steve jumps on the grenade, I got that pre-tearing-up thing going where your facial muscles start quivering and I got a little choked up. When Steve's a weakling, his determination is clear (even though Chris Evans's head floating on some skinny dude's body was kind of disconcerting). When he emerges from the experiment and has to chase that Hydra spy down, I believe him. Even when he's doing his goofy USO show, I feel like Steve really wants to contribute more to the war effort. But after he frees the Howling Commandos and blows up the first Hydra base... it's like when a show gets cancelled and they have to wrap stuff up fast. The whole montage of them striking base after base of the Red Skull's agents was over way too fast for me. I thought that was going to be, like, the bulk of the movie. Instead they cram it into what would, admittedly, make an awesome music video. Are you kidding? Slap a Kid Rock single onto that three minutes of action sequences and that's the only recruiting video the army needs for the next twenty years.

After the big rescue-mission scene, which I will reiterate was itself fun as fucking hell, everything just feels too easy. Predestined. The other fans will hopefully take my meaning here: you know Bucky's going to die. You know there's some kind of bomb aimed at the USA. You know Cap's headed for a long nap in an iceberg. So when it happens, and it happens, well, not only differently from the comic book, but also in a less logical way, you're just left scratching your head.

Let me see if I can reconstruct this from memory: in the comics, Cap, Bucky and the Commandos storm the Nazis'/Hydra's/whoever's(hereafter referred to as "the bad guys") base. The bad guys basically have the first-ever ICBM and have it trained on the US. Either Washington or New York, I dunno. The Commandos kick the bad guys' asses but then the Skull (or Baron Zemo or whoever, I forget who it was in the comics) hits the big "launch" button and it goes off while Cap and Bucky are trying to disarm it. So they get rocketed into the sky over the Arctic Circle, where they realize they can't disarm the bomb, so Bucky knocks Cap into the ocean before he manages to blow the thing up in midair, saving millions of lives. Cap freezes, wakes up decades later in our present. Done.

So why did they engineer a way more complicated scenario that manages to punk the hero, his sidekick, and the villain? Bucky plummets to his "death" (it's comics, y'know) from the side of a mountain. No heroic sacrifice, he's just hanging from the side of a train and loses his grip. The Red Skull touches the Cosmic Cube with his bare hands, which apparently is a no-no, and gets Raptured up to Space-Heaven. (I mean okay we know it's Asgard, but if you haven't seen Thor I can't see how the scene would make any sense.) So Cap doesn't get to knock his adversary out of a plane or anything cool. He doesn't get to prove he's stronger than the Skull. The Skull just fucks up so bad he gets Mega Man-teleported out of the super-bomber-plane-thing. Oh yeah, there's a super-bomber-plane-thing.

The last bit with Cap on the plane feels like they just watched the beginning of the new Star Trek and decided to steal it. It's almost the exact same scene. So I understand Cap probably couldn't possibly be trained to fly a Nazi super-bomber-plane-thing, maybe he never got the chance to fly any plane at all, but... couldn't he have jumped out once the thing was on-course to just hit an ice floe? Would the Red Skull not have put at least one parachute on the plane, for himself? PS, WHY WAS THERE A PLANE? Have we learned nothing from Dr. Strangelove? Since when is failing to land a plane cooler than RIDING A BOMB? I mean, it'd be a little undignified for him to whoop and holler and wave his helmet in the air while he did it, but just sitting there and waiting to die isn't exactly Cap's style, either. Now, it felt a little shoehorned-in seeing the Skull teleported to Asgard, and having Howard Stark pop up every 15 minutes to go "hey, I'm Iron Man's dad!" again, but I didn't really mind. Most of the name-checks to other comics icons were cool. It felt a little lame that they took the oldest property of the four (Cap, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor) and bent it around to make it fit all the other films, but even if it was intrusive, it didn't piss me off. But this part... I know they had to freeze Cap so that he could wake up in the present, but why did they take a perfectly good plot and replace it with one in which everyone involved looks worse?

Okay. Over it. The rest of the movie? Loved it. Tommy Lee Jones steals the goddamn show with every line he has. Hayley Atwell does well with what she's given, and she gets a little more to work with than your average "I'm the love interest who's almost-but-not-quite as good as the hero!" female lead. Side note: Praying earnestly that they make Gwyneth Paltrow be Rescue for Iron Man 3. Anyway. Like I said, Howard Stark feels kind of forced, but it's a fun kind of forced. Like if Stan Lee could actually act, this is the kind of role they'd give him: another comic book character to remind the audience that there are other comic book characters besides the title character. Stanley Tucci's my favorite supporting character, though. The idea that Dr. Erskine really loves and respects Steve, that he's not just a guinea pig, is communicated clearly. When Steve's in the Rebirth chamber and starts screaming, Erskine's reaction is immediately to stop, to get him out of there. It's really touching. Bucky and the rest of the Howling Commandos are fine, they just don't get enough time to really, really matter to me. Too bad, because I liked what I saw.

After Cap heroically fails to land and/or jump out of a plane, the end of the 1940s sequence is pretty abrupt, and is followed five minutes later by a no-less-abrupt ending in 2011. I'm fine with it, I guess, but I felt bad for the little kids who're left thinking, "wait, did he win or what?" especially the ones whose parents took them home before the credits were over. The Avengers teaser was very cool, but it made the last five minutes of Cap look like a pre-deleted scene from the Avengers.

To reiterate, I didn't hate the whole thing. I didn't hate any of it, actually. I loved the rescue mission, the USO show, Steve's transformation and the accompanying chase scene, the training sequences... now I'm just going in backwards order through all the scenes I liked. Sorry. It was good. Maybe even great. The ride just got a little bumpy towards the end. I'll live. Seriously, though, I can't get that USO Captain America theme song out of my head. I love it. The movie's worth seeing for that alone.

All right, that's it. Forgive a cranky old habitual fault-finder. Maybe soon I can finally watch The Rocketeer and shit all over that, too.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Conversation.


He got writer's block and felt like he was just rehashing things that had already been said


Happens to the best of us, I s'pose


EVERYTHING'S already been said

as a comics fan, he should know that!

i've been thinking lately


Whatcha been thinking


i wonder if there was a period, way back in the way way back, before people even bothered to write stuff on the sides of vases...

where the old stories started to solidify after generations of being kind of fluid


that's a long ass time ago


in the same way that superhero comics are just retelling the same ten stories about a character

these days i mean

like two old guys picking olives, yelling at each other, "Athena's a virgin! that story with Hercules isn't in continuity anymore!"


Haha! That should be the opening to a story


"forget that story where Zeus turned to pure lightning and had to wear magic armor to fight the titans! that story's stupid! kill him before he writes that down!"


"Take the lyre away from that guy before he fucks up another story!"



see what i mean?

i fear we're doomed to retell these same stories over and over


It's true, and you could probably break down every story into a handful of archetypes, but thankfully, we are a short-sighted race, and are easily tricked into watching the same romantic comedy that we watched four months ago with different actors.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Eff it, I'm doin' this. Part one.

Here's how I see him...

Atlan was a wily old wizard-- like Flagg in Eyes of the Dragon, only not so malevolent. In the DC Order/Chaos scheme of things, call him an ambassador from the realm of Chaos. He doesn't much care whether society crumbles or if good triumphs or a revolution succeeds-- but, when you get down to it, he's a smart fucker, and he likes other smart fuckers, and tends to root for them. He's thousands of years old-- at least-- and he wanders all over Earth and the mortal planes in general, but something keeps pulling him back to the oceans...

Thetis is basically Ariel with legs. (In my DC Atlantis, fuck mermaids/men and Lagoon Boy and all those Atlanteans who look like Triton from the Inhumans.)
She longs to know what the surface world is like. Her husband, King Nereus, is a generation older than her, and only interested in her for one thing-- and even then it's only for about an hour a week. She dreams of going to the surface and being treated like a real queen, not the whore with a crown that she feels like. She's the youngest of her family, one of the few noble families left in Atlantis. She had the choice of marrying the king or seeing her family sell off the last of their estates to avoid slavery for one more generation. Lord knows what they find to keep slaves busy down there.

Atlantis itself is the largest of a group of warring city-states, sharing a similar background but devoted to different ideals (think the pre-Alexander Mediterranean). They inhabit the Northern Atlantic, though they know there are other cities in other seas. They've been fighting the same stupid battles and using the same ancient magic for three thousand years or more, since they were, for lack of a better explanation, kicked out of the Mediterranean for fucking everything up (I'll figure out a better why later). Every time Atlan swings by he stirs up trouble, and every time they just rebuild everything just as it was and go back to the same genealogy-worship and Hatfield-McCoying and slavery and sieges. Think of the Inhumans and their lost city of Attilan. It's kind of like that down there.

Nereus is just another king. He's kind of an asshole, but he'll repent later, after Thetis is dead. He fucks around a lot, both with his literal penis and the figurative penis of his royal authority. That'll come back to bite him.

Atlan takes a liking to Thetis. He promises to take her to the surface world. He pretends that she needs his magic to breathe air, and lets her run around on land for a night and a day. Perhaps she meets Tom Curry, a lonely lighthouse-keeper? Perhaps.

It comes time for Atlan and Thetis to return to the palace. Thetis is giddy from her adventure, Atlan thrilled to have a new pawn to wreck things for Atlantis... the guards catch them. Nereus is an asshole, but he's not an idiot. Thetis is put under house arrest. The king's guards try to capture Atlan... in his own words, "HA!" In a flash of light and a puff of sulfur, he's nowhere to be found (not that that means he's left the premises, necessarily).

Nine months later... screaming in the Queen's quarters. Sounds of violence. The king demands to know-- is she alive? Does he have an heir?
Yes and no. The child-- the boy-- is alive. The queen went into convulsions and her hair turned white as she pushed him from her body. Now she lays still, catatonic. The boy has blond hair and green eyes. Like Atlan, the wife-stealing sorceror. Like Gamemnae, the witch who caused Atlantis to sink. Tainted by the outside. By the surface. Better if he were stillborn. So they take him to Mercy Reef and leave him to die. Herein they make the classic villain's mistake of "I'll just leave you here to suffer and die. I don't need to actually witness your death myself. I trust you." Trust not the dolphin, ye below the waves.

A pod of dolphins rescues the baby, who soon learns to swim and communicate with his new family. For years, young Orin is happy to be the Mowgli of the Atlantic... although how a human child manages to grow up without serious problems after spending most of its formative years eating nothing but dolphin milk and raw fish is beyond me. We'll file that one under "magic."

Orin is part of the tribe, so to speak, until sometime around the age of seven. Then, while he and a "brother" are hunting a particularly speedy school of fish, a terrible hurricane separates them from the rest of the pod. They're dragged to shore. His brother beaches and dies. Orin is found by, you guessed it, Tom Curry.

I see Tom as a loner type with a good heart. Maybe for awhile there are rumors around his beach of a "wild boy" causing trouble. Maybe he finds Orin and thinks he's a runaway and just tries to be a mentor to him at first. Soon, though, I see Tom taking Orin in, teaching him English, and this is the important part, putting him in public school. Soon he's calling Tom Dad, doing homework and making friends. By giving Arthur the trappings of a normal (ish) American upbringing, we make it easier for readers to relate to him. Tom puts in a call to an old friend from the Navy (of COURSE he was in the Navy) and sets up a Social Security card and Birth Certificate for his new son. Who is Tom Curry? Besides the former Navy conscription and current lighthouse-keeper job, it's pretty wide open. Maybe he's a curator of the lighthouse, a historian type. Or maybe he, well, saw some shit when he was overseas and is all bitter and grim now and he wants to live in the lighthouse, away from people. Could be we take the Golden Age route and he's a crazy marine biologist with dreams of playing God (or at least Neptune) with genetics. Lots of options. But back to Arthur.

So Arthur gets to go through a semi-typical adolescent period, first worshiping the ground Tom walks on and then being a rebellious teen. He wants to know where he came from... too bad Tom honestly has no idea. Unless it's that strange woman he met all those years ago? Tom does the best he can, but whatever his past was, he's not great with people, let alone kids. Arthur gets into a lot of trouble in high school, he fights with Tom a lot, and spends a lot of time swimming/surfing/stealing boats/whatever. But he still doesn't know who he is. At this point, his memories of life before land/Tom are blurry at best. His inherent telepathy/affinity for magic/regal charisma make for some interesting times at school, though, where a gang of followers gradually accrues around him and a lot of the girls (and some boys of course) see him as the town's hottest bad boy.

I could go on forever about the Adventures of Young Arthur in America, but let's cut to the chase. Tom Curry isn't a young man... well, I started thinking about it and I'm wondering how much tragedy needs to be injected into an origin story. He was abandoned by his birth parents. Then he was separated from his adopted dolphin family. Tom dying is a foregone conclusion... do I need to Geoff-Johns it up and see Tom murdered or is a heart attack or something enough?

Either way, Tom dies and Arthur leaves... for where? Another place where I get a little fuzzy. Does he head straight for the ocean? That certainly works... but I also really like the idea of him wandering the Earth for awhile, having adventures. This would also be where he meets Kako the Inupiat girl and fathers Koryak, his "evil" son, not to mention running afoul of other young soul-searching world travelers like, say, Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince, or Clark Kent. Just an idea. But sooner or later he's going to run afoul of Atlantis... and slavery, and wisdom, and redemption.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

J'onn J'onzz, International Super-Spy and Bon Vivant

J'onn gets a bad rap in most comics-- a lot of books have portrayed him as a pathetic reflection of TNG's Data, spending all his time trying to wrap his hugely-browed green head around the oddities of human nature and whining that he can't connect with anyone. Conversely, in the 2-3 years leading up to his death, he was portrayed as a hero who was sick of playing nicey-nice among the humans and was after his own brand of Martian justice in a world that would never accept him, like a green Marv with a shitty black latex costume. And that's when the writers cared to give him a personality at all-- more often than not, the Martian Manhunter was composed of the worst aspects of Superman and Batman and pretty much lived to play the role of whichever of the two just couldn't make it to the JLA meeting because he was crippled or dead or some other bullshit excuse-- a hardcase strategist who'd do what it takes to bring bad guys to justice, or a limitlessly powerful living weapon from another world. It may be unfair to say this of a shapeshifting mind-reader, but he got saddled with playing other people's roles quite a bit, I think. So it's time to lay down the law as to what J'onn is really like...

First of all, he gets humanity. It may have taken him a while to get past the idea of a race who are stuck with one form for their whole existence and who can only communicate verbally, and thus, lie, but we're all carbon-based, we share a dependence on the same star and on water; given the decades that J'onn's been here, I think it's safe to say he generally knows how any single human being ticks without even having to peek into his/her psyche. So he's not a whiner or an armchair philosopher by nature. Now, while he understands human nature, that doesn't mean he likes it. Considering how the First World (i.e. the Man) treats, well, brown people across the world, as a green guy, he hates racism, tribalism and all forms of factionalism, across the board, in almost the same way that an adult with no children hates to hear a toddler complain about being denied his favorite flavor of yogurt. The Martians were an ancient race that had hit a plateau thousands of years before J'onn was even born (btw, he's probably around 500 years old in the way we reckon time). The Pale Martians that attacked Earth at different points in the past would be, to J'onn, like Alexander the Great coming back to life, commandeering NATO and taking over the Northern Hemisphere... he knows his people when he sees them (feels them, scans them, whatever), but he was still taken aback by his own ancient history walking back into real life. Anyway, the Martians as a race, by J'onn's time, were as united as independent sentients could be. They'd evolved past ideological divisions, past expansionist interstellar colonisation. Had the plagues and fires not done them in, J'onn's people would have faded quietly into the red sands before humanity's first ships arrived there. That's where Professor Erdel's retarded super-telescope comes in.

J'onn had just bid his family goodbye as they and a handful of the rest of the Martian population fled into what we call the Phantom Zone when he was transported-- through space AND time, mind you, because when J'onn last set foot on Mars the Earth was like a fascinating nature preserve to them, with a global human population of around ten million-- to an observatory just outside of Denver, Colorado in early 1960. There's something dreadfully wrong with that picture and if J'onn ever found out what, he certainly hasn't mentioned it to anyone. Think about it: Professor Erdel was somehow so bad at repairing a radio telescope, he turned it into a remote-controlled time-laser. It's like Forge got hit on the head with a bowling ball Fred Flintstone-style and started turning Cerebro into a bong. Er, anyway.

Following that I imagine the events of The New Frontier (minus the JLA who didn't appear til decades later) happening for J'onn- trying to fit in, mixing it up with King Faraday and the OSS/CIA, all that. But afterwards, I don't see him trying his hand at being a superhero-- at least, not often. I like the look of a green guy in a black suit-- J'onn B'ond, if you will. I can see him working as a spy for American interests throughout the '60s and '70s, up until the resurgence of supercrime that presaged the arrival of Superman. Once he appeared and the story of Krypton got out, J'onn saw a new way to be of service to his adopted world. And yet, that's not half the story. J'onn has traveled all over the Earth dozens of times, not always in service to the US. He made a good show of things for the brass in Washington, but he's been a spy for every side in every region of the world. He has dozens of identities, hundreds of contacts. It's how (as I stated above) he's grown to understand humanity so well. After all, we often forget that he's as fast and strong as Superman, as clever as Batman and as dedicated as Wonder Woman. While Detective John Jones is the identity he settled into during the Silver Age, he keeps up appearances in other hometowns around the globe, gathering information and occasionally letting the US (or Chinese, or Venezuelan, or Egyptian, or hell, the Vatican) government put it to use. Why? Is he playing all of them against each other? Using them for his own inevitable power play? It may seem that way sometimes-- cynical. Machiavellian, even. But those adjectives don't really stick. The worst word you could apply to J'onn, and this is when you really want to stretch the truth, is patronizing. He views short-lived, short-sighted, good-intentioned humans as needing protection, as well as guidance, while they work things out for themselves (at what seems like a glacial pace to a culture of telepaths who can figure out in an hour what's best for society). But really, all that that means is he's fiercely protective of a species he knows hasn't reached its full potential yet. If he could give every human the "powers" native to every Martian, he would in a heartbeat.

The fact that he's able to open his heart and mind to humanity at all in the face of his losses-- wife, child, homeworld-- is admirable. That he puts his life on the line for us every day, and is as famous and beloved in the Southern Hemisphere as Superman is in the USA is astonishing. That he still finds time to volunteer at homeless shelters, to share Oreos with children awaiting flood relief, and to rent movies with the shut-in woman across the hall in his building once a week, is mind-blowing. Like a D&D elf, he doesn't need to sleep, at least not nearly as much as humans-- an hour or two every hundred hours just about does him.

Fire is still a problem. I hate that J'onn's vulnerability to it varies from writer to writer about as much as a vampire's vulnerability to it. So how about this: Martians fear fire in the same nearly-unshakeable way that 21st-century humans fear the very mention of the phrases "nuclear warhead" or "weapons-grade uranium." And as far as naturally-occurring elements (in the ancient definition I guess, as opposed to the periodic table definition) go, again, it's about as rare. Mars's atmosphere is 95%(ish) CO2. Fire can't really exist for long there. Lava and lightning were about as close to fire as any Martian was likely to ever see. Martian culture evolved without fire-- as beings who can control the very shape of their minds and bodies, including nerve endings, they were able to control the thresholds at which they felt "heat" and "cold" as we know them. So while J'onn's physical form can adapt to both flame and radioactive elements (the use of which were a brief and shameful footnote in Martian history), the psychological reaction to fire, in particular, is a bit harder to control and defuse. Kryptonite may physically, literally sap the solar reserves from Superman's cells and render him powerless, but fire robs the Martian Manhunter of his reason, his confidence and his all-important self-control, thus leading some to believe that it literally takes his powers away. Not so. As long as he has a spare moment to collect his thoughts and recommit himself to what he's doing, J'onn can phase through a burning building to save your cat, beat the hell out of Heatwave, whatever. But he needs that spare moment, and if a resourceful villain knows not to give it to him, J'onn's going to spend a few minutes as a green, telepathic puddle.

So, to sum up: he's not the green, half-naked Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman fill-in. He's best used as a spy and/or tactician-- not because he's not great in the field, but as long as we've got Superman and Green Lantern out there, let's have someone in the background who's smarter than either of them coordinating their assault with what Batman's just figured out back in the lab. He does a lot of what Superman and Wonder Woman and GL would call "dirty work" or "spying" and what Batman and Green Arrow and Black Canary would call "necessary" or "research." On Earth he quickly learned how to hide. He reconciles the telepath (who feels sullied by lying) with the shapeshifter (who instinctively knows the value of camouflage) as he uses his human identities (he never calls them "disguises") to learn more about the human condition. He understands people, he likes people, he's good with people-- but the distance he feels from them (compared to fellow alien Superman) is the difference between "across the river" and "across the ocean". He was raised somewhere else. Had a family and a career somewhere else. And now he hangs out on a planet of smelly, murderous apes a good two feet shorter than him who can't communicate clearly to save their lives and are never more than five minutes away from turning on him and any other alien (or human) not as attractive and congenial as Superman. But he wants to close that distance. He believes that it can be closed just as the gap between any two humans can be closed. He wants Earth to be a little more like Mars. Is that a crime? J'onn doesn't think so. And after all, he's a detective.

Like Cooper in Twin Peaks, but more believable.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


So I bought a bunch of non-Marvel, non-DC comics last month and I've been itching to get blitzed and give a report on them. So here goes nothing. Nothin' but a thang.

Madman: Atomic Comics! #’s 10 & 13

I don’t know what the hell’s going on here. I guess I should have tried harder to find issue 1 like I did with most of these other books, but I just went for the lowest numbers on the shelf. I remember reading the original Madman miniseries in high school, but when the character who’s just a head in a jar has a body, you know you’ve missed some shit.
C'mon Mike, I miss the '90s too, but be reasonable.
The upside? Mike Allred’s art is mind-blowing, surreal and (thanks to his wife) colorful; his characters are beautiful, simple yet iconic, better than Bruce Timm and maybe even Darwyn Cooke. Besides Frank (Madman), Joe (his girlfriend), and the Doc (the head-no-longer-in-a-jar guy), I don’t recognize any of the characters, at least two of which look like the bastard offspring of The Grimace. There are some interesting plot twists about Frank’s former life (he’s kind of a sentient zombie), and a member of the Atomics having his brain replaced, and it’s cool but nothing’s grabbing me except the art. If the price hadn’t suddenly gotten jacked up to $3.50 on issue 13 I might have gotten 14. As it is, I gotta drop it. Sorry Mike.

Mister X: Condemned # 1 of 4

Okay, opposite problem here. The concept and plot (what there is of it in 20 pages of a first issue) are interesting enough to hook me, even if I don’t really know which characters to root for, if any, seeing as how the title character is only in one panel… But the art. Damn. Apparently the first two volumes of Mister X featured art by Los Bros. Hernandez and Dave McKean, so, holy shit, but… apparently the creator, Dean Motter, has taken it upon himself to pencil this miniseries."Lang? Never heard of him."

So let’s call that Mistake #1. Possibly it takes up Mistakes 2-10, too. I really can’t stand to look at such amateur characters and pacing. The architecture looks cool, sure—it was inspired by Metropolis (Fritz Lang’s, not Superman’s) and it’s kind of the bedrock of the story—but the people and the way they move both look like shit. A guy with a really steady hand and MS Paint could do most of this stuff. Maybe he did. Dropped. Although I may look up the Archives that have the Hernandez/McKean art.

Mouse Guard: Winter: 1152 # 4-5

Neither art nor story really disappoints here. I got a smaller case of WTFitis than with Madman, in part because I was able to pick up on a few familiar medieval-epic tropes in the story, and in part because there’s little enough dialogue that I was mostly just following the action (which was about 500% better in its pacing and panel-to-panel storytelling than Mister X). So there are five or six main Mouse Guards we’re following in the course of two issues, as they fight owls and bats on their journey home from the weasel kingdom. I guess I only have one real complaint here, and that’s that it’s over too quickly. I’d like to pick this up in a collection; the single issues feel like too little at a time. I can only imagine what it’s like to actually collect this. I might pick up the next issue of this if it comes out in the foreseeable future (I’m told that that’s a problem).

"Mossflower? No. Can't say I've heard of him."

"Sorry, pal. Nobody named Mossflower here. Hope you find him."

The Mice Templar #6

Why the sudden proliferation of cute(ish) animals in desperate, pathetic, depressing and messed-up situations? It makes for cool comics, but it kind of gets to you watching mice suffer while wearing clothes and wielding weapons. Mice Templar is a little more wordy and its plot is a great deal more intricate than Mouse Guard, so they’re different enough to appeal to different people. They’re by no means in cahoots to corner the cute-animal-comics market (which probably is not really that big of a market… er, yet). Oeming’s art is different here than in Powers, but in a good way that’s probably more just the effect of him doing a different genre. I can’t remember the names of the characters and I don’t know everything that’s going on, but there’s just enough crazy epic medieval stuff to hook me. Keeper.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt

Hrm. Seeing as how I’ve bought half of the eight-issue run already, I may well go ahead and finish it up. But if I’d only bought the first two? I’d have been out in a heartbeat. This is just my personal tastes, mind you. In general, I like Mike Mignola & Co.’s stuff. But, with X-Men as my first love, I can’t help but have a preoccupation with ensemble casts as opposed to extended stories with only one (already well-established) character. So watching Hellboy have yet another craaaazy situation foisted upon him after he’s left the BPRD because he’s tired of dealing with craaaazy situations is kind of lame. It’s like an action movie with just the tired old cop who’s a month away from retiring, with no rookie with something to prove all going in without backup. See what I mean? Premise: Evil spirits have awakened some hot naked magic chick in a red cloak. Solution: Hellboy punches giants to death. Side plot: Hellboy punches pixies and leprechauns to death. I can appreciate the Celtic flavor to it, but it feels very similar to other Hellboy stuff. I mean, don’t get me wrong, at the ripe old age of 24 I’m sick of pretty much everything—so Magneto’s gotten his powers back in the new issue of Uncanny. Jesus Christ, that’s only the fourth time since 1993 that he’s “come back”! Woooo, I’m so excited! Well, I am, but more about Terry Moore’s renditions of Emma Frost (p.s., seriously, no one else should ever be allowed to draw Emma Frost ever again, ever.) Matt Fraction, you could be doing better, and you should be. Colossus is sad? Big whoop. His Joss Whedon girlfriend died. I’d be sad if I were dating Jewel Staite or Morena Baccarin and she died to save the planet, too.
Er… anyway. I’m willing to see where “The Wild Hunt” goes, but I think they missed a big opportunity in issue one, when the leader of the wild hunt, whose duty it is to represent Herne, the Horned God (pagan big ups there), was just a guy wearing a big hollowed-out taxidermified stag’s head, instead of being some creepy mystical immortal dude with a giant stag’s head. Er, for a head. My interest in the story kind of crested and then fell right there.
But, his new goal of saving the life of his obligatory hot magic Irish girlfriend and the obligatory big reveal of the forces of good that are helping him this time is enough to keep me interested. Did I say already that Duncan Fegredo’s art is great enough that I thought it was Mike Mignola? Because it is. My only quarrels are with the story, if that says anything. Mister X is clearly a bit of a fluke. Shit, even The End League had decent art. I think. I don’t think I still have that one issue. I think I gave it back. I didn’t even want my money back. I just put it back on the shelf.

This is already a better story than the one I paid for.

BPRD: The Black Goddess # 1-3

This is a bit more like it. The cast of BPRD is a little more interesting than Hellboy, foil, antagonist. And what’s more, they introduce the characters in the first issue and then leave it to you to figure out the plot in issue #1. As a writer friend of mine, Matt Ross, and many others before him have said, if people like/care about the characters, the plot is secondary. And that’s exactly the problem with some of those “update pages” where before they start the issue they catch you up with what’s going on. Turn me onto the characters first and you’ve already won more than half the battle. Am I alone in this? Anyway. There’s some immortal reincarnated guy who’s guarded by a city full of what may be Buddhist monks who are also were-Yetis—so far, so awesome—and he’s (maybe?) holding Liz the Pyrokinetic hostage, or else she came there of her own free will. I can’t really tell from the story so far, but she’s levitating in the inner sanctum of Immortal Guy’s temple and she’s not opening her eyes or talking. And apparently she and Memnan Saa (immortal guy) are the only hope for the Earth not being overrun by frog-people. Apparently this is the second or third part in a trilogy of stories, which makes me wish that Mignola and Davis and their people would number their goddamn comics in a more comprehensible fashion. I know that limited series have their place, and every story deserves its own title, but can we have some sort of order that’s evident on the single issues, not just sequential numbers on the trade paperbacks? I’d be confused if I actually gave a shit. As it stands, the stakes seem to be rather higher in this series than in Hellboy’s current miniseries, so I feel a little more invested in it though I’m reasonably satisfied that there will be no frog-related incursions into our world anytime soon. Cue banking crisis-related joke that I’m not smart or sober enough to make here. Done.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas # 1 & 2

Is this supposed to be funny?
I realize that’s usually a high school principal’s line, but I’m honestly uncertain after a quarter of an average human lifetime spent reading DC and Marvel comics—are these talking, dancing chimps juxtaposed with ruthless hitmen in cartoon-character masks, hardboiled vigilantes and esoterically-powered heroes supposed to be funny, or not? That makes all the difference for us critics of literature between Larry Hama and Larry the Cable Guy, between Frank Miller and Frank Capra, between R. Kelly and Tim & Eric. Without that simple declaration of intent, for every ten of us that declare it a work of absurdist genius, another ten will decry it as absolute junk.
As of right now, I’m a little lost. The idea is that a rich old s.o.b. named Hargreeves adopted seven superpowered children in the ‘60s, and today they’re barely-functioning psychos who can manage to keep it together long enough to save the planet but can’t get along with each other to save their lives. I’d love to give the creators behind Frisky Dingo a crack at this premise. Maybe they’d make it workable, but even then that’s a lot of pressure to put on them. It’s just that I can’t think of any other work of fiction with such a retarded premise that managed to make the plot work for the characters. And Frisky Dingo was hilarious. This is… well… crap. I hate to dump on a critically-acclaimed musician, but I bet if Elvis Costello tried his hand at Green Lantern Corps, he’d suck, too. I think Umbrella Academy was better off in Gerard Way’s head where it made some kind of goddamn sense to anyone who didn’t get to read the first five issues! See, this is what I was talking about with BPRD—describe the characters and let us pick up on the story as it goes! Not the other way around! So Number Five has been missing for years and Spaceboy is stuck in a giant monkey’s body! So what? If you can’t make me care about those characters, and make me care really damn fast, I’m going to go waste my money on yet another book full of Dawn pin-ups instead! At least then I can jerk off and have something to show for the money I spent! And P.S., what is your preoccupation with apes? What are you, eight years old? I thought The Black Parade was all about accepting death or some grand, noble theme like that; where does a chimp in a tuxedo fit into that equation? I haven’t found monkeys in human clothes to be so damn endearing since I started understanding all the dick jokes in Mallrats.
Okay, I’m rambling, but seriously, if this is supposed to be funny then this is some Andy Kaufman shit, as opposed to say, Andy Samberg. I was happy to find that the second issue made a bit more sense than the first, but I still found myself liking the ruthless killers in cartoon-character masks more than the supposed heroes. If this was an issue of Uncanny X-Men I’d have issued a jihad on Matt Fraction by now. Unless your name is Alan Moore or Warren Ellis, either write superheroes, or don’t. Stop fucking around. Mark Millar, I’m talking to you, too.
NOW do you see why story has to come before art? NOW will you listen?!

Haunted Tank! # 1 & 2

Speaking of absurdism, the fact that this isn’t a retcon, that this was actually a comic book in the fifties, is in itself a triumph for human art. Some guy in the ‘50s wrote WWII stories about a tank commander whose tank is possessed by the spirit of JEB Stuart the CSA cavalry general. No lie. And now some dudes at Vertigo are retooling the story with a black tank commander named Jamal Stuart dealing with a 150-year-old ghost while trying to make it through the deserts of Iraq. The surreality of a man speaking in a no-nonsense tone to a ghost, about why saying “darky” is inappropriate, all while laying waste to a battalion of Iraqi freedom fighters and calling them towelheads, is (contrary to the Umbrella Academy school of humor) obviously hilarious on multiple levels. This is not winning any Hugo Awards or anything like The Sandman, but I’m enjoying myself. Keeper.

Our boys at Normandy did not die in vain.

Monday, March 30, 2009

You, me, half a bottle of Sailor Jerry and a stack of Dark Horse and Image Comics. A new beginning. April 1st. Be there.