Wednesday, December 10, 2008
When it became obvious at Marvel that Chris Claremont was out of touch and would have been taken out back and shot in a more straightforward era, what was their solution for caging the 800-pound gorilla that kept sitting on all of their stuff? Give him a bunch of out-of-continuity shit to write, like GeNext, X-Men: The End and New Exiles.
What do the biggest writers in comics today do anyway? Just like Claremont, they (Millar, Morrison, Bendis, Johns, etc.) try to write as if what they do is the only work that matters and that plot points created by other writers shouldn't contradict what they want to say with their work.
What is the solution to continuity?
GIVE EACH CREATOR HIS OR HER OWN UNIVERSE.
Let Bendis turn Marvel into the Daredevil, Spider-Man and Iron Man show, guest-starring Wolverine! Let Millar turn the FF, the X-Men and every other team into a pale reflection of whatever TV show is hot at the moment! Let Geoff Johns write about four different descendants of the original Amazing Man while Grant Morrison sends Batman into outer space to save the Flash from the Brown Acid, and never the twain shall meet!
Simply put-- comic book continuity should no longer depend solely on the characters and the publisher.
It should depend on the creators. Let each writer and artist map out their own version of Marvel or DC. Then, if they really shake things up, they aren't hurting anyone else, and when they're done, they put their toys (the characters, copyrights, settings etc.) back in the box and let someone else play!
Kurt Busiek's campy, classic Avengers and Bendis's dark, troubled Avengers can sit on the shelf at the same time without bothering anybody, because while they share a common history, a common concept, and a common release date, they appeal to different readers, so they shouldn't have to contradict each other by being part of the same series!
Frank Miller's DCU, Gail Simone's DCU and Grant Morrison's DCU don't have a lot in common except that they all sell very, very well. So why try to cut and paste all of their stuff together into a shoddy, poorly-organized tapestry when each could stand on its own?
DC and Marvel, due to their histories, can never really be creator-owned companies, but maybe they could be... creator-leased companies. Like a record label providing a band with all the instruments, studio equipment and drugs they need, with the understanding that once the album's done and the contract's up, the drummer can't drag that awesome gong set out the front door.
Keep the editors to make sure that once Brubaker's done writing Captain America, some other asshole doesn't show up and write the same story with different art, and so on. But otherwise, let the creators run wild.
It'll never happen.
But isn't it a great idea?
Or am I making less sense as I sober up?
Let me know. I'll be here, crying onto my copy of Marvel Previews.
-- The Editor
WHO SUCKS MORE?
Now that the election's over and America has decided to go for four years of surrender, baby-killing, Islamofascist appeasement, gay marriage, socialism and atheism, we can all relax. But during the election, did you ever feel like, if you just focused on McCain, or Obama, or even Hillary or Ron Paul or Bob Barr or Ralph Nader... if you focused on one of them, and read about them and all the things they want to do for the country, you'd get a good feeling about them. But when you looked at every side of each issue and try to weigh the pros and cons and you started really comparing the candidates and putting them under the microscope, you started to think something like "all of these people are assholes! If I were stuck on a bombed-out Pacific atoll with one of them, a canteen of water and a gun with two bullets, I'd shoot them in the head, shoot a hole in the canteen, lay down and die laughing."
Maybe that's just me.
The point I'm trying to make is, DC and Marvel have always been flawed, are horribly flawed now, and will always be some degree of flawed, even if my Satanic ritual works and I unify both publishers under my throne made from the flayed bones of Chris Claremont and Dan DiDio.
As it stands, Secret Invasion and Final Crisis have both been horribly mismanaged. What to do about it? Act like some asshole who thinks he could've done better, of course.
SECRET INVASION: An Eighteen-Month Prologue to Dark Reign or an Eighteen-Month Epilogue to Civil War?
So apparently since Norman Osborne scored the headshot on the Skrulls' Queen, he gets to be protector of the free world now and everyone else gets jack, or jacked. Or brought back to life. Whatever. Typical Bush-era cronyism. Tony Stark's a fugitive (guh?), there are now three groups of Avengers not including the Young Avengers, one of whom may or may not be just plain villains... Hawkeye and Mockingbird are both alive... okay, wait a second.
Bendis brought back Mockingbird because apparently the rationale was the Skrulls needed their hosts alive to take genetic material from them. WHY THE FUCK WAS THERE A PHOENIX SKRULL? OR A GALACTUS SKRULL, OR A CAPTAIN AMERICA SKRULL?
Who's dumber-- Bendis, Leinil Yu, or their editor? Does Bendis even have an editor? I'D HAVE NEVER FUCKING GUESSED, FROM READING HIS SHITTY, LACKLUSTER DIALOGUE!
Seriously. When Nick Fury and the Secret Warriors show up at the end of issue 2 or 3 to save the day, he says something to the effect of "Okay, Commandos! Time to turn this thing around!" Cool, right? Wrong. In any self-respecting action-oriented comic book, that dialogue would be a) IN ALL CAPS, because that indicates yelling instead of speaking softly, without exclamation points, b) red, to further emphasize that he's a war hero and he's shouting an order very loudly to his troops, and
c) TAKING UP HALF THE PAGE. BECAUSE THAT'S HOW YOU SHOW THAT PEOPLE IN COMICS ARE YELLING.
So. Anyway. In addition to this. So now after the final fight, everybody's just back to normal except that Osborne, Doom, Namor and Emma Frost run the world? How do we know there aren't more Skrulls lurking somewhere? Did Reed Richards use his Skrull-identifying gun on everyone on the planet just to make sure? It seems convenient that every Skrull on Earth showed up at the final, fateful battle in NYC. Then again, convenience is the name of the game when it comes to plot threads in comics. We're lucky the Scarlet Witch didn't just show up and say "No More Skrulls" at the end. That may sound like a joke. It's not. We as comics fans should really and truly give thanks to whichever gods each of us worship that Bendis did not resort to that.
So now there's "Dark Reign." Osborne's dark version of the Marvel Illuminati (Osborne, Namor, Dr. Doom, the Hood, Emma Frost and Loki) are going to run things now. I'm a mean, cynical bastard, but it's just really hard to see the last pages of Secret Invasion #8 and think that Bendis saw this same work and thought, "there it is. Here's what I've worked towards for so long, finally realized. Yessir... after three long years, finally, superheroes are fighting supervillains again. Truly I have done something new and different in the medium of sequential art."
Great. To quote Wayne's World, thanks a lot there, Chet. I'm not even going to get into all the Secret Invasion miniseries and tie-ins we all had to decide to buy or not buy in the last eight months, because by now it's pretty much S.O.P. for "events" like this. I'm just hoping that after Dark Reign is over, maybe these people with the superpowers could maybe try to work on fighting actual crime maybe a little bit maybe.
FINAL CRISIS? Or Final Proof That All Reality is Subjective?
Poor Grant Morrison. Every time he has a good idea for an in-continuity story, someone makes him change it because it might actually change the status quo in some way, and everyone else at DC knows you can't do that unless you're Geoff Johns (excuse me, Geoff Fucking Johns, Sir, is how you actually pronounce it) and you're only changing things by creating more characters that Warner Bros. can eventually option for terrible movies.
In Final Crisis, it's yet another ultimate battle between superheroes and Evil Gods from another dimension, only this time their very existence is tearing the fabric of time and space to shreds. Pretty trippy, by which I mean, pretty standard for Grant Morrison. If all you've ever read from DC is stuff Morrison's written, you're fine. Otherwise you may be in trouble. Because except for the Final Crisis miniseries like Submit/Resist, Rogues' Revenge, Legion of 3 Worlds and Revelations, fuckin' nothin' is going on in the DCU that acknowledges what's going on at all. It's as if what Morrison writes is in its own little...
...oh my God.*
Marvel. They knew. They know!
WATSON, COME HERE, I NEED YOU!
*Hermes, Athena, Apollo or the Muses...whoever's listening out of those, really
Proving once again how ahead of the curve we are here at B&C, we shut down between the months of April and December in response to the financial crisis that hadn't finished happening yet. And, in anticipation of the unanticipated post-Christmas Dow rally, we're back to catch up on...
WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED THIS YEAR?!
ITEM ONE! MOVIES
First Iron Man blew away everything Marvel had done before. Who better to play the world's most powerful alcoholic than the Nineties' most famous drug addict? Absolutely nothing was wrong with that movie. Everything was right with it. Although I have been combing the DVD extras and have not yet found outtakes of Obadiah Stane (played by Jeff Bridges, duh) saying "this unchecked aggression will not stand" or "you mean... like, coitus?"
Then Incredible Hulk came out and I forgot that a) "requel" is not a real word and b) Edward Norton and Tim Roth had ever been in any bad movies, ever. I even almost liked Liv Tyler... actually, she was fine in LOTR as far as I'm concerned... and ugh, now that I think of it, can you imagine Jennifer Connelly as Arwen? I'd have strangled myself with one of Aragorn's ridiculous Celtic-knot belts... anyway. Thumbs up for the Hulk, two thumbs up for making the old Hulk TV show's "sad walking away music" into an actual theatrical score that sticks in your head, not unlike Tim Burton's Batman theme or John Williams's Superman march... everything else Marvel's done, including Iron Man unfortunately, has had a soundtrack that sounded like the theme to their old animated Saturday morning cartoons minus the lame electric guitars (not to get off on a tangent, but what the fuck was up with the theme to Enterprise? What was the reasoning behind basically rolling a Michael W. Smith b-side during your opening credits? If anyone has a reason for self-loathing it's Trekkies, but you've gotta get over it and try to pass yourselves off as cool, not... this.)
REMEMBER WHAT THE FUCK YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT
Then came The Dark Knight.
End of discussion.
Hellboy II, Wall-E, Hancock, blah blah blah. They were all well and good. I will literally not spare an ounce of my saliva for the genitals of Pixar, Dark Horse or Will "Scientologist?" Smith that could be used on Christopher "I'm Crazy" Nolan, Christian "So Crazy I'll Slap My Own Mama" Bale, or Heath "I Acted So Crazy I'm Dead Now" Ledger.
To date, Heath Ledger has been posthumously knighted in thirteen countries, including the USA, who didn't know they could do that 'til now; Christian Bale has been cleared of all wrongdoing by the London police department and given immunity to assault "whomever he wants," Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman have been pre-emptively cleared for canonization by the Vatican and the Academy has designated a "Best Gary Oldman" award to be given to Gary Oldman every year, whether he has appeared in a movie or not that year.
Chris Nolan has been released on his own recognizance without bail.
IN WHAT COUNTRY?
Because of him, the best movie of the decade teaches us that we can either choose to go around the system in order to bring people to justice, or just say "fuck it" and burn or shoot or stab anyone or anything that stands between us and self-fulfillment.
ITEM TWO! WATCHMEN IS ALSO APPARENTLY A MOVIE NOW
Billy Crudup's blue dick is coming to a theatre near you! Huzzah! I guess now I'm glad Keanu didn't get the part, as was once the word around the campfire. You've seen the trailers, right?
People were shushing me in the theatre during the previews at the Dark Knight opening. I responded that they were lucky I didn't just whip it out and start jacking it in the theatre.
I don't want to hear a word of negativity from anyone about this. I'm not usually one for superficiality, but all that matters is that it looks perfect. Every costume, every special effect, is as perfect as humanly possible without resorting to full-blow Beowulf-style mo-cap CGI. Short of trying to do Ang Lee's retarded take on comic book panels within a movie screen, this is basically a transforming of a comic book into a film. Even if Zack Snyder has, as reported, fucked up the ending, I don't care. There will be costumes, violence, moral ambiguity and insanely over-detailed sets. Snyder's like an idiot savant for recreating other people's work. I think if you gave him the Torah or the New Testament and told him to turn it into a coherent narrative, you'd have a blockbuster that would expose The Passion for the snuff film it is within eighteen months. Seriously, when I get drunk around other people I start calling for the execution of any and all citizens and subjects who won't bow before the brazen image of the Emperor (I don't know which Emperor, it doesn't matter, don't ask), and I would gladly put down $10 to see Gerard Butler deliver the Ten Commandments (cue a bunch of drunk guys screaming "THIS! IS! ISRAEL!"). I am that passionate about Zack Snyder's weird knack for taking our past and making it look a little bit cooler.
Three months, and then we get to see... the same exact thing I've read twenty times... only on a screen. Uhm. Okay, I guess now I get why people aren't so hot and bothered about Snyder's Watchmen. Or maybe I'm just sobering up. I'm not sure anymore.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
from issue 2, volume 2
Lost Girls, Books 1, 2 & 3
Written & drawn by Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie
I think this might become another one of those reviews where I don’t really say anything witty or biting, and instead I just slobber over everything a whole lot.
Lost Girls didn’t exactly come out recently, but I felt it needed reviewing, especially because of the closeness of this issue to Valentine’s Day. (It was meant to come out on V-Day, but I do this basically for free, and I’m lazy, and looking at porno doesn’t exactly make it easier to concentrate.)
Lost Girls is well worth its hefty price if you can spare it. It is extremely well-written, the art is as beautiful and complex as the prose, the stories are intriguing, and also every page is packed with extremely hot hardcore porno.
When was the last time you jerked off to The Great Gatsby? (English majors excluded.) T. S. Eliot’s poetry is amazing and everything, but I never had to run to the bathroom and keep the water running for ten minutes after reading “The Hollow Men”. To get closer to the point, Watchmen had boobs, but nothing for anyone over the age of twelve to get too excited about. This story—sorry, this collection of stories—is the best of both worlds.
Just so you know what’s going on: basically, the idea is that Alice (of Wonderland fame), Dorothy Gale (she of the Oz tales), and Wendy Darling (Peter Pan’s paramour) all cross paths at an Austrian hotel on the eve of World War I. In the midst of international tension so thick that one writer famously quipped, “Europe needs an enema,” Wendy, Alice and Dorothy share with each other their stories of sexual awakening, each of which echoes the fantasy tales they’re best known for—Alice falls down a rabbit-hole of excess and intrigue among British nobility; middle-class Wendy falls in with a group of Lost Boys who use sex to survive in the slums of London; and Dorothy explores the strange world of sexuality with her father’s farmhands.
Also all of the hardcore action is totally fucking hot.
Just so we’re clear.
Alan Moore is so unrelentingly brilliant. He makes Brian K. Vaughan look like the guy who came up with those annoying “Say No to Drugs, Kids!” Spider-Man stories that kept popping up for like a year in the middle of every comic right while Earth X was being put out. I hated that guy.
When I first heard about this project, having never heard of her before, I wondered what kind of rock Moore had pulled Melinda Gebbie out from under. The surprising answer (to me) was, his own home. Apparently the two of them had been living together as lovers for quite a few years, and they were wed not long after the release of Lost Girls. Go figure— they write a story together about the joys of sex with anyone and everyone around, then they get married.
Which brings me to a more straightforward type of commentary than I usually do: there’s an awful lot of sex in Lost Girls, but very little love. Alice, Wendy and Dorothy are very friendly with each other (even when they’re not screwing each others’ brains out), but they don’t really seem to love each other, and that’s pretty much the only thing that keeps this from being a kind of postmodern romance novel. This fixation on lust, and lust alone, in the story put me off at first— at least in part, I guess, because I’m used to most stories which are this well-written and this interesting having at least two character who are in love with each other. All of the casual sex— and once again, there is a lot of that, and it is all ridiculously hot— began to unsettle me a bit. “Does anyone in this book really care about anyone else? Do Alice, Wendy and Dorothy have feelings for anyone that go above their navels?
Then I realized— this is erotic fiction and I’m not supposed to care about that. This isn’t some bodice-ripper meant to make you long for some passionate romance. This story is what you read to get in the mood before you make passionate romance to someone. Most everyone I’ve talked to who’s read Lost Girls has said they either had to stop, while reading it, to work one out and shake off the sexual tension, or they knew they were going to go do just that as soon as they got ten minutes alone.
Lost Girls is pornography, at its core. But, like most of Alan Moore’s work, it transcends its base genre, holding your interest both intellectually and sexually. Even if love isn’t its primary subject, the story is a labor of love. Read it.
Rating: Single-Malt Scotch.
from issue 2, volume 2
The End League #1
Written by Rick Remender
Drawn by Mat Broome
Didn’t Dark Horse put out, I don’t know, Concrete? The Mask? Usagi Yojimbo? Sin goddamn City? Yes, Wikipedia tells me, they did, not to mention 300, not to mention they hold the licensing rights for all Star Wars comic books and the new "8th season" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics.
So how did this slip through the cracks?
Let’s start with the premise. Everyone’s desperate to cash in on the post-apocalypse/zombie craze of the past few years (don’t get me started on how the Bush administration’s gross negligence of, uh, everything has affected popular culture so much that some people are anxiously awaiting some kind of horrific apocalypse as if it were a second Christmas), with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead likely being the best of the lot. These Dark Horse fellows decide to take a slightly different tack, saying that a global ecological catastrophe caused the deaths of two-thirds of the Earth’s population and mutated a significant portion of the survivors into superhumans. Fine. Good. Turns out, the catastrophe in question was caused, somehow, by the planet’s superpowered protector, Astonishman. Yes, Astonishman. Jesus, he’s such a lame ripoff of a ripoff of a ripoff that I can’t even get past the name. Yet I press on. For science.
What do they call the apocalypse brought on by Not-Superman? The Green Event.
Rick Remender, you douchebag! Even if that didn’t sound like a Spring closeout sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond—which it does—Warren Ellis’s Marvel series Newuniversal, a reinvention of the 1980s Marvel gimmick the “New Universe,” just came out last year, and what was the catalyst in that series for hundreds of people gaining unexplained superpowers? It was called the White Event. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but you know what? Warren Ellis does not need your flattery. He drinks whiskey and pisses beer. Sometimes the other way around. If he could bleed, he would bleed caffeine. He does not bleed. Other people bleed for him. If the Devil existed he would sell his soul to Warren Ellis. Rick Remender, you have the name of a classic rock DJ. There is such a thing as reusing an old idea; there is such a thing as breathing new life into old archetypes. Warren Ellis is but one example of the brave writers out there who wrestle every month with the writhing, giant anaconda of continuity in today’s modern superhero books, and most of them come out somewhat on top of the mythic beast, having secured another victory for original storytelling.
Rick Remender, you are not one of those lucky winners. If justice was a force as binding as magnetism or gravity, you’d have collapsed under the weight of all the clichés you carry around in your head, crippled and comatose forever for populating a comic book with such characters as Arachnakid, Goddess, Johnny Tomorrow and the Prairie Ghost. That’s to say nothing of the token lesbian couple that you obviously shoehorned in just to appear more progressive. Thanks to Wikipedia, I see now that Remender is first and foremost an illustrator, having drawn the comic book version of Bruce Jesus Christ Campbell’s The Man With the Screaming Brain, as well as several album covers and a handful of other Dark Horse productions. This lends further credence to my theory: most professional artists should not be allowed to write unsupervised.
Even all of this doesn’t compare to the last page. I think I blocked out earlier mentions of the name from Astonishman’s trite opening monologue because I didn’t think it would figure in later. But no, they had to go and do it—they made Thor a character in this story’s continuity. Even this could ultimately be forgiven if the rest of the book had been better—after all, it’s still nominally a free country, and if any group of characters is public domain by now, it’s the ancient pagan gods of Europe—but Thor? Despite Wonder Woman’s near-70-year history, most of the Greek gods are still up for grabs as far as a definitive comics version—ditto for the Egyptians, and the Celts have barely been poked at. But Thor? Remender, you couldn’t have tried to be a little creative? You could have picked Zeus, (I nearly said Ares, but now he’s Marvel canon too) or Horus or goddamn motherfucking Cuchulainn, and your readers would’ve thought, “oh, he’s riffing on Thor, I get it.” But no. You just went right up to Thor and slapped him with your dick. On the off-chance you don’t figure this out in the future, that’s a bad idea. “Thor kill puny humans”? Seriously? I’m not the kind of guy who thinks that America is all about how you have the right to sue anyone over anything, but I think if you don’t work for Marvel and you use the phrase “puny humans” in a comic book, Stan Lee should legally own your children.
I think if I try to explain the plot any further, my brain will start screaming. In the hands of someone capable, this story idea could have been reasonably okay. Unfortunately, Dark Horse was too busy managing its Buffy and Star Wars franchises to realize it had let The End League slip out the factory door unhindered, and thus I am confronted with a hack story of nearly Claremontesque proportions.
Rating: Two White Russians (I’d rate it worse but Erin gave me the comic for free)
Jenna Jameson’s Shadow Hunter #0
Written by Christina Z. and Jenna Jameson
Drawn by Mukesh Singh
I really tried to give this comic a shot. I thought, maybe, just maybe, it would defy my expectations in some small way and be more than a terrible vanity comic. I’m a generous guy. I’ll admit it if I’m wrong.
It is published by Virgin Comics. It is a story about a top-heavy blonde who experiences hallucinations about angels and demons only to find out they are real, from which point she begins to fight them in order to discover secrets about her past.
There. That’s the whole joke.
Or, perhaps more accurately, there is no joke.
Fuck it. I give up.
Rating: One Bottle of Bumwine.
from issue 1, volume 2
Written by: Morgan W. Carmichael and The Editor
With help from http://www.bumwine.com
First, there are probably some of you who do not know the meaning of the term “bumwine.” Bumwine, fortified wine, hobo wine—they’re all names for the same terrible kind of drink. As long as there have been homeless people, there have been awful-tasting forms of alcohol there to keep them warm, insensible, and, uh, homeless. You’ve probably seen them in gas stations, or heard of them, or maybe you’re one of the idiots like me who’s tried them: MD 20/20, Night Train, Wild Irish Rose, Thunderbird… or the Hobo King of them all, Cisco. Most of the time it says “wine product” on the bottle under Ingredients, often with added “natural and artificial flavors.” By natural they mean urine. By artificial, they mean paint thinner. Sometimes the makers have the courtesy to add in some artificial flavorings like “green apple,” “blue raspberry” or the more ominous “wild fruit.” Alas, with Thunderbird all you get is a heady bouquet of rubbing alcohol and gasoline. I have seen Cisco Orange at a gas station before—I’ll bet you anything it still tastes purple. But, for the second Christmas season in a row, your faithful Editor and two of his friends plumbed the darkest depths of the human soul in ways that only Cisco can allow.
The only Cisco for sale in Boone was the Black Cherry variety, but it really doesn’t matter. As I said, the ingredients don’t vary from bottle to bottle: they all say “citrus wine and grape wine with artificial flavor and artificial color,” and below that, the obviously-lawsuit-enforced warning, “THIS IS NOT A WINE COOLER—8 SERVINGS.” Speaking of lawsuits, Cisco was ordered by the courts to remove its catchphrase “Takes You By Surprise,” from the label, despite its being 100% correct. Most people don’t feel drunk at all before they’re halfway through the bottle, at which point the liquid crack, or whatever’s in there, hits them like— well, like a night train. The only difference between the “flavors” is the dye—I will go out on a limb and say it’s dye, not actual food coloring—in each one.
Last year, my two fellow travelers and I dueled each other with furniture. I apparently passed out in a friend’s lawn and had to be retrieved and dumped on a couch. One of my two companions was photographed asleep with his eyes open. That picture still haunts me. The other spent over an hour throwing up. This year, after scaring a lot of non-drunk people who’d stopped by to see the spectacle, and attempting to maintain the attention span necessary to play WarioWare on the Wii (think about that for a minute), we decided to walk across town, in the middle of the night, in twenty-degree weather, to see a friend who was working the night desk at a local hotel. I honestly believe that I would have fallen by the wayside, shuddering like a shellshocked World War I soldier, clutching my bottle and urging my fellows to go on without me, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of the Long John Silver’s for maximum pathos, if not for the intervention of a kindly couple of friends who had stopped at Cook-Out at the same time as we three. Once we were safely indoors again, I asked one friend to play a game of comic book word-association with, well, my drunk ass. These are the results. The ancient Greeks believed that Dionysos and the other gods sometimes spoke through mortals who drank so deeply of the vine that they touched the infinite. After two go-rounds with Cisco, I can get behind that.
Batman: “Rich asshole!”
Post-Infinite Crisis Flash: “First-term abortion!”
Hawkwoman: “Worthless bitch with a stupid helmet!”
Gorilla Grodd: “Best Flash villain ever!”
That scene in Green Lantern where Kyle’s dead girlfriend gets stuffed into his fridge: “Fuck you, Comics Code!”
The current Fantastic Four storyline: “Time travel? Don’t they do that every Thursday? Kinda like TNG? (zing!)”
Birds of Prey: “I’m an asshole for not reading it.”
Green Arrow- Year One: “Wrong time to rip off Lost!”
*Federally Mandated Child Warning Corner!*
Kids— please do not, under any circumstances, attempt to drink bumwine. At least, not until you’ve trained for several years with ordinary wines and liquors.
"Ultimates Assemble! Ruby Tuesday closes in an hour and those coupons we got in the mail expire tomorrow!"
from issue 1, volume 2
Ultimates 3 #1
“Written” by: Jeph Loeb
Drawn by: Joe Madureira
I love my local comics store, Plan 9, okay? It’s a damn good comics store in its own right, and compared to the old Dragon’s Den it’s like… oh balls. My gift for metaphor has suddenly deserted me (that’s how bad the dialogue is in this comic. It makes you dumber.). It’s the difference between Original Trilogy and the Prequels. Between a Big Mac and a $50 Porterhouse steak. Between Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, Bumwine and a good Pinot Noir, Batman & Robin and Batman Begins, and… oh yeah! The difference between Dragon’s Den and Plan 9 is the difference between Jeph Loeb’s Ultimates and Mark Millar’s Ultimates. My point is, I want Plan 9 to make a lot of money and be successful. I really do. But DO NOT BUY THIS COMIC. Buy any other comic at all. Buy every other comic you can afford! Just not this one. Never this one. But Mr. Editor, shouldn’t you give the book more of a chance? Shouldn’t you reserve judgment until the story is more fleshed out?
First of all, Ultimates 3 is apparently only going to be a five-issue series. I mean, now that I’ve read the first issue I consider this a mercy, but before then I thought, only five?
Millar and Hitch took forever to push out Ultimates 2, but it was by and large worth it for thirteen issues. How is five issues anything to make a big fuss about? Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that Marvel was much affected by the WGA strike, so why did this book get cut short like Heroes? Did the temporary end of good stuff on TV make Jeph Loeb think he was granted an all-expenses-paid vacation? I am tempted to think that that is what happened.
Say what you will about the terribly lax shipping schedule of Ultimates 2—and no matter what you can think of, I’ve said it too—I can tell, from every page of every issue, that it was a labor of love, that Millar and Hitch were enjoying their work and that they believed in the story and they loved the characters. If Ultimates 3 is a labor of love, it’s the same kind of love that a member of NAMBLA feels while watching sitcoms on the Disney Channel.
I’m sitting here at the computer, Ultimates 3 #1 in front of me, and I don’t want to re-open it. I’m thinking, every comics writer has a peak and then a downslide, but Stan Lee, Frank Miller and even MOST HATED HACK CHRIS CLAREMONT had the decency to stretch their careers out for twenty or thirty years before sending crap like All-Star Batman & Robin and Sovereign Seven down the chute. Jeph Loeb wrote Superman for All Seasons and Batman: The Long Halloween, and come to think of it, since then it’s pretty much all been downhill. If you’re a hopeless DC dork like I am, look back at all the issues of Superman/Batman he wrote. Issues 1-26. They’re not that good! Taking down Lex Luthor, the reintroduction of Supergirl, and a lot of confusing time-travel/alternate-reality runarounds that don’t really mean anything. I think the man has begun to confuse a big story with a good story. Or at least, that’s what I’d been thinking for awhile until this came out. Now I realize, that’s just what happens when you have a crap writer and a team of really good editors and artists. You can make a lame story into a marketable one. Enter Joe “Throw it to the wall and see what sticks” Quesada and Joe “Who?” Madureira. Quesada these days seems to be in favor of anything that could successfully be turned into a movie, and this comic is certainly vulgar and mindless enough for that. As for Madureira… some of you may not recognize that name. But in 1996, he was one of the most popular artists in Marvel’s stable. He opened the door for other American comic artists whose styles were inspired by anime. By 1999 he’d left Marvel to do a creator-owned steampunk/fantasy book under Wildstorm’s label, called Battle Chasers. He put out seven or eight issues over the course of two years.
Since then, I literally have no idea where he’s been hiding himself. I think once or twice rival comics magazine Wizard mentioned him playing a lot of Final Fantasy X2, and I honestly don’t know whether or not they were joking.
His talents have not improved in the past six years. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say he got a very hung-over Pat Lee to draw the book for him. Which is not to say it’s bad, but it’s not the work that changed everything for me in the pages of Uncanny X-Men twelve years ago.
Anyway (there’s that word again). What’s the story itself? Venom attacks the team at Tony Stark’s mansion. Then the heroes all argue with each other. There’s your story. Now, someone else could make those basic facts into a good story. What route does Loeb take? Well, first of all, since it’s the Ultimate line he’s got to make it as dark and adult as possible, right? So, there’s a Tony Stark sex tape on the Internet that’s sent the team’s reputation down the toilet. And Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (still brother and sister in the Ulti-verse) are in love. Yes, Jeph, we really needed to make America’s burgeoning incest community feel welcome in the comics industry. Thanks for taking charge. What else is going on with the team? The Black Panther is a member now, not that you’d know except for the one page where he fights Venom for a second before being thrown off-panel. He doesn’t have a single letter of dialogue. Which, in some ways, makes him the best character in the issue. He’s better off than the Wasp, who apparently was made field leader of the team by way of affirmative action, since she’s the most ineffective team leader I’ve seen since Rudy Giuliani’s campaign manager (zing!). Yeah, by the way—Captain America, Black Panther and Thor are on the team, and WASP is the field leader? I know Tony Stark is an alcoholic with a brain tumor, but I still expect him to make better decisions than that. My biggest complaint, though, has to be about Hawkeye. Hawkeye was my favorite character out of all the old Avengers. He was a cocky loudmouth who questioned authority, but he proved his worth as a guy with a bow and some arrows amidst a team of superhumans.
Now he’s just an asshole.
He’s an asshole, and he stole his look from Grifter and Bullseye. And he doesn’t pull out a bow once. The closest he gets is a gun that looks kind of like a crossbow. A little bit. This is Loeb’s way of showing how much Hawkeye has changed since his family was killed in the last chapters of Ultimates 2: now he’s just an antisocial killing machine in a costume. Psst! Hey Jeph. Little insider information for you. We already have a character like that. He’s called the Punisher. Kinda underground. You may not have heard of him.
As final proof of the new rating (created for this issue) which I’m giving Ultimates 3, I leave you with the dialogue, verbatim, from the scene where Valkyrie and Thor take down Venom:
[Valkyrie slices into Venom with her sword.]
Valkyrie: Ugh. That’s like, totally gross. Eww.
Venom: You’re a very silly little girl—[Venom grabs the sword and swings it at her]—who’ll look much sillier without a head!
Valkyrie: Oh-my—[Lightning strikes Venom, reducing him to a puddle.]—God.
Thor: I did not care to be hit from behind, Venom—but I will be damned before I allow you to strike the woman I love.
Valkyrie: Awesome. You saved me.
Thor: You wouldst do the same for me.
Valkyrie: Yeah. I wouldst. [They kiss.] Yummmm.
Rating: One bottle of Bumwine.
Editor's note: This issue was originally published in late January of 2008, thus the reviews of way-outdated stuff. My apologies for being so slack in getting these most recent three issues online.
Heroes Episodes 24-34
Written by Tim Kring, Jeph Loeb, and many other WGA members
Starring Masi Oka, Hayden Panetierre, Milo Ventimiglia, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Jack Coleman, Zachary Quinto and many more.
It’s rather amazing how closely Heroes mirrors its closest competitor (in terms of story, fandom, characterization and hype), Lost—even going so far as to have a muddled, half-decent/half-ugly “huh?” of a second season full of unwanted, less-than-likeable new characters and very right-field plot twists.
And thanks to the WGA strike, they didn’t even get to finish!
Guys—or girls, for that matter—imagine being at a party and finally sweet-talking that special person you’ve had a crush on for months, being lead into a dark and empty room, making out… and then they put their hand in your pants, and it’s like a Moray eel without teeth (or worse, with just one or two teeth. Some ladies need to learn to take off their rings before starting the no-pants dance). All fumbling and catching their fingernails on something that fingernails were never supposed to catch on, and yanking like it’s a microphone and they need to make an important speech or something, or just kind of feeling around randomly like they lost a contact down there… and you think, “Really? I wanted to do you?” And then because you’re drunk you say it out loud, and they hear you, and they walk away—so not only did you get a crappy handjob, you didn’t even finish.
To their credit, the writers did fairly well at wrapping up most of the annoying plot threads they’d come up with in the past season. The Shanti virus, Adam Monroe, Sylar and Maya, HRG and Claire, et cetera. But I'd hoped for a lot more, as the list below will make painfully clear:
-I hoped that Sylar would beguile Maya and, to use an old standby, “turn her evil.” Whenever the strike’s over, the third volume of the series is apparently titled “Villains,” and I was hoping that with her fucked-up power to cry black tears that spread a deadly airborne virus (seriously, if you could buy genetic superpowers at the mall, wouldn’t that one be the best-seller at Hot Topic? The answer to that question is yes. I can see at least one of my ex-girlfriends being first in line for the chance to be able to do that.), that Maya, who I didn’t want in the first place, would at least become a passable villain since she is a uniquely terrible Hero.
-Speaking of terrible Heroes, I hope to all the gods that are and ever were that Nikki is really, really dead in that stupid fucking explosion. Oh yeah. Spoiler warning. If you actually cared about that character, though—I don’t know. Just put this ‘zine down and walk out of the store and go open some veins in the tub. You are terrible. (I’m sorry, maybe I’m going a bit overboard because of the scotch, but I didn’t think she could be a more awfully contrived character without Jessica, but Ali Larter and the writers proved me wrong.) Really? DL died, and we had to put up with a whole second season of her whiny ass patronizing her super-intelligent son, and then she finally dies? Maybe? God hates me.
-I hoped that West, the slightly creepy flying boy, with his distaste for humans, would become a kind of young Magneto, a Heroes supremacist, and that Claire would still fall for him.
-I hoped that Noah Bennet would stay “dead” and work in the shadows for awhile.
-I hoped that DL would still be alive, and that Niki would eventually die.
-I hoped that the man Nathan saw in the mirror was an “evil” Nathan just like Jessica was an “evil” Niki; that there was a Hero with no body who just became the shadow of another person, like Malice from X-Men.
-I hoped that Hiro’s father was revealed as Kensei.
-After he wasn’t, I hoped that Kensei would marry the Princess and be revealed as the ancestor of Hiro, the Petrellis and Claire.
-I also hoped that Mohinder would make an honest man of Matt. They’re such a cute couple.
-I also hoped that Peter would either be dead or not in Ireland or the future.
-I also hoped that the older generation would tell us what their damn powers are! I mean, Matt’s dad was kind of an evil, chubby Xavier—the fight between the two of them was one of my favorite moments in the whole series, by the way—and Mr. Deveaux evidently had some sort of weird dream-walking powers, which was cool, but what about Angela Petrelli and Kaito Nakamura? They must have had awesome powers! But now we’ll probably never know.
Actually, there was Bob Bishop, who would look more at home among the supporting actors on The Office on Thursdays than three nights earlier with Hiro and Claire, but he’s got a badass ability—everyone on Wikipedia calls it chrysopoeia, the ability to turn anything to gold, but I’m positive he’s actually just an across-the-periodic-table molecule-transmuting guy. Then again, that could be another one of my expectations about the show that’s destined to be wrong. There were certainly a lot of those in the above list of hopes and dreams that just refused to happen because they would have been too fun.
If Daniel Knauf or even J.J. Abrams was producing or directing this series for cable instead of a network, they might have gone more in my direction—at least, I’d like to think. Instead, this season fell short of my own personal (re: completely irrational) hopes and expectations, as well as those of the critics and the viewing public. But, for once, I’m not angry. Not at Jeph Loeb or Tim Kring or any of the writers or creators, anyway. They crafted a great serial that beat the ass off of every other show except BSG (so I’m told) last year, in their first season to boot. I think it comes down to the strike. By the time they were midway through writing what became the entire second season, they figured out they probably only had five or six more episodes to wrap up what otherwise may have been a much longer, more thought-out story. I mean, I do some of my best writing in the throes of last-minute panic (or I did in school anyway), but that still had to be one bastard of a deadline they were up against.
With that in mind, I can’t be too down on Heroes, because I believe they really tried to continue making a show as good as they made in season one, and it wasn’t all bad. I grew to really like Claire. I actually rather liked the new character Adam “Kensei” Monroe, and I look forward to seeing him break out of his new prison somehow. I managed not to mind the miraculous recoveries of Peter and Nathan. And while most of the other new characters were pretty lame, Bob and his daughter Elle were okay, and Monica didn’t make me want the Earth to open up and swallow her, which was how I felt every second that Maya and her fugly twin brother were on.
Seriously, when I first saw them I had this terrible feeling that they were both going to have super-speed, leading to a slew of terrible “Speedy Gonzales” jokes and the like, but black tears and a deadly virus? How does a human being even generate a virus? I know this is a show where people fly and travel through time, but saying “virus” and leaving it at that just sounds lazy. Especially when there’s another virus, which is the crux of several major plot points, on the same show. Couldn’t she just emit some kind of poisonous gas? No, because anything biologically threatening has to be a virus or it doesn’t sound dangerous. People aren’t even afraid of E. coli anymore. I blame CNN.
All in all, as I said, I can’t be mad at the show’s creators for having to prematurely ground an ultimately promising endeavor. I’m glad we got at least some good episodes before the WGA strike started.
That said, all of you goddamned Commies in Hollywood better get your panties untwisted in time to finish writing season 4 of Lost, because if I don’t get my full 16-episode fix I might start stalking J.J. Abrams. I’ll leave little anonymous notes and drawings in his car and his mailbox, I’ll send naked pictures of myself from the neck down to his office, I’ll email coded messages to him and then part of the key to see if he can solve it… WHO’S MYSTERIOUS NOW, YOU COCKTEASE? WHO’S A GENIUS OF MISDIRECTION NOW, YOU FUCKING HIPSTER AMATEUR!
I’m just nervous about this strike continuing. TV was in the middle of a Renaissance. If that ends now… well, if any of you have seen The New American Gladiators… obviously the results will be troubling.
Rating: Three Tom Collins.
from issue 1, volume 2
Ex Machina Vol. 6: Power Down
Written by: Brian K. Vaughan
Drawn by: Tony Harris
To be honest, sometimes I get sick of Brian K. Vaughan.
This month, the last issue of his acclaimed Vertigo comic Y: The Last Man came out. Y is going to be up there with Preacher and Sandman in another couple of years as one of the greats of DC’s mature-readers imprint. Before that, he ended his run on the hit Marvel young adults series Runaways, which managed to surprise me at the end of every story arc, and he got none other than Joss “genius or pedophile?” Whedon to take the reins after him.
With every issue of Ex Machina he once again proves himself a master of snappy dialogue and a devious, torturing son of a bitch when it comes to plot. You read the first few issues, you come to like the characters and enjoy their banter, and then after awhile you want to know what on Odin’s green Midgard is going on, and he won’t tell you. And when he finally does give up some information, you don’t believe it because everything else he told you was just an elaborate series of ambiguous statements, so how is this time different? It’s kind of like having a boyfriend who’s cheating on you but he’s really, really good at it. Is it any wonder that at the beginning of the third season, he was hired on as a story editor for Lost? J.J. Abrams is set to make another buttload of money from his new monster movie Cloverfield, which I actually enjoyed watching— there’s no surplus of explanation surrounding the monster, but at least you get a good look at it by the end. And in that “do I get to see the monster?” way, Abrams and Vaughan are perfectly matched for slamming out the last three seasons of Lost before fans fly to Hawaii and start beheading gaffers and production assistants. They’re experts at stringing people along in the hopes of finally being told—I nearly wrote “of finally figuring out,” but that’s an overestimation of the viewing public’s and my intelligence—what the hell is going on. And actually, the similarities in style and execution are close enough between Lost and Ex Machina that I can see an alternate world where the former is a runaway hit graphic novel from Wildstorm and the latter is a frustratingly good, drawn-out series on ABC. And speaking of alternate timelines, that takes me to volume 6 of Ex Machina, titled “Power Down.”
The title refers to a real-life event, the New York City power outage of summer 2003. It also, dur hurr, refers to the coinciding loss of main character Mitchell Hundred’s superpower. At first I thought it was just that everything was off and that’s why he couldn’t talk to machines, but upon rereading I saw that he couldn’t boss around any battery-operated phones or radios or flashlights, either. Hundred has one of my favorite underused superpowers—technopathy, the ability to communicate with and control machines (in his case it’s not just electronics, because he can order automatic firearms to not shoot him). For those of you unfamiliar with the series, though, that’s only half of the power at his disposal: the rest was vested in him by the people of New York City when Giuliani left office. After using his abilities to save the second World Trade tower from collapsing on 9/11, Mitch, a former civil engineer running as an Independent, won the… mayorship? Mayoralty? I’m not sure of the right term corresponding to “presidency”… in a landslide.
Since then, he’s dealt with issues like Iraq, funding for the arts, gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization (holy crap is that a hard word to spell when drunk), all while trying to piece together the mystery of where his powers come from and why he got them instead of just dying in the strange accident beneath the Brooklyn Bridge in 1999. There’s also a lot of (always denied or played off) insinuation that Hundred is gay, although for the page count Vaughan has spent nudging us with his elbow, he’d better turn out to be neutered or a transsexual or something more interesting than another Morrissey or Michael Stipe case. For now, though, Mitchell’s only out of the closet as a super-hero. In a world not very different from ours, he tried to use his powers to save lives and stop crime, calling himself “The Great Machine,” in reference to Thomas Jefferson’s mention of “the great machine of government” (dork). But that bottomed out and he was about to be sued within an inch of his life for his vigilante activities before he announced his candidacy.
Anyway (I can’t even count the number of times I’ve written that in the pages of this publication), in “Power Down” we don’t see Mitchell all that much. Much of our time is spent with a man named Augustyn Zeller, who looks like the result of Lex Luthor and Mumm-Ra sharing the editorship of Men’s Vogue for a year, and who you’d think was an alien, or a time-traveler, or both, if he didn’t tell you that he certainly isn’t. “No, I’m from the same second as you, down to the very time zone… I’m on a bit of an exploratory mission from… well, I suppose you would say another world.” Combined with his mention of “The Brane Trust” and his knowledge of the Cold War and Wikipedia, you’d really have to be a moron to not figure out exactly where he’s from: an alternate universe (my use of “moron” here equates to “person who doesn’t occasionally flip through an issue of Discover magazine in the grocery store like I do a few times a year,” so I don’t really mean any offense). I’m not a physicist, and in fact due singly to my adoration of the Flash, all physicists everywhere probably hate me for contributing to the world’s children getting dumber, but I do know that “brane” is short for “membrane,” meaning the membranes separating different, theoretical higher-up dimensions that are involved in string theory. Zeller’s crossing over into our reality caused the power outage, apparently, and now that he’s here he’s got a warning for Hizzoner the Mayor:
“This is about… Mexicans?”
No, Mitch. Sometimes dramatic irony (Ha-ha! Ninth-grade English knowledge activate!) can be excruciating. “They are a brutal multitude, and when their huddled masses come crashing against your shores, they will destroy everything you hold dear!” Unless Zeller’s talking about another alternate reality—which is also very possible—well, my guess is that Hundred got his powers from an alien artifact, and that sooner or later his so-called benefactors are going to come back to tie up some loose ends. Chripes, I almost hope the ending to Lost is that simple and painless. Except I don’t. For all the heartbreak my friends and I have gone through for that show, the end of season six had better be really fucking complicated. Like, Metal Gear Solid complicated. It’d better necessitate the introduction of new words and concepts into the English language.
Anyway. We know that things are going to end somewhat poorly for Mitch, since issue one opens with him clutching a glass of booze and telling us about his four years in office, ending with “godforsaken 2005.” Since “Power Down” happens in August 2003, I guess we’re about halfway there. Maybe this is what it felt like when Neil Gaiman was still writing The Sandman, or, to use TV again, when the UK was only five episodes into The Prisoner. Maybe I’m an impatient bastard. Regardless of any of that, I will be collecting this extremely well-written, beautifully drawn, ridiculously frustrating book, trade by trade, until the series is over or UNTIL I SEE SOME GODDAMNED ALIENS!
Rating: Four Whiskey Sours.
from issue 1, volume 2
Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War, Parts 1-13
Written by Geoff Johns & Dave Gibbons
Drawn by Ethan Van Sciver, Patrick Gleason & Ivan Reis
Hal Jordan is interesting. Guy Gardner is cool. John Stewart is useful. Sinestro is scary and Dave Gibbons can write worth a shit? Who has created this topsy-turvy Bizarro universe?
Oh, it’s just Geoff Johns. Right.
His first run on the old JSA drove me absolutely crazy with his ability to find long-buried, worthless Silver Age characters and make them cool. His work with the Flash and his whole “poof! No one knows your secret identity anymore!” scam, which has now been ripped off by JMS for the end of Spider-Man’s “One More Endless and Agonizing Day of Aunt May’s Life,” was bothersome. Infinite Crisis had holes in it that DC’s editorial staff could and did drive a truck through. But with the Sinestro Corps War, Geoff Johns claws his way to the bottom of my favorite comics writers list.
This is not Geoff Johns’ victory alone. Artist Ethan Van Sciver once again proves himself as one of the most amazing human artists in the world—this is an important distinction, as Frank Quitely is half-Scotsman and half-demon, Sam Keith is an urban legend and George Perez is an asshole. Joe Madureira… well… I’ll get to him later. Ivan Reis once again proves himself an impressive and dependable penciller—not quite on par with Van Sciver, but the trade-off is he knows how to meet a fucking deadline. Patrick Gleason, the artist on Green Lantern Corps, also does good work in a more angular, “animated series” style than Van Sciver, which at the very least helps you realize that the crossover is, in fact, spread out across two series. To wit, Dave Gibbons writes GLC. Yes, the Dave Gibbons. The man enshrined in golden beautiful infallibility because he was lucky enough to be selected for an intimate little project by the name of Watchmen. Let me tell you something, ladies and gentlemen: I’m a writer. I threw away any chance I’ll ever have in my life at getting a good job by majoring in Creative Writing because I love the English language and the myriad of horrible, wonderful things you can do with it, such as the lovingly crafted ‘zine you hold in your hands. Conversely, I DRAW WORSE THAN A SPASTIC TEN-YEAR-OLD WITH ONLY THREE FINGERS. My point? Many artists should not—nay, should never—be allowed to write. And Dave Gibbons proved my point with the disastrous Rann-Thanagar War miniseries that served as one of the four major lead-ins to the Infinite Crisis event. It’s some of the most lame, corny, hackneyed prose I’ve ever read that didn’t come from the first wave of Image Comics or any non-Luke Cage work of the 1970s. Fortunately, he half- redeems himself in GLC by stringing some words together that could easily be confused with any other serviceable second-string writer like Sean McKeever or whoever the hell they got to write Blue Beetle after Keith Giffen left. Obviously his story was very carefully nudged into line with Johns’s story by DC’s editorial mission control, but to give him credit, it could have been a lot worse.
But anyway! To the story. Everyone knows the basic idea behind the Green Lanterns: interstellar police force who keep the galaxy in line with their ultimate weapon: a ring that can turn willpower into anything made out of solid green energy. Used to be the ring’s only weakness was the color yellow, which was absolutely retarded and obviously an idea they came up with in the Sixties when no one over the age of twelve read comics and you could get away with any dumb idea you wanted. But now they make movies out of anything successful, or at least sell the movie rights, so Johns had to update it. Green is now the color of willpower. Green Lanterns are supposed to be fearless, able to retain their willpower under any and every possible stressful situation. Naturally, the color of fear is yellow, which is also the color of the ring that Sinestro, Hal Jordan’s old arch-enemy who bears a keen resemblance to a pink hydrocephalic Gary Oldman, has always worn. Sinestro started forcing the Weaponers of Qward, who made his yellow ring, to make a whole ton more, and now he has a Yellow Corps to rival the Greens.
Enter, a bunch of huge battles.
No problem, because for once in a comic the fights aren’t the most interesting thing (until the end). Here’s what is: Kyle’s struggle with the yellow living embodiment of Fear, Parallax. Hal’s struggle with the idea that his father, a test pilot like him, may have lived his last moments in fear. The passing of the Ion identity from Kyle Rayner to Sodam Yat—a Daxamite (Daxamites are like an entire planet of Supermen, only instead of Kryptonite or red sunlight, they can be poisoned by the mere presence of lead. Thanks again, 1960’s pseudoscience!). The final test of Natu, Sinestro’s replacement. Watching the smile evaporate from Amon Sur’s face as he discovers that the Guardians of Oa have approved lethal force. A GL by the name of Vath doing a shot for each of the four-hundred-odd Lanterns who died fighting the Sinestro Corps. The list of great moments just goes on and on.
But even Dave Gibbons’ spontaneous generation of writing talent is not as astonishing as the finale in Green Lantern #25. The much-hyped battles in New York and on Planet Mogo were mere foreplay to the showdown in Coast City (which burns and galls me to admit, because I hate all the stupid made-up cities that DC has their characters settle in. It’s California. Why not just say Hal is from San Diego or LA? It can’t be that terrible of a legal situation or New York would have sued Marvel generations ago! What gives?). Picture it: Superboy Prime, the Cyborg Superman and his Manhunter Robots, the entire Sinestro Corps, and oh yeah, THE FUCKING ANTI-MONITOR, versus the GL Corps and all the superheroes of Earth who Ivan Reis remembered to draw (the others off-panel are assumed to be asleep or at work and unable to answer their phones). And that’s certainly a beautiful window-dressing. But in the end it really comes down to one fight: Hal and Kyle versus Sinestro. Without rings. Just a big ol’ brawl. Nice. Oh yeah, and John Stewart, Guy, Kilowog and Salaak (the two leading non-human GLs that anyone gives a damn about) throw Mongul’s Warworld (think of it as kind of a Death Star Lite that the Sinestros were using as a portable yellow power battery… Lord knows how they took it from Mongul, but they did) into the Anti-Monitor. And it works. The big anti-matter fucktard gets blown up and then Superboy Prime throws his corpse into deep space (more on that a little later). Superboy Prime then gets his own just desserts—if you’re not familiar with SP’s history from Infinite Crisis, imagine a 14-year-old C student with a bad attitude and Superman’s powers and you’ve almost got it. Perfect… for the Guardians to disintegrate! Ha. Take that, you damn teenagers.
So, obviously, Sinestro and his Corps loses. Well, the Corps does, at least. So why is Sinestro smiling inside his jail cell on Oa? Throughout this whole storyline, no matter how much misfortune befalls the group of ultimate uber-bad-guys he puts together, Sinestro gets this same knowing look that Caesar gets on every episode of Rome (rent the HBO/BBC series sometime, Ciaran Hinds is an amazing Julius); that look that no one really knows what’s going on except him. See, Sinestro used to be the greatest Green Lantern. And what did he desire above all else? Order. An entire galaxy, an entire Universe, kept in line by the GL’s. So what does it matter to him if the yellow-ringed order is defeated and disbanded? Thanks to their threat to the galaxy and the Guardians’ dominion, the Lanterns have been granted the use of lethal force with their power rings, which they lacked before now. And who will stand in the way of Sinestro’s beloved Green Lantern Corps, now that they have power over all who fear death?
Damn. That is some cold-ass alien logic. Well done, alien Gary Oldman.
But Hal and Kyle still kick his ass and put him in alien jail. So whatever.
The other awesome thing about the finale is the revelation of the meaning behind the Guardians’ prophecy of “The Blackest Night,” which has nothing to do with any metal bands. So there’s the Green Lanterns. They’re fueled by willpower, not an emotion as much as a state of mind. Meanwhile, the Sinestro Corps use yellow energy, fueled by the ability to instill fear. And the Star Sapphires, an old Silver Age group of villainesses (I can’t believe that’s a word but Sinestro isn’t according to MS Word), use love to power their violet-energy powers. So—green, yellow, violet. Will, fear, love. Ganthet the Guardian predicts that in time there will be seven Corps—each responding to a specific emotion and using a different color. The prediction that these seven Corps will wage a seven-way free-for-all war against each other results in two of the busiest, most detailed, awesome comics pages ever not drawn by George Perez. The Indigo Lanterns try to inspire compassion in others. The Blue Lanterns use hope to try and stem the violence. The Red Lanterns are fucking horrifying, not only because they’re evil beings who are fueled by rage, but also because their energy-weapons seem to come out of their mouths instead of their rings. Ugh. But the ones that totally win forever are the Orange Lanterns. What emotional concept do they embody? Happiness? Guilt? Sadness? Lust? No. The Orange Lanterns use the power of avarice—that’s greed, for you unwashed and unlettered masses. That’s right; we already used up the color green on willpower, so greed and envy, traditionally associated with the color green, have been attached to orange. I can just imagine that meeting:
“Shit! The only major bad emotion left to put between rage and fear is envy! But envy is green!”
“Screw it. Kids don’t know that we’ve always associated greed with the color green. They’ll call it orange if we say it’s orange.”
“But nothing. Print it!”
As awkward as it is to try and encapsulate the emotions of sentient beings within seven distinct colors, it’s still more thought-out than anyone has ever, and I do mean ever, put into why Green Lanterns aren’t the only guys out there using their brainpower to make weapons out of solid stage lights. And for completely overthinking and simplifying and rationalizing a poorly-imagined original premise, I give Geoff Johns props, as one member of the Irredeemable Total Fucking Dork Club to another.
And here’s something I may not have made clear before, which I’ll say in a very roundabout way: As horrifying a concept as this may be to some of you, I actually have read the Bible. And my favorite verse, out of the entire thing, is the last verse in the Gospel of John—John 21:25. “Now, there are many other things that Jesus did. If they were all written down one by one, I suppose that the whole world could not hold the books that would be written.” Basically, what I mean is the best way to end any story is with the promise of more stories. And once again, The Sinestro Corps War delivers with a 3-page spread that’s a lot like a movie trailer, right down to the “widescreen” panels— “ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, THE DEAD SHALL RISE! GREEN LANTERN: THE BLACKEST NIGHT— SUMMER 2009.” Wonderful. A promise worth keeping. Better than any actual movie trailer I’ve seen this year. Once the dust settles after this Final Crisis fiasco, we’ve got the Black Lantern saga to look forward to. I, for one, am excited. The X-Men were my first love in comics, and how did the writers of X-Men top a final confrontation with Magneto and the Brotherhood? Have the two opposing sides team up to beat back the threat of total annihilation posed by Apocalypse. Same concept here. The Green and Yellow Corps will have to work together, presumably after avoiding/defeating the five other, dumber color-corps, to protect the whole Universe from an early demise. By then, I might actually have the money to subscribe to Green Lantern myself. I’m excited.
Rating: Four Whiskey Sours.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Booze ‘n’ Comics
I got 99 zombies but a lich ain’t one.
FREE! Like Christmas presents. From your mom.
Volume 1, Issue 3
Pre-Christmas Go-For-Broke Edition
(Anyone else miss getting X-Men action figures for Christmas?)
This issue is dedicated to Ms. Natasha Wayne, for her thoughtful donation of a half-empty bottle of Skyy Berry Vodka. Vodka: It’s like the Battle of Stalingrad, in your mouth!
World War Hulk #1 – 5 (of 5)
Written by Greg Pak
Drawn by John Romita Jr.
I should start off by saying that I’m not some huge Hulk fan.
Now, don’t think that that’s going to stop me from finding things to bitch about, but I wanted to get that out there in the open.
It’s not that it’s a bad story—the way I see it, it’s not. It’s just a bad ending. Quite a bad ending. And yet all in all, a very, very Marvel ending. Let me back up and explain things as best I can (keeping in mind I’ve got six shots in me and I’m just getting started).
Everyone knows the Hulk. Scrawny human guy gets pissed off, grows ten feet taller, a hundred times stronger, complexion becomes somewhat greener. He destroys half a town, beats up a gang or a villain or an army, comes to his senses, continues hitchhiking through the neverending American Southwest.
(How does he do that, by the way? I mean I could see that in the Eighties, when the Hulk TV show was on, but nowadays? Who the hell picks up hitchhikers anymore, especially hitchhikers who give really vague answers to what they do and where they’re from like “you should see the other guy” and “there’s only so much work in town for someone like me” and “I guess I wore out my welcome”? If Bruce Banner was a real person he’d be sitting on his ass on the side of Route 66 day in, day out until a Highway Patrolman picked him up for being a vagrant. Or if he’d just man up and walk from town to town, by now he’d be tough enough that no one would mess with him enough for him to get stressed out enough to turn into the Hulk in the first place.)
Anyway. After years of dodging the subject, Marvel finally admitted that yeah, the ridiculously destructive actions of the Hulk over the years have probably caused a sizable number of (arguably) accidental deaths. After the Hulk up and kills almost a whole town, a secret meeting of superhuman authority figures—specifically, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Iron Man and Black Bolt—decides that the best thing for everyone is to shoot the Hulk out into deep space, to some other planet where he can’t smash anything that anyone on Earth gives a crap about. In theory, a good idea. Hell, I’d vote for a tax increase if it meant NASA could load Dick Cheney onto a deep-space probe with a year’s supply of Spam and bottled water and just have done with it.
In practice, however, Earth’s heroes learn what my generation learned on a very special episode of Bobby’s World: the truth never stays buried for long.
It turns out the Hulk landed on this savage world called Sakaar, home to millions of thousands of hundreds of dozens of crazy super-monsters like the Hulk, ruled by a tyrannical emperor who enjoys watching gladiator matches between said monsters. Enter the plot to Gladiator in reverse: Hulk becomes famous as a gladiator, gathers an army and overthrows the emperor. He rules the planet in relative peace, happy with a new wife and a child on the way. Then, simply put, it all blows up in his face. Or Reed Richards’s face, depending on how you look at it. The ship that brought the Hulk to Sakaar explodes, killing most of the planet’s population, including his wife and child. Hulk leaves Sakaar with his remaining friends, the Warbound, seeking revenge on Earth. (He sure gets there pretty quick. Writers are not usually on very good terms with the laws of physics, I’ve noticed.)
Now to the meat of it. The first three issues aren’t bad—in a five-issue miniseries starring the Hulk, none of the back story about space, or aliens, or conspiracies really matters in the least, because here’s what the first three issues are going to be about:
‘Oh no! The Hulk is here and he’s messing up all our stuff! Let’s try to beat up the strongest living thing on the planet! What? That didn’t work? Let’s throw some more super-heroes at the problem! Still no end in sight? Time to throw the U.S. Military at him! That bought us some time, now let’s try to beat him up again! Crap! Why isn’t this strategy working?” And so on. It’s a bunch of appetizer slugfests to warm us up for whatever the real story is this time, beyond the numerous ass-kickings and various shades of green previously undiscovered by civilized colorists. So if it’s the Hulk, and he’s kicking someone’s ass, it can’t really be considered bad. And once the minimum ass-kicking requirements have been met, we can move on to the real plot.
By issue four, New York has been evacuated except for the heroes, the Warbound and a handful of completely insane humans who worship the Hulk for some reason (I guess the Hulk isn’t the weirdest thing I’ve heard of people worshipping…). He manages to corral the four who are directly responsible for his recent run of luck (Richards, Strange, Bolt and Stark), and from there he slaps them with “obedience disks” that keep them from getting away(kind of like the restrictor plates that Luke puts on Artoo and Threepio in A New Hope… crap, did I really just write that? Where people can read it? Oh God). In an arena made from Madison Square Garden, Hulk and the Warbound force the four heroes to fight each other to the death as penance for unwittingly having done the same thing to the Hulk. It’s pretty much the typical “oh God, I can’t bear to do violence to mine most dear bosom comrade-in-arms” stuff you hear from the three of them (remember, Black Bolt can’t talk or he’d, y’know, actually advance the plot by killing someone), and just when Richards is about to kill Tony, Hulk decides not to let anyone else die, saying “we came here for justice, not vengeance” and so on. He apparently also came to Earth to never let anyone else finish a goddamned sentence, or Reed Richards may have gotten the chance to say “wait a minute, Bruce! We didn’t put any damn bomb on your ship! We were only going to exile you, not kill you!” But in typical Hulk fashion he’s not really a big listener.
Anyway, just as the Hulk wusses out and decides to leave before anyone gets killed—ironically spouting the same “I want people to know what monsters you are, and I want you to have to live with it” kind of speech that Reed and Stark usually save for guys like Doctor Doom—the Sentry, having spent the last four issues of the miniseries being unsuccessfully goaded into action, is finally successfully goaded into action. The Sentry, for those of you who don’t know (and I commend you for having lives), is kind of like Marvel’s answer to Superman, except he’s so afraid of misusing his awesome power that he created a whole separate “evil” personality to justify not using it, and he’s agoraphobic (afraid of going outside, kind of like me, only with an Avengers membership instead of a part-time grocery store job).
So in the last issue, the Sentry, who was once the Hulk’s closest friend according to retroactive continuity changes, attacks Hulk with everything he’s got. And, I hate to use an offensive word, but it’s retarded. An absolutely, unabashedly retarded super-brawl occurs and at the end all we’re left with is an unconscious Bruce Banner and the revelation that—duh—Richards and the other Illuminati didn’t plant that bomb on the Hulk’s ship; some of the emperor of Sakaar’s loyalists did it, and Miek, one of the Warbound, let them because, well—he delights in death and bloodshed. Hello? Does “Warbound” sound like the name of a crocheting club to you? Yeah, that betrayal by a sinister-looking alien really came out of left field, didn’t it, Bruce? Miek (whose only accomplishment, as far as I can tell, is being distinguished as the “bad boy” among a group of monstrous killers) stabs Rick Jones and then gets the (weird alien equivalent of an) ass beaten off him while he explains why Sakaar really pulled a Krypton. The Hulk begins emitting so much kinetic energy that he threatens to disintegrate the Eastern seaboard if he isn’t stopped; then, of course, he is stopped, by a bunch of orbital lasers. Or something. Seriously, if I’d taken this script and traveled back in time to 1965 and showed it to Stan Lee, he’d have laughed in my face and called me a moron. To top it off, apparently there’s going to be a new “Red Hulk” next year, as well as “Skaar, son of Hulk,” who emerges full-grown and armored, like Athena, from the soil of the remains of the planet Sakaar at the end of issue five. Jeez.
So, aside from all of the above about the last issue, there are two things about World War Hulk that bugged me. First of which was the constant use of the word “smash” and the phrase “puny humans.” The Hulk would not stop calling everyone “puny humans” every time he wasn’t addressing an individual person—his fight with the Illuminati, his fight with the US Armed Forces, when he demanded the whole of NYC to be evacuated—always with the “puny humans,” like it’s a new insult that he totally didn’t first think up in 1962. And then there’s the smashing. If memory serves, even Storm at one point says “he’s already smashed the Avengers and the X-Men!” Reed Richards fears that the Hulk will smash everything and everyone who stands in the way of his judgment of the Illuminati. Iron Man admits he may well be smashed to death in one-on-one combat with the Hulk. It was at this point that, for me, Greg Pak’s completion of the fifth grade was thrown into serious doubt.
Secondly—the Hulk won’t let Reed Richards finish one single solitary goddamn sentence, AND YET, he sits in his big fancy spaceship (question: where’d he get that from if his planet was all but blown up?) and waits for all eight million people in New York City to evacuate. I’m usually the last guy to argue for more “realism” in comics(that being a code word to sneak in more mainstream-pandering Ultimates-type stuff into our precious subculture), but what about consistency in characterization, huh? Too much to ask? The Hulk can’t kill anybody else, right? That’s why the city was evacuated? Because if the Hulk accidentally killed anyone, that would make him an unsympathetic character. A villain. And yet, somewhere out there in the same universe, the Punisher and Wolverine are running amok and everyone loves them for it. Guh? This is beside the fact that DC Comics annihilates entire cities about once a year. Just for kicks, to add a little drama. Montevideo? Kansas City? Gone, not to mention all the places they made up just so they could be blown up. And all of a sudden, Marvel gets paranoid about a few hypothetical bystanders getting pureed by Hulk-debris? (I’m going to copyright that compound word, so don’t you dare go and use it without my permission.) I’m sensing a slight lapse in prioritization. Priorities. Whatever. I’m drunk.
To sum things up, I guess I’d be more pissed off about the way this story ended if I’d bought the issues as opposed to borrowed them, and I’d be more willing to forgive it if I’d read any other Hulk stuff in the past five years instead of just jumping into this because it was a publisher’s centerpiece event of the year. Issues one through four entertained me. Issue five made me want to go find more alcohol, and alas, it’s all gone now.
Rating: (#1-4) Three Vodka Collins /(#5) One Shot Bacardi 151