Comic Picks #40: The Surrogates

September 30, 2009

Almost in time for the movie, my thoughts on the graphic novel(s) by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele that inspired it.

In case you were wondering, I recorded this before I went out and saw the movie last weekend.  Had I seen the movie before recording this, I would've recommended that those of you who were planning on seeing the movie to just take the money you would've spent on the ticket and put it towards buying the graphic novel that inspired it instead.  It's not that the movie is awful, but it demonstrated a clear lack of faith in the source material as it replaced the majority of the graphic novel's plot with something of the screenwriters' own devising.  So if the idea of "The Surrogates:  As done by the people who brought you 'Terminator 3'" sounds like a can't miss idea for you, then run -- don't walk -- to see this.  Otherwise, go read the graphic novel and follow it up with a good Bruce Willis sci-fi movie ("13 Monkeys") instead.

What I’ve Been Reading 9/23/09

September 24, 2009

So while I’ve been talking about everything I bought at Comic-Con in these posts for quite some time now, it means that now I’ve got a backlog of new (well, “new-ish”) stuff to talk about now… As well as some more stuff from San Diego that still hasn’t been reviewed yet.

Also, I am planning on going to see “The Surrogates” this weekend. The graphic novels were good and the trailers are promising. Of course, I could wake up on Friday and find out that it has received reviews that make “Transformers 2” look like Oscar material, but that doesn’t seem likely. On that note, look for my thoughts on the original graphic novel and its prequel here next week.

The Boys vol. 4: We Gotta Go Now: Those of you who remember when I talked about the previous volume on the podcast will know that I really liked the last volume. It was the one where the series finally “clicked” for me. Which makes it all the more painful to say that this volume flushes a lot of that goodwill down the toilet. While the idea of having Hughie infiltrate “The Boys’” equivalent of the “X-men” by way of their hard-partying junior team isn’t bad at all, the revelation of the team’s dark secret is probably the biggest miscalculation I’ve ever seen from writer Garth Ennis. While Ennis is usually very good at pushing the envelope to great comedic and dramatic effect, using child abuse the way he does here was disturbing in all the wrong ways and casts a sick shadow on all the other humor in the book. Artists Darick Robertson and John Higgins are on fine form here, but if this is the direction Ennis wants to take the series, then he’ll be doing it without me.

Batman Year 100: After reading this, I want to kick myself for putting off buying it as long as I did. The concept is simple: there’s a Batman in Gotham in the year 2039 fighting a fascist police state that has the city, and country, in a death grip. It’s not a revolutionary idea by any means, but it comes to vivid life in the hands of writer/artist Paul Pope. The fact that he creates an entirely believable future world is impressive enough, but his breathtaking action scenes move like almost nothing else you’ve seen. It’s not often that I credit the art as being a larger part of my enjoyment of a book than the writing, but that’s exactly the case here. If I have one complaint, it’s that the story feels a little slight by the end – like this was intended to be the first part of a trilogy. It’d be great if it was, but this is still an excellent book by itself.

X-Men: Original Sin: Essentially the next volume of “X-Men: Legacy” and “Wolverine: Origins.” After Wolverine rescues his son Daken from the machinations of the mysterious (and eeeeeeeevil) Romulus, he enlists Charles Xavier’s help in breaking the mental programming still in his son’s head. Charles is reluctant to help after the last two volumes of “Legacy” have shown him what a mess he has made of mucking around in other people’s heads, but he finds he has little choice once the Hellfire Club makes its move to enlist Daken in its ranks. If you were bored by those last two sentences, then this isn’t the book for you. As someone who is interested in Mike Carey’s ongoing Professor X story in “Legacy” I thought this was a fine continuation of it. Even though more than half of the issues here were written by Daniel Way, both writers come together to tell a cohesive story that advances the plots of both series. For what it is, this was pretty good.

Black Lagoon vol. 7: Reading the manga that inspired one of my favorite anime series in recent memory has been a somewhat lackluster experience for the most part. It’s not bad, but it’s hard not to appreciate all the little tweaks and changes the creators of the anime made to the manga’s stories to make them work better in a different medium. Now that we’re firmly into stories that haven’t been adapted to anime (yet…) I’m finally eager to see what happens next. While the thrust of this arc was established in the last volume as “Roberta, the killer maid, comes back to kick ass and take names,” mangaka Rei Hiroe takes the time to set things up properly and skillfully shows why her second tour in Roanapour is going to be a much different beast than her first. Even though there’s not a whole lot of action here, there are plenty of verbal fireworks in regards to the revelations of the powers involved in Roberta’s quest for vengeance and why this is probably going to be a very, very bad thing for everyone on the island. As much as I enjoyed this volume, I’m even more excited about seeing how the anime’s creators are going to make it work when the new OVA series comes out next year.

Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei vol. 3: And that’s it for me. There’s no denying that mangaka Koji Kumeta is a skilled artist with an appealing minimalist style and funny concepts – but they don’t actually translate to actual humor for me. I might have smiled or chuckled a few times (with the events of the gross-out tour or the boy who can read anything), but most of the humor just makes me nod my head and think, “Huh, that is a funny idea.” I realize that there’s a huge cultural barrier to a lot of the humor here, but despite the herculean efforts of translator/adapter Joyce Aurino, a lot of that humor remains on the Japanese side of the barrier. When that happens, I figure it’s best to just cut my losses and stop reading now.

Summit of the Gods vol. 1: Here’s a manga equation for you: Jiro Taniguchi + man vs. nature stories = 100% awesome. Don’t believe me? Then go read his excellent short story collection “The Ice Wanderer” right now. It was that equation that had me pick this volume up as soon as it came out. I wasn’t disappointed, but the results are only 75% awesome here, mainly because Taniguchi isn’t writing, but is letting Yumemakura Baku handle those chores as he adapts his own novel. It’s not that Baku is a bad writer, but it’s clear through his numerous text bubbles that he hasn’t quite grasped the “show, don’t tell” conventions of writing manga. Still, Taniguchi’s art is fantastic as always, and the story is inherently compelling. The first half sets up what I’m fairly certain is going to be the overarching plot of the story, as a Japanese photographer finds a camera that might prove Edmund Mallory made it to the summit of Mt. Everest first. It’s interesting enough, but the second half is even more so as it deviates from that to give a fascinating glimpse inside the world of mountain climbing (in Japan, at least) through second-hand accounts of Jouji Habu, a mountaineer whose climbing skills are equaled only by his anti-social nature. Good stuff, and I’m looking forward to seeing where things go from here.

Planet Hulk: After hearing no end of good things about this series, and after reading its “sequel” “World War Hulk” first, I finally got around to picking this up at Comic-Con for half-price. After finally reading it, I was a little underwhelmed. It certainly has a great concept – Hulk is sent away from Earth by the “Illuminati” of the Marvel Universe and winds up on a distant planet where he is first enslaved to fight in its gladiator arenas, but eventually escapes and goes on to lead a revolution. It’s essentially “Spartacus,” “Gladiator,” and a couple dozen standard sci-fi concepts thrown together, yet it’s still fun to see Hulk in an environment where his “HULK SMASH” tendencies are encouraged and a role that he’s generally not that suited to. The problem is that a lot of the supporting cast is pretty bland (especially the emperor, who is so one-dimensionally cruel that he comes off as boring rather than threatening), and there’s this feeling throughout the story that Hulk isn’t really taking an active part in the story, but just reacting to the events around him. Letting the plot shepherd him along, in other words. I realize I’m in the minority on this, but I enjoyed the modern take on “Hulk vs. the Marvel Universe” in “World War Hulk” more than what was on display here.

Comic Picks #39: A tale of two cosmic crossovers.

September 17, 2009

Just so you know, Marvel's "Annihilation" and DC's "Green Lantern:  The Sinestro Corps War" are as good as you've heard.

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What I’ve Been Reading 9/9/09: The Lightning Round Strikes Again

September 10, 2009

Yup. Still going through the haul from San Diego. After this week I should be back to talking about the stuff I’ve read more recently, but I think the “Lightning Round” format will probably stick around for a while longer.  Though I'll probably drop the subtitles after this for obvious reasons...

The Spirit vol. 2: Not the best deal I found at the con, but getting the second hardcover for 60% off the cover price was nice. Too bad that the stories inside didn’t quite match up to the fun of the first volume. Writer/artist Darwyn Cooke still tells some good stories (especially his “Sand Saref” finale), but the main story about The Spirit’s clash with undead gangster “El Morte,” and later his zombie legions, feels out of place compared to what has come before. There are also numerous other short stories from other noted writers and artists that are fun, but nothing too memorable.

Body Bags -- Father’s Day: Gleefully offensive, morally bankrupt fun – which is great in small doses like this every once in a while. Legendary body bagger (read: bounty hunter) Clownface finds out he has a smartassed daughter named Panda after she tracks him down and does everything she can to get him to teach her the tricks of the trade. The plot is merely an excuse for writer/artist Jason Pearson to indulge in some of the most tasteless jokes you’ll ever hear at the expense of people on society’s lowest rung and some of the most explosive fights (gun and otherwise) this side of a Garth Ennis comic. Recommended for people who like finding inventive ways to kill the pedestrians in the “GTA” games.

Suicide Squad – From the Ashes: John Ostrander’s run on “Suicide Squad” in the 80’s is one of those legendary runs that everyone talks about how good it was, but has yet to be collected in any form. This is a collection of the eight issue miniseries written by Ostrander which has him reuniting most of the main cast (from what I can gather). After you get past the first three issues, which are mostly setup showing us how one of the characters survived his apparent death in the original series, the appeal of the concept starts to manifest itself. In a team made up of morally dubious individuals, it’s not a matter of if they’ll start to turn on each other, but when and who will align with who. Good stuff and it makes me interested in checking out Ostrander’s original run.

Simon Dark – Ashes: It’s never a good sign when in a series that stars a character with supernatural abilities (who was stitched together Frankenstein-style), and a cult spreading a demonic plague through soap bars, that the thing most requiring the reader’s suspension of disbelief is that for a series set in Gotham City, Batman and co. wouldn’t intervene at some point. I realize that setting the series in Gotham was probably done to help boost sales, but it doesn’t do the story any favors. That’s too bad because it’s not a bad supernatural tale. Writer Steve Niles brings just the right amount of humor to his characters to make them and their situations endearing, and artist Scott Hampton handles the creepy and the mundane effortlessly. Maybe Batman will show up in the next volume to explain things, but even if he doesn’t, I won’t be too disappointed.

The Life Eaters: Behold! The best deal I found at the con: I picked up this $20 graphic novel for $3! What’s even better is that after reading it, I would’ve been willing to pay full price for it. Written by David Brin (adapting his story “Thor Meets Captain America” – which is funny in itself because this was published by Wildstorm, an imprint of DC Comics) with art by the aforementioned Scott Hampton, this is an alternate history story that deals with the Nazis winning WWII. The catch here is that they had help from the Norse gods who suddenly appeared on the scene to help turn the tide. The story of where did they come from and what will happen to humanity after other gods start appearing proves to be a compelling tale of humanity’s resourcefulness in the face of unimaginable power. It’s not perfect (our hero getting a giant mech comes off as a little silly) but if the concept sounds interesting to you, I’d recommend checking it out.

X-Factor Visionaries vol. 4: Collecting the final issues of writer Peter David’s run on the original series, it also happens to be the weakest of the four volumes. That’s mainly because A) three of the issues collected are part of the “X-Cutioner’s Song” crossover (they’re not really bad, but who wants to read three random issues of an extended crossover like this) and B) David left the series before he could wrap up his final storyline. However, the one shining bright spot in this collection is the one issue of his run that EVERYONE talks about: “X-aminations,” where the cast is psychoanalyzed and we get to see what really makes them tick. It’s a great issue and worth reading if you’re a fan of the characters involved, or Peter David. But unless you can find this volume for dirt cheap, you’re probably better off tracking down the issue by itself (which is #87 of “X-Factor” vol. 1).

The Nodwick Chronicles vols. 5 & 6: Aaron Williams’ comedic take on the conventions of fantasy RPGs (mainly the pen-and-paper variety, but films and video games get their due too) reaches its finale with these two volumes. Needless to say, this isn’t the point at which to jump into the series, but if you’ve been enjoying Williams’ laid back skewering of fantasy and gaming tropes, then you’re going to enjoy how it all wraps up here. I have to admit that I’m impressed he was able to build to a suitably epic climax since his style doesn’t really lend itself to that kind of storytelling. He does manage to transcend it just enough to make it work, though not quite as well as I’ve seen elsewhere.

Wolverine… by Claremont and Miller: Not sure what to call this since just calling it “Wolverine” might confuse some, but this is the collection of the very first Wolverine mini-series from 1982. Reading it again after a decade, it comes off as… quaint. I know that this was the character’s first solo outing, but after reading god knows how many other (and frankly, better) stories with the character in the intervening years, this one felt like a product of its time. Granted, this was a time when Claremont and Miller were in their “Can do no wrong,” periods so it’s still readable enough, but it still comes off as being noteworthy mainly because it came first (and introduced Wolverine to Japan) than anything else.

Fallen Angel vols. 5 & 6: Picking up where the “Fallen Angel Omnibus” left off. Fallen Angel Lee’s son Jude, magistrate of the “City that Shapes the World” Bete Noir, has finally managed to tick off the wrong people in his efforts to use the city’s influence to make the world a better place. Lots of people wind up suffering for that in the process, and Peter David’s sometimes dramatic, sometimes serious, sometimes comedic look at life, the universe and everything reaches a climax. Much of what I said about “Nodwick” above can be applied here, except that the “ending” David cooks up is more of an inversion of the status quo, and not a particularly appealing one to me at that. While I know the series continues in the recently launched “Fallen Angel Reborn,” I’m starting to wonder if David does have a plan, or if he just wants to stretch this out indefinitely. He’s done enough good with this series to make me want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but we’ll see what happens in the next volume.

Poison Elves: vol. 10 – Dark Wars vol. 1, and Ventures vols. 1 & 2: It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything from this series, because after creator Drew Hayes died in ’07 there was no chance the series would reach any kind of resolution. Then I found these for half-price at Comic-Con and figured, “What the hell.” Reading vol. 11 reminded me of how much I liked the black humor and cynicism that Hayes brought to the fantasy genre while tweaking the genre tropes in enjoyable ways. Regrettably this volume doesn’t end with any kind of closure (in fact, it leaves a lot of the characters in some VERY bad places), so I’ll probably pick up vol. 11 if only because it has to offer a better sense of closure than this one does. As for the “Ventures” volumes, they collect the mini-series and one-shots written by Keith “Some Guy I’ve Never Heard Of” Davidsen that focus on some of the series supporting cast, along with some other stories by Hayes that have never been collected before now. Most of the stories aren’t bad, but they have the feeling of “filler” about them and will probably be of interest only to die-hard fans of the series (though I will admit that the one-shot with Jace in vol. 2 was actually very good). Along with picking up vol. 11, reading these have also convinced me that I need to go back and re-read the series again, so expect to see a podcast on the series sometime next month.

Comic Picks #38: Blade of the Immmortal — The Prison Arc

September 2, 2009

Volumes 15-21 show that even a flawed "BotI" arc is better than most series' best efforts.

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