Comic Picks #84: High Quality Smut!

June 29, 2011

Because sometimes there's more to a title than tits and ass.  "Tenjo Tenge," "Sundome," and "High School of the Dead" get their due here.

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Because writing for the trade is STOOOOPID!

June 28, 2011

I haven’t said anything about the “DC 52” relaunch mainly because I’ve been busy absorbing what everyone else has been saying about it.  Personally, I think that re-starting EVERYTHING with a new #1 issue is a bit of genius.  This should mean that all 52 issues are a perfect jumping on point for anyone with an interest in these characters and creative teams.  At least, that should be the plan since while a lot of stuff is apparently being rebooted, the titles that were working fine before (most of the “Batman” and “Green Lantern” titles) are going to treat this as a speed bump before getting right back to business.  It’s certainly a ballsy move, but it’s hard not to be a little skeptical that they’re not going to screw it up in some way.

Anyway, an interesting tidbit came out earlier today courtesy of comic book store owner Mike Gendreau (courtesy of Rich Johnston).  Mike was at the DC’s Retailer Roadshow in New York last Friday and while he caught a lot of details about the books themselves, one part of their plan stood out to me:

“Another change DC is making is that they won’t be ‘writing for the trade’ anymore.  Writers have been told to write the story they want to write and not worry about the trade collecting.  If they can tell a well-paced story in 4 issues, they’ve been told not to pad it to make it 6 issues.  Editorial can worry about how it’s going to be collected.  Going forward, books will be trade-collected depending on how the story fits.  If a book has a 4-issue arc followed by a 3 issue arc, the trade will collect both.  If it’s 2 4-issue arcs or 3 2-issue stories, those will get collected.”

Now it’s been evident that both Marvel and DC have been doing this for a while, but this is the first evidence that I’ve seen to indicate that it was an internal mandate.  As someone who almost exclusively “waits for the trade,” I have to say that this kind of thing is fucking stupid.

Extending a story to six issues because a trade paperback usually collects six issues is an utterly moronic way to write a story.  Yes, it may read better once collected, but your primary audience is buying it monthly in quantities far greater than you’ll likely sell in that form.  You owe it to them to provide enough worthwhile content in each issue to keep them coming back for more.  I don’t know about other “trade-waiters” but the main reason I wait for them is because I’ve never liked waiting 30 days (or more) for a story that I can finish in under ten minutes to be continued.  Single issues have never felt like a value to me, and that’s why I’ll (with a few rare exceptions) only pick them up if they’re not going to be collected.  Besides, if a story is good, it’s worth will come through in both single issue form and in the trade paperback.  Walt Simonson didn’t write his legendary run on “Thor” with the trade in mind, and it still read pretty well when they collected it in that Omnibus edition twenty-plus years later.

It’s sad that DC is only realizing this now as sales for both companies continue to slump towards oblivion.  It’d be amazing if this initiative actually did get more customers into shops and started a sales renaissance... but, as I said above, when was the last time a major comic book company tried to do something like this and not screw it up in the process.  I don’t know how they’ll do it, I just know that DC will find some way to and then the comics blogosphere will descend upon its corpse and try to figure out what happened.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing Geoff Johns’ continuing run on “Green Lantern,” Scott Snyder on “Batman” (his “Detective Comics” work hasn’t been collected yet, but I hear it’s excellent), and Grant Morrison on “Superman” (do I need to explain this -- didn’t think so).  I’m also interested in “Justice League Dark” as there’s a perverse appeal in having formerly Vertigo-exclusive characters like John Constantine and Shade the Changing Man interacting with the rest of the DCU.  Hopefully writer Peter Milligan is genuinely invested in this concept and not just doing it for a paycheck.

Will I be buying any of these in single-issue form?  Heck no.  I suppose that makes me part of the problem, but there would have to be some very special incentive in these single issues to get me to pick them up before the trade comes out.  That said, I wish that DC also had the balls to have found a way to bring the majority of the line to $1.99, and told Marvel to “Suck it!”  The ensuing press firefight would’ve been something to see.

Thanks Dark Horse. I think…

June 27, 2011

Originally, vol. 12 of "The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service" was supposed to come out back on June 8, according to Amazon.  Then I got a notice stating that it was going to be delayed until July 14.  Delays like that aren't uncommon, so I took it in stride.  Earlier this week, I got another notice stating that would now be coming out on January 12, 2012.

This was a bit harder to take, but what're you going to do?  Besides ask the Dark Horse staff about it while trying to hold back your seething rage at the Comic-Con panel, I mean.

However, one of their titles will be shipping sooner than I had expected.  I received word earlier today that vol. 4 of "Neon Genesis Evangelion:  Campus Apocalypse" has shipped and will be arriving at my door a full week ahead of schedule.  Normally this would be a good thing, but if you've been following what I've said about the other volumes then this isn't likely going to end well.  At least they've got new titles from Kohta Hirano and Yasuhiro Nightow in the coming months, along with a new volume of "Blade of the Immortal" in October.  Hopefully we won't see any delays there.

Uncanny X-Men: Quarantine

June 26, 2011

Mutant plague!  That’s the hook for this volume as the inhabitants of Utopia find themselves waylaid by a strange and extremely savage flu virus.  While the idea of normal diseases evolving to take on mutants would make for an interesting, if esoteric, story, it’s actually part of Lobe’s master plan for the Sublime Corporation.  You see, the man has managed to distill the powers of certain X-men in inhalant doses for a temporary effect, or permanently via genetic tailoring.  For anyone who can afford them, of course.  The virus itself is just the submission hold to get the mutant community to sign off on the rights to their genome.

It’s a clever premise and writers Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen show us what happens when fanboys and girls get their chance to be X-Men and how Cyclops and the team’s human affiliates manage the chaos in the meantime.  They also have some fun with Lobe’s marketing of the drug with the high point being his “To me my shareholders!” bit a the launch party.  I also like how it picks up on the Sublime Corp.’s previous appearance in the “Nation X” arc and works as a logical extension of how they were originally introduced in Grant Morrison’s run.

Interestingly, it’s also a relatively action-light story until the end.  That’s made up for in the various sub-plots which involve Emma Frost’s dilemma about what to do with Sebastian Shaw, and the Collective Man’s efforts to muscle in on Wolverine’s Chinatown holdings.  The Collective Man thread actually has some direct relevance to the main plot as he allows an ersatz team of Storm, Angel, Northstar, Dazzler, and Pixie to be the public team while everyone else is on the island.  Even if the hardcore communist isn’t that big of a threat, seeing this B-level team in action does have its own charm to it.  Particularly the interplay between Pixie and Dazzler which veers from “cheerfully antagonistic” to “BFFs forever.”

The Shaw subplot is something that’s been simmering in Fraction’s run for a while now and he wraps it up well enough here.  I like the idea that he represents a direct link to Emma’s villainous past, one that she hasn’t been able to shake after all these years.  Fantomex and Kitty Pryde are along to provide ideologic and witty/sarcastic commentary, which also livens things up.  The end result is apparently a hard reboot of Shaw’s character which certainly has a lot of possibilities.  I’d like to see what fellow writer Mike Carey would do with this new blank slate since I hear that’s his new angle with “X-Men:  Legacy.”  However, it does have the effect of rendering everything that’s been done to the character since his capture pointless.  It feels like the attempts to “rehabilitate” him were only given lip service and that this route was chosen because it was the most convenient for the characters.

Art for the majority of this volume is handled by the always-problematic Greg Land.  There’s really nothing more to say about his style -- just as you’re getting sucked into the story, you’ll see one of his characters (usually female) with an unnatural smile and pose and wonder, “What magazine did he trace that from?”  Paul Renaud contributes to the last issue and he manages a reasonable stylistic consistency with Land’s style without the off-putting posing.  If this is the style that Marvel wants “Uncanny” to have, then they could do worse than to start having Renaud alternate arcs with Terry and Rachel Dodson.

This volume also marks the last of Fraction’s run and while I didn’t buy everything he did, most of what I did was, with “Utopia” and “Nation X” being the most memorable.  (“Second Coming” doesn’t quite count since he was just a cog in that machine.)  That said, Fraction’s run felt more like the work of a caretaker than someone with a story to tell about these characters.  In that regard, he did a good enough job and kept up a reasonable standard of quality throughout his run but I doubt he’ll be remembered for more than being the guy who put mutanity on Utopia.  I’m very optimistic about the future of the series as this volume’s co-writer, Kieron Gillen, is now the new regular writer.  The man has been on a hot streak in my book after “Phonogram,” “S.W.O.R.D.” and “Generation Hope,” so the odds are pretty good that we’ll get something worthwhile from his tenure.

Irredeemable vol. 6

June 24, 2011

Speaking of series that are keeping their momentum going, vol. 6 picks up on the capture of the Plutonian by the alien Vespa without missing a beat.  Though the crazed superhero’s forced departure from Earth would seem to spell the end of everyone’s troubles, it soon becomes apparent that the devil they know has been traded for the devil they don’t.  The Survivor apparently wants only the best for those left on the planet, but he’s also keeping his true goals hidden.  Problem is that you can’t keep things like that hidden from a strategist like Qubit for long and the ensuing revelation forces him to team up with the Plutonian’s (sexually disturbed) nemesis, Modeus.

During all this, the Vespa find out that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew with the Plutonian, and they deal with it in a way that most people probably won’t see coming.  It’s a nice twist and it helps to ensure that this plot thread remains interesting while the more compelling stuff happens back on Earth.  Though this “Plutonian in Space” business does have an air of contrivance about it -- he needed to be sent off planet in some manner for things to proceed as they are back home -- things have been handled so well that I’m interested in seeing how the Plutonian gets out of his current situation.

Of course, getting out of his current situation also means that he’ll be heading back to Earth.  While it’s definitely interesting to watch the various players try to make the best of this new situation, things are all being primed for the fallen hero’s inevitable return.  This is a simple setup in that people will likely be forced into a situation where they have to choose between following the Survivor or the Plutonian but its one rife with dramatic potential.  Hey, writer Mark Waid could even introduce a third option to this presumed dynamic because if he\ has shown us anything with this series, it’s that he knows how to surprise.

Claymore vol. 18

June 23, 2011

The stakes were raised for Claire and her companions at the end of the previous volume.  With the advent of a god-sized Yoma, I was a bit concerned that mangaka Norihiro Yagi had raised the stakes too high and left nowhere for the story to go without some deus-ex-machina intervention.  I should’ve had more faith in him as he serves up a surprising twist in the second chapter that raises the stakes by drawing on an ongoing subplot.  We also get some surprising deaths and a last-minute rescue to set up the next volume with enough momentum to make the wait until the next volume in September seem interminable.

As much as I enjoyed all that, there’s still a reason I’ll never be able to stop referring to this series as “Berserk Lite.”  That’s because there’s a lot of shonen tropes popping up here, from the all-powerful antagonists being smacked down by an even more powerful antagonist who doesn’t even bat an eye.  Claire’s “power block” in this volume also pops up almost out of nowhere and lets us know that even after eighteen volumes of training and fighting, she’s still has a long way to go.  Also, that twist I mentioned, it pops up so far out of right field it hardly makes sense at first.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great surprise, but it also demolishes one of the more interesting relationships and sources of dramatic tension in the series.

So Guts and company still have nothing to worry about from an artistic standpoint.  However, until vol. 35 reaches these shores, “Claymore” will continue to be a more than acceptable substitute for fans of medieval fantasy action.

A very “meh” lantern.

June 21, 2011

"Green Lantern" made $53.1 million over the weekend. That's not a great start for a film that cost around $200 million to make and an additional $100+ million to market. It could surprise everyone and decline by, say 35%, next weekend, but a trajectory closer to that of "Watchmen" is more likely. Now that the film has drawn all the fanboys out, it'll be hard pressed to get everyone else onboard. While the film isn't as bad as its Rotten Tomatoes score would indicate, it's still not all that great.

If anything is to blame for the film's wan reception, it's the script. Between the four credited screenwriters we get exactly one truly memorable scene. It happens when Hal, as Green Lantern, shows up at Carol Ferris' place to introduce himself properly. Her reaction is... something that we've never actually seen in a superhero movie before, despite how obvious it should be. That was a great moment and it really stood out in the sea of blandness that is the rest of the movie.

I can't say that I really hated the film, but it committed one of the worst kinds of sins any adaptation can in my mind -- making me think that I could've done a better job. Granted, I don't have the professional experience that these people do, but whose idea was it to make the core of the film about how Hal Jordan overcomes his fears? The whole reason he was chosen in the comics was that he had no fear. What we've got here is something that would be better suited for a Kyle Rayner origin, and while I really like the character, he's not the star here.

It's especially frustrating when you consider that current "Green Lantern" writer (and a co-producer of the film) Geoff Johns wrote an updated origin story for Hal in the form of "Secret Origin" for pretty much this purpose. The film follows the broad outline of that book's plot, but also decides to shoehorn in a drastically different version of Parallax as the main villain. Now I can understand the need to make the stakes higher by introducing a cosmic-level threat (this is a summer movie after all), but the way Parallax is portrayed here robs him of the significance he has in the comics. Where this creature was responsible for the character's fall from grace and eventual redemption as laid out in "Green Lantern: Rebirth," Hal just kicks his ass here, saves the universe, and that's it.

Getting back to my original point, I would've made Atrocitus the film's main villain. While he was the bad guy in "Secret Origin," one angry alien doesn't really constitute a planet-level threat by himself. That's when you bring in his cohorts "The Five Inversions" and you've got a nice little intergalactic terrorist group. What's their goal? For the sake of simplicity, we'll have it so that the Guardians wound up destroying most of his sector in their early attempts to gain control over "Will" and utilize the first Lantern rings. With revenge as his motive, Atrocitus sees destroying Earth and its newest Green Lantern as the best way to send a message to the galaxy that the Green Lantern Corps. are vulnerable and can be hurt. Then you follow the comic's setup of having Sinestro come to Earth to meet Abin Sur's successor, they bicker, and then team up to combat this new threat. It's "Lethal Weapon" meets "Star Trek" -- you can start printing the money now (or at least that's what I'd like to think would have happened...)

What we got was decidedly less inspiring. I will say that the special effects looked nice and the cast does about as well as you'd expect with what they're given. Ryan Reynolds was a good choice for Hal and he's consistently watchable and fun to see in action throughout the movie, even when he has to do dumb things like leave Oa in the middle of his training because he's afraid. Peter Sarsgard also does a good creepy turn as Hector Hammond, and you can tell that he put some thought into this. While other actors would go right over the top with such a character, he dials it back and gives a more focused and satisfying performance. You can also say most of the same for Mark Strong's turn as Sinestro. Though Strong is Hollywood's villain-du-jour after his turns in "Sherlock Holmes" and "Kick-Ass" he actually does a good job of creating a Sinestro who is both believable as the "Greatest of the Green Lanterns" and still someone you can see being corrupted by too much power (which is spelled out in the most obvious way possible in the end credits...). Everyone else is okay, though you get the feeling that Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett just showed up for the paycheck.

(And really WB, this is how you want to introduce us to Amanda Waller!? The strong-willed and utterly devious head of the Suicide Squad is now a doctor whose sole purpose is to bring Hector Hammond in contact with Parallax! Bassett could've done her justice, but she's not given anything to work with here.)

Barring a surprisingly strong second weekend hold, it's safe to say that this is going to be a setback for the WB's plans to make DC Superheroes their next cash cow now that the "Harry Potter" films are almost done. One can only hope that the lesson they take from "Green Lantern" is that "It's the script, stupid!" and not only find some better writers for the next superhero they tackle, but also take some cues from Marvel/Disney and find a director better suited to the material. Martin Campbell did a serviceable job here, but his "Bond" and "Zorro" films show that he's much better working in the real world. Yeah, "Green Lantern" could've been a lot worse, but is that the legacy any film should have?

King of RPGs vol. 2

June 19, 2011

I bought a lot of comics at Comic-Con last year, and if the first volume of "King of RPGs" wasn't the best thing I read from that stack, it was still pretty close to the top. It turned its extreme nerdiness regarding pen-and-paper RPGs and collectible card games into an asset as writer (and public speaker extraordinaire) went right over the top with the premise of Shesh Maccabe, a gamer who develops a split personality that turns him into a character that completely identifies with whatever game is being played. There were a lot of events that could best be described as "improbable" if they occurred in a real-world setting, but it skirted the edge of "unrealistic" and wound up ridiculously entertaining instead of just plain ridiculous.

Much as I would like to say that this volume improves upon its predecessor, that's not the case. Now I want to say upfront that it's still a very good volume and worth your money, but it doesn't have quite the same charm as vol. 1. It also does venture into the realm of "unrealistic," which I found disappointing. However, the volume's biggest failing is that it focuses on material that I generally find uninteresting: massively multiplayer online RPGs.

Specifically, "World of Warfare" -- which is the "King of RPGs" equivalent of... well, you can probably figure it out. If you'll recall, Shesh's problems started when he developed a split personality and went on a bender in this game as his character Moggrathka cut a legendary swath of destruction and player-killing that still echos throughout the online realm today. While his friend and dungeon master Theodore Dudek has him engaged in regular pen-and-paper sessions to help control Shesh's other personality, police officer (currently suspended) Rona Orzack is out to prove that he's still on "WoW" and violating the terms of his parole. (That swath of destruction I mentioned earlier, it was large enough to extend into real life as well.)

Long story short, Shesh's "Moggrathka" persona winds up taking over again and after an attempt to extricate him from "WoW" goes wrong -- it also winds up dominating his own mind in real life. It leads to Shesh/Moggrathka, Theodore and their friends attending the annual Maelcon event to find some way to reverse his condition. Now, I can suspend disbelief for this particular scenario since it actually feels like a logical extension of Shesh's antics in the previous volume. When you throw in gaming servers with sentient A.I. (who can also manipulate their laptop's heat distribution to make dice that always roll 20's) and Rona getting her hands on what is by all appearances a weapons-grade EMP device, then things just start getting ridiculous.

This volume's biggest problem, though, is how I have a hard time bringing myself to care about an MMORPG. I've never been interested in "World of Warcraft" or its many imitators, and while I'm aware of issues like gold and item farming that figure in heavily to the story here they just don't move me. Thompson does a better job getting me to care about the character he introduces, Gangshi, whose day job involves just these things. Not only do I like the idea of online gamers gritting their teeth when they're asked to consider that "gold farmers are people too" it's a source of great dramatic tension as his identity threatens to become public later on.

Despite all this, "King of RPGs vol. 2" still has a lot to offer. For all of its surrealism and flights of fancy, the book is still grounded by its characters as the old ones are just as interesting as before and the new ones also have their own quirks and traits that help them stand out. It also helps once the RPG action starts in earnest in the second half. Thompson does a fantastic job showing how the player interaction in the real world affects things in a game, and the creativity with which everything is resolved. That said, I doubt this would've been half as effective without Victor Hao's fantastically energetic art. His style is still very raw and some characters have an odd look to them, but the man can draw anything. He seems to thrive on the challenge to draw private investigators battling Cthonic monsters, the epic carnage from Moggrathka's rampage, and the lizard-sieged city that makes up the final campaign. The man is a true asset to this series and Thompson is lucky to have gotten involved with him.

Though everything is wrapped up nicely in this second volume, I hope that it's not the end of this series. I have no idea if a third volume is in the cards, but as this volume took over a year and a half to arrive, the prospect of waiting until 2013 does not thrill me. Still, just as the ever-lengthening wait for each volume of Adam Warren's "Empowered" is ultimately worth it -- I'm sure that the wait will be justified when volume three eventually arrives.

Comic Picks #83: Green Lantern

June 17, 2011

However the movie turns out, the comics written by Geoff Johns are good readin'!

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Normal Service Has Been Resumed

June 17, 2011

Just letting you know that after some technical issues, I'm back online.  While it was frustrating to not know why this was going on at first, the end result was relatively simple.  There will also be some changes coming up in relation to this within the next month, but you'll see that when it happens.

You'll find the latest podcast above this post.  Naturally, it's all about "Green Lantern."  I'll hopefully find the time to see it sometime this weekend; however, I'd hate to be an exec at Warner Bros. right now.  I know they're banking on this to launch not only a "Green Lantern" film franchise, but to also kickstart a line of movies based on other DC comics in much the same way that "Iron Man" did for Marvel.  I'm not saying it won't happen, it's just that successful film franchises usually don't start at 22% positive at Rotten Tomatoes.  Just ask Tony Stark.