Comic Picks By The Glick
Generation Hope (vol. 1):  The Future’s A Four-Letter Word

Generation Hope (vol. 1): The Future’s A Four-Letter Word

June 14, 2011

I mentioned that I had high hopes for this series in my review of the “Uncanny X-Men” collection which served as the launching pad for it.  Now that I’ve read through this first volume, I can say that my expectations were mostly fulfilled.  Writer Kieron Gillen and artist Salvador Espin deliver an entertaining, if familiar, tale of Hope and the world’s newest mutants adjusting to their new lives.

This being a superhero comic, “adjusting to their new lives” involves flying to Tokyo and throwing down with the last of the “five lights.”  Kenji Uedo is the young darling of the Japanese art world and his mutation pushes an already unstable mind over the edge.  As he begins to do his best imitation of Tetsuo going out of control at the end of “Akira,” Cyclops and Hope are at odds as to either take him out or find a way to stabilize him.  Much bio-organic madness and wanton destruction of Tokyo ensue.

Like “The Birth of Generation Hope,” the old-school “X-Men” fan in me likes this story for doing something we haven’t seen the series do in a long time.  Having Hope and the rest of the “four lights,” Idie, Gabriel, Laurie and Teon, work together to take down Kenji serves up some decent action, but functions better as a way to flesh out these characters.  Bits like seeing Teon briefly deliberate between “fighting” and “mating” while freeing a Japanese schoolgirl from Kenji’s mass and Gabriel beating up Dr. Nemesis after the latter has the former demonstrate his powers in an embarrassing (yet funny) way show that there’s more to these kids than simply being mutanity’s last hope.  I’m certainly more interested in their fates after reading this volume and Gillen provides lots of good one-liners to liven things up.

Of course, even though something hasn’t been done in a long time doesn’t mean you can just trot the routine out for show.  Gillen can’t really escape the fact that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a young mutant’s powers go wildly out of control, but he does have the advantage of having a much different landscape to play in.  That’s probably best demonstrated in the final issue where Hope lays out her terms with Cyclops for finding future new mutants.

More problematic is Kenji himself.  As an artist whose mutation has gone out of control, he winds up delivering some painfully overwrought and emo dialogue about his current situation.  Now it’s pretty clear that this was how Gillen intended it to be, so I can live with it as it shows you his state of mind in this chaos.  Much less acceptable is how much the first issue takes from “Akira” without any acknowledgement of its theft.  Gillen has stated in interviews elsewhere that this was also intentional, and there’s a good idea behind it -- Kenji is acting like Tetsuo because that’s the only way his mind can process what’s happening to him.  But it’s not acknowledged anywhere in the book itself, which defeats the whole purpose of the idea.

Art for the first four issues comes from Salvador Espin, and it’s perfectly acceptable.  He’s not a very flashy artist, but Kenji’s appearance is suitably gruesome, the characters are pretty expressive, and the action flows just fine.  Then Gillen’s “Phonogram” partner Jamie McKelvie shows up to do issue five and then I start wishing he could’ve done the whole book.  Maybe it’s that his style isn’t suited for bio-organic throwdowns, but this single-issue character study of Hope matching wits with Professor X, Magneto, Emma Frost, and Cyclops is perfectly suited to his skills.

Things also end on a good sense of forward momentum as Hope and her team head out into the world to locate other new mutants.  I should also mention that this momentum is something that’s built throughout this volume as each issue does a good job of feeding into the next.  While this volume tells a complete story, it still ends in a way that leaves you wanting more.  Missteps aside, this is still a good start for the newest “X-series” and I look forward to seeing what its future holds.

Captain America:  No Escape

Captain America: No Escape

June 11, 2011

This latest installment in writer Ed Brubaker's run on the series has a premise which demonstrates the right way to use old continuity in a story. And when I say "old continuity," I mean a plot point from before I was born. It's a pretty famous one, though: When current Captain America James "Bucky" Barnes was killed, it was the original Baron Zemo who was responsible. Now that Bucky is back , the defining moment of the Zemo family is all for naught. Which is why his son is out to put Cap's former sidekick down for good.

I'm not sure Ed Brubaker is capable of writing a truly bad comic -- if he has, let me know becuase I'd be interested in seeing how it went wrong -- but his storytelling is usually defined by his noir instincts. These usually involve putting characters in morally ambiguous situations, dealing with fringe or criminal elements of society, and having either the bad guy or nobody coming out on top. While these instincts always result in stellar results when he collaborates with Sean Phillips ("Sleeper," "Criminal," "Incognito"), they can also add a welcome edge to his superhero work. The latter has generally been true of this series and his first year on "Daredevil." However, his work on that title eventually turned into a depressing grind as Matt Murdock kept losing to criminals smarter than he was.

That's something which has happened on multiple occasions in this title as well and it happens again here. Zemo's plans for revenge are fitting, if a little uninspired -- attacking Cap's partner, the Falcon, exposing his identity to the world -- and his attempts to get under the hero's skin in the latter half of the book by suggesting that Bucky doesn't feel worthy of the Captain America legacy are pretty spot-on. Then he straps the hero to a buzz-bomb like his father did and sends him up to die. He doesn't, but anyone could've seen that coming. The end result has a very "That's it?!" feeling to it and you're left wondering what the whole point of this story was.

It's not that I don't think seeing Bucky try to live up to the Cap legacy is an interesting direction for the series, but this is still a superhero comic. You expect to see the hero triumph at the end, and if the villain gets away there's usually a very good reason for it. Brubaker uses Zemo to point out the absurdity of the formula towards the end, and while his attempt to subvert it is admirable it doesn't really succeed. Personally, I would've liked to see Bucky knock out Zemo, then deliver a speech about his ongoing attempts to live up to the standard that Steve Rogers set while taking the man into custody. I know it's the predictable, obvious choice but what Brubaker does here instead isn't any more satisfying.

At least this story sets up a potentially more interesting arc for the next volume. "The Trial of Captain America," looks like it'll involve Bucky being made to answer for his crimes as the Winter Soldier. That's another idea I can get behind, so I'll be back for it. Still, this volume is another you can add to the "noble failure" pile.

DV8:  Gods and Monsters

DV8: Gods and Monsters

June 10, 2011

“DV8:  Neighborhood Threat” has the distinction of being one of the few Warren Ellis written comics that I wouldn’t even recommend to his completists.  That is, unless you want to see what it’s like when he can’t even muster up the energy to entertain himself and trades on shock value that won’t faze anyone familiar with his Vertigo and Avatar work.  However, it impressed writer Brian Wood way back in the day as he has stated in interviews that he’s been trying to tell this story at Wildstorm for years.  They finally gave him, and artist Rebekah Isaacs, the chance to do so before the imprint was shut down last year.  It’s certainly a flawed work, but I have to give Wood this:  the story at least has a GREAT IDEA behind it.

The GREAT IDEA is dumping the collective of teenage sociopaths that is DV8 on a primitive world where they are regarded as gods thanks to their superhuman abilities.  Some members like the temperature-controlling Frostbite, size-shifting Powerhaus, and odds-runner Freestyle try to live in peace and/or better the natives’ lives.  Others, like emotionally unstable telekinetic team leader Threshold, emotion-manipulator Bliss, density-shifting Sublime thrill to their newfound status and wholly embrace their godhood status.

Do they decide to all live peacefully in coalition with each other?  Well, there’s a reason I used the word “sociopaths” to describe the team.  Seeing how each member adapts to their status and what it leads them to do is the book’s strongest part.  When he takes the time to flesh out his cast, Wood turns them from ciphers into characters with believable actions and motivations for what they do.  The conflict they find themselves embroiled in feels inevitable rather than dictated by the plot, and I wish that Wood had the time and remit to follow this conflict through to the end.

You see, there was a reason these kids were dumped on the planet and it was apparently to redefine their place in the Wildstorm universe.  As said universe is now set to integrate into the DC Universe proper, it’s not hard to see how the ending could be anything but unsatisfying.  I wound up wishing to see the war between the team members properly followed through before fate takes it out of their hands.  The beginning is similarly underwhelming as we’re introduced to our “point of view” character Copycat while setting up a flashback structure that robs the story of some of its suspense.  We’re also not given proper introductions to the cast, so it’s hard to be interested in their plight until we reach the issue dedicated to fleshing out a specific team member.

What isn’t flawed is the art from Rebekah Isaacs.  She’s a real find by Wood, as she showed her chops in a memorable story from “DMZ” #50, and he was right to get her to illustrate this series.  Her style is very clean and confident as you can get a feel for the characters and their emotions just by looking at them.  Action scenes flow well and the panel-to-panel storytelling is very clear and easy to follow.  I can easily see her moving on to bigger and better things after this.

While I like the GREAT IDEA behind this book and how most of it was executed, in the end I have to regard it as a noble failure.  It ultimately comes off as inconsequential, and you’re left with the feeling that Wood would’ve been better off if he had created his own characters and done the story without tying it to a major superhero universe.  Yes, the DV8 team was ideally suited to this kind of story, but it’s hard to see how their ultimate fate is really a step up for them -- even if Wildstorm hadn’t shut down immediately afterwards.  It’s not bad, but probably best picked up in a half-off bin at Comic-Con.

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja (vol. 4):  Night Powers

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja (vol. 4): Night Powers

June 9, 2011

King Radical, a motorcycle that used to be a unicorn, a monster who runs a chain of supermarkets, an ancient cult of tennis-playing South Americans, dolphins with guns, hamburgers made from Babe the Blue Ox, frost giants attacking McNinja's hometown, and the awesome power of Frosty the Snow Monster! There's so much crazy stuff going on here, and not only is it mostly hilarious, but it also comes together to tell a proper story too!

Thrill to the ongoing adventures of Dr. McNinja, his kid sidekick Gordito (and his bitchin' mustache) as they face off against the half-man/half-lobster/all-criminal Robster, play a tennis match to save the Earth, and acquire the most radical motorcycle ever. It all comes to a stunning climax as the doctor realizes that his will is slowly being manipulated by a powerful force... after he's killed dozens of bad guys and forsaken his "...first do no harm" oath. Yes, there is a lot of stupid here -- but it's the kind of stupid that's AWESOME! Believe it or not, this is a series that actually gets better with time as the previous volume has aged better than my initial thoughts would indicate. This is a great collection and I'm glad that Dark Horse has picked up the series for publication.

“First Class” indeed.

“First Class” indeed.

June 7, 2011

It turns out that all of the good buzz I’d heard about “X-Men:  First Class” before I saw it was entirely justified.  The film did a fantastic job in telling its own story of Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr and the origins of the “X-Men” themselves.  It didn’t stick very close to how these events have been presented in the comics over the years, but its streamlined approach to showing how the characters come to grips with their powers and roles was quite refreshing.  If Marvel announced tomorrow that the events in the movie were now canon in the comics... that’d be a decision I could live with.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first:  The action scenes were just “okay.”  You’ve got several sprinkled throughout the movie and a final showdown that’s appropriately action-packed.  Still, there wasn’t really a sequence that struck me as being really cool.  In fact, during most of them I wished that we’d go back to the characters because I wanted to know more about them and what they were doing.  This leads in to my second issue, and it’s in the size of the cast.  While the principles -- Charles, Erik, Sebastian Shaw, Mystique, Hank McCoy, Moira McTaggart -- all get substantial screen time and are fleshed out reasonably well, the rest of the cast doesn’t get the same treatment.  The X-Men recruits that are scouted throughout the movie were nice enough, but we don’t get nearly enough time with them.  Shaw’s henchmen (and woman) essentially remain ciphers throughout the movie.

However, it’s hard to complain too loudly about which characters served as the story’s focus.  They may not be household names, but the cast are clearly all talented actors.  James McAvoy gives us a Charles who, for all his nobility and good intentions, has very human desires when it comes to women and fitting in.  Michael Fassbender’s Erik is very much the opposite, but the two work well together and you can see how they became friends even though their differences proved irreconcilable.  I also liked the relationship between Mystique and Hank as it came off as pretty believable and cringe-free, as were their viewpoints on hiding/curing their mutations versus learning to live with and accept them.  Villany also suits Kevin Bacon well, as you can see that he was clearly enjoying himself in the role of Shaw.  The way the film shows him to be the mastermind behind the Cuban Missile Crisis was also appropriately comic-booky without being silly -- Stan Lee is probably kicking himself for not thinking of this first.

Though the film may have had a difficult birth, director Matthew Vaughn and all of the writers involved ultimately delivered a film that’s a worthy successor to “X2.”   Vaughn has already talked about his plans for a sequel (Magneto was behind the magic bullet that killed JFK -- how’s that for an opening!), and I certainly hope that he and the rest of the crew get to come back and tell that story.

DMZ vol. 10:  Collective Punishment

DMZ vol. 10: Collective Punishment

June 3, 2011

"DMZ" is nearing the end of its run as the series is set to conclude with issue #72. By my calculations, this means that we'll have at least two more collected editions to go before you can read the entire thing in paperback. While it hasn't reached the rarefied heights of other Vertigo titles like "Sandman," "Preacher," or "Transmetropolitan," to name a few, it has still been a very engaging and thought-provoking title throughout the entirety of its run. Though "Collective Punishment" doesn't really further the overall story of the series, it does give us five solid tales of the most and more notable cast members.

The U.S. military has decided that a massive bombing campaign in the DMZ is the only way to break the back of the Free States resistance there, and the ensuing calamity is like nothing the city has ever seen. With this as a backdrop/connecting thread, we find out what Zee, Wilson, Amina, Decade Later, and Matty are up to in this time. Each story also shows us how much these characters have changed over the course of the series, as some of them wind up in places that you wouldn't have expected. Wilson, the cocksure leader of Chinatown, prepares for its end over dinner while reflecting on his responsibilities. We find that Amina, the almost-suicide bomber, has a much stronger sense of self and is capable of looking after more than herself. Graffiti artist Decade Later's story is probably the toughest to take as we're spared no detail of his captivity and interrogation, but it ends on a hopeful note as he prepares for his final exhibition.

Then there's Matty's story. This was the one I was looking forward to the most, as integrating himself back into the DMZ after the events of the past two volumes wasn't going to be an easy task. Still, he manages to make a start of it without getting himself or anyone else killed. His story also shows you that he has a much better idea of his place in the world and how things work. Throughout most of the series, he felt like a character who was in over his head and destined for a fall. Now that the fall has happened, I like seeing how he has recovered from it and am looking forward to his exploits in the coming volumes.

Zee's story is the exception in that it's not really about her. It's about a nameless soldier sent in under deep cover to achieve the military's objectives. After he botches his extraction, he winds up in a shelter with Zee and a couple dozen other citydwellers. Personally, I find the idea behind his military purpose fascinating and we get a very effective dramatization as to how he ultimately can't live with what he has done.

Art comes from five different artists: Andrea Mutti, Nathan Fox, Danijel Zezelj, Cliff Chiang, and David Lapham. Mutti, Chiang, and Lapham all do strong work, though their style doesn't differ too much from that of regular artist Riccardo Burchielli to really stand out. Fox and Zezelj do that themselves as the wild colors and exaggerated style of the former contrast nicely with the downbeat nature of the story (Wilson's) that he illustrates. Zezelj handles Decade Later, and his style proves surprisingly appropriate and compatible for the tale of the graffiti artist -- giving you the idea that if he illustrated an issue of this series, this is what it'd look like.

I'll miss this series when it's gone. At this point, I'm also certain that after ten great volumes so far, it'll go out on a high note.

Comic Picks #82:  X-Men — First Class

Comic Picks #82: X-Men — First Class

June 1, 2011

I talk about the comics the new movie takes its name from, and make my pitch for an "X-Factor" film.

Hellblazer:  City of Demons

Hellblazer: City of Demons

June 1, 2011

So why run a “Hellblazer” story as a mini-series rather than in the series proper?  Looking at the various ones published over the years, it appears that most of them have a purpose.  From providing a tie-in to the “Constantine” movie (“Papa Midnite”), to celebrating an anniversary (“Pandemonium”), to scouting prospective writers for the series itself (“Lady Constantine,” and “Chas -- The Knowledge.”  And yes, I know that “Chas” writer Simon Oliver hasn’t tackled the series, but he was slated to before an argument about royalties from “The Exterminators” put an end to it.)  After reading this latest mini-series, it leaves me with the hope that artist Sean Murphy will eventually illustrate the regular one on a full-time basis as opposed to seeing Si Spencer write it.

“City of Demons” has John looking for a quiet evening with a pint at a local pub.  What he gets instead is accosted by two young thugs and run over by a car.  The ensuing trip to the hospital has him sorting out some of the local ghosts in his spectral form while his body undergoes surgery.  Though he winds up staying for a few weeks as part of the rehabilitation process, his troubles are only beginning.  Two of the hospitals doctors have gotten their hands on his “demon blood” and are now making plans to utilize it for their own ends.  These ends include infecting normal people with John’s blood and turning them into an army to take over London... and then the world!

And now, a few words about “Hellblazer” continuity:

For years it was something that you generally didn’t have to pay attention to because it was fairly self-contained in each writer’s run.  Sure they’d share characters and plot points, but everything you needed to understand them was always included.  Then Mike Carey took over and showed us that while he may have read Paul Jenkins’ issues, he missed some of the finer details -- like the fact that John doesn’t have “demon blood” in his body anymore.  This, along with his resurrection of other musty, finished bits of continuity like Nergal, drove me nuts and was one of the reasons why I considered his run to be the weakest in the series’ history.  Yes, I know I’m well into “comic book guy” territory, but I own nearly every issue of this series so I tend to take continuity issues a bit more seriously than I do with other titles.

That being said, even if you’re willing to over look the bit about the “demon blood,” this is still a pretty weak “Hellblazer” story.  For all the talk about the blood’s power, we never really get a sense of urgency as to the level of their threat.  That’s partly because the story itself feels quite fractured as it’s always cutting back and forth from John’s antics to the exploits of the people who are infected with his blood.  To be honest, those are some of the strongest parts of the book as they feature some imaginative bits of bloody horror.  Still, “City of Demons” also suffers from some seriously bland antagonists as the doctors masterminding the whole ordeal barely have any personality traits to speak of.  For a title that has produced some memorable villains over the course of its long history (Nergal, The Family Man, The First of the Fallen, Buer, Josh Wright, S.W. Manor... the list goes on) these two are barely worth mentioning.

Fortunately, we’re treated to some very creepy and detailed art from Sean Murphy.  Murphy has his own sharp, angular style that’s distinctive in its own manner and is well-suited to drawing both real-life and supernatural mayhem.  This is best seen as John hangs out with the other ghosts in the hospital, and when one of the infected decides that sticking white hot needles in his eyes isn’t preferable to spending an evening with his fiance's parents.  It’s great stuff, and while I wouldn’t want to see the current team of Guiseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini booted to make room for Murphy, he clearly shows that he’s an artist capable of hanging with the series’ best.

So if you’re looking for some good art in a horror story, then this might be worth picking up.  If you’re looking for a good “Hellblazer” story, then open the inside cover flip to the “Reader’s Guide” and pick a random volume.  Whatever you pick will likely wind up being better than this.

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