Wednesday, July 27, 2011

spontaneous issue one

Spontaneous Issue One

Oni Press
Joe Harris, Brett Weldele,
Douglas E. Sherwood,
Keith Wood, Jill Beaton

Spontaneous is a mystery comic about a teenager with a shitty job who seems to have been in close proximity to many instances of spontaneous combustion. It’s like a teen summer movie mixed with an episode of the x-files (though I’m sure mulder won’t show up or it’d be just the one issue, mystery solved). It has that sort of “weird kid with a secret” meets “cute rambunctious girl” plot going for it at the same time, and because of this it never gets too dark. The reader is kept in a nice space of wondering about the romance that is of course going to come out of these two meeting each other, and in finding out the secrets of our male protagonist through said romance with female protagonist.
            Anf this is where the art sort of fails the story. It tries to do the whole ben templesmith color palette thing and the visual aesthetic is thusly much darker than the story needs or requires of it. It’s hard to get that light feeling from the story when everything’s colored dingy piss yellows and browns. Reading through the comic a second time I can’t help but imagine what this thing would look like if it were actually colored, rather than whatever photoshop technique this is that’s become so popular in horror/mystery genre comics. It feels like a cop-out, with proper coloring, there’s some consideration in how the scene is lit, and how the colors create a mood, but here everything looks the same. The mood is absent, or if there is a mood it’s in conflict with the contents of the comic itself.
            I know they’re not going to change the entire look of the comic next month when issue two comes out, but I’ll probably read it anyway. The last page has me interested in what’ll happen next and the main character is interesting (if stupid, how did you not think sharing things with an overzealous news reporter wouldn’t turn into her next story?). Weldele, though I am not satisfied with his coloring choice, is competent in drawing the story and keeping it readable, and Harris has a nice air of mystery going.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Retroactive: Batman - 1970s, S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, Nonplayer #1

Retroactive: Batman - 1970s

Len Wein
Tom Mandrake
Wes Hartman
Dezi Sienty
Chynna Clugston Flores
Jim Chadwick

A small disclaimer: DC Comics has decided to create one shot issues of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and the JLA from the 1970s-90s. Each issue features a twenty six page new story, aesthetically tailored for the particular era, as well as a twenty page story from the period. This week The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Batman issues focusing on the 1970s were released, but for this review the focus will be on the new content (as one could or has presumably read the old story) of the Batman issue.

The art is really where this comic shines. Mandrake & Hartman both did a fantastic job understanding and replicating the 1970s aesthetic well. The character design and color palette are particularly well handled. Even so, the new story presented in Retroactive: Batman - 1970s is really nothing to write home about. It is poorly written, cliché, and overall boring, to put it bluntly. However I believe the point of these one shots is aesthetics, instead of the quality of the new or old stories. The new story works well because the writing itself is stilted and relies on tropes to progress the narrative, thus making the story seem as though it could be from the 1970s. Unfortunately, such a banal plot could hardly hold anyone's attention in 2011 and it is therefore the biggest failure of this comic (and, I'm assuming, the rest of the Retroactive series). The whole Retroactive project seems to be of novelty value only, which has its charms, but ultimately is a not too clever ploy by DC to get die hard fans to shell out cash for inferior products.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 The Beginning of the End

Jonathan Hickman
Dustin Weaver
Sonia Oback
Todd Klein
Geral Parel
Christina Strain
Irene Y. Lee
Daniel Ketchum
Nick Lowe
Axel Alonso
Joe Quesada
Dan Buckley
Alan Fine

Marvel's new S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 The Begging of the End is truly deceptive. Although I have not read the other S.H.I.E.L.D. (2010) comics that lead up to this issue, I know they have taken the concept in a direction completely oblivious to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s nearly fifty year history. Needless to say, this comic is not about espionage, covert military actions, or anything of the sort. Instead, it focuses on the apparent occult origins of S.H.I.E.L.D. that includes but is not necessarily limited to: magic, technology, time/space/dimensional travel, and famous historical figures. Because of this (and the somewhat lackluster writing), the entire comic is very confusing and coupled with art that is less than inspiring, I can only say that this comic may be worth it to those who have been following the new S.H.I.E.L.D. series. For everyone else, either go back to the very beginning or don't bother at all.

Nonplayer #1

Nate Simpson
Brandon Graham
Ben Templesmith
Justin Norman
Eagle Gosselin

Another small disclaimer: Although Image Comics' Nonplayer originally came out in May of this year, they recently did a second printing and thus this review is not for a comic that was actually released this week, but should still be available at your local comic book store.

Nonplayer is the brainchild of Nate Simpson who allegedly spent a year making this first issue (of a planned six). I must say, it was a year well spent. The narrative is in a similar vein to the .hack series, in which the protagonist, Dana, has both a real life and a life inside a virtual reality game. The writing is quite nice and captures the spirit of both MMORPG chat and everyday conversation. Furthermore the art is gorgeous, seamlessly weaving the fantasy aesthetic of Dana's online life with her futuristic reality. The first issue's plot sets up a lot of potential for interesting drama in the future issues, so there is a lot to look forward to. Overall, Nonplayer is extremely engaging and thought provoking and its certainly nice to see a comic book that evades the tired clichés and tropes of the comic book medium. I don't wish to spoil anymore of the story because, if you have the chance, you should pick this comic up as soon as possible.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Everybody Loves Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad Season Four Episode One
Box Cutter

Vince Gilligan, Alan Bernstein,
Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn,
Aaron Paul, Giancarlo Esposito,
Jonathan Banks, Betsy Brandt

            Wait so was that Gale’s box cutter or just a box cutter Gale used? Maybe at the start of another episode down the line we’ll see this nice scene where Gus gives it to Gale as a gift and is like “if anyone ever kills you, rest assured I’ll use that to kill someone else.” This episode starts with one of those kinds of scenes, in this one though we go back in time to see someone talking about how powerful the main character is, it’s very much like a shonen comic. Vegeta might as well have been screaming out nine thousand, Gus’ scouter exploding on his face. The lauded 3 percent will put Gale’s favorite and most cherished box cutter to good use in the hands of Gus the psycho.
            At least we get to see Gus expose his power to the others in the group, we always knew he was powerful but now we have proof of all of his… power. I usually change clothes before I kill someone, too, lime green and tangerine being the colors I love to murder in. “Get back to work,” “we’re on the same page,” “what page is that?”
Why is Skylar so damn annoying? Well the answer is sort of clear to anyone who’s watched a bit of the Twilight Zone, in any escapist type of television aimed at males the women characters seem to enter into one of a few archetypes, one being the nagging wife (when you consider that almost no man in the Twilight Zone is happily married, you suddenly appreciate the strong female characters in the Outer Limits even more). Well Skylar is getting an upgrade, she has a new power: the liar. Boy, can she lie her way out of anything! Just like that super ridiculous annoying scene from season 3 when she explains to her sister (who has become one of my favorite characters in the series, now that she’s the downtrodden optimistic) Walt’s “gambling problem” and all of the details of that stupid-ass excuse. Anna Gunn puts those acting chops to good use.
But overall this wasn’t too bad an episode, we get some interesting parts of Walt and Jesse’s relationship actually spoken from Walt’s lips, “When you make it Gale versus me, or Gale versus Jesse, Gale loses. Simple as that.” It’s the family you hear about in old sch(k)ool hip-hop, it’s the kind of connection that going through a bunch of fucked up shit together will create between two people. And that’s what this series is all about, the family and what you’d do for that family. Look what gus has done for Walt in previous episodes, maybe they’re more on the same page than Walt can ever know,  sitting in that room with Mike disposing of bodies together, it’s the kind of family fun that makes the show sort of heart warming. I think.
But the show is also about something else, that being the writers. A huge part of the appeal of this show is that the writers put the characters through said fucked up shit, and then somehow (it’s not hard when you’re the Master of the Universe) get the characters out of it. It’s also about  some weird consistency, “why doesn’t that dude that’s always watching them in the lab just cook the meth?” and problem solving (on the writers’ parts, not the characters… those guys aren’t actually real). So we see some of that, too, the writers considering every possible fanboy complaint that could sprout from paying too much attention and expecting some amount of “realism” from a show which is obviously one long episode of the Twlight Zone. But a pretty good episode.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

David Yates
Daniel Radcliffe
Ralph Fiennes
Steve Kloves
Dame Maggie Smith
Alan Rickman

So Harry Potter is fighting Voldemort again and spoiler alert: I don't think J.K. Rowling is a very good writer. Her sentences are often full of sap, the world she creates can at times feel gaudy, and her naming choices can grind on one's nerves after hundreds of pages of quaffles and sniffles and babbity rabbities. That being said there are a couple things Rowling does know how to do. She knows how to keep her books somewhat timeless by leaving out useless pop culture references. She knows how to surprise the reader with shocking magical moments in a sea of magical moments. But above all, she knows how to craft characters that so many people care about and a mythology that the world can share. And from time to time, she even knows how to write a mystery novel.

Director David Yates knows that you can't fit a book into a movie and he doesn't really try. But Harry Potter being what it is, most people go into this movie knowing the whole plot anyway and simply wanting to see their fantasies brought to life... Which says something scary about the state of our imaginations. But Yates services fans well in the time alloted and even does some more. Where Rowling's descriptions sometimes feel about as realistic as the graphics on a Nintendo 64, Yates makes every shot in Harry's grey and black death eater infested world gorgeous to look at. And though some is left out, he doesn't change too much either. He even makes a few scenes more coherent (particularly the final battle). And let's not forget that opening scene where Voldemort waves his wand in the air to make the Warner Brothers logo and remind all the kiddies who the real villain is. I don't know how that sequence made it in there but I'm sure glad it did!

The special affects were also decent through out. Spoiler Alert: the bloody Voldemort fetus on the white floor towards the end was probably cooler than any experimental video Matthew Barney has ever done.

The acting in this film ranges from decent to incredible. Alan Rickman balances his Snapeness well without making it too cheesy. Maggie Smith packs texture into every brief moment we have with her. Hermione and Ron's makeout scene is as sloppy and unattractive as it should be. Radcliffe does his best during his scene with Dumbledore at King's Cross. He loses the glasses so you can see his face and realize he's kinda funny lookin'. I will say that Ralph Fiennes seemed pretty tame here when he had been fearsome before, but maybe that's because his character was weakened in the plot.

And then there's Neville Longbottom. Neville fucking Longbottom. Let's be honest, I grew up reading Harry Potter and I was glassy eyed through most of this thing. But when Neville stepped forward and told Voldemort what was what, the tears were fucking flowing. This was hands down the most powerful moment in the entire film and contained one of the best of Harry Potter's messages- You might be awkward, you might have big buck teeth and bushy hair, your last name might be Longbottom and people might laugh at you, but it doesn't really matter what you're given in life, it's what you do with what you have. I guess that's sort of a rich white person sounding thing to say but considering Rowling was homeless when she started writing these books it sort of makes sense.

Also, I don't want to give it all away but the film also changed a few things about later moments with Neville and there's a certain coy cleverness to the way the script (penned by Steve Kloves) plays with a potter fan's expectations.

I do have a few problems with the Deathly Hallows in both the book and it's film. Mainly the deathly hallows! The deathly hallows are three magical artifacts of unimaginable power. There was literally no need to tack them in when the story already possessed the perfectly serviceable search and destroy element offered by the Horcruxes (For those of you who don't know, Horcruxes are artifacts which contain fragments of Voldemort's soul.) The other problem a part of me has with this film is that it probably had the budget of a small country. But not even the magic of Harry Potter can save us from the horrors of capitalism and it wasn't his job anyway. At the very least, a film this massive will probably help cement Harry Potter into the mythology of this time period for centuries to come.

And that's a position that he sort of deserves. I'm glad and even proud to have come of age during the days of the boy who lived. His unfaltering goodness is sort of troublesome but at least he's not that good looking. And for such a mass culture phenomenon, these films have maintained or perhaps grown to a quality that surpasses that of many of their peers and yes I'm talking to you, Star Wars. So I'll admit that I love Harry Potter... But I think I love Neville Longbottom even more.


Ultimate Fallout #1

Brian Michael Bendis
Mark Bagley
Andy Lanning
Justin Ponsor

This sort of read like a What If? comic and not so much like an alternate Ultimate universe comic and that's kind of good. I have a lot of bad things to say about Brian Bendis, but he does do fairly well on Spider-Man because I think he knows how to write teenagers (maybe because he writes like one.) There were some boring moments here, too much time was spent seeing different characters reactions to Spider-Man's death- Flash Thompson, Kitty Pryde, and Jonah could've been given panels, not pages.

Jonny Storm erupting with flaming anger was a little silly but teenagers do silly stuff. Bagley's pencils certainly don't jump off the page but I admire his work ethic and the fact that he did draw Ultimate Spider-Man for so long lends to his appropriateness here. I will say that there was a potent mystery contained within Nick Fury's deer in the headlights expression when Mary Jane accuses him of doing the deed. Regardless of what it means for future plot, it had a nice "don't trust the government" message.

The stand out moment of this comic is a piece of dialogue at the funeral that went something like this...

little girl: Were you Spider-Man's mommy?
Aunt May: No, I was his aunt.
Little girl: But you made him breakfast like a mommy?
Aunt May: Yes Sweetie, I did.

It was an odd piece of dialogue but it felt believable and satisfying to see Aunt May empowered as the maternal figure in Spider-Man's life. The little girl (drawn with subtle burn marks) expresses that Spider-Man saved her from a fire and then her and May hug it out. It was good stuff.

Where this comic kind of failed and succeeded was with something that I felt was lurking behind the scenes and should have been brought out into the light- that underneath all the jokes and hovering above all the pain, Spider-Man is one of the most honest, caring, and optimistic characters in the Marvel Universe. However, unlike DC's Superman, Spider-man is way more relatable because he lacks Clarks squeaky clean image. What makes him an even greater hero is that Peter Parker puts in work without recieving much appreciation- and he doesn't really care. Spider-Man never sucks the dicks of the government or the media- hell sometimes he gets paid to tarnish his own name! But he always tries to do what's right, even if that makes some people think that he's a monster. Some part of him must know that there will always be people who believe in him. At the very least, this comic book demonstrated that those people do exist.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Marvel New and Old (But Never Before Printed)

Fear Itself: Spider-Man 03

Chris Yost, Mike McKone,
Jeremy Cox, Joe Caramagna,
Ellie Pyle, Stephen Wacker,
Axel Alonso, Joe Quesada,
Dan Buckley, Alan Fine

Something about the core Fear Itself miniseries (or limited series or whatever they call ‘em now) is completely unsatisfying. The book is just too unfocused, you can see effects of fear but no explanation for it, you can see the tron-verse versions of the marvel characters but don’t really have any reason to care about them, and there’s a whole narrative that it’s connected to with Thor and some serpent uber-old-god but again there’s no real depth. This miniseries, however, sort of prevails where that series fails, even though it does almost the same thing. I guess it’s a matter of focus, by focusing in on just Spider-man dealing with this stupid event the reader can actually get something out of it.
            We see that the fear is some irrational fear caused by lack of hope (spoiler I guess) and we can see how people react. Superman 713’s issues are even tackled in the pages of this comic with far more conviction. Spider-man shows up at the hospital, brings the danger with him, but helps to save a life, makes people around him strong and willing to fight evil, and does indeed ward off a bit of evil (somehow, in another sort of unexplained moment). Spider-man actually does something in this comic. I don’t know why that’s refreshing.
            The artist is pretty capable of keeping up with the writing, too; he brings the depth of feeling necessary to make the reader sort of care what happens. And that’s the hardest part about something like this, making the reader care, because you know going out the gate who your market is for “Fear Itself: Spider-Man 3” and they know who they are before they even pick the comic up, but to make you care a bit about the story is another issue. Anyway, I wish this miniseries were all there were of the entire fear itself thing, it seems like if this were just three issues of Amazing Spider-Man the story would still have the same amount of depth as it currently does (with its millions of tie-ins) but wouldn’t need an excuse for such, it’s just three issues of spider-man coming close to losing all hope, the people around him losing all hope, but all of them finding it again through heroic actions which take place, small actions away from the big picture. Worth reading if you’re interested in the Fear Itself event, possibly the only thing involved that I can say as much about (not that I’m going to read any of the other stuff…).

Defenders: From The Vault 01

Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicienza,
Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessey
Chris Sotomayer, Chris Eliopoulos,
Rachel Pinnelas, Tom Brevoort,
Axel Alonso, Joe Quesada,
Dan Buckley, Alan Fine

            Something’s really enjoyable about this thing. I have to admit I’m one of those guys who reads almost every Defenders comic that comes out, I read the last Defenders, and even check in for instances wherein the defenders only half-assemble (like that fear itself fearsome four thing, which was the first time I’d heard of Betty Ross Red She-Hulk). So there’s a bit of a bias here, something about the Defenders makes me happy just to see ‘em together in some form or another. And this comic did indeed make me happy.
            Apparently (according to the post-script) this was a story that Nicienza plotted as a fill-in during Busiek’s run, which Mark Bagley drew and was shelved until now, no one who was originally involved remembers what the story was supposed to be so Busiek just “ad-libbed” it. Maybe more comics should be made like this, but that might leave us with a bunch of Stan Lee bullshit or something, so I take back the first clause of this sentence. Still, this comic works, the main conceit is really interesting, and though the execution doesn’t take the reader there, sort of heartbreaking. Our four most noted Defenders, the Hulk, Namor, the Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange, each finally receive that which would make their lives complete, that which would make them truly happy. But none of them truly experience it. Their bodies are usurped by four random teenagers and the Defenders are left helpless in their own bodies as their greatest desires are accepted (or rejected in one case) by some nobody teenagers from nowhere.
            The art is what you’d expect from Mark Bagley, I remember not liking his work when Ultimate Spider-Man first started but reading that shit like no other anyway, way back when. He’s always serviceable to the script and a fast worker (the reason he was tapped to draw this hypothetical-emergency fill-in issue). It’s sort of overly apparent that the coloring is new (what’s with that flash of light when the Hulk hits Namor?) but doesn’t ruin the comforting feel of the comic. I guess that’s what this is, some sort of comfort food for Defenders fans, a one-shot time-traveller. And it does it’s job, I feel pretty comforted by this thing, I guess.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ultimate Avengers Vs. New Ultimates #6

Mark Millar
Leinil Yu
Stephen Segovia
Sunny Gho

Once upon a time when I was in 8th grade, I would open up the latest issue of Mark Millar's Ultimate X-Men and get something digestible, free of clutter, and just more free in general. Backed by some of the biggest talents in the industry, the Ultimate line of comics soldiered on for years without a hitch and I applaud Marvel for that. Life was breathed into many old characters (Invisible Woman, the Wasp) and revamped personalities made some characters more interesting then they actually had been in the original continuity (Thor.) But nothing lasts forever, and the Ultimate books decline culminated in Jeph Loeb's Ultimatum... Which was one the most critically panned crossover series of all time. And with good reason. So when the smoke cleared and half the Ultimate Marvel universe was dead, it felt for some like a good time to call it quits on Ultimate Marvel. Hell, I thought that was the whole point of the "Ultimatum." Unfortunately, that wasn't what happened and Marvel decided to keep pushing things along.

Now the Ultimate Marvel universe faces the same problems the regular one did- namely, confusing continuity that was dictated by previous shitty writers and then made more confusing by more overly complex plotting... The title alone is confusing! Questions come up like who is that Ultimate Black Widow, which Ultimate Giant Man is that, and who really cares? I sure don't. Mark Millar might secretly be an 8th grade boy and I think he finished up Ultimates 2 with about as much intelligently delivered political intrigue as his brain can muster. Here Millar has pushed it over the limit- I thought it was about the Avengers fighting the North Koreans but that actually got little attention and was delivered without any clarity. And I'm glad it all ends with all of the heroes looking like jerks again but if they're all jerks then what am I supposed to care about? The hippie dippie Ultimate Thor that I know wouldn't lightning bolt someone to death without really thinking it through.

Leinil Yu's artwork is decent as always, though he seems to be going for too many close-up shots. He's a real talent but frankly, I don't think he's trying that hard and I don't blame him. I will say that colorist Sunny Gho did do a pretty nice job keeping this muted and Ultimate.

I do kind of like Blade in the Avengers except it feels like he's in there because he wasn't randomly killed in Ultimatum. Blade, Hawkeye and crew being turned into hulks was also pretty tacked on and Yu didn't do much to even make it clear that that had happened in the previous issue. I'm not really bothered by Spider-Man dying, that story has potential if given it's day in the sun, and the dialogue throughout wasn't that bad. But the problem with these big crossover stories is that they involve so many characters that almost none of them get attention. The other problem is that Mark Millar has allowed himself to get trapped in the habit of simply elaborating on bad plot threads for the sake of continuity, and the Ultimates line was created so that writers wouldn't end up doing stuff like that.