Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bless This Mess

Quick update on a couple of fronts:

First, the Best Wife Ever and I are now the proud owners of a lovely house in a quiet suburb of Williamsburg, Virginia. We still have to move all of our cra-- er, accumulated valuables (including 25 longboxes) across three states, but we hope that won't take long. This is why I haven't posted in a while, and why I won't have new comics probably until the weekend (when I get back to Lexington), so please accept my apologies.

Second, for those of you going through withdrawal, I have managed to cobble together a couple of pieces for The Great Curve -- a Captain Marvel essay which is up now, and an Englehart/Rogers Detective which I put up Friday but didn't update here because I had to bug out for VA.

Finally, thanks as always to the York County Public Library, Tabb branch, for being so friendly and so close to the hotel.
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Thursday, April 21, 2005

New comics 4/20/05

We begin with Superman #215, the conclusion of Brian Azzarello's and Jim Lee's "For Tomorrow" storyline. There's nothing in this conclusion which necessarily negates the good things I talked about in my "FT" essay, but it doesn't quite live up to what's gone before. Azzarello has Superman narrate the issue, so at the end it seems like he's talking directly to the reader. The ending suggests strongly that Superman will always be alone; and drives home the point by having Supes build a new Fortress of Solitude in the middle of a rainforest. (About which the various rainforest native species probably thought, "Oh, great.") As much as the plot was driven by Superman's quest to return the Vanished people, and specifically Lois, to their normal lives, Azzarello denies the reader the opportunity to see Clark Kent's reunion with Lois. It's an uncharacteristically downbeat epilogue for a Superman story, and while that might be innovative, it's not very satisfying.

There are other aspects of this ending involving the fate of Fr. Leone which I won't get into, except to say they feel tacked on at best, and at worst fail adequately to conclude his character's arc. Also, this issue Lee is inked by a platoon (as opposed to his regular inker Scott Williams) but this doesn't produce any noticeable changes in style. Overall, while "FT" definitely wasn't a waste of twelve issues, it didn't live up to its potential either.

JLA #113 (written by Kurt Busiek, with art by Ron Garney and Dan Green) presents the penultimate chapter of "Syndicate Rules." I liked it well enough, although in this age of various Crises and advertisements for the Justice League falling apart I have to wonder whether every intramural argument -- for example, the exchange between Batman and Wonder Woman towards the end of the issue -- is merely dramatic or part of some much larger purpose. On its own, this has been an exciting and fun adventure, and this issue leavens the action with a couple bits of dark humor. I re-read this story's setup in JLA/Avengers on Saturday, and while Busiek's adulatory voice isn't as prominent here, it's still evident. He's not trying to do anything more with JLA than produce good, solid superheroics, and so far he's succeeding.

As for that aforementioned macro-arc, The OMAC Project #1 (written by Greg Rucka, art by Jesus Saiz) is itself a decent setup for what could be a compelling spy thrilla. I am having a hard time getting over the story's central conceit -- namely, that in addition to
  • appearing in four regular books,
  • supervising various proteges, and
  • taking leadership roles in various incarnations of the Justice League and the Outsiders, all while
  • presenting a convincing facade as the figurehead of a multinational corporation and
  • most likely doing his own taxes,
Bats still managed to cobble together a spy satellite capable of looking at anyone anywhere doing anything. Last I heard, that level of intel was reserved for Santa Claus and God.

But I digress. Rucka and Saiz paint a convincingly paranoid picture. Saiz' art aims for realism in the Brent Anderson/Rags Morales tradition, meaning that the people don't look too special but the costumes don't look too stupid. Rucka is obviously comfortable with this genre and these characters, and he works in Beetle's former colleagues in a much less condescending way than the Countdown special did. I do wish the cover had taken the original OMAC's tagline about "the world that's coming," though. It seems more appropriate.

Speaking of covers, Teen Titans #23 (written by Geoff Johns, art by Mike McKone and Mario Alquiza) looks like it's topped by the rejected logo of a crossover yet unknown. "Twilight of the Teen Titans," eh? Might just be a pun, but in The World That's Coming you never know. The story wraps up the Dr. Light fight as every living Titan, past and present, dogpiles on the villain. All the while he's hooting about how "he won" no matter what, and yadda yadda yadda, he's been saying that the past couple of issues.

The conclusion sets up a conflict between the Titans and JLA, and leads into the Villains United miniseries, and thematically it follows/prefigures the "Titans Tomorrow" arc from a few months ago. When the entire issue is devoted to a couple dozen super-types pounding the crap out of a villain, powerful as he may have become, you have to think Light has a point. Although in that respect this was a solid issue, I'm still burned out on Geoff Johns' passive/aggressive tendencies and am sticking to my decision to drop the book.

Happier times abound in JLA Classified #6, Part 3 of "I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League!" (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, with art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubenstein). Half the team goes to Hell to work in fast food, while the other half goes looking for them. Guy Gardner and Power Girl provide some "serious" superheroics, and the mystery surrounding Guy gets a little deeper. What does it say about me that I was able to read both this and OMAC Project in the same sitting without my head exploding from the different takes on Max Lord? On purely sentimental grounds, I did like this better.

Batman: Gotham Knights #64 (written by A.J. Lieberman, art by Al Barrionuevo and Bit) continues the Poison Ivy storyline, as P.I. hooks up with Bruce Wayne in hopes of curing her condition. Bruce obliges, helping Ivy personally because, you know, he's not busy otherwise. Maybe he e-filed. Heaven forbid the cautious, calculating part of Bruce would emerge and subject Ivy to the indignity (and security) of more qualified professionals at Waynetech or STAR Labs, right? Bruce also puts some tentative moves on Ivy while trying not to mention that he's Batman. Rest assured, there are other secret-identity hijinx elsewhere in the issue which make me wonder why you'd need anything more than a pair of binoculars, let alone a Brother Eye satellite, to figure out Bruce's secret. Barrionuevo's work is getting better, though.

I had to run back to the comics shop to pick up Seven Soldiers: Klarion #1 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by Frazer Irving). It's an unsettling story about a lost colony of witches where (at least for me) the art overshadowed the script. Imagine Charles Addams crossed with The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari and you'll have a good idea. This was the least "superheroic" of the 7S miniseries so far, but that's hardly a knock against it. I'm waiting to see how Morrison ties it all in with the others, and in the meantime I can enjoy it on its own merits.

Finally, Fantastic Four #525 presents the diverting first part of a two-parter by the interim team of Karl Kesel (writer) and Tom Grummett and Lary Stucker (artists). Everybody's having bad dreams and Diablo's involved somehow -- or is he? Grummett and Stucker's style is actually a happy medium between outgoing artists Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel and the incoming Mike McKone, and Kesel always seems to come up with decent, entertaining FF stories. While this doesn't approach the heights of Waid & Wieringo's excellent tenure, it's good on its own terms.
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Monday, April 18, 2005

Only Moments After Countdown

[Updated Monday morning]

Newsarama has a preview of The OMAC Project #1, Greg Rucka's miniseries spinning out of Countdown, and I have to say it looks good so far. The protagonists include Batman and his former bodyguard/love interest Sasha Bordeaux, so you have to think at some point she'll end up on his side. As predictable as that sounds, I continue to have faith in Rucka's ability to turn out a good spy thriller featuring superheroes. Since OMAC will also feature Wonder Woman, another character with whom Rucka has had success, my expectations are higher accordingly.

Nevertheless, at the risk of some creeping negativity -- and really, where would my cred as a comics blogger be without negativity? -- I feel compelled to note that Brother Eye and the OMAC trappings have been taken from a 1970s Jack Kirby creation and turned into sinister agents of a Shadowy Government Organization. The cynic in me wants to note that this is yet another grim subversion of something once meant as good and pure, but honestly I don't have quite so much emotional investment in OMAC.

Anyway, check out the preview, and if you like it be sure to tell your local comics merchant, because apparently it's already due for a second printing.

P.S. Also, be sure to watch The Great Curve for a couple of new essays -- that Seagle/Superman one I talked about last week, and a follow-up to my Hal Jordan/Donna Troy/Jason Todd rant.

P.P.S. Comic Book Resources has a couple more preview pages and a nice interview with Rucka which also speaks to the health of Gotham Central.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

New comics 4/13/05

The most pleasant surprise of the week came in Adam Strange #7 (written by Andy Diggle, drawn by Pascal Ferry). Check out the flashback on page 6, panel 2, and tell me those aren't two of the schmucks treated so shabbily by Countdown! Sure, they're second-rate in DC's eyes, but they took out a cosmic menace! Maybe that was the point of Countdown -- remove the obstacles to Mr. Cosmic Menace's conquest of the galaxy -- but I digress. This was yet another fine installment for the miniseries, effectively balancing what seems like an opening dream-sequence with the reality of preparing for the aforementioned menace. It's too much to hope that the rest of DC's big event miniseries will be as good as this one.

I had thought the cover of JSA #72 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Don Kramer and Keith Champagne) referenced the cover of America Vs. The Justice Society #4 (April 1985), but silly me -- that was itself a reference to All Star Comics #35 (June-July 1947), Degaton's first appearance. As for this issue, most of it's a big fight on the White House lawn as Degaton tries to use the Justice Society's powers to destroy Washington, D.C. Accordingly, it's most concerned with fight mechanics and the effective use of powers. There's also a kind of deus ex machina at the end which makes little sense now. I say "now" because it's the kind of thing I expect Johns to work into a storyline a couple of years down the road. More overtly, Johns works into the ending a setup for the Power Girl storyline in July's JSA Classified, and possibly even a reference to Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Not that I'll be reading either in July. This was my last monthly issue of JSA for the foreseeable future. It's been coming since "Black Reign," and the first part of this storyline (with Courtney's family murdered) kind of sealed the deal. The book just doesn't do anything for me anymore, and I don't find myself caring about characters like Atom-Smasher or Hourman II. "JSA/JSA" in particular was oddly free of suspense, mostly because we never saw the consequences of Degaton's alterations to the timestream. Sure, he says America will never trust mystery-men again, but does that mean Kal-El's rocket won't land, or Abin Sur's spaceship won't crash, or Diana won't get sent to Patriarch's World? Surely some super-people will be around to overthrow Degaton; and if he'll eliminate them in their cribs to get them out of the picture, why not just do that and avoid this elaborate frame-job?

Speaking of elaborate plans, Mr. Freeze has apparently concocted one for a two-parter beginning in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #190 (written by J. Torres, with art by David Lopez and Fernando Blanco). By the way, does Mr. Freeze get Subway stamps for every Bat-title he's in this month? He's 3-for-4 so far. Anyway, the story's narrated by Bruce Wayne, so that drains some of the suspense, but it's not like we couldn't have figured that Batman survives. It's interesting so far, using the old "why is the villain stealing these unrelated items?" plot, and if we can maybe guess their connection, it's still a diverting issue. The art is by Fallen Angel's team, so you know it's good; and it's nice to see those guys getting work.

Action Comics #826 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund) kicks off a 3-part team-up with Captain Marvel that finds them battling Eclipso. This is the setup issue, in which Eclipso apparently tries to take over people by pushing them to the point of anger. It's all designed to get Superman involved so that Eclipso can take him over too. So far not bad, and the art is better than I would have expected -- not as stiff as the cover might suggest.

While Gotham Central #30 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Stefano Gaudiano, inked by Kano) relies a little too much on Hannibal Lecter riffs (even trying to make Dr. Alchemy look like Anthony Hopkins), I still liked it. The plot (spoiled somewhat by this month's Flash, so thanks) involves transporting Alchemy to Gotham from Keystone City. Again, despite the Lecterisms, the interaction between our heroes and Alchemy is pretty effective, and the Keystone detectives come off a lot more natural here than they do in Flash. There are a couple of big plot holes, mostly involving the security around Alchemy, but if they weren't there, we wouldn't have the big dramatic cliffhanger ending. Next issue is set up very well.

Finally, if you have the chance, check out the new hardcover edition of Batman: Year One. Most of the extras are related to the art, but there's also a new four-page David Mazzucchelli strip which talks about his own relationship with Batman and superheroes in general. He concludes by saying "the more realistic superheroes are, the less believable they become." Food for thought.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Cue the Patsy Cline ...

... as in "Cra-zy, I'm crazy for fee-lin' so lone-lyyy...."

No, it's not just me, although it's hard being in Lexington while the Best Wife Ever is in Virginia. I've been rereading the Steven T. Seagle/Scott McDaniel Superman issues in preparation for a potential Great Curve story, and at the risk of SPOILING any of you, it ends with a potential future where Supes fails to save Lois Lane.

While this future is scary enough on its own terms, it got me thinking -- has it just been a recent innovation that the loss of Lois would send Supes over the edge? She was gone at the beginning of the current "For Tomorrow" arc; and her death caused Superman to exile himself (or worse) in the alt-future backstories of both Kingdom Come and JLA's "Rock of Ages." Conversely, restoring the Superman/Lois relationship was critical to the endings of both DC One Million and the "Superman Rex" arc from a few years ago. I'm sure I'm missing other examples (that 1991 Annual where a dead Lois leads to Supes leaving Earth and hooking up with Maxima, for example).

Here's what I want to know: did we see these kinds of stories before Clark and Lois got engaged? I'm thinking that the pre-Crisis Superman wasn't as emotionally attached to Lois as the current one is. Has Lois replaced Clark as Superman's main connection to humanity?

Discuss, if you will.
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Monday, April 11, 2005

Just so you know...

My new rant about death and life among DC characters is now up at The Great Curve.
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Thursday, April 07, 2005

New comics 3/30/05 and 4/6/05: better late than never

Two weeks' worth of comics -- which to read first?

25 years ago, The New Teen Titans #8 was lauded for featuring a "Day in the Life" and focusing on character moments to endear the cast to the readers. Some 10 years later, DC's Annuals included 8-page "Private Lives" stories which sometimes filled gaps in continuity. In the late 1990s, DC began publishing thick, expensive "Secret Files" books whose gap-filling stories were separated by illustrated data sheets on the characters.

Countdown to Infinite Crisis is a high-profile gap-filler which does three things: sets up related miniseries through a survey of the DC Universe; introduces the coming epic's mastermind; and shocks with the on-screen death of a superhero who (despite what the book has said about him) has been a consistently good member of DC's community. The blogosphere spent the better part of the past several days ripping this book apart, and rightly so. Aside from questionable characterization (most obvious with the Martian Manhunter), CTIC also suffers from delayed lead-ins: Hal Jordan and Adam Strange appear despite their respective miniseries being an issue or two away from over. (Similarly, Wonder Woman's eyes have apparently healed by this point.) I also suspect that much of the exposition supplied here will be regurgitated in the opening pages of the minis to follow. However, I did learn 1) the completely unnecessary explanation for why Blue Beetle wears goggles; and 2) Metropolis is in New York state, not Rhode Island (and somebody out there is mad at CTIC just for that!).

There's no real good reason to read CTIC. Either you're a longtime DC fan who doesn't need the exposition; or you're a newcomer and the shocking revelations won't mean much. The ending leaves little doubt that the victim is dead, which is both distasteful and counterproductive -- wouldn't it be more suspenseful to leave some hope of rescue/recovery? I suppose the art, by Rags Morales, Ed Benes, Jesus Saiz, Ivan Reis, and Phil Jiminez, is decent, although Jiminez makes the villain beefier and the hero chunkier than the others do.

I hope that DC will use the 80 pages for $1.00 format for future "Secret Files," though.

On to the regular series. Batman #638 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen) reveals the Red Hood's identity, but (disobeying the cover) not to Batman. Bats and Nightwing are busy dealing with the Red Hood, Black Mask, and Mr. Freeze trying to claim a significant amount of Kryptonite. Winick has given each of the villains a very loosey-goosey, self-aware speaking style which is entertaining in and of itself, but I'm not sure if it works for Mr. Freeze. Mahnke and Nguyen's art is also a little looser this issue, with Batman especially looking more fluid and less blocky than they've drawn him to date. Again there's a shocking revelation and a surprising death at the end, but I'm (like Steve) not sure why one would wear a mask under a mask. I'm also not convinced that the dead man is who he looks like. Regardless, this is still a better Bat-book than most others have been recently.

Of course, the Bat-book better than Batman is Detective Comics #805 (written by David Lapham, with art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill). It begins where the last issue ended, with Batman the happy warrior in the thick of a pack of goons. This issue sees "City of Crime" take a weirder turn, with the revelation that people in Gotham are being replaced with sinister duplicates. I'm not sure that the story really needed such an element, since Lapham was doing so well with the straight-up crime, but he makes it suitably creepy. There is also a backup story involving a baby Clayface and some manure that is either fun or juvenile, probably depending on your mood.

Flash #220 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay) highlights the two groups of Rogues and pretty much confirms for me that previous periodic interruptions (for example, to tell the sordid story of the Mirror Master) were unnecessary. Conventional wisdom held that the previous Flash's Rogues' Gallery never succeeded because they never quite had the killer instinct one needs for optimum villainy. Now, as Geoff Johns has taught us over what seems like the last 200 years, the Rogues mean business. However, this issue puts them in direct conflict with a group of reformed Rogues working for the FBI. That's about it for the plot, really. (But why does Trickster I have his foot on the Stanley Cup on the last page?) I wonder what Johns will do once "Rogue War" is over, because it seems like the past couple of years have been building to this storyline. For that reason I have mixed feelings about this issue -- on one hand, it packs all those other expository installments into 22 pages; but on the other at least he's picking up the pace.

Legion of Super-Heroes #4 (written by Mark Waid, breakdowns by Barry Kitson, pencils by Leonard Kirk, inks by Mick Gray, second story art by Dave Gibbons) establishes a little more concretely the schism between the 31st Century's teenagers and adults. We get to see some repression and, of course, the violence inherent in the system. The spine of the story is the origin of Invisible Kid, but this issue feels more like a regular story than an origin tale. The backup is a day in the life of Phantom Girl as told by Karate Kid, and although it aspires to be a tender account of how P.G. spends her life perpetually between dimensions, it comes off as extremely strange. It's the kind of thing Waid could work into stories as a running gag, so even an 8-page backup may be giving it too much attention. Anyway, overall another solid issue from Waid & Kitson, with Leonard Kirk either blending seamlessly with Kitson's style, aping it effectively, or both.

While Waid's final issue of Fantastic Four (#524) (art by Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel) didn't really conclude his Galactus arc, it did give him an opportunity to bookend his run on the series with a heartfelt exploration of how the FF feel about their powers. I say "bookend" because the emotional issues surrounding their powers were explored by Waid in his first issue on the title. He and Ringo are a hard act to follow.

That brings me to Peter David's second run on Incredible Hulk (#80) (art by Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer). The current "Tempest Fugit" arc is either a clever simulation run by a still-mysterious mastermind, or a backdoor rewind of the continuity clock to just before David left the title. I doubt seriously it's the latter, and so does Bruce Banner, who thinks he's gotten the hang of the clever simulations. His rebellion against them is the book's high point, and their reaction is just as good. All in all, it's still confusing, but in an entertaining way.

Superman/Batman #18 (written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Marino) finally concludes the "Absolute Power" storyline. Remember, 5 months ago, how I praised Loeb for curtailing the dueling narration? It's back now; and if that's supposed to mean everything is going to be OK, then quite frankly I don't want to be right. Reset buttons are pushed, and there are more invocations of alternate DC futures, before our heroes get back to normal and try to reconcile their horrible alternate deeds with their former victims. This title is on my list of "maybe it reads better in one sitting," but while I think DC needs a successor to World's Finest Comics, Jeph Loeb probably shouldn't write it.

Speaking of oft-delayed books, Green Lantern Rebirth #5 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Ethan van Sciver and Prentis Rollins) finally came out this week. This penultimate issue finds Hal back in ring-slinging action and taking on the revived Sinestro. Two things bothered me about this issue.

First, once again Hal is exulting in the fact that he doesn't face any more soul-searching or have any doubts about his ability. Obviously Johns means this as an empowering, not-gonna-take-it-anymore statement of purpose, but does this mean Hal's emotional development has been rolled back over 30 years, to the beginning of the Denny O'Neil era? If memory serves, Kevin Smith revived Ollie Queen at a point around that same time -- so you have to wonder if DC sees that period as some kind of decline. Anyway, to me that can't be good, because it means that at some point in the future, somebody's going to decide Hal needs yet another crisis of conscience. (When that turns out to be the name of DC's big 2011 crossover, you heard it here first.) Now he's happily whipping up on Sinestro, but wait a few years and he'll be as conflicted as ever. Otherwise, he'll be insufferable.

Second, while the art was fine mostly, a few details bothered me. Hal's redesigned costume still throws off his proportions; Parallax's first appearance this issue reminded me of Ozzy Osbourne; and the big Hal-Kyle handshake on page (numbers would be nice, DC!) 17 seems to have been taken straight from the Kentucky flag. ("United We Stand, Divided We Fall," indeed.)

We'll see how this all shakes out next issue, whenever it decides to appear.

Somewhat like Phantom Girl, Zatanna has been a character either trapped between, or coexisting in both, DC's Vertigo books and its mainstream superhero titles. She started in the latter and eventually joined the Justice League, but for a while she was entrenched in Vertigo's stable of mystical heroes. Thus, it's no surprise that Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #1 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by Ryan Sook and Mick Gray) straddled that line between straightforward superheroics and knowing, ironic commentary on same. It covers some of the same territory as the original Seven Soldiers #0, including a dimension-hopping journey gone horribly awry. However, its tone is very matter-of-fact, with Zatanna at the end saying she'll call the JLA if she really thinks things are too serious. The juxtaposition is entertaining, even if all the different dimensional dangers get confusing. Sook and Gray do a great job with the art, which is at times both droll and scary. This could be my favorite 7S miniseries, and not just because it features the most recognizable character or the one with the most cleavage.

Firestorm #12 (written by Dan Jolley, with art by Jamal Igle and Rob Stull) continues the assault on the new Firestorm by the old one's greatest enemies. The dramatic tension comes from the literal struggle for control of Firestorm, with Jason having the power but Ronnie the strategic knowledge. While Ronnie's tactics save the day, they also play into the hands of the villain pulling the strings, so "to be continued." This arc has spotlighted both Jason's power and inexperience, and while I'm not going to suggest "this is what a teenager fighting supervillains would look like," Jolley has made it ring true. The art and color is as good as ever, so I'm glad I keep getting this book.

Based on my good experiences with Dan Slott's She-Hulk and Spider-Man/Human Torch, I picked up G.L.A. #1 (art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar) expecting more fun in that vein. Well, it was funny, especially the Monkey Joe inserts, but in a very dark way. When your hero is Mr. Immortal, whose superpower is that he can't be killed, that's probably to be expected. Still, I only knew these characters from their picosecond cameos in JLA/Avengers, and this issue did a good job of introducing them and making them sympathetic.

Thanks to cable I had just seen the "Buffy" episode where she and Riley are trapped in the fraternity house, with their sexual energy powering these vines that trap others, so I wanted to compare that to the plot of Astonishing X-Men #8 (written by Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday), with the runaway Danger Room, but in the end that wasn't happening. For one thing, Wolverine didn't sing "Behind Blue Eyes." I still get a very Willow Rosenberg vibe off Kitty Pryde, though. Having a rogue Danger Room (as opposed to Rogue's Danger Room, I guess) was explained adequately enough, and the art was good as always, but these are the kinds of groundbreaking plots fans anticipated when Whedon was announced? This is the sort of thing folks can expect over at least the next 16 issues? If this were "Buffy," it would be the season-ending show after the big finale to the season-long story arc, which cleanses the palate and gets everybody ready for the next big arc. So far I'm not seeing much innovation out of Whedon, and I've seen "Firefly," so I know he can do better.

I also got Shanna The She-Devil #3 (written and drawn by Frank Cho) this week. Yeah, I know.

Finally I want to plug Batman Chronicles #1, reprinting in order every Batman story ever published. This volume covers the first year (Detective Comics #s 27-38 and Batman #1), and introduces Batman, Robin, the Joker, the Catwoman, Prof. Hugo Strange, the Monk, and Dr. Death. At $14.99, it's a heck of a lot cheaper than the Archive books, plus you don't have to go back and forth between books to read the Batman and Detective stories. I do hope DC is committed to this project, because it will provide a good look both at Batman's early "gothic" period and how quickly that evolved into the happier adventurer who became Adam West.
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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

"...but I did see Sin City!"

I'm back in Virginia for a few days (thanks again, York County library!) and haven't had a chance to read last week's comics. You can imagine how hard it is for a spoiler-avoidant nerd like myself to navigate the comics blogosphere without running across Blue Beetle this and Red Hood that.

So anyway, the Best Wife Ever and I took in Sin City (presented with a very droll Hitchhiker's Guide preview) Saturday night. I had a well-reasoned, articulate post ready to go yesterday, and Blogger promptly ate it. That being said....

Neither of us had read any Sin City before seeing the movie, and my bourgeoise tastes had only exposed me to Miller's Batman, Daredevil, and Elektra work. We thought Sin City was well-made but not great, and closer to Kill Bill than Pulp Fiction. We liked the production design and the integration of CGI with live-action, but we thought the plot could have been a little tighter. The movie spent enough time on Josh Hartnett and Brittany Murphy's characters that we expected a little more closure to their stories. The acting was good throughout, but bless her heart, Jessica Alba was the weakest link there.

It didn't help that Marv and Hartigan had the same basic story arc -- fighting the corrupt overlords for the honor of the pure women they loved, and ultimately dying to save them. If their stories were meant as bookends, I could understand that; but at the risk of upsetting Rodriguez' vision of translating Miller to the screen, you could have blended them into the same story without losing too much. (The timeline was also screwy, since Hartigan's big sequence comes at the end and is basically a flashback.)

The real test of Sin City's success may well come this summer, when the mainstream media tries to contrast the Batman and Fantastic Four movies with it. Sin City represents a stunning technical achievement, recreating an artist's work in a more direct way than ever before. It makes the lauded set designs for Tim Burton's Batman movies look cheap and obvious by comparison. If Roger Ebert and company are bemoaning the lack of a CG Gotham City in Batman Begins, we will know that Sin City has broadened their minds.

However, Sin City's stylized action and violence may end up reinforcing the cliche that comics are only a higher class of lurid pulp entertainment. Certainly Marv comes across as tougher than normal, if not superhuman, to the extent that I halfway expected the electric chair to have no effect on him. Giving the female enforcers of Old Town distinctive costumes and identities may also place them only one step away from an X-rated X-Men (sorry) in the minds of the general public. Accordingly, Sin City's impact could only be to signal comics' potential for nudity and gore.

In the end, I'm glad I saw Sin City. I hate to be pessimistic about it, but since "comic book movie" has become more of an established genre over the past several years, each new entry tends to get squeezed into the existing definition, rather than expanding it. Sin City is not Batman, Fantastic Four, or even Ghost World. Instead, it is an homage to a series of homages. It was entertaining and groundbreaking, but its ultimate effect remains to be seen.
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Friday, April 01, 2005

Branching out

Those of you who visit The Great Curve may have noticed a familiar new name in the "Contributors" column. I was both honored and flattered by the invitation. I have a "Nightwing: Year One" essay in their pipeline now, with more on the way. However, I won't be abandoning this blog anytime soon. It's been good to me, and it's let me meet many of you.

If you've never been to The Great Curve, check 'em out -- you'll be glad you did.
UPDATE: My Nightwing essay is there now.
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