Friday, May 27, 2005

New comics 5/25/05

Big week this week, so I'll try to be brief.

(By the way, if you haven't taken a gander at my trivia question, please do so now. Thanks!)

JLA #114 (written by Kurt Busiek, art by Ron Garney and Dan Green) finishes the Kryyme Syndicate story pretty neatly. My only problem was a quibble with logistics over a bit of deception the JLA pulls. Otherwise, it feels like the last 30 minutes of a well-constructed action movie -- few surprises, but that's because the foundation has already been laid. Next month begins the inevitable Identity Crisis fallout storyline, but I remember last summer when Busiek was announced as the book's regular writer, and I'd really like that to still happen.

Batman #640 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Paul Lee and Cam Smith) is basically an interlude issue, but not a bad one. The Red Hood banters with Onyx while Batman goes to Metropolis seeking advice from Superman. Winick continues his good work with Batman, and Lee and Smith (not announced as guest artists -- hmmm...) provide art which is softer and more flowing than the regular Mahnke/Nguyen team. Lee and Smith do an especially good Superman. I'm still not sure exactly how Batman found out the Hood's identity, because that flash-forward from 5 months ago still hasn't been placed in context, but perhaps that will be answered next issue.

DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy #1 (written by Phil Jiminez, with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and George Perez) was a pretty good read. It was eminently predictable, even if you didn't appreciate the echoes of the original pre-Crisis story (or notice the book's title, f'r goshsakes), but I thought it stood well on its own. That's no small achievement, given the continuity wrangles through which Donna has been put. This may all change next issue, once the superheroes get involved, but for now I say well done. Of course, the art was spectacular, as you might expect from these veterans, but that goes without saying.

The OMAC Project #2 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Jesus Saiz) shows OMAC in action, as both the Black King and Batman start to figure out what's going on from their respective perspectives. Saiz' art looks a little muddier this issue, and there are too many dark-haired women going around betraying each other. On Rucka's end, I wasn't sure about what Batman did in the last few pages of this issue, and we'll see next month how it affects the plot. I'm also not sure how effective this month's cliffhanger is. If the bad guy had to face anyone else, I get the feeling it'd be a fairer fight.

I bought Day of Vengeance #2 (written by Bill Willingham, with art by Justiniano, Walden Wong, and Livesay) still not having read #1, and was only a little confused. Basically the Spectre is going around visiting horrific ironic punishments on the smallest transgressors as well as some big-time super-folk, and being seduced by Eclipso to boot -- but it looks like Eclipso is being controlled by the Enchantress, who's a good guy. Maybe the Enchantress is just secretly monitoring Eclipso's thoughts. I don't know. There's also another magic-using woman with a mask with whom I am unfamiliar, and much as I hate unnecessary exposition, it would have been nice for somebody to call her by name at least once. At least I recognized the guy in blue chain mail from an old Who's Who, although nobody calls him by a codename either. Anyway, the art is fairly decent, despite some weird anatomical things here and there, and the script is entertaining. Just remind us folks who came in late what's going on, and we'll be happy.

Flash #222 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay) continues the big fight involving the two Rogue groups and the Flash. It's actually a lot like last issue -- fight fight fight, then a last-page surprise appearance by a forgotten Rogue. Last issue the Top arrived in the middle of the action, and this issue he's undoing the mental blocks that turned the old-time Rogues good. Not much to say about the script, except it's the same kind of terse tough-guy dialogue which has characterized Johns' Rogue work. There are a couple of good moments between Flash and his former friend Pied Piper, although Flash does something questionable with Piper that may come back to hurt him later. The highlight of this issue was Porter's art. It reminded me of his JLA work, having to handle a dozen characters all running around beating each other up. However, he goes with more conventional panel layouts, occasionally having characters break the panel boundaries; and he choreographs the fights well. Porter is staying for a bit after Johns leaves, and I'm happy about that.

Green Lantern #1 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino and a bit by Ethan van Sciver) was not what I expected. I had neutral expectations for the title after Rebirth, and this issue was neither as bombastic as the worst of Rebirth nor as clever as its best. Instead, it centered around Hal Jordan returning to familiar environs and trying to re-establish himself, and for that I'll give Johns a lot of credit. Although a lot is familiar, none of it seems pat or settled. Pacheco and Merino's art is fantastic -- Hal looks appropriately old, and even has his original Gil Kane receding hairline from 1959. I still get an unsettling "this guy's supposed to be dead" vibe from Hal, even though I always wanted him to come back. I hope Johns deals with the used-to-be-dead issues soon, but for now the new GL is pretty good.

I guessed the mystery villain of Adventures of Superman #640 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Karl Kerschl) a couple of pages before Superman did, but I'm not sure if Rucka wanted me to be ahead of the hero. This was still a good issue, and it makes me want to re-read the rest of Rucka's run. Kerschl's art may have made the difference here, since it's very similar to Drew Johnson's over on Rucka's Wonder Woman. Having Lois narrate the issue, and featuring Superman on TV as a "newsmaker," were also good touches which drew me more into the story (and reminded me further of WW).

Legion of Super-Heroes #6 (written by Mark Waid, with art by Barry Kitson and Art Thibert and a backup story drawn by Scott Iwahashi) follows up on the group of supervillains encountered last issue, and otherwise features day-in-the-life vignettes with small groups of Legionnaires. That doesn't stop it from having a devastating ending -- in fact, the vignettes probably lulled me into a false sense of security. There's also an honest-to-goodness letters page, done Doonesbury style with Cosmic Boy and Chameleon reading fan mail, which was very funny and much appreciated.

Captain America #6 (written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Steve Epting) concludes "Out of Time," the first story arc; but it sets up "The Winter Soldier," beginning next month. Basically, Cap races to save Philadelphia while trying to exorcise his fake (?) memories of the day Bucky was killed. There were a couple of surprises along the way, and speaking of letters pages Marvel needs to watch where it puts theirs, because this one's came in the middle of the big finish and I thought the book was over. In any event, this team has certainly done well with Cap, and I'm glad I'm getting this title again.

Incredible Hulk #81 (written by Peter David, with art by Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer Jr.) also concludes "Tempest Fugit" in an unexpected way, but I'm not sure what to make of it. Basically, the ending allows for any number of crazy scenarios, such that we're not sure what to believe; and for this type of story that's a dangerous line to walk. Not that it wasn't entertaining and even scary in parts, mind you; and David and Weeks did a good job creating and sustaining the appropriate mood. I'm interested to see what they do with a more conventional adventure.

Having gotten severely tired of Supreme Power, I approached Fantastic Four #527 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, with art by Mike McKone) with much trepidation, and was pleasantly surprised. This was quite good, with JMS continuing Mark Waid's strong characterizations and enthusiastic (sometimes wacky) humor. The plot and subplots were simple but effective, and the art was McKone's usual fine work. I still think Supreme Power was boring and pretentious, but this was everything that was not.

Finally, City of Tomorrow #2 (by Howard Chaykin) improved on its first issue, mainly by focusing clearly on our hero, the son of the man who built the eponymous city. More than anything this reminded me of Chaykin's TimeSquared (I know that's not how it's spelled, but I can't do superscripts), which also featured a futuristic city with a robotic underclass. The hero's interactions with the robotic cops also reminded me of Reuben and Luther from American Flagg!, and the government strike team seemed lifted from last year's Challengers of the Unknown. None of these are bad things, but it does seem like Chaykin's been playing with different elements, trying to find a good mix. With this title he may have succeeded.
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"-- For I Am -- Stumped"

Here's a trivia question which has bothered me for about a month, so I'm throwing it open to the masses.

As we all know, Steve Englehart often referred to very early Batman comics in his classic Detective run. One which I haven't been able to place is Dr. Phosphorus' note to the police from Detective #469:

Phosphorus burns when exposed to the air! The good citizens of Gotham City have earned my righteous wrath, and they will burn for it -- for I am -- Dr. Phosphorus

I don't think the note's content is really a reference, but the "-- for I am --" signature (with the dashes) really feels like one. I have skimmed all my reprint books (the first two Batman Archives, the first Dark Knight Archives, and the first Batman Chronicles), which cover Detective #s 27-75 and Batman #1-4, and come up empty.

Anybody out there know the answer?

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Two Years And Counting

Today the Best Wife Ever and I celebrate our two-year wedding anniversary!

I never thought I would meet someone as sweet, smart, or pretty, let alone get married to her. Now I can't imagine a life without her. Only she can inspire me to such schmoopy thoughts.

Thanks, sweetheart! Every day with you is special.
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Friday, May 20, 2005

New comics 5/18/05

Superman #217 marks the beginning of new writer Mark Verheiden and artist Ed Benes by picking up where "For Tomorrow" left off. Superman has vanished into the Amazon jungle to tend his new Fortress of Solitude (and, one presumes, to make it eco-friendly, although I have a concern about that judging from the top of page 2). Lois and Jimmy Olsen follow him, but are ambushed by drug runners. Superman saves the reporters, who learn he's befriended a local village, and we go from there. This was a decent issue, mixing traditional Superman elements with more up-to-date sensibilities. However, some scenes were over-the-top even for a Superman book -- the physics of his first appearance, for example -- and the art was serviceable but nothing special. It was good to see Verheiden picking up some of the threads Azzarello left behind, though.

Seven Soldiers: Guardian #2 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by Cameron Stewart) concludes the Subway Pirates story in unremarkable fashion. Guardian comes to grips with his heroic responsibilities, and the idea of modern-day folk adopting arr! matey! pirate styles in forgotten subway tunnels has a certain charm. Stewart's art is also quite good, with his figures Kirbyesque in a few places. I say "unremarkable" because beneath all the quirks, this is a fairly standard story.

Batman: Gotham Knights #65 (written by A.J. Lieberman, with art by Al Barrionuevo and Bit) did surprise me at the end, but getting there was dicey. I should want to like Lieberman's approach to Batman, since he seems to be approaching Gotham as a place populated by weird figures who all know each other -- kind of like the old Flash's Central City or Englehart's Gotham. However, this Poison Ivy story feels about two issues too long, and its characters don't quite act right. There's Bruce Wayne, dropping cryptic hints about his secret identity to Ivy; there's Ivy herself, struggling with her humanity; and there's Hush, who's never been compelling. The art also seems rather static. GK is the Forrest Gump of Batman titles -- its IQ isn't quite high enough to rank with its peers, but somehow it keeps getting by. This arc wasn't so bad, comparatively; and like I say the ending was a surprise.

JLA Classified #7 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, with art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubenstein) brings us Part 4 of "I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League," which also benefited from a good ending. Guy and Power Girl fight their way through Hell to get to Beetle, Booster, Mary Marvel, and Fire. Once everybody's rescued (thanks to Guy, who really shines here), they discover one of Hell's shocking secrets. This was a good issue, showing the more serious side of these characters without really letting up on the witty banter. I still want to know how Guy got his yellow ring back, though.

That's not explained in Green Lantern Secret Files & Origins 2005, written and drawn by a passel of people. GLSF&O2K5 does contain two short stories, both written by Geoff Johns, which bookend (in reverse order) GL Rebirth. The first, drawn by Darwyn Cooke, is a fluffy feel-good piece highlighting the bond between reckless, show-offy pilots and their passengers. The second, by the Rebirth art team of Ethan van Sciver and Prentiss Rollins, is a prelude to Rebirth which will probably be collected into that paperback. I will say that the Johns/Cooke story gives me more hope for the series than Rebirth #6 did, but neither story is really essential, and the rest of the book is "Who's Who"-style profile pages. However, those are nice, including Howard Chaykin returning to Guy Gardner, Simone Bianchi on Sinestro, and Dave Gibbons returning to Mongul.

Batman: Dark Detective #2 (written by Steve Englehart, drawn by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin) finds Bruce and Silver adjusting to their newfound Jerry/Elaine status, with Bruce escorting Silver into the Batcave, with a couple of unexpected consequences. Meanwhile, Two-Face threatens the Joker, the Joker makes good on a threat himself, and Commissioner Akins makes a rare appearance. Except for the Akins bit, which almost seemed out of character but for Akins' lack of characterization thus far, I thought this was a good second issue. It built on the themes of #1 and expanded the series' scope. The creators also seemed a little less self-conscious about their own "iconic" status this time, which was good.

Although I think Howard Chaykin's City of Tomorrow #1 came out a couple of weeks ago, I just now picked up a copy. At first I was confused, because the story flashes back and forth and the main character isn't made clear until the end. I don't mind reading Chaykin multiple times, since his storytelling is so dense (in a good way), but this was the first time I really felt lost. The story itself is a near-future tale involving terrorism, government paranoia, and the eponymous city gone bad. Not sure if I'll be getting #2 or waiting for the trade. I have the feeling it will read better all in one sitting.

I was also a little confused with Star Wars Empire #31(written by Scott Allie, with art by Joe Corroney). It looks like a standalone tale featuring Darth Vader (appropriately enough), but there seem to be a couple of references to the Luke/Leia adventure it interrupts. Otherwise, it's a tale of political intrigue on a reptilian planet, with everyone trying to stay on Vader's good side. Emblematic of the issue is a state dinner where Vader (of course) doesn't eat, so tensions run high from the beginning. Not a bad issue, but I wonder if it will loop back into the other arc.

Finally, I bought Spider-Man/Human Torch #4 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Ty Templeton, and inked by Tom Palmer Jr. and Drew Geraci). This particular flashback takes place during the black-costume eras of both Spidey and the Torch, with Johnny sporting a Guy Gardner hairdo I think John Byrne foisted on him (to go with the femullet he visited unto Sue, so Johnny actually got off easy). This was a decent enough issue, but not as funny as the previous three. Spidey and the Black Cat have a fight, so she enlists the Torch to help her break into a museum. The best parts come when Johnny gets jealous of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man's attraction to the Black Cat. Slott does have a way with these characters, the art is good, and the story has a nice twist -- just not as much buffoonery as in the previous installments, I guess.
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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Foul Play! Is More Than Fair

Foul Play!, subtitled The Art And Artists Of The Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics!, is clearly author Grant Geissman's labor of love. It's the kind of book an enthusiastic fan would write, and the enthusiasm fairly oozes out of the pages. Foul Play! reminded me of the Les Daniels/Chip Kidd Complete History volumes devoted to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and its coverage is no less comprehensive. There's enough here to keep a reader entertained for quite a while, from biographies of the artists to reproductions of representative stories. At times there's almost too much information on a page, but for the most part the effect is endearing, not off-putting.

E.C. was the black sheep of the comics industry in the 1950s, taking a fair amount of heat from watchdog groups for its horror and science fiction stories which tended toward the grisly. Its titles definitely stood out next to comics' more kid-oriented fare. However, its live-fast, die-young notoriety has served it well over the years, inspiring tributes in modern comics and a long-running HBO series, Tales from the Crypt. I think of E.C.' s stable as the dinosaurs of comic books -- important steps in comics' evolution, of which only a vestigal trace (Mad magazine) is left today.

The book is divided into thirteen solo biographies, each accompanied by a story. Other sections include short "best of the rest" bios, a brief history of the company, and an unpublished E.C. story. The focus is therefore on the artists, with E.C.'s place in overall comics history summarized at the beginning. Accordingly, related books like Mad and Cracked, as well as certain artists' superhero work, aren't given as much detail as the artists' work on the main E.C. titles. Still, this book is detailed enough, and the artists' post-E.C. work is given enough attention that the reader can relate each biography to something more familiar.

After the gold-rush days of the 1940s, E.C. Comics and its artists represented a desire to push comics past its pulp roots and into the realm of stories told for adults. However, by the end of the 1950s E.C. as it had been was gone, and the superheroes were back to stay. Although many of today's comics feature topics as mature, and stories more profane, than the "worst" of E.C.'s output, American comic books still struggle with their juvenile-literature image. Foul Play! is a vivid, entertaining tour of comics' first rebellion.

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Farewell, Bride of the Dark Side: Star Wars Anti-Spoilers

In the heady days of the mid-1990s, not even the lack of an Internet connection could keep me from writing essays on superheroes, Star Trek, and Star Wars. In fact, still on my hard drive from July 1996 is a bit of business called "Speculations on Star Wars Chapters 1-3 or, What did Obi-Wan Know and When Did He Know It?"

In it (and its various successors) I tried to work out various scenarios for the prequels, most of which were entirely wrong. Because I am not too proud to admit defeat, here are some of the highlights of my misguided musings.

[Before we get down to business, though, fans of the Marvel Star Wars comics should check out "Jaxxon's 11," a webcomic sponsored by While it has nothing to do with the rest of the essay, it's still pretty funny stuff. Anyway....]

1. Beru was Anakin's sister. Ah, a golden oldie from 1996! I figured this would be the case if Anakin's family wasn't completely Force-sensitive. This would also have explained Owen not being a Skywalker. The theory was later amended, first to "Beru is Padme's sister," and then to "Beru is one of Padme's bodyguards." The latter made sense and would have helped give Luke an extra level of protection on Tatooine. I still get a kick out of picturing Aunt Beru holding off that squad of stormtroopers with her hypothetical old Naboo arsenal.

2. Anakin's slavery had a bigger impact. In 1999, after seeing Episode I, I wrote this:
It is likely that Anakin will return to Tatooine in Episode II, possibly after having learned that his mother is dead. Palpatine will hint that Qui-Gon took Anakin away from his mother to further the selfish ends of the Jedi, and will thus turn Anakin against the Jedi.
This evolved into a prediction that Episode II would begin with Anakin disobeying Jedi Council orders by racing to Tatooine to free his mother from Gardulla the Hutt. (Watto sold her back to Gardulla after his losses in Anakin's podrace.) Deliberately echoing Return of the Jedi, Anakin hacks and slashes his way through the Hutt compound. Obi-Wan shows up for a last-minute save, having tracked him down to bring him back to Coruscant. Their destruction of the master slave control would have fulfilled Anakin's Phantom Menace dream of returning to free the slaves.

Obi-Wan then runs afoul of Owen Lars, who wants Anakin to stay on Tatooine and protect the freed slaves from reprisals. Obi-Wan says Anakin's needed in the Clone Wars, which Owen considers a "damn fool idealistic crusade." Anakin ends the argument by agreeing to return with Obi-Wan. So far in the prequels, Obi-Wan and Owen haven't met, so I hope Revenge of the Sith addresses that.

3. Between Episodes I and II, the Trade Federation sold out. At the end of Episode I, the TF's "franchise" looks to be revoked, so it seems logical that they would have gone bankrupt and their technology would have ended up in the hands of another galactic power. I imagined Episode II beginning with a mysterious army of clones, using Federation-derived technology, striking without warning on the outskirts of the Republic and working their way into the core worlds. Naturally the Jedi would have been hard pressed to contain these invaders, so Palpatine would have concentrated more power in the Republic and built up the Republic's military (which at this point I thought already existed). At the end of my Episode II, a Jedi army would have destroyed the "enemy's" cloning facilities and thereby ended what came to be known as the Clone Wars.

4. Bail Organa was the prequels' dashing rogue, in the Han/Lando mode. Before Jimmy Smits was cast as Senator Bail Organa, I imagined him being a bit younger -- more a contemporary of Obi-Wan and thus a little older than Padme. Anakin and Obi-Wan protected the Senator in my speculative Episode II, but I had Bail romantically involved with Padme by the time the Jedi got involved. Anakin and Padme then would have gotten separated from the others, giving them time to realize their true feelings for one another. Naturally, this would also have set up Padme's future with Bail in the post-Episode III timeline, since she would have gone back to Bail after Anakin was thought dead.

5. Naboo's devastation was a big part of Episode III. This still makes sense to me on a number of levels.

First, in Episode I, Senator Palpatine is determined to have the Trade Federation conquer Naboo. This suggested to me that Naboo held some kind of mystic Sith significance, probably having to do with those energy weapons and constructs the Gungans made. (The ruins where the Naboo find the Gungans also suggested a third, possibly much older civilization.) I figured Episode III -- which I wanted to call "Bride of the Dark Side" -- would center around Palpatine returning to Naboo to claim the final piece of the Sith's puzzle. The Jedi would stop him, of course, but at the cost of being branded traitors and exterminated wholesale.

The cost to Naboo would be greater, because the Gungans' power source was central to Naboo's delicate ecosystem. Phantom Menace established Naboo's core as a system of underwater caves, not a ball of molten rock. Therefore, the Gungans' power source must have been something else; and in fact the entire planet could have been affected by an ancient Jedi/Sith conflict. However it happened, I reasoned that Palpatine's plot to stripmine Naboo of its unique power (possibly enough for a small-moon-sized battlestation?) would reduce it to a smoking sphere of volcanoes and magma. I theorized further that Anakin and Obi-Wan's climactic duel would have taken place on the volcanic ruins of the Queen's palace.

Although Naboo wouldn't have been destroyed per se, Palpatine's plans would have rendered it completely lifeless. Naboo's fate would have left Padme without a constituency, allowing Bail to give her amnesty on Alderaan. (I thought it would be cool for Alderaan to have a fearsome military, which the Emperor demanded Bail dismantle in exchange for Padme's safety.) Letting Padme live for a little while after the prequels would also have preserved Leia's line about her mother dying when Leia was very young -- with the implication being that Padme was poisoned from the devastation of Naboo.

Alas, it is not to be. The latest alterations to Return of the Jedi have included a celebration scene on a Naboo that looks identical to the pristine world of Episodes I and II. That's perfectly fine with me. The advance word on Sith so far is frighteningly positive compared to the other prequels. Besides, if I could predict every nuance of a Star Wars movie, there'd be no fun in going -- and if these clunker predictions had turned out to be true, the movies probably wouldn't have been much fun anyway.

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Special Guest Movie Reviews

As regular readers know, my wife and I are living apart temporarily while we go through this laborious move to Virginia. To pass the time, she has seen a couple of movies and wanted to share her thoughts with you. They're not comic-book movies, but remember, she commented on Sin City a few weeks back. Without further ado....

Best Wife Ever here has used the unfortunate time away from Tom to preview movies to make up for her loneliness. In the last week I went to see Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven and Sidney Pollack's The Interpreter.

Sydney Pollack is one of my favorite directors and B-list actors. (Tootsie, of course, is Exhibit A for his acting.) He has done an impressive job with a story that makes the UN setting a character in itself while also showing us how seemingly isolated problems like genocide and dictatorship abroad can quickly become US problems when ignored or dealt with in only simple terms. Sean Penn plays a foreign dignitary's security officer assigned to investigate Nicole Kidman’s charge that she overheard a plot to kill a visiting African dictator accused of genocide. Both deliver impressive performances. The movie takes the audience through the intricacies of a fictitious African country that fought colonialism only to find its freedom fighter turn against his own people. That story is told as the current mystery unfolds at the UN. Unfortunately I felt suckered into a trite and unlikely climax followed by a supposedly happy ending that didn't deliver. The audience would have been better served had the movie presented more profound questions about the world today. However, there is enough thought and entertainment to make an enjoyable movie. Not a must see, but well worth the popcorn.

Kingdom of Heaven invites us to picture Orlando Bloom in medieval costume standing on the edge of a fortress making inspiring speeches to new recruits about to receive on the job training; shouting military orders; and flinging swords and bows and arrows while fighting for the good of man against all odds. Sound familiar? I think I liked this scene better when it was called the Battle of Helms Deep. Don’t worry -- if you get tired of watching LOTR, you can watch another Ridley Scott movie, Gladiator, instead of this one. Bloom’s character is offered the opportunity to be the heir of a royal line, fights a few gruesome battles in stop frame fashion and overcomes an assassination attempt from the bloodline heir. And finally, we are told all of this is not for just the fighting, it’s for “the people.” Scott deserves some credit for portraying a complex view of the Middle East and Europe in the 1100s, and linking those politics to a few modern themes. But I missed the realism and historical motivation of Gladiator and the personal relationships of LOTR. I got lost in side stories seemingly designed to link the story together but which in hindsight didn’t relate to anything. (One sword fighting lesson from Jedi Master Liam Neeson transforms Orlando from simple blacksmith to a wise and skillful knight; and a chance encounter with a future enemy is the result of a shipwreck that seems out of place with the larger story.) However, if you like historical adventure, a few good battle scenes and Orlando Bloom, you got yourself a movie that beats TV any day.

Hmmm ... historical adventure, a few good battles, and Orlando Bloom? Sounds like Pirates of the Caribbean too!

I'll second that TV comment. I know from experience that hotel TV gets mighty dull after a while. (I watched more "Lilo & Stitch: The Series" in Virginia than I ever have in my life.)

Thanks, sweetie! Unfortunately, I think this might commit you to reviewing Revenge of the Sith, Batman Begins, and Fantastic Four....

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New comics 5/11/05

Late-arriving comics first:

Green Lantern Rebirth #6 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Ethan van Sciver) gives us lots of pyrotechnics and attitude. There are dueling 'tudes, in fact, between the skeptical Batman and the so-full-of-himself-it-hurts Hal Jordan. Those sequences bookend a big Green Lantern Corps vs. Parallax fight which looks better than it is. It's not very exciting, because it has neither choreography nor much in the way of danger. This issue may work better in the context of the overall story -- which has been a surprisingly efficient and effective revival of Hal -- but on its own it's so far in the tank for Hal and the Green Lantern Corps it's laughable.

Also late (and also a concluding issue) was Adam Strange #8 (written by Andy Diggle, with art by Pascal Ferry). While it sets up The Rann-Thanagar War, it also works on its own to wrap up the Omega Device plotline. In fact, if you didn't know (or don't care) about RTW, the ending is very much in the tradition of movie serials pointing the way to their own sequels. I have no doubt that DC will market this as the prelude to RTW, but it was a good miniseries on its own and a nice look at a classic DC character.

Actually, the "sequel" Adam Strange sets up isn't The Rann-Thanagar War (#1) (written by Dave Gibbons, with art by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos). The immediate aftermath of Adam Strange is told by Adam in flashback to Hawkman and Hawkgirl in the opening pages of this miniseries. Reading the two back-to-back, I didn't notice any missed beats, and the flashback was a good way to bridge the two miniseries. Most of the action takes place on Rann, and Reis and Campos do a fine job portraying global war, but there are a couple of problems. First, everyone in the Rann military wears a uniform similar to Adam Strange's; and every Thanagarian wears hawk-gear, so it's kind of hard to tell in the crowd scenes who's who. Second, there's the whole Hawkman continuity boondoggle, complicated here by Shayera Thal a/k/a Hawkwoman. Gibbons needs a paragraph or two listing all the players before we get too much further. Green Lanterns Kilowog and Kyle Rayner also show up to say that no way will the Guardians let them get involved in the conflict. Anyway, this was a nice continuation of the politics touched on in Adam Strange, and it may be the most enjoyable of the pre-Infinite Crisis minis.

Action Comics #827 wasn't late, but judging by a footnote Superman #217 should have come out first. This issue introduces the new creative team of writer Gail Simone, penciller John Byrne, and inker Nelson. While Byrne's cover makes Superman look rather stocky, inside is a different story. Nelson takes the scratchy edges off Byrne's work, and combined with colorist Guy Major the book looks very good. Simone also gives us a happy, well-adjusted Lois and Clark, which is a very pleasant change from Chuck Austen's simmering Lois/Lana catfights. There's a bit at the beginning featuring Superman in an African village, which I suppose might be in Superman #217. Anyway, the main story is nice and suspenseful, featuring a villain who can really sock it to Superman. So far, so good.

Judging by last month's cliffhanger I thought Gotham Central #31 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Stefano Gaudiano and Kano) would have picked up with a big Bat-fight, and while Batman is around for the first few pages, in the end it's the GCPD detectives who wrap things up. Most of the issue involves Montoya dealing with Dr. Alchemy, her father, her colleagues, and her girlfriend. Rucka obviously likes Montoya and does well with her, so the issue flows together effectively. My one problem with the art is that Montoya's father looks too much like ex-Commissioner Gordon, and I have to keep reminding myself otherwise.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #191 (written by J. Torres, with art by David Lopez and Fernando Blanco), the conclusion of a Mr. Freeze story, is hard to pin down. It has the trappings of a conventional Batman-vs.-Freeze fight, but it's told in flashback by Bruce and it takes a different look at Freeze's relationship with his wife. On the whole I liked it, although it doesn't amount to much in the larger scheme of things. Still, importance to continuity isn't everything.

Wonder Woman #216 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Rags Morales and Mark Propst) continues Diana's journey through Hades. Along the way she, Wonder Girl, and Ferdinand encounter Ares, Medousa, a lamia (which I vaguely remembered from my old D&D days), and other assorted nightmares. It all intersects with Athena's takeover of Olympus, in which Ares was not on Diana's side. Rucka has done about as much with the gods as George Perez did, but Rucka has taken things a step further, almost giving the book a Sandman feel -- and that ain't bad.

Fantastic Four #526 (written by Karl Kesel, with art by Tom Grummett and Lary Stucker) concludes the Diablo two-parter. This was an entertaining little story which at the end turned out to have more to do with the team's subconscious desires than it did with Diablo. A bit with Johnny and Sue at the end of the issue was especially good. Anyway, onward and upward, as J. Michael Straczynski and Mike McKone take over next issue.

Finally, Astonishing X-Men #10 (written by Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday) continues the "sentient Danger Room" scenario. Most of it revolves around the Danger Room's dialogue with Professor X, but since I don't know what happened to him and the book never really tells us, it left me flat. I will say that the Danger Room's fight with the X-Men was fairly clever, and the story has gained a bit more stature in my mind than the fill-in "Buffy" episode it felt like originally.
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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

New comics 5/4/05

Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, except here in horse country, where the first Saturday in May is Derby Day. The Kentucky Derby (the subject of an hilarious essay by the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson) is like a statewide Super Bowl -- everything stops, there are parties with lots of booze (cultured booze like mint juleps, mind you, not just the beer you get at Super Bowl parties), and although the race itself takes about two minutes, you pretty much end up spending the entire afternoon watching coverage from Churchill Downs. It doesn't matter if you can't tell one end of the horse from another, just like knowledge of football doesn't matter for a Super Bowl party.

The point is, it's practically a state holiday that would be a state holiday if it weren't on Saturday. Several years ago I was in court in Trimble County (about a half-hour outside Louisville) on Oaks Day -- the day before Derby, when the all-filly Kentucky Oaks is run -- and the judge didn't show. To us, the implication was clear.

Therefore, kids, I don't need to tell you that if your local comics shop is in our fair commonwealth, you'll probably have your pick of free comics on Saturday, because you'll be one of the few people in the store.

As for today, there were no free comics, believe me.

Batman: Dark Detective #1 brings us the reunion of writer Steve Englehart, penciller Marshall Rogers, and inker Terry Austin on a Batman story. (Letterer John Workman did a few of those earlier issues too.) I liked this issue, and freely admit I was predisposed to like it. The story is simple: Bruce Wayne attends a fundraiser for a gubernatorial candidate who happens to be married to old flame Silver St. Cloud. The Joker shows up at the fundraiser, and he and Batman fight. The issue has a nice hand-made feel to it, thanks in large part to Austin's inks (which don't smooth out Rogers' edges as much as they once did) and Workman's lettering, which doesn't look computer-generated. There's a tribute to the team's late editor Julie Schwartz, both in the credits box and as a cameo. A couple of key sequences from the earlier run are also copied exactly, right down to the panel layout, but if it wasn't broke before, why fix it? If I had a quibble with the issue, it's that a character who appears to die horribly shows up later literally without a hair out of place. Otherwise, Engelhart's Bruce/Batman, Joker, and Silver are all portrayed skillfully, with Bruce and Silver's meeting handled especially subtly. This team knows its fame and is aware of its unique "vision," but it doesn't seem to have gone to their heads.

Back in the book that originally published their stories, Detective Comics #806 (written by David Lapham, art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill) offers a pretty grim installment of "City of Crime." Although I'm not sure Lapham's story still has momentum after six months -- and I wonder if it can sustain what it has for the remaining six -- this was a suspenseful tale which deepens the plot's paranoia. Basically Batman, the missing girl's mother, and the last honest cop in Gotham are all trying to hold off the sinister forces which have taken over the city. Still a good read, and I may see this later on as the bridge issue which helped keep the plot going. There's also a clever Alfred backup story by writer Scott Beatty and artist Jeff Parker which finds him on a cold-war-era espionage mission. (Yes, under DC's current timeline, the Soviet Union probably would have ceased to exist before Bruce Wayne put on the Batsuit.)

(A brief digression: this week I am starting to notice ads in the books for ringtones. These remind me, at least in layout, of those long-ago ads for "record clubs" like Columbia House and BMG which used to appear in the comics of the mid-'70s. Everything old is new again, I suppose.)

In Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #2 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Simone Bianchi) we learn the fates of Justin and his steed after the police car hit them last issue. While Justin endures a somewhat predictable trek through the alleys of Los Angeles -- really, isn't the beating-up-unsuspecting-thugs scene long since spent? -- Vanguard the horse is nursed back to health by a handful of colorful characters. The art is gorgeous, and there is more to Justin's arc this issue than just fighting. The credits page also waits until halfway through the issue to appear, which has to count for something. (I thought it was an ad at first.) At the end I think Justin and Vanguard are close to reuniting, but I'll have to read it a couple more times to make sure.

Still haven't found a copy of Day of Vengeance #1, but as it turns out Superman #216 (written by Judd Winick, art by Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund) leads into it. Somewhere a DC production worker is being severely chastised, I am sure. This issue is the big Captain Marvel/Superman fight, depicted pretty well by Churchill and Rapmund. They use a few too many wide shots to show distance, and thereby sacrifice the characters' easy identification, but I guess that's where Winick's captions come in. The whole thing ends kind of abruptly, in order to set up the DoV conflicts. It's getting so I'm starting to wonder if these regular-series tie-ins (like JLA Classified #s 1-3, to be fair) will be collected with the miniseries' paperback, because they sure don't make sense in the context of the Superman books themselves.

Firestorm #13 (written by Dan Jolley, art by Jamal Igle, Rob Stull, and Lary Stucker) also ends the battle with the Thinker abruptly, but this time it's to wrap up outgoing writer Dan Jolley's tenure and lay the groundwork for new writer Stuart Moore. Along the way Ronnie Raymond gets some closure, and his parental situation is contrasted with Jason's. Like I say, the fight ends early, but on the other hand Jolley was more concerned with its aftermath. We'll see if Moore can do as well as Jolley has.

Villains United #1 (written by Gail Simone, art by Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger) pits two classic DC names against each other -- the Secret Society of Super-Villains vs. the Secret Six. This book deals in so many villains I honestly couldn't identify them all. I think Scandal (of the S6) was in the "Ravens" with Cheshire, but why is there a new Rag Doll and what's this Parademon doing here? Dear DC, I have been reading many of your books continuously for the past 20 years, and I have the DC Encyclopedia and every issue of Who's Who -- including the 3-ring binder version -- so when I don't know who somebody is, I won't be hurt if you have to tell me. Other than that, it was a good setup, and it left me interested in what happens next.

Also in the obscure-character department, we have GLA #2 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar) doing a membership drive to replace Dinah Soar, killed last issue. This provides a framework for Slott to riff on a few comics cliches, including a funny take on the "I work alone" speech and a pointed Batman reference which I heartily endorse. Unlike Villains United, which threw me into the deep end immediately, GLA made sure I knew who everyone was and why they were important, so good on it for that.

Finally, I bought Shanna The She-Devil #4 (written and drawn by Frank Cho) and was turned off not by the implausibility of Shanna fighting dinosaurs without losing her bikini, but by the gratuitous dino killings. Since buying #3, I have also signed up for an e-mail comics service which delivers Cho's Liberty Meadows to my inbox every day, and I can't see that guy writing this book. It's a well-crafted book (although you could base a drinking game on the "Holy buckets" epithet) but there's not much else to it. As for the dino-gore, wouldn't it have worked just as well in silhouette?

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

New comics 4/27/05

First, an anniversary -- today marks 10 years of practicing law, all of it in Kentucky. I hope that when the results of this July's Virginia bar exam come out, I'll be licensed to practice law there too.

Less talk, more comics! Batman #639 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen) ostensibly begins a new storyline, but really it just continues the mystery of the Red Hood. See, Winick's first issue started with Batman unmasking the Red Hood, and everything else proceeding in flashback. I liked that device, because it meant we'd work up to the unmasking. However, this issue Bats behaves as if he knows who the Hood is, but to the best of my knowledge we've never put the unmasking in any kind of timeline. Anyway, everybody's still around except Nightwing, who's been replaced by Onyx in the story structure. Batman also has some post-Identity Crisis moments with Zatanna and Green Arrow, in which Winick manages to make Batman arrogant, antagonistic, and sympathetic. While I like what Winick is doing with the book, I hope he wraps up this "new" arc fairly soon.

Winick also writes this month's Adventures of Superman (also #639), continuing the Captain Marvel/Eclipso story (art by Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund). Superman fights an Eclipso-possessed scientist who's stolen a Kryptonian battlesuit. She wants him to get mad enough for Eclipso to possess him, but he knows that -- probably because this plot was used 13 years ago in the summer crossover series Eclipso: The Darkness Within. Based on that alone, this story still hasn't convinced me it needs to be told. Anyhoo, because this is Part 2 of 3 and Captain Marvel still has to beat the tar out of Supes, I'm sure you can guess how the issue ends. My only question is, does Lois usually type in her underwear?

Speaking of underwear, here's the new/old Supergirl, using Superman/Batman #19 (words by Jeph Loeb, pitchers by the same Ian Churchill) for what TV people would call a "backdoor pilot." I call it "Jeph Loeb's argument that this Supergirl deserves her own comic," and as with the other bit of Ian Churchill business this week, it hasn't convinced me. Basically it picks up where the previous Supergirl arc left off. Batman and Superman track Supergirl as she re-enacts key saves from the first two Christopher Reeve movies (eee! shout-outs!) and fights Bat-villains, all the while being tracked by a mysterious "Mr. X" whose identity is pretty much telegraphed from page 2. I know this incarnation of Supergirl is only a handful of issues old, but so far everything about her feels tacked-on. (Insert obligatory underwear joke here.)

Flash #221 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay) gives us part 2 of "Rogue War." I liked this issue more than I have recent Johns issues, mostly because it has a fair amount of Flash in it. While Johns shows the dueling Rogues' power, he also conveys the extent to which their individual battles are devastating Keystone City. There's terse first-person narration and armchair psychology, but it all seems to work together. I don't remember if I noted a Reservoir Dogs influence in Johns' approach, but he comes closest to that in this issue.

Wonder Woman #215 (written by Greg Rucka, art by Rags Morales and Michael Bair) starts a new arc with Diana, Wonder Girl, and Ferdinand headed to Hades on a mission for Athena. Rucka's script is efficient and entertaining as always. The Morales/Bair art is more three-dimensional than the book's usual team, and I was reminded (surprisingly) of Kelley Jones. Given the issue's subject matter, that's not inappropriate; and overall, the book hasn't skipped a beat.

Legion of Super-Heroes #5 (written by Mark Waid, art by Barry Kitson and Art Thibert) delivers a full-length tale of the Legion struggling against its evil -- or possibly just more pragmatic -- counterpart. I wasn't sure exactly who they were or where Waid is going, but I liked the spotlights on Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Timber Wolf; and so far the book seems headed in a good direction.

Captain America #5 (written by Ed Brubaker, with most art by Michael Lark and a few pages by Steve Epting) focuses on Cap's World War II days to give us some background on today's menace. Along the way we discover the startling secret of Bucky Barnes. David Welsh (and I'm sure many others) have written about the Buckster, and I agree with them that while it is startling, it also makes a certain degree of sense and even gives Bucky a bit more depth. You can't say that about a lot of retcons, so hats off to Brubaker. Lark does a fine job with the issue, and he and Epting complement each other well.

Finally, Star Wars Empire #30 (written by Kaare Andrews, with art by Adriana Melo) continues the compare-and-contrast Luke/Anakin arc. Although this issue went a long way towards explaining why the people of this planet hate heroic Jedi Anakin Skywalker, and by extension Luke, I was still confused by the artwork. Leia especially looks like someone grafted Carrie Fisher's face onto a taller, more zaftig body. I may drop this book after the arc is over, but it comes out so irregularly I can't say when that would be.
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