Sunday, August 19, 2007

"The Rocka-who?"

Hey, I totally met a super-hero this week! Bill Campbell, star of THE ROCKETEER (still one of the best comic-to-film adaptations, in my opinion) is filming a TV movie here in Halifax, and he dropped by Strange Adventures. He said he even considered becoming a comics artist in his youth, but the whole acting thing got in the way. Anyway, he was kind enough to pose with me, in a picture that makes me look about twelve years old:

Man, that guy is a tall drink of water. Super nice guy, too--I'm hoping he comes back in and signs my ROCKETEER graphic novel for me (I got Dave Stevens to sign it in San Diego a few years ago, and the signature of the real-life Rocketeer on there would be pretty damn awesome too). Anyway, have some reviews, won't you?

Now, here’s a book I found myself liking waaaay more than I expected to. Not that I have anything against the character, mind you—as a big fan of the Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL, I’m actually pretty fond of him, and his recent usage in 52 was swell, too. I’m just not sure the world needs another ongoing BG title. I’m also really not much of a fan of Dan Jurgens’ art. However, this book has a few aces up its sleeve—namely, a solid writing team (Geoff Johns and newcomer Jeff Katz—I’m not sure how much is done by who, but it reads well regardless), and a cool hook; Booster has to maintain his schmucky façade as a C-list hero while secretly saving the multiverse from a mysterious, time-twisting nemesis. The Jurgens art is…better than expected, although I’m not sure why DC keeps getting Norm Rapmund to ink his stuff when someone like Jerry Ordway does wonders for him. A surprisingly entertaining debut all around, otherwise.

FLASH #231
Man, this book just can’t catch a break. Wally West is back as the Flash, along with a couple of super-powered kids in tow, and it’s more or less back to business as usual. Daniel Acuna’s art is bright and fun, like this book needs (although Karl Kerschl’s work on last month’s ALL-FLASH #1 showed that he is the guy who deserves this gig more than anyone else), but this title just has way too much baggage at this point. We learn (in a sequence of annoying exposition in the form of Wally and Linda recapping their past year or so together TO EACH OTHER) in this issue that Wally and his family have been on another planet with aliens who worship the Flash or something, and now they have a bunch of crazy alien technology to help control the kids’ unstable metabolisms and unnatural growth spurts. I thought they were in the Speed Force or on another Earth or something, but whatever. Anyway, then some monsters show up and there’s a fight, and Mark Waid is reportedly only doing four issues so who cares anyway? This book needs some kind of clean slate, although at this point, yet another relaunch could only hurt it more.

Meltzer’s run comes to an end here, probably to a lot of people’s relief. They’re not really wrong to be happy to see him go, although I have for the most part enjoyed the series—he pushes a lot of the right geek buttons for me, and he certainly made use of the League’s history and villains in cool and unexpected ways. However, it’s more like he wrote a series bible and a two-hour pilot, as a ton of stuff is set up and subsequently left to be resolved by other people if and whenever they get around to it. IDENTITY CRISIS suffered from a bit of this, but he really kicks it into high gear here. Let’s see, there’s the Black Lightning as super-villain liason subplot, the Vixen’s screwed-up powers subplot, the Red Tornado as emotionless jerk subplot, the Red Arrow/Hawkgirl tryst subplot (which incorporates Red Tornado in a weird, unexplained way this issue), the Per Degaton/Ultra-Humanite thing from a few issues back, and all the Geo-Force nonsense (which finally becomes interesting in this issue, just as Meltzer is packing his bags and heading for the door). Ed Benes’ art, which I’m not all that into anyway, takes a turn for the shaky by this issue’s end, making the conclusion even more sloppy—Martian Manhunter and the current Aquaman sit around reminiscing about the League’s early days, and say that they’ll be there again if they’re needed. Huh? Is this Aquaman even the same guy who helped form the League? I’m pretty sure he’s not. Also, DC pulls the same crap they did with issue seven--there's two covers, by Alex Ross this time--that each make up one-half of a group shot of the team, so you have to buy both if you want the complete picture. What the hell happened to the idea of a gatefold cover? Or a wraparound cover? Oh, wait, there's a variant cover that's a single image on its own--oh, wait, it's by Michael Turner. Never mind.

From Glen Brunswick and Frank Espinosa (ROCKETO) comes this new Image mini about a Mafia hitwoman whose past catches up to her at a lousy time. Espinosa’s style stops just short of being an assault on the senses—it’s a flurry of wild brush strokes where you sometimes need to step back to see what you’re supposed to be looking at. This is a compliment, even though it might not sound like it. There isn’t much else to compare it to, unless you can imagine a collaboration between Scott Morse and Leroy Neiman. The story’s not bad either, kind of a cartoon LA FEMME NIKITA with the Mob instead of the CIA.

I forgot to review the first issue of this new Marvel mini, but this is fun stuff. Balloon-domed baddie MODOK assembles a crew of established super-villains to help him pull off a cosmic heist, namely the theft of an unlimited power source. The script by Fred Van Lente has lots of fun dialogue and characterizations, and the art by Francis Portela is expressive and detailed. In this ish, one of the villains is not who they appear to be, and another one is killed so this can be kept silent. I guess it’s a testament to the quality of the book that the implications of a long-standing Marvel villain getting whacked didn’t even sink in right away. It’s that rare kind of Marvel character death, I suppose—one that isn’t done for shock value, a sales bump, or contempt for the Silver Age, but one that comes naturally out of the story. Well done, guys.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Advantage: Evil. Place Your Bets With The Black Glove."

Two metal-loving teenaged twin brothers, suffocating in suburban hell with their sugary step-mom and annoying baby step-brother, find a record that sets them forth on a quest to steal back a mystical sword and uncover their own demonic, heroic legacy. Written by Rick Spears (TEENAGERS FROM MARS) and drawn by Chuck BB, this volume—the first in a manga-sized series from Oni—reads like SCOTT PILGRIM by way of BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, with generous helpings of LORD OF THE RINGS and the classic Eighties horror flick TRICK OR TREAT (where the guy who played Skippy on FAMILY TIES unleashed an undead demon of a dead rock star by playing his record backwards—shouldn’t have been a surprise, since Gene Simmons gave him the record in a cameo as a DJ). I don’t really know what’s left for further volumes, though, since this one kinda wore out its welcome by the end; the brothers’ dialogue (generously peppered with plenty of ‘indeed’) wears thin very quickly, and the art is equal parts fun and tedious. If you’re a huge Tenacious D fan and you need something to tide you over until their next album, though, this might suffice.

I started this immediately after I finished BLACK METAL, and was groaning at the prospect of another Oni graphic novel full of suburban metalhead angst…then the story took an abrupt and creepy turn as the book’s heroes, Sam and Alec, find themselves trapped on a ghostly train full of otherworldly weirdos. Before long, Alec has been shockingly dispatched by a terrifying ticket-taker ghoul, and Sam is left alone to try and somehow rescue his friend or, at the very least, escape with his life. Written and drawn by Vasilos Lolos (PIRATES OF CONEY ISLAND), this book feels like the bizarre bastard child of Hayao Miyazaki and Paul Pope. And, unlike BLACK METAL, this one ends with a cliffhanger that makes me want the next one in a hurry.

The first in a new series of digest-y sized graphic novels from Image, Andi Watson’s latest creation follows the adventures of a little girl prone to supernatural shenanigans. Eschewing the gothy clichés of EMILY THE STRANGE and the like, though, GLISTER has more of a children’s book flavour, immediately evident in Watson’s new art style—his angular compositions have given way to a more rounded, whimsical look. In this debut volume, the title heroine comes into possession of a teapot that is haunted by the ghost of a failed author, who has one last book left in him, one that will hopefully finally garner some rave reviews. This is a good all-ages read, one that engages in otherworldly mischief without the morbidity that such comics usually indulge in.

Grant Morrison’s run on the monthly BATMAN book has been a roller-coaster ride—not to say that it’s always been exciting and fun, but that the quality of it has been surprisingly up-and-down. However, this three-part tale, drawn by Morrison’s SEVEN SOLDIERS collaborator J.H. Williams III, might just come to define the writer’s run on this title. Batman and Robin are invited to a mysterious island to attend a reunion of the International Club of Heroes—masked men of different nations inspired by the adventures of the Dynamic Duo. Unfortunately, their host has been murdered, and the heroes are now trapped on the island, being picked off one by one. There are so many elements of awesomeness at play here, it’s kind of difficult to start talking about it; it’s a great old-school murder mystery, a wonderful postmodern sequel to a goofy Silver Age story, a nice change of pace from the bizarre “Three Ghosts of Batman”/Damian Wayne plot…and good lord, the art by Williams III is nothing short of breathtaking. Not content to be a brilliant visual stylist on his own, the artist also throws in dead-on pastiches of guys like Dave Gibbons and Howard Chaykin to give the international heroes their own distinct looks. Here’s hoping that when this story wraps up, DC collects it separately from the main Morrison BATMAN run, along with a reprint of the original “Batmen of Many Nations” story.

I gave this one an unfairly quick read last week when it came out, but I really wanted to give it more attention so I snuck it back into this week’s pile. I’m glad I did—this eight-issue mini, written and drawn by Duncan Rouleau (and based on ideas and concepts by Grant Morrison) is lightweight, endearing, goofy, and very easy on the eyes. The first issue has some present-day action, where the title robots fight a very cool looking giant technological collective called U.N.I.O.N., then shifts back in time to the days when a self-doubting Doc Magnus unveiled his artificial beings to the world. Oh, and the whole thing is bookended by a time-twisting subplot. It’s best not to waste your time wondering where and when this thing fits into DCU continuity (even though the Metal Men have recently made incongruous appearances in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, SUPERMAN/BATMAN, and 52), and just enjoy the ride. Rouleau has wrangled his art style into a smooth and less confusing Bachalo-lite, and his story, as crazy as it gets, remains charmingly silly throughout. This is gonna be a good one.

Despite all kinds of Skrull-based finger pointing (from Luke Cage more than anyone, for some reason), this looks like it might be going somewhere interesting…that is to say, we might see the Marvel heroes fighting some bona fide bad guys again soon, instead of just each other. The Hood, from Brian K. Vaughan’s MAX miniseries of the same name from a few years back, is uniting the supervillain underworld or something, which is a cool idea and a good excuse for Bendis to start trotting out forgotten nutjobs like Dr. Jonas Harrow, who gave Spidey all kinds of grief in the Seventies and Eighties. The idea is so refreshingly old-school at this point that I’m almost willing to overlook the fact that nothing in the Hood’s mini (or his recent appearance in the BEYOND! miniseries) led me to believe he had any kind of leadership skills or aspirations, or the fact that the whole Skrull thing is tired already after only three issues. Also funny—everyone still calls Clint Barton “Hawkeye” even though he’s wearing the Ronin costume these days. Still taking a wait and see on this storyline.

From the pages of old SWAMP THING comics spins this new series about a murder in a town called Aberrance, which is entirely populated by genetic freaks. An albino FBI agent named Kilcrop is sent to investigate, and runs into the gamut of unusual suspects, including a rich dude with a little guy growing out of his back, a mad scientist who is little more than a head on a crawling hand, and a one-armed, winged woman. Mike Hawthorne’s art is decent enough, but the script by newcomer John Whalen failed to really grab me. There are three types of Vertigo first issues, it seems—the ones that kill from page one, and you know they’ll have a lengthy run (like Y: THE LAST MAN), the ones that don’t work at all and you know they’ll be cancelled within a year and a half (DEADMAN), and then ones like this that aren’t bad but aren’t stellar either,,,they just need to survive long enough to prove themselves. It’s possible that UN-MEN falls into this third category, but so far it just feels like textbook Vertigo—dazzling cover artwork (in this case, from Tomer Hanuka), serviceable interiors, but a now-familiar tone of detached quirkiness throughout.