Sunday, October 28, 2007

Zombies, Bizarros, and Sinestros: Oh, my!

My head is still hurting from last night's Halloween festivities, so I'll probably keep this brief. Let me start by saying, however, that despite what DC and Jim Starlin might think, Jack Kirby's New Gods are alive and well, thank you very much.

That's my pal and co-worker Rachelle Goguen as Big Barda, and me as Orion. In your face, DC!

On to the comics. The three part ACTION COMICS storyline, "Escape From Bizarro World", wrapped up this week--it was written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, and drawn by THE GOON creator Eric Powell. First off, I'd like to reiterate how much I am loving this writing team's run on the book, however intermittent it might be, and I'm super happy to see it back on track. Next week, Donner takes a break (I'm honestly not sure how much he actually contributes to the process, anyway) and Gary Frank joins as new regular penciller, which is very exciting. In the meantime, though, this was a fun little storyline that restores the idea of a Bizarro World to the DCU. In the olden days, it probably would have been a single issue, or maybe a double-sized annual, but in these days of "decompressed storytellng" or "writing for the trade" or whatever you want to call it, it somehow translates to three issues. As a result, it felt a bit padded--lots of pages are spent introducing characters like Bizarro Luthor, Bizarro Doomsday (who is really just Doomsday--shouldn't he be weak and puny or something?), and the Bizarro JLA, but when the artwork is this nice, it's hard to complain about it. Superman comes to a nice, Silver-Agey solution in the end by making Bizarro the hero of his people rather than just fighting him, and there are lots of fun details in the issue, like Bizarro Aquaman with a fishbowl on his head. I also loved how the Bizarro Green Lantern is actually that sector's representative of the Sinestro Corps, who is too stupid to get with the program and join the GL/Sinestro war that's currently raging across the galaxy.

Speaking of the Sinestro Corps...the "Sinestro Corps War" storyline is nearing its conclusion in the GREEN LANTERN titles, and as much as I've enjoyed this crossover, I think I'll be glad to see it end. This week, three tie-in books--GREEN LANTERN CORPS, BLUE BEETLE, and TALES OF THE SINESTRO CORPS: SUPERMAN-PRIME were released, and not much actually happened between them. They all kinda reiterated the same basic info--the war has come to Earth, Superboy-Prime hates everybody, and Sodam Yat is the new Ion--yet none of them managed to advance the story very much. It's kind of like what went quickly wrong with the WORLD WAR HULK tie-ins, where multiple issues cover the same couple of events from a few different angles, but the story doesn't go forward quickly enough. The multitude of unappealing fill-in art on GLC doesn't help either. Still, this has been one of the more exciting crossover events of recent memory, and there's still time for Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons to bring a big finish to the whole shebang.

So, the last time I posted, I complained yet again about the proliferation of zombie comics, but now I have to go and recommend one. FEAR AGENT co-creators Rick Remender and Tony Moore team up with artist Kieron Dwyer to unleash XXXOMBIES (a title that kind of only works in print) on the world, and the result is good, gross fun. Really gross. Like, not for 99% of the population gross. The premise of this series (which is the first of a projected series of horror titles under the banner CRAWLSPACE) is that a bunch of 70s porn stars are holed up in a mansion to film three days of hardcore sex, unaware that Los Angeles has just been invaded by walking corpses. Eventually the two worlds collide, and the result is disgusting and awesome. One gag involves an actor who leaves the mansion, is bitten by a zombie, and stumbles back to the shoot where he is thought to be high on crystal meth or something and, before he has a chance to infect anyone, he is rushed off to do a scene...I'll let you imagine where this one goes. Good stuff, but most definitely not for everyone.

My head still hurts, I have to go back and lie down for a while. Happy Halloween, everybody!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Make Peace With Your New Gods!

Hmmm...maybe it's only because I expected to utterly despise it, but THE DEATH OF THE NEW GODS #1 by Jim Starlin was actually not too bad. Kinda pricey ($3.50 US), and kinda dependent on the last few NG series (which I skipped) for its continuity--i.e. Highfather is dead and some non-Kirby dude named Takion is in charge of New Genesis, and both Darkseid and Mr. Miracle have mastered the Anti-Life Equation--but I found it to be a lot better than I was expecting. It's not all that consistent with events in the DCU in places like COUNTDOWN, seeing as how the method of the New Gods being dispatched is not the same as it has been in other places (did Lightray really have his heart ripped out? 'Cause I think I'd remember that), and events transpire to ensure that there will soon not be a single happy married couple left in DC Comics before long (I may have said too much). However, some decent Starlin art and vibrant colours by Jeromy Cox, plus a feeling in my gut that Grant Morrison will fix any damage to these characters by the end of FINAL CRISIS, saw me through this all right. Even if Granny Goodness did refer to Darkseid's Elite as a "ROUGE'S gallery". Seriously, this mistake bothers me almost as much as when people write "VIOLA!" instead of "VOILA!", which means I seriously need to chill the fuck out when it comes to grammar and spelling.

I have never in my life listened to a song by My Chemical Romance and I don't really envision a scenario where that is going to change anytime soon, but the band's frontman (I guess? I could be wrong, but I'm too lazy to do a Google search) Gerard Way writes a pretty fun comic book in the form of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE. Drawn by Gabriel Ba (CASANOVA) and released by Dark Horse (you may have caught your first glimpse of this series in this year's DH Free Comic Book Day offering), it's the story of a group of dysfunctional super-powered orphans brought together by a mysterious millionaire, who reunite in the present day to stop an impending armageddon kicked off by their benefactor's demise. The quirky take on this superteam/messed-up family unit has lots of sly humour and cool ideas, superbly rendered in Ba's Mignolaesque style. Those slick James Jean cover paintings don't hurt, either. Fans of Grant Morrison's DOOM PATROL should get a kick out of this.

Man, did JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA go downhill in a hurry, or what? I mean, some (okay, many) would argue that it was downhill to begin with--to say that Brad Meltzer's run on the book met with mixed reviews is to be awfully charitable--but Dwayne McDuffie has quickly turned this book from a series that was kind of boring but filled with nerdy easter eggs and in-jokey character moments into the other kind of bad superhero book--the one where the good guys fight the bad guys, and that's really about it. I know, that's a weird complaint for a capes-and-tights book, but seriously...that's really all that has happened so far. Luthor's Injustice League kidnapped most of the JLA last month, and in this issue, they fight Superman and Black Lightning before kidnapping them, too. Yep. Nothing else to see here, folks, just lots of cheesecakey Ed Benes art (although, to be fair, Joe Benitez's fill-in issue last month was much, much worse). It's the kind of superhero comic that makes me think "Oh yeah, this is why most people are bored stupid by superhero comics!". I mean, come on, we're talking about Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman here...there's not much chance that Luthor and the gang are gonna kill them all. McDuffie somehow made it work on the excellent, much-missed JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED cartoon, but it's just not coming together here, no matter how much he tries to turn the comic into the show (i.e., John Stewart as the team's resident Green Lantern, the team suddenly having shuttlecrafts named Javelins with no explanation). Where did it all go wrong? Fortunately, Mark Waid and George Perez are back with the superfun BRAVE AND THE BOLD #7, which has a great Wonder Woman/Power Girl teamup that somehow sidesteps all the T and A you would expect from that matchup and instead starts off with a bang and continues with its one-off story that is somehow still part of a bigger yarn that you can ignore if you choose to (but when it's this good, why would you want to?).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cowboys From Hell

Sorry for the absence, folks—some offers I couldn’t say no to, as well as some long-percolating personal projects I wanted to get back to, got in my way of reviewing for a much-longer-than-anticipated period. Anyhow, I’m gonna try to keep this regular again starting now-ish.

The zombie thing has officially gotten waaaay out of hand (I know, I think I might have said this a year or two back, but who knew it would have the legs it did?). I’m saying this as someone who owns all the Romero zombie movies on DVD too, even the extra-fancy four-disc DAWN OF THE DEAD. Not only did Marvel release four, count ‘em FOUR zombie variant covers last week (on WOLVERINE, PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL, SPIDER-GIRL, and RUNAWAYS), but three separate undead western comics shipped last week as well. Interestingly, not a single one was written by Joe R. Lansdale…but I digress. One of ‘em was called OMEGA CHASE, and sadly, I didn’t have time to read that one. Another was called GRAVESLINGER, and it came from creators Shannon Eric Denton, Jeff Mariotte, and John Cboins (no way am I ever gonna try and pronounce that one) by way of Image Comics. The third one was called DEADLANDER, and it was written and illustrated by Kevin Ferrarra. GRAVESLINGER had nice art but didn’t make much sense, and DEADLANDER had REALLY nice art but possibly made even less sense. The art really did carry me through on that one, though—gorgeous stuff, a mix of guys like Frazetta, Mark Schultz, and Berni Wrightson with occasional touches of E.C. Comics atmosphere (one character, a dead ringer for the Old Witch, even talks in an E.C.-style font). I think I might have preferred the art in black and white, but even so, it still looked amazing. Oh yeah, there was also a zombie-themed graphic novel from Slave Labor called EATING STEVE, but I didn’t get to that either. Cal liked it, though, so maybe I’ll read it next week.

OPTIC NERVE’s first extended, multiple-issue story arc (three issues over almost as many years!) arrived last week in a nifty hardcover, under the title SHORTCOMINGS. Adrian Tomine’s squirmy tale of neurosis, infidelity, and racial self-loathing makes a sweet hardcover, and it holds together way better as a single-sitting read rather than a couple of floppies spread out over many, many months. The story covers territory that will be pretty familiar to OPTIC NERVE fans—you know, twentysomething angst, stormy relationships, bitterly dry humour, desperate alienation—but it still remains a fascinating read, mostly due to Tomine’s crisp, sharp artwork which perfectly captures so many nuances of human conversations, gestures, and reactions, and his utterly believable sounding dialogue. If you’re new to OPTIC NERVE, you couldn’t ask for a better introduction.

Chris Staros, publisher of the always-stunning line of Top Shelf graphic novels, released new work of his own last week in the form of YEARBOOK STORIES:1976-1978, published by Top Shelf, natch. The smaller-size black-and-white comic features a couple of autobiographical stories written by Staros, dealing with his high school years. The first, illustrated by Bo Hampton, tells of the author’s foray into school politics, while the second, drawn by Rick Tomasso, details a wild gig Staros’s band agreed to play. This is a fun, heartwarming little book, and it also features a couple of great pics of the genial publisher rocking a terrific ‘stache.

In closing, director George Miller (THE ROAD WARRIOR) was apparently testing actors this weekend for possible roles in his upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA movie, which is being rushed through production in anticipation of the upcoming Hollywood writers’ strike. Fanboys everywhere, however, are up in arms over the average age of the performers under consideration…most of them in their early twenties (lots of names from THE O.C., were on the list, as well as Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who played John McClane’s daughter in this summer’s surprisingly awesome LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD). It occurred to me, though, that this is likely a film geared towards kids and teenagers, and anyone over twenty seems like a grownup to them anyway…so, is it the fact that these actors are all fairly dewy that has fanboys everywhere gnashing their teeth, or is it that, given the fact that most comic book fans are of at least college age these days, geeks the world over just can’t deal with the fact that they may soon see a live action rendition of a Batman or Superman who is-gulp-younger than they are? I know I’m still having a hard time with the knowledge that I’m nearly twice the age Ferris Bueller was when he took the day off.