Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Only Your Undertaker Knows For Sure.

Happy nearly-Halloween, everyone. I trust you've all dug out your favourite horror flicks to watch this week? If you're in need of some ideas from off the beaten path, might I suggest John Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS? The highly-underrated (if a bit talky) EXORCIST III, perhaps? If you're in the mood for something goofier yet infinitely more psychologically damaging, there's always SLEEPAWAY CAMP...can you figure out the nasty twist ending before the hapless camp counsellors do? If you're in the HRM on Thursday the 30th, Empire Dartmouth is showing a 35mm print of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH at 8:30 PM. Not a great movie by any stretch, but it's certainly the best of the series, and a pumped-up crowd can really enhance a movie's strength...seeing RE-ANIMATOR and the original HALLOWEEN turned me around on both, two movies I didn't think much of when I saw them for the first time by myself.

But enough of that. This is a comics blog, right? So, a little movie called THE DARK KNIGHT made a proverbial shitload of money this past summer, and continues to do so, ensuring that Heath Ledger's Joker is now going to be regarded as the "definitive" version of the character for some time to come (heck, don't take my word for it...count how many Ledger Jokers you see at parties this Halloween). It was only a matter of time before Ledger's take on the Clown Prince of Crime started to influence the four-colour version; witness this week's original JOKER hardcover graphic novel by Brian Azzarello (100 BULLETS) and his LEX LUTHOR, MAN OF STEEL collaborator Lee Bermejo, featuring a Joker with scarred cheeks, hobo-like fashion sense, and a particularly dour demeanour. The plot concerns a young hood named Jonny who becomes the Joker's new go-to guy (not a good position to be in...anybody remember Bob the Goon in Tim Burton's 1989 BATMAN? Or that poor shmuck the Joker shoved in front of an oncoming truck in "The Laughing Fish"?), who witnesses a newly sprung-from-Arkham Mr. J going on an epic criminal rampage. This book features Christoper Nolanized versions of familiar Gotham rogues like Killer Croc, Riddler, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, among others. It also features a seriously deranged and disturbing Joker who, not to be outdone by his pencil-stabbing, hospital-bombing, cross-dressing big screen alter ego, stabs a guy in the face with a broken bottle, murders an elderly couple in their home at random, and commits an off-panel rape. Kind of makes me miss Cesar Romero and his mustache.

I like Azzarello's writing, particularly on his criminal conspiracy magnum opus 100 BULLETS (I recently re-read all 96 issues, in preparation for the final few installments--but that's a post for a few months down the road), but I'm not sure his ultraviolent approach is what I really want in a superhero book. Sure, the guy does noir like nobody's business, and I always appreciate his characters' unique verbal sparring, but...I just don't think it's a good fit, mostly because I get the feeling he really hates the genre (much like Ellis and Ennis, who, regardless, can't seem to quit mucking around in it). Even with his ear for distinctive dialogue, and Bermejo's creepy artwork--his Joker is definitely striking--the whole thing seems a bit off. For instance, why does the Joker get to run riot through Gotham for what feels like a pretty extended period of time (120 pages or so), destroying property, gleefully murdering cops, crooks, and civilians, and Batman only finally shows up to stop it when he's summoned by...Two-Face?!? There's also a PULP FICTION-style briefcase, with mysteriously glowing contents, that shows up once or twice but doesn't really serve any function. Maybe it was supposed to represent his sanity or his soul or something, but it doesn't drive the plot in any sort of McGuffin-y sense of the word--it gets introduced way late in the story and is mostly M.I.A. until it gets mysteriously mentioned by Two-Face near the end, and then it's forgotten for good. I think superfans of the late Ledger's (admittedly very compelling) interpretation of the Joker, who are craving more of something they can never have in a sequel, will enjoy this exercise in depravity, but me, I just kept wondering why the Joker kept calling Penguin "Abner".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Keyboard Has No Umlauts, Sorry.

So this week brings us the latest issues of FINAL CRISIS, a book that comes out very slowly, but lots happens in it when it does, and SECRET INVASION, a book that comes out with clockwork regularity but very little actually happens in it. Somewhere, in between these two extremes, is the perfect crossover event that will make everyone everywhere squeal with bliss. Until then...

SECRET INVASION has turned into a book that I read more and more quickly with each installment, due to a lack of interest in the storyline and the fact that each successive issue has turned into a series of double spreads of hundreds of characters punching Skrulls. I suppose when all of the important backstory actually takes place in umpty-gazillion other tie-in titles (mostly NEW AVENGERS and MIGHTY AVENGERS), that leaves lots of room for a massive fight scene between all the superheroes and the alien invasion that has been continuing in New York City for about, oh, five or six issues by my estimation. This is what I imagine all superhero comic books look like to people who don't read the ones that are good. At least the art by Leinil Francis Yu, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin is sharp (I really hope this artistic combination reunites for a better series later on). Still, I don't know if I should blame them or Bendis's scripting for the multiple times per issue where something of some apparent significance takes place and I have no idea what it was supposed to be.

FINAL CRISIS finally returns after a "planned break" following issue three's run into the future with the Flashes, but I think it was a longer break than was planned, maybe? It sure felt like a while. Darkseid, his loyal elite, and his growing number of "Justifier" troops have more or less conquered the planet after unleashing the Anti-Life Equation onto the internet last time, and the remaining heroes have set up a resistance force across the globe. Morrison throws tons of amazing ideas into the air here, such as multiple JLA Watchtowers in cool, exotic locations (The Fortress of Solitude! Gorilla City! The Great Wall of China!), the Tattoed Man hiding Metron's weird God-symbol circuit thingy and its hidden powers within his tattoos for later activation, and a secret internet used exclusively by the supervillain community (the "Unternet", with umlauts and everything!). On the artistic front, there's bad news and good news: the bad news is, the art is now done by committee--Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino step up to do most of this issue's art, as J.G. Jones has fallen seriously behind schedule (the January solicitations tell us that Doug Mahnke is doing the entirety of the final issue's art as well). The good news is, all of these artistic additions are dudes whose work is quite solid--in fact, seeing Pacheco's work on this issue kinda made me wish he was doing it from the start. His stuff just has a vitality to it that Jones's work, while still impressive, was definitely lacking. One more thing, though--FC is definitely not immune to the Marvel method of overpriced, unnecessary crossovers, even when Morrison writes them himself. This week also brought us FINAL CRISIS: SUBMIT, which shows how Black Lightning supplied Tattoed Man with Metron's symbol, but isn't good for much else. Especially for four dollars, and SUPER-ESPECIALLY after Morrison summed up everything that happens in this issue in about three lines of dialogue in FC #4. "Submit", indeed.

Let's see, what else? IDW released G.I. JOE #0 this week, which is quite a bargain for a buck--it appears to be a ground-level relaunch of the entire concept of Hasbro's "Real American Hero", with writers like Chuck Dixon and 1980s JOE mastermind Larry Hama pulling the strings. Less a goofy toy commercial (I can't front, though, I still have a soft spot for that "Silent Interlude" issue and the two-part "Origin of Snake-Eyes" from the original series) and more of a black-ops type action drama, this introductory issue contains three short stories that set the stage for...what? THREE new titles launching in spring of 2009? Are you kidding me? Sheesh, you'd think these guys were gearing up for a big-budget August-opening blockbuster directed by the guy who made VAN HELSING or something. This stuff's not bad, but walk before you run, guys. I think the Marvel G.I. JOE series went, like, fifty issues before G.I. JOE: SPECIAL MISSIONS was launched, and that was back in the days when comics still regularly sold in the hundreds of thousands.

Issue #7 of Terry's Moore's ECHO is out this week, which, like Jeff Smith's RASL, is a strange left turn into SF territory for an indie creator known for much different stuff. Unlike RASL, though, Moore manages to get this title out pretty much monthly, and the result is a cool mix of military intrigue, sci-fi, and relationship drama with very impressively detailed and expressive art. The series' protagonist, Julie Martin, is on the run from the government after being showered with a mysterious, experimental liquid skin that may or may not be radioactive. There's also a crazy old man who seems to be sporting the same liquid metal crap on his hand, a psychotic monkey who maybe explodes (I'm not really sure what happened at the end), and a sinister government agent named Ivy Raven. Seriously, though, with a name like that, of COURSE you're going to be a sinister government agent. Or a member of Fox Force Five.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Elect To Save My Money.

In a week that saw Canadian voters return to the polls for the second time in two years (twice this week even, for Halifax--the municipal election is this Saturday), comics readers were faced with an equally difficult choice: which is a bigger waste of time and paper...a comic that deals with how fictional characters would vote in a fictional election (DCU: DECISIONS), or a comic about Superman and Batman fighting vampires and werewolves (the elegantly titled SUPERMAN & BATMAN VS. VAMPIRES & WEREWOLVES)? I wouldn't really know, since I elected not to read either. Democracy in action!

Okay, so I was a bit hard on ol' DC there, but I kid because I love. Despite their boring political comics and silly monster mashes, DC gave me my favourite read of the week, the SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN special. James Robinson continues to hit his stride in the Superman mythos, as Jimmy investigates the mysterious floating guy who was watching the Superman/Atlas throwdown in his inaugural SUPERMAN arc. Robinson does his best to reconcile various iterations of Jimmy here--the dork who brings Perry White his coffee, the supercool adventure hero who hung out with the Newsboy Legion, the weirdo who was turned into Turtle Boys and Elastic Lads, etc., while throwing the character into a serious and deadly mystery. Fans of Kirby's run on the title will find a lot to like here, as Project Cadmus plays a big part in the mystery, and readers of Robinson's SUPERMAN run won't want to miss this as it continues directly out of the four-part "Atlas" story. Carlos Pacheco's inker, Jesus Merino, handles most of the art here and continues to show that he's doing Pacheco better than Pacheco these days; unfortunately, he only does about 75% of the issue. Also, the story is far from complete, since it continues in next week's NEW KRYPTON special, but it's a pretty great read nonetheless. Also, for diehard DC continuity nerds, Robinson continues his tradition of resurrecting characters from the pages of FIRST ISSUE SPECIAL: first, it was Mikaal Tomas in STARMAN, then Kirby's Atlas character in SUPERMAN, and here, it's CODENAME: ASSASSIN. I can't wait to see what he does with THE DINGBATS OF DANGER STREET!

The new issue of the excellent magazine COMICS FOUNDRY is also out this week, and continues to make WIZARD look even more trivial, dated, and misogynistic. There's an article about politics in comics (which doesn't have to be dull, DCU: DECISIONS), the wobbly manga market (featuring quotes from The Beguiling's Christopher Butcher!), and a hilarious Matt Fraction-penned last page column that does little more than showcase select panels from DOOM PATROL ARCHIVES VOL. 5 (a little of that stuff goes a long way, believe me). One article also credits Stan Lee as "Movie Cameo Actor", which struck me pretty funny.

So we were bagging and boarding a bunch of back issues at the store the other day, and I came across an issue of ALPHA FLIGHT that featured Aurora and Sasquatch fighting FANTASTIC FOUR heavy Diablo, and I was telling my co-worker Mike how nothing like that scene appeared in the book--Diablo only even appeared in a flashback, and he wasn't even fighting anybody! Well, this week's issue of Marvel's revamped (and quite good!) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY has Vance Astro fighting Starhawk on the cover, while a Skrull lords over the whole affair. I'm pretty sure this never happened, since Vance doesn't even appear in the issue. Who says this isn't still the Mighty Marvel Age of False Advertising? However, the Guardians find out this issue that the Skrulls have invaded Earth, which, at this point, would be like me only just now finding out that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour. "Guardians", indeed! Still, a good old fashioned cosmic slugfest nonetheless.

And finally, Jeff Smith's newest series, RASL, continues to be a beautifully drawn, quietly creepy excursion into sci-fi, and this third issue starts to unravel the mystery of the dimension-hopping protagonist's past a bit. Still, though, what's up with the schedule? "To Be Continued In RASL #4 Shipping March 2009"? Seriously? That means it won't even be solicited for several months yet! The DCU's half vampire/half werewolf President will already be in office, for Chrissakes!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Stand In The Place Where You Live.

After a somewhat shaky first installment, Marvel's adaptation of Stephen King's shelfcracker THE STAND is finding its feet in a really entertaining way. It's not that the first issue was bad, by any stretch--I'm already a big fan of artist Mike Perkins (CAPTAIN AMERICA) and colourist Laura Martin (PLANETARY, ASTONISHING X-MEN), and seeing them work together is a treat--but I felt like Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was having a hard time getting a handle on the story. Not much of a surprise, when you're adapting an 1100-page novel with hundreds of speaking parts into thirty comic books. It felt like, in the first issue anyway, he was struggling a lot with what to keep in and what to toss out. Case in point--one of the best things about King's novels is his narrative voice (in this instance, your standard omniscient narrator who happens to have lots of gallows humour and pop reference at his disposal), but in a comic you obviously don't want to read page after page of captions describing what the artist is supposed to be drawing. Well, I guess you do if you're a shitty writer, but that's a whole other post. Back to the point, though, by this second issue--where things really start to go pear-shaped for America after the accidental release of a manmade, lethal superflu--Aguirre-Sacasa begins to deftly expand the cast of characters and the scope of the story much like the way the "Captain Trips" virus spreads across the land. Perkins has a gift for character acting and distinctive faces, which is most likely what got him this gig, but he also brings the scares with the atmospheric first appearance of Randall Flagg, AKA The Dark Man, AKA The Walkin' Dude, in a cool nightmare sequence. Weird numbering scheme aside (I have to try to explain the whole "No, it's a series of six miniseries that are all the same story--oh, forget it, it's a thirty-issue miniseries that restarts with number one every six issues!" to customers an awful lot), this is turning out to be a very cool series, and not just for King devotees. I suspect Vertigo fans will like what they find here, as well as lovers of post-apocalyptic adventure fiction. Also, unlike Marvel's baffling DARK TOWER prequel/adaptation/continuation/whatever the hell fiasco, new readers need have no previous knowledge of King's work. This one goes on the short list of Marvel's best current titles for me.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Make Mine Favreau!

So I revisited IRON MAN on DVD the other day, and while watching director Jon Favreau's appearance as Tony Stark's driver, Happy Hogan, I remembered that he had also appeared as another well-known Marvel supporting character in DAREDEVIL (the less said about this one, the better, but for his part, Favreau is one of the better things about this movie).

So this got me thinking...what other characters might the versatile actor/director appear as in future Marvel movies? To the Photoshop!!!

Let's see, there's Captain America's ill-fated first sidekick, Bucky Barnes...

...Nick Fury's fellow Howling Commando and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan...

...and Dr. Strange's faithful manservant, Wong...

I kid the Favreau, of course. IRON MAN is awesome, and I can't wait to see what he does with a sequel. Bring on Fin Fang Foom!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Almost a year? Really?

Jeepers, there's just no excuse for that. Anyway, I'm hoping to change this up into more of a showcase for my cartooning and drawing and the like, most of which is likely to still be comics-related. Sometimes it might fall under the bigger umbrella of pop-culture stuff, but it still seems to come back to comics somehow. I had another blog on the go for awhile that sort of eclipsed this one, but then they both fell on the back burner. If you're a fan of old-timey horror movies, the likes of which you'd usually find in sun-faded VHS cases at your local corner store, this one's for you. I called it Dell Grodak's House of Haunts, and it was a place for me to make and display some old horror movie poster art of my own design. Check it out at Hopefully, one day soon, I'll collapse that blog and this one into some kind of catch-all affair where I basically just do whatever the hell I want. It'll be anarchy! Watch this space for details, it's already in the works.

Back to the drawing co-worker and comic buddy Rachelle Goguen (check her blog at and I cooked up an idea awhile back, as a direct response to the absolutely ridiculous proliferation of Marvel variant covers featuring recreations of classic covers but with zombies, skrulls, apes, and the like. We wondered how stupid this whole phenomenon was likely to get before fanboys stopped buying, and came up with the following. I should mention that we got beaten to the punch with one of these ideas by mere days on Chris Sims' Invincible Super-Blog, but that his trumps mine also by inclusion of a bindle. Anyway, here's what we came up with...

More drawings to come soon, I promise!