Monday, October 31, 2005

Mystery Box: from Agent X #6: Taskmaster Rules.

I don't know if this is a bad thing or not, but Agent X is one of my favorite comics of all time. It's curious how there's no eighth, ninth or twelfth issue, though (they do not exist. Do not tell me otherwise. They are not real. They are like unicorns, but uglier).

Anyway, this page rules, and I thought I'd share. Everyone needs examples of how awesome Taskmaster is. I'd totally buy a Taskmaster ongoing if they had the right creative team on it. Think about the story possibilities! He's a mercenary, so you've got stories about him getting paid to shoot people. That's always fun. He also trains flunkies to fight superheroes, and that's brilliant. It could be like New Mutants, but with, like, AIM agents or silly little Hydra troops learning the ropes of getting beat up by Captain America.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Mystery Box: Rom Annual #4

Ah, Rom. Years ago, my brother bought a stack of Rom for about a dollar, believing, I suppose, in quantity over quality. He's since stopped reading comics (I wonder why?), and I now have a pile of back-issues of Rom: Spaceknight.

Rom, if you didn't know, was a particularly doofy-looking toy produced by Parker Brothers at the tail end of the seventies. Parker Brothers is best known as a board game manufacturer and, accordingly, their foray into action figures didn't go too terribly well, sales-wise. However, they pitched the character to Marvel who started a tie-in comic that ended up running for seventy-five issues and involved damn near every Marvel character at some point or another.

In fact, remember when Storm lost her powers? It's because of Rom. Rom's enemies, the Dire Wraiths, evidently an off-shoot of the Skrulls, waged a crazy little war on earth. Rom carried a weapon capable of banishing the Wraiths to Limbo (which popped up in Universe X, oddly enough), but few other things seemed capable of stopping the damned aliens. To that end, Henry Peter Gyrich talked Forge into building copies of Rom's Neutralizer. And that weapon is what stripped Storm of her powers for a while.

Oddly enough.

Plus, Rick Jones hung around Rom for a while. And Steve Ditko was on the book forever.

Anyway, Rom Annual #4. We open on one of those bug-shaped Shi'ar ships flying through space (well, "space" is sort of a misnomer. We're dealing with one of those backgrounds Steve Ditko would draw in Dr Strange stories, really. There's a big purple swirly thing an a whole bunch of big yellow dots). There's a figure floating in an orb in front of the ship, causing an overdramatic Shi'ar radar operator to call out

"COMMANDER DAKARI! Instruments detect a FORCE-SPHERE floating in the vacuum of space!"

I'm sure Commander Dakari was accustomed to such flights of drama. The Shi'ar Empire was, at this point, positively mired in the stuff. The head of the empire was the dramatically-named Deathbird and they exist almost solely as X-Men supporting characters/living plot points, so they know nothing other than overblown dialogue and manufactured suspense. You never see a submarine radarman yelling to his captain about "MYSTERIOUS BLIPS outside in THE MURKY DEPTHS OF THE SEA," after all.

Having never seen any of the Aliens movies, the commander orders the mysterious figure pulled aboard, where it promptly comes to life and kills a squad of Imperial Guardsmen to death before dropping himself. The ship's doctor, a cat-man who either ripped off or was ripped off by Tiggorr (Tigor? Tigggorrr? Tigorr? Tiggor? I don't care enough to look it up. You know who I mean), pronounces the new arrival dead and then takes its body to his lab for analysis.

Turns out it's the shell of a Spaceknight, the cyborg military force of Galador, Rom's home planet. A flashback tells us that his name was "Pulsar" and that he was mortally wounded by Wraiths prior to encasing himself in a force-sphere and setting himself adrift in space for... some reason.

Now that he's dead, the doctor decides that since he hates the Shi'ar so much, he ought to put himself in Pulsar's armor and beat the Hell out of some sorry-ass bird-based aliens. And so he does.

Which leads the Imperial Guard to capture Rom and some of his extraordinarily lame buddies. The Imperial Guard is really incredibly crappy, when you get right down to it. Aside from Gladiator, an absurdly powerful Superman knock-off with a mohawk, they're some of the dumbest characters ever created.

Case in point:
Rom's buddy Scanner is the blue... thing of indeterminate gender in the middle. You'll note it is telling the two Guardsmen (in this case Tempest and Electron, not that it matters. They're the made-in-Hong-Kong version of Legion of Super-Heroes) exactly what is about to happen. And it still works.

Rom fights the Gladiator for a while and performs admirably for a guy whose head looks like a toaster. As is the norm for stories of this ilk, the two groups resolve their differences long enough to beat the shit out the the crazy doctor in the Pulsar suit and Gladiator defies his empire long enough to give the Spaceknights a way home.

That's not the point, though. Not to turn in to X-E, or anything, but the ads in this issue are amazing.
MASK! MASK was one of the single dumbest concepts of all time. You know that scene in Big where Tom Hanks tells that toy designer than no kid would play with a robot that turned into a building because buildings don't do anything? Same kind of thing applies here.

The gimmick of MASK was vehicles that turned into other vehicles. Like that car there that could fly by opening up its gullwing doors. The plane in back there could turn into a helicopter. On what level does that make any sense? Wouldn't it be easier to make a VTOL airplane?

Anyway, the best part of the whole line is that their base of operations was a gas station. That says... something. I don't know what, but it's something, sure as ten dimes makes a dollar.

Cartoons! There were a couple of ads for Saturday morning cartoon schedules for the upcoming season. This is back when Saturday mornings were laden with weird crap and this schedule was what you planned your weekend around. Not like today, no. I left the NBC schedule out because it was two page spread, but rest assured that it was equally as awesome as this one. Spider-Man, Mr T and Punky Brewster in the same ad. My God.

Yeah, most of the stuff on CBS's plate was utter garbage, but Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling is one of the finest half-hours ever conceived. And look at that illustration! You can positively smell the Hulkamania runnin' wild!

Crappy toys! Finally, we have this, found on the back cover. This annual's from the summer of '85, the heyday of the Transformers, when every company thought that transforming toys were some kind of magical genie sent to give them piles of money. Vector Intercontinental threw their hat into the ring with Morphodroids, a line of crappy remote-controlled cars that could... stand up on little feet at the push of a button.

A veritable license to print money, I tell you.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A Brief Editorial:

Wizard's producing a line of How To Draw books cobbled together from their much-missed Basic Training column. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. However, the next volume is on anatomy and the first three artists listed on the cover are Michael Turner, Adam Hughes and Joe Linsner.

Hughes and Linsner, I can buy. Hughes is freaking amazing and Linsner's good so long as he sticks to drawing women. But Michael Turner's about as qualified to teach anatomy as I am to build time machines.

And I can't build time machines worth a damn. I've tried.

Honestly,I know he's got a following, but he draws the most bafflingly terrifying women ever. Giant eyes, absurdly long torsos, the same faces over and over again. I've been holding a grudge since the Powers That Be decided that the Identity Crisis toys should be based on his designs and not Rags Morales'.

Because I want an Elongated Man toy that looks like Ralph, see. Christ, look at Turner's cover to Identity Crisis #1 and tell me that his Elongated Man doesn't look like he drew Damage or the Atom with no mask or something, because that ain't Ralph Dibny. It's some guy with that one face Turner draws and a slightly different haircut than Superman.

God, I need to review some happy crap because I've been in a terrible mood. I think some Rom: Spaceknight is in order. You know who draws robots about as convincingly as Michael Turner draws women? Steve Ditko.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Momma don't take Some More Reviews away

One more review for the week, out of my other pullbox.

Flash #227: I don't know if it's because everything else I read today kind of sucked (excepting those two back issues of Marvel Team-Up. Damn, that alternate-Earth Tony Stark's cool), but this was pretty solid. After last month's poor showing, anything'd look good (much like how next month's Teen Titans will look like Jack Kirby and God banged a comic book out onto solid gold and unused pages of the Book of Revelation in light of what I had crapped into my brain today), but any book with a scene where Wally West gets baby gifts from Nightwing, Batman and Wonder Woman (she sent bracelets and a sword. That's awesome) makes me love comics all over again.

I never thought I'd say this, but thank you, Joey Cavalieri. Thank you for giving me a book with creepy Jack Chick religious children as the villains. Thank you for not writing an issue where Wally climbs a mountain. Thank you for having Wally sing Queen's Flash Gordon theme to himself while he saved people.

God, I feel better for having written a positive review.

Today's Tom Sawyer, he gets high on you, and the space he invades, he gets This Week's Reviews

Jee-hee-hee-zus, man, what a week.

JLA #121: First off, when the Hell is this supposed to be taking place? If it's even kind of concurrent with Infinite Crisis, and it must be, doesn't the League have better things to worry about than Batman being mean to them and Ollie nailing Apache Chief's widow? I mean, the Martian Manhunter may as well be dead, the Watchtower's been blown up and the Freedom Fighters were beat to death by a gang of supervillains, and all the League's doing is trying to recruit Nightwing to keep an eye on Batman?

Second, Morrison set the Key up as a League-beating villain in about two pages without making him a mass murderer or giving him a sass-talking robot buddy. We've gotten two issues of him drinking and talking to himself and killing random people and then talking to himself about it, and he hasn't even gotten the League's attention yet. And, Hell, the last thing the JLA needs is another freakin' telepathic villain.

Third, what the Christing Christ is Aquaman doing building a giant computer? I realize this is, currently, one of the most comically underpowered Leagues ever, in terms of both super- and brain-power (Green Arrow, Black Canary, what's-her-face from Kelly's run, John Stewart and Aquaman do not a freaking brain trust make), but there's no way I can accept that Aquaman knows how to build a supercomputer even for the sake of expediency in storytelling. Just tell me that Black Canary called Oracle and Babs sent over a computer, or something. It makes more sense.

This no longer has any business coming out every two weeks. It's just giving me an extra thing to complain about every month now.

JLA Classified #13: Sigh. This whole thing's just setting up an issue where the members of the League face their own personal Hells, and it took a really, really scenic route to get there. And the covers still suck.

Moving on.

Ultimate Secret #4: Twenty-one pages of story, not counting the "Previously" page. That includes a wordless two-page spread of a spaceship blowing up. Thirty pages of ads. Fifty cents more than the last two books I reviewed.

Marvel genuinely hates me, I think. Hey, Galactus is coming, the Kree want to watch him/it/them/whatever eat earth, and Nick Fury thinks he can stop him. Did I just summarize the last issue of Ultimate Nightmare? Hard to tell.

All sins will be absolved as soon as I can type "Ultimate ultimate nullifier" as part of something other than a joke. I bet the Ultimate Watcher's some kind of space pervert, though. That'll dampen my enthusiasm.

Teen Titans #28: Liefeld on a late book. Unfathumabbable. In case you were worried that the immutable, unchangeable laws of the universe had somehow turned on their ear, no, he still can't draw worth a damn. Sadly, Gail Simone's story also pretty much sucks, with a twist ending so telegraphed, it actually pre-dates telegram technology and arrived via Pony Express.

The highlight of the book is that the in-house DC previews on the last page are the ones from September, telling me that Day of Vengeance #6 is hot this week and that Infinite Crisis is still a month off.

The worst part is that I knew these books were all going to pretty uniformly suck. To lessen the pain, I bought a couple back issues of Marvel Team-Up to brighten my day. And thank God I did, because, holy God, the pain.

I'm sorry these were all so oppressively negative, but... God, they were all deserving.

PS: I didn't even bother to buy Young Avengers. I just figured I'd be dropping three bucks for twenty Honda ads and a page telling me that Count Duckula's out on DVD.

(PPS: Only made-up words like "unfathumabbable" could possibly express my utter lack of shock that this shipped late.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Batman Returns is on ABC Family Right Now

Tim Burton be damned, this is a stupid movie.

"A penguin is a bird that cannot fly. I am a man, I have a name." I mean, that's not a terrible line, but the fact that it's followed very closely by "I was their number one son and they treated me like number two" is a sure sign that your script is written by either an eleven year old or Buddy Scalera (I don't care what else he's ever written, the two issues of Agent X he did are about as funny as a jog through a burn ward).

If Chris Walken can't save your movie, you've utterly and irredeemably fucked up.

From Wizard #46 (June 1995):

"If you missed: Starman #5... Your Basic "make peace with your inner demons" issue. In this case, Jack hangs out with his dead brother in a cemetery, and they work out their feelings. Enough with this touchy-feely stuff, already- bring on the action."

Good God.

Talk about missing the point of, like, the entire series. Whoever wrote that must've hated the remaining seventy-five issues.

Elsewhere in this issue:

An update on the Zen - The Intergalactic Ninja film, at that point "scheduled to go into production at the end of March or the beginning of April" after a fourth script rewrite. They planned on a December release. Guess they missed the deadline.

Extreme Studios managed to get Prophet (Prophet! Remember Stephen Platt? Wizard had him pegged as the next, like, Jack Kirby, except way more cross-hatchy and more likely to draw giant guns?) optioned by Tri-Star. Wizard told me to buckle down, because they were getting some a-list talent on that one.

John Singleton said he was considering making a Luke Cage movie. He's still working on it, if I remember correctly.

Freddy vs Jason was announced in the same article that said Aliens vs Predator was mired in development Hell. This is 1995, people. Oh, and Kane Hodder, the guy in the Jason Voorhees suit, said he'd do the movie "if the script was good." Guess it didn't meet his approval, because they got some other shambling giant to walk about menacingly and grunt when they finally made the movie.

There's a fairly decent interview with Neal Adams, at the time pimping Knighthawk, his creator-owned book from the now-dead Acclaim Comics. Highlight of the interview is when he calls Troma Films "perhaps the worst distributor on earth."

I'd forgotten Todd McFarlane used to get the last page of the magazine to bitch about things. This time around, he was talking about crossovers, killing characters and replacing them with new ones and raising prices. He also used a couple words I'm pretty sure he didn't know the meaning of.

The back cover is an ad for True Lies: The Video Game. Tagline? "All the action of the movie megahit - and none of the romance!"

Finally, the Top One Hundred Comics for April of 1995 (according to Diamond):

The entire top ten is X-books. April '95 puts us firmly in the Age of Apocalypse, you see. Spawn comes in at number eleven, because, and I say this with the utmost respect, people in the mid-nineties were fucking retarded. Thirteen through sixteen consists of all four Superman monthlies in a row. I guess it was that Conduit story? I don't know offhand, but I have to say it's probably the last time all four Superman books beat all the Bat-books.

Speaking of, all the Bat-books (and I do mean all, including Catwoman, Azrael, Robin and Shadow of the Bat) pop up before we hit the forties.

Beavis and Butthead #16 comes in at sixty-sixth. The Razor Swimsuit Special clocks in at ninety-seven. It was a dark time to be a comic book reader.

Oh, Wizard's Top Ten (where they rank 'hot' back issues and make 'jokes' about them) is as follows:

X-Men: Alpha #1, Gen13 #1 (the miniseries, not the ongoing), The X-Files #1 (holy God, for reals?), Lady Death #1, Shi #1, Gen13 #2 (see above), Lady Death 2: Between Heaven and Hell #1, Ash #1, Vengeance of Vampirella #1 and Amazing Spider-Man #400 (the one with a gravestone for a cover).

I can let Gen13 go because that was almost entertaining for reasons other than J Scott Campbell drawing pretty girls, but there's no excuse for a top ten list to have two Lady Death issues, Shi and Vampirella on it unless you're a really, really sad troll of a man willing to pay quadruple cover price to fulfill some sick fantasy. There. I said it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Settling an Old Debate:

Did Wolverine steal his haircut from Beast, or vice-versa? The point is moot, as they both stole it.

From Sally.
Big tough men lifting a little girl's hairstyle. It's just ungentlemanly, is what it is.

Things I Will Never, Ever Understand

I learned to read from comic books. I'm aware that isn't exactly unique, nor is it particularly surprising, given the amount of nonsense I spurt forth on the topic regularly. That leads to an incredible suspension of disbelief, but there are certain things that will never, ever make proper sense to me.

For instance, I can buy mutation in the Marvel universe to a certain point. Healing factor's doable (albeit not to the ridiculous degree Wolverine displays), some of the physical aberrations kind of make sense (Hell, I can accept a guy being born with wings) and the mental powers are certainly nearly plausible. But a human being, no matter what kind of atomic pile their parents fucked in, is not popping out of the womb with an innate ability to manipulate weather. Or turn into metal. Or, Christ, teleport. Mutation's the laziest route to getting powers ever, especially when you get to characters like Rogue or Shadowcat or Maggot. No amount of radiation is screwing up your genetic code to the point where you can walk through walls. That makes no sense.

The second-laziest route to getting powers is the internalization-of-the-powers-of-equipment. For example, Black Lightning. He had a belt that gave him crazy lightning powers. Without the belt, he was a guy with a bad haircut. Somehow, the belt eventually imbued its abilities directly into BL, who could then do his lightning nonsense sans-belt. In fact, the belt did such a bang-up job modifying his genetic makeup that his kid was born with powers, too. It's like if Green Arrow had a kid who was born with a bow growing from his arm. Alan Scott's absorbed the source of his powers, and his kids were born with similar abilities to his(and one of them has caught his mom's copious amounts of crazy, to boot). Icicle's kid was born with the baffling ability to freeze himself because his dad fooled around with an ice gun near his junk a little bit too much. No one questions it. Nobody just gets cancer or anything. They ended up with superpowers. And that makes no sense.

I've read something like eighty issues of Starman, however many issues of JSA are collected in trade and God knows how many other random comics where it's made appearances, and I still have not a clue what the Cosmic Rod can do. It can fly, it can levitate objects, it can light things on fire, it can make big shields, but it's all vaguely defined with no limits that I know of. Hell, in The Unholy Three, Ted Knight uses a Gravity Rod to pull the control rods from a nuclear reactor, trap Superman in a bubble with the reactor and toss the whole mess into space while he was laying down. He didn't even get up to beat Superman. James Robinson had Ted Knight explain some of the stuff the Rod could do in that one issue where Jack fought Captain Marvel, but Jack never used that thing like his father did. That Rod's one Hell of deus ex machina. That's not even mentioning that it's run on the power of the stars. Not solar power, mind you, but the power of stars. An energy only one socialite-slash-physicist ever worked out how to harness. And that makes no sense.

I've seen Peter Parker climb walls while wearing shoes. That makes absolutely no sense at all.

I'll stop now because I'm making myself kind of sad (and also thinking things like "couldn't any decent defense attorney get a client who'd been apprehended by, say, Superman off in like ten minutes?" and "why can't I get The Shade miniseries anywhere on the planet?").

Monday, October 24, 2005

Mystery Box: Deadpool #65-69

Gail Simone used to post, on occasion, on Warren Ellis' dearly departed Delphi forum, where I was a lurker, condemned to unyappy status by a crippling fear that anything I dared say would raise the ire of Ming.

Anyway, at some point, she posted preview pages of Deadpool #65. They were funny, so I bought the issue. The issue was funny, so I bought the next one. That's how I roll.

These are the last issues of the series, capping it off before Marvel killed it, X-Force and Cable and replaced them with titles with different names (Agent X, X-Statix and Soldier X, if you're keeping score) in a move that had nothing to do with a desire to never have to cut Rob Liefeld a check again (undermined by the current run of Cable/Deadpool, I'd imagine, but it's not like Marvel editorial's never flipflopped on anything before). Deadpool manages to accidentally kill four crime lords at once when he was only contracted to off one, overachieving for probably the first time in his career. This sparks a golden age for Wade, who hires a secretary named Sandi (who happens to be a close friend of the Taskmaster) and opens "DP, Inc," a full-scale mercenary operation.

He runs afoul of an old-school aristocratic assassin who loathes Deadpool's style, considering it a mockery of a formerly respectable profession. Unluckily for Deadpool, this guy has wacky mental powers. Also, he was the one that whacked the four guys everyone thinks Deadpool hit. He's called the Black Swan, and he messes up Deadpool's already screwy brain with the cerebral equivalent of a computer virus and then erases 'Pool's memory of the encounter.

Deadpool's left with a deteriorating mental condition, a total lack of aiming ability, and minor-league aphasia (he spends four issues calling guns "doorknobs").

He's then contracted to obtain a rhino's horn for use as an aphrodisiac. Unfortunately, the horn in question's not the horn of the large grazing animal, it's the horn of the Spider-Man villain of the same name, leaving a Deadpool of alarmingly diminished capacity to fight a guy who's hilariously out of his league. Thankfully, he had a bottle of Pym Particles handy, so he ends up with an adorable Rhino keychain and a million bucks.

Rhino sticks around for a couple issues and gets to meet his idol, Dazzler.

Yeah, Dazzler. I'm actually surprised she hasn't turned up in Runaways yet. She'd fit right in with all the other cast-off, semi-forgotten characters running around that book.

Back on-point, 'Pool's brain starts to fall apart, leading to ridiculous headaches and mid-combat suicide attempts. Taskmaster, one of the best characters Marvel has laying about unused, fills Wade in on Black Swan, leading Deadpool to Germany for a final showdown.

Before he leaves, Taskmaster (who's given a first name for, I'm pretty sure, the first time. It's Tony, if you're curious) and Wade beat the crap out of Sandi's abusive boyfriend. If there's any fictional character I'd hate to piss off, it's Taskmaster. Guy's got a skull head! That's scary!

The story ends with Deadpool triumphant, albeit short an arm, blowing up Black Swan's palace.

Deadpool's still in the palace, of course. He'd written the abort code for the bomb on his hand, see, and that hand was missing. Which he finds hilarious.

The Pros: Simone's wise-crackery is ridiculously well-suited for Deadpool. The book's funny as Hell. Deadpool and Taskmaster end up as sympathetic, likable guys by virtue of their obvious affection for Sandi. Each of the issues is more or less a self-contained story with the over-arching Black Swan popping up as a subplot outside the first and last issues, and the self-contained stories are all entertaining. I mean, Deadpool fighting the Rhino? That's hilariously one-sided. A whole issue about Dazzler featuring Jack Chick-style comics condemning disco? That's awesome.

The art's done by the Udon guys. I'd say something about how they make everything look like I'm reading a Street Fighter instruction manual, but since they actually draw Street Fighter comics, it just feels hacky. Since Udon's like forty Brazilian guys in one studio, the art quality varies from issue to issue, but it's pretty good, for the most part.

The Cons: Actually, I really like this run. I might like the issues of Agent X Simone wrote better, but that's no slight against this. I'm nearly certain this was never collected in a trade, but the back issues can't possibly cost more than cover price, if you can find them. It's a fun read, I swear.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Gone For a Couple Days.

Hit the links on the sidebar for entertainment. I'm sure Absorbacon will update four or five times, and he's a hundred percent funnier than me.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

RE: Smallville:

I was flipping through the channels (I thought the OC was on because Fox has run out of baseball until Saturday. I was mistaken) and I hit the WB. Smallville's on. Lois Lane's hitting on a guy in an orange tank top and green swim trunks. She is calling him "AC," which I can only assume is short for "Arthur Curry."

Which means, oh God, Aquaman is on television.


EDIT EDIT: Aquaman just fucked Superman up. With hard water balls! Good God, that's pretty awesome.

My mouth is alive with juices like wine and I'm hungry for This Week's Reviews

JSA: Classified was sold out, so I guess I'll have to wait a couple weeks to be underwhelmed and/or confused by whatever Power Girl's origin ends up being.

Catwoman #47: I have to special-order Catwoman because I'm the only person who buys it at the shop I go to. My man-crush on Will Pfeifer knows no shame. It should, because Adam Hughes does some seriously soft-porny covers most of the time. I'm missing chunks of this run which I'll have to fill in before I can pass judgement, but Pete Woods turns in solid art, Hugo Strange pops up, and Hammer (of the I-Thought-They-Were-Dead Hammer and Sickle) kills a guy for having a Joe Stalin pin cushion, so thumbs up.

On a Catwoman-related note, anyone know what Jim Balent's up to lately? Guy had a really long Catwoman run back in the day and then seemed to fall off the face of the earth. I bring this up because my Mystery Box digs have led to a giant pile of Wizard back issues, and those guys very rarely shut up about how good he made Catwoman look. And also Valiant. They talked about Valiant all the time. Fat lot of good it did them.

Robin #143: I very badly want a Johnny Warlock t-shirt. Black shirt with a grimacing demonic tiki face? That's awesome. The Catcher (or Junkyard Dog, the OMAC calls him both) becomes officially the lamest villain to escape OMAC custody, but the Wheel of Karma rolls straight over the even-lamer Gasbag. Fair trade, I guess. Robin uses his Clever to defeat Johnny Warlock and then calls in help to dispose of him, two things his mentor hasn't done in, like, years.

I seriously love the Veteran and his wacky little army of robots and World War 2 legacies, and Robin's got the personal life of a way less mopey Peter Parker. So, yeah, it's a good book.

She-Hulk #1: God, I missed this book. I'm so glad somebody managed to fix the Awesome Android after the conclusion of volume one, because he's one of my all-time favorite supporting characters. There's a brilliant bit on how trade paperbacks are ruining the industry and the Boomerang's in it and Jennifer Walters threatens to sue the New Avengers and a dead guy comes back in an entertaining fashion and... just buy it. There's like two non-Ultimate Marvel books I actually read, and, when it bothers to come out, this one's the better of the pair.

Runaways #9: Page one's a "Previously," pages two and three are a double-page ad for Honda, page four's the first place we get story, and page five's another ad. There's another two-page spread's worth of ads further in (one of those bright yellow deals failing to get me to play that horrid looking Marvel Nemesis game). In fact, there's only one place in the entire issue where there're two story pages facing each other. Every other spread is a page of story facing an ad. It's freaking ridiculous.

Cloak's jumped by the New Avengers (well, three of them, anyway) after he drops off a beat-to-Hell Dagger at the hospital. Seems there's video of Cloak assaulting his partner and somebody bothered to call in the Avengers to catch him. A shot to the head makes Cloak remember the Runaways (he met them in volume one and had his memory wiped. Surprisingly, this did not cause him to build a satellite to keep an eye on his friends.) and he teleports to LA to recruit the kids to clear his name. He thinks a shapeshifter (from Cloak and Dagger's no-doubt prodigious rogue's gallery) is framing him and figures the kids can help him out, so he drags them away from their game of Monopoly and to New York.

That's all that happened this month. Sure, it's still a snappy read. Vaughan's dialogue doesn't disappoint, but for three bucks, I'd love to see more stuff happen per issue.

Justice #2: I wanted so badly to hate this, but it's actually pretty good. Damn.

Batman #646: Much like I want to hate a book written by Alex Ross, I want to hate Red Hood for being Jason Todd. But he's, God help me, pretty interesting as a villain. I miss Manke on art, but the art by Shane Davis (and three different inkers, though Rodney Ramos gets the third slot on the creative team listing on the cover) isn't bad at all.

It reads in about two minutes and way too much of it focuses on the freaking Black Mask, though.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #24: First off, I can't believe this has been coming out for two years. The FF's faced... four villains? Mole Man, Doom, Annihilus and the Mad Thinker. Five if you count the Inhumans. Oh, and the Horrible Zombie Marvels. Where's my Ultimate Puppet Master? I love villains that play with dolls. Or Ultimate Molecule Man? He's absurdly powerful! I bet Millar could make him, like, a rapist, or something! That's edgy! A rapist with matter-control powers!

Anyway, the Storm's mom found Atlantis and sends Reed, Sue and Ben down to visit. Cleverly, she left Johnny on the boat, because, honestly, the kid lights himself on fire and they're going to freaking Atlantis.

The biggest thing we learn is that when Ben Grimm smiles, he looks like a muppet.

That just about made my night.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mystery Box: Deadpool #0

This came riding in an issue of Wizard sometime in 1998, and it's easily the best thing that's come from me having a subscription to that magazine for... Christ almighty, a decade.

If I remember correctly, this came out at one of the points where Marvel was waving the cancellation ax in Deadpool's general direction and fan support kept the book aloft a while longer (until a couple years back, anyway, when Marvel killed it and retitled the book Agent X so no one could ever say that they were publishing anything with a name associated with Rob Liefeld).

I never bought the actual title until the tail end of its run (there was a disturbing lack of a comic shop in these here parts for a period in the late nineties. I was limited to whatever they stocked at Waldenbooks. Which wasn't much, but accounts for all the Godawful Spider-Man stuff I have in various Mystery Boxes now), but if this is any indication, I should've, because it's absolutely insane.

The book opens with Deadpool torturing an oil baron, asking for the location of "The MacGuffin Files." He's interrupted by, of all things, Animus. He/She makes a break for it with the very files Deadpool needs, so DP tails him/her to his/her boss... Arnim Zola.

Zola begins to explain his plan to no one in particular, in a monologue style that only a Fantastic Four villain could be comfortable with.

Seems he can rapidly create clones of the dead, so as to create a "corpse corps" (oh, to be an FF villain. Such things come so naturally to them) to do his evil bidding. When Deadpool dares to interrupt him mid-monologue, Zola sicks Vamp on him, and the bloodshed begins in earnest.

Zola, not being much of a fighter himself, unleashes his corpse corps on Wade. Unfortunately, cool characters never stay dead long in comics, so Zola was stuck with, as Deadpool puts it, "an army of resurrected rejects."

I think only two of the guys in that splash have since been revealed to have survived their apparent demises. Ringer (bottom right, in front of Turner D. Century) came back in spite of being riddled with bullets by Scourge in the Bar With No Name and Bucky's apparently wandering about in the current run of Captain America.

Deadpool, being insane, sees the opportunity to kill a gaggle of total losers as something of a religious experience, and proceeds to utterly annihilate all involved. Bucky, Whizzer and Kanagaroo all go down in a single panel. Turner D. Century is shot and emasculated at the same time; the last thing he hears is Deadpool calling him "Pringles Dude."

Deadpool wanders through Zola's complex, eventually stumbling upon a very naked Uncle Ben and Aunt May who chide him for "not knocking first," driving 'Pool into an even greater murderous fervor. He spends the next page offing sundry losers, including the entire Salem's Seven (giving him a chance to make a Sovereign Seven joke that took me about ten minutes to get, as I don't think I've even thought of the freaking Sovereign Seven since '97 or so) and Basilisk, who gets my favorite line of the issue:

"WHY, GOD?! WHY?!"

Zola, realizing this is a lost cause, makes a deal with Deadpool to save his semirobotic ass, and we close on Wade Wilson being served hand and foot by four scantily-clad Gwen Stacies. Which is a win in anyone's book.

I went on Alibris in a vain effort to track down a trade collection of Joe Kelly's run on the book because, by all accounts, it's a really entertaining series. Plus, Ed McGuinness art. Turns out the only two copies I could find would set me back about a hundred bucks.

And that's outside my budget. By a wide margin.

I Just Recalled Something

Months ago, I said I'd review 1602 and New Frontier, and then I never did.


1602's interesting, if nothing else. Seems like it was meant to be longer (if I recall correctly, it was), so the pacing gets a bit screwy, but the central conceit is strong. The Marvel Universe starts up four hundred-ish years early, and it tears continuity asunder ('asunder' is a word you can only use if you are either discussing or actually appearing in comic books, much like 'ensue' or 'BAH!'). It's up to weirdly-named analogues of the X-Men, Nick Fury, Daredevil, Doctor Strange and the Fantastic Four to save, well, everything.

After a while, it feels like something you've seen before, dressed differently and spouting wacky Shakespearian dialogue. The reveal in the last chapter's fun, though. Besides, I love Daredevil when he's a happy-go-lucky swashbuckling badass and not a grizzled grumpypants. I don't get near enough swashbucklin' DD.

I'd suggest it, but I can see where people wouldn't agree with me.

New Frontier, though, that's a different story. I don't give a damn about the continuity on this one; it's too much fun and too damned pretty to bother nitpicking or worrying that Batman's popping up too early or something. It's a better first JLA story than JLA: Year One and it's a damned sight more fun of a whole-DCU-meetup story than Kingdom Come.

Wildcat fights Muhammad Ali, for God's sake!

It's a bloody beautiful book, I tells ya.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Mystery Box: I'm Telling You, Green Lantern was Begging for a Relaunch

Honestly, there had to be a way to frame this shot so you could see the half of Deathstroke's face that's actually kind of interesting. I can't say I've ever seen so much as a panel of the Terminator in profile from that side before.

Of course, who'd be looking at Deathstroke when you've got Hal Jordan doubled over on the ground, looking like he's just been on the receiving end of a truly legendary shot to the groin?

Deathstroke's target is a guy named Predator (looks like they couldn't get the rights to use that name on the cover, hence the "CLAWS of TERROR!" arrow there. How weird is it that we got the Terminator fighting the Predator here? Not very? Okay, moving on), an evil alien parasite that hides inside Carol Ferris with Star Sapphire. They had enough free time on their hands that Predator knocked Sapphire up. Inside Carol's mind. Maybe there's a Super 8 in there, I don't know.

I'm not sure what was up with Carol Ferris that made her mind such an easy target for Green Lantern-villain Honeycomb Hideouts. It's one of those things that I feel like I should just smile and nod at, like when you go to an old folks home and somebody starts rattling off a tale of that time they met the queen. It's silly and rambling and ultimately meaningless, and so is any explanation you could offer for how two different parasitic alien entities could take up residence within the psyche of one random aeronautics company president. And that's not even counting the occasions where Carol got Eclipso'd. It's like a damn crack house in her noggin, with all the transients coming and going.

In the issue prior, Hal thinks to himself in the midst of an absurdly long series of thought balloons, "why does it seem like all the women I care about end up mentally damaged or possessed?" Meanwhile, in my kitchen, pots are calling kettles black and I'm telling them that hindsight's twenty-twenty.

Mystery Box Part Four: Spidey's a Bastard

Power Man's struggling to hold up that giant rock, and all Spider-Man does to help is stick to the side of it and make a pun about how heavy it is?

Man, Spidey's a jive turkey.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Mystery Box Part Three: Spidey Teaches us a Valuable Lesson!

Spider-Man, Storm and Power Man-- Battle Smokescreen! Nothing like a comic where two title characters don't even make the cover. Spidey certainly looks ready for action there, no?

Originally produced in 1982, this is one of those awesome freebies that float about the world, teaching people about the dangers of child molestation (that one is wonderful, I tell you) or the joys of reading, or, in this case, how cigarettes are used by supervillains to fix high school track meets.

I'm serious.

We open at a track meet, where Luke Cage (his origin blurb cleverly avoids the "in prison" part of his backstory) is volunteering as a track coach. Peter Parker's been assigned to take pictures of the proceedings as the Bugle's taken some time off from slandering his alter ego in favor of covering high school foot races, apparently. Luke's star runner has been having some troubles of late and loses in the final leg of his jaunt. Because he's winded.


I love that Luke's biggest concern is that the Bugle might break the big "High School Student Loses Race Due to Vague 'Hassles'" story. I might love that Luke didn't bring a change of clothes with him more, though. How the Hell'd that belt come off, anyway? That panel also marks one of the very few times I've ever seen something underlined for emphasis in a comic book.

Anyway, because he has nothing better to do, Luke tails Bret as the latter heads over to the South Side Social Club, evidently where all the kids go to "hang out." Bret and his buddy are immediately offered cigarettes by a guy who appears to be one of the various and sundry fat cats Green Arrow verbally accosted in the seventies. That fat cat really ought to have better things to do than "hang out" with high school kids. Unless that place has Galaga. I'd be there if they had Galaga.

Spider-Man swings by and, rightfully, questions why Luke Cage is following kids around. Luke offers up a recap of facts we already know: Bret used to run fast! He started smoking and now he runs slower! Luke is worried!

At this point, Spidey spider-senses danger and he and Cage hide behind one of those garage-things on the roofs of comic book buildings the world over. It's armed toughs! There's danger afoot!

Luke and Spidey, being big tough superheroes (one of whom, by the way, is bulletproof), decide that the wisest course of action is to quietly sit on the sidelines a while longer, I think because we're only on page four. Also, they need an excuse to call in the other hero mentioned on the cover.

Spidey figures Luke's too well known to go on any kind of covert mission, so he calls in a favor with the X-Men and gets a six foot tall black women with white hair, an occasional lack of pupils, thigh high boots and a cape because she will blend in better than Luke Cage and his big, conspicuous chain belt. Christ, Pete, why not call in the Thing, while you're at it?

Storm follows Bret and friends about for a while before ending up exactly where Pete and Luke gave up. Being a woman, and therefore less sensible than her male betters (sorry, Roy Thomas ghostwrote that last bit), she figures simply walking in the back door's the best way to solve this problem. She's gassed and knocked out from behind while the villain of the piece, heavily shaded, points at something behind me.

After a fun-filled activity page that asked you to monitor the heart rate of a "student smoker volunteer," we cut back to the now-revealed Smokescreen and learn the specifics of his dastardly plan to get a star runner to start smoking so they can fix a race for gambling purposes.

That's right. That's his whole plan. He hooked some kid on smoking (and "goofing off") so as to make some fat bank on an underground high school track meet gambling ring.

This guy bothered to put on a cape for a scheme that unimpressive. You have to give him credit for trying, fashion-wise, at least.

Make a note that his mask doesn't cover any part of his face that could possibly house an oxygen mask. It comes up later.

Incidentally, that chubby thug all in green is apparently supposed to be the fat cat from a few pages ago. He's since gone completely bald. Smoking fucks you up, kids.

Fearing that their brilliant plan's hit a wall, Smokescreen's gang heads out of the back room of the social club into the main arcade, where they give up on subtlety in favor of simply asking Bret to throw the race. Which, when you think about it, makes a whole Hell of a lot more sense than what they were originally going to go with.

When the thugs threaten Bret with violence, Spider-Man and Luke Cage, who had apparently been in another room of the same building, bust through the wall, Kool-Aid Man-style. They dispatch the thugs in two panels and leave without bothering to check the back room for a smoking-themed supervillain or an unconscious, claustrophobic X-woman.

Meanwhile, Bret trains his little heart out to get back in shape in time for The Big Race. As Luke and Spidey look on (I guess the Bugle got all the shots of high school running they needed for a while, because Peter's here in costume), Bret comes in second. The real accomplishment is that he managed to quit smoking in a half-page training montage. That's pretty impressive.

Now, you'll note that nowhere above did I mention anything like "Power Man and Spidey go looking for Storm." No, as far as we know, Pete and Luke spent the past two days doing whatever it is Heroes For Hire and freelance photographers do in their spare time.

You ever had a party where you totally forgot to invite someone, and then they show up as everyone's getting ready to leave, and they're like "you could've told me there was a party," and you have to lie? So you go "we tried to call, but we got your voicemail!"

That's exactly what Luke's doing there. He saw Storm flying at him and thought "sweet Christmas! Storm! We left her for dead! I'd better say something..." Note how Spider-Man's only half-looking in her direction: He's embarrassed and trying to avoid eye contact.

Yeah, they've been searching "the whole city." I bet.

The heroes head back to that damned Social Club, where we find the whole Smokescreen gang "hanging out" and/or "goofing off." It's not clear. This time, they enter by way of the front door, which Luke manages to destroy because you can't take that guy anywhere.

Smokescreen tosses a cloud of smoke around Spider-Man in an attempt to blind him whilst he makes good his escape. Unfortunately for Mr Screen, Spidey's spider-sense allows him to hit things he can't see with webbing. Which was news to me.

Spidey also points out that he has an oxygen filter in his mask and that Smokescreen must have one, too. Apparently, his spider-sense doesn't point out that the guy's wearing a cowl. His mouth's exposed and you can see the bottom of his nose. He must have the best invisible filter ever.

With the gang webbed up and the South Side Social Club now free of the taint of supervillain-fronted high school gambling/smoking rings, we rejoin our heroes interrupting a crowd as they berate Bret for being a loser who smokes.

Bret wants a second chance to prove himself, we're treated to the following:

I don't know what city Spidey's talking about, there, but it certainly isn't the New York he usually lives in. In his New York, you get a supervillain in your morning newspaper. He just hops out and starts monologue-ing and threatening you with abstract torture. You'd be jaded if you lived there, too, waking up to the Trapster threatening you with his insidious adhesives.

Look at Bret's face, though. He's just been duped into an elaborate gambling scheme by a guy named after a Transformer. He's not that bright. But even he knows Spidey's full of shit.

The moral of the story is, I guess, don't let supervillains let you smoke. They're probably betting on you. Or, Hell, I don't know, start smoking, you might get to meet Spider-Man.

The Defenders Come to Connecticut

The Norwich Navigators, double-A affiliate of the San Fransisco Giants, has been renamed. They're now The World's Worst Minor League Baseball Superteam: The Connecticut Defenders.

...we build submarines up here, see, and that's why the logo's a bat that's also a submarine... aw, Hell, it's silly, but still, they used to be the freaking "Navigators" and their mascot was an alligator named "Tater" who was dressed as a pirate.

They haven't unveiled a mascot as yet, but pray to whatever God you think listens that it's Doctor Strange. Or Hellcat!


The Mystery Box had kids! There's at least two and a half more Mystery Boxes, hereby named Mystery Box-2 and Mystery Box-X. Or -3. I don't know yet.

These are all older books than what was found in Mystery Box-Prime. Or -1. I can't keep those straight. Anyway, there're far more Marvel books in these newbies than in the original Box, a reflection on my misspent youth thinking that Scott Lobdell was writing bang-up X-Men stories. Though, even pre-teen me knew that Avengers sucked back then. There's also a terrifying amount of Maximum Carnage-era Spider-Man. And the first six issues of Punisher War Zone... signed by Klaus Jansen. Oddly enough.

I own seven autographed comics total. Six of them are the aforementioned issues of Punisher I got for my tenth birthday and the other is an issue of Hellboy signed by Mike Mignola. Six of them ended up in a Mystery Box shuffled off into the back of the closet. The other is treated better.

I found some truly entertaining little gems, here, though.

Holy Jumpin'

The Complete List | TIME Magazine - ALL-TIME 100 Novels

Look at the W's.

That's right. Watchmen.

Time's been infiltrated by geeks, I tell you.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Mystery Box Part Two: Aquaman 15-22

Aquaman? Aquaman?

Here's the deal: As a child, I watched a, in hindsight, perhaps crippling amount of SuperFriends. An unhealthy amount. My image of superheroes was forever stunted, and I therefore expect Superman to be stupid to the point of somehow ending up in Kryptonite chains, Batman to be the coolest motherfucker alive, Robin to have the same voice as Shaggy and Aquaman to be tied up in a glass tube somewhere.

I don't know at what point DC thought that the best way to market Aquaman to kids was as a slightly-better-than-useless jackass who'd be captured within three minutes of the start of an episode just to give Hawkman something to do, but I only remember poor Arthur as that moron showing up on flying fish.

As mentioned many, many times before, I'm a total sucker for Grant Morrison's run on JLA, and Aquaman got a few decent moments there. Of course, at that point, he was the grr grr angry Aquaman with a giant hook (a hook that varied in size depending, I guess, on Howard Porter's mood. Sometimes, that damn thing was half the size of Aquaman). Besides the hook, he was wearing some kind of weird half-a-shirt made out of metal that totally wasn't orange. Say what you will about the strangeness of combining orange and green, but at least it was memorable. Nineties Aquaman looked like eighty percent of the characters designed around the same time as him, and by that I mean he looked crappy. I mean, he was wearing a Luke Cage metal headband, but it had a seashell on it. Barbie wouldn't wear that.

Point is, it took a lot for me to pick up Aquaman in a solo book. He spent much of my impressionable youth being an unlikeable, aristocratic bastard in a bad costume. To be fair, so did Batman, but Bats not only had a better outfit, he also came off much better on every cartoon he's ever appeared on. Also, Batman taught me to read. So he's riding on good will.

I alluded to a man-crush on Will Pfeifer. This is based on the too-short-lived, also-in-the-Mystery-Box Hero. I freaking loved Hero, as you'll find out when I get to that point in the Box, and so when Pfeifer started on Aquaman, I figured "what the Hell?"

He wrote eight issues and did basically everything you'd need to do to make Aquaman readable for me. Took Aquaman away from all the ridiculous magic crap he'd been mired in for too long. Took him away from Atlantis. Took away the supporting cast of ill-defined characters (I have no idea what Aqualad's current powers are. All I know is that Vandal Savage dropped him in two panels once. I have no idea what Dolphin's powers are. All I know is that her costume consists of what normal people wear on laundry day). Put Aquaman back in his old costume.

And he gave Arthur and actual city to protect. Half of San Diego falls into the ocean and Aquaman declares that there are no survivors. Of course, there are, but he didn't know that yet.

All the sudden, Aquaman had an American city full of suddenly aquatic American citizens to watch over. And that's pretty awesome.

The problem is, Pfeifer paced the story like he was going to be on the book for longer than, you know, eight issues. The first six issues run... leisurely. Some would argue slowly, but I've gotten so used to six issue runs that consist of nothing but talking heads (see: the last arc of Avengers, with about two pages' worth of exceptions) that this seems positively frenetic. A city falls in the ocean, Aquaman finds out that people there can breathe water, he finds out why (from plankton, yet), and he punishes the offender. Cleverly.

He also picks up a new sidekick and visits the Martian Manhunter.

Sure, just yesterday I bitched about Kevin Smith taking too damned long to tell a story in Green Arrow, but the difference is that there, we all knew what was going to happen. GA was getting raised from the dead. Hell, we even knew who'd plucked him from the afterlife before the series even started. From that point, you're left with a ten-issue procedural. Here, Pfeifer was establishing a new status quo altogether for a character, not re-establishing the old one. Ten issues is a Hell of a long time to tell me that a guy's going to be doing exactly what he was doing before he died.

Once he found his groove in his seventh and eighth issues (a two issue arc featuring the hydrokinetic Eel, with a small but actually meaningful Batman guest spot), Pfeifer was pulled from the title. I don't know why, really, but I suspect it's because DC wanted to have Aquaman relegated to the Walking Joke status he's held for so long.

Hell, Alex Ross had Aquaman captured by the Legion of Doom before the first issue of Justice ended. I'm sure he'll be riding a giant seahorse by the sixth issue.

The Pros: Patrick Gleason's art is solid throughout. Aquaman's sidekick, Lorena, isn't calling herself "Aquagirl" and throwing hard water balls at people yet (though Johns had her doing half of those things in that creepy "Titans Tomorrow" arc last year). Not once does Aquaman bitch out a fellow Justice Leaguer by saying something like "you only have to worry about ONE CITY! I am LIEGE of the SEVEN SEAS! SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT of the EARTH'S SURFACE!" In fact, the one time he gets angry with a Leaguer, he immediately apologizes. It's like the day he decided to shave the beard off, he realized he was acting like a tool for a decade.

At one point, Aquaman stops an underwater robbery. There's a jet ski and an orca whale involved. It's pretty cool, as is the Eel.

Only the Aquaman half of his conversations with various and sundry seagoing creatures is shown, which is actually more fun than seeing what a freaking whale thinks about a situation.

The 'villain,' Geist, actually thinks he's right. And his argument is convincing. When you're a character who's typically lined up against a guy who calls himself "The Ocean Master" who's entire goal is to... rule the oceans, I guess, it's got to be jarring to find yourself in a position where beating the Hell out of the bad guy doesn't make you feel right.

The Cons: At the end of eight issues, we still don't know who the Mysterious Shadowy Figures who funded the sinking of San Diego are. I actually don't know if it was ever cleared up. I'd hoped it was the massively overused Ra's Al Ghul, if just because the environmental theme made sense, and Ra's is just as regal as Arthur.

Overall, it seemed like Pfeifer had way more plot in mind, but had his legs cut out from under him. Had this been a full year, with a resolution on the sinking of San Diego thread, it'd be far better, but as it stands, it's... the only run of Aquaman I own, I think.

Next time in the Box: Deadpool and my slightly-less-weird crush on Gail Simone.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Finest Single Panel of All Time

I firmly maintain that no single panel in history is better than that. I like to think Darren Pang shortened his catchphrase ("HOLY JUMPIN'!") from the longer "holy jumping mother o' God in a sidecar with chocolate jimmies and a lobster bib!" strictly for brevity's sake.
Equally glorious. Sam's ability to cope with the absurd is his finest quality. That, and the fact that he's a five and a half foot tall dog dressed as Sam Spade. Here, Sam and Max have come across a Lovecraftian demon inhabitating a local cereal aisle. In an earlier adventure, Sam ran over an evil witch with their mighty DeSoto while Max slept. Sam explained his actions thusly:

"A seven-foot specter of evil appeared in front of the car, so I ran over it. Sounded like a bag of laundry going under. Hope I didn't hurt the tires. Want a Fig Newton?"

Steve Purcell is a genius for giving me the rules to Fizzball, but he is like unto a God for Sam and Max.

Mystery Box Part One: Green Arrow 1-21

Ah, the summer of 2001. I was young and impressionable and I thought Mallrats was funny. I had fond childhood memories of Green Arrow's appearances on SuperFriends, but had never actually read his title.

This is, rather simply, because I was huge Marvel mark until around '96 or so, when I finally utterly stopped giving a damn about Spider-Man and migrated back to my childhood love of the Batman (it's an abusive relationship at best, these days). Morrison's JLA run introduced me to the new Green Arrow, apparently the young, blond, vaguely gay son of Ollie Queen, and I enjoyed him, especially when he fought the Key solo, using only his father's trick arrows.

So I did some research and found out that his pop had been blown up in an airplane over Metropolis while Superman looked on. Which doesn't do much for Superman's treacly arguments with Wonder Woman lately, but Oliver got better, so I guess the point's moot.

Which brings us to Quiver.

Quiver demonstrates a key flaw in having somebody famous write a comic book: They're edited with kid gloves. I know this sold like crazy, but that's a shaky defense for a ten(!)-part story that could've been done in four. Or about seven pages, really.

Ollie pops up in the alleys of Star City wearing rags and rocking a homemade bow, complete with a boxing glove arrow made with a bleach bottle. I won't get into the archery here, because I don't want MacQuarrie over at Suspension of Disbelief to get mad at me, but the whole thing's pretty suspect.

He's immediately adopted by a chubby, rich fellow who recognizes him and they move in together. Because Kevin Smith's so progressive, gay jokes ensue. Ollie's memory's shaky, but it's clear he's more the old leftie Queen from the seventies, not the crazy environmentalist bomb-bait Ollie of the nineties, and, accordingly, he busts out his old costume to go spray arrows at fat cats and such.

Smith then saddles Ollie with an underaged prostitute sidekick (who, thankfully, took a really scenic route to calling herself "Speedy," though she picked up archery right quick) and sends him on a long, dull adventure to find his soul.

The Demon's involved. And Batman. And the other Green Arrow. And another Green Arrow (in heaven, with Barry Allen and Jason Todd. Well, half of them are still there. Sometimes).

The pros: Phil Hester and Ande Parks on art is almost always good. Plus, even if the story drags on (and on and on), Smith's good for some snappy dialog. There's also a fight with Black Manta. Sure, it didn't move the story along (at all, really), but it was bucket-head Black Manta, back to normal (inexplicably) after a few years of being a really goofy actual manta. That's one of those fights you never even think to think about. It's just so unlikely and bizarre that it's nice to see it happen.

The cons: It's a freaking ten issue coming-back-from-the-dead story. It's rambling and boring and involves magic. And Parallax. That's strike one through, like, nine.

The Sound of Violence:

Oh, God. The villain here is a guy named Onomatopoeia. His gimmick is that he imitates the sounds he hears.

...threatening, no?

Look, sound doesn't work in comics. Seeing a speech bubble that says "blam" is two or three times as dumb as seeing the word "blam" written next to a picture of a gun going off. A villain who says "snap" is not scary, and having him kill a heretofore unknown smalltown superhero (and his wife) to put him over is just tacky.

In a universe where the freaking Fisherman is making appearances, I have to figure Onomatopoeia'll pop up sooner or later, but I don't think this guy even showed up in Last Laugh. Everyone was in Last Laugh. He sucks, and the story sucks.

Pros: Hester and Parks, again. Sure, the villain looks like a poor man's Bullseye, but they eke out a few good visuals. Smith writes a decent Hawkman, and any time Hawkman and Green Arrow hang out, it's pretty entertaining.

Cons: The villain has exactly no motivation. He also sucks.

Smith then left the book to hand in exceptionally late work for Marvel. Brad Meltzer took over, and we got the book's first (and, as far as I know, only) good story.

The Archer's Quest:

Before Meltzer loosed this mindwiping story on the unsuspecting populace, he quietly wrote a nice little Green Arrow story. Premise is simple: Ollie had a bunch of stuff hidden after he died so as to protect his friends, and he wants it back. It's a nice framework to look at the history of the character, and also gives an excuse to drag in some entertaining guest stars - Catman, prior to losing a big pile of weight, getting a dye job and learning to kick buckets of ass. The Shade, a character I love so much it's kind of creepy. Kyle Rayner, who gets more characterization in four pages than he did in the entire Rann/Thanagar War. Roy Harper, in his only appearance where I did not hate him. Superman. Meltzer's Superman is great.

Pros: It's a damned sight better than the entire series that precedes it. Also, Solomon Grundy is squatting the Arrowcave, and what should be the most one-sided fight in ever turns out being awesome. Art's good, story's good. If you read any recent Green Arrow story, read this one.

Cons: Judd Winick took over the title after this. And there was a story featuring the evil son of Abin Sur that I will not even discuss.

Next time in the Mystery Box: Aquaman and my man-crush on Will Pfeifer.

I Just Found a Box of Comics

I'm just now getting around to unpacking some stuff from college, and I hit upon a treasure trove of random issues from the past four years.

Over the next week or two, I'm going to review the pile of crap I have found. Also, I find it fun to see what DC and Marvel were pimping in the past, because my Mole at 1700 liked some utter garbage and Joe Quesada can simply not be trusted.

So get excited, as we plumb the depths of...

God, Just Go Look at This, if You Haven't Already:

The Comic Treadmill: DC Super Stars 10 (1976) Wrap Up

Look at that box score. A lesser man would make a "hee hee, Batman's the catcher" joke, but, Christ, the man went five for five! He could be sleeping with dogs, and my Catholic upbringing would still regard him as a hero. Jesus is cool with whatever you do so long as you bat a thousand.

You'd never get away with this kind of story now. Batman's too grumpy. Joker would have to shoot somebody by the seventh inning stretch. Kid Flash would need to lose a mentor rounding third and then keep mentioning it whenever he does anything. They'd probably need a designated hitter.

God bless the Treadmill.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Somewhere, Someone is Railing Against the Injustice of DC's Treatment of the Freedom Fighters.

That somewhere is not here.

Anyway, good heavens. I'm bloody taken aback by how many of the things that I thought were too Goddamn internet crazy to happen have actually come to pass.

Ultimate X-Men #64: Stuart Immonen should be drawing everything I like to read.

Bad things happen, we very nearly work out the answer to the old Wizard letter column debate "Could Iron Man Beat the X-Men?" (it's pretty much a big "no," so long as the X-Men have Havok handy), and everything's going to hit the wall next issue, because it's Vaughan's last. Ah, well, it's been a good run. Far better than the one before it. And, having been, however briefly, a boy scout, I know that it's always better to leave things in a better state than how you found them.

Devil Dinosaur #1: I'd been kicking myself for days for not buying this last week. C'mon, Hulk swinging a tree stump at Devil Dinosaur on the cover? Eric Powell drawing Hulk swinging a tree stump at Devil Dinosaur? Moon Boy? It's can't-miss!

Any comic where Hulk does the whole "me Hulk me want be left alone" routine is a must-buy, as far as I'm concerned, and weirdly chatty Celestials just make things better.

JSA Classified #3: I like that Owlman, a criminal bastard sleeping with Ultraman's woman, gets along with his Crime Syndicate better than Batman gets along with the League.

I don't know if it counts as a spoiler, since this book's at least a week old, but Psycho-Pirate's in more books than Batman this month. For somebody who made their last meaningful appearance in... Christ, Animal Man? Fifteen years ago? (Hell, he probably popped up in some crappy crossover since then, but so does everyone else.) Roger Hayden's really getting a workout.

I gotta say, it's a damned good thing I've read Crisis on Infinite Earths, because I'd be a very befuddled Jon right now otherwise. More on that later.

Back on topic: God, we get it: Power Girl remembers a bit of Pre-Crisis history and Psycho-Pirate's making her see things to mess with her head. I only need to see this happen once to understand it. I don't need three issues with the same plot, no matter how snappy the art is. (Conner's art is really nice, by the way. Somebody put her on JSA, or something.)

JLA #120: I get the feeling that just about any comic reader over twenty has to be sick of Batman being a total asshole. Younger kids have only dealt with the total asshole version of Bats, so they don't really know he can be any other way. Batman used to be, you know, friends with all the other superheroes. He showed them some degree of professional courtesy. Even the younger ones.

And then came Tower of Babel. Even in the face of all his silly little contingency plans, he still came across as being reasonably sympathetic and, Hell, the first time around, his reasoning for having a way to take down the most powerful people on earth makes sense. It's just the millionth time you hear it, you want to puke.

Yeah, fine, the Justice League is really powerful. Fine, superheroes could rule the world if they wanted to. Sure, somebody should have a way to stop them. I get it. God, just defend Gotham. Keep your promise to your dead parents. Stop building satellites.

You're in bad shape when Green Arrow's winning debates with you.

If this Crisis doesn't somehow give me a less paranoid Batman that actually works with his freaking sidekicks and partners and friends without being a dick, I'll be disappointed.

By the way, there's no way I would've bought this if I'd noticed that it wasn't done by the same creative team that did the last arc in the shop. Also, God, could John Stewart narrate a scene once in a while? Every time that damn green and white Identity Crisis narration box pops up, I hope against hope that it's Martian Manhunter narrating. Any other green guy but Green Arrow. He narrates everything. And if he's going to do that, he should do an overblown Superfriends narration.


One more thing: No matter how "possessed" he was, Hal Jordan killed a whole bunch of people. Batman saying to Hal that power corrupts and sometimes drives people insane is crossing a line? What the Hell is that? And what the Hell is up with Batman apologizing? I may not like the current characterization of Batman, but I know what's in-character, and him apologizing for pointing out the Goddamn obvious is so far out of character, it's hilarious.

Villains United #6: Hey, this one had an ending! It's automatically the best of the four minis if just for that! Spoilers abound from here on out:

DC's really doing a number on it's B-through, like, H-lists lately. What the Hell kind of crappy villains will we have left to have rookie heroes or sidekicks beat up?

Solomon Grundy remains the greatest character ever invented. You can't top strong, stupid guys, especially when you can just kill them and have them come back with a new personality to suit whatever the Hell kind of story you want to tell. Plus, thanks to him, Deathbolt gets the best line of his... storied career: "Oh, great blazing bags of crap." Shame it's the last thing he'll ever say, from the look of things. Unless his power is to get held at bay by an elderly Ted Knight and have an unsquishable head. (Okay, fine, I guess it was just Bolt-Bolt, not Deathbolt. My bad.)

I don't get how Luthor (errr... either Luthor, actually) didn't recognize Oracle's weird head-logo-thing. Cat's had access to the Watchtower more than once (almost quarterly, back in Morrison's run. He should've been paying rent), and he had to've seen that stupid head before.

How hard is it to launch a freaking satellite without anyone noticing? In a world with NORAD, STAR Labs, the DEO, the Watchtower and God knows how many space-going superheroes, how do you pull off putting something in orbit without permission? I mean, Luthor was president, so that clears that one up, but he's launched whole Injustice Gang bases into space when he was just an Evil Businessman. Still, the way they talk, you'd think all the damned eyes in the sky would be blotting out the sun by now.

Ah, well. Anyway, there's a big fight, the reasons behind every member of the Six being chosen are revealed and none of them are really all that interesting, and Green Arrow moves a step closer to being The Most Important Character in the DCU.

IdentityInfinite Crisis #1: This thing's all spoilers. Spoiler's ahoy. I'll give you time to wander off now.



Good. And we're back.

On the topic of offing the B-list, the Freedom Fighters don't fair too well here. Not that anyone was really clamoring for a new Black Condor series, or anything, though I'm sure a newfound Uncle Sam fandom will come of this, just like how everyone seems to love Blue Beetle now.

The Watchtower may have been blown up, but it's still got some kind of forcefield that gives it both gravity and an atmosphere, which is some real forward thinking on the JLA's part. I guess it was put there just in case characters decide to have dramatic conversations in inexplicably smoking wreckage on the surface of the moon.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but Superman's killed people before. Even if the whole Phantom Zone criminal thing isn't in continuity (I'm hazy on that one), he totally beat Doomsday to death that time he "died." He probably rationalizes it by deciding that Doomsday's a "mindless beast," or something, but, still, song remains the same: To save people, he killed something threatening. Here, he spends a few pages standing on a freakin' soapbox, preaching to Wonder Woman about how wrong it is that she snapped a guy's neck to stop him from using Superman as a big caped weapon.

Hell, Wonder Woman says she's going to Themyscira, and Supes responds, "so Themyscira will being harboring a fugitive?" How her next line isn't "fuck you, Clark," followed by a rabbit punch is beyond me.

Of course, Wonder Woman decides to prove her innate goodness by attempting to remove Mongul's head by way of swordplay. So it's not like anyone's acting normal.

Here's hoping they spend an issue of this series telling me that Psycho-Pirate's made Batman into a douchebag, Superman into a namby-pamby wuss (thank God we... fuck it, invisotext ON!: now have an extra couple of Supermen hanging around), and Wonder Woman into... well, the version of Wonder Woman from freaking Kingdom Come. Then everything will be aaaaalll right.

In closing: oh boy, I guess they were lying when they said this wouldn't be a sequel to Crisis. Invisotext: Two Luthors, not counting Alexander Luthor from whatever Earth the original Crime Syndicate's from. Current Superman, Earth-1 Superman and that Superboy from Earth-Prime. Pariah. Pariah saying that there were other worlds and other possibilities. Your misdirection was so simple and flawless. Completely negative. No possible way to confuse it with a "yes," to paraphrase the Tick.

Sigh. 'Til next week, then.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

More Terrible Costumes

Five from DC tonight, since I kind of feel like I unfairly stomped all over 1990s Marvel design sense last night. It's not like Marvel was the only company that decided that everybody should look like a jackass.

Booster Gold: Booster's normal costume (which he mysteriously has back. I don't think they ever explained that, actually) is a pretty snappy blue and gold number. There was no real reason to change it, but the story dictated he'd need a new one, so he got an ungodly bulky suit of armor for a while. See, Booster's gear is stolen. From the future. So you could see the quandary he'd be in when he needed replacement parts.

Anyway, while Booster was part of one of the more entertaining JLA lineups, it was also a pretty comically underpowered one, compared to... well, just about any League save the one that operated out of Detroit. Guy Gardner was their heaviest hitter, and they didn't even really have the Martian Manhunter (at the time, he was Bloodwynd. But Bloodwynd's a separate guy and... you know what? It's stupid. And everyone in the DCU ignores it, so we will, too). If memory serves, Doomsday showed up and the Justice League was those three guys, Blue Beetle, Fire and Ice.

You can guess how the fight went. So poor Booster was left without a suit, and without the suit, he's got no powers. His buddy Ted Kord, after coming out of the freaking coma Doomsday left him in (Beetle is DC's go-to Big Event Cannon Fodder), designed him a totally hideous, bulky-as-Hell suit of armor to replicate his old powers and make him look like a somehow-goofier version of NFL Superpro.

(I could be wrong, here. I haven't read Death of Superman-era Justice League since, well, the Death of Superman, but if memory serves, that's what happened.)

Huntress: With two exceptions, any character named "Huntress" has done okay on the costume front. The Golden Age Huntress is exception one, since she suffered from an affliction I like to call "wearing a little beanie with leopard ears as a mask," and that's just unacceptable. After her, there were a few different Huntresses in variations on a purple get-up, and it never looked bad. In fact, the modern Huntress' last costume was one of the few comic costumes designed for a woman that wouldn't look idiotic if the same design were applied to a man.

...if that makes sense. To clarify: Batman's costume on a woman would look good. The Huntress' old costume on Batman wouldn't look terrible. I mean, she's more or less Hawkeye with a cape, right? No stupid skirts, no hotpants, no halter tops or belly shirts. It's a costume that a freakin' elementary school-teaching Catholic girl would actually maybe wear.

And then Jim Lee designed her a new one, and we get Huntress in something with a bare stomach. And hotpants. And thigh-high boots. But she's got a giant white cross on her chest, so you remember her religious convictions!

But, according to Wizard, Jim Lee draws "breathtaking babes," so I better get to rubbing one out over a comic book, and quick!

Captain Atom: Not the silver outfit. That one's okay. It's a bit bland and generic, but, honestly, so's Captain Atom. No, I'm talking about every other costume he's ever had. He hit the jackpot with the silver one, because he used to wear... whatever that thing was he had on circa Crisis.

And that was, like, his third or fourth costume. He had a long chain of some of the ugliest costumes ever. Now, from the look of things, he's going back to that gold one that Max Lord said "made him look like an Oscar" in Formerly Known as Justice League. The guy may have been (apparently) a villain all along, but you can't fault his fashion sense.

Forager: There are a lot of really... odd New God costumes. Black Racer's original one, for example. Looking past the fact that he's a knight... on skis... who is the avatar of death, his first outfit was all yellow and red. Decidedly not black. That's not too bad when taken in light of the very existence of Forager.

Fastbak may be wearing a really dumb hat, but Forager looks like he went headlong into a KFC bucket and just ran with it.

I'm so glad somebody had the gall to redesign some of the New Gods for Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers take on Mister Miracle, because, Kirby-worship be damned, those guys have not aged well. It's like looking at an old high school yearbook, for God's sake.

Mr. Terrific: Yeah, the original Terrific had a really stupid look, but it was memorable. Hell, he even admits it (albeit from beyond the grave) in an issue of Starman. The new guy, though, just looks silly. His basic premise is that he's amazing (dare I say "terrific"?) at everything he does, but it's kind of clear that's bullshit, because he does a terrible job of preventing his team's headquarters from getting blown up and/or invaded and because he's dressed like he's in the friendliest street gang on earth.

No, wait - he looks like he's on a bowling team.

Plus, his mask is a T. On his face. Made of nanites. Can't people just wear freaking cowls anymore?