Sunday, August 14, 2005

Terminating a Superman Singularity

Ok, I'm going to try this again. I'm pretty well eased into my new job, but as I've eased in I've also realized that I will have a lot less free time than I used to. I still read lots of comics and still want to let people know about some good back issue finds out there so I'm going to try to give some time back to this site. The format is going to change a little and I won't have as in depth of reviews and there will probably be reviews of multiple items per post, but that's really the only way I can think to do it right now. So, without further adieu, here's some recent reading:

Singularity 7

Ben Templesmith is an artist who is either reviled or loved. There appears to be very little middle ground and I can see why. His use of minimalistic linework in combination with digital painting techniques is a unique art style, but many might see it as simply crap thrown on a page. I am one of his biggest fans, so reading a mini written and drawn by Ben was something I was looking forward to for a while. I had put it off since I detest the high price tags IDW puts on their titles, but I finally found this series on the cheap and dove in.

In the future our world had been invaded by malicious microbes that took over the world on a microscopic level, changing it to suit the needs of an alien master race. Some people would have interesting reactions to the microbes and would turn into what you could think of as superheroes. The seven remaining superheroes have been charged with the task of destroying the mother hive with a virus that the few living human scientists have created.

All of this is nothing too spectacular and is basic post apocalyptic sci-fi, but Templesmith's art makes it a beauty to behold and the story never treads into cliche too deeply. The dark nature of the story is quite easily reflected in the artwork, which is a perfect match. If you can, give this mini a shot, especially if you're into sci-fi. Grade: A-

The Superman Monster

As I've said before, I like Elseworlds stories. Many don't, but I do. In this Elseworlds story Lex Luthor is cast as Frankenstein while Superman becomes Frankenstein's monster. One of the biggest draws of these Elseworlds stories are the ways that current continuity characters are portrayed in a new setting. In this prestige one shot I wasn't as impressed by the way the characters translated over. Some of the translations were neat (Olsen being one of Luthor's aides), but others didn't work (Supergirl as another zombie monster? Superman as a re-animated human corpse?). The story also felt a little underdeveloped, simplistic, and boring. I guess you have to have some bad stories to make the good ones good. Grade: C

Terminator: Endgame

I loved the concept of Terminators when I was in high school. The Terminator mythos and future was one of the first post apocalyptic visions I was treated to when I was getting into sci-fi. I had never delved into the comics until I found this tpb on the cheap. I'm kind of glad I never did get into the Terminator comics because if this is a prime example of the world Dark Horse created to go with the movies, I might have ended up scared away from the Terminator universe for good.

I didn't know it, but this tpb is the ending to a series of tpb's that chronicled many varied attempts by different Terminators to kill Sarah and John Connor and other people who would work with them. This tpb is so steeped in continuity that had come before that I was constantly lost and wondering what the characters were referencing. Another annoyance was that the terminator in this tbp was hardly a factor. The art didn't help either, being of the simplistic and underdeveloped nature, but what can you expect from the era this tpb came from? If you've never read any of the Dark Horse Terminator titles, then stay far far away. Grade: D+

Friday, June 10, 2005

Reviewing Hiatus

Lately reviews have been sparse. I realize this. There's a couple of reasons for this. First, I haven't had a lot of spare time to write reviews. Second, I haven't been reading as many comics as I wished I had time to. Third... well, there isn't much of a third really other than me being lazy, but that's just a given.

I've been extra busy since I took on a new position at my company about two months ago. The workload is much greater than my previous position. To make matters even busier, I'm in the process of moving so a lot of time has been (and will be) dedicated to packing and such. I'm bringing with a ton of comics to read at my new place, but the bulk of my collection will be staying at my parents' house. I will eventually get back to reviewing comics, both old and new, but for the time being I don't think I'll have a whole lot of time for it. I will keep writing, but at my other blog. So if you care to keep up with me, stop on over there.

Until my next review, here's to hoping I read some good stuff in my time off!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Robin III: Cry of the Huntress

Chuck Dixon's work has quite a following, although I've never been able to figure out why. Some of his stuff is decent, but for the most part everything I've read by him has been either painfully average or boring. With Robin III, Chuck manages to move away from both of these negative attributes but in the process manages to make a story heavy on the cliches.

Robin is on the outs with his dad because he spends too much time with Bruce Wayne. He's also on the outs with Batman since he was told to not go out as Robin for a few days, yet he did. School isn't going well for him as his counselor is questioning him about the bruises he's been getting. Obviously he can't tell her they're from crimefighting, so she attributes it to abuse by Mr. Wayne. While Robin is busy dealing with all of these personal problems, he also finds himself in the middle of a plot by a bunch of crazy Russians to counterfeit the newly declared Euro. What is a boy wonder to do?

Well, first, find someone to team up with. In this case the wise-cracking, ass-kicking, school-teaching Huntress. This gives Chuck the opportunity to write some decently witting dialogue between Robin and the Huntress, as well as utilize more than a few team-up cliches (one hero saves the other when they've been captured, one hero doesn't wait for the other and things go awry, one knows something the other doesn't, etc.). The dialogue was actually snappy and it flowed nicely, leading it to be probably the best part of the mini.

The rest of it was not as good. The main villain, the KGBeast, was a basic super-cyborg-killer bad guy stereotype. To make matters worse, he spoke some of the worst broken English you can imagine. I'm thinking Chuck wanted to make it seem like the KGBeast didn't know English well, but it go extremely old quite quick, especially when ALL of the Russian characters in the mini talked that way.

The last issue of the story ties everything up a little too neatly and quickly. Robin's reconcilliation with his father takes all of one page where they each say "Wow, we've been acting crappy. Let's not anymore and everything will be good again." The foiling of the counterfeiting was conveinently solved by the use of the conventional "I did something while the bad guys weren't looking that'll make it seem like they're winning, but they're not" plot contrivance.

The only real outstanding portion of the mini was the art. I really dug Tom Lyle's linework. It wasn't overly complicated yet it conveyed the action very well. His rendition of Robin's face as somewhat pudgy was slightly annoying, but that's just a small caveat with his work. The art, for an early 90's title, was quite good.

Art: 3.5
Story: 2
Overall: 2.5

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Batman: War Games Volume I

Can anyone say "padded"? I know you can. Let's all say it together... PADDED! My biggest pet peeve with modern comics is the feeling that stories are getting drawn out more and more for no other reason than it's the thing to do. Marvel has been the most guilty party as of late with their making every story arc 6 issues so it'll fit in a trade, but DC has also been responsible for their fair share of unnecessary decompression, with this first installment of the three volume War Games uber-story being one example.

There really isn't a lot that goes on in the 200+ pages of this trade. The heads of all the gangs in Gotham get together, it hits the fan, a gang war starts, Batman and his cadre of heroes must take on the gangs, there's lots of fighting, a tiny bit of character development, and tons of boring. That's about it.

Almost every fight and close to every conversation felt unneeded and added just to make sure that each Bat-title would be touched by the cross-over so as to boost sales. The entirety of this volume could probably have been well told in about half the length and felt much more action packed by doing so.

What's worse is that since this is a three act story, this chapter ends quite abruptly with not even so much as a small sense of accomplishment after the events that transpired. Instead it just ends. If I would have known they were going to do that, I would have waited until all three volumes had come out to start reading because now I have to wait a good chunk of time before volume II is released and volume III hasn't even been solicited yet.

There are a few good things about this volume, but not many. It is nice to see all of the characters in the Batman line of titles work together on a common problem, but often the chemistry doesn't feel quite right. The action sequences are often decently illustrated so if you like countless panels of superheroes kicking and punching bad guys, then by all means pick up this volume, but if you want something more for your fifteen bucks then put this thing back on the bookshelf.

Art: 2.5
Story: 2
Overall: 2

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Superman / Batman 14 - 18

A lot of people hate this title and a lot of people love it. I fall into the "love it" category, but I love it for what it is--a big, dumb, fun superhero book. If you're looking for intricate storytelling, plotting that constantly keeps you guessing, or deep character analyzations you're going to be firmly planted in the "hate this" camp.

In this arc you get the opportunity to see Batman and Superman in a couple of different alternate timelines battling fellow superheroes and villains alike. The reason for the alternate timelines is that three supervillains from the 31st century have come back in time in order to attempt to change history by setting up Superman and Batman as the only superheroes in existence and completley under their control. This works out for a time, but it slowly starts to unravel.

As things unravel, you'll get a chance to see Superman and Batman kill Green Arrow, take on Ra's al Ghul with a zombie version of the JLA, fight on a planet where humans are animals and Gorilla Grodd rules all, and travel to the future to make a deal with Darkseid and an extremely old Superman among other things. This is definitely an action oriented arc, and a very well done superhero action story.

The action is wonderfully illustrated by Carlos Pacheco, giving all of the action scenes a larger than life feel to them. What is lacking in deep plot is easliy made up for in widescreen superhero action. Pacheco's art fits perfectly with this style of story as it isn't too realistic yet it doesn't stray into the cartoony which gives everything a semi-realistic feel while still staying away from the hyper-realistic tone that some of the new school superhero stories try to take on.

There is one big drawback to this arc, however, and that is continuity. This arc is full of it. There's so many characters from the DC Universe sprinkled throughout that someone who isn't a DC fan might be confused. Heck, I read plenty of DC comics, but even I felt like asking "who the heck is this?" more than a few times.

This title is consistently read by a giant audience, comics-wise at least, and it's easy to see why. For the most part the title is easy to get in to, it's not too tough on the eyes or the brain, and it's simply a lot of fun. I hope it sticks to the formula it's been using for the first 18 issues because it's working out perfectly.

Art: 3.5
Story: 3.5
Overall: 3.5

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Spartan: Warrior Spirit

Man, Kurt Busiek used to really, really suck as a writer, didn't he? After reading the Spider-Man / X-Factor crossover miniseries by him and now this four issue mini, I'm starting to wonder if the 90's Busiek is the same person as the recent writing genius of this millennium that everyone has fallen in love with. It's really quite amazing how terrible some of his old stuff is that it's sad and amazing at the same time.

This story focuses on Spartan, the leader of the Wildcats, and his origin. One of the staple things to do with a team book in the 90's was to give each important character their own miniseries to explore the amazing circumstances that made them who they were. Apparently Spartan was a real person at one point (he is nothing more than a spirit embodied in a robot currently). He was tragically killed so some doctor decided to take his spirit and use it to power his latest creation. Spartan never knows this, however, since he was purchased by the owner of the Wildcats to lead his team.

The nifty thing about Spartan is that when the robot body he currently inhabitates gets destroyed, his spirit is re-downloaded into a new robt body. Well, in issue one Spartan gets destroyed but instead of returning to a body in the Wildcats headquarters he materializes in a body in some temple with no memories. The majority of the middle of the story consists of Spartan fighting some green cyber goblin people while he tries to come to terms with his lack of memories.

Turns out there was some plot to trap an evil power source to use it against the enemies of the people in the village where the temple is located. Eventually Spartan realizes this, then the Wildcats show up, then there's some more fighting. Lastly the evil power gets out and starts devouring people. Thankfully Spartan is there and talks the evil power away. In the course of a two page spread, Spartan's superior will convinces the evil demon thingy to just go away. Add a couple of pages for goodbyes and it's the end.

Seriously, this is not even close to being as good as anything that Busiek has recently written. It's not even close to being average. It's cliched ridden, mindless action, poorly drawn crap. It's mini's like this that made Image look like such a joke in the 90's. I feel dumber for having read this.

Art: 2
Story: 1.5
Overall: 1.75

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Superman, Inc.

I'll admit it, I love Elseworlds stories. Not quite enough to buy them at full price, but I scour the bargain bins for them! Any time I see an Elseworlds I haven't read somewhere on the cheap, I snatch it up as fast as humanly possible. The novelty of having an established superhero in a role outside of the one he/she usually takes on appeals to me, which is probably good for DC since that means I'll buy them as opposed to yet another rehashed Superman or Batman book.

In this prestige format one shot, Superman isn't found by the Kents, but is instead run over by a drunk who finds the baby miracuously unharmed when he gets out of the car to see what he ran over. Taking this as some sort of sign he drops the baby off in the closest town and vows to give up drinking. With this premise in place, Clark Kent now grows up as Dale Suderman. Tragically, his parents die when he is young. His mother dies after seeing Dale use his power of flight as she falls down the stairs running from him. Dale's subconscious then locks away his ability to use his superhuman powers all the while he lets himself become obsessed with nothing more than being the most successful person alive.

Becoming a success was easy for Dale as his innate physical prowess in comparison to the rest of the human race allows him to become one of the greatest sports stars ever. He uses the money he earns in professional sports to fund his own business ventures, all of which are quite successful, mostly because of the positive outlook that Dale exudes to the public. In private, however, he is a ruthless businessman that will do just about anything in his power to gain even more accolades than he already has.

Of course, Lex Luthor doesn't like that someone is more successful than him, so this is where the core conflict of the story comes. Lex assigns reporters to dig up anything they can on Dale Suderman and when things do start to come out, it all falls apart for Dale.

The premise and execution of the story were both interesting enough, but the characters were given little depth. Dale was simply a man obsessed with success who breaks down when he finds out he's not who he thought he was. Lex is a less interesting version of his DC self. The supporting cast aren't really that interesting, but they're essential for moving the story along.

In comparison to other Elseworlds stories, this one isn't a bad one, but it's not one of the good ones either. From the art department, there was one huge mistake--Dale's haircut. It looks like something from a late 80's rock video and I laughed every time I saw it. I don't think any self-respecting business man would ever sport such an ugly cut, but apparently Dale can get away with it.

Give this a look if you dig Superman and Elseworlds. If you like one or the other it's probably also a decent read. If you could care less about either... why'd you read this review?

Art: 2.5
Story: 2.75
Overall: 2.75