Friday, December 24, 2004

Millennium Fever

Going into this 4 issue mini from DC's Vertigo imprint, I figured from the title it would be about the changing of the millennium that so many people were dreading back in the late 90's. In actuality, it really doesn't have anything to do with the changing of the millennium. Really, I don't know what the title has to do with the content of the series at all, but whatever.

This odd title written by Nick Abadzis starts off as a coming of age story. Boys in high school want to appear to have a large sexual prowess with the ladies, yet most actually don't. Here we have a young man, still a virgin, desperately looking to find a girlfriend... and he does! In answering a personal ad he meets the woman of his dreams and they hit it off wonderfully.

So at this point in the story, I'm pretty much bored to tears, but then something weird happened. When the couple goes into the bedroom for the first time to, you know, "do it" you see the lovely ladies fingers... grow... and then it flashes to the next day. This little thing managed to pull my attention back to the story, and as the story unfolded even further you see that this is a story of a cosmic scale. Apparently humans need to evolve or be left behind when our world merges with some uber multiverse.

That's quite a bit of a jump in focus and to be completely honest, it made the first part of the story seem completely inconsequential. It really only matters because the mysterious woman is actually the manifestation of a being from another realm of the multiverse. The whole multiverse thing and humans evolving in order to survive all just seemed wonky to me. I love cosmic storytelling, but this just didn't have the impact on me that it took for me to care.

The message behind the story is also pretty heavy handed. The real moral of the story is that we have to get beyond our pettiness, fears, and insecurities so that we can move beyond what we are and become "evolved" human beings. I didn't need this mini to tell me that we'll be better people if we move beyond our weaknesses.

If you're a Vertigo completist or have a hankering to read a subpar cosmic story, well, here's the perfect mini for you! If you're like me, you'll pass it over unless you can find it in a quarter bin somewhere. At that price, it might be worth a look simply because it's better than 90% of the other crap that'll be with it in that same bin.

Art: 3
Story: 2
Overall: 2.5

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Deadpool: The Circle Chase

Deadpool is one of those cult Marvel characters that every Marvel comic nerd loves, but is pretty much unknown to the mass market reader. Being a big X-title fanatic, you'd figure I'd know a ton about this character, but besides the occasional appearance in X-Force when I was reading it in the early 90's and the current Cable/Deadpool series, I haven't had any exposure to the character.

Since this was Deadpool's first solo title, I assumed it might be a nice introduction to the character and work as a springboard to understand why this character is as popular as he is with the underground crowd. After reading this mini I'm assuming the reason everyone loves him is because he's so stymied with Marvel 90's continuity.

Honestly, I felt like I was dropped into the middle of an ongoing series there was so much continuity referenced and used as plot points that I felt left out at almost every turn. Characters would appear and it would be expected that a reader should know who he or she is and why he or she is doing what he or she is doing. I never knew what anyone's motivation was outside of a supposed hate for Deadpool and wanting to get at the contents of a Mr. Tolliver's will.

The story basically revolves around that one premise. A Mr. Tolliver has died and a bunch of mercenaries want to get what was in his will. This leads to lots of fighting and plenty of quips from Deadpool, many of them feeling very dated. There's also plenty of stilted dialogue between the rogues gallery that is on display here, and it got very annoying, if not boring, at times.

For wanting to learn about Deadpool and possibly his origins, I obviously should not have chosen this mini. If you're not versed in mid-90's Marvel continuity, particularly of the X-Men and X-Force, then I wouldn't expect to get a lot of out of this. If you do want to read it, I'd probably just scan it for the Deadpool comments and then move on to something not tied so tightly to other complementing titles.

Art: 3
Story: 2.25
Overall: 2.5

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Adventures of Superman 627 - 632

Superman has been a character that, for the most part, I've been able to enjoy over time. There are times that I don't like the character or at times he'll bring up bad memories, but for the most part I find a well written story involving the Man of Steel and his supporting cast is usually fun to read. Rucka, in this six issue run, takes the focus away from the fun aspect of Superman and instead looks more realistically at the character and it turns out to work just fine.

Now this isn't a mind-blowing awesome story or anything, but it's reasonably entertaining. Superman is fighting some guy who thinks that Superman is going to be the end of us all. To take down Supes, he uses Replikon and his son to attack Superman so that he can use a device he created to suck Superman's power out of him. Far fetched and very cliched superhero storytelling, I know, but the second plot of the story and the subplot involving the Metropolis Police Department make up for it.

Lois is going to the middle east to cover some of the fighting that's going on. While she's over there, she learns what it's like being an embedded reporter. She watches men die, watches men kill, bonds with another embedded reporter, and gets shot. Seeing how Superman and the JLA react to Lois getting shot shows just how much sway Superman holds in the DC universe.

The arc closes on a very downbeat note as you see Superman next to Lois' hospital bed. She lies there unconscious and he promises never to leave her side. A touching moment, while at the same time a very sad way to end the arc.

Oh, as for the art, it's really good. 'Nuff said.

Story: 3.75
Overall: 3.75

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The League of Extrordinary Gentlemen vol. I

Before I got around to reading this wonderful title, I was tainted by having watched the movie adaptation. The movie was only a so-so action picture so I wasn't too keen on reading the material it was based upon... that is until I found out it was written by Alan Moore. More than 90% of the time, Moore's stuff turns out to be wonderful. The other 10% of the time it turns out to only be ok. No matter which category his stuff falls into, I have yet to read anything by him that has turned out to suck.

The first volume of LXG straddles the line between being simply ok and being wonderful. It was a lot of fun to see these classic characters put into a superhero team sent out to save England, but at the same time I didn't find the characters as interesting here as I did in their original works. I expected it to be the other way around with Moore writing it, but somehow he took each character, created one overwhelming personal trait, and then used that singular trait to showcase how the character would handle each situation.

The invisible man has no conscience. Quartermain is an adventurer. Mina is a very naive, yet resourceful woman. Jeckyl/Hyde is reserved & nervous as Jeckyl and a murdering beast as Hyde. Nemo is the smart, noble warrior. Other than those traits, each character's personality and personal history was left pretty much untouched in favor of the plot, which usually wouldn't be a terrible thing, but I would have enjoyed more exploration of how the characters interact and how they have developed since their adventures in their respective classic novels as opposed to having them introduced and then focusing on the plot.

The plot was pretty transparent as well, which is surprising considering it was written by Moore. There's a betrayal of the team, which is heavily foreshadowed. There's the obligatory grand scale battle scene that takes an entire issue. There's the passage where the villain contemplates his evilness and justifies it to himself, yet the audience knows he's simply just a bad guy. Everything seemed quite formulaic and by the numbers, except it had these classic literature figures saving the day.

The art was ok. It wasn't all that spectacular, but it did its job. It could have been much, much worse and I actually preferred the liney, somewhat scrawled art on display here than most of the quasi-manga-cartoonish art that populates most of the current crop of titles from the big four.

Art: 3
Story: 3.5
Overall: 3.25

Sunday, December 12, 2004

G.I. Joe vol. I (Dark Horse)

Who the hell lets stuff like this get published? I can say with tons of confidence that this four issue mini series is one of the worst that I've read in a long time, and by long time I mean years. I couldn't even bring myself to do more than skim the final two issues it was so bad. *Sigh* Where do I start in describing the suckiness?

First off, this isn't the G.I.Joe that most of us know. No, this mini is based on some obscure G.I.Joe Extreme cartoon that was around for all of like 2 days. I never heard of it and being the big G.I.Joe fan I've always been that means it had to be relatively obscure. Anyhow, so all of the characters are new. There's no Hawk, Duke, Lady Jaye, or Snake-Eyes. Instead there are a bunch of generic military typecast characters.

The bad guys also aren't Cobra. In here it is the Skar. Yeah, woot woot. I totally urinated through all of my clothes I was so scared by their name. Their leader is some guy that looks kind of like Destro except he has metal claws and his metal faceplate is more angular. He also doesn't answer to Cobra Commander. Instead it's some chick that is a descendant of an ancient royal bloodline. She formed Cobr... err, Skar in order to overthrow democracy because it doesn't work. Only royalty should be able to lead a country. Voting became such a pox upon society that the Skar had to be formed in order to right the sinking ship that was America.

Ok, so now that you know the setup, the rest of the series consisted of dialogue written by three drunken sixth grade dropouts while the art was handled by a washed up ex-cartoonist on crack. Really, this series was painful to read and look at. It took all of my constitution to keep from projectile vomitting every last ounce of juice in my stomach all across my reading room whenever I turned the page.

If anything these four comics will make good kittie litter once they are shredded properly. Make sure to remove the staples before shredding, however, or you might break your shredder. Once you have done that, only feed a four or five page bunch through the shredder at once in order to get a nice, fluffy mix. Fill your kittie litter box with the shredded comics and let your cats shit all over them because that's the only way this series could possibly get any worse than it already is.

Art: 1
Story: 1
Overall: 1

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Children of the Voyager

It's refreshing to go back and read something put out by Marvel and not dealing with superheroes. It's just too bad that you have to look to Marvel's UK division to find the majority of the non-superhero titles. This four issue miniseries was one of four Frontier titles that were put out by Marvel UK. I haven't read the other three, but after looking at the ads for them and reading this one, it seems like Marvel UK was trying to create an alternative to DC's Vertigo line but, unfortuantely, it didn't work out so well.

In Children of the Voyager, Nick Abadzis creates a dark, if somewhat illogical, tale about a horror author haunted by bad dreams. He dreams become so real and threatening that he consults a witch to see if she can somehow exorcise the demon in him or find a way to relieve his dreaming.

By forcing him into a trance she finds out that he is not a real person and doesn't possess a soul. He is actually a small seed of an ethereal being called the Voyager. Apparently the Voyager plants seeds of himself throughout humanity in an attempt to understand what it means to be human. He is forced to do this in order to return to the next plane (loosely referred to at one point as heaven). With all of that known, the witch attempts to save our haunted author by getting into a magical war with the Voyager while the author tires him out by talking about juvenile existentialistic ramblings about what constitutes a soul.

This story would have been a lot better if we weren't expected to believe so many things without explanations. The Voyager is some mystical being whose purpose isn't really explained other than he is trying to return to the next plane of existence. It is also unexplained why the author differed from many of the other children of the Voyager (almost all of the children are robot like automata that possess only a modicum of intelligence). Why the witch's magic works against the Voyager is also left unexplained. Does the Voyager have some connection to earthly magic? I guess it could be assumed so, but I hate having to assume details to be true in order for a story to make sense.

The bright side of all of this is that the art is pretty good. It has a very angular and harsh tone to it, which suits this story perfectly. It reminded me a little bit of Jae Lee if he was rushing his work. The art definitely fit the story and helped make it easier to let some of the missing elements of the story slide.

If you want to read a miniseries that is similar in tone and content to the movie In the Mouth of Madness, then give this a whirl. I picked it up for $2.00 and I think it was worth the money. I might have even paid up to $4.00 for it!

Art: 3.75
Story: 3
Overall: 3

Friday, December 10, 2004

Astonishing X-Men 1 - 6

Anyone who even remotely likes the X-Men at all have pretty much been going ape over this new series written by Joss Whedon and illustrated by John Cassiday. As for me, well, it's not nearly as interesting as Morrison's New X-Men run, but it sure as hell beats the crap out of Austen's X-Men and Claremont's Uncanny X-Men & Excalibur.

The one thing that I don't understand about this series is the obsession with Cassiday's art. Sure, it's pretty realistic and whatnot, but I really don't think he's all that great. In fact, I think the way he draws Beat and Cyclops is really ugly and half the time he draws Emma with big, billowing 80's hair. The new uniforms are also pretty lame, except for Kitty's, which is nothing more than a slight variation on their movie-era leather suits.

As much as I love Whedon's ability to create dialogue that snaps, I couldn't really form a relationship with any of the characters outside of the core X-Men group. The villain did nothing for me. He's some uber alien that made a pact with some government organization, blah, blah, blah. I really don't care. The fact that Nick Fury and SHIELD just waltz on in in the 6th issue and lay everything out doesn't flow very well with me either. The doctor working with the "cure" for the mutant condition is also hard to relate to.

If Whedon would have worked a little harder on creating characters that could be related to instead of focusing on the X-Men and their bickering, I would have really liked this arc. As it stands, however, it's only an above average X-Men tale. It is one that will definitely be remembered, though, simply because it features the return of fan favorite Colossus. His return from the dead has stirred up a lot of positive and negative feelings about this arc. Frankly, I don't really care so much. Colossus is back. Big deal. You know no one ever stays dead in the Marvel universe so why fret over it. I'm looking forward to some more good stories focusing on Colossus because I found him one of the few X-Men that has an interesting personality and history.

For a start to a new, high profile series, this arc succeeds in creating a lot to talk about and generates a good amount of interest because of a key continuity issue, but story-wise it was only so-so. The dialogue is superb, yes, but dialogue alone doesn't make a compelling story.

Art: 3.5
Story: 3
Overall: 3.5

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Punisher: Born

Huh, and to think that I always thought Frank Castle went on his crazy revenge-fest because some mafia members killed his family. I suppose that is part of the reason, but in Born Garth Ennis explores Frank's days in Vietnam and the dirty pact he agrees to with some enigmatic dark being.

This 4 issue mini starts off by letting you get to know Frank and the men he commands. Most of the people at the base he is in charge of are complete goof-ups that really don't give a crap about the war. Frank, on the other hand, takes it very seriously and has managed to find a group of fellow soldiers in the midst of the glut of cowardly and lazy residents of his base. This group scours the area looking for Charlie and wiping them out if they're found. Frank's little band of marauders, in making as many runs into the jungle as they have, have never actually had a fatality. Frank makes sure of that.

From all of this, you'd think that Frank is simply a very good soldier. Well, that he is, but he also feeds off of war. When a general comes to the base to inspect it and tell Frank that they're heading home he is conveniently led up the slope of a sniper firing range and, uhh, "taken care of". On another mission you see Frank kill yet another fellow soldier. This time he does it because the soldier raped a Vietnamese woman. He justifies to himself that the killing was done to serve justice. At this moment you can start to see the seeds of the Punisher at work inside of Frank.

Before this series is over, Frank blossoms into the killing machine that we all know and love, but only by agreeing to be the tool of some ethereal being that only asks for one small thing in return. Frank doesn't know exactly what that one small thing is until he arrives home from the war--his family.

Ennis does a great job of not retooling the Punisher's origin, yet also putting a new spin on how he came to be. In doing so, he also gives the Punisher's origin a somewhat mystical beginning as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this version as opposed to the standard version where he is motivated purely by revenge.

Art: 3.5
Story: 4.25
Overall: 4

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Superman / Batman 8 - 13

I want to believe that this arc was more than just a vehicle for Mike Turner to draw a teenage girl in a bunch of different outfits, but I'm having a hard time doing it. Every issue it seemed that Turner made it a point to showcase Supergirl in some new type of attire for the teen boy crowd to drool over (I don't understand why anyone would drool over a drawing, but I've had conversations with boys who go nuts of some of Turner's stuff). You have Supergirl in no clothes, in casual clothes, in her Supergirl uniform, in her amazonian princess outfit, in her Darkseid's apprentice suit, in more casual clothes, and different permutations on the already pre-defined wardrobe of Kara.

Outside of this story's focus on the new Supergirl, you also get plenty of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman hitting people and fighting between Darkseid's minions and the amazonian women. Having said all of that, as much as I wanted to dislike this arc, I found I actually had a fun time reading it. I don't know how he does it, but Loeb manages to write an engaging story, even if it isn't the most intelligent.

What has really been a shining star in this series are the inner monologues of Batman and Superman. Seeing the different interpretations of the same situations and people is really intriguing and Loeb manages to capture the essence of each character in how he writes the thoughts of both of the characters. Batman is the untrusting and calculating sleuth while Superman is the boy scout who takes everything at face value.

This key difference in personalities leads to Batman and Superman confronting the arrival of Supergirl in different ways. Remarkably, for a visual medium, it was the written word that kept me coming back for more. I'm not trying to knock Turner because he does some very good work, which at times I enjoy depending upon what he's drawing, but his art was simply overshadowed by Loeb's writing. Personally, I couldn't think of a better way to have a new Supergirl introduced into DC's continuity than this arc of Superman/Batman.

Art: 3.75
Story: 4
Overall: 4

Monday, December 06, 2004

Madara vol. I

I'm coming to the party a little late as this is my first experience with manga. Just about everyone and their mother have been reading manga the last few years, but I've never jumped into it, mainly because I have plenty of traditional, American styled comics to read in my collection. When DC decided it was going to start a manga imprint, however, I thought I might as well give this format a look so I preordered one of CMX manga's debut titles--Madara.

After reading this, my first manga, I am sorely unimpressed. I don't know if something was lost in the translation, if this was just a bad title, or if I just don't "get" manga, but once I got done reading all 200+ pages of this thing, I wanted to request my $10 (well, $6 since I preordered it) and 1.5 hours of my life back.

So here's the story in this first volume of five: Some kid has a body made up of artificial parts. He's this way because his dad is some evil emperor that didn't want to kill him so he just ripped up his body into 8 parts and gave them to 8 different guardians. Madara doesn't know this until his village is attacked by some wolf things. His mentor gives him a sword that he has him hold up to his head which causes him to turn into some beserker fighting machine.

Now that Madara knows that he needs to find his real body parts (why, though, no one knows) he rushes off on a quest to find them. With him comes a girl from his village who also happens to have a crush on him. He later finds out that his superpowers don't just come from the sword being held up to his head. No, she also has to be in the vacinity (why, though, no one knows). So Madara travels around and fights some bad guys and ears two of his body parts back. Yippee.

Yeah, that's the gist of the story. Does it seem really lame and hopelessly convoluted and pointless to you? Well, it sure does to me. I really couldn't enjoy this book at all simply because of the contrivances of the plot. The only thing that kept me even moderately involved was the art. It was actually pretty decent and some of the fight choreography was neatly illustrated. Beyond that one small redeeming factor, my first foray into manga was a total failure. I might try out another manga series or two in the future, but it's moved much lower on my list of things to read and spend money on.

Art: 3.5
Story: 1.5
Overall: 1.5

Thursday, December 02, 2004

G.I.Joe Reloaded 1 - 9

There are two things that I really, really like about this series and neither of them really have too much to do with the actual story... well, they do, but they play minor roles. These two things are the lack of "arcs" and the use of reference boxes. Do you remember reference boxes? It seems like so long since I've seen a new comic come out that uses them. They're those neat little boxes that refer to an asterisked portion of dialogue or exposition and tell you when what is being talked about happened so that way if you're a new reader you can go back and find that issue to catch yourself up. Yeah, they're amazing and I don't know why they're so seldomly used now... oh wait, no, I do know why they aren't used--it interferes with making trade paperbacks because the tpb will reference another comic and *cough* Marvel *cough* want all of their tpb's to feel self-contained. Well poop on you Marvel because I like continuity, and this series from Devil's Due embraces the continuity it is setting up. There are no self-contained story arcs. This is an ongoing series in all senses of the word.

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, I can settle down a little bit. G.I.Joe Reloaded is Devil's Due's attempt at updating the G.I.Joe mythos to align more with current day events instead of the convoluted and somewhat lame mythos set up in the 80's. If you want to live in that realm of G.I.Joe, then go pick up the straight up G.I.Joe title, but if you want something a little more mature (but not so mature the kiddies can't buy it) and cohesive to the workings of today's world, go with Reloaded.

In these first 9 issues, we are reintroduced to the team (both sides were initially introduced in their respective one-shots that came out before this series) and thrown right into Cobra's first terrorist activity--stealing chemical weapons. Failing to keep them from doing that, the Joes redouble their efforts to squash Cobra's next move--stealing the Declaration of Independence. After defeating Cobra's sleeper agents and protecting that precious document, the Joes are given a break from all the military action to do some training. Well, things just don't let up as Cobra takes over a missle launch facility that they want to use to launch the chemical weapons they stole way back at the beginning of this series into a populated US city. The Joes manage to foil the launch, but Cobra still has control of the missle facility, and that's where this run of issues ends.

As you can probably guess, this series would be hard to pick up right in the middle and it would be best if you started from the beginning because of the strong use of continuity. Also, what I described are only the overarching plots. I didn't even touch upon all of the subplots going on in each issue. Really, when you think about it, there's a third thing I really like about this series--things happen! There's no decompression here. There's no padding. There's no filler issues. Every issue has a ton of things happening and because of that, it's worth every dollar.

For those of you wondering about the art, well, it's pretty indistiguishable from the rest of the G.I.Joe titles. No matter what artist is drawing an issue, each feels like it is following a strict art style that was defined when the first G.I.Joe series from Devil's Due came out a couple of years ago. I'm not saying that's a bad thing because the art is clean and feels appropriate, but it would be nice to have some different styles every now and then.

Art: 3.25
Story: 4
Overall: 3.75