SENTINELS!!!!!!

Today is the day I officially begin geeking out about next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Why? Because today, Fox began an extremely aggressive marketing campaign with the launch of the Trask Industries website. As I move from orator to shill, I say unto thee: check this shit out, because it’s COOL. They’ve put a lot of detail into it, up to and including an extremely disconcerting propaganda video about how amazing the Sentinels are. Bonus: Peter Dinklage in full-on burly-mustache mode!

Oh, and there’s Sentinels.

SENTINELS!!! DO YOU HEAR ME, BRETT RATNER?!?!? REAL! FUCKING! SENTINELS! NOT CHEAP COP-OUT TEASES OF SENTINELS, BUT THE REAL THING, YOU HACKY BITCH!!!!

Anyway. Back to our regularly scheduled program.

SENTINELS!!!

~ILL DIABLO~

South Carolina Can’t Stop Sucking… Even Where Comics Are Concerned

There are many, many reasons to despise South Carolina. They seem to represent every single thing wrong with America: they’re anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-gun control, anti-common sense, overtly racist, and their politicians seem to be in a near-constant state of some sort of scandal or another. So it should come as no surprise that a South Carolinian group called the Palmetto Family has decided that South Carolina should be the face of religious intolerance in comic books, as well.

And just who is the Palmetto Family? They’re nothing more than yet another collection of small-minded conservative fuckwads hellbent on crushing anyone and anything that offends their idiotically conservative views. According to their website, they are on a mission to “persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication, and networking.” And their core values are stated thusly: “Our vision is to transform the culture in South Carolina by reclaiming the values and virtues of marriage, the traditional family model, and sexual purity.”

Translation: we hate fags, and we’re more than willing to use our Bibles to beat them over the head.

Oh, and they’re affiliated with professional assholes Focus on the Family and the odious Family Research Council. Yup. They’re THOSE kind of assholes.

So today I stumbled onto a blog by Robot 6 over at comicbookresources.com. It concerns an autobiographical graphic novel called Fun House, by Alison Bechdel. The graphic novel is about the author’s childhood with her closeted gay father, his suicide, and her coming to terms with her own lesbianism. I haven’t read it, but it’s supposedly quite good, and is featured on the College of Charleston’s annual “The College Reads!” program, which is a compilation of free books given to faculty and incoming freshmen each year if they are interested. Let me rephrase, and reiterate: THIS BOOK IS NOT REQUIRED READING BY THE COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON.

However….

To hear the Palmetto Family tell it, Fun House is in fact pornographic, and is being FORCED on students. (This belief is also supported by the dumbshits posting on their website, blasting “liberal parents” who defended the GN and generally making themselves out to be total victims. Cry me a fucking river.) So what, then, is so pornographic about Fun House? Again, I haven’t read it myself, so according to the Charleston City Paper, who took it upon themselves to see what the fuss was all about, we have:

1. “A few panels of nudity, including a male lying nude on a morgue table, and a woman performing oral sex on another woman.” Oh, no! Not…. human anatomy and people having sex! What’s our society coming to!?

2. “There is also a section that describes Bechdel’s first period and first experience with masturbation.” Oh, no! Not…. normal bodily functions and totally normal teenage curiosity and exploration! What’s our society coming to!?

The Charleston City Paper’s final assessment? “An initial scan of the book and a read of the first chapter make Fun Home seem more like a smartly written, deeply affecting memoir than a steamy porno.”

The local ABC affiliate got in on the action, too, to see what all the fuss was about, and came up with the following conclusion: “Actually the fact that it was controversial has put me onto reading it because I do like reading things like that and I know that some people especially have a really closed mind and they need to read stuff like that to really expand their thought about what is going on in the world and real situations in life.” (Okay, so that extreme run-on sentence doesn’t necessarily reflect well of that particular reporter’s grasp on English grammar, but his point still stands.)

Whoa! So, at least the local media in one city in South Carolina doesn’t totally suck. Good for them, because it’s hard to not suck in South Carolina. Naturally, though, that hasn’t stopped the Palmetto Family. Their main bone of contention, other than the fact that they’re the type of blood-curdling conservative who would gladly ban anything in society that doesn’t conform to their narrow viewpoint of what’s “good,” is that taxpayer money is being used for the solicitation of this book in “The College Reads!” program, but also that it’s being used to pay for a visit from Bechdel in October. Oh sure, they tried to backpedal by saying that they didn’t want the book outright banned and/or burned, but let’s be serious: these are EXACTLY the type of people who are always down for a good old fashioned book-burning. And the fact that they want it banned from a state-funded college is a direct violation of the First Amendment.

Again, though, I say unto thee, Palmetto Family: THE BOOK IS COMPLETELY OPTIONAL TO ANY STUDENT WHO WANTS TO READ IT. NO ONE IS FORCING THEM TO DO SO. SO SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTHS, MIND YOUR GODDAMN BUSINESS, AND QUIT STOMPING ALL OVER THE RIGHTS OF ALISON BECHDEL TO TELL HER STORY AS SHE SEES FIT AND OF THE COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON TO GIVE FREELY OF WHATEVER LITERATURE THEY CHOOSE TO WHOMSOEVER CHOOSES TO READ IT. Because I’m pretty sure there’s more than a few incoming college students with questions about their sexuality, and this graphic novel could help give them answers. Too bad none of this mattes to the Palmetto Family, who of course believe that being gay is some sort of immoral crime against humanity.

This is the kind of nonsense that groups like the Palmetto Family love to propagate: that somehow, exposure to LGBT lifestyles and issues will “corrupt the traditional family dynamic.” These closed-minded fucknuts are the type of assholes who absolutely believe, with no proof whatsoever, that a gay couple has no business raising a child and that their legal union will somehow destroy every straight couples’ lives. This is of course horseshit, but try telling that to the people who honestly believe it. You won’t get very far. There will always be groups like this stirring up shit in one way or another, and the best way to fight back against them is to spread honesty, truth, and facts in the face of their paranoid, bigoted worldview.

FIGHT WITH FACTS!

~ILL DIABLO~

(Hey! If you want to read the College of Charleston’s provost’s explanation for their reasons for including Fun Home on The College Reads! list, click here.)

Movie Review! The Wolverine

WARNING: SPOILERS LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER AHEAD.

Admittedly, James Mangold might not have been my first choice to direct a Wolverine movie. He knows drama, but does he know action? Turns out he does. His problem, if anything, is his inherent unfamiliarity with Logan’s source material. Mangold is a character director among action directors: see 3:10 to Yuma and the seriously underrated Copland. Dramas with action, and heavy on the character work. With that in mind, I’m pleased to say that Mangold is very nearly the exact type of director to handle Logan and his travails. The movie might go off the rails in the last twenty minutes or so, but I’ll get to that.

The Wolverine starts out in the aftermath of 2006’s abortive X3: The Last Stand, with Logan having ditched society altogether out of guilt from having killed Jean Grey, whose memory plagues his dreams. He’s also sworn off of violence. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t last very long.

Enter Yukio, a cute Japanese girl who comes to bring Logan to Japan, at the behest of a man named Yashida. Back in the day, Logan saved this man’s life during the Nagasaki atomic blast. Now Yashida is dying, and wants to pay Logan his final respects. As it turns out, this is total crap: what he really wants is to give Logan the gift of death by taking away his healing factor. How he intends to do this, and how it will work, is utterly glossed over, in one of the script’s main plot holes. But it’s a good character moment: Logan, after all his years, is finally being given the chance to die.

Now, the whole “hero loses his powers” routine is pretty common. And has there ever been a time when the hero didn’t regain his or her powers? But Hugh Jackman totally sells the isolation Logan feels, and mines it for all its dramatic worth, so I’m okay with this cliche. Were this movie in any way, shape, or form like the emotionally derelict X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it would be game over at this point.

But sure enough, Logan finds his healing powers slowly fading (interestingly, the movie at no time makes reference to his enhanced senses, but presumably they’re muted too). And the timing couldn’t be worse, because Yashida’s sudden death leaves the door open for a multigenerational power struggle for control between Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko, to whom his company and empire have been bequeathed, and her father, Shingen, who’s an asshole and pissed off over having been passed over for the throne.

Shenanigans abound, and it doesn’t take long before Mariko is kidnapped by Yashida’s enemies in the Yakuza (why a legitimate businessman would have enemies in the Yakuza is never explained), which leads to Logan being on the hunt to get her narrow ass back. This leads to several thrilling chase sequences, and one hell of a cool confrontation atop a bullet train (which completely forgets the laws of physics exist, but hey). This sequence also introduces Harada, who is like the Japanese equivalent of Hawkeye when it comes to his bow and arrow and handily picks off several of Logan’s pursuers.

Logan prevails, and goes into hiding with Mariko, where they wind up doing the horizontal mambo after knowing each other for like a day at best. Action movie cliche? Sure. One of the few places this movie outright stumbles, in fact. My theory is that this is Mangold paying lip service to comics’ Logan/Mariko romance, but without knowing the full history and breadth of it. Either way, now Logan has an emotional stake in the proceedings as well.

Things proceed and we’re introduced to Viper, too, and suddenly, I realized there were not one but two plots going on, each somewhat dovetailing and complementing each other but also working toward different ends, both of which are no bueno for Logan and Mariko. Everyone has their own game they’re playing, their own stake in capturing Mariko. And Logan, sans powers, is caught in the middle. Harada has an angle, Viper has an angle, Shingen has an angle, and his battle with Logan at the end of the second act is absolutely the highlight of the movie. WOW, that’s how Logan versus a ninja is SUPPOSED to look!

As I said at the beginning, things go off the rails with about twenty minutes to go, as Mangold’s inherent lack of knowledge of his source material causes some serious goofiness when it comes to Viper and the Silver Samurai. That’s unfortunate, but it’s still entertaining, even if it lacks any sort of logical explanation as to how this and that are working the way they do. The best hint I’ll give: if you want to completely drain a film of any and all emotional stake, have your hero face an emotionless robot (see: Iron Man 2). This is a video game ending, not a movie ending. After spending the previous two hours working up a serious emotional core for this film, Mangold’s bizarre decision to–oh, what the hell, I’ll spoil it because it’s stupid anyway–have the Silver Samurai turn out to be a big, silly adamantium-laced samurai ROBOT is quite a letdown. In comics, it’s Harada who is the Silver Samurai, and he’s badass enough to beat Wolverine hands down, so I was utterly dumbfounded by this bizarre decision. And the surprise with the robot Silver Samurai… well, let’s just say it’s unconvincingly lame and makes absolutely no sense.

All in all, though, this is a summer movie that actually takes its time to build an emotional stake in its characters, which is a rare thing indeed, especially as the foul taste of X3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine still linger on the X-Men franchise. Yes, it might spin off the rails in the end, and there are a couple of plot holes that remain unobligingly unfilled, but it’s still definitely worth checking out, if for no other reason than for us nerds to see a Wolverine kicking ass and our girlfriends or wives to see Hugh Jackman running around without a shirt much of the time. Score: 8/10.

(Also: stick around for the stinger in the credits, as it’s a setup for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. But that’s it; no second stinger post-credits.)

What I’m Reading 0005: 7/26/13

Happy Friday and welcome to another What I’m Reading! I went out on a limb and bought a couple of titles I normally don’t this week. One because of the artist, the other because of the general theme. Let’s get into it, then, and see what’s what. As always, remember: this list is by no means intended to serve as a comprehensive review of all of the week’s big releases. It’s only what I’ve personally bought based on my pull sheet at my local comic store. If you want something more comprehensive, I’d recommend comicbookresources.com or newsarama.com. Anyway! Off we go!

1. Lazarus #2 (Image, W: Greg Rucka, A: Michael Lark). After the flawless review I gave Lazarus‘ first issue (10/10), the book inevitably only had nowhere to go but down. It’s to be expected, and not at all out of the ordinary. And so this second issue does just that: not a steep dropoff in overall quality per se, but nowhere near as good as the world-defining first issue. This issue sees our first look at the entire Carlysle family, and the first thing that struck me was that Rucka’s obviously been watching Game of Thrones. The family Carlysle is a pretty fair analogue for the Lannisters: powerful, with a singularly authoritative patriarch; scheming, backstabbing, and, ah, not afraid of incest. Now, this is not to say that GoT is doing something entirely original, but the fact that it looms so large in the popular culture at the moment isn’t lost on me as I make the comparison (and I’m sure it wasn’t on Rucka, either). Intrigue abounds, as the family gathers to decide what to do about the apparent incursion against them by the Morray family last issue. Ultimately, the decision is made so send their family’s lazarus, Forever, down to Morray territory to make a statement of sorts. There isn’t really any development of Forever’s character in this issue, as she takes a back seat to her villainous family, and that’s where Rucka slips up: yes, it’s important to expand the supporting cast, but he does so at the detriment of his main character. Still a great read, and Michael Lark’s art is still pitch-perfect, but Rucka loses points this issue for losing momentum and for shamelessly ripping off the Lannisters. Score: 7/10.

2. Aquaman #22 (DC, W: Geoff Johns, A: Paul Pelletier). The shit hits the fan on all fronts this issue: the Scavenger’s forces attack Atlantis, Aquaman throws down with the Dead King, and the incursion team moves closer and closer to busting Ocean Master out of jail. Oh, and Mera’s people in Xebel have a distressing moment of truth. Sounds like a lot for a twenty-page comic, but what makes this issue work so well is the way Johns balances all the subplots out, overlapping dialogue boxes, cross-cutting scenes together to form one big, meaty, break-neck-paced issue that doesn’t let off of the throttle for a second. Aquaman’s battle with the Dead King yields some surprising revelations that will surely affect Arthur’s future rule of Atlantis. I don’t really want to spoil it, because it’s a pretty major plot point, so let’s just say… nah. On to other things: Swatt, Murk, and Tula’s mission to break Ocean Master out of jail and reassert him as king comes to the surface world, with what could have been stereotypical fish out of water moments played out with humor and authenticity:

“What is that?”

“It’s called a truck, Tula.”

“It’s a land vehicle.”

“I know what it’s for. It just a strange name. Everything is strange up here. Did you see that legged creature in the brush? It was covered in hair.”

Good, honest stuff. There’s not really anything bad to say about this issue, other than, for all its strengths, reading it didn’t quite blow my mind, either. After last issue’s spectacularly-rendered set up, I was expecting a few more fireworks this issue, especially from the Scavenger’s assault on Atlantis, which does in fact wind up getting the short end of the screen time stick. Having said that, though, I can honestly say this book remains one of DC’s best, a shining pearl in an ocean of crap. As long as Johns doesn’t bog it down with senseless crossovers and event storylines, I’d say this book’s going to remain good for some time to come. Score: 8/10.

3. Batman: The Dark Knight #22 (DC, W: Gregg Hurwitz, A: Alex Maleev). When word hit me that the mighty Alex Maleev was on the art duties for this Bat-book, I just had to check it out. Maleev, after all, is one of my all-time favorite artists, right up there with Michael Lark, Sean Phillips, and Steve Epting. I’ve never read anything by Hurwitz; my only working knowledge of him is that outside of men in tights (TIGHT tights!), he’s a crime novelist. So what, then, do we have here? Good question. At least in part because of DC’s ongoing insistence that recap pages are somehow a bad thing and therefore should not exist, I was thrown into the deep end of this issue and had to piece things together for myself. When this occurs, the onus is on the writer to paint a clear picture, hopefully without the overuse of unnatural expository dialogue, so that the reader isn’t completely lost. In this, Hurwitz does a decent job, at least: we have Clayface running around, killing his former crews for some reason. Oh, and he also kidnapped Jim Gordon for reasons that aren’t made clear. The issue opens, however, with a pretty good monologue from Gordon about how Gotham is the type of city that continues to get worse and worse, pushing all men to their limits. This is overlayed against him walking into a hostage situation and mercilessly shooting the shit out of the perpetrators, much to Batman’s horror when he shows up too late to stop the bloodbath. But then Gordon takes a shot at Batman, and Bats figures out pretty quick that this isn’t Gordon at all, but rather Clayface, killing another one of his old crews. So okay, I guess I should have seen that coming pretty easily, but then at the same time, it felt like a cop out. How much cooler would it have been if Hurwitz had had the balls to actually have Gordon go past his breaking point and kill those men, and completely upend his relationship with Batman in the process? That would have had serious potential. Instead we have a gotcha moment that anyone who’d been previously reading the book almost certainly saw coming. Nevertheless, with Clayface standing revealed, he morphs into some chick named Natalya, who has a seriously adverse affect on Batman for reasons that are never explained. My guess is that she died and he couldn’t save her, but again, Hurwitz doesn’t make it clear. Meanwhile, we get back to the actual Jim Gordon, who’s tied up but still relatively mobile in an old theater, where there’s a spotlight nearby that Gordon manages to convert into a makeshift bat-signal, alerting Batman to his whereabouts. It’s a kinda clever moment, but it also strains credibility. The place is abandoned, yet still has electricity? And there just happens to be an opening in the ceiling for Gordon to shine the light through? And there also just happens to be a pile of magazines nearby for Gordon to rip up in order to form the Batman symbol for the signal? Eh, that’s straining credibility a little too much for me. It’s supposed to be this big heroic moment for Gordon, but it winds up falling flat due to all the incredibility. One other thing I noticed about this comic is that this Batman seems a little green. His confidence in himself and his actions can be thrown, which is nice too see. Too often, authors write Batman as this immovable, unquestionable force of nature who is barely human. I’m not sure if Hurwitz is actually writing about a Batman from yesteryear, when he was just starting out, and is therefore more prone to this sort of thing; again, a recap page could have clarified this for me if DC weren’t so stubborn about not having them. Maleev’s typically top-notch art is lost in the sauce: because of the lack of variation in Dave McCaig’s coloring, it’s washed out and muted by all of the blacks, browns, and purples that permeate every page of the book. Each page has a sameness to it that makes a great artist dull. One last thing: the cover. It’s a great, symbolic image of Gordon firing at a range target that’s situated in a Batman silhouette. I could easily take one look at this cover and figure out that Gordon and Batman are having friction, and that’d be enough. But no, DC insists on putting lame exposition over it, something they’ve done consistently with all their books since the ’90s: “When allies become… deadly ENEMIES!” It’s as though DC presumes we’re too stupid to figure a symbolic cover out for ourselves, and feels the need to put quasi-shocking exclamations over it. It’s just annoying, and it distracts from a great piece of art. This issue overall was a real mixed bag. I didn’t hate it, but it certainly had its shortcomings. If Hurwitz can grow as a writer and become more confident, and if Maleev can be unrestrained, it might just turn into a solid book. As it stands, with this issue alone, I can’t justify a higher score than 5/10.

4. Uncanny Avengers #10 (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: Daniel Acuna). Remender’s big “can’t we all just get along?” statement rumbles along, sparing none in its wake. The Avengers’ unity squad is divided, proving that Xavier’s dream may be that of pipe. The Apocalypse Twins are on the loose, causing all sorts of mayhem, like bringing back several dead characters under their thrall as the Four Horsemen of Death to plague our heroes. Thus we see undead versions of the Sentry, Banshee, Daken, and the Grim Reaper bother Thor, Havok and Scarlet Witch, Wolverine, and Wonder Man (who, in a neat flip, is a pacifist now and refuses to fight). This in and of itself is nothing new and in fact rather rote, and Remender can’t pull it off with the ominous sense of dread and fear that Geoff Johns did on Blackest Night. So like I said, the unity squad is divided: on the one side, we have Sunfire, Thor, Wolverine, and Rogue, on the other side, we have Cap, Wasp, Havok, Scarlet Witch, and Wonder Man. Wolverine’s crew has tracked down Ozymandias, former scribe of Apocalypse, and are going all Guantanamo on his ass in order to find out the Twins’ location. Ozymandias is made of sand, you see, so there’s no way to really torture him for information. Good thing Sunfire’s there to fuse his arm into glass, which then gives Wolverine something solid to cut at. Aaaaand… scene! Holy shit, these guys aren’t playing around! If this seems really out of character for everyone involved except Wolverine, you’re right. Sure, Wolverine does what he has to do, and maybe you could make the case for Thor understanding its occasional necessity in dire times after all his centuries of warfare, and maybe Sunfire and Rogue just doesn’t give a fuck. But that’s a lot of maybes. It’s also the second place in this comic where Remender stumbles, because I don’t buy this scene for one second. You could also make the case for the severity of the situation, after all, Kang is manipulating events from elsewhere and the Twins on the verge of ending reality or something. But then, couldn’t that constitute every other comic story? This was, ultimately, a poor choice on Remender’s part. You ain’t writing about a secret squad of assassins anymore, dude. Especially after Wolverine got dressed down last issue from Havoc when he becomes aware of the former existence of Logan’s X-Force assassination squad. Which, I suppose, is the crux of why the unity squad split… well, that, and the fact that they don’t seem to get along very well, despite being mutant or human. This is actually a fairly confusing issue; even I couldn’t keep score without flipping to the recap page. Man, good thing that was there! This comic is DEFINITELY not new-reader friendly, especially since the entire book itself is an outgrowth of Remender’s ass-kickingly amazing Uncanny X-Force. (Seriously, one of Marvel’s best series in the last decade.) Having said that, though, Remender does a solid job of moving all of the pieces into place, and Daniel Acuna’s art has improved by leaps and bounds over the course of this arc. There are even a few panels where he has a Greg Land-esque photorealism, but minus all the cheesecake. I wouldn’t recommend this comic to anyone not familiar with Uncanny X-Force, the recent goings-on in the Marvel Universe as a whole, and, say, fifty years of Avengers and X-Men continuity. But if you’re willing to take the plunge and just go with it, it’s a fun, if confusing read. Middle chapters of stories often are, and this one is no exception. Let’s hope Remender starts pulling it all together soon so that it all starts making sense, and that he remembers who the characters he’s writing are supposed to be at their core. Score: 6/10.

5. Wolverine and the X-Men #33 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Nick Bradshaw). Another day, another throwdown with the Hellfire Club. Everyone makes their move this issue: Logan, Quentin Quire, Idie, and even Toad the janitor all go on the offensive. Kade Kilgore attempts to make Idie his Black Queen, and in doing so, seems as if he’s sowing the seeds of his own undoing, but for reasons you might not expect. Toad and Quentin continue to effect their escape with some unexpected assistance from Dog Logan, then run smack into Husk, Glob Herman, the nasty snot guy (if you’ve been reading the book you know exactly who I’m talking about and EWWWWW that’s gross), and some others. Beast, Storm, Iceman, and the rest of the teachers are on their way to save the day, now that they’ve pinpointed the Academy’s location, thanks to Krakoa’s timely information. This is pretty much an all-action issue, acting as the the bridge it needs to be as the middle chapter of the five-part “Hellfire Saga.” There are numerous moments that are not only solid action beats, but also solid character-building moments as well. Who knew Toad had it in him to be a hero, after so many years spent as a lackey? But a broken heart is one hell of a motivator, and Husk, for her side of that equation, doesn’t shy away from kicking the guy in the emotional nuts. Story-wise, there’s nothing bad I can really say, because Aaron spins the hell out of this issue, one of his finest yet on this title. My sticking point is still Nick Bradshaw’s art, which is overly cartoony and WAY out of place. His faces look like he’s absorbed all of the wrong lessons from manga and anime: everyone looks like a kid, which is definitely not a good look for, say, Wolverine. As I stated in my review for the previous issue, he comes off as a weak version of Arthur Adams. If it weren’t for the hiccup of the art, this would be a near-perfect issue, as “The Hellfire Saga” hauls ass toward its conclusion. Score: 8/10.

6. Deadpool #13 (Marvel, W: Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn, A: Scott Koblish). Comedy is extremely hard to pull off in comics. You have to not only have a good understanding of comedic timing, you also have to understand how to interpret that timing on the comic page using panels. It’s tricky, and most writers can’t do it and resort to one-liners, which can easily be worked into the confines of a single panel and thus take considerably less effort. Peter David is one of the medium’s masters when it comes to comedic timing, but even he resorts to puns and one-liners depending on the set up.

And then we have Deadpool.

For a good while now, Deadpool has existed predominately not as a character, but rather as a clown for comedy’s sake. There’s no continuity for the him in the long run, no growth, and ultimately very little to care about. (Very important exception: Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, which played his psychosis not for laughs but as sad, and is the best-written Deadpool EVER.) He’s been used by multiple writers as a vehicle for wackiness for the sake of wackiness. So to put it mildly, a little goes a long way.

But then we have THIS issue of Deadpool.

This is, far and away, one of the funniest comics I’ve read in a LONG time. A send up of both blaxploitation flicks and ’70s comics, there’s not a single joke that falls flat here. (Okay, there’s a couple. Hyperbole AWAAAYYY!!) Even the letter from the editor on the first page had me cracking up: “Thankfully, hidden even further back in Marvel’s files we found this issue, originally shelved by THE MAN back in 1977 as too controversial. Or too stupid, the records were a little unclear.” There’s nothing that’s not a target for Duggan and Posehn as they write a tale of an afro’d Deadpool stumbling onto a Heroes for Hire ad in ’77, and misinterprets it as meaning that Luke Cage (in all his yellow-shirted glory) and Iron Fist will hire him. There’s referential humor galore, as Kiss, The Warriors, Son of Sam, AC/DC, Francis Ford Coppola, team-up books, and the infamous “gun-in-holster” Nick Fury sex scene by Jim Steranko all get sent up with ample aplomb. But the piece de resistance is the villain of the piece: THE WHITE MAN, which of course elicits all sorts of excellent dialogue such as:

“We’ve been hearing more about The White Man.”

“The White Man is no bueno.”

“That’s the word on the street.”

It’s COMPLETELY DUMB, but it works in the same way Airplane! or Hot Shots! works. There’s a lot more awesome I could say about this comic, such as the White Man’s hilariously tenuous connection to the Mandarin, but I don’t want to spoil the gag anymore than I already have. Just buy the damn comic already! Score: 9/10.

7. Captain America #9 (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: John Romita Jr.). It took awhile to get to this point and get good, but now that it has reached the penultimate chapter of Cap’s adventure in Dimension Z, this book is on FIRE.  Last issue saw a major upswing in quality, and this one is beyond even that. Cap, reeling and spent from last issue’s horrifying death, has returned home, but so has Arnim Zola, still intent on launching his deadly “Zola consciousness virus” into the atmosphere and infecting everyone worldwide with… well, him. Sharon Carter’s there to get Cap back on his feet, but has a revelation of her own that serves to further shake Cap’s confidence. There’s one hell of climactic battle between Cap and Zola, and by the issue’s end, we’ve even had a huge moment of genuine human emotion from Zola, making him an actual character and not just a black-and-white villain. This was absolutely the best issue of this book to date, and it helps to redeem the sluggishly-paced Dimension Z saga. This issue proves one thing for sure: you can take Captain America out of his natural storytelling environment, but he’s still Captain freakin’ America and his ideals and beliefs still ring true. If you haven’t read this book in awhile, I understand, but I’m here to tell you it’s worth a second look. Score: 9/10.

8. New Avengers #8 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Mike Deodato). Prelude to Infinity time again. Thank fuck that upcoming miniseries is an outgrowth of what’s currently going on with Hickman’s two Avengers titles anyway, or else I’d be seriously annoyed. But there’s still a relatively fair amount to at least be frustrated with this issue.  The Inhumans suddenly show up, and they have some vague things to say that, knowing Hickman, won’t make sense until like ten issues down the line. That’s his downfall as a writer: the long game works only so long as readers are willing to tolerate it; wait too long between story beats  and other revelations and you’re likely to lose ’em. Now, fortunately, that’s the bad for the issue out of the way. Bridging the continuity gap between this book and Guardians of the Galaxy, Tony Stark is just returning to Earth from his space jaunt over in that title, and boy oh boy does he have some bad news for Reed Richards to chew on: the Living Tribunal, one of the most powerful cosmic entities in existence, is dead, slain by unknown forces that are heading toward Earth (these forces also seen back in Hickman’s Avengers #5). That’s not good. Equally not good? The ongoing war between Wakanda and Atlantis, which, after some extraordinarily well-written kingly debate between Namor and Black Panther, gets kicked into eye-bulgingly high gear by T’Challa. Black Panther is one of the best, yet most underused, characters in Marvel’s stable. It’s great to see him getting the treatment he deserves here. Mike Deodato continues to grow as an artist here as well. He’s been one of Marvel’s finest for awhile, but this issue sees him take his game to a whole new level. One final complaint: the end of this issue sees the arrival of the mysterious alien forces on Earth, but since we’re still a few weeks away from Infinity #1’s release, there’s no context for it. Just a bunch of aliens randomly showing up to conquer. Now, onto bigger things: can Hickman pull off an alien invasion story I won’t immediately hate? Infinity’s being set up to have a considerable amount more going on with it than that, so for now I’m keeping my fingers crossed. As for this issue, it gets an 8/10 based on strength of both the art and the Namor/Panther scenes, which are strong enough to overpower the issue’s other shortcomings.

9. Hawkeye Annual #1 (Marvel, W: Matt Fraction, A: Javier Pulido). Annuals are a tough sell. You’re asking readers to buy an extra issue of their comic at a higher price, generally with content they could give a fuck less about. In years past, annuals were for completist fanboys only, but in modern times, both Marvel and DC have stumbled onto a solution that should have been obvious: tie the annual into the current storyline. Bang! Now you CAN’T miss it, or your story will be incomplete! And you’re paying MORE for it, to boot! And that’s what we have here, as this issue picks up with Kate Bishop and Pizza Dog hightailing it out of Clint’s world and headed for parts west. Los Angeles, specifically. And it was here that it dawned on me just how little we actually know about Kate. When she was introduced in the legendarily awesome Young Avengers, it was established that she came from the lap of luxury, but was prepared to rebel against that shallow lifestyle. And that’s about it. Since then she’s shown up in all of the various Young Avengers minis, and then here in Hawkguy’s world. There’s ample room for exploration and growth, and Matt Fraction digs right in. We learn that her step-mom is only three years older than her, for example. She learns that, for all her father’s generosity, he’s all too willing to stop paying her bills when she refuses to join him on a yacht cruise around the world. And this lands her in a bad spot, because as soon as she lands in LA, she finds she has no money. D’OH! Good thing Whitney Frost, a.k.a. Madame Masque, is conveniently on hand to help her out. Masque is very coincidentally in Los Angeles for no other reason than the story requires her to be there. She sashays up to Kate in her street clothes and gets all buddy-buddy (I thought she was supposed to be hideous under that mask?), and then tricks Kate into joining her at her home before she realizes what’s going on. Shenanigans ensue. For an extra-length comic, this issue was surprisingly light on content. Fraction tries to quirk up the proceedings by adding a cartoony Kate to the dialogue boxes, but it’s too cutesy and ultimately distracting. I dunno. This book was one of Marvel’s leading creative lights until recently, but the last two issues have seen Fraction slide into a rut. I hope he gets out of it quickly, because it’s fast becoming evident that quirk alone can’t keep this ship afloat. Score: 5/10.

10. Hunger #1 of 4 (Marvel, W: Joshua Hale Fialkov, A: Leonard Kirk). This book’s pretty a much do-or-die prospect. The 616 Marvel U is beginning to have contact with the Ultimate Universe (first in the lukewarm Spider-Men), and now, thanks to the weakening of reality or whatever that happened as a result of the end of Age of Paychecks, I mean, Age of Ultron, the 616 Galactus has discovered the Ultimate U and is ready for chow time. OM NOM NOM NOM NOM! That’s a premise that could either be totally cool, or fall flat on its ass. Do or die. At this point the only thing standing in his way is Rick Jones, severely underutilized and, to the best of my knowledge, not seen since the Ultimate Doom trilogy. Rick’s been bopping around the galaxy at the behest of the Watchers, who have him… watching stuff in preparation for his role as the universe’s defender. Considering how little this fifteen-year-old Rick’s ever been used, Fialkov does wonders making it feel like he’s an old familiar character. There’s a great sequence where the Kree and the Skrulls, I mean, the Chitauri, are doing their thing and battling out in space because, y’know, that’s what they do. Rick stumbles onto the carnage and immediately wants to know who the good guys and who the bad guys are, to which Uatu replies, “There is no good or bad, Rick Jones. Only life and death,” at which point Rick has to suss out the situation for himself because Uatu is so completely useful. But a kink is thrown into the battle when a Gah Lak Tus swarm shows up, threatening them all. This is where it could have gotten confusing, because some years back Warren Ellis devised the ultimate version of Galactus as being a sentient swarm of robot bugs or something that absorbed planetary energy. This character iteration hasn’t been seen since the 2005 finale of Ellis’s Galactus trilogy, so it would have been easy for the explanation of who and what Gah Lak Tus is to get bogged down in needless exposition. But Fialkov handles it like a pro, working it organically into the Kree’s and Chitauri’s various dialogues. Rick steps in to intervene and use the power cosmic to destroy the horde, when, in a truly well-written moment of dread, a a literal rip tears through space and slowly, Galactus emerges. The ominous sense of doom is palpable, pulled off masterfully by Fialkov. He’s definitely on my watch list now; I’ve never read him before but he proves here he’s got what it takes to pull off a story with this magnitude. Leonard Kirk’s art is the best I’ve seen from him, which is to say it’s good but not great. His X-Factor stuff was pretty weak both in general and by comparison. There’s a lot to like about this comic, and I’m very excited to see where it’s going. Score: 8/10.

And that’s a wrap. Book of the week: definitely Deadpool #13, an impulse buy that really, really worked out. I won’t necessarily be picking up this book on a consistent basis, but for a one-and-done issue, it was worth every penny.

Buy war bonds,

ILL DIABLO

Belated Movie Review: Pacific Rim

Going into Pacific Rim, you ought to know exactly what to expect: big robots and big monsters (or, excuse me, “jaegers” and “kaiju”) whompin’ the unholy shit out of each other. If you don’t, you’re probably that all-too-common form of moviegoer who walks into a movie without knowing jackshit about it, and then complains because it wasn’t what they wanted. In any case, back to the jaegers and kaiju: this is a movie dedicated to director Guillermo Del Toro’s love of old Japanese films that feature one or both of the above in rubber suits tearing into each other and destroying not-particularly-convincing scale models of various Japanese cities. Pacific Rim‘s his love letter to a genre of another age, when atomic fears fueled many a silly monster movie: Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, etc. all owe their existence to this ur-Power Rangers wackiness. (Remember the one where Godzilla did a little hoppy dance with the snaps and stuff? Or had a son named Godzooky?) I totally understand Del Toro’s enthusiasm. When I was a kid, around seven, eight, nine years old, I loved the SHIT out of these movies. Every Saturday afternoon, either TNT or TBS or one of those cable channels like that in their ’80s incarnation would air one or two of these, and I’d go apeshit. (My favorite was Godzilla vs. King Kong.)

So here, then, is del Toro, totally acting to recapture his youth in the biggest, tentpoliest way possible. So why, then, does it feel like he’s holding back? One of del Toro’s signatures is his eye for quirky, eye-catching detail that truly draws you into the world he’s creating. But for whatever reason in Pacific Rim, the kaiju are almost constantly shot in various close-ups, moving too quickly for the eye to focus. I couldn’t even figure out what some of the creatures fully looked like for long durations of time because of this, and also because nearly every fight scene is in the dark, and also in the rain. I get what del Toro is going for–the shock (and, yes, awe) of a big monster coming out of the dark to GET YOU!!!! but doing this once would have been more than enough. As it stands, all of the various kaiju come off as more or less exactly the same because we can’t make out their distinctive details. He also uses a considerable amount of near-Baysian shaky cam during the epic fights to simulate disorientation, which ultimately does more harm than good.

So what the hell’s the plot, anyway? There’s not much of one. As I stated from the start, if you’re here for anything other than robots vs. monsters, you’re at the wrong flick. Sometime in the near future, kaiju begin emerging from the Pacific Ocean  and wreaking hellacious havoc, destroying cities and generally making pains in the ass of themselves. Conventional military ways and means aren’t getting the job done, so the various nations of the world put aside their differences to fund the jaeger program, which is to say, to build big-ass robots to rock ’em-sock ’em the monsters. This is beyond silly, of course, but that’s not the point. The point is to have fun, which, when there are tussles going on (the Hong Kong throwdown is fucking AWESOME), this movie really, really comes to life (despite the cinematography issues I mentioned above).

The problems start when del Toro gets hung up in the details. Such as the EXTREMELY-belabored, overworked explanation for how the jaegers are piloted. Because of the massive energy surge caused by the neural link needed by a human to interface with the jaeger and pilot it, two pilots are needed to split the difference. But for this to work properly, their minds must literally be in sync, or as the movie likes to call it ad infinitum, “drifted.” The two pilots’ minds go through the drifting process and suddenly, they are mentally entwined, privy to each others’ innermost thoughts, feelings, and secrets. Gee whiz, what a great plot device! I bet no melodramatic tension is wrung from that! No sir!

Enter Charlie “Don’t Call Me Jax Teller” Hunnam, as jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket. He’s a loner! He’s moody, and doesn’t play well with others! He used to be a jaeger pilot until a kaiju killed his brother while they were still drifted, leaving him scarred with memories he can’t get past! He’s a walking cliche! But at least he takes his shirt off a few times to show off his abs and pecs. Becket is brought back into the jaeger program, which, after ever-increasing defeats, is being deactivated in favor of a coastal defense wall (which of course proves highly inadequate, creating the need for jaegers once more). A shot at redemption! A chance to work past his brother’s death! Holy crap, we’re piling the cliches high now!

You can probably guess the rest. Becket is back serving under his former commanding officer, played by Idris Elba in an exact Xerox of his role in Prometheus; once again he’s bucking authority; the new guys hate him or are at least mistrustful of him. There’s an x-factor chick (Rinko Kikuchi) who’s full of mystery and turns out to be the ideal candidate for Raleigh to drift with. And drift they do: in fact, there’s so much drifting going on, the movie feels the need to talk about it in nearly every! single! scene! to ensure that, yes, we know what the fuck it is. Because it wouldn’t have been simpler to just have two people or hell even ONE person simply pilot the damn jaeger. String after string after string of cliche of some sort or another is on full display in any scene where there’s not a crazy robot vs. monster fight going on.

In fact, the entirety of the cast seems to be on autopilot. As I stated, the great Idris Elba, an actor of great range, is utterly wasted in a stock “hardnosed commanding officer who turns out to have a good heart” role. Hunnam plays every outsider good-guy beat in the book (with zero flair or authenticity) that’s been in play since Tom Cruise shat Top Gun on the world. Kikuchi falls into the strong and silent Asian chick trap, and it’s also worth noting she’s literally the ONLY female in this movie with a speaking part. Charlie Day plays Charlie Day. You get my point. The only actor who seems to be actually having any fun is Ron Perlman, but even he’s playing a watered-down version of any given badass he’s ever played.

You see, as I stated above, it’s when the kaiju and the jaegers aren’t in play that del Toro slips up. For a guy making a mash note to his favorite childhood genre, he sure is conservative with the amount of actual fights to behold. I guess maybe he wanted to save the fights and make them a true highlight–and that certainly are, but at least he could have had the courtesy to make the scenes in between them special too or at the very least interesting.

Let me be clear, though, because I realize I’ve spent the last few paragraphs coming off like I’m dragging the entire movie through the mud, and I’m not. Pacific Rim is, in fact, good, harmlessly dumb fun. There’s some stuff to grouse about, stuff to nitpick, stuff to roll your eyes over. It’s a decent popcorn flick, and definitely worth seeing in all its spectacle on the big screen, given the enormity of the battle scenes. I just wish del Toro had put equal effort into ALL parts of the film, and not just the ones that give his inner eight-year-old a boner. Score: 6/10.

SDCC ’13: Some Quick Thoughts

Another year, another nerdgasm known as San Diego Comic Con has come and gone. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that SDCC is THE place to go for the biggest, latest, ground-breakingest news in the world of Comics in Realms Other Than Comics… which translates to movies, for the most part. (Although TV gets a good bump, too. And oh yeah, there are some actual comic creators there as well. Yes, Hollywood hasn’t quite kicked them out just yet.

So I thought I’d take a minute to react to some of the larger-looming news items that unspooled over the course of the weekend. Because, seriously, we nerds don’t have much better to do than light up the internet with our innermost thoughts/unfiltered rage about what’s going on with our favorite characters.

1. “Age of Ultron?! THE FUCK!?” I’ll be the first to admit I went into a blind rage after the initial announcement of the retitled Avengers 2 was revealed as Avengers: Age of Ultron. Who in their right mind wouldn’t be worried? Age of Ultron proved to be not only one of the worst event comics of all time, with barely a coherent story; not only did it prove to be the biggest blight of Brian Michael Bendis’s career; NOT ONLY was it one of the worst Marvel comics in the last decade, PERIOD…. now this afterbirth of a story is going to invade the big screen version of my beloved Avengers?! No, no, no… I was in complete denial, and then Joss Whedon assuaged my fears. According to a video interview procured by comicbookmovies.com, Whedon basically told everyone to chill because his sequel shared a common title with that miniseries, and that’s about it. His sequel is Ultron’s origin with a title cribbed from a recent story, which shows the synergy going on at Marvel right now between film and print, which is a masterstroke in marketing but unfortunately also leads to little things like a black Nick Fury suddenly being shoehorned into the Marvel Universe proper (the print universe, I mean). So that is what it is, I suppose. Nothing to worry about, except…

2. “No Hank Pym?!?! THE FUCK?!?!” Whedon decided to also drop the bomb that his Avengers sequel would NOT feature Hank Pym, which therefore strains the assumed connections between that film and Ant-Man, which is the following Marvel film after that. It also means that Whedon intends on pushing the limits of fan tolerance when it comes to things like this, because the removal of Hank Pym from the equation means a significant departure from Ultron’s established comics origin. This could considered a risky move were it being pulled by anyone other than Joss Whedon, Our Lord and Master.

3. “Sorry, but a talking raccoon just ain’t doin’ it for me.” Despite all the casting reveals and whatnot that we got on the Guardians of the Galaxy front, I’m still having a difficult time mustering up ANY enthusiasm for this film. It seems, at least on the surface, as something of a Star Wars homage all tucked into the furthest recesses of the established Marvel universe. But its cast is HUGE, and it has three established villains: the Collector, Ronan the Accuser, and Nebula, plus Thanos in some unspecified capacity (probably behind the scenes, pulling the strings, in an Emperor Palpatine-esque fashion). We’re going to need more information on this one before I can classify it as anything other than a bizarre left-field attempt to diversify the onscreen Marvel U.

4. “Electro is blue! THE FUCK!?!? …Oh wait, it’s just the Ultimate version of the character.” No doubt even the hardest of hardcore Steve Ditko fans aren’t too broken up over the lack of Electro’s original look in Amazing Spider-Man 2. But I don’t think very many people (myself included) were expecting Marc Webb to go all-out Ultimate Marvel with the character’s look, either. But it makes sense, since ASM was basically Ultimate Spider-Man: The Motion Picture. Jamie Foxx looks great, though. Stealth aside, Foxx has revealed himself to be a seriously talented actor in the years since Ray (a movie only truly worth seeing for Foxx’s astounding performance). So that, I’m not worried about. What does worry me is the Rhino, played by…. Paul Giamatti? How completely bizarre is that casting? But in a movie that already sounds like it’s overstuffed (Spidey! Gwen! Electro! Rhino! Norman Osborn! Harry Osborn!), director Marc Webb recently told Entertainment Weekly that Giamatti doesn’t even have a large role. So if that’s the case, why’s he even in there? Other than to sell cool toys to dumb kids, I mean? Sounds like studio interference to me, the same thing that doomed Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 by forcing the director the wedge Venom into the story where there was no room for him. And then Venom both sucked and got short-changed. And Spidey 3 felt bloated and unfocused. And Peter Parker sported emo hair and danced, and we all wanted to stab our eyes out with rusty butter knives. So the fact that this appears to be going on in the mere first sequel, especially with third and fourth installments already slated, leaves my spider-sense tingling for the danger I sense looming on the horizon for this franchise.

5. “Walking Dead sure is cool! Wait, who the hell ARE these people?! THE FUCK!?!” The Walking Dead season four clip that debuted had a lot of good things going for it. There’s a palpable tension, mixed with the sense of hope that our hardscrabble survivors are in fact banding together, becoming a stronger community, and re-establishing some form of society. And Tyreese is there, being Rick’s newfound best friend, just like he should be. But there’s a lot of questionable stuff going on, too. After all, on top of last season’s… dubious finale (I’m being generous here), there’s a very real sense among fans that this show, this ratings juggernaut, may have jumped the shark a teensy bit. But a bigger concern lies with all those new faces we see in the clip. At least half the show’s original cast is dead by this point, four of them biting the bullet just last season, creating a vacuum which must be filled. But asking viewers to accept these new characters en masse is asking a considerable amount, and it may prove to be too much for many of the show’s more casual fans. Oh sure, you don’t become cable’s undisputed ratings champ without a solid core audience, but I hope the producers are prepared to take the hit if these new characters don’t pan out. (But hey, seeing Larry “D’Angelo Barksdale” Gilliard Jr., from The Wire, scare up such an apparently prominent role as one of the rookie characters is awesome.)

6.“Dude, Vin Diesel sucks so hard.” It’s easy to say that. I haven’t had any interest in the guy since before the original Fast & the Furious, wherein he seemed to cement his title as Crown Douchebag of the Moment. But then his career tanked, and we seemed to be free of his bald-headed cockery. Alas, later installments of his series about cars driving very fast and doing many a credibility-defying thing proved me wrong. Son of a bitch! And now, it seems Marvel’s in on the Diesel racket. An official announcement has yet to commence, but the interweb rumor mill is strongly associating him with Ultron. Uh… huh. I’d actually say he’s a closer physical specimen to the Vision, who was the initial subject of rumor when Diesel first started hinting at his involvement with Marvel. I’d say he has about he right acting range to play the Vision… after all, it merely requires you to be a robot who occasionally says and does things that remind you he’s really human inside. Sounds about like every role Diesel has ever played! (Except that time he got shot to death early on in Saving Private Ryan.) But do we really want a Vision who sounds like Riddick everytime he opens his mouth to speak???

7. “Superman/Batman?! Yeah, good luck with that.” No, really. Good luck with that. Where to start with how much could possibly go wrong with this? Well, let’s start with the recasting of Batman, because Christian Bale has confirmed he’s done with the role. Whatever schmuck Warner Bros. gets to don the cowl is in for the utterly thankless task of following Bale in the role, and, assuming Superman/Batman hits its 2015 target release date, will be assuming the role a mere three years after Bale’s swansong in Dark Knight Rises. Which means that Bale’s performance will still be very, very fresh in most peoples’ minds, and whoever’s in the costume is going to have to weather an onslaught of criticism from all corners. Somewhere between now and 2015, Warner’s going to have to figure out a way to get out ahead of that, and it’s going to take the savviest marketing campaign this side of Don Draper to pull it off. Next problem: is one movie enough for both these characters? On the one hand, The Avengers proved that multiple “big” characters could in fact coexist on the big screen successfully and without any one character feeling diminished. But on the other hand, despite the fact that this film’s only focus is on two characters, not six or seven… this is SUPERMAN AND BATMAN we’re talking about. The twin archetypical, undisputed gods of comic book lore. Without these two characters, there ARE no comics. Trying to successfully balance these two vastly different characters is going to be one of the trickiest balancing acts in history… and let’s face it, Zack Snyder is no Joss Whedon. Which leads me to my third problem: Zack Snyder. He’s apparently being given the keys to the DC kingdom, but he’s without a doubt a style-over-substance director, which bodes ill for the future of the DC movie franchise (assuming it’s left in his hands) as Christopher Nolan pulls ever further away from the reins. (He’s pushed his role back to exec producer for Superman/Batman.) Snyder got lucky with the box office boom of Man of Steel, and was able to overcome its lukewarm reviews. But he doesn’t have the proven track record of being able to continuously generate the goods needed to be the directorial mastermind of an entire DCU, yet Warner is putting their stock in him anyway. I could be completely wrong by this (and yes, I hope I am), but I’m not holding my breath for Snyder to pull it off, either. Which leads me to my fourth and final sticking point: Warner Bros. wants The Flash next, and THEN a JLA flick, potentially in 2016 and 2017. The JLA film has had a notoriously bad time trying to get off the ground, and it doesn’t sound like Warner’s wants to wait around anymore, so they’re putting all their eggs in the Superman/Batman basket, operating under the assumption that it will work based on the basic nature of what it is. It’s common knowledge that Warner Bros. has a very, very shaky history with comic book film success (and even getting the projects in question off the ground at all) outside of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. As stated, Man of Steel has performed surprisingly well given its reviews, but what about Green Lantern? Or Superman Returns? Or the aborted Wonder Woman pilot, for that matter? Because of the grander-in-scale nature of DC’s characters, it’s always been trickier for them to translate–and more importantly, resonate–off of the comics page. It can be done, and has, multiple times in the past, but mostly on the small screen and in animated form. And all that was well before Marvel decided to squat down in 2008 with Iron Man and lay claim to the throne, a position it clearly has no intention of abdicating. So good luck to Warner Bros. with this Superman/Batman gamble. They’re going to need it.

That’s it for me. A lot of this was speculation, but I think you’ll agree that this was speculation that was built on a foundation of solid educated guesses. I’m sure there was a lot of other cool SDCC stuff I missed, but geez, there’s only so much I can take in. Next year, I predict Hall H will be consumed in a black hole of pure geekery, and I shall have nothing of the sort to discuss whatsoever.

Until then, I remain…

ILL DIABLO

What I’m Reading 0004: 7/19/13

Hello hello, happy Friday and welcome to another edition of What I’m Reading! After yesterday’s insanity with D’oh Kubert, it’s nice to just sit down and read my weekly loot. This week had some good stuff, but also a couple of DOAs. Let’s get down to it, shall we? I traditionally start with a string of strong reviews, so today I’m going to treat you to one of my trademark BAD reviews off the top. Take it away, Mr. Bendis….

1. All-New X-Men #14 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Stuart Immonen). All-New X-Men? Same-Old Crap, is more like it. Bendis is seriously treading water here. This entire issue revolves around Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and the time-displaced Young X-Men getting into a scuffle with Mystique’s new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, which at this point only includes Sabretooth, some new Silver Samurai who doesn’t amount to a pile of week-old dog shit and Lady Mastermind, daughter of the OG Mastermind, who died of the Legacy Virus awhile back (amazingly, he’s stayed dead, too). This in and of itself is just fairly rote. But it’s the details that screw the entire deal like a five-dollar hooker. Last issue’s “cliffhanger” involved Young Jean Grey suddenly manifesting Phoenix powers, which is both completely ridiculous, as Young Jean exists YEARS before she had been possessed by the Phoenix, and secondly, because after spending the entirety of 2012 mired in Phoenix this-and-that thanks to AvX, to so quickly utilize the Phoenix again in any fashion is eye-rollingly banal. But it’s okay! Turns out Young Jean was just using her largely-untested psychic abilities to cast that image on the villains, and because she’s so raw and untrained, accidentally cast the image in X-Men’s mind, too. Telepathic faux pas! The X-Men then take turns scolding her as they fight a not-very-lethal Sabretooth and a surprisingly easy-to-disarm Mystique. And then the Young X-Men’s Professor X shows up, and scolds them for time-traveling, which is funny considering he’s apparently time-traveled as well. Oh wait, this is just another lamely-orchestrated gotcha moment, only this time, Lady Mastermind is the one casting the illusion. SPOOKY! Sensing a pattern yet? So with THAT illusion blown, they all start squabbling again like grade schoolers over some Pokemon, when Mystique says to Wolverine: “I’m focused. I am making good. You’re the one that turned yourself into a school marm.” Which would be a totally harmless bit of Bendisian banter, except…. OVER IN WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, MYSTIQUE IS THE HEADMISTRESS OF AN EVIL VERSION OF WOLVERINE’S SCHOOL!!! NICE CONTINUITY, YOU DUMB BASTARDS!!!! IT’S BAD ENOUGH YOU HAVE WOLVERINE SHOWING UP IN THIRTY BOOKS A MONTH, THE LEAST YOU COULD DO IS KEEP STRAIGHT WHAT THE HELL’S GOING ON BETWEEN THE BOOKS!! I knock DC quite a lot, but they have NOTHING on Marvel when it comes to bad continuity. NOTHING. Hell, this isn’t even BAD continuity, because that implies there’s some sort of continuity at work, albeit fucked up. This is completely non-existent continuity. This is Marvel saying, “We don’t give a fuck, because we know you’ll buy it anyway, you dumb fanboys. Ha ha ha ha, lick my cock some more!” ….But I digress. Everyone fights and jabbers some more, and the bad guys make their escape and then… the Avengers show up, to scold the X-Men for not sending the Young X-Men back to their original time, as they promised they’d do a few issues back! Man, this is TENSE! SO MUCH SCOLDING! Oh wait, it’s just ANOTHER FUCKING ILLUSION THANKS TO LADY MASTERMIND!! Man, good thing Kitty Pryde’s not as stupid as Bendis obviously thinks his readers are, because she figures out pretty quick that Lady Mastermind’s casting illusions again. Three times in one issue with this? Seriously, Bendis? It was old when you had Young Jean “turn into the Phoenix” at the beginning of last issue. That’s the level of writing we’re dealing with here: not just bad, but insultingly bad. Does Bendis think so little of us as readers that he thinks he can pull this shit three times in the same issue? It’s pathetic. It’s maddening. The only redeeming things in this issue are a moment when Young Iceman throws a snowball at Thor to ensure he’s real, which is worth a chuckle, and Stuart Immonen’s art is solid. That’s it. This issue made me legitimately angry (but still has good art), and for that, it gets the lowest score I’ve yet to mete out: 1/10.

2. 100 Bullets: Brother Lono #2 of 8 (DC/Vertigo, W: Brian Azzarello, A: Eduardo Risso). A return to the world of 100 Bullets? With the entire original creative team intact, right down to the colorist and the letterer? To say, “I’m down!” is a bit of an understatement. 100 Bullets is one of my all-time favorite comics, and Lono, the star of this book, is one of my favorite villains (I even have his blood-soaked image from the cover of 100 Bullets #65 tattooed on my arm). But wait! Lono is now… reformed? His brush with death at the end of 100 Bullets (a “did he or didn’t he die” cliffhanger if ever there was one), has, apparently, led him to a path of redemption in Mexico. I say “apparently,” though, because in Azzarello’s world, nothing is ever as it seems. We start to get a hint of what put Lono on his current path this issue, but I won’t be entirely convinced until issue eight is over and done. Lono was one of the most despicable, badass villains ever to grace a comics page, or any genre or format, for that matter. It was always a great thrill to see what terrible act he’d get up to next. So, for Azzarello to tell me he’s changed, and isn’t just working some angle (especially with the subplot involving the Mexican drug cartels)…. let’s just say I’m not convinced yet. Despite a masterfully surprising scene in which Lono, alone in a bar, gets caught checking another guy’s girl out. The guy makes a stink about it, and Lono… apologizes? Wait, what? That’s like Attila the Hun sitting down and using good table manners instead of slaughtering a village. Lono of old would have had no problem killing the guy on the spot, kidnapping his girl, and raping her for as long as he wanted before he killed her, too. Has Lono truly changed so much? Again, I’m not yet convinced. After all, this is the neo-noir, greytoned world of 100 Bullets. And damned if it isn’t great to have it back. Score: 8/10.

3. Wonder Woman #22 (DC, W: Brian Azzarello, W: Cliff Chiang). First and foremost: that cover. THAT is a thing of beauty. Say hello from Russia with love, eh, comrade? The coloring could have used a bit more variation, to offset the foreground from the background a bit more, but still, it’s an A for effort. And what’s inside? We finally get a peek at the New Genesis of the New 52, as reimagined by Azzarello, who’s doing some of the finest work of his career (not to mention the finest book currently at DC) on Wonder Woman. I’m sure there are Kirby-philes out there who are freaking the fuck out over Azzarello’s take on the New Gods, but fortunately for me, I’m not one of them. As with all of Kirby’s solo creations, the New Gods was a great concept that was hampered by many a dated trapping, and sorely needed a modern update. Bravo to Azzarello for pulling it off, without losing the feel of wonder and awe that surrounds them. The world of New Genesis feels futuristic, otherworldly yet familiar. And of course, none of that could have been pulled off without Cliff Chiang’s masterful art. His linework is simple, yet he can wring a powerful emotional punch out of any scenario thanks to his delicately human faces. Unfortunately, the trip to New Genesis is pretty short, and only lasts for about 2/3 of the issue. I’d have preferred a two-issue arc, to further explore that world and flesh it out a bit more fully. Ah well, I suppose that just means future visits are in order. Diana and company drop onto New Genesis via Orion’s boom tube, and are met by Highfather, who mercifully here has a bit more character than he’s ever been portrayed. But he’s still a stern paternal figure, and he doesn’t have much nice to say to his son, Orion. Nor does he have pleasant plans for baby Zeke, which prompts the ever-impetuous Orion to pull a fast one on ol’ Dad. After too-short a visit, the group returns to Earth, to find that the First Born of Zeus has been making himself at home, and that REALLY isn’t a good thing, especially for enigmatic supporting character Lennox. Time for a throw-down! Wonder Woman continues to be DC’s best, most-fully realized, least-editorially-interfered-with book, a true testament to a writer with a vision simply being left alone and allowed to create. This issue was somewhat lacking, but only because I wanted more from it, not necessarily because there was anything particularly wrong. Great, great fun. Score: 7/10.

4. Powers: Bureau #6 (Marvel/Icon, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Michael Avon Oeming). All right, Bendis, after the eternal suck that was All-New X-Men #14, redeem thyself! Oh and boy oh fucking boy does he. This issue encapsulates Powers at its best: tight scripting, adrenalized  action sequences, top-notch characterization, and pitch-black noir. This issue brings Bureau‘s first arc to a close with a bang. Walker’s undercover op has been exposed, and he’s being forced to watch a friend get tortured as a result. Not good. Fortunately, he has a secret, and Walker has Deena Pilgrim backing his play. Things get batshit crazy pretty fast, with some excellent wordless fight scenes, with the exception of a short-lived debate over whether or not a woman can face-fuck someone. (Bendis doing his trademark banter right!) Everything gets wrapped up with a nice, neat little bow, except, in true Powers fashion, the ending of one arc merely opens the floodgates to a whole new set of problems. This book has been a knockout since it began, and this issue not only isn’t an exception, it’s the best issue yet. Bendis proves he’s still got it, and then some. Score: 9/10.

5. Scarlet #7 (Marvel/Icon, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Alex Maleev). Let me start by saying, I LOVE this book, conceptually-speaking. Bendis is really cooking up something special here, as the ongoing saga of Scarlet Rue’s quest to upend the corruption of the System continues. Shades of Occupy abound, to a degree that it caused Bendis to shelve the book for about a year between issues five and six because he was uncomfortable with how much life was imitating art. But if he had those jitters, they’ve apparently vanished for this issue, as Scarlet decides to visit the mayor of Portland at gunpoint with a list of demands that include firing and prosecuting every corrupt cop on a list she has. I’m not sure how she got this list, however, and the issue doesn’t bother to tell me, either. It’s a great story beat, and a great escalation in Scarlet’s crusade, but it’s also WAY too convenient. This is all going on because Scarlet staged a publicly-announced gathering, which draws in a crowd of thousands, who of course clash with the police. So while the police are there, thinking they’re going to have a shot at arresting Scarlet when she shows up at her big demonstration, she’s actually pulled a bait-and-switch. Suckers! But as the issue ends, there’s an allusion that all won’t go as planned, and one of her supporters at the demonstration may go too far. That’s it, folks! This is a SUPER-decompressed issue, which is typical of Bendis. But… it’s been five months since issue six came out, and a year or so between issues before that. That plays total havoc with any sense of pacing this book may have had going for it, so if this issue feels slight, a mere part of a larger puzzle, that’s because it is. (Not to mention, it’s complete assholery to make readers wait so long between issues.) Decompression works just fine (assuming the writer has the chops to pull it off) when the book in question is shipping on time, because it makes each issue feel more like a beat in a movie or a chapter in a book rather than self-contained issue in its own entirety. But when the shipping is drawn out, so too is the story by default, and the result is reader apathy. Scarlet has a great premise, and even better art. Let’s face it, Alex Maleev could draw an Alvin & the Chipmunks comic and I’d buy it! But at the rate it’s shipping, it’s not going to be long before I, and other readers like me, run out of patience with this book and the great experiment that it is ends in cancellation. Score: 6/10.

6. X-Factor #259 (Marvel, W: Peter David, A: Carmen Carnero). Revealed at last, for the six fanboys from 1992 who still care: the connection between Longshot and Shatterstar. And it’s… confusing! Convoluted! Involves time travel, and the Mojoverse! And incredibly crappy fill-in art! Ahhh, despite my love of this book, even I can’t bring myself to care about this. The beauty of Peter David’s X-Factor is that it’s always been a great big ol’ melting pot of David doing whatever the hell he wants with C-list X-Men characters that no one else cares about, often to great effect, because few writers can work both a team dynamic and quirky characterization like he can. But now that he’s bringing it to a close (of his own accord, as it turns out), each stand-alone issue of “The End of X-Factor” has felt like he’s not really trying that hard to end things with a sense of actual finality. The team as been split up all across to creation, thanks to the orneriness that was “The Hell on Earth War” (possibly the clumsiest-named war in all of history), and each issue has focused on one or two characters at a time, wrapping up their personal arcs from the series. Or not wrapping them up, as is the case of Layla Miller and Jamie Madrox, or leaving it completely open for another writer to take the reins, as is the case with Wolfsbane. Or here, we have Shatterstar, Rictor, and Longshot thrown into the Mojoverse, where they’re fighting each other for the masses’ entertainment, and then some rebels bust things up in an attempt to overthrow Mojo. You know, the same things that happen IN EVERY SINGLE MOJO STORY EVER WRITTEN. Shatterstar’s been brainwashed, but that’s eventually corrected by the timely arrival of a dude named Arize, and then he and Rictor prove that being a gay couple does not automatically mean cut-off denim shorts and effeminate gestures. Their relationship has always been one of the hallmarks of this book (not to mention a great fuck-you to Rob Liefield!), but in this issue it’s actually handled blandly, almost as if it’s not only not a big deal, but that it’s nearly non-existent. There’s no genuine emotion exchanged between the characters, which is completely out of character for this couple. Then Longshot shows up, and along with him, the long-gestating revelation of his and Shatterstar’s connection. To say it’s confusing is one thing, to say it’s convoluted is another, but to say “I honestly couldn’t give a shit” pretty much its the target dead-on. This arc is David’s swan song for the book, and he has a chance to make definitive statements about the characters, the team, and the fan-boosted existence of X-Factor itself, but instead he seems to just be playing for time. That finale’s just three issues away, after all, and then he can get some rest after his recent heart attack. Too bad this issue is an encapsulation of that sentiment rather than anything meaningful. Score: 4/10.

7. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #25 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: David Marquez). Also known as the ballsiest comic at Marvel. It takes seriously huge testes to kill the beloved ultimate version of Peter Parker, and replace him with a complete unknown, who just happens to be mixed race. Oh, and to pull it off, too, by making Miles Morales just as compelling as ultimate Peter ever was. The settings may be new, the costume may be different, but make no mistake, this is a Spider-Man story. So to that end, would any Spidey mythos be complete with a “Spider-Man no more” rehash? Nope! And rehash it is, but Bendis is making damn good stuff out of these particular leftovers. The current arc, set a year after the tragedy that brought Miles to discard his web-slinging ways, is chock full of heart, humanity, and good ol’-fashioned Spidey-style self-doubt. Miles’ friendship with his BFF Ganke is on the rocks, Gwen Stacy’s all up in his face about last issue’s act of non-heroism, and Miles still can’t get over the aforementioned tragedy (which wasn’t his fault, but this being a Spidey book, he takes on the guilt anyway). But there’s doin’s afoot! The ultimate version Cloak and Dagger, who nobody was asking for yet Bendis manages to make compelling and interesting, are causing untold havoc as they attempt to fight the good fight in a completely untrained, reckless way. But even that isn’t enough to compel Miles to get back in the swing of things (Spidey-related wordplay!), not until a visit from Jessica Drew, A.K.A. Spider-Woman, A.K.A. the female Peter Parker clone, shows up and finally reveals to Miles exactly who and what she is, and how they are both connected to not only the legacy of Peter but also to the evil that men do that resulted in both of their existences. This finally shakes Miles out of his doldrums, and he gets off the fence and back to swingin’. This was a little too easy of a resolution for me, however. It had to happen some way, but I wish Miles donning the suit again had resulted from something bigger than a heart-to-heart with the girl Spider-Man. But that’s really the only quibble I have with this issue. David Marquez is on his way to becoming one of the industry’s best artists, and pulls of some incredibly nuanced work here. The fact that, with seemingly minimal effort, he can create a fifteen-year-old Miles Morales who still resembles his thirteen-year-old self yet is clearly en route to becoming a man is no easy task, but Marquez has pulled it off. Many people, myself included, jumped off this book when it got a bad case of crossoveritis during the whole “Divided We Fall/United We Stand” nonsense, but it’s WELL back on track now. Do yourself a favor and check out the best Spider-Man book on the stands today. Score: 8/10.

8. Thor: God of Thunder #10 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Esad Ribic). This book is the stuff of legend. It’s the heir of Walt Simonson, and the immediate successor of Straczynski. It’s what Matt Fraction’s run should have been: different, steeped in mythology, and mindmeltingly cool. Jason Aaron is doing the best Marvel work of his career here, and is well on his way to writing one of those historic runs that, years hence, people will be talking about as character-defining. This the Thor for the 21st century, period. This isn’t a superhero book. This a book about a GOD, plain and simple, and all the trappings that entails. Oh, and time travel. Therefore, we get THREE Thors for the price of one! Hell yeah! That’s a hot deity three-way I can get behind. So what have we here, in this issue? It’s part four of “Godbomb,” which is the latest installment in the overall saga of Gorr, the alien being out to destroy all gods universe-wide. And he’s about to succeed! But as genuinely twisted as Gorr is, we’ve been seeing in the last few issues both his human, flawed side; and here in this issue, his own godliness, an unintended consequence of his quest of annihilation. Gorr has a wife, and a child, along with an entire world of enslaved gods, forced to do his work in constructing the godbomb and hasten their own doom. But after Gorr does something unthinkable even for him, his son isn’t so sure about his old man anymore, and goes to aid Thor in his mission. And it’s there that all hell breaks loose, as the race is on to stop Gorr before the godbomb goes off, and every god on the planet is in on the action. Esad Ribic’s art is a thing of beauty; Alex Ross weeps and wishes he were still capable of work this good. Everything’s heading toward one hell of a finale, as Aaron leaves us with one gnarly cliffhanger on the last page. I absolutely cannot wait for the next issue! Score: 9/10.

9. Avengers #16 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer, A: Claudio Caselli). Houston, we have problem. That problem is the big honkin’ robot that was summoned to Earth last issue, and it kicks the Avengers’ collective asses pretty handily. And that’s no mean feat, as this Avengers squad includes both Thor and Hyperion. So what’s this robot’s, who’s referred to rather unimaginitively as The Entity, doing, anyway? Heralding something, apparently. Some big thing that the Avengers are gonna have to fight in the upcoming Infinity miniseries. Something so big, that the new, ever-so-gently-mentally-damaged Captain Universe tells Manifold (A.K.A. Eden Fesi of the late, much-lamented Secret Warriors), that the scope of it is so big that the only way he can convey it to Tony Stark and Steve Rogers is by telling them that the Avengers, as Earth’s appointed guardians, have to “get bigger,” in an echo of the first issue’s sentiment that led to the team’s current expanded roster. Whew! This issue also sees the return of Adam and Kevin, also known as the Guys Who Are Turning Into the New Universe Characters. They’re still on the satellite orbiting the sun that the Avengers banished them to for essentially being too powerful until they figure out what else to do with them. One of the bolder moves Hickman’s pulled here in Avengers is enfolding the ideas and concepts behind 1986’s flatlined New Universe into the larger narrative of the Marvel Universe, in a breathtakingly large scope. As with most things Hickman-related, Adam and Kevin’s larger arc is too large to see at the moment. But have patience. So far, Hickman’s run on Avengers has been very, very well executed. Here’s a cool bit of dialogue between Adam and Kevin that serves as an example:

ADAM: You are becoming the Starbrand. The change in your body was instantaneous, and necessary. A conduit must be able to handle its relative charge. Reworking the mind takes longer. It’s a much more subtle thing. Expansive in ways you might not notice. Would you like for me to demonstrate?

KEVIN: Sure.

ADAM: Tell me how many sentient creatures are located within a 5000 meter radius with you being the center point.

KEVIN: How could I possibly… wait… wait… Including you and I, there are 117. 119 if you extrapolate out the gestation period of two of the fertilized workers. The facility’s A.I. will also achieve sentience in roughly three thousand, two hundred hours. There is a seventeen percent chance that it will be suicidal. …How the hell did I just do that?

ADAM: You are the Starbrand. Shall we continue?

I love stuff like that. It’s so out of the ordinary, and so well-constructed. Hickman demonstrates with this one exchange just how big these characters are going to be, and how much potential they have. That in and of itself summarizes his run in its entirety so far.  It’s a long game, one that will require patience. It certainly isn’t for the ADD crowd of fanboys, who want nothing more than stock characters getting into banal fights for no reason other than to fulfill their adolescent power fantasies. This is a superhero comic with brains, folks. Hopefully, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for not only the Avengers, not only Marvel, but for the entire industry. Score: 8/10.

 

And that’s it for this week. Be back next week for more What I’m Reading, to find out whether or not I’ve finally reached my breaking point with Bendis’s X-Men, and whether or not good will prevail in the cosmos or the evil that is DC will continue to mouth-rape some of comics’ greatest characters.

Peace and chicken grease,

ILL DIABLO