Author Archive

Devil’s Cape by Rob Rogers

July 27, 2008

Devil’s Cape was a bit like the recent birth of my daughter: lots of set-up followed by a mad dash toward the finish line followed by a feeling of satisfaction.

not appealing

Mud colored covers: not appealing

Yes it’s an oversimplification of what new fatherhood feels like, but I’m not working on a lot of sleep here.

Rob Rogers’ first novel is a fascinating look at superheroics in a real world setting (and I realize how trite that idea is these days).  He sets his epic in Devil’s Cape, a pretty crappily named city that might as well be New Orleans.  It’s a tale of burgeoning heroes in a city where heroes don’t last long and where villains, especially the super powered kind, flourish.

It’s obvious Rogers has put a lot of thought into the world he has created.  There’s a map of the city at the front of the book, and the slow ramp up to the fisticuffs feels less like a tedious history lesson and more like the tease before a big show.  Readers get a full picture of what Devil’s Cape is like and what it means to be a force for good or evil in the city, and it’s that type of world building that can and, if the ending is indication, will lead to a series of stories I look forward to reading.

The book isn’t without flaws, of course.  The set up is a bit too long and I think the book would’ve benefitted from culling 30 or so pages.  The rush to the end really is a rush in that the climax is over in the last 20 or so pages, and that’s really not giving the finale the attention it deserved.  There are few sections that feel over written where Rogers tends to fall in love with his descriptions of Devil’s Cape, but you can forgive a first time author that transgression.

Speaking of which, there’s one thing about the book’s construction that I feel the need to mention.  I always thought the book’s title was the first thing audience’s should see, especially when the author is brand spanking new.  When it’s Stephen King or someone like him where the author is the draw, I understand the author’s name being on top in a huge font.  In this case, though, it strikes me as odd that the title is at the bottom of the page and is the same size as Rogers’ name.  Just a thought, really, and I don’t have much other to say than, “Huh, that’s weird.”

In the end, I truly enjoyed my time spent reading this book.  I liked it enough to think that I never really gave it a fair shake since I couldn’t read more than 20 or so pages at a time.  Plus, it will always have a positive connection to my life since I finished it while sitting in the delivery room, waiting for the labor-inducing drugs to take effect.

Proof volume 1: Goatsucker

July 14, 2008

This book was so bad that I’m not sure where to begin.  So many things wrong with this book, so little space in which to complain.  Well, I guess I could complain a lot since this is my blog, but believe it or not I do try to keep these entries around 500 words. 

Nothing says "family fun" like a variation of "suck" on the cover

Nothing says "family fun" like a variation of "suck" on the cover

Perfunctory plot summary: Proof is about a government agency that investigates urban legends IN THE REAL WORLD!  Bigfoot works for this agency, and is kinda the main character but not really since the author isn’t sure who to focus on.  Anyway, Bigfoot (who goes by Proof, which is short for Prufrock) searches out cryptids (creatures (like yetis and such) who have been seen by for whom no hard evidence exists) and tries to figure out his past.

Things start to go wrong for this book in the author’s introduction, where Alexander Grecian sets such a somber tone that at first I thought there was no way he could be serious.  Right away we’re told that this isn’t really a comic book because there weren’t going to be any fanciful explanations for things.  Fairies exist, but they’re not magical so let’s all get over that rubbish.  But then Grecian tells us that there is magic in the world and oh look my brain just fell out.

From there the book continues to take itself entirely too seriously.  Page after page is cluttered with “Cryptoids,” little factoids about sasquatch or paintball guns or whatever the hell else Grecian decided we need to know about.  Naturally, this helps drain the book of any kind of fun and narrative flow because nothing drags you out of a story like reading useless trivia.

I’d like to say that there are some fun ideas in here, but I’m not sure I can do that with any confidence.  The government keeping fairy tale creatures locked up was done better in Shrek, but Grecian adds extinct animals (like the dodo bird) to the mix for a little spice.  He tells us that fairies aren’t nice and that they’ll try to eat people on sight, but then we see normal folks traipsing through their habitat without a care in the world.

This volume focuses on the chupacabra, but it isn’t any version of that beastie that I was familiar with.  This one is more like the Bug in the first Men in Black; it kills people and wears their skin for a while.  Sadly, the chupacabra is the most interesting character in the book and that’s mostly because of its “clothing” choices.  Interestingly, I don’t remember seeing any goats.  Not one.

But even here I think the creators dropped the ball.  Our villain starts off ambiguous and creepy and violent.  It stays that way for a good part of the book, even if the violence is off panel.  But then Proof basically talks it into giving itself up and our story is over.  Sure, the thing has a mysterious past and seems to know all about Bigfoot.  And sure it decides to wear the skin of a new recruit’s mother (At least I think the dude was recruited by the end of the story.  It’s a little vague.  You know, just what you want from a first volume.).  But by the end of the book I didn’t care, and that’s partly because I really wanted to stop looking at the pages.

The art just plain sucks.  It’s so muddy and ill defined that I almost think the book would’ve been better off without an artist.  Really.  Word balloons arranged on blank pages might’ve been better.  Everything is so sketchy and muddy that it’s often impossible to tell what’s happening and the characters are so ugly that you have to wonder if Riley Rossmo has an undiagnosed eye condition.  For example, something happens to one of the male fairies, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell what that something was.  The other characters certainly reacted to it and made a big fuss over whatever it was, but I’ll be damned if I knew what they were reacting to.

I wanted this book to be good, since there’s a lot of potential here, so maybe it’s a victim of my heightened expectations.  For what it’s worth, other reviewers seem to like it quite a bit.  Personally, I don’t see volume 2 finding its way to my bookshelf.

Quick hits for 7/11

July 11, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #565

More than 6 months in to the “3 time a month!” experiment, and this title is still humming along nicely.  I’m a little concerned about this arc, though.  Marc Guggenheim and Phil Jimenez only have 3 issues in which to tell their story about a new, probably supposed to be sexy but really isn’t, female version of Kraven and they spend the entirety of this chapter transferring Peter Parker’s famous luck to his new roommate.  It’s not that the issue is bad or predictable, it’s just that introducing a new villain who has taken on the mantle of one of Spidey’s deadliest old foes feels like it needs more room to breathe.

Of course, I could be worrying for nothing, because this issue was a lot of fun.  Kraven’s inner monologue could’ve been cheesy and grating, but it managed to provide some insight into the new character’s psyche while providing just enough exposition.  And the fight that opens the issue, guest-starring Daredevil, was a hoot.

Secret Invasion #4

Sadly, we’re pretty much at the same place halfway into this mini series that we were 2 issues ago.  Iron Man is still all screwed up.  Jarvis is still on the Helicarrier demanding S.H.I.E.L.D. surrender.  No one knows who to trust.  The Uber-Skrulls are still laying waste to New York.  Fortunately, the plot starts to move a bit faster this time out as we get to see what Nick Fury’s new Howling Commandos can do and Iron Man finally pulls his head out and starts thinking. 

The art this time out looks better than it has before; less rushed and a bit more detailed.  It’s clear both Bendis and Yu are having some fun here, but I can’t shake the feeling that feet are being dragged and that this really should’ve been 6 issues and not 8.  Still, it’s a fun, if nerve-wracking, read that so far is still living up to its status as a big summer event.

Wormwoord Gentleman Corpse: Calamari Rising

July 10, 2008
There are way too many eyeballs and tentacles in this volume

There are way too many eyeballs and tentacles in this volume

Let’s get the basics out of the way first.  Wormwood is a sentient, indescribably powerful worm who inhabits rotting corpses (usually by hanging out in their right eye sockets).  His favorite meat suit is a dapper young man, but we’ve also seen him pilot a young, pig-tailed little girl.  He pals around with a android he built himself and a stripper he recruited from his favorite hang out; a gentlemen’s establishment whose employees guard Earth’s interdimensional gateway.

They all drink quite a bit, quip constantly, and battle evil.  You know, as millennia old, mystically powered invertebrates do.

In this, the series’ third collection, squid creatures invade Earth looking to assimilate the planet into it’s Borg-like collective.  Wormwood is their oldest foe, responsible for killing thousands of the squiddies and keeping them from conquering other worlds.  So yeah, they don’t like him much.

Apropos of nothing, but hilarious nonetheless

Apropos of nothing, but hilarious nonetheless

Templesmith earned his fame drawing 30 Days of Night, but I can’t say I was that impressed with his work then.  Everything was dark and way too sketchy and I couldn’t tell what was going on half the time.  Well that version of the artist is gone, replaced by a much steadier hand whose work I now found intriguing and even a little charming.  He’s still not the most detailed of artists and his action scenes can be a bit muddy, but all of his characters have such….uh….character that I can forgive the occasional vagary.

My one substantial nitpick has to do with the cost of this book.  $20 for 4 issues?  Really IDW?  If I bought the singles of this book it would’ve cost me $16, and the handful of covers and pin ups in the back don’t justify the extra $4.  Thank goodness for Amazon, in this case, because as I understand it all of IDW’s books are overpriced.

Here’s a small plot point that will let you know if you’ll like this comic or not:  Remember that really, really terrible Jet Li movie “The One?”  Where bad Jet Li travels to other dimensions to kill other versions of himself in a quest to become a god?  Well, Templesmith straight up stole that idea, only he’s replaced Jet Li with Elvis.  Yes, that Elvis.  And it’s hilarious. 

Also, Wormwood fights the squid creatures in a battle suit powered by the brainwaves of 6 clones of baby Einstein.  Let no one wonder ever more why it is I love comics so much.

Link dump for 7/9

July 9, 2008

Ahhh link dump…the lazy blogger’s best friend.

Sadly, nothing’s really inspired me to write recently.  I feel like I should review the most recent Hellboy collection since the movie’s coming out soon, but that post is still percolating in the old brainpan.

In lieu of actual content (and to get my fake name back at the top of the page where it belongs), here are some websites I enjoy.

Zero Punctuation:  I think these hilarious and profane reviews of video games account for 95% of this online magazine’s traffic.  Regardless, visit this link every Wednesday around 11am Central time and be prepared to laugh.  Or maybe stifle your laughter so the others in your cubicle farm don’t know what you’re doing.

TV Tattle: Want to know what’s going on with your favorite TV show?  This is the place for it.  A nice mix of behind the scenes information and more general news, all at one handy site.

Hellboy on Inside the Actor’s Studio:  Uh, it’s Hellboy on Inside the Actor’s Studio.  What more do you want me to say?

Desktop Tower Defense:  This game was huge a few months back so you’ve probably already seen it.  If not, prepare to wonder where the day went as you get sucked in to the world of creating towers to kill “creeps.”

Dr. McNinja:  An online comic strip about a doctor who is also a ninja.  You’re probably thinking, “It’s been a really long time since I’ve laughed at a comic strip, so Pseudonym must be simple or something.  He probably still thinks Garfield is funny.  What a jerk.”  First, it’s not nice to call me a jerk.  Second, this strip is legitimately funny, especially if you read the alt-text embedded in each image.

Star Wars according to a 3-year old:  You’ve probably seen this, too.  That doesn’t stop it from being unbearably cute.  I hope my upcoming daughter likes Star Wars.

Cars crashing into a train:  Houston has a rather useless light rail running through it.  It took a long time for the stupid people in town to get used to it.  Here are some of those Mensa candidates playing chicken with trains.

Jamie Foxx destroys a lame comedian: There’s a fair bit of cursing in this, but that just adds to the hilarity.  Somebody no one’s heard of tried to be funny at a roast of Emmitt Smith.  Jamie Foxx ends his career.

House of M: Avengers

July 8, 2008

Over a year after House of M under whelmed comic readers, Christos Gage and Mike Perkins bring us this tale of that world before we joined the program already in progress.  This is an odd project, mostly because absolutely no one demanded it.  People hated House of M.  Loathed it.  Despised it.  Hoped it’d get it’s arms caught in the gears of a combine.  Wanted to force it to watch The View on a continuous loop for all eternity.

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

So imagine my surprise when House of M: Avengers turned out to be actually decent.  This story of urban, street level vigilantes fighting against the entrenched superpowered government works on a lot of levels.  Even when it fails, it does so in such a way that I never held those failures against it.

In the House of M world, mutants outnumber normal humans (called sapiens) by a significant margin.  As a result, all of the hate heaped upon mutants in the regular Marvel Comics world has been turned back on the sapiens tenfold.  Luke Cage doesn’t much care for this, so he recruits a gang of heroes to keep the Hell’s Kitchen part of New York free from oppression.  It’s a story we’ve all seen before, but Gage adds enough twists and new spins that I was interested throughout.

More heroes need tiaras

More heroes need tiaras

Now those failures I mentioned early are pretty glaring in light of the overall quality of the series.  In this world, everyone hates sapiens.  The sympathizers are so few and far between that it’s a bit ridiculous how much hate our band of good guys is subjected to.  This extends to Thunderbird, the FBI agent in charge of catching/killing the group.  I don’t remember being given a reason for his hatred, but apparently it’s so all-encompassing that he’s willing to make a deal with the Kingpin (himself the leader of criminal organization full of Marvel bad guys) that essentially cedes control of New York’s underworld to the fat man.

The mini starts one place, with Luke Cage settling old scores, and then takes off into grander vistas.  It’s a bit off-putting, really, to start with a revenge tale and end with a David vs. Goliath battle.  It feels like Gage knew where he wanted to go with the story, but wasn’t sure where to start.  This extends to the title, because I’m not sure how this books is really an Avengers story.  Sure, Hawkeye,  Moon Knight, and Tigra have been Avengers in the past and Luke Cage and Iron Fist are Avengers now, but other than that there’s no connection.  The Avengers’ tagline reads “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” and that doesn’t apply here.

On the positive side, Mike Perkins is a competent artist who never gets in his own way.  Everything is clear and easy to follow, and his somewhat subdued style fits the tone of the book.  These Avengers aren’t hugely powerful and not overly colorful, and Perkins makes sure we’re always aware of that.  He’s a bit of a cross between Steve Epting and Mike McKone, two artist whose work I’ve enjoyed over the years.

Like I said, I enjoyed this series despite its flaws.  I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone but diehard comics fans, though.  You’d need to know your recent Marvel history and probably have a healthy affection for the characters featured in the story to get any enjoyment out of the book.  Were this published two years ago, I can see it being a pretty big hit.  Today, however, it’s a nice diversion that is ultimately fleeting.

Green Arrow: Year One

July 7, 2008
He\'s green and shoots arrows. Get it?

He's green and he shoots arrows. Get it?

Re-telling stories from a popular character’s early years can be brilliant (Batman: Year One) or disatrous (Spider-Man: Chapter One).  Thankfully, Green Arrow: Year One narrowly misses that first category while completely avoiding even the hint of the second.  Andy Diggle and Jock created The Losers, one of my favorite titles of the past few years, so it didn’t surprise me that I enjoyed this book as much as I did.  They succeed in updating Green Arrow’s origin, without shoehorning in plot devices or modern contrivances just because they can.  And really, how modren do you need to be when writing a character whose weaponary hasn’t progressed past the Middle Ages?

In this update, Oliver Queen is a wealthy, thrill-seeking playboy who spends his fortune chasing adrenaline (and on the occasional impractical splurge item).  He is betrayed by the man he’s hired to lead his various expeditions and left for dead on what he thinks is an deserted island.  Hijinx ensue and Ollie has to fight well armed drug dealers with a improvised bows and arrows.

Andy Diggle is no stranger to gritty, street level heroes (or anti-heroes as it were).  His run on Hellblazer met with positive reviews, and the aformentioned The Losers was the definition of awesome (the premise asks the following question: What if the A-Team was awesome and actually killed the bad guys?).  It’s no surprise, then, that he gets Green Arrow’s appeal.  I mean, the man fights supervillains with a wood and string for crying out loud.  How can a writer who has specialized in non-powered heroes not get it?

Jock’s art is a little rough and sketchy, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad by any stretch of the imagination.  Nothing in this book is too pretty, and that fits the hero’s coming of age tale.  You can see he’s capable of smooth, clean lines in the way he draws China White, the female villain of the piece, so it’s a conscious decision on his part to dirty up the book.  Jock’s storytelling is second to none sonothing is ever ambiguous or hard to follow.  I really wish Jock would be assigned to a high profile book that would showcase his talents.  As I write this, it comes to me that Batman would be the perfect book for him, and I only wish he were onit now for Grant Morrison’s run.

My only real complaint anbout this book is that it’s a little slight.  I bought the $25 hardcover (OK, $16.49 on Amazon) and read the whole thing in a little more 30 minutes.  It all felt a bit insubstantial, and that’s not what I was looking for from this book.  Much more time needed to be spent on Ollie’s opium detox, and the villain of the piece is off page a bit too much.  This is especially true given that she’s visually arresting and a rich character.

In all, I’d recommend readers wait for the paperback version of this tale and save a little bit of money.  Green Arrow: Year One is a fun story that treats the source material with respect while adding worthwhile material to a beloved character’s backstory.  Even if you don’t like Green Arrow as a character, you’ll probably like this story.  Especially since Diggle comes up with a plausible reason Oliver Queen to adopt a ridiculous superhero name.

Quick hits for 7/3

July 3, 2008

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #16

I really wish I hadn’t read this interview with Joss Whedon before reading this issue, because what happens to Dawn would’ve had me rolling on the floor had I not expected it (and that picture of Joss might be one of the worst picture taken of any human being, ever).  In any case, this book suffers from first chapter syndrome where what you really want to see doesn’t even begin until the last two pages.  Still, it’s written by Whedon himself and I’ve got a soft/blind spot when it comes to the man so of course I enjoyed every page of it.  Karl Moline’s art is a step up from what we normally see in this book (not that regular artist Georges Jeanty is bad, of course) as his characters are more expressive and his setting feel a bit more lush.  So far I’ve loved every issue of this title and I’m not apologizing for it, Whedon-haters.

Angel: After the Fall #10

Even though the artist hasn’t changed, the art itself is much better this time around.  Nick Runge seems to be settling into Angel’s world in a way that Franco Urru never did, and thank God for that.  Everything else is still a bit of a mess, though.  There’s a lot going on in this issue and that crowds out what should’ve been a huge, game-changing revelation.  We readers knew about Angel’s secret all along, of course, but we only get a few pages of his gang’s reaction to the news.  Thinking in TV terms, this scene would’ve lasted at least 10 minutes (with the reveal coming right before a commercial break), but here the emotional resonance is stripped away because it’s all over so fast.  I can’t believe I’m complaining about too much happening in a single issue, but since I still don’t have a great handle on what happened in issue 9 I feel like the whole series is moving too fast after marking time for too long.

Terror, Inc.

July 3, 2008

Crowbar or machine gun...Gordon Freeman\'s dilemnaWell that was violent.  And gory.  And profane.  And awesome.

I know very little about David Lapham.  I’ve read that his work on Stray Bullets is incredible, but I’ve never taken the time or spent the money to see for myself.  I read his lackluster Daredevil vs. Punisher miniseries from a few years back, but as you can tell by my word choice I wasn’t too impressed.   know this, though: dude was born to write Terror, Inc.

Terror is a 1,550 year old corpse, cursed to rot for all eternity but never die.  He can replace his decaying limbs with fresh ones and absorb the abilities and memories of the appendages’ former owners.  If that’s not a great comic book premise, I don’t know what is.  This absorption thing extends to superheroes, but Lapham never taps that gold mine.  With any luck, that’ll be in the sequel I’m hoping Marvel is smart enough to let Lapham write.

This volume revolves around him being set up for the murder of a government official and working to clear his name blah, blah, blah, U. S. Marshalls.  That’s beside the point.  The point is this is a book about a 1,500 year old corpse that can slap new limbs on his body.  I’m glossing over the plot because it’s something we’ve all seen before and isn’t terribly interesting for the first 3 of the 5 issues.  The twist at the end of the third act isn’t one I saw coming (but really should have).  From there it’s a resurrection/revenge tale that only serves to let characters shoot and hack away at each other.

Patrick Zircher renders all of this with gleeful mania, so much so that I’m certain he watched 10 hours of old kung fu movies before sitting down to the drafting table.  You know the ones I’m talking about; lots of limbs get sworded off and the resulting blood spurts look like geysers (a la O-Ren decapitating a mob boss in Kill Bill vol. 1). 

Zircher hasn’t had a lot of notable comics experiences, so his excellent work here is a revelation.  I vaguely remember being impressed by his style when he drew some truly awful Devin Grayson written Nightwing stories, but as I’ve said before story matters much more to me than art so I pretty much blocked that crap from my memory.  There are times when the art is a little muddied and it can be hard to see what’s going on through the sheets of blood flying across the panels.  Aside from that, though, he’s got a detailed style that conveys action well.  Simply put, Zircher drew the hell out of this book.

Terror, Inc. is a fun book that touches on themes of loss and betrayal but doesn’t spend too much time exploring them.  While it’s not for the squeamish, I’d recommend it to anyone tired of the cape and tights set or simply looking for an enjoyable way to kill an hour.

I’m killing comics update

July 2, 2008

The creators apparently agree with me.  Well, 2 of them anyway.  From the same book.  Paul Maybury, artist on Aqua Leung (a book that I only kind of liked, in the interest of full disclosure) wrote the following in an interview with the internet’s own Dick Hyacinth:

“You can draw out a battle scene that would normally short change a monthly book buyer due to lack of story within the 22 or so pages. But in a graphic novel you can do all kinds of crazy stuff. As soon as we knew we were doing Aqua as a series of graphic novels, and not a monthly I immediately wrote in a 5 page splash. I love stuff like that.”

In in interview with Comic Book Resources, he reiterates this point, saying:

“OGN (original graphic novel) is just smart business,” Maybury said. “Especially with an unknown property and a pretty much unknown artist. There’s a lot more creative freedom story telling wise in this format. You can take your time and not worry about the cliffhanger on page #21!”

Writer Mark Andrew Smith agreed with the first quote, but isn’t cited in the CBR article in regards to the latter.

Good to see I’m not full of crap.