Believe it or not…..

July 8, 2008 by

Photo from Dallas Morning News

….these two fellas are not brawling.  Believe it or not, its two guys playing baseball.  Believe it or not, this guy calls it bush league.  In the top of the 8th inning of last nights Rangers v. Angels game, Jeff Mathis, Angels catcher hitting a torrid .229 on the season, attempted to run through Rangers catcher Max Ramirez and extend the Angels 9-6 lead.    By the way, for a larger image and other game photos, go to the Dallas Morning News.  Kudos to Milton Hinnant for getting a fantastic shot.

Now, before I am accused of being some namby-pamby wimp who believes that baseball is a non-contact sport, let me clarify that I am all for a good break up play – even from light-hitting catchers (to be fair, Mathis had gone yard last night before the collision).  But, forearm to the throat?  Seriously?  I mean, Come on, dude, at least make it LOOK like you are just trying to get to the plate.  Hitters are so protective of themselves when pitchers throw up by the head (look no further than Coco Crisps’ recent antics), should collisions be any different?

Photo by Matthew West (Boston Herald)

Photo by Matthew West (Boston Herald)

Happily, the baseball gods smiled on ole Max as he not only held on to the ball but got up and threw to the third for the double-play.  Guess  ole Jeff throws a forearm about as well as he normally hits.  Maybe next time, she should try the A-Rod slap (see below).  Honestly, I have come to expect nothing less from Scioscia and the Angels.  Too bad, too, I really loved Scioscia the player.  But, first place or not, his teams have always managed to strike a heady combination of bush league and intolerance.  So, Jeffie, tonight, when you get one near the earhole or more preferably in the numbers, break the Angels’ mold and take your base (and your medicine) like a big boy.

House of M: Avengers

July 8, 2008 by

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 by
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 by

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.

Vandercook Goodness

July 3, 2008 by

 

Ok, first off, sorry for the brief absence.  Combination of things and sadly none of them interesting.  To you, anyway.  I mark my return by sharing with you all my new toy.  A Vandercook #1 proofing press built in 1939 and previously owned and operated by graphic arts company in the midwest.     

It’s my new baby.  Like Pseudonym’s impending real baby (speaking of which dude, you should really get some sleep now and….go see movies, like every day, and and and boy you are gonna hate diapers, especially once they start eating meat — that last one was serious, it gets really bad when they hit meat).  Anyway, like I was saying before the unsolicited advice, like real babies, this baby costs needs a lot of upkeep and extra stuff.  Ink, brayers, etc.  But once that has all been assembled.  I will be in business, metaphorically speaking.  I am sure when I actually start printing I will share some of my work here as well.  Until then, enjoy a view of my new press.

 P.S. This picture was taken before I actually dusted it.  It looks even better now.

Terror, Inc.

July 3, 2008 by

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 by

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.

Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs

July 1, 2008 by

This never happens in the book.  I wish it had.I always thought memoirs written for or by old people, but the subtitle on the cover of my book says “A Memoir.”  I suppose I could be wrong, but this is really more of a collection of essays in the life of one truly screwed up kid than it is a memoir.  That wouldn’t be quite as catchy and succinct as “memoir,” I suppose.

I’ve also always assumed that memoirs are supposed to teach readers something, and this book epically fails to do that (unless the moral of the story is that Burroughs’ life growing up really sucked).

The narrative, such as it is, involves young and screwed-up-in-the-head Augusten going to live with his mother’s psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, and his family.  The Finches live in squalor and don’t do much of anything that could be considered approrpiate.  They believe kids should make their own choices starting at a young age (say, 10 or so) and therefore there’s no discipline or structure in the house.  Surprisingly, this does not turn out to be a sound parenting strategy.  I know.  I was just as shocked as you.

Burroughs’ parents are just as horrible, with his psychotic mother failing to care about him at any point in his life and alcoholic father never paying attention to him at all.  If he wants readers to feel better about their childhoods well, mission accomplished.

Strateagery!

This author has been compared to David Sedaris, and for a while there I thought that was pretty accurate.  He sees hilarity in the minutae of life and is just level-headed enough to be a reliable narrator.  He reports on the characters around him with a kind of detached bemusement that fits the tone of the book, and he’s a willing participant in enough tomfoolery to be interesting.

What sets him apart from Sedaris is his inclusion of several instances of statutory rape.  Young Augusten, having confided in an older gay man, is soon having sex with this man.  Augusten is 13 their first time together, while Neil is 31.  Their relationship lasts 2 years, and is the most unsettling, flat-out disgusting thing in the book.  As uncomfortable as it is for me to type that and you to read it, it’s all the more so unnerving to read it in Burroughs’ words.  Sedaris doesn’t hide that he’s gay, but he doesn’t invite us into his bedroom quite as readily as Burroughs does.

It’s this part of the book, sprinkled throughout the narrative, that I think damns everyone involved.  No one is concerned enough that an adolescent is carrying on with a thirtysomething to do anything other than cluck their tongues.  No one encourages the relationship, but no one calls the police, either.  It took me a long time to get past these few sections and get back to enjoying the read, really, and that’s a shame.

The people in Burroughs’ tale are fascinating in their absurdity and he’s a talented enough writer to convey just how off-the-wall his situation is without the book dissolving into fantasy.  For a non-fiction book (well sort of, Burroughs has been accused of fabricating portions of the text but these claims were never proven) it’s a true page turner.  I wanted to see what happened next, and you don’t see that often in non-fiction.

Emasculating Movie Review Theater

July 1, 2008 by

Could that dragon in the middle be important? Hmmm...The wife and I watched Enchanted last night.  This was my choice.  No, seriously.

I could qualify this by saying that I was trying to be a good husband and pick something I thought she’d like.  I could say that we’ve had it at the house since we had our 7 year old niece over a few weeks ago.  I could say that I was drawn to its short running time and light fare.  I could say that we had run out of discs of The Wire to watch.

While some of those statements are true, the fact remains that I wanted to see this film.  Yes, I try to see movies that get nominated for awards and all, but I was especially curious about this one.  Most movies that combine real actors and cartoons tend to suck horribly (see Cool World), and yet this one got great reviews.

It turns out that every one of those raves were well deserved.  Enchanted is a hilarious send up of old Disney 2-D animation movies that manages to feel like several different kind of films.  There are big Broadway set pieces, moments plucked from a romantic comedy, the innocence of children’s entertainment, and the happily ever after of a fairy tale.  The only time I felt that the filmmakers dumbed the movie down for the kiddies was during the final battle between our heroes and the wicked stepmother.   When two people are sliding off a building’s roof, they don’t typically stop abruptly for no apparent reason.

The cast is almost note perfect, with each actor handling their role with aplomb and finesse.  Oddly enough, and my wife pointed this out, Susan Sarandon is the weakest of the bunch.  I think this is because she can’t seem to make up her mind about the role.  One minute she’s gloriously over-the-top, and the next she tries to play it straight.  Granted, this is a sliding scale because you can tell she knows that she needs to really go for it to make the character work, but she never quite gets there.

I like a good musical every now and then (Spamalot, Wicked, and Jersey Boys being my favorites), and so I enjoyed the few songs in the movie.  The 2 set in the real world were particularly delightful, and I found myself humming then the next day at work.  I mean…grrrrrr football!

Husbands looking to score brownie points and families with small children should give this movie a try.

But seriously, when’s football season start again?  I think I’m going to go scratch myself, drink some dark beer, and maybe read a Hemingway book or two.

I’m killing comics (part 2 in a series)

June 30, 2008 by

Last time out I had reason number 1 but my bloviating kept me from listing any others.  Here’s numero dos:

From the readers standpoint, TPBs are an exponentially more satisfying experience.

What’s better, a story told in 6 parts spread out over 6 months, or a story told in 6 parts that you can read in one sitting?  What are you going to remember better, the one that took you 6 months to finish, or the one that took you 45 minutes to read?

The answer is obvious, especially when you factor in the “What the hell is going on?” factor.  Given that parts 1 and 2 are aat least 30 days apart, I often lose track of details, and sometimes major plot points, as I wait for the next chapter to be published.  Marvel’s “Previously…” page helps quite a bit, but that’s a summary page and by definition is only going to recap in broad strokes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the comic shop on Wednesdays and buying new books, but I love getting a package from Amazon nearly as much.

The devastating Cosmis Watermelon Slice!The best example from my experience I can think of is the GØdland Celestial Edition I purchased last year.  It’s a gorgeous presentation (and I’ll talk about that in another post), but beyond that it’s a massive book.  For $23 (down from $35.  Thanks Amazon!) I got 12 issues of story, plus a boatload of back matter.  It helps that I enjoyed the book quite a bit, but aside from that I read a year’s worth of stories, the first act of the book if you will, over the course of 3 days.  When I put it down, I felt like I had read a weighty novel, and not a slight comic pamphlet.

This is an extreme example, obviously, because most TPBs are usually 5-6 issues long, but the point is still well made.

I don’t know much about the economics of publishing comics and whether or not the market will support a shift away from monthly comics, but I know that TPBs lead to a more satisfying experience on every level.

  • I retain the story better.
  • I enjoy my time spent reading since it doesn’t feel like an investment toward a future payoff.
  • I pick up on smaller details and therefore get more out of the story.
  • I appreciate the bigger picture the author is going for.
  • The narrative flows better.
  • I can read at my own pace.

I’m sure there’s more I’m missing, but that’s all I got for now.  The simple fact is I’ve come to enjoy my time spent reading comics more since my shifting to a TPB heavy reading rotation.  While I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading the monthlies, I can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind.