Thursday, September 29, 2005
Formerly and Can't be and Identity, oh my!
JLA Classified #s 4-9
Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Illustrated by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubinstein
Identity Crisis #s 1-7
Written by Bran Meltzer
Illustrated by Rags Morales and Michael Bair
Earlier this year I started picking up lots of late 80s-early 90s DC comics. I’ve never really read that many DC comics at all, but for a quarter each I was willing to check them out. The first couple I got were issue one of Justice League Europe and an issue of Suicide Squad (I’d just seen the episode of JLU where Task Force X show up and wanted both Suicide Squad and JLA comics). I dug both of them, and started buying more. I also picked up some of the related titles: the Elongated Man miniseries (well, most of it), Mr. Miracle, JLI, loads of stuff really. Overall my collection of DC comics increased several times over (I really didn’t have that many to start with).
I think one of the other reasons I started buying these comics was that after years the characters in them were being used again. In Giffen and DeMatteis’ miniseries Formally Known as the Justice League and in DC’s big event comic Identity Crisis. Since then some the characters have been used in the lead up to Infinite Crisis.
Formally Known as the Justice League (FKATJL) is the miniseries written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubinstein, the main creative team behind Justice League International and it’s various spin-offs. (An aside, I discovered upon reading one of the letters pages in an issue of JLI that Excalibur, the x-sword title, was launched sort of in competition to JLI as Marvel’s humorous team comic. I picked up a complete run of Excalibur in the 90s, and the first couple of years were really good.)
I honestly can’t say I’m all that familiar with all of the characters here. Captain Atom, Elongated Man and Sue Dibney are the ones I’m most familiar with as they were in JLE. I know a bit about Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Maxwell Lord (and even L-Ron), but barely anything about Fire (or Mary Marvel). But for the most part it doesn’t matter that much that I don’t know all of the histories of these characters. They used to be on the same team and they argue all the time. That’s all you need to know really.
This miniseries has Maxwell Lord trying to start up a new, public friendly, easy access, superhero team: the Super Buddies. Lord tries to recruit the former members of the JLI who aren’t currently on any team. Some of them join in an instant, while others (a more mature Blue Beetle) are less sure they want to be involved at all.
Before they can star doing anything they get kidnapped by someone and forced to fight in gladiatorial combat. I guess they couldn’t just bicker and fight with each other for six issues. The first series also features the return of one of the villains from the JLI series, Manga Khan. He’s coming back to Earth to try and reacquire his robot L-Ron.
I Can’t Believe it’s not the Justice League is the long delayed sequel to FKATJL that finally showed up in JLA Classified earlier this year. The delay was caused by DC deciding to mess around with a bunch of the characters from JLI, making them pretty much unusable in a more humourous comic. Thus the first issue of this story starts with a caption that says “A Long Time Ago, In a Decade Far, Far Away.” If only DC had let the creators keep doing comics in this style.
This series follows pretty much directly on from the last one. The Super Buddies still haven’t done that much, and the biggest problem they’re facing now is that Guy Gardner (all I know about him is that he’s a jerk. He sure is a jerk) and a former super villain are opening a bar next door. Then they get sent to hell (or someplace a lot like it) and end up working in a burger joint and then going somewhere else weird. Power Girl shows up.
However, whatever the plot in either of these stories is really doesn’t matter, as it’s just an excuse to have these different characters hang out again. And as far as I can tell that’s one of the reasons these characters rejoined this team, so that they could hang out. They’re career superheroes, and for the most part don’t really have friends outside superheroing. They want to be able to talk with people and hang out with people, and who better to relate to or hang out with then other super heroes?
The art is really good, and I think it really shows how much better comics look nowadays thanks to computer colouring and better paper. Yeah, I might cry out for cheaper comics, but I do like computer colouring. One thing I’m not sure about is how the art is divided between Maguire and Rubinstien. The credits for issue one say that Maguire doesn’t draw the backgrounds, but Rubinstein does. That’s a pretty odd set up (for North American comics), but whatever works I guess.
The second series has the same quality of art as the first does, but it also (nonsensically) features some characters changing their looks a lot, despite happening directly after the first miniseries. Why does fire suddenly have long hair? Hmm, well I don’t really care as I think she looks a lot better with long hair.
I didn’t find the humour to be laugh out loud funny (despite the era of the Justice League these comics are based on being referred to as the “Bwa-ha-ha” era), but it is still funny. These comics made me smile a lot. The constant bickering between the characters, Mary Marvel being ridiculously naïve, misunderstandings and Batman not making jokes. It’s all good. And I like these characters (except for Guy, but I’m not supposed to like Guy). They seem more like real people with super powers. I think… Maybe it’s just that they seem to have more developed personalities and interpersonal relationships then most superhero characters.
So what about Identity Crisis? I’d be lying if I said that all the people online complaining about how Identity Crisis ruined a bunch of the JLI characters didn’t make me interested in the characters in the first place. I finally decided to read Identity Crisis to see if the characters I’d grown to like were ruined.
They are. Damnit Brad Meltzer! Why did you suck the fun out of these characters? And it’s not like you just don’t have an understanding of these characters. Issue one’s characterization of the Elongated Man was really good (I thought Meltzer captured the relationship between Sue and Ralph Dibney really well). But it’s not like you couldn’t do a slightly more serious take on one of these characters without killing off their friends. Giffen and DeMatteis do that in their recent series by having Blue Beetle be more mature.
I will admit that despite the grim and grittyfying of the characters I thought issue one was pretty good. It was enjoyable enough. The other issues of this miniseries just kind of suck though. It’s rapetastic! Stupid brainwashing something something. And I think the art by Rags Morales is pretty terrible.
So what did I like about this series? Hmm, I like the JLA. I’m going to pick up that DC Showcase Presents JLA volumes that’s out later this year. And Green Arrow is cool. I like him as a character for some reason. Maybe it’s the beard… (Warlord!)
Monday, September 26, 2005
People generally didn’t seem to like Blade Trinity that much, and I know one person that hates the Blade films a lot. Still, I think they’re pretty fun generally. I don’t know. I like sci fi action movies as long as they’re not too stupid.
The plot’s the same as the other Blade movies: the vampires have some big new plan to kill all the humans/kill Blade/take over, etc. etc. In this movie they’ve brought back Dracula (Dominic Purcell), well, actually he’s not Dracula. He’s some several thousand year old guy who was also Dracula. Shrug, it’s a stupid idea, but the character is pretty good if you ignore the Dracula connection.
Blade (Wesley Snipes) is good, I liked his action scenes, but what’s the real selling point of this movie? The Nightstalkers! Yes, Hannibal King and a bunch of other people created for the movie show up. Ryan Reynolds plays a really awesome Hannibal King. I have no idea if it’s in anyway related to the comic version, in fact I’m sort of willing to bet it isn’t. This version of King practically has ADD or something. He doesn’t stop talking or making jokes at all when he’s on screen. It honestly shouldn’t work at all, but Reynolds does it in a really good way and I, at least, really liked his character.
Jessica Biel plays Abigail Whistler (Blade’s mentor’s daughter), who in the original version of the script was Frank Drake. Biel is really hot. Yeah. Anyway, her hotness is only added to because she is a wikkid ass archer. Yeah! Um, but she plays the part well too (gee, I’m shallow).
The other Nightstalkers are stupid though (well, two of them are, one of them (the driver guy) could be okay, but he only has like three lines). You want them to get killed. Kill them! I’m so bloodthirsty.
The villains are the basic business/goth vampires, which are old news now. But in one scene there are “punk”/skater/bmx vampire kids. You know I love the goth fetish vampires that appear in everything, but fuck, a movie that features vampires in non-goth, non-business clothing would be awesome. Punk vampires! (Okay, so they’re not done very well in this movie, but the idea is great).
The actors playing the main villains do a pretty good job too. Dominic Purcell (Drake) takes a pretty stupid idea and gave a good performance. Okay yeah, it’s stupid that he adapts to the 21st century so fast, and stuff, but who cares. There’s some good fight and chase scenes with him. Parker Posey is the main modern vampire. The character has ridiculous haircuts and is sort of ridiculous anyway, but she pulled off fairly well. And hell, Reynold’s character makes fun of the haircuts.
The movie does suffer from annoying kid syndrome. Though thankfully the kid isn’t in the film that much, but still. Bleh. Thankfully I can ignore the kid because a bunch of horrible dogs become horrible, gross vampire dogs. And get killed. Hah, yes!
Onto the music. I fucking hated the soundtrack to Blade II. I got it to review when I worked for The Muse, and fuck it was so terrible (I honestly don’t remember how it sounded in the movie). Now here I really liked the soundtrack. It wasn’t just rap (as the Blade II soundtrack was), and when it was rap I thought it fit. If I heard the same tracks on an album I probably would hate them.
Speaking of music, there seems to be some pretty blatant product placement for Apple (iPods and iBooks and stuff), but I was shocked to learn (according to the commentary) that Apple didn’t give them any money. iPods and stuff are mentioned by name and used all the time.
In the commentary track both Biel and Reynolds say they’d do another Blade film or a Nightstalkers film, but since then, sadly, Reynolds has said he doesn’t want to do a Nighstalkers film. Damnit! Do one! Similarly Wesley Snipes says he doesn’t want to do another Blade film. Sigh.
But! There’s a Blade TV coming show coming out on SpikeTV next year. New actors will play the characters, and there’s talk of it being a prequel. It could be good…
Now I want to go and get all buff and learn martial arts and archery and stuff. And ride a motorbike (clearly my scooter is not cool looking enough). And I need cooler clothes. Damnit, why can’t I live in a vampire movie? They always have wikkid ass clothes in them. I’m going to have to try and find something…
I also want to read Blade and Nightstalkers comics. All the Blade comics that have come out since the first movie have apparently been terrible (Marvel: just do an action comic), and I don’t have much hope for the 90’s Blade or Nightstalkers serieses (maybe they’re good?). If only I was still in Canada I could borrow all of Rodney’s Essential Tomb of Draculas, they’d be fun.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Proof of Concept
Written by Larry Young
Illustrated by Damian Couceiro, Kieron Dwyer, Steven Sanders, Paul Tucker, Jeff Johns, John Flynn and John Heebink
A while ago on a comic website Larry Young (publisher of ait/Planetlar) had a “column.” Unlike most comic columns Young just put a bunch of short scripts online and asked people to draw them with the intention of printing them in a collection. Each of the scripts was twelve pages long, and people had two or three weeks to draw them.
Each of the scripts is really just the first twelve pages of a longer idea. So these are really just teasers. The annoying thing is that the rest of the comics don’t exist. Young says that you can send him an email and if enough people request one of the ideas as a full GN then they’ll do it, but until then you’re left with a bunch of unfinished stories.
Kieron Dwyer draws these little two pagers between each script. They’re called “The Phone Call” and introduce each story as Young pitching the stories to an entertainment lawyer. Kind of lame, made only lamer by the fact that Dwyer just repeats the same panels over and over again. I guess he didn’t want to draw huge, half page pictures of people talking on the phone over and over again.
There is one complete story included here. Young used the opportunity to publish his and John Heebink’s “The Bod” originally published in Double Image issues 1-4 (and is like fifty pages). Sadly I don’t think it’s that good. It tells the story of this girl who gets turned invisible and becomes an actress. It starts okay, but then you get these ridiculous Jay Leno and Jerry Springer and Judge Judy scenes. I just didn’t care.
Okay, so how about the actual point of this collection: the five story excerpts. Well, they’re a mixed bag. Some are good and some aren’t… (I’ll go through them as they’re printed, not as the scripts were originally released online.)
“Hemogoblin” is the set in the future and features a vampire on the run from people a group of high-tech vampire hunters hired by rich people trying to gain the secret of immortality. It was drawn by Damian Couceiro and his art is pretty good, but I don’t think it’s great. The major problem with this script is that it doesn’t really get into the plot that much. It’s all setup. The high-tech vampire hunters only show up in the last panel, we don’t get to see them in action at all. Would I read more of this? Probably not.
“Zombie Dinosaur” is about…zombie dinosaurs. That’s about it really. This one was sort of different artwise, because young got Steven Sanders to draw it and then asked for people to ink it. The inking competition was Jeff Johns (who also drew one of the other scripts). The art for the people looks interesting and the zombie dinosaurs look cool. How’s the story? Again, hard to say, there really isn’t enough here to say. It didn’t really grab me though.
“The Camera” is about these kids who find a portal in their back yard. One of the kids jumps into the portal and the others put a video camera into it for a few minutes, only to have it come out with several hours of footage of their town on it. It’s a time portal. This comic is the reason I picked up the collection because the artist, Paul Tucker, is from St. John’s, and someone I played ultimate with. Amusingly while I’m now in Korea, he’s in Japan. Anyway, while I’ve seen some really nice art by Tucker, I though the art in this was terrible. I like the layouts, but I just can’t stand the art. The story’s sort of interesting, but the art ruins it for me. Tucker also drew all the other scripts and used to have them all on his website, but his website is now down and I didn’t have a chance to read them, damn.
“For the Time Being” is another time travel story about the crew of a spaceship that travel through time fixing temporal problems until their captain gets pulled through all of time and becomes the villain. The art by Jeff Johns is really, really good. It’s got an interesting style, and I really like it. The story’s a bit confusing (time travel stuff is tricky, as the intermediate pages point out), but I’d read more of this. The art pulls it through.
“Emancipating Lincoln” is a detective story set in a future populated entirely by clones of Abraham Lincoln. One of them finds a five dollar bill with his picture on it, and he hires a detective to find out what’s going on. John Flynn’s art is pretty good, it’s kind of scratchy, but I like it. The idea in this one is really interesting, and I think it’s pulled off pretty well.
So over all? I think each of the story ideas is pretty good, and the art is generally good, but I just didn’t like them that much. I guess I just don’t like Young’s writing that (and based on how I didn’t like Astronaut’s in Trouble that much either this doesn’t surprise me). This collection is an interesting idea, but I don’t think it was pulled off that well.
And I hate the paper this is paper this is printed on.
Originally when Young put up a new script he’d also put up examples of people that drew some of the scripts and critiqued them. That’s pretty cool. Unfortunately only the critiques are still there, the art (and only a couple of the scripts) are still up there. But they’re still worth reading. You can find them here.
Just a note, I’ll be updating monthly for the next… seven months or so. Hopefully longer. I’m in Korea, and getting English comics here is not very easy here (but I’ve got a big pile of backlog). Plus, since I can’t do the radio show anymore I need to review what I read. I’ll do comic based movie reviews sometimes too.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Comic Wars: How Two Tycoons Battled Over the Marvel Comics Empire…And Both Lost!!!
by Dan Raviv
I picked this up out of the bargain books section of Chapters just before I left Canada. If it had cost me more then $5 I doubt I would have picked it up and I’m glad I didn’t pay more then that.
What’s contained in Comic Wars is in the title, it’s what happened during Marvel’s bankruptcy in the nineties and how various people tried to take over the company, only to have their way blocked by someone else. I didn’t really know that much about Marvel’s bankruptcy other then the fact that it happened, so I thought this book could tell me something about it (and I was right!).
The primary players in the book are the two tycoons mentioned in the title (Ron Perelman and Carl Icahn) plus the owner of Toybiz (Ike Perlmutter) and that company’s chief toy designer (Avi Arad). Plus a bunch of lawyers. (Actually, what’s the name for a group of lawyers? A colony of vultures? That’s not amusing at all…). There are lots and lots of lawyers in this book.
Perelman bought Marvel in the 80’s and proceeded to make a fortune by selling junk bonds based on the value of it’s stock. Then ran the company into the ground by buying loads of other companies (the purchase of Malibu Comics made an amount of sense, buying two different trading card companies?) and fueling the speculator’s market. The company files for bankruptcy and Perelman wonders if it’s better to just shut down the company and sell the assets.
Enter Carl Icahn, who’s bought up loads of the now worthless bonds in an attempt to use the small print to get a lot of shares in Marvel. Icahn also basically wants to shut the company down and sell off the assets. Clearly these are people you want in charge of Marvel.
However, based on the title of the book you can tell they both lost. Who won? Toybiz (previously a smaller, related company) merged with Marvel creating a new company. Avi Arad is the only character in the book who actually read comic books, and he wants Marvel to keep publishing comics. And to get into the movie business (which eventually worked out well). He and Perlmutter eventually manage to strike a deal with the banks (who are owed $700 million dollars by Marvel) and are able to take over the company.
Perlmutter isn’t the nicest guy either though. In fact he seems like a bit of a jerk. He wanted to put all the employees in the bullpen at Marvel on the clock and have them punch in and out. And do random drug testing. And he actually got rid of the office coffee machine. And didn’t want to pay for a Christmas party. And cut Stan Lee’s contract down to two years (it was later changed back to lifetime, and it’s not really like Stan Lee does much, but fuck! He’s Stan Lee! He created your company!). Anyway, old Ike is crazy.
The book starts off fairly well, but gets boring and repetitive after a while. I guess if you’re really into law or something you will like it, but yeah. I guess this is what law is really like “Oooh, we’ve almost got a deal! Yes this will save the company! Perfect! Hang on a second…. No it’s not going to happen after all. Please give us several more months.” I’m also not sure what lawyers do. They seem to spend a lot of time staying up all night writing documents due in the morning. They sound like university students. Except lawyers get paid disgusting amounts of money.
While there are interesting parts of it, I think the amount of legalese could have been cut down considerably. It also would have been neat if there was more input from actual comics creators and what it was like trying to publish comics during Marvel’s bankruptcy. When Raviv talks about actually comic stuff he doesn’t always get it right (ie. Image is not just Todd McFarlane’s company; Heroes Reborn was a financial success). The previous examples aren’t even that obscure, they’re things that could have been caught.
However I can’t say this is the most boring book ever. I didn’t fall asleep reading it. I managed to read it all. I didn’t hate it. It was just boring in some places. It’s worth picking up if you can get it cheap and are really into law (or alternatively, just skim it).
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
I'm out of practice writing reviews. Thus this review is terrible. Sorry.
Blue Monday: The Kids are Alright
Blue Monday: Absolute Beginners
Written and Illustrated by Chynna Clugston-Major
Published by Oni Press
These two volumes collect the first two Blue Monday miniseries. They're set in the early 90s in California (though all this is used for is to let the characters make references to old music) and follow a bunch of high school students through the trials and tribulations of teenage life. The main character is Bleu L. Finnegan, a music and silent movie obsessed girl who lusts after her substitute history teacher and Adam Ant (amongst other rock stars). Bleu's best friends are Clover Connelly (a foul mouthed Irish girl) and Erin O'Neill. Then there're the boys: Alan Walsh (sort of mod) and Victor Gomez (sort of ska). They're obsessed with porn and girls, yet are too juvenile to ever actually get a date. The girls and boys express their hatred of each other all the time, but they still hang out. Ah, teenagers.
The main plot of The Kids are Alright concerns Bleu's attempts to get tickets to the sold out Adam Ant concert that's happening in a nearby city. Of course there's a healthy dose of pitfalls in the way of her getting tickets and some sideplots (the girls and boys trying to outdo each other in a series of pranks and Bleu practically stalking her teacher).
I must admit that when I first read an issue of this series years ago I had no idea who Adam Ant was (I rectified that situation fairly quickly and his old stuff is good). Also, in the time since I'd first read the issues collected in this trade, I'd forgotten how good this series is. It's fun and funny. The characters sound like teenagers and at least some of them are people I'd want to hang out with. I like Adam Ant and Blur and watching old Buster Keaton movies sounds fun (I wonder if I can find any here?).
Absolute Beginners is as good as the first volume, however it throws out a large portion of the believability that existed in volume one. This time the storyline revolves around Alan and Victor managing to videotape Bleu having a bath and Bleu's attempts to get the tape back after the whole school finds out about it. Now this has never happened to me (as far as I know) but Bleu and her friends are still pretty civil to Victor and Alan. Bleu's embarrassed, but this doesn't seem like it's going to cause any permanent problems. If this has happened to me I probably would have done something violent (and they do a bit I guess) but it's all just too nice.
I have to say though that this complaint comes on looking back on the book, while reading it I didn't really have a problem about this. The reason for this is probably the development of the characters. The characters all seem to like at one another and want to ask them out, but don't know how. They're shy, they're awkward, and when a date actually does happen it's under stressful conditions, made only worse by other people trying to sabotage it. It's the obvious way for the characters and storyline to progress and it's done well.
Then the pooka shows up. Get that damned giant otter out of this teenage romance sex comedy! Damn it! Okay, so it has some funny lines and sort of helps move the plot along, but I would have much preferred this comic without the giant magical animals.
Absolute Beginners also has the neat idea of giving different scenes music tracks to go with them. I didn't have any of the music specifically, but I knew what some of it sounded like and tried to change what I was listening to so it fit the comic better (out goes the electronica, in comes early Britpop). If you've actually got the music I'm sure it's even better and probably helps set the mood.
The art in Blue Monday is manga influenced in the character designs (giant eyes, chibi style character), and it looks really good. Thankfully Clugston-Major isn't going for manga style pacing and each issue of Blue Monday is really dense (going so far as having a comment in a border saying there's a lot of panels). These two collections are digest sized and the art has been shrunk down from the original issues. Thankfully however the art doesn't suffer at all.
As a bonus feature The Kids are Alright features the early Blue Monday strips. It's interesting to see how Clugston-Major's style evolved. The really early strips look, to me, really terrible. They look like a lot of ugly manga style artwork. I can't quite describe what's wrong with it exactly (I am such a great critic), but I really don't like it. Thankfully the art gets better as the strips continue and the art in the actually comic itself is much improved.
I've seen Blue Monday described as Archie with sex. It's not, because, unlike Archie, Blue Monday is actually good. If you're looking for a smart, funny comic about American teenagers it's worth checking out. Now if only those two Blue Monday holiday oneshots I had weren't in Canada somewhere.
Check out part oneand part two of a preview of issue one of The Kids are Alright from Onipress.com.
Coming soon: Comic Wars. A nonfiction book about Marvel Comics' bankruptcy and the ownership battle that took place.