Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I thought I’d scared them away with my perpetual tardiness. Instead, it turns out they were just doing an impression of me, and so now, here they are, a little late but packed full of 12 essential vitamins and minerals, just for you!!
They’re the comic reviewers 3 out of 4 doctors recommend, after all...
Hola, Amigos, Cormorant here! Our grueling column-a-week schedule got a little sidetracked last week, so for the first time ever, we decided to kick back and take a smoke break for a few days, combining reviews for two weeks’ worth of comics into the mighty column you see here before you. The @$$holes would like to apologize if this led to confusion in your weekly comic buying, as we know it’s difficult to pick the good stuff without our Wizened-Hermit-On-A-Mountain advice.
Highlight review of the week: Lizzybeth’s coverage of CUCKOO, a comic written and drawn by someone with Multiple Personality Disorder(!). Sounds more innovative than anything else reviewed here, including the books I myself cover. Speaking of which…
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Cameron Stewart
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
I’ve been a pretty big supporter of Ed Brubaker’s relaunched CATWOMAN, with its gritty crime-fiction edge and movement away from the lead as merely a sexy adventureress. You can see me calling it “one of the best books DC has to offer” here, and providing rave reviews for the first collection and an original CATWOMAN graphic novel here.
And now, I’m ready to drop the book based on a single issue.
Kind of extreme, eh? Well, so’s the incident that precipitates the change of heart. This latest issue is the fourth of a five part storyline in which Selina Kyle (that’s Catwoman, for you latecomers) has found that her oft-carefree “Robin Hood” adventuring has wrought some horrific consequences. A reunion with her long-estranged sister has been cut short by her sister’s kidnapping, the East End Community Center she built with millions in mob money has been blown to pieces, and her two closest friends – Holly and Slam Bradley – have had the shit beat out of them. All of this has been engineered by Selina’s own personal “Khan” – the crime boss Black Mask, whom she stole from and humiliated – and like Khan, he’s far more interested in tormenting his adversary than in a quick revenge killing.
Which brings us to the latest issue, a bleak chapter that gives over most of its screentime to Black Mask’s various methods of payback. The relevant scene for me is a horrific torture sequence involving Selina’s sister that’s about on par with the infamous torture scene from RESERVOIR DOGS. Now here’s the thing – with Catwoman being a character I’ve never been very attached to and this book existing on a sort of periphery of the more traditional DC Universe, I’ve mostly been cool with the gritty tone of the book in issues past. And yet…when I came to the scene in question, it was like hitting a goddamn brick wall; I was almost ready to drop the book right then and there. I suppose we all have our own limits as to what is and isn’t acceptable in a superhero comic, or even a book that’s merely a cousin to superhero comics, and for me, this issue exceeded those limits. It moved from PG-13 cop show-level to David Fincher’s SEVEN, and once you’ve taken that step, I don’t think there’s any going back. I was enjoying CATWOMAN as gritty outlaw noir, but this is just too bleak. Aiding and abetting the torture sequence tone is Holly’s beating at the hands of a pack of juveniles, recalling nothing so much as the similarly nasty sequence in the movie KIDS.
What else to say about the issue when there’s such an obvious sticking point? I can’t think of much. The scenes that don’t involve Black Mask’s revenge are largely of Catwoman working her way through informants and underlings as she prepares to dish out some revenge of her own. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. In what may be the greatest Daredevil story of all time, DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN, Frank Miller painted a portrait of truly monstrous villainy, but ultimately countered it with themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, and personal redemption. Brubaker is a good writer – even great sometimes – but I truly fear that this is going to be a tale in which vengeance only begets vengeance, and that holds no interest for me.
Final judgment: I’ll read the next issue to see how things play out, but as previously noted, there’s really no turning back when you heap this level of misery on your protagonists. The book has truly become a different creature than the one I was enjoying for the previous fourteen issues, and no longer feels appropriate for a Batman tie-in, no matter how tangential. I have some of the same trepidation about ALIAS over at Marvel, but perhaps because the lead there is an original character I give it some leeway. Of course, even the decidedly R-rated ALIAS hasn’t shown acts so grisly as this latest CATWOMAN. For those looking for quality crime stories, I recommend instead Brubaker’s Vertigo graphic novel, SCENE OF THE CRIME, and THE FALL from Drawn & Quarterly.
CUCKOO Vol. 1
Green Door Studios
Reviewed by: Lizzybeth
You don't hear much about autobiographical comics, which is surprising considering how important they have been to independent comics. The underground comics movement was built in part on autobiographical writings by folks like R. Crumb, and many essential works (OUR CANCER YEAR, I NEVER LIKED YOU, A CHILD’S LIFE, MAUS) have used different elements of autobiography to powerful effect. Still, it is much harder to draw readers to biography in a medium so well known for its escapist tendencies. Living up to this legacy as well as attracting an audience is a struggle for a title like CUCKOO, but in an unusual way this title has managed both, reaching audiences well outside of the established comics fandom. CUCKOO is recommended by author and victims advocate Andrew Vachss and used by therapists in practice as both explanatory and inspirational material on the struggles of living with mental illness. It is the story of a woman dealing with DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder, once known as Multiple Personality Disorder. It is alternately humorous, involving, enlightening, and horrifying, written with the immediacy and honesty of a truly courageous artist.
The first CUCKOO collection pulls together a number of short pieces and one longer story from the first thirteen issues of the comic. Except for “The Long Story”, which delves into Clell’s college experience and describes the emergence of her alters, the collection does not follow any particular chronological order. Each segment introduces one of her personalities, or describes an aspect of her daily life as a multiple. It is difficult at times to read. By necessity at least part of the story must go into the dreadful circumstances that would cause a mind to fracture, and the depiction of these experiences is so raw that at one point the author interrupts with a page of warning that you may not want to read any further. Elsewhere, explanatory segments such as “The Panel” address many of the questions the reader is probably wanting to ask the author, putting a human face on a strange and often misunderstood condition. She addresses these issues with a surprising amount of humor and frankness in segments like “Lemons <---> Lemonade (how to turn your goddamn traumatic history into something useful for once)” and “Auditing the ID”, in which she learns one person can run three simultaneous bank accounts without knowing it (and, apparently, her alters are much better at money management than she is!). As she describes it, living with alters seems somewhat like sharing a house with roommates that you converse with irregularly and have absolutely no control over. Their comings and goings, the moving of furniture, invitation of guests, general housecleaning, breakages, and more serious emergencies - it all goes on with or without you, whether you like it or not. Unfortunately, the house in this case is a young woman’s body, and Madison is only one of the personalities living in it, and all of them are collaborating on this document of their experience.
The thing is, you could only tell this story in comics. Only through the unique combination of the printed word and image can her experience really be captured, in the way that comics can show the distance between thought and action, between emotional reality and physical detail. The author skillfully grants us glimpses into her subconscious and thought processes in a very visual manner. Clell has a constantly engaging style and clever methods of describing how she experiences the world. For example, she demonstrates the experience of “losing time” with the turn of a page, leading from one image to an unfamiliar and unrelated image in a maneuver Scott McCloud would applaud. Many scenes are crowded with a mix of alternate personalities and distinct, non-alter characters, such as the scene where Madison is looking on in horror as her body, under the control of 10-year-old personality June, is climbing into boyfriend Jacob’s lap. The sometimes murky visuals seem to be floating up directly from memory, packed with an emotional, visceral punch. It is a fascinating read and yet another example of how comics can be used to tell stories that couldn’t be told as effectively elsewhere.
There is a good amount of CUCKOO online at CuckooComic, where you can also order the CUCKOO collection directly from Green Door Studios.
Cormorant back again with a quick SPOILER WARNING!!! Comedian touches on a few notable revelations from ULTIMATES #8 in the following review, so if you read it before you’ve read the issue, don’t come bitchin’ to us that we spoiled it!
THE ULTIMATES #8
Written by Mark Millar
Drawn by Bryan Hitch
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by The Comedian
What can I say? Nothing Millar does really shocks me anymore. An incestuous innuendo cover with Wanda and Pietro fresh from a photo shoot for Fredericks of Hollywood? Nope. Hawkeye & Black Widow going all Neo & Trinity on the Financial District and wiping out hundreds of “seemingly innocent” civilians who are really just “Ultimate Skrulls”? Yawn. Ultimate Thor, Ultimate Iron Man & Ultimate Colossus hanging out at a dance club named “The Tool Box” on the Lower West Side of Manhattan? OK, that hasn’t happened yet but we all know it’s right around the corner.
My point is, enough with the bastardizing as a means of characterization. It’s like that episode of Buffy where she’s fighting that demon who made itself look like Giles’ hot dead girlfriend. “Ok. I get it. You’re evil.” Probably the only thing that shocked me about this issue was what a lame-assed plot device this whole storyline with the aliens is.
The only thing worse than cheapening World War II (probably humanity’s greatest battle to save its collective soul from the throws of ugly malevolence) by turning it into a secret war against alien invaders is having Captain America know about it. That pretty much shatters everything that makes that character and his origins so pertinent. Basically what Millar’s leading into is that Ultimate Captain America was created in his WWII heyday not to topple fascism but really to just spook around hunting aliens. So instead of Dr. Erskine whom are we going to end up with, Dr. Emil Gargunza?
As some of you stated in the last TalkBack, the biggest problem with this issue is that it throws a wrench in the established cynical, hyper-realism that Millar has clung so desperately to with most of his Ultimate work. My biggest criticism is that he’s trying to soften, desensitize and “ultimately” cheapen great acts of malice by hiding behind a dime-a-dozen plot device ripped straight from the clichÃ© conspiracy theorist coffee table book.
It just looks like he’s fresh out of ideas. Which is a shame because as much work as he’s put into bastardizing The Avengers, I’d love to see what kind of sick shit he could do with their rogues gallery. You know, like having Ultimate Loki be a scummy Politician. Or making Ultimate Mandarin a sex slave trader who uses his Calvin Klein knock-off factory in Taiwan to launder heroin and opium profits. Or starting Ultimate Ultron off as the Wasp’s sentient “pocket rocket.” OK, that was bit much but this is Mark Millar we’re talking about.
Instead we’re getting this lame, half-assed X-Files crap that was played out 5 years ago.
P.S. Millar, if you’re reading this, Hollywood called. They said they really appreciate all the work you and Hitch are doing for them with all the nod wink celebrity cameos and casting. Avi’s got them completely psyched to greenlight this puppy. They really like Bryan’s pencils and they’d love for him to do the boards on it. The only thing is Sam Jackson wants his driver’s 14-year old nephew to get the first pass on the script and after that they’re probably going to get Akiva Goldsman and Shane Black to collaborate on the rewrites. However, they are offering you a gig as Sam’s driver’s nephew’s assistant. You’re good with menus, right? Anyways, they just wanted you to know that they’re really thankful for all your hard work and input.
THE CROSSOVERS # 1
Written by Robert Rodi
Art by Mauricet, Ernie Colon, Mark McNabb
Published by CrossGen
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Do you like superheroes? Do you like Buffy-type vampire slayers? Do you like heroic fantasy? Do you like X-Files alien conspiracies? If you do, the chances are very good that you will like THE CROSSOVERS # 1...if you have a sense of humor and are willing to use it.
The Crossovers are an American nuclear family who could come out of John Hughes' movie-town Shermer, Illinois, but happen to live in Crosstown U.S.A. Dad, Carter, downplays his brood's quirks while Mom, Calista, worries that they eat balanced meals. Son, Clifford, talks like a kid who is into science fiction and only wants to eat sugary cereal. Daughter, Cris, is worried about getting fat.
Boring, eh? That is until Dad dons a cape and becomes Wylie style hero The Archetype, battling a former co-worker who has mutated into a super strong monster. And Mom fights to save a little girl from an attack by a vampire lord. And Sis slips into a Tolkienesque world where she's a warrior princess. And li'l Bro takes control of a snoopy neighbor's mind and then meets with two gray alien types.
That's the set-up and it's a blast. Writer Robert (CODE NAME: KNOCKOUT) Rodi wins here because he goes for smiles instead of big laughs. He's having fun with these different genres, not making fun of them. Each character's storyline is presented seriously and stays true to its genre. Nothing grim and gritty here, but it's only the linking concept that makes it all funny.
The art by Mauricet is, likewise, nicely subtle. We always say a nice blend of cartoon style and realism, and we can say it here. His art gives the book its grounding, establishing its reality. It might have been fun to see Calista's adventure look like a Bernie Wrightson horror comic, or Carter's battle with Gargantujaun (don't ask) look like Jack Kirby's Marvel slugfests, or Cris' fantasy world look like SOJOURN but the Crossover family is all coming from the same Universe so the look works well.
I hope this book goes on for a long, long time. Its potential is infinite -- I can see Clifford in Middle Earth, Calista's wooden stakes useless against the gray aliens...careful, I'm sounding like a fan!
Title: WEAPON X #5
Writer: Frank Tieri
Pencils: Georges Jeanty
Inks: Dexter Vines
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
This will be my third review of WEAPON X. In each review, I have chided the creators of the title for relying on clichÃ©-ridden, Hollywood B-movie plots to move the story along. I’ve accused the title of being predictable and uninspired, but for some reason I keep on coming back for more. I think it may be the characters. ALPHA FLIGHT has always been a fave of mine and this title sports a lot of old members of that heroic team from Canada. There are also a lot of intriguing dynamics going on between characters that, over time, may develop into something more than passably interesting. The main reason for me to review this title is because from one issue to the next, I can see the writing and the art evolve and grow into something better than the previous issue. For this fact alone, I deem this book review-worthy once again.
Recap anyone? WEAPON X is the name of a top secret government program located in the forests of Canada. This is the same program that long ago created the X-Men’s most popular character, Wolverine. Wolvie isn’t in this title, but his presence is always felt in the form of the mysterious Director, who is…um…the director of the Weapon X program. The Director was hideously scarred when Wolverine escaped the Weapon X program long ago. This disfigurement awakened a hatred in the Director – a hatred for all mutants. Since that day Wolverine left him in the snow to die, the Director has been building this program to put an end to the growing mutant threat. For the first four issues, this series focused on the construction of Weapon X’s elite black ops squad; consisting of such ne'er-do-wells as Sabretooth, Kane the Android, Mesmero, Sauron, Marrow the Morlock, the mysterious Agent Zero, and Wild Child, Aurora, and Madison Jeffries (these three, formerly of Alpha Flight).
The first four issues of this series brought together all of the members of Weapon X and established some interesting relationships and conflicts in the group. The psychotic love quadrangle of Sabretooth, Wild Child, the Director, and Aurora is one ongoing storyline that I am looking forward to seeing develop in future issues. Now that the team has taken shape, I thought we were in store for a series of adventures where this cadre of villains and gray-area characters would be forced to reassess their own beliefs when faced with an agenda that supersedes any evil that they may have performed in the past. I figured we would see some redemptions, some betrayals, some conflicted morals - all of that good stuff you don’t really see in a comic that centers on squeaky clean heroic characters. And we might yet see these things, but that’s not what issue five is all about.
Issue five is a damn good stand alone issue that establishes just how much of a threat this Weapon X program and its mad Director really are. The story is told from the perspective of a young mutant boy, abducted with his mutant family in the middle of the night and taken to a secret compound called Neverland, which bears a striking resemblance to a concentration camp. And it should, because that’s what it is. What unfolds is a heart-wrenching tale of despair, false hope, and tragedy. By telling this tale through the eyes of a child, the writer gives an innocent view of the Weapon X program and its atrocious agenda. It is a humanizing effect that a lot of comics, caught up in their own little world filled with spandex clad do-gooders and their grimacing arch-nemeses, often forget to characterize. This story uses innocence to give context to the fantastic and often horrific events that happen in the world.
This issue also caters to those continuity hounds out there by answering the questions regarding the whereabouts of such second rate characters as Dr. Cecelia Reyes and Maggot from the X-Men, Ape and Leech from the Morlocks, Random from X-Factor, Diamond Lil from Alpha Flight, and the Mutant Liberation Front from X-Force. Little details like the mind-reader who is shattered into a pile of body parts, but still lives, and the Boxbots – altered versions of the Box armor from the old Alpha Flight series – help support the “Aw cool!” fanboy factor that occurs quite often in this series. These nice little details show that the creators not only know their comic book history, but are willing to use that knowledge by adding little treats for the fans to enjoy.
That is not to say that this is a perfect book. The story starts out with word balloons, but quickly segues into narration via caption boxes throughout the rest of the book. Narration of this form is okay, but it often distances the reader from the action. When a writer has a character tell you what people are saying instead of having the actual people say the words, he is breaking the first rule in good writing: show, don’t tell. Because of the caption box narration, I found myself disconnected from the tragic events unfolding on the page before me.
Another problem has to do with the fact that this is a stand alone issue. In a day and age when certain writers who will remain nameless *cough - Bendis - cough* choose to drag out a story until the thickest plot thread is worn thinner than Rob Liefeld’s credibility, it is surprising for me to see this tale scrunched into a single issue. The issue works well, but there are scenes that seemed rushed (particularly the doctor’s role in the ending) and moments that were skipped over in order to make this a stand alone story. A stronger tale would have taken its time to unfold at a slower pace.
Just as the writing has improved from issue to issue, the art team of Jeanty and Vines has kicked it up a notch too. Jeanty has a clean penciling style and isn’t afraid to use dynamic angles to push the action quotient of the panel. The art team’s use of shadow in the opening sequence is especially effective in casting the Weapon X team in an ominous light. Jeanty suffers from one problem. You can tell which panels that he likes to do and those that he doesn’t like so much. It’s the added detail some of the more action-oriented panels have that indicate that the guy likes to do the superhero stuff. And that’s okay. Usually, this book is filled with superhero stuff, but this issue lets the drama unfold slowly and has more quiet moments than a usual issue. If Jeanty took the time to make the quiet moments as exciting as the action-oriented ones, the art would be solid all the way through. That said, the guy has talent. His faces convey emotion and his panels tell the story well. Jeanty’s art is a big part of why I am recommending this book.
Yes, this story uses all of the old concentration camp movie clichÃ©s. But it uses those old clichÃ©s effectively. I bought into the drama as it unfolded and was truly angry with the Director and the program in the end. Although the pacing was rushed and the writing was disconnected at times, I was intrigued to know more about what these evil forces were capable of and if and when they will ever be stopped. The book may not be burning off the shelves. No one is debating about it and this will probably be one of the few WEAPON X #5 reviews you will read, but this B-list book isn’t as bad as a lot of the A-list crap out there on the shelves. The writing and art team have developed a truly sinister tale around a truly sinister cast. For those of you who like to cheer on the bad guys, this book has a lot to scream about. This book has been on a crescendo from the first issue. Give it a try. It ain’t as bad as you think.
Fabian Nicieza: Writer
Manuel Garcia: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Marvel’s Most Wanted.
I’m not sure where to start.
For something like six years this book has been my Bottom of the Pile title. You know, the book you hold off reading, because you want to save the best for last? That been T-Bolts for a long time. This titles been up and down quality-wise under both Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, but the book has stayed in its prestigious position for two reasons. The first is the constant twists and turns; the second is the constantly evolving characterization. For a book that had its start in the imaginative dearth that was Marvel in the late 90’s, that’s pretty impressive. And now, it’s dead.
Nicieza has always been a favorite writer of mine. One of the most enjoyable moments from my time at GrayHaven was when I had the chance to interview him last year. He doesn’t have the name recognition of Bendis or Moore, but he’s always been a competent craftsman, telling solid stories that have a long-term destination. His career at Marvel has been one of the steadiest, most professional in the company. And now, it’s dead.
The worst thing about this issue is that it was intended as a stepping-stone for something bigger that now will never come to pass. It ends with a new motivation for the team that, while not original, is always compelling. The team that we see at the end… isn’t one that I trust to their newfound mission. At least one of them, possibly two or three, aren’t there to follow their leader. I’m guessing they’re there to keep their new leader in line, possibly also reporting to a former leader as well. I don’t know this for sure, but it would have been fun to see this story followed through. But now, it’s dead.
Sure, Thunderbolts #76 is coming out next month, but this team isn’t in it. Marvel is plugging it as a “bold new direction; Marvel meets Fight Club.” Folks, I read the preview of it at Marvel’s web site, and it reads more like “Marvel meets Lionheart”. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words “bold new direction,” I don’t think of shitty Van Damme movies. I don’t know how long this new take will last, but creative-wise, it’s dead.
Bill Jemass, Joe Quesada, I don’t know why the decision was made to fire Nicieza, but it’s a mistake. Sure, he didn’t have any re-imagined versions of classic characters committing mass murder while ripping off The Matrix, or any gay cowboys eating pudding, or whatever the fuck you think is promo worthy. What this book DID have going for it was characters that felt like real people, that grew and evolved while staying true to their roots. I know that the idea of people finding entertainment from something that simple is alien to you. You had a quality product, gentlemen, and you threw it away. I hope that you eventually realize the mistake you’ve made, and take action to correct it. Until then… well, to me at least, you’re dead.
LUBA’S COMICS AND STORIES #3: OFELIA AND THE LITTLE ONES
Reviewed by: Lizzybeth
I think I’ve made it known in these parts just how big a fan I am of LOVE AND ROCKETS, but I fully admit to having lost track of the dozen or so spin-offs that L&R has produced since the original series ended. I like having all of Los Bros Hernandez working under one title, so comics like WHOA NELLIE, MAGGIE AND HOPEY COLOR FUN, LUBA, LUBA'S COMICS AND STORIES, NEW LOVE, BIRDLAND, and MEASLES have managed to slip by me for the most part. Honestly, reading the relaunched L&R series is much easier than following all of these other titles. During the wait between the last two issues of L&R, I've been scooping up some of these "side" projects to see just what I've been missing. As it turns out - quite a bit. In fact, after filling the holes in my collection of Jaime Hernandez’s PENNY CENTURY, and scouting out Gilbert’s recent LUBA comics, I have come to the opinion that of late Los Bros may be producing better comics separately than they are together.
With Gilbert's sections of LOVE AND ROCKETS focusing on brand new stories like “Me for the Unknown” and following late-period characters like Fritz and Petra, the usual L&R suspects, particularly his most famous creation, Luba, have been relegated to separate titles like this one. Although this comic is called "Ofelia and the Little Ones", and features Ofelia prominently, the comic is mostly about Luba, as any story about Ofelia will tend to be. Ofelia has been looking after her cousin Luba and her brood of children for what feels like most of their lives, and seems to both resent and thrive under the conditions imposed by the situation. Even though Luba’s family has left Palomar for America, it’s still the same old story. What’s amazing about Gilbert’s characters isn’t just that you can continue to learn new things about them even after years of following their lives, but also that you can watch them making the same mistakes, or even telling the same stories, and find it just as interesting as it was the very first time. For example, there’s a rundown of Luba’s basic life story that lasts about 3 pages in this issue, none of which is new information to anyone who’s read POISON RIVER and LUBA IN AMERICA, but the sequence is pretty affecting as an old woman’s reminiscence of the path her life has taken, and is a reminder of just how well Gilbert has plotted out the trajectory of her life and character arc. At the same time, less-developed characters are getting increased attention here, giving us a somewhat rare glimpse into Ofelia’s past, and into the complex relationship she has with her troublesome cousin. I particularly enjoyed peeking into the thoughts of Luba’s young kids, who each have a distinct, and believable, personality of their own.
It’s surprising to me, but I’m enjoying Gilbert’s work in this comic more than his most recent L&R stories. Just like in LOVE AND ROCKETS, the comic is divided up into small segments of story -- but without having to jump between Jaime and Gilbert’s distinct realities, these “solo artist” titles allow for a smoother transition between tales and a greater sense of finality at the end of the issues. I’m much more attached to the characters in the LUBA comics than in the current L&R comics, and there’s none of the thin-ness that I’ve come to expect from a spun-off title. I find this title to be more cohesive as well; in this comic, Ofelia’s project of writing a book about Luba’s family ties together all of their past reminiscences and present happenings, and I came away from this issue feeling that I’ve read a whole comic instead of a piece of one. In L&R this problem is generally corrected in the trades, where the epic quality of Gilbert’s longer stories plays as a strength. This will be particularly clear in the forthcoming Complete Palomar Hardcover, rumored to be set for release this year. For a single-issue fix, however, “Ofelia and the Little Ones” hits the spot. It’s also much friendlier to new readers than recent issues of LOVE AND ROCKETS, and I would offer it to anyone curious about this long-running series. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to discover it for myself.
Title: THE SPECTRE #25
Writer: J. M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Norm Breyfogle
Inks: Dennis Janke
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
THE SPECTRE is quite possibly, the most frustrating comic I currently read. I buy the monthly adventures of Hal Jordan’s current incarnation mostly because I was a fan of Hal Jordan Green Lantern. Hal Jordan was a hotshot pilot. He was the level-headed straight man to Green Arrow, Guy Gardner, and G’Nort. He was the best damn Green Lantern ever. In the time before his fall from grace, Hal Jordan was a pretty great character. I say all of these things in the past tense, because even though he is supposed to be the star of this book, THE SPECTRE is not about Hal Jordan.
A while back, I reviewed J.M. DeMatteis’ WILLWORLD Hardcover graphic novel. My main complaint about that book was that it was supposed to be about Hal Jordan, but the writer just didn’t seem to know or want the readers to know anything about the character. He spent the entire book placing Hal on a journey to find himself, but in the end it was evident that the search was futile because the writer himself didn’t know who the character was. The same can be said for THE SPECTRE. The current SPECTRE series is a crapshoot from month to month. DeMatteis has been trying hard to build an interesting story to tie to the concept of the Spectre. He’s trying to let us know that Hal has done a lot of bad things and this is his last shot at his own redemption with this Spectre gig. The writer is also trying to explain exactly what makes the Spectre so special. The Spectre is a Spirit of Redemption and Vengeance. He’s an abstract concept. Like all abstract concepts, the Spectre is best explained through examples. So far in this series, in between issues focusing on Hal’s redemption, J.M. DeMatteis throws in a stand-alone story that attempts to explain the concept of the Spectre. Issue #25 is such an issue and it is a pretty good one.
“Crime & Punishment” tells the tale of Miklos Karis, another scientific experiment gone wrong. He now goes by the name of Rabid and likes to bite the faces off of police officers and stomp on puppies till their tails don’t wag any more. The story also introduces us to a nice little plot device called Agent Franco. Franco works for the DEO, DC Universe’s government superhuman monitoring department. Her job is to bring in Rabid, but what she really wants to know is the story of the Spectre. Through the eyes of Agent Franco, the reader is given a view of the Spectre from the outside. This issue does a good job at building the mystery behind the Spectre character by raising questions about his motives. It reads more like a #1 issue than a #25.
The story is a nice little mystery. It casts the Spectre in an ominous light – something that doesn’t happen often enough in this series. I like the way DeMatteis patiently doles out information about Rabid, Agent Franco, and the Spectre’s involvement. The action is brutal and sad at the same time. Rabid is out of control, but he’s been experimented on and acts on pure animal instinct when the police attack. The premise is intriguing. Franco is determined to find out the truth, but her motives are to bring Rabid and the Spectre down and finding out the truth makes her doubt everything she has come to believe in. The ending is poignant and touching. Looking at the issue as a stand alone story, the issue works very, very well.
But looking at this issue as a part of DeMatteis story which has been unfolding since issue number one, the only feeling I have is that of frustration. Once again, the writer puts in a character on a search to find out who the Spectre is. For 25 issues, Hal Jordan has been trying to come to grips with his green-hooded side. To introduce a new character in search of the same thing is repetitious and tedious to say the least. The agent’s pursuit of the Spectre would be interesting if Hal knew everything there is to know about the Spectre, but he doesn’t.
Hal is a non-character in this title. We have seen very little of him and almost too much of the green hood. Time and time again, the lines have been clearly drawn from one issue to the next. One story is a Hal story, focusing on Hal, his niece, and the rest of his supporting cast. Then the next issue centers on the Spectre and how his ominous presence affects those in need of redemption. These stories are the best of this series so far. They’re old school, deep and dark, Jim Corrigan-like Spectre tales. It is too bad that in order to tell a decent Spectre story, DeMatteis chooses to drop any and all characterization of Hal Jordan. I want to read a story that lets me know who Hal is. I want to read a story that lets me know what is it about Hal that makes this Spectre so different from the Spectre’s past incarnations. Those stories would be interesting to read. Those stories are not being told.
Not once has DeMatteis distinguished what makes this Spectre different from the Jim Corrigan Spectre of old. With all of the baggage Hal has, one would think that this Spectre would act a bit differently from former police officer, Jim Corrigan. Why not compare the two? This would be an interesting concept to pursue. It could help strengthen the Hal character by showing us what he is and is not. I understand that the writer is trying to convey to us that Hal is new to this game, but he’s been floundering along for a while now and I might need an act of redemption if I have to see a weepy Hal in the midst of confusion one more time.
DeMatteis needs to start giving a clue to someone in this series because so far, no one knows shit about anything and it’s frustrating to read. Norm Breyfogle and Dennis Janke turn in one great looking issue after another. The art team makes the Spectre and the story around him look exciting, sympathetic, and dynamic. It is just too bad that the words and the plot meander the way they do. If you want to read a good SPECTRE story, pick up issue #25. It’s a pretty decent yarn. Just don’t plan on finding out anything about the Spectre or Hal Jordan in it.
BLACK CANARY-- ORACLE : BIRDS O' PREY tpb
Written by Chuck Dixon and Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Art by Gary Frank, Stefano Raffaele, Matt Haley, Jennifer Graves, Sal Buscema, John Dell, Bob McLeod, Wade Von Grawbadger, John Lowe, Cam Smith, Stan Woch, Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh, Gloria Vasquez, Dave Grafe
Published by DC
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Since the bizarre death of billionaire inventor Tony Stark --killed in his superhero identity of Iron Man when the giant android Ultimo tripped and fell on him -- many unusual aspects of Stark's personal life (such as the fact that he referred to his genitalia as "Little Anthony & The Imperials”) have come to light in the form of his journals, videos and highly annotated "little black book". Stark, a famed genius and "hound", apparently had a strong penchant for the unattainable women of the DC Universe.
Black Canary: 2 stars. Real name: Dinah Lance. Used to date Green Arrow until they broke up, he died, and came back to life. Stark notes: "I actually had a tough time wooing this little bird. She goes for the brash, big-mouthed archer type. In this tpb, she hooks up with a supervillain called Braun who fits this description, except for the archery. He looks like the kind of villain Captain America used to fight a lot in the '70s. I almost said “forget it” with her and was going to give her number to Hawkeye, but I really dig those fishnet stockings she wore until she teamed with Oracle (see Barbara Gordon; see Batgirl) at the start of this trade. Sigh! Wonder how she was able to walk around in her old costume, take taxis, check into hotels without getting arrested. I guess JLA/JSA membership will get you in more doors than Avengers membership, no matter how you're dressed. There's some great butt-shots of her that I can tell you from experience are fake. As tough as she is, her ass is as muscular as Cap's ... not that I know what Cap's ass is like. The drawing of her on the cover by Gary Frank looks very Kirbyesque. Kirby drew some of my adventures but isn't associated with Dinah or me very much."
Oracle: 2 and a half stars. Real name: Barbara Gordon. Formerly known as Batgirl. According to Stark: "I think I had a one-nighter with her when she was Batgirl back in the '60s. You forget a lot when you've drank as much as I have. It might have been Yvonne Craig, who also played the green chick on STAR TREK. We got together again when I smashed into her headquarters after she put specs for my armor on the internet. Call me kinky, but that wheelchair just did something for me."
The Huntress : Three stars. Stark was very glad he called the Huntress the next day: "The way she kneed that Braun villain in the nads! Cold-blooded! Women like her are the reason I used adamantium when I forged the codpiece on my armor! The Hulk could kick me where it counts and I wouldn't feel it."
Catwoman: Three and a half stars. Stark had apparently always wanted to steal a woman from Bruce Wayne, coming close but never "sealing the deal" with Vicky Vale and Silver St. Cloud. "I caught her breaking into my Long Island plant to steal some sort of McGuffin. After I gave her a blast of my repulsor rays, she became attracted me. We kissed, and she tried a move which I guess she's used before: she tried to claw my chest. Fortunately, my chestplate broke her claws. I usually wear my armor at the start of a date, just in case...it later morphs into an ultra-thin condom, ribbed for her pleasure."
Lois Lane: Three stars. Per Stark: "Yeah, Lois and I dated off and on before she married you-know-who. The weirdest thing I found out about Lois from this tpb is that growing up on an Army base gave her the kind of fighting skill necessary to take on an army of highly trained mercenaries. I've known lots of people who grew up on Army bases and all they got out of it was poor dental care."
The Lynx & Lady Shiva: Three stars each. A famous Starkism: "Never sleep with super villains...unless they're really hot and you're sure the rest of the Avengers won't find out."
MIDNIGHT NATION (TPB)
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Gary Frank
Publisher: Image Comics / Top Cow Productions
Reviewed by Cormorant
I already own the twelve individual issues that comprise the MIDNIGHT NATION trade, so when I bought the collection, the first thing I read was the material that was new to me. This being a fairly straightforward reprinting, there wasn’t a lot, but the 1/2 issue of the series that WIZARD produced as a mail-away offer is included – a fun addition – and there’s a new afterword from writer J. Michael Straczynski (“Babylon 5”). The latter is what caught my attention. I can’t say the trade appeared at a time when I was particularly in the mood to re-read the story, but after reading Straczynski’s very personal motivation for writing it, I was reminded of its emotional potency. I’ll leave the details of the afterword for readers, but it involves Straczynski’s life-changing break from a commune in the late 70’s (he even calls it a “cult”), late night walks through the bad side of town, and a violent beating. It’s grim but fascinating.
And so is MIDNIGHT NATION. At its heart, this is a book about the loneliness and despair that has gripped every person at one time or another when they’ve felt disconnected from the rest of the world. We’re not talking bland suburban ennui here, though - MIDNIGHT NATION is a horror story, and in Straczynski’s world, a metaphorical disconnect from humanity can become a literal one; lose your path in life, and you might actually fade from existence to find yourself living in a much darker iteration of the real world – the Midnight Nation. On this other side, the homeless, the loveless, and the forgotten live bleak lives in small collectives. Geography and building structures are recognizable, but the streets are desolate and the only technology that works is the stuff that’s been abandoned in the real world. You’ve got to stay off the streets at night, though, because that’s when the Walkers appear – tattooed demon-men who cruise around in black vans looking for humans to snack on.
Into this world drifts David Grey, an LAPD detective. Grey’s a bit of clichÃ© – the dedicated cop whose job cost him his marriage – but his screwed-up life certainly makes him a candidate for citizenship in the Midnight Nation. His seeming death in the first chapter bring him to this strange land, and he becomes the viewer’s eyes and ears to its arcane secrets. More pressingly, he learns that he’s got one year’s time in this world to reclaim his lost soul or be transformed forever into one of the demonic Walkers. The good news: his guide to the world is a hot chick named Laurel wearing a belly shirt. The bad news: his soul is being held hundreds of miles away in New York, can only be reached by walking, and is quite possibly in the hands of the Living Embodiment of Evil. Plus Laurel thinks he’s an ass.
Straczynski’s tale works on a number of levels. First off, it’s a strong road trip story, made novel by combining that genre with the epic quest paradigm and wrapping the whole thing in memorably weird horror trappings. I like all those elements on their own, and JMS has brought them together with all the scope you’d expect from the man who carried the epic BABYLON 5 to fruition. Just as with BABYLON 5, there are little Straczynski-isms scattered throughout that bothered me, from dialogue that sometimes veers too far into melodrama or cutesy banter (see also, Peter David) to the occasional incidence of heavy-handed allegory; but also like BABYLON 5, I found myself wrapped up in the sheer imagination and scope of the thing to the point that the flaws were largely mitigated.
The big hook for MIDNIGHT NATION, beyond the solid characterizations and the eerie setting, is the existential backdrop that informs David Grey’s journey. While David’s travels among the denizens of the Midnight Nation reveal Straczynski’s not-always-upbeat thoughts on the nature of human misery and capacity for self-denial, the BIG QUESTIONS begin to take shape around him. Is there a God? If so, why does he allow such suffering in the world? Why does he allow people to slip between the cracks of society and fall into despair? And if God lets this happen because he’s an imperfect being, is it possible that his opposite number might have something truly better to offer? It’s weighty stuff, and often quite dark. Throughout David’s journey, he’s burdened with an air of inevitability regarding his likely failure and the ultimate fate of Laurel, and true to life, there are no easy answers or magical solutions.
Artist Gary Frank is best known to most folks for his run on THE INCREDIBLE HULK during the Peter David years, or more recently for his work on SUPERGIRL and AVENGERS, and his traditionalist drafting skills serve the book well. From his depiction of the diverse cast of world-weary survivors to the terrifying Walkers to the detailed cityscapes that make you believe David Grey has truly walked from one side of the United States to the other, Gary Frank is more than able to keep up with Straczynski’s demanding script. I did find the protagonist to be on the plain side with his generically handsome looks, and there are maybe a few too many instances of scantily clad women in an otherwise realistic story (or is that a Top Cow mandate?). Still, beyond some musings of what a more horror-oriented artist might have done with the material (Bill Sienkiewicz, Steve Bissette, Junji Ito…), I have no complaints about the visuals. The coloring is exceptionally good.
Final judgment: The highest compliment I can pay MIDNIGHT NATION is that the uncomfortable questions it asks have stayed with me, and the fate of the characters still resonates. I loved the unpredictable nature of David Grey’s journey. Loved all the imaginative details like the visits from Lazarus, the haunting, monosyllabic braying of the Walkers, and the severed, one-eyed head of a baby doll through which the Prince of Evil communicates at one point. But for the fact that this story is pretty much concluded, I’d love to see JMS revisit this morbid world again in the future. Unless you’re just not a fan of his writing style (and yeah, there’re a few of you out there), then MIDNIGHT NATION comes highly recommended.
@$$HOLE CASTING COUCH!!!
Hey all. Ambush Bug here with another @$$hole Casting Couch. Word is that there’s been some movement on the PUNISHER film. Jonathan Hensleigh is set to direct. And now, word from up high says that Thomas Jane may be starring as Frank Castle. If Jane gets the role, that would be okay by me. He’s a talented actor that would no doubt give a great performance. But looking back at all of those Punisher comics I’ve read, I can’t say that that is the first actor that comes to mind.
Although I am not a fan of the current PUNISHER series, I would like to see a good Punisher film make it to the big screen. This film could be your typical revenge film laden with clichÃ©s and filled with pointless violence, but I’d love to have the people behind this project tackle THE PUNISHER with a bit of sophistication and style. Murder is the most despicable act one man can do to another. Crime has consequences. What must happen to a person to turn a loving family man into an unrelenting killing machine? Can one man’s war on crime amount to anything in today’s violent society? I would love to see a film that depicts a caring, loving family man and how all of his humanity was stripped away in one tragic instant. I doubt this film will receive this type of mature treatment, but a Bug can dream, can’t he?
Last week, I saw NARC and loved the hell out of it. It was tough, gritty, and everything I would want to see in a crime drama. I’ve heard a lot of TalkBackers clamoring for Ray Liotta to be cast as the Punisher, and I have to agree. The guy had a presence in NARC. He was dangerous. He fought the war on crime and lost everything because of it. He’d seen and done it all. The scene in the tunnel is what sealed the deal for me. Liotta walks in slo-mo towards the camera with a gun in his hand and cold death in his eyes. That’s the Punisher. Liotta is the right age for the role. I don’t want Frank Castle to be some young Gulf War vet. He’s been around the block. Through the years, he’s developed into the perfect killing machine. Liotta is close to 45 and still in good shape. He could have been slogging around in VC territory during Vietnam. He may have put on a lot of weight for his role in NARC, but he looked pretty slim at the Golden Globes. He’s got the right size and stature. And he’s got those scary, scary eyes.
As far as a supporting cast goes, the Punisher doesn’t really have one. Short of the cartoon cutout characters that Ennis has walking around in the current series, anyone who comes into contact with Frank usually ends up getting themselves perished in one gruesome way or another. One character that stands out over all of them is Microchip, Punisher’s arms supplier and gadget man. The Microman was Frank’s version of Alfred. He was the human angle who tried to ground the Punisher into reality when his war on crime became too much. Danny Aiello is a talented, older actor who has a lot of heart. He’d be superb for the role.
An enemy of the Punisher doesn’t live long. If the Punisher deems you worthy to be punished, you won’t be around for more than a few issues. I’m sure a Punisher film would have a massive body count, so I’m not going to put forth the extra effort to cast the actors playing Thug #1 and Tuff #2. Jigsaw is the closest thing the Punisher has to an arch-enemy. This hitman with a face full of scars may be the only perp that has successfully avoided getting Swiss-cheesed by Frank’s uzi. I’d put a talented actor like William Fichtner in the role and let him go nuts with it.
This film seems to be on the fast track towards being made. I hope the people behind it consider the classic Punisher tales of old and forget the lame cartoon Marvel is trying to pass as the Punisher these days. Those old stories had a lot of action and even more bullets, but they also told a tale of tragedy filled with ambiguous questions about justice and morality. Let’s hope the people behind and in front of the camera can make this Punisher film something more than just another DEATH WISH knockoff. As always, I invite you all to agree, disagree, tear me a new one, or make give your own picks. I'm sure every @$$hole in the Talkbacks has an opinion. Let ‘er rip.