(Click title to go directly to the review)
ESSENTIAL NOVA VOL.1
ALL STAR SUPERMAN #3
THE THING #5
GREEN LANTERN #10
FANTASTIC FOUR #536
CAPTAIN AMERICA 65TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL NO. 1
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents TRAMPS LIKE US
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents BATTLE ROYALE Vol. 15
Indie Jones presents SUPER REAL #2
Indie Jones presents TOUPYDOOPS #1
Indie Jones presents HYPER-ACTIVES #1
Indie Jones presents…
Q & @ with The New Radio’s Alex Cahill
ESSENTIAL NOVA VOL. 1
Written by Marv Wolfman, Len Wein
There's a demon who lives for comic books. His home is at the Local Comic Shop. They call him The Fanboy. They said that whoever challenged the demon would die. Their maturity would buffet wildly and their brains would disintegrate. Then, they built AICN Comics and men came to Austin-Deep In The Heart O' Texas-to review for it. They were called @$$holes, and no one knew their names...
Art by John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Think about the first comic book series, featuring an original character, that you started reading when it first came out. I'm not talking about relaunches or teams of pre-existing characters. I'm talking about new characters, in new books, that you started with one issue one.
For some of you, these may be very recent books. For others, we may go back to some of the great icons. I'm sure the answers will be surprising either way.
Marv Wolfman's THE MAN CALLED NOVA may not have been the first comic that I got in on the ground floor of. I know I was reading Steve Gerber's OMEGA THE UNKNOWN, a book to which NOVA was very much a reaction (not an indictment or anything negative, though). But NOVA was a key book for me in many ways. I was a kid. I started with the first issue. I enjoyed the book. The protagonist, Richard Rider, was a little bit like a real person and I was able to ignore the ways that he wasn't.
Even in the late 1970s, we were starting to hear: "Today's comics and their characters aren't like they were ten or fifteen years ago." In the original NOVA lettercol, Wolfman cited the relative realism of modern Marvel comics, particularly OMEGA and MASTER OF KUNG FU, as an inspiration to do an old fashioned book that was similar in tone to Ditko era Spider-Man. With stalwart artist John Buscema, doing some of his best work of the Me-Decade, he created Rich Rider, a high school kid who was struck by a beam from space and given the alien powers of Nova.
The tone was somewhat funny, at first almost like an Archie comic. Rich/Nova lived in the '70s, the Marvel Universe of that time, but his life, supporting cast, and problems seemed out of the Kennedy era. He even hung out at a malt shop called Uncle Fudges. I never saw a malt shop in the '70s. We hung out behind a convenience store or in each other's garages or at the park until the cops chased us off. Later, I realized that with the focus on Rich's underachievement in sports and academics, we were seeing a preview of the '80s, with his high school rival, Mike Burley, as the buff, valedictory poster boy for the Reagan era. In the one touchy-feely true '70s scene, Rich wanders in late to his psychology class. The class has to sit on the floor. The teacher urges the kids to share what they like least about their classmates. Rich demurs, but Burley launches into a pitiful tirade about how everyone hates him because he achieves and how his parents expect so much from him but no one expects anything from guys like Rich.
Rich was a slacker before the term was even commonly used. He was Peter Parker with longer hair and a lack of brains (and a cute girlfriend named Ginger, whose reasons for dating Rich I could never understand. C'mon, the guy had no self confidence). This being the 70s, you wonder about pot. It was never mentioned or implied, but I imagined Rich passing a bong around with his pals Caps and Bernie. Likewise, you won't see a STAR WARS or Zeppelin poster. You have to imagine those. Anything real about the era seems almost accidental. Rich's pal Caps is kidnapped by his uncle, who has been turned into a monster called Mega Man. Nova rescues Caps, of course, but we never see Caps' parents. They are absent and their absence is not noted. I don't think we even used the word "latchkey" then, anyway.
One of the most wonderful elements of the book was the gallery of new rogues that Wolfman and his artists, primarily the Buscema brothers, invented. We got a new hero and new villains. Condor. Powerhouse. Diamond Head. And best of all, the Sphinx. All visually interesting, with simple yet interesting objectives. Nova fought them for no good reason, simply because that's what guys with super powers did. And he clearly got his ass kicked every single time. It was great.
I have no idea whether NOVA was ever a top seller or not. It was canceled with issue # 25. I can tell you my own reasons for my enthusiasm failing at the time. The Buscemas were doing some of their best work, which completely served the character, tone and story. For some reason, they left the book. Silver Age legend Carmine Infantino was brought in. Mr. Infantino had been a big cheese at DC, was instrumental in FLASH, MARTIAN MANHUNTER, GREEN LANTERN, etc. of that era. In my opinion, he was a better artist than either Buscema, far more interesting. The book looked better, sharper, edgier, cooler...which was all wrong for it. Mr. Wolfman was still writing, but the look affected the stories for me. Somehow, better art was worse art. If I felt that way, maybe others did too. In this day of writer-driven (often driven to death) comics, it's hard to imagine the impact that art can have on one's perception of a concept...but I think that's what did it.
Having got in on the premiere of the character, I have to say that I've never been too comfortable with any of his revivals. THE NEW WARRIORS. His solo book by Erik Larsen. Whatever's going on currently, ANNIHILATION or whatever I'm not reading. I mean, early INVINCIBLE was the closest to true early NOVA which was supposed to echo early AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.
ALL STAR SUPERMAN #3
Writer: Grant Morrison
"[S]omewhere in some Platonic space, [there] is an ideal form of the character, and all that is important is that you be as faithful as possible to that idealized form…I put forward as a possibility, that in some ways there is some ideal form, some ideal Platonic form of these characters, existing somewhere in the reaches of the human mind, and that it's the writer's job to try and not so much invent the characters as it is to intuit them…It's working from the belief that there is a perfect realization of that character somewhere there, and that if you are just patient enough or dig deeply enough you will be able to unearth it and present it to your readers intact."
Artist: Frank Quitely
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
-- Alan Moore (interviewed by Jess Nevins in A BLAZING WORLD: THE UNOFFICIAL COMPANION TO THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN VOLUME TWO)
I find it hard to put into words how fantastic this series is. The best sum up is in that quote above by Alan Moore about how a writer should take a pre-existing character and write him or her in their idealized form. Morrison pulls in elements from all eras of Superman. I noticed in this issue that he brought back Steve Lombard, the loveable lunkhead of a Sportscaster who used to pick on Clark back in the 70s. Rather than a generic-looking 70s sportscaster for Galaxy Communications, he's a burly moustached ex-jock sportswriter for the Planet. Cat Grant, from the post-CRISIS era, is there. And then Morrison throws us all for a loop by pulling in an old standby from the silly-cover era of SUPERMAN comics; the old other strong guys trying to steal Lois from him storyline. Just as silly as it was decades ago, and just as much fun as "Samson" and "Atlas" show up to compete with Superman for the love of Lois.
Under any other writer, this would come off as either self-deprecating or campy retro. Under Morrison, it just seems like Superman the way Superman is supposed to be. He even has the annoying Samson and Atlas finally push Superman's buttons so far that he sits them down to reenact scenes from ROADHOUSE. I loved that whole scene.
Morrison balances this type of silliness with a deadly serious threat to Lois' life from the Ultra-Sphinx and tops it all off with a romantic full-pager of Superman and Lois kissing on the surface of the moon. All of this in the context of a celebration for Lois' birthday and Superman's gift to her of allowing her to become Superwoman for a day.
Frank Quitely's art has improved. When I reviewed the first issue, I made a comment about his penchant for sticking Superman with an ugly face. His Superman has none of those problems anymore. He looks appropriately Roman-esque and youthful but powerful and experienced. His Lois is young, sexy, and self-confident. Her comment about being grateful about losing her powers because she'll "never have to put up with the annoying zee zee zee of Jimmy Olsen's Super-Watch as long as I live" was laugh-inducing. I also enjoyed how she just will not accept that Clark and Superman are the same person…that this was just another one of Superman's silly little pranks on her. Read through that SHOWCASE PRESENTS…SUPERMAN and tell me if that isn't a spot-on point of view. This really is the Platonic idealized perfectly realized version of the character.
I really cannot get enough of this stuff. It would not hurt my feelings at all for DC to just dump the One Year Later Superman stuff and start the whole line over from scratch with this book as the template. It's that good.
THE THING #4
Writer: Dan Slott
Of all of Stan Lee’s earliest creations at Marvel, I’ve long felt Ben Grimm was one of his most inspired. The Thing is a very nearly perfect character. He’s got the superstrength and invulnerability, sure, but that’s not terribly interesting in and of itself. No, his real strength is in the amount of depth crammed into the big guy. A former street tough but with a good heart, a guy who looks out for his friends and family, a guy with a sadness and loneliness few can really understand but who copes with it all with a sense of humor, a guy who does the right thing no matter the consequences to himself…now that’s a character worth reading about. Wrap him up in that iconic Jack Kirby character design and it’s hard to go wrong.
Artist: Andrea DiVito
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Sleazy G
Which is why it’s sad that this title is struggling only five months in to its run. Dan Slott is really giving this book his all, folks. We’ve got one of the great Marvel characters here, and Slott is really doing him justice. The series springboards off the recent storyline in FANTASTIC FOUR that made Ben a fat cat. Anybody who knows Ben, though, realizes that the old “mo’ money, mo’ problems” adage is going to apply, and does it ever. He’s been dating a gorgeous movie star who doesn’t really understand him or care about him, he’s been trapped on an island full of people he needed to save from the carnival-based villain Arcade, and he’s been struggling with his feelings for old girlfriend Alicia, wondering if he didn’t miss out on his one chance at true happiness. In issue #5 he goes back to the old neighborhood and finds his reception on Yancy Street even colder than usual. His old gang respects him even less now that he’s got money, a shop owner he had ripped off as a kid doesn’t cut him any slack for being a rich superhero, and he’s getting pushback from the mob for building a youth center without their crews.
There are a lot of familiar elements here for long-time readers—Alicia, the Yancy Street Gang, Ben’s past as a ne’er-do-well—but they’re all told in a manner that is completely accessible to new readers: a few panels are all it takes to figure out what’s going on. Still, this stuff could all come off as dull or feel like a retread of what had come before if Slott wasn’t doing such a fantastic job. The saving grace for this book can be summed up in one word: heart. Slott manages to give this book a lotta heart, which is a pretty rare quality in comics these days. The reader can feel everything Ben is going through: whether Ben is just being mopey, or he’s had a good laugh, or he finally realizes what an old opponent-turned-friend is trying to tell him, there’s a genuine connection to the characters. That heart can be found in the lesser characters, too, though, and seeing old Mr. Scheckerberg or the local blue-collar guys from the neighborhood putting Ben in his place and reminding him of where he came from is a great touch. Having Ben realize there’s more than one way to make a difference and then deciding to put his money to better use just feels right, the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Benjy. It manages to keep The Thing grounded and relatable instead of just another powerhouse knocking around the bad guy of the month. Not that the bad guys of the month aren’t there, mind you--throw in a couple of classic Thing villains like Paste Pot Pete (danged if I’ll call him The Trapster) and Sandman at the end and you’ve got a fine lead-in to the next issue.
This title is one of those rare books that made me actually care about what was going on and why, that made me feel things for the characters I was reading about instead of just being entertaining. The fact that it’s a book that actually has a moral and teaches the characters something new also distinguishes it from a lot of what’s out there right now. Andrea DiVito’s turning in amazing work as well: a guy with a face made of orange rocks isn’t the easiest to pull emotions out of, but whether Ben is hunched over feeling miserable in the rain or wiping a tear of laughter out of his eyes the art always manages to perfectly convey what Ben is going through. It’s some of the most expressive body language I’ve ever seen used on The Thing, and it works wonders for the characterization.
As I mentioned earlier, this book is suffering from low sales. That’s a damned shame, because we’re talking about a book that has everything: action, humor, pathos, and fun. It’s well written and beautifully drawn and accessible to new readers, and it’s already struggling to survive. It bucks the trend of massive crossovers, so you can read it without having to pick up anything else to know what’s going on. It’s got heart and a creative team that really wants to keep working on this series. Like RUNAWAYS before it, though, it’s a title that really needs a lot of fans to rally around it if it’s going to last much longer. I know a lot of you have said you tried books you ordinarily might have overlooked after reading a review here. Well, I’m telling you right now, this is one of those books. It’s one of the best new series I’ve seen out of Marvel in a very long time, and I can’t urge you all strongly enough to check it out. Give issue #5 a chance: it’s the first issue of a new storyline, and I honestly think you’re going to love it as much as I did.
GREEN LANTERN #10
Writer: Geoff Johns
This was an interesting week concerning this comic book. I bought it, sat down at a pizza buffet, and read it. And, of course, as usual for this series, I liked it. But then a funny thing happened. I kept bumping into fellow comic fans who hated it and were vocal about it. Perplexed, I engaged in a fictional dialogue with an amalgam of all those purveyors of negativity and this individual posts anonymously online, no he doesn't, by the name of "Lockjaw." Here's the transcript of my back and forth with Lockjaw for your consideration.
Artists: Ivan Reis (pencils)/Marc Campos (inks)
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
Prof: What's NOT to love about this comic? The team of Reis and Campos produce artwork that evokes Neal Adams in his prime without being a slavish imitation. There's a team of Rocket Reds trying to take down a pissed off GL, a mysterious creepy new villain calling himself Igneous Man, Sinestro recruiting for a villainous Sinestro Corps. Throw in the fact that Hal gets a little one-nighter action, Green Arrow shows up, and plenty of teases about the past year. What's not to love?
Lockjaw: meh. This comic was more of a fanboy circle jerk than I thought was humanly possible. You got a lame group of heroes brought out of mothballs to fight with Hal. Fight ends with a flashback rather than an actual conclusion to the confrontation. Then they flash forward to bore us to death with talking heads debating super-hero politics. Total snoozer for me and the womanizing bit with Hal was just….damn creepy. Middle-aged man cruising bars scamming for chicks to bang? Brrrrr. At first I thought maybe they'd just de-aged the guy but then they had middle-aged Green Arrow show up and remind Hal of the old days. Reminds me of that friend of everyone's dad (or everyone's creepy uncle) who never got over being 25.
Prof: Well, I don't think the fact that Green Arrow is an old fart means that Hal is an old fart. I suspect that they intend there to be about a 10-year difference in their ages. They can still have a shared history but it doesn't mean they're the same age.
Lockjaw: Whuddevver. See, this whole series is pretty much what I dreaded when I found out they were bringing Hal back. Johns just can't let go of all that past Continuity. Nearly a year in and Jordan's still "atoning" for his sins…which weren't even his fault anymore now that we have "the devil made me do it" deus ex machina known as Parallax to blame it all on.
Prof: See, I'm confused by that position. All the acclaim that Johns has had over the past few years, and ultimately what led to his role in CRISIS, is that he's the number one guy to go to when attempting to incorporate past continuity into current legacy-oriented series like JSA and STARS AND STRIPE. GL is a legacy title as well with about 40 years of convoluted continuity. Seems like a waste to throw it all away if incorporation can be done in an exciting and relevant way. Not sure why the winds of fandom have turned on Johns right now.
Lockjaw: Well, one good thing has been the fact that they don't have him sharing the book with a bunch of other Lanterns. But it looks like DC's gone nuts again and is restarting the whole GL franchise again and I suspect that GL fatigue will set in soon once again. I doubt that 3 years from now there will still be a GL comic sharing the stands with GL CORPS and ION.
Prof: Well, ION is supposedly a limited series.
Lockjaw: Whuddevver. And GAH! Johns just loves those lame old GL villains. Black Hand? Killer Shark? Herman Head or whateverisnameis? And even that skinny guy in the stupid costume and the stupid name…Sinestro? All these moldy-oldies running around are sucking this comic down a black hole. Then they go and dredge up one of those bird-faced GL's for the big last page "shocker." And don't get me started on that face-sucking plant story. Where's my beer?
Prof: We are totally on a different wavelength here. I think all those old-school villains have been utilized pretty well by Johns. I hope he keeps bringing them into the series, so long as he also takes time to bring in new stuff as well. I personally think the idea of Sinestro recruiting aliens who have the ability to instill great fear for an anti-Green Lantern Corps is simplistically brilliant and I can't believe nobody's done it before. Also, Johns is a master at throwing out that fishing line just enough to hook me. The teases about what has happened over the past year were just tantalizing enough to keep me tuning in. I want to find out what happened to Hal and "Cowgirl" and what that cryptic line "Last year when the skies turned red and our world cracked in two" actually means. Does it mean that post-CRISIS leaves us with a two-tiered multiverse? Inquiring minds want to know.
Lockjaw: If Johns is going to be "Captain Yesterday" in everything he does then I'm out. I suspect that on GL he's suffering from "Dream Project Syndrome" (the same thing that killed Busiek's IRON MAN and Byrne's DOOM PATROL series). Even his updates of older villains have the taint of pandering that turns them all into psychotic murder-happy maniacs. I wouldn't expect you old-schoolers to be digging on that. And anyway, why are you even paying any attention to what I say? I'm just a jaded knuckle-dragger who doesn't like anything unless it's written by Bendis or Ellis and deconstructs the heroes of your youth. Heh.
Prof: Because, even though you're completely wrong about everything, your voice is loud and listened to by the publishers. GL #10 was a quality comic through and through. I love how Johns has taken the whole GL Corps as a police force idea and just gone with it. Hal Jordan sees himself as "a cop" and John Stewart is on an "undercover assignment." I really dig all that. I'm also intrigued by Johns' One Year Later set-up where Green Lantern is not welcome in a number of countries, like Russia. For a cop who's precinct is this sector of the galaxy, that has got to be incredibly frustrating for him. This comic had character development, huge action sequences, teases about the last year, teases about the future, and dynamic artwork. As I said at the beginning: What's not to love?
FANTASTIC FOUR #536
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
As if we needed a reminder, this week in comics comes along and goes ahead and reminds us that the CIVIL WAR is upon us. Alongside NEW AVENGERS: THE ILLUMINATI that's pretty much the setup issue, we get this little ditty that shows a little peripheral insight into the ILLUMINATI but also starts an event that apparently plays a role in the overall story of it. Or so one would assume. But then again, when does a tie-in really have to be a tie-in instead of just a grab for a quick sales increase these days?
Penciler: Mike McKone
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
Anyways, back to the issue at hand. It's not a terrible issue, per se, but really, it doesn't develop well at all. When you spend an entire comic building up anticipation to the last page, and that last page is pretty much just the cover of the book, well then that kinda takes most of the “thunder” out of the build up now, doesn't it? And to add a little bit more ad nauseam to the events inside this book the CIVIL WAR "building" that supposedly make this book a tie-in to Marvel's latest event are about a page or two of Reed Richards having a late night discussion over the proposed Superhero Registration Act that is the kick-off of this latest conflict. Oh, and a page ripped directly out of the ILLUMINATI issue and inserted in between moments as a flashback moment. There's the ad nauseam I was talking about. But there isn't enough time to talk about the bill as the FF have to make their way to Oklahoma where an army of Doombots are attacking a U.S. science installation of some kind. Why are they attacking it? Well, that's because somehow Dr. Doom is back, silly. And what's so important there that Doom would want? Well, let's just go back to that cover...
So, okay, the overall story progression is pretty weak, but what saves this issue? Well, for one thing, even when telling a weak story JMS still does it with sound characterization for the main characters. Even during some pretty bad spots on his AMAZING SPIDER-MAN run (*coughGwenboinkingGoblincough*) I couldn't dispute that he's at least had a good feel for the "voice" of Peter Parker throughout. And that rings true here. At the very least he has a good groundwork for the team as the whole "First Family" of the Marvel Universe. Reed and Sue's interaction as a loving albeit rather unusual married couple always comes through as genuine, much like the Thing's and Human Torch's rather angry "brotherhood". There's definitely some pretty funny moments that come up as these two interact throughout the book. And the second thing that at least stops this book from being a total wash is Mike McKone's art. Some of my very favorite superhero art of the past few years has come from his pencils and his run on this title is no exception. His panel to panel dynamic is top notch, as is his detail in both the action sequences and more dialogue driven moments. If there's a reason to stick with this book, McKone is definitely a great one.
But despite the positives I just listed towards this title, I don't think the overall storytelling has been very strong up to this point. The opening arc to JMS' run was a little bit in the "out there" department as we saw Reed Richards apparently traveling back so far in time as to witness the Big Bang... yea. But the Hulk arc that preceded this was pretty solid (and was also a bit of a CIVIL WAR lead-in as it was apparently the final straw that caused the ILLUMINATI to do what they did to Banner). And like I said before, this story seems to be off to a bit of a weak start. Most of the tie-in stuff was rehash, and honestly, I think this is what? The third time Doom has tried to get Thor's Hammer? Now, obviously I'm genuinely interested to see how Doom has made his "triumphant return" but that's kind of bad when his umpteenth re-emergence is more interesting that the story going on around it. I'll stick around for the payoff though. Call me hopeful. I'm hoping that CIVIL WAR can end up becoming a bit of a shot in the arm for this book, as well as the Marvel line, but so far it's been more of a stifled yawn.
CAPTAIN AMERICA 65TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL NO. 1
Writer: Ed Brubaker
For some reason, picking up this comic made me flash back 25 years to CAPTAIN AMERICA #255, the "Special 40th Anniversary Issue" by Roger Stern and John Byrne. So, I dug through my garage stash and pulled out that issue that "Marvel Comics Group Proudly" presented back in early 1981. Graced by a most excellent cover by Frank Miller and Joe Rubenstein depicting Cap and Bucky heroically posed behind Frank's boldly exciting recreation of the iconic image of CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 with Cap delivering a roundhouse right to the jaw of Adolf Hitler. All superimposed over an aged parchment background, the cover promised "Thrills! Chills! And More!" and "See Cap's Very 1st Adventure!"
Artist: Javier Pulido & Marcos Martin (with epilogue art by Mike Perkins & Frank D'armata)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
It delivered on its claims with what Roger Stern called the "definitive life story of Captain America." It's a timeless retelling of Cap's origins, an untold first adventure, and how he came to be a part of "modern" America. Reproduced directly from Byrne's pencils (except for a modern-day one-page epilogue inked by regular inker Rubenstein), the book was a special among specials for the time. It may have even been one of the first times I can recall that a Byrne comic attempted to unnecessarily try to explain in-continuity simple evolutions in artistic decisions (such as the reasons why Cap originally had a different-shaped shield or why his costume was changed from his original where the mask left his neck bare). In the context of the times, though, those little tidbits were novel and eaten up by the fans. Top this issue off with a most-excellent Hostess Ding-Dongs (or King Dons if you live in bass-ackward locations of this wonderful country) ad starring the Human Torch vs. an unknown villainess wielding a supersonic hair dryer (Madame Blow Job maybe?) It also features what appears to be stylin' art by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott.
So, how does this newest anniversary special stack up? It has a cover (no cover credits that I could find) also featuring Cap and Bucky heroically poised in front of an aged-parchment background, this time all photoshoppy and featuring an image of the Declaration of Independence and soldiers from various war-periods in American history. Whereas the earlier comic used dramatic action to offset the posed figures, this cover is all about static imagery and muted earth tones. It may evoke nostalgia but it's not as eye-catching as the earlier comic with its bright reds, yellows and blues.
This special also tells an untold tale of Cap and Bucky, this time from near the end of the war rather than the early years. As with the last year of the regular CAPTAIN AMERICA series, this issue is focused heavily on Bucky (nineteen years old here). No shying away from the realities of war, early in this story Bucky is shown running around with a gun in one hand and dropping a grenade into a jeep full of Ratzis while taking a bullet in the chest. Cap carries Bucky five miles on foot in less than five minutes to a secret Allied safehouse of an older German doctor and his young, beautiful daughter Gretchen. Parallel storytelling kicks in at this point. Story one covers Cap and Sgt. Fury and their hunt for the Red Skull and this old castle that supposedly houses a powerful weapon. Story two covers Bucky's recovery and development of love between him and Gretchen and their discovery together of important information relating to Cap and Fury's mission.
I'm not going to spoil the story here but it is a solid adventure with excellent tag-team artwork by Pulido and Martin who both have a similar cartooning style. Well worth the money, easily. But here's my gripe about this comic. I'm irritated by the absence of Sgt. Fury's cigar. Nick Fury is a character who was designed in both his incarnations to have a stogie sticking out of his mouth and it seems sub-moronically hypocritically politically stupid to have a WW2-era story featuring multiple war-related killings and injuries in a very mature story but make a point of retroactively removing Fury's cigar. Hell, I didn't even notice the Red Skull's cigarette holder. In fact, the more I think about it, this is 1944 Europe in the middle of the War? And nobody's smoking? What sort of parallel dimension does this take place? The friggin' gov'ment put cigarettes in the soldiers’ damn C-rations back then! I don't understand this unfathomable disconnect that thinks blowing people up and machine gunning people and slicing people's throats is fine to show in a WW2 comic but gawd-forbid that we show somebody light up a stogie. Grief! Also, I know it was cool when Alex Ross did it in those couple of panels in MARVELS but can we call a moratorium on artists who draw Sgt. Fury always making sure they slip in a panel where one eye is shrouded in blackness to foreshadow the fact that he will eventually wear an eyepatch? Becoming clichÃ© now. Time to quit.
And my final gripe is not really a gripe so much as an observation as to differences in approach between this issue and the 40th Anniversary issue. In the older comic, the approach was to step outside of the story arcs as they were progressing in the title at that time and tell a timeless stand-alone story for the ages….so to speak. In this Anniversary Special, it is clearly more a glorified set-up for the next long-term story arc in the main CAPTAIN AMERICA title involving Bucky/Winter Soldier, Red Skull, Dr. Doom, that castle and…maybe even…Gretchen. The "special" aspect is mildly diminished for me by the cynical marketing tied into it. But Brubaker's a good writer and he still delivers a good Cap adventure here with nice art by the boys from BREACH.
TRAMPS LIKE US
Creator: Yayoi Ogawa
"...unless you would like to be my pet?"
Reviewer: Dan Grendell
An overview of Volumes 1-8
Once again, the Japanese take a really weird, even creepy idea and turn it into something that I actually enjoy reading. At first I thought they were fucked up, then I thought I was, and now I figure everybody is, so it's all good. The basic premise of this series is that Sumire Iwaya, uptight career woman, finds a homeless guy and feeds him for a night. The guy decides he wants to stay, and she agrees he can - if he will be her pet. He is all over the idea, she renames him Momo after an old dog she used to have, and they live together as master and pet. Momo greets her at the door every day, cheers her up, and listens to all of her problems with a sympathetic ear; she feeds him, washes his hair, and gives him a place to stay.
It sounds simple (and bizarre), but of course there is more to it than that. Momo is a rising star in the dance world, it turns out, and could easily live on his own - he just likes his life as a pet as he sees how much Sumire needs him, and has fallen for Sumire. Sumire, on the other hand, has grown to rely on Momo as the only person she can show her true feelings in front of, and can't relax without him around. She has feelings for him too, but is determined to keep it a master/pet situation, especially when her old flame, Hasumi, returns and their relationship develops into love again. Torn between Hasumi and Momo, and keeping the fact that she has a man as a pet from her boyfriend, Sumire tries to juggle it all while still maintaining her work ethic as a career woman.
Volume One: Sumire and Momo meet, and make their master/pet arrangement. Hasumi re-enters the picture, and the games begin.
Volume Two: Momo teaches Sumire a lesson about being selfish, and an encounter with a pervert shows just how tough she can be.
Volume Three: A dentist's assistant named Shiori makes a hard play for Hasumi, and Momo runs away.
Volume Four: Sumire goes undercover at a theme park (and kicks some ass), Momo, Hasumi, and Sumire spend Christmas together, and Momo and Sumire take in another stray.
Volume Five: Momo is kidnapped but Sumire and Hasumi rescue him, Hasumi proposes, and Sumire gets a creepy stalker.
Volume Six: Momo and Sumire investigate a mermaid mystery, Hasumi is sent to Hong Kong, and Sumire stops some terrorism in the dance world.
Volume Seven: Sumire's best friend Yuri stays for awhile in need of help, and Sumire heads to Hong Kong to see Hasumi.
Volume Eight: Momo meets an old woman who needs his help too, Sumire has a short encounter with amnesia, and Hasumi bumps into Shiori in Hong Kong.
Ogawa's art style is very shojo, fitting the romance angle of the manga - the characters tend to have puffy lips, wide eyes, pointed chins, and flowing hair. They also tend to be quite lanky, such that it is hard to tell that Sumire is taller than most women, though that is one of her defining physical characteristics. Ogawa is quite good at representing emotions on the character's faces and with their postures, which is essential in a manga like this one, and she chooses a variety of angles and compositions for panels so the pages never seem to feel repeated. Backgrounds are common, and well-defined. I very much like how the art tends to have a fun feel to it, keeping things upbeat.
Overall, the weird premise drew me to this book, but the great story and art are keeping me here. Humor, romance, and action, all in one package - it's a hell of a fun ride.
BATTLE ROYALE Vol. 15
Writer: Koushun Takami
I gotta admit: I was nervous as hell going into this, the final volume of BATTLE ROYALE.
English Adaptation: Keith Giffen
Artist: Masayuki Taguchi
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
A year or two back, I reviewed the first volume, and against all expectations, the manga about a class of Japanese kids forced to kill each other on an island turned out to be more than just exploitational trash. Then, several months ago, I blazed through the rest of the series (review here, with far more specifics than I’m going to give this go-round), and lo and behold, I discovered it actually had substance. Yes, there was ultra-violence, yes there was sex and bodily fluids, yes there was a leering perversity to it all, but by the end, I’d decided BATTLE ROYALE had evolved into a Grand Guignol adaptation of all the stressors of the teen years. THE OUTSIDERS as directed by Quentin Tarantino. Paul Verhoeven’s CATCHER IN THE RYE. Martin Scorsese’s A SEPARATE PEACE. It had something to say, it’d earned its place as the most purely suspenseful comic on my shelves, and all that remained was to see whether the payoff could live up to the promise of the build.
Yes, I was seriously worried the creators were gonna fuck it up in the final chapter. So many ways it could go wrong: Too nihilistic. Too hopeful. Too predictable. Too ambiguous. Too much story crammed into a small space. Character resolution without thematic resolution. Thematic resolution without character resolution.
But they didn’t fuck it up! In fact, my friends, they knocked that sumbitch out of the park.
Now the hardest thing is finding a way to talk about the finale without giving too much away. I figure it’s probably safe to say that the cast of 42 students has been dramatically and gorily whittled down over the course of the preceding fourteen volumes. More precisely, four remain - several of them injured – and at the end of volume fourteen they were all in one place with bullets a’flyin’. Picking up immediately from that point, volume fifteen opens with the climactic action sequence of the story. We’re right in the middle of the shoot-out upon which everything hinges, the good versus evil face-off that’s been building for hundreds of pages. Is it any wonder the book goes into ultimate Sergio Leone mode at that point?
Remember the train station wait at the beginning of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST?
The opium den with the ringing phone in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA?
Eli Wallach’s epic race through the Civil War cemetery in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY?
Well if you can believe it, those quintessential Leone moments were practically running at Benny Hill “Yakety Sax” speed compared to the shootout that opens this volume. Let me put it this way: there’s a sequence that couldn’t last more than ten or fifteen seconds for the characters, but as presented – essentially the time it takes for a single pistol to be drawn and fired – it runs in the neighborhood of 80 pages. 80 PAGES! A number like that might frighten even the manga faithful. Surely, surely that’s the very definition of glut, right? Decompression at its worst?
NO, goddamn it. It works, and it works beautifully. Because by the time the scene comes, the series has long established that every death on the island is meaningful – heroes and scumbags alike - and after hundreds of pages building up the stakes for the final four, I truly believe that nothing less than Leone-on-crack would satisfy. I swear, you can almost hear the Ennio Morricone score building and building to the big moment…
But truth be told, it’s the epilogue that had me the most riveted. Even after that shot-to-end-all-shots, there were still twists and turns to be had, still violence to be done, still a need to find a singular winner. The mark of the book’s success, I think, is that every page in the second half of the book had me guessing at the final scenario – and to my pleasure, often being confounded. Reminded me of the first time I saw THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, when Eli Wallach’s strung up on a noose at the end and ol’ Clint’s riding off. I was riveted to the screen, trying to figure out if Wallach could possibly earn Clint’s mercy, whether he ultimately deserved it, and if I could be happy with a movie where he was just left to swing. Such was the level of tension as the grand finale loomed ever closer in BATTLE ROYALE. Think of it as a master course in comic book suspense, and if you can sweat it through, you graduate. Making suspense like this work is so much more than having a lot of pages to work with – it’s variation in panel size, spare but appropriate use of internal monologues, false leads to screw with expectations, and enough surprises that you almost have to catch your breath when you hit the last page.
Sorry to be so oblique, but there are some things worth waiting for, and BATTLE ROYALE’s ending is one of them. I can’t recall being so viscerally swept away by a comic since Frank Miller’s first (and only truly great) SIN CITY yarn. That level of involvement is a particular specialty of manga, and never accomplished more successfully than with BATTLE ROYALE. So it is that I add the final volume to my bookshelf content that buying all fifteen volumes was money well spent. I salute creators Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi, as well as English language adapter Keith Giffen, for their unflinchingly extreme morality play.
Dripping with melodrama but highly accessible to the end, BATTLE ROYALE proves to be one of the great modern comic book stories.
SUPER REAL # 2
Written and Illustrated by: Jason Martin
SUPER REAL number two sets out to answer the question of what happens when five of the most incredibly vapid people meet each other to go on a reality television show that’s going to give them superpowers. Of course, you don’t need to read SUPER REAL to see what vapid people would do on a reality television show. You can turn on practically any channel these days to see that. But with all of the moronic antics you see on reality TV I think you’d be hard pressed to find a group as completely intellectually inept as the crew that’s been assembled in the pages of SUPER REAL. And that’s where the beauty of this book lies.
Published by: superrealgraphics.com
Reviewed by: superhero
Imagine it. You get a group of young, great looking, and perpetually stupid people straight from a GIRLS GONE WILD location shoot and decide to give them super powers. Well, that’d be the most completely irresponsible thing anyone could ever do, right? The thing of it is that you’ve got two interests behind the production of the SUPER REAL TV show that have absolutely no moral scruples at all: Television Producers and Corporate Executives. So, in the end, it completely makes sense.
What also makes sense is that all of this is comedy gold. The main cast of SUPER REAL is so completely thick and shallow that the mind boggles at the concept of giving them powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men. And that’s why the main conceit behind the book pays off so well. It’s the fact that these dunderheads have been picked to be genetically modified that makes the concept alone behind SUPER REAL pretty freakin’ hysterical. Martin seems to revel in making his cast of potential supers as dumb as they could possibly be because there’s not a Reed Richards among any of them. I honestly started thinking how hard it must have been for Martin to actually write the dialogue for the contestants. The stuff they talk about is about as deep as a rain puddle in the Sahara. It actually impresses me that Martin was not only able to make the dialogue coherent but was actually able to make it funny as well.
This issue never actually gets to the point of where the team ends up getting their super powers but instead focuses on the team’s initial reactions with one another. Issue two follows up on the first’s setup and actually went a long way to setting up my anticipation for the next issue. I’m dying to find out what happens when these clowns actually get their newfound abilities. While this issue does hint a bit at some sinister behind the scenes shenanigans I’m hoping that the book doesn’t veer too much into that direction. Right now the idea of empty-headed twenty-somethings getting powers just tickles me to no end and I’m hoping that the next issue pushes the book into the actual super-heroing arena. Don’t get me wrong, SUPER REAL is a great book so far but by the third issue I really, really want to see some follow up Martin’s great two issue set up. SUPER REAL has some super potential and I’m hoping that issue three starts to deliver on what the book’s main concept has set up so far. As funny as it’s been so far I can only read about overly muscled, stripper-type cokeheads hitting on each other for so long.
Martin’s art involves a combination of digital photography, Photoshop effects, and actual drawings to make SUPER REAL one of the more interesting looking books out there. The colors are bright and Martin pulls off the digital photography/cartooning hybrid with flair. Its look is unlike any other book out there that I’ve seen and while it may put off some readers I actually found it refreshing. The first issue of SUPER REAL was an all around well produced package and nothing’s changed with issue two.
SUPER REAL continues to be one of the better indie books (hell, books period) out there and I’m looking forward to reading the next issue.
Writer/Artist: Kevin McShane
I’m a hard sell on pop culture gag strips, especially the kind that traffic in the likes of monkey gags (no offense to our esteemed mascot, Schleppy). It’s all pretty much “Been there, done that, not funny anymore.” The interesting thing about TOUPYDOOPS, which is a pop culture spoof book, which does have monkey gags…is that it still made me laugh out loud at several points. Way I see it, that earns it a look!
Publisher: Lobrau Productions
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
The premise of the book, courtesy of the TOUPYDOOPS website:
“Imagine a Hollywood run not by movie studios, but by comic book publishers. Here, Peter Parker is a bigger celebrity than Tom Cruise. And the Betty Ford Clinic is actually the Betty Rubble Clinic. Into this world steps our hero, Toupydoops. The star of his own comic strip back in college, Toupy moves out to LA with dreams of starring in his own comic book swimming in his head.”And so we get a two-tiered spoof, lampooning both Hollywood and the comic book biz. In the first issue, Toupydoops moves to L.A. with his best bud in hopes of auditioning for a villain in SUPERMAN. Visually, Toupydoops looks like a cereal mascot with antennas and a pompadour (or is that a mohawk?). He’s the blue-skinned guy in this image, flanked by his chain-smoking pal, Teetereater, and cigar-smoking pet monkey, Mr. Bananas. They’re all likeable schlubs looking for their big break, and if it all seems a little too “college comic strip”, well, that’s what it was, but a dose of excellent comic timing manages to elevate the whole affair.
Here’s the page that won me over, a bit of purely visual comedy with impeccable pacing. Also really enjoyed Toupy’s casting call, where he hits it off with the casting director. The scene establishes the book’s slightly raunchy sense of humor – Toupy’s checking out a signed picture of Neil Gaiman’s Death from SANDMAN and the director explains, “Y’know, before I got her that guest shot in Sandman, she was just another Goth chick with no tits and too much eye makeup. Now look at her – she’s every Emo guy’s wet dream.” Apparently the guy cast “practically all of the early Vertigo books.” It’s a fun bit, veering into full-on funny when the casting director decides Toupy owns the villain role and starts showing him tapes of all the shitty auditions prior to his. It culminates in an awkward and hilarious elevator ride with a very “Hollywood” Superman:
Toupydoops: Never figured I’d see you on an elevator.
[Beat panel. Superman’s reading a paper, drinking a latte, barely listening.]
Toupydoops: Y’know. ‘Cause you can fly.
Superman: Mmm.Visually, the book’s still got a touch of the “up-and-comer” look to its cartooning, but it’s still a pretty polished aesthetic. The expressions are all clear and funny, the timing’s right on, plenty of cinematic variation of camera shots, and the storytelling’s nice and clear. Especially worthy of note is the extended fight sequence between Teetereater and the human-sized cockroach lurking in the apartment. As Mr. Bananas plays a MORTAL KOMBAT-style fight game in the foreground, the game’s mirrored by the epic Man v. Roach battle going on in the background. Absurdist bits like the roach’s special move of breathing fire or the 3-HIT COMBO Teeter tags him with are positively inspired.
Certainly TOUPYDOOPS is the kind of book I can see appealing to fans of LIBERTY MEADOWS, PVP, and PENNY ARCADE. But even if you’re a cranky-ass mofo like myself who doesn’t read those strips…you might want to give TOUPYDOOPS a look. It’s got a fun cast, broad-appeal slapstick that goes beyond what could be a one-note premise, and it looks pretty nice ta boot. Seems like it’s got the goods.
TOUPYDOOPS website (features two decent-sized previews).
Writer: Darin Wagner
I will be interested to see how this new comic series does in an increasingly crowded super-hero market. Watching Marvel and DC put the big corporate squeeze on the small press means that these indie publishers really have to push hard to fill a niche market that the Big Two don’t already own. HYPER-ACTIVES does fill one of those niche markets, but I’m not sure about whether the audience is out there. That niche market is a retro-feeling super-hero book that I think intentionally feels a whole lot like the first batch of series that Image put out when its founders broke from Marvel. In the years since, not only have Marvel and DC drastically changed but Image has too. What makes HYPER-ACTIVES stick out is that there is a whole new retro movement out there (BIG BANG’s homage to classic DC or GODLAND’s homage to Kirby’s 70s/80s work), but they embrace a publishing period that is generally looked down upon nowadays.
Artist: Clint Hilinski
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
The down side of that early Image work was that the sudden absence of any editorial control resulted in serious story-telling and writing problems. However, on the up-side, the creative freedom that all these artists exhibited in their work meant every page was dripping with enthusiasm and a sense of fun and excitement; basically page after page of a bunch of elaborately designed super-heroes with cool names posing real nice and looking dramatic. And sometimes, that is enough to carry a series for awhile. But what each Image creator learned over time was that to engender long-term commitment from readers, the writing and storytelling have to quickly become more sophisticated or the readers will move on to something else.
HYPER-ACTIVES has a lot going for it in that it is completely unapologetic in its love of super-heroes. Let’s see if I’ve got all these characters down: Alphaman (a Superman type), Silverwing (cosmic-powered legacy type), Surefire (looks a lot like Sand from the JSA), Rush (speedster), Panzer (huge strong guy), Honeychild (indistinctly-black lady in a bee costume), Wereclaw (Wolverine/Beast type), Scandal, Boy Genius, and Alphaman’s daughter (sorry, didn’t catch her name but she wears a too-short to believe skirt and maybe I was distracted by that). Remember how the pilot episode of E.R. was intended to be a day in the life of a big-city Emergency Room as seen through the eyes of a first-day resident (Dr. Carter)? Similarly, writer/creator Darin Wagner jumps right into a day in the life of a big city’s super-hero team as seen through the eyes of a brand-new super-hero (Silverwing).
This newest hero is only the latest to assume the mantle of Silverwing. We know this because the story begins with the elderly, but still powerful, Silverwing’s final battle where some cosmic Kirby-crackle flies out of his body before he dies and vaporizes. The Kirby-crackle enters a bystander and voila, we have a new, and somewhat confused, Silverwing who promptly takes care of the bad guys and then finds himself invited by a late-arriving Alphaman to visit the Hypersphere, headquarters of the Hyper-Actives. Wagner teases the reader with glimpses of the Hyper-Actives trophy room, with mementos of past adventures, including the evil mirror universe version of the team called the Retro-Actives which we will hopefully see some of in future issues. He also has characters nonchalantly mentioning and flitting back and forth from here to someplace called “Earth PI,” which I thought intriguing enough of a name to want to find out more.
In the world of the Hyper-Actives, the super-heroes are true celebrities who seem to revel in the attention and publicity. They are all over the celebrity magazines and entertainment TV. They also refer to the masses that they put their lives on the line to protect as “peds” (short for “pedestrians” I would imagine) which indicates a certain level of class superiority in their perceptions. Quite different, say, from the old BATMAN TV-show where Batman obviously (and humorously) called everyone “Citizen,” positioning himself as a humble servant to the people. Something to follow up on as the series progresses. For a super-hero comic, this is all good. The hardest part of a fantasy series is that the author has to create a fantasy-world that is believable within the parameters he sets up. The relationship between the “peds” and the “Hyper-Actives” (a name not chosen by the heroes but thrust upon them by the media) is there, a history of super-powered heroes and villains is there, dimensional and planetary adventure-hopping is there. All of these are well-established plot devices within the genre and set up quite nicely for this series.
I did have a few problems with the issue though. Nothing that drives me away from the series, but I think they are storytelling elements that can be improved and the first is kind of ironic coming from me. I am one of those vocal opponents to the slow-as-molasses style of writing that has taken over the Big Two (Marvel especially) in the last few years. But here, I think Wagner may have tried to move TOO quickly and missed his own set-up on what would have been a strong narrative point to pick up on. When Alphaman arrives on the scene literally minutes after the new Silverwing’s transformation he delivers this line of dialogue: “At this moment, your perceptions are expanded, your body feels almost weightless and you’re even having trouble recognizing your own voice. I know this from my own powers of observation and from what your predecessor told me of his first day living with the Silverwing essence.” There’s very little follow up on that in the comic. This new Silverwing just kind of mulls things over a bit and then shows up at the Hypersphere. I would’ve liked to have seen some evidence of him really struggling to comprehend what has happened to him. It’s a similar complaint heard from movie reviewers about THE FANTASTIC FOUR last year. I don’t think it would have been construed as padding out the story for this first issue to spend a little more time on Silverwing’s personal struggles before accepting Alphaman’s offer to meet and possibly join the Hyper-Actives. But, you know, like the UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN, just because it was not shown in this first issue does not mean that it did not happen “between panels” and could be shown in a flashback. As it is right now, though, we don’t know very much about his personality, in fact, I don’t recall whether we were even given his name…other than Silverwing. So, these are things I would encourage some further exploration of.
One other thing about the writing end. When I finished reading through this issue, I thought it read as if the target audience is a little younger than most new comics nowadays seem to be aiming for. So, I passed it on to my own little “youthful focus group”….my 11 year-old son. He liked the comic and did say he’d be interested in reading more, but his very first comment was somewhat telling. He said “None of these guys seem to be able to get through a panel without cursing.” I had noticed the clever way that Wagner sort of phonetically wrote out some of the characters’ lazy mispronunciations of “shit,” but as an adult I had not noticed the other more mild curses until it was brought to my attention. And his observation was good, I think. For a comic like this to succeed, it needs to be something that can be read by Jr. High kids and up without fear of an uninformed parent freaking out that her kid’s “funny book” has rampant PG-13 dialogue. Just food for thought for the creative team to consider.
Now, on the art. I thought Hilinski’s art was appealing. It’s not as polished as someone at the major publishers. He does have some real anatomical issues, women’s waistlines being a particular issue, but there is an identifiable and likeable cartooning style there. I would suggest that his strengths lie more in his pencil work than in his inking because the shading and weight that is given to the illustrations in the inking stage just did not exist for me. I’d really like to see a polished inker take his pencils and go to town because I think he’s got some real talent here that would be enhanced by a good inker. His costume designs for the main characters are also very nice.
I enjoyed HYPER-ACTIVES and plan to pick up the next issue. My son also enjoyed it. He had no complaints at all about the art and said his favorite characters were Boy Genius and Wereclaw. Wereclaw because he “looks cool.” Boy Genius probably because he relates to that. If you like that early-Image groove, then HYPER-ACTIVES is your kind of book for sure.