Friday, March 30, 2007

Word of the Week x 2

You get a double dose of vocab today because I haven't really read any comics this week other than the floppies I picked up. Oh yeah, Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #9 is probably one of the best comics printed by Marvel in recent memory. I just haven't had the chance to sit down and open the trade I picked up or the library trades I have.

Anyway, you get two words today because I found one, then needed to look up the second for the first to make sense - and all examples will be Batman addressing Robin from now on.

Microbiophotometer – an instrument for measuring the growth of bacterial cultures by the turbidity of the medium.

– cloudiness of a solution caused by the scattering of light by colloidal particles or by suspended precipitate or sediment.

Comic book example: Robin, quick, get this sewer water-sample to the bat-cave and run it through the microbiophotometer. The turbidity of this water makes me think our old acquaintance Clayface didn't dissipate the way we thought he did when he fell into the water treatement plant's mainline. But I'd like scientific confirmation before I contact the commissioner.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wednesday's Loot - 28 March 2007

52 Week 47
We’re on the home stretch now and I’m thinking the bible of evil people have finally realized their mistake and are going after the proper daughter of Cain thus explaining the evil version of a certain character we saw one year later. Otherwise this was just a placeholder issue. Some plot points were tied up like rejecting membership into the Teen Titans, Montoya coming home, Bruce Wayne cooking his goose (metaphorically speaking), Wonder Woman having a moment, and a bit of Animal Man sprinkled into the mix. I do like the action figure sized Metal Men. I do have to say I like how Tim Drake is being portrayed ever since this book and the one year later stories have started. Even his little moments here make him really stand out as a great character who is both young and yet learning to take on responsibilities and grow into his role.
I rate this comic: A bunch of decent moments but not as great as the last one.

Batman #664
Finally more commando Man-bats and playboy Bruce Wayne in super-parachute-ski-action. Then I’m not sure I like the rest of the book. Oh, it’s interesting and presents a good idea but it feels a bit like a cheat as well. It’s about something we don’t get to see and know nothing about. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this version of Batman and Bruce Wayne. I like that he’s beating up crooked cops and pimps while trying to help out the younger women. Although that hooker that looks sort of pregnant in the artwork was just a bit too creepy or perhaps realistic. This is really over the top action, and I hope it all makes sense in the end but I do wish it was a bit more one issue oriented – but that’s just me. I really don’t have a problem with decompressed stories but this one only makes the set up for the story very near the end of this issue which feels like a cheat to me.
I rate this comic: A great Bruce Wayne, Billionaire Playboy scene and a great Batman taking it to the streets for some info scene.

Godland #17
This is one of those comics I find hard to praise each time I get it. It is always delivering what I want it to and I’m always happy to read it. This time though I was a bit lost because I didn’t get a copy of the last issue. It just sold out before I could get my hands on it. I do love the nostalgic feeling this book introduces each month. Reading it makes me remember when “to be continued” wasn’t so reviled by me as a cheap excuse for lazy writing. This book always feels like it knows where it’s going and is having fun getting there all while managing to throw a lot of ideas at the wall to see what sticks.
I rate this comic: Cosmic fun.

I also picked up the Marvel Adventures: Avengers issue with MODOC and Batman: Snow trade but haven’t read either yet. I’ll just assume they’re both good.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Finally, the first in a long list of allies

All Glory to the Hypnotoad.

It begins.

via Torontoist.

There's a story in there somewhere.

I just realized that my office is located in a triangle of Starbucks all within a block (or so). I'm sort of in the Bermuda triangle of coffee houses, which is weird considering the Starbuck namesake. I'm sure there is some kind of conspiracy thing you could write about that.

Oh yeah, no comics content for two posts now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

So Long Rheostatics

Quintessential Canadian band The Rheostatics are calling it quits in three days time (March 30th) after 25 years. They’re one of those bands that a lot of people loved but I never really “got” them until much later in life. It must be an Ontario thing because they didn’t really say anything about my experiences growing up out East. But that all changed as I grew out of high-school and university. I remember a lot of people going on and on about how The Tragically Hip were the greatest contemporary Canadian band but they’re kind of like Tim Horton’s coffee – corporate crap. (I did really like their music at first but it just never grew all that much, while I did).

On the other hand, The Rheostatics have done nothing but grow and push their limits. They’ve used Canadiana to create their music and they’ve managed to contribute back to Canadiana in the process. They’re not just recording our history and culture but growing it and have made Canada uniquely, well, Canadian. Their Group of Seven album, inspired by the paintings by The Group of Seven is the album that rings in the Spring for me at this point in the year or around the long Easter weekend when my wife and I tend to rent a cottage just north of Ottawa. This album was basically commissioned by The National Gallery.

So anyway, here’s a suitably geeky video for The Tarleks with Frank Bonner reprising his role from WKRP, because he apparently liked the song so much. I bet you can’t find a song that puns Dr. Who villains. Now, if only I could find the video for The Ballad of Wendel Clark.

Group of Seven:
The Album by The Rheostatics
online gallery
Tom Thomson Memorial Gallery
Required Wikipedia entry for The Group of Seven
Required Wikipedia entry for The Rheostatics

*Cough*Cough* - Excuse me, but I have a point, I think.

Monologues From the Coming Plague
Anders Nilsen
Fantagraphics, 2006.
ISBN: 1560977183 (pbk.)

This is the kind of book that I always think I should love and support but end up not liking. I’m happy to say that I’ve finally found an exception to that pattern in this book. This is the kind of book that I always think I should support and I ended up actually liking it quite a bit.

It’s a simple book that is basically riffing on whatever is in the creator’s mind at the time of creation. It’s a sketch book and a bit of an exercise sheet. I tend to not be the biggest fan of the whole stream of consciousness type of storytelling but this volume worked for me. I guess this volume had a lot of shared characteristics with those remix CDs that double as 45 singles. Instead of just giving us an A-side and a B-side we’re now given an A-Side a B-Side and either a few other songs as well as a lot of remixed versions of the original song. I’m not the expert on electronica, go ask Kevin for a better explination.

What I’m trying to say is that I liked it. I liked it because it was what it was and wasn’t really trying to be more than it was. I usually get the feeling when I read a lot of stream of consciousness indy books that the creator is trying to be arty and deep when they come off as incomprehensible and boring. Not so much here. It’s light, it’s rough, but more than anything it’s actually funny and sometimes poignant.

And the format is completely different from anything I’ve ever come across in comics at this point in my life – although I’m not the most well read in the medium. It looks like a paperback novel with stiffer coloured paper for the first three-quarters and regular white paper for the last part. This delineates two separate sketchbooks but it also makes the reading process unlike any other comic you’re likely to come across. If you want to look smart and catch the eye of that cool looking person working at the local coffee shop but you’re a bit too geeky then this might be your ticket into the art crowd (although you’re more likely to catch the eye of a self-important yuppie in a coffee shop these days).

My particular favourite in this book was the treatise of mediocrity. It kind of struck a bit too close to home but I liked it. There’s examinations of the modern pseudo-intellectual, modern Bhuddism, and a few other found conversations added to comic characters.

It’s not a long read by any stretch of the imagination but it is completely enjoyable and, shockingly, can give you a few things to really think about unlike a lot of the indy comics I have preconceptions of. Hey, they’re not all self-indulgent but I’ve read enough to be wary of them now. I was really happy this wasn’t one of them.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Perfect Weekend Viewing.

Okay I haven’t read any comics this weekend but I did watch Bruce Timm and company’s animated Superman – the first disk of the first season. It is a nice contrast but equally fantastic to their Batman: The Animated Series. Where Batman was a collection of 22 minute hard boiled noir cartoons, Superman is 22 minute inspirational action cartoon.

Superman works as a cartoon because he is meant to do things that are unbelievable, so the drawn aspect of the medium give the audience that distance. But at the same time some of Superman’s powers are inherently hard to animate – his super-speed and some of his super punches and flying are just damned hard to animate convincingly – add a tight schedule and you’re into nigh impossible working conditions. And yet these bumps get worked out fairly quickly. For every time Superman doesn’t seem to be flying right or running as fast as he should be there is a great character moment or a stylized flourish on his character or any other character we’re culturally familiar with.

I wasn’t too keen on Lois at first. She comes off as cold rather than accomplished and competent. It may just be she suffered from what the whole series did at the beginning, and it’s that the people involved had to shift from one story telling mode to another. This is brighter and more fantastic but also dealing with animations not really a part of anything found in Batman. We’re also given a completely different cast of characters, and what feels a bit awkward at the beginning are really just unfamiliarity – at least for me as the viewer. I expect Batman, but this isn’t it.

I will say that I really like this Lex Luthor. He’s cold, calculating and the voice casting is spot on. And I’m also really happy that Superman is kept much like Batman was in that series – he’s there, the stories are about him, but he’s not necessarily the focus of each episode. He will win in the end, but he could spend most of the episode off screen.

In the end, getting these DVDs for my Saturday morning toast and coffee is really one of the highlights of my week. A bit of me-time to just shut out the world and watch some beautiful art in motion. I really do love this art style and I’m happy to see that it works in Metropolis as well as it does in Gotham. I love the redesigns and I find myself looking forward to see what gets added to the characters - not just costume wise, but story wise, as well as what additions to the character's mythos and rogues gallery are made along the way.

I've enver seen an episode of this series. It was broadcast during a point in my life when I didn't really own a TV so this is all new and wonderful to me.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Word of the Week

Comorbid: pertaining to a disease or other pathological process that occurs simultaneously with another.

Comic book usage: Harley was a brilliant psychiatrist once but her comorbid relationship with The Joker keeps getting her into trouble. Robin, get my bat-hang-glider.

- - - - -

I'm not sure if all my examples should be from Batman or not.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wednesday's Loot - 21 March 2007

52 Week 46
When the first line is delivered by a walking egg-man on an island of mad scientists you have the feeling this issue will be great. When the first line is actually “He survived Dr. Death’s Acid Rainstorm” you pretty much expect this to be the best issue of 52. Then the next character to speak says “The most dangerous living being on the planet is now mere miles away from my soft, vulnerable guts” you’re pretty sure those two speech balloons are better than most entire superhero comics. Or at least that’s what I thought. Okay, I could pretty much just quote the first three panels here and you’d agree with me. This issue started out very strong and had a bit of a twist going into the whole World War 3 business that I didn’t see coming. Well, I wasn’t really looking for anything to begin with really. I’m exceptionally happy with these mad-scientist set pieces, let alone the great Clark Kent moment and JSA bit.
I rate this comic: Super-flammable liquid plastic plus thermo-breath awesome, with a side of insectron.

The Spirit #4
The washed out colours instantly set the mood for this issue. And this is the second comic I read that has me sold on how good it is with the first line. Four issues in and I’m still impressed with how Darwyn Cooke manages to create such a great comic from the moment it starts. His ability to create characters with minimal dialogue is stunning. This comic really does have everything you could ask for – heroes chained together with a bit of sexual tension, a car chase, a funny villain, witty dialogue, stunning art, beautiful and competent women, and tough guys. If you’re not, you’re really missing out.
I rate this comic: Four issues in and my new favourite.

Marvel Adventures: Avengers #11
I totally meant to buy the everybody is MODOC issue but forgot. Regardless I added this to my pull list and I’m really happy I did. Jeff Parker is writing the kind of comics I like – good action, great dialogue, and a love and understanding of the characters he’s writing. This issue has sarcastically unconfident cult leaders, a snakes on a plane joke, Spider-man doing a zombie impression as well as reminding everyone he’s actually a smart science guy. Then Storm uses Wolverine as a lightning rod to smash up the world domination pyramid scheme.
I rate this comic: Way better than I expected.

Detective Comics #830
And with that The Siege ends. This was a decent Batman and Robin story but I think it could have been reduced to one book. This issue felt really light and I think it could have been wrapped up sooner with a bit of editing.
I rate this comic: An okay conclusion.

All in all this was a pretty good week in the comics I bought. So far I'm quite happy with my subscription list.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Holy Great Comics Batman

Gotham Central Volumes 1-3
Written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker; Art by Michael Lark

This is the day to day beat of the cops in the Major Crime Unit of the Gotham Police Department. The place where all the worthless spent gutter trash of the city of crime ends up. This isn’t the department that is out there helping the citizens of Gotham they’re the department that catches the bad guys. And in Gotham there are criminals then there are the bad guys. It’s one thing to have your average person crack and commit some horrific crime, it’s another thing altogether when that person is armoured and shooting ice or flames with the ability to fly.

There’s not a lot of glory in these stories. They’re just doing their jobs. There isn’t even a heck of a lot of originality in the idea after Powers and countless TV police shows. That doesn’t take away from these stories in the least though. They really are fantastic. In many ways the human level these stories are told on remind me of Kurt Busiek’s Marvels where we see the super-hero world through the eyes of a regular Joe doing his or her job.

On every level these comics really hit it out of the park. Interesting characters, well written characterizations, plots and dialogue, beautiful artwork and one of the best settings in all of comic books. I’m a bit surprised that this book didn’t come out sooner. Part of what makes Gotham such a great setting is the police force. They were one of the reasons Batman came into existence and having a few honest cops to interact with was what made the setting complete for the hero. There was always the commissioner and Bullock who were really used well in the animated series, but it was attempts to diversify the animated cast that gave us Renee Montoya. Much like Harley Quinn, Montoya was adopted into the comic-verse version of Batman with much success. And the second volume focuses entirely on her and her relationship with Two-Face which really exceeded my expectations for both characters.

I’m a bit torn on how these volumes have been collected. I love that each volume is pretty much centred around one complete story. It makes for a really coherent experience. Heck, in the second volume that focuses on Montoya we’re even give a few comics that weren’t Gotham Central but were like flashbacks so the reader wasn’t lost on the relationship between Montoya and Two-Face. The change in art was a bit jarring, but the fact that these two stories were included was really appreciated by me. It actually enhanced the story told in Gotham Central. But on the other hand a lot of issues are simply not collected here. I’m hoping there are plans to release the entire run sometime because some of their last issues about a dead Robin really intrigue me – although a lot of the tie-ins with Infinite Crisis pretty much put a nail into the coffin of the series I’m told. That’s a bit of an unfair assessment not having read those issues.

Michael Lark’s art is simply stunning. To me, it felt like a mash-up of Paul Pope, Jack Kirby and Joe Kubert throughout. It was equally moody and dynamic which is what the stories called for.

These are great police dramas. It’s tougher than nails at points but it’s also got moments of levity with a few moments where your brain just goes, “hmm, that’s cool.” From having the secretary being the only one allowed to turn on the Bat-signal to the writers names on the crime board this book is the perfect bookend to Batman’s own adventures in Gotham. There’s a few weird things for the uninitiated – different commissioner and Bullock not being present but they sort of get explained. Bullock does show up in the last arc and is his generally gruff self but with a bigger load to bear. It’s sad and touching but also a bit frustrating to see such a great character forced to the sidelines. Heck, same with Gordon.

In the end, these books are exceptionally good but was the victim of title-wide or company-wide events. It’s really too bad because I think the creators had a lot of good stories to tell. From what I saw and read here I’m really disappointed in myself for not having bought this title when it was available (I was new again to comics and stupid). But I also think it’s fitting that this title died like one of the deaths the MCU would need to investigate.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Decompression Project: Part 3

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 5: Public Scrutiny
Bendis and Bagely

Yes, this is part three but volume 5. I read the first two hardcover books which cover volumes one through four of the trade paperbacks. As far as I can tell anyway.

This collection of stories did two things that I can think of just off the top of my head. The first is that it followed up the big action of the last arc (the return of the Green Goblin) with a lull in the action and made it a bit more personal in the lead up to the Venom storyline and it also marked the first time I saw panels copied directly to intersperse dialogue (you know those pacing reaction shots that people all over the internet make fun of).

The first issue covered is probably one of my favourites so far. It has Peter Parker at high-school trying to navigate the maze of his personal life to get into costume and stop The Rhino’s rampage downtown. On a side note I really like the Ultimate Rhino costume. I still prefer the classic version but this one actually makes a bit of sense to have it as a big suit of armour. Anyway, he finally shows up to see Iron Man has the threat contained. This issue just captures the essence of Spider-man perfectly. Personal problems affect his superheroing and that’s the entire basis of the issue. He’s not Mr. Perfect, he’s just a high-school kid trying to do right and isn’t ready for all the responsibility he’s taking on – but he’s heroic for taking it on and he mostly succeeds. This isn’t just a silly joke issue, although it is structured around a silly joke, but it gives us as a reader a break from Spider-man always fighting impossible odds and winning. We need to be reminded that he’s not perfect so when he does win the victory is all that more heroic.

The rest of the issues are about someone dressed up as Spider-Man robbing banks to retell the Captain Stacey arc. I found this arc a bit more personal than the last, even though the Green Goblin stories are always about striking at Peter where his heart and home are. This story allowed him to realize the fine line he walks. Whenever Spider-Man beats up the Green-Goblin he can pretty much go for broke, especially in the Ultimate books where this is an extremely powerful bad guy who has no problems killing anything in his path. Spidey’s back is essentially against the wall and if he doesn’t win he probably dies.

In this story Peter tracks down a killer masquerading as Spider-man, who not only robbed a lot of banks but kills Gwen Stacey’s father. So, he’s pissed when he finally catches up with him and lays the smack down. Only this time when the guy takes his mask off we see Peter has beaten up a regular person – a violent criminal sure, but not an overpowerful super-villain. Peter comes face to face with his own power and an otherwise run of the mill double identity story is suddenly much much better because it’s got emotional resonance.

On the personal side Peter doesn’t recognize how much MJ has been suffering since her traumatic run in with the Green Goblin. He did try to throw her off a couple of rather high structures which would affect anyone. Peter makes the mistake of all young people when dealing with those first relationships. He assumes that because he’s okay so is the other person. But MJ is far from okay, and on top of dealing with this trauma Gwen Stacey is now living with Peter because of some pretty ham-fisted plot developments. Personally I think the whole Gwen Stacey storyline could have been saved for a few years, but that’s just me rewriting something I never wrote in the first place. It serves the plot but it still feels forced to me in retrospect.

Anyway, the emotional bleacher break up scenes stood out for me because I noticed the duplicate panels stuck in to “pace” the scene. It felt a bit unnecessary to me. I don’t think these reaction shots added anything to the scene especially when it’s the exact same panel repeated. I’m happy they’re trying a few new things in the personal and emotional scenes, don’t get me wrong, it just doesn’t work for me is all. It doesn’t ruin the story and I don’t think it deserves the amount of online grief these scenes get but I can see how if overused this repetition will overstay its welcome.

- - - - -

Okay, here’s how I’d have handled the Gwen Stacey plot line, but bear in mind I haven’t read the rest of this series yet so I don’t really know what happens. Personally, I’d have her show up whenever Peter gets to University. I’d still have the relationship problems with MJ but when Peter goes to NYU or whatever, I’d have MJ go somewhere else and they’d pretend to be together but eventually realize they were fooling themselves into thinking they’d last in a long distance relationship. They’re young and need to make that type of mistake because anyone who has been to college or university knows people who have tried this or tried it themselves. Anyway, enter Gwen Stacey and then do the Stacey plotlines and the MJ conflict. After the Gwen plot reaches its inevitable conclusion that’s when you bring back MJ.

- - - - -

Oh, Vol. 6 is in repair at the library so it may take even longer before I get it an review it. Who knew Venom was so popular?

Monday, March 19, 2007

No post today

Okay, it's a bit of a sin to blog about blogging, I know. But I was on a bit of a roll here recently and I wanted to have something up today, no matter how trite.

I'm sick and home in bed. I don't have any other posts ready to upload in case of this. Hey, I walk a fine line in this hobby based internet writing lifestyle.

I just figured my 20 or so readers should get a bit of an explination. I try to get something up Monday through Friday, but today, you just get this. I should be back tomorrow after some orange juice and sleep.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Mind Control Drugs

Okay, you're feeling a little bit tired from the constant insomnia or you've had a massive tragedy and the doctor thinks a few good nights' worth of sleep will help you out physically. Well beware my friend. It seems that certain sleeping aids have a high enough occurance of people falling asleep then getting into their cars to drive away that Canada's governing body has decided to add some stricter labels.

I knew it was only a matter of time before some mad scientist tried to use somnambulism to create an army of slaves. With people trying to cook in their sleep because of a pill they took being a side effect, are we really that far off from cricketron invasions?

300 will rock your brain, and you will thank it

I think 300 is the greatest Hollywood movie ever. It’s what they really want to make as long as porn is available for free online.

This is a movie filled with flesh. Man flesh, women flesh, hacked flesh, deformed flesh, you name it. There’s a lot of sex, a lot of violence, a lot of yelling and way more style than I was expecting. It was balls to the walls and I loved every minute of it.

Yes, they had to fill two hours so there were some political scenes added to fill time and to let the woman actor keep her breasts covered and have a few more lines to make the job worthwhile, as well as somehow give the audience a break from the carnage. But in the end, it’s all about the 300 dudes with abs as far as the eye can see and hairless chests which made me a bit envious, tearing shit up. And then talking shit after they fuck your shit up.

It is a very simple movie and while not a great movie it is certainly an awesome movie. The camera work and visual look are really a lot better than I was expecting.

How can a movie that has buff mostly-naked dudes going all matrix on freaks in slow motion while heavy metal guitars wail, be a bad movie? Seriously, this movie should have been much worse than it actually was. Okay the ending was a bit ham fisted, but the rest was fan-freaking-tastic.

If you’re looking for historical accuracy go elsewhere, I mean this is a bunch of hairless Greeks, which just doesn’t happen, but if you want to mainline radical through your eyes directly to your brain then this is the movie for you. Forget about that healthy diet of film, gorge yourself on this cheese-steak coated with pixie-sticks.

I rate this movie: 300 spears out of 5.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wednesday's Loot - 14 March 2004

52 Week 45
I really like the relationship among the Marvels and the Black Marvels that has been established in this series. And the scene with Black Adam and Montoya was actually quite touching. The whole set up with Black Adam returning to form as the despot hovering over people has really been handled well, when it looked like it could go off the rails at any point. I mean, there was even a death that wasn’t overly rendered. Restraint sometimes works better. And Waller has what I think is the best introductory line ever “The New Suicide Squad need to be one hundred strong…” Seriously, that’s like Shakespeare to me. And the ending with Dr. Sivana was also classic villainy.
I rate this comic: One of my favourite issues of 52.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #1

Yes, I’m a Buffy fan and it all happened well after the show was no longer on the air. Long story. For me this is basically G.I. Buffy, which I’m fine with, oddly. I can relive two things I don’t watch anymore – GI Joe and Buffy, although I’m not big on the X-treme Buffy approach it opens with. That being said, the conflict they set up with the US Army is actually quite clever, but that’s what I’m told Joss Whedon is good at - clever. This has got all the trappings of the TV show with the little quips and the hip-geek talk. If you know the characters and know the show it works really well. I do wonder what someone who hasn’t watched the show would think of this though? For me I can’t separate my enjoyment from my completist attitude on this one. My wife might actually read this as well so at least I can get an outsider’s opinion on it. I mean she told me last weekend that she just had no interest in comics after we had a chat about Wonder Woman. She likes the movies, the characters, TV shows and whatnot, but no interest in the medium, so it’ll be interesting to see if she reads it and to find out what she thinks.
I rate this comic: Basically Buffy with an unlimited budget but a bit too X-treme.

On a side note, I have to say the ad campaign for DC Countdown is quite good. I really like it and even put the "Jimmy Olsen Must Die" wallpaper on my home computer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Alex Toth Model Sheets

Ripped directly from the headlines of Boing Boing, I'd like to point you to the ASIFA - Hollywood Animation Archive Project Blog where they are currently displaying a bunch of Alex Toth's Model Sheets. Here's one of Zartan that I love. We need more heroes with slingshots. I mean when was the last time you saw a hero with a slingshot - The Dark Knight Returns?

Be my fake internet friend

I've created a facebook account. You can now be my internet friend
without needing to read my mildly informative comic book assessments.

So far I have 3 friends.

Swinging with the Great Apes

Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years Vol. 3
Dark Horse, July 2006, 216 Pages
ISBN-10: 1-59307-417-4

If you've read any of my other reviews on these collections of Joe Kubert's work (writing, editing, drawing) on the seventies Tarzan comics you'll probably be able to say the next few sentences in tandem with me. These are great comics that showcase unbelievable artwork with a vibrant ability to draw anatomy of all sorts.

These books are a truly fantastic tour de force of recreating figures – both human and animal – and showcasing the tools of the trade for any comic book artist or cartoonist. It's not just the rollicking adventures that make these books the perfect Sunday afternoon read, it's all about the art when it comes to Joe Kubert.

The stories are nothing to scoff at though. I mean, it is Tarzan after all so there's always some kind of knock out punch and at least one animal gets stabbed to death or thrown off a mountain per issue. The stories are old school comic serials that pack in the danger, excitement and adventure only found in today's comic book press releases and the occasional comic book outside the main-stream comic target. Presenting the plot is the other half of the equation here and Joe handles things in a way that seems lost to me these days. What I mean is that Joe seems to be both workman like in his approach yet with enough artistic flourishes to make these stories stand out.

On one hand Joe is showing us his life drawing chops but on the other Tarzan isn't always in some realistic repose but in some extremely dynamic leap across unknown jungles and fantastic creatures. The artwork, for me, is beautiful to look at but it also reveals the tools used to create it. Looking at the landscapes and the wilderness scenes I see both Tarzan's jungle or a hidden valley of lizard-men at the same time I see the pens and brushes used to ink the scenes. I know Kubert didn't always ink his own work, and that's not the point here, the point is that I get caught up in each panel on both a storytelling and technical level

Basically, these collections can be reduced to naked man running around wilderness to fight some kind of animal or, on occasion, dinosaur. You need to know human anatomy to accomplish this as much as you need access to a major zoo or The Discovery Channel to reproduce all these animals. But this isn't just a bunch of reproduced still life pictures, it's an extremely dynamic creation. Kubert manages to give Tarzan every possible type of pose and have them all come off pretty much perfectly. They aren't photo realistic but that's what makes him one of the best comic artists out there. These are representative images that allow for enough exaggeration because they aren't limited by trying to reproduce the limitations of real life but at the same time they capture the proportions and structure of the subject in such a way as to make them appear just as real as any photograph. Sometimes catching the idea works better than the real life image and that's what makes these books some of my favorite discoveries. They're essentially the core of what adventure comics should be – realistic enough to keep you believing but dynamic enough to keep you entertained and turning the pages.

Plus, Tarzan snaps the neck of a large cat or crocodile, on average, every two issues. In this volume there were also higher incidents of Tarzan stabbing dinosaurs in the eye.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mildly Informative Review

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Chris Sprouse & Karl Story
Wildstorm Signature Series 160pg. Color Softcover $14.99 US ISBN 1401208495

I know I’m in the minority here but I wasn’t a big fan of Ellis’s Fell or Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Fell has sort of grown on me and I do like it if I can find it on the shelves because the occasional bad-ass noir police comic is generally a good thing to me – as odd as that sounds. But the first issue of Nextwave just didn’t sit right with me. It still sounds like something I should love but something about it just left me cold and I’m probably not going to return anytime soon, what with the cancellation and all. I like the art and I like the writer but that first issue convinced me to not try the rest of the series. .

Which brings me around to Ocean. I loved this story. This is a comic where I get to see what the big deal about Warren Ellis is all about. I’ve heard he’s well respected but my limited exposure to his work had so far left me cold. I did get one issue of Transmetropolitan back in the day and thought it was cool but promptly ran out of money or moved to the UK then ran out of money – my life is a bit hazy back then. Regardless of that, I managed to get a copy of Ocean from my local library. I read it and enjoyed it.

For those of you that don’t know it’s a sci-fi story about a UN weapons inspector who goes to Jupiter (well Europa the frozen moon of Jupiter) because a bunch of aliens, who are essentially a race of homicidal maniacs, are found in stasis and a more evil futuristic version of Microsoft is trying to get to the alien technology first.

The action and plot are pretty generic stuff, but I’m a fan of generic stuff, it’s the actual details of the plot and the players that gets interesting. Each character is instantly recognizable as a certain trope you feel familiar with but with enough tweaks and well written character driven dialogue to make them feel original. And a group of poor but well meaning good guys who befriend a crazy-talented bad-ass facing off against a well funded and highly organized criminal empire is a background setting I’ve come across before.

I have to admit I really think Ellis’s piss-take of Microsoft (and corporate culture in general) was the best one I’ve come across. I think it’s mostly because I have a friend who is a full blown Microserf who is becoming a bit of a high-flyer in the company. I like my satire biting and this was biting close to home, but not actually referring to me, so I found it delicious.

What makes this story work for me isn’t the fact that it is genre storytelling done well, but the fact that it is done well because of all the little details added to it that make it stand out. It stands out in a genre flooded with banality and well, generally melodramatically lame flourishes. Nope, here we’ve got hired thugs with hand held fire torches getting their throats slit, acid guns for use inside space-stations, and a UN weapons inspector obsessed with ancient space flight who could probably be Morpheus’s father the way he handles technology.

Chris Sprouse’s artwork is crisp and clean for a sanitized world of the future that has managed to adapt to outer spaaace. But at the same time the art is just simplified enough to allow the action to be over the top and exaggerated. The bright colours and clean lines are in contrast to the actions of the people involved and the pretty violent behaviour that remains inherent in humanity. The clean lines of man’s constructions are meant to show our intelligent system of ordering the universe and in this book it really offsets the images of human nature rearing its ugly head. For instance, there’s this fantastically sterile space station surrounding a man who gets shot with an acid gun and boils out from the inside. Clean lines versus chaotic mess. Both stand out more in their interaction.

This was a great read for anyone who likes their sci-fi with a bit of brains and balls behind it. Just occasionally those brains gets splattered all over an airlock.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Word of the Week

In my new job I'm coming across a lot of new words and terms that should be used in comic books. I hope to keep this new feature going as long as I come across new words. Also, I used "dudity: mail nudity" in my e-mail with friends when planning our schedules to go see 300 and that became the word of the week last week. So blame my friends for encouraging and inspiring me.

Armamentarium: the equipment of a practitioner or institution, including books, instruments, medicines, and surgical appliances.

Comic book usage: "Later that evening, below Wayne Manor, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne explores his armamentarium for his Batman cowl infused with herbicides for his inevitable clash with Poison Ivy.

If you're feeling sinister.

Put the Book Back on the Shelf - Various Creators inspired by the songs and music of Belle and Sebastian

What an interesting idea for an anthology. Stories influenced or reflecting Belle and Sebastian songs. I like this trend that I’m seeing in anthologies these days. Yes, they’re still artist showcases but building them around a theme, no matter how loosely interpreted, seems to work better for me. I’ve always liked the idea of anthologies better than the finished product, and while that’s still true with these themed based ones I do appreciate the effort and I’m more likely to get a themed anthology on something I really like, like race relations.

I find it a bit hard to review this collection though because I keep reducing my ideas down to aesthetics and, well, I guess maybe that’s the point. I don’t particularly want to detail my thoughts on each story influenced by a Belle and Sebastian song and I don’t want to particularly point out my favourites. I have them and that should really be enough because it doesn’t reveal anything about the book rather than reveal my personal tastes – and you don’t really need to know what they are, do you?

My experience with Belle and Sebastian is that they were one of the last two mixed tapes I ever received from a friend. Same friend, different bands for the last one I received. You remember tapes don’t you? The most indestructible recording form known to man. So, anyway, I know some Belle and Sebastian songs when I hear them but have no idea what they’re called or what album they’re from. Some I’ve managed to figure out and others are easily identifiable, or my friend who gave me the tape kept referring them by name so I now know what they are. What I’m trying to get at here is that this anthology plugged into a whole set of memories for me. The collection itself is essentially a mixed tape of stories and should be enjoyed as such. There are the songs you like, the songs you fast forward and the songs that you don’t like at first but grow on you to become your favourites because they’re not as obvious as the ones you first liked. The same goes for this collection really.

There is enough art here to make any fan of the comic book medium happy. If you want more than just purdy pictures you’re also in luck as there are some pretty solid narratives here as well. Part of the fun is just in seeing how vastly different these stories are. Like a lot of Belle and Sebastian songs this collection has an instant feeling of cute and comfortable but under the surface there is something. There’s a lot of cute and artsy-cute type of artwork but there’s also some pretty dark subject matter thrown in throughout. You feel it should be more airy and light but it only appears that way next to something that is fairly dark. Some of the contributors chose to focus on the airy light presentation while others focused on the dark narratives while others tried to capture both.

The only thing I really wish is that my mixed tape didn’t break years ago so I could pop it into my decaying cassette player and reacquaint myself with these songs. I felt at a bit of a loss because I wasn’t totally and instantly familiar with Belle and Sebastian’s oeuvre, although I do consider myself a fan. I guess I’m just lucky that my local pub’s manager has their CDs on his weeknight rotation so I’m not totally out of the loop. In the end I can recommend this book to anyone looking for an anthology to see how utterly different one comic book story can be from another but I’m just not familiar enough to say if you’re a fan of the band you’ll like a comic book inspired by their songs. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot because there’s enough variety to have at the very least one story you like.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Once Upon a Toon - Disney Inspirations

I just came across an online photo gallery on detailing an exhibit in Montreal entitled "Once Upon a Toon" about Walt Disney's inspirations and references for his animation. If I were in Montreal I'd be heading out to see this instantly.

I'm a big fan of Uncle Walt's art and I'm still hoping to one day see the test reel he did with Salvidor Dali to animate his surreal imagery.

Wednesday’s Loot – 7 March 2007 (late)

52 Week 44
Was it me or was the art a bit off this week? I do like Black Adam keeping it real and taking on the four horsemen of the apocalypse but the “big reveal” of hunger, although not a complete cheat, wasn’t what I was hoping for. At least there were enough mild hints at the situation throughout the storyline. I do like the idea of Black Adam taking on the world because he was trying to make nice and it wasn’t allowed. I think it works more than that other company’s attempt at division. This at least has established motive. Also, I think that Montoya interlude was the backup this week.
I rate this comic: Good plot, not so good art.

Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil #2
Man this is a good comic. It really is one of the high water marks in current superhero comics. There were a few panels that seemed sketchy to me, but it could just have been me trying to read through a haze of beer. Still, I expect more from every single panel Jeff Smith produces which is unabashedly unfair of me. I think this miniseries is now how I’m going to forever see Cpt. Marvel and family. Mary Marvel was a great addition to humanize Billy a bit more, and Talky Tawny was amazing artwork. This is what comics are like in my memories.
I rate this comic: Grrrreat!

Manhunter #29
Wow, a character from 52 used extremely well, I’m glad that happened and I’m not surprised it happened in this book. I finally get to see Kate in her costume, fighting evil and whatnot which is also nice because I jumped on this title really late (i.e. for this last arc) and she’s really never been fighting crime with her secret identity. I’m thinking Andreyko needs to take over a JLA book or at least have a go at JLA: Classified because the big three as presented in this book are pretty much my ideal. He captures their essence perfectly in really limited space. Wonder Woman is noble with all the good traits of loyalty and idealism but also the mere pigheadedness of never doing thing a different way than hers, Superman is a big presence who is confident and impressive in his calmness, and Batman is imposing, even over the telephone, and brilliant with his Bat-science. Plus there’s a guest appearance by Firefly’s costume. I feel like this comic was allowed to build it’s own toys out of the broken bits of the rest of the DCU and when it actually started to have fun with them and make a new game that was better than the store bought contraptions the cool kids were then allowed to come over and play.
I rate this comic: Always good since I’ve been buying it.

Detective Comics #829
So is Dini off this to work on Countdown now? I was a bit disappointed, but I should probably keep better track of the DC website or something for this comic and Batman to see when the creators aren’t creating it. That being said, I did enjoy it. I like seeing more of Bruce Wayne trusting Robin and then showing up as Batman only near the very end. Some of the plot felt a bit heavy handed, I don’t remember exactly what at the moment but I remember thinking that as I read it. And my initial reaction to Andy Clarke’s art wasn’t warm but the hints of Moebius and Frank Quietly won me over in the end and I really quite liked it by the time I finished the book. I realized I actually do like artwork in my comics that doesn’t look like the norm.
I rate this comic: A decent first half of a two part filler.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Comic book chess

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume 4 - by Grant Morrison, et al

I’ve missed a few updates as I get settled into my new job, which I love by the way. Unlike my old job where I pretty much got paid to fuck the dog and be extremely sarcastic and smug – okay that wasn’t in the job description or anything but it’s what I did in complete defiance of any attempts to manage me.

Anyway, when I read The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck on the train, I followed it up with Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 4. It was a bit of a mind fuck to go from one book to the other because I think Seven Soldiers as a collected work is good for the exact opposite reasons I consider The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck to be a good book. Seven Soldiers is an intentionally divided narrative, there are multiple artists working on multiple storylines which explore multiple sub-genres of superhero comics, all the while littered with adult themes and visuals. Sure The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck explored different types of adventure stories from cowboys to river-boat captains on the Mississippi it was used to explore different phases of one life whereas Seven Soldiers is exploring the actual genre of superhero comics and the team comic in particular. The stories in Seven Soldiers are presented as separate and complete yet connected simply because the company and author tell us they are, and while they share some root imagery or broad themes they’re not existing simultaneously per se. They exist as separate and play in a shared fictional universe whereas The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is one whole narrative following one life created to fit into a previously established history of the character.

I may be stretching for connections here but there are some even if both projects approach those shared points of storytelling from completely opposite ends. Where one story leads the other implies; where one story is chronological the other is multidimensional; and, where one story is focused on an individual the other is focused on multiple individuals rather than the team (as an individual).

I do feel I should start at the beginning again and read the whole Seven Soldier series in a few different combinations - in one prolonged sitting. I could read the different mini-series in their self-collected parts one-by-one as well as the issues in their chronological order as they are collected. It’s been a while since I read the previous volumes, so I was the teensiest bit lost on a few of the plotlines. I do feel that if I gave the entire shebang another read or two I’d be able to pick out a few more of the subtleties I missed on first pass. That’s just how my brain works anyhow. First read is plot, and if I’m lucky I pick up a few themes. Second read allows me to be way more open and analytical towards what is being presented – to follow themes, characterizations, and motifs throughout the work a bit more closely. On the first read I pick things up but don’t really hold onto them for very long as I move on to continue the plot.

It’s a bit like mental chess reading this series – fitting the pieces together and seeing how they move in anticipation of the other players. It’s not a puzzle because it’s too active and dynamic and the players don’t fit together to create a static and complete whole in the end. And, personally, I can start to play chess and be doing a fairly decent job but I get bored about a half hour into it (god forbid a game lasts that long) because I don’t have the mindset, or possibly patience, to consider how each piece will interact with each other in all possible combinations. Some people do, but not me. I’ve learned a bit and can learn more but I don’t really have the mindset anymore to care to spend the time to learn more. Okay, that was a long drawn out metaphor to explain how I think Seven Soldiers is a dynamic process between characters in the books, the books to each other, between book and reader, and ultimately between reader and creator. I think each of us can bring something new and different out of the act of reading this series and still not get to the crux of what Morrison was attempting – then again I also think we can. It’s a wonderful play between all these wonderful pieces which you will either love, hate or appreciate but not really have the patience to put up with it long enough to invest more time to discover more subtleties.

So what did I really think? I liked it. Not as much as I thought I would though but maybe I was expecting a bit more from the series than I got – it happens. I did enjoy the actual miniseries more than the two bookend issues. I feel like I could appreciate what the bookends were but I didn’t really love them the same way I instantly loved something like All-Star Superman or The Spirit. But what this series did do to me, which almost no other comics do, is make me want to start over from the beginning right away. I wanted to instantly re-read the entire thing – and that tells me there is something about this series I find enjoyable.

It’s not just the challenge of reading a dense comic. I have nothing to prove on that front, really. I can analyze and theorize until the cows come home (sometimes well, sometimes presenting nothing new as you, dear reader, have probably witness on this blog countless times). For me to want to go back and read something it needs to be more than just a challenge, it needs to be simply enjoyable as well. The shifting artwork, the different sub-genres are all aspects of this series that I really respect and find pleasure in. If it wasn’t for their beauty and interesting characters/plots then re-reading would simply be a completionist chore in order to prove I can draw connections that, honestly, someone else online probably has already completed long ago.

Nope, for me, this series was both familiar and unlike anything else I’ve read. They work alone but together, which is how it was advertised but I’m still cynical enough to be shocked when a comic book series actually delivers what it was promoted as.

Plus, Zatana was used as a hero, and a powerful one as a direct dichotomy to the way she was used as a weapon of mass hypnotic destruction in another mini-series. I’m also partial to superhero comics that break the fourth wall, so there was that.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Wednesday's Loot - 28 February 2006

52 Week 43
I was hoping for more Animal Man because of the cover. Oh well. Also, from what I've read online recently and from my experience in reading his work I figure that it was Geoff Johns who is obsessed with Black Adam and evisceration so that's probably him making Tawky Crawky eat his crippled friend, right? I don't mind so much that the emo Black Adam is hopefully gone, but then again Animal Man died and came back, and how many times did The Question die? I guess if you're going to show the death by crocodile eating scene in multiple panels you could at least have him go into a death spiral or something.
I rate this comic: Okay, not bad but not one of the best either.