Thursday, June 26, 2008
So, one last parting shot. Here's my summer reading list:
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I've been meaning to read this book for a long time and I finally got around to it, with a couple of chapters left to get through. It's taken me a while to get through it and I do find it almost terrifying in its ability to perfectly capture the inherent evil of any bureaucratic system. Stark reality is found here in a book about the cyclical nature of our lives and the horror wrought because of a larger system guiding us that is beyond the control of an individual, and cannot address the needs of an individual. Yossarian is a true anti-hero in that he does everything completely opposite of a classic hero. He isn't the anti-hero in the sense of the hero who uses bad methods to get good ends, but he does everything humanly possible to not act like a hero - he uses bad methods for selfish ends, yet he's the hero for standing up to the completely batshit insane system he's thrown into.
Blood Sucking Fiends and You Suck by Christopher Moore. My wife bought me Blood Sucking Fiends for Christmas and I just haven't had a time to read it yet. Nothing like an undead romance for some beach reading.
Labyrinths of Knowledge by William Poundstone. Because I feel like blowing my mind sans chemicals for a little while this summer. Give the synapses a workout rather than make them surrender.
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. I just read Day of the Triffids this past year and really enjoyed it. I'm always a fan of apocalyptic type fiction and this also comes highly recommended from my wife. Plus, it's a short book which is perfect for the long hours and weekends of summer.
Right now I'm just about to start reading Mark Millar's Wanted because my wife wants to go see the movie. I was as shocked as anyone because I wasn't totally interested. Maybe I should see the movie first in case I need to rinse out my brain with the comic book version?
I'm apparently going to read a lot of Ed Brubaker this summer. And why not? On top of my pile are Sleeper and Criminal because I've heard nothing but good things. But to balance it out with good and proper superhero fisticuffs I've also got four volumes of Captain America ready to go - the Red Menace and Winter Soldier story arcs.
In between I'm still reading any Hellblazer trades I can get from the library. Nothing like demon stories involving a complete dick who fucks them over in the hazy humid summer days. Well, it might not seem right to you but I really like it.
I'm hoping to finally getting around to the fourth volume of Scott Pilgrim, and starting Wasteland which I've been meaning to read since it came out.
And finally, I'm planning on re-reading Watchmen before the movie hype starts and I run the risk of soul erosion and desolation.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Well it has been quite a long time since I had a moment of free time to dedicate to the old blog here. If there is anyone still out there remotely interested, here's the quick hits of what I have read over the last month or so along with a few initial thoughts.
The Essential Avengers, Volume 1.
I had this book for quite a long time and started reading it when I was home sick with the flu. That long? Really? Wow, I'm almost embarrassed to say I never actually finished reading it. I love to see the Jack Kirby art on it's own, well, inked I guess. It just gives such a great view of how to lay out a panel, and a page for super action in a constrained time/format. Then Don Heck takes over and suddenly the page layouts appear a lot more vertical. Panels rise and stretch up as opposed to Kirby's much more horizontal spreads. It's actually quite impressive that although Kirby's panels are generally smaller they seem to contain way more action. He really is the master of having the panel frame the action to a point where the frame implies there is much more going on outside of it. Don Heck's panels tend to completely contain all the action. The weird part is, when I was younger and thinking of comics in my daydreams, I was probably thinking of Don Heck's art. He just seems to be the image of what I remember Marvel Comics being. Not so much these days, but still, he's good at being generic I guess. That wasn't meant to be an insult, it's what I think any work for hire artist needs to work for – like the Hardy Boys authors or whatever. It doesn't ruin the work, but they survive by being quick and consistent not rule breaking and bold.
Planetary Books 1-3 and Crossing Worlds
I really loved this collection. Nothing like a bit of comics more or less about comics, in my opinion. I'm a bit of a sucker about media examining itself and playing with the form and genre assumptions. I like the relationships that are build and how the story is build around an espionage story but it's really about the relationship of comic books and pop culture.
30 Days of Night: 3 Tales and Spread the Disease.
They do a decent job of tying together some loose ends and random characters from the other stories. Decent X-files type material with special agents and vampires. Also, vampires in space is a great idea.
Corto Maltese: Encore un peu plus loin
This collection shows how Hugo Pratt really shines in the short tale. I enjoyed this collection of short Corto Maltese stories a million times more than the book length adventure I had read previously (which is still exceptionally good). A few of the characters from Tango are introduced in this collection, and the art being in black and white means there is just that much more wonderful linework to take in. It's simply breathtaking. There are a bunch of small morality tales and the double-triple-cross taste of your own medicine adventure yarn. But really, what other collection of comics will have a surly amnesic sailor regain his memory by taking magic mushrooms, a zombie-priest led island uprising revolution, and a WWI British soldier relive a battle through his dying delusions? There is a lot to enjoy here, but mostly Pratt's love of the Caribbean and South America.
Now, I've read a bunch more of the Ultimate Spider-man trades as well and I'm trying to figure out how to say "I liked it and it's good comics, but it won't really challenge your assumption of the medium or anything, which is really the point I guess anyway, so while inessential in the long run, still enjoyable when you read the story" in more than one way. I do have to say that I really don't know how I would feel about the stories if I was reading them in the monthly format. I think it would completely remove the level of enjoyment I get out of the stories.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
I've managed to read the Ultimate Spider-man collection starring Silver Sable. I have to say I'm kind of disappointed with the update. I thought she was a fine enough character and all but where was the ridiculous hair and the purple and orange jumpsuited Wild Pack? Really, without the gaudy armor it's not The Wild Pack. Otherwise this was more or less a decent story that didn't try to be something more than just a random encounter in Peter Parker's life as Spider-man.
There's some fun dialogue with the bumbling Wild Pack, a bit of mistaken identity as Peter gets tracked to his school and a great issue that allowed the creative team to do something a bit different when summing up the lives of the triumvirate at the centre of the story. The little break was well executed and appreciated even if it didn't completely flow with the story – the Ultimate Spider-man epic to this point has more or less followed a similar pattern so anything slightly different is extremely noticeable. That's not a bad or good thing really, just noticeable in and of itself.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Last night the Ottawa Senators lost for the third straight time in the NHL playoffs and while that has very little to do with comics there was this odd connection. It was the home opener of the playoff series last night and if you don't know anything about hockey or this team in particular you should know that their logo is this Roman Centurion.
Skip ahead to last night and the opening ceremonies for the home run was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen. It was one of those moments where me and my wife watching at home both got embarrassed watching this thing. There was this video of the hockey players watching this centurion guy walking out and then there's this guy in a 300 Halloween costume with a wonky microphone trying to yell something. It didn't really sound like any language I've heard and well, I felt bad enough for the actor. I'm guessing he was probably some local wrestling entertainer but he really looked like he was trying out for the porno version of 300. It was ridiculous to the point of insulting Frank Miller.
I guess if this happened last year, or whenever the movie came out, it would have helped a bit by being slightly more current but I don't think that idiocy could have been saved no matter what. And he was still better than the performance put on by the team.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Oh right. I also managed to read the Ultimate Spider-man version of professional wrestling's Royal Rumble - "Warriors."
This collection is just a huge bust up as Hammerhead decides to move in on Kingpin's turf. Add Spider-man, Black Cat, Iron Fist, Shang Chi, Elektra, Moon Knight and the Kingpin's three thugs I can never remember the name of. It'll come to me after I e-mail in this post I'm sure.
Well, it's a fun little story arc full of over the top fisticuffs. And in the end, I should have seen it coming, there is a reveal that removes the one single good thing I was seeing develop in Peter Parker's life. Other than Black Cat, and there is some great developments in that relationship as well.
My only real complaint is that even though heroes and villains get stabbed – one even in the back of the skull – they all end up in comas, which just feels like a huge cheat. Yes, I know it's a superhero comic.
I'll also get to the Avengers collection at some point. I seem to have been reading that thing forever.
Monday, April 07, 2008
I've been sitting on this book for quite some time for quite a few reasons. Well, three really: New job, the book is in French and I had the flu. Add to that, other outside time commitments and the Ottawa Senators sucking in the lead up to the NHL playoffs my mind wasn't exactly in a frame to read something in my second language.
Well, I've persevered and I'm always glad I did whenever I read some Bandes Designes. I'm such a genre whore when it comes to comic books that whenever I read something non-North American it feels like a revelation because it isn't about superheroes. Not that that's all I read, but it's a fairly substantial amount. Heck these days it's mostly just Ultimate Spiderman trades at that. Anyway, having a straight up adventure serial to read is gloriously refreshing from the over-exuberance of superheroics. This is like the cultured European cousin that just inherently has more style, knows it, and is quietly confident in what s/he is. There is a bigger size format to the thing which sort of announces to the world what you are reading, but it's artistic enough content wise that you don't look like you're reading about super-boobies.
Ever since my first random Corto Maltese purchase during my lean years living in South London I've felt that Hugo Pratt has created the comic book equivalent of the Indiana Jones movies. He's a scruffily handsome man that can take care of himself and moves around the world with a swagger and confidence that verges on cockiness but is never so blatant that people are put off by him. Yes, the major differences are that Corto is a sailor and Indy is a treasure hunting archeologist but the core characteristics are quite similar.
I guess the two sentence movie pitch is that Corto Maltese is Tintin as an adult (without the dog and with Cpt. Haddock's job). He's entirely more laconic than Tintin but just as able to give and take a punch when the need arises. Also, Hugo Pratt was Italian so there are lots of lovely women characters as well. In that respect I'm reminded a bit of Eisner's Spirit work with lots of strong, sexy women who aren't all the same character in different costumes.
As for this volume in particular, I kind of just picked it up at random because I was at the library one day and the idea of reading more Corto Maltese books popped into my head and well, there was this one and another one I'm now reading. I really should have read them in the opposite order because Tango is one of the last collections. Heck, some of the characters that Corto visits in this book are introduced for the first time in the collection I'm reading at the moment, so that's slightly annoying when trying to make sense of what's what. Also, the French doesn't help.
What drew me in initially was the massive text introductions. They're all about the history of prostitution in Argentina, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As for the story itself, I was mostly lost I'll admit, because shockingly it's not just super hero comics that require a slight continuity obsession to keep everything straight. The story here is about Corto trying to find a long lost friend who was kidnapped (I believe) by a prostitution ring. In his searches for her he runs into a bunch of characters from his older adventures which you don't really need to have read to understand this story but it did feel confusing. Almost like you were invited out with someone you knew from work who proceeds to only make in-jokes with his or her friends all night long. Universal themes will come through but you'll be lost on the details.
And I think it's the timing of when this book was created that speaks a lot towards how I felt towards most aspects. It was later in Pratt's career and it felt a bit like he was taking a few things for granted, almost cutting corners. The art is, for the most part beautiful as I've come to expect, but the action in the panels is not as dynamic as other Corto Maltese stories. There are only a few poses and expressions used, and while there may be some unbelievable artwork when he's drawing a car chase sequence the inking process seems to be a bit thick, almost as if an edged marker was used in places (mostly on noses too, which is just odd looking). It all makes the action seem somewhat less dynamic than it should be, and with a story that isn't exactly action packed that is somewhat unfortunate.
I still think Pratt's style is one of the best but in comparison to his other work this one just isn't as good, in my opinion. There is a lot of research text prefacing this book, and a lot of potential (and while I'm sure I missed a lot because of my language barrier) so it was disappointing to have the story and art let me down.
This is a story of corruption on multiple levels in a location that I know next to nothing about and really, if I can stay engaged in a story written in a foreign language I can mostly read then it's doing something right. It was an unfortunate choice of texts to get back into Corto Maltese with, but it's out of the way and I'm reading an earlier volume that is making up all the ground this book let down on.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
I will say that reading the first volume of Essential Avengers while not feeling the best is a real treat. I'm shocked at how bad I feel for Hank Pym for being married to Jan and her very obvious lust for pretty much every other man. I know it was a different time and I'm probably seeing it totally out of context but holy moly talk about your troubled marriage. I don't think it's bad for her to be open about her sexuality or desires but right next to your husband?
And then there's the way they chair their meetings and pass motions that only serve to put words to what is going on anyway. Like when Iron Man is missing and they can't reach him at all they vote to give him a leave of absence. Coming from my history with the Green Party, I have to say that The Avengers, even in their absurd manner, manage to conduct board meetings better than that political party.
And finally I noticed that the major shift between Kirby and Heck on art is that Don Heck seems to lay out his pages in a much more vertical aspect.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Okay I guess I got a little bit confused between collections I was reading in yesterday's post. It seems that the scene with Spider-man and the police officer was in the Hobgoblin collection and not the Superstars collection. My comments still stand, that I think it is a solid bit of development and it's a refreshing change to see Peter being reluctant to accept a mentor, and more so that there is what appears to be a decent mentor figure being developed for him. They're not quite colleagues but they certainly are aiming for the same goals and with somewhat similar attitudes although she is able to better express herself.
Now, I know the Harry Osborn story and most people had exposure to a version of it in Spiderman 3. This Ultimate version is done exceptionally well. Whenever Peter fought Norman it was completely one sided, in that one figure was superior in all regards but was constantly defeated because of his pride in his science. Peter's strength isn't from his person or even from his belief in himself but his ability to consider others no matter the cost. That is what helps him win the day, along with a few well timed kicks and webbings.
With Harry, things are different because Peter is being forced into a situation that isn't just personal but also one of equals. Both Peter and Harry are victims of circumstance and end up clashing because of outside influences. Neither of them want to do it, which makes the situation entirely tragic. They are characters without the freedom to avoid this clash. It is tragic because it is simply unavoidable no matter how hard both try to avoid the situation.
And there is major heartbreak here too as Peter starts to actually react to the death and violence that has occurred simply because he exists. Yes, his actions ultimately led to Uncle Ben's death but it was his existence that led to Gwens, and really, in both cases he was never directly responsible. Here we see a teenager begin to grieve by simply not being able to process his role or accept that he was entirely helpless. He's terrified for his loved ones and the art and dialogue capture that sentiment note perfectly here.
Now the Harry Osborn story is also captured quite well in that it is never quite clear what is real and what isn't. Yes there were hypnotherapy sessions, but what is S.H.I.E.L.D.'s role in all of this? Did Harry bring it on himself or was he programmed by his father? Was he exposed accidentally to be latently activated or did he experiment upon himself? There are no answers here and while it helps enforce how scary dealing with mental illness can be it also makes Harry a sympathetic character as well. He is dealing with demons just like Peter is, but this is the result of having (letting or being programmed to) the demons win. It moves him to embody rage and destruction of anything connected to him, which is what Peter is feeling but he manages to embody the sadness and grief that is required to process these situations.
Monday, March 17, 2008
This volume is all about the guest stars. There is Wolverine, The Human Torch, Dr. Strange and The Ultimates. And, you know what? It's a solid volume nonetheless. I think it's because the stories managed to change their pace a bit and while some were relatively forgettable you actually get to read a fun little caper involving Marvel's two guest stars – Spidey and Wolverine.
Yes, it is very easy to be cynical about these two characters. They're completely over used and exploited to the point of ridiculousness but Bendis manages to create a story that is very much in the spirit of yesteryear Marvel hijinx. You get a story that Bendis introduces as himself with a rather wry sense of humor, and he goes on to poke fun at his own creations during the intro to the second part that even he couldn't force three issues out of this story. And, well, the story is that Wolverine and Spider-man swap minds. That's pretty much it. There is no explanation, they just wake up and deal with each other's reality. It's hackneyed, it's been done to death, but it hasn't been done since probably the early seventies with any sense of humour about the whole thing and it's just a fun little break from the bleak seriousness.
The Human Torch story is slightly forgettable but it's a decent riff on the friendship between the two characters of relatively the same age that has been in comics for quite some time. And the Ultimate Dr. Strange was a decent enough, trapped in your own nightmare scenario that seems kind of like Peter is just going through the physical psychokinetic nightmare version of a recap of his comic up to now. It's kind of like a visually interesting take on what he discusses anyway, so decent but somewhat unnecessary except for the intro of the good doctor and another interesting step towards a budding relationship with a police officer. Not romantic but I do like how it is developing as it's a nice change of pace from his normal interactions. Kind of a mentor relationship is being put forth, which I have to say is something I can't really remember from Spider-man 616 but I'm no authority on the matter. I know he had Dr. Curt Connors and some people at the Bugle that were decent colleagues but nobody he really had as any sort of mentor role, and I guess I'll see how it all goes down. With my luck it all happens in the Ultimate Team-Up book or something.
And that would be my only complaint about this collection. That while I could certainly read the stories on their own and follow the action there was enough of a sense of being lost because I don't read all the Ultimate titles to be distracting from what is here in these stories. I could sort of get a feel for what is happening in the FF book but I had no idea how many times Peter met Logan other than that one time he went to Westchester in his own book, and whether Wolverine was even there. Still it was a very slight story and very upfront about it, which is very welcome in my book. Yes, it's a cheat in the end but it wouldn't have been as good if it wasn't.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
In many ways I feel this is a dark coffee table art book with some words attached. I really like Templesmith's artwork and it really does fit the genre. It's always dark, it's unclear at points but it's frightening on a core level. The somewhat unfinished, unpolished look helps it terrify the reader. I'm using unpolished here to mean that there isn't a lot of tight linework with colouring precisely defined by those lines. Nope, here colours, textures and art materials are used to bleed into one another making things beautifully muddled. The bones are loose but the colour is tight. I really love what he manages with such a limited palette of colour.
Sadly, I found that it was the art to be partly problematic to the actual plot. While the art is so bloody cool the plotting and characterization needs to be next to perfect. With the art being kinetic and emotional I found that jumps in story and characterization to be slightly confusing. In fact I got lost a few times. It starts out strong but by the time the plot is halfway through there seems to be one too many massive jumps in plot that were kind of frustrating to read while remaining artistically strong.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I should seriously consider just changing the name of this blog to Jon's Once a Week Thoughts on the Ultimate Spider-man Trade Collections. But I'm not totally into the whole, overly descriptive thing. If you've read any of my posts, you'll most likely agree. Anyway, I do have some Corto Maltese comics at home but reading in French takes a lot more effort than I'm able to give these days (new job, started yesterday) and I've been slowly enjoying the first Essential Avengers collection – more marvelous marvel machinations soon! Ugh, too much Stan Lee in my brain.
So, on with The Decompression Project. You know, I have to say that for the most part I've been enjoying my time spent with Ultimate Spider-man. I think this is a great interpretation on both Spider-man and Peter Parker. It works well with him as a high-school student although it would be nice to have him a bit more science geeky and just once I'd like him to remain confident and non-emo for one entire story arc. Okay that's probably not ever going to happen, since that is the core of the character. Bad things happen, he feels bad and perseveres simply because it is the right thing to do no matter how much he tries to dress it up with recurring inspirational quotes. He almost can't help himself and that point is brought home in this story where we have the Ultimate version of Spider-man No More for about a half issue or so.
I do find this a weird series though because while on the one hand it is very slow on the other hand it is guilty of skimming the surface of the conflict. Yes, I like the character moments but there needs to be further examination into the conflict as well as the personal. The formula appears to be spend a lot of time with Peter and MJ (as well as the rest of Peter's personal life cast) then the same amount of pages only with big splash fight panels for the villain of the week. I have no problems whatsoever with the villain of the week approach, in fact I quite like it. No, I just find that each issue feels like wasted opportunity to really delve into the differences, themes and metaphors presented by each conflict as Spider-man.
This book is obviously about Carnage. Now, I'm lucky in that I managed to never read a Carnage comic. I mean, Venom I can handle but giving the suit to a maniac, okay more maniacal maniac, was just a bit too much. It always felt like, hey kids, Carnage, the new Spidey villain is like Venom only more extreme, to the max! And in that regard I do like what they did with the Ultimate Carnage. Simply removing any humanity from the character helps make it actually somewhat terrifying and moves it into Dr. Frankenstein territory for Dr. Connors. That is not such a terrible move.
Having Curt Connors as a sympathetic character was a decent break from the Ultimate villains as actual scary threats. It allows Spider-man to not only have a scary brainless thug to beat on, in the doctor's monstrous creation, but a victim of circumstance for Peter to interact with. It's never a bad thing to add a bit of humanity to your villains when you are exploring potential for conflict. The good doctor is trying his hardest but is fated to fail because he cannot see beyond himself and his own beliefs in what he is doing, in his own reasons for acting.
And then we have the death of Gwen, which cheapens the whole thing for me. Okay, I don't need total rehash of the original story, but why the heck was Carnage the villain to do the deed? I guess it should work because it is a creation of Peter in a certain sense. That Peter's life has a direct effect on those around him is probably what the driving idea was but it just felt like the book was required to set Carnage up as a major threat and since everyone knew Gwen was fated to die anyway….. So it goes.
It's too bad because I think it should have all been handled a bit better, and could have been within the story. There were some great aspects that simply weren't connected as well as they should have been – Peter giving birth to a perverted image of himself and his father, Dr. Connors in the role of Dr. Frankenstein, and well just evil genetic stuff. There was some very strong stuff to work with but in the end it rang hollow to me. I won't presume to be able to do a better job or anything but while the connections are there under the surface of the story, I may just be seeing things that were never intended and that's where my criticism comes in.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Having read and loved Alan Moore’s Supreme: The Story of the Year collection it was a No-Brainer Supreme for me to pick up this follow up collection. You know how I really like Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman? Well, Alan Moore did something rather similar with Superman a few years ago, only he didn’t exactly have Superman so he called his character Supreme. Everything is the same but different in the mythos, but talk about your love of silver-age goofyness. It permeates these stories to the point where the goofy stories are actually the driving conflicts of the plots here.
Supreme and the supporting cast jump through time to old Supreme adventures that visually manifest themselves as if they were old comic books. Why try to erase the goofy past of comics rather than accept and celebrate them, seems to be the message here. Goofy stories do not preclude bad stories or take away from the kewlness of the nineties, or anything else for that matter. So rather than reinvent bits of Supreme from square one for a new generation of readers, Moore is basically showing how you can restart a character by accepting all iterations before the current one. These are comics, have fun with them for a change.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I swear I am reading comics other than Ultimate Spider-man (okay, not really), but I’ve been managing to get these all in a row so the project continues. This is the collection that shamelessly plugs the Spider-man movie. A lot. It feels a bit too much like Avi Arad’s Spider-man Unlimited compared to the Spider-man cartoon that preceded it. And guess who is one of the guest stars? I can just imagine what fandom was like when this was just hitting the shelves. Heck, it annoyed me a bit, I can only imagine the mouth frothing that occurred during the actual release of the comic.
I guess in some ways this is the Ultimatization of Marvel’s tradition of shameless hucksterism. Only rather than Stan Lee show up or an editor’s note telling you about something related to another series, it’s a plug for their Spider-man movie. It’s all a bit distracting when the real world crosses over into the fictional one in ways that don’t particularly contribute to the story. This is the dark side of Grant Morrison talking to Animal Man, in that it doesn’t really do anything but plug the movie. Sure there is a connection to the plot but it’s a real MacGuffin in that regard. The movie could be anything to get Dr. Octopus and Spider-man to showdown and get Gwen involved in Peter’s secret life.
I do have to say though, for shameless plugs it is slightly charming. I like this version of Peter Parker quite a lot and having him generally annoy the filming but be taken in by big bad Hollywood is perfect for this universe. Then there is the new Dr. Octopus. I do quite like his connection to the arms and having them act as two separate characters. It moves him out of any possible sympathy or goofy villain of the week syndromes he suffered from previously. Yes, he’s still the chubby goofball that gets beaten up but when he’s in full moustache twirling mode I like the Ultimate Dr. Octopus quite a bit.
He’s more of the brilliant doctor that is unable to deal with everyday things like combing hair or using manners, but he’s also a much scarier and formidable threat with his consciousness split between his human and robotic side. He’s part symbiotic, part Two-Face, part mad scientist and just perfect for slightly undercooked plans of destruction. All in all, he’s just inhuman enough here to really remain someone you don’t feel sympathy for in any regard. He’s creepy, he’s violent, and while he’s really a sad case you really want Spidey to hit him a few more times for good measure because he’s the underhanded small man.
And, while all this is a decent little bust up between Spider-man and Dr. Octopus the real crux of the story was getting Gwen to put the pieces together to move her from outsider to insider in Peter’s secret life. I do like Gwen in this series because to me this character is much better set up than Mary Jane to be the girl with problems but is working them out partly because of the naivety of youth and partly because she is simply put into a tough spot and has the strength to simply continue. Whereas the conflicts in Mary Jane’s backstory seem somewhat tacked on to give her some more depth, Gwen’s were created to serve a story. This, to me, is what helps her fit into the Ultimate Spider-man milieu better than MJ. Yes, MJ is now integral to Spider-man (although the current run of reportedly good stories after the impish annulment would point to this not being completely true), so she had to be involved but Gwen feels more like a creation than an addition if that makes any sense.
Her confidence feels slightly more real, her independence is more understandable and her blame laying is also something that works within the universe as it has been created as opposed to Aunt May suddenly expounding about how she’s freaked out yet obsessed with Spider-man. Gwen’s life was directly affected by Spider-man and it was inevitable that she would piece it all together. I think her personality is a good counterpoint to Peter’s and their relationship together is one that feels better than the Peter and MJ duality that feels more reflective than anything else. And at the same time I find it completely ridiculous that Gwen is living with the Parkers. It’s like they needed her to be in Peter’s life somehow so voila, she’s been taken it. Then again, that’s probably why I like it so much – because it is simply the most comic-booky of all relationships.
So this is a lot of reflection upon a decent villain vs. Spider-man story that leads to Gwen’s somewhat rushed entry into Peter’s private life that is distracted by the fact Marvel was making a Spider-man movie in the real world (and they really wanted you to know that Avi Arand was important). In the end I’m glad they’ve gotten Gwen involved but because it felt rushed I feel myself being slightly suspicious of her behavior. I do think the revelation works and fits both characters but I can’t help but feel this would have worked better if it was the first time Peter’s identity was revealed to anyone (whether it was MJ or Gwen). I can’t help but think that a bigger build up would have helped set up the Ultimate world a bit more. Then again, the way things have been up to know I think that going against expectations for that type of thing has worked out quite well.
Friday, February 08, 2008
It works for me because they keep the core that made the animated Batman and Superman stories so good. They focus on simple capers and well told stories rather than recreate point for point the comic books. Whereas the Batman and Superman cartoons would plunder the characters' deep histories for stories to retell, that gets left behind so far in this series. It's sort of freeing in that way I suppose in that telling Batman of the future stories you don't have the mythos to rely on and the writers get to stretch their own minds for a bit. There are still some homages for the long time fans such as Bruce Wayne's dog Ace, and the Oracle face showing up in advertisements, which are fun to spot but not occuring often enough to be distracting.
The villains tend to be riffs on Batman's rogue gallery but not too sexed up as to feel hacked out. I think the aesthetics of the Bruce Timm style go a long way to help that. There's Inque who is kind of like Clayface mixed with the Shadow Thief and that Bic pen mascot, as well as some classic Bat-foes like Mr. Freeze and the Royal Flush Gang. The classic villains, even if appearing for the first time, are all managed in a way that makes sense. Plus, there is crusty old Bruce Wayne who is a great character idea and would be better used if he did more than tell the new Batman to "get out of there!"
At first I thought the music and the sort of now outdated computer animation would be distracting but they lend a certain charm to the place. Whereas the original animated series was sort of like Batman crossed with Chinatown, this is like Batman crossed with Blade Runner. The original series felt more retro-sci-fi-noir, this series is very much futureshock-sci-fi-noir. The simplification of the colours and the experimental use of shadows and colour on the characters really help move this series into something familiar but different territory. The visual cues remind you of the setting that needs to be foriegn to the viewers but with enough visual pop as to keep you engaged. I think it works, if not only for the advances in the animation itself that help give the characters more fluid and quick movement onscreen.
Like the other series, it can stumble into goofball territory, but in the end I like the freedom of the series. It shouldn't work because of the changes they made but in the end it works precisely because those changes are really just minor tweaks. There is a hook and point of familiarity for the audience but the rest is more or less all new. And really, how many dystopian sci-fi cartoons are there?
Monday, February 04, 2008
I mean, I'm sure I did at some point because I know the score on the character but I can't recall any single comic that I read. Perhaps I only read guest appearances.
Also, I can't recall ever reading a Flash comic. I think I've only ever read him in team books.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Again, this is a story with a lot of good bones and decent structure but lacks any sense of urgency when being told, or simply lacks any urgency to be told at all. I guess I’m hitting the point where I’m no longer seeing a re-imagining of Spider-man so much as rehashing the Spider-man shared mythology with minor changes. The Sinister Six was a fairly neat idea that allowed itself to have a rotating cast of Spidey villains, so why they couldn’t come up with a sixth member here seems slightly wonky to me.
I do applaud the attempt at connecting the creation of the genetic anomalies from the villains to Peter Parker. I get that they are two sides to the same coin and how minor differences can create major diversions in outcome. This aspect felt slightly glossed over to me and could have been a much stronger element of the story. The story is set up as a villain showpiece and a decent caper revenge heist type of plot, with a much better handling of Civil War type activities thrown in for flavour, only to kind of lead to a confrontation that felt more like a bunch of adult villains lecturing Peter Parker about how he’s from the same formula that created them, and some vaguely motivated attack on the White House. Once again, great set up, great potential and not so great ending. It didn’t leave me wanting more, it just sort of left me.
The story is set apart from the rest of the Ultimate Spider-man trades by the art as much as the focus. It was a bit odd to suddenly not be seeing Bagley’s art, and to have the youthful vibrancy of his art not present meant the tone of the presentation changed with it. This is stiffer, darker stuff that seems to help root this story into the bigger Ultimate universe. There is more SHIELD and the Ultimates here than normally found in Spidey’s solo Ultimate adventures. I think the art change helps reflect that change in focus but I’m not sure if it’s a benefit to the Ultimate Spider-man stories on the whole. I think that the tenuous connections work best and I believe this was originally a miniseries outside the main book so that would work for me, but in trade format it feels like a bit of a departure. It feels like the flow gets interrupted in order to follow up with a few villains and remind Spider-man fans that there is more to the Ultimate Marvel Universe – which I suppose the X-women showing up would have managed previously. Whereas their appearance felt like guest star showing up, this story seems to focus more on the interconnected Ultimate setting more than on Spidey himself, and that’s sort of missing the reason people will buy Spider-man books.
But did I enjoy it? Yeah, I actually did. I don’t think it’s groundbreaking or does anything to profoundly update any of the ideas found in the characters and the reasons for bonding into a villainous group, but it’s a decent caper and goes a long way to reminding me why I first found Dr. Octopus so threatening or Electro so uniquely terrifying. Kraven is the character I am least familiar with and I think making him some rage induced werewolf was kind of nifty. So the villain showcase aspect worked well, and the story worked best when focused on them. When the story strayed away from them, it started to fall apart at the seams.
Monday, January 28, 2008
For non-Boing Boing readers, I basically sent along a link to a news story about the employee only CSIS museum. CSIS is the Canadian version of the FBI and CIA - more or less. Well, it turns out they run their own spy museum that is sadly, only open to employees. This was discovered by a report given to parliament or some other government committee. Well, it was just recently discovered that they run a gift shop as well. Again, it's only open to employees but the employees can buy anything in the museum. Okay, maybe only things for sale but it's never made clear that there is a distinction between for sale and not for sale items.
The kicker is that you write down what you want to buy on a blank sheet of paper, put the proper amount of cash into a blank envelope and deliver it to the museum. I'm assuming they will contact you on how to pick up your item once payment is received.
It sounds like a lot of fun for the spies, but seriously, who wouldn't want some cool cold-war era spy gear?
They do have a small virtual museum.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
It’s all about character creation, and while the characters are great while relating to one another the actual plot seems to become secondary. And I have to say that for genre fiction, plot tends to be a major player although a good balance of characters and plot is essential. When one takes over then the resulting work seems somewhat skewed and hard to talk about other than in a purely craft based manner. I don’t need to talk about why I think the dialogue is so well done seeing as anyone who picks up the book can get that as well.
In comics, obviously the character creation has a heck of a lot to do with the artwork. The emotions and positioning of the characters adds a much more solid dimension to any character dialogue. In some ways, it takes the interpretation away from the reader but on the flip side it really helps reinforce what the characters are doing, thinking and feeling. And the art is still entirely fitting here, although the amount of fake boobs is starting to get silly proportions.
Basically this is a long intro for me to say that I liked most of this story and the beginnings of the relationship between Peter and Felicia. Of course he’d be attracted to her, he’s fifteen and she’s showing more boobs than Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl. The subplots connecting the various characters together is all very neat and tidy, but somehow it feels like I should know a bit more about everyone at the end of it. There was some neat revelations about Wilson Fisk, and I like how Ultimate Elektra is used but for the most part the motivations seemed slightly missing even though the relationships all felt real. Again, great characters but little pay off.
So I’m finding it hard to put my finger on it but this stuff is good to read but hard to talk about is all I’m coming up with at the moment. It sort of frustrates me that I can’t come up with much of a reason as to why it seems so hard to talk about other than that’s simply a flaw of genre fiction that is happy to be really successful at the genre and only the genre. It really does feel like a very long single issue. That really the extra reading is an expansion of the whitespace between the panels that gets expanded in the Ultimate universe. In the end, the story is simply stretched over multiple issues with the same payoff, hooks, cliffhangers and setups of single issue storytelling.
What are we left with? In the end I think it can be something extremely positive. New readers can pick up any trade of Ultimate Spider-man and not really be lost by the story presented therein. That is a good thing. You get about six issues with no advertisements and you don't need to buy them in order - at least it doesn't feel like you need to at this point. Let's see how things develop from here.
Monday, January 21, 2008
I used Newcastle United (the soccer team I'll be forever dedicated to) as an example of the second tact. They've recently hired a beloved former manager who had the most success with the club in the modern era. Well, I watched the game on Saturday and if I'm going to follow my metaphor then the part I need to add is that having a good manager is one thing but not having any talented contributors is another big problem. Yes, you could see them doing certain things better and different from how they were recently, but in the end the product still stunk. It's not to say there isn't any talent there at all, there certainly is. There is a lot of top drawer talent but the team has never gelled into something that works like a well oiled machine. The problem I see is that the players don't recognize what their role is and are comfortable in doing that thing well with the trust of their teammates doing the other roles well. The same goes for the comics. If there is a trust that the different books in different genres achieve their own goals well, they all play their own role, then the over all product is improved. If they are all trying to be the goal scorer then there are no goals scored. If the comics are all trying to be a part of crossover madness then no stories are told.
In other news I played Rock Band this weekend. It is phenomenal. It is probably some of the most fun I have ever had sober in my adult life. My friend bought it and he invited me and my wife over to start a band. We went on Friday and I have to say I really can't carry a tune. I might know all the words but I have zero pitch control. I could fudge my way through most of the songs and actually realized that songs with long sustained vocals allow you time to correct your pitch. So I could sing Radiohead's Creep or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Maps quite well. Trying to be dead on for the stacatto Blitzkrieg Bop was zero fun even though I love The Ramones.
I was slighly less crappy on the drums. Heck, his six year old son was better than me on the drums. I've never played any sort of percussion instrument before and I have to say that if you really want to take some beginner lessons then this is probably the funnest place to start. I did find that I was getting better the more I played, but I found the game a bit unforgiving in that I would manage to catch the beat but I was hitting it between the notes scrolling down. So being slighly off was killing me. I still liked it more than singing, which, while I sucked at it, was still kind of fun.
So the first night my wife and his wife would alternate between bass and guitar and me and him would alternate between drums and vocals. Things went so well that we got a few calls the next afternoon trying to plan us coming over again. So we did and took up some similar roles, but I ended up pulling a Pete Best and took up my place in a long line of replaced drummers. His wife took over vocals, I picked up a guitar and my wife requested bass because she found it way more fun to just hit all the individual notes (something she discovered was a heck of a lot of fun in guitar hero - moreso than the serious guitar shredding she like the beat and riffs)
And on our first song we rocked the hell out of it. His wife was almost perfect on the vocals and we were all kind of shocked. So we tried another one to see if the first was a fluke and she was better. We played a few gigs and then agreed we had found our sweet spot. So we made a new group and rocked it out on medium from there on in. And now I dream of streaming notes and ache to play again.
I did find the game a bit less forgiving on missed notes than the guitar hero series. It could just be that it's all about the perceived aesthetics - Rock Band used scrolling rectangles where guitar hero uses these oblong (forced perspective) dots. But I think guitar hero is more forgiving on hitting the notes while the guitar hero 3 songs in themself are simply harder to finish. It just takes some getting used to more than anything.
The only majorly annoying aspect of the game was the band management. It really didn't make a heck of a lot of sense. We had one band but wanted to start another, so we thought we could just juggle our characters onto the new instruments. Turns out you can't. Or, if you can, there was simply no way we could figure it out. So from my understanding each X-box live account has individual characters assigned to separate instruments per X-box account. So you might make a drummer called Mr. X but you want to play guitar. Well you can't just sign into the guitar and select Mr. X, you need to make Mr. Z. Now if someone else signs into the drums and wants to play with Mr. X, tough luck he's only available to you.
It would be nice to see a common pool for the created characters, or at least the option that lets you make your character available for other players and instruments. I understand that certain people would rather keep their own characters out of the hands of other players, but when you're trying to find out what you like to play it would have been nice to not be required to create a totally new band - well except for my wife who got to keep her original character and thus had twice the amount of cash for outfits and instruments. Although, it is great that you can use the same character for solo play and multiplayer games. And the customization aspects are a heck of a lot of fun. Hell, I would have been happy to just sit there and make tattoo sleeves on my characters for hours.
And really, in the end, it's all about getting together with a few friends and doing something together. It really shouldn't be as fun as it is to sit in a living room and play karaoke on little plastic toy instruments but sweet baby Jesus it was a shitload of fun! I mean, they have The Pixies on there - The Pixies!! That's pretty much the best thing ever as far as I'm concerned but then they added The Clash, The Ramones, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and have CCR and The Buzzcocks available for download. It's like they beamed radiowaves into my head via my fillings and made a song list just for me. Now if they would only make Drunk Teenagers and Nowhere With You by The Joel Plaskett Emegency and Don't Walk Away Eileen by Sam Roberts, I'd be exceptionally happy with the Canadian Rock content.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
I made a comparison to the Toronto Maple Leafs (yes, it’s spelled incorrectly, and yes, it’s okay to laugh at it) and Newcastle United. Both are in trouble in their respective sports and have rabid fans – I’m a toon army member myself. So in order to fix their problems the teams have two options, spend money to bring in some temporary help and maybe turn things around although that rarely ever works. In the end bringing in a quick fix just prolongs the problem you’ve started with. The second option is to bring in someone in charge who not only has a proven success record but the fans respect and trust, and, most importantly, is someone who is willing to spend time to improve upon the core product that you have. While taking longer and less flashy it does managed to build a stronger base and more rewards come from it.
So, Newcastle United went back and got a well respected coach who knows the team and the fans will, more likely, be patient with in order to turn their collective fortunes around. And while they won’t win this year they will all feel they’ll have a better shot at simply doing better next year. The Maple Leafs just aren’t doing anything differently since they are still selling out the arena each game.
Marvel is operating like the Maple Leafs. They never break from the cycle of screwing up and while it may frustrate some fans, they still make money hand over fist so there is no real incentive to change. A quick fix here, a big trade there, an unmasking here, a metaphysical divorce there and things just keep going.
That’s a long way and a weird metaphor to go with, and I was hoping to avoid talking about this all together, but my real point that I was making to my wife was that it simply didn’t look like a good story to me so on a basic level it held no appeal. That’s what gets lost in all this. Sure it’s a news story and it smacks of sensationalism, but not once in any of the news stories is there any mention about whether or not this thing was actually any darned good. Heck, when the writer doesn’t like it, I’m thinking it’s not the best written story out there. But that’s just me from the outside looking in.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
You know how there's a saying about how it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all? That's sort of how I feel about this book's short life with these creators. I also think that saying is complete bullshit because if I never saw just how good corporate owned comics could be then I wouldn't be so bored by the rest of them and be completely enamoured or at least pleasantly distracted for a little while. As it is, I'm just a bit sad to see this fine run end.
What impressed me most was that I was a bit trepidatious for the first issue since Eisner's Spirit rose quickly in my esteem when I finally discovered it. I had no idea how anyone could duplicate that verve and dreamy flair. Boy was I wrong to worry. Know I can't think of The Spirit without this take coming to mind in much the same way I can't think of Batman without the Animated Series in mind. It's not the primary thought of the character but the new version is hard to beat in terms of overall quality.
I wish the new writers and artists a lot of luck, and if it gets a lot of good press I may even pick up the trade. As for now, I'm totally done with floppies for now. Huh.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
The rest of the story has Peter trying to come to terms with his inability to make or keep his costumes. It’s a cute little sub-plot and probably the strongest aspect of this collection. Much like the previous trade about the Venom story I felt that this collection had some great basic plots but it tended to focus a bit too much on the least interesting aspects. Spidey spends a lot of time dealing with a teenage possible mutant that can make things explode – kind of like Nitro, I believe? I do love that he’s named Geldoff.
The play between Peter Parker trying to learn responsibility and express that message to this kid who really just wants to be accepted so tends to act like a reckless teenager is a decent conflict, but like the Aunt May talking to her therapist scene, the interplay tended to feel a bit too drawn out. Extended scenes are fine but this one never developed beyond, be responsible, I’m a teenager, well try to be responsible, I’m a teenager. It made me feel sort of teenagerish towards them and just want to go “pfffff” roll my eyes and ignore them until they went away.
Then the Ultimate X-(wo)men show up. There’s a funny bit with the attractive mind-reader and then your standard X-men plot where their plane blows up. I bet their airplane insurance is out of this world the way they destroy Blackbirds. Anyway, I was looking forward to a bit more interplay between Spider-man and the Ultimate X-men but again I felt a little let down by it all, although I’m happy to know that Kitty Pryde does come back to the series because I honestly think that’s a great Mary Sue relationship.
So while I just don’t quite like the choices made here on what to focus I can’t really criticize anything too much. The art is still fun and the characters really try to express themselves, the actual focus just wasn’t what I wanted to know more about or see explored. I got the point, I wanted it to move on. There were, however, two major things that I just didn’t understand. One: Why was MJ dressed like she was going to a Tarts & Vicars party or was in costume for Pretty Woman? Maybe I just didn’t go to that type of high-school but it just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the setting and character design which all looked their age. Two: Was there any consideration for issue breaks? It felt a lot like they reached the page limit and just stopped until next month without any attempt whatsoever to have some part of the story conclude. I know it happened in the other issues but this arc really stuck out for me, probably because I wasn’t totally engaged in the story. The name of the collection is either appropriate or unfortunate.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Monday, January 07, 2008
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
This was a bit of a mixed bag for me, in that I liked aspects of the update such as the bio suit using the body's natural abilities and enhancing them to superhuman aspects rather than an alien symbiote from Ultimate Secret Wars. And while there is a lot of development of Peter's back story, mostly in the form of posthumous videos from his father, there is very little development of the actual Venom story. It just sort of happens and feels slightly rushed when compared to the father son relationship that gets explored. It's fine if this is what they wanted to explore but I think it really could have been a lot better if some of the aspects that are examined and explored between Peter and his father get reflected through the main plot of the Venom suit as well. I'd like to see it more as a whole that is exploring different aspects of similar relationships rather than the somewhat disjointed story it turned out to be with Peter sort of reconnecting with his past and Eddie Brock being a two-faced jerk.
Still, the whole Nick Fury foreshadowing was kind of cool and I'm hoping I'm in for some better payoffs as this story continues. So this is still a decent Spider-man story, just not for the story that is being advertised to you. If you're a Venom fan then you may be a bit disappointed, but I have to say I like this take on him than the 616 version, even if I like the 616 background for Eddie Brock a bit more. This works in this universe but it really could have been fleshed out a lot more, which is really weird for me to type in something I call The Decompression Project.