Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Secret Invasion

With Marvel gearing up for The Secret Invasion of the Skrulls and with their push to get Marvel characters closer to their roots, I'm hoping they decide to go full bore here. I of course mean that the Marvel heroes, in particular The Fantastic Four, defeat the Skrulls using comic books.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Decompression Project - The Ultimate Five, sorry, Six

What to say about the Ultimate Six? There were really on five of them? Sure, I know what they were going for with the Spider-man connection but really, there should be six villains if you’re trying to make the Ultimate Marvel version of the Sinister Six. I guess they didn’t create Ultimate Chameleon or establish Black Cat as more of a villain or something. And I guess Mysterio and Vulture just didn’t want to be involved, although I can’t recall seeing Ultimate Mysterio – doesn’t mean I haven’t read a very obvious story in one of the first trades, but I honestly don’t recall him appearing in the Ultimate Spider-man stories at the moment.

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

Boing Boing link

Wow, I got a post on Boing Boing. So to all you Boing Boing readers that may have shown up here, thanks for reading and welcome.

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

The Decompression Project: Cats and Kings

Something Plok wrote sort of stuck with me when I was thinking about this collection. Pay off. While reading it, I enjoyed it. While thinking about it and reflecting upon it, there’s kind of little to talk about.

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

Magpies and Rock Band

First I'd like to follow my idea of the last post for a moment. Please indulge me. I compared the idea of running the big two comic book companies to a sports team that constantly sells out games but never delivers a good product. I then thought up two possible outcomes - one is the quick fix that really doesn't do anything and the other is to get someone who knows what they are doing and takes the time to figure out how to fix things making a much stronger product in the end.

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

Well this is even MORE unfortunate

Well the Spider-man marriage thing was finally picked up by the CBC website so that means I got an e-mail from my wife asking about it. Do you know how hard it is to explain this to someone outside the medium? It starts with, no I haven’t read it and probably won’t ever read it unless someone gives it to me and I have a lot of free time. Then you sort of have to explain the nineties and the whole Death of Superman really screwed up people planning to retire on their comic book collection money and how this is more or less the same kind of mentality here but with a bit less media attention or actual glut of buyers so the effects won’t be as huge. And then explaining how this was a quick fix and the writer didn’t want his name attached to it because they’re going for sensation more so than actual good story telling.

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

Well that is kind of unfortunate

I read the last issue of The Spirit by Messrs Cooke and Bone and with it goes my habit of buying floppies. Or, at least, what was left of that habit. And I have to say that reading this story, which I loved by the way and think the tone of lost love is incredibly appropriate for thier last issue and Cooke's view towards big two comic creating, was distracting. I've come to notice that ad placement is really starting to get on my nerves as I become a crusty old dude. Well, crustier old dude. When something about a video game interupted the flow of this fine story a thought that I should have waited for the trade popped into my head because at least then the story would be allowed to take prominence.

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


I got a phone message a couple of days ago from the comic shop I had a subscription at, asking if I wanted them to continue to hold books for me. I cancelled it in August and got my deposit back. Now I feel a bit guilty if they've been holding books for me for so long, but on the flip side they need to, I don't know, pay attention to their business.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Decompression Project - Irresponsible

Yes this is the collection that contains the issue where Aunt May goes to see her therapist. That issue isn’t so great is it? I mean it starts out okay. I like the idea of looking into the character of Aunt May a bit more but then it just starts to feel a page, then two, then three, four pages too long. I found the longer that particular scene dragged out the weaker it got. Which is unfortunate.

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

Mildly Informative Review - Laika by Nick Abadzis

This is a very good comic book. I am late to the plate and just the latest in a long line of people to really like it. It's about the first dog to go into orbit and it is beautiful, heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. From inspirational greatness and indominable spirits to the utter futility of doing things because of politics.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Help a nerd out

When I read about this Warren Ellis thing on the Bendis Boards I couldn't help but think it would be great if he took something like the Golden Age Angel or Blonde Phantom and did his thing. Then I thought maybe something like SuperPro, but really it would just come off as some kind of Michael Vic saga when you think about it, only tougher.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Decompression Project - now continues

So the library finally fixed, re-purchased or bound their copy of the sixth Ultimate Spider-man book. It's the one about Venom. It has been one heck of a long time since I read the previous volume and while I remember most of the story up to now I have to say I was still a bit lost on some minor details, like I don't remember Spidey fighting The Lizard, but that's not entirely the major point of this story.

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.