Saturday, 31 August 2013
Bradley Cooper has officially been cast as Rocket Raccoon. Read the full piece here: http://whatculture.com/film/bradley-cooper-officially-cast-as-rocket-raccoon-in-guardians-of-the-galaxy.php
Friday, 30 August 2013
On the face of it, Thanos Rising should be awesome: great character paired with an awesome writer, Jason Aaron. But the miniseries is instead disappointing. Aaron seeks to introduce new readers to the great Marvel villain, Thanos, by retelling his origins and how he came to be the Mad Titan.
Thanos’ origins on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, becomes that of a serial killer’s. Unloved by parents, ostracised by his peers, his extremely high intelligence and social awkwardness manifested itself into isolation and, through being alone, Thanos began experimenting on killing small animals. Then larger animals. Then his mum.
He heads off, joins a cosmic pirate crew, fathers many children on many worlds, and is basically miserable the whole time. Until he meets Mistress Death, who it turns out has been with him the entire time. Readers of The Infinity Gauntlet, Jim Starlin’s 1991 masterpiece, will know Thanos will do anything for Death’s love, even doing that – destroying the universe. He basically goes nuts, starts killing everyone, all so Death will get off with him. And following the mass death on Titan, that’s basically the miniseries in a nutshell.
My problem with it is that the series lacks any kind of originality to it. Sure, we didn’t know about Thanos’ childhood before but Aaron’s take on it is so generic that we might as well not have and left it a mystery. Further, if you’ve read other Thanos books, you won’t learn anything new about the character, but if you’re a new reader, then your takeaway is likely to be that Thanos is an overly serious, rather dull character. That in itself is a pretty bad result, given that Thanos is an awesome character who’s a lot of fun in other stories.
There really isn’t much to this book besides a transparent cash grab by Marvel to exploit the character’s sudden popularity thanks to The Avengers movie. Jason Aaron is a great writer (check out Scalped to see just how good) but he’s basically on cruise control in this book, churning out forgettable dialogue and uninteresting scenarios, one after the other. I just plain don’t like Simone Bianchi’s art, it’s too dark, too drab, too flat – I didn’t like it in other books, I don’t like it in this one.
Thanos Rising is everything Thanos himself isn’t - boring and predictable.Thanos Rising
It's been a number of years since I first read Seed of Destruction, the first Hellboy book, and, having read all of them at this point, I decided to go back and re-read the first book because my memories of it were hazy. Well, as I suspected, it's not a great first volume - but Hellboy is an incredible series, so don't be put off by this shaky start. The later books get better and better and better. But this first one...
I had completely forgotten that Mike Mignola didn't write the first Hellboy book - John "Man of Steel" Byrne did. That one surprised me. I'm sure Mignola had a hand in the story but the script is entirely credited to Byrne, which explains a lot. Hellboy doesn't quite sound like Hellboy in this - he's less charismatic, less witty, and more sober than in later books. Here he talks more like a generic tough guy than the Hellboy we've come to know over the years. Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced "broom") is killed early on in the book and Hellboy barely bats an eyelid. Not a single tear, just a cursory "he's dead" over the phone. To be fair, the relationship between Hellboy and his adoptive father, the Professor, would be elaborated on in later books so it's interesting to see that in this first volume Mignola had all but dismissed Bruttenholm as a character in the Hellboy universe.
Seed of Destruction is only barely related to the first Hellboy film. The beginning of the book and the film are the same in that it's set during WW2 on a remote island where the Nazis and Rasputin are trying to summon forces to turn the tide in the Nazis' favour and a baby Hellboy shows up. But that's only the first few pages and the film and book separate from there on out. The haunting Cavendish house, the generations-old curse, and the frogs that take up the rest of the book, aren't in the film at all, so don't expect Seed of Destruction to be the first Hellboy film in comics form.
Mignola's art is the best thing about the book. I love Mignola's style, all solid colours and figures verging on the abstract plus Hellboy's character design is just genius (some sketches at the back show how the character evolved from his inception in 1991 to his final design in 1994), and is one of the things I miss about the later Hellboy books. It's interesting that Mignola wasn't confident enough to both write and draw the book which is ironic as Mignola would become a much better writer than Byrne in later books. Byrne's writing is far too descriptive so the panels are filled with text while Hellboy's inner monologue is too clunky and expositional - these aspects would later disappear once Mignola took over writing duties.
All of which is to say that Seed of Destruction isn't a great Hellboy book but is a solid horror/mystery story with plenty of cool moments. There are lots of horror elements, many of which are Lovecraftian, like the tentacle monster at the end and the frog monsters throughout, not to mention the doomed expedition in arctic climes, and the overall gothic feel of the book. Plus it's great to see Mignola slowly putting together what will become a massive universe, gingerly introducing Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman while only hinting at what the BPRD is.
It's a shame this is the first volume as many new readers will read this and some will be turned off from reading more by Byrne's clunky writing and characterisation, and therefore miss out on one of the greatest comic book characters ever created, as Hellboy will become in later volumes. Seed of Destruction may not be an ideal first book but readers who persevere with the series will be rewarded with some of the richest comics you could ever hope to read.
Hellboy Volume 1: Seed of Destruction
The Lonely Doll is one of the creepiest books I've ever read. That it's supposed to be a kid's book only makes it creepier.
It's a 1950s book made up of black and white photos - that's right, no colour for you damn kids! - starring a disturbed, sad doll as two terrifying teddy bears, the youngest of whom is blank faced making him even more scary, and an adult bear, who has what can only be described as a crazy expression, move into the doll's house so she's no longer alone.
The phrase "Just wait and see what fun we'll have!" uttered by the bears is one of the most haunting lines I've ever read.
When the doll and the little bear behave like all kids (I assume the doll herself is supposed to be a kid - the alternative is that she's mentally handicapped. But then why is she allowed to live alone?), they are beaten by the adult bear. It's at this point that I began formulating my own plot about this book: the doll wants company and out of desperation (and probably a potent combo of liquor and prescription drugs) makes a bad decision and takes in a couple of transients who proceed to take over her house and hold her hostage.
Later when the adult bear leaves, the doll and the little bear attempt to escape the house which they've now become prisoners in. They fail and wind up trying to have as much fun as they can before the crazy adult bear returns. The photo of when they're playing dress-up and the adult bear is in the background standing in the doorway with that expression on his face - that is straight up, 100% legit, horror. The adult bear then proceeds to beat them. Then later, in a case of Stockholm syndrome and/or cultish devotion, they believe they've done wrong and apologise to the adult bear for their non-transgressions!
The fact that this book is presented with dead toys in chilling black and white photos with a chintzy dress pattern on the background cover, makes it even more disturbing to read. And if you look into the author Dare Wright's sad life where she had a domineering and insane mother and an allegedly incestuous relationship with her brother, the only man she could be close to, it just adds that extra layer of terror to the book.
This is a kid's book that I wouldn't ever think in a million years to give to a kid - it's like reading a book a mental patient in Bellevue wrote which somehow got published and became a serial killer's bible. The photos, the story, it's all just nightmare fuel. This is the anti-Toy Story.
Just wait and see what fun we'll have...
The Lonely Doll
My review of Thanos Rising #5 went up today. Read the full review here: http://whatculture.com/comics/thanos-rising-5-review.php
Grant Morrison's epic 7-year run on Batman ended last month with the brilliant Batman Incorporated #13, so what better time to revisit the book that kicked it all off: Batman and Son?
Batman discovers he has a son - Damian - following a druggy one-night stand years ago with Talia Al-Ghul who stole his DNA and combined it with hers to grow Damian in a lab. Jezebel Jet is introduced as Bruce's love interest, Joker pops up for his usual Joker shenanigans, and the book ends with a grown-up Damian in the future, now the Batman of Gotham City.
I forgot how much I enjoyed this book the first time around, but knowing all that happens down the line makes re-reading Batman and Son all the more fun and rewarding. For example, I didn't notice the graffiti featured in the background of the first issue - Zur-En-Arrh - which is relevant because Batman becomes the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh in the Batman RIP arc, a couple of years after this issue came out. It really shows the extensive planning and effort Morrison puts into his work.
The opening sequence set in London is a brilliant start. Here Talia doses a number of her assassins with Kurt Langstrom's Manbat serum while Bruce is attending a pop art exhibition in the National Gallery and meets Jezebel Jet. The pop art exhibition is a masterstroke by Morrison as the pieces look like Roy Lichtenstein's work so you get captions like "WOW!" in the background art when Jezebel is introduced - looking amazing of course - or "POW!" when Batman is fighting the Manbats. It reads like an episode of Adam West Batman! Incredible.
Damian, once he's introduced to Bruce, is a very different character to the one most readers will have gotten used to in recent years. Initially, he's basically a stone cold psycho. He beats the crap out of both Tim and Alfred, and decapitates a D-list villain before his father appears to stop him. Damian's character evolution over the series is brilliant. That he learns with his time as Robin and changes his attitude to fit to a more honourable code like Batman's than the bloodthirsty and inhumane one that he was indoctrinated with by Talia and Ra's, makes him that much more of a complex and involving character to the reader. It's the fact that we've seen him change over the years which goes some way to explaining why the reaction to his death earlier this year elicited such a strong reaction among the fans. But seeing him here at the start of his journey is quite striking in his brutality.
Morrison also begins experimenting with style immediately in this first book. I love that he doesn't even give the readers a grace period and starts playing with form and implementing his years-long story right off the bat (no pun intended). We get a prose issue starring the Joker, that I will say was the weakest part of the book - there is a reason why Morrison is an acclaimed comic book writer than a novelist - and then the book closes out by jumping ahead 20 years to Damian as Batman operating in a nightmarish Gotham City that's gone to hell. Incredibly, this issue would receive a second part 6 years later with New 52 Batman Incorporated #5 (and Andy Kubert is working on a miniseries out later this year as well)! This is also the start of Morrison's Bat menagerie with Alfred the Cat making his first appearance. Once more, Morrison impresses with his long-game approach to Batman.
The Damian-as-Batman issue and the opening Manbat sequence in the art gallery were my favourite parts of the book but I enjoyed all of it really. It's such a solid start to a legendary run that holds up on re-reads as much as it does reading it for the first time. Batman and Son is an outstanding Batman book that every fan will love. And the fact that Alfred reads Artemis Fowl means I might just have to pick up one of those books now!
Morrison's Batman begins with this book - and it rules!
Batman And Son
Chris Pratt talks Guardians of the Galaxy. Read the full piece here: http://whatculture.com/film/chris-pratt-talks-guardians-of-the-galaxy-and-marvel-crossovers.php
Zack Snyder talks about Man of Steel's final battle between Superman and Zod. Read the full article here: http://whatculture.com/film/zack-snyder-explains-man-of-steels-destructive-finale.php
Thursday, 29 August 2013
My review of Batman Incorporated Special #1 went up today. Read the full piece here: http://whatculture.com/comics/batman-incorporated-special-1-review.php
Wednesday, 28 August 2013
My review of Plants Vs Zombies 2 went up today. Read the full piece here: http://whatculture.com/gaming/plants-vs-zombies-2-its-about-time-review.php
My third review for Nudge went up yesterday. It's for Etgar Keret's book of short stories, Suddenly, A Knock On The Door. Read the review here: http://www.nudgemenow.com/article/suddenly-a-knock-on-the-door-by-etgar-keret-2/
Tuesday, 27 August 2013
Watch an awesome fan-made trailer for 2015's Man of Steel 2: Superman Vs Batman movie here: http://whatculture.com/film/outstanding-fan-made-superman-vs-batman-movie-trailer.php
Hawkeye is an amazing comic, pure and simple. It might be THE Marvel comic to be reading at the moment over other current greats like Mark Waid’s Daredevil, Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men, and Brian Michael Bendis’ All-New X-Men. And it’s about Hawkeye of all characters – Hawkeye!
Well, it’s about 2 Hawkeyes actually, Clint Barton and Kate Bishop. Both are kinda human car crashes. Clint can’t seem to get his life together, has all sortsa women troubles (including his protégé, Kate), as well as self-confidence issues, while Kate is a headstrong young woman trying to find her own identity despite also being called Hawkeye and wielding a bow and arrows in her team the Young Avengers. And it’s also about Pizza Dog aka Lucky – but more on him later.
The structure of the series is episodic so nearly every issue is self-contained like a sitcom and might be why the book is called Little Hits. However things happen towards the end of this book that splits the story from New York to California, and one of the new characters gets iced by a clown killer, so longer plot threads do emerge and take shape. Also – and this is to the comics’ credit - the stories tend to have very little resembling usual Marvel superhero comics.
Issue #7 for example is set during Hurricane Sandy, the natural disaster that laid waste to America’s East Coast last year, as Hawkeye helps his buddy Grills out at his elderly father’s place in Queens, preparing for the flood. Meanwhile Kate does the only real superhero-ing by setting out in the midst of the storm to get medicine from a nearby pharmacy only to see it being looted. A failed confrontation later and ordinary people show up to help Kate and stop the thieves in an excellent scene showing the camaraderie and decentness that is brought out in people when faced with epic disasters.
Without going into why I loved every single issue in the book, I’ll just say that there’s a great scene where Clint gets Tony to try and hook up his VCR in his new flat (yup, Clint still uses a VCR) and there are more shenanigans with the Russian tracksuit wearing toughs who use the word “Bro” like audible punctuation. But one issue towers above the rest and MUST be talked about – I’m talking about the Pizza Dog issue, #11.
This is the issue told from the perspective of Lucky, the dog eating pizza in the first issue in this series, who is saved by Clint from abusive owners, the Russian track suit bros. As this is the dog’s perspective, there is almost no dialogue, except for the occasional word that Lucky understands like pizza, Hawkeye, and Good Boy (which is followed by the best panel ever). Dialogue and actions are interpreted through symbols in an attempt to show how dogs think through images, smells, sounds, and we see a day in the life of Pizza Dog. It too is a self-contained comic with some scenes in it that at first appear cryptic but that are explained in later issues – I know this because I’ve gotten to the point now where I can’t wait for the trade paperbacks, I’ve got to buy the single issues as soon as they come out. Yes, it’s that good.
It’s artist David Aja that makes the Pizza Dog issue work so well. In fact, every issue Aja has done has been gobsmackingly gorgeous, unlike anything that you would expect in a Hawkeye book. Aided by colourist Matt Hollingsworth who brings a minimalist colour palette to the pages and you’ve got among the best art in a mainstream superhero comic ever seen. Aja deservedly won an Eisner this year for his work on this series and the Pizza Dog issue might well wind up winning best single issue at next year’s Eisners – it’s certainly got my vote.
And of course Matt Fraction – what else is there to say about this guy, except Hawkeye is his unexpected masterpiece. I’m not the world’s biggest Fraction fan but after his work on this and Fantastic Four/FF, I’m all about this guy’s work now.
Hawkeye Volume 2: Little Hits
After discovering Justin Jordan’s excellent writing on books like Luther Strode and Shadowman, I decided to hunt down more titles he’s written which led me to the only other one I could find – Team 7. Normally I would avoid this because of the New 52 label on the cover, which has obtained the same notoriety as a hazardous sticker on a drum of toxic waste, but I thought, hey, this guy is awesome, I bet he brings his awesomeness to this book too!
Ah, optimism. Go die in the face of DC’s unrelenting awfulness that is the New 52!
Team 7 is a failed hotdog.
I know hotdogs are made from weird leftovers in meat processing plants but all those leftover scraps in a hotdog taste awesome in the finished product. With mustard in a bun? The greatest snack.
Team 7 is made up of leftover characters from other failed New 52 books – Deathstroke, Grifter, Black Canary, and the ever annoying Amanda Waller whom DC seem determined to make into female Nick Fury, and continue to fail in this goal. There are some others that make up the 7 but they’re nobodies. Put all these together and you have the world’s worst hotdog. No amount of mustard or fresh bread can save this thing from making you violently sick!
The book starts off mimicking the worst moment of The Phantom Menace (and that film was all bad moments), specifically the midi-chlorians scene where George Lucas ruins the Force by saying it’s all biological. In the opening issue the boss of Team 7 says that the emerging meta-humans (superheroes to you and I) all have special genes that give them superpowers. I know DC love their realism and are trying to take away all sense of wonder and fun with their characters, but really - the meta-human gene? For fuck’s sake, DC…
I pretty much zoned out on the excessive narration employed in this book so I can’t tell you the plot. It’s bad enough having one narrator telling you what’s going on, but two at the same time, while the art shows you what’s happening as well? What the hell were you thinking, Justin? And it’s not like they’re saying anything interesting either. Despite Deathstroke, Grifter, Black Canary, and Waller all being supposedly super-skilled fighters, they rely an awful lot on guns which is just plain boring and the whole thing reeked of yet another failed New 52 series, the godawful Blackhawks. Now I think about it more, the kinda good/kinda bad characters in this team book reminded me of an even worse New 52 series, Suicide Squad. So basically, this book has all the worst associations possible.
The “story” is about the usual guff – end of the world, bad guys wanting power, blah blah blah. The villain is called Eclipso which I think is the name of an ice lolly and just looked like yet another arbitrary bad guy – monstrous looking, big toothy smile, and, if this were a movie, almost certainly speaking with an English accent. In other words, predictable schlock from start to finish.
Except I didn’t finish it. Despite having shelled out for this book (I know, even heavily discounted, more fool me) I couldn’t keep going. It was just making me too miserable. So I closed the book at the halfway point and put it on the pile of books heading to the charity shop – more than a few of which are published by DC. And, like puking up a bad hotdog, I immediately felt better! Especially as I picked up the latest trade of Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye which is the polar opposite to this book in terms of quality.
I know there are a number of people who rail on DC’s editorial as bringing the quality of their comics down, and I’m kind of on the fence with this opinion – that is until I read Team 7. How could Justin Jordan have gone from being an awesome writer putting out brilliant books like Luther Strode and Shadowman only to plummet so far with this book? It can’t be as simple as Jordan not trying on his work-for-hire, saving his A-game for his creator owned stuff, because Shadowman is work-for-hire at Valiant and that book rocks. Hmm… yeah, it’s DC editorial all right!
The one good thing I’ll say about DC editorial (because there’s nothing good to say about the book itself) is that Dan Didio has always said that he’s always on the lookout for new, exciting talent to come write for the company. And that’s certainly true of Justin Jordan, one of the most exciting new voices of recent years, so Didio deserves props for standing by his statement. It’s just a shame that working at DC completely sucks the creative juices out of said talent.
Team 7 Volume 1: Fight Fire With Fire
Monday, 26 August 2013
The Justice League are moving to Canada in 2014 courtesy of Jeff Lemire! Read the full piece here: http://whatculture.com/comics/justice-league-of-canada-to-replace-justice-league-of-america-in-2014.php
I loved this book. I thought he was going to spin out the organ trafficking storyline for the full 260 pages but he finished it at page 100, without introducing any new characters, making me wonder where he was going to take the story next. From there he goes into a murder story concerning a coal mining exec and an old man who happened to live nearby whose house was flattened by the coal company. Then from there Leonard introduces a new story of a trio of bank robbing girls and then another story of a poker playing 23 year old student on the lam.
Elmore Leonard does some amazing storytelling weaving these fascinating individuals into a single storyline. It's masterful and incredible to see these disparate elements prove to be part of a larger whole. More amazing still is the way he creates characters. Each one had its own voice and seemed completely real. Leonard writes femme fatales like no other, making them sexy and deadly and smart and witty too, from the organ harvesting nurse to the ice queen coal mining exec to the smart and resourceful poker player to the drugged out bank robbing gals.
The dialogue is the star, something Leonard is famous for and what everybody says about his books, but it's so true. Honestly, I was blown away by some of the scenes, particularly when the poker girl and the horse breeder rich guy have that exchange about playing cards - the dialogue is fast, musical, hits the ear perfectly, and is unlike dialogue in any other novel. Are you a first time reader of Elmore Leonard? Pick up this book and see why people praise his characters' speech like no other.
Putting aside the technical majestic on display throughout the book, Leonard knows why people read and particularly why people read his books - to have fun. To relax, unwind, and be entertained. And for no other reason than entertainment, this book excels. Murders, kidnappings, shootouts, high stakes poker games, this book has it all and no-one reading this novel will come away feeling short-changed of entertainment value. Even the characters seem to be having a good time, Raylan moving from crime scene to shootout to bars and finally to bed with a good looking girl, I got the feeling his eyes were wide, his heart was beating, and a smile lay beneath his face the entire time.
This is my favourite novel of 2012 so far. It's got everything from fine storytelling, superb writing, one of a kind dialogue from the man who sets the gold standard for dialogue, an array of excellent characters and some utterly brilliant setups, this is a novel that readers will rocket through with a big grin on their faces. You're looking for a good read? Stop reading this and pick up "Raylan" - he'll sort you out.
RIP Elmore Leonard - 1925 - 2013
Sunday, 25 August 2013
I wonder, at this point, if Mike Mignola could write a bad Hellboy book if he wanted. Seed of Destruction was ‘94 and we’ve had about a dozen Hellboy books, a hugely successful spin-off series, BPRD, and numerous other associated titles, assorted Hellboy anthologies, prose novels, and, of course, the superb movies. In other words, in the nearly 20 years since Mignola debuted Hellboy, he’s turned a cool random sketch into one of the greatest comic book characters ever inhabiting one of the richest worlds created in comics. He knows Hellboy inside and out and knows exactly what kind of stories suit the character perfectly. So when in this latest book he basically retells Carlo Collodi’s world famous novel Pinocchio with a young Hellboy in the lead, he knocks it out of the park, again - were you expecting anything less?
Set in Hellboy’s youth, our plucky red hero escapes the BPRD one night and runs away to join the circus. But this is no ordinary circus as he is about to discover. Filled with devils, demons, monsters, and assorted spooky beings, he meets an over-familiar circus master and his feminine friend who show him around their shadowy carnival. As Professor Bruttenholm searches frantically for his young ward, Hellboy enacts the Pinocchio story through a series of magical tents - but who is the circus master really and what does he want with young Hellboy?
In Mignola’s hands, Collodi’s already unsettling story becomes even more warped and gothic, helped in large part by artist Duncan Fegredo’s utterly gorgeous illustrations assisted by award-winning colourist, Dave Stewart . Longtime Hellboy readers will know what some of the more cryptic scenes mean as they allude to the overall Hellboy storyline where he is currently “dead” and in Hell, but new readers can still enjoy this book as a standalone spooky fairy tale.
It also has a really sweet moment between Professor Bruttenholm and Hellboy at the end as the Professor scoops up his adopted son - who will grow up to become the toughest dude in this world and the next but is right now a crying child wanting his dad - and the two walk off home together. The story starts out with father and son apart with the son feeling that he doesn’t belong, to ending with the two closer than ever - and we get an awesome story in between as well! That’s why I love this series so much - for all its imagination, wonder, and sheer artistry, Hellboy is a comic that also possesses a heart and true emotional core, and it’s why I’ll keep coming back to this comic for another 20 years.
The Midnight Circus is far shorter than the usual Hellboy book at just 56 pages, but still manages to tell an involving and memorable story from an era in Hellboy’s life that remains largely unexplored, ripe with storytelling potential. It’s yet another excellent book from the superstar creative team of Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo.
Hellboy: The Midnight Circus
Presented in a pocket book format with one panel per page mini-strips featuring Marvel’s superhero and supervillain characters, Paul Tobin’s Get Yer Hero On! collects the all ages comics that appeared on Marvelkids.com.
Here’s an idea of the kind of stories in this collection: Wolverine the sandwich thief. Juggernaut at the beach. Hulk working in an ice cream parlor. Doctor Doom the interior decorator.
I never read Marvel kid comics but saw this in a small pile of Marvel pocket books in a bargain basement store and snapped them up for pennies, thinking there might be one book among them that’d be worth it. And the first one I read turns out be great!
If you love these characters then you’ll love seeing them in weird everyday situations like Mole Man going to the cinema only to be irritated when Hulk sits in front of him, blocking the screen, or Modok getting a new hairdo. Sure, some of the strips aren’t that funny, but they’re all so delightful and charming that even the ones that didn’t make me laugh at least made me smile.
Reading a series of Marvel stories that takes a light and humourous tone with the material was refreshing, silly and unexpectedly entertaining. It’ll take you all of 5 minutes to read but the anime-esque illustrations and throwaway gags make it worth a look, and if you’ve got kids who like Marvel, then this is perfect for them. Even this big kid got a kick out of it, so adults can enjoy this stuff as well.
Super Hero Squad: Get Yer Hero On!
Friday, 23 August 2013
A criminal using advanced futuristic tech in Metropolis is stopped by Superman who, with Lois, tracks the weaponry to a remote truckstop in the desert. The plot thickens as the truckstop appears abandoned but, like the Mary Celeste, the food is still warm and the place looks like it was recently habited. A doorway out back teleports the two into a distant world where magic and science both co-exist and the mayor is a robot claiming to possess the consciousness of Jor-El, Superman's father!
Writer Mike Kennedy is best known for his work on futuristic comics like Star Wars, Aliens Vs Predator, and Aeon Flux, so it's no surprise to see his Superman take incorporating futuristic elements that make up Infinite City. It's also strange to see that in a Superman and Lois book, both characters are essentially put in a supporting role while a new cast of characters - all of whom only feature in this book - take centre stage. Expecting a Superman book and getting a story of boring, new one-off characters I didn't care about is why I wasn't very fond of Superman: Infinite City.
That and the weird story of the powerplays between different factions in Infinite City. It makes sense up to a point with one group trying to have portals that open up to Earth, while the other opposes it, and then it falls apart in the third act, becoming a convoluted confusion of plot threads I didn't care enough about to try and sort through. Carlos Meglia's art isn't bad but looks a lot like a Disney cartoon and relies too much on shiny computer graphics.
Superman: Infinite City is a pretty dull story that doesn't entertain much nor has much else going for it. If you're wondering why you've not heard of this Superman book, that's why.
Superman Infinite City
Evil but bland corporate stooge Amanda Waller puts together a team to fight the Justice League after she sees Superman and Wonder Woman smooching, thinking Wonder Woman will coerce Superman to take over the world. Dopey Steve Trevor and Amanda put together a team they believe is the World’s Most Dangerous: Hawkman, Katana, Vibe, Star Girl, Green Arrow, J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter, a Green Lantern, and Catwoman. The only one who could be called the World’s Most Dangerous is J’onn, the others are a joke. You know how dangerous these morons are? They get taken out by something called The Shaggy Man in issue #4 – how the hell are they a credible challenge for Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and the rest of the JL?
Why would these random individuals work together as a team? Geoff Johns gives us the barest of reasons for each, none of which make any sense. Also, half of the Justice League of America aren’t American. But that’s par for the course with this book, all of it is completely arbitrary and stupid.
Geoff Johns brings his Z-game to the series and, after presenting us with the uninspired lineup, gives us cornball dialogue throughout, my favourite of which is a line from Steve Trevor who says “I’m not a sellout. I’m the guy who rebels against authority!”. Amazing. I keep hoping this will be his catchphrase as it makes me laugh so much (and his expression when he says it!) but he only says it the once.
The plot is absolute nonsense – there’s some rubbish about the JLA hunting down something called the Secret Society but the last two issues in the book are Parts 2 and 4 of Trinity War where the Justice League teams are fighting one another over a Damien Hirst-like skull called Pandora’s Box in a new nonsensical storyline. Trinity War is a whole other barrel of crap that’s also not worth your time but the pieces included here only further serve to confound the reader as the missing parts (1 and 3) aren’t included.
The characters are all unlikeable, the story is flimsy and dumb, Johns’ writing is among the worst I’ve ever read by him, and David Finch’s art is very scratchy and poor while his depiction of Catwoman is outright horrible.
New 52 JLA is simply the worst comic of 2013.
I’ve been writing about the New 52 Justice League of America for another site since the title launched in February so rather than repeat myself here, if you’re interested in a detailed breakdown of the book, you can check out the reviews below of almost all of the single issues. Where I’ve missed an issue, I still read it but didn’t have the willpower to write yet another critical review of that terrible comic – but every single one is bad.
Justice League of America #1
Justice League of America #2
Justice League of America #4
Justice League of America #6
Justice League of America #7
Justice League of America Volume 1: World's Most Dangerous
The brilliantly barmy and best Batman comic of the year, Batman 66 continues its victory lap with the latest issue. Read the full review here, old chums! http://whatculture.com/comics/batman-66-2-review.php
Thursday, 22 August 2013
My review of Deadpool's second Marvel NOW! trade paperback, Soul Hunter, went up today. Read the full review here: http://whatculture.com/comics/deadpool-volume-2-soul-hunter-review.php
Wednesday, 21 August 2013
My review of Superman Unchained #3 went up today. Read it in full here: http://whatculture.com/comics/superman-unchained-3-review.php
This is Mary Lou Lord's cover of Elliott Smith's song I Figured You Out - and it's as amazing as Smith's rendition!
The song is already an absolutely gorgeous, bittersweet melody, easily one of Smith's best and one of his most heartfelt and beautiful tunes. In Lord's hands? It's turned into an equally gorgeous song, poppy almost, and just as haunting with Lord's exquisite voice over the incredible guitar picking.
This song is like a spring morning in the moment before the night turns to day - both hopeful and kinda dark at the same time. Cold yet warm. I love Elliott Smith's song - and his masterful songwriting is only highlighted with Lord's cover - but I urge Smith fans to also check out this brilliant version of one of his best songs.
Just incredible - you need this in your life!
Here's the video on Youtube:
I Figured You Out
Ignore Seth Rogen’s Green Hornet film – it was garbage. Ignore Kevin Smith’s updated reimagining of Green Hornet which was average at best. Matt Wagner takes Green Hornet back to his classic pulp era roots in Green Hornet: Year One – and it’s pretty good.
Set in the 1930s when Green Hornet/Britt Reid and his deadly samurai chauffeur Kato are kicking gangster butt in Century City, Wagner jumps back and forth between Britt and Kato’s youths and the present (1930s) to tell their stories of how they wound up together and why they decided to become masked vigilantes.
And Wagner does it well. Perhaps the biggest problem of Rogen and Smith’s Green Hornet stories was failing to put across that Green Hornet and Kato intentionally portrayed themselves as villains in an effort to control crime in their city, thus discouraging their competitors ie. other criminals, from plying their wares in their city. They want people to think they’re the bad guys, not superheroes. It’s a vital part of the Green Hornet story yet often gets overlooked, but Wagner gets it right, explaining how they arrive at that conclusion rather than become outright good guy vigilantes.
I won’t go into the hows and whys of the story as that’s basically the whole point of reading the origin story of any character, but it all makes sense and slots together nicely. The flashbacks between the past and the present work really well together as the flashbacks eventually catch up to the present by the end of the book so you finish it all caught up on Green Hornet and Kato and ready to start reading Green Hornet comics. The one detail of Green Hornet’s myth that Wagner left out that I would’ve liked Wagner to have at least hinted at is that Green Hornet is the Lone Ranger’s grandson. There’s a framed picture of Lone Ranger and Tonto in the background of one of the panels but if you’re a new reader you won’t know this brilliant piece of info.
So why the average rating? I realised reading this that I’m just not a Green Hornet fan. I have no real criticisms of the book, the writing and art are both handled nicely, and this is as good an origin story for the character as could be hoped for. But I read the book disinterestedly because the characters don’t mean much to me, not like in the same way that Superman and his origin would enthral me because Superman is a character I do really care about. I suppose the argument could be made that Wagner should make me care about Green Hornet - that’s his responsibility as the writer – but if he’s sticking to the original character and hitting all the right notes, and I’m still not into the book, then it’s not the writer’s fault, it’s just that I’m simply not interested in the character and subject matter.
I like that Wagner made it a straight period piece rather than try to jazzify it by making him 21st century and “edgy” like Kevin Smith tried, with varying results, and that he avoided the comedy slapstick angle entirely like Seth Rogen attempted; the tone is instead just right, told straight. Green Hornet: Year One is a well put together origin tale that’s a great place to start if you’re new to Green Hornet and want to know more about the character and his world.
Green Hornet: Year One Volume 1
Tuesday, 20 August 2013
My review of Solid State Tank Girl #3 went up today. Read the full review here: http://whatculture.com/comics/solid-state-tank-girl-3-review.php
My review of Numbercruncher #2 went up today. Read the full review here: http://whatculture.com/comics/numbercruncher-2-review.php
Garth Ennis says he'll be returning to write more stories for Frank Castle in 2014! Read the full piece I wrote here: http://whatculture.com/comics/garth-ennis-returning-to-the-punisher-in-2014.php
Remember kids’ cartoons from the 80s and 90s? If, like me, you grew up in this era watching shows like Thundercats, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Bravestarr, and so on, you’ll remember them fondly. Maybe the nostalgia for these shows has made you go back to revisit them as an adult – and if so, then chances are you re-watched the shows with a grown-up’s mind wondering what the hell you were thinking when you first saw this rubbish and thought it was good!
American Barbarian is like one of those shows. Writer/artist Tom Scioli was a child of this era and his book is basically a paean to those incredibly imaginative but badly written, nonsensical shows that filled up Saturday morning TV schedules. It’s also a tribute to other pop culture touchstones of this era like Star Wars and Mad Max, and of course Jack Kirby’s Kamandi comics, and maybe it’s the Kirby illustration style Scioli emulates that makes the connection between this book and 80s cartoon shows stand out so sharply.
The story is daffy in a charming way – Meric is our hero, the American Barbarian, who has red, white and blue hair (!) and bears a strong resemblance to Thundarr the Barbarian, even down to wielding a shimmering sword. When fighting an Egyptian-looking villain whose two feet are tanks (!!) called Two Tank Omen (like Tutankhamun, geddit?), Meric’s many brothers and father are killed. Devastated, Meric sets off on his quest to revenge his fallen family on a colourful adventure across the bizarre post-post-apocalyptic (!!!) American landscape.
It doesn’t feel right to critique this comic on the writing and story like I would most other comics, mostly because that isn’t really the point of the book. Narratively speaking, the story is all over the place; the characterisation is corny as hell; the dialogue is predictable and flat; based solely on this, the book is a dud and is the reason I compare it to those 80s cartoons. Watching those TV shows now, the dialogue is ridiculous, the stories make no sense, and so on, but we loved them once, bad writing and all. It’s the art I love so much in this book, and the knowingly over-the-top silliness of the story that gives Scioli the opportunities to draw such amazing pictures, just like the great character designs, landscapes, and stories from shows like Thundercats and He-Man.
That and the presentation of the book is really something. Though it started out as a web comic, it’s nicely bound in a lovely hardback and the pages smell great and feel high quality. It’s books like this that make me choose print over digital because you’re getting a tangible work of art for your money as well as the comic itself.
But I can understand readers who didn’t like this book – like I said, it really is a case of style over substance. At numerous points in the story, I not only didn’t know what was going on but I didn’t care either. It’s basically all about the great art and the references, which would be fine if this were a painting, or a series of paintings, but it’s not – it’s a comic and therefore needs a strong narrative that grips the reader, and oftentimes a good script, and frankly it possesses neither.
American Barbarian is Tom Scioli’s imagination, uninhibited and unbridled, let loose on the page and the result is a glorious mess. If you can get past the weak writing, and you’re a fan of Kirby art and 80s/90s cartoon TV show craziness, you’ll get a lot out of this one.
Monday, 19 August 2013
My review of Arcane Secrets #1 went up today. You can read the full review here: http://whatculture.com/comics/arcane-secrets-the-curse-of-the-mottled-tentacle-1-review.php
Ed Brubaker revisits Cap's past by writing an alternate history to his sidekick, Bucky, in The Winter Soldier. Originally dead from an explosion over the English Channel pursuing the evil Baron Zemo during WW2, Brubaker imagines Bucky surviving the blast and being turned into a cyborg assassin, brainwashed into fighting for the Russians. Steve Epting's art is ridiculous - it's just so good! And his character design of the Winter Soldier is brilliant, with the mechanical arm and neo-terrorist look being faithfully replicated in the upcoming movie.
Unlike the movie though, the plot centres around an evil Russian general and the cosmic cube taking over the world through purchasing American land, which works really well in the book but I don't see ANOTHER Cap movie centring around the cosmic cube so I expect that plot element to be jettisoned. From what I've seen of the movie so far though, they're using a lot of the book in the movie - Crossbones (one of Red Skull's lieutenants), the Falcon (one of Cap's old friends), certain scenes like Bucky punching Cap's shield with his mechanical arm - but it doesn't look like Hugo Weaving's returning as Red Skull so, even though he's in the book, he probably won't be in the film.
But enough talk of the movie! The book is awesome, so even if the film winds up sucking next year, at least we have Brubaker and Epting's great Cap story. And Brubaker should really be congratulated simply for writing a readable and fun Captain America book - off the top of my head, I don't think there are any great Cap books besides this! But it's more than that. We understand Cap's loss a lot more, seeing his friendship with Bucky in far more detail than in other books during the many flashbacks set during WW2, and understand how close they were and why it was so painful for Cap to lose him.
While it's recognisably a superhero book, Brubaker's written it in a very sophisticated way so that it reads like an espionage thriller with double agents, real historical events, unexpected emotional depth, and superhero action all thrown into the mix. Epting's accomplished art gives the book a gloriously realistic appearance while the muted colour palette perfectly suits the serious tone of the book. Cap might be looked at as an anachronistic, even outdated character, and dressed kinda silly, but Brubaker and Epting make him look like a tragic figure, which isn't something I usually respond to (miserable superheroes are DC's speciality, not Marvel's) but it's the right approach for this book. With Bucky's backstory that involves remaining youthful after decades, getting a robot arm, being brainwashed, and so on, it would be too easy to undermine if Brubaker was anything less than completely serious in his approach.
The only complaint I would give the book is that it feels overlong at times. The middle of the book sags a bit especially as Brubaker takes several tangents to explore every angle of Cap's long and varied history (taking in other Captain Americas who filled in for Steve Rogers while he was frozen in ice). But it's a minor complaint when so much of the book is so well done in every way.
With The Winter Soldier, Brubaker writes the best Captain America book ever while also resurrecting a forgotten character, giving Bucky a new lease on life and turning him from an easily mocked sidekick into a brilliantly realised and transformed new character, and a superhero in his own right. The Winter Soldier is a great read and anyone (and I used to fall in this category) who thinks Cap only works in team books, should pick this up to see him carry the story brilliantly.
Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection