Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rapid Reviews Round Three

More rapid reviewing from another week of reading more comics than I really ought to be able to. Not because I'm time poor, more because the comics are content poor. Or at least some are.

So to our first contender. Surrounded by much hype this year, bearer of a reset button, and with a premise as sturdy as a paper dove...
As George Takei would say, "Oh Myyyy!" This story was unnecessary in the biggest possible way. Sure I'm lite-on with my DC history, (particularly modern DC), but this was the core of a company wide crossover that had (wait for it) no real impact on continuity. Oh sure it allowed the reboot/reset/relaunch/whatever that was the New 52, but it didn't add anything to continuity. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it contradicts the effects of time travel as depicted in other areas of the DCU. Booster Gold can't really change time, but Barry Allen can? How? Why? It's not really explained. I can only assume that what Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert dished up in this 176 page offering was the Crisis that Grant Morrison ought to have delivered with Final Crisis. Now I realise that thus far I've spent the entire review complaining about this being little more than a reset button, but honestly there's not much else to it.
No body retcons Morrison. Nobody.
The art is nice to look at, and the dialog is fine, but the story itself is so short. And it's made shorter with the cameos needed to tie in the tie-ins. Plus it doesn't matter what people look like, they are (in many cases) fundamentally not the characters we care about. From Thomas Wayne as Batman to out of character Wonder Woman. Those this book is likely aimed at (long term fans) should be struggling to connect with the characters the "know".
The biggest slap in the face is that at the end f it all, the story retcons itself out of existence. That's right, the story you spend $12 USD (if you get it now from Amazon) on purchasing, and about 30 minutes reading, wraps up so well that it never happened. Almost. A lot of comparisons were made between this and the Age of Apocalypse from Marvel back in the 1990s and it's an obvious comparison. The difference is that this is really more like House of M in terms of impact, depth, and time to read. If that's so, we'll be getting new Flashpoint stories for another 2-3 years yet.

Recommendation: Pass. Or read it in the 5 minutes it takes someone else to get the shrink-wrap off your copy of the New 52 omnibus without damaging it.

Clearly didn't like that one... so how about something that I really shouldn't like. Something like...
The Complete Ben Reilly Epic Book 2
If this doesn't trigger 1990s flashbacks,
go ahead and pick it up.
Yep, I panned the last volume of this when I reviewed it, but in for a penny, or something like that. Now while the last instalment sucked terribly due to lack of plot advancement or character development (combined with some truly reprehensible "art"), this one is actually enjoyable and readable. Which is high praise, comparatively. I'd love to tell you a page count, or an Amazon cost, but Amazon seem intent on pretending this didn't exist, which funnily enough, up until a couple years ago, is exactly the position Marvel had taken. We get the conclusion to the terrible VR Scarlet Spider in the real world story, some more New Warriors stuff, A sensible Spider-man and Human Torch story, Spider-man and Punisher teaming up against Tombstone, a couple of Venom plots, and Spidey vs Mysterio. As before, there's a swathe of writers and artists (Tom DeFalco, Evan Skolnick, Dan Jurgens, Todd Dezago, Howard Mackie, Tom Lyle, Glenn Greenburg, Sholly Fisch, Larry Hama, Mark Bagely, Patrick Zircher, Sal Buscema, John Romita Jr, Tom Morgan, Dick Giordano, Mike Harris, Mike Manley, Shawn McManus, Joe Bennet, Paris Karounos, Kevin Maguire, Bob Brown, Josh Hood, Tom Grindberg, and Joe St. Pierre) working on the range of Spider-man titles from the time. As before some of the art is better than others (Joe Bennet seems to think that Spidey and Punisher are about the same size as Colossus), and some of the stories are laughable. The good thing is that the amount of "woe is me I thought I was a clone" stuff drops off, and the development of Ben as a character really kicks off. If you were interested in reading about Ben Reilly as Spider-man I'd pick up the first couple of Clone Saga books, then skip to this point. It should be enough to get you up to speed for the new Scarlett Spider series (the less I say about that, the better).

Recommendation: Good read for Spidey fans, Reilly fans, and 1990s fans,. If you want great work, it's not here, but there's a least some solid work.

So maybe the 1990s is your favourite era. And maybe you like The Avengers. And cosmic stuff involving the Kree, Skrulls, or Shiar. You do? Great. Try reading...
Operation Galactic Storm (Volumes 1 and 2)
They're Avengers? Okay then.
It's so nice to have something good to say about a book, and it's also very nice to read something that's not finished in a couple of hours.
Operation Galactic Storm is a tale from the other time there were multiple Avengers teams (East and West), and deals with The Avengers (first the West Coast team, then both) getting caught up in an intergalactic war involving the Kree and the Shiar (mainly - there's a little bit of Skrullishness) by way of a Rick Jones abduction./ At its core, this is a story about the horrible things people rationalise as acceptable in times of war, and how people from different backgrounds, and at different points in their lives act when faced with the atrocities of war. For example Thor (Eric Masterson, not Donald Blake) is a relative novice and his lack of prior experience leads him to vacillate wildly from outraged violence to subdued humanitarian, while Captain America resolutely claims the need to stop the war without casualties. Interestingly, there's some very familiar riffs throughout this story: Cap vs Iron Man on a a moral battlefield, Hawkeye not feeling he's been afforded enough respect, Wonder Man and Vision as two sides of the same coin, and Cap doubting his ability to lead The Avengers. These are things we've seen repeatedly over time, and that they're all brought to the fore during what was a showcase cross-over event is evidence that a cross-over can be done properly.
There's really only two things to complain about here: that the story was split over two volumes, and that the What If stories in the second volume are so appalling. The split makes sense in that the editions I have are paperback. Going to a single volume would have resulted in a book where the spine breaks after one reading. The other alternative is to go to a hardcover/omnibus which raises costs, and reduces the likelihood of  reprint. The What If stories... are a demonstration of all that was wrong with the concept. The concept (What If The Avengers Los Operation Galactic Storm?) is not that compelling unless you really have a lot of time (see Flashpoint review above), the art is not that great, and at times it's completely unclear what the hell is happening.
Again, they're Avengers?
The art in the actual story is excellent, clear, and reminds me why I rate the art from the 1980s and 1990s so far above the art from the modern era: splash pages that do nothing to advance plot are at a minimum, dialog is consistently applied, rather than a page or two of people looking at each other menacingly, etc, and most importantly for me panels are separated from each other by a border at minimum, if not with whitespace.
The list of contributors (writers and artists) is extensive, but not over the top (Bob Harras, Tom DeFalco, Mark Gruenwald, Gerard Jones, Len Kaminski, Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, Greg Capullo, Steve Epting, JEff Johnson, Stephen B. Jones, Rik Levins, Dave Ross, Paul Ryan, Rurik Tyler, Paul Olliffe, Craig Brasfield, John Czop, Darren Auck, and Dave Simmons).

Recommendation: Pick it up. Both volumes. Read it. Then read a modern "event" book (either of the big two will have something for you). Then sit back and wonder why "events" are so awful these days. You don't need to be an Avengers fan, and you don't need to be too worried about continuity (this is so far back it really isn't referenced).

Whew, big lot of books out of the way. Next week I'll do another batch review, but we'll focus on the one title.
Whaddya mean your girlfriend won't read The Boys?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bought On Reputation

Pass this up at your peril!
Given that Rapid Reviews don't really lend themselves to an omnibus (or in my case, four) I decided on dedicating a whole post to this wonder of magnificence from Marv Wolfman and George Perez. As the title of this post suggests, this was something I ordered purely based on the reputation that this era of Teen Titans has, then left it on my Read Pile for a few months, followed (some days after starting it, by ordering the second omnibus. Amazon normally charge about $75 USD (currently they've got it vastly reduced - buy it, buy it now). It's only 684 pages, and doesn't take too long to read.

Here's the deal, the opening is fairly weak. Sorry, but even Marv acknowledges it with his tale of sales figures. Robin seems to be time skipping, and there's a NEW Teen Titans he's getting involved with. As someone who's not read anything of the incarnations of the Teen Titans from before this period, that has little value to me as an idea. Especially in an age where teams are disbanded and reformed all the time. Avengers anyone? That said, even in the early issues, the art is beautiful. I do not complain about Perez art. Ever.
Past the first say 5 issues, the quality picks up as we finally start finding out what the deal is with Raven (daughter of the demon Trigon, seem to recall somewhere along the line it was retconned that her mother was raped, seems consensual throughout this omnibus). Then we deal with a fair bit of amazonian whatnot about different eras of Gods. Next up is Beast Boy and the Titans looking for the remaining members of the Doom Patrol. After that are a lot of smaller story arcs (including Starfire falling in love and then having that lover killed), mainly giving us an insight into the characters backgrounds and relationships with their parents and civilian lives. There are a number of fights with the Fearsome Five, Deadshot, and H.I.V.E., none of which truly stand out in my mind.

I know I've said before that recommending older comics can be hard if they don't have any relevance on the current comics, however I also say that a classic story or run is worth reading, not as a primer, but for the enjoyment of it. Sure this omnibus has a few stories that are superfluous, and some that are clearly encumbered by the need for Wolfman and Perez to get things started, but over the duration, it's a quality read. The Trigon material would be enough to make this a classic. Add in that for some of these characters, this was their introduction, and it's obviously interesting to compare where the characters have ended up after many different sets of hands and various Crises have had their way with them.

As someone that hadn't read Titans of any form before, nor watched the animated show, I've got to say that I had no real knowledge of the characters outside of Robin, Donna Troy, and Wally West, but the writing and the art end up pulling you in. Like 70s and 80s Chris Claremont X-Men work. It's good enough that familiarity is not required.

I'd recommend this book to anyone with a budding interest in the DC universe beyond Batman, Superman, and the JLA. Anyone that has an interest in the Titans already, and hasn't read this, should be lining up to spend their money. Anyone that likes Chris Claremont's style should also consider this book. I'm eagerly awaiting the second omnibus from this era.

Next time out: something happened to increase my read pile. Something called Black Friday sales at Things From Another World. Needless to say, it'll be another Rapid Review.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rapid Reviews Round Two

And another week of Rapid Reviews. This week is interesting in that two of the books (while still entertaining) were a bit of a let down, given the premise, and the other was an interesting examination of the notion of a superhero team. First off we have...
Invincible: The Viltrumite War (Volume 14 of the standard TPBs).

For those that aren't regular readers of Invincible, this book is probably not going to be a great starting point. Unless you like lots of blood and violence. Still Interested? This volume covers the inevitable fight between the Coalition of Planets (featuring the titular Invincible) and the remainder of the Viltrumite Empire. Amazon claim it's worth $14 USD for 196 pages. So, yes, there's a lot of fighting, yes Invincible get's nearly killed a couple more times (seriously the guy cannot fight Viltrumites to save himself), and yes the war ends in the one volume. With a truce. Really? I get how that's the rational and adult way that conflicts end, and I get that without the Viltrumite menace hovering away, it's hard to make this book much more than a modernised version of early Stan Lee Steve Ditko Spider-man stories, but really? A truce? That's like if at almost any point during Dragon Ball-Z Goku and <insert villain here> ended the fight be having a cup of tea. Not quite what was called for.
Robert Kirkman's writing is still fine and dandy, and Ryan Ottley's art is still delightful, but the ending did leave me flat. As did the ongoing theme of Invincile getting the crap beaten out of him before going back for more.
Recommendation: Not an introductory volume for Invincible, but worth the money for those already reading.

Next up...
JLA: Tower of Babel
Or put another way "What If Batman Had Plans To Defeat The JLA, And Ra's Al Ghul Used Them?". This book is, in my mind, one of the best concepts ever, but not properly executed. It is completely believable that Batman would have such plans. It's completely believable that they could fall into the wrong hands. The resulting fall out is also believable. The book fails on two counts. First, I find it hard to believe that Ra's would succeed in all the early stages and still fail in his plans (which, had he succeeded, would have been no real problem with another Crisis just around the corner at the time this was published). Second, it just seemed like it was a "cool" story that didn't have a lot of depth and weight to it. Some people will lay the blame at the conglomeration of writers (Mark Waid, Dan Curtis Johnson Christopher Priest, and John Ostrander) while ignoring the concept of editors asking for meat on the bones which comes at the cost of the artists' (Howard Porter, Steve Scott, Mark Pajarillo, Pablo Raimondi, Eric Battle, and Ken Lashley) over use of splash pages/panels to tell a denser story (I'm sure if I ever wrote an editorial, that'd be target number one). That still doesn't address the first problem though. How is it that Ra's continually comes up with ways to almost take over the world, but falls short every time? It's like he needs to have a specialist that sees these plans to completion for him.
All that aside, it's a pretty book, and a good story. Good thing Amazon marketplace sellers don't charge too much for a copy (though as this was a present, I can't comment on exact prices) of this 160 page tome.
Recommendation: While it may not be an entry point to the JLA, it's a good book for anyone that's got a couple JLA tales under their belt. If you were to read Infinite Crisis, this book's probably more relevant than many of the lead in mini-series were. I'll also point out that while it's not really graphic in the violence, it's quite brutal in terms of the idea at the root of it all.

Finally this week, it's worth following up Tower of Babel with...
JLA: Divided We Fall
Which takes place directly after Tower of Babel. Mark Waid is writing by himself this time, and we do get more depth (so yes, having half a dozen writers doesn't help things necessarily). Art is split across Bryan Hitch, J.H. Williams III, Phil Jiminez, Javier Saltares, Ty Templeton, Doug Mahnke, Mike S. Miller and Mark Pajarillo. Again, this was a present, though allegedly reasonably priced for the 208 pages. After Batman being voted out of the JLA, the team is clearly having a crisis of confidence as a group, and individually. The first half of the book is showing how they don't work as a team any more, and the second half shows how they don't work as individuals via (somewhat heavy handedly) Alien stuff happening that splits each member of the team into their civilian identity and their superhero persona (except Wonder Woman and Aquaman who at this point do not have separate identities).
The heroes win the day (and reunite themselves and the team), however it's a close run thing, and the divisions of personalities is not necessarily what people might expect.
To be honest the "team divided" story had to be dealt with somehow following Tower of Babel, but it could easily have been resolved via 10 volumes of Bendis dialogue style, instead f having actual action occur. And that's impossible to fault. The writing is good, the art is clear, and the story is reasonably compelling.
Recommendation: Not essential reading by any means. Adds nothing to anyone's understanding of the modern JLA, but does give a look at what makes the a super-team tick, and also worth a read if you bothered to shell out for Tower of Babel.

Next week, I'll go back to a more standard review with something that initially looked like it would be a titanic slog to read, but rapidly became a pleasurable experience.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rapid Reviews Round One

In order to allow me to cover a lot of things I've read in the past few months in a few short posts, I've initiated a Round of Rapid Reviews. I won't go into a lot of detail but will give highlights, (dis) honourable mentions, and the usual details of who's to blame for what, and how much money to spend. Without further ado, let's discuss...

The Death of Jean DeWolff
Should be titled "Exploits of the Sin Eater"

This was one I grabbed while in Melbourne earlier this year. Amazon will ask about $18.5 USD for this 168 page book. It's written by Peter David (a good sign), and pencilled by Rich Buckler and Sal Buscema. Briefly put, Jean DeWolff (Spider-man's female cop buddy) has been killed, and Pete wants to catch the killer. Turns out the killer is an old geezer friend of Aunt May's. Peter near cripples the guy, and then has to deal with his guilt causing him to hold back in a fight with Electro. The art is good (not spectacular), and easy to read. Thankfully it hasn't been recoloured, s I doubt it'd look as nice.
The story is very much of the time, with Spider-man needing to deal with how his all consuming responsibilities as a hero clash with his underlying humanity. I'd like to say it's done better than most, but really the story is nothing overly special. How Eddie Brock could ever be plausibly retconned into being involved in (let alone caring about) these events is beyond me.

Recommendation: Spider-fans (be they casual or committed) will enjoy it. Everyone else will probably pass, as there's not much here that's not been done better elsewhere.

The Complete Ben Reilly Epic Book 1

I'd call it a turd-burger, but really you
wouldn't consider serving this to anyone.
Seriously awful. Amazon want to charge you $27 USD for this 120 page waste of time and space. The culprits for this train-wreck are Tom Defalco, Mike Lackey, Howard Mackie, Todd Dezago, Glenn Herdling, Evan Skolnick, Dan Jurgens, Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, Paris Karounos, Scott McDaniel, Tom Morgan, John Romita JR, Tod Smith, Joe St. Pierre, and Patrick Zircher.

If you must know what it's about, this is the sixth instalment of that "wonderful" period in the 1990s when Peter Parker was revealed to be a clone (not the real Spider-man) and Ben Reilly was revealed as the true Spider-man. If you'd read the fifth and figured that as the low point of the saga, think again. By the time this volume starts, Peter knows he's the clone, and has agreed to stop being Spider-man so he and a pregnant MJ can go and have a family life sans excitement. Thing is, from that point it takes until the last issue of the book for Ben to start out as Spider-man. There is not one single story in here that makes it worth my time to discuss the details of. The plots, logic, and dialog are terrible.
The art (excusing Mark Bagley and Sal Buscema) is full of woeful representations of human anatomy, and (in at least the case of an issue of Green Goblin) somehow makes it harder to read the stories (as if you'd want to). Every time I read something mildly objectionable in this era of spider-man, I think back to this Life of Reilly series of articles (now a blog) and wonder just how far they got it wrong.

Recommendation: If you happen upon this in a store, burn it. Otherwise, avoid all interaction with this book. Even if you want to read the Ben Reilly as Spider-man saga, this book doesn't advance the plot except for the last issue, and you'd pick up the plot advancement by reading the next volume.

The Walking Dead Volume Seven
You know what it's about. You know.

It's The Walking Dead. Zombies. Bleak. People Dying. Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard deliver another 304 pages of the most wrist slitting cmic book entertainment known to man, all for about $22 USD from Amazon. Reading this volume a couple thing struck me:
1. This series seriously needs a recap at the start of each volume; and
2. It's become so excessively repetitive that it's really only something to continue reading if you're committed to the series.

While there's not anything really wrong with the book per se (the art's good as ever, the characterisation , plot and dialog are all good), I think it's fair to say that the series as a whole is starting to lack clear direction. I get that it's the ongoing story of what would happen in a zombocalypse, but I'm tired of seeing the same repetition of "Rick's group find some place vaguely inhabitable, and begin to settle down. Human nature and zombies combine to screw things up, and lots of people die. Rinse, repeat." It's time to either focus on a different group of survivors (no reason they can't eventually team up with Rick's group), or wrap the series up with what I see as the inevitable conclusion: Rick and Carl are both dead.

Recommendation: If you've read this far, you probably need to decide if you're interested in more of the same. If so, keep going, else drop it like it's hot. If you aren't already reading, there's six volumes before this one that you need to read to be properly informed at each step along the way.

Well, that's a wrap for Rapid Review Round One. Next week, I'll be back with Round Two.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Plagued By Predictability

NOTE: No Zombies were included in this book.
After a long, long time between drinks, we're up and running again.
As part of my off-again, on-again interest in Northlanders, and my more than mild lust for completeness, I picked up a copy of Northlanders Book 4: The Plague Widow much earlier in the year than this review has been written.
It's a tidy little tome, which runs 192 pages for about $16.50 US at Amazon.
Succinctly stated the story is that of a widow and her daughter in a lovely village set in the Volga (Wikipedia tells me this is therefore in Russia - which I'd picked up based on the use of names like Boris, and a priest that looks like what I always seem to think Rasputin looks like), where they are viewed as an oddity by many of the men, but tolerated by the local government. Tolerated that is until the village falls victim to THE PLAGUE!
If you aren't on board at this stage, all I can throw in to entice you is gruesome violence and death, as well as swearing. If none of that does it for you, I recommend you pass on this book, and read something else.
Things (unsurprisingly) turn to custard as the village becomes divided during the epidemic, power plays occur, and the village is invaded. The key players are set up early on, and play the roles you'd expect. The writing is about mid-range for Northlanders: there's something different in it, but it ends up running to a pretty standard formula.
As happens fairly often in Northlanders, it's difficult to identify with any of the characters, and difficult to find one truly likeable character. As such, Brian Wood has to rely on his plot to get the job done. As I've said, the plot is predictable, if a change from the normal Northlanders "Vikings that don't like each other" stories. That said, elements of the story are quite logical, and convincing. It makes sense that a rural village in 1020 would not be prepared to deal with the menace that was the Bubonic Plague, particularly when they don't accept "crackpot" theories on communicable disease that the modern world accepts as fact. It is understandable that amid the chaos the village would be divided on whose leadership is best. Unfortunately, plague aside, this is standard fodder for "disaster" movies, and having a wife that loves such movies, I can't put this in the top flight of such tales.
On the upside, Leandro Fernandez turns in good art that allows you to clearly identify who's who in the zoo of main characters (something easily overlooked in the bleak worlds depicted in Northlanders, where most male characters have a beard, a tunic, and need to be created for a single 200 page story).The action is easy to follow, and the panel layouts don't stretch my brain or force rereads.

Overall it's a book that I can't really recommend to too many people. Northlanders fans will likely enjoy it, as will "disaster" movie fans. People that fall into neither of these camps should try earlier Northlanders books to see if they like the feel, before they see if they like Wood's experimental genre fusion.

Given the monumental delay, and the number of books read in the meantime, I'll catch up a little in coming weeks with a series of mini-reviews. Which books I'll review in which weeks will be a surprise.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Evidence That Casanova Wasn't A Once Off.

Oh, the costume redesign wasn't too shabby either.
A lot of people (a lot of people) have gotten to the point with Matt Fraction where they now believe he's past his prime in terms of talent, and thus ought to be ousted from his role writing critical moments in the Marvel Universe. This for the man that only a couple years back won an Eisner Award for his work on Iron Man. And before that, produced one of the most creative comics (Casanova) I'd read for a while. In between those events, he teamed up (initially) with Ed Brubaker, and David Aja to produce an almighty home run with The Immortal Iron Fist (which ,PS, almost got an Eisner too). This week I'll look at the whole run, collected into a delicious Omnibus. This Omnibus is actually largely available in stores still, so while could hit up Amazon or similar, you might want to consider a wander to some of your Local Comics Stores.

Can you recall many instance of Hydra winning a fight? I can't
The book runs from the end of Danny Rand pretending to be Daredevil (just prior to Civil War), through the intriguing "recent" history of The Iron Fist, some vey much less "recent" history, and a bid by Hydra to destroy the city of K'un Lun during the tournament to determine the precedence of the Seven Cities of Heaven.
Interestingly the story uses Orson Randall as the catalyst to kick off the series of events told in this collection, and frequently returns to Orson Randall as a cypher used to explain Danny's heritage and powers developed by other Iron Fists. It would be fair to say that Orson Randall is as important to the book as Danny Rand. Of course you get appearances form Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, the usual K'un Lun crowd, as well as the other Immortal Weapons. What you don't get is a whole lot of crossovers into other books and events, which would really have ruined the story, or any fights with Constrictor or Sabertooth (which made up the bulk of my recollections of Iron Fist prior to this run).

And it's not just the writing that's wonderful. David Aja's contributions are perfectly suited to the story, and he got rid of that ridiculous collar. Which is a big enough achievement in itself.

If it's not clear yet, I loved the crap out of this book, from reading single issues, to trades, to this omnibus. I can't really fault anything in it, and that's a pretty big deal. The other thing to keep in mind is that Iron Fist isn't an A-list character. He's a fan favourite maybe, but not A-list. And yet, Marvel stuck by this series and let the story be finished. Despite that sales weren't anywhere near equal with the level of critical acclaim.

I recommend this book to anyone that likes martial arts moves. Anyone that likes Iron Fist. Anyone that likes to trash Matt Fraction. Anyone that likes a good comic. Anyone that likes to be entertained, in fact. And while this may be just my opinion, I'm more than happy with that.

Up next, strangeness.
Not quite what the blurb advertised.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jeph, Jeph, Jeph, Jeph, Jeph. That better be intentional.

Okay, fine. I did it!
First review of some of my Melbourne spoils, and dear oh dear it's complicated. For those that haven't read The Long Halloween (widely considered some of Jeph Loeb's best work), it picks up after Frank Miller's Year One, and from there it's a roller coaster of quality and (dubious) whodunnit excitement. At 368 pages, it's not exactly short, but then it doesn't really cost too much either (currently US $11 at Amazon). The art is Tim Sale covering Frank Miller (I haven't read enough of Sale's work to say if it's par for the course or not) and does a pretty good job of it.

The story is fairly simple: While Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and Harvey Dent try and take down the Falcone Crime Family, Someone (or is it someones) else is busily doing it from a much more murderous angle. Each chapter of the book deals with another "Holiday" on the calendar (some of these aren't even Holidays, but just dates of note), and another grisly killing. For those that haven't read the book, no Julian Day (The Calendar Man) is not the core villain, though he does get a couple cameos.

Unlike the June weather,
Selina isn't looking so hot here.
At the end of the story, there are three possible candidates for the Holiday Killer, and for all the internet debate, you can really take your pick of "who killed who" and mix and match however you like between Alberto, Harvey, and Glinda. But it wasn't Batman. Batman doesn't kill. There are various implausibilities that go with each candidate, and each killing, and the disappointing thing is that there's no definitive answer. You can take Glinda's admission at face value, but what of her mental state? She's clearly past the beginnings of a breakdown. Alberto also confessed, but Harvey says there were two killers. Finally Harvey could have done them all (And we're lead to believe that for much of the story), but had no motive for some (such as the coroner). The best theory is that all three had a go at some point, but hey, given that it's never been finally settled, it's really a choose your own adventure (which is as the book seemingly would have it be). There's also the idea that identity of the Holiday Killer was changed as the story was being produced solely because internet chatter had determined who it was. I personally think that's one of the bigger pats on the back the online comics community has incorrectly awarded itself.

The story itself is solid, and not tied to continuity (though it does portray Harvey becoming Two Face), though it's sometimes a bit stilted, and.. seems to have.. ellipsis all over... the place. Sale's art is serviceable, though it'd be nice to have women that looked, y'know, feminine. On the other hand, adding further detail would likely have given away key elements of the story that weren't meant to be revealed. Some times less gives the story more.

Overall it's a decent read, and one that is definitely enjoyable. If you manage to snag it cheap, I'd definitely grab it. It goes well with Year One after all, and fills in an afternoon fairly nicely.

Next week I'll delve into the Melbourne haul again, this time for something I enjoyed immensely when it was coming out, and couldn't help but grab in Omnibus format.

From before Fraction's writing seemed to fall in on itself.

As a late inclusion, for those that love a collected edition, are interested in the DC reboot, and want a decent price on the lot, how about killing all of the above birds with this ominously large tome.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Too Much X-Men - It's Possible

Okay, I'll admit. Reading the remainder of this in a week (or even two) when less than half way through was not achievable. The important thing is that I got there in the end. It's a mammoth read (nearly 770 pages when you throw in the letters pages, intros from Stan et. al., and cover galleries galore) and unlike today's books, each one is full of plot, dialog, and action. Too much so in my mind. We all like to complain about how "modern comics are decompressed" without thinking too hard about it. Go back to stories like The Death of Jean DeWolff and you can see that things were still padded out in the '80's (maybe not as much as today), and then go read Busiek's Avengers and see that even recently some books were quite a hefty read. But to truly appreciate how a "compressed" story is a lot to swallow, you really need to go back and read the 1960s era of comics. This omnibus is Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, and Werner Roth at some of their best from that era, and it's still overloaded. Takes-you-half-an-hour-per-issue-and-then-you-feel-tired overloaded.

The book itself is about the right size (a little too big by an issue or so, but not so big it's primary purpose is for fending off home intruders), and is the usual quality you expect from a Marvel Omnibus. Quite obviously it contains the original issues of The X-Men (the first 31, anyway) which goes through a range of villains, and any number of bizarre concepts. You want Magneto? You got it. Brotherhood of mutants? Check. Avengers, also included. Sentinels? Obviously. Juggernaut?No questions asked. What you might not expect incudes: Vanisher's first appearance, Professor X seemingly enamoured with Jean Grey (seems everyone was back then), high school level drama from Scott and Jean, Mimic, Count Nefaria, Jean Grey with telekinesis only, humanoid Beast, The Locust, El Tigre, Lucifer, weird poetry about Beast's feet, and some of the worst villains you've ever heard of. (Unicorn, Plantman, Scarecrow, Porcupine, and Eel anyone? How about Kukulcan then?)

Some of these plots and villains make me seriously question how this book ever kept going, leave alone the sanity of those writing it. The thing that does stand out though (particularly when compared with the Amazing Spider-man Omnibus) is that the dialog from Stan Lee is actually bearable. Stan is not trying to write like he thinks the kids talk, but how a group of five adults (by way of high school) would talk. More importantly, they aren't all about slacking off and having fun, nor are they all about the job of bashing villains to a pulp. It strikes a balance. A weird balance.

I'm not going to rattle off plot lines here for a number of reasons:
1. You've either read them before verbatim, or something derivative enough you don't need to read the book for the plots.
2. You would either think the whole thing is about Magneto, or that I'm making stuff up while drunk.
3. There's just too many of them, and I only have one life to live.

So far I'm not sold on this book. For good reason. Early Marvel work generally falls into one of two categories: brilliant, or terrible. I've yet to read "mediocre". As with all work of such an era, the art isn't close to what we modern readers are accustomed, and if it bothers you, don't even waste your time and money. If you like simpler art, or can at least handle it, you'll possibly find what I did: the quality of each issue comes down to the writing, and nothing else. Some issues/arcs (They did have multi-part stories even in the 60s) are brilliant, some are just downright silly. Same writer, same artist, variable quality. I'm sure if you lined up the issues with some indication of time to produce, and the number of other titles being produced by the same guys, you might see a direct correlation.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. Yes, if you've got the money to spend on it. Yes, if you've not read these stories before. Yes, if the nostalgia you have for The X-Men is strong enough to buy this and put it on your shelf (heck most of the Omnibuses look terrific on a shelf). If you can't slot yourself into any of those categories, don't buy it.

No while I've been delaying this review, I did read a bunch of other reading. As well as a trip to Melbourne during which other comics were purchased (and then read). So I'll juggle the order a little and say that his is what we get next.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Almost As Astonishing As Ever!

It's not just good, it's...
Ah yes, Astonishing X-Men. Hardcover. Volume 1. I had already bought the first before the Omnibus was announced, and therefore didn't get the omnibus. However this is one of my favourite X-Men collections to date (and I know I have enough). For those not familiar with this particular book, it's what you get when you take Joss Whedon (of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Dr Horrible's Sing Along Blog, The Avengers movie et al,  fame), give him the writing duties of a new X-Men title, give him John Cassaday to do the art, and Laura Martin to do the colours. The first arc, "Gifted" (issues 1-6 of this book) was good enough for the 2006 "Best Continuing Series" Eisnser, and the whole book (all 320 pages) can be yours from $18 US (again Amazon are out of stock, so you'll need to hit the Amazon marketplace). Alternatively just lay down about $45 US for the omnibus, since this is good enough to warrant getting the second volume anyway.

The story (really the whole of Whedon's run was one big story) picks up after Morrison's (shudder) conclusion to New X-Men (though it ignores the whole time travelling Jean Grey thing as much as possible, and really just gives a few nods to the finale with Magneto), and moves forwards. We have the introduction of Ord from the Breakworld who believes an X-Man while be responsible for the destruction of his planet, Kavita Rao and her "cure" for the "disease" that s the mutant species, the return of Shadow Cat, Lockheed, Colossus, and... costumes, and the awakening of the sentient being that has been the core of the danger room for decades of our time (not so much continuity).
Personal favourite shot from the book.
As you can tell from the above list the story, for 12 issues, is a bit decompressed, or at least it's deceives you into thinking that. Certainly there are plenty of larger than normal panels, plenty of splash panels or pages, and plenty of panels without words. A 1960's issue of X-Men it isn't. That said, there's a lot o detail, and a lot of nuance in the art. The body language, and facial expressions makes a statement that a dozen $100 dollar words couldn't do. It isn't annoying, and you don't feel like you're being ripped off because you read through it too fast. You soak in the detail. Yes it feels like a movie (heck the whole "cure" lot thread was picked up for the horrible X-Men: The Last Stand) with it's lovely art, and well paced dialogue, but given Whedon's background that's not surprising. The joy of it is that it's clear that it's not just some unknowing movie writer coming into make a few bucks, nor is it Joss aiming to get a movie deal by writing a superficial but well received comic. You can tell that he's at least read the X-Men periodically (if not been a long time fan) from his references to classic Kitty Pryde moments from Claremont's time on the book, his use of Colossus, and his references back to New X-Men. His writing is just as good as it was on Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. The drama is appropriate. The action is required by the story, and not tacked on or left out entirely.

And another classic shot.
Then we come to Cassaday's and Martin's contributions. To say that the art is gorgeous is an understatement. Obviously it's the kind of thing you could never have done before digital inking and colouring. Obviously it's got the modern norms of big bold visuals with amazing levels of detail. But as I said above, it's not just there to show off. It adds to the story, it tells the story by itself. You could likely use much of this book as a "'Nuff Said" book if you wanted to take the dialogue out entirely. There's one thing I will say about the art that's not complimentary, and it goes for many modern comics: we've lost the motion lines that indicate where a punch is coming from, where some debris fell from, or just how quickly someone ducked. I understand it doesn't work well with the highly detailed art (leave alone art like Salvadore "photographs'll be fine thanks" Larocca's), but I miss that.

Over all this is a great read. It's still very relevant, it's still exactly what an X-Men book is meant to be, and given the time that's passed, I think we can safely say it's not going to be another Iron Man Extremis.

If I were you I'd get the full Whedon run on Astonishing in one form or another. It's a great story, and likely one that will hold up about a thousand times better than X-Men Second Coming.

Next Week I aim to challenge myself: finish this book, or wait until the week after for a review.
To be honest I'm mostly done, but it's a long slog.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Why Multiple Choices aren't Always Logical Choices

Generally a good read.
After reading such horrible work last week, this week I planned to read something enjoyable this week, and enjoyable it was. Mostly. As well as relaunching the X-Factor series (in a somewhat original take), this book offers a decent story from Peter David, reasonable art from Pablo Raimondi, and no bonus material (sometimes that's a plus, sometimes the extras are worthwhile if you aren't paying for them). At present Amazon seem to be out of stock (try their marketplace, the hardcover, what I have hold of, goes for upwards of $27 USD for 120 pages).

Obligatory Amazon pricing info out of the way let's get to the meat of the book. It's a detective story. A noir style one. No not that rubbish Marvel did a run of the other year, just something with the feel, but in continuity. In essence Jamie Maddrox (after leaving X-Corps in Paris) sets up his own detective agency (after sending duplicates all over the planet to learn things). During recruitment of Wolfsbane (he already has Strong Guy working for him), a near dead dupe shows up, and after absorbing him, Maddrox comes to with vague memories about his death. In Chicago. Here's my first minor gripe. Instead of sending a dupe to solve the case (safety first James), he leaves a dupe behind as cover (the dupe does get shot at, but only gets hit in the shoulder). Logically there's one reason to follow this approach: the dupes are flaky. What we're offered is "I take being murdered pretty personally." And it's almost believable.
Cue the second issue. Maddrox imposes himself on an old acquaintance, the psychic journalist type guy. He gets access to a computer, a place to stay, and the information that the guy is using his magnificent mind to write news articles of great worth. Also, cue my second minor gripe. Raimondi's art looks a little photo-tracey at times, and definitely is distracting. As is his lack of consistent height for dupes (they seem a little shorter than the original Jamie). The height thing may have been a deliberate act to imply the dupes are less than the original, or because they shrink as they are absorbed. Either way, distracting. The second issue also introduces the secondary plot thread (not sure why it was needed) of the X-Factor team back in Mutant town investigating a case of Astral Plane Adultery (you know it's a clanger when the Astral Plane is involved), and the rest of the core cast: The Hit-man, The Dame, and The Boss. Obviously Jamie goes to visit The Dame, and s captured by the goons of The Boss. It's predictable and inevitable, but David uses it to show that the dupes really aren't working out as well as Jamie might hope.
Issue three brings us Jamie not drowning himself, and escaping from a closet with his escape artist skills (before displaying his Bullseye skills). Throw in the couple pages that put doubt into the "I take being murdered pretty personally", line and evidence that The Hit-man has the same abilities as Multiple Man and you're doing okay. To keep the Mutant Town plot ticking along Wolfsbane is set up for her dramatic climax in issue four. Issue four lays out the final plot points. The Dame alleges she married the dupe. Jamie escapes with The Dame and comes to the conclusion that the psychic journalist type guy is behind it all. I'll grant Jamie his plot twist as it's a fair point for a noir story. However the better plot twist arrives with the final page (set amidst the burning fire of a paper factory) where The Dame reveals she can stab people to death with her bust. Truly marvellous. Additionally, Wolfsbane accidentally kills the Astral Plane Adulterer by slashing the throat of his astral form. See, I told you that the Astral plane always ends badly. Issue five closes up all the plot threads. Jamie gets to see The Hit-man die (assume it was a dupe, for all of our sakes: if he ever shows up again, it's a dupe that died), The Dame turn into a giant stabby insect monster thingy that's killed by The Boss, and The Boss lets Jamie go. Wolfsbane wraps up her end of things by not telling the newly widowed wife of the Astral Plane Adulterer that he was such, only for his lover to be in the bar and tell her himself. So key outcomes: none of the heroes died, X-Factor investigations has a verrrrry familiar logo on the door, and there's a book set-up in case Marvel want to run with it (I wonder if they did....).

The final score is mostly upsides. The logic is a little loose in places, as is Jamie's mental state, the art is serviceable for the most part (though it does drag you out of the story at times), but overall it's a worthwhile read. Problem is, it's not a cheap book to get hold of. The price I gave above for the hardcover is about what a used copy of the softcover goes for on Amazon market place (Amazon are out of that edition too). The question is therefore "do I need this book?" Answer "no, not really." See it's a good read. It sets up the ongoing X-Factor book of recent years. But you don't miss any major plot points if you don't read it.

Next week I may, astonishingly, have a bit more time to read, so I'll pick something a bit meatier, like the first half of some one's run on a book.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wherever this god is, be someplace else.

Thos bloody footsteps represent
your wallet's traumatic doom!
For this week I'm rewinding a little over a year to A God Somewhere from John Arcudi and Peter Snejbjerg, which at the time was generating a lot of good press. Being open to trying new things here and there (when collected - and as this was an OGN, that wasn't a problem) I gave it a go, and found myself wondering why. There's a whole swathe of problems with this book, which may be why Amazon currently don't have this 200 page tome of boredom in stock (though why anyone would pay $25 US for a new copy is beyond me).

Exactly 1 minute 14 seconds after discussing
the ass of the woman who jogged past that
wasn't Eric's brother's wife.
The story deals with a hypothetical "average guy gets superpowers" type story, and throws in graphic violence and the odd bit of nudity. Actually, advertised that way, I can see why I bought this (unashamed Garth Ennis fan that I am). Even that set-up has a couple problems. The "average guy" work for UPS UDS with his buddy from high school, hangs out with his married younger brother (who everyone seems to treat as a genius, though that goes absolutely nowhere), and is a God Botherer (he seems to be continually pestering his friend into attending church, if only to pick up chicks). This guy ends up getting powers during a weird (unexplained) explosion (though it seems like a nuke going off, it's never confirmed)  and proceeds to be, well, naive, and a jerk. He stops robberies, makes demands on the mayor to protect his brother (since he can't convince him to move to a nicer neighbourhood), jerks around the PoTUS, and eventually cracks. As in, cracks and kills his brother. And rapes his brother's wife. Because he realises that he's so far beyond normal humans that he can't relate to them, and can do what he wants with them. That, and he had a dream one night about people worshipping him as a god. Right.

Heroic, and weiny.
Now if this still sounds like a good read, let me just say that you're only half way done. If, up until this point, you consider the story is about Eric (He Who Has Superpowers), the second half is all about his friend, Sam. Sam who got saved from getting killed by rednecks by Eric and Hugh (Eric's brother), Sam who has always wanted Hugh's wife. Sam who fits in with no-one, and was getting Eric's groupies. Sam who, if he tried, might just about rise to the greats of earning your hard earned pity. See after Eric is arrested for what he did to his family (he wanted to talk to Sam about his dream, you see, so he gave himself up), and Eric's escape, Sam becomes a journalist (didn't see anything about those skills earlier in the book) that is embedded with the military unit assigned to killing his friend.
To angry and overweight Ultimate Thor.
In the end, yes the military win (go team), Eric goes from underweight Ultimate Thor to overweight Ultimate Thor, Sam gets to fly courtesy of Eric's amazing powers, Hugh and family survive, and Sam goes from refusing to make huge amounts of money off the only story he has worth writing, to selling the story and becoming at least moderately wealthy.

Now some people would claim that the behavioural patterns shown in this book are realistic, human, and that it shows the true nature of people, and what happens when you are given seemingly limitless power without having earned it. I personally think it's a fine example of sloppy, big action movie plotting combined with poor, charmless characterisation. An example people would do well to stay away from. An example I hope I don't see repeated.

Thus far I've beat up on Arcudi's work pretty severely, but then again Snejbjerg's art certainly doesn't do anything to distract you. There are numerous panels where people (for no apparent reason) have maniacal grins on their faces. There are plenty of examples of people that look bored, disinterested, or depressed with conversations for no reason. And about one third of the other facial expressions could be summated as wide-eyed surprise. Sometimes you'll get them all combined. It's disconcerting. At a guess, I'd say that Snejbjerg wanted it too look like David Gianfelice's work on Northlanders. But it doesn't. And it never should have.
To mass-muderin' crazy person.
How can you really believe THAT? 

Overall, I can see why some people liked it. I can see why it would possibly win critical praise. I can also see it being called superficial action schlock. Personally I think the best criticism I can level at this book goes to whoever at Wildstorm decided to green-light such a wretched book as an OGN (according to the editorial credits this could be Scott Peterson or Peter Tomasi).

Given the cost of this book, if I were you I'd save my money. Really I would, because in the long run you may want to buy something worthwhile. Something like this:
If you haven't had enough of
L.A. Noire by now, get on this.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

With Only One Vote Cast, I was Powerless To Avoid Re-reading This

I had no idea what this
was about when I bought it.
So after the last entry in my re-read-athon (yes it was a whole fortnight ago), only one person voted, and for that (thanks Scott) I set off to read Powerless again. Which funnily enough was nowhere near as terrible as I remember it which means that either:
a) I misjudged it the first time around; or
b) I misjudged it the second time around.
(I am, of course, discounting that I've been wrong on two consecutive occasions with this book, as that seems impossible.)

The book is not that long (6 issues totalling a slender 144 page book - Amazon don't have it in stock, but you can likely pick up a copy for under $5 US), but it does pose an interesting idea "What If: No-one Had Super Powers?", and does it from the point of view of an observing psychiatrist who, wait for it, woke up from a coma where he was in the 616 universe. Now this premise does irk me. Probably because I'd read Marvels just before reading it the first time, and probably because it was fairly obvious where a lot of the plot threads would lead. That said, Matt Cherniss and Peter Johnson do weave an interesting tale, and Michael Gaydos does give his usual uncomplicated pencils.
I can't see these helping you fight Hulk.

The main "hero" characters (apart from our psychiatrist friend) are all there on the cover, however there are numerous other characters littered throughout with their impact varying from cameo (barely in some cases) to antagonist. The interesting thing with this book is that while it's clearly not a full-on super-hero book, it's still as realistic as most action movies, however, it's also (very subtly) quite tongue in cheek about it all, right down to the origins that are off only in that no-one gets powers. Logan is still a mind-tampered killer with claws (though the claws are part of a mechanism which neatly harks back to the original concept for Wolverine just being a guy with gloves), Peter Parker is still a geek that got bitten by a radioactive spider (though this time it was while working for Tony Stark on an Iron Man suit, and his arm becomes withered), and Matt Murdock is still a blind lawyer working against the Kingpin.

While you'd be right in expecting this to be somewhat of a character analysis of three of the bigger superheroes in Marvel's stable, the problem is that it's not an analysis of the actual characters themselves, but their alterna-egoes. And it doesn't quite work. Peter Parker without the power has no real need for the responsibility, yet here he has responsibility. Matt Murdock without a true sense of community has only selfish reasons for taking on the Kingpin. Wolverine looking for revenge instead of answers has no need for honour, but he spares Victor Creed (though not Mystique). Tony Stark builds the Iron Man as a means to make a profit, rather than to survive his own injuries and give back to the community. Norman Osborn still has the split personality, but no mind altering drugs. Like I said, it doesn't quite work, doesn't quite ring true. There's a mirror being held up the characters to be sure, but it's a carnival mirror that distorts them a little here and a little there. And being a mini-series, it doesn't go any further than the end of the book, and that's okay because you got a full story, and you got closure, but more could have been done with the concept.

Now all that said, it's still entertaining if you're in the mood for a "What If" story with a slight noir feel, or even if you just want a break from the spandex but can't shrug the need for familiar faces. If you can pick it up for under $5 US (with shipping at under $10) it's worth a go. If you have this on the shelf pick it up and give it another read, let me know what you think.

In the meantime, I feel like reading something that seemed to get much better publicity than it ought to when released, because I thought it was very shallow, and short of any real meaning. If you want to know what that is, tune in next week...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Crisis * INF = INF.

This cover really gives you very little to go on.
This week it's all about Infinite Crisis, the most readable of the three core Crises. It's a reasonable sized 264 pages, going for sub $15 USD at Amazon, which tells you a couple things:

  1. it's shorter than the original Crisis on Infinite Earths; and
  2. it still sells for resale (meaning it's not so bad it's being offloaded on the cheap, and it's not so good that it's warranted a price bump - though Amazon seem to be on their last couple of copies before restocking).
There's a few other things that are important about Geoff Johns' Crisis though, and they're important to know before you pick this book up. First, it's an "event" book (the comics equivalent of the last part of a movie trilogy in that it's must see/read, wraps up the series thus far, and plants seeds for further movies). Second, it ties in to DC history (though not so much as CoIE, or many other crossover events). Third, it was the centrepiece of the DCU for the time it was being published (including events both before and after), so there are a bucket of lead in books you could choose to read (I read none), books that chronicle events tied to a handful of characters during the Crisis, and books that deal with the ongoing events following the Crisis. Finally, it's now 6 years old, and if you recall what I said about Iron Man Extremis consider what time may have done to this book.

Does NOT happen in Infinite Crisis.
The book itself picks up (20 years of publishing later) where CoIE left off with Superman and Lois of Earth 2, Superboy of Earth Prime and Alex Luthor of Earth 3 trapped in their "paradise" and greatly displeased with what they've seen the superheroes of New Earth doing (eg killing, fighting amongst themselves, turning evil, using bad language, disrespecting people's mothers and the elderly, and behaving like annoyingly sad twits). This combines with the Justice League of America disbanding due to trust issues, and the generally unhealthy events going on (see the lead up series for these). As a result Alex, Superman 2, and Superboy Prime work towards building a tower to recreate the DC Multiverse (collapsed to a single universe during CoIE). What isn't revealed until much later is just how many of the recent events Alex has instigated, and just what Alex is aiming to do. Adding further interest, it's clear that Superman 2 is not as involved in the plan as Alex or Superboy, because while he believes the Earth needs to be replaced, he's also open to the idea of helping make New Earth a better place (although it won't save Lois 2).

If you're confuse, you needn't be. The book explains all this in a much more straightforward manner than I have. What you do need to keep in mind though is that really there's only three other plot elements:
  1. the New Earth heroes fight back (predictably) and incur some losses (predictably);
  2. Superboy turns evil; and
  3. Alex is actually trying to create a perfect Earth by mixing the best of each of the alternate Earths.
And pissing this guy off is never a good
step on the road to getting your own way.

Alex's plan all comes undone when Superman 2 (and to some extent Power Girl) fight back against Alex,  and Superboy Prime becomes obsessed with simply returning Earth Prime as the sole Earth.  Yes, it really is a Pokemon level solution of "team work and friendship wins the day", which really is the basis of an Event book.

Now that's fine, that's dandy, but it took 7 issues to do it, and the major shakeup that could have happened to the DCU with the reinstating of the Multiverse never really seemed to take off. I've never really been that big on DC, and to be honest the reboots have nothing to do with it. See DC could do a reboot whenever they wanted, and they don't need a Crisis to do it, they can simply decide to tell most stories on another reality. It meant that CoIE was unnecessary, and gave reason to Infinite (beyond "it's been 20 years since CoIE"), but then what follows it? Same old, same old? Have we as fans gotten that lazy/stupid/apathetic ? Do we really need the ongoing history to accept comics any more? (Anyone reading Indy comics would likely say no, as would anyone who wishes to delete the late 1990s from their minds as far as comics went.)

The art (from Phil Jimenez, George Perez, Jerry Ordway, Ivan Reis, and Andy Lanning) is wonderful, nay, sensational. It's clear, it's concise, and it captures the chaos brilliantly. My only criticism (and this goes for the writing as well), is that there's so much going on that the magnitude of the struggle is lost in the shots where all and sundry have been injected to keep the fans happy.

Earlier I mentioned the ageing problem that Iron Man Extremis had, and this is a bit similar, in that the status quo going into (and coming out of) Infinite Crisis is so far gone that it's no longer required reading unless you're reading other books of that era. I'd go so far as to suggest that its best function is to establish the starting point of 52, but even then there's a slight gap in time. I'm being harsh here, because unlike Extremis, there's still some meat on the bones of this story (something Extremis never had), but for any Event book there's always a shelf life, unless it is so astoundingly brilliant that it does become a classic. Unfortunately I can't say that's the case for Infinite Crisis.

I'm happy to recommend this book to people, it's good value for money, but to be honest I can't do so with the enthusiasm that might be required for someone to actually spend their money on it.

Next week... I can't commit to picking a book. So until I get home Thursday night (roughly between 5:30 and 6pm Australian Central Time) it's up to the readers to choose from the following. If no-one votes, I'll pick whatever I want.

Seriously, there's one of these I'd want to read.
Let's see how much you want me to suffer.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Manga Madness Monday

As is often the case with Dragon Ball, the
cover has naught to do with the content.
This week I get to take a look at one of my favourite instalments of one of my favourite Manga series ever. Now if you've seen the anime series of dragon Ball Z an think the whole thing is just a bunch of guys yelling at each other for 25 minutes an episode, let me tell you right now: the manga has rapid plot progression. Now yes this volume picks up mid-arc, and yes it finishes on a bit of a cliff hanger, but that's the nature of Dragon Ball. The bonus is that Akira Toriyama's best known work is very cheap to acquire (this volume goes for less than $8 US on Amazon), so while it may take a little bit of time to get up to speed, you won't be deeply out of pocket.

This volume is number 16 out of 26 (if you for some reason view DBZ as separate from DB), or more accurately volume 32 out of 42. The story picks up (as summarised at the start of the book) with Tenshinhan pushing himself to the limit to delay Cell from absorbing Android 18 (and destroying Android 16), and goes on to include Goku saving Tenshinhan and Piccolo, Vegeta and Trunks exiting the Room of Time and Space to fight Cell, Krillin passing up the opportunity to deactivate Android 18 (thus rendering Cell unable to become perfect) due to his attraction to her, Vegeta outclassing imperfect Cell, and finally Vegeta's folly of allowing Cell to become perfect, leading to a complete reversal of fortunes.

As for why this is a personal favourite, this volume is all about one key fight, Vegeta vs 2nd form Cell. In my opinion Vegeta stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast of Dragon Ball, so any time he hits the top of the pile I'm happy. The bonus here is that he's not actually top of the pile (he never is for long) in strength, but his dominant personality lets him over-rule Trunks, and allows Cell to become perfect. It's a frustrating thing to a logical person like myself, but the sheer arrogance is something I can occasionally identify with, and it's one of the things that the manga does far better than the anime: allow the characters personalities to outshine the fighting. Many people like to knock DBZ and it's easy to side with them and the criticism that it's a "meat head" comic for "young boys", however it's also criticism that doesn't ring true if you take the time to read the series. While a lot of page space is dedicated to the action, a lot of reading time is not, and it's the ongoing development of characters that makes the series one to keep reading. The fights are really just flashy (and very addictive) window dressing.

Another regular criticism is that the art doesn't meet the perceived aesthetic of manga (for some people). Which, to me, is a wonderful way of saying that the art is unique, contains more detail in a panel than many people would expect in a page of manga art, and that the person making that comment is happy to pigeon hole an entire genre. I personally love the art, it's not about anatomical correctness (you'd be made to think it was), it's about showing empathy and emotion, it's about showing brutal violence, it's about entertaining people. If you don't understand that, you've likely missed the point of the whole book.

All said and done, this was never going to be a balanced review. The key question is would I recommend purchasing this. My answer is actually no. The reason for that is that jumping in at volume 32 out of 42 is ridiculous. The thing you really need to do is buy this and then buy this. It might cost you a bit, but you'll miss nothing, and have some glorious box art to boot. Also, you get to read a pivotal series in the breakout of manga and anime in the Western mind set.

Next week I'll go back to some DC and review.... this.
Someone said there was another Crisis after this,
but I'm pretty sure this was the last one.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

No More Morrison!

Spoilers. Right there. On the cover.
License to reveal plot details!
Finally (I can say that, right?) I can put the review of New X-Men to rest with this week's review of New X-Men Ultimate Collection Volume 3. Grant Morrison's most notorious abuse of the X-Men comes packaged in this 336 page tome along with a couple other howlers, Morrison's X-Men Manifesto (ie his plan to make X-Men worth reading). Amazon, amazingly, cannot sell this to you directly. Amazon resellers want at least $45 US for a pre-loved copy, and $65 US for a new copy. Interestingly those numbers line up brilliantly with the rough total of the three story-arc collections in this volume (Assault on Weapon Plus, Planet X, Here Comes Tomorrow). The disturbing part of that is the idea that Planet X is the most expensive of the individual trades.

Assault on Weapon Plus:
Would have been better with more of this.
This time Grant Morrison teams up with Chris Bachalo (barf), Phil Jimenez (solid), and Marc Silvestri (always been a personal favourite). The plot picks up right where we left off last week: Scott's walked out on the X-Men, Jean is pissed at Scott, Emma's, well, Emma, and the rest of the team are dealing with the idea that there's a traitor in their midst (again, the cover gives it all away). Unfortunately the first arc also deals with Weapon Plus, which means Wolverine. Which means Fantomex. Which means the worst idea ever: The World. The World could have/should have been awesome. It should have been the polar opposite of the Savage Land (although the Savage Land also has wacky evolution device nonsense going on). Instead it's a rubbish time warp organic machine waste of time. And it's illustrated by Bachalo. Again, it's a set-up story that tries to have a cool idea to wrap around, but instead of gripping tight to that slender beam of hope, it falls off and lands in a limp little puddle.
Oh... so that was the spoiler from the cover!
The second Arc is infamous as the MAGNETO IS XORN arc. Rapidly retconned by Marvel to avoid having Xorn no longer usable, and to make sure Magneto wasn't a man that murdered millions of New Yorkers one sunny afternoon in 2004 (I have no idea why they wanted more Xorn, or why Magneto as the ultimate terrorist was a bad thing), this arc is the real payoff of everything on Morrison's run. Jean finally Phoenixes out to save Wolvie (who has to kill her first), and then the world, the loser brigade that includes Beak and Angel finally achieve something momentous, we drop another Cuckoo, and Wolvie guts Magneto (which begs all manner of questions considering what Mags has done to Wolvie in the past). Oh, and, before we flash forward into the future for the start of the final story arc, Jean kicks the bucket again. Nice.
Quire Phoenix. Blerrrg!
Here Comes Tomorrow is the boring story of what would have happened if Scott and Emma did not become a couple after Jean's funeral. In essence John Sublime is revealed as an ancient power that has participated in forcing evolution to progress, and has taken over Beast (revealing the true nature of  Kick). Beast in turn is out for final world domination as a master genengineer (like Sinister would like to have been in Age of Apocalypse), and mutant kind is the dominant species (some how that never works out for the mutants). For Beast/Sublime to cement his victory, they need the Phoenix Egg that formed after Jean's death at the end of Planet X. Though the X-Men are forced to assault Beast (and fail) Jean saves the day as Phoenix by fiddling with the time-stream to have Scott and Emma become a couple. Because that's not creepy or weird. At all.

So what are the real flaws here: Chris Bachalo get's a special nod as the worst artist of Morrison's run on New X-Men, Assault on Weapon Plus is the arc that adds the least to the story (just closely beating Here Comes Tomorrow which established Scott and Emma as the couple they have been for years), and Planet X is revered by the students of St. Something-that-should-not-have-happened's (although personally I like the idea that Magneto is that insidious I don't buy the entire campus being that idiotic). I wish there was something truly defensible in this volume, but there's not. The first volume was comparatively great, and the second volume (while largely filler) introduced some new concepts. This basically tore down all the good that had happened, if not directly, then by Marvel's immediate over-reaction (which shows an considerable lack of faith in your writers, and really confused the matter of who Xorn was).

Would I recommend you buy this? For the price it's running nowadays? heavens no! Would I recommend you get Assault on Weapon Plus and Here Comes Tomorrow in trades? Not really, they aren't great individual stories, and you miss Planet X. Would I recommend you get Planet X? Yes. Absolutely. But not for $25 US. Given everything I'e said that may sound weird, but the truth is that Planet X is comparable to the highly implausible and ultimately unsuccessful robberies in Hollywood movies: it looks common sense (or continuity) in the eye and says "to hell with you, this is what I want to do, and if you end up winning so be it". Which is really the Grant Morrison Trademark. It pisses a lot of people off to see their toys put back in the box worse for wear, but in all honesty I find it preferable to resetting the status quo as though nothing happened.

And with New X-Men done and dusted next week I switch to one of my all time favourite manga series, and to one of my favourite slices in it.
Number of times read: Over NINE THOUSAAAND!