Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kill Kill Shakespeare

Kill Shakespeare Vol. 1: A Sea of Troubles
Created and Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger
Published by IDW

Kill Shakespeare is an excellent concept with a weak execution.

This first collected volume sets up several of the characters from William Shakespeare's plays as they are integrated into a single narrative that involves a quest for Shakespeare himself. Legendary features such as Hamlet, Juliet of the Capulets, and Lady Macbeth are included, but their depictions seem to show only a faint relationship to the plays they originally appeared in.

The artwork is decent and some of the dialogue makes clever use of Shakespeare's words, but it's not enough maintain interest in a simplistic plot that does little to honor the Bard's legacy.

Shakespeare fans are much better off searching for old adaptations in Classics Illustrated than spending time with this deeply flawed series.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I like it.




Comic Book fans are a notoriously conservative lot. We want fresh and exciting stories that feature our favorite characters, but we also have a resistance to change.

The new Wonder Woman's costume designed by Jim Lee is no exception. With the introduction of her costume change in Wonder Woman #600, the blogosphere has erupted with commentary.

We've been down this road before: the black Spider-man costume, Az-bats, Electro-Superman, etc. Sometimes costume changes gain acceptance or they are so subtle that it's hard to actually notice the alterations. Frequently the more bold changes are reversed within a short period of time and this might be no exception.

This also hasn't been the first time Princess Diana has changed her look. After losing her powers in the 70s, she sported a white jumpsuit and she wore a jacket and bike shorts while being replaced by Artemis in the 90s.

One thing this costume change has that is different from her previous ones is that it retains many of the basic elements of the original. There still is the tiara, bracelets, golden lasso, and WW symbol while retaining red and blue colors mixed with a new black element.

Still, that hasn't prevented a largely negative response to the new look. Some feel that the attempt to make her more fashionable falls flat as it reflects a male viewpoint of women's style while making significant changes to an iconic image.

For myself, I find that the changes made are long past due. For quite some time I've favored a move away from the more traditional tights and capes look that have dominated superhero comics for the past 70 years. In the 80s there was a period where more comics chose to dress their characters in street clothes or some hybrid with traditional costumes. This was most frequently found with the addition of jackets to many a characters' wardrobe. While this quickly became a cliche, I felt that they were on the right path.

As was demonstrated by shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Heroes, you can have your super heroes and make them memorable through good characterization not flashy outfits.

Don't get me wrong, I love the traditional super hero costume. Yet, as more superhero stories attempt to appeal to a more mature readership it becomes difficult to take such stories seriously when the central characters are wearing outfits designed to appeal to the imaginations of young children.

In addition, adapting all of these costumes to the page seems to place an unfair burden on many artists. Instead of forcing them to draw bodies that fit well into tights and making ornaments like capes appear practical, let them just focus on drawing people for a change. People that can represent a variety of ages, ethnicities, emotions, and personalities.

Perhaps it might be time to use the traditional superhero outfit as a divider between the readers of comics. If you are producing a comic aimed at young children or all-ages, then use the traditional Wonder Woman outfit. For stories aimed at an older audience give her something to wear that might be more respectable in the "real" world. There's no reason that a character can only wear one kind of costume at any one time, we change our looks every day.

Another point I'd like to make is about the current state of Wonder Woman in comics. For several years, her comics have tended to sell poorly. This is in spite of some memorable runs by creators that include: George Perez, Phil Jimenez, John Byrne, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, and many more.

It seems like the only reason her series has not been permanently canceled is because of the legacy that she represents. She is one of the most iconic symbols of all time, but that hasn't translated into consistent sales.

I believe that the critics of the change in her look are sincere in their appreciation of her, but how many of them have been regular readers of the series with the old look? If the traditional Wonder Woman formula is so great, why isn't she a top 100 seller?

Time will tell if the new story direction reflects well, but for now I applaud the new look and hope that it is able to take hold.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bendis and Twitter

Today was another reason why it's really cool to live in Portland, Oregon.

I had some free time and I was glancing at my twitter page when I saw a series of tweets from Brian Michael Bendis that stated he was going to be riding around in his bike on this beautiful day and give away advance copies of New Avengers Finale, Dark Avengers # 16, and Siege #4.

The first tweet I saw said I had 10 minutes to get over to Things From Another World in the Hollywood district to catch Bendis at his first stop. The only problem was the post was already nine minutes old. So, I had to wait for an update about his next destination.

My patience was rewarded and he announced his first stop was a bust and he was heading over to Excalibur on Hawthorne. It seemed reasonable to assume I could beat him there in my car and so the race was on.

Sure enough after hanging out at Excalibur for a little bit, Bendis showed up to the relief of me and two other guys who were there for the same reason.

Bendis was a gentleman. He gave a set of 3 comics each that he autographed them on the spot with the provision that we buy something of equal value from the store so his generosity doesn't hurt their sales. He also snapped a picture of us with our booty. A handshake later and he was off.

Of course the picture was linked to his Twitter account and the story was promptly picked up by Rich Johnston (sorry Rich, but I'm not going to post the comics online).

It's understandable that Bendis would want to do something special the mark the release of these three comics. Six years ago, Bendis took over writing Avengers and has been guiding the title ever since through a succession of crossover events that have served to reshape the Marvel Universe. Now all the major plots from this run have been resolved and a new status quo is at hand with Bendis still at the helm.

I'll try not to give away too much about these issues. If you've followed any of the speculation around the teasers released by Marvel, you probably have a good idea about how this saga concludes. Siege #4 provides the climax to the Dark Reign saga. Dark Avengers #16 gives us the aftermath through the eyes of Harry Osbourne and his associates. New Avengers Finale features a confrontation with the Hood and sets up the Avengers relaunch with look back on the past half decade.

If you can get only one comic I'd go with New Avengers Finale because of the excellent art by Bryan Hitch and the extra large size, but all the books work together as a set.

Thank you Mr. Bendis, you made for a nice Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Seeing the Light

The first issue of The Light from Image Comics has sold out, so Newsarama has made it available for free online along with an interview with the creators, Nathan Edmondson and Brett Weldele.

It's a horror story about a deadly infection that is spread by electric lights with art that is very reminiscent of the work of Ben Templesmith.

While the story is set in Oregon, so far there isn't much to identify the with the Northwest beyond a mention of Portland, pine trees, and a very gloomy atmosphere.

It be interesting to see how they explore the region in future issues.



Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Quick Reviews

The Guild #2

Some time ago a prominent comics blogger proposed the question about what non-scifi/fantasy television shows should be made into comic books. While it's still only a web series, Felicia Day demonstrates that her show is a natural for adaptation. The series continues to explore how the Knights of Good came together with the a focus on Codex's neurosis and her interactions on the MMORPG. The only drawback is that the book can't include the wonderful performances of Day and the rest of The Guild regulars.

The Spirit #1

Danny Colt gets a new series as part of the launch of DC's new First Wave group of books. Mark Schultz and Moritat create a much grittier Central City and have already introduced a new femme fatale to the Spirit's rogues gallery. It doesn't hurt that there's a black and white backup feature by legendary Denny O'Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz.

The series is much more promising than the new Doc Savage title, but it still remains to be seen if this is a series that will be worth keeping up with.

Justice League of America #44

One of the appeals for the old Teen Titans series was that they represented the next generation of the JLA. Wally West was the first of these ex-sidekicks to graduate to full League membership followed by Roy Harper several years later. James Robinson's writing stint has accelerated this trend with the inclusion of Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, and Vic Stone to the current lineup. In addition he's also explored adding characters with no previous association with the League such as the 70's Starman and Congorilla.

One consequence is that the new membership has created a more family-like team that resembles Marvel's X-Men.

This issue picks up as a Brightest Day tie-in and features many guest appearances that make this old fanboy smile.

Green Lantern #53

Another Brightest Day tie-in that sets up a new direction for the Green Lantern books that continues to incorporate the multi-colored corps into the new status quo. No complaints from me.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I still love you Roger!

It looks like Roger Ebert doesn't like Kick-Ass.
Shall I have feelings, or should I pretend to be cool? Will I seem hopelessly square if I find “Kick-Ass” morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point? Let's say you're a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the move does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in. A movie camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and in this case, it shows deadly carnage dished out by an 11-year-old girl, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. Now tell me all about the context.
In my own review of Kick-Ass, I anticipated that some viewers my have problems with the depiction of Hit-Girl. While Kick-Ass isn't the deepest of movies, I feel that the movie effectively satirizes many super-hero cliches including the kid sidekick.

Since Dick Grayson teamed up with Bruce Wayne, the kid sidekick has been one of the most absurd elements in a genre filled with absurdity. For more than sixty years children dressed in colorful costumes have been depicted taking down hordes of evildoers with a minimum of bloodshed. I have enjoyed many of these tales, but I can still appreciate the irony of the concept taken to its extreme.

In addition, just because the movie features an 11-year old protagonist doesn't mean its intended for 11-year olds. My hope is that parents would exercise the same discretion about letting their kids view Kick-Ass as they would any other film with a high body count.

I still greatly admire Roger Ebert and he will remain my favorite movie critic. One of the great things about his reviews is that he shares the reasons why he likes or dislikes a film so clearly that the reader can almost anticipate if they will share Ebert's verdict.

In the case of Kick-Ass, Ebert sees little merit in the depiction of Hit-Girl while I do.

Quick Reviews

Flash #1, Brightest Day #0

With the recent resurrection of the Barry Allen Flash several other prominent characters, DC has created a new status quo in its books that hasn't existed since the mid-80s. Many characters that went through dramatic changes in appearance and attitude now resemble their pre-Crisis incarnations.

For this old DC fanboy, this looks like a good thing even if younger readers may not appreciate the nostalgia of the new crop of "Brightest Day" books. So far, the stories appear to be a promising refinement of the ensemble story arcs used in books such as "52" and "Countdown".

Doc Savage #1

I really wish I could be more excited about the return of this classic pulp hero, but so far the main feature starring the Man of Bronze and his "aides" fails to capture my interest.

However, the "Justice, Inc." backup feature does appear to be worth following. It has some great artwork by Scott Hampton and features another old pulp hero in a modern noir environment.

Irredeemable Special #1

Mark Waid uses this anthology issue to provide some backstory to his saga about a superhero gone bad. Highlights include an interesting take on the Batman as a family man and some excellent artwork form the prolific Howard Chaykin.

S.H.I.E.L.D.#1

This new series written by Jonathan Hickman provides an alternative take on Marvel's secret spy organization with twists that resemble the steampunk adventures found in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

With works such as the Nightly News and his recent run on Fantastic Four, Hickman has shown that he is one of the most promising new talents to emerge in recent years and is destined for great things. It's too soon to tell, but the new S.H.I.E.L.D. may be one of them.

Black Widow #1

With her upcoming movie debut in Iron Man 2, Marvel has seen fit to give their favorite Russian super-spy her own series by Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna.

The inaugural issue sets up a nice mystery and does justice to one of the more interesting super-heroines. My hope is that they maintain a subtle touch when using integrating elements of the Marvel Universe into the book. An added bonus in the supplemental material explaining the Widow's complex history.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Nortwest Connection; Marvel Adventures: Spider-man: THWIP!

When starting this blog, one of my intentions was to spotlight comics that were in some way connected to the Pacific Northwest. It's my way of celebrating one of the things that make living in this region so special.

To start things off, I thought I would take a look at "THWIP!" the first volume of Marvel Adventures: Spider-man written by Paul Tobin, a fellow Portlander.

I'll have to confess that I'm not much of a Spider-man fan. I wouldn't deny that there have been many great tales using the character and Peter Parker is one of the most influential comic characters of all time. My difficulty is that I feel the things that made Parker unique have been co-opted by other comic titles. As a result, the Amazing Spider-man can seem like just another generic super-hero comic.

Attempts to rectify this problem have included the Ultimate Spider-man books by Brian Bendis that offered a more stream-lined version of the Spider-man saga.

Another effort has been the Marvel Adventures (formally Marvel Age) series. For over fifty issues this ongoing series has featured the adventures of a high school age Parker in a sequence of stand-alone issues aimed at younger readers.

I can't speak for the quality of the books before Tobin joined the title with issue fifty-three, but he has contributed a very enjoyable interpretation of Spidey along with the development of an interesting supporting cast.

With his first issue Tobin has introduced four significant additions to the this Marvel Adventures book. The two most familiar to past Spider-man stories are classmate Gwen Stacy and her Police Captain father, George Stacy. Both of these characters were killed off long ago in the regular Spider-man books, but Tobin has resurrected them for his own stories.

Within the first issues, Gwen's development is limited, but the use of George Stacy has been a revelation. He seems to become kind of mentor to both Peter and Spider-man. A decent man who balances his duties as a cop with a belief that the wallcrawler is not the criminal he's widely believed to be.

The two other additions are more of a surprise. Emma Frost is more familiar as the villain-turned-hero featured in many X-Books. Here she's a manipulative young woman who uses her telepathic abilities to make New York City her personal amusement park. Joining her is her best friend, Chat, a kind-hearted teen with the mutant ability to communicate with animals.

The stories feature plenty of action, but the real highlights include the growing friendship between Peter Parker and George Stacy and the Chat development as a new romantic interest.

Tobin's scripts are full of wit and humor and he does a good job of conveying the lives of teenagers without being condescending.

Tobin's writing is complimented by the art of Matteo Lolli. With this series, Lolli has a manga-inspired style that clearly distinguishes the teenagers from the adults, shows a great attention to detail, and provides consistent visual storytelling.

As the parental advisory says, this book is for all-ages. That shouldn't discourage older readers from checking out these comics. This is one of the best Spider-man fixes you can find.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is Amanda Waller DC's Nick Fury?

Variety is reporting that Angela Bassett is joining the current Green Lantern production as government operative Amanda Waller.

What's interesting about this development is that the character of Waller has been associated more with comic books like Suicide Squad and Checkmate instead of Green Lantern. She has also been portrayed in other shows like the Justice League cartoon and recent episodes of Smallville.

My suspicion is that Bassett's appearance may similar to Samuel L. Jackson's appearances in upcoming Marvel productions as super-spy Nick Fury. A reoccurring character that will make appearances in various movies as a means of tying all the different characters together.

With reports that Warner Brothers is planning on using movies based on DC superheroes as a replacement for the Harry Potter franchise, there will be plenty of opportunities for Waller to make more big-screen appearances.

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The Guild: Year One

Felicia Day's web series The Guild is a very funny satire of gaming culture. The various members of the "Knights of Good" guild present a broad selection of dysfunctional personalities as they feed their shared online addictions. Even a non-gamer like myself was able to be amused by it and find much more enjoyable than many current television comedies.

With the new comic book series from Dark Horse, Day teams up with talented artist Jim Rugg to present a look at the early days of how the "Knights" first connected and the context of their lives. So far Day's talent for writing webisodes adapts well to writing for comics and the overall concept works very well with the new medium.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

Some of the most enjoyable storylines in the old Justice League of America series were those that dealt with the DC's concept of the multiverse. Adventures could take place on an infinite number of parallel Earths each with a different twist. One could be where costumed heroes emerged in an earlier generation. Another could involve a world where the Nazis were victorious in World War II.

These stories provide context where one can indulge a love of superheroes, the theories of Michio Kaku, and alternative history in a single narrative.

The greatest adversaries in these stories were the evil Justice League known as the Crime Syndicate. Like the Mirror-Universe Star Trek crew these villains provided a darker view of some very familiar faces.

The newest DC animated film to be released on DVD picks up on that old tradition and augments. This is perhaps the most fully realized version of the Crime Syndicate's world and it moves the concept forward. The moral implications of interfering in the affairs of a different society are examined and evil is explored in different shades of gray.

The most interesting member of this Crime Syndicate is the evil Batman known as Owlman. This Darker Knight is invested with a nihilism that could make the Joker shudder. In contrast, another "bad" guy shows some unexpected nobility.

Overall, this is an animated film with surprising depth that makes me hope that more Justice League stories will spin out of it.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Johnny Storm is Steve Rogers

According to the Heat Vision Blog, Chris Evans has agreed to play the lead in the upcoming Captain America film.

Evans portrayal of the Human Torch was a major highlight of the two Fantastic Four movies. While those films were generally fairly weak, Evans reinvigorated his character with an infectious charisma. His interpretation of Johnny Storm made him the maverick superhero guys of many different ages might want to become.

With Captain America, Evans takes on a new challenge. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Steve Rogers is a character that requires a certain amount of gravitas as a symbol of America, but still needs to simultaneously show his humanity.

If Evans is able to accomplish that, he will justifiably be compared with another young actor named Chris who had to leap a similar hurdle when he accepted a major superhero role.

Of course I'm speaking of Christopher Reeve.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Short Reviews

Reviewing single issues of comics is frequently like commenting on a chapter of a novel before finishing the book. Something that I have a problem with may have been resolved in a different installment. A promising storyline may fall apart by its conclusion. Still, here are my general impressions of some recent issues.

Fables #93
Bill Willingham's Fables has been one of the most consistent monthly comics since its premiere. That being said, it appears that the stories have lost some of their focus since the conclusion of the war with the Adversary.

This issue concludes a two-part storyline where Flycatcher must preside over a murder trial in his kingdom. Willingham presents the conflicted morality involved in judging the case. Hopefully, the consequences of his decision will be explored more in future issues.

American Vampire #1
Scott Snyder, Stephen King, and Rafael Albuquerque premiere a new ongoing series that documents the saga of a pair of vampires throughout American history. One is an old-west outlaw, the other is an aspiring starlet from the 1920s.

While the concept for the series is Snyder's, it looks like it will follow King's style of taking extra time to develop the central characters. That's a good thing.

Time will tell if the series lives up to its initial promise.

The Green Hornet: Year One #1
This is one of several Green Hornet projects that Dynamite is releasing in anticipation of the upcoming Michel Gondry/Seth Rogan film. In this instance, Matt Wagner provides the origin of the crime-fighting duo of Britt Reid and Kato.

I like how clearly Wagner establishes Reid as part of a newspaper legacy and Kato as a product of Imperial Japan. The art by Aaron Campbell serves the story well.

X-Factor Forever #1
Marvel follows up its nostalgia-heavy X-Men Forever with a new mini-series that picks up where Louise Simonson left off on her X-Factor run.

Like X-Men Forever, I can't help but enjoy a book that takes me back to the era that defined my enjoyment of Marvel's line of mutant titles. It even has Apocalypse. Recommended for fans of the original team of Scott, Jean, Warren, Hank, and Bobby.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Devolution


X-Men Forever Volumes 1 & 2

The tail-end of Chris Claremont’s first-run on writing Uncanny X-Men was the period that made me a fan of the Marvel’s mutant books. The diverse cast of characters, multiple subplots, and darker themes made it something that stood out among mainstream comic books.

After Claremont’s departure, the books seemed to lose their focus for a few years, it wasn’t because of a lack of talent, but just that Claremont’s decade plus experience with these characters was difficult to replicate.

Claremont eventually returned to write the X-Books, but it seemed like he had lost some of his rhythm. They were no longer in the same places that he had left them. Instead he was coordinating his work with storylines developed by others.

With X-Men Forever, Claremont has been given the chance to do a redo. He gets to pick up right where his first run ended in the early Nineties. From there he gets to take these characters in directions very different from what went before and without regard to the constraints of continuity with the current books.

Since his former artistic collaborator, Jim Lee, is no longer available (becoming co-publisher of DC Comics makes it difficult to do new work for Marvel), Claremont is joined by the excellent illustrators Tom Grummet and Paul Smith along with the solid contributions of Steve Scott.

This new series is like going home again. It’s like going back in a time machine and picking up some comics from around 1994. There are some very surprising plot twists and Claremont does take some liberties with the continuity he was working with at the time of departure.

I really am enjoying this series more than I should. While it makes me experience waves of nostalgia, there’s still a realization that comics have moved on from that period of time. As much as I loved those old X-Men stories, they did have their limitations as works of art.

I hope the market has a place for X-Men Forever, but I also wish even more for a market that pushes the medium forward.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kick-Ass does it.


With respect to Marc Webb, Matthew Vaughn would have been a great choice to direct the next Spider-man movie. In a way he already has with his adaptation of the Kick-Ass comic book.

After producing Guy Ritchie's early films, Vaughn went on his own and directed a pre-Bond Daniel Craig in Layer Cake. Later he was selected to replace Brian Singer on X-Men 3, but he dropped it in favor of Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

Like previous works such as Watchmen, the Kick-Ass comic attempted to depict what would happen if superheroes existed in the real world. Mark Millar (writer) and John Romita Jr. (artist) took the idea one step further by basing their comic on the real-life costumed vigilantes that have popped up patrolling America's streets.

The movie is a very faithful to the source material and where there are differences, it is usually an improvement. The violence is toned down, and multiple characters are portrayed in a better light. Where the comic was dark and cynical, the movie is bright and positive.

Overall, it's a very fun film. The action is well-staged. Most of the performances are well-done and the story holds your interest.

Many elements in the film evoke Sam Raimi's Spider-man trilogy. The cinematography recreates the brightly colored world of comics. Aaron Johnson's plays the protagonist like he's channeling the spirit of Tobey Maguire. The main story arc is like an alternate history where Peter Parker never got special powers, but still decided to fight crime.

Chloe Moretz's portrayal of the homicidal Hit-Girl is the highlight of the film and it's most problematic element. Not since Natalie Portman starred in Luc Besson's Leon has there been a more memorable juvenile killer. Watching this 11-year old slaughter a bunch of gangsters can be entertaining, but it might create confusion about the film's intended audience. Despite the young cast and colorful costumes, this movie has a well-earned R-rating.

Another issue is that the film's climax is so over the top that it abolishes any notion that the movie takes place in the "real world".

Kick-Ass is a movie worth seeing and a worthy addition to the superhero film-canon. Just don't expect it to be very family-friendly.