Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mean Streets 6 Notes

Not too much to say on this issue as it is more of a bridge between the first part of the storyline and the big boom coming up very soon.

Fox’s story is the last of the origins of our mystery characters. Watch for their return in chapter 8.

More from Titan soon. Stay tuned.

Double Cross is a mix of seventies-style biker characters (specifically the TV movie version of Captain America) and aging wrestler Terry Funk. He is easily one of my favorite characters in this saga, and you can expect to see a lot more of him as he plays an essential roll in the history of the entire MHP/Quadrant Universe.

Pay attention to the fate of Archibald Griffin.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obscure Heroes: Charlemagne #1

Produced by Jim Shooter and written by D.G. Chichester (Daredevil), Charlemagne #1 is one of the best offerings from the eclectic, short-lived Defiant line of comics. Adam Pollina (later artist of X-Force and Angel: Revelations).

Like many of Defiant’s offerings, Charlemagne has a complicated origin with a shade of mystery. Back in 1973, Charles Smith is told his older brother is dead in Vietnam. Twelve year old Charles refuses to believe his brother could be dead, and sets out to go to Vietnam to find him.

It takes him months of struggle, but the young boy makes it across the world and in the process learns a lot about the culture of the country under attack. Eventually he finds his brother (nearly half way through the double sized issue), but their reunion is cut short by an explosion that catches them both. His brother dies, Charles loses his legs, and he slips in to unconsciousness for twenty years.

On February 23, 1993, his doctors find that his body has suddenly grown not only in muscle mass, but also gained a new pair of legs. Charles awakes moments later, after nearly twenty years unconscious. He immediately sets out for home, only to have the cargo ship he uses for transport attacked by pirates.

Angered, Charles lashes out and destroys the pirates with relative ease. Charles is superhumanly fast, tough, and strong and he has little trouble jumping from ship to ship or attacking the aggressors.

By story’s end, he has made his way home and reunited with his parents, but it’s clear that Charles the Great, Charlemagne, has only began his adventures.

Nothing incredibly special in that origin, but it is the writing of Chichester that really elevates the comic past just another superhero story. He wants all the characters to feel real, and he makes every effort to make both his protagonist and the supporting cast, both home and abroad, real people. It’s a nice touch that recurs regularly in Shooter’s post-Marvel projects, but Charlemagne may present it at its most well defined.

While the rest of the series begins to fade in to crossover monotony, Charlemagne is well worth the price of admission, especially since you can find it for well less than its original $3.25 price tag. Highly Recommended.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Amazing Adventures of the Escapist volume 3

Just a note that this is the ONE HUNDRED FIFTIETH post on this blog! Yay me!

Volume 3 opens with a tale by Will Eisner where the Escapist and the Spirit meet. The tale isn't a spectacular one, and Eisner lacks much of the style he used back in the fifties, but the fact that this was his LAST WORK does add a bit of poignancy to it.

Shawn Martinbrough draws another of Kevin McCarthy’s excellent stories that keep the Escapist in true comic form while also utilizing challenging plot ideas. This time, Escapist travels to a North Korea-style dictatorship that wants Escapist dead for the values he may give to the society. Good art, good writing, a good adventure.

An extended version of Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego article comes next, followed by a slight improved Howard Chaykin story. I love Howie, but he seems to lack relevance in today’s comic world. Maybe it’s time to stick to art chores?

One more Escapenot story is the volume. Meh.

Eddie Campbell draws a beautiful but not overly well written story of the Escapist’s day at the fair. Is this becoming a recurring theme? So-so stories by guest writers?

No, maybe not, as Paul Grist of Jack Staff fame gives us Doc Hypnosis. The tale falls right in line with his previous work, and gives us a clever and well written adventure tale pitting the Master of Elusion vs the Physician of Illusion. Great stuff!

Novelist Chris Offutt writes a unique tale of the Escapist set during Viet Nam (supposedly for an unmade Eclipse revival of the character) drawn by Tom Yeates. A tricky, well written, and taut in all the right places that combines superhero conventions with war effectively.

We move in to some indy creator work with a short by Jason. Slightly above the Escapenot stuff, but nothing great here either.

We follow that story up with a romance/crime-inspired piece by Steven Grant & Norm Breyfogle that has little or nothing to do with The Escapist. Decent story, just odd ball placement.

Howard Chaykin comes back for a third time, this time with his Bite Club colloborator David Hahn on art. A weird little short based around music, it still fails to capture any sense of excitement for this reader.

Jeffrey Brown gives us a rather unique look at the Escapist in an above average short.

Finally, “The Final Curtain” has Jason Hall team up with issue one’s Eric Wight with another so-so tale from Escapist’s past. With the exception of the first couple storiez, this volume seems the dullest yet. But at least the price tag was dropped to a more reasonable $14.95. Mildly Recommended.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Amazing Adventures of the Escapist volume 2

The second volume of The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist takes a step up in quality from volume one. We start the book out with a supposed EC-created Escapist story, written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Joe Staton. The two legendary creators channel EC right down to the page design and lettering as they tell the story of an undercover Nazi who seeks to unleash the mind of Adolf Hitler on the world during the fifties. His battle with the Escapist makes a far superior tale of fifties-era corruption than the previous volume’s Chaykin story.

Two tales of the Escapenot, a young cartoony version of the title character, fill this volume. I don’t have much to say about them other than they’re beyond bland.

Stuart Moore and Astounding Space Thrills’ Steve Conley combine forces for another great tale: The Escapist 2966. The future Escapist lives in a giant key shaped space station and he is summoned from it to battle the threat of Roboputer. I don’t want to give any of the twists of this one away, but it is fun stuff harkening back to Weird Science or Mystery in Space.

Matt Kindt writes and draws an odd little story that alternates between the Escapist’s comic adventures and the story of one of its creators. An okay piece, but nothing as moving and telling as I think it was meant to be.

Scott Morse draws a cute little short called “The Boy Who Would Be the Escapist”. A fun little tale of a kid who finds a key and thinks he has become his favorite hero. Probably the best of the non-Escapist Escapist stories in any of the first 3 volumes.

Roy Thomas comes up next for a prose piece, as he writes a supposed Alter Ego article about the fictitious Fab Comics Group. Easily the best of the fake history stories in any of these collections.

Dean Haspiel draws a rip-roaring story in the style of Jack Kirby where Luna Moth comes under attack by a Fourth World-style alternate of herself. She finds herself in a fascinating alternate look at where her life might lead.

Brian K. Vaughan and Roger Petersen conclude volume two with a story of the Escapist’s ally Big Al as he is confronted by the Iron Chain with his own significance in the world. A good breakdown of what it means to be a “sidekick” in modern comics.

Unlike volume one, volume two takes the Escapist and uses his fictional history to craft a plethora of fine examples of superhero storytelling. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Epsilon 23 Notes

The traitor stands revealed and the final battle between Nephthys and Epsilon begins all in one chapter!

I planned Thief versus Air Raid since the beginning of the Epsilon story, and although it played out somewhat differently than I originally planned, I like the idea of the battle of the lost loves.

When I first determined the members of Nephthys’ Apostles, it never dawned on me how BIG this fight would need be. A battle involving over a dozen combatants comes off far more difficult in prose than it does in your average super-team book. I hope I handled it as well. Though busy, a lot of people needed to be taken out of this story before I felt it sufficient to come to an end.

One of my goals is to really up some of the Epsilon 3.0 characters and get them ready for a more full-fledged status on the changing team. I think Wave and Solid do pretty well in this chapter. I really like the dichotomy of these two characters and I definitely plan to utilize them a lot more after this story comes to an end.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Amazing Adventures of the Escapist volume 1

The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist offers a strange historical look at the character introduced in Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. An all star cast of creators fill this volume with interesting stories, some better than others.

Chabon himself retells the Escapist’s origins in an able but rather bland story with art by Eric Wight. It is one of the weaker stories in the book actually, but it does channel a golden age sensibility rather well.

Howard Chaykin comes in next with an okay story about a McCarthy-style politician that has his oddball fetish exposed by the Escapist. Able art, but nothing spectacular in the story department.

Kyle Baker draws a goofy little ditty about the Escapist being sequestered in the jury of a clearly innocent man being framed by the forces of his arch enemies, the Iron Chain. He finds a way to clear the man’s name, but not before a kick in the face about his own actions.

Steve Lieber draws another silver age-inspired story where the Escapist has to go undercover in the local prison to expose a plot. He ends up teamed with his cellmate against much of the rest of the prison’s population, only to find out the shocking identity of his cellmate when all is said and done.

Mike Baron & Val Mayerik provide a very week story of an aging Escapist sent out to save an endangered nuclear submarine. Rather weak work by otherwise qualified creators.

Divine Wind gives us the supposed manga version of the character from the early eighties. Writer Kevin McCarthy (who provides about half the stories in this volume) gives us an interesting alternate take on the character based around a kamikaze who could not die. Strong, interesting story that does a lot to lift up a few of the earlier stories in the volume.

The Escapegoat is a silly little short featuring an anthromorphocized version of the character. Cute, but nothing all that mind-blowing.

Bill Siekiewicz draws the first story of Luna Moth in the latter half of the volume. The script is below average, and the art is far more muddled than usual from Bill. Not a very well done work at all, and actually very disappointing because of it.

Jim Starlin writes and illustrates a story in his (semi-)usual cosmic vein, where Luna Moth fulfills the dream of a little girl who wants to see her dead mother one last time. Mostly silent, it remains one of the more powerful works in the collection.

Dan Brereton draws the beautiful but otherwise weak final Luna Moth story of the volume. Not much really happens script wise. It seems like a real shame to me, as Luna Moth seems to be an interesting character that is rather mis-utilized in this volume. Hopefully she will get some better tales next volume.

The story closes with a tale by Chabon-friend and novelist Glen David Gold with art by Gene Colan. He writes the supposed last chapter of a late seventies serial from the Escapist’s title that is easily the best story in the volume. I don’t want to give much away about the story, but I will compare it favorably to both Will Eisner’s Spirit and Frank Miller’s first run at Daredevil.

All in all the first volume of The Escapist is a mixed bag at best. Gold & Colan’s Lady and the Tiger and Divine Wind are both high quality work, but I am not sure if it outways the mediocrity of the rest of the volume. And with a steep $18 cover price, I can give this volume only a Mild Recommendation. But if you enjoyed Kavalier & Clay I suspect you will enjoy this one.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Aunt May fails

The fine folks at Failblog bring us today’s post.

fail owned pwned pictures

I have nothing more to add to that.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Super-Powered Prose: Spider-Man The Venom Factor

Yes, I did say my first series of reviews was coming soon, just not yet. Hopefully I will have it up by sometime around the next MHP update.

Instead today we are going to look at a classic of licensed super-powered fiction. For much of the 1990’s Marvel produced several dozen novels in conjunction with Byron Preiss Multimedia. The first of these was Spider-Man: The Venom Factor by Diane Duane.

I own the first printing of the paperback edition of the book from November 1995. I remember waiting impatiently for the hardcover to go paperback so I could read it back then. I remembered it as a good read, but what I remembered more about it was the way it handled the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane.

A lot of controversy surrounds the (un)marriage of Peter and MJ these days, and a lot of the reasons I remember hearing for One More Day revolved around the challenges of writing a married character. I thought it was a load of crap when I heard it the first time. After all, some of the greatest dramatic works of our time focus on married couples. So how can we buy that marriage takes “the drama” out of Spider-Man’s life? Isn’t it really bad writing takes the drama out of Spider-Man’s life?

Diane Duane comes at The Venom Factor with a seemingly simple plan: write a compelling Spider-Man narrative that doesn’t shy away from using Mary Jane. So we get a simple formula: sections revolving around Peter/Spidey and sections revolving about Mary Jane. While Mary Jane desperately looks for acting work to help the Parkers make end’s meet, Peter uncovers a plot by Hobgoblin to blackmail the city for a billion dollars using a nuclear weapon. He also runs in to a massive black-skinned, murderous creature that is quickly mistaken for Eddie “Venom” Brock. This of course brings Eddie to town from his usual haunts in San Francisco to find out who or what is framing him for murder.

Spider-Man ends up in the middle of a massive mess of super-villains and sewer creatures, all while trying to stop the possible nuclear destruction of New York.

All in all we get some dramatic tension, lots of financial tension in the Parker household, and a compelling beginning of a three book series by Ms. Duane. Illustrations by Ron Lim open every chapter but despite his talent seem flat and uninspired. They don’t detract from the novel though, and the book definitely receives a Recommended from me.

You should be prepared to see more of these classic Boulevard/Byron Preiss Marvel novels covered in the next few months. I have been working my way through plenty of them in the last couple months and only plan to write more reviews of some excellent (and not so excellent) old novels.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quick Update

So I fell a bit off the wagon with my regular posting from the last couple of weeks, but we should be back on track for four to five posts for the next couple weeks. I am working on a few character-focused series of articles for the near future, so stay tuned for the first of those to begin sometime next week.

In the mean time, make sure you have read the first chapter of Attrition over at MHP if you haven’t already. Good stuff.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

An interesting debate

I got the link from Newsarama who in turn got it from his new blog, but Bill Willingham had this to say about superhero stories. I don’t quite know how I feel about it. I do agree with some of his points, mostly about how characters that have heroic ideals shouldn’t drop them just because a writer doesn’t like them. But on the same token, I question if he phrased his points as well as he could.

I don’t think comics should remain an immature media. One of my biggest problems with Robert Kirkman’s manifesto was his ideas that company-owned comics should be inherently less mature than creator-owned titles. I don’t think they have to be, though I also think that neither of the Big Two actually make an effort to produce much for younger readers in their own mainstream universes. Young reader lines are great, and honestly produce some of their best material, but they don’t involve young readers with the love of comics I think they could. But the current fan base wants their more mature fare, and obviously they want it as given.

That doesn’t really explain the popularity of older material though... Much like professional wrestling, it is the classic fare that really draws fan interest. You may have to make your way a little ways down the list of the top 100 graphic novels to find them, but I guarantee you will find a lot of Showcase, Essential, and full color reprints of comics from the 60’s through the 80’s. So are we looking at two very different markets or are comic fans just very confused? I honestly don’t know. I do know that I am frequently bothered by the violent events in DC books and often question the reasonableness of Marvel’s storytelling. But I usually buy Marvel and DC books in trade, well after I know whether it will be to my liking or not.

I would like to have more titles to give to my 9 year old daughter though, and I don’t feel I have a lot to offer. (She does regularly read Billy Batson & the Magic of Shazam and Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade but that is about it.) So strong moral fiber is definitely an ideal I get. One of my upcoming books, I hope to play with that kind of character. And I think Living Legends treads a bit of the same ground as Mr. Willingham is questioning. But at the same time I don’t feel a need to throw out the more adult themes of some of my work.

So I think there is room for both. I just wish we could find a more clear delineation of both. And by any circumstance, I am quite a bit more interested in seeing Willingham’s upcoming run on Justice Society of America.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Not Quite Super-Powered Comics: No Enemy, But Peace

PhotobucketA brief digression today for a comic I think everyone should read.

I ordered No Enemy, But Peace with a bit of trepidation. Though the art and description sounded promising I am always wary of war-based comics. I think so often we miss the point of war comics, especially one’s set in times of war. Often they exist only to make a political statement, and if it’s one thing we doṉt need when it comes to Iraq it is another political statement.

But the solicitation copy made me think I might get something a little different, the story of one heroic Marine in action. So I decided the $3.50 cover price would be worth it and I put my order in. I’m glad I did.

Richard C. Meyer crafts the story of Corporal Marco Martinez and the Battle of At-Tarmiya with a style of grace rarely seen in a first time comic creator. Meyer is a Iraq vet himself, and it shows in the dialogue, the narration, and every page of detailed weapons and equipment. The dialogue feels true to life, true to human interaction, and without the constant cursing of so many modern war comics. I understand soldiers curse, just like normal folk do, but sometimes I think writers forget that they don’t always do so. We get a few perjoratives through the story, but dialogue isn’t filled with it, and I appreciate that authenticity. I don’t feel like I am reading someone trying to sound like soldiers like I do with books like Army in Love or The Other Side.

The art is somewhat uneven as we hop back and forth from the hyper-detailed art of Martin Montiel Luna and Meyer’s own less detailed style. Meyer’s pages are limited, though, so it only hits in a couple brief places.

Meyer hits on what I think so many people miss in every story of this war, and for that matter, many others. War in our fiction doesn’t have to be, and maybe shouldn’t, be about political statements. Sometimes it&8217;s nice to ignore the condemnation about why we are there, ignore the constant stories about “massive” death counts (that compare in no way to any other war this country has ever fought), and instead focus on the people that fight it. The people that take heroic actions to save those around them in situations so many of us cannot understand.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Living Legends 12 Notes

This chapter of Living Legends continues in the current vein of four very different storylines all going in their different directions. This will continue for the next couple chapters at least before I finally start pulling some of the disparate threads together. Unlike Heroes I do have an overarching idea where this is going. It’s just taking a little longer than I thought to get there. Sometimes characters take on a life of their own, and just need more space.

The Ghost Woman and friends thread has closed for a couple months with the battle between London and Golden Amazon. I won&8217;t reveal details as to why, but I will say it will bring about the return of another Living Legend.

Dart and Ace are two characters that have really grown on me as the story begins. When I first started Legends, I thought of Dart as an out and out piece of garbage, but as I continue to write him I realize that he is a more complicated character than my one-sided initial character study. He is still a self-absorbed son of a bitch though.

Chance and the Purge storyline won’t return for a couple months either as another storyline is rising up that will push it mostly to the wayside. Purge does play a major part of a major reveal though, and will serve to introduce a planned spin-off book very soon. American Crusader will do a lot in the coming months as Atoman returns to these pages.

Black Owl and Terri are interesting characters to me as well, maybe the most interesting in the series to me at this moment. Perhaps it’s the whole married aspect; I’t not really sure. But I like ’em.

I’m still curious to see what everyone thinks about this story&8217;s honestly massive cast and the somewhat disjointed story-telling. Is it working? Is it not? Give me some comments and let me know.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Spider-Man Noir #1

I got a chance to read Spider-Man Noir #1 from a friend and I was pleasantly surprised on the new take on the Marvel character. While I do think Marvel is trying to steal the thunder of their own Icon imprint’s Criminal, this book does a pretty decent job of finding its own path.

Noir’s Peter Parker is a very different character, as is his family. Ben and May Parker are both union rabble-rousers during the Depression. For their actions, Ben is murdered at the hands of the crime boss known as the Goblin.

Ben Urich, reporter for the Daily Bugle takes Peter under his wing as his assistant and potential photographer. We get a few tidbits, but how this will lead to the issue’s opening few pages, where the black-clad Spider-Man escapes from the police at the offices of the (maybe) dead J. Jonah Jameson is anyone’s guess.

Despite its cliffhanger opening and ending, David Hine’s writing and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art bring to life the period with a level of excellence rarely seen nowadays. The real shame is that Marvel through a $4 price tag on the entire business, which makes dollar counting folks like me wary to buy anything new. But Spider-Man Noir at least comes close to giving you your money’s worth. Recommended.

I will try to be back with a review of X-Men Noir #1 just as soon as I get a chance to read it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Bullet Points

J. Michael Straczynski has really been a hot/cold writer when it comes to the world of comic books, but alongside Tommy Lee Edwards this is definitely on the good side.

Bullet Points takes two “What If?” conceits and uses them to create a very different world. First, the Marvel Universe operates in real time with all the characters appearing approximately when they first appeared in reality. Secondly and more importantly is a very important bullet fired in 1940. This bullet takes two lives, Dr. Abraham Erskine, the creator of the super soldier serum, just hours before his first test on a young man rated 4F named Steve Rogers. In an attempt to defend the doctor, the young soldier escorting him dies as well: a soldier named Ben Parker.

From here, events begin to change irrevocably, as Steve Rogers is taken before one Howard Stark and becomes the prototype for a project known as Iron Man. This is a much less advanced Iron Man which forces Rogers in to a lifetime in the armor. Because it takes much longer for him to move in to action, Iron Man isn’t able to save Nick Fury who falls in battle, and James Buchanan Barnes never becomes Bucky. Iron Man is never frozen, and remains an active hero for the next two decades.

Things unravel farther, as a young ne’er-do-well without the influence of his uncle, stumbles on to a gamma bomb test site. Peter Parker survives but finds himself irrevocably transformed in a rampaging hulk.

His project delayed again and again by the United States government, when Reed Richards takes his best friend, girlfriend, and her younger brother in to space, someone sabotages the shuttle launch. It explodes before reaching orbit, and only Reed survives. He is offered a new position in the government, as head of an organization named SHIELD.

Things continue to alter for the Marvel Universe, as that one bullet leads to changed event after event. But somethings don’t change, and the series concludes with the arrival of the Galactus and Silver Surfer.

Straczynski weaves all his plot threads in to a unique alternate universe bit of storytelling. His take at being comic book’s Harry Turtledove works wonderfully as it reaffirms the heroism that is inherent to so many of these characters. The art is exceptional as well.

Tommy Lee Edwards is one of those artists who chooses his projects on a very odd, limited basis, but he works best on projects with a high level of realism than the normal super-powered fare. It fits the darker tone of this series well and especially his one-eyed Reed Richards shines sas a great interpretation of the character.

Together they make Bullet Points in to a unique “What If” story unlike any other. Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mean Streets 5 Notes

Most of this story is recycled material from the original (defunct because it was a bad idea) blog version of Mean Streets.

Tee and Ay are probably two of my favorite characters I have created in this book. I actually remember getting the names from two assassins killed in an issue or two of Wolverine back in the day. I just thought the names were far too awesome to not use, and the adult themes floating around Mean Streets seemed to be perfect for them.

I also love naming characters in this series. I actually was inspired by Robert Kirkman’s Invincible in a lot of the naming scheme. His characters Atom Eve, Rex Splode, Shrinking Ray, etc. inspired the naming scheme of characters like Jack Flash, Johnny B. Goode, Bob Cat, Death Ray, and my favorite, the upcoming KaTanya.

The opening (the only wholly new part of this story) continues my introduction of a new super team, all characters that will become central to the Mean Streets storyline before it comes to an end. I am almost finished with these intros before I start revealing a few more details about these characters as they join the story as a whole. My plan is to finish Streets up before the end of 2009, but I may just spin these folks off in to their own separate story. I have lots of writing plans ahead of me first though, so I will take a wait and see on that. More on the “italic” characters after I finish off their intros.

Have a Happy New Year everyone!