Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Complete Clone Saga 6: Funeral for the Octopus

Before we continue with the main storyline of the Clone Saga, a few digressions pop-up. First, Spider-Man artist Tom Lyle writes the eighth issue of Spider-Man Unlimited, drawn by Ron Lim. And in a true bit of eeriness, the story revolves around an attempt to blow up the World Trade Center. And just to add some tension, Mary Jane is among the hostages taken. Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider both go to the tower to settle different scores. They never quite meet, but they both take out their own members of the criminal Terror Unlimited and save the city in the process. Nothing overly ambitious here, and excepting the eeriness of a WTC attack plot, nothing of note.

After those events, we move on to the three issues of Spider-Man: Funeral For an Octopus. In the aftermath of his cure, Peter Parker must deal with the ramifications of Otto Octavius’ death, while Ben Reilly has uncovered a mini-arms race, as an evil businessman as well as four of Doc’s allies in the Sinister Six are all after Doctor Octopus’s weapon cache. As the first issue ends, the Scarlet Spider confronts the combined forces of Vulture, Mysterio, Hobgoblin, and Elektro.

Issue two is for the most part a prolonged fight scene as Scarlet Spider battles the four remaining members of the Sinister Six. He is no match for the combined might and gets left under a crumbled roof. The villains attack a government building looking for Octavius’ weapons. Spider-Man stops them and retrieves an extra pair of Doc Ock’s arms. With their aid, he holds his own. But the arms malfunction and start dragging him away from the battle to parts unknown. As the issue ends, the villains have their own problem... as Kaine arrives!

The arms are running amok outside and attack the security detail at the building. Scarlet Spider breaks free, even as Kaine prepares to slay Mysterio. But he finds that the costume is occupied only by a robotic dummy. He continues to fight Elektro. Spidey tears apart the harness to free himself from the wild octopus arms. He swings off and inadvertently saves Elektro from the mark of Kaine. Meanwhile, Mysterio is actually using his illusions to get the info on Octavius’ weapon from a wayward relative, but Scarlet Spider shows up and stops him. The story abruptly comes to an end here, as does this report.

Next time, back to regular continuity as the Spider-books officially go weekly with “Smoke and Mirror”.

Just as a reminder, I will be going in to Nanowrimo mode for November, so updates will be sparse.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: All new superheroes!

I often realize that my focus on this site tends to stray far too often to past stories, simply because they are far easier to present in handy trade paperback formats. Today I am going to change that up by focusing on two all new books that you should check out.

Haunt combines the scripting talent of Kirkman, Spawn artist Greg Capullo on layouts, the penciling skills of Invincible artist Ryan Ottley, and McFarlane on digital inks as they create a new superhero I can best describe after one issue as a cross between Brother Voodoo and Venom. The story revolves around two brothers, one alive, one dead, and their ability to take on an ectoplasmic alter ego. While the first issue is a bit heavy on the story and light on the characters, it does offer an intriguing gateway in to what could be a truly great book for all involved.

While Kirkman has firmly entrenched himself as the modern voice of indy superheroics, Phil Hester seems out to match and maybe even one-up him. The former artist of books like Green Arrow and Swamp Thing (and with Kirkman, the canceled too soon Irredeemable Ant-Man) is now writing a plethora of books, most recently the Boom Studios release The Anchor.

The Anchor is a big lug of a man (think a similar build to the Goon) with a bald head and an awesome beard. The book’s tagline calls him God’s legbreaker. That seems to be an apt description as he levels demons both in modern Scandinavia and the gates of hell. Simultaneously. Artist Brian Churilla seems able to lift all the strong points of Mike Mignola’s art without being a copycat. A lot of the page designs do make me wonder if Hester is working layouts for the book though. Some panels look like they could have been lifted straight out of the classic Wretch books Hester wrote and drew. As a standalone book, The Anchor looks like it may very well be a great book to bridge standard superheroics with more mystical fare like Hellboy.

Both books are still a week or two away from their second issues, but I will say I am greatly intrigued by both. I would recommend rounding up seven bucks and giving both a try. Recommended.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Super-Powered TV: Dollhouse 2.4: Belonging

Sierra becomes the immediate focus of this week’s episode as we flash back in to her past. Apparently she is a starving Australian artist named Priya. Nolan, the man interested in her, is a Rossum executive and rather important scientist in the doll program.

It goes to the point that the art show Nolan puts on seems to be an elaborate hoax produced by Rossum. Unfortunately she doesn’t show a hint of interest which leads to her new role as Sierra. He continues to manipulate her now that he can easily seduce her whenever he pleases. And that’s just the set-up.

Topher quickly uncovers the reason for Sierra’s distress, but it only comes to bring out how big of rat bastards Rossum as a whole actually are. We also learn why this effects the normally calm Topher so much: he believed he was helping Priya when he turned her in to Sierra.

Topher goes in to business for himself and imprints Priya with her own memory. The imprint doesn’t do anything to break down her relationship with Victor which is another interesting statement on how poor the doll-making process actually seems to be.

Nolan and Priya fight until Priya stabs the sick bastard to death. Topher, and then Boyd show up after the death and go to work disposing of the corpse by dissolving it in the bathtub. Boyd is nothing if not disturbingly professional.

Boyd also seems to be in business for himself as he also learns of Echo’s own memory issues. It’s good to see Boyd actually get to be the smart character he was for most of the first season. He goes as far as to leave Echo a security badge.

Interesting note: this episode was directed by actor turned director Jonathan “Commander William Riker” Frakes. Good to see him working on some genre television again.

“Belonging” proved to be one of the best episodes of this series so far.

Super-Powered Web: Uatu, P.I.

I always wondered why Uatu couldn’t interfere. Thanks to Bully and his site Comics Oughta Be Fun! we now have an answer. Click the image below for the whole story!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: The Goon: Chinatown & the Mystery of Mr. Wicker

This will be the last week of regular updates on this page for quite some time. Starting at the beginning of November, I will be participating in the annual National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. Nanowrimo. I might stop in with a couple irregular reviews (just to break up the writing of the novel), but otherwise I will be concentrating on my 50,000 words. But for now, let’s get to the review.

Eric Powell has been writing and drawing The Goon for over a decade at this point, but we never really got a good look at the character’s past. That changes in Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker. The story moves back and forth from the past (told in beautiful sepia tones) and the present day (in the book’s regular palette. After a short introduction, we meet Shorty and his chanteuse sister Mirna. They both regularly work at Goon’s favorite bar.

Mirna’s good looks bring us back to a younger, unscarred Goon. He sees another beauty as he visits Chinatown and the ancient warlord that serves as the neighborhood’s crime boss. Needless to say, Goon gets embroiled in the dame’s life which leads to more problems between his and Frankie’s own burgeoning crime empire and that of the Chinatown set.

In the present, Goon deals with a very different problem, that of the strangely covered new crime boss Mr. Wicker.

The two stories weave in and out of each other with the subtle grace of the most talented filmmaker. It is a style not often seen in comics but works to perfection under Eric Powell’s able hand.

Both plots build to a fevered pace, but it is the past story of Chinatown that really shows the skill of Powell. In the process, we learn the origin of the powerhouse’s trademark look.

Let me just say that I know The Goon is by no means everyone’s cup of tea. But if you like Hellboy, if you like Umbrella Academy, hell, if you just like some one of the finest pieces of graphic fiction this decade, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of Chinatown. Highest Recommendation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Super-Powered TV: Heroes 4.6: Tabula Rasa

I am going to take a different tact with this episode of Heroes. While I cannot promise no spoilers, I am going to focus the review less on a recap and more on my thoughts about individual events as the show progresses. Let me know what you think.

“:Tabula Rasa” opens with the regular recap scenes and another rather random Samuel speech. At least he isn’t Mohinder. No one wants that kind of narration again.

Why is Peter using the powers that are killing Hiro to try to save him? That seems rather foolish to me.

Is it me, or does Noah seem to be keeping the entire company’s file system unsecured on his laptop? That seems to be a global catastrophe waiting to happen.

The Jeremy subplot feels a little out of the place with the current flow of this season. I honestly think we have seen too many one or two appearance powers at this point.

Emma and Hiro make a rather interesting combination. Hiro’s never-ending optimism fits perfectly with her paranoia. Although I am a bit confused as to how Hiro knows even the sign for applause in ASL. It is American Sign Language. Why would he ever learn that?

Sylar sees his memories, but apparently still doesn’t connect with them. He is dangerously close to becoming an utterly broken character this season.

Please don’t bring back Charlie!

Hiro disappears before he returns to his bed. While it is an overly easy way out of a quick cure for the character, it is almost too simple. And I will reiterate, please don’t bring back Charlie. The book was bad enough, but we are going to apparently cover this base one more time. Heaven help us.

Oh and that is three weeks now without a Parkman appearance. Can we please get back to him and evil phantom Sylar some time soon? This episode was completely all over the place and continues a seeming need to focus only on what have become the writers’ three crutches: Peter, Hiro, and Sylar.

We will see what happens with next week’s episode: “Strange Attractors”.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mean Streets 11 Notes: The Final Chapter

A quick warning: these notes may be a little more spoiling than regularly. So if you haven’t read the chapter yet, please go do so.

This is it: the end of Mean Streets. I started Mean Streets as an experiment, one that never quite came together the way I hoped it might. It turned in to something overly jumpy and even more crass than I originally planned. My concept was somewhat different: take the concepts and conflicts that ran through one of the most entertaining wrestling companies in history, ECW. I think I managed to channel some of Extreme Championship Wrestling’s spirit in to a few of the characters, but Mean Streets quickly became an uncontrollable beast to write.

So I decided to end it. And what better way to end a story than to destroy most of what I built?

Many of the characters’ endings were planned from the beginning, although in many cases I mean their stories to go on much longer. Jack Flash and Antagonist in particular had a much more detailed past. A good writer is never afraid to recycle discarded ideas, so for now I’ll keep the details to myself.

The mi-go’s super-creatures meet an ignoble end here, but they may yet find away to return in another story in the future. I like these characters a lot and think they may have untapped potential when they move past mindless killing machines.

A couple characters in this story will pop up next year in the new series I will be working on next month for Nanowrimo. And yes, Demon Fox will be one of them. I can’t well leave a superhero carrying an Elder God inside her sit idle too long, can I?

While I am not entirely please with the way the saga finally ended, I hope everyone who read it enjoyed Mean Streets. It was a noble experiment with a decent story and some truly unique characters. Thanks for following it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: The Unknown

Mark Waid has written some of my favorite and least favorite title runs. While some of his work leaves me flat, more often than not he produces some real winners. One of his finest was his 2001 other-world Sherlock Holmes in Ruse. While Waid wouldn’t stay with Crossgen long, he produced amazing work unlike any he produced before.

I never figured he would capture that fire again, but he does in the pages of The Unknown. The book follows the adventures of the real world’s greatest detective Catherine Allinghan and her new confidant James Doyle. It seems Catherine only has six months left to live, and she plans to solve all life’s great mysteries in her remaining months. The only problem is she may not be in her right mind as visions of a strange, deathly figure continue to reoccur in her mind.

They set out to solve the case revolving a quantum box and the disappearance of the man illegally inside of it. In the process, they stumble in to a deeper conspiracy one peeled away in layers as supernatural forces move against Catherine and Doyle. And by the end of the run, we can begin to suspect Catherine’s visions are not delusions... as even Doyle sees the ghastly figure.

Waid imbues Catherine and Doyle with all the life he gave to a certain other pair of detectives eight years ago. Aided and abetted by Dutch artist Minck Oosterveer who imbues every character in the book with life. All of this comes behind stunning covers (on my editions) by Eric Jones, although other variants do exist.

The Unknown wraps the detective story in an occult milieu with a dying woman with near superhuman deductive ability as the star. Beautiful art on top of an excellent story guarantee that even at a $3.99 price point, this one gets a Highly Recommended. If you prefer the $24.99 hardcover (available at a hefty discount at the Amazon link above) is now available.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Complete Clone Saga 5: Web of Death

While Web of Life plays out for the Scarlet Spider, Web of Death occupies the time of our long-time Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. Still dying (as he has been for months now), Spider-Man stumbles through the city and collapses as Amazing Spider-Man 397 begins. Doctor Octopus finds him, but refuses to kill him in his current pathetic state.

Stunner trashes a bar, only for Doc Ock to arrive and collect her. They romance for a bit before Stunner suddenly vanishes. A bit later, she beats down Spider-Man. Octopus arrives a bit later to unmask Peter as the first chapter wraps.

Chapter Two in Spectacular Spider-Man 220 (featuring the rock solid art team of Sal Buscema & Bill Sienkiewicz) has Doctor Octopus devote himself to find a cure for Peter. He does so because he cannot watch his greatest foe die at the hands of another, but even his scientific skills prove not to be a match for the poison in Peter’s veins. Kaine continues to stalk Mary Jane, but it isn’t until the final page that we get the surprise of the issue: MJ is pregnant!

Chapter Three is mostly filler, as Spidey celebrates his pregnant wife, worries about his dying aunt, and Doc Ock moves in the shadows. But finally Ock gives Spidey the cure, only for it to drop him to the floor. Peter proceeds to speak with both the recently deceased Nick Katzenberg and Aunt May, before he walks in to the light...

And in to chapter four! We open with chats with Richard and Mary Parker, a dream-state interrupted by the equally dead Norman Osborn (at least at this time). At the same time Doctor Octopus struggles to resuscitate Peter. His cure has worked, but not before Parker suffered heart failure. When Spider-Man awakens, he finds his foe is ready to renew their rivalry, a situation that flabbergasts Spidey. Doc is arrested, but rests assured that he will meet his enemy again. It proves not to be, as the mysterious Kaine first incapacitates Stunner, then attacks the convoy carrying Doc Ock. Otto fights back, but Kaine cracks his neck. Stunner arrives just in time to cradle her lover’s corpse.

And so, you have the first mistake of the Clone Saga. Say what you will about Spider-Man, Mary Jane, and the clone, but I think we can all agree that Doctor Octopus is an irreplaceable villain. Which becomes even more sad, as we move closer to meeting his replacement....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Shang-Chi Master of Kung Fu

I gave my review of Rampaging Wolverine a few weeks back. Now its pseudo-sequel has hit the stands. While the previous one-shot was inspired by Marvel’s seventies era magazine Rampaging Hulk, Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu holds its inspiration in the classic martial arts magazine Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. And unlike the previous book, this one proves a bit weaker.

The opening story by up and coming writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Kody Chamberlain (whose last name is missing the second A). You might expect some kind of kung fu masterpiece. Instead we get a Deadpool/Shang-Chi team up involving a motorcycle race against multiple criminal organizations. It features an oddball storytelling style in the vein of Deadpool’s own title. Very little of Shang-Chi’s own personality is allowed to shine through.

The second story by novelist Mike Benson and the Marvel Noir alumni team of Tomm Coker and C.P. Smith takes an interesting track. Set in Hong Kong, the captions are completely in Chinese with English subtitles running along the bottom of the page. This is clearly done to increase the cinematic feel of the story. In it he comes in to conflict with another master warrior. The young fighter wants him dead and much of the next several pages is spent in a brutal kung fu battle. A much more solid update of the Master of Kung Fu.

The final comics story, “The Vaccuum [sic] of Memory”, is by former Moon Knight writer Charlie Huston and Spanish comic artist Enrique Romero. Romero has a knack for channeling a classic Marvel style and it shows here in Shang-Chi’s battle with his old friend Midnight (a.k.a. Midnight Sun). The story handles the history of both characters surprisingly well, as Midnight continues his appearance and enhanced abilities from old issues of Silver Surfer. (Don’t ask me to explain; it would take too long.) The two friends battle before Shang-Chi ultimately embraces his old friend.

The final four pages are devoted to a prose piece by Dark Tower co-writer Robin Furth. Instead of a short piece of prose as in Rampaging Wolverine this is instead anecdotes told by Shang-Chi about his own life. While not much to write home about, it does feature excellent spot illustrations from classic Shang-Chi artist Paul Gulacy.

All in all, I think Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu is much weaker overall than Rampaging Wolverine. Shang-Chi has proven himself a much better character for long form fiction than short pieces like this. That shows quite well here, although the debacle that is the opening story couldn’t be made in to a good Shang-Chi tale with any amount of padding. I understand Deadpool is a hot commodity at Marvel now, but that is no excuse to make Shang-Chi play second fiddle in his own (rare) book. While I hope this doesn’t mark the end of Marvel’s black and white magazine-inspired books, I can only give Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu a Mild Recommendation.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Super-Powered TV: Heroes 4.5: Hysterical Blindness

This week we have “Hysterical Blindness”. I am already writing this late, so let’s get right in to it.

More generic plans by the carnival folk. We continue to randomly talk about the new member endlessly.

Claire and Gretchen enjoy lunch together. Claire especially enjoys being normal. She convinces Gretchen to tag along to a sorority initiation. Yawn. We get a bizarre speed dating segment at the beginning of the pledge day. Claire begins to get creeped out by Gretchen’s clinginess. It took her weeks to figure out the girl is a little odd? After an accident(?) at the mixer, Claire accuses Gretchen of some sort of murderous plot. She admits that she is a little bit stalking Claire. Gretchen admits that she has a crush on Claire (after the much talked about girl-on-girl kiss). We learn that Rebecca, head of the sorority, is actually Samuel’s ally and an invisible girl. She has been responsible for all the weirdness in Claire’s life of late. Samuel, Lydia, and Rebecca see the new member of the group after that.

Sylar gets pulled over by former ghostbuster turned police officer Winston Zeddmore. Or just a cop played by Ernie Hudson. I prefer to think it’s Winston though. But alas, he apparently is Captain Lubbock (meh). Why is a police captain on patrol in the middle of the night? Anyway, he gets a new criminal psychologist who is British. Strange, this stuff. Lubbock sends the good doctor away and tells Gabriel his identity. But he doesn’t remember any of this. He inadvertently uses his powers to send Lubbock crashing through the glass. He escapes with the doctor, but the cops quickly pursue. Sylar gets shot, and they both roll down the hill. Sylar’s wounds quickly heal and the doctor tells him to make a break for it. He runs down the hill... straight in to the carnival.

Emma continues to have problems coping with her new powers and in a confused state almost gets hit by a bus. Peter speeds to her rescue. She wanders off and Peter finds he no longer can run at super-speed. Instead, he has absorbed her synesthesia. He returns to the hospital looking for Emma, but only sees kids singing “The Greatest American Hero” theme. Nice. She realizes he can see the sound too. But she runs away from him. Back home, she learns that she can channel the light in to an energy attack. And as Peter returns home for the night, Hiro finally reappears (from last week) just to collapse in to his arms.

We do finally get past the Carnival’s quest for a new member this week. I think Emma’s story arc continues onward nicely and she continues to prove herself one of the show’s more interesting characters. It’s a shame though that the best storyline of this season, starring Parkman and phantom Sylar, spends the second week in a row on the shelf. It is good to see that the Heroes staff continue to know that former Veronica Mars cast members are good snags as Tessa Thompson joins the cast as Rebecca. Just as on that show, she seems to be able to channel the right levels of friendly and evil to make the character work. This season continues to have potential, but it is clear by the ratings that it cannot continue to push back that potential in order to build suspense. At this point, I hope that these eighteen episodes can serve to properly bring the series to a close.

Next week: “Tabula Rasa”.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Super-Powered TV: Dollhouse 2.3: Belle Chose

We open the episode with an apparent psychopath who is using drugs to turn people in to some kind of living manikin. But on a search for a replacement for the one he kills, he gets hit by a car.

We find out that the man is the son of a major shareholder of Rossum and Topher is being made to try to remap his brain after his head injury. Topher detects the abnormality in his brain, and even he has ethical objections to reviving a serial killer. The decision is made to revive him in a doll (Victor) in order to learn the whereabouts of his missing victims.

Meanwhile Echo’s mission seems to be going off without a hitch.

Ballard grills Terry/Victor about the crimes committed.

The uncle breaks Terry free, but Terry knocks him out and leaves. Ballard goes out in search of Terry. Terry meanwhile is searching for a new Aunt Sheila. But an attempt at a remote wipe fails. Instead, they knock the entire system offline and switch the brain scans around. Terry ends up in the body of Echo.

Echo returns to Terry’s lair and sets out to kill the victims, but her brain snaps as she raises a cricket racket to strike. Echo warns the victims to kill her before she starts to hurt them again. They are ready to kill her when the team arrives to stop them and take Echo in to custody.

But even after her treatment, Echo shows signs of retaining his personality as she has dozens of others.

An interesting premise this week, although one perhaps somewhat far fetched. While there has to be some suspension of disbelief for a show like this, it does stretch even the science of the show to have us believe that they can transfer two personalities i the field as they did this week. Or maybe it doesn’t, and I am just knit-picking. I will say this season has offered us more consistently solid episodes than last season did at this point. We clearly seem to be continuing on the slow burn to the future images shown in Epitaph One, but Joss and company seem quite able to make the ride more exciting than the stop.

Next time (in two weeks): “Belonging”.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Super-Powered TV: Heroes 4.4: Acceptance

Apologies for the lateness of this report. I am way behind on all my television viewing, reading, and other entertainment forms after a rather hectic week. On to the episode!

We start with Tracy reconnecting with her former employer, the governor of New York. She gets her job back, but already seems to have doubts about it from the get go. Tracy visits Noah and admits that she is uncomfortable in the position. Noah tries to convince her that she might be read to move on. Tracy leaves for dinner with the governor anyway. She tries to convince the governor she wants to help people. The governor just hits on her again. She leaves as she begins to lose control of her powers. She returns from the bathroom and just abandons the senator.

Dial-A-Hero gets another call, from the rooftop of their own building. He is going to jump, apparently because he got fired for copying his butt at the Christmas party. Really? And we are supposed to take Hiro’s dying seriously? He stops the copying, but Tadashi is still on the rooftop. This is idiotic. After multiple attempts, he finally realizes that he needs to talk Takashi down and does so easily. The talk also makes Hiro realize he needs to tell Kimiko the truth about his situation. Hiro has an attack after his confession, then disappears.

Peter meets with Noah about the compass tattoo, but when he arrives the tattoo is gone. Noah turns Peter down. Peter leaves as Claire arrives. Claire tries to get Noah to get a job. Their heart to heart does help them reconnect emotionally. Noah reconnects to his desire to stop the Carnival.

We get a brief digression with Samuel, Lydia, and Edgar. Edgar express his doubt which seems to draw Samuel’s ire. Lydia gives a vision of Bennett.

Angela brings Nathan a pile of keepsakes that help to refresh “his” memories of the past. He visits Peter and confesses about the image of his dead girlfriend, Kelly. Nathan visits Kelly’s mother, but she tells Nathan that she left for London. He wanders to the pool where he uses Sylar’s psychometry to remember the past. They both fall in to the pool, but Kelly hits her head on the side of the pool and breaks her skull open. Angela confesses that she used the Haitian to erase Nathan’s memory and clean up the “problem”. He tells her mom Millie the truth, but Millie just tells her to leave. Nathan gets attacked in a parking garage by a mystery man. Millie meets with Angela and tells her that he forgives Nathan, even as her hitman shoots and buries Nathan in the woods. Nathan survives and quickly digs himself out of the shadow grave... as Sylar.

While the Nathan parts of the episode did a good job of establishing where exactly his mind is in the currrent situation, much of the rest of this episode is middling filler at best. The Hiro bits just show us how redundant Hiro is becoming on this show. For a man so obsessed with the hero’s journey, one would think he would be smart enough to figure out he keeps repeating himself. Even as he is now dying, Hiro seems to be traveling the same path he has traveled in the previous three seasons. Tracy’s part of the story on the other hand seems to be filler at best and an attempt to keep Ali Larter’s characters stupid at the worst. Nothing about the epiphany Tracy has at the end of this episode needed to be acted out this way. Having her life destroyed in the last volume honestly should have been enough to make her realize her path was no longer as a governor’s personal aide/prostitute.

Like so many episodes before it, Heroes wants to spend too much time on the build. We still have no idea what motivates the carnival, who they are, or where they come from. This isn’t Lost, guys. You do not have the size of the cast or the over-arching design that Lost has. You cannot get away with taking an entire season to develop the plot this way. This kind of deconstructed storytelling is dying in the comics your stories obviously cop from and should do so here.

Next week (okay, tomorrow night): “Hysterical Blindness”.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Astro City volume 1: Life in the Big City

Kurt Busiek kicked off Astro City as a six-issue series from the fine folks of Image Comics. It would soon jump to Homage, a subsidiary of Image/Wildstorm, later DC Wildstorm. But for now, it was truly a boutique book even though two of its creators were some of the hottest names in comics in the aftermath of Marvels.

Issue one opens with an obviously Superman-esque figure named Samaritan. But instead of the regular narrative in to battle concept we get from most titles (especially at the time), the issue instead focuses on a day in the life of the busiest hero on the planet. The narrator is Samaritan himself, and by page two we already can see this story is about the speed he pushes himself in to every day. We learn of the sacrifices he made and the desires he carries with him, while each superhero battle gets little more than a panel to cover it all.

Issue two introduces a regular contrivance of Mr. Busiek, used both in Astro City and his Marvels work: the story from the human perspective. We get a flashback to the late fifties and an early adventure of the Silver Agent and the Honor Guard. We get the first hints of the Silver Agent’s unpleasant fate as an intrepid young reporter takes it all in. But the fight again is not as key as the lesson learned by the young reporter, now a news editor telling a very important lesson.

Wrapped in a cover featuring a foreboding close-up of the hero featured within, issue three focuses on the Spider-Man analog Jack-in-the-Box. But even this story has a unique perspective: that of a criminal who accidentally sees Jack’s face. The criminal learns how the repercussions of his happenstance work on his own over-active imagination.

Issue four focuses on a young woman from Shadow Hill, the supernatural hub of the city. But during the day she works in City Center, and the dual nature of her life quickly shows signs of wear when the Hanged Man and the First Family (a Fantastic Four-style super-family) become involved.

Issue five features a key story to the future run of the book. Here we meet an alien advance scout. Despite being there to scout the earth for an attack force, he has a love for humanity. But his love is sorely tested as the story progresses.

Volume one closes with a story of Samaritan finally taking a day off to spend with Winged Victory, the book’s Wonder Woman analog. Between discussions, arguments, and accusations, the two enjoy an uneasy night to themselves in a way the DC characters never could.

None of these stories are Astro City’s finest (although Astro City 2 is a personal favorite of mine). But they do succeed at both introducing the main cast of the book while also clearly stating the kind of stories Mr. Busiek planned to tell in the long run.

All these stories were collected in the Astro City: Life in the Big City trade paperback. Everyone should check it out. If you like it, you will love the rest of Astro City. If you don’t... well then I am not sure why you are reading a blog about superheroes at all. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Out For Vengeance 6 Notes

This issue I went a different route with two flashbacks, one starring the original Rancor, one starring Vengeance.

Several important elements get introduced in this chapter: the aforementioned original Rancor, Jack O’Lantern, Phoenix Fire, and the Flannery clan. All will play important roles in upcoming chapters, starting with Amanda Flannery next month.

Robert’s flashback concludes his battle with Kimiko in the past and establishes more of the history between the two characters. We will see a lot more of it pop up as our first couple arcs progress.

Andre is an interesting character. As a mix of an angry street kid and a would-be hero trying to do his father’s legacy proud. Over the next few chapters, he will form a reluctant bond with Vengeance and prove to be one of the series’ most important characters.

Next month, we will see Amanda Flannery make her first appearance and learn more of the mystery of Vengeance’s lost memories.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My new web comics series ARC starts today!

Click the banner to go to the comic!

After nearly two years in production, Arc now hits the screen with its first page posted today. I worked my butt off to get this in production and artist Jay Rainford-Nash has worked even harder to bring it to life.

We start out a little slow with a four page prologue, but in return we are printing those four pages two a week! After that, starting on October 20, we will go to a one page a week format.

You can expect a healthy helping of strong characters, awesome action, and thought prevoking story as we work to bring you the best comic we can make! And thanks again for reading!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tales of the Living Legends: The Green Lama

Tales of the Living Legends starts a new story today, this one featuring the Green Lama versus a gang of goons on the city docks.

I do not know exactly what it is that draws me to the Green Lama, but I do know I thoroughly enjoy the simply designed costume but utter coolness of the character. Back in the golden age, the Lama was a fairly popular figure. He first appeared in the pulps as a more powerful variation of the Shadow (albeit much happier) before transitioning both in to comics and radio. He lasted well in to the late forties before disappearing along with the rest of his ilk.

Jethro Dumont often plays second fiddle to a lot of golden age revivals, usually either to Black Terror or Daredevil. But while I have used both those characters in Out For Vengeance and Living Legends, I think the Lama may be the most versatile. His powers open up a lot of room for storytelling which is why I think his stories range so freely between Batman-style street violence to cosmic craziness.

Expect the Lama to pop up semi-regularly in the pages of Tales as well as in future chapters of Living Legends. He has a big future ahead of him in the Quadrant Universe.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Complete Clone Saga 4: Web of Life

Seems I am not the only one with an interest to relive the Clone Saga. Dan Slott, co-writer of Amazing Spider-Man, is bringing Ben Reilly back and with it comes a new limited series by Tom DeFalco and Howard Mackie retelling the Clone Saga. Who wants to bet half the characters get written out completely?

“Web of Life” opens with the Scarlet Spider in battle with both Tombstone and a group of terrorist. The Grim Hunter also begins his hunt for the Spider. Otherwise, not much happens. Meh.

Chapter two gives us more Kaine... and man, this guy was emo before emo was emo. Lots of whining and smashing things. In fact, so much of it, that Scarlet Spider looks positively upbeat in comparison. This chapter also gives us Seward Trainer, a scientist with a strange need to where spandex for a man who isn’t a superhero. Apparently, he is an old friend of ol’ Scarlety. Sadly, he will become far too involved in the inner workings of the Spider-books for the next couple years. We also get the first appearance of Phil Raven, the man who wants to arrest the Scarlet Spider for murder! But that story has another year or so to wait.

Chapter three opens with Kaine rescuing a homeless woman, showing us that he isn’t totally evil. But it doesn’t stop him from battling Ben Reilly, even attempting to kill our intrepid hero. But it all comes to a head when Grim Hunter arrives on the scene... with plans to kill Peter Parker. Only Scarlet Spider can hope to save his other self.

In the final chapter of “Web of Life” we finally meet Seward Trainer, even as Ben reveals more of his past dealings, and hatred, for the man known as Kaine. But in the end it comes down to a battle between Kaine and the Grim Hunter, a battle where the son of Kraven dies by Kaine’s hand.

“Web of Life” is where the Clone Saga starts to weaken. Instead of an ongoing saga following Ben, we instead get a lot of padding poorly disguised as “build-up”. But the story was far from over... even as we move over to the other two Spider-books and “Web of Life”.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Super-Powered TV: Dollhouse 2.2: Instinct

Topher opens the show with a chat about the human brain to Ballard. Must say I am a big fan though of “The brain is kind of like Van Halen, if you just pull out one piece and keep replacing it, it just degenerates.”. As we see Echo, the ability that Topher talks about becomes clear, as she breast feeds a child she thinks is her own.

Echo begins to think her husband is up to no good, when in reality he is a greaving husband trying to cope with the loss of his wife & child by using her.

The senator continues to investigate Rossum, but his evidence isn’t solid. But his lady-friend (wife?) does return from an rang doorbell with a stack of files for him.

Adele pays a visit to the former November, and she seems a little standoffish. Adele insists that Melanie come in for a check-up and she realizes Adele will not take no for an answer.

Echo is acting overly paranoid at her current assignment. She calls her friend Kelly (actually Sierra) worried that her husband wants her dead. But when Kelly arrives so does the black van she saw outside. They take Kelly for her treatment and she just grows more paranoid.

She escapes the house and uses “Kelly”s car to make her escape. The father freaks out because Echo disappeared with his son. She finds a pair of police officers on the street and reports the situation as a potential crime. At the precinct, they take the baby away and Ballard (acting as an FBI agent) drags her away.

Back at the Dollhouse, Madeline gets a clean bill of health. After the check-up, Ballard returns with Echo who knocks Madeline to the side.

After Madeline and Ballard have a chat, Echo finally goes in for treatment. But the treatment doesn’t quite take. She decks Topher.

Senator Perrin learns the true status of the Dollhouse. And they apparently have a name to trace.

Echo tries to escape, but her mind does not retain any knowledge. The glandular situation mentioned at the beginning of the show has seriously affected Echo’s mental state. She wants the baby back, without any knowledge of who the baby is.

Echo breaks in to the house and retrieves the baby and a knife. Dad explains the situation to a confused Echo who has enough sense left to understand. She quietly leaves the house and returns to the park.

She and Ballard discuss the situation. We really begin to get in to the situation that gives Echo agony. Ballard offers her an out, but she reiterates that she “doesn’t want to go back to sleep” just as our episode ends.

We get a decidedly different episode of Dollhouse this week. While not as solidly built as last week’s show, we do get a few good character bits with Madeline and Echo. We learn more about Alexis Denisof’s crusading senator character, but we still see very little to differentiate his quest from Ballard’s last season. But the ability to not have to rely on easy answers and the season’s worth of narrative drive the show has to build upon, clearly seems to have set this season up to be much more capable of building an ongoing storyline.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Astro City: An Introduction

When I started reading comics, my first two books were G.I.Joe and Transformers. Until the late eighties, pretty much all my comic purchases focused on those and other toy/cartoon tie-ins, from C.O.P.S. to M.A.S.K. to Super Powers and beyond. As I got older, I started in on X-Men and the Avengers while the “Panic In the Sky” storyline brought me in to Superman. In those pre-teenage years I quickly became voracious in my comics reading. I bought every book I could off the newstand, whether they be Marvel and DC, or Image, or the Ultraverse, or even Dark Horse. I bought every issue of Wizard and Hero Illustrated, always wanting to learn more about my new hobby. I learned about the history of these characters over years and decades. I grew to love the superhero as a setting (or genre if you prefer).

So it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite titles ever is Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. Over the next few months, I plan on posting regular retrospectives about the characters, stories, and storytelling that Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross bring to a book that everyone (and I do mean everyone should be reading). My plan is to cover a story arc (or so) every week and hopefully by the time I am finished, we will only be weeks away from the return of Astro City as a regular series.

Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross made a beauty of a book named Marvels only a couple years before. Marvels changed the way a lot of people looked at the superhero comics they read, and I strongly suspect its human interest angles mixed with classic continuity are an inspiration for many books on the market today. (Geoff Johns should stand up and wave right here.) It made household names out of two creators who up until this point were rather unknown. Ross’s only major published work at this point was The Terminator: The Burning Earth for Now Comics. Kurt had written Power Man & Iron Fist, Liberty Project, and numerous fill-ins at this point, but was still probably best known as the guy who came up with the way to bring Jean Grey back for X-Factor. Marvels changed the careers of both men, and in its aftermath came a creator-owned project: Astro City. Ross would provide the covers and long-time, under-rated penciler Brent Anderson (most famous for X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills) would draw the interiors.

I will start with a book that remains one of the most unique tales of the book: Astro City 1/2. The story focuses on every-man Mike Tenicek, just a guy haunted by dreams of a beautiful woman and their love affair. The dreams haunt him, consume him, until an appearance by the entity known as the Hanged Man (sort of a less kill-happy Spectre). And in the process, we get a view of the numerous big-time crossovers, massive crisis events, and the like. I will not say more than that (I may have spoiled too much even there), but I will say it is one of the most emotionally impactful super-powered stories I have ever read. Don’t believe me? Even the folks at Wizard have named it the 16th best comic in the history of their publication. I honestly would rate it even higher, at least in the top five.

So, yeah, Astro City knows how to tug on the heart strings too. More reviews as we continue, but for now, you can check out issue one-half in the back of the Astro City: Confession trade paperback. Highly Recommended.