Better Late Than Never Reviews: 1/28/10

And once again, quick reactions to recently read comics:

The Incredible Hercules: Against the World - I read this several months back and while I thought it was decent, I didn't see why everyone online was making such a big deal. But I gave it another shot this past week and absolutely loved everything about it - the characterization, the strong basis in both Greek mythology and Marvel history (I pretty much have to love a story that can call back to both Hercules' labors and Marvel's Godzilla series), and that like the best Marvel books lately, it takes place within the framework of major events but doesn't tie in directly. Maybe I had to approach it on my own terms, free from the expectations of others, I don't know, but I'm hooked now.

The Unwritten Vol 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity - Picked up the first issue back when it came out because it was only a buck and thought it was alright, but like most of your better Vertigo books, it's a much better reading experience in chunks, where you can see the plot really come together and watch as it becomes a quirky "What if Harry Potter were kinda real?" story to a deeper tale about destiny, faith, conspiracy, and the geography of literature. And then you get that fifth issue with Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain... I was getting chills. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I was an English major in college, so I'm likely predisposed to enjoy teh Book Pr0n, but still this is the good stuff. Buy it to ensure its longevity so I can keep reading it please and thank you.

The Losers: Close Quarters - It's been a while since I read the first three volumes, so it took me a little while to remember who everyone was and what had happened before, but the plot kicked into gear pretty quickly, so it was easy enough to get swept along anyway and just be reminded of everything along the way. More great heist/black ops hijinks as the action ramps up en route to the fifth and final volume, with a few great action sequences that have me convinced the movie version is going to be awesome if they can find a way to translate this stuff directly to the screen.

Starman #81 - I haven't read a word of Blackest Night, and I've yet to enjoy any of James Robinson's recent work as much as his 90s output, but the curiosity and anticipation of a new issue of Starman won out over any hesitation I felt. And you know, this was actually pretty good. No Jack Knight to be found, but Robinson was always good about spreading the screen time among the various citizens of Opal City the first time around, so this just felt like another one of those interstitial spotlight issues. Besides, we get to see the Shade and Hope O'Dare again - together, no less, which is something I've been wanting a glimpse of since Hope announced she was going to ask Shade out on a date back in the series finale - and we do get a Starman, even if it is one of those Black Lantern things the kids are into these days. This could've been awful, and maybe even should have been, but I was pretty happy, all things considered. Nice to see you can go home again for 22 pages or so.

S.W.O.R.D. #s 2 & 3 - Ending with issue 5? But... but... Agent Brand being endearingly badass! Beast being all clever and urbane! Lockheed showing it's the size of the fight in the dragon, not the dragon in the fight! Henry Gyrich being all shifty-like! Aliens demanding Earth wimmins! And god damn Death's Head... Death's Head, people! Come on! What the hell is wrong with you guys? This book is awesome.

Pretty Sketchy: The Big Red Cheese and the Small Angry Worm

The one true Captain Marvel and Mr. Mind as drawn for me by Bobgar Ornelas. You can see the Cosmic Boy he did for me here.

Behold the Apple tablet!

(Come on, you've been thinking the same thing.)

My only complaint about an otherwise great book.

So I've been making my way through the Onion A/V Club's new book of lists, Inventory, which is probably the perfect book if you're the sort of person who enjoys both popular culture and compartmentalization, even if you've read a lot of the lists before on the A/V Club site.

But besides the A/V Club staff contributions, there are a number of lists on various topics supplied by celebrities, too, and here's where things sort of fall flat. A few of these are quite good - Patton Oswalt's list of what he considers to be "quiet film revolutions" is really interesting (but Patton Oswalt talking about movies usually is), and it's hard not laugh at Weird Al Yankovic's compilation of his favorite Don Martin sound effects from MAD Magazine. Most of the celebrity lists, though, are just another chance for them to ply their shtick to the masses.

Sure, Zach Galifianakis list of favorite fax numbers is kind of funny, not so much because they're all blanked out with a giant "REDACTED BY PUBLISHER" stamped across the page, but because it's probably safe to assume he submitted an actual list of fax numbers he knew wouldn't actually be punished. But the rest just fall flat, like Tom Lennon's fake unpublished Tennessee Williams plays, or yet another long list of John Hodgman's facts. And maybe it's just me, but Hodgman facts are to today what Rich Hall's Sniglets were to the 80s: funny and clever at first, but they get old quickly.

This certainly doesn't ruin the book by any means, but I do find it disappointing. These are talented, funny, smart people, and I was generally looking forward to what they had to say on an actual topic of their choosing. There are plenty of other outlets for them to present yet another bit. Missed opportunities abound.

And now, just because...

Boston area singer-songwriter Mary Lou Lord in a Judge Dredd t-shirt.

This has been Boston area singer-songwriter Mary Lou Lord in a Judge Dredd t-shirt, just because.

And here's one of my favorite MLL songs, Some Jingle Jangle Morning, also just because:

Long May You Run

You went out with your head held high, Conan, and with class every step of the way. It's hard not to see this whole situation as a victory for bland, inoffensive, lazy comedy, and the uniquely American tendency to elevate utter mediocrity, but you asked us to avoid cynicism, so I won't mention that. Except for right then, obviously.

Thanks for some good television. See you in September. Hopefully with all the guests that other guy won't be able to book anymore.

Okay, that was cynical, too. Last time, I promise.

Newbury Comics Flash Sale (as in unexpectedly announced sale, not anything to do with Jay, Barry, or Wally)

If you're near a Newbury Comics, you may want to swing by today (Wednesday, January 20th) as they're having a chain-wide flash sale on comics, buy 1 get 1 free. So if you're buying $2.99 books, that knocks 'em down to mid-90s prices.

Except in the mid-90s, you were probably buying stuff like this:

So, quality has improved, if economics haven't. That's something. Anyway, go save some money on comics.

Stuff you may have seen elsewhere, but then again maybe not.

Jay Vs. Conan, the Chinese animated simulation!

I would play the hell out of that game. And incidentally, though I don't watch either show and therefore don't technically have a horse in the race, I do think what NBC is doing to Conan is a dick move.

Aw, man, Marvel is ending S.W.O.R.D. with issue 5. I really liked the first issue and was really looking forward to the first collection. I swear I must be the harbinger of death for comic books. I take an interest, they get canceled. Doesn't even matter if I read 'em in monthly or trade, as soon as I take an interest, bam, dead. You have a book you really like? Keep me the hell away from it.

Lots if information and sample images about Paul Levitz's TWO upcoming Legion of Super-Heroes books. Maybe too much, too soon, but I just don't care because it all sounds so good. Besides, the Legion kept 2 books afloat all through the 90s (and for a bit in the 80s, at least until Tales of... started just reprinting the Baxter run), so it's not like this is unprecedented.

Samples of a long lost strip (that apparently never made it to syndication) by Stan Drake and Bill Yates called Annie's L'il Orphans. The blog post is titled "Shades of Liberty Meadows," and the comparison is apt, seeing the mix of realistically (if idealized) women and cartoony smaller characters (kids instead of animals, but still) occupying the same strip. Fun to see, though, and man, Stan Drake could draw him some wimmens, huh?

(You can find a lot of these for sale here, by the way, if you have the means. Wish I did!)

Better Late Than Never Reviews: 1/18/10 Edition. Now with more Dutch.

Korte reacties strippagina onlangs om te lezen. Misschien sommige SPOILERS*. Ga!

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds HC
- Okay, Geoff Johns is finally making me a believer in his work, at least insofar as his Legion of Super-Heroes stuff is concerned. This was exactly the giant, widescreen, pandimensional teenage superheroes from the future in outerspace epic that was promised, and one that I think comics history will rank on a par with Great Darkness Saga, Earthwar, and An Eye for An Eye. And for once, a DC attempt to establish new a new continuity (or at least kinda sorta re-establish and old one) doesn't result in the hamfisted erasure of what was in place before. The Reboot and Threeboot Legions (ugh... the things you find yourself saying when you love comics) both still have a place in the DC multiverse, thankfully, with some even looking to have roles within the new-old-new LSH. So all that and George Perez artwork, too? Yeah, this is Fun Superhero Comics, even though it doesn't have a damn thing to do with Final Crisis (hell, maybe because of that), no matter what the title says.

Battle for the Cowl: Oracle: The Cure #s 1-3 - This, on the other hand, seemed to spin directly out of Final Crisis, and that one Teen Titans where Wonder Dog mauled Wendy and Marvin (and there's another typing oddity that makes sense only to comic folk), and didn't have a damn thing to do with Battle for the Cowl, or anything other than Barbara Gordon's boobage and fondness for threatening to hit people in the neck with sticks. Not that that matters, really, as this was utter garbage, and even though I ended up getting these for free, I still feel ripped off somehow. Even if you're Babs' biggest fan, or boobs' biggest fan for that matter, skip the living hell out of this.

Ms. Marvel #47 - This was a cute story about Carol Danvers and Peter Parker taking time out from New Avengering to go on a date. It's all shop talk and awkward pauses until, of course, antics happen to break up the evening. I've had a fondness for superhero date stories, going back to that Captain America / Diamondback date issue that Mark Gruenwald wrote back in the early 90s, and this one was just as fun, I thought, so good job finding entertainment in the talky mundane, Brian Reed. Art could've been more consistent (pencils were handled variously by Mike McKone, Rob Disalvo, and Derec Donovan), but on the whole, this was fun.

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Vol. 14: Thwip! - I always enjoyed the one-and-done nature of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, but rarely felt the need to catch up with it unless I enjoyed the creative team. Paul Tobin's semi-relaunch, however, gives me both a writer I enjoy and an ongoing narrative I feel compelled to follow now. Everyone wins, though mostly Marvel. The high school setting makes this reminiscent of Ultimate Spidey, but without the kewl character reinventions, the needless, gory deaths, and Mark Bagley drawing all teenage girls to look like mid-40s truck stop prostitutes. He does make some additions to the regular cast, though, ranging from the traditional in Gwen Stacy and her dad to the unusual choices of a teen Emma Frost and Sophia "Chat" Sanduval, a mutant who can speak to animals and Peter's new love interest. Throw in some guest shots by Captain America and Cloak & Dagger and some fantastic covers from Skottie Young, and you've got the sort of Spider-Man book that will entertain newbies and traditionalists alike.

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #s 17 - 19 - More Marvel Adventures goodness from Paul Tobin, as he sets up a new version of the Avengers featuring all the usual suspects (Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Vision, Black Widow) and some unusual choices (Sue Storm, Nova). I kind of wondered at first why we needed a different Marvel Adventures version of the Avengers so soon after the last one, but I should learn to just shut up and trust in the Tobin, since he's doing some really interesting things here by dropping Sue into the mix. Why would she so cavalierly leave the FF? Is Captain America actually flirting with her? What sort of information is Reed looking for here (besides maybe the obvious), and why would he hire Black Widow to get it? There's a lot going on here below the surface, and it's pretty compelling reading as a result.

*The Dutch word for spoilers is spoilers. Who knew?

Allons-y: some rambly, long after-the-fact thoughts about The Waters of Mars and The End of Time

The Waters of Mars and The End of Time may have been perfectly ordinary, fair-to-middlin' Doctor Who plots, but together they made for a terrific story, and exactly the sort of send-off I was hoping David Tennant's Doctor would get. And while I know there are plenty of folks out there who'd disagree with that, I can't help but think they're stuck in a "forest for the trees" thing. The rather ordinary nature of the plots was kind of the point, I think, in that for someone who lives through as many Big Spectacle Moments as the Doctor, the smaller, more pedestrian events (at least by this show's standards) can still change life forever.

Look at The Waters of Mars. For most of the story's run time, it's basically Standard Who Plot #3, the "Base Under Siege" story, albeit one with the unusual wrinkle where the Doctor can't actually do anything to fix the situation because the horrible fate of the Mars station crew is a fixed moment in time, and one on which pretty much the entire future of human endeavor hinges. But when the Doctor finally decides he's bigger than Time itself, The Waters of Mars sidesteps into Greek tragedy territory, and when all his work is basically undone by both the event's participants and, it can be argued, Fate itself, he is ultimately punished for his hubris, and forced to admit that not even he can undo the machinations of a determined universe. His song will still end, no matter what.

And The End of Time? Basically a mash-up of standard Big New Who Plotlines: rich guy uses alien tech for nefarious reasons, Big Enemy comes back from beyond the void and nearly tears Earth apart, lots of things shot at the Doctor, and, of course, the return of the Master. And it all comes together in a fun, if oddly paced two part story. And in the end, exciting and Star Wars-y as it gets, it doesn't actually matter. It's the quiet moments that we all remember most from the story, and it's a quiet moment that does in the Doctor. This regeneration ends not with a bang, but a whimper. An actual whimper, at that, as he sobs his final words, "I don't want to go."

These were all about the performances, anyway, especially The End of Time. I've been a fan of Bernard Cribbin's Wilf since his first quick appearance in Voyage of the Damned, and was hoping he'd get an adventure of his own one day as his role grew in season 4. He did not disappoint here, being every bit the loving caretaker, consoling friend, and unwavering soldier, and his grandfather-to-grandfather conversations with the Doctor pretty much stole the show. Even more impressive considering how good John Simm was as the Master, the best version of the character since Roger Delgado originated the role (Simm may even surpass Delgado, heresy though that may be to some). Simm's relationship with Tennant's Doctor actually reminds me a lot of Delgado's relationship with Jon Pertwee's Doctor in that for the first time since Delgado/Pertwee we actually and convincingly see that these two people were once friends, and maybe each wish at least a bit that they could be again.

Good as everyone else may have been, though, it was still Tennant's show, and he delivered the pitch-perfect farewell, particularly in The End of Time's climax as he expresses his frustration at being done in not by some major threat, but his simple inability to avoid helping someone in need. It's simple, brilliant, and maybe a bit metatextual, since we were probably all expecting him to go down in a giant blaze of glory, not as the result of an odd lock. But from a mundane death (again, by this show's standards, anyway), came a unique opportunity in that the Doctor got the chance to tie up loose ends for once, making sure that everyone he has come to love is going to be okay. Metatextual again, as it's as much a farewell tour for Tennant himself, and Russell T. Davies, as the Doctor. Indulgent? Perhaps, but a well-done sequence, so it's easy to forgive.

We most certainly did not get all of the Big Questions answered like we may have thought we deserved. We know more about the Time War now, and what the Doctor did to end it, but Davies frustratingly, even tantalizingly, replaces those with even bigger questions that are only fleetingly addressed (Rassilon?!? What the what?). But whether he left those as threads to be explored later by Steven Moffat and Matt Smith or to remain forever unanswered, they're ultimately beside the point. The end of the 10th Doctor wasn't about the Big and the Loud, it was about the Small and Quiet.

Why else would the most memorable, defining moment of the Doctor's new beginning as Matt Smith be an exclamation? Thanks for the memories, David and RTD. You'll both be missed, but I'm anxiously awaiting what Steven and Matt have in store for us. Geronimo, indeed.

Some days you need a little Shirley Manson.

Okay, most days I need a little Shirley Manson. But today I'm sharing.

RIP Art Clokey

Art Clokey, creator of Gumby and Davey & Goliath, died on Friday. Thanks for all of the surreal entertainment, Art.

Pretty Sketchy: 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten

From Alex Robinson at New York Comic Con 2008, it's the lead character from Too Cool To Be Forgotten as a high schooler (I forget the guy's name right now, and as it is currently 4 a.m. and I just want to be able to finally go back to sleep, I'm not going to look it up). Great graphic novel, and as he was sketching this, Alex was, as always, a friendly and professional guy, one of the best people you can hope to talk to at a con. We joked about being among the only 5 people at Wizard World Boston.

The Three Most Influential TV Shows of My Youth

1. Doctor Who

Shocking, I know, but no other show captured my imagination so vividly as a kid as Doctor Who did. Perhaps because it actually required so much imagination to accept the effects, sets, and costumes that looked so cheesy to anyone raised in the era of Star Wars. The inherent hokeyness of the look could be the show's charm or damnation, depending on your point of view, but it was the writing that helped me overlook, and even embrace, the program's look and feel.

2. The Muppet Show

Most Geeks of a Certain Age like to attribute their oddball senses of humor to Monty Python, but mine stems from endless viewings of The Muppet Show during its initial run and years of Saturday morning reruns. It certainly embodied the sort of absurdity and satire I would later discover and enjoy in the Pythons, but it would also introduce young Bill to the likes of Vaudeville, British music hall revue, avant-garde, wicked puns, and the subtle joys of a funny accent, among other things. The Muppet Show was truly all things for all people.

3. Batman

Besides making me a lifelong comic book fan (blame Adam West, Erin!), the 60s Batman show was probably the first thing to introduce me to the concept of layers of meaning. I appreciated it as a little kid for all the action and adventure, for being a comic book brought to life. But I also wondered why my parents or older siblings would smirk at it if they were watching with me. Eventually I learned to see the humorous aspects of the show, both sly and overt, and came to appreciate it on an entirely different level (and as puberty kicked in, I finally realized that the Batgirl episodes are pretty much all about sex.)

Oh, Yvonne, you taught us so much.

Oh, okay, fine... my favorite comics of the decade.

Well, everyone else is putting in their 2 cents - or is that 399 cents these days? - so I sort of feel compelled. I make no claim that these are the best comics the aughts had offer, just the ones I enjoyed the most.

And if something is obviously a single issue of a book or the volume of an ongoing series of graphic novels, assume I mean the whole thing. Thanks.

Yes, I know it's superhero-heavy. I can live with that.

Better Late Than Never Reviews: 1/4/10 edition

Quick- and maybe SPOILERY - reactions to comics what was recently read.

Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes TPB - Now where the hell has this Geoff Johns been hiding all this time? No graphic disembowelments, no over-reliance on super obscure continuity for fanwank purposes (impressive, considering the infamy of the many Legion histories), just an exciting sci-fi/superhero adventure romp, the best mainline story for both Superman and the Legion in a long, long time. More like this! I remain a little creeped out by Gary Frank's artwork, though, particularly the terrifying rictus grins he gives everyone.


Punisher #s 11 & 12 - I've only ever read a handful of Punisher comics in my life. I'm just not a fan. But a story where Morbius the Living Vampire turns the dead body of the Punisher into a Frankenstein* in order to help the Legion of Monsters fight off an army of Japanese monster hunters led by who I'm fairly certain is the disembodied skull of Ulysses Bloodstone? Oh, Rick Remender and Tony Moore... and I didn't get you anything!

X-Men Forever #s 1 & 2 - Super late to the party, I know, but I finally checked these out after a fifty cent box find. And as I sort of suspected, I'm not really the audience for this. It's not bad, really... with art by Tom Grummett and lettering by Tom Orzechowski, it's certainly a gorgeous looking X-Men book. And some of Chris Claremont's usual, later-career writing tics are fairly restrained here, though he's oddly repetitious in spots - three different characters remind us that "Fabian Cortez took down Magneto on his own," and Kitty Pryde checks on Wolverine's well-being by asking him "How's by you?" twice in four pages, when once was annoying enough, thanks. But I just don't have the nostalgia needed to wonder "what could have been" had Claremont stayed with the X-Men when I didn't even read what went on without him in the first place. Hell, I've only started reading his 70s and 80s X-Men comics in the last 5 or 6 years.

Sherlock Ninja #1 - I had very low expectations with this. I just wanted to be carried along by the goofy premise, but the book was hampered by bad, muddled art and poorly realized writing that didn't go nearly wild enough. Missed opportunities and untapped potential abound.

Fantastic Four #574 - Jonthan Hickman! What are you doing?!? I loved the FF: Dark Reign mini and the opening arc with all the cross-dimensional Reeds, but after two boring, back-to-back placeholder / setting-the-ducks-in-a-row issues, my interest in this book is nose-diving. No way in hell would Franklin Richards ever have a birthday party this mundane. The godawful artwork doesn't help, either. This is the friggin' Fantastic Four, Marvel. Get someone on this book who can draw. Gah. Disappointing in every conceivable way.

Empowered One-Shot - A quick dose of Adam Warren's sweet, sexy, and more than a little accident-prone superheroine. A pretty light story, but it gives you a good idea of the characters and the world they inhabit if you're new to the series, and gives fans a little something to tide themselves over until the next volume. So it pretty much did everything Dark Horse wanted it to do. Nice.

Spider-Man and the Secret Wars #1 - If you're familiar with the original Secret Wars mini-series, you probably already know if you need this or not going into it, and nothing I say is going to sway you one way or another. But, Paul Tobin's Marvel Adventures work has been good pretty much across the board, and the trend continues here as he does manage to find a few new inroads to some pretty well-traveled territory. Patrick Scherberger's art continues to improve and impress, too. So if you don't feel like you need to revisit Battleworld, that's up to you, I suppose, but you are missing out.

*Yes, I know, but keep it to yourself. Pedantry kills.

A simple list of things I enjoyed in 2009.

This is by no means comprehensive - I work nights and have a 4 year old, so I don't have the time to read and watch everything I'd like - but here are some chunks of pop culture that brought me some measure of joy in '09 (presented in no particular order).

(And it's also possible that not everything actually came out in 2009, but that's when I experienced it, so it counts.)

The Doctor Who Specials
Mysterius the Unfathomable
Star Trek
Patsy Walker: Hellcat
Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!
The Rotten Tomatoes Show on Current
Johnny Hiro Vol. 1
Sherlock Holmes
The Starman Omnibus Vols. 1 - 3
The Middleman on DVD
Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Parker: The Hunter
Phineas and Ferb
Wednesday Comics
Middle Cyclone by Neko Case
The King Tut story in Batman Confidential
Sad Man Happy Man by Mike Doughty
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Too Cool to Be Forgotten
The Awesomed By Comics Podcast
Captain Britain and MI13
Agents of Atlas
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe
Paul Tobin's Marvel Adventures titles
Inventory, that book of lists from The Onion A/V Club
Lego Batman: The Video Game
Animal Crossing: City Folk
Inglourious Basterds

There's stuff I'm forgetting to be sure. I'll add it as I think of it. You'll be holding your breath in anticipation, I'm certain.