Month: August 2011

Justice League of America #21 (2006)

Justice League 21

Justice League #21 (2006) cover

 Continuing on in my quest to “catch-up” on the now “defunct” DC Universe circa 2006-2009, I pulled this issue to formally start my adventure into Final Crisis.  This comic has a cover date of July 2008 and was written by Dwayne McDuffie with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino.  The writer, McDuffie, died in February of 2011 at the age of 49.  Random factoid:  I read somewhere that he had a masters degree in physics.

At first I did not like it very much at all.  However, after reading the story through and spending more time looking at the cover, I think its basically a good cover in concept, but there are some challenges that knock it down from being a great cover.  In the background we see large city buildings, giving us a setting for this issue.  The two characters are not ones I am familiar with at all, and I daresay that most DC readers at the time were probably not too familiar with them either.  In the foreground is Libra and standing in the center of the image is The Human Flame.  Libra is holding a staff of some sort that is topped by a small hanging scales of justice. The staff serves as a visual aid to draw one’s attention to Red Arrow, who’s limp tattered body is being held up by a smirking Human Flame. If you’ve spent this much time checking out the cover, you will probably now finally see Hawkgirl.  Those are actually her wings that are cluttering up the center of the image and appear to be on fire. Hawkgirl is the problem with the image. The wings are messy and at first glance I thought they were just burning kindling. Her left leg is bent at an impossible angle and honestly, she’s not very easy to recognize in this shot. Its not a bad cover, but the art for Hawkgirl is messy.

Anyway, the issue starts at the Hall of Justice in Washington, DC with Wonder Woman and Batman bantering a bit. Superman shows up and we learn that Batman came to the Hall so that the other two could present a secret “slideways” room.  Only these three and Green Lantern know about this room – which is basically just a table and chairs for the big three to sit and discuss/scheme/banter in.

In these panels is one of the best smirking shots of Batman I’ve seen.  In fact the writing and art for this whole section is really excellent. Not only is it amusing and interesting just as it is, but I think it does a very good job of storytelling. (1.) the new reader is eased into the storyline, so this issue could be a good “jumping on point,” as they say.  (2.) Even if the reader is not new, we are given some clues as to what is happening with Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, and Vixen. All of this is couched in the problematic that these three superheroes want to make sure the League is in good, capable hands without requiring constant supervision from one of these three.

Nearby, in Baltimore, Maryland, we are treated to the thoughts of The Human Flame. He introduces himself while he is in the process of robbing a small branch bank.  He explains how he is able to break in using his firepower and explains his motivation.  As he gets outside of the bank with his stolen goods, the police are waiting and Hawkgirl and Red Lantern are on the scene. The artwork for the ensuing fight is excellent. Frequently, I am slightly irritated by fight-scene artwork because it can be confusing and absurd.  Although this will not be remembered as the greatest fight in comics history, it was a solidly written/drawn fight.  I followed along with interest. And though it seems the heroes have the upper-hand, The Human Flame is able to give them the slip – until Hawkgirl catches up to him in an alley.  And here we are introduced to Libra. He says:  “The scales must be balanced, Hawkgirl.” And to The Human Flame: “I’m the answer to your every dream. Call me Libra.”

At a gathering in Central City, we find Libra introducing The Human Flame to an ever-growing group that includes Lex Luthor and other villains.  Libra tells The Human Flame that he can give him his heart’s desire, which in this case is revenge.  The Human Flame wants revenge on the Martian Manhunter whom The Human Flame blames for his life of disaster and failure.  Eight years ago the Martian Manhunter defeated The Human Flame, humiliating him in the process.  The last three frames of the book show Martian Manhunter on an arid distant planet. There is a “BOOM” and Martian Manhunter has disappeared.

It’s par for the course in reading comics to encounter a group of villains who decide to band together and get revenge on the heroes who have defeated them.  This sort of storyline is neither original, nor unique.  In fact, in Marvel Comics’ Dark Reign/Dark Avengers event, we find The Hood (Parker Robbins) attempted to do something similar with the Marvel villains. However, even though the plot device was familiar, I was still interested in the storyline – I wanted to know what had happened to Martian Manhunter. I also wanted to know what was going to come of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their secret meeting room.

It’s been said that this issue is a prelude to the Final Crisis event, and I can see that now. And it is a very good prelude, because I definitely wanted to read Final Crisis to find out what happens next.  Both the writing and the artwork were top-notch.

5 stars

Wyrd Sisters

Wyrd Sisters

Wyrd Sisters cover

I finished reading Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. Its the sixth novel in the Discworld series and it was released in 1988.

“King Verence I of Lancre is murdered by his cousin, Duke Felmet, after his ambitious wife persuades him to do so. The King’s crown and child are given by an escaping servant to the three witches. The witches hand the child to a troupe of travelling actors, and hide the crown in the props-box. Eventually, the three witches on a lonely heath decide to right the wrongs of the bloodied Lancre kingdom.”

In this novel, we spend a great deal of time with Granny Esmerelda Weatherwax – one of my absolute favorite characters in all of fantasy. I love Granny’s down-to-earth zany stubbornness.  With reluctance, Granny has joined a coven with Nanny Ogg and Margrat Garlick.  The king of Lancre has just been killed by his cousin Duke Felmet.  Of course, Death makes an appearance and Verence is not one to simply accept his new status as ghost.  In fact, Verence is hopping mad at Felmet. Verence’s son is deposited into the care of the coven.  They do the only sensible thing:  they give the child to a traveling troupe of bards and actors.

Wyrd Sisters is has several major themes running through the storyline.  The first is about witches:  what is it that witches do and how do they do it?  The individuals of the coven each seem to have entirely different views on this matter, and their conflicting opinions is the source of much fun for the reader.  Of course, I side with Granny Weatherwax because (not only do I adore her name) but I think she is positively riotous.

Another theme Pratchett satirizes is Shakespearean theatre. It will probably be lost on those readers who are not entirely up on their Shakespeare, but if you took a class in college – you’re more than prepared.  The Tempest, Macbeth, and Hamlet.  But there’s snippets of more modern elements like Laurel & Hardy.   Also, the traveling troupe ends up in Ankh-Morpork (who doesn’t?) and they decide to cease traveling and take up residence there. They begin to build a theatre (a la Shakespeare’s Globe) named The Dysc.  The writer for the troupe is a dwarf named Hwal and there are some really hysterical lines parodying As You Like It’s   “All the world’s a stage…..”

Hwal isn’t the only character utilizing Shakespeare; The Fool of the Lancre castle also runs through a number of Shakespearean lines (e.g. Sonnet #18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”)

I love that there is so much in the Discworld novels. So much…. stuff. Satires, parodies, Easter eggs, etc. Its all so much fun and wit. I love this about the Discworld series and I seriously distrust those people who do not like the Discworld novels.   If you cannot appreciate the wit in these novels then clearly you are not to be trusted, I am pretty sure Granny Weatherwax would agree with me on this.

Unfortunately, there is one section of this novel which really did not work so well.  Granny comes up with a plan for the witches to enact that will somehow age the deceased king’s son so that he may return from Ankh-Morpork to Lancre and take the throne from the murderous Duke.  Maybe I was tired when I read this part, but I frankly have no idea what Granny did. Something about flying around the Disc and 15 years.   Granted, there are some funny moments, but I don’t really get how this worked. Needless to say, soon after they complete this plan, the child (now young man) is en route to Lancre with Hwal and some of the actors.

I love Granny so I want to give this book 4 stars simply because she’s a main character. However, I am not all that excited about regicide and theatre troupes, plus the section with the 15 years plan was sketchy. However, the three stars I am giving this book should be seen as three gold stars and not just any old stars.

3 stars

Daredevil #510 – 512 and Shadowland #3-5

I finished reading all of the Shadowland issues that I own. Shadowland was a 2010 “mini-event” that centered on Daredevil and his involvement with The Hand. It (core issues) was written by Andy Diggle and drawn by Billy Tan.

I read:

  • Daredevil #505 – 512
  • Shadowland #1 – 5
  • Shadowland: Elektra (one-shot)

I think to understand and enjoy the full story, one also needs Shadowland: Spider-Man, Shadowland: Ghost Rider, and Shadowland: Moon Knight.  The first two are one-shots, the other is a 3-issue miniseries. There are a few other tie-ins, but I wasn’t interested in them – and I don’t feel that I missed anything necessary. One should get the Moon Knight tie-ins, but I don’t really care for Moon Knight, so I am okay with being left slightly clueless regarding Moon Knight in this event. It seems that the majority of readers did not like Shadowland; generally I see people giving it 2.5 stars out of 5. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the storyarc and have already thanked Andy Diggle (on Twitter) for not wasting my money.

Timothy Callahan on CBR wrote a review of Shadowland #1.  He gives it a 3/5 star rating not really explaining what he disliked – except for mentioning some frame with Iron Man in it. On Spider-Man Crawlspace, Nathaniel Collins gives the entire event 2.5 / 5 stars.  Collins wrote: “One of the big problems I had with this event was that weren’t we suppose to be taking a break from them for at least the year?”  One comment that I hope is an obvious point:  being burned out by events in comics is not relevant to the storyline of Shadowland. Collins does go on to complain about the treatment of Wolverine and Ghost Rider in the event. I suppose those are valid points, but again, the storyarc really wasn’t about Wolverine and Ghost Rider as much as the psychology and actions of Matt Murdock. I found numerous other reviews that also seemed to dislike Shadowland, but not for any real fault of Shadowland – or at least not to the extent that it should be given a 40% out of 100% grade.

Daredevil 508

Daredevil #508 cover

Callahan made a good observation when he wrote:  ” the best way to write about Matt Murdock is by having him appear sparingly.”  In Daredevil issues #505 – 509, Daredevil is quite present and in the majority of frames. In Shadowland, there is less of Murdock to be seen – except when he’s surprising us by jumping out of a dark corner or when he’s lounging in his darkened throne room.  However, this fits nicely with a storyline entitled “Shadowland.”  If people wanted to see Daredevil in bright sunlight in every frame, why are they reading something called Shadowland?

Several reviewers bemoaned the fact that in recent years, Daredevil / Matt Murdock has been mopey and miserable. While this may be true, its certainly not any fault of Diggle’s, nor should we demote Shadowland because of what happened in previous storyarcs. If this is so disagreeable, I’m glad I started with issue #505, because I am unaware of previous Miserable-Murdock. Finally, several people had the audacity to dislike Daredevil’s black costume. While I am mockingly amused by Daredevil’s quick change (is there some superhero costume shop everyone goes to in a pinch or when they change their modus operandi?), I think the black costume is the best Daredevil suit ever. (Wanna talk about the YELLOW suit?!) But enough about the naysayers!

The plot:  Shadowland is the story about the deeply rooted bitterness, self-doubt, and interior struggles of a blind lawyer/superhero.  The protagonist is also a martial arts expert who happens to have good intentions when he takes over a notoriously corrupt organization of ninjas.  With the hope of turning the organization into a force of good, the protagonist is ridiculed and attacked by those who seek other goals.  Influenced by the secret Snakeroot group, the protagonist loses the struggle with managing superhero morality and his role in a powerful organization. Snakeroot, capitalizing on the weakened psyche of the protagonist, forces him to become a conduit for an evil magical being. Supporting characters do not understand the inner turmoil of the protagonist, nor are they aware of the efforts of Snakeroot. These characters are left to make sense of their friend’s actions while maintaining their own moral code.  Now, if you say you do not like this plot, you’re probably lying – since this plot has been used countless times in all sorts of media to great success.

Shadowland Elektra

Shadowland: Elektra cover

This is the perfect plot for the Daredevil character, I believe.  Murdock being a loner from Hell’s Kitchen can carry a plot that that involves secretive scheming and nighttime ninja fighting. In some sense, its almost Gothic without any of the modernized Gothic emotive babbling. In fact, throughout Shadowland, we are fortunate that we aren’t privy to constant drivel in the form of inner dialogue while Murdock grapples with his inner demons.  Instead, for the most part, we only see the exterior results of Murdock’s “transformation.”

If there is a true deuteragonist, its probably Master Izo. He was in New York when the ninja lords of The Hand were conspiring to make Daredevil their new leader. Izo helped Daredevil and together the two overcame the Kingpin and Lady Bullseye, eventually banishing them from Hell’s Kitchen.  Izo later faked his own murder at the hands of Daredevil in order to deceive the Hand so that they accept Daredevil as their new leader. In other words, Izo’s been the hand moving the chess pieces well before these issues of Shadowland. In this event, Izo is the one aiding the heroes by getting them to understand that the Beast has “wormed its way inside” Murdock and they must act quickly – and kill, if necessary.  Izo urges Elektra to get involved and he tells Luke Cage and Iron Fist the real situation. Also, he’s the reader’s help because he acts as a pseudo-narrator for those of us who haven’t been keeping up with Daredevil.

Other great elements include Iron Fist’s use of Chi. Finally, someone utilizing Iron Fist and his power in a way that doesn’t emphasize destruction.  Shang-Chi has good moments and bad. In his bad moments, he’s somewhat annoying. In his good moments, he really completes the “martial arts” trinity that could be Daredevil, Iron Fist, and himself. In the pages of Daredevil, the reactions to the situation are demonstrated by “Foggy” Nelson, Dakota North, Becky Blake, and Detective Alex Kurtz. These pages give the reader a good sense of what is happening in NYC at the street level for the regular citizen. It looks gritty, scary, and ominous.  If you are interested in these characters, it seems they are handled fairly well.

Overall, Shadowland is well worth purchasing and reading. I don’t think one needs every tie-in (as I listed above, I did the bare minimum) to get an enjoyable read. I liked this mini-event and am a bit sad it’s over.

5 stars

Avengers (2010) # 7 – 9

In 2010, Marvel started a new several new Avengers titles, including The Avengers and New Avengers. This is some of the aftermath of Marvel’s several years of universe-wide events like World War Hulk, Civil War, Dark Reign, etc. I was rather excited about a new Avengers title for a number of reasons. First, the Avengers are Marvel’s “team.”  The Avengers represent the main core team of superheroes in the Marvel Universe and regardless of anything else that is going on, the Avengers have the history, the clout, and the job of being the driving force in the Marvel universe.  Second, I felt that Dark Reign and Siege struggled as major events and its a good feeling to come out on the other side with a new title starting from issue #1.  Marvel was touting it as “The Heroic Age,” but whatever one calls it – it feels like a step forward with some good direction.

The Avengers title is written by Brian Michael Bendis, who has been one of Marvel’s main architects for the last several years.  He is joined on the title by John Romita, jr. who is the son of famous John Romita, the comic book artist of Captain America and Spider-Man fame.  JRJR (as John Romita, jr. is often designated) is an artist who has worked on a variety of titles to include Iron Man, Thor, Amazing Spider-Man, and Daredevil.

After issue #3, I was ready to drop The Avengers from my pull list. At $3.99 per issue, it was making my forehead hurt way too much. I have no idea what the heck issues #1 – 6 are about. I think there is some time travel / alternate reality stuff going on. Kang the Conquerer is involved – and you know what that’s like! Sheesh! Anyway, I really hated the cover for #1, I really did not like the storyarc for #1 – 6.  But I kept it on my pull list. Like I said above:  this is The Avengers. In other words, you don’t just drop Avengers because of a bad arc or because you didn’t like the cover. If you want to be “in the know” in the Marvel Universe, you’re pulling at least one Avengers title.  In my world, the first six issues don’t really exist – or, they do, but only in the alternate future of Kang the Conquerer.  So, let us never speak of them again.

Avengers 7

Avengers #7 cover

The Avengers title starts off with issue #7.  The whole story starts with some criminal activity like murder and theft in some dark snowy place.  Who’s doing all this?  Looks like the ex-The Hood. You may remember him from Dark Reign or by his name, Parker Robbins. (I really don’t like this character’s names. He wore a red hood – which makes me always want to call him Red Hood Cp. DC’s Jason Todd. Also, Parker Robbins is like some amalgam of Peter Parker + Red Robin in my head. I wish The Hood was just called Bad Guy and his real name was Bob Smith.)  Most of the first issue is follows Robbins as he gathers two of the Infinity Gems. This is great, because I liked some of the cosmic Marvel stuff dealing with the Infinity Gems, particularly in the Infinity War, Crusade, Gauntlet.

So this loser criminal gets a hold of two Infinity Gems – the yellow and the red. One of the first things he happens to do with these gems is beat the hell out of Red Hulk. (Or Rulk if you prefer)  Anyway, in this issue there is a very charming centerfold piece of artwork showing Robbins in his hoodie, sneakers, and shorts socking Red Hulk directly in the eye. I like the way Red Hulk is drawn in this “frame” and it definitely gives a title like The Avengers a superhero feel to it. (What would an Avengers book be without someone punching a Hulk?) Don’t ask me who Red Hulk is – its a long story and I’m not certain I’m the one to tell it.

The last pages of the issue take place at the Avengers Tower in NYC. The Avengers team is having a get-together, including Spider-Woman, Noh-Varr, Thor, and many others. Red Hulk crashes the party – literally. He smashes in the window and lands on the floor in a mess. I like here how Thor takes such a leadership role by being one of the first heroes to react to the situation.

Avengers 8

Avengers #8 cover

Issue #8 has the tag “Return of the Illuminati” written on the cover, which is very cool because the sneaky and conflict-driven “Illuminati” has been one of the cooler, more interesting threads in the last several years of Marvel history.

Upon seeing the cover, I had no idea who the chick front and center is.  (But, boy doesn’t she have a lot of hair?!)  This issue begins with the members of the Illuminati gathering at the request of Iron Man. Most of the members are vexed because the group did not part happily previously.  We also learn that this is Medusa, wife of the deceased Black Bolt (former Illuminati member). This is good stuff and the dynamic between each of the characters is done well.  By way of explaining things to the members of the Illuminati, Iron Man tells us the story that Red Hulk brought to Avengers Tower regarding Robbins.

The problem is with JRJR’s drawing of Steve Rogers. Really. In one frame, I spent a few solid minutes trying to determine if I was looking at Steve Rogers or Noh-Varr.  I still have my doubts. Red Hulk is drawn very well. Professor X (one of the assembled Illuminati) looks a lot like DC’s Martain Manhunter – just without the green skin. I know Xavier uses his brain but I don’t think that means his forehead and brow need to look cro magnon.

Avengers 9

Avengers #9 cover

Issue #9 moves the storyline along by taking us back to Robbins in prison. We get some glimpses of how Robbins escaped, how he might be able to be collecting the Infinity Gems, and who might be working with him. In the present, we witness a confrontation between most of the major superheroes and the Illuminati.  Steve Rogers is really annoyed with Tony Stark. I have some problem with this because Steve takes the matter up with Tony, but honestly, the other Illuminati are as much to blame for the secrecy. After all, it’s not like Doctor Strange is just some tool that Tony uses.

The storyline is excellent. I am loving the Infinity Gems and Red Hulk and the Illuminati. However, again, I am really annoyed by the depiction of Steve Rogers. There are some frames where he looks out and out rotten. This simply does not look at all like any incarnation or rendering of Rogers. At all. Frankly, when I look at some frames, I see the main character from the anime Bleach, Ichigo Kurosaki.  The extreme youthfulness and the hair and even posture of Steve Rogers is not reasonable. And I really need JRJR to do better with this character. Medusa could be interesting, we’ll have to see. The writing for Thor is subtly good – once again he comes across as a wise leader. And Thor looks like Thor.

Ichigo

Ichigo

I give all of these issues 4 stars. The storyline is interesting and fun. Most of the artwork is great. I cannot, however, accept Ichigo as an Avenger.

Scalped: vol 1- 3

I’ve said it before, Jason Aaron is the best writer that Marvel has, and he is definitely in the top ten writers currently in the industry. I loved his Ghost Rider stuff (excepting issue #25).   Then I loved his Wolverine: Manifest Destiny miniseries (4 issues).   The Wolverine: Manifest Destiny miniseries was pretty damn close to perfection, in my world. Best 4-issue miniseries ever. Aaron has another series being published by Vertigo Comics. According to Wikipedia:  “Vertigo books are marketed to a late-teen and adult audience, and may contain graphic violence, substance abuse, frank (but not explicit) depictions of sexuality, profanity, and controversial subjects. Although many of its releases are in the horror and fantasy genres, it also publishes works dealing with crime, social satire, speculative fiction, and biography. Each issue’s cover carries the advisory label “Suggested for mature readers”.  I usually avoid Vertigo for these reasons – not that I am at all opposed to gore and mayhem, its just, well…. my life has/had enough of that in it and I don’t always like a lot of “rough” in my entertainment.  On the other hand, when I am certain of a high-level of quality and am expecting the gore and mayhem – I can adjust to accept a limited amount of it in my world.  I’ve followed the reviews for Aaron’s Scalped series for several years now, and the reviews have been very impressive.  Average customers as well as comic book industry leaders (let’s call them) all have given a heckuva lot of praise to Scalped.  The fifth tradeback for Scalped was released on October 27th, 2009, the seventh tradeback in March of 2011.

Anyway, Aaron is also writing the Punisher Max title for Max Comics. Max Comics is an imprint of Marvel Comics (like Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics) and, like Vertigo, Max publishes the more adult comics. You know, the violent, bloody, cussin’ sort… as opposed to the goofy adventures of Franklin Richards or something. (Please note!!!! N.B.!!!!  I also love all of the Marvel Adventures comics.) ANYWAY, Aaron is the writer for the re-launch of the Punisher Max title that Tim Bradstreet and Garth Ennis made so popular throughout the 2000’s.   Well, I’ve already said that I keep the “adult” in my entertainment to a bare minimum. But I’ve also said, I can accept it when its expected and purposive. For example, Frank Castle the Punisher is a bad dude. He’s gritty, grimy, merciless, gun-toting, mob-slaying, avenging, human-bad-ass. In other words, it makes sense for the Punisher to be an adult title. In fact, one can justifiably ask:  “should there be Punisher titles that aren’t “mature audiences” rated?”

Why do I like Aaron’s writing? Well, I don’t think he’s a match for every title/character. He probably shouldn’t write Spider-Man, but he is definitely the correct match for things like Punisher, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine. Why? Because those characters are not capes in the ilk of Superman or Thor.  Aaron lives in Kansas City, but he’s really from Alabama.  He writes with an Alabama style. This has no meaning to you unless you have lived in the South.  Nevertheless, his style is distinctive. Aaron listens to things like classic rock, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, etc.  and it shows through in his writing. When he writes, his stories have this unique flavor to them. Reviewers call it a “hillbilly” flavor.  I don’t think that’s accurate, because this is not redneck / hick stuff.  Aaron’s writing is deeply relevant, smoothly expanded, and carefully studied. But whatever you want to call it, it is very unique in the comic industry and it fits perfectly (and charmingly) with the particular characters that he writes. I like that his stories are so unique and so far, I have ranked everything that I have read by him quite high.

Scalped Vol. 1

Scalped Vol. 1 cover

When I read (January 2010) the first volume of Scalped, I really had no idea what to expect. This was good because I feel that I approached it with no expectations – good or bad – and just let the writing and art do their job.  I was slightly taken aback by just how “mature audiences” it was.  Immediately, I realized that while I was familiar with Aaron’s writing, the artist was someone I was not sure about. Straight away, though, this artist’s work blew me away. Really. Its excellent.  The main character, Dash Bad Horse was written well enough for me to have an emotional investment in his story – and the art deserves a fair share of that. The storyline was decent. I wasn’t immediately on the edge of my seat or anything. Generally, I wouldn’t select a noir-esque crime story set on an Indian reservation as a red hot priority read.

The artist is R. M. Guera, but the colorist is Lee Loughridge. While I love the pencils for this series, I have to tell you, I think this colorist is stealing the show. Rarely do colorists get much praise, I think, but its done so well in this series, that I cannot help but attribute some of the success to Loughridge.  This volume “Indian Country” collects issues #1 – 5 from 2007.

Scalped Vol. 2

Scalped Vol. 2 cover

I finally got the second volume of Scalped (“Casino Boogie”)  in May 2011.  I read it immediately. It was very good, but somehow just not as good as the first volume. These collected issues focused a bit on a few other characters and the events of the Casino that is built on the reservation. I don’t think there was anything wrong with these issues, it just did not resonate with me as much as the first volume did. I still enjoyed it quite a bit and it was still the original and unique storyline that the first volume introduced me too. Of course, the art was still fantastic and meshed perfectly with Aaron’s writing.

I talk about the art being good, but its hard to explain why its so good. First of all, and most importantly, the art does not clash with the story – in fact, in places it tells the story.  Artwork that is incongruous with the writing will kill a graphic novel / comic.  Second, the coloring is perfect. The usage of shadow, darkness, and this particular color palate is exactly what one would expect to color a run-down reservation in the plains. The usage of browns, oranges, and reds draws the reader in so that you can “see” the events. Third, facial expressions, body posture, etc. – the characters are drawn exceptionally well. In all three volumes, its sometimes striking how accurate, telling, and perfect Guera illustrates the people in the story.

This volume collects issues #6 – 11, which brings us to the 2008 issues.

Scalped vol. 3

Scalped vol. 3

In July 2011, I got the third volume of Scalped (“Dead Mothers”).  If the first volume is in media res and introduces us to the gritty crime world we can expect, and volume 2 tells us some background and gives us some perspective, then the third volume is all about the psychological and emotive reality of the characters. Its full of irony and attitude. In this volume, all the connections surrounding Dash Bad Horse and Chief Lincoln Red Crow come to a head and the reader is swept along in Aaron’s cool storytelling.

The artwork in this volume is even better than in the first two. Clearly, Guera and Giulia Brusco (colorist) are a perfect match for Scalped. I cannot think of another series in which the art is as striking as in these issues. This volume collects issues #12 – 18.  This volume is the clincher – here you know you are going to read the rest of the series no matter what.

5 stars

Daredevil and Shadowland #1

I have never been a huge Daredevil fan. There are two reasons for this:  1.  (at the risk of seeming absurd) Daredevil seemed impossible to believe. Yes, I am aware that all kinds of things go on in comics that are impossible, bizarre, and unreal. However, I think somehow my willing suspension of disbelief stops at a guy who is a mix of Batman and Spider-Man and is blind. I just cannot make that leap.  2.  Daredevil always seemed like a “nice” guy.  I mean, he seemed obnoxiously goody-two-shoes.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating villainy, but something about Matt Murdock’s morality irritates me.  Nevertheless, I was vaguely interested in the renumbering of the Daredevil series at issue #500 and I was actually excited for writer Andy Diggle to take over the title. Unfortunately, I was never able to get my hands on (and maybe because it was never top priority) issues #500 – #504.   I probably should attempt to scoop them up.

Last night and today I’ve begun reading these Daredevil issues. Obviously, much of this is the lead up to the Marvel “mini-event” Shadowland.

Shadowland card

Shadowland teaser card

I didn’t really know what Shadowland was going to be about. However the art was definitely awesome looking. And it was called “Shadowland.”  If that’s not an interesting title, I dunno what is. So what if it focused on Daredevil? This had to be something worth reading.

So, I made the effort to get some of the Shadowland issues and some of the issues of Daredevil prior to Shadowland. I managed to get issues #505 onward, but I didn’t begin reading them. As is usually the case, I was unsure of the reading order for the event anyway, because like all events, Shadowland seemed to run through a core miniseries, Daredevil, and a couple of one-shots and miniseries. As I collected the issues, I had to continually admit that the covers were really awesome. In particular, Daredevil #505 and #506 were really great. Eventually I went and looked at the variant and second printing of some of these issues and I was even further impressed. (#501, #508, #510 second printing covers are even better than the first printings!)

I read issues #505 – #508 and Shadowland #1.   I am thoroughly impressed and I love what I have read of this arc, so far. I mean it. Its great. By far, this is some of the best artwork interior-wise that I’ve seen in a long while. I do not mean that there are just a few good frames. I mean that there are whole issues where the art melds perfectly with the story and is beautiful, intense, and colorful. (Here’s me, putting this stuff in the Louvre and The Met….)

As I mentioned, I jumped in to these issues at #505. What’s going on? I don’t really know. Matt Murdock and White Tiger are flying to Japan to meet with Daimyo and The Hand.  What/Who is The Hand?  Well, if you read any Marvel Comics, you know The Hand is an organization of ninja. So, of course, I’m sold. Ninja.  There isn’t a whole lot in the world that’s better than ninja. Its like even the worst story can be okay if it includes ninja.  Daredevil has become leader of The Hand. He’s going to meet with the daimyo to attempt to unify them in order to turn The Hand from a criminal organization into one of protection and justice.

While in Japan, there is intrigue among the daimyo which results in ninjas fighting. I’ll say it again: ninjas fighting. And the artwork is tremendous. Seriously. I would make posters out of all of these frames. Marco Checcetto and Matt Hollingsworth were the pencilers and colorists, respectively, for these issues. They did a ridiculously good job. Ninjas fighting – great artwork – awesomeness!

After I finished issues #505 – #507, I read Shadowland #1, which starts the event. Andy Diggle is writing the event and Billy Tan is the main artist. This is new territory for me, because although I’ve heard about these guys, I had never read any of their work. I approached the first issue expecting it to be a sort of “build up” issue in which not much happens and we are supposed to learn backstory.  Instead, Shadowland #1 continues straight where Daredevil #507 left off.

Shadowland #1

Shadowland #1 cover

Matt Murdock has returned to NYC.  Bullseye is being transported on a prison transport ship (amusingly with the call sign whiskey tango foxtroti.e. WTF) – and he escapes. We learn that Daredevil, who has copped a very cold, dark attitude, has fought with Bullseye previously – wherein Bullseye leveled a city block and killed over 100 people in doing so. On this city block, Daredevil has built “Shadowland.”  Its a Japanese-style building serving as headquarters for The Hand under Daredevil’s control. The purpose is to protect and defend Hell’s Kitchen from criminals.  The Avengers (i.e. Thor, Iron Man, Iron Fist, Captain America, Luke Cage) are discussing these new changes. Luke Cage is very vocal about disliking Matt setting himself as judge, jury, and executioner of NYC.  Iron Man and Captain America understand the need for Shadowland, but insist that it must be a temporary situation.  They encourage Iron Fist and Luke Cage to chat with Matt to find out Matt’s intentions and to discuss his recent attitude changes.

Bullseye confronts Daredevil on the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen. He fights off a pack of Hand ninjas. (Read: cool ninjas fighting) Finally, Daredevil steps in and mercilessly beats the crap out of Bullseye (breaks and dislocates his shoulders and arms) – ending the fight with stabbing Bullseye through the torso.  Luke Cage and Iron Fist, who were on their way to see Matt, witness this and are shocked.

What’s great about this issue? Everything. Daredevil’s black costume is very, very cool. Luke Cage and Iron Fist as minor characters are interesting and well played. Bullseye getting killed? Also surprising in the first issue of this event. The artwork is tremendous and I have to say that I am hooked.

I can easily give all of these issues (Daredevil #505 – #508 and Shadowland #1) 5 stars.  The writing is just to my tastes and the artwork is perfect. Again, let me reiterate: NINJAS.

5 stars

The Guild: Season 3

The Guild Season 3

The Guild Season 3 DVD

I finished watching The Guild season 3.  There’s good and bad to be said about it. I’m giving this season the same number of stars for a rating – but for different reasons.

I love the spoofy / geeky content. Its fantastic. Also, I think the actors are having fun as well as doing  a good job. I feel like they are having a good time making this series. This counts for a lot because I have, on occasion, watched shows and felt that one or two actors really were strained in their role or on the series. I feel like they were not having fun and not enjoying their work. Everything is better if you like what you are doing. It comes across to the audience.

The video-ing and the sound is much better for this season. Not that it was necessarily bad in the previous two seasons, but this season is a big improvement. And one can feel that the budget increased, too. Not to say that it takes a huge budget to make anything worthy, but its tough to do without a decent budget. I am glad that this show is able to do all that it does. And the improvements made for the scenes, sounds, and video are noticeable and welcome.

The storyline is pretty good – at base. However, the stuff with Zaboo and Riley is a bit too much, I think. Also, this episode involved a lot more F-bombing and trash talking. Its okay at this level, I suppose, but it lost some of the innocent-geek of the first two seasons. Basically, this should be the limit. If it goes beyond this level, it will no longer be as comfortable and pleasant to watch.

The addition of Will Wheaton to the cast (as a villain) was an okay move. I think his comfort in front of the camera and delivering lines showed through. I think he blends easily with the cast so he doesn’t seem odd. I am not a Will Wheaton adoring fanboy, though I know there are some out there. He does a good job here, but I don’t want to say that because he’s there the show is any better.  In other words, the other actors were doing a fine job without him and don’t need him. He’s just a small plus to an already competent cast.

Speaking of the characters, I think each actor was quite a bit more adept in their roles this time. The character Clara was fantastic. Riley, although scary, was played very well. Overall this was another success for The Guild and I am, of course, looking forward to watching the next season(s).

3 stars

JLA: Classified #1

Right now, in August 2011, DC Comics is about to restart their comics….again… but this time, there are going to be all new 52 issues that start at number 1. Anyone who is a fan of DC Comics is probably used to so many crises and reboots, that they think their name is Heraclitus because everything is definitely in flux. And that is the one constant.  DC Comics were my first comics – back when I was a wee small child, I read DC. For several years, I was aware of comics only peripherally.  Well, since 2006, I am really back into reading comics and I am grateful to be reading along. One of my amusements has been to start trekking through the mess of DC universe crises / reboots. I read Zero Hour and OMAC and Infinite Crisis and am currently reading issue #27 of 52.  One series that I have amassed a respectable number of is the 2005 series JLA: Classified.  This series was intended to contain random stories, would-be one-shots, and other stuff that didn’t fit in with the Justice League main title. JLA: Classified was to have a revolving creator group. Recently, I read issue #1.

JLA Classified 1

JLA: Classified #1

The first issue of this series is written by Grant Morrison.  A few days ago I had read and written some thoughts on Morrison’s work on Batman #663.  I read the issue twice through before I felt that I had sorted out who was doing what why and when.  The story starts out in media res, and honestly, I had no idea who the characters were. Obviously, this could be entirely due to my hiatus from comics, but I do think the artist (Ed McGuinness) is a bit to blame here.  Frankly, there are not a whole lot of readers that are familiar with characters like the UltraMarine Corps.  I figured this much out:  Gorilla Grodd is doing something bad, the members of the JLA are AWOL, and there’s some sort of powerful universe-in-a-cube.

Squire was monitoring the good guys (whomever they may be) from somewhere else. Batman receives a call on the “hot line” from Squire who seems to hastily explain the situation. Batman dips into his special equipment  to get a flying saucer (no kidding) and zooms to save Squire. Squire and Batman then use Boom Tube Technology to zip through spacetime to a secret JLA lab near the once-planet Pluto.

Batman informs Squire that the members of the JLA are “lost” in the universe-in-a-cube, which we are told is called “The Infant Universe of Qwewq.”  Squire is tasked with trying to communicate with the JLA in the universe-in-a-cube while Batman works on making sure no one notices that the JLA members are missing.

Parts of this issue are really interesting. Parts are very poorly done. I can’t tell what’s happening. I don’t know who is who. I don’t understand what’s going on. At other times Batman is drawn very well and Squire is a fun character. I am starting to think that this is really what Grant Morrison stuff is like. Its not really good, but one tends to suspect it might be good just because one is so unused to his style, tone, and elements he uses to tell the story.

Here’s one problem:  its 1:25am and Batman is plopped in the Batcave. (Wouldn’t he be well aware that Grodd is destroying stuff in Africa?)  Alfred brings Batman a tray with the “hot line” phone on it. Batman seems way more concerned with how the speaker got the number and what it means for them to have the number than dealing with the actual reason for the call. In other words, Squire is having an emergency and Grodd is destroying a city and the JLA are AWOL and Batman is concerned that Squire dredged up his secret “hot line” number.

Batman #667

Batman #667 cover

Starting in Batman #667 (2007) , Morrison wrote an arc that involved the International Club of Heroes. This refers to the “Batmen of All Nations” characters that first appeared in Detective Comics #215 in 1955.  Knight and Squire (as seen in the JLA: Classified issue) have been associated with and have a history with this Club of Heroes. Finally, in 2011, Morrison created and became writer for the series Batman Incorporated. Batman Incorporated is considered, by Grant Morrison, to be a second re-installment of the team known as the Batmen of All Nations.  In theory the team was formed by Bruce Wayne and brought together by Batman to stop all crime in the nations from which members were chosen.

Apparently, Morrison has been playing with this same concept since, at least, 2005 in this first issue of JLA: Classified. Morrison seems to really want to use the characters of the Club of Heroes.  Morrison is not an American, so maybe some of this is just a deep hearted desire to have International Batman.  I know Morrison wrote the Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul:  the story arc which develops Damian, Batman’s son. However, it seems like Morrison (from what I have seen so far) is but a one-trick pony.

There is a funny in the issue, though. After arriving at Pluto, Squire asks Batman:  “Are you really Batman?”  He responds:  “No, I’m Goldfish Man. Can’t you tell?”   I guess its amusing to see the normally stoic and somber Bats showing a little sarcasm.  Even if it is in space.

2 stars

In Plain Sight: Season 1

In Plain Sight

In Plain Sight

I finished watching the first season of In Plain Sight; it originally aired in 2008.  I picked up the season for $5. It stars Mary McCormack as the main character with Fred Weller as her co-star. McCormack has played in a number of TV shows, particularly Murder One and The West Wing. I haven’t watched any of the other shows she’s been in.

McCormack plays a U.S. Marshall, Mary Shannon, stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As such, she participates in the Witness Protection Program (WitSec). The number of characters is relatively small (compared to most shows I’ve watched recently). Shannon’s partner in the Marshals is Marshall Mann, a fifth-generation U.S. Marshall. These two work under the supervision of their boss, Stan McQueen. Overall, the characters are not that appealing. Viewers are constantly being told that Shannon is a hard-core, rogue-ish Marshal. However, I find her to usually be just cranky and weak.

The actor who plays Marshall Mann is rather annoying. He’s really thin and tall and he speaks without moving his mouth much – talking through his teeth. Also, his voice is very nasal. (I don’t know how realistic any of this is for New Mexico). His character is a bit of a dork, though we are to believe he is stoic and patient.  Their boss is a short, balding fellow who generally lets the two marshals run rampant and do whatever they want. There sometimes appear to be more marshals in the city, but they are never in the office with the WitSec team. Overall, none of the characters seem like they are tough enough to be US Marshals, but maybe this is because I have some sort of Chuck Norris Texas Ranger thing in mind when I see this show.

I also have no interest in New Mexico. I pretty much hate the setting. I am not a fan of anything past the Mississippi River, for that matter. This show is somewhat similar to Saving Grace in that it involves a female lead character in a type of law enforcement. However, this show is nowhere near as gritty and transcendent as that one. (Saving Grace takes place in Oklahoma).

Most of this season was actually somewhat flat and boring. However, things get a lot better with the last disc. Finally, we have some storyline movement, action, and real drama. The characters do not necessarily become more interesting or likeable, but the storyline gets more interesting. For example, McQueen seems to become more dynamic in dealing with some of the WitSec situations and team.  I suspect this show gets better in season two, but I am not going to pay full price for it.

2 stars