Saturday, November 28, 2009

Big Week Reviews

Lots of stuff to review! This week was a big week in books, so rather than do something stupid, like compare a comic book to a play, we're going to head right into the reviews.

I also apologize as this formatting isn't as good as Jason's - I think there might be some kind of weird techno-demon fooling with the formatting. . .

Gotham City Sirens #6
Story by Paul Dini
Art by Guillem March

Set your way back machine for November 1966 and pick up issue #186 of Batman. If you happen to read this wholly forgettable issue of Batman, you'll be introduced to one of the lamest and dumbest villain sidekicks the world has ever seen. This was the issue that introduced the world to the Joker's sidekick Gagsworth A. Gagsworthy, a midget sidekick.

In the issue, Batman and Robin defeat the duo and send them to jail, the end. Gagsworthy was left to toil in obscurity as a one off villain. But thanks to Paul Dini, the world can once again "enjoy" Gagsworthy. (Please note that I put enjoy in air-quotes.)

Issue 6 of Gotham City Sirens picks up as Gagsworthy is about to kill Harley Quinn. Turns out Mr Gagsworthy has had an axe to grind for quite some time. In what could only be described as a bizzare love-triangle, Gagsworthy wants to kill Harley because she had become the favored side kick of Mr. J.

Told partially through flashbacks, we get to see (through Gagsworthy's eyes) the beginning of the modern, more psychotic Joker. After the Joker snapped in prison and killed 6 guys with a plastic lunch tray, he was transferred to Arkham. The Joker never came back to spring him out of jail. Gagsworth served his time and went back to one of Joker's lairs to try and contact his boss once again. It was there that he heard the Joker tell his new squeeze "Harley" about how lame Gagsworth was. This was the impetus for his revenge.

The girls are able to defeat Gagsworth's death traps with a little help from their over-charging, part time villain, contractor and send Gagsworth on a rocket out into Gotham Bay. And just when you think Harley's learned her lesson and stopped pining for Mr. J, she ends up not learning a thing and hopes that when she seems him again it's be for the better.

Justice Society America
Story by Bill Willingham & Matthew Stuges
Art by Jesus Merino

This very well may be the beginning of the end of the JSA. Not only are there division on the team, there seems to be a division between the writers of this book and their readers. Under Geoff Johns spectacular run, JSA was one of the most consistent books out there. The characters were relatable (as well as likaable), the stories were well paced and there seemed to be a general attempt to make the JSA the group you WANTED to be on.

It was once written that the JLA taught you how to fight, but the JSA taught you how to be a hero. This idea seems to have gone out the door with Geoff Johns. We now see why DC wanted to have lots and lots of heroes added to the JSA roll call - they wanted to make a spin off series! (Hey DC, not anyone I know is enjoying JLA:Cry for Justice - so you might want to hold off on the spin offs for a while - and yes this means the JSA All Stars.)

Without going into too much detail, we finally found out the All American Kid was the traitor in the group, responsible for killing Mr. Terrific. However, thanks to the actions of Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Doctor Midnight, they were able to revive him. (Hint: Anybody who describes himself as All American should be immediately considered evil. The only exception: Stephen Colbert.)

The whole thrust of this issue to drive the team into two groups. The JSA All Stars are going to consist of Hourman, Stargirl, Power Girl, Magog, the younger Wildcat, Damage, Citizen Steel, Judomaster, Cyclone and King Chimera. The other members of the team will remain as the Justice Society of America. For my money, I'm going to side with Green Lantern, The Flash, Wildcat, Mr. Terrific, Doctor Midnight, Mr. America, Doctor Fate and sigh, Lightning.

Oh well, we can't always get what we want.

Green Lantern #48
Story by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke

This issue of Green Lantern is set up to perfectly dovetail with Blackest Night #5.

In this issue, we finally see the pieces moving into final alignment for the war of light. However, through "conversations" (read arguments and fights) we find out that all of the lanterns have no real reason to trust one another. In fact, Sinestro has a new axe to grind with Hal Jordan as he blames him for the black rings flooding the universe. However, it's revealed that Atrocitus claims responsibility for setting these events in motion.

Chaos and fighting ensue until Black Lantern's ominous voice claims "Power Levels at 100%" Almost immediately they teleport to Sector 666 - the center of the black hole of emotion. It was also here where Atrocitus lived until the Manhunters came and killed everyone on his planet (becoming the source of his rage). It supposed to be the location of the black lantern, but it's been moved. Which leads directly into Blackest Night #5 (despite what they tell you on page one of the book - not Blackest Night #6)

Blackest Night #5
Story by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis

You can read Jason's review of Blackest Night below and I agree with many of the points that he highlighted in his review. However, at this time, I would like to address a handful of issues that arise out of this whole event.

One: Is anyone at DC keeping track of continuity? In Batman and Robin, Dick has the body of Batman in a crypt. Final Crisis clearly showed that Bruce is alive and well in another segment of time as part of the Omega Sanction. So then who's skull is it that Black Hand is toting around like a goth handbag? JSA All Stars clearly shows that Damage is going to be on the team - but as we all know, he was killed in Blackest Night #4. Are we to assume JSA All Stars takes place before Blackest Night? Seriously, this is getting as confusing as time travel.

Two: As evidenced in this issue of Blackest Night, anyone who was killed and stayed dead can be brought back as a Black Lantern, however if you were killed and brought back, you're living on Nekron's dime and can become one of his minions.

Here's the problem - Green Arrow was brought back to life by Hal Jordan by using one of his cells that was still alive from the explosion - so technically he really wasn't dead. Also, Superman never died either. He went into a Kryptonian coma-like state after he expended all of his power after fighting Doomsday. Thirdly, Wonder Woman is immortal - this one seems really easy here, doesn't it? And finally, Barry Allen merged with the Speed Force, which he is - so again, he didn't really die as change into another form of energy.

Three: Where can this story go from here? I'm not doubting Geoff Johns at all with his mastery of this project, however, I get the sneaking suspicion that the post Blackest Night DC Universe isn't going to be as different as they claim. And with three issues left to go, are there any other high points left to hit with the story? I just hope this hasn't peaked too soon and leave us with a "meh" ending. (But I guess that's Geoff Johns' problem and not mine.)

However, I can state with absolute certainty that I have enjoyed this cross over event more than any I have in a LONG time. And just because it's such a kick ass picture, here it is again.

"Bruce Wayne of Earth. RISE."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday Blackest Night #5 Review by Jason

On the day of this most illustrious of American tradition of Black Friday, I re-read Blackest Night #5 while at work being bored. I do work in a retail store but not one that is offering massive doorbuster specials that cause people to trample each other at 5 AM. Moving on…

So, the first time that I read this issue I was sitting on the couch after returning from the comic shop and kept showing my wife (bless her heart for acting interested) pages that caused me to say “Oh shit, check that out!” multiple times. The issue was surprisingly fast paced given that it’s the middle point of this series, traditionally where things slow down a bit.

If you haven’t read it yet, there are spoilers ahead, and definitely read Green Lantern #48 before you read this, as it fills in a gap in time between BN 4 & 5.

Blackest Night #5
Story by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis

We begin with the leaders of all seven light corps gathering in Sector 666 to destroy the main Black Lantern Power Battery but it’s already gone. Everyone belts out their own corps oath, except Agent Orange who claims in a very Homer Simpson-esque way “I’m hungry”. After some bickering and some logical conclusions by the odd couple of Sinestro and Atrocitus, we move on to Earth.

Good old Earth is in a bit of trouble since Nekron appeared last issue and started raising 7 million dead folk from Coast City. He also makes a proclamation that can be interpreted a few ways : “Your death was the first, Barry Allen of Earth. And your rebirth the last. So says Nekron”. Nice. So is this the last of the Rebirth comics. I mean, Nekron says so.

Anyway…fighting, bickering, fighting, the other tie-in minis are recapped, many heroes show up, and the Rainbow Connection shows up to blast the evil Guardian with a healthy dose of white light. But, Nekron seems very calm about this and seems pretty satisfied with how things are going. Even though there is a fight going on, Johns and Reis succeed in giving off a “calm before the storm” vibe here because, quite frankly, a storm is on the next page. 5 words set it off : “Bruce Wayne of Earth. Rise”

Black Lantern Batman shows up, all hell breaks loose and it’s like the straw that breaks the superheroes backs. The end of this issue is quite a rollercoaster ride of emotion as Nekron sends a gift of black rings to all of the heroes who have died previously and come back since, as he explains, he let them live anyway. As Hal and Barry try to outrun the rings, Nekron gathers up his new playthings (i.e. Black Lantern Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and more) and sets off to destroy the light of creation.

This issue was fantastic and action packed. The “Oh shit” moments came fast and furious, and the story kept moving along at a manageable pace. My one curiosity is why Nekron uses quotes around the name Bruce Wayne at one point. Given what happened in the last issue of Batman and Robin, this gives more credence to the belief that the skull that Black Hand had was not really Bruce’s (at least our Bruce Wayne, maybe some multiversal Bruce). Hopefully this will be explained in the next B&R arc, since they delayed it to tie into Blackest Night.

All in all, I’m loving this story. Every issue has been a joy to read and the Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps issues just add to the depth of the event. Hopefully, Johns can make this story truly an event-level tale and that some of the consequences stick around and affect the larger DC Universe as a whole.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Uber-literate post

A Themed Post?

If you ask any creator, the hardest task to undertake is the one man show. Writers write, artists pencil and inkers ink. They work as a team to create the comic. This collaboration of effort can help (and sometimes harm) the final product, but on the whole, having somebody watch your back only makes for a better project. But in the one man show, the only person you've got to rely on is yourself.

* I use the term "one man show" to refer to a single person responsible for content. This is in no way to slight women.

So why am I rambling on about "content" today? The answer is simple really. I'm going to compare and contrast Scott Kolins' Superman/Batman #66 and the one woman play "The Lady With All The Answers." And after you read this, I encourage your input. (And yes, plays do count as "pop-culture.")

Superman/Batman #66
Those of you that know me know that I am a Batman guy. My first Halloween costume as a kid, the first date with my would be wife and my first tattoo (not to mention lots of other things in my life) revolve around the Dark Knight.

So with that being said, I had high hopes for Superman/Batman as a title. Basically, it's World's Finest, but with a spiffy new logo. One of the nice/frustrating things about Superman/Batman is that DC has never fully decided if they want this title to be part of DC continuity or not. It seemed that they finally decided that these stories would not be part of current DC continuity as Bruce Wayne would still be Batman. Phew.

But then issue 66 came out. Oh look, it's a Blackest Night tie in. Evidently, the decision to slap the Blackest Night label on every title at DC is the current modus operandi. (I can't wait to see the Blackest Night issue of Tiny Titans, but I digress.) Better yet, this issue doesn't even have Superman or Batman in it. What are we saddled with? Solomon Grundy, Bizarro and Man-Bat. Don't get me wrong, I like these characters, but not one of them is Superman and/or Batman. (heck Composite Superman would be a better character - at least it's Superman AND Batman put together.)

The story, the art and the cover are all done by Scott Kolins. Scott has a very distinctive style to his art, but it is very inconsistent. Some of his panels are wonderfully drawn and other panels on the same page seem to have thrown in at the last second. His plot, while not a bad idea for a story by any means, seems out of place in this title. It almost seems as if he had an idea for a story, pitched it to DC and they dumped it in this title. Characters are introduced that seem to have no connection, and their motivations are confusing at best. (What is Frankenstein doing in this story? Somebody please tell me.) It's this inconsistency that robs this story of it's entertainment value.

One has to wonder what this issue would have been like if there had been an artist, writer, inker and editorial all collaborating on the project. Perhaps the result would have been better.

"The Lady With All The Answers" for a limited time at the Milwaukee Rep.

"The Lady With All The Answers" is a one woman play about Eppy Friedman, aka Ann Landers. The Milwaukee premiere of this play just opened, so there is plenty of chances to catch this fantastic show. With a print deadline looming, Ann Landers counsels her own broken marriage and heart.

This play, which is both funny and nostalgic, features the Rep's Laura Gordon as Ann Landers. Her performance is spot on. Laura's delivery is whip smart when it needs to be and shows the real vulnerability that underlines the human condition.

Many readers of this blog would never consider seeing a play, much less one about an advice columnist mulling her life in 1975. But here's where I urge you to step out of the comfort zone and try something new. Think of it as picking up a comic just by looking at the cover. You might very well be entertained and surprised at the same time.

Now, with no disrespect to the gymnasts, divers and figure skaters out there, a one man (or woman) show is the highest degree of difficulty that any one can attempt. The actor doesn't have anyone to work off of. There's no break in the show. It's just the actor and the audience. It's up to the actor to create the character, engage the audience and bring them along on the ride and Gordon is up to the task. Her performance is effortless and real, and should really be seen.

I guess the bottom line is this: one man shows are risky. Scott Kolins' Superman/Batman missed the mark. However, "The Lady With All The Answers" is incredibly entertaining and hits the bulleye.

Next week I'll post reviews of the latest Blackest Night, Green Lantern, Justice Society and other titles. (And I'll be far more entertaining, I promise.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Catching up. . .

Rapid Fire Reviews Written Right Now

First off, let me apologize for being such a pathetic fill in here at the Clever Name Pop Culture Blog. I'd let you in on all the details, but that would sound like whining and I'm not going down that road. Suffice it to say, the last week or two have included a dead grandma, a trip to Minnesota and my job turning into a Bizzaro-job. It's enough to make a guy's head spin. So with that being said, let's get on to the reviews. (I will be reviewing the most current books first and working my way to the older books.)

Black Widow: Deadly Origin #1 of 4

Black Widow is one of the most popular female characters in the Marvel Universe. In many ways, she's like the female Wolverine, but better. For starters, I don't think Logan would look good in that skin tight black outfit with a plunging neckline. But I digress.

Deadly Origin is Marvel's attempt to make sense of the complex and often confusing Black Widow history. When Marvel's own Official Updates can't tell you her history, you know it's time for a story to sort everything out. Writer Paul Cornell seems to be up to the task. Jumping back and forth between the past and the present, Cornell takes us on a wild adventure that forces Natasha Romanov to come to grips with her associations of the past. I don't know what "The Icepick Protocol" is yet, but damn I want to find out.

Interestingly, the flashbacks are illustrated in an entirely different style, giving the book a visual and contextual break. At first it seems out of place and jarring, but after a few pages, it begins to grow on you. I think this mini-series has tremendous potential to be great and I can't wait for the next issue.

X-Babies #2 of 4

The strength and the weakness of Marvel's "X" titles is that they are so interwoven, so complex, so confusing, that a simple explanation is impossible. But I'm going to try. So follow me if you can. Mojo, a other-dimension TV exec, had placed cameras in Pyslocke's eyes so he could broadcast her adventures with the X-Men. The X-Men "died" in Dallas during the Fall of the Mutants, severing his connection and leaving him without a show. To compensate, his lackeys created "baby" versions of the X-Men, who think and act like the X-Men (including having their same powers). We're pretty sure they aren't clones, or robots - maybe they're highly advanced LMD's, who knows. The long and the short of it is that they look cute and act like the X-Men.

Artist Jacob Chabot (who did an excellent job on Marvel's "The Wizard of Oz") does a fantastic job giving the X-Babies a stylized look that makes them look cute, but captures the essence of the characters. This mini-series find the X-Babies finding out someone else is pulling the strings in the Mojo-verse, so they escape the "TV studio" and heading out on an adventure. I'm not entirely sure what is going on in this book, but it is fun to read and fun to look at.

And best of all, it's probably the least complicated X title book out there right now.

The Incredibles #2

Those that have read this blog know that I pimped The Incredible mini-series a while back. If you went out and picked up the issues or TPB, you probably weren't disappointed. Luckily for Boom comics (at least for the time being), they have made The Incredibles an ongoing series.

What is nice about this title is that Mark Waid has continued his near perfect balance of silliness and adventure to make this title an all ages book. The Confederacy of Crime has kidnapped baby Jack-Jack in order to figure out how to replicate his powers so they can sell "powers" on the black market. The book's pacing is fast and light - the action looks great on the page, and I actually found myself smiling while reading this book. (Again.)

And on a side note, you've got to love the criminals in this book. There's the robotic T-Rex called Tronasaurus, the ring leader Mr. Pixel, who's face is digitally blurred to look pixelated, and an unnamed villain who has a giant penny for a head. I mean, you've got to love silly bad guys, right?

Psylocke #1 of 4

After the X-Men went through the Siege Perilous, Brittish, purple haired, Besty Braddock came out the other side as a hot asian assassin with purple hair. Why? Probably because Jim Lee wanted to draw a scantily clad asian ninja on the X-Men. And who was I to argue at the time? I was a young man and the new Psylocke was HOT!

I suggest you wikipedia Psylocke if you even want to understand what happened to her, because if you don't, this mini-series will leave you guessing. A concise description of what happened to Psylocke would have made this first issue made more sense. I haven't read an X-Men comic in years, so I was lost with regards to some of the characters. This story has some glaring plot and logic holes that took me out of the story. A weak first issue of a mini-series. I'm going to give it one more issue before I render a verdict, with this one exception: Psylocke is still hot.

Captain America: Reborn #4 of 5

When Ed Brubaker killed Captain America, it was the biggest gamble Marvel had done in a while. Under his skilled hand, Ed managed to keep Captain America one of the best written books on the shelf.

Marvel put the book on hiatus so it could produce Reborn as a mini-series and renumber all of the Captain America comics (don't get me started on this topic). It is here that we get to see the fruits of Ed Brubaker's labors. Here's where we finally get to see what the Red Skull and Doctor Doom were working on. Doctor Doom and the Red Skull were busy trying to separate Steve Rogers from the timeline so they could - (like I know what their nefarious plan is). From the last panel, it looks like they want to put Red Skull's brain in Cap's body, but I can't be sure.

The real strength of this mini-series is that it stands alone as a series. Anything you need to know is given to you if you are coming to this with no knowledge of what's been happening to Cap. But it also rewards readers who have been following this story by touching on plot points that were touched on but never came back to. You should read this mini-series. It's Ed Brubaker showing he's the master of his craft.

Ultimate Avengers #3


War Machine a transformer? It changes from a car to War Machine? Seriously? Mark Millar, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Green Lantern #47

Blackest Night continues unabated. We're beginning to see the foundation of an alliance between the various lanterns as they realize they need to work together do defeat the Black Lanterns.

They should have called this issue the "hard core" issue as it showed some of the characters all doing hard core things. First, Atrocitus gets his heart ripped out of his chest (a theme in Blackest Night it seems), but in stead of keeling over, the Red Lantern ring beats for his heart. Wow. I never would have seen that coming.

Secondly, Sinestro kills (or is it re-kills?) his former love and sister to Abin Sur. But amazingly, you actually feel for Sinestro. No one should have to do what he did. Geoff Johns has made Sinestro one of the most compelling characters to date. Sure he's a prick, but you can understand WHY he's a prick.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Back For a Quickie - Jason's Reviews (11/11/2009)

This week's comic book offerings were enjoyable overall. But, as good stories tend to do, they pose many questions. I'm throwing this out there in a different format than usual but it's how I viewed the books. Spoilers ahead!

Click below for more :

Batman & Robin #6
Story by Grant Morrison
Art by Philip Tan

First Question : Did Robin just call a villain gay?

Granted, I'm not the most politically correct person in existence (far from it actually) so I'm happy to see the taboo of using "certain words" in comics has been ignored here. Now, in Robin's defense, Flamingo is dressed like a pink matador and rides in on a pink motorcycle. Hopefully people can see past the usage of a simple word and don't cause the usual PC-uproar.

Second Question : How many bodies did Bruce Wayne have?

Dick accesses some secret vault in the Bat-Bunker that appears to contain.....the body of Bruce Wayne! Wait.....what?!?! If this is Bruce's body, then whose skull is Black Hand carting around like a goth Coach purse?

Batman #693
Story by Tony Daniel
Art by Tony Daniel

First Question : How smoking hot is Huntress?

Really a rhetorical question...moving on.

Second Question : Anyone notice the similarities between Black Mask and Red Skull?

It appears that the current incarnation of Black Mask, besides dressing like Marilyn Manson, is just someone donning the Black Mask...ummm...mask. Seems awfully similar to what was going on with Red Skull over in the Marvel Universe. Wait a sec...isn't Steve Rogers also "not dead" and skipping through time? Hmmmmm. Were Bruce and Steve related? Maybe the new Black Mask is Bucky??

Green Lantern Corps #42
Story by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason

Question : How do you kill thousands of Black Lanterns and one Green Lantern?

Let's ask good old Kyle Rayn...oh. Just as I was getting into Kyle as a Green Lantern again. I seriously doubt that they can keep him dead for long. Although, isn't blackest Night supposed to fix the "revolving door of death" in the DCU? I'm thinking that we may see Kyle as one of the New Guardians that were solicited in the last Green Lantern issue. Also, kind of convenient that the Red Lantern Vice gets killed right before Kyle's sacrifice. Seems there is a Red Ring floating around with no finger.....paging Guy Gardner....he'll be a little rage-filled after Kyle's death. Also, I wonder what a 3 foot tall blue Kyle Rayner would look like.

Supergod #1
Story by Warren Ellis
Art by Garrie Gastonny

Question : If humans could develop their own super-humans, would they make them into god-like beings that they could worship?

Warren Ellis seems to think so. Excellent first issue and I'm thoroughly interested to see where he takes this. Although, it looks like we already know where it goes considering the story is told in flahsback by a pot-smoking British scientist sitting in the flaming ruins of London.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Battle for the Blog?

The Web Needs a Clever Name Blogger

Much like Gotham City needs a Batman, I have taken up the cowl for the duration until Jason completes some of his projects. (On the upside, I don't have to take on an annoying sidekick like Dick Grayson did.)

I just want to take this opportunity to let you know that shortly I will post reviews of a couple of titles that have come and gone in the last couple of weeks as well as some new titles. (The late reviews will include Blackest Night #4, Justice Society of America #32, Gotham City Sirens #5 and Green Lantern #47 as wells as Ultimate Avengers #3) Current reviews for this up coming week will include Captain America Reborn #4 and Psylocke #1. (See, I also read the Marvel titles.)

And once I get the hang of this, I'll also probably show some love to independent comics and selected trades that have caught my attention. (This means YOU Mr. Stuffins!)

- Jeffrey