Friday, January 26, 2007

Checkmate’s Black Magic Ops and True Friendship, No Questions Asked

Hello Fair Readers,
It was a light week for FanBoyWonder’s new releases. Only two new books were among our weekly pics--blissfully light on our wallet and short work to read and review.

Checkmate #10

The Upshot from DC Comics: "Pawn 502" concludes! All spy agencies have special forces. Only Checkmate has Shadowpact — but even magic may not stop a survivor of Luthor's Everyman Project from blowing this op sky-high!

This was a solid issue and while by no means flashy, it demonstrated the true potential of this series when premise and plot are working together in concert.

By its very nature, a cover operative agency operating in the world of super heroes and amazing powers is a tough sell--politics vs. action. But writer Greg Rucka manages to find this balance in issue 10.

As we noted last issue, we liked the inclusion of magicians of Shadowpact into the story. It makes sense that in a world where super strength and power rings, as well as magic and sorcery, these elements should be included in the story--Kobra had his own magician whose job was to ferret out undercover agents so Checkmate needed its own magic counterforce--hence the call to Shadowpact.

On art--Jesus Saiz continues to produce regular and reliable visuals that convey the story quite satisfactorily. However, instead of inking his own pencils as he has in previous issues, Fernando Blanco is brought in on inks.

It took us only a moment to get used to the change and by our second read through we judged Blanco’s inclusion to be an artistic improvement to the series. No slight intended to Saiz, who has consistently cranked out solid art all by himself and on time these many months but we would like to see this artistic collaboration continue.

52 Week 38

The [same] Upshot from DC Comics: The New Year begins with the deadliest day Metropolis has ever seen — and by the end of the month a villain will stand revealed, a hero will fall in the outer reaches of the galaxy…and the reveal of Supernova will deepen his mysteries even further. Plus The Origin of Red Tornado by Waid and Phil Jimenez.

Despite the fairly low key events of this week’s installment, we are starting to sense things proceed forward toward resolution after many many weeks in a plot-neutral, time-stalling holding pattern.

That said, the mad scientists story line continues to hold zero appeal to us. Yet despite an honest attempt and three separate reads of this issue, we’re still not sure what the scientists are supposed to be doing or where they fit into the overall plot and we really don’t much care.

Meanwhile, we have Natasha--the one-time estranged niece of Steel who gave the finger to her uncle and joined Lex Luthor’s team of “Everymen.” She has now realized that Lex is up to no good and is determined to sneak into Luthor’s secret office to get the goods on Lex. She promises her uncle she won’t get caught which, of course, means she might as well be wearing a Star Trek red shirt. Serves the spoiled little brat right.

The real heart of this issue and of the series continues to be Renee Montoya and The Question. As the Question is in the last stages of dying from lung cancer, Renee has risked everything by taking him to the other side of the world and the mysterious mountain village of Nanda Parbat in the hopes the village’s mystical properties can save him.

Defying all logic and at great physical risk to herself, Renee is desperate to save her friend’s life. Fools errand or leap of faith? With her last ounce of strength, they appear to find their destination but it remains to be seen whether or not it will help.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Battlestar Galactica--Rapture

The Upshot from the Sci-Fi Channel--With the Galactica outgunned by four Cylon base ships, and the Colonial forces on the ground being flanked by a platoon of Cylon Centurions, how far will Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) go to keep the Cylons from capturing the artifact that shows the way to Earth? And will Apollo (Jamie Bamber) put the mission at risk to save the downed Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff) — or let the woman he loves die?

Of course we knew going in that Adama wasn’t going to nuke the planet--heck all of the episode’s preview footage belayed that notion.

Still it was somewhat weirdly nostalgic to watch Galactica’s nuclear launch preparation--complete with nuclear code launch authorization and double key turning. We know that history always looks rosier in hindsight but we REALLY miss the Cold War. Sure Ivan and Sergei were Godless commie bastards bent on dominating the world--but at least they let us keep our shoes on at the airport. Okay--we digress.

Elsewhere aboard Galactica, Sharon/Athena (Grace Park) and her husband Helo (Tahmoh Penikett) engage in a desperate gamble to rescue their baby girl Hera from the Cylons. Helo shoots Sharon dead so she can download into a new body in one of the nearby Cylon basestars where Hera is being held.

Confronted by Adama and President Roslin (Mary McDonnell), Helo declares that Athena won’t betray the fleet, while Adama--not unsympathetically--noted that she may not have a choice.

As we’ve noted, we had been long awaiting a confrontation between Sharon and Roslin-- who ordered the child’s death faked--deeming it too dangerous to the fleet for the Cylons (or the parents) to believe that Hera was alive. Yet, the best scene of the episode came when Helo confronted Roslin for stealing his daughter.

Tahmoh Penikett brilliantly pulls off the balancing act of portraying Helo as a Colonial officer showing deference to his president and a father directing his barely controlled rage and contempt at the individual who wronged his entire family.

For her part, Mary McDonnell plays Roslin perfectly in this moment--she is rocked and on the defensive but she stands her ground--knowing she did a wrong thing for the right reason. Yet whatever Roslin’s ultimate culpability, she notes that the fate of the entire fleet rides on Helo and Adama’s unconditional faith in Athena’s loyalty.

Aboard the Cylon basestar, Athena awakens from downloading to be greeted by Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer). Having been dumped by the Cylon D’Anna (Lucy Lawless) and the human traitor/perhaps Cylon-to-be-named-later Gaius Baltar (James Callis) to find “God” on the planet below, Six has nothing else left but to protect baby Hera in accordance to God’s will.

The Sharon model once known as Boomer has been caring for the child but it’s clear that Boomer has lost all of her human connection and empathy--even before she declares that humans and Cylons should just go their separate ways.

Yet it’s still striking to see Boomer suddenly poised to snap the baby’s neck and more of a surprise to see Caprica Six kill Boomer (well for a while anyway) to save the baby--ironic considering one of Six’s first scenes in the mini-series was to snap the neck of a baby she encountered on Caprica just before the attacks.

Boomer’s total rejection of her human understanding and compassion is important to note as it proves her entire model line is not “fundamentally flawed”--only Athena.

On the planet below, Apollo, Anders (Michael Trucco) and company attempt to hold off a Cylon centurion brigade while Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) attempts to find the Eye of Jupiter and the roadmap to Earth. In the midst of this, Apollo orders his wife Dualla (Kandyse McClure) to attempt a rescue of a crash-downed Starbuck--his not so secret lover.

While we are fast becoming wary of this soap-opera love rectangle between Apollo, Starbuck, Dualla and Anders, we can’t help but admire the spunk Dee shows by not hiding her contempt for Starbuck even as they need each other to fix their Raptor to fly off the planet.

In the Temple of Five, D’Anna experiences her vision as the planet’s sun goes supernova--she sees the face of God and knows madness. She dies and is resurrected only to be told by the Cylon Cavil (Dean Stockwell) that she’s gone too far off the Cylon reservation. She’s been “boxed” where all her models are put in cold storage as “fundamentally flawed.”

Poor Baltar is left out of the loop--his question as to whether he’s a Cylon left unanswered just before he’s greeted by Tyrol-- “Welcome home Mr. President” and promptly cold cocked.

The rescue of the crew members from the planet just as Galactica jumps away in just the nick of time was a little too neat for us and it felt rushed. The reunion of Athena and Helo with their baby Hera also suffered due to the episode’s ticking clock.

Athena keeps the ship’s marines from shooting Caprica Six on sight. Her reward for helping to rescue the baby will be Sharon’s old holding cell but do remember that she DID play a pivotal role in the Cylon sneak attack and holocaust.

Yet with the real Six on board Galactica now, we look forward to her (finally) interacting with other characters--especially Roslin. So Say We All!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Everybody Loves Hal, Lois Lane and Oracle Spar Over Lunch, Supernova Unmasks

Hello readers,
Here’s our pics for the week of Jan. 17. Enjoy.

Green Lantern #16

The Upshot from DC Comics: Part 4 of "Wanted: Hal Jordan," guest-starring The Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott, Green Arrow, Arsenal and more! A fugitive on the run for murder, Hal Jordan must find the man who holds the key to his innocence: John Stewart. But what happens if John's cover is blown? And what bizarre alien presence has he discovered? Plus, more on the Guardians' mysterious mission.

As regular readers of FanBoyWonder may have noticed, we have not been pleased with this title for quite some time--right about the time it became a de-facto bi-monthly comic book. Call us old school but we are of the mind that a monthly comic book title should say…come out monthly as in 12 times a year spaced out in approximately 30 day increments.

But apologists for the deadline challenged artists and writers claim that the extra time is needed to ensure “quality” and that a better product will be the end result.

That argument isn’t going to be resolved here today but let us enter into evidence the issue description above--directly from DC Comics. As eagle-eyed observes may have noted, the issue described by DC and the story actually delivered has varied widely over the past couple issues.

This issue again has no mention of Green Lantern John Stewart (don’t even get us started on that), no mention of the “Guardians’ mysterious mission” and Hal sure isn’t running from an accused murder charge.

Bait and Switch? Well yes. Why? Perhaps because of this book’s frequent lateness forced writer Geoff Johns to abbreviate the story? Or perhaps an over-booked (pun-intended) Johns simply lost track of where this particular story line was going and he punted.

Regardless of the why--here’s the result. We had picked issue 16 expecting for it to pick up where issue 15 had left off--the JLA appearing on the scene to take Green Lantern in for illegally entering Russia (again). But now his “friends” are here to help.

Well at least we get to see the entire JLA together for the first time, more than what’s going on in Justice League of America. We also get to see Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern.

But instead of a confrontation, both the League and Scott fall all over themselves to “understand” poor Hal. He’s created another international incident, he’s forced the League to fight with the Rocket Reds--who are defending their own sovereign territory, and otherwise made a mess of things and all Alan Scott can say is “Tell me how can we help.”

To wit Hal orders 1) Take the Global Guardians to the Martian Manhunter so they can get their minds unscrambled; 2) Pull his strings with Checkmate to clear his name with the United Nations and 3) “Apologize for me.” And of course he will. Because everybody loves Hal so Hal gets a pass.

We really feel cheated. Johns had spent many issues building things up to what was an interesting concept--Green Lantern is assigned to protect the planet Earth but many of the planet’s nation-states don’t want his help or his presence within their borders--he goes where he feels he has to, borders be damned. The aforementioned nation-states declare him an outlaw enemy.

So instead Johns (again) hit’s the easy button, gets Hal out of this plotline and where do we go from here? The son of Hal Jordan’s predecessor has got himself a case of ring-envy and he aims to assume his father’s job as a Green Lantern by killing Jordan. (yawn) Worse than uninspired, it’s not even original. Dave Gibbons in Green Lantern Corps played out a similar story line months ago.

On the art: Ivan Reis’ pencils with Oclair Albert’s inks are quite good--it’s a visually appealing issue no doubt about it. A tribute to what one can do when given twice the allotted time to draw a “monthly” issue. We’re sure the trade-paper-back (TPB) readers in Barnes and Noble sipping their lattes will be quite pleased.

Birds of Prey #102

The Upshot from DC Comics: Misfit tries desperately to undo the damage she's caused in Oracle's command center while the rest of the Birds struggle to overcome a true life-and-death situation. Also, just how much does Lois Lane know about Oracle's operation?

We haven’t read any of the Superman books for a number of years now and as a result, we really don’t know the Lois Lane character that well anymore so given that and given the highly fluid, ever-changing story continuity in the DC Universe, we weren’t sure what to make of the Lois Lane who stopped by to “chat” with Barbara Gordon.

As the wife of Superman, isn’t she plugged into the hero community? Does she know everyone else’s secret identity or does her husband keep her in the dark as to specifics? In recent year’s we have read stories that have hinted at both, so through no fault of writer Gail Simone, we were having trouble from the start that Oracle was endanger of being outed by this particular reporter.

But to Simone’s credit, she still manages to infuse tension as the reporter and the would-be news-subject verbally joust. Simone beautifully captures the “velvet glove” verbal combat of the two women as amid small talk, they probe each others weaknesses, jab and block.

It’s clear Lois has been tipped off to SOMETHING by Spy Smasher but it’s not clear how much she knows. Barbara holds her own but Lois clearly had the initiative and the element of surprise on her side.

The art team of Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood work brilliantly here by not only producing great visuals but it’s the little touches--Barbara’s hand shaking as she lifts her fork--that adds to the tension of the “chat.”

We don’t know Lois well enough anymore to know if she was affecting the part of the celebrity journalist to keep Barbara off balance or if that’s who Lois is these days--but to us it was a throw back to the John Byrne Man of Steel era where his Lois was an unlikable premadonna who endlessly railed on her co-worker Clark Kent (pre-secret identity reveal) because he stole “her” interview with Superman from her.

Meanwhile, as the Birds fight their way out of Spy Smasher’s trap--thanks to a key distraction by Misfit, we’re starting to come around to the one-time “new Batgirl.” We like the fact that Simone has chosen to keep Misfit something of a mystery for now…draw it out slowly.

And we are definitely enjoying the appearance of Manhunter in these pages. Whether or not her own title is green lit beyond it’s current five-issue reparative, we would be very happy to see Manhunter continue as a Bird of Prey.

52 Week 36

The Upshot from DC Comics: The New Year begins with the deadliest day Metropolis has ever seen — and by the end of the month a villain will stand revealed, a hero will fall in the outer reaches of the galaxy…and the reveal of Supernova will deepen his mysteries even further. Plus The Origin of Firestorm by Waid and Jamal Igle.

Even if the cover hadn’t given it away, we were not at all shocked to find out that Supernova was the previously believed to be deceased Booster Gold in disguise. The fact that Booster and Nova had been in public together before Booster’s “death” did not deter us knowing Booster’s time-travel background.

Actually, we were a tad surprised to find it was Booster--Michael Jon Carter--himself, as we thought it could be Booster’s 21st century ancestor Daniel Carter--who we last saw being tossed bodily by Skeets into a time-vortex set for a one-way trip to the end of time or some such.

Well at least things are getting interesting now--even as we shake our head at the worst cliché in the universe employed as Booster “stalls” Skeets by spoon feeding him and the readers just how he escaped death and assumed his Supernova disguise.
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