Friday, March 09, 2007

Old Soldiers Never Die—The “Death” of Captain America & The Loss of “Fun”

We here at FanBoyWonder had what you could call a funny reaction on Wednesday when we found out—via the online New York Daily News no less—that Marvel Comics had killed off Captain America.

“What?? First Starbuck, Now Cap?!?!”

In that moment we also realized just how out of touch we had become with the Marvel Universe as we had no earthly idea that this was coming.

We further realized that the “death” of Cap really left no doubt that the Marvel Universe we grew up with, that we knew and loved (though not quite as much as the DC Comics universe) is dead and gone…perhaps a long-time gone.

What we really loved about the Marvel Universe and what set it apart from the “Distinguished Competition” was that it was “real.” Its heroes were “real” with “real” problems living in “real” places—like New York City—no Metropolis, Gotham, Central, Keystone, Star or Opal cities here.
As a wee-little Fanboy visiting New York City, we would often look up half expecting to see Spidey web-swinging between the sky-scrapers.

We haven’t read Captain America (or nearly anything else Marvel) for a long time, but we still treasure our collection of Cap back issues.

Captain America is (no past tense here) to Marvel what Superman is to DC Comics, the noblest of all heroes and a positive force of good. Time and again we’ve seen Cap fight for the American Dream, not as a tool of the government.

Cap is a symbol but Steve Rogers, the man under the mask, represents all that is good and proud and noble about America. Don’t tell us that Cap is “just” a fictional character—he’s always been much bigger than that.

From the very first issue of Captain America Comics #1 in early 1941, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby set the tone as America’s Sentinel of Liberty is seen on the cover socking Adolph Hitler right in the jaw.

Mind you this was nearly a year BEFORE America’s entry into World War II and long before the discovery of Hitler’s death camps that confirmed his utter evil.

In the years since we last regularly read Cap and Marvel, somewhere along the way “real” that was Marvel’s hallmark and “dark” got confused. Pick up almost any Marvel book today—there’s a distinct lack of hope—just endless “event” driven conflict in the name of drama.

Make no mistake; we’re not saying that the DC Universe is perfect. Far from it—especially lately (Got Didio???) but despite themselves, the DCU (at least to us) still retains a sense magic and yes…hope.

The main difference we see between DC and Marvel currently is that—while both imperfect—DC seems to be more about telling stories (Judd Winick notwithstanding), while Marvel seems preoccupied with making a "statement."

But for now, we’re taking the events of Captain America #25 with a grain of salt. Unlike real life, in Comics, death is often not final—just ask Jean Grey, Superman, Green Goblin and Jason Todd. We even hear that poor ole Bucky was recently aroused from his decades-long dirt-nap.

Marvel can give Cap a new lease on life whenever it so desires. What we fear will be infinitely harder to reviving hope in the Marvel Universe. There was a time when these used to be called “funny books” …it’s time to have “fun” again.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Battlestar Galactica—Maelstrom

The Upshot from Sci-Fi Channel: Galactica’s top gun, Kara Thrace/Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff) finds herself on the edge of a nervous breakdown as she battles the emotional fallout from her captivity on New Caprica.

Oh my Gods! They killed Starbuck….you frakers! Or did they?????

It was the worst kept secret in Sci-Fi that Katie Sackhoff had expressed her desire to leave BSG and that the final three shows of Season 3 had been shot without her—but even knowing that it was coming or perhaps because we DID know it was coming, we were left unsatisfied.

Mrs. FanBoyWonder, who watched the show with us, said it was “disappointing” and she agreed with us that there was something missing with the episode.

Indeed, one big thing that had been missing all season was the Starbuck that we had all known and grown to care about. That Starbuck never left New Caprica.

The Starbuck that we did see this year began the season as a captive and a victim, later a malcontent, a lover, a betrayer and adulterer and then we didn’t see much of her at all until her big episode in Maelstrom.

Here we got to see a hint of the old Starbuck even as we got to find out about Kara Thrace. Her mother Socrata Thrace (guest-star Dorothy Lyman) was a battle-hardened veteran of the First Cylon War who believed that suffering was good for the soul so young Kara suffered—tough love or cruel abuse all depends on your point of view.

We see now how Starbuck became the toughest character on the show and the most fragile—“Fear gets you killed, anger keeps you alive.” Good tip for basic training. Not so good for Parenting 101.

We see Kara’s mother in Starbuck in the way that she treats her estranged husband Sam Anders (Michael Trucco). Poor Kara, she’s longed to experience unconditional love but once she has it in Anders, she doesn’t know how or what to do with it.

As for Anders, we don’t know whether to laud him for sticking it out or pity him for holding onto someone so toxic. Most of all it’s a crying shame that Kara’s husband only merited a single scene in the episode.

We really hope that the writers find something for him on BSG now that his wife and reason for being around is gone. Anders is too good a character to let slip away.

We see the beginning of the end of Starbuck when she dreams that she's in her old apartment on Caprica with the Cylon Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie) struggling to cover up the colorful mandala—the circle pattern that resembles the Eye of Jupiter—that we previously learned she’s had in her head since she was a child.

While awake, she hallucinates that a little girl — her younger self — is with her aboard the Galactica.In desperation, Kara visits a religious oracle, but the woman frightens her by saying that Leoben and even Kara's abusive mother are all part of Kara's great destiny.

Later on patrol over the cloud planet where the Fleet is hiding from the Cylons to refuel, Starbuck spots a Cylon Heavy Raider and engages in hot pursuit until she is nearly lost in a dangerous swirling storm that looks not unlike the mandala/Eye of Jupiter.

The problem is no one else saw the Cylon ship and even Starbuck is wondering whether she is losing her mind. As someone who exemplifies the phrase “wartime hero, peacetime screw up” and for someone whose entire identity relies on being a fearless, hotshot pilot, her loss of confidence in the cockpit is worse than any physical wound.

When Starbuck tells Apollo that she doesn't trust herself to fly. Apollo insists that she's capable and promises to fly as her wingman—“whatever it takes’ to get her back in the saddle.

In a bit of foreshadowing as Starbuck sits in the hallway shrine with Apollo, she tells him that she wants her picture next to Kat (Luciana Carro), who died the good death earlier this season.

Yet even more foreshadowing came in a touching scene between Starbuck and Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) reminiscent all the way back to their first scene together in the miniseries—“What do you hear Starbuck,” he asks. “Nothing but the rain,” she replies.

Then Starbuck gives Adama the figurehead she received from the Oracle of Aurora the Goddess of the Dawn to use as a headpiece for Adama’s beloved model wooden ship. Classic behavior of someone who believes they are about to die and/or about to take their life. Desperate signs that both Adama men will surely blame themselves for missing forever after.

Meanwhile, on patrol with Apollo, Starbuck again sees the Cylon Raider and again dives toward the mandala-shaped maelstrom.

As the crushing atmospheric pressure begins to rip apart her viper, Kara passes out. She returns as if in a dream to her old apartment, where Leoben greets her and leads her into a vision of her dying mother.

The vision of Leoben and Kara’s mother tell Kara they are there to prepare he for “what happens in the space between life and death.” These are not idle words, we note, as it was the same thing that the Cylon D’Anna (Lucy Lawless) was searching in her quest to see the Final Five Cylons and God him/herself before her model was “boxed.”

Starbuck says good-bye to Apollo and flies toward the eye and to her “special destiny.”

From Apollo’s point of view, we thought we saw the mysterious Cylon Raider for a second before Starbuck’s viper blew apart and the last visual we had of Starbuck was with her hand poised on the ejection lever.

The shock in Galactica’s C.I.C. (Combat Information Center) is palpable, even that crusty old bastard Col Tigh (Michael Hogan) was moved. The scene cuts to Adama alone in his quarters, tears in his eyes as he works on his model ship. As he smashes it to pieces, there’s nothing that really needs to be said.

Kara was like a daughter to him—the fiancé of his deceased youngest son—and now he has suffered the loss of another child.

Bottom line: Given that the mandala/Eye of Jupiter is somehow tied to the road to Earth, given that there is no proof that the Cylon Raider wasn’t real and given that we saw Starbuck’s viper blew apart but we didn’t see a body—we don’t think that we’ve see the last of Starbuck or her “special destiny.”

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Flashback: Fixing the Fastest Man Alive—Flash Issue 9

The Upshot from DC Comics: Breakout writer Marc Guggenheim (SUPERMAN/BATMAN, Wolverine) comes aboard for a new chapter in the heroic journey of Bart Allen! Bart has literally grown into the mantle of the Flash, but if he's going to be a team player, he must first choose a team. Does Bart belong with the JLA or the Teen Titans?

At the risk of sounding like we’re damning by faint praise, Flash Issue 9 did NOT totally and completely suck. Given the untold damage that this book’s previous writers Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo have done to the Flash legend following their disastrous re-launch—not sucking is the best that new writer Marc Guggenheim can hope for. He pulls it off.

Unlike Nightwing’s Marv Wolfman—who like Guggenheim was brought in to clean up the mess of previous creative teams—Guggenheim has an infinitely harder job as there have been just too many changes to ignore.

Guggenheim starts his run in a deep creative hole not of his own making and he has to dig his way out using the tools at hand—an “adult” Bart Allen now living in Los Angeles instead of Keystone City as an LAPD cadet with an uninspired love interest.

As regular FanBoyWonder readers know, we were not at all fans of the Bilson and DeMeo run and we dropped this book after Issue Six, two issues before the Hollywood clowns left due to health reason—the readers got sick of them (thank you Howie Carr!).

We have a long-standing love for the Flash legacy so when we heard a new writer was being brought on board; we decided to give the book another chance.

Despite the flawed premise (or at least the extremely premature idea) of Bart Allen as the Flash, we think it COULD be made to work in much the same way that J.M. DeMatteis made Hal Jordan as the Spectre work, however imperfectly.

Guggenheim has already started to initiate damage control procedures—namely by giving Bart back some of his personality; dumped the “girl hostage” love interest (for good we hope) and taken on the issue of Bart’s (second bout of) artificial aging front and center.

It’s cute to see Bart—a 16 year old (sort of) in the body of a 20-year-old—handle the break up with the love interest (we never bothered to learn her name) so innocently like it was his first time. Poor kid.

Yet frankly, we know there does exist an emotional and life difference between someone 16 years old and 20 years old, but from Grampa FanBoyWonder’s point of view, it’s like looking down from 50,000 feet to try to discern the difference between someone who is 5 feet tall and 6 feet tall—but we digress.

The art for Issue 9 was serviceable but nothing outstanding. We are heartened to learn that Teen Titans artist Tony Daniel is coming on board in a couple issues and that should lend some much needed visual consistency to the book.

Guggenheim has got his work cut out for him in trying to rescue this book. We’ve made no secret that Wally West was our favorite Flash—likely we grew up with Wally as he struggled to step up from Sidekick to Hero.

We have liked the Bart Allen character. As Impulse, Bart was every bit his namesake. In Teen Titans Geoff Johns matured Bart by making him Kid Flash and having him embrace the Flash legacy and honor his Grandfather Barry’s name. We were just beginning to see great things come from this character when events of Infinite Crisis jumped the gun.

DC disposed of Wally West for no good reason in a really dumb way and forced a change in a really clumsy way. Yet DC can still make Bart Allen as the Flash work if they decide to think outside the box and not just try to repeat history (Wally West redux).

If FanBoyWonder had control of the DC Universe, after we fired Judd Winick (just because we could), here’s how we would fix the Flash:

* De-Age Bart Allen to his pre-Infinite Crisis self but keep him as the Flash. There’s no law that says the Flash can’t be 16-years old. The aging of Bart should have been a metaphor of a boy trying to fill a man’s shoes as well as live up to a legacy he wasn’t ready for but was thrust upon him—not literally made so.

This is not unprecedented; Peter Parker was 15 when he was bitten by the radioactive spider. A teenage (don’t call me “kid”) Flash has built in angst and there is room (literally) for Bart to grow.

* A new, distinct Flash costume. That ugly red suit of Barry Allen’s has been around for some 50 years (Showcase #4, 1956). Bart can carry on the Flash legacy and wear a suit that expresses his individuality. Even giving Barry’s Flash costume, a Kid Flash-like half mask would be enough—just do something to make it different.

* Bring Back Wally West. Wally West is a great character who didn’t deserved to be broomed away like he was. Bringing Wally back doesn’t mean he has to be the Flash again. After two decades as the Flash in his own right, he has nothing to prove.

Let Wally give Bart his blessing and allow Wally to establish his own identity in a Nightwing-like fashion. Call him Velocity, Charley Hustle or Man of Speed or something, there are dozens of characters who fly and are strong. There’s room for another speedster in the DCU who isn’t named Flash.

Our recommendation to the readers who left Flash like we did is to come back. At least for the first few issues of Guggenheim’s run. Let’s give him a chance to fix things.

Added bonus, the bump in sales should be one final repudiation against those Hollywood bozos who thought they could just parachute into the DCU from SoCal and tinker with a legend and to those at Damage Control (DC) who let them.

Green Lantern’s Light, Alex Ross' Super Friends, and It’s Mid-Nite Again

Here’s FanBoyWonder’s picks for the Week of Feb. 28, minus the latest Flash issue. We’ve saved our thoughts on that for a separate post.

Green Lantern #17

The Upshot from DC Comics: The explosive conclusion of "Wanted: Hal Jordan!" Wanted throughout the world, Green Lantern suffers the wrath of a new enemy who will plague him for years to come. But what does this alien want from Hal Jordan? And why is it impossible to give? Plus, witness the birth of the new Star Sapphire!

Well above all things we’re glad we were able to pick up this issue just one month after the previous issue. For a book that’s solicited monthly—that’s a very good thing.

Some think that we protest too much about the woes of our favorite Deadline Challenged (DC) publisher—but just last night when we were chatting with our best pal Kemosabe, he noted that he dropped Green Lantern because it was “too sporadic”—meaning a de-facto bi-monthly title wasn’t really worth buying.

On the merits of the issue, we expressed our dismay last month at how writer Geoff Johns tossed aside his really compelling plot—GL’s rouge status by Earth’s many nation-states in favor of the uninspired Amon Sur storyline.

This issue wasn’t as compelling as we would have liked but neither was it as bad as we expected—a lot of this is due to the much hinted at Sinestro Corps storyline taking a major step forward.

Watching Batman being selected by a Sinestro ring for his ability to instill fear and then rejected for his strong will and recent “exposure” to a Green Lantern ring was priceless and we give Johns two points for that little nugget.

Promptly rejected by Bruce Wayne, the yellow ring finds Amon Sur just as he is about to be defeated by Hal Jordan. It’s a welcome twist to be sure but it could have and should have happened several issues back and spared us this.

As we think about it the creation of the Sinestro Corps is a logical step—a counterforce to the Green Lantern Corps is so inevitable it seems obvious, yet no one has thought of it before now.

The closest we can recall to anything similar was in Issue 150 of the second GL series circa 1982 was the Anti-Green Lantern Corps. The AGLC was made up by the Weaponers of Qward whose anti-power ring was powered by a black light. But it was a one-shot deal and never made use of again.

Best of all in this issue was the return FINALLY of Green Lantern John Stewart to save the day. Either give John his own book or feature him more prominently here—he’s every bit as compelling as Hal Jordan and deserves better.

Justice #10

The Upshot from DC Comics: Green Arrow is the front-and-center focus of this issue, which also features the Doom Patrol, the Metal Men, the Titans, Supergirl and others on the battlefield! But whose side are they on? The villains' plot to exploit the innocent may even affect the heroes' comrades, colleagues and co-combatants!

Given the nature of this maxi-series, it’s tough to rate it by individual issues but that said we liked it—both for the action and for the stunning visuals.

But there is genuine characterization with shifting points of view and an earnest attempt to make the reader feel both like a part of the action and above the fray at the same time.

Although Justice is clearly influenced by Alex Ross’ love of the old Super Friends cartoon, we feel this series is a throw-back to the old 1978 Earth-1. We were never that nostalgic for much of the pre-CRISIS DC Universe/pre-1980, but we here at FanBoyWonder would STRONGLY consider extending the life of this universe past issue 12 with an All Star quarterly book—if Ross and Company are willing.

Alex, if you build it, we will come!

JSA Classified #23

The Upshot from DC Comics: Part 1 of the 2-part "Unleashed," written by J.T. Krul (Fathom, Soulfire) with art by Alex Sanchez (30 Days of Night)! The Justice Society's very own master of the shadows, Doctor Mid-Nite, returns to his home city of Portsmouth to investigate a bizarre string of crimes known as the "Vampire Murders."

Given that Dr. Mid-Nite was just featured in a two-part story arc a couple months ago, we can’t help but question the decision to feature him again so soon with a different creative team.

Also given that the previous Doc Mid-Nite story featured a good story and top shelf art by Rags Morales this story stuffers not so much on the merits but by comparison to the previous story.

It’s not to say that J.T. Krul’s story here isn’t bad—there’s actually something to be said for showcasing the contrasts between the hero man of science and the villain vampire—both children of the night.

The art by Alex Sanchez is a little too Vertigo style for our taste but it’s not totally inappropriate given it is a vampire story.

A note to the DC however, there’s a whole roster of JSA members past and present who deserve spotlight. For our money, we would love to see Liberty Belle/former Jesse Quick get some much deserved attention.

52 Week 43

The (same) Upshot from DC Comics: The month begins with one of the main players in 52 having everything — and everyone — taken away from him, and ends with messages from beyond the grave that will have a lasting impact on several DC heroes. Also, Ralph Dibny's fate — or is that Fate? — is at last revealed as he solves the greatest mystery of all. Plus, more Origins of the DCU!

It’s time to declare this weekly experiment a failure and just hold on until World War III and Countdown.

We say this because when even this week’s Black Adam story, our favorite storyline by far, can’t keep us from yawning, it’s time to cut our losses.

The fight between a guilt-stricken Osiris and Black Adam and the Marvel’s at the Rock of Eternity was more farce than drama and totally devoid of emotional connection. Talk about hysterical overacting.

Yet, Osiris’ demise by his lizard “friend” was indeed a shock—not so much for the betrayal but by the sheer graphic nature.

52 began with great intentions—to fill in the missing year between Infinite Crisis and One Year Later in real time, one week at a time.

But so many storylines competed for attention that it forced some stories to be put off for weeks at time. Since another weekly series, Countdown, is waiting in the wings, we can only hope that DC has learned from its mistakes or it could be another long, wasted year.
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