Thursday, March 15, 2007

Finding Fun With SHAZAM, Readers Save Manhunter & Nightwing Improves Steadily

Ok, we admit we really fell behind on our reviews as it’s been one of those weeks but since FanBoyWonder is stuck on the commuter train going nowhere fast because of a suspicious package up the tracks, we thought we would take this time to catch up.

So without further ado, here’s our take on the books for the week of March 7 with our picks for March 14 to come soon.

Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil #2

The Upshot from DC Comics: Part 2 of the 4-part miniseries written and illustrated by the award-winning Jeff Smith (Bone)! Not only does Billy Batson have a sister…but when he finds her he shares his newfound magical powers with her! And just in time, as Dr. Sivana, Mr. Mind and the Monster Society make their moves on Captain Marvel and the civilized world.

We are quickly falling in love with this book as there is a definite sense of fun here.

Writer/artist Jeff Smith skillfully crafts a tale proving that light-hearted doesn’t have to mean simple. Smith’s take very much reminds us of some of the original work of Captain Marvel creator, the legendary C. C. Beck.

Smith’s choice to honor the original vision of Captain Marvel—making Cap and Billy Batson two separate people who switch places upon the spoken magic word “SHAZAM”—is not our cup of tea. To be honest, we like the more recent interpretation of the boy in a man’s magic-powered body but Smith makes his take work for us.

We are really surprised at how much we enjoyed Smith’s take on Mary Marvel. Mary is still a little girl with (some of) the Power of Shazam. Smith is clever here to give her flying speed faster than Cap but very little in the way of strength—deftly avoiding the “cookie cutter” powers problem that has irked us with the Marvels over the years.

We can’t stress that this is an ALL AGES book. With Judd Winick’s Trials of Shazam casting a totally opposite vision in the DCU, we don’t think it’s too much to hope that DC seriously considers an All Star Shazam book that would allow this vision of Captain Marvel to continue along side the current DCU continuity.

Justice League of America #6

The Upshot from DC Comics: DC's super-hit cuts loose as best-selling author Brad Meltzer and artist Ed Benes unleash an unstoppable foe on the team that will become the Justice League!

We really hate to nitpick here but we were left just a tad confused and unsatisfied by the end of the book.

Writer Brad Metzler has an obvious love of these characters and he successfully conveys a real sense of team that’s been missing among the leaguers in recent years. Yet it just seems that Metzler—a novelist by trade—is just plain trying too hard to make us feel the drama.

The floating narration between characters was quaint at first but it’s a device he is quickly overusing—especially when it’s left up to the reader just whose point of view we are experiencing.

On the other hand, Metzler has used his mandate to build a new JLA however he desires not just to fill the team with A-listers—Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman—but rather to rescue some previously under-utilized characters.

While Vixen comes through in the clutch during the League’s big fight with Amazo, Black Lighting doesn’t do much but we’re just glad he’s there. Meanwhile, Black Lighting’s one-time teammate Geo-Force has been introduced into the League’s pages so a seat at the table can’t be far behind.

We’ve always liked Geo-Force. Of all of the Outsiders created in the 1980s by Mike W. Barr and the late Jim Aparo, Geo-Force to us always seemed to have the most potential, however unrealized.

No complaints about the art. Ed Benes and inker Sandra Hope have worked into a good artistic groove together.

Manhunter #27

The Upshot from DC Comics: "Unleashed" Part 4! A verdict on Wonder Woman — and a backlash from above!

Rejoice! One of the best books in the DC Comics line up has been saved once and for all from cancellation. Congratulations …well to us. FBW was one of many who added this book to our pull list after DC gave the book an extended 5 issue run following its initial cancellation.

A special thanks to FBW’s best pal Kemosabe for turning us onto this book.

One of the reasons we like this book is that writer Mark Andreyko has wisely opted to pick up the Wonder Woman-kills-Max Lord plot thread that occurred during the build up to Infinite Crisis but dropped like a hot potato by the Wonder Woman writers One Year Later.

When Attorney Kate Spencer receives the undoctored videotape of Wonder Woman’s battle with a mind-controlled Superman prior to WW killing Max Lord, she rightly sees it as her silver bullet to clear her client of the pending murder charge.

Yet Diana won’t sacrifice her friend’s good name to clear her own—talk about a stand-up gal.

One word on the art by Javier Pina and Robin Riggs, top shelf as usual but we especially loved the rendition of Wonder Woman. It’s the perfect balance of beauty and brawn—both warrior and princess.

It’s not easy for artists to pull off a credible Wonder Woman. Many either render her too much like a pin up girl, although a few have made her look like a member of the East German Women Swim Team.

Best of all, Manhunter gets to make an appearance in costume and fight a bad guy—in her own book!

We look forward to many more issues to come.

52 Week 44

The Upshot from DC Comics: In the month to come, death and destruction will reign supreme in the DCU. Storylines will intersect with horrifying results, a main character will die, another will do something he hasn't done in years, and one will fall from grace. A war is coming, and the end is near

Well we saw this coming a year ago—Black Adam loses everything. Despite its inevitability, it’s still sad to watch. Why was it inevitable? Because Black Adam is a bad guy—bad guys can’t stay reformed forever and happiness is finite.

Despite the sad outcome, the execution of the story itself—as well as the art—was mediocre. We’ve been following the Black Adam story for this entire year as it’s been our favorite but we still haven’t a clue as to what happened.

Yet give the devils their due as despite a thin story, they’ve started the critical mass building toward the upcoming World War III.

Nightwing # 130

The Upshot from DC Comics: Who are Bride and Groom, and what are they after? The mystery thickens as New Yorkers continue to disappear! Plus, a threat from Nightwing's past returns, this time deadlier than ever!

We didn’t think we were going to like this issue but we were pleasantly surprised. After a rocky introduction last issue, Bride and Groom as romantically co-dependent life-force parasites turned out to be quite interesting bad guys and off-beat opponents for Nightwing.

It was good to see both Nightwing healed up from his recent misadventures, as well as to seek the return of Nightwing the detective. Better yet, Writer Marv Wolfman really nails Dick’s character when he feels guilt for not being able to do the impossible and prevent these random murders.

Artist Jamal Ingle’s second issue as artist-in-residence is even smoother than the first and he is quickly getting a feel for the character.

It’s been a slow climb but it’s been steady. There is no single thing to point to but we definitely feel a sense of improvement and progress since Wolfman took over. Keep climbing guys.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Battlestar Galactica—The Son Also Rises

The Upshot from the Sci-Fi Channel: Sabotage, dissent, and unlikely alliances entangle the Galactica crew as the fleet awaits the trial of Gaius Baltar (James Callis).

The build up to the climatic trial of Gaius Baltar starts here even as the crew of Galactica deals with the emotional fallout following the apparent death of Capt. Kara Thrace/Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff) last episode.

The three men in Starbuck’s life—her husband Sam Anders (Michael Trucco), Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos) her surrogate father and Maj. Lee Adama/Apollo her one-time future brother-in-law, former secret lover and long-time pal—all deeply feel the loss of Kara.

When Anders gets blind stinking drunk on top of a Viper in the hanger deck, it’s Apollo who is called upon to talk him down.

Cut to a touching scene as a teary-eyed Adama reviews Starbuck’s photo and service file, filled in equal measure with commendations and disciplinary reports. It’s heartbreaking when he comes across an old gag birthday card she gave to him—it really does feel like a death in the family and Adama’s grief comes across through the fourth wall to touch the viewer.

Apollo is in little better shape—struggling to get through a pilot’s briefing, especially when he calls Racetrack (Leah Cairns) “Starbuck.”

Meanwhile, as Baltar’s trial approaches, Adama is tapped by lottery to serve as one of the fleet ship captains to serve on Baltar’s tribunal/jury. But not everyone in the fleet wants to go to the trouble of a trial and a bomb in the back of Racetrack’s raptor takes out Baltar’s lawyer.

President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) assigns a new defense attorney in the form of eccentric/odd Romo Lampkin (Mark Sheppard) to take the case. Adama, still hurting from the loss of his surrogate daughter and of a son years before, is fearful of his last remaining son flying a Viper, so he reassigns Apollo to Lampkin’s security detail with Helo (Tahmoh Penikett) filling in as C.A.G. (Good for Helo, at least he’s not Mayor of Dogville anymore.)

Lee is irritated by his new job until Lampkin mentions that Lee's grandfather Joseph, a prominent defense attorney, was his mentor. Intrigued, Lee supervises Lampkin's first meeting with Baltar, then agrees to accompany the lawyer to Colonial One to collect case files.

When the landing signal officer, Capt. Kelly (Ty Olsson), reminds Lee that his father has forbidden him to fly, Lee rebelliously boards the Raptor anyway where both Lampkin and Apollo barely avoid another bombing.All signs point toward the bomber being a member of the crew, which provokes tension and suspicion among the pilots and deckhands.

In a small but subtly played note, Cally Tyrol (Nicki Clyne) warns the other crew members to avoid turning on each other because that’s just what the Cylons want—for the humans to tear each other apart through suspicion and mistrust—even as she barely disguises her suspicion and mistrust of Athena (Grace Park), Galactica's Cylon defector.

While Apollo searches for the bomber, Lampkin himself is unconcerned, focusing on his plan to win supporters for Baltar and win his case. As he meets with the imprisoned Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer), he manipulates her into confessing her love for Baltar. With Apollo, Lampkin notes that his legal mentor was Joseph Adama, Lee’s grandfather and uses Lee’s curiosity and admiration for his grandfather to play Lee.

Another bombing succeeds in injuring Lampkin. Apollo finds that the bomber is Capt. Kelly. As landing signal officer, Kelly has launched so many pilots only to have them die and he blames Baltar for those deaths. After three years on the run with little hope and lots of fear, even good men can be pushed to do the wrong thing—how many more Kellys are there in the fleet waiting to go off?

With the bomber found, Adama wants to get Apollo away from Lampkin and back as C.A.G. but Apollo thinks it’s his place to help Lampkin—to follow more of his grandfather’s calling and step out of his father’s shadow.

There is genuine unrealized yet unresolved tension between father and son—not quite like what existed between them following the death of Adama’s youngest son Zak but not so different either. This in part may be fueling Apollo’s desire to step away from his father by helping Lampkin defend Baltar.

The episode ends with Apollo at the hallway memorial shrine—the closest thing the Galactica has to a graveyard. As promised, Apollo places Kara’s picture next to Kat. Anders arrives at the same time and they share an unspoken moment of mutual mourning for the woman they both loved.

Yet there is no jealously and tension here. Anders tells Lee he’ll see him around and Lee acknowledges it. Good for them both. We don’t know what the writer’s have in store for Anders but this is a hopeful sign—we hope we’ll be seeing him too.
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