Saturday, March 24, 2007

Savage Times for the JSA, Flash Zooms to Readability and Checkmate Lights A Fire

Forgive us if this batch of reviews seems a tad rushed but FanBoyWonder’s day job is sending us to Tampa, Florida starting tomorrow for business and we still have packing to do. But before we go, here’s our take on the books we picked up for the week of March 21.

Justice Society of America #4

The Upshot from DC Comics: The saga of the world's first and greatest super-hero team continues in Part 4 of "The Next Age," by Geoff Johns, Dale Eaglesham and Art Thibert! The families of legacy heroes have been targeted by an evil force set out to end their bloodlines. Now our members find out how close to home tragedy is as their leader stands revealed. And the new mystery member set to join the Justice Society will surprise everyone — especially the members of the team!

We liked this issue even as we acknowledge that we’ve seen better JSA stories come from Geoff Johns keyboard.

While we liked the basic concept of the New Age story arc—Vandal Savage’s attempt to eliminate the bloodlines of all past and present Justice Society members—Johns failed to convey any real sense of menace or threat of loss so we expected nothing less than the JSA to prevail without cost.

One problem is that Vandal Savage is the type of villain who either really works in a story or he really doesn’t. Plus, he’s a bad guy who should be used sparingly to maximize his heat when he does appear in a book—we can immediately recall that within the last year he’s been featured in JSA Classified and the Secret Six.

Also, note to Johns and the rest of DC—NO MORE NAZIS as bad guys unless it’s a pre-1945 flashback story. We have previously stated why we support a Nazi embargo, no reason to repeat ourselves.

We did like that Ted Grant’s long lost love child son turned out to be a real Wildcat and we liked the focus on Damage and that Johns both remembered and acknowledged the character’s history from Damage’s short-lived title from the mid-90s.

Most of all we like that Power Girl has been named the team’s first chairwoman. For one thing, it guarantees that the character will be front and center in the book. For another, it represents a big step forward in PG’s character development—from team hothead to leader. We look forward next month to the JSA/JLA cross-over.

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #10

The Upshot from DC Comics: Good cop, bad cop! Acing the L.A. Police Academy exam, Bart Allen carries on his grandfather's police legacy at super-speed. But the darker side of the law's just shown up in the City of Angels: Zoom!

We realize that writer Marc Guggenheim is only in his second issue of digging out from the mess that the previous two Hollywood bozos made of this title and this character, but he has to do a lot more than simply not suck. Fortunately for the readers, he seems to realize that too.

We’re still not at all crazy about the Flash in Los Angeles but Guggenheim is making the best of it. Yet it doesn’t feel like he has taken a step back in how we see Bart Allen this issue. Last issue, Guggenheim injected a little of Bart’s old Impulsive personality but this month, we feel like we’re reading a Wally West by another name.

The appearance of Zoom and Bart Flash’s relatively quick work (no pun intended) to defeat him feels forced. Geoff Johns built up Zoom to be an incredibly powerful speedster who was a threat to Wally’s Flash because he didn’t so much speed as manipulate time—here it feels like Zoom’s powers have been dumbed down.

The only genuine surprise at the end of the issue was the reveal of the mysterious person who sicked Zoom on Bart Flash—Iris Allen, Bart’s grandmother and wife of Barry Allen. Maybe she’s back from the future (again) to reveal that Bart being the Flash right now isn’t right and she’s here to fix the mistake and restore the timeline or fix the space-time continuum or some such.

Checkmate #12

The Upshot from DC Comics: An INFINITE CRISIS score gets settled when Judomaster's son faces Bane, his father's murderer! Meanwhile, the Black King discovers the meaning of "Corvalho" — a meaning long hidden by his own Knight, Fire!

We really liked this issue but it’s because we liked it that we fear for the long-term health of this title.

We were glad to see Fire get some much deserved character development—these past two issues have developed her more than during her entire run on the Justice League.

Yet given the twisted childhood we see she had (like how her father trained to cut throats as his idea of family bonding), it’s almost plausible to see this character retreat as a bubble-headed bimbo superhero with the League.

We liked that Judomaster’s son was able to avenge his father’s death by Bane without killing Bane. Ok so Bane broke the Batman’s bat, but getting his clock cleaned and especially by someone not a cape should be a character builder Bane.
Back to Fire, we’re glad to see that she both faced down the truth of her father’s crimes and that it allowed her to get out from under Amanda Waller’s blackmail. We’ve been seeing too much of Waller’s ruthless side and not much of anything else—we hope that changes soon.

Back to the reason why we fear for this book’s future. Because yet again it’s been co-written with Greg Rucka by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir. Each time they share writing chores with Rucka, the quality of the storytelling improves dramatically. Yet we know that three writers equal too many cooks in the kitchen.
Yet even with this current writing trinity, this title has yet to fully live up to its potential. We are even less optimistic given next month’s crossover with the Outsiders—a book that we wish would just go away (or at least stop give up Nightwing).

The Brave and The Bold #2

The Upshot from DC Comics: Written by Mark Waid; Art by George Pérez and Bob Wiacek; Covers by Pérez The Upshot from DC Comics: Green Lantern and Supergirl are off to Ventura on the trail of the bizarre case that began in issue #1! Ventura is a planet wide casino, which would be wild enough, but it has also become a backdrop for the Rann-Thanagar War! Guest-starring Batman and Blue Beetle!

This issue was fun. On the trail of a universal doomsday weapon at a Las Vegas-like gambling planet, Green Lantern Hal Jordan asks for Superman for backup and gets stuck with doe-eyed Supergirl.

We’ve made no bones in the past of how much we detest this re-introduced Supergirl compared to Peter David’s Linda Danvers/Matrix Supergirl or even the pre-CRISIS Kara Zor-El but writer Mark Waid manages to make Supergirl in this issue tolerable while remaining consistent to her personality (to the extent that she has one).

Yea we couldn’t help but laugh as Supergirl kept hitting on GL all the while he kept reminding himself of her age (“17” and “You have food in the refrigerator older than her Hal. Who are you Ollie”?)

George Perez with Bob Wiacek contributes top shelf visuals as usual. But we feel compelled to note that Perez is the absolute master at drawing the female form that is attractive yet not ultra cheesecake—Talented and artistic (T&A) illustrators Michael Turner and Ian Churchill, to name two, might want to take note.

Birds of Prey #104

The Upshot from DC Comics: Guest-starring the Secret Six! The Secret Six cross paths with the Birds of Prey, just as Spy Smasher takes the dismantling of Oracle's operation into her own hands!

Given that writer Gail Simone also wrote the Secret Six mini-series, it seems only natural that the two teams should cross paths.

The Huntress and Catman sharing a waltz while both teams staked out a black-tie formal event was cute—it reminded us vaguely of the Tango scene in True Lies between the future govenator of Kali-FORN-ia and the chick from Wayne’s World whom no one has ever seen again.

Simone has a knack of injecting comic sexual tension between characters and hits it big time with Huntress and Catman.

We’re also glad that Barda is sticking around for a while. Her absent-minded annoyance at having realized she had been shot several times and the team’s reaction as she casually dug out the slugs with tip of one of Huntress’s arrows told uninitiated readers more about the character than a page full of dialogue.

Following the end of last issue where Spy Smasher successfully outwitted Oracle, we were eager to see how the sky would fall with Spy Smasher now leading the Birds of Prey. Yet we see its business as usual for the Birds—Oracle is still giving them orders—the change is that it’s Spy Smasher’s orders.

Best scene of the issue—Lady Blackhawk to Spy Smasher: “You know, I knew the real Spy Smasher durin’ the war.” “Really. How interesting,” replies Spy Smasher. “I don’t think he would have liked you very much,” says Lady Blackhawk. Bang Zoom! Right there!

A quick word about art by Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood. The word is “fantastic.” Quality visuals, consistently produced. Please let’s hope this team stays on this book for a while.

52 Week 46

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.

Okay! The only reason we found this issue remotely interesting was that Black Adam’s revenge rampage was stopped in its tracks. Better yet, he was stopped without tricking him into saying “SHAZAM” or any other use of magic lightening. Clever fellas.

But now the Luthor Everyman storyline seems to be continuing as Steel and the cops are on hand to arrest Luthor—weeks after his superpowered rampage. They should have left well enough alone.

However, we do get to see Adam Smasher as he petitions to rejoin the JSA so he can stop Black Adam. Ok we get that World War 3 is coming. The DC house ads aren’t exactly subtle about it.

But here’s our beef. Even with 52 weekly issues, DC still needs 4 separate outside tie-in special issues to help fill in the blanks of what happened between Infinite Crisis and the start of One Year Later?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Battlestar Galactica—Crossroads Part 1

The Upshot from the Sci-Fi Channel—Gaius Baltar’s (James Callis) trial begins aboard Galactica, but the secrets he reveals might rip the fleet apart.

Please excuse the delay in posting our review but we missed part of the episode on Sunday and we wanted to see it in full during the encore broadcast before we weighed in with our thoughts.

That said, we are developing a serious case of Battlestar fatigue. That’s not to say that we don’t like the show or even this particular episode but when the cast and crew proclaimed last fall that Season 3 would be dark and progressively darker, they weren’t kidding.

Crossroads Part 1 was the build up for next week’s big, big season finale and you just know big things are coming. This episode spent much of its time setting things up for the big reveals due next week.

The trial of Gaius Baltar is proving to be every bit as divisive and polarizing as Vice-President Tom Zerek (Richard Hatch) had warned President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) it would be.

As Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) sits as one of five judges on Baltar’s tribunal, his son Lee/Apollo (Jamie Bamber) assists Baltar’s attorney Romo Lampkin (guest-star Mark Sheppard) on the defense team.

As the fleet Jumps toward the Ionian Nebula, a mysterious landmark on the way to Earth, a strange mood settles over its citizens. Roslin dreams vivid dreams in an opera house very much reminiscent of the opera house in Baltar’s vision with Imaginary Six (Tricia Helfer) on Kobol at the end of Season 1. In her dream, Roslin is trying to catch up to baby Hera while Hera’s mother Athena (Grace Park) spirits the baby away.

Meanwhile, we see a brief sighting of Sam Anders (Michael Trucco) in a Colonial uniform, perhaps in pilot training. It’s good to see that the writers are going to keep him around now that his wife Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff) is presumed dead (at least by the crew).

Anders and Col. Tigh (Michael Hogan) both inexplicably struggle to hear a static-laced song on the radio, but it has a much greater effect on Tigh. Might it have something to do with the group of Cylon basestars just discovered to be tracking the fleet at an extreme distance.

Then Racetrack (Leah Cairns) returns from a scouting mission with the chilling news that a Cylon force is secretly pursuing the human fleet.

Tigh interrogates the prisoner Caprica Six about the pursuing Cylons. She confesses that the human fleet's fuel ship emits a quirky radiation signature that the Cylons can track. Then, encouraged by her Imaginary Baltar, Six torments Tigh with questions about his dead wife, Ellen (Kate Vernon), a reluctant Cylon collaborator who died on New Caprica.

Tigh—never shy about holding back, especially with Cylons—smacks Six pretty good but Six gives just as good as she gets. Yet it’s her words that do the most damage as she cuts Tigh down to size—unraveling all of the fragile confidence and resolve he has struggled to regain these months since New Caprica.

Rattled, Tigh shows up drunk for his testimony at the trial for all to see. Lampkin eats Tigh's lunch during cross-examination, getting Tigh to admit that he himself killed Ellen, who was reluctant Cylon collaborator, thus destroying his credibility.

After Adama helplessly watches his best friend publicly humiliated, he later accuses Lee of tipping off Lampkin to the truth about Ellen Tigh's death. Adama is wrong— Lee never even knew about Ellen but Adama refuses to believe this, prompting Lee in anger to resign his commission and creating a Grand Canyon-sized rift between father and son.

Now a civilian, Lee opts to conduct President Roslin's cross-examination himself. He ruthlessly pounces on something he noticed earlier—something only a friend would notice—that her tea is laced with herb chamalla. The same herb she took when she was fighting her cancer and which also causes hallucinations.

On the stand, it’s heartbreaking to see Roslin quietly beg Lee “not to do this” and she even recalls “Captain Apollo has a nice ring to it”—her nickname for him during better times. He pushes ahead full steam, perhaps not even aware of the line he’s crossing …until it’s well behind him.

Mercilessly, Lee extracts her secret, as he noticed earlier, her tea is laced with the herb chamalla, which can cause hallucinations. He forces the admission from Roslin, thus casting suspicion on her testimony, yet Lee seems unprepared when Roslin adds that she’s taking the drug again because her cancer has returned.

As long-time viewers recall, Roslin was saved from the final stages of her cancer when Baltar injected blood from Hera, the then unborn human-Cylon baby into Roslin—wiping out all the cancer cells. This would seem to explain Roslin’s dream—the child could cure her again but the child’s parents have little love lost for the woman who abducted their baby in the name of public safety.

News of Roslin’s returned cancer has a devastating ripple effect throughout the fleet—which has already been pulled apart by Baltar’s trial.

With Tigh still shattered from his time on the witness stand and while he’s still plagued by the noise—he’s off duty with Capt. Karl Agathon/Helo (Tahmoh Penikett) back in C.I.C. filling in again as XO.

As he talks to Lt. Gaeta (Alessandro Julani), Helo recalls his time on Caprica running from the Cylons and he notes he can sense change in the air. “The weather’s changing Felix. We need to be ready for it. There’s a storm coming.”

Fraking-A right! Like a lot of two-part episodes, this set things up for a lot of bombs to be dropped next week during the season finale.

Even as we hungrily anticipate the finale, we are frantically working to ensure a way to see it as FanBoyWonder’s day job has mandated that we travel to Tampa the night of the season finale. So we are frantically searching for a way to record the episode or find some way to watch it. So we may or may not be able to blog a review of Crossroads p. 2. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

300 Spartans, Spider-Man 3, Spider-Girl 6 and Three Other FBW Comic Book Picks

As luck would have it, FanBoyWonder and Mrs. FBW enjoyed a diversionary trip to the cinema this weekend to see 300, based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name.

We never read 300 the graphic novel but the movie was pretty cool—all of the gory war violence mixed with a dash of naked chickness that the arm-chair alpha male could ask for.

It was a tad much for Mrs. FBW, however so we’ll be paying for it down the line by going to see a chick movie.

As an aside, we should note our admiration of British character actor Vincent Regan who played the Spartan Captain. A couple of years ago, we saw him in a very cheesy ABC mini-series on ancient Rome called Empire where he played an out of shape Marc Antony who was more clownish than cunning (though we suspect that was not intended). What a difference a couple of years and a personal trainer makes. Had we not seen his name in the credits, we wouldn’t have recognized him.

If you haven’t caught 300 yet, it’s a good one to see in the theatre but it’s a buddy movie, not a wife/date film. Ignore our warning and you’ll end up going to a chick flick too—don’t let our sacrifice be in vein. (Love you honey!)

Also, we saw the trailer for the upcoming Spider-Man 3 with the kid from That ‘70s Show as Eddie Brock/Venom and the black costume. It looked good. While we had liked but not loved the first two Spidey films, this third one definitely looks like it has some heat to it. Opens May 4.

Now on to FBW’s picks for the week of March 14.

Amazing Spider-Girl #6

The Upshot from Marvel Comics: The Black Tarantula lays a trap, Mad Dog takes aim and Spider-Girl battles the Hobgoblin for the life of a counterfeit web-stunner! Plus: Mayday Parker also confronts her parents and finally answers the question, “Whatever happened to the daughter of Spider-Man?”

This is quickly becoming one of our favorite monthly titles and it’s a pleasant reminder of just how fun the Marvel Universe used to be. It’s also extremely reader friendly, complete with a recap of related events from previous issues on page 1—not unlike how many television shows do it.

For months since Spider-Girl’s re-launch, we had been looking forward to a big face off between Spider-Girl and the Hobgoblin but writer Tom DeFalco deftly gives the reader a taste that turns out to be only a skirmish yet he doesn’t leave us feeling cheated.

We love how May was forced into costume after Hobgoblin kidnapped “Spider-Girl” at a comic expo, lamenting along the way that her web-shooters are dry and she’s more afraid to ask her dad to mix her up another batch of webbing than she is to fight one of her father’s toughest enemies without her primary weapon.

The Hobgoblin was always our favorite Spidey villain back in the day. Unlike the original Green Goblin, who was crazy, Hobgoblin is just plain mean, with some a healthy side of megalomania.

The art by Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema is just as good as their Spidey stuff back in the day—maybe even better. No deadline issues with these seasoned pros.

DeFalco and Frenz are plotting things out at a healthy pace but if there was anything to take issue with it would be DeFalco’s dialogue which is hokey at times. This is especially evident in scenes at May’s high school—it just reads like a middle-aged man trying to write a teenage girl. Hokey but it's not a deal breaker.

May’s conversation at the end with her parents is the payoff. She confesses she has gone back on her pledge to give up being Spider-Girl—although it does strike us as either credibility stretching or willful blindness on Peter’s part that he didn’t have a clue.

May acknowledges her parents’ concern and she says she’ll abide by their wishes if they want her to stop web-swinging—until she’s 18, then she will answer her calling and follow in her father’s footsteps. Good for her.

This character and this book has heart—too bad Spider-Girl is detached from the rest of the Marvel Universe.

Green Lantern Corps #10

The Upshot from DC Comics: It's Lantern against Lantern as Guy Gardner butts with his fellow Corpsmen! On Korugar, Soranik Natu comes under attack by government forces and on Mogo shadows gather.

Regular GLC writer Dave Gibbons returns while also dividing up the art chores with Patrick Gleason and Christian Alamy.

As much as we like Green Lantern Guy Gardner, especially following his newly restored respectability, a legitimate criticism has been made that Green Lantern Corps has become a Guy Gardner book co-staring 7,199 other Green Lanterns.

We see how Gibbons is using Guy as the reader’s point-of-view character. As an honor guard Lantern, he troubleshoots where needed. Yet it would be nice to see the much under-used Green Lantern John Stewart get some face time too.

We are definitely enjoying Gibbons’ continued development of Green Lantern Natu. She’s quickly becoming the most compelling character in the GLC.

As a native of Korugar —the renegade Green Lantern Sinestro’s home planet—Natu became an outcast the moment she accepted a Green Lantern’s ring. But as physician, Natu uses her ring driven by her medical knowledge and will power to heal.

Driven from her hospital practice, she is seeing patients in the slums of Korugar, working to redeem the Green Lantern name one patient at a time.

We really hope that Natu will play a prominent part in the upcoming Sinestro Corps storyline.

Teen Titans #44

The Upshot from DC Comics: Part 2 of the "Titans East" storyline explodes as the two Titan teams clash!

As we’ve noted, we had dropped this book recently (as it turns out for just an issue) until we heard that Geoff Johns was leaving the book. We opted to give it another chance under new writer Adam Beechen, who co-wrote this issue as part of the editorial hand-off between writers.

We like Johns overall but frankly we were relieved that he was dropping this book from his already overbooked writing schedule.

While he has an obvious knowledge and reverence for Titans history, to our mind he’s never been able to fully translate his admiration for the original Titans—Robin/Nightwing, Wonder Girl/Troia, Kid Flash/Flash—to the new generation of namesakes.

To give him full credit, Johns did re-launch the Teen Titans franchise where a number of previous re-launches failed by thinking outside the box and with the help of the at the time successful Cartoon Network series.

But his take on the Titans all seemed very clinical and by the numbers. It could be a generational thing—FBW was introduced to and grew up with the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans and no-one else will ever hold a candle to them.

This is not to say he could do no right on this book. Far from it. Johns single handedly re-invented the clone Superboy from a mouthy punk in a leather jacket and a bad 90s haircut to a lost soul and clone of both Superman and Lex Luthor—with a bad 2000s haircut.

He also made Bart Allen, the former Impulse, likeable by maturing him a bit and having Bart adopt the Kid Flash identity and embrace his family’s legacy.

Ironically, we didn’t realize how much both of these characters made up the heart of the team until they were lost in the wake of Infinite Crisis.

As for the merits of issue 44 itself, we’re afraid it was more by the numbers than really compelling. We’ve seen the team vs. team story done a millions times and Johns does bring anything new here. In fact, he loses ground in the one-dimensional way he portrays Slade Wilson/Deathstroke.

Once this story arc plays out and Adam Beechen takes over on his own, we’ll read his first story arc and then decide whether to say or to go again.

52 Week 45

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.

This issue, like the series has been a mixed bag for us. Black Adam is really the most compelling character featured during this series but only now, 45 weeks later, do we really feel like the surface has been scratched to fleshing out his character.

Likewise, as the impending World War 3 quickly builds, we can’t help but feel this series only really started last week with the other storylines just plain marking time.

As Black Adam goes on a grief-induced rampage (literally) destroying the nations attacked his country and killed his wife and surrogate son, a lot of the potential of this storyline has yet to be and we fear will not be realized.

As monarch of Kahndaq, comparing Black Adam to a real-life someone like Hugo Chavez is not so far out of line—Hugo Chavez with Superman-level powers. Adam’s rampage has shaken the world and we assume will be a big part toward launching World War 3.

Yet, as 52 is taking place during the missing year, until recently in the DCU post-One Year Later, there’s been little sense that WW3 even happened, to say nothing of that it had a huge impact—perhaps because the writers hadn’t decided on a WW3 at the beginning of OYL.

Meaning they’ve been making it up as they go along, and it shows. At this point, we’ll just ride out 52 and then decide if DC’s next weekly, year-long series Countdown is worth our attention.
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