Saturday, May 19, 2007

FanBoyWonder Salutes Our Veterans While JLA's Brad Metzler Hits a Double

FanBoyWonder’s had a busy day this Saturday and it’s going to get even busier next week as we prepare to log a lot travel mileage.

First, it’s off to New York City for FBW’s day job. Then we’re back Wednesday just in time to unpack, repack and hit the road Thursday morning with Mrs. FanBoyWonder to drive 10 hours to see Brianna The Girl Wonder during the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

But before we hit the Big Apple tomorrow, FanBoyWonder and Mrs. FBW got up first thing this a.m. to be at our local Mount Olivet Cemetery, to take part in an annual tradition—the placing of an American Flag at the grave of each of the cemetery’s armed service veterans in honor of Memorial Day.

We don’t take credit for doing all of this ourselves, far from it. Mt. Olivet’s Memorial Day veteran flagging is organized and supported by the good people at American Legion Post #11 in Frederick, MD, FanBoyWonder and Mrs. FBW are just honored to be allowed to participate with them.

It was bittersweet this year not having Brianna The Girl Wonder with us as a flag helper but we were proud to be a part this small token of gratitude to the men and women who served our country.

Unlike the good folks at Fredrick’s Legion Post #11, most towns and communities around the country flag their veterans’ graves on Memorial Day weekend itself—usually on Saturday.

If you are interested in volunteering, it may not be too late—call your local American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars post to see if they need a helping hand. It’s well worth getting up a little early. God Bless America!

Now on with FanBoyWonder’s review of books we picked up from the week of May 16.

Justice League of America #9

The Upshot from DC Comics: Part 3 of the hottest crossover of the year featuring the new JLA and Justice Society of America! "The Lightning Saga" continues as members of both teams scour the DCU from Gorilla City to Thanagar in search of something…or someone.

Closer to the beginning of writer Brad Meltzer’s run on JLA, we compared the New York Times bestselling novelist’s latest 12-issue stint in comic books to National Basketball Association Legend Michael Jordan’s attempt at baseball following his (first) retirement from the NBA.

Try as he could, Michael Jordan the baseball player couldn’t make the transition from jump ball to fastball and he proved that greatness in one sport does not guarantee greatness in all sports.

Meltzer’s fame as a novelist has cut both ways for him. Without his being a “name” talent, it’s unlikely he would have been at the helm of DC’s flagship title after only his third comics writing job. Yet it’s also his name that has led to sky high, perhaps unreasonably high, expectations.

After 10 issues (including a Zero issue) of hitting weak ground balls, Meltzer finally seems to be finding his timing and hits a ground rule double in part three of the Lightning Saga.

The reveal at the end is worth the relative lack of action thus far but there is a definite promise of serious action to come during Part 4 in next weeks Justice Society of America #6.

A word on the art. Regular JLA artist Ed Benes is back this issue but the art still seems a bit off. It threw us for a bit as Benes this issue inks his own pencils but that sandpaper look remains. It’s not that the visuals look unfinished, but it doesn’t look entirely put together either. Again, not a deal breaker, but enough to be noticeable.

Countdown #50

The Upshot from DC Comics: The event of the year is here! This brand-new, year-long weekly series features a cast of hundreds where anything goes! With head writer Paul Dini and a rotating team of some of the industry's best writers and artists, COUNTDOWN will serve as the backbone of the DCU in 2007.When a character dies in COUNTDOWN 51, it sets off an unexpected ripple that will touch virtually every character in the DC Universe. The COUNTDOWN is on…so begins the end!

The plot and continuity and just plain common sense inconsistencies that we commented on last issue remain in spades this issue, so much so we’re not sure where to begin.

With the help of Superman, the Daily Planet’s Jimmy Olsen tracks down the Red Hood, Jason Todd—the kid who replaced Dick Grayson as Robin before he got murdered (but only for a while) by the Joker. .

Ok so Olsen, a reporter—who for whatever reason is doing a story on why Joker’s Daughter died (see last issue)—KNOWS Red Hood’s whole back story, including his identity, which would mean he knows Batman’s and Nightwing’s identities and since Olsen had Superman’s help, Kal-El condones this. WTF?????

Meanwhile, we again see Mary Batson seeking mystic information from Madame Xanadu. Again, is Mary still a kid or she an adult or somewhere in-between?

Madame Xanadu is unable to help Mary locate Captain Marvel Jr. but she does warn the powerless Marvel to avoid Gotham City because "it isn't safe for magic," so of course we know that Mary will be on the first bus to Gotham.

Speaking of Gotham, Jimmy Olsen goes to Arkham Asylum to visit the Joker to ask him about his murdered “daughter.” The DC Universe hasn’t seen a whole lot of the Joker since that god-awful Joker’s Last Laugh “event” from three or four years back and we can honestly say we haven’t missed him.

The Hannibal Lector-inspired conversation between Olsen and Joker doesn’t seem to do much except to allow writer Paul Dini to put Olsen in a post of mortal danger when Killer Croc—who is conveniently being transferred between cells—to take a run an unknowing Jimmy and providing a weak cliffhanger.

Dini this issue goes out of his way to show readers that Countdown is NOT 52, that this series exists in the DC Universe in hear and now—both by the cameo of Superman and by showing the Batman/Karate Kid fight that took place during start of the Lightning Saga JLA/JSA cross-over.

On a positive note, the art by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey is quite good and visually consistent throughout. If the art team keeps this up, they will go a long way to help carry this series, especially if the stories remain this week.

Bottom line: It is one thing to ask the reader to suspend our disbelief, but don’t insult our intelligence. Dini and his writing team apparently have a plan as to where this series is going but it would be nice if they clued in the reader and kept the head-scratching WTF moments to a bare minimum.

Checkmate #14

The Upshot from DC Comics: Part 3 of "Checkout," continued from OUTSIDERS #47! The agency's locked in a shotgun wedding with the Outsiders. The honeymoon's on Oolong Island, a mission that nobody else in the DCU will touch, and the combined strike force is about to find out why.

As regular FBW readers know, we dropped Outsiders some time ago and we’ve been boycotting the Outsiders portion of the Checkmate/Outsiders cross over as since we have publicly called for the cancellation of Outsiders.

From a business point of view, we can see where the two struggling books would want to cross over in an effort to gain new potential readers but from the Checkmate parts of the story that we’ve read, this crossover can only help Outsiders and while diminishing Checkmate by association.

Unfortunately, Checkmate’s diminished luster from its Outsiders crossover is a hit the book can’t afford to take. We like this book’s concept and we see what writer Greg Rucka is trying to do in crafting a story of the gray world of intelligence within the black and white, good and evil comic book world,. But as we’ve noted a few times, Rucka is sometimes just too darn smart for his own good.

Rucka’s Checkmate is the perfect example of what Ryan at Film Fodder Comics has noted his comments about Countdown #51 and DC’s general trend of late of omitting or failing to clue the reader into the relevant back-story or even a simple recap within the story itself.

Example: In this issue, Nightwing and Checkmate’s Black Queen Sasha Bordeaux enjoy a nice moment swapping tales about their affection for Batman (although he is not mentioned by name)—Nightwing, his adopted son, Sasha, his brief partner and tragic one-time lover.

Unless you happen to have read Rucka’s run on Detective Comics during the Bruce Wayne Murderer storyline a few years back, Checkmate readers (or anyone else) would have no earthly idea who Sasha Bordeaux is or what her connection to Batman or how she came to join Checkmate.

Dan Didio in a recent interview called this type recapping “lazy storytelling” but if DC doesn’t throw readers a bone with some sort of background info or recap—especially if their books are going continue to be Deadline Challenged—good luck at retaining existing readers to say nothing of bringing new paying customers into the fold.

We’re sorry to say that unless Rucka gets his act together, this book will not be in the DC line up this time next year.

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #12

The Upshot from DC Comics: Artist Tony Daniel (TEEN TITANS) brings "Full Throttle" into the endgame stage! The dark force behind the Rogues' full frontal assault is revealed —and this issue's shocker ending will change the Flash forever

This book isn’t as horrible as it was when Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo were at the helm but we’re not nearly as impressed with Marc Guggenheim’s tenure so far.

He DOES deserve full credit for stemming the bleeding following the incompetent run of Bilson and DeMeo for bringing simple competence to the book—but as we’ve said before, not sucking isn’t enough.

We steadfastly maintain that Bart Allen as the Flash—at this moment in time as a “grown up” Wally West clone—is a flawed premise.

However, we do have to admire Guggenheim’s cliffhanger last issue and the first couple pages this issue. LAPD cadet Allen is confronted by detectives and he doesn’t have time to make up a BS story…so he pops open the costume and says I’m The Flash and I don’t time for you deal with it.

Let us clarify that it’s not that we don’t think that Guggenheim is a bad writer or even bad on this title but we’re just not sure that he (or anyone else) is strong enough to carry all of this title’s baggage up and over the hill.

The visuals by former Teen Titan artist Tony Daniel wasn’t bad, but something was off. Perhaps it was having to different inkers—Art Thibert and Jonathan Glapion.

Another thing: If Daniel is going to be drawing a speedster, the character really needs to look like he’s MOVING at super speed…or at the very least like he’s running. Too many posing shots. But it’s only his second issue.

Ok, the cliffhanger and the solicit for next issue has us intrigued. Big changes are coming as Full Throttle winds up. Guggenheim will either be able to sell Bart Allen as the Flash next issue or he won’t (no pressure!).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Spider-Man 3—A FanBoyWonder and Kemosabe Review—SPOILERS

FanBoyWonder and our best pal and Kemosabe John Micek along with Kemosabe’s music mates Mike and Chad (who play with the Harrisburg, PA-area band Fink’s Constant…’sconstant) went to see the much anticipated Spider-Man 3 during its opening weekend.

FBW and Kemosabe say goodbye to Mike and Chad, we spent the short drive back to his house from the theatre recording our first impressions of the third Spidey movie.

SPOILER WARNING: If you are one of the few who has NOT seen Spider-Man 3, do NOT read the following.

FanBoyWonder: We are pulling out of the parking lot after seeing Spider-Man 3. Our raw impressions…Kemosabe, you first.

Kemosabe: Oh my good God. That was like three movies. There was at least three movies in there. There was the Harry Osborn/Goblin thing, the Sandman plot thread and the Venom plot thread interlaced with the romantic angst with Mary Jane Watson played by the lovely Kirsten Dunst, who I’d actually watch read the Yellow Pages

FBW: With a little bit of Gwen Stacy thrown in.

KS: With a little bit of Gwen Stacy thrown in. Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard, used as Gwen Stacy—underused, criminally so because she just sparkled in every scene she was in but she just seemed like an afterthought.

FBW: You’ll note the irony. Kirsten Dunst in real life is a blond and Bryce Dallas Howard is actually a redhead.

KS: So they swapped hair. Yes.

FBW: I didn’t think it was nearly that bad actually. I went in with lowered expectations. It was a least 20 minutes too long, at least 20 minutes too long with the bad Peter Parker and the bad hair and the disco Peter Parker.

KS: With Goth Spider-Man?

FBW: What did [Mike] say about the hair?

KS: It looked like [Stan from] the Goth episode from South Park. That whole interlude where [Tobey Maguire] became the bad, disco anti-Peter was completely unnecessary.

FBW: Yeah, with the John Travolta/Saturday Night Fever strut.

KS: It was completely uncalled for, completely unnecessary.

Ok, my general impressions. There were broad swaths of it that I liked. In the end there where Harry [James Franco] and Pete team up to take on Sandman [Thomas Haden Church] and Venom [Topher Grace]. Very cool.

FBW: I did like the tag team. Yes.

KS: You know, they had that whole underlying tension through the three movies of; you know I need to get my revenge. And they finally get past it and the act of forgiveness and they fight together. And of course—SPOILERS—Harry doesn’t make it.

You know, Tobey Maguire IS Peter Parker. Picture Peter Parker and he is Tobey Maguire. I gotta be honest, some of the moments between Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire seemed really genuine, like they were an actual couple.

There’s a genuine chemistry between the two of them and should there be a fourth movie, there’s a lot left to be resolved.

FBW: I don’t think there is going to be a fourth movie. Maguire in interviews kept talking about how he only wanted to do three and Dunst only wanted to do three. I think they kind of threw everything into this last script knowing they probably couldn’t get the actors back.

KS: I think they just bit off a bit more than they could chew. There were too many moving parts and a lot of plot text that if you were coming into it cold, it would be a little bit much of you to keep track of.

FBW: With Spider-Man 2, I thought it had too little story so this time around, I guess they had too much going on.

KS: See Spider-Man 2 was perfect. I’m a firm believer in the one villain per movie theory, which is proven ably in the first run of Batman [Michael Keaton/Val Kilmer/George Clooney] flicks where they crowded it with too many villains and things just went off the rails. One villain per movie.

FBW: But what about Batman Begins where they had Scarecrow as a minor tier villain and Ra’s Al Ghoul as the big villain?

KS: But you didn’t have them chewing scenery the way Jim Carrey [as The Riddler] did or the way say Tommy Lee Jones [as Two Face, both in Batman Forever] did.

Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in the second [Spider-Man] movie I thought was just nefarious enough and just evil enough that he could carry off the movie. Plus that was more about the drama about Peter trying to adjust to becoming Spider-Man.

Shot through the Spider-Man books and shot through the movie, there’s a whole human element which has made Spidey so darn accessible.

FBW: Thomas Haden Church as Sandman was dead on. The look…that was [Spider-Man Co-Creator and original Spidey artist] Steve Ditko right there.

KS: It was an inspired piece of casting. He was terrific in Sideways and he’s a great actor. The soliloquy and the monologue at the end of the movie between Thomas Haden Church and Maguire was…there was a nice bit of closure there.

FBW: He did not have enough to do though.

KS: He did not.

FBW: Of the villains, he should have been featured the most. Of the actors, he’s the heaviest weight.

KS: Can we please just get this out of the way now—Topher Grace is annoying beyond comprehension.

FBW: Yes.

KS: I mean granted that’s part of the character, but I could have done without it.

FBW: A pet peeve during the battle. Goblin Jr. He’s running around with a mask. I guess he doesn’t care.

KS: Well he had the cybernetic mask thingy and then he took it off.

FBW: And Spidey, how many times is his mask going to get beaten up?

KS: And how many times is he going to get unmasked before all of New York knows who he is? Does the city have collective amnesia where they see Spider-Man without the mask on—there are telephoto lenses on those TV cameras kids.

FBW: J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. Oh my god!

KS: Perfect, perfect, perfect! I almost peed my pants during that scene with Jonah and the pills. That because I had like 40 ounces of Coca Cola in me, I almost peed my pants.

FBW: You know Betty Brant the receptionist? I’ve seen her before.
She was from the 40-Year-Old Virgin. She was the blond.

KS: Oh my god yes, that was Elizabeth Banks. Ok I remember now.

FBW: I did like the full circle thing with the Goblin.

KS: Yes. We should say that there was fight scene in the middle where it looks like maybe that Harry buys it. I was surprised as any that he was still alive because I was wondering how they were going to wrap up that plot thread.

It kind of looked like Spidey blew him up into teeny tiny little pieces. Sorry SPOILER.

FBW: I do like that it was Bad Spidey that took on Goblin Jr. that the black costume kind of unhinged Peter.

KS: Enough to kick [Harry’s] ass.

FBW: Yes. Because I was kind of getting sick of Harry bitching…. ‘you killed my father, you killed my father’.

KS: [doing a BAD imitation of Mandy Patinkin from the Princess Bride] ‘You killed my father, prepare to die!’

FBW: I just wanted Spidey to say, ‘no I didn’t, suck it up.’

KS: That had to be resolved somehow.

FBW: And Bad Spidey just lets loose.

KS: He finally just throws down.

FBW: You see, you always have the bad guy who is always counting on the good guy to hold back.

KS: Yeah…this time not so much.

Hey can we just say the Russian landlord and the cutie daughter…I liked that little touch there. That was very nice. I liked it in the last movie where she offered [Peter] cookies or brownies or whatever…that was very nice.

FBW: All in all, I liked how Ted Raimi….no Sam Raimi.

KS: No Sam Raimi. Ted Raimi, Sam’s brother played editor guy at the Daily Bugle and he played Joxer on the old Xena TV show.

FBW: Bruce Campbell’s cameo?

KS: Oh God. One of the bright spots of the movie. Campbell is a joy in everything he does.

FBW: To me his cameo in the first movie as the ring announcer was the best

[We pull into Kemosabe’s driveway]

Ok, bottom line it—Spider-Man 3, DVD or movie pick?

KS: DVD. Don’t know if I’d pay $7 again to go see it.

FBW: I would say, if you want the full screen experience and you want the special effects…you’re going to kill 2 hours and….

KS: 20 minutes.

FBW: …and they’ll be some cringe moments.

KS: and don’t have any soda.

FBW: ….and then if you want to get the DVD and zip through the bad parts, go ahead.

KS: and DON’T have any Soda!

FBW: Thank you Kemosabe.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

DC Countdowns Another Weekly Series While Miss Spidey’s Mom Saves The Day

Here’s FanBoyWonder’s comic book picks for the second week of May.

Countdown #51

The Upshot from DC Comics: The event of the year is here! This brand-new, year-long weekly series features a cast of hundreds where anything goes! With head writer Paul Dini and a rotating team of some of the industry's best writers and artists, COUNTDOWN will serve as the backbone of the DCU in 2007.When a character dies in COUNTDOWN 51, it sets off an unexpected ripple that will touch virtually every character in the DC Universe. The COUNTDOWN is on…so begins the end!

Well….this first issue wasn’t nearly as horrible as we thought it would be. Actually it wasn’t that bad even as we went into yet another year-long weekly comic with greatly lowered expectations following disappointment that was 52.

While we understand—at least from a business perspective—DC’s desire to keep feeding readers a weekly book but from an editorial/storytelling standpoint, Countdown would have benefited from a month or even a two-week break to allow readers to catch a breath and to build some buzz about this series.

Thing is we had very little idea what this series was about—other than being another weekly series—going in but that might be to DC’s benefit. If little is promised up front, it’s harder to complain about what wasn’t delivered in the story.

Despite our disappointment at 52 and bitter disappointment with Infinite Crisis, we are looking to keep an open mind about Countdown, hoping that DC has learned valuable lessons during the past year and is ready to produce a weekly comic book series that is both timely and quality.

The first lesson appears to have been learned already as Paul Dini has been drafted as head writer and calling the shots among the team of writers as the series progresses as opposed to the “too many cooks in the kitchen” approach of 52 by having so many heavyweights jockeying for storytelling space.

Gotta be honest in that the main draw that kept us from voting with our feet following the 52 train wreck was the inclusion of Mary Marvel into the cast of Countdown’s featured players.

Despite the series’ whisper instead of a bang kickoff, Dini crafts a decent first issue yet there are a number of head-scratching items within the story that could have and should have been avoided with a few words of simple explanation.

Example: Joker’s Daughter seems pretty unfazed that she’s been plucked from a “neighboring Earth” to Earth-1 (boy it’s been a while since we used that in present tense), yet she knows the full bio of Jason Todd the Red Hood—even as the reader is never told for sure that it is Jason Todd under the hood.

With Mary Batson, unless you had read the current Trials of Shazam maxi-series or even the Brave New World one-shot from a year earlier, the reader would not know that Mary Marvel’s powers crapped out on her in mid-air and she’s been in the hospital recovering.

So the magic word doesn’t work for her anymore. We’re sure to find out why as the series progress but give the “Seduction of the Innocent” ad-tag line that’s been associated with her part in this series, we’re wary to say the least.

Another thing is—viewing Mary Batson as she checked out of the hospital, it’s unclear to us whether she’s 15-years-old or 25 and the way that DC keeps shaking the continuity snow globe with the changing ages of the Marvel family she could be both depending upon her appearance in different issues.

As for the art, we have absolutely no complaints. Former Checkmate artist Jesus Saiz’s pencils with inks by Jimmy Palmiotti complement each other perfectly. We have to say that hands down this is the best we have seen from both of these guys—we hope they can keep up this level of quality throughout the remaining 50 issues.

Green Lantern Corps #12

The Upshot from DC Comics: Pursued by his fellow Green Lanterns, Guy Gardner seeks refuge on Mogo, only to be confronted by his oldest fear. And on Oa, Lanterns clash as death stalks the Corps.

Despite the unoriginal “Fugitive” plot thread with Guy Gardner having been cast in the role of Richard Kimball, this was a fairly low key issue which served to advance the cast of characters toward the big build up that will be the upcoming Sinestro Corps storyline in both Green Lantern titles.

We like the continued focus on Green Lantern Natu and her sector partner Princess Iolade. These are two strong but flawed female characters and they play well off one another.

Dave Gibbons is growing into his role as a writer as we thought he would but this title still has unrealized potential. The art was a little disappointing as regular artists Patrick Gleason and Prentis Rollins were unable for whatever reason—perhaps the upcoming Sinestro Corps big story arc—to carry the whole issue.

Thus it falls to artist Ron Nguyen to pick up some pages in this issue. His art style was not radically different than Gleason and Rollins but it was noticeable.

Nightwing #132

The Upshot from DC Comics: Three friends are dead, and as Nightwing's thirst for revenge grows, he finds himself having to choose a path that could alter his future forever. Also, 300 hundred years ago an evil was born, and now, to survive, it is ready to destroy in the conclusion of "Bride and Groom."

This was by no means a bad issue and while we’ve been pleased overall with writer Marv Wolfman’s performance since he came on board last year, this issue does display perhaps his greatest weakness as a writer—his inclination to take an otherwise good idea and drag it out well beyond its usefulness.

Bride and Groom as co-dependent vampire-like life-force sucking serial killers was a decent enough concept but at best this was a two issue story arc that was dragged out over four issues with the promise of more to come at a later date.

We need to see Nightwing take on a worthy adversary in these pages. There is a hit of that to come starting next issue but it can’t come soon enough for us.

Regular artist Jamal Igle takes a breather this issue with Paco Diaz doing a more than capable job of filling in.

It’s safe to say that Marv Wolfman’s post-Bruce Jones grace period is at an end. The superb storytelling in last month’s Nightwing Annual #2 has raised the bar to a whole new level. From here on in, Wolfman is going to have to carry the book and win readers on his own merits—simply “not sucking” is no longer good enough. Full throttle time Marv.

Amazing Spider-Girl #8

The Upshot from Marvel Comics: Anti-mutant sentiments flare in Midtown High and Mary Jane Parker takes center stage when one of Spider-Girl’s classmates begins exhibiting dangerous new powers.

We’ve been generally pleased with the series as a whole since we started buying it with the reboot of the series but this issue is hands down one of the best we’ve read—not just of this series but it was the best Mary Jane story ever.

Spider-Girl never stops being the star of this book but writer Tom DeFalco shifts the focus onto Spidey’s mom Mary Jane Parker.

In any comic book, the hero’s love interest never has it easy—comparisons to a cop’s spouse are not too outlandish—but Mary Jane Watson-Parker has had it harder than most.

While it’s tough enough for most “Lois Lanes” to see their loves put themselves in harms way, it’s a whole different ball game to watch one’s little girl go into the “family business” and watch her risk her life and all you can do is hope for the best.

May Parker never appears in costume in this issue but Spider-Girl is a heavy presence throughout this story.

When May’s friend Sara previous latent and unknown and barely controlled mutant powers in front of the entire school, Mary Jane goes to comfort the girl’s parents and is shocked at Sara’s father’s bigoted reaction that his flesh and blood is a “mutie.”

It forces MJ to confront her own guilt and fears at making guilt-tripping May into giving up her role as Spider-Girl.

We’ve noted in the past in this book how much we enjoy watching Peter Parker, the one-time Spider-Man, relegated to a supporting character role here.

Frankly, the thing we love best about this series and the premise of the Spider-Girl character is that it’s an outlet that allows the reader to see Peter and Mary Jane live “happily ever after”—something refreshing considering the events playing out in the Spider books in the “main” Marvel Universe.

As usual, the art by Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema was top shelf. Monthly issues with consistent quality storytelling and art with nary a missed deadline in sight. Score one for the boys from the Old School.
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