Saturday, September 22, 2007

Old Dr. Fate Is New Again, Quality Time With Parallax & The Wall Starts Her Fall

As FanBoyWonder declared last week, we’ve officially given up on DC Comics’ weekly series Countdown. So we must admit that not only did we miss picking it up NOT at all but we actually felt quite good—like we were sticking it to the MAN-agment at DC.

A quick glance through this week’s Countdown on the shelves confirmed our decision. Yet we do have a Countdown title on our pull list—Countdown to Mystery, which features the New Dr. Fate.

We’ve had a long-standing affection for Dr. Fate thus we will make a single exception to our No More Countdown rule.

So without further ado, here’s FanBoyWonder’s picks for the week of September 19.

Countdown to Mystery # 1 (of 8)

The Upshot from DC Comics: Get ready for two incredible features in a new monthly series that shine a light on the dark places in the DCU! The Helmet of Fate has landed…on Kent Nelson — a man so far down on his luck, he doesn't know what luck is! The transformative nature of the helmet grants him powers he can't begin to comprehend…but will they make his life better, or even worse? Plus, Eclipso becomes the temptress of the DCU, bribing its heroes to the dark side in more ways than one! She succeeds…and the results will shock you!

We went into this introduction of this latest of Dr. Fates prepared to dislike it or at least to be disappointed. This eight-issue Countdown series had initially been slated to be a new Dr. Fate series in its own right earlier this year when it at the last minute it was pulled from the line up with little official explanation.

Writer Steve Gerber has admitted publicly that he is suffering from serious health issues, which in part delayed the project but nonetheless we took DC’s decision to dump the Fate issues already in the can into one of the plethora of Countdown series as a vote of no confidence about the quality of the series.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Gerber with art the art team of Justiniano and Walden Wong do a first-class job in the introduction of this new character with the familiar name.

Dr. Kent V. Nelson, psychiatrist, is a distant relation/descendant of the archeologist Kent Nelson, the original Dr. Fate. The helmet of Fate is no longer the host of Nabu, Lord of Order but still a powerful source of magic in an age where the rules of magic have been re-written travels from the pages of the pre-Infinite Crisis mini-series Days of Vengeance and to here where the helmet finds a broken man in this Kent Nelson.

Gerber paints a portrait of a man who has hit bottom—the physician could not heal himself from clinical depression and it caused him to lose everything—his wife and child, his professional reputation and his will to live until the helmet finds him.

Gerber’s excellent re-introduction is complemented by Justiniano and Wong’s art. This is the same art team from the aforementioned Days of Vengeance so there is a visual continuity to this story. Their style is particularly suited for tales of magic and sorcery.

As for the other story in this issue—the Eclipso storyline—we could care less about it. Nuff said.

But even as we look forward to the remaining seven issues of this series and as we laud Gerber’s skillful introduction of a new character to wear Fate’s helmet—we are annoyed at how unnecessary it is.

Dr. Fate has gone through nearly as many re-boots and new “hosts” in the last 20 years than the Legion of Super Heroes.

Since the original Fate Kent Nelson, this new Kent Nelson will make the fifth “new” Fate—Eric & Linda Strauss (the merged as Fate so they count as one), Inza Nelson (the original Kent’s wife), Jared Stevens, Hector Hall and now Kent V. Nelson.

The problem is that we really LIKED Hector Hall as Dr. Fate in the pages of JSA. He had several years as Fate under his belt and he was just starting to find some traction when—to our mind—he was quite briskly and unnecessarily removed from the stage (along with his newly resurrected wife Fury).

We don’t blame Steve Gerber for this. Quite the contrary, we laud him for a brilliant introduction of a character in a familiar role but we question the necessity of the mandate from DC management—change just for the sake of change.

We hope that Geoff Johns in the pages of JSA will address the Hector Hall situation while we get to know this new Dr. Fate and new Kent Nelson and hope that both stick around for a while.

Tales of the Sinestro Corps Presents Parallax

The Upshot from DC Comics: Get ready for a new series of specials focusing on members of the Sinestro Corps and tying into the "Sinestro Corps War" crossover.

Well that tells readers absolutely nothing but at least it was short.

Truth be told, it took us better part of a day and a couple of re-reads for us to decide that we did indeed like this one-shot special. The scripting and characterization by writer Ron Marz is well done, as the art by Ardrina Melo and Marlo Alquiza.

What bothered us was that before we even picked up the issue, the mystery of Kyle Rayner’s fate had been shattered by the give away in the pages of Countdown last week of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner—a Kyle who neither no longer Ion the torchbearer of the Green Lantern Corps nor possessed by the Parallax entity.

So given that this entire story takes place in Kyle’s head as he is trapped inside his own body, watching himself kill and destroy while fighting the monster possessing him—there were ample reasons not to like this issue or even to not to bother picking it up knowing the end result.

Truth be told, it’s not a vital component to the Sinestro Corps War storyline. But it as an interesting detour inside the character of the once and future Green Lantern.
We had always been a fan of Kyle during the 10 years that he was THE Green Lantern before Hal Jordan’s return, but it’s clear that the DCU (and DC Management) has had a hard time trying to figure out what to do with the one-time last Green Lantern.

The problem is that Kyle has an ample fan base but not a dominant one. Killing Kyle off would cause an uproar but with Hal’s return Kyle is no longer THE GL. We have to admit that our affection for the character went of the tracks some what with last year’s sub-par 12-issue Ion series, but Marz does a decent job here if regaining some lost ground.

Checkmate #18

The Upshot by DC Comics: Amanda Waller's unauthorized Black Ops game is exposed! "The Fall of the Wall" begins here!

Amanda Waller doesn’t appear in a single panel of this issue yet she dominates the story. Villains are being abducted and recruited for Waller’s Suicide Squad—her off the books covert team.

As White Queen of Checkmate, she is by law prohibited from having anything to do with covert operations, which is what she is doing. The Black King—led by Mr. Terrific, is trying to prove what they know—that the Wall seeking to consolidate power by building a covert team answerable only to her—a team that includes a team includes Rick Flag and Bronze Tiger.

Yet we are bothered by where Rucka is going with this. His characterization of Waller and Flag and the Tiger are all off. This is that much more noticeable with John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad mini-series playing out right now.

Ostrander’s Amanda Waller was ruthless and a ball buster but she had a code she lived by and she bent or broke the rules for the right reasons. Rucka has spent 18 issues getting Waller’s ruthlessness but not of her mirth.

And hey, what’s with Bronze Tiger wearing this Tiger Mask again—the same mask he would never wear because it was what he wore when brainwashed by the League of Assassins. There seems to be a characterization gap going on.

On the brighter side, we did like scene with Black Queen and Oracle. Black Queen offers an apology of sorts and seeks to make peace following the Spy Smasher incident in Birds of Prey. At least some books talk to each other.

The art by Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson is first rate. With this book finally having a top shelf art team, it’s all up to writer Greg Rucka. The Fall of the Wall storyline will be a make or break arc for this book.

Flash #232

The Upshot from DC Comics: What alien menace lies beneath the Flash's own home? And what's his dark, dark family secret — the one that's helping him keep the peace in Keystone?

Well giant alien squids may not have been the best antagonists to introduce so soon after the return of Flash & Family. The reader does get to know a little better Wally’s kids Iris and Jai.

Writer Mark Waid does a good job of having them actually act like kids. Yet it really bothers us that Waid pulled out of his hat yet again the super-speed accelerated growth trick—like he first did with Bart Allen.

Physically the twins are 8-to 10 years old-ish but chronologically they are a year old—they grew at a hyper-accelerated rate while Wally and wife Linda and the twins were away following Infinite Crisis.
We get that Waid wants the kids to be viable characters and infants just can’t do that but time travel or something other than accelerated growth may have been a better solution. But Waid has a proven track record so we’ll let him play this out.

Birds of Prey #110

The Upshot from DC Comics: In the aftermath of her new team's first mission Oracle is reminded of how, sometimes, a smaller task force is needed even on some big assignments.

Writer Tony Bedard does a decent job of replicating former BOP writer Gail Simone’s trade mark banter between Oracle and Huntress who has stepped up as Oracle’s primary field agent following the departure of Black Canary.

We see Huntress chasing down a car-jacked school bus while Oracle tries to get her to leave the bus to go stop some kids from detonating a bomb—even as Oracle runs down the list of female heroes who didn’t make the cut.

All in all it’s not a great story but it’s not the worst one in the world either. Thankfully the art by Nicola Scott and Rodney Ramos continues to be stellar.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

FanBoyWonder’s TV Pick—The War

From the Television Worth Watching file, FanBoyWonder would like to call to your attention an upcoming documentary special about World War II set to air next week no public television—The War

Here’s the Upshot from PBS: The War, a seven-part series directed and produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, tells the story of the Second World War through the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four quintessentially American towns. The series explores the most intimate human dimensions of the greatest cataclysm in history — a worldwide catastrophe that touched the lives of every family on every street in every town in America — and demonstrates that in extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives.

Throughout the series, the indelible experience of combat is brought vividly to life as veterans describe what it was like to fight and kill and see men die at places like Monte Cassino and Anzio and Omaha Beach; the Hürtgen Forest and the Vosges Mountains and the Ardennes; and on the other side of the world at Guadalcanal and Tarawa and Saipan; Peleliu and the Philippine Sea and Okinawa. In all of the battle scenes, dramatic historical footage and photographs are combined with extraordinarily realistic sound effects to give the film a terrifying, visceral immediacy.

Seventeen years ago, filmmaker Burns captured the imagination of the nation with his groundbreaking documentary on PBS—The Civil War

With little more than maps, still black & white photos, historian interviews, brilliantly voiced narration and a hauntingly sweet soundtrack, The Civil War managed to reignite Americans' interest in the most divisive period of our history. It also helped spark interest in the study of history itself.

It did at least for a young FanBoyWonder. We were starting our second year of college during that fall of 1990 when The Civil War aired. It moved us to declare history as a minor and we’ve continued in the study of history to this day.

In his latest film, Burns seeks to enlighten viewers about another War—this one from the not too distant past historically speaking even as the number of Second World War veterans are dwindling faster with each passing year.

Six years in the making, The War is a 15-hour, seven-part film designed to focus the experiences of the boys who went to war, as well as the family and friends they left behind.

The film’s narrative centers of gravity come from four geographically distributed American townsMobile, Alabama, Sacramento, California, the small farming town of Luverne, Minnesota and in Connecticut, the city of Waterbury, not too far from FBW's hometown.

To that end, the film purports to tell the story of World War II from the “American perspective.” This means that although the war officially started with Hitler’s blitzkrieg through Poland in September 1939, for America our war story didn’t (officially) begin until Japan’s first strike/sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Unlike Burns’ Civil War project, The War features a plethora of interviews with soldiers and civilians alike giving their first-hand accounts of life for them during the war years.

For FanBoyWonder back during our early days as a newspaper reporter, we had the honor of interviewing veterans from our various wars on a number of occasions, including a few World War II vets.

There is one interview that we’ll never forget. It was June 6, 1994—the 50th Anniversary of D-Day (and D-minus seven years to the day before we watched Brianna The Girl Wonder born into the world).

We were working for a small newspaper in Northwest Connecticut covering the local commemoration of the massive allied invasion of Normandy France—the beginning of the end of Hitler’s European conquest.

It was during an interview with one of the veterans who as we recall was among the first wave ashore Utah beach. We recall just being stunned as we watched this big bear of a man in his late 60s breakdown mid-sentence and sob uncontrollably as he recalled the things he did and saw that day and for many days afterward—horrors of war that we can’t even imagine.

FanBoyWonder was two months shy of 24 years old at the time but to this day we still recall the feeling of impotence at not knowing what to say or do and inadequacy that we felt as we realized that 50 years earlier, this old man was a boy younger than we were with literally the weight of world on him as he fought just to stay alive.

The subsequent generations with their “angst” and “the Quarter-Life Crisis” can’t help but seem soft and untested next to the generation of men AND women who experienced so much at so young an age.

Lucky for us, an older colleague from a rival paper who was also interviewing the veteran found some words to say to fill the awkward moment. Forever after during every subsequent veteran interview that we performed, we always remembered to thank them for their service.

The least we can ALL do is to thank a veteran—of any war or conflict. To thank them and to remember them and what they did or are doing.

We are heartened that The War will detail both the war in Europe against Nazi Germany AND the pacific war against Imperial Japan.

We’ve always felt that many pacific theatre WWII vets and their accomplishments have been unfairly overshadowed—however unintentional and through no fault of the veterans of either theatre. As yet, there is no “Band of Brothers” mini-series for Pacific vets; something we hope is remedied soon.

The War will air on PBS starting Sunday (check local listings). Take some time to learn and to honor.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

FBW to DC: Allow Nightwing To Fly

Among the news to come out of Baltimore Comic-Con earlier this month was the announcement by DC Comics Peter Tomasi—recently an Editor at DC—as the new writer of Nightwing.

Tomasi replaces Nightwing co-creator and most recent scribe Marv Wolfman. Tomasi’s run will begin with Nightwing #140 in January. Even better news is the book’s new art team of Rags Morales and Michael Bair—formerly of JSA and Hawkman. Top shelf indeed.

We are excited about this news as we see this as an opportunity for the former Robin the Boy Wonder to finally achieve his full potential as a character. However, we are also wary as in the past DC has squandered many other “potential” opportunities.

In an interview with, Tomasi provided his vision of Nightwing. You can read the full interview here.

“Nightwing is a great character and I hope I can do him justice for however long my own run lasts. And as been stated before, he's truly the lynchpin of the DCU. He's respected and trusted by everyone. He's got roots that move through all the teams, and also through almost every hero,” Tomasi told Newsarama. “In my eyes, Nightwing is at the top of his game. He's a millimeter off from being as good as Bruce/Batman in every single way, from detective skills to tactician skills, to fighting and weapons, and of course there's no question his interpersonal skills are a bit better.”

Well Tomasi is saying all of the right things but talk is cheap and we’ve heard it before.

Of all of the heroes in the DC pantheon, Nightwing has always had a special place in our heart.

Even before he became Nightwing, as a wee young FanBoyWonder we had a special fondness for Dick Grayson as Robin in the pages of Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans. Of course we knew who Robin was before NTT, but when we read him in Titans, we identified with Dick Grayson like never before.

Unlike in the Batman comics, Wolfman and Perez’s Robin was a leader and the guy everyone looked to, not as the boy hostage. Dick Grayson was chafing in his role as the Dark Knight’s sidekick—the Boy Wonder was growing up and he wanted to step outside of his “father’s” long shadow.

It’s a notion that most adolescent boys could identify with. FanBoyWonder was 13-years-old at the time and we remember quite well when picked up New Teen Titans #39 in November 1983.

We purchased that particular issue at the drug store in our grandfather’s hometown coming back from his wake. We’ll never forget sitting in our grandfather’s chair as we read the fairly earth-shattering events unfolding in the issue as Kid Flash retired and quit the team while Robin turned in his colors.

Five issues (and a name change) later in Tales of the Teen Titans #44, Dick Grayson would settle on his post-Robin identity and code name—Nightwing—and the sidekick became a hero in his own right.

For those of you too young to remember Dick as Robin, we can’t emphasize enough just how big a deal it was—just what a bold move DC had made when they finally permitted Dick to grow up and for a new Robin to take his place. We have a hard time believing that DC would be so bold today.

We should take a moment to salute Marv Wolfman, who ends his run with issue 137 next month. In what was supposed to be a four-issue fill-in run following the well deserved firing of Bruce Jones, DC extended stay on Nightwing for another year.

Marv brought some badly needed competence and stability to Nightwing following a long string of creative incompetence. That said, Marv never got past “solid” during his storytelling run.

One of Marv’s best strengths is his gift for dialogue and character building. Yet unfortunately that was offset by weak plotting and his often fatal flaw of prolonging a good story idea until it becomes stale—a four-issue story arc where only two issues was warranted.

Helping not at all was “new” Nightwing artist Jamal Igle, who put in a couple quite good but non-consecutive issues before moving on.

What encourages us most about Tomasi’s upcoming run is that Nightwing will be forward-looking.

“I think the days of Richard Grayson trying to prove something to Bruce is over. It's done. Finito. And I also will be trying to steer clear of centering stories on street level crimes,” Tomasi again tells Newsarama. “Richard will definitely be helping the people of his newly adopted city, but I wanna try and broaden the scope some more, go for some high concepts while still centering all the stories as to how they affect Richard's life.”

Like we said…music to our ears but we’ll believe it when we see it.

We are rooting for new scribe Tomasi to take Nightwing to the next level but in all honesty, it’s not entirely up to him. DC management needs to get behind this and allow Nightwing to reach his potential.

DC made a bold move all of those years ago when Robin became Nightwing but given DC management’s professed love for the Silver Age and a back to the future mentality where everything old/past is new again—return of Hal Jordan, Green Arrow/Black Canary, JLA/Hall of Justice and Luthor’s “Legion of Doom,” the multiverse…etc—one gets the sense that if they could (without serious fan pushback) Dick Grayson would forever more remain in the yellow cape and pixie boots.

Yet having made the bold move—more than 20 years ago—to (finally) allow the boy wonder to grow into a man, DC seems to be afraid to permit Nightwing to advance to the character’s logical evolution—to stand as an equal to his mentor/teacher/surrogate father The Batman.

As a result, readers have been treated to a tremendously inconstant portrayal of Dick Grayson over the years—not unlike his last days as Robin. He’s cool and confident or he’s whiny and angst ridden—the latter occurs usually when the Dark Knight is involved.

We have an inherent sense that the powers that DC Management believes that elevating Nightwing would somehow diminish Batman and it just doesn’t have to be that way.

Dick Grayson is in a stuck in a rut—not unlike the slump that Hal Jordan experienced in the years between Hard Traveling Heroes and Emerald Twilight. However, thanks to Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns, Hal’s character has been rehabilitated from peace-time screw-up/wartime hero to flyboy maverick.

Taking him at his word, Tomasi seems poised to give Dick Grayson that desperately needed extreme-character makeover but Tomasi needs to have DC behind him or nothing he does will take.

FBW's Nightwing Fixes

Nobody asked us but here’s our fantasy wish-list of remedies for fixing Nightwing:

--Accentuate his uniqueness—Nightwing isn’t and shouldn’t be Batman Jr. Yes, he has a similar skill set by virtue of who trained and raised him but among other things; Nightwing is talked up as the DCU’s premier acrobat-hero. Let’s see him in situations where he’s called upon to use it.

--Fight AND Win—Marv Wolfman is especially guilty of this but Nightwing needs to stop getting his ass kicked by every D-list villain and street tough. Nobody this side of Deathstroke or Doomsday should be able to lay a hand on him in a fight.

-- Defeat a Major Bat-Villain—Nothing garners respect more than definitely taking out a bad guy that makes the Dark Knight sweat. Our pick would be Bane. They had a tantalizingly brief exchange during a Batman & Robin movie inspired Bane special 10 years ago—but of course the writer stacked the deck against Dick.

Better yet, by defeating Bane in an undisputed fair fight, it would skirt the need for a Batman vs. Nightwing match as Bane’s defeat would serve an implicit, even unspoken understanding that if they HAD to have at it, the one-time student is a CAPABLE of prevailing against the master.

--The LeaderDick is a natural-born leader who inspires trust while Bruce is often in charge by default because he’s the smartest guy in the room (and does nothing to hide that fact). Even Tomasi concedes that Nightwing has superior “people skills.” We would love to see a scene where Batman and Nightwing are recruiting teams and everyone but Wonder Woman and Superman ask to be on Nightwing’s team.

--A real secret identity—Dick Grayson needs to be a real alter ego to Nightwing. We actually liked it during Chuck Dixon’s run that Dick was a Bludhaven cop. Dick Grayson should be as much of a real person as his costumed persona.

While we’re at it, there are some team-ups with Nightwing that we’d like to see:

--Wildcat/Ted Grant—Both because we don’t’ think it’s ever happened and because we’d like to see Dick interact with someone who even Bruce looks up to.

--The Justice Society of America—Specifically, we’d like to see Geoff Johns take on Nightwing plus the whole Dick Grayson meets the JSA again for the first time thing intrigue us.

--Green Lantern Guy Gardner and the Green Lantern Corps—This team up should take place off Earth and the whole fish out of water thing or acrobat in space would be amusing to see. Since Tomasi is also taking over writing GLC, it’s more than possible he could hook it up.

--Nightwing and Bruce Wayne (not Batman)—We’d like to see a circumstance where Bruce goes out to fight crime with Nightwing but in a ski mask or something other than the cape and cowl—just to mix things up and watch Bruce try to work without the spooky bat-mojo for a change.

There you go Mr. Tomasi. We’ve drawn you a road map. Have at it. Please don’t f**k it up.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Highlander: The Source—The Death of a Franchise

Last night, FanBoyWonder sat down, turned on the Sci-Fi Channel to watch the world premiere (well at least the U.S. premiere) of the fifth and what’s sure to be the final film installment in the Highlander franchise—Highlander: The Source.

Here’s the upshot from Davis-Panzer Productions: The world is falling into chaos. As he roams a crumbling city, Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), the Highlander, remembers happier times before the love of his life left... Hopeless and alone, MacLeod finds his way to a band of immortal companions, including his mysterious friend Methos (Peter Wingfield), and a mortal, Watcher Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes). Together this small group sets out on a quest to find the origin of the first Immortal and The Source of their immortality.

FanBoyWonder’s take: For the love of God, please JUST STOP! It’s over. You’ve killed the franchise. The head has been taken, the Quickening released and the corpse has long since been desiccated. The life has been absolutely sucked bone dry from Highlander.

As we led up to the viewing, we tried to keep an open mind despite knowing that The Source’s film distributor, Lionsgate Entertainment couldn’t get it shown in theatres and Sci-Fi Channel picked it up as a “Sci-Fi Original Movie.”

You know... where “Saturday is the most dangerous night on television”….especially if you are a distributor looking to park your film. Last stop, Saturday night primetime. So we figured it can’t be good…perhaps even pretty bad. No, it was worse—like Highlander 2: The Quickening bad.

At least with H2:The Quickening, they had the production values of a big movie. With The Source, it LOOKS CHEAP. The entire movie was shot in Lithuania. Nothing against the former Soviet captive state, but Vilnius is NOT Paris where Highlander the Series was shot for half of each of its six seasons.

It looks like an average episode of Highlander had a bigger budget and better production values than The Source.

Normally when we do a review, we attempt some sort of explanation of the story but this jumble of violence, bad dialogue and worse acting defies description for us—so read here and save yourself time and/or the video rental fee.

We loved the original Highlander starting Christopher Lambert when it came out in 1986. So did a lot of people and they commissioned the aforementioned squeal H2 The Quickening. And then they kept putting out sequels, none of them having anything to do with the previous sequel and only marginally replicating the magic of the original.

Somewhere in-between sequels in 1992, Highlander producers Davis and Panzer commissioned Highlander The Series—with Adrian Paul as a different (but related) Highlander.

Despite it’s flaws at the beginning and some lazy storytelling shortcuts throughout the life of the series, we liked Adrian Paul and the series. It never quite recaptured the magic of the original film, but it carved out its own identity and we grew to care about the man who would live forever but could die tomorrow in combat.

However, as we mentioned before the show spent half the season in Vancouver, B.C.—pretending to be a city in the U.S. then the other half of the season in Paris. The City of Light became just as much of a character in the series as Duncan, or Richie or Joe.

Face it, Immortals in Vancouver is just not compelling enough for six seasons worth of television—no offense to our Canadian friends.

The problem that was never overcome is simple—The original Highlander film was a completed story—beginning, middle and end. Connor MacLeod became immortal, lived a long time, defeated the bad guy and won The Prize—which was mortality. (Go figure!)

Better writing, attention to detail and just plain respect for the fans (by NOT insulting our intelligence) could have overcome this problem, but like other franchise holders (Star Trek comes immediately to mind but are you listening DC Comics?) they just assumed the fans would keep coming no matter the quality.

It was from Star Trek The Next Generation that we learned this term—“Replicative Fading” Basically, if you keep making a clone from a clone and cloning the clone eventually you get Highlander The Source.

The Source was supposed to be the first of a trilogy of new Highlander films. So let us end where we began this posting—Please No more. Let this once proud idea die and rest in peace.

“You only have one life! If you value it, go home!” –Connor MacLeod
Free Hit Counters
Online Universities