Saturday, October 20, 2007

Power Girls, Cyber Show Down and Justice League’s Unlimited Disappointment

Well here we are again at Mom and Dad FanBoyWonder’s but before we go pack to fly home to our Lovey, Mrs. FanBoyWonder, we wanted to give a shout out to Scott at Buried Under Comics in Manchester, Connecticut.

Buried Under was our comic store back in the day as a teenage FanBoyWonder and we were quite hearted to find the store remains there and is going strong.

A special shout out also belongs to FanBoyWonder’s baby brother Joe who celebrates his birthday today. But it was FBW who got the present as we got to play with Joe’s son, our nephew Jack. He’s a cute little not quite 2-year-old with a great attitude and a pout-like expression that the chick will dig when he is older—proving that he does indeed take after his Uncle FanBoyWonder.

With that said, here’s our review of books that we picked up while at Buried Under for the week of October 17.

Brave and Bold #7

The Upshot from DC Comics: Wonder Woman and Power Girl fight side-by-side against a foe who may be more powerful than both of them combined!

This was a team up that we had looked forward to for some time as we can’t recall seeing these two characters together at least at anytime prior to the CRISIS on Infinite Earths.

Yet even after a few re-reads, we’re still not sure if we liked this issue or not. It’s not that the story was bad—writer Mark Waid crafted a perfectly competent, by the numbers team-up tale and it certainly wasn’t the art—penciler George Perez and inker Bob Wiacek

It’s the characterization that we take issue with. We’ve always been fond of Power Girl—especially since her character and its origin tweaked and re-tweaked following the original CRISIS to the point of absurdity. The ONE good thing to come out of the GODAWFUL Infinite Crisis was to finally acknowledge Power Girl’s true origin as the last daughter of Krypton.

But in a more dramatic twist Kara Zor-L isn’t just sole survivor of Krypton but of her entire universe and she’s a kryptonian who isn’t affected by kryptonite. On the character level, we like how Power Girl has ascended to become the Chairwoman of the Justice Society of America. The one-time team hothead is the leader and den mother.

So seeing Waid’s rendition of Power Girl the hothead whose inclination to smash and hit early and often is at odds with the JSA’s leader that we know today.

Yet Waid using Wonder Woman as the reader’s representative to address Power Girl’s inconsistent representation by different writers over the years:

“You sometimes make people…uncomfortable. Calm one minute…angry the next. And no one can predict what will set you off.”

Another word about the art—George Perez displays his masterful sense of visuals—his breakdowns definitely take a by-the-numbers story to the next level. However, it’s his drawing of the female form that sets him apart—all the way back to his days on New Teen Titans and his renditions of the buxom Starfire and Wonder Girl we knew he liked to draw the ladies.

Yet even with the buxom Power Girl he draws her and Wonder Woman without gratuitous cheesecake. Perez is the best example of a comics master storyteller. There are illustrators who have a limited number of tools in the artistic tool box and an even more limited skill set with those tools and they try to compensate for their artistic shortcomings by throwing in T&A shots—then there is Perez. Nuff said.

Birds of Prey #111

The Upshot from DC Comics: Oracle and the Calculator face off — albeit back-to-back — in a virtual war spawned in their COUNTDOWN encounters and setting the Birds of Prey up for big changes.

We were actually quite favorably impressed with this issue. Although we had seen the credits and knew it was NOT the Birds by writer Gail Simone and artist Nicola Scott that we knew and loved—but Tony Bedard’s story and Jason Orfalas’s visuals gave the reader a very good, very familiar feeling story.

We can’t immediately recall if Tony Bedard is the new, permanent Birds writer or if he’s a fill in. We also hope that Nicola Scott hasn’t moved on as Simone has but if so, this is a team we would like to see continue.

One of the few points of contention that we had with Simone’s BoP run was that she had built up the Calculator, a one-time, pre-CRISIS z-list villain into Oracle’s opposite number—information broker for the villains.

The whole Oracle vs. Calculator thing was really building into a great confrontation when One Year Later occurred and the Calculator storyline was dropped like a stone—not unlike many other promising storylines in other books following that clusterf**k known as Infinite Crisis.

We’re glad that Bedard found the occasion to revisit that story line, even if we are disappointed that it turned out to be a one-shot story. We think this could have major potential for much more…but given that DC no longer seemed interested in exploring the Oracle/Calculator plot line, we’re grateful just for this bit of confrontation and resolution.

The cat and mouse between “Sylvia”/Oracle and “Simon”/Calculator at the computer geek show we enjoyed muchly. We also enjoyed the symbolism of them cyber-fighting while physically just a few cubicles away from each other—so close yet so far away, not unlike many real-life work situations.

We have to admit we weren’t crazy about the ending with Calculator concluding that “Sylvia” wasn’t Oracle but just one of his Cyber-nemesis’ many agents. It makes him seem too obtuse for someone who could and should be every bit Oracle’s match.

But we can’t blame Bedard as there were few other options if he wanted to keep the story self-contained. It reminded us a lot of John Byrne’s run on Superman when in Issue 2 (1987) Lex Luthor’s people logically deduced that Clark Kent is Superman but Luthor couldn’t accept that someone so Godlike would consent to take “mortal” form—whereas he blamed his staff for failing to see what was glaringly obvious.

Great issue fellas. We hope you can stick around for awhile.

Checkmate #19

The Upshot from DC Comics: "Fall of the Wall" Part 2! The White Queen turns to bare-knuckle blackmail to hang onto her job — and Amanda Waller knows everyone's secrets!

All of writer Greg Rucka’s strengths are on display with this issue. While there is some action occurring within these pages, the real battle occurs between the various characters.

Case in point: The virtual cross-examination between Black Queen and the United States’ UN Ambassador (who is allied to White Queen Amanda Waller) as savages her with the bare facts by noting she has lost two Knights—one killed in action, one downed by a sniper’s bullet (thanks to Deadshot, of Waller’s Suicide Squad).

But the real victory goes to Waller when she pulls out her secret intelligence sash with photographic proof of both an illegal relationship between Black Queen and Black King/Mr. Terrific, as well as the existence of Martian Manhunter impersonating a key Checkmate operative.

Why is Amanda Waller trying to consolidate power to take over Checkmate? Well because she’s Amanda Waller…but also because she believes that Checkmate is, or should remain a U.S. agency, not an intelligence arm of the United Nations.

But moreover, Checkmate is part of her plan to gather up the planet’s super villains and send them away via a dimensional portal to another planet (hence the lead up to the upcoming Salvation Run).

Yet we continue to have problems with Greg Rucka’s take on Amanda Waller. The Waller we see here is utterly ruthless without a hint of a moral compass (however skewed) that her creators John Ostrander and Kim Yale instilled in her.

We can accept that Waller has become more ruthless over the years and that perhaps she has lost her way but Rucka’s rendition of the character would make it seem that she NEVER possessed any of the qualities that Ostrander and Yale provided her in the pages of Suicide Squad.

That notwithstanding, we’re getting tired of watching Waller run circles around everyone. She needs a formidable opponent who is capable of beating her at her own game and to prove once and for all that no matter how strong you are, there’s always somebody stronger.

Justice League of America #14

Quote of the Week: “And in the irritating department, a face full of kryptonite has to rank right up there with a cavity search from airport security. ….Not that a rousing cavity search between loved ones can’t be a good time….” The Joker to fellow Injustice League member Lex Luthor.

The Upshot from DC Comics: The League loses a member as writer Dwayne McDuffie turns up the heat in the "Injustice League" story arc! A party has turned very deadly for the World's Greatest Heroes when they find themselves prisoners of the Injustice League!

The quote of the week not withstanding, we were more than a little under whelmed by this issue. While new writer Dwayne McDuffie did manage provide readers some action—something sorely lacking during Brad Metzler’s year-long run, half the issue had Lex Luthor showing Superman and the readers what we already knew—he’s an evil dude.

The second half had remaining Justice League members Superman and Black Lightning flying toward and then blundering into a trap set by the Injustice League.

McDuffie’s witty banter and clever scripting aside, we were expecting a lot more than what he’s showing us so far. So far McDuffie’s Unlimited story arc has been a pretty lackluster, by the numbers league divided and conquered story. Heck, McDuffie told more compelling league stories on Cartoon Network’s Justice League Unlimited.

A word about the art—regular JLA art team Ed Benes and Sandra Hope return after a one-issue break. Frankly, we were disappointed. For all of the flaws of the fill-in art team last issue, at least they didn’t bombard us with the gratuitous T&A splash pages such as in this issue, to say nothing of all of the posing between hero and villain alike.

Come on Dwayne…we’re really pulling for you to succeed but you simply have to produce better than this.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bionic Woman—Face Off

Greetings from Mom and Dad FanBoyWonder’s house in the lovely Nutmeg State of Connecticut. On our way back from our Boston business trip, we’re spending a couple days with the folks to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary as well as to celebrate the birthday of FanBoyWonder’s baby brother Joe.

It’s been strange to be back in the hometown. Although we’ve visited many times since we left, we’ve been managing a visit about ever two years or so and the last few times; they’ve been hit and run visits.

Unfortunately, Mrs. FanBoyWonder couldn’t come with us. By the time we fly back on Sunday we’ll have been gone eight long days and we already miss her too much.

Anyway, FBW got home on Wednesday night in time to watch Bionic Woman. We made ourselves stay up following a weekend averaging 4 hours of sleep and non-stop business meetings.

Like it or not, here’s our take on this week’s episode of Bionic Woman.

The Upshot from NBC: While on a mission to rescue an American doctor working in Paraguay, Jaime (Michelle Ryan) discovers the truth about her bionic lifespan.

We want to like this show and we think there is a lot of potential (so far unrealized) for Bionic Woman but so far there just ain’t a lot of there there.

Bionic Woman can’t really decide what it wants to be—espionage thriller, action show, sci-fi spectacle but one thing it has utterly failed to be thus far is a character story. We’ve heard that this is part due to a revolving door of show-runners and other high-level creative types on the show.

Yet Executive Producer David Eick—half of the team with Ronald D. Moore who so successfully re-imagined Battlestar Galactica—whose street cred no doubt helped him get the green light to “re-imagine” Bionic Woman, has really failed to blow us away this time around.

What’s missing is the dead-bang scripting and the focus on character, character, character. What little character development we’ve seen so far has been negligible—just enough to drive the plot of the particular episode.

Yet we’re four episodes in and the viewer really hasn’t gotten that much more about Jaime Sommers or about the other supporting characters than we did at the time of the pilot. And it’s hard to character about a character if we don’t know them.

The only thing that’s remained consistent is that Jaime continues to be led around by the nose—we can understand being ignorant about the ways to the spy game but she just hasn’t seemed too bright and that inner-iron that we saw her display in the pilot episode really hasn’t resurfaced so much.

Jaime as the surrogate mom to her sister Becca (Lucy Hale) just isn’t working for us either. While Becca the character is annoying, there’s nothing wrong with Lucy Hale’s performance but she’s been given little to do except to be a potential hostage (again) and to guilt Jaime for leading a secret life of bionic espionage.

Meanwhile, Sarah Corvus (Katee Sackhoff) has allowed herself to be captured by the Berkut Group as spymaster Jonas (Miguel Ferrer) tries to flip her against bionics creator Dr. Anthony Anthros (Mark Sheppard) with the (empty) promise of finding a cure for Sarah’s malfunctioning bionics.

Sarah escapes in short order but unlike last episode, even Katee Sackhoff can’t carry the episode this time around—even if she’s the only character (so far) that’s really fully formed and the only character who is totally compelling—and she’s the guest-star.

Jaime is sent down to South America with Antonio Pope (Isaiah Washington) to “rescue” a kidnapped doctor who turns out has a flashdrive with secret of bionics on it. The doctor has seen the information so Isaiah Washington’s character decides he must die, yet he seems surprised when our girl Jaime objects and turns on him.

One lackluster action scene later, Jaime gets shot, the doctor pulls out the bullet before it totally frags her bionics while cluing Jaime in that her bionics only have a five-year lifespan. So suddenly she and Sarah Corvus have a lot more in common.

Yet this revelation felt flat as did Jaime’s reaction to it as did Jonas’ explanation for it. Hopefully this is a calculated effort by the writers to present a complex and chameleon-like spymaster but we may be giving them too much credit.

Even if this series continues to well in the ratings, really has a long way to go to prove that it’s a hit.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Razor Flashback Part 2—The Hanger

BOSTON—Well we’ve been busy doing the day job thing at a conference in Boston Taxachusetts—with a brief exception about a year ago, it’s our first time back since Mr. & MRS FanBoyWonder escaped to live (just) below the Mason-Dixon line following the turn of the millennium.

But as our newsgathering meetings and event reporting at the big housing conference winds down, we’ve still had the most recent installment of the Battlestar Galactica Razor Flashbacks on the brain and now we finally have time to post our impressions of the mini-sode for our faithful reader.

As an aside, this is our first on-location blog posting—hence the dateline. Without further ado…..

The Upshot from the Sci-Fi Channel: A moment in Galactica’s hanger rattles young “Billy” Adama’s/Husker’s nerves before his first combat flight.

Part 2 continues on board Galactica on Day 4,571 of the first Cylon War. This “mini-sode” opens with Husker (Nico Cortez) heading to his Viper when he comes across a combat-damaged Raptor and sees the medics tending to a badly wounded Lt. Jaycie McGavin (Allison Warniyca).

The console on Jaycie’s Raptor exploded in front of her during air-to-air combat with the Cylons, hideously burning the entire left side of her face and body. Young Adama is visibly shaken seeing his sister pilot and not-so-secret lover so badly wounded—perhaps mortally???

Husker tries to comfort her, lying (badly) that she’ll be all right but he has to leave her to himself fly into combat. As Husker waits in the cockpit of his Mark 2 Viper, he watches the medics carry Jaycie away by stretcher.

Before he’s fired his first shot or even launched out of the tube, young “Billy” Adama has gotten his first taste of battle and innocence has been lost.

As the camera angle zooms fully onto his helmeted face, we watch wordlessly as Adama’s fear and trepidation shifts to rage and determination. Husker is more than ready to launch into combat and kill some “toasters.”

To be continued…..

With existing set pieces and a skilled integration of stock Viper launch footage from the mini-series (the only time we’ve seen Vipers clean with fresh paint), the storytellers continue to so far skillfully craft a compelling mini-sode while clearly on a budget.

However, it was the attention to the little details and clever touches that we loved. For instance, Husker and the other Viper pilots wore vests over their flight suits reminiscent of the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica, while the flight crew wore a different style of fatigues.

These flashbacks take place some 40 years before the time of Apollo, Starbuck and the Cylon attack of the 12 colonies that we first saw during the BSG mini-series., so it makes sense that fashions—even military garb—would be similar but different as a subtle way to indicate another, earlier era.

It’s also striking to see everything in the story so clean and new—it reminds the viewer that Galactica at the time of these flashbacks was a state-of-the-art battlestar, not the old “bucket” whose survival from the Cylon sneak attack with nukes and a nasty computer virus was due to the ship’s very obsolescence.

Look for the remaining six Flashbacks to air Friday nights during Flash Gordon through November 16 on Sci-Fi Channel’s website with FanBoyWonder commentary throughout before the premier of the new BSG movie Battlestar Galactica: Razor on Saturday, November 24. So Say We All!

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