Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Trials & Errors of SHAZAM’s Warriors While No Lantern Escapes The Alpha Lanterns

FanBoyWonder is a bit pressed for time as we write this because our day job is sending us (under EXTREME duress) to attend a conference in Orlando, Florida (NOT our favorite place in the multiverse) but not just in Orlando—we get to spend two days and two nights in Walt Disney Hell!

Resigned as we are to our fate to “have a magical day” we’re taking a break from packing our carry-on bag to share with you the loyal reader our reviews for the books of for the week of January 30.

Have a Magical Day everyone!

Trials of Shazam #11

The Upshot From DC Comics: The trials continue with Freddy losing ground in his quest for the ultimate abilities and power of the now equally powered Sabina! To find Mercury he may need the help of Shadowpact and the Justice League!

As even the most casual of our readership knows, FanBoyWonder is not at all an admirer of most Judd Winick's body of work. As we said we’re pressed for time and don’t have the required number of hours to list all of the charges so suffice to say that—in this humble reader’s opinion—that 9 times out of 10, Judd Winick’s “talent” writes checks that his ass can’t cash.

However as much we would like to continue to poke at him with our poison pen, we have to admit that to date, Winick’s Trials of Shazam has represented “number 10” which is to say the exception to his usual over-rated, under-delivered preachy and pointless storytelling.

There are (other) Captain Marvel purists that are NOT happy with either the premise of Trials of Shazam or with the radical changes to the Shazam-verse that Winick has implemented—including the “promotion” of Captain Marvel/Billy Batson to an adult, white-haired “Wizard Marvel” with Freddy Freeman trading in the blue suit of Captain Marvel Jr. to step up to “Big Red” status, assuming he can win the Trials.

We sympathize as we are not crazy about an aged before his time Billy Wizard but if there ever was a super-hero franchise that was as in desperate need of a shake up and out of the box thinking, was the Captain Marvel/Shazam family.

To our everlasting surprise, Winick has been not only clever in his implantation but respectful to the characters even as he breaks the many eggs to make his magic omelet.

Sabina has turned out to be the perfect adversary for Freddy—his own Black Adam. We like how Winick gave us a little bit of insight into her character a couple issues back—how an innocent girl thrown to the wolves becomes the fiercest wolf of all to survive.

In this issue, Sabina quickly and cleverly dispatches the magic god Mercury—gaining his power of speed and setting up the confrontation with Zeus for his power as the lynch-pin to all of the Power of Shazam.

Yet even with a genuine sense of suspense growing, we see Freddy has a plan—no doubt the Wisdom of Solomon working overtime for him.

Next issue concludes the mini-series and perhaps establishes the new Shazam status quo. We cant’ help but think DC has a chance to have their cake and eat it too by embracing both radical change and sticking with the traditional Captain Marvel.

How? Return Billy Batson to his young self who utters the magic word “Shazam” to become the World’s Mightiest Mortal we’ve all known and loved through the years. That would be sticking with tradition.

For radical change, make Freddy—the former Captain Marvel Jr. and pretty much redundant member of the Marvel Family—into Winick’s new “Shazam” with powers and abilities similar but different from Captain Marvel.

We’re looking for the magic lighting to strike us as we say this but we are actually eagerly awaiting the next issue of a Judd Winick comic book.

Frankly we’re tempted to wonder if Winick’s Trials is being ghost written or co-plotted or working from a strict editorial-mandated blueprint because Winick has managed to avoid a good many of his trademark annoying storytelling ploys and despite himself has crafted a consistently solid story. (THIS is the same guy who produced that turd sandwich know as the Titans East Special?????)

If this is a true representation of Judd Winick’s work—then why in the name of the gods does he fell compelled to so play the no-talent ass clown the other 90 percent of the time?

Black Adam: The Dark Age #6

The Upshot From DC Comics: The stunning conclusion of the most important chapter of Black Adam's life! All will be revealed as the magic word that has eluded him for so long comes to light, and the final fate of Isis is revealed.

We were disappointed on a couple of levels following the end of this is issue but that is by no means the fault of writer Peter Tomasi nor the fault of the top shelf art team of Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy.

First, we were disappointed and surprised to find that the end of this issue was indeed the end of this mini-series. Here when the entire time we believed this was an eight not a six-issue mini-series. Hell, it’ says issue 6 (of 8) on DC Comics’ own infernal Website.

Second, we were disappointed that the end of Tomasi’s story and the end of Black Adam’s journey took us to the beginning of where we found Adam in the early issues of Countdown when he encountered and bestowed his Power of Shazam to a de-powered Mary Batson—starting Countdown’s “Seduction of the Innocent” character assassination of Mary Marvel.

Teth-Adam’s discovery of his magic word—the secret word that Captain Marvel changed on him to prevent Adam from accessing his Power of SHAZAM—was a laugh out loud moment. “Chocolate Egg Crème” is almost as funny as the totally accidental way Adam discovered it.

Less funny was the way in which Felix Faust deceived Adam into thinking he failed in bringing his lost love Isis back to life, when in fact he reanimated the skeleton of Ralph Dibny.

A distraught Adam flys away and we find a fresh back from the dead Isis in a trance like state helping Faust escape his imprisonment within Dr. Fate’s tower. Isis lives but it remains to be seen if she is indeed alive.

Poor Adam. Even if the reader hadn’t known about his role at the start of Countdown, it seems obvious now that he is never destined to find the happiness he desires.

A credit to Tomasi for making us root for the bad guy, as well as for making us feel the disappointment in an ending that was inevitable.

Green Lantern #27

The Upshot From DC Comics: The build-up to FINAL CRISIS continues in Part 2 of "The Alpha Lanterns"! In the aftermath of the Sinestro Corps War, a select few have been chosen to undergo a transformation that will leave them forever altered and forever committed to the Green Lantern Corps. But what other laws are the Guardians unleashing, and why do Hal Jordan and John Stewart want to stop them? Plus, a visit to Oa's Death Row!

Well for the Green Lantern Corps, the Sinestro Corps War is over but the fallout from how it was fought has only just begun.

The entire issue centers around the actions of last issue when Green Lantern Laira—one of the “Lost Lanterns” that were presumed dead during Hal Jordan’s rampage as Parallax—killed a prisoner in custody.

Said prisoner was Sinestro Corpsman Amon Sur who himself had just murdered the entire family of a fallen Lantern and in a moment of emotion and vengeance, Laira killed Sur.

During the Sinestro Corps war, the Guardians of the Universe re-wrote the Book of Oa to permit the Lantern power rings to dispense lethal force at each Lantern’s discursion against Sinestro—so no problem right?

Well actually big problem. Laira’s action has caused a huge split among the officers of the GLC as not all ring slingers are at all comfortable with one of the most powerful weapons of the universe being hammered from a shield into a sword.

Geez…next thing you know Captain America will start packing a gun.

Just in time to “help” the situation, the Guardians of the Universe have come down from on high to slam HARD on the use of force by their Lanterns—they strip Laira of her ring and prepare to put her on trial.

As part of the new rules, the little blue guys unveil their plans for a new elite within the elite to police the Green Lantern Corps—The Alpha Corps.

As a number of GL’s are “recruited” as having “the ability to enforce justice”—including our favorite Corpsman John Stewart—John wisely declines to commit to a whole host new duties sight unseen. The Guardians don’t take too kindly to his refusal noting they are “VERY disappointed.”

In short order the Alpha recruits are subjected to “cosmic surgery” and emerge borg-like as half-Manhunter and half-Lantern with a snappy new oath—“In nights of war, Obey the laws forever more, Misconduct must be answered for, swear us the chosen, The Alpha Corps

Looks like our guy John made the right call and good call to Johns, Geoff Johns that is for FINALLY paying attention to a character who—in our humble opinion—is a LOT cooler than Hal Jordan.

Alpha Corps is precisely the story that we should be seeing after a War where the good guys have to do bad things to save the day.

After coasting for the first dozen and a half issues of this book, Geoff Johns really found his stride with Green Lantern during the Sinestro Corps War and he is seeing that momentum and raising the stakes. This is quite simply the most compelling Green Lantern we have ever read. Keep it up Geoff and we may just officially forgive you for Infinite Crisis.

JSA Classified #34

The Upshot from DC Comics: A mysterious villain has captured Liberty Belle, and Hourman has just 60 minutes to traverse the dark underworld of the DCU to find his wife!

What can we say about this title that we haven’t already said? Why bother publishing a book if—even on its best day—it only amounts to an amusing waste of time? The answer: To pick the pockets of JSA fans like ourselves.

This issue featuring a one-off Hourman adventure was a waste of time all right but it was far from amusing. Worse, it outright pales in comparison to the Hourman two-part story from last year when Hourman took on Batman bad guy Bane.

What we have this issue is a paint by numbers villain holds hero’s loved one hostage story that could have featured ANY character.

Why couldn’t this have been a Liberty Belle adventure with her husband Hourman as hostage? At least then we could have gotten to see a character who has received precious little spotlight during her time with the JSA.

As much as we love the JSA, Classified is testing our patience and the limits of our devotion.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Countdown To Mystery: Doctor Fate and Kent Nelson—Together Again For The First Time

(Pictured above is NOT the cover to Countdown to Mystery #5 as we hated the cover so instead we pulled the cover that we do like—the promo cover by Paul Gulacy from last year’s scrapped at the last minute Doctor Fate book )

The week of January 23 was a very light one for FanBoyWonder as only one comic book was waiting for us when our friends at Brainstorm Comics reached into our pull box—Countdown to Mystery #5.

Here’s the Upshot from DC Comics: The return of Eclipso is bad news for the DC Universe...but it's worse news for Bruce Gordon, the man who originally held the Black Diamond and terrorized the world as Eclipso! Plus, Dr. Fate continues to struggle with his new responsibilities!

As regular FanBoyWonder readers know, we really could give a rat’s a** about the Eclipso story line or any/all of the DC’s Countdown titles. The only and we mean ONLY reason we have been picking up Countdown to Mystery is for the Dr. Fate story.

Being long-time fans of the Golden Age, we picked up Mystery just because Dr. Fate is a sentimental favorite—whoever is happens to be wearing the helmet. However, as we got into the story of this new Doctor Fate with a familiar name—Kent Nelson—we became more and more impressed by deeply flawed character that writer Steve Gerber has created.

Our protagonist (but not yet a “hero”) 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 following Infinite Crisis and the Days of Vengeance mini-series.

Kent Nelson the next generation is a flawed and broken man. He is the physician who could not heal thyself from clinical depression and acute alcoholism and it caused him to lose everything—his wife and child, his professional reputation and his will to live when he first encountered the Helmet of Fate.

What we like is that Kent’s life suddenly doesn’t suddenly find purpose and meaning as he comes into possession of the magic helmet—in fact it gets worse or at least more complicated as he seeks to learn on even the very basic rules of wielding magic.

Last issue after cleaning up and drying out a little as well as taking a step forward in his astral education, Kent allowed himself to fall off the wagon—“What could it hurt” was his rationale.

WHO is hurt was the Good Samaritan named Inza who rescued Kent after he took a dive into the Bellagio Casino & Hotel fountain.

Inza and Kent enjoyed a good chemistry together—especially as she has climbed into the shower with him to scrub and wash his drunken ass. Just as we think we are starting to see the beginning of a beautiful friendship, it turns decidedly dark as the shower head rains down mystic acid and Kent watches Inza liquefied before his eyes and the novice mage was helpless to stop it.

And just like that Inza is dead. A spiteful act by Negal the mystical bad guy—killing an innocent woman just to torture Kent. But in a very real way, Kent killed Inza too—she was dead the moment he went on that bender and had to be rescued by her in the pool.

Issue #5 picks up from there with Kent in the now dead woman’s home awash of rage and guilt. Ironically he gets to know Inza much more intimately after she is dead as he reads the comic book she authors.

One issue after her shocking demise and we still can’t believe Inza is gone. A credit to Gerber for making us care so deeply for a character that we only knew for a handful of pages. As Kent and the reader learned more about her post-mortem during this issue, it made the tragedy all the more acute.

Now since Inza died a “magic death” meaning as opposed to being run over by a bus or getting shot, it stands to reason that she could be brought back to life by similar magical means.

We’re torn in that as much as we would like the Inza character to live and for Kent to undo his horrible mistake, dramatically it would be better for the character to learn that his “slip” from sobriety has irreversible consequences.

Double kudos to Steve Gerber for portraying (relatively speaking given the context) depression and alcoholism in a realistic fashion. Unfortunately, we have some experience in this area and we know each is a disease that not only affects the depressed and/or problem drinker but those who love them as well.

For his part, Steve Gerber has made it no secret that he is suffering from chronic health problems and he is awaiting a lung transplant. We wish him a speedy recovery regardless but selfishly we hope that he is physically able to and allowed by DC Comics to pen more adventures of this new Dr. Fate beyond this mini-series eight-issue run.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

FanBoyWonder Video: Justice League: The New Frontier—Sneak Peek

The latest round of classic comic book stories to come to life hits the video screen next month with the direct-to-DVD release of Justice League: The New Frontier.

The live action Justice League America movie may be stalled indefinitely due to the writer’s strike (Thank Rao for small favors!) but Justice League: The New Frontier—set for release on February 26—is the second offering by DC Comics and Warner Home Video to present animated adventures of classic comic book characters for an audience of older kids and grown-ups.

Here’s the Upshot From Warner Home Video: Based on the graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke and produced by Michael Goguen and animation legend, Bruce Timm, Justice League: The New Frontier is the epic tale of the founding of the Justice League.

The New Frontier takes viewers on an action-packed adventure, exploring the origins of the Justice League. DC Comics legends Superman (Kyle Maclachlan), Batman (Jeremy Sisto) and Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless) are all featured in the film as well as Green Lantern (David Boreanaz), Martian Manhunter (Miguel Ferrer) and The Flash (Neil Patrick Harris)–as they band together to form the legendary super team.

Strangers at first, these very different heroes must overcome fear and suspicion to forge an alliance against a monster so formidable, even the mighty Superman cannot stop it alone. If they fail, the entire planet will be “cleansed” of humanity.

FanBoyWonder never read the original New Frontier graphic novel but we’ve heard good things about the story so we look forward to watching the movie with a fresh set of eyes even as we are heartened that writer/artist Darwyn Cooke is heavily involved in adapting his story to the video screen.

We are also quite pleased with the heavy hitter acting talent recruited to voice these beloved DC Comics characters. In addition to the aforementioned voice talent above, The New Frontier features also Kyra Sedgwick as Lois Lane, Brooke Shields as Carol Ferris and Phil Morris as King Faraday—the resident spook of the DC Universe.

Warner Brothers has put up a website as well as a MySpace page for your pre-viewing pleasure.

The DVD (the two-disk special edition version) also reportedly features additional bonus features including a documentary about the pathology of the super villain and three bonus episodes from the Justice League animated series selected by Bruce Timm.

If it’s anything like the special features for Superman: Doomsday, it would be worth the rental and/or purchase just for that.

Justice League: The New Frontier—February 26.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles—Back to the Future of the Past

Since FanBoyWonder went out of our way to spotlight in advance the new action-drama on the Fox network Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, it seems we are honor bound to follow up with our impressions—even if we don’t plan to do weekly reviews of the show.

Since its debut on earlier this month, the Terminator Chronicles has aired three episodes, including a back-to-back Sunday/Monday premier of Episodes One and Two.

To recap, here is The Upshot From The Fox Network: At the end of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) vanquished the Terminator sent from the future to kill her teenage son, John (Thomas Dekker). Sarah and John now find themselves alone in a very dangerous, complicated world. Fugitives from the law, they are confronted with the reality that still more enemies from the future, and the present, could attack at any moment.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles reveals what happens when Sarah stops running and goes on the offensive against an ever-evolving technological enemy bent on destroying her life, and perhaps the world.

Her son, 15-year-old John knows that he may be the future savior of mankind, but is not yet ready to take on the mantle of leadership that he's told is his destiny. John finds himself inextricably drawn to Cameron (Summer Glau), an enigmatic and otherworldly student at his high school, who soon proves to be much more than his confidante - she assumes the role of Sarah and John's fearless protector. On their trail are not only threats from the future, but an intelligent and tough FBI agent, James Ellison (Richard T.Jones), who soon becomes a powerful ally.

We were at a disadvantage in that we missed the premier/pilot episode and had to catch up later viewing it on line. But even after seeing all three aired episodes in sequence, we really can’t say we are exactly blown away by Chronicles.

It’s not that it’s bad but it’s all very familiar to what we’ve seen in the movies but on the smaller scale of weekly episodic television. Lena Headley is competent in performing her role but she seems to do little more than just be present as Sarah Connor.

There is no mistaking that Headley has a tall order in filling the combat boots of the original Sarah—Linda Hamilton. A sentimental favorite of FanBoyWonder, we loved seeing Hamilton portray Sarah as the sweet and soft college co-ed just trying to stay survive the unimaginable in the first Terminator.

Then in T2, we saw Hamilton as a hardened warrior and protector who in many ways was the first victim of the war against humanity she is trying to prevent.

Hamilton’s Sarah was a force of nature. Headley’s Sarah is a presence. Big difference.

John Connor played by Thomas Dekker is neither Wesley Crusher nails on the chalk board annoying but neither is much of a force of personality. His disadvantage is that 15 years old is a tough age—for a character or for real. Not yet a man but more than a boy.

Cameron the Termobabe shows the most promise as she channels her inner Data from Star Trek The Next Generation by mimicking human beings to understand them and perhaps seek to become more human than the humans.

The three main characters are NOT bad but they are not yet good enough to make this show a character driven drama because stronger characters would go a long way toward helping the viewer ignore the paper-thing plotting and failure to grow beyond James Cameron’s original premise from the first Terminator.

The Connors must stay alive to stop SkyNet, the evil robot/computer overlords of the future intent on destroying all of humanity in a global thermonuclear holocaust. As a child of the Cold War, FanBoyWonder remembers the “other side” launching a first strike—one flash and it’s all over.

But that’s all so very 1980s. Today’s Terminator in 2007 (even if the characters did engage in naked time travel from 1999 in the pilot episode) feels like they are fighting yesterday’s enemy.

Ok here is the inevitable Battlestar Galactica comparison. The new BSG gave the scary, mysterious, monolithic Cylons an individual, human face—first in Number Six (Tricia Helfer) and later in other human-Cylon models such as Sharon (Grace Park) and others. The Terminator Chronicles needs it’s own Number Six.

The Terminator robot the Connors are running from isn’t the enemy, it’s the weapon. Until the writers can create an antagonist with a face and an individual persona to SkyNet, their fear and vision of “Judgment Day” will seem as far away to us now as the prospect of us one day living in a nursing home (but not nearly as scary).

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles airs Mondays on Fox at 9 p.m. (EST.). This Monday repeats the Pilot episode for newcomers with a new episode to air the following week. It’s beats reality television.
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