Archive for December, 2011


Villains Reborn Part 1: Masters of Deception

December 29th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

In the prologue, I discussed the initial appearances of the Thunderbolts and the big hook of the series: a bunch of villains are pretending to be heroes in an attempt to exploit the world’s trust for personal gain. Months ago, I tried to get a friend of mine to read the series, but he’s a DC guy and was reluctant because he didn’t know any of the characters. Hell, I didn’t know any of the characters either! I mean, sure, I had heard of the Beetle before, but I only knew these characters as “those guys who became Thunderbolts.” Regardless, I figure now would be a good time to briefly go over our starting six main characters.

Helmut Zemo

Helmut is the son of Heinrich, the Nazi supervillain who got the credit for Bucky Barnes’ death back in World War II. The news of Captain America returning, as well as the death of his father caused Helmut to seek revenge. At first he went with his own gimmick, calling himself the Phoenix. Cap handed him his ass and knocked him in a vat of Adhesive X, which scarred up his face something fierce. He’s since returned again and again as Baron Zemo, always aligning himself with fellow villains in hope of sticking it to Captain America. His claim to fame is the time he led the Masters of Evil into overtaking Avengers Mansion, where he had Jarvis tortured and messed with Cap by destroying his old pre-freeze belongings.

Zemo has no powers, but is an expert swordman and something of a scientific and tactical genius.

Baron Zemo is driven by his thirst for world domination and the belief that he is superior due to being a Zemo. Different writers seem to have different takes on how much he takes after his father. Can he be described as a Nazi or just the son of a Nazi? Does he feel that he’s superior because he’s Aryan or strictly because of his bloodline? Even a recent issue of Thunderbolts delves into this with Jeff Parker suggesting the latter. Personally, I like to just think of him as being a straight-up Nazi who likes to use people who he feels are inferior. It adds more emphasis to a lot of his later moments, from the subtle (the end of Thunderbolts #100) to the not-so-subtle (the last issue of Zemo: Born Better). I’ll get to those far down the line.

Karla Sofen

Karla was the daughter of a butler who worked for a rich family. While living at the mansion, she became best friends with the family’s daughter, exploiting her for her wealth. After her father’s death, she was removed from the cushy mansion life and her mother worked to the bone to keep them afloat. Karla was disgusted by her mother’s behavior and swore never to slave for the good of someone else. She became a talented psychiatrist and moonlighted with some bad people, ultimately leading her to convince the supervillain Moonstone to hand over the Kree artifact (the Moonstone) that gave him his powers. As the new Moonstone, Karla antagonized the likes of the Hulk and the Avengers.

Oh, and going by Brian Reed’s run of Ms. Marvel, she murdered her mother and convinced some of her patients to kill themselves. A little overboard for her depiction? Possibly, though Busiek has her doing some shady actions that land near that level.

As Moonstone, Karla is able to fly, has super-strength and can phase through walls. When using her Meteorite guise, she uses that last power at a minimum so as not allow anyone to figure out her identity. Her manipulation skills are so top tier that even Loki’s like, “DAMN!”

Moonstone is driven by selfish comfort. She’s the kind of person who would pretend to be lifting her corner of the couch while you end up putting in the brunt of the effort.

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This Week in Panels: Week 118

December 25th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Merry Christmas, folks. “Christmas” is actually retailese for, “the brief respite between terrible weeks to be working.” I had a great one and I hope you had one as well.

This week I’m joined by Space Jawa and my co-worker Jody. I don’t know if he wants me to give him some kind of cool internet handle or… eh, to hell with it. He’s Jody. Was Taters is sadly a few weeks behind on comics and David Brothers is off traveling in Parts Unknown, trying to hunt down the Ultimate Warrior.

Batman #4
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes (Chapter 1, Gavin’s pick)
Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart

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Villains Reborn: Prologue

December 23rd, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Thunderbolts is a comic that’s like a superhero in origin. You look at a lot of the major superheroes and you see that they were diamonds that expelled from the rough. Parents gunned down led to the creation of Batman. An uncle gunned down led to the creation of Spider-Man. A planet exploding gave us Superman. A war led to the enlisting of Steve Rogers, giving the world Captain America.

Comparing it to murder and genocide might be more than a little over-the-top, but comics in the 90’s were filled with terrible shit. Nobody proved this more than Marvel, who did a nice job of chasing readers away around 1997. Thor had a laughable extreme outfit that included a blue headsock connected to a halfshirt. Spider-Man was stuck in a story about clones that went on way beyond its expiration date. A promising idea about Xavier becoming an unbeatable mega-villain led to an unfortunate story that led into an even more unfortunate story about half the Marvel heroes being vaporized and then reborn in another world. Plus Venom was in a bunch of comics and that was the worst—wait, what the hell am I talking about?

This was around the time when I stopped reading comics for 6-7 years, missing out on the gem that grew out of the Onslaught/Heroes Reborn mess. Even when I got back into comics, I didn’t have Thunderbolts on my radar. I didn’t even know what it was about, nor care enough to check it out. It wasn’t until Warren Ellis took over and gave it the New Avengers treatment (putting beloved mainstream characters on the roster and making it a jumping-on point) that I started reading it. I haven’t stopped since then and later went back to the beginning to catch up on all the stuff I missed.

I found the series to be golden, through and through. Not that it doesn’t have its flaws and headshaking moments, but for a series that’s been around for nearly 15 years by this writing, it’s pretty damn special. There are different reasons for that. Obviously, it’s because of the pantheon of great writers, from Kurt Busiek to Jeff Parker with all the other top-notch guys in-between. I’ve established many times that I’m a major fan of redemption stories and that’s what Thunderbolts perpetually is. Yet I think the main thing that Thunderbolts has going for it is that it’s a comic that’s not allowed to hold still. Most superhero comics are allowed to hold onto the same status quo for decades if the sales and writing are strong enough, but Thunderbolts isn’t able to maintain such a thing for too long, else it begins to fall apart. The comic is in constant motion with its cast developing and moving around to the point that even the mission statement gets mutated a couple times.

I thought I’d give a look at the whole series, which as of now is 167 issues in, not to mention multiple miniseries and specials. With some exceptions, I won’t go as descriptive as I was with We Care a Lot, explaining every issue in detail. I’ll probably gloss through the main plot, then focus on the characters and their personal situations.

This being the prologue, I guess it’s fitting to start at the beginning. No, not at Thunderbolts #1, but even before that. The team made their first appearance in Incredible Hulk #449 by Peter David and Mike Deodato.

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Fourcast! 101: Catching Up

December 19th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

-I’m traveling, and I totally forgot to post this earlier today.
-We did a catch-up review show that basically turned into us talking about how DC’s New 52 shook out.
-Esther ain’t too fond of Mr Terrific and Batwoman.
-But she’s digging Batgirl and Wonder Woman.
-I like WW so much I barely have anything to say about it.
-I’m also digging Green Lantern and Justice League.
-There’ll be another next week!
-See you, space cowboy!

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This Week in Panels: Week 117

December 18th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Hello, my friends! This week is just me with a little help from Space Jawa. David and Taters are off having adventures and stuff.

Though speaking of adventures, it looks like I might be having one of my own real soon. Due to scheduling issues, today was my family’s only chance to get together for the holidays, so we exchanged gifts a week early. My brother revealed to me that he’s enrolling me in the Upright Citizen Brigade’s improv comedy school. I’m completely overwhelmed and flabbergasted and can’t wait to see this through.

Now for some comic panels. Really good week outside of New Avengers, which I’m totally dropping. Though if my longshot prediction that Bendis is planning to reveal Squirrel Girl as being evil turns out to be true, I’m back on for the hell of it.

Avengers Academy #23
Christos Gage and Tom Raney

Batman and Robin #4
Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason

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The Top 60 Wrestling Matches That Surprisingly Happened (20-1)

December 18th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Before I finish the countdown, here are some honorable mentions.

Bob Backlund vs. Shawn Michaels happened after Michaels initially went heel and before Backlund went all crazy. I was told that in IWA-Mid South, there was Austin Aries vs. Mr. Anderson in a match where CM Punk was on commentary ragging on how terrible Daredevil was. For comedy entries, there was the time Carl Winslow and Steve Urkel fought the Bushwackers as well as a masked Mr. Ernst vs. Captain Lou Albano on Hey Dude. Brock Lesnar and Ron Waterman vs. Rico and Randy Orton as a Raw dark match is an oddball encounter, but I thought Lesnar and Orton were better represented elsewhere on the list. Umaga vs. Kamala on Raw was a cool generational gimmick pairing in the same light as Hall vs. Carlito, but their encounters were set up strongly enough on TV that there’s not enough obscurity in there.

To refresh your memory, 60-41 is here and 40-21 is here.

Now let’s get to the good stuff.

WWF, 2001
Suggested by Dr. Video Games 0055

This one’s a bit of shock to me, not for the appearance by Samoa Joe, but the knowledge that Essa Rios was around in 2001 WWF. I have no memory of that. For those who don’t recall, Rios was a highflyer with an amazing moonsault who’s biggest claim to fame is introducing Lita as his manager. Once Lita split, he faded into obscurity and unemployment. His match with the wonky-looking-compared-to-how-we-remember-him Samoa Joe was good for the in-ring stuff, but only if you watch it with the sound off. The commentary had Coach and Michael Hayes not only discussing the XFL for way too long, but discussing the storyline between Jesse Ventura and Coach Rusty Tillman. God, that was one of the saddest things. McMahon really wanted some kind of on-air rivalry, so he had Ventura try to overly criticize Tillman. Ventura got into it, but Tillman refused to care. He just wanted to coach football and leave this soap opera crap out of it. Yet you had this awesome match going on and the commentators were forced to talk about this made-up hatred. Even when they got to actual wrestling angles, their dialogue came off as extremely forced.

With the actual match, we got some really keen spots, including a Samoa Joe powerbomb reversed into a DDT. Essa Rios won, but Samoa Joe looked pretty good for a guy taking the nameless jobber role.

WWC, 1990

Normally I wouldn’t have cared about this match if it wasn’t for how brief Tiny “Zeus” Lister’s wrestling career even was. The guy was an actor whose role in a bad movie spun off into a feud with Hulk Hogan that lasted about four months. So what the hell was he doing against Abdullah of all people? What made WWC think he was worth bringing in other than his status as having main-evented Summerslam?

Not only was it a bad match, but it was bad and way too long. Zeus was only able to do four things: flail his arms around like windmills as a way of punching, bearhugs, strangleholds and pounding his chest while looking intimidating. The last thing was the only one he could do believably. While Hogan and Beefcake were good enough performers (yes, I’m serious) to work around Zeus and make him seem almost acceptable, Abdullah had none of that magic. He just stood there for the 12 minutes and absorbed the punishment while looking bloody and dazed. When Abdullah got offense in, the only reason Zeus sold any of it was because he looked like he had tired himself out more than anything else. The match ended with the two brawling to the back and being counted out. Throughout the match, the Puerto Rican crowd rained garbage into the ring and I think at one point some of them left the building to gather more garbage from neighboring buildings so they could throw that too!

Front row kid in the pink shirt loved that shit, though.

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4thletter’s Guide to Carnage USA #1’s Cliffhanger

December 15th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

This week marks the release of the first issue of Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain’s Carnage USA. This 5-issue series is a sequel to last year’s Carnage. Originally set to be called Astonishing Spider-Man/Iron Man, Carnage told the story of how Cletus Kasady and his alien costume came back from having the Sentry tear them in half in space back when New Avengers was first starting up. Cletus was shown to be alive, albeit with a robotic bottom half and proceeded to give both heroes a headache while unintentionally creating a new hero with a living costume.

As a guy who never cared for Carnage and had no desire to see him come back, I consider the miniseries shockingly good. It’s definitely worth checking out. The end showed that Carnage was biding his time for his next move while keeping his mindless and loyal pet Doppelganger on a leash. That leads right into Carnage USA where the serial killer has manifested his powers in a scary way that makes him more megalomaniacal than he’s ever been shown. He tussles with a couple members of the Avengers and the fact that this is the first issue should tell that it doesn’t work out so well for the good guys just yet.

It’s the final page that sells me on the series. For the sake of spoilers, I’ll blot out the bottom part in the preview, but click to see the full glory.

Hey now! Someone call the doctor because it’s been well over four hours! Zeb Wells obviously wrote this entire comic for me specifically. I’d imagine that there are a lot of people confused by some of the names here, so as the world’s foremost expert on all things Venom, I thought I’d give a quick who’s who.

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“you know you’re dealing with the yakuza, right?” [takeshi kitano’s outrage]

December 13th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I saw Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage at the Shattuck in Berkeley this past weekend. It’s my… probably third time seeing it. I bootlegged it back in 2010 when it dropped, and then I bought an official Hong Kong Blu-ray of it. It’s a thoroughly unromantic movie on pretty much every possible level. It’s not the sexy kind of crime movie, not even close. And that got me thinking.

I’m listening to this album right now, Greneberg, that’s actually pretty prime crime rap. Roc Marciano, the emcee on the album, is one of my favorite of this new wave of thugged out rappers. (It’s him, Pill, and Freddie Gibbs, really. That’s another post, maybe.) Part of the thrill of listening to their music is the actual music, of course–Alchemist and Oh No are great on average, fantastic regularly–but Roc Marcy’s rhymes are compelling. He paints a picture of crime that feels pleasingly authentic, brutal, and exciting. The authenticity is what’s crucial here. You listen or read or watch fiction in order to be convinced. You want to believe that this picture the artist is painting is real. In the case of Roc Marciano, its his low voice, ruthless nature, and matter of fact approach. For Scarface, it’s his desperation, storytelling, and bursts of vicious anger.

Part of the appeal of crime fiction is watching someone live out a fantasy that you wouldn’t mind being a part of. It isn’t aspirational exactly, but it’s in the same neighborhood. It gives you a chance to see someone live life according to his own rules, no matter who stands in his way. Sometimes that means Rae and Ghost playing at being coke kingpins. Other times, it’s about DMX raping and murdering everything in sight. It’s transgressive, but in an attractive way. It lets you step outside yourself and into someone else’s shoes.

Why do good girls go for bad guys? Because bad guys lead interesting lives.

I think this is particularly true of crime fiction featuring the yakuza. There’s an exoticness there that’s definitely attractive. The semi-legitimate and public nature of the yakuza, when combined with the organizational structure, fashion, history, and tattoos, is something entirely different from the mafia or street gangs. It’s cooler to read about and more interesting to study. That distance between what we know (mafia) and what we don’t know (yakuza) makes for a tale with built-in appeal.

Outrage feels like a response to the sexiness of the yakuza. I say that it’s unromantic because there is nothing aspirational, or even escapist, about the yakuza in the film. There aren’t any young, attractive dudes following an honorable code of their own. Tattoos are only shown before acts of violence and aren’t idolized in the least. The yakuza themselves, from the boss on down, are disloyal and dishonest, more than willing to lie to their boss’s face or deal drugs if it’ll make them money.

The dishonesty is what’s most interesting, I think. The movie gets going when a boss suggests that a sub-boss re-examine his ties with a man from a rival crew. The underling’s solution is to have Otomo, played by Takeshi Kitano, use his gang to start a minor argument. Otomo, ever-loyal, does just that, and what follows are a series of betrayals on every possible level. Boss betrays sub-boss, sub-boss betrays friend, and everything rolls downhill.

Thinking about it, Outrage is about a lack of integrity. The members of Otomo’s gang range from loyal to disloyal, but the traitors never cross Otomo in an open way. They skim off the top and look for ways to make their lives better. They do their dirt in secret, just like everyone else. The bosses speak out against dealing drugs, but just do it on the side anyway.

I can only think of one character with a speaking role who isn’t compromised. He’s a cop whose anger at a smoking yakuza is far out of proportion. His anger suggests frustration and impotence more than anything else. He isn’t telling the yakuza not to litter because he really believes in keeping the environment clean. He’s telling him that because that’s the only level of control he can exert over them. (There’s a couple of others who speak, generally waiters or greeters, but they say nothing of substance beyond “irasshaimase” and maybe “arigato gozaimasu.”)

That’s because a high-ranking and upwardly mobile officer is in bed with the yakuza. He lets them know about surveillance, drops tips in their lap, and takes part in sham interrogations. But he’s nothing more than a crony. He sold his soul for cash, and once he’s no longer useful, he’s no longer going to be paid.

One of the more interesting characters is a civilian who uses his place to throw parties with drugs and gambling. That lack of integrity makes him vulnerable to being taken advantage of, and when he sees a way to get out of his predicament, he trades freedom for money. He follows his baser instincts.

Outrage explores corruption and the fact that it isn’t something you can easily contain. It seeps and spreads and infests and eventually ends you. There are a few characters that aren’t loathsome (Otomo, Ozawa, and Mizuno), but you don’t want to be any of them. You don’t even want to step into their shoes to get just a taste of the life. This movie isn’t about the triumph of a criminal so much as the downfall of one. They’re all mired in corruption and compromise, and it damns them.

Not to say there aren’t several cool characters, of course. I liked Ishihara, who was played by Ryō Kase. Mizuno (Kippei Shiina) was great. Ozawa was played by Tetta Sugimoto, who is the exact kind of older dude who can really anchor a movie. I’d like to see more with that guy, in fact. But I like these characters in spite of their actions, not because of them. They played their roles to the hilt, but I never wanted to slip into their lives for a moment.

Outrage is good stuff. I liked it a lot, in part because it was so unsentimental and raw. There’s no fantasy here, nothing you’ll daydream about doing. Scarface is an intensely aspirational and escapist movie, and even though Tony dies at the end, it doesn’t play out like Outrage does. Tony led a glamorous and amazing life before Sosa takes him down. In Outrage, you get the barest glimpse of the benefits of life in the yakuza, and that’s always tainted.

You can rent it on Amazon for seven bucks, catch it in theaters, or get the blu-ray in January.

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This Week in Panels: Week 116

December 11th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Why, hello there! We’re back to having thicker weeks of comic releases and now’s the part where I do the thing that I do every week around this time. Coming up with stuff to say for this opening paragraph after two years plus is hard.

This week it’s me, David Brothers, Space Jawa and a special appearance by 4thletter alumni Thomas Wilde. Now if only Hoatzin would start tossing some panels at me.

Action Comics #4
Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Sholly Fisch and Brad Walker

Animal Man #4
Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

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The Top 60 Wrestling Matches That Surprisingly Happened (40-21)

December 9th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

No snazzy intro to take up space this time. Let’s go right back into the list of crazy wrestling footnotes.

Picking up where we left off yesterday.

40) EDGE vs. MENG
WCW, 1996

Someone suggested including Owen Hart’s very brief WCW tenure on the list, but the truth is, he didn’t do anything interesting. He didn’t fight anyone worth talking about. On the other hand, Edge – or should I say Devon Striker – got to face the Taskmaster… who is also not worth talking about. I can’t think of a more sorry main event villain than Kevin Sullivan. The guy looks like his gimmick shouldn’t so much be “top heel” but “drunken uncle who also wrestles”.

Luckily, young Striker got to take on Meng. Meng, unlike Sullivan, is awesome and is worth talking about. Striker was an ill-fitting jobber for Meng to squash, considering he was a little bit taller and didn’t do such a good job making him look like a monster. Then again, he didn’t do a good job of wrestling either. He’s so green that his attempt at a crossbody is more like him telling Meng, “Hold on. Give me a sec. I’ll get there eventuall—there we go!” The only thing he did a good job on was, well, doing the job.

WWF, 1992/1993

Undertaker vs. Scott Hall is one of those matches that didn’t seem like a big deal until I thought about it. Hall spent most of his time in WCW and when he came back to the WWE as part of the nWo, the two never crossed paths due to both being heels. When he was in the WWF as Razor Ramon, he spent most of his tenure as a face, so there was no reason for him to take on Undertaker. Even when he was a heel for his first year, he was so protected in their attempt to make him a star that the idea of putting him up against the more-protected Undertaker was unlikely.

Yet the two did have a couple matches. The first time was in 1992 during a European Rampage tour. The second one happened months later as part of a Coliseum Home Video release. The second match is like the first one, only far better due to better chemistry, booking and commentary (Jim Ross, Bobby Heenan and Randy Savage). Both included the same lame ending where Razor decided that he was getting nowhere and simply walked off, getting himself counted out. Like I said, he was protected.

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