Archive for the 'love & hate' Category


Avengers Academy: The Unusual Suspects

November 8th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Last week started the new status quo for one of my favorite comics going on right now, and maybe my favorite comic coming out of the Big Two, Christos Gage’s Avengers Academy. In a time when new characters get shoved into cancelation only months into creation, it’s good to see that this series has lasted through 21 issues, a Point One, an appearance in Amazing Spider-Man, a giant-sized crossover with the ill-fated Young Allies, a crossover with Thunderbolts and some cameos in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Like with all good comics that don’t feature a marquee figure, there’s always that looming threat of it being canned, but with the new setting and storyline, now’s as good a time as any to get people to jump on.

I figured I’d take a look at our main cast and maybe inform someone out there enough that they’d give the series a try. In this series, it’s not the past that truly matters for the team of six, but the future. You see, this isn’t your regular young generation superhero team. Just because “Avengers” is in the title and our protagonists are teens doesn’t mean that this is your usual Teen Titans knockoff. It’s not so much a book about teenage Avengers as it’s basically the Teen Thunderbolts. Much like the Thunderbolts, the true hook of the series isn’t actually revealed until the very end of the first issue.

The hook? These are all kids who were controlled, captured, experimented on and/or tortured by Norman Osborn when he was in charge. Now that the good guys have the keys to the kingdom again, some of the mainstays from the ended Avengers Initiative take these kids in and offer to train them, insisting that they’ve got the most potential to do the most good. As the kids discover, this is a big lie. According to their psyche profiles, power sets and histories, they’re all most likely to become some of the world’s biggest supervillains. Hank Pym and the rest are using Avengers Academy as an over-elaborate way to nip their dark futures in the bud. It’s not about training the best of the best. It’s about predemption.

The comic becomes an exercise in looking at each member under a magnifying glass. Who is going to turn out good and who is going to fall from grace? At first it seems obvious. Half come off as truly decent folks while the other half seem like ticking time bombs. As it progresses, the lines begin to fade. We’re kept guessing on who’s going to crack and who’s going to stand tall. Over the last couple years, we’ve seen them clash with the faculty, make decisions that split the team down the middle, see their own possible futures, win battles, lose battles and be forced to take part in the Fear Itself war. And let it be said that Avengers Academy was one of the better tie-ins to that miniseries event.

As of #21, things have become very different. One of the members has quit and Pym has moved them all to the old headquarters of the West Coast Avengers. Now they allow more teen heroes to join, such as Power Man, Boulder, Spider-Girl and that kid with the pet Sentinel, among others. They’re all background, mainly, though Lightspeed and White Tiger have joined the main class with X-23 set to join in a couple issues. Hawkeye’s joined the faculty, showing that Wolverine and Spider-Man aren’t the only ones who can be on way too many teams. Most importantly, there’s been a bit of a murder.

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This Wonder Woman Really Is Number One

September 28th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Well, DC is catching even more internet crap than I ever imagined they would over the Starfire and Catwoman.  But I’ll give them credit where it’s most assuredly due.  They hit a home run with the Wonder Woman title.  I was not even remotely enthusiastic about this title when I saw first saw it, but now that I’ve picked it up, I have to say I’m extremely impressed.  Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang combine their talents to make a vivid and fantastic book.

Azzarello is at his best in noir, and he’s shown us in Flashpoint that he can get a little nutzo with it.  What he’s done in Wonder Woman is transport the Greek Gods into an urban underworld.  Perhaps the better world for it is ‘overworld,’ since the first mythological character we see in the book has taken up residence in a spectacular penthouse.  According to him he’s the ‘sun of a king’ in what I am sure, by the end of the book, is not a misprint.  Mythological creatures flit around the world, committing murder, trying to commit murder, and very occasionally trying to prevent murder.

If the premise of mythology in the everyday world sounds too precious for regular comics readers, Cliff Chiang rides to the rescue with deep neons that stand out against red skylines.  Never have centaurs looked so perfectly in place.  The storyline is pure noir as well, with the thoughtless kingpin (Zeus) at the top, playing around while his underlings, in this case his children, scrambling and scheming to get a bigger slice of the pie.  It looks like the most ruthless of those children wants to knock off dear old dad himself, or at least a few of his brothers and sisters.

Into this world, a hapless innocent – a young woman who was impregnated by Zeus – has gotten in over her head.  Diana is summoned to save her, from the machinations of Zeus and from all of his children on earth.  This book, funny as it sounds, has Wonder Woman playing Sam Spade.  She’s world weary, knows the lay of the land, knows she’s not particularly high up in the hierarchy, but also knows she’s tough as nails.  It’s her job to figure out what’s going on, what needs to happen, and to go up against the powers that be to make sure it does happen.

Let me add a word or two about Cliff Chiang’s art.  (I believe those words will be; Nekkid Ladies Done Right.)

This is Zola.

She spends the entire issue in her underwear, and it’s pink.  I didn’t notice it until my second or third reading.  Although Chiang’s art makes women very ‘pretty,’ there isn’t any scene that looks posed or contrived.  When Zola’s in danger, the art is about Zola being in danger.  When she’s threatening someone with a gun, the pose is one that looks right for threatening someone with a gun.

And here’s Diana:

I would argue that the picture above is hot.  At the same time, the art doesn’t sacrifice personality, context, or the heroic look of the character in order to make it hot.  In fact, the most awkward piece of art in the entire book was this panel:

That magical coverlet has to be held on with magnets, or has to have slid down to her waist one second later, because otherwise Diana would be flashing the reader.  And I would be fine with that.  Surprised that they did it, but fine with it.  (I’d also be fine with her sleeping in pajamas.)  It’s not about nudity.  I’m pretty sure that between Vertigo and Max and independent titles every comics reader out there has seen a nipple or two, and kids don’t read this stuff.  (Even if they did, I doubt a naked boob shot would hurt them.) It’s about the context and the character – and prioritizing both.  Not all nudity is bad nudity, and a nude shot of Diana here would, in my opinion, be better than the fully-clothed gratuitous butt shots of other female characters in other books.

But back to Wonder Woman.  The art and the storyline work together well.  It’s also an interesting story, thanks to good world-building by Azzarello and thanks to the fact that, unlike nearly every other book in the New 52, it isn’t stuck waist deep in yet another re-telling of a superhero’s origin.  If there’s one thing that hampers it, it’s the fact that Wonder Woman remains DC’s version of The Man With No Personality.  (“Some say he robbed a bank and saved a puppy at the same time.” “Is he fer the law or agin’ it?”  “Nobody knows.  ‘Cause he ain’t got no personality.”)  Putting her in the Sam Spade role is a good way for her to stalk through the book with authority and purpose, but the main show will always be the side characters.  Overall, though, I’d say it’s one of the best books to come out of the New 52, and it’s good to see that for this particular part of DC’s Big Three.

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4 Elements: Darkwing Duck

May 26th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Excluding Gargoyles, Darkwing Duck was always my favorite part of the Disney Afternoon. I always felt that although Disney is great at showcasing their many properties, Darkwing got the shaft. Sure, it got an NES game, but when the cartoon ended, so did the franchise. Darkwing fell into obscurity, only to become a piece of nostalgia years later.

But what a show it was. Funny and filled with adventure, it acted as the way lighter comedy counterpart to Batman: The Animated Series. It had plenty of character to go around. Not only with our egomaniac mostly-competent hero, but they stole the best character from Duck Tales for the sidekick role and the youthful ward seems to have more gusto than the title character himself. If a superhero is defined by his villains, then you can see the reason the show was so great through the likes of Darkwing’s rogues gallery. Except for that one walrus guy. He kind of sucked.

I never expected to ever see Darkwing again. Whenever a new Kingdom Hearts game came out, I’d half-heartedly hope that maybe we’d get some kind of return appearance, but no. He doesn’t rank with the feature film big shots. Alas, he’d only live on in Toon Disney reruns.

That is, until BOOM! Studios announced a Darkwing Duck miniseries. I was jazzed! Eventually, the idea became so popular among the masses that the company turned it into an ongoing. I was more jazzed! Then I read the first issue. That made my jazz flux levels go even higher! I even got to do an interview with writer Ian Brill one time! My jazziness… it… I… I was pleased, okay?

Darkwing Duck has finished up its first year via twelve issues (three story arcs) and an annual that featured a short story by the series creator Tad Stones. The main series is written by Ian Brill with James Silvani killing it on art. In a time when my favorite characters like Venom, Deadpool, Juggernaut, Booster Gold and Luke Cage have their own fantastic comics going on (by “Deadpool” I mean Uncanny X-Force. Sorry, Daniel Way), I can still tell people with a straight face that my favorite comic series being released today is Darkwing Duck. I get a lot of skeptical looks, but I stand by my claim. With those twelve issues plus one released, I’ve found myself blown away thirteen times in the past year.

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Stop Jockin’ Jay-Z [Thunderbolts 147]

August 19th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Black people! Comics! It’s been a while, but I’m back for my crown.

There’s tendency in comics to write pretty generic black guys. You occasionally get the Samuel L Jackson Fight the Power Angry Black Fella types, but more often than not, you’re looking at a slightly watered down version of that same type. Sanitized Shaft. Diet Dolemite. Toothless Tommy Gibbs. Put Bishop (pre-mega murder spree), most depictions of John Stewart, Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Mr. Terrific, and Steel in a room together. First, note their hair. Second, note their personalities. They’re all kind of really moral, upstanding human beings… but with an edge. Maybe they used to be mad at the man. Maybe they sometimes have flashy nods to whatever standard of blackness they were born into. Who knows, who cares, but a bunch of black dudes with basically the same moral compass is boring.

(Fully half of black women in cape comix, excepting Storm who has been kept in safety away from all things black up until recently, tend to pop into the snakecharming neck, nuh uh I know that chick didn’t just do what I just saw her do, tell me I didn’t just see that, super ghitto around the way girl stereotype a little too easily. The other half of black women in comics is Vixen, who is like Animal Man, but stuck in boring stories.)

There are no rules for writing black people in comics, and anyone who’d tell you otherwise is someone not worth listening to. In my family alone is a vast range of characters, some less than positive and some exemplary. Everything counts, everything is true. The thing is, sometimes people trip into pitfalls when writing black people, and black guys in particular. You could easily make a list of mis-steps.

One is slipping in slang. Slang is an intensely regional thing with several outside factors. I don’t talk like people from New York talk, but we do share some slang because of shared history or culture. Have you ever seen somebody write “crunked?” I can almost guarantee that person isn’t from the south, because “crunk” is its own past tense. You didn’t get crunked last night, you got crunk. Slang shifts and warps depending on where you are. You wouldn’t catch me dead saying “hella,” but I can’t quite scrub “might could” or “one more ‘gin” from my vocabulary. You seriously can’t just urbandictionary this stuff and expect to get it right.

Another way is by showing how ROUGH and TOUGH these guys are by throwing in some of that old “urban flavor.” Since they were raised on the streets they’re a little harder than some milquetoast whiteboy like Spider-Man! So they’ll slang it up, call somebody a @#$&()&, and then fist bump another guy right before hitting a villain with a yo mama joke or something. And sure, there’s that thing black people do where they nod at each other on the street (don’t front like you haven’t seen it and/or don’t do it on occasion) which makes our white friends ask “Do you know that guy?” in a hushed whisper. I can see how that’d cultivate this crazy idea that there’s a quiet coalition of people with a thug just waiting to jump out of their skin. But (wait for it) not everybody is from the cold, hard streets. Some folks are from the suburbs. Some folks are country.

The biggest offender in my mind, though, is something that probably got widespread appeal back during the blaxploitation era, resurrected by Snoopy Doggy Dogg, and then it caught fire and died when Destiny’s Child dropped a single. I’m sure you know it–some variant of a guy going “SAY MY NAME!” It’s raw dog alpha male braggadocio, a way of humiliating someone by forcing them to acknowledge the fact that you’re better than them. If you’ve ever played Madden NFL 2004 and broke out an eighty yard run to TD off a ridiculous quarterback sneak with Michael Vick, you know exactly what I’m talking about because you’ve done it yourself (I know I’m guilty).

It’s corny, it’s stupid, it’s cliche, and people do it, but I don’t necessarily want to read about it. It’s shorthand for Cool Black Guy, which really just means Black Guy Who Threatens People Other Than Me And Maybe My Friends, and that’s offensive, Mr. Charlie.


Thunderbolts 147. Jeff Parker, Kev Walker, Frank Martin. Here’s two pages and the two spreads that follow them.

And well… they did my least favorite thing and they pulled it off. It’s not forced, it’s not awkward, and it’s honestly the most flavor Cage has had since the Azzarello/Corben CAGE mini from almost ten years ago. The setting, the timing, the violence, all of this is dead on. It’s perfect, it’s believable, and it’s fantastic. It’s not just “Hey, by the way, this guy is black, remember?” It’s a show of authority, it’s a big dog showing his charges exactly who the alpha male is around here.

I like Cage, but I haven’t like liked him in ages. He’s been pretty bland and neutered under Bendis’s run. It’s not that I want the old Cage, the Kurt Busiek/Jo Duffy Cage back, but I kind of do. This thing that Parker and Walker are doing here, though, is the best of both worlds without ignoring either of them.

Every story is true. But, if you’re going to tell some of them… at least put in the work and get it right, like these guys did.

All right? Peace.

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Mr. T Comic Book Jibba Jabba: Part Five

July 10th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

We move closer and closer into the present with the various Mr. T comics and upon hitting 2008, we get to my favorite of the bunch. Now, while Mr. T and the T-Force and the short-lived Mr. T from 2005 involved a couple of neat elements, there’s something rather underwhelming about going the lengths of getting the Mr. T license and not doing anything extra special with it. The A-Team comic wasn’t especially fantastic, but at least it knew that being outlandish couldn’t hurt. The stories made little sense, but we still had B.A. Barracus fighting a sumo, getting into bar fights and knocking out Russian soldiers.

After the unfortunate cancellation of the 2005 Mr. T due to the company closing down, Christopher Bunting decided he would keep it going. He started up Mohawk Media and released yet another Mr. T comic. While the stories are basically split up into issues, including covers, they would not be released separately and by the month. Instead, Bunting would let them loose all at once with the new Mr. T graphic novel.

I don’t know how to feel about that “AS SEEN ON TV” logo.

There are five issues in the trade. The first four are its own story arc with JL Czerniawski on art. The bonus issue is done by artist Giovanni P. Timpano. While, yes, the comic does have a lot of Mr. T being preachy, it’s a lot less forced this time around. The reliance of having Mr. T yell at children for doing drugs is finally put to rest.

Also, between the issues are pages of Mr. T answering fan mail. If you’re wondering, Mr. T believes Clubber Lang would beat B.A. in a fight.

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Final Crisis: Almost, But Not Quite

June 22nd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I reread Final Crisis the other day. I like pretty much everyone involved. Grant Morrison and JG Jones did Marvel Boy together, which is excellent all around. Carlos Pacheco is a good artist. Doug Mahnke should be the only person allowed to draw Wonder Woman ever. I had every reason to like the story, but something in the execution didn’t click with me.

Final Crisis feels like less than the sum of its parts. Morrison’s approach made for a dense and layered read, but it never quite comes together to be something worth reading. I can see the effort, but the effort isn’t enough. The “channel-zapping” style was meant to make the reading experience mirror the events in the book. A lot of stuff is going on, and flipping back and forth from scene to scene, each of them getting only a few pages to breathe, which keeps you disoriented and on edge. It kinda works and it kinda doesn’t.

But enough of its faults. Let’s talk about a couple things that worked.

Batman’s goal is to avenge the death of his parents by spending the rest of his life warring on all criminals. Batman, like the Punisher, has his choice of two endings to his story. He can either die on the streets or fight forever, eventually drafting more and more people into his battle. Final Crisis, though, is the last DC Universe story. It’s the story of the time when evil won and good still persevered. Since this is the last story, Batman gets a chance to do the unthinkable. He gets to end his story. He gets to win.

It is a moment that could only happen to Batman here, where all stories are ending. Everything in Batman’s life built toward this moment. Batman comes face-to-face with the personification of evil itself, and that dark god tells him that the only choice is evil. Instead, Batman steals Darkseid’s idea. “A gun and a bullet” changed Batman’s life forever. A gun and a bullet murdered Orion. And then, at the end of the world, a gun and a bullet are going to be used to destroy their master. With a sigh, he accepts that he actually completed his goal. The “Gotcha,” and the smile, that’s just Batman. Batman doesn’t lose.

Everything about the Flash, any of them, in Final Crisis is dead on. The Flash is the best hero in the DC Universe. He’s got the best enemies, best power, and he’s flexible enough to work on both a street level and cosmic level. More than anything else, though, the Flash is a confident hero. They’re consummate professionals, very experienced, and their very power gives them an edge of everything else. It seems like a contradiction, but their superspeed lets them process things faster than any other hero, which means that they are among the few that can afford to take it slow. They should make being a hero look effortless.

Everything in Final Crisis supports that. The Flashes are supremely confident, they know exactly what they need to do, and just how to go about it. When it comes time to save the world, Barry has a plan. “We start with family.” This is what superheroes are about. It’s about having the power to protect your loved ones, even, or maybe especially, when the entire universe is being pulled into oblivion.

The kiss between Barry and Iris is classic comic book storytelling. How do you cure an evil infection? With love. It’s that simple. And after, everything is fine. It’s business as usual. There was never any doubt about the fact that everything would be all right.

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The Return of Bruce Wayne

May 12th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Fellow fourth letterers, I have been . . .

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I’m not even reading the Lantern Saga

January 28th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

But I love this page with my whole heart.

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My Year in Comics: 2009

December 29th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I keep trying to do a top ten list, but I keep getting bored and wandering off partway through. It’s not that I can’t do it. It’s just that everyone has done it, and I wouldn’t be bringing anything new to the table. Sure, my list of ten books would be different from someone else’s list, and I’d probably inadvertently end up pissing off fans of Geoff Johns/Brian Michael Bendis/JMS again. What’s vastly more interesting, is looking at 2009 in terms of how my approach to comics changed. I stopped chasing the dragon this year, but that’s just half of it. I started, or re-started, a lot of things, too.

Amazon makes this easy. I can look at the 46 orders I placed in 2009 (which is completely ridiculous) and see what I bought and when I bought it. On 02/16, I ordered three books from Amazon. Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C., Black Panther by Jack Kirby Vol. 2, and Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1. I was very high on Kirby after picking up the first two Fourth World omnibuses, so that explains the two Kirby books. The outlier is Pluto. I hadn’t picked up any manga in some time before then, having stopped reading Monster when I moved to SF and already having a complete set of Dragon Ball. I’ve had a box full of manga chilling in my place for two and a half years now, with everything from Battle Vixens to Shaman King to The Ring waiting to be pulled out and reread, only for that to never happen.

The catalyst was Pluto, though. I’ve been watching anime since I was a kid, reading manga since I was a teenager. I remember picking up Super Manga Blast to read What’s Michael. Two days after reading Pluto 1, I ordered Monster 9-12, inadvertently giving myself two copies of volume 9. By February 24th, I had volumes 14 through 18, completing the series. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Monster, and reading the end of the series in a sprint like that was a blessing.

I live about six blocks from Kinokuniya, which is easily one of the best places to buy manga in the city. Large selection, decent back stock, and they’re on top of new releases. They’ve got an enormous selection of Japanese books, too. I visited it maybe twice my first year and a half here. Now, it’s more like monthly.

Pluto led to 20th Century Boys, which in turn led to Viz Signature. Other than a brief dip into and out of Black Lagoon (Nah, y’all can keep that one), Viz Signature has turned into my favorite imprint in any comics company. I’ve picked up Dogs, Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Jormungand, solanin, What A Wonderful World! and Vagabond, and enjoyed all of them. I’m looking forward to reading GoGo Monster (which is a very handsomely designed book), Real, not simple, and maybe Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega.

Viz Signature led to SIG IKKI, which led to Shonen Sunday. I rediscovered Yotsuba&!, which led to Yen Press, which has a few titles I need to try out. A friend’s recommendation led to Mushishi, from Del Rey, and a few titles out of that imprint, too.

I started paying attention to manga blogs, mainly via Brigid Alverson’s Manga Blog and Kate Dacey’s Manga Critic. That spiraled out into half a dozen other blogs, which led to more books. I started writing about manga more often, though nowhere near as often as I actually read it.

While all this was going on, I was growing out of slavishly following superhero books. David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp fell in my lap like a bomb, I fell in love with Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter, and scored several other books. I grabbed a used copy of Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter II on a whim and remembered how much I dig that series. Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai coming out a few weeks later was perfect timing, leaving me ripe for more. While the special edition by Fantagraphics collecting the first chunk of stories was pushed back to September 2010, I’m paying attention to Stan Sakai again and wondering why I ever stopped.

Dark Horse’s Noir and David Lapham’s Young Liars reminded me of Stray Bullets again, Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s Unknown Soldier rocked. I finally read Creepy, Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair, and a gang of other books.

I read Ganges #2, my first Ganges, after some goading from Tucker. I loved it, now I’m looking out for that, too. I can count the number of books by Fantagraphics I owned before picking up Ganges on zero hands. Now, I’m keeping my eyes open.

That was 2009 for me. I found a lot of new things, I learned more about my own tastes, and I started fitting my buying habits around that. I try more things, I’m open to more kinds of books, and it’s been fun discovering things that I should’ve known about all along.

2009 was a good year for comics. At this point, I’m reading American books of all types, a few Eurocomics thanks to Marvel’s partnership with Soleil, a lot of manga, a little manhwa… is there a word for that? Omnivorous? “Comics reader?” Either way, I feel better about comics than I have in a long while.

2010 is going to be a good year.

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The JLA Christmas Special

December 24th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I guess almost everyone who celebrates Christmas has their little media rituals involved with it. 

Mine used to be A Christmas Story.  Yes, despite everything.  Don’t judge.  Some people watch the Yule Log.

After it started coming on for twenty-four hours at a time, even I was over-saturated, and so I started looking for other things to enjoy during Christmas.

Geeky though it is, I love the JLA Christmas special, titled Comfort and Joy.  With three stories, it doesn’t let us get bored, and there’s something for everyone.  Shayera and John get an unconventional Christmas.  The Flash gives us our Scrooge parable.  And Clark and J’onn?  That’s my favorite one.  I love that Clark still tries to figure out what his presents are, and I love that the Kents wrap them in lead foil, and I love that when the Kents talk about how they wrapped the gifts in lead foil, Clark frowns and says, “You mean Santa wrapped them.”

Best of all, I like the ending of that story, which was corny and sincere and, in a way, understated.

See it on youtube.

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