Monday, December 31, 2012

FB Re-Post: Why the Dying Wish Storyline Offends Me FAR Less Than One More Day Ever Did

Warning: This post has spoilers about the story arc leading up to Amazing Spider-Man #700.  If you don't want to be spoiled, then please don't read any further.  You have been warned.

In the aftermath of ASM #700, I've been hearing a lot of hate directed at the storyline, its writer Dan Slott, and the overall state of Spider-Man in general.  I've heard terms like "disrespectful," "lame," and "unfit" bandied around and lobbed like grenades in reference to the death Peter Parker endured.  A number of long-time Spider-Man fans and readers have declared they will not stick around for a Spider-Man title that doesn't include Peter Parker.  There have been unfavorable comparisons of this story to the Clone Saga and the egregious One More Day.  In other words, the reactions have been extreme, voluminous, and plenty.

As one of those long-time Spidey readers and a fan who considers the web-slinger my favorite among superheroes, I have to disagree with the large volume of negative chatter out there.  To be sure, I wasn't exactly thrilled at Peter's death, but I came away from this story far less offended than I had been by the end of One More Day (henceforth OMD).  

I've already reviewed the final issue of the series, but I didn't expand much on how this storyline, for me, bests OMD, another controversial storyline that bequeathed a huge change to the Spider-Man status quo.  I'd planned to do so as a follow-up post in this blog, but a friend's response to my review link on Facebook prompted me to write it there.  He had issues with the amount of disrespect he perceived in Peter's death,  as well as other loose plot ends, such as Octo-Spidey's (btw, PLEASE stop calling him Spock, people.  There's already a very popular character by that name in the Star Trek franchise) relationships to MJ and Aunt May.

I address those things, as well as make a direct comparison to OMD, in my re-posted response below:

We don't always get the ending we want for our heroes. I had this same debate with Alex during the whole "will Bruce die in DKR?" discussion many months ago. I think the moral victory is what becomes important in these cases, and I think that's where Peter won out in this conflict. Sometimes they have to win where they can in these kinds of situations, and I feel that's what happened.

What was important to Peter Parker at the end? Yes, getting his body back and beating Ock would have been best. An all-out sacrifice saving those he loved would have also worked. But neither of those things happened, because Octavius out-muscled and out-thought him on both fronts. Which makes sense, as they're both brilliant men who know how the other thinks.

When it became clear that neither of those things was going to happen, did Peter give up? No. At that point, it became paramount to not let Doctor Octopus run around in his body, using it to do evil as Spider-Man and Peter Parker. THAT ending would have been a huge middle finger to the character. Peter used their connection to show all of his most important memories to Octavius as Peter's life flashed before his eyes, in a sense bonding them to him, making Octavius really see things from another perspective.

Octavius, shaken and humbled, becomes a different man, and vows to carry on as best he can in Peter's name. He's still Octavius, of course--hence the "better than you ever were" moment at the end--but he's been diverted from his more sinister original intentions. He will try to be a hero. Peter wins, at least on that front, and it can be argued that's the most important one at this point.

And as for mourning, appreciation... Peter will get those things from Octavius. Not ideal, I admit, but it does work in an odd way, given everything that's gone down.

Regarding relations with MJ... well, I'm not sure how to feel about that, but it's been made clear that he's pursuing her on that front. I think it's less of a problem for me than it would have been if they were still married, but the OMD train wreck effectively nixes that. From that point to now, there's been the unspoken possibility of them getting together, but nothing solid--until, ironically, Octavius arrived. And while I get the squick factor in Octavius having sexy time with MJ, I'm thinking that this subplot is one of those tests for Superior Spidey's new character. I'm curious to see how it pans out, and really not sure what to think until then.

Regarding May... yeah. Weird. I'm pushing that out of my head. I'm sure Octavius will, too.

I think what makes this story much more palatable for me than OMD comes down to two points.

First and foremost, different and better choices were made by the hero. In OMD, Peter chooses to selfishly sacrifice his marriage to bring back his dying aunt, who by all measures should have been allowed to die. He just couldn't handle the guilt. It was one of the most un-heroic moments in the mythos, and was chiefly the result of a lack of testicles on the part of the editorial staff to tell some actually realistic Spider-Man stories in the wake of Civil War. It's what made me nerd-rage like I never have in the past.

Here, Peter doesn't take the easy way out. He fights, and never gives up despite the overwhelming situation he's in. And even when he knows he'll die, he still fights on, trying to convert Octavius into a hero. It is, in my opinion, one of the most respectful ways to have your hero handle that kind of no-win scenario. That he does convert Octavius is what makes this his final victory.

Second, this story didn't come out of left field, like OMD did. In OMD, May gets shot, Peter tries desperately to save her (which he should), and is (quite literally) magically shown there's nothing he can do to save her. All is lost, and then ALONG COMES MEPHISTO, offering a deal. It's Diablo ex Machina, with all the magic trappings thrown in to emphasize it. The editors wanted Pete and MJ's marriage dissolved, and quickly, and it plainly shows here. No respect given to that at all.

Here, this story's been building for quite some time. Clues and red herrings have abounded for the last 100 issues, from when Ock returned. If you look back to Spider Island, Ends of the Earth, etc., you can see pieces of the puzzle, and shudder at how they've been used in the most recent storyline. There was planning that went into this story, and it shows. You can not say that for OMD.

The points I made above are pretty much what I would have said in a follow-up post, and are the primary reason I urge Spider-Man readers to give Dan Slott the benefit of the doubt here.  I know Octavius in Peter Parker's body is a controversial, unnerving, and distasteful proposition.  But it's also a huge opportunity to tell some very interesting stories that you couldn't have done with Peter Parker, and Slott has been all about the interesting stories in his run on this series.

I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here.  I think true fans of Spider-Man will be, as well.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Comic Review -- Amazing Spider-Man #698: Dying Wish prelude: Day In the Life

Okay, I needed a couple days to write this review.  The big development was a lot to absorb, and I wanted to be sure I came at this piece with a clear head.

I know most fans have read the issue by now, and while I'd love very much to talk plainly about the plot of this issue, I don't plan on spoiling anything until at least next Wednesday.  So, with that in mind, I'll launch into what I hope is a mostly spoiler-free review.

The cover is a picture of Doc Ock, on his deathbed, and truly looking like he's at death's door.  He has two words on his lips that you know are going to mean big things for the issue: "Peter Parker."  Paolo Rivera does a great job of making Octavius look both sinister and pitiful, as the condition of his body clearly shows the abuse he's endured (and, it could be argued, inflicted) over time.  What do these words mean, coming from this man, at this time?  It's a compelling hook, and grabs the reader's interest from the get-go before you even open the issue.  Excellent job here.

It is the writing of this issue that will take center stage, as things are laid out in the form of a typical slice-of-life vignette from Spidey's point of view.  He starts off web-slinging through the city in a carefree manner, moves to intercept a small-time crook robbing a business, and then glides into the non-superhero aspects of Peter Parker's life.  We see that Aunt May, Mary Jane, and Horizon Labs occupy the lion's share of Peter's time, and he moves smoothly through each of them with newfound boldness and confidence until he receives a distress call from his teammates on the Avengers.

He meets them at the Raft, a prison for super-powered inmates administered by S.H.I.E.L.D.  When he's told that Doctor Octopus is moments away from finally dying, Spider-Man asks for a private moment with him.  In the final pages and panels of the issue, they have a brief exchange that changes the entire dynamic of the story and suddenly makes for a harrowing, if not outright horrifying realization.

This is one of those stories that will send you scurrying for your back issues, re-reading and searching for clues as to where the seeds of the current plot were planted.  That's a fun treat in and of itself, but what makes this issue even more noteworthy is that it truly is well written, and would function ably as a "day in the life of" story by itself, even without the big reveal at the end.  It's fluid and versatile, moving effortlessly through the myriad touchpoints in Peter Parker's life and making each of them important without getting clogged by any particular one.  There's humor, heart, and plenty of action that would make it a worthy glimpse into the web-slinger's life.  Dan Slott has always been good with Spider-Man, and it shows here, on several levels.

I'm very happy with the artwork on this issue.  Richard Elson does a remarkable job of matching Slott's storytelling style.  The lines are clean, and convey a kinesthetic confidence that makes it easy to imagine the action in between panels.  Costumes and characters look classic yet fresh, realistic yet dynamic.  Fabela's colors succeed in making both the characters and their environments vibrant and compelling, and round out an amazing visual depiction of a memorable issue.

If you've kept abreast of what's going on and what will be happening in Spidey's universe, you knew this issue would be the start of a harrowing ride.  For me personally, that still did nothing to help me prepare emotionally for the revelation that pops up here. With the #700 finale just around the corner and the new Superior Spider-Man title coming out soon, this final arc has my full attention.  I'm sure the rest of Spidey's readers will agree.  Highly recommended.

I'll have a more spoiler-y video review/reaction next week.

Photos of my Spider-Man Costume!

I know these are about a month overdue, but this is one of the costumes I got delivered to me, the day before Halloween, and of course it's the one I chose to wear to work.  Black suit Spider-Man was well received by co-workers and the general public alike at my library, and it was great fun to wear.

It's a full-body zentai suit, for anyone curious.  I specified that the mask be removable, so I was able to take it off when needed (like whenever I was eating).  Another zipper was also put in so I could use the restroom without too much trouble.

Typing through the gloves was

interesting.  Not something you 
want to try every day though!
Strike a pose... at the library!
One thing I ended up asking myself at the end of the day was, how does Spidey make it through all that web-slinging and wall-crawling and crimefighting without any shoes on?!  Seriously, by the end of the day, my feet were not happy with me!

In any case, I can guarantee you I've got plenty of cosplay material for future cons now--not to mention, future Halloweens!

Hey, who's this dude in the
poster next to me?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Christmas Time on All Hallows' Eve

So, I can't help but feel like the holidays have already started for me, personally, as a bit of a miracle happened today.

For those of you who've read my posts from earlier in the year, I've basically put forth two goals for this year, my comics and cosplay New Year's resolutions, if you will.  They were:

  1. Attend a comic convention outside of Houston; and
  2. Get my cosplay together!  Essentially get a couple of costumes this year, for both Halloween and cosplay purposes.
For the sake of timeliness, I won't say here what costumes I've been working on.  I will say, however, that I finally had to break down and just order them, as I'm lousy at assembling costumes, and expect I always will be.  So, I did.  In the middle of this month.

Ideally, I would have gotten them in time to wear to Wizard World Austin, which I was just at this weekend (and which I will talk about in more detail later.  In short, it was AWESOME!).  That, however, didn't happen, and I wasn't surprised about it.  I was secretly hoping, however, that they would arrive in time for Halloween.  I wasn't optimistic about it, given how late in the game I'd waited, and the likelihood that most costume companies are probably backlogged with last-minute or semi-last-minute orders like mine.

And then, score!

I got a call today from someone trying to deliver a package.  My heart virtually skipped a beat, and I went home far more excited and upbeat than I'd expected.  The package ended up being BOTH of my costumes, and with Halloween tomorrow, it was a Christmas story for the annals of Halloween.  I tried them both on, and they both fit great and look great.

Expect pics tomorrow.

In the mean time, I'm just happy. :-)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Comic Review -- Avengers vs. X-Men #11 / Brian Michael Bendis, Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, & Laura Martin

SPOILER WARNING!!  This review contains a BIG SPOILER about a character's fate in the Marvel Universe!  Please DON'T view if you don't know what it is and don't want it spoiled!

Overall, a good issue, though not without its flaws.  Still, it's heartening to see how this story has improved from its less than stellar beginning.  Hope you enjoy!

This video can also be found on my Youtube page!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Video Review Background

Wanted to add a quick picture of my video review background to this place, as it's one of the easier and more successful projects I've attempted this year.

If you saw my first video review for Hawkeye #2, I had a hastily draped sheet over a hinged set of wooden panels.  It didn't cover my viewing area nearly enough, but I figured it was better to do *something* immediately, with the resolution to work on it soon after, or I might have chickened out and not even started the reviews.  So, that's what I did.  The picture below represents the first such effort at making things a little more catchy while I talk about comics.

I'll be adding this one to my profile pic here.  And maybe on Facebook.  Enjoy!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Comic Review -- Avenging Spider-Man #11


I think I look more pixelated in this review, and I can't figure out why.  :-/  If anyone has any ideas, please let me know!  Enjoy!

This video review is also on my Youtube page!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Comic Review -- Hawkeye #2 / Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth


Quick note: I meant that Clint thinks of Kate as his protege, NOT his mentor, despite what I say towards the end of the review!  Stupid brainlock!

This video is also on my Youtube!  Thanks for viewing!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Marvel NOW! Marvel, What?

Okay, I gotta say: little raccoon with a
minigun is pretty sweet!
Over the summer, a lot happened while I wasn't writing.  Yesterday I mentioned the recent kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman.  Superhero films The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises came out and caused long lines at theaters (reviews in the near future).  Some big names at DC jumped ship from the New 52 titles.  Oh yeah, and Avengers vs. X-Men is still going on, though it's apparently due to wrap up soon (ish).

AvX has gotten better as it's gone along over the summer, and I'm both eager and apprehensive about its impending conclusion.  I want to see what comes out of such a vicious struggle between these two groups, as it at least in part stemmed from their relative insularity from one another.  Both Emma Frost and Cyclops have made comments that the Avengers have never bothered to help the X-Men with any of their major problems, and the X-Men have responded by often remaining neutral and getting minimally involved in events where the Avengers have had a large stake in matters, such as Marvel's Civil War from a few years ago.  After AvX, this appears to be getting addressed, and I'm interested to see what shape this takes and where it goes.


Yep.  "Nick Fury's" getting a "new
look."
But what makes me more than a little nervous is the sheer number of canceled, new, and "revamped" titles coming out under this new marketing initiative, Marvel NOW!  Characterized as NOT a reboot, but instead a major shifting of the Marvel Universe due to the events from AvX, there will be new teams, new status quos, and new perspectives explored by Marvel's stalwart heroes.  Some of the noteworthy changes I've observed so far seem to be a new regular team that consists of both Avengers and X-Men; a new "version" of Nick Fury who closely resembles the Nick Fury from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (who, as it happens, resembled Ultimate Marvel's interpretation of the character); and the return of Jean Grey, who's deaths in comics have never been permanent, though often well-thought out.

It's all very exciting, but it's also confusing.  To cancel so many long-standing titles like The Fantastic Four and Invincible Iron Man and immediately do another volume of the same title certainly feels like a reboot, or at the very least an unnecessary change.  And you can't argue that this is "just another phase" Marvel's going through, like Civil War, then Secret Invasion, then Dark Reign, then Heroic Age.  To my knowledge, those arcs didn't have anywhere near this scale of canceled and new titles, nor the number of fundamental changes.  Something's going on that's clearly bigger than the storylines of previous years, but not quite as sweeping as an overall reboot like the New 52 was.

It feels like Marvel saw how successful New 52 was, and decided, "We need to do something big and sweeping!  But, er, not quite a 'reboot,' per se.  Let's see what we can come up with!"

Now (pun intended), we're still a few weeks from this, and of course, I'm going to give it a shot.  Despite the reactionary feel to it, I know to give the minds at Marvel some leeway for the most part (except for Quesada.  I will never forgive One More Day.  You better not screw this up, man!).  And it does look interesting.  I'm just feeling a little unnerved by the scale and timing of this particular change.

Bring it, Marvel.  I'm apprehensive, but still eager to see what you do with this one.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Kiss That Sort of Shook the Comics World

Okay.  Back in earnest.  Here we go.

So by now you've probably at least heard the news that Superman and Wonder Woman share a passionate kiss at the end of Justice League #12.  It's certainly been making the rounds in comics circles, and major news outlets are at least taking note of the fact that Superman is kissing someone other than Lois Lane.  Images of Jim Lee's cover have flooded the Internet, and the hardcore fanboys and fangirls are lining up on both sides of the "Will it last?" question.

Regardless of how one may feel about this development--which, thus far, consists of a single kiss--I find it more than a little shocking that this is such a big deal.  It's not even like it's never happened before.  Since at least the 1980s, there have been stories and indications that show how Superman and Wonder Woman could be a good match.  In the alternate reality story Kingdom Come (which, by the way, is excellent, and I can't believe I haven't reviewed yet), Superman and Wonder Woman not only get together, but she is pregnant with Superman's child.

I suppose another factor in the shock and discomfiture of this pairing has a lot to do with the fact that this is NOT Lois Lane, who we are taught to think is "The One And Only True Love" Superman is supposed to be with.  This may be true in the movies--which, despite their popularity, are not real source material--but the comics tell a very different story.  Aside from Lois Lane, Superman has had other, admittedly more minor or less timely love interests--Lana Lang admittedly being the only one who jumps readily to my mind (my knowledge of Superman trivia is not as extensive as other areas).  Superman fans, feel free to help round out the list for me.

Our cultural obsession with the "one true love" thing is something I find off-putting, particularly in a necessarily timeless (and time-bending) medium such as comics.  I don't know how many articles I've already read where people are essentially saying, "Superman and Lois WILL get together eventually.  I know it will happen.  This is just a temporary thing."  It's like they can't stand the idea of ANY OTHER romance working, simply because the Lois Lane one worked so well, and nothing else will possibly compare.

Little question:  How do you know it won't compare as well if you don't explore the other possibilities?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: superheroes are one of our modern mythologies.  Mythologies are necessarily open to reinterpretation, revision, and re-telling.  Things should happen in a more or less organic way and be respectful of the audience, but aside from that, anything goes.

And a little thing about the New 52: it's a perfect point to reinterpret it characters' lives.  We've already seen quite a few controversial changes, such as Victor Fries's motivation for becoming Mr. Freeze, Bruce Wayne possibly having a sibling (!), and so forth.  If these things are fair game, then so are relationships and who loves who.

I've also personally felt superhero relationships with "civilians" were too contrived to work.  I've never been a huge fan of Spider-Man's marriage to Mary Jane, and have usually longed for him to have companionship who could survive on the same level as he could.  This is many times as true with Superman and Lois Lane.  I mean, Spider-Man's arch nemeses are supervillains, like the Green Goblin, Doc Ock and the Kingpin.  Superman's arch enemies include Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Darkseid, other pissed-off Kryptonians... basically cosmic-scale adversaries, for the most part.  How the hell is Lois supposed to be kept safe against them?  Wonder Woman is not only able to defend herself against these threats ably, but she has her own rogues gallery to contend with.  She'll be likely saving Superman's hide once in a while.

I've never been a huge fan of either of these heroes individually, but I find myself saluting Geoff Johns and Jim Lee for this development.  Only time will tell, of course, but I think there's the potential for a lot of awesome, creative, and fresh storytelling with these two as a potential couple.  They can play on each other's level, and they are both outsiders within the Justice League.  And in this new interpretation of the DC Universe, I think this is a promising glimpse of things to come.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I'm Back!... Well, Sort of...

Summer really took me away from my regular writing, and forced me to consider other ways of doing comic reviews and continuing to post here on a consistent basis.  In effect, I had to take a "vacation" from writing.  Well, vacation's over!

... sort of.

While I can't promise to write every day--I've been devoting some of my writing energies to my fiction, and will continue doing so--I will be experimenting with other ways to keep doing these posts, from writing to video reviews... who knows, I might even consider podcasting down the line.

At any rate, the video here is my first attempt at setting up *some* kind of background for doing comic reviews that doesn't look entirely like I'm filming in my room (which, of course, I totally am).  Have a look, feel free to laugh at my n00bishness, and most importantly, feel free to send any tips my way, so that when I next do this, things will look a little better.

It's good to be back!  Thanks for bearing with me the last couple months while I've been away!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Post for My Sisters: Thoughts On the Aurora TDKR Tragedy

Hi.  I'm back, for a moment.

I know I've been away for a while, and I don't plan on re-posting regularly again for a while, but I felt the strong urge to comment on this.  It is, after all, related to the existence of a comic book property.

Whenever tragedies such as the one that occurred in Aurora, CO last night happen, I am always shocked, saddened, and angered.

Even though I take the occasional snide jab at all the "crazy people" out in this crazy world of ours, it's still mind-bending for me to wrap my head around the idea that someone, somewhere out there, thinks it's okay/permissible/acceptable/part of God's will/destiny to armor up, grab guns and other weaponry, go out in public, and turn them on the general public.  I mean, hell, I often have a hard time just arguing in public, out of a keen sense of not wanting to disrupt other people's lives with my own business.  That someone will willingly go and insert themselves so violently into others' lives is far beyond my understanding.

And it saddens me deeply that this person even got to the point where they felt this way, and that his victims have paid such a steep price, be it through loss of life, bodily injury, or a shattered sense of personal safety and security.  Many of those victims were doubtlessly comic book, sci-fi, or pop culture fans, eager to see The Dark Knight Rises first and enjoy the end to Christopher Nolan's take on the mythology.  Sadly, that will probably be the furthest thing from their minds for a very long time to come.

But I think, right now, perhaps out of shock, I want to focus on my anger.  Because right now, there's so much of it bubbling in me.

I'm angry at the violence inflicted on the public.  The concept of taking any human life, to say nothing of multiple lives, is upsetting and provokes a visceral response from me.  In the moments I hear about it, I get the instinctive urge to lash out at the killer, to cause them as much pain and suffering as they've doubtlessly caused others.  It's further intensified when the violence is as apparently unprovoked and directed at innocent bystanders as this most recent incident was.

I'm angry that this is being and will be sensationalized, compared to Columbine, etc. by the media.  The media, as always, love to focus on the tragedy, the bad news, the shocking thing.  They blow it out of proportion, and, by excessive exposure, glamorize it, whether they intend to or not.  It's gotten to the point that it's automatic for them.  It's just "what they do."  And by continuing this behavior, they send the message to their viewers/readers/listeners that infamy is the only thing that's newsworthy.   That bad and depraved actions are the norm.  And that human life is disposable.  There is so little focus on the more positive, or at least damage-mitigating sides of the journalistic coin, that no one cares for them.

For example, see if you can answer these questions, in the wake of the tragedy:  What resources are in place for the victims of the Aurora shooting?  What resources are there for people like the shooter, who might need help or watching?  How are they doing, funding-wise?  How did the local Chik-Fil-A help out in the immediate aftermath of the shooting?

Any answers I have to these questions didn't come from the mainstream media, who could find this out and report it in a heartbeat.  But no, they'd rather focus on the shooter, the panicked public reaction, and stupid comparisons of the influence The Dark Knight Rises had on the incident.  Grow a pair and try some actual journalism with standards, you morons.

I'm angry that this will be used by idealogues to try to influence the way you think and act.  Much like the media--who will sensationalize this to attract viewers/readers/listeners--pundits, talking heads, idealogues, and Rush Limbaugh will take a similar tack and try to say stupid things, like "This is the result of liberal/conservative stances on gun control! Think and vote the way I do and it'll go away!"  Religious fundamentalists might say this is God's/Allah's/Yahweh's punishment to people who aren't pious enough, and that Batman is the ultimate symbol of that infidelity.  We don't, as a culture, have the propriety to treat this for what it is--a horrific act of a lone madman--and leave it alone.  We have to subvert it for political purposes, and that pisses me off to no end.

I'm angry that more isn't done to prevent people like the shooter from getting to that point.  I'm not just talking about Barry Lyga's very practical implication that insane people shouldn't be allowed access to guns, though that would of course be helpful.  There are services, institutions, resources out there that help people with mental issues like this, and frankly they need more funding and better support from governments at all levels.  We're living in an economic world that is slowly and methodically destroying these resources, even as the need for them increases.  If an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure, then why are we cutting back on spending for mental health facilities, treatment research, and staff to carry out these helpful services?

This last one's the most selfish, and the most personal.

I'm angry that, if it had  occurred somewhere else, any of my sisters could have been among the victims.  This of course applies to all my loved ones and friends, but I can't help it.  Whenever a shooting went on at a school, or any public place, my first impulse is to think of my three sisters and thank my lucky stars that they weren't shot at, or shot.  I'm the oldest child, and the only male among us, so I feel a strong sense of protection towards them, and the idea that even the remotest possibility exists that they could ever be involved in an incident such as Aurora fills me with a rage and uncertainty that I often just have to bury, lest it overwhelms me.

Because at this point, in this world, it ain't goin' away.

So, though I doubt anyone will hear this or be moved enough by it to act, I offer up a plea.  It's directed as much at the reporters and pundits as it is at the potential would-be shooters of the world, and it's this: whenever you act, think about your little sisters.  Think about your friends and loved ones.  Think about the kind of world you want them to live in, that you want to leave behind for them.  Act to bring that world about for them, so that we might all have it.

They don't deserve to grow up in a world where this kind of lunacy exists.  No one does.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Spider-Man, or the Amazing Spider-Man? The Case for Reboots In Movies, part I

Since we're on the precipice of The Amazing Spider-Man's premiere, I thought I'd go ahead and address an issue that seems to come up when film franchises reboot.

In the last few weeks, I've found a plethora of opinions, both online and otherwise, as people compare the last trilogy of Spider-Man films with the one that's rebooting the franchise in just a couple days.  More often than not, people complain about Tobey Maguire's absence and how dark The Amazing Spider-Man seems in comparison to the previous films.  Others have mentioned their discontent with the idea of reboots and "repackaging the same stories" for the purposes of making money off the public.  Overall, the comparisons are not favorable for the new kid, and reek of nostalgia for last decade's movies.

I think I've made my position on these kinds of situations clear on several occasions, but it bears repeating in light of the negativity I've seen for the upcoming film.  Too often, I've seen people get too used to a particular actor in a particular role, and base their opinions on reboots and recasting on that comfort.  It makes them less receptive to what could otherwise be an excellent change in the mythology or narrative, and brings an unnecessarily negative perception to something that's biggest flaw seems to be that it's different from what previously came to pass.

Despite all the apprehension and, in some cases, outright hate I've seen directed at The Amazing Spider-Man, we all know it's going to do extremely well.  It's too high profile, and the mythology is too popular for it not to make a big dent, at least come its opening weekend.  Hopefully enough of the naysayers will be convinced to give it a chance by that point, but in the mean time I think it's worth pointing out some of the non-peer pressure reasons for checking it out.

The Spider-Man films from last decade were good, there can be no denying it (except for Spider-Man 3, many will argue).  I can understand a certain amount of attachment to them, as they were very well done.  But I think it's both short-sighted and unfair to spite the successor before it's even arrived, simply because you like the previous stories so much.

One of the most common arguments I've found against The Amazing Spider-Man have centered around Andrew Garfield's interpretation of Peter Parker / Spider-Man.  What seems to be said most is that he's too snarky, and not nice enough as the sensitive, put-upon Peter Parker they remember from the movies, and in some cases the comics.

While that's a valid concern in some ways, there have been other interpretations of Peter Parker as a still-nice, but more confident and sarcastic teenager, most notably in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man, also from the previous decade.  Even without that source material, the alteration to Peter's personality, while noticeable, isn't substantial enough to make him essentially a different character.  With a reboot, you essentially get the opportunity to use the same characters and settings to tell different stories, and that includes changing some aspects of the characters' personalities.

But, of course, many people have issues with the idea of a reboot in the first place.  As for why, that's something I'll discuss tomorrow, as well as why I think reboots, when done well, are fair game.

Until then, don't hate the new films just because you love the old ones.  There's plenty of room for both, or at least holding off judgment as long as it takes to give the reboot a fair shake!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why Norman Osborn Is Peter Parker's Greatest Love

If this article seems hastily written, my apologies.  I'm perpetually short on time, and on deadline.

I recently read a pair of articles on ComicVine that make arguments for why Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy are each the best romantic interest for Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man).  The MJ article really pissed me off, as I could list off a multitude of reasons why I think she was a lousy match for Peter.  Needless to say, I'm none too pleased at the direction the comics are currently taking with them, as they seem to be angling to put them together post-One More Day travesty.  The Gwen Stacy article, while I have fewer issues with it, still seems a little too mired in the sentimentality of the past.

Still, the comments section of any article is either a source of great humor or angst, and in reading the replies to both articles, I was inspired by one of the commenters to respond with one of the more hilarious takes on this topic.  Namely, why Norman Osborn is Peter Parker's greatest love.

Don't believe me?  Step up to the stage, skeptic! :-P

Norman Osborn, in case any of you don't know, is the Green Goblin, one of Spider-Man's most iconic and long-standing foes.  It's easy to say that he's obsessed with Spider-Man, in much the same way the Joker is obsessed with Batman (and vice versa).  So like MJ and Gwen, he's been in Peter's life for a very long time.  And unlike one of these potential true loves, Norman's come back for the dead for him!

He's the father of Peter's best friend, Harry Osborn, and has on multiple occasions lamented how much better a son Peter would have made for him than the unmotivated, underachieving Harry.  On more than one occasion, Norman has indicated an obsession with making Peter his surrogate son in Harry's stead, an offer which Peter always refuses.  So in that sense at least, you have Peter playing hard to get, and Norman always pursuing him.

Even when he knew Peter's secret identity as Spider-Man (or vice versa), he's never actually spilled the beans to the public, something Peter did himself in the Civil War.  Sure, he may have manipulated, threatened, and driven him crazy, but at least he never killed Aunt May or put her in any kind of terminal condition--which Peter essentially did do. So in a warped sense of irony, he knows Peter better than Peter knows himself, and treats Peter better than Peter often treats himself.

Then there's the storyline Sins Past, where we find out that way, way back in the past, Norman Osborn actually slept with Gwen Stacy and fathered children with her.  Now clearly, Norman had no real feelings for Gwen--he certainly didn't think twice about killing her--and was much more interested in furthering his obsession with creating a worthy heir, but by this point in their history, he had to realize he wasn't going to get anywhere with his other obsession, Peter Parker.  But given Peter's closeness with Gwen, what better way to feel close to the object of your affection (short of killing his girl, which he succeeded at doing) than nailing his love and getting her pregnant with twins?

If he wasn't able to have Peter, he could at least make himself a permanent fixture in his life.

Finally, there's the letter.

You know what I'm talking about.  From the story arc The Last Stand.  Spidey has just defeated the Goblin after being put through a specially taxing series of gauntlets, managed to rescue his Aunt May, and finally earned himself some rest.  And what do we see going in the mail as this happens?  A letter, from Norman Osborn to Peter Parker, thanking him for providing challenge, structure, and purpose for his otherwise boring and humdrum life.  He wishes him all the best, and hopes for a speedy recovery so they can eventually meet again.

If that's not obsession...

Peter may not love Norman Osborn, but he has in his way obsessed over him just as much as Norman has obsessed over Peter.  You can't dispute that he's an enormously important figure in Peter's life, and as time and writing have shown, he'll never leave him the way Gwen did--never mind the technicalities of him killing her, which I would argue is yet another result of his obsession with Spidey.  They give each other meaning and purpose, and definitely strive to be at their best when they get together.

I'm not saying it's a perfect love, and I'm not saying it isn't more than a little twisted, but it is for the reasons above that I believe Norman Osborn, more than Gwen and MJ, is the number one love of Peter Parker's life.

This article is, in case anyone freaks out, intended as a joke.  I don't really think Norman is Peter's greatest love, though this did arise from a sense of discontent from the ComicVine articles.  Comparing Gwen an MJ is really not fair, so I figured another unfair comparison was, ironically, fair game.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gifts for and from Comic Geeks

So what do you get for a comics geek on special occasions?  More importantly, what does a comics geek get for his friends on holidays, birthdays, etc.?

I'm pretty easy to shop for, as are quite a few of my friends.  Get me comics memorabilia, artwork, comic books and graphic novels I talk about, or anything with Spider-Man on it, and I'm gonna love it.  I have friends who love back issues of Spider-Man, Avengers toy masks, or Walking Dead action figures and board games.

Maybe this is just me being a little too into my hobby as an enthusiast for comic books and graphic novels, and possibly from my readers advisory instincts as a librarian, but my tendency for getting gifts for my friends usually involves getting them comic books.  Me being me, I tend to talk about comics a lot, especially superhero stories, and if any of my friends exhibit enthusiasm for a storyline, graphic novel, or type of comic or art, I'll oftentimes go out and grab that item for them, come the gift-giving occasions.

Some of the more memorable gifts I've gotten for friends and loved ones include back issues of The Amazing Spider-Man; a Walking Dead zombie action figure; volumes of The Runaways; a couple of signed copies of Strangers In Paradise; and the hardback copy of Batman: The Court of Owls.  Some of the more memorable comics gifts I have received include a t-shirt of Black Lantern Batman from the Blackest Night storyline; a Green Lantern wristband; an awesome Spider-Man t-shirt that looks like the top part of his costume, a personal favorite; and a Spider-Man piggy bank, hand-painted by one of my friends.

Of course, not everyone likes comics, and it's not like every one of my friends and loved ones wants a copy of Fables, or a Batman action figure.  While I may take a comics-related tack with my gift-giving when I can, it's certainly not the sum total of the gifts I give.  Always take the time and put in the effort to make sure what you're getting is something they will enjoy and appreciate, even if it isn't something you're expert in.  Even with friends who I think will appreciate comics, I exercise a degree of discrimination about their preferences.  While I have friends who enjoy the Hulk, I'll grab them a copy of Sin City if they express an interest.

Gift giving is one of the great joys of life, especially when done right.  With the popularization of comics in the movies and as a medium of literature, I would argue that it's a particular renaissance for comic geeks.  I know that my collections and those of my friends support this, and I'll bet a lot of others would as well.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I Return!

For the last 10 days or so, I've taken a short hiatus from my daily writings in this blog.  This is mostly due to a number of factors in my life, from having a whole bunch of things going on in my personal life to burnout from writing every day to even having some confidence issues with regard to where this endeavor currently stands.  While I'm glad to be back, I think it's important that I touch on at least a few of these issues.

Those of you who have stuck with me these last few months know how proud I am of how much I've written in the Comics Cove.  From my first post, I made it clear that I was afraid this could be one of those efforts that get started and never get off the ground, that this might turn out to be a blog that gets started and then soon abandoned just because I can't think of anything to write about, or I can't keep the motivation going to write.  Clearly, that has not happened, and I couldn't be more pleased with how much I've written about comics in the time since late 2011.

The last few weeks, however, have been especially taxing for me.  Balancing the time to work, write, relax, and still meet the multitude of responsibilities I have in my personal life has really become difficult with the onset of the summer season.  With everything going on, writing ahead became impossible--I was writing up against a daily wall for much longer than I'll ever admit--and even keeping a daily essay up proved too taxing to maintain.  I am a little disappointed that I won't have written for a full year everyday, but I think if I hadn't taken a break, I simply would have burned out in some vital area of my life, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice any of that, most especially my desire to write.

Things haven't gotten much easier in the adjoining time off, and I'm pretty sure I won't be starting any more grand writing streaks any time soon here.  But I have kept reading comics, and having opinions about the storylines I uncover, so you can safely expect some more reviews and musings in the near future.

With that said, I will probably be taking a more casual approach to this blog, at least in terms of my frequency.  This is for several reasons, including the aforementioned danger of burnout.  Some of the others, however, are more personal.

As I've mentioned before, I'm very happy with my work on the Cove.  It is far and away the longest and most well-maintained blog I've ever undertaken.  And my enjoyment of comics in all forms has led me to keep it going for so much longer than any of my other efforts.  It seems as long as I had a good topic, that I was interested and passionate about, then I would have no shortage of things to post.  And it has been so liberating to discover that firsthand.

But something has changed.

I'm a decent writer, I think.  And I've wanted to be a writer since I was little.  But my first love has always been in fiction, and creating worlds, plots, and characters for people to read about and fall in love with.  And I have done very little fiction writing since I started the Cove.

Don't get me wrong; my output before the Cove wasn't exactly stellar, either.  But with the Cove, I've at least established that consistent writing is an attainable possibility for me.  I know I can do it, but lately it feels like I've been hiding behind the shield of all this creative nonfiction because it's easy for me to choose a topic and go.  I need to stretch my creative muscles more, and take that consistent writing of which I'm capable and try to make it work for the writing of which I'm presumably supposed to be doing more.

What this will all entail isn't exactly clear to me at present.  It may well mean fewer posts in the Cove, but I can't promise it will translate into more posts on my fiction blog, A Glimpse Through the Door.  I'll probably be a lot more miserly with showing off my fiction, as I'm less confident in my ability to write it than I am about my output on the Cove.  Scripts, too.  We'll see.

I do think this is the right direction to go, though.  In listening to Neil Gaiman's recent commencement address, I've come to realize that I have to take the steps that feel like progress towards my goal of being a writer.  I have to walk toward the mountain, as it were.  And this feels like a step in the right direction.  I will walk that path for a while, and hopefully I can share with you how it goes.  In the mean time, wish me luck, keep your readers tuned to this blog, and I promise you'll hear more from me here in the near future.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

GN Review -- Batman: Venom / Dennis O'Neil, Trevor von Eeden, Russell Braun, and José Luis García-López

I'll say this: if there's anything more visually disturbing than seeing Batman with a drug-induced, Joker-esque rictus playing across his crazed visage, I'm hard-pressed to come up with it right now.  The Dark Knight has come to epitomize--often to an obsession-induced fault--the essence of self-control and discipline, so seeing him lose it to the throes of a drug habit is more than a little jarring.  Given the relevance of Batman: Venom to the pivotal future storyline, Knightfall--which is one of the more memorable and traumatic stories from when I started reading comics--I was very eager to finally get my hands on this precursor.

Batman's failure to save a young girl from death leads him to despair his lack of superhuman abilities.  Her father, it turns out, is developing a designer drug that does just that, and offers Batman an initial dose.  In light of his recent failure, he considers it, but initially turns it down.  When he's beaten up by a couple of thugs, he changes his mind.  The drug, which comes to be known as Venom, enhances Batman's strength, reflexes, and agility to levels beyond even his own natural abilities, but it also wreaks havoc on his sense of right and wrong.  He starts going out without the Batsuit.  He becomes irritable and arrogant.  He even considers killing Jim Gordon to get a continued supply of the drug from Doctor Porter.

Finally realizing how badly the Venom is compromising his identity, Batman names Porter and General Slaycroft, his conspirator, to Gordon, who immediately investigates the two men.  He then has Alfred seal him in the Batcave for a month so he can go cold turkey from the drug and wait out the withdrawal symptoms.  Porter and Slaycroft escape to a foreign country island, where Batman eventually follows and confronts them.  They pit him against several Venom-enhanced goons, including the General's own son, before capturing him and putting him in a room that is slowly filling with water.  He has three days to break out, and is offered the Venom, which would make the job easier, if not possible at all.

Batman breaks out, confronts the two men, and manages to overcome them with the unwitting help of the General's son.  Porter takes the Venom, and manages to put up a struggle against the authorities, but can't manage to escape.  He dies several days later from the withdrawal symptoms.  Batman, instead of considering this a victory, remembers the young girl he failed to save, and the general's son, and silently grieves for them.

This is considered one of the touchstone stories in modern Batman lore.  While the basic plot doesn't factor heavily into future stories, the emergence of the super-steroid Venom would later serve as the catalyst and enhancement agent of one of the most dangerous foes in Batman's history, Bane.  Bane has no qualms with Venom's side effects, and revels in the destructive capabilities the drug grants him.  It becomes one of the major reasons he's able to defeat, overpower, and break the back of Batman, and this is the story where it first appears.

Kids, this is your Batman, on drugs.  Any questions?
And it's pretty good.  We see Batman lose himself in his desire to keep his Venom supply going.  He's willing to make a number of moral compromises, and we see him lose sight of the lines he normally never crosses.  When he finally comes to, when faced with the decision of whether or not to kill the closest person he has to a friend, you wonder if he'll actually do it, and you're genuinely relieved when he chooses correctly.  The self-exile and recovery is only touched on--Bruce is off panel for most of it--but you see that he's been put through the wringer by the withdrawal symptoms when he emerges.  It's powerful stuff, and makes the revenge chase and confrontation all the more satisfying to watch.

It isn't without its problems, though.  While this is an overall excellent story concept, I had a couple of problems with the actual execution.  The way Batman and Bruce Wayne talk in this story just rubs me the wrong way.  Seeing and "hearing" Bruce say things like, "the names I got from the body shop" and "Make 'em afraid," just doesn't jibe with my recollection of his diction and speech patterns.  He sounds more like a private detective from an old film noir story--understandable in theory, I guess--but I've never heard the ultra-refined Bruce Wayne sound like that in any of the cartoons except when he was undercover or impersonating someone's accent.  It sticks out here, and not in a good way.

I also have major problems with the ease of Batman's descent into drug abuse.  He seems to find nothing strange about Randolph Porter's glib handling of his daughter's death, doesn't see any potential legal issues stemming from the drugs he's designing, and trusts him way too much initially for my taste.  I know he's feeling guilty about Sissy's death at this point, but this still struck me as too weak a reason for giving himself over to drugs, even if it ostensibly helps him out physically.

And don't even get me started on Bruce taking Alfred with him to take on the villains, and the identity compromising issues that raises.

Artistically, I enjoy Braun's work well enough on this story.  His visual depictions of Batman, Alfred, and the other characters are familiar, iconic, and convey plenty of emotion and expression.  His Randolph Porter was particularly smarmy; I really wanted to punch his lights out just about every time I saw his smug, arrogant mug.  The action scenes are serviceable, though I felt they could have been a little more dynamic in places.  Put bluntly, I wasn't wowed by them, but I knew when struggles were taking places.

Overall, I enjoyed this story quite a bit.  I like the concept--the loss of Batman to drugs and his redemption is a cool idea--but have a few issues with how it's actually carried off in the plotting and dialog.  Setting those aside, there are some genuinely interesting situations and scenarios we see in the narrative.  The art is enjoyable, if nothing particularly special.  Batman fans should definitely read this, especially for the continuity points.  Recommended.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

GN Review -- X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga / Chris Claremont and John Byrne

In a lot of ways, this read was a long time coming.  I've read about the Dark Phoenix Saga for years, and I knew all about it: the seduction of Jean Grey, the Hellfire Club's involvement in her corruption, Phoenix's fall to malice and power and destruction, and Jean's final sacrifice so that her friends, her universe would live.  I've even read small segments of it: Jean holding in Scott's optic blasts so she could see his face, establishment of their psychic rapport, even a few shots of Dark Phoenix's debut and assault on her former teammates.

If this story proves anything, it's that knowing about a story and reading it are two entirely different things.

Collecting Uncanny X-Men #129-137, this arc does way more than I realized it did before finally cracking open the source material to read.  Sure, Jean Grey is manipulated, falls from grace, becomes a force for evil, and sacrifices herself during her final period of clarity; we all know that.  But a lot of other classic events occur during this story arc.

Kitty Pryde and Dazzler are introduced and foreshadowed as potential teammates.  Emma Frost is introduced as the White Queen, who will plague the X-Men in future storylines and eventually become one of their most prominent members.  And Wolverine finally throws down on the Hellfire Club by himself in a classic moment that has become the basis for his establishment as Marvel's badass-in-residence.

One other noteworthy feature about this story is the sheer density of the material.  It took me much longer to read this volume than it takes me to read most modern comics.  Chris Claremont packs every single panel with paragraphs of narration, exposition, and literary exploration as he weaves his epic tale of tragedy.  By comparison, most of today's comics seem to be written for an audience with a much lower attention span.  While I admit it could be a little exhausting to get through at times, I came through with a much deeper understanding and enjoyment of the story than I have with many.

The denouement of the story is what makes it particularly tragic, as the X-Men are kidnapped by the Shi'ar Empire for Dark Phoenix's crimes, and it is revealed that, though Professor X was successful in shutting down the Dark Phoenix, the possibility of her recurrence was all too real.  Jean, who was in control of herself at the time, knew maintaining that control for the rest of her life would be impossible, and engineered her own demise in the duel to the death between the X-Men and the Imperial Guard, regardless of the outcome and despite Cyclops's own plea with her to find another way.  Her explanation of how difficult it would be to keep the Dark Phoenix at bay is particularly moving and revealing, as we see that her absolute power would not only corrupt her absolutely, but also plague her for the rest of her life.

Artistically, I have to give props to John Byrne's work, and the many faces he so adeptly gave Jean as she switched from pure to decadent, from helpless to all-powerful, from angelic to demonic.  His depictions of the characters is widely considered classic, and while it looks less hyper-realistic than some of the art styles widely seen in comics today, it is nevertheless an excellent rendering that allows for a wide range of expressions and dynamics.  Emotion, action, and drama are all convincingly conveyed, enhancing the narrative immeasurably.

Overall, this classic storyline is a must-read for any serious comic book or X-Men fan.  It not only contains one of the X-Men's most heart-rending trials, but is well-told and well-drawn.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Posters from Comicpalooza

Tonight's post will be a short one due to unforeseen circumstances.

Here are some quick photos of the art I picked up at Comicpalooza last month.  I will be putting them up when I make a space for my video reviews space.

Artist Miguel Zamora did this poster, along
with the Nightwing and Batgirl to the left.

This Tentacle Kitty poster is a gift for my
girlfriend...
... but I had to get one for myself, too.


Very nice Wolverine done by Houston comic
creator Mark Nasso.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Comic Review -- Batman Annual #1: First Snow / Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Jason Fabok


WARNING: FAIRLY BIG SPOILER IN THIS REVIEW!  I usually do spoilers in my reviews, but since this is a pretty big one, I'm taking extra pains to make sure people know.  Please consider yourself warned.

I really like this cover!  It's an iconic depiction of Mr. Freeze, and an appropriate one, given both his involvement in Night of the Owls and this first real exploration of his character since the New 52 began.  The glaring red goggles and the snow owls are also a clever touch.  The whiteness of his ghostly image across the background also points up his obsession with the cold.  Excellent work here.

Slightly after midnight of the Night of the Owls incident, Freeze, recently captured and detained at Arkham, abruptly breaks out again and makes his way to Wayne Enterprises, intent on killing Bruce Wayne and leaving Gotham behind forever.  He makes a stop at the Iceberg Casino, to get his ice guns from his "friend" Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin, and arrives at Wayne Enterprises to find Nightwing and Robin waiting for him.  They know about his involvement with the Court, and have no intention of letting him escape punishment for it.

After dispatching them, Freeze goes to the penthouse suite to find Batman waiting for him, with Nora's cryo-tube on display for his benefit.  Freeze tells Batman that he will not be kept from the woman he loves, and Batman responds that Nora is not his wife, and that Freeze's love for her is nothing more than an extension of his obsession with the cold.  Freeze acknowledges this, and they struggle briefly.  Batman subdues him by overloading his suit with the same formula Freeze made for the Court of Owls's Talons.  Freeze is unable to move, and Batman and Nightwing take him back to Arkham.

Bookending the story is a haunting tale involving a young Victor Fries and his mother, when both would go to a snowman building contest.  In the first story, we see how his mother falls into a lake during his youth.  Fries is older in the second story, and his mother is considerably more frail.  In a troubling sign of his impending sociopathy, Fries wheels his mother into the water that nearly killed her years ago, saying it is time for her to finally rest.

The reveal of the issue.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Scott Snyder knows how to tell a good story.  I'm not sure where his contributions end and James Tynion IV's begin, but this particular narrative is powerful in several ways, and for several reasons.  It re-establishes Freeze as one of Batman's rogues gallery in a definitive way since the New 52, with the new twist that there is no Nora Fries, just a Nora that Victor Fries was obsessing about due to her condition.  It makes for a subtle but spectacular reinterpretation of the character, and while I can't say it's a change I would have necessarily agreed with , it nevertheless makes Freeze an even more interesting--and insane--character.

Another touch that I'm really liking with the New 52 Bat-titles is how, when applicable, things look very much like they've come directly out of the undeniably awesome video game, Batman: Arkham City.  From the look Penguin's Iceberg Casino, to Freeze's overall physical presentation (though I will admit there are some notable differences), it's neat to see these things from such a well-received game making their mark on the source materials of the comics.

Freeze's origins are also reintroduced, first through the framing story of Victor's obsession with the cold and his mother's injury in the frozen lake, and then through the occasional flashback as Freeze makes headway on his quest to kill Bruce Wayne, who he blames for taking Nora from him.  Bruce Wayne is seen as the heartless businessman who has kept Fries from his research to save Nora, even as he gives perfectly sound business and scientific reasons for making the decisions he does.  It's well-handled material, that gives a critical insight into Freeze's character between the action of him trying to "take back" Nora and kill Wayne.

My one nitpick that I have with this story is the unbelievably quick time frame in which it takes place.  Freeze is not incarcerated for more than a couple of hours at most before breaking out again?  Really?  I mean, I have no doubt that he was quickly returned to Arkham after the Red Hood and company beat him around, but to be able to plan and execute an escape from a new cell in such a short window of time?  It probably would have been better if this had been a follow-up to Night of the Owls, with this story set a few weeks after everything else took place.  Just my opinion.

Artistically, I have to say I'm very impressed with Jason Fabok's work on this issue.  He employs a clear, realistic style that still manages to flow well in the action scenes and allow for a wide range of expression in the characters.  I do like Freeze's look, though I'm still wondering about the fact that his suit has no sleeves.  Still, I'll accept it for now in the way I accept Snyder's new twist on the character: reluctantly and cautiously, but with hope that it'll make for something cool in the future.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable issue.  I generally don't go for annuals, but I'm glad I picked this one up. Even if you're not into Night of the Owls, you'll want to read this story to see the new take on Mr. Freeze.  The artwork is excellent, and the writing is great.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Comic Review -- Red Hood and the Outlaws #9: Who Are You?-- --Hoo? Hoo? / Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort

There's a lot of red going on in this cover, and it's just confusing enough to distract me from what's going on.  After a couple of seconds, I can find Red Hood and his Talon dance partner for this installment, locked in mid-air combat as they fall.  The Talon looks good, but something about Jason just doesn't look very dynamic.  I know the mask probably doesn't allow for expression, but I also don't think the pose is very good.  The detail around the buildings is beautiful, but overall, I'm not that impressed with this cover.

Red Hood, Starfire, and Roy Harper all seem to in Gotham on unrelated business when Alfred's call to arms goes out regarding the Court of Owls' assault on the city's power brokers.  They happen to be nearest to Mr. Freeze, one of the Court's targets, and go to the Chinatown section of Gotham to protect him.  Several problems abound, however: Freeze has no wish to be protected, and has taken to fighting off the Talons by converting Chinatown into his own personal frozen bunker.  Furthermore, Freeze has been implicated in the current madness, having perfected a method for reanimating cryogenically preserved bodies--which the Court has used to resurrect their legion of Talons tonight.

After breaking up Freeze's fight against his Talon, Jason pursues the escaping Talon while Roy and Starfire attempt to protect and contain Freeze.  Freeze, however, is not having any of it, and takes direct aim at Starfire, whose physiology protects her, and who only gets angrier at Freeze's hostility.  Jason's Talon leads him to an empty lot where the circus used to be, and Jason deduces that he was an acrobat in that circus prior to being a Talon.  The Talon reveals himself as Xiao Loong, a former acrobat, and asks Jason to help him end his life on his terms instead of the Court's.  Roy hits Freeze with an electric arrow while he's fighting Starfire, and Jason brings Freeze's unconscious form to Batgirl at the Bat signal, telling her let Bruce know that he helped out against the Talons tonight.

I tend to be something of a completionist when it comes to certain story arc events.  Night of the Owls is definitely one such storyline, and while I may not review every single issue I read, I can assure you that I'm reading all of this event.  The tie-in from Red Hood and the Outlaws was one I was initially going to skip reviewing, but its relevance to Mr. Freeze's part in the whole Court of Owls drama has led me to include it, along with Batman Annual #1, in this week's reviews.

Since this issue is the first hint we get of Freeze's involvement with the Court, it's like a light bulb goes on in your head when it's revealed.  Freeze, working with the Court.  The Court of Owls, employing assassins from decades and centuries past, who are vulnerable to the cold.  Cold, with which Freeze is obsessed and in which he has a personal expertise.  Doubtless, Freeze has had a hand in enabling the Court to resurrect their preserved assassins!

While not too much is touched on about it here, it's amusing in the mean time to just see Freeze on display.  His arrogance and obsession with being left alone are fun to behold, to the point where he takes a shot at Starfire for offering to protect him, pissing her off immensely.  I don't even know much about Starfire, but I wouldn't even want to consider doing anything that would put me in her crosshairs.  So, either Victor Fries is that stupid--highly unbelievable--that arrogant--believable, but even he must realize his low chances against a super-powered extraterrestrial--or just that desperate to be done with all this nonsense.

This is my first taste of this title since the New 52 began, and while I can appreciate the idea of these people not actually being a team, it's a little odd to see Starfire and another guy fighting more or less alongside Jason, who's always been a loner since his "rebirth."  They know too much about one another and stick together too much to be as loosely affiliated as the premise of this title suggests.  They even take orders from Jason, making him their unofficial leader.  It's really not in step with what I expected.

The Xiao Loong side story also didn't work very well for me.  This Talon and Jason go from being combatants to confidantes in the space of a single page, for no plausible reason that I can see.  The only thing I seem to be able to connect is that Jason reminds Xiao of the Haly's circus he was part of in his former life, and that alone seems to bring the Talon out of his devotion to the Court.  It seems a pretty weak ploy, and not something that would have plausibly worked on an agent the Court spent so much time, money, and resources on conditioning for obedience.

I was not impressed.  Which is sad, because I think with a little more development, I think this plot point could have worked.  Instead it just seems very throwaway.

Artistically, I think this is a fairly solid issue.  Rocafort knows how to draw a variety of action scenes, facial and body types, and environments convincingly.  Freeze looks menacing, Starfire looks unbelievably hot in her ridiculously skimpy costume, and Jason looks convincing in his costume and action shots.  His few shots of Batgirl are actually pretty stunning, and his depiction of an unmasked Xiao Loong, while not enough to make me forget the drivel that plot point was, was still striking and sympathy-inducing.  Pretty good work on that front!

Overall, I'd have to say this title, along with what's currently happening in Teen Titans, really helps make the justification that Scott Lobdell should consider toning down his workload.  He has good ideas, but doesn't do the legwork to develop them properly, and it shows in the lazy, lackluster writing.  The artwork is good, and Freeze's involvement in all this make it a component to the larger story, but not a necessary one.  I did enjoy it, but couldn't help the feeling that it could have easily been better.  Recommended.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Film Review -- Iron Man / Jon Favreau, Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard

There are many movie reviews that are long overdue on this blog, and Iron Man is perhaps the most such entry for me.  Released in 2008, this fun, high-flying superhero masterpiece by Jon Favreau will go down as the movie that kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe that links several of their recent films, and which recently featured the overwhelming success of The Avengers.  While I don't have as high an opinion of its direct sequel, this movie currently holds the record for repeat viewings in the theater for me, at 6.

Who knows how many times I've re-watched the DVD.

Iron Man has never been one of my all-time favorite superheroes, and at the time the film was released, Tony Stark was not one of my favorite characters due to his role in the Marvel Comics Civil War story arc.  I also didn't have the highest opinion of Robert Downey, Jr. at the time, but I will admit that I found the combination of this actor with this hero was highly intriguing.  Tony Stark was, after all, a highly successful individual whose struggle with substance abuse had damaged his standing before, which is exactly the same thing you could say about Robert Downey, Jr.  The premise was also interesting, and they cleverly used the Black Sabbath song in marketing the film, so I knew I'd end up at least giving it a shot.

It ended up being one of the most enjoyable experiences I'd ever had in a movie experience.  Robert Downey, Jr. was an ideal Tony Stark, making him both a likeable character and an arrogant bastard with effortless ease. The plot and action were highly dynamic and enjoyable; I don't ever recall being bored or restless during any part of the movie, including the origin story exposition.  I particularly enjoyed the idea of Tony Stark as a hero who has actively chosen to embrace his destiny as a hero, which is not a common telling of the hero's story.  After seeing how he realizes his unique position in the world to make a difference, his decision to pursue a hero's life of selflessly defending the weak is both easy to believe and get behind.

Not being very familiar with Iron Man's world, I also enjoyed how very accessible the film made the characters, settings, and actions in Tony Stark's life.  I knew very quickly that Pepper Potts was an important person in Tony Stark's life, as was Rhodey.  Obadiah Stane, I later learned, was a previous villain from Iron Man's rogues gallery, given a little bit of a creative facelift for the film, and he came off as fully realized and believable.  Stark Enterprises and Tony Stark's station as the premiere weapons development were also immediately and believably communicated.  For having read so relatively little about Iron Man in the past, I felt like I really hit the ground running with this film.

The blend of action and comedy made this movie supremely entertaining, and added to its rewatchability.  After seeing it myself and enjoying the hell out of it, I started taking any friends who hadn't yet watched it to see it.  Everyone enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it even more with each subsequent viewing.  Few of my friends were as stunned and excited about the famous post-credits scene as I was, in which Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury mentions The Avengers Initiative to Tony Stark, but everyone was pretty wowed by the actor's very brief appearance in the film.  I knew from the second I saw that scene that more movies would follow, including The Avengers.

Overall, I would rank this as one of my favorite comic book movies of all-time.  It's not only enjoyable, action-packed, and funny, but it establishes itself as the first part of a larger universe, which ties in with the lead-in films to The Avengers.  It's fun to notice and connect those links in subsequent films, and it lends itself nicely to repeat screenings, something I don't often say about a lot of movies.  Highly recommended.