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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 09:28 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

Back issues and old data: Star's old comics
Gifts of the Night #1
Gifts of the Night #2
Gifts of the Night #4
I couldn't find the third issue of this 1999 4-issue miniseries from Vertigo, but I went ahead and read the final installment anyway and I don't feel like I missed much. The story is set in an anonymous European kingdom of the past and tells the tale of a scholar whose job it is to educate the young Prince. The scholar loves books and his education of the boy takes the form of stories out of history and mythology. The boy watches the fireplace while he listens to the stories and sees strange visions there that are connected to those stories. His father, the King, mistakes the boy's stories for real, prophetic visions, and begins basing his actions on them. The scholar sees a chance at power and begins telling the boy specific stories to try to manipulate policy. Unfortunately, one of the King's cruel and clever advisers figures out what's going on and starts using the boy for his own ends. Eventually, it all comes crashing down in tragedy. This miniseries was written by Paul Chadwick with what looks like painted art by John Bolton. Chadwick's writing is a bit melodramatic, and his characters are mostly stereotypes without much flesh on them. The story itself is meant to be powerful, affecting, epic tragedy, but it ends up being rather annoying and unsatisfying, with a hero who is pretty pretentious, pathetic, and hard to like. The art is quite lovely at times, but at other times it's kind of hideous. All in all, a pretty dull book.
Thumbs Down

New releases
Superman/Batman #47
The latest chapter in the "Hey, let's round up all the Kryptonite" saga sees the boys stumbling upon a secret government stash of the famous rock at a rather unlikely location. They also run into a team called The Last Line trained specifically to take Superman down should he ever go bad. It's a fascinating idea, and despite the fact that the woman in charge lays down some stereotypical villain dialogue, this issue leaves you feeling strongly like our heroes and their enemies are working in a bit of a gray area here. It seems to me that maybe there should be a team trained to take Superman down, just in case. And maybe Superman shouldn't have complete control over all the Kryptonite, just in case. It's interesting stuff. Plus, there's some exciting action, and both our heroes are in serious trouble at the end of this issue, so it should be interesting to see how they get out of it next time.
Thumbs Up

X-Men: First Class #11
I missed this one when I was making up my list, so I'm glad I noticed it on the shelf when I got to the shop, because this off-and-on title was really on this week. The whole issue is like an ode to classic Marvel comics, and to the culture of comic book collecting in general. When a villain starts messing with reality, only a trio of comic-loving folks who call themselves the Continuiteens can give the X-Men the information they need to save the day, thanks to their incredible knowledge of continuity! It's very funny and clever and postmodern, with wonderful art throughout, and although it does of course make fun of comic book nerds a little, it does so in a very loving way - after all, this was created by a bunch of comic book nerds, too. I particularly love the scenes where the Continuiteens take issue with Ice Man wishing Cyclops could just "laser-eye" the villain ("He does not have laser eyes! It's a force beam!"); where the X-Men try to trick Galactus by pointing a fake Ultimate Nullifier at him ("That does not even look like the Ultimate Nullifier."); the flashback sequence wherein the Continuiteens reveal how they've affected continuity over the years (by putting the book of Vishanti in Doctor Strange's mailbox, for instance); the cameo from Devil Dinosaur; and, of course, the wonderful ending. Just great comics.
Thumbs Up

The Uncanny X-Men #497
This is the X-Men book being written by Ed Brubaker, who is a really hit-and-miss writer as far as I'm concerned. I read an issue of this series way back, decided I didn't care for it, and never bought any more... until this week. Something about this issue really attracted me. There's this crazy storyline going on where Cyclops and Emma Frost have gone to San Francisco only to find it transformed into a far-out version of itself circa 1969. The transformation has apparently been worked by an extremely powerful woman known as the Goddess, although why exactly is as yet unclear. But it does make for some entertaining costume changes and creepy and wacky sequences. Meanwhile, Colossus, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler are in trouble in Russia and get to fight some giant robots. Sweet! I'm a little upset to say that I really enjoyed this issue, because that means I now have to start collecting another book. Ah, well.
Thumbs Up

The Mighty Avengers #12
This is another book that I hadn't intended to buy, because I picked up an issue of it a while back, decided I didn't like it, and dropped it. But this week I was pulled in by it, partially because it's a Secret Invasion tie-in, and partially because after quickly flipping through it, I was intrigued. Happily, my curiosity was rewarded with a pretty entertaining comic. A major reason why it's enjoyable is that the Mighty Avengers - who are quite frankly a really crappy team - don't show up in the issue at all. Instead, it's all about what Nick Fury has been up to all this time that he's been missing. Turns out he figured out there was a Skrull invasion going on way back and he's been trying to work out who's involved and who he can trust and who can help him. There's a really interesting final two-page splash of him staring at a wall full of photos of all the major Marvel heroes, some of them circled in one color, some circled in another, and some not circled at all. I'm betting there are some big hints here as to who's a Skrull and who's not. Hmmm... Anyway, the point is, Brian Michael Bendis put out a good comic here, and Alex Maleev (whose work I believe I've enjoyed before) did a wonderful job on the art. Can't promise I'll buy the next issue, but I'll certainly consider it.
Thumbs Up

Batman #675
This is a pretty good issue, but as Chris Sims has already pointed out, Batman has been in this position (where a woman he's interested in figures out his secret) before. But in this case, again as Sims points out, it's hard to understand why he's interested in this woman, or why we should really care about her at all, because we hardly know her. Although she claims she's more than just one of Bruce Wayne's bimbos, she's certainly something less than a well-rounded character. Still, it was fun to see Bruce take out the crazy guy with the eyes on his fingers, and I'm going to trust that Morrison is taking us somewhere interesting with the Batman R.I.P. story that starts next issue.
Thumbs Up

Helen Killer #1
Yes, it is what you're thinking: an alternate history story that imagines, what if Helen Keller had actually been a deadly assassin? It's from a smaller publishing company called Arcana. Sims got a preview copy of this book and has been raving about it for a while. I myself have been excited since I heard about it. I mean, I assumed it would probably suck, but it's really hard to resist a premise like that. And what a perfect title!

Now, having read the first issue, I have to say, it's actually not that bad. But I was disappointed by a number of things. I was assuming Keller would be doing a Daredevil-type thing where she'd use an enhanced sense of touch or something to be able to work out where people were and then beat them down, but it turns out she just has these crazy goggles invented by Alexander Graham Bell that allow her to hear and see - and not only the normal stuff that we see, but also auras indicating whether people are good or evil. The glasses also have the side effect of giving her super strength and filling her with a terrible rage. Oh, and she can talk, too; that hasn't really been explained. In other words, the things that made Helen Keller so fascinating - the disabilities that she was able to overcome in order to accomplish so many amazing things - have pretty much been removed.

All that being said, however, the book is quite funny and clever, with some kick-ass action sequences and an interesting story wherein Keller is being hired as a special bodyguard to the president in order to protect him from anarchist assassins(!). Also, all the characters in it (except one, a secret service agent who will apparently end up being a love interest for Keller) are real historical people. And the note from author Andrew Kreisberg in the back, which explains the genesis of the idea for the book, is interesting and reveals that Kreisberg really has a deep fascination with, and respect for, Helen Keller. So I'll probably pick up at least one more issue.
Thumbs Up

Hulk Vs. Hercules: When Titans Collide #1
This is a lengthy one-shot with a frame story set just before or after the latest issue of Incredible Hercules, with Hercules, Athena, and Amadeus Cho traveling together. Athena wants Cho to know what Hercules is capable of and tells him the tale of an earlier meeting between Hercules and the Hulk. Interestingly, Athena sets Hulk's story in the context of mythology, describing him as a fierce, savage child of Gaea. Her tale is set during the time when Doctor Strange had dropped Hulk into the Crossroads, a kind of dimensional vortex that would send Hulk to a random new world, and if he was happy there he would stay, but if he became unhappy, he would be returned to the Crossroads to find another, better world. As Athena's story opens, the Crossroads take him to Olympus itself and he is convinced by circumstances to wage war on the Gods. Hercules is called in to stop him, but during their fight Herc realizes that Hulk doesn't really mean any harm and talks the green guy down. But then things get hairy again when the giants, Cronos, and the God-Eater all show up at once. The story is told in a slightly clunky way, but it's kind of interesting, has some really great action sequences, and puts Hercules and Hulk both in a bit of a new light.

Next up is a fascinating black-and-white preview of the next issue of Incredible Hercules (featuring a weird Skrull-filled, apocalyptic vision, complete with the return of the God-Eater), and then finally a reprint of Tales to Astonish #79 (including the letter column, even!), which tells the story of the first meeting between Hulk and Herc. Hulk is fighting a crazy guy who's trying to steal all his strength for himself, and the guy ends up killing himself by mistake, but of course the Hulk is blamed, so he runs away, and ends up tearing up some train tracks, tracks which Herc's train is traveling down. Herc is pissed because his journey has been delayed, so he fights Hulk. The battle ends in a draw. This is a classic example of a Stan Lee story - silly and over the top, but kind of fun.

All-in-all, it's an okay comic, but not as exciting as I'd hoped it would be.
Thumbs Sideways

Secret History of the Authority: Jack Hawsmoor #2
Still enjoying this one. Jack learns a bit more about the mysterious woman, and gets closer to her, but she's still holding things back. And meanwhile, the dead guy is still a question mark, and it looks like maybe some super-terrorists are trying to kill Jack? But we still don't know what the deal is with his connection to the city getting cut off. It's a fascinating mystery, there's some exciting action, great art, and the whole thing has the feel of a super-powered film noir. Awesome.
Thumbs Up

Star Wars: Legacy #22
This is one of the Star Wars titles that I hadn't tried yet, and so, since a new issue was coming out this week, and it's set well after the events of Return of the Jedi, which is an interesting time period, I thought I'd give it a shot. At this point in the Star Wars universe, the Empire has, predictably, resurfaced, and, just as predictably, rebels have risen to fight it. But the interesting thing here is that the Sith have taken power away from the Empire, and the Imperial loyalists may actually join together with the rebels to try to take them down.

The Sith establish their evilness early in this issue by slaughtering a bunch of people, then we get to see some kick-ass action involving the Imperial Knights, who are Imperial loyalists with Jedi training. It's pretty great stuff. My only problem with the issue is some clumsy storytelling near the beginning where the author (John Ostrander) uses some exposition-heavy narration to fill in the gaps. Other than that it's a good comic, which unfortunately means I have another book to add to my list.
Thumbs Up

Star Wars: Dark Times #10
This issue concluded the latest story arc for the title, and in true Star Wars fashion the climax took the form of two thrilling, inter-cut battle sequences. Really fantastic and exciting. Great art, amazing action, killer use of Jedi force powers. My only issue is with the writing at the very end. I wish author Mick Harrison had found a subtler way to express that the Jedi Master's violent act would haunt his students and himself, and that the smugglers had now become a tight family, with their ship as their home. Still, good stuff. Apparently next issue will be a part of the Vector story that's crossing over all the Star Wars titles at the moment. I really like the concept behind Vector - a tale that stretches across the entire Star Wars timeline - and I kind of wish I'd been following it closer, but hopefully that next issue will make sense to me anyway.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), Philadelphia Film Festival 2008 (Not), The Take (Not)
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008 04:02 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

Back issues and old data: from Steve
Hush
A while back poppy and I picked this off my brother's Amazon wish list and got it for him for his birthday (or was it Christmas? I don't know, it was something like that). It's a gigantic, special edition hardcover collection of a lengthy Batman story arc (originally published in Batman #608-619; thank you, Wikipedia). After Steve was done reading it, he offered to lend it to me and I accepted gratefully. I didn't realize until he handed it over, however, that it was written by the hated Jeph Loeb (with art by the slightly-less-hated Jim Lee). I still wanted to check it out, but learning this made me wary. And indeed, it is not a very good story. It's written as sort of a reintroduction to Batman and all his sidekicks, friends, lovers, and villains, so it scrabbles desperately for ridiculous reasons to parade all of those characters through the story. It's also absolutely stuffed to bursting with first-person narration from Batman, explaining his feelings about everything that's going on, as well as giving you background information on everything and everyone. I always hate over-narration (and wordy comics in general), and this book has it in spades. Sure, sometimes it's handy to get a little refresher on who everyone is and what's been going down between them and Batman lately, but there are cleverer ways of passing along that information than big chunks of narration. And certainly your comic should make clear how the main character is feeling, but it should do so through the action and the story and possibly the dialogue, not through clumsy, obvious narration.

The story, such as it is, is a gigantic conspiracy constructed by a mysterious enemy whom, we learn at the very end (oddly, after we've already figured out his true identity), is known as Hush. This villain manages to manipulate pretty much all of Batman's friends and enemies to attack Batman in various odd ways. Batman is constantly convinced he's found who's really behind everything, only to discover that he's wrong again and there's someone else even further back in the shadows. It's a very annoying story structure, and doesn't exactly make Batman look like the great detective he's supposed to be. In fact there's a number of sequences in which Batman does stuff that seems out of character for him, especially the ridiculously melodramatic scene in the alley where he nearly kills the Joker and Gordon has to talk him down. Hush, too, ultimately turns out to be a character whose motives and actions are pretty nonsensical.

I'll admit that it's not an absolutely terrible book, because after all, it did keep me interested enough to read it through all the way to the end. But it's also certainly not good. By the end the whole conspiracy has become so complex that it's almost impossible to understand what really happened, and you really don't care enough anymore to try to unravel it all. I strongly suspect it wouldn't really actually make sense anyway even if you did finally graph the whole thing out.
Thumbs Down

Back issues and old data: from the library
WE3
This is the last of the graphic novels I picked up in my recent trip to the local library. I selected this one because it's a collaboration by author Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely, and I tend to like their work, especially together (they're the creative duo responsible for the amazing All-Star Superman, for example). This particular piece is a collection of a 3-issue miniseries put out by Vertigo. It's the story of a secret government weapons program that involves integrating animals into mechanical war suits and sending them out to eliminate targets remotely. The idea is to remove humans from the battlefield, so no person will have to be hurt anymore. The test program involves a dog, a cat, and a rabbit which we realize, thanks to the "have you seen..." posters inserted in front of each chapter, were actually just family pets that were stolen from their homes to use as test subjects. The doctor in charge of the program has come to love these animals, and even managed to teach them to communicate using a simplified form of English. And of course, as inevitably happens with secret experimental autonomous weapons, they escape, initiating a desperate attempt to find and destroy them.

Probably partly because I love animals and I'm a dog person, this story really affected me. Watching the poor, confused, hurt dog fighting to stay alive and trying desperately to find his way home was like being stabbed in the heart over and over again - but, you know, in a good way. It's a powerful, clever story, well told, with exciting action and some really creative art design and panel placement. And you've got to love that ending!
Thumbs Up

New releases
The Lone Ranger #11
Yes, I did it again: I bought another Lone Ranger book. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson after the execrable Lone Ranger & Tonto #1, but sadly you'd be wrong. The reason I couldn't resist picking this up is because it includes artwork by Paul Pope, who is easily one of the greatest comic book artists alive right now. And actually, as it turns out, it's really not that bad. As it opens, Tonto has arrived at the cell of a condemned man to tell him a parable about a wolf - a wolf whom I believe is meant to stand in for both Tonto and the condemned man. Meanwhile, the Long Ranger is off threatening people, and at the very end an old villain apparently returns.

There are two artists credited for this issue -Sergio Cariello and Paul Pope - and I believe, if my eyes do not deceive me, that Cariello did the bulk of the issue and Pope just did the wolf parable sequences. Pope's work is astonishingly good, as usual, but Cariello isn't too bad, either. As for the plot... well, I clearly came in on the middle of a story here, so I don't know who the condemned man is, or who the Lone Ranger is threatening, or who the guy is who shows up at the end. My ignorance probably made Tonto's parable harder to interpret than it really should have been. Still, this seems like a pretty decent comic. I might even buy the next issue, depending on how I feel when it's released.
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider #22
I believe I've already made it abundantly clear how much I love Jason Aaron's work, and how much I especially love what he's doing with Ghost Rider, and this issue just confirmed my opinion. The action, plot, and dialogue are all insane and fantastic, and Roland Boschi's art perfectly complements them by being exactly as insane and fantastic. As Blaze tears down a haunted highway on his gigantic flaming motorcycle, chopping cannibalistic ghosts to bits with a scythe, you can't help but freak the fuck out. And when the hulking leader of his enemies cries out, "Cycle nurses, go! Kill to live! Live to die! Ride for your master Zadkiel! Ride to seize the throne of heaven!", your head just explodes. And there's still most of the comic yet to go!

Seriously, this thing is packed with crazy action, and it just builds and builds to what will no doubt be an even crazier confrontation in the next issue. So awesome.
Thumbs Up

The Incredible Hercules #116
Woah, hey! They're actually referring to the events of Neil Gaiman's Eternals miniseries! Crazy. In this issue, Herc, Cho, and Athena take a road trip to see the Celestial who's standing out near San Francisco. There Herc is accosted by a couple of Eternals who are convinced he is one of them - a guy named Gilgamesh, specifically - and are willing to do whatever it takes to convince him of that fact, as well. Then at the end of the book, Athena gets to do what she really came to San Fran for, and things get set up for the Secret Invasion tie-in next issue.

This definitely isn't my favorite issue of Incredible Hercules ever - it feels a bit gimmicky - but it's interesting enough, and I was happy to see the Eternals again. It was also fascinating to find myself being swayed by the Eternals, and starting to wonder whether Hercules really was Gilgamesh after all.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this book will be worked into the Secret Invasion storyline. I'm hoping it will involve beating the crap out of lots of Skrulls.
Thumbs Up

DC/Wildstorm: Dreamwar #1
This is the first issue in a six-issue miniseries, written by Keith Giffen with art by Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott, detailing what happens when a bunch of the major DC heroes suddenly drop into the Wildstorm universe for no immediately obvious reason. I didn't expect to really like it, but I couldn't resist the concept.

The DC heroes don't exactly slip in quietly; as the comic opens the Authority are monitoring a bunch of events across the world where large new objects and land formations are popping up. It's these things that the heroes are popping out of. The Justice League is the first group to appear, but we don't get to see them do much in this issue. Instead, we get to see the Teen Titans kick some butt when some Wildstorm heroes try to infiltrate their tower. Then a trio of Golden Age DC heroes consider moving into some weird retirement home (?), the Legion of Super Heroes hide from StormWatch, and finally, Superman does something creepy.

As expected, I didn't particularly care for this comic, but I have to admit it probably had a lot to do with the fact that I apparently know a lot less about the Wildstorm universe than I thought I did. In fact, I pretty much just know the Authority and StormWatch, so the scenes with Majestic, with the kids watching TV, in the retirement home, and the final one in the trailer park were all a complete mystery to me. Still, even the scenes that I did understand didn't really excite or interest me very much. The art is pretty good, but not amazing. I doubt I'll pick up another issue of this.
Thumbs Down

Annihilation Conquest #6
I was hoping the final issue of this fantastic miniseries/crossover thingie would really kick ass - and indeed it does. Specifically, it kicks Ultron's shiny metal butt. Things pick up right after the events of Conquest #5, and the last issue of Nova, with all of our characters converging on Hala for an epic final showdown. After all the craziness is over, there's an epilogue that points the way toward the new title starting in May: Guardians of the Galaxy. It looks like Guardians is going to be a Marvel space book following the adventures of a super team composed of pretty much all the major heroes from Conquest (except Nova, who has to stay in his own book). It should go without saying that I am extremely freaking excited about that book.

But I was talking about this comic! Quite simply, it's fantastic. An exciting plot that brings everyone and everything together in a huge explosion of action, with some crazy last minute twists and turns, and a triumphant finale that knocked my socks off. I was a little disappointed that Phyla-Vell got so much space, that her actions were so pivotal, and that she'll apparently be central to Guardians, as well. But she annoyed me less in this issue than she has in the past, and hopefully she'll get better in the future.
Thumbs Up

Captain Marvel #5
This is the final issue of another miniseries, and it's less exciting, but still pretty good. We finally get the big reveal about what the deal is with Captain Marvel, and it turns out to be pretty much what it seemed to be - which was kind of a let down. The interesting thing is what the character becomes and who he decides to be at the end. (The spoilers, if you're interested: "Marvel" is actually a Skrull sleeper agent who's been transformed into a perfect copy of Marvel - a copy so perfect that he now has decided to simply be Marvel, and fight to protect humanity against the Skrull invasion the way Marvel would have.) That's a fascinating and even vaguely disturbing concept that hopefully future comics will be able to explore in an entertaining way.
Thumbs Up

Captain America #37
The next steps in the devious plan of Red Skull and his crew become horrifyingly clear in this issue. As the other heroes try to get used to the idea of Bucky being the new Captain America, yet another Captain America - a presumably twisted and evil Captain America - is about to be born. Probably the best part of this issue is the crazy, hilarious, disturbing dream that Bucky has wherein he warns Cap to "look out for the Internet!" But the story is also moving forward in some really interesting directions that, as usual with Brubaker, are full of doom and horror. On the one hand, I'm irritated by how his stories are so dark all the frigging time, but on the other hand, he's sucked me in quite successfully with this one, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the next issue.
Thumbs Up

World War Hulk: Aftersmash! Warbound #5
And yet another Marvel miniseries comes to an end! That makes three miniseries conclusions this week for Marvel, I believe. I'm not sure why it ended up that way - is it coincidence, or is Marvel trying to clear the slate for Secret Invasion? Regardless, this miniseres conclusion was a little disappointing to me - my man Greg Pak let me down. I was surprised by how much I'd enjoyed the rest of this series, but this issue just feels rushed and clumsily plotted. Killer robots start shooting everybody, then they get deactivated, then they get turned back on, then they get destroyed, then a character seems to die, then she comes back, then a character seems to die, then he comes back, and then that happens one or two more times. The story just feels like it's stuttering and constantly pulling the rug out from under you. It's underhanded and gimmicky. Besides that, the story and dialogue are also pretty melodramatic, ridiculous, and hard to believe.

I don't hate the book, though. I like the characters, and I remained interested in what was happening to them all the way to the end. It just doesn't work as well as it could have.

I'll be interested to see what Marvel does with these characters now. Will they get their own ongoing series? Will they just pop up occasionally in other books? Or will they simply disappear? Guess I'll have to wait and see...
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), Philadelphia Film Festival 2008 (Not), The Take (Not)
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008 08:35 PM
No More Setup
 by Fëanor

Even though the film festival is over, I still feel like I'm running to catch up. I barely got The Take done today before leaving work and going to the comic store, and once again I had no time to put together a wish list or write The Setup. And as I sat down just now to write The Setup after the fact, I suddenly decided I didn't want to. I've been thinking for a while now that The Setup is kind of redundant and unnecessary. So I'm going to go ahead and do away with it. You will still be getting The Take, and all the comic reviews that come with it, but no more wish list posts. I don't think anyone will be terribly sad.
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), Meta (Not), Philadelphia Film Festival 2008 (Not), The Setup (Not)
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008 04:12 PM
(Last updated on Wednesday, April 16, 2008 08:16 PM)
The Take
 by Fëanor

(Updated. I posted this before it was really done, so I went back over it and made various edits, sometimes for content, but mostly to fix grammar errors and awkward phrasing.)

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

On top of the pile of books I picked up at the shop this past week, I added a whole other pile that I found at the library, after discovering that they inexplicably keep half their graphic novels downstairs in one section, and the other half upstairs in the children's section (Warren Ellis in the children's section? What are they thinking?!). And this past week the film festival was still going on, so I had plenty of time to read while waiting for movies to start. All of which is just to warn you that this week's installment is very, very long.

Back issues and old data: books I own
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #2
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #3
Having recently finally found #1 of this miniseries, I was able to go back and read the other issues that I'd already bought. Sadly, the more I read of Mouse Guard, the more disappointed I am with the writing and editing. The poem that opens each issue is almost always quite bad (broken, clumsy rhythm and awkward rhymes), and the rest of the text is often littered with typos. It remains entertaining to me, however, thanks to creative ideas (I love what he does with the bats and the abandoned ferret warren) and impressive visuals (the image of the owl with one bloody eye standing and waiting over the hole at the end of #3 is particularly striking and evocative). So I expect I'll stick with it for now.
Thumbs Sideways

Back issues and old data: Star's old comics
Dracula: Vlad the Impaler #1
Another old Dracula comic from Topps that I just couldn't bring myself to finish reading. This one purports to tell the true story of the historical Dracula, but rather spoils the effect by opening up with narration from a vampire. It then jumps back in time to tell the turgid, violent, melodramatic tale of Dracula's childhood in Wallachia. It's ridiculously wordy and really quite boring. I quickly decided it wasn't worth my time and dropped it.
Thumbs Down

Back issues and old data: from the library
JSA: Lost
JSA: Mixed Signals
I picked up these two lengthy Justice Society collections because they were written by Geoff Johns, and I've enjoyed his work a great deal in Action Comics and Green Lantern. The first, Lost, pulls together issues #59-67 of JSA, originally published in 2004 and 2005, and Mixed Signals covers #76-81 from 2005 and 2006. At this point in the history of the JSA, the main members are Mr. Terrific, Doctor Mid-Nite, Hourman, the original Flash (Jay Garrick), the original Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Power Girl, Wildcat, Stargirl, and Hawkgirl. These are mostly has-beens and never-weres, and none of them are particularly interesting characters. Both of these collections make references to all kinds of characters and events that I'm not particularly familiar with, but I think that's only part of the reason why I found them, on the whole, either dull or outright annoying. Lost is the longer book and opens up with some time-traveling fascist messing with the group by showing up and telling them about all kinds of awful things that are going to happen. Then Hal Jordan flips out as The Specter and a villain known as the Spirit King shows up to lead an army of the Specter's victims back out of hell to ruin the JSA's day. The next story is about them trying to retrieve the Sandman's one-time sidekick from under the Earth, where he's imprisoned in a dream. Then there's a crazy time travel story where various people who call themselves Hourman try to sacrifice themselves to save each other. The final story is a tie-in with Identity Crisis that focuses on the autopsy of Sue Dibny, whose death is at the center of the story.

Mixed Signals picks up with a story about a guy named Airwave freaking out and having to go help some aliens. Dr. Fate and his girl Lyta get into trouble and end up having to escape into Dream. Then there's a giant fight with the villain Mordru, and a trip into the sixth dimension to face off against a possessed kid named Jakeem. Then we get to hear about Stargirl's family issues.

All of these stories are pretty confusing, ridiculous, unbelievable, and melodramatic, with lots of philosophizing and emotional issues and corny dialogue. The sequence in the sixth dimension is particularly terrible. Occasionally these books are entertaining, but mostly they're just really mediocre.
Thumbs Down

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell
That Warren Ellis was the writer on this meant I had to grab it immediately, but it's an extra bonus that it's Ellis writing DC characters, which is something I don't get to read very often. And he does his usual mind-blowingly excellent job here, producing what may be my favorite Justice League story of all time. He introduces each of the members of the team - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Martian Manhunter, Wally's Flash, and Kyle Rayner's Green Lantern - and shows each of them coming into contact with a different tragic and violent event, each connected to a different fragment of a mysterious and ancient text. The complete text, once assembled, leads them into a battle with an alien weapon that threatens the entire planet.

Ellis' story works so well because the focus is strongly on the characters themselves, and he captures the essence of each one perfectly. He even manages to make me like the bland Kyle Rayner, which is pretty hard. Probably the most wonderfully realized characters are Superman and Lois Lane. At this point in the chronology, the two are married, and he does an excellent job establishing their relationship and the loving, sarcastic rapport they have with each other. The dialogue is brilliant and hilarious, and the plot is exciting, involving, and fast-paced. The book feels almost like a rebirth of the Justice League, reestablishing them as the smartest, most bad-ass group of bad-asses on the planet. It's perfect comics.
Thumbs Up

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Volume 3
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Volume 4
I still plan on buying these so I can have them in my collection, but when I saw them on the shelf in the library, I couldn't resist pulling them down. And I was not disappointed. I really can't believe how fantastic this manga is; even better than Miyazaki's amazing film adaptation. It's a complex and epic story about war, magic, fate, politics, religion, the environment, morality, and ethics. It's action-packed, utterly absorbing, absolutely thrilling, and deeply moving.
Thumbs Up

Ocean
Warren Ellis strikes again! This reminds me a lot of Orbiter, as it's another graphic novel by Ellis that's set in the near future of our own world, with a story that clearly comes out of the man's deep love for space flight. A small group of scientists in orbit around Europa, a moon of Jupiter, discover ancient people and weaponry floating in the ocean underneath the surface ice. They call in a weapons expert to help, but a nearby space station owned by a technology corporation (clearly meant to be a parody of Microsoft, as one of their products is an operating system that always crashes called Doors 98) is already determined to have the weapons for themselves. So begins a dangerous battle that eventually puts the entire human race in jeopardy.

Sounds like Ellis, right? And just like almost all of Ellis' other work, the story is intense and involving, and there's lots of insane, bloody action; crazy future science; funny, smart dialogue; interesting characters; and mind-blowingly epic events. In other words, it's fantastic.
Thumbs Up

New releases
George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards: Hard Call #1
This isn't totally awesome, but it's good enough that I plan to keep collecting for now. It's set in a future Earth that's plagued by the Wild Card virus, a sickness which has a random effect on its victims: you can draw the Black Queen and die horribly, draw the Joker and end up a disfigured mutant, or draw the Ace and gain incredible supernatural powers. It follows the story of an Ace named Sleeper who's apparently a good guy; a mysterious Joker who shoots and kills the Sleeper's friend and steals something called the Trump virus; and a young boy who finds himself at the middle of an outbreak and becomes an Ace. Nothing has really come together yet, but a number of mysteries have presented themselves, and I'm interested. Plus, the characters are relatively fascinating, and the dialogue and narration are pretty good. We'll see how it goes...
Thumbs Up

B.P.R.D. 1946 #4
Oh man, this series just keeps getting better and better. In this issue we get more of the backstory on the Vampyr Sturm project, and Bruttenholm gets a lead on where the missing containers might have gone. When they get there, they come into conflict with an old Hellboy villain whom it was truly wonderful to see again. Oh, and the white owl makes a creepy and violent reappearance. The art continues to be beautiful and disturbing, the writing brilliant. Fantastic stuff!
Thumbs Up

Goon #23
I've been complaining about the sort of semi-serious turn this book is taking in my past couple installments of The Setup and The Take, but I have to say, even though this issue is still strongly in the same mold, I really enjoyed it. I don't know if it's better than the recent issues or if I'm just getting more used to what Powell is doing now, but regardless, I like it! There's some really funny bits, some mysterious and intriguing events, some fun action, and a hilarious ending featuring cupcakes. Then in the back pages Powell reveals that he has a stake in a Nashville Rollergirl team before then going on to answer questions from some of them. Crazy!
Thumbs Up

Green Lantern Corp #23
That one nasty guy is still out there collecting Sinestro Corps rings, and the Guardians of Oa have finally started to notice something funky going on, so they call in a bunch of their heavy hitters and send them out to find and destroy the rings. The Lanterns manage to take care of a couple of the lesser Sinestro Corps members, but the big bad guy is still out there causing trouble, and Rayner and Gardner defy orders to go find two other Lanterns when they go missing. It's a fun, exciting story with great art and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes next.
Thumbs Up

Criminal 2 #2
The latest Criminal one-shot takes us back in time to tell us a bit of the story of the Lawless family patriarch, Teeg. It's the kind of story we've come to expect from Criminal: bloody, violent, and tragic, with a shatteringly dark and realistic character portrait at the center of it. The story here connects into the story of the previous one-shot in very interesting ways. It's brutal and amazing. In the back is an ad for the Criterion Collection DVD release of a film I saw at the Philadelphia Film Festival, only a day or so before I read this comic: Blast of Silence. Apparently the DVD comes with a four-page comic adaptation of the film by Sean Phillips, the guy who does the amazing art on Criminal, so I think now I have to buy it. After the ad is a great little essay by my favorite new comics writer, Jason Aaron, wherein he talks about his favorite TV cops and movie tough guys. Yep, Criminal is still awesome.
Thumbs Up

Fantastic Four #556
Cap continues to go crazily out of control, and there's an epically huge super-battle that doesn't go so well for our heroes - but don't worry, Reed is on his way back and he'll fix everything.

I can't believe how quickly I went from loving this series to really disliking it. This issue annoys me for a number of reasons. First off, although I'll admit drawing a huge, complex fight that takes place in the middle of the night during a snowstorm is not exactly an easy feat, Bryan Hitch kind of spectacularly fails at pulling it off here, to the extent that it's pretty much impossible to tell what's going on through almost the entire battle sequence. Which is kind of a problem. And it's continuing to gall me that a supposed group of super geniuses could create a giant killer robot that could so easily defeat its own control system and just go crazy, and that further this robot could be so incredibly powerful that it could single-handedly, and in short order, defeat pretty much every superhero in the Marvel universe. I mean, that's just ridiculous. And if none of them could do anything, just exactly what is Reed going to be able to do? And why should we care about Johnny and his reality show and the random supervillain he's screwing?

It makes me sad, but I think I'm dropping this one.
Thumbs Down

Hedge Knight II: Sworn Sword #6
As I'd hoped, this series came to an exciting and moving conclusion, with a thrilling battle and a tragic romance. Good stuff! I hear Mr. Martin is just about finished with his third Dunk & Egg novella, too, so maybe I'll have to actually read one of those in traditional prose for once.
Thumbs Up

Nova #12
Things take a turn in this issue that, while in hindsight should have been predictable, was totally surprising to me. Characters die, come back, get healed, etc. It feels a bit like a cop-out, but it's exciting and thrilling, and it's hard to be mad with a happy ending. Plus, now we're going to see some serious ass-kicking.
Thumbs Up

Serenity: Better Days #2
Our heroes fantasize about what they're going to do with all their newfound riches, and then get to actually play the heroes for once, but it's looking like their enemies are closing in on them, and I'm betting they won't really get a chance to spend any of that money. This is a great story, and it's wonderful to see these characters again, with their personalities captured so perfectly. Very funny, very clever, very good.
Thumbs Up

Soleil #1
When I saw this in my bag, I was worried I'd picked up and bought some random comic by mistake, but then I realized it's just a free sampler that the comic shop guy dropped in with my other purchases. Apparently Marvel is soon going to start distributing English translations of comic books by a French publisher called Soleil, and this book is introducing us to some of those titles. There's an interview with each author, a summary of his/her book, and then some example pages. Although I'm certainly fascinated by the idea of there being an entirely different comic book tradition, totally unknown to me, in another part of the world, and I'm curious to know more about it, I can't say I saw anything here that looked interesting at all. I don't plan to pick up any of these titles when they get released.
Thumbs Down

Wolverine #64
In the past, Mystique pulls a deadly double-cross (as expected), and in the present, she and Wolverine prepare for the final showdown in this, the latest issue in Jason Aaron's run on Wolverine. It's more great, exciting stuff, featuring Logan pulling some smart, brutal, bad-ass trickery to continue the chase. Loving it.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), Philadelphia Film Festival 2008 (Not), The Take (Not)
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Monday, April 7, 2008 02:49 PM
The Film Fest Continues
 by Fëanor

I've made it through the first weekend of the festival, but it was tough, and there's still a lot more to go. So I've made some adjustments to my schedule. They're mostly subtractions, but I also shuffled a few movies around to make things easier on myself. The updated schedule can be found in the same spot as before.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), Philadelphia Film Festival 2008 (Not)
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Friday, April 4, 2008 08:40 AM
(Last updated on Friday, April 4, 2008 11:57 AM)
Film Fest 08
 by Fëanor

Well, the time has come. Today is the first day I see movies for the Philadelphia Film Festival. My schedule is pretty ambitious, but I plan to try to keep up with all my regular posts. Still, don't be surprised if the Hulk goes silent for a little while, or if The Take ends up being more curt than usual.

And of course, please let me know if we're going to any of the same screenings so I know to look out for you.

Yay, movies!

UPDATE: Crap. Guess I should have made plans to tape Battlestar Galactica tonight. Ah, well; I think they're replaying it Sunday...
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), Philadelphia Film Festival 2008 (Not)
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Friday, March 21, 2008 02:27 PM
Philly Film Fest Schedule
 by Fëanor

The Philadelphia Film Festival is nearly here again. I put together my schedule shortly after the program guide came out, as usual, but I just got around to putting it in a format that I can show you guys. Check it out.

Even though I didn't think there were a lot of really exciting movies at the fest this year on my first look over the program, I still ended up making myself a pretty ambitious schedule, encompassing 30 films. I may add or subtract from it as the fest goes on; I'll try to keep the file updated. Of course, I'll be reviewing all the movies in a Film Fest Diary over on Phillyist.

Let me know if you're seeing any of the same screenings I am, and I'll make a note to save a seat for you (I got myself the Film Access badge again this year).

The movie I'm most looking forward to is probably Pistoleros.

Hope to see you around. Happy festing!
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), Philadelphia Film Festival 2008 (Not)
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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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