Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bullet Points 2: The Quickening.

All right, gradually whittling down my To-Read pile, here's what I've been into of late:

-BATMAN AND ROBIN #11: Up until Grant Morrison began his mad little romp with Dick Grayson as Batman and Bruce Wayne's illegitimate son Damian Wayne as Robin, I'd largely given up on the Batman books. I'm sure they were entertaining, but the depiction of Batman as Batgod over the years had worn down my enthusiasm for the character's comicbook adventures. Yes, I'm aware that Batman is a grim avenger out to get justice from the criminal element for the death of his parents and their deaths haunt him and he must walk alone without emotional ties a man of strengthblahblahblahblahBLAH. The apathy reached it's apex with the release of Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT which (hold on, put the pitchforks and torches down) while an amazing film and a powerful emotional study of both a man and city on the brink, wasn't really a lot of what I'd call fun. There's a reason I gravitate more toward the depiction of Batman in series like Batman: The Brave and the Bold these days: I'm tired of the sturm und drang when it comes to superheroes. What's wrong with good triumphing over evil while having a little fun in the process? That I think is what Grant Morrison gets. While sometimes he can wander far, far off the beaten path while on his peyote-induced visionquests dictated to him by the Lord High Space Coyote, when he's on the ball (and on his meds) Morrison gets superheroes. He knows that their adventures are larger than life, often almost but not quite silly, and that the primary mandate should be entertainment. His portrayal of Dick Grayson, the former high-flying boy wonder and longtime hero in his own right stepping into the role of the Dark Knight and honoring his mentor while still being his own man is entertaining, and it's just logical. Dick as Batman works, and I don't want him sent back to the second tier when Bruce Wayne returns. Damian Wayne is a little bastard, an arrogant little punk who I initially felt deserved a good smack to the mouth, but over the course of this series he's grown on me, and I like the interplay between the more laid back, slightly jocular Batman and his grim, ass-kicking, all-business Robin. Alfred is more than a mere gentleman's gentleman here; he's the anchor, doing his best to be a father figure to both heirs to the legacy. The book has three stars really, but BATMAN AND ROBIN AND ALFRED doesn't really have the same panache. This issue kicks off The Return of Bruce Wayne arc, and with the aid of masked detective Sexton Blake (whom Damian finds a little. . .familiar), the clues left by the time-lost Bruce Wayne are beginning to be unearthed. Also, a long-lost member of the Wayne family is set to make his own comeback, and he's not a very nice man at all. As I said, when Morrison is on point he knows how to bring the thunder, and the issue crackles with an enthusiasm that can't be denied. Andy Clarke's work on pencils is very good, a nice mix of the initial Quitely style with a hint of Aparo. I hope he's on board for the long haul. An entertaining book that I initally gravitated toward because of two words (flying batmobile), Batman and Robin is easily one of the few reasons I return to DC month after month. Oh, and what's better than a flying batmobile? A flying batmobile piloted by Alfred. Check it out.

-DOOMWAR #3: Hey, Doctor Doom is back! Latveria must've recalled that faulty Doombot taking orders from a glorified gangster/third-tier supervillain because this is the premier villain of the Marvel universe doing what he does best: terrorizing the planet. Doom has invaded Wakanda, home of the Black Panther and is out to get it's unique vibranium ore to forward his own plans for a world entirely under his rule. The new Black Panther and King T'Challa (the former Black Panther and the current version's brother) have called upon a band of heroes from the Fantastic Four to the X-Men to aid the King in liberating his land and saving his queen, Storm, from Doom's clutches. Okay, I have no idea who Jonathan Mayberry is, but this guy has given Doom his balls back. This is the Doctor Doom of the John Byrne era, the apex of arrogant assuredness in the belief that his way will provide a better future for all men and women. . .under his immortal and eternal rule. Scott Eaton's art provides widescreen action that puts you in the midst of a nation in chaos, and his depiction of Doom makes Darth Vader look like a 98-pound asthmatic. I will not give away this issue's twist, but it is so. Good. So good, that I grinned from ear to ear when this book was finished. If you aren't reading this book you're missing the best portrayal of the bad doctor to come down the pike in twenty years.

-THE SPIRIT #1: After the horrible, horrible, ho-rib-ble experience of watching Frank Miller's cinmatic excrement I had little desire to look upon anything based upon Will Eisner's classic creation. Nothing could wash the reeking filth of that corruption clean. But it was part of DC's new First Wave line of pulp-themed and inspired books, and looking at the pedigree (written by Xenozoic Tales creator Mark Schultz, with a backup by Denny O'Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz) I girded my loins, handed my brother my hard-earned cash and say down with the title. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The book was neither insipid nor trite, but an entertaining romp that reintroduces us to the world of Denny Colt and Central City without overstaying it's welcome. The art by Moritat is stylized and fresh, with some nice little Eisnerian touches that I found fun. Schultz gets the character, and I like his rueful, slightly cynical voice as he has Denny narrate to us in the best gumshoe tradition. The backup by O'Neil and Sienkiewicz is very much an Eisner pastiche, and it has a nice twist ending in the classic Spirit style. If you've got a little money left over after buying the latest round of crossovers you could do worse than to pick this up as a fun little breath of fresh air. I say give it a look.

-GREEN HORNET YEAR ONE #2: I've been a fan of The Green Hornet since I was a kid, listening to C100FM's Theater of the Mind broadcasts of the classic radio program from the '30s. The Green Hornet and Kato were as easily accepted as superheroes to my young mind as the dynamic duo of DC, and I remember picking up the NOW Comics adventures of the emerald enemy of evil with enthusiasm. When I heard that Dynamite would be producing both the contemporary, Kevin Smith penned version of the character as well as the classic version from the early 20th century, I was in like Flynn. Sadly though. . .this book qualifies as another 'good but not great' for me. Matt Wagner has proven in the past that he can write the period adventures of a masked hero (if you haven't read his excellent work with Steven T. Seagle and Guy Davis on Vertigo's SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER you missed out big time), but here. . .mm. It's a Year One book, which frankly I'm scratching my head over. I guess we need to explain who the Hornet is, but couldn't we do that during an actual adventure? It makes me yearn for the days when comics had that little blurb above the title page detailing the protagonist's mission statement then launching right into the action. The book is clearly meant to be The Story Behind The Legend. . .but I don't want that. I don't need it. I want the Green Hornet and Kato at the height of their powers being badass. I don't need to see how they got into the groove. I'm reasonably sure I can put that together for myself, thanks. The art by Aaron Campbell is another problem as well. . .it feels muddy and too contemporary. This art style might work for something like NEW AVENGERS, but a pulp story needs an artist whose got a pulp mentality, a feel for the work. It's not gelling for me. The book is competently done and if you're a newcomer to the Hornet mythos I suppose you might find it fun. But for $3.99 US a pop, I don't want to pay for 'good'. I want Great. Skip it and try SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE VOL 1: THE TARANTULA.

-THE WARLORD #13: This. . .this one will be brief. The pain of loss is still healing. I have got to give Mike Grell his due; I legitimately did not see issue #12 of this title coming. Within the span of about 22 pages plus ads Grell took everything we found comfortable and nostalgic about the title and threw it into a garbage disposal. Simply put, he changed the game. There's a new Warlord in town, an event which takes the book's previous status quo and flips it upside down, and an entirely new twist on what we've been used to. It's gut-wrenching, it's painful, and it's awesome beyond the telling of it. If DC truly is planning to end this series with issue eighteen then they are fools, and will be sent by Lo Pan to the Hell Where Fools Are Skinned Alive. I've already reviewed the DC SHOWCASE PRESENTS WARLORD VOL 1 elsewhere , but simply put it's one of the best grindhouse movies the '70s never saw made. Buy this book and buy it quick, because all too often in this industry what's original and fun gets buried beneath the chaff.

That's all for now, more as the To-Read pile gets smote.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bullet Points: Thoughts in brief on the Comics I've been reading.

-DOC SAVAGE #1: Ehhhhh. . .not so good. Paul Malmont wrote THE CHINATOWN DEATH CLOUD PERIL, which rocks on toast but it's painfully clear in some of the staging and dialogue choices that as a comicbook writer, he makes a helluva dancer. Howard Porter's art--while amazing with contemporary fare--feels a bit too contemporary with something like DOC, which is clearly trying to straddle a pseudo-pulp/Batman: The Animated Series feel. The Justice Inc. story was a bit better, but I'm here for Doc Savage, not Richard Benson. Simply put, when the best item to come out of the issue is the Zatanna preview, we got a problem.

-MAGOG #8: As part of my effort to show I can embrace the new and different I gave reading MAGOG a try. The eponymous anti-hero spun out of Alex Ross and Mark Waid's quite excellent KINGDOM COME as the epitome of a brand of darker-edged 'heroes' that were little better than the scum they were fighting, until Superman's return to the scene inspired the Old Guard to rally and show the arrogant demigods what being a hero truly meant. Magog is really little more than a kinda-cool looking piece of visual parody(he's designed as pretty much a walking piece of snark against the Rob Liefeldian excesses of '90s superhero design), but as a potential series lead? There's not much to work with. Recently Geoff Johns (God-Emperor of DC Comics) decided to take the concept of Magog and build a full-fledged character during his run on JSA. Intrigued by the notion of longtime favorite writer Keith Giffen and penciller Howard Porter teaming up on an 'anti-hero' book, I decided to shop outside my normal comfort zone of talking apes, jetpacks and fins to take a walk on the darker side of the street. Truth be told, after eight issues I'm thinking of pulling the ripcord. The series is by no means wretched, it's just kind of. . .there. There's no real hook to it, apart from Magog(aka Lance Corporal David Reid) going John McClane on bad guys while having an internal monlogue about how silly most superheroes are with their outdated codes of conduct. While that'd be fun for a mini-series or one-shot, I can't really say it's worth your hard-earned comicbook dollar. There's the seed of a decent series in here, and Porter's art is well done but yeah. . .no pop here either. Let me put it to you this way; I've been readin this book for eight issues and I had to consult Wikipedia to find his real name. A fun visual? Yeah. Memorable? Not so much.

-R.E.B.E.L.S. #15: Buried beneath the miasma of MegaCrossovers That Will Change Things Forever, R.E.B.E.L.S. is easily one of the three best continuing series DC is putting out right now (THE WARLORD and BATMAN AND ROBIN filling out the other two slots). It's epic space opera with a band of unlikely misfits struggling to survive in the depths of space against nigh-unbeatable foes. It's the best of Star Wars, Farscape, and Firefly with a twist of superhero convention and scale. This issue makes for a suitable jumping on point as the series takes a breath between storylines, and the introduction of Starfire(the eye-candy that walks like a woman) is a pretty significant development, as writer Tony Bedard has this unlikely group of cosmic heroes come to terms with the fallout of their actions to liberate the Vega sector from the parasitic minions of Starro the Conqueror. Claude St. Aubrin and Scott Hana really cut loose with a mixture of cool visuals that make the various aliens and individuals come alive. It's fun, fast paced, and there's not a single Green Lantern in si--

--God dammit.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1: Jonathan Hickman is one of those writers who came out of nowhere who just plain gets superhero comics; what they were and what they can be. Here we see him craft the history of Marvel's uber-spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. as not only a globetrotting band of spies and soldiers but as a conspiracy that has woven it's strands from ancient Egypt through historical China, Florence, and Rome. A conspiracy driven to protect the world and ensure that it ends at it's proper time and not before. Hickman does a nice job of blending the historical romance with the scope and span of the Marvel Universe and the mix of influences is entertaining as all get-out. A story about the triumph of human ingeniuty and the victory of knowledge over ignorance (it can't be a coincidence that this story's 'contemporary' setting is the 1950s) that presents a heroic front whilst hinting at the darker shadows of a conspiracy is provacative and holds the reader's attention until the last page, which ends on a cliffhanger that had me grinning ear to ear. Da Vinci as the Tony Stark of his era? Gallileo vs. Galactus? Celestials running amuck in Ancient China? Yeah, you pretty much need to get on board with this book. It's awesome, new-reader friendly, and just plain fun in a way most comics just aren't anymore.

That's all for now. More as I make my way through my To-Read pile.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Writer's Dojo #4: Writer's Block.

"The easiest thing to do on earth is not write."
(William Goldman)

Yep. Talkin' about writer's block this time. Yessir. This is me, sitting down to talk to you about that most dreaded of writer pitfalls, and how ironically enough it might be to your benefit to be blocked.

Writer's block is defined as follows:

Writer's Block –noun
a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.

The act of writing is a hell of a lot of fun. You're creating something entirely new from whole cloth, unearthing something from the depths of your subconscious mind that no one has ever seen before. It's a heady experience, and when it's going well it has a literal, physical feeling. I've felt when it's going well, that little thrum throughout the whole of my being as I realize I'm creating. It's amazing stuff. And then one day, or evening, you sit down at your desk, you take out your pen or boot up your word processor, you wiggle your fingers like that cartoon pianist you saw that one time on looney tunes, you reach down and. . .

Nothing. Crickets. The echo of a vast, empty cave.

Sometimes it's due to circumstance; we all have off days, or we're sick or travelling and our focus isn't what it could be. But when one day bleeds into another bleeds into another and you've got absolutely nothing, what starts as a minor hink in your work schedule becomes something else entirely, something that can utterly terrify the aspiring artist and fill them with that nameless dread, that utter certainty. It was a fluke. It's over. There's nothing left to say. The well's run dry. And as much fun as just dealing with the sudden blockage is, the fear is what will ultimately cripple you if you let it.

We each have something to say, something that's uniquely our own. Whether that expression comes through writing fiction, or through art, or dance, or even a well thought out piece of non-fiction posted to a blog, that expression has merit. The trouble is that--sooner or later--we come to the blank page or the empty screen, face the rows of lines stretching off into infinity or that blinking cursor amidst the vast plain of white space and we just freeze. Anxiety grips us, unreasonable expectation seizes us and holds us prisoner to standards and ideals that we can't possibly hope to attain, at least not right away. How do we work past this? How do we fight something that is, really, ourselves? I've been giving it some thought lately and here are a few ideas off the cuff to help the process of erosion along when dealing with writer's block:

1. Examine why you're blocked: I'm a natural daydreamer, a writer who definitely views writing as directed play. If I had to sit down and examine the moments I was most blocked up critically, I'd have to say the real reason I don't get anything done in those instances is the work starts to feel less like play and more like a chore. And nothing is guaranteed to have my subconscious dig in its heels and cross its arms in stubborn refusal to budge like the notion of Work. With this in mind, I can examine why I'm feeling it's a chore and ways to try and make it more enjoyable for myself.

Taking a step back from your work and examining how it makes you feel can also be an important step forward. Examine why you're blocked. Could it be because that last paragraph you were on feels like the end of the story? If that's the case, could it be expanded into a novella, maybe even a full novel? Examine the work and your feelings toward it. Chances are you know why things have slowed down, even if you haven't acknowledged it consciously yet.

2. A secret identity: Okay, so you're not going to go out and fight crime or anything but how about trying a pseudonym? This can work wonders to ease performance anxiety about writing and it can do a lot to spice things up in the study. While you've never written a Western in your life, Tex Jenkins was born on a cattle drive and busts broncos like they're going out of style. Or a horror story might be well out of your wheelhouse but for James Eldritch they're par for the course. Think of it as equal parts roleplaying and writing, trying on a completely new persona and just cutting loose in ways your regular writing self never would. You might find the sudden rush of ideas and play lead to something substantial. At the very least it'll help you prove to yourself that you can write if you get out of your own way.

3. A schedule: I covered this in my first WD segment, but a solid schedule can go a long way toward getting your mind geared up for writing. If you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that between the hours of 11pm-1am your butt is in a chair scribbling away, your mind and creative juices will sync gradually to accommodate that time frame. And bear in mind that as long as you're writing, it's a victory. A paragraph or a page, as long as you've got something down for that day, it's a step forward.

4. Read: Stephen King wrote in his excellent work On Writing (which if you don't have you should get for an examination of a master discussing the craft) that there are two key things a writer needs to do: read a lot and write a lot. If you find that you absolutely, positively have got nothing, maybe try picking up that paperback you bought a couple months back but haven't gotten the chance to read of late. You've got some time squirrelled away now, right? No sense in letting it go to complete waste. Sit in front of the notepad or the screen with a good book and let someone else do the driving for a while. If a passage strikes you as particularly striking, try transcribing it. Examine how it that passage works from top to bottom as you replicate the author's beats on your own keyboard and notepad. Hunter S. Thompson transcribed whole passages from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby on his quest to become a better author. Reading is the rain that keeps the metal soil nice and arable. Read everything you can, anything you can. Maybe even pull out a really bad book and read it, if for no other reason than to throw down the 'I can do better than that!' gauntlet. Read, and remember why it is you want to get into this racket in the first place.

5. Relax: Don't take it so seriously. Remember to try and find the joy within the work, and remember to put expectation, as well as what you feel the reaction of others might be on a high shelf in the back of your mind and leave it there until the day's work is done. It won't always be easy, as that mental image of Writerly Perfection is a hard one to shake. But just remember that as much as you may grapple with writer's block and the demons of self-doubt, chances are good your favorite author has too. As with all things, persistence will trump talent eventually. It's in finding the mix that you can go from minor to major, from amateur to professional.

Until next time, in the words of Red Green, keep your stick on the ice.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Warlord #12 - A brief review.

. . .take it away Darth. . .