2011年8月28日 星期日

"Barren Land Showdown" by Luke Short

"Before daylight next morning they were headed up the Raft. It was a tough river, and the higher it went, the tougher it got. A half day's travel above Lobstick, where it was crowded between towering rough-faced walls so steep that the snow did not cling to them, there was a crack in the north face of the wall. Gaunt black ramparts broke away to reveal an opening, snow-floored, narrow, serene. This was the Wailing. Entering it, a man dived into a gloom that never saw the sun, himself and his dogs dwarfed by the ugly porphyry cliffs, and his spirit was awed."

The more famous of the two Luke Shorts was a gunfighter in the late 1800s. The less famous of the two was the guy who wrote this book. Luke Short wasn't the writer's real name.

I believe that Luke Short's books have all been out of print for several decades. I bought mine from a used bookstore in Seattle. I am also entirely ignorant of the Western as a genre within popular fiction, so I cannot say how Luke Short compares to others in that genre.

"Barren Land Showdown" follows the travails of Frank Nearing, a prospector in Canada's far north. He agrees to hide another man, Lute Westock, from the law, believing that Lute is involved in some kind of property dispute with his soon-to-be ex-wife. At the beginning of the book they stumble upon trappers using strychnine in their traps, which is illegal. One thing leads to another, and one of the trappers is murdered. Frank gets fingered for the crime, and is forced to prove his innocence.

I liked this book. It was written with the kind of precision that only the best pulp novels achieve, and the characters were so clearly drawn as to remind me of what most contemporary literature is missing. This is a book that demonstrates craftsmanship, of a kind that one doesn't often see nowadays.

I would be eager to read more of Luke Short's books. He might be out of print, but that doesn't mean he's not worth reading.

2011年8月27日 星期六

"City" by Clifford D. Simak

My dad introduced me to Clifford D. Simak. I read his "Worlds of Clifford Simak," and then moved on to this book.

"City" was first published in 1952. It is essentially a collection of short stories, all exploring the theme of consciously directed evolution. Through the stories of "City," Simak offered the world his vision of utopia, and his alternative to the destructive human habits exemplified in the Second World War.

It's a good, if implausible set of stories. It starts off with the end of human cities, and the movement of humankind from the old population centers to a more rural kind of existence, centered on robot labor. From there we move to Jupiter, where humanity contemplates a transformation from one type of organism to another, while on Earth a man creates a race of talking dogs. At the same time, a race of mutants poses a threat to human security, while a mutant experiment triggers a startling evolution within a single ant hive.

What we end up with is a future where talking animals, robots, and insects rule the earth, in a world long abandoned by mankind. A single robot acts as puppetmaster over the various races, guiding them towards a destiny that is never fully explained.

I liked this book, but it doesn't bear thinking about too deeply. Simak wasn't as well-versed in the theory of evolution as other authors, and such grand, sweeping epics of genetic destiny are better represented in books like "Dune."

2011年8月25日 星期四

"100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call" by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

The premise behind "100 Bullets" is fairly simple. A guy named Agent Graves shows up, tells you who was responsible for your own downfall, hands you a gun with 100 rounds, and tells you that you are free to take revenge without fear of legal repercussions.

Naturally you don't believe him at first, so you tread carefully, and in the end you are left with the choice of whether or not to use the gun. Some people do, and are ushered onward to another destination. Others don't, and often find out what happens to those who play with fire.

There are no good guys in "100 Bullets." There are no superheroes. There are only ordinary people, some of them criminals, some of them victims of circumstance. Some of them are both. Ultimately it comes down to a choice for each of them, and it is this choice that defines who they are.

This is one of the best thing that Brian Azzarello has ever written, much better than his work on Superman and most other mainstream comics. It might not be as good as his "Joker," but that would be a hard one to top. I liked this story a lot, and I would be eager to read more.

Eduardo Risso's art also works a lot better in this context. Whereas he came off looking like a Frank Miller clone in some of his DC work, here his style stands out, and tells a good story without being overly flashy.

"100 Bullets" isn't one of the best comics I've ever read, but I would recommend it if you've already exhausted classics such as "Wanted," "The Ultimates," or "Astro City."

"Wanted" by Mark Millar and JG Jones

"Wanted" is a must-own comic book. If you thought the movie was bad, don't let this dissuade you from reading the comic. As is the case with Millar's "Kick-Ass," the film and the source material are horses of entirely different colors.

"Wanted" explores a future in which all the superheroes are dead, or have been forced into retirement. The supervillains, having overcome them all through sheer numbers, have erased all memory of the superheroes from the minds of ordinary humanity, and the bad guys have formed a ruling elite over an unsuspecting populace.

Wesley Gibson, an office worker trapped in an unhappy relationship, suddenly discovers that one of these supervillains was his father, and he is charged with carrying on his father's work. He is assisted in this endeavor by a beautiful supervillainess named Fox, who is as ruthless as she is desirable.

"Wanted" is both an extremely violent and extremely funny comic book. It also says a lot about our society, and the ending is classic. This may well be the best thing that Millar has yet written, and JG Jones' art does a fantastic job of telling the story.

Seek out "Wanted" if you haven't already. It will renew your faith in the comic book medium.

"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" by Frank Miller

I can understand why people think Frank Miller sucks. All-Star Batman and Robin was terrible. The Dark Knight Strikes Back wasn't very good, either. The Spirit movie was an outright debacle, and yes, Sin City was a bit overexposed.

Even so, Sin City was a great film, and the comic books it came from are brilliant. Anyone who hasn't read Frank Miller's series should go out and buy/borrow/steal it immediately, because in doing so you'll be encountering a work of high artistic merit. In Sin City, Frank Miller did so much more than fuse the world of comics with the world of noir fiction. He created a world all his own.

I only hope that people won't forget how groundbreaking this series was. And now that the hype has worn off, I hope that we might still see a movie version of this chapter in the Sin City saga. Frank Miller's last directorial effort may have gone a considerable distance to putting the last nail in that coffin, but I hope that the idea may yet be resurrected.

"The Ultimates Vol. 1 - Super-Human" by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch

"The Ultimates" is a great comic book, and Mark Millar is a great comic book writer. I'm not all that familiar with Bryan Hitch, but his work on this book is likewise impressive.

"The Ultimates" is a more realistic take on the Avengers, with the more fantastic elements of the Marvel Universe pushed into the background. The team seen in Volume 1 consists of Iron Man, Captain America, Giant Man, the Wasp, and to a lesser extent Thor. Bruce Banner/Hulk is present as the villain.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot. Suffice to say, Millar does some very inventive things with the Avengers. Thor is presented as a kind of messianic figure, Bruce Banner is the neurotic genius, and the relationship between Giant Man and The Wasp is the lynchpin that keeps everything else going. Both author and artist put a lot of thought into "The Ultimates," and it shows.

2011年8月24日 星期三

"Infinite Crisis" by Geoff Johns and Phil Jiminez

As said before - by many others besides myself - following DC's apocalyptic miniseries can be a lot of work. Back in the day you could have said, "I read Crisis on Infinite Earths..." And that was it. You were done. But since then we have seen "Identity Crisis," "Crisis in Time," "Infinite Crisis," "52," and most recently "Final Crisis," not to mention all of the crossovers and "countdowns" related to the above.

I still think that "Crisis on Infinite Earths" was the best of the bunch. It was groundbreaking for the time, it was well-written, and George Perez's art was fantastic. It was also the beginning of a new era - at least at the time. Before DC chose to reinvent the apocalyptic wheel over and over, the first "Crisis" meant to establish a new, and lasting, continuity.

After "Crisis on Infinite Earths," I think "Infinite Crisis" is the best of these series, even though by this point everyone knew that DC would probably be hauling out yet another end of the world event the following year. Geoff Johns' writing is superb, and Phil Jiminez does an excellent job of filling George Perez's shoes. It's not as trippy or intellectual as "Final Crisis," but what it lacks in intellect it more than makes up for with strong, consistent characterization. This, I think, is where "Infinite Crisis" outshines "Final Crisis." Whereas "Final Crisis" was a story full of great ideas, "Infinite Crisis," is a story driven by fewer, more fully explained concepts. It perhaps aspires to less, but acheives more.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it involves the return of Superman-2, Lois Lane-2, Alexander Luthor, and Superboy-Prime from pre-Crisis continuity. These four plan to reestablish the multiverse in the wake of the Anti-Monitor's destruction, as a means to realizing a more perfect Earth. Along the way, Superboy-Prime becomes one of the greatest villains in DC's roster, and the rest of the DC universe has to team up to stop him. The part where Superboy massacres the Teen Titans is priceless, and the dramatic moments are built up with an astonishing level of precision.

Read this one if you haven't already. It's great.

2011年8月10日 星期三

Year in Review?

I'm going to take a break from this thing. I should be back in a month or so. In the meantime, here's my "Best/Worst Of" for the 2010-2011 (school) year!

See you later, and happy reading!

5 Best Books I've Read This Year

  1. "White Jazz" by James Ellroy
  2. "The Godmakers" by Frank Herbert
  3. "The Physics of Superheroes" by James Kakalios
  4. "1984" by George Orwell
  5. "Voss" by Patrick White
5 Worst Books I've Read This Year

  1. "The Redemption of Althalus" by Gary and Leah Jennings
  2. "Wide Awake" by David Levithan
  3. "Under Pressure" by Frank Herbert
  4. "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century" by Thomas Friedman
  5. "Glamorama" by Bret Easton Ellis
5 Best Comic Books I've Read This Year

  1. "Luthor" (a.k.a. "Luthor: Man of Steel") by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
  2. "Marvels" by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross
  3. "Fables: Homelands" by Bill Willingham et al.
  4. "Ultimate Iron Man" by Orson Scott Card et al.
  5. "X-Necrosha" by Craig Kyle et al.
The Worst Comic Book I've Ever Read. Period.

  1. "Ordinary Victories" by Manu Larcenet

2011年8月9日 星期二

"Eminent Victorians" by Lytton Strachey

"Eminent Victorians" uses the lives of four famous Victorians as a vehicle for Strachey's thoughts on the Victorian Age. He makes few concessions to the academic conceits of other biographers, and instead views the writing of biography as the means to arrive at conclusions regarding a former generation. Whereas other biographers would present the reader with a well-researched outline of a notable person's life, Strachey takes that life and bends it to his personal philosophy.

In "Eminent Victorians" he introduces the lives of Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Dr. Arnold, and General Gordon. Through Cardinal Manning, he offers us a glimpse of Victorian theology, and the arguments that divided the Anglican and the Catholic churches in Victorian England. Through Florence Nightingale, he offers us a glimpse of Victorian government, both in England and abroad. Through Dr. Arnold, he outlines the Victorian system of education. And through General Gordon, we get a glimpse of Victorian colonialism and military conquest.

All four portraits offer a comprehensive cross-section of Victorian England, some more convincing than others. Florence Nightingale's biography might be the weakest of the four, while Dr. Arnold's may be the most concise.

I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would. I am not well read in British history, but Strachey offers enough background to eliminate confusion. Yes, his biographies aren't the most well-researched, but what he lacked in academic thoroughness he more than remedied with originality.

"Ordinary Victories" by Manu Larcenet

Here's a question: what is the point of a comic book that is just as boring and pointless as real life? Wouldn't such a comic book fail to provide the escape that most comic book readers are looking for?

The back cover of this thing is full of "raves" from the likes of Booklist, Time Magazine, and Kirkus Reviews, but I'm still wondering what it is that they're raving about. When the highlight of the first chapter is his girlfriend's unexpected pregnancy, well... exactly how is that interesting? Or compelling? Or deep?

Not that an unexpected pregnancy couldn't be used for dramatic effect. Of course it could. Yet when an artist has gone out of his way to make his work so crushingly ordinary, so devoid of symbolism, then this is just another event, no more or less remarkable than any other.

Where is the "ordinary victory" in making everything equally mundane? Wasn't the point to transcend the obvious, the normal, and the expected? To celebrate the fact that the extraordinary originates from the ordinary? This comic book only offers half of the equation, without pointing to the world of meaning beyond the arithmetical succession of everyday happenings that form its plot.

If you ask me, comic books like this are the worst of both worlds. Due to their nature as a graphic medium, all you get here is the surface of people, places, and things, without the deeper understanding that actual books are able to provide. At the same time, the author will never be able to narrate enough or provide enough dialogue to truly get inside his (or her) characters. What you are left with is a frustrating glimpse of someone else's life, without the perspective that a book might afford to the more imaginative reader.

I tried very hard to keep an open mind about this one, but I am left wondering how anyone could find this stuff interesting. Perhaps there really is a small circle of comic fans somewhere, hungrily devouring comics like this one. Or maybe all those blurbs on the back cover were just sound and fury, signifying nothing. All I know is that "Ordinary Victories" had me missing my superheroes.

"Wolverine: Not Dead Yet" by Warren Ellis and Leinil Yu

Wolverine meets this Scottish assassin guy in Hong Kong. The Scottish assassin guy gets blown up, Wolverine goes back to the States, and then he's all like, "Wait, is that Scottish guy really dead?" And then a bunch of people are shooting at him and he's like, "I'm outta here, you hosers!" and then he finds out that the Scottish guy wasn't really dead. And I'm all like, wow, I never saw that coming!

So much for the plot of "Not Dead Yet." Sorry if I spoiled the ending there, but just about anyone over the age of 10 could have predicted that no, the Scottish guy wasn't. Really. Dead.

Don't bother reading this one. There are many other comics, and most of them are better.

"Astro City: The Dark Age #2" by Kurt Busiek and Brent Eric Anderson

I haven't read Dark Age #1 yet, but I plan on doing so as soon as I come across it. This series is great, if not flashy. It is exactly what it aspires to be: a look back on some of the great comic books of the 70s and 80s, with the solid writing and art that made those comics so popular.

Anyone who, like me, grew up in the eras of Carter, Reagan, and Bush Sr. will find a lot to like in "Astro City." Kurt Busiek's writing recalls the work he did on "Marvels," and also Denny O'Neill and Neal Adam's run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow back in the day. There is a lot going on in this TPB, and the plot threads are are not only tied together skillfully, but also lead to a satisfying conclusion.

Brent Eric Anderson's art is competent without getting in the way of the story. Alex Ross's covers are also included in this TPB, though to be honest I could really care less about Alex Ross. His art always struck me as somewhat soulless, and I was happy that someone else was drawing the story between the front and back covers.

Much of the plot concerns itself with the struggles of two brothers, and their quest for revenge. They chase after a bureaucrat in a criminal organization who murdered their parents, and it is through their trials that we see the larger events of Astro City unfold. This formula has also been employed in the above-mentioned "Marvels" and also in DC's "Kingdom Come," but I found the human protagonists in "Astro City" more compelling.

Anyone looking for an alternative to the usual Marvel/DC superheroics is hereby directed to Astro City. It's not only a step back in time, but also a breath of fresh air in a genre that often grows stale.

2011年8月8日 星期一

"Superman: For Tomorrow" by Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee

Brian Azzarello has written better things, and Jim Lee is a victim of his own diligence. This series pales in comparison to many of Azzarello's other efforts (check out "Joker" and "100 Bullets" if you don't believe me), and Jim Lee's art is so ubiquitous that one wonders if there was ever a time when he wasn't around.

After thousands of people disappear in an event called "The Vanishing," an event in part triggered by the Man of Steel himself, Superman visits the local priest to deal with his feelings of guilt. The Superman of "For Tomorrow" is both arrogant and condescending, and at no point could I see an advantage to having the Kryptonian protecting us poor humans. If we are going to kill ourselves anyway, and if the presence of Superman merely serves to up the stakes in all of our self-destructive conflicts, then wouldn't we all be better off if he just picked another planet to protect?

I've only read the first volume of "For Tomorrow," and I have no desire to read the second. Even though it might be a commercial success, this series is an aesthetic failure. The plot is weak, the characters are cardboard-thin, and dramatic tension is entirely absent from the series. Yes, giving Superman a credible foe is always going to be tough, but given the array of supervillains available within the DC universe it's not that tough, so I can't give them any points for trying.

2011年8月7日 星期日

"Necrosha" by Craig Kyle et al.

Most of the art in "Necrosha" is BEAUTIFUL, particularly Clayton Crain's work on the first few chapters. The writing's not bad, either, although those unfamiliar with recent X-men/X-force comics (like me) will probably have a hard time keeping track of all the characters.

The first part of this TPB reminded me of Marvel Zombies, without the humor that made that series so distinctive. The Black Queen, Selene, is trying to make herself into a goddess by consuming the souls of countless mutants, and while the remainder of the Marvel Universe vacations, the local mutants are responsible for stopping her.

Proteus also shows up somewhere in the middle of this TPB, though this is one of the weaker spots in this collection. Selene is a much more interesting enemy, and this TPB could have done without much of the filler.

Incidentally, that "New Mutants Forever," which I just read, explains a lot of Selene's backstory, so anyone confused by this TPB ought to check that one out.

As stated elsewhere, I've never been a huge X-fan, but this storyline is well worth your time.

2011年8月6日 星期六

"New Mutants Forever" by Chris Claremont and Others

I have fond memories of reading The New Mutants back in middle school. This was before Rob Liefeld took over the book in the 1990s, and the X-men side of the Marvel Universe got that "paramilitary" look.

Chris Claremont wrote all of the stories collected in this TPB, which is only fitting since he created the New Mutants in the first place. For those who don't know, Claremont is most famous for his run on the X-men comics, in particular the "Dark Phoenix Saga." He also resides in the Pacific Northwest, and I once got the chance to speak to him at a local comic book store.

As a comic book fan, I can't say that Claremont is one of my favorite writers. Even as a 13-year-old, his characters' penchant for monologues always struck me as slightly ridiculous, and his run on X-men always had a soap-opera vibe that seemed, to my young sensibilities, the opposite of cool. I realize that many of his comics were more accessible to the fairer sex for these very reasons, so maybe I should just assume that he wasn't writing for kids like me.

"New Mutants Forever," is pretty much more of the same from Chris Claremont. The Mutants journey to a "New Rome" in South America, and cross paths with the Red Skull. The artist for this storyline, Al Rio, draws a lot like George Perez.

Which reminds me of why I really used to like The New Mutants: the art. For a while Bill Sienkiewicz, one of my favorite comic artists of all time, was drawing this series on a regular basis. I only wish he'd returned for this follow-up. This TPB includes some of the variant covers he did, and I'm only sorry I couldn't see more of his work in this volume.

2011年8月5日 星期五

"JLA: The Lightning Saga" by Brad Meltzer et al.

This TPB is a mess. I'm still not sure how this is a "saga," given that there are only five chapters in it. After these five chapters DC appended two random JLA stories, both of which outshine the saga for which the book is named.

As for the "saga," it's something about the Legion of Superheroes travelling back in time so that they can resurrect a famous superhero. Then... surprise! They resurrect the wrong superhero. Oh well, better luck next time...

The two stories stapled on to the end of this book are better than The Lightning Saga, which, as previously stated, isn't really a saga. "Walls" is a survival story featuring two of the JLA's bit players, and "Monitor Duty" explores the relationship between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.

I'm hoping that the other JLA TPBs are better than this one. The art is spotty, and the saga's plot had some serious holes in it.

"John Constantine, Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross" by Mike Carey, Marcelo Frusin, and Leonardo Manco

I am surprised that this character is still around. I read the first Hellblazers when they appeared in the late 1980s, and I never thought this character would be so long-lived.

This TPB, "Stations of the Cross," is standard horror comic stuff. Constantine loses his memory, and spends most of this graphic novel fleeing from various demons. A lot of profanity is employed, people get murdered in creative ways, and the reality of his situation is ultimately unveiled in all its horror.

I've never been a huge Hellblazer fan, and this TPB hasn't changed my mind. It's all very dark, but fails to be scary.

2011年8月4日 星期四

Comic-Into-Film (the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)

1. The Good

I still think the best of the superhero films might be 1979's Superman. It was faithful to the source material, it had a good story, the acting was great, and the special effects were revolutionary for the time.

No matter what actor they find to play Superman, no one will ever be as good as Christopher Reeve. I'm not saying that Brandon Routh did a bad job, I'm not saying that Henry Cavill will do a bad job, just that Christopher Reeve WAS Superman. Period.

The first two Blade films were also great, though I am tempted to exclude them from this list. Blade, as a character, has never been important in the world of comic books. Most of us never even heard of him before the movies came out.

Hellboy, who shares a director with Blade II, was also a great film. I didn't think the second one was as good, but I am hoping for a third.

Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins and The Dark Knight might be the best of the superhero movies, alongside Superman. I am eagerly anticipating the third installment in this franchise, The Dark Knight Rises.

Spider-man II wasn't as good as the two Batman films, but it was by far the best of the Spider-man movies. The pacing was much better than the first Spider-man film, and it was dramatic without being corny.

All of the movies from Marvel Studios, have, in my opinion, been good. I am looking forward to seeing them tied together in The Avengers next year. I thought that Captain America was the best of the bunch, with Iron Man a close second. Thor was probably the least effective of these properties, but then again Thor was always going to be a tough sell.

2. The Bad

Superman IV was a mess, but at least it was watchable. Given the BOMB that is Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, the next Superman film might be even worse.

The first four Batman films also didn't do much for me. I thought Michael Keaton was a good Batman, but those movies just plodded along.

Ghost Rider wasn't very good. Nick Cage did a decent Johnny Blaze, but the story was crap and the villains just weren't threatening or scary. I hear that the sequel might be straight-to-DVD, especially since the studio slashed the budget in half.

I thought the X-men movies were boring, but no worse than most of the comic books. There is a definite soap-opera side to those characters, and either you like it or you don't. I don't.

I really wanted to like the first Spider-man, but it just bored me and the Green Goblin's costume looked stupid. The third Spider-man was a mess. Had they left Venom out of it, it would have been a much better film.

3. The Ugly

Spawn gets my vote for worst comic book movie ever. It was boring, stupid, and it didn't make any sense.

Daredevil, and its quasi-sequel, Elektra are also amazingly bad. For years after seeing Daredevil, I refused to see any movie starring Ben Affleck. Fortunately for him, he has since revived his career as a director, and I have a newfound respect for him.

I really wanted to like X-men Origins: Wolverine, but that film was truly bad. For a while a sequel by Darren Aronofsky was in the works, but this has since fallen through.

And let me not omit Green Lantern, which was also a disaster. Martin Campbell might be a good director, but after this one he's probably reviewing his career path. How could a movie with so much going for it go so horribly wrong?

The Sexiest Women in Comic Books

Comic books aren't just about guys with really, really big... muscles. They're also about sex. Comic book publishers have long known that sex sells.

With this in mind I have compiled a list of The Five Sexiest Women in Comic Books. I'm not saying that everyone will agree with my selections, but these women have a definite track record.

1. Wonder Woman

What heterosexual male HASN'T had a sex fantasy involving Wonder Woman? She runs around in a bathing suit, she has a rope that can make you tell the truth, and she's HOT. I'm sure there are also a fair number of lesbians with Wonder Woman fantasies.

One of the most interesting things about Wonder Woman is the man that created her. Wonder Woman was created by a psychologist, William Moulton Marsh, who also invented the lie detector. She was his idea of a "liberated woman," whatever that meant. Regardless of his intentions, she is the most recognized and fantasized-over of the American super heroines.

2. Mary Marvel

Mary Marvel is part of the Marvel Family, which includes Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and many others. As part of DC's "Countdown to Final Crisis," she was given a black costume, which indeed made her one of the sexiest super heroines ever.

Unfortunately, DC phased out this black costume once "Final Crisis" appeared. Mary Marvel stopped being sexy, and legions of comic book fans were left to seek out another character to fantasize over.

3. Spider Woman

I can remember reading Spider Woman comics when I was very small. This was perhaps the beginning of my fetish for black hair. Spider Woman always seemed more interesting to me than Spider-man, who I could never relate to.

I guess she was made part of the Avengers later on, though I have never read those issues. I think that if they found her a good writer, she could easily compete with Wonder Woman. It's just too bad Marvel has often forsaken her for the likes of Spider-girl, who is the least sexy of the superwomen.

4. The White Queen

The White Queen is a sometime nemesis of the X-men. She is a cold, calculating psychic who happens to enjoy lingerie a great deal. Take your basic Playboy centerfold, put her in the middle of an X-men comic, and there you have the White Queen.

She is also one of the more interesting villains out there. I haven't seen the movie of "X-men: First Class" yet, but I was disappointed to see that the White Queen in that film is shockingly unsexy.

5. Psylocke

Psylocke's history as a character is a mess. I'm not familiar with the Ultimates version, but I know she was part of Excalibur, then she got kidnapped and taken to Japan, and she's now (somehow) this superhot, psychic ninja assassin.

Whatever. She's very sexy anyway. I only wonder why she bothers to wear clothes at all. I can't imagine that her outfit provides much protection from the elements, even if it does do a lot for the imagination.

"Ultimate Iron Man" by Orson Scott Card, Andy Kubert, and Mark Bagley

This is a great comic book, and one of the best in the Ultimates series.

I'm not that familiar with Orson Scott Card. I know he writes science fiction from time to time. I think I heard somewhere that he was also a practicing Mormon. Besides these two "facts", all I can say is that his talent as a writer is obvious, and in "Ultimate Iron Man" he has written a near-flawless origin story.

The art here is OK. More on the journeyman level, and this book could have benefited from a penciller with more flash. Then again, this seems to be a recurring problem with Iron Man. He rarely attracts the flashier artists, perhaps because most artists tend to be fascinated by mutants, aliens, and other non-technologically based superheroes.

Overlooking the lackluster art, this is a TPB that is well worth reading. It is a gripping read, and I plan to read more of Orson Scott Card's comic book work in the future. If they ever decide to reboot the Iron Man movie franchise, they could do worse than use this as a template.

"Fables: Homelands" by Bill Willingham et al.

I can remember meeting Bill Willingham at a comic book convention, more than 20 years ago. Back then he wasn't well known. He had done a few annuals for Marvel and DC, but no one besides me seemed to know who he was. Few comic fans bothered to approach him back then, and when I spoke to him he seemed convinced that I had him confused with someone else.

Of course these days he's a lot more famous, and there'd be a long line of people at the local convention, all dying for an autograph from the creator of "Fables." I think his fame is deserved, especially considering the years he's put into the comic book industry.

"Fables" is something like Shrek meets Sin City. All of the fairy tales are real, and inhabit a place called the Homelands. Occasionally they cross over into our world, and the intersection of the fantastic and the mundane can be a lot of fun. Some of the stories in "Fables" are very clever, and I particularly enjoyed the one where Jack Horner becomes a movie executive. Willingham works hard to differentiate what he does from the normal Marvel and DC fare, and his hard work shows.

I am looking forward to reading more of this series in the future. It is a nice alternative to the usual superhero battles.

2011年8月3日 星期三

"Final Crisis" by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, and Doug Mahnke

Just so we're all clear on the order of DC's apocalyptic miniseries, it all started with Crisis on Infinite Earths, which arose out of the "multiverse" concept first introduced in The Flash comic book.

Crisis on Infinite Earths ought to have signaled the end of DC's multiverse, but DC quickly found that continuity (even if this continuity means several continuities) can be a hard thing to leave behind. This led to a sequel to "Crisis," called Infinite Crisis.

After Infinite Crisis came 52, and after 52 came Countdown to Final Crisis, and here, ultimately (for now), we have Final Crisis, which doesn't even try to be the end of DC's multiverse.

It's a good, if extremely convoluted comic book series. It centers around the return of Darkseid, and the death of the New Gods. Superman gets mixed up in Darkseid's plot, and there's a lot of shuttling back and forth between parallel universes and different dimensions. Captain Carrot even shows up at the end, and of course the forces of good prevail over all that is evil.

I am only wondering whether I have truly failed to understand parts of Final Crisis, or if these parts wouldn't have made sense anyway. As said above, it is an extremely convoluted comic book series, and I have the feeling that some of it got by me. The climax also left me feeling a bit let down. This series aspires to the high drama of Crisis on Infinite Earths, but fails to pull it off.

If you liked any of DC's other apocalyptic epics, you'll probably find something to like in this one as well. It's not bad, but it does seem a bit overblown. Superman saves the world again. Uh... yay?

"300" by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

For those who are extremely uncool, unfortunately sheltered, or quite possibly feminine, Frank Miller is a legend in the world of comic books. His work on Daredevil and Batman in the late 1980s/early 1990s revolutionized the comic book industry, and aside from perhaps Alan Moore, he has had more movies adapted from his comic books than anyone else out there.

"300" is a beautifully drawn graphic novel, even if the story's a bit thin. As anyone who's seen the movie knows, it follows the battle between a group of 300 Spartans and the entire Persian empire. Several subplots were added to the movie, and the graphic novel is little more than a series of military engagements.

I wouldn't say that this is the best thing that Frank Miller ever did, but it's far from the worst. It pales in comparison to "Ronin," "The Dark Knight Returns," or "Sin City," but it's not half as bad as "The Dark Knight Strikes Back" or "All-Star Batman and Robin."

At $30, the hardcover is only for the die-hard Frank Miller fan. I would suggest borrowing it from a friend, or reading it in the local library like I did.

2011年8月2日 星期二

"Ultimate Fantastic Four #11" by Mike Carey and Tyler Kirkham

I feel like Marvel is growing a bit lazy with this whole "Ultimates" thing. It was cool when it started out, but the idea's growing stale. I find it harder and harder to differentiate between the "Ultimates" version and the original version, and I can't help but wonder if the people at Marvel have just stopped caring about what made the "Ultimates" concept successful in the first place.

"Ultimate Fantastic Four #11" has the FF battling an alien life form that previously destroyed Atlantis. Most of this book focuses on Sue Storm and her relationship issues with Reed. She brushes him off, later falls into the ocean, Namor appears, and the very tired love triangle between Reed, Sue, and Namor is revived for the 2,344,235th time.

So nothing spectacular here. If you liked the other "Ultimate Fantastic Four" books then you will like this one. I just wish Marvel would try something more original.

"Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns" by Geoff Johns and Others

I am not now, nor am I ever likely to be, a Green Lantern fan. Setting aside the Marvel vs. DC rivalry for a moment, Green Lantern is just LAME. His power is silly, his costume is almost as silly, and finding a credible opponent for the Green Lantern is always going to be an uphill battle.

So I was prepared not to like "Rage of the Red Lanterns," but to tell the truth, it's not all that bad. Geoff Johns is a good writer, and I can see why DC places so much faith in him. Many of the artists who contributed to this TPB are also very good. The story was well though-out, and any problems I have with this one stem from the above-stated FACT that Green Lantern is very, very lame.

I'm just wondering why it took DC so long to realize that GL is only going to be halfway interesting if he has a halfway interesting foe. The whole red/blue/yellow/mauve lantern thing should have been done years ago, but for some reason it took DC decades before it realized that SINESTRO wasn't enough to sell Green Lantern comic books.

Oh well. At least they're starting to figure out what works and what doesn't. It sure did take them long enough.

This TPB is one of the many preludes to "Blackest Night," which I have yet to read. The Guardians of the Galaxy (who look GAY) have created an "Alpha Corps" to oversee the other Green Lanterns, and Atrocitus, the Red Lantern, makes a bid for the life of Sinestro. The whole thing is very operatic, and much better than I expected.

I'll probably read "Blackest Night" whenever I come across it. This one was surprisingly not bad, and it makes me understand why so many GL fans were so hyped about the movie.

"Civil War: Marvel Universe" by Dan Slott and Many Others

I'm new to Marvel's "Civil War" comics, so please excuse any inaccuracies that may be found here.

As I understand it, this line of comic books revolves around the Superhuman Registration Act, a proposed law (or is it amendment?) that would require those with paranormal abilities to register with the U.S. government. Tony Stark, as head of S.H.I.E.L.D., is the leading proponent of this act, which has divided the superhero community right down the middle. His chief opponent is Captain America, who views the act as an impingement upon basic American civil liberties.

It's an interesting premise, and also a nice vehicle for exploring the freedom vs. security issue so obvious in our own society. It is, moreover, new to the world of comics, though it has been foreshadowed in much older X-men story lines. I'm not sure if the writer(s) of the original "Civil War" made the connection between the Superhuman Registration Act and the Mutant Registration Act, but it's hard to view the similarities as sheer coincidence.

This particular installment doesn't have much of a story. It's mostly just random battles between superheroes on either side of the fence. At one point USAgent gets sent to Canada (very ironic!), and the usual array of public edifices are smashed to bits at the hands of dudes in (very) tight costumes. Iron Man/Tony Stark decides to reform the Avengers at the end, and that's about it.

The last part of this one features Spider Woman, who, along with Mary Marvel and Wonder Woman, is one of the sexiest comic book heroines ever. I would think that her ENORMOUS breasts would be a handicap in the fight against crime, but apparently super-heroines have access to the kind of sports bra technology that regular women can only dream of.