Monday, August 30, 2010

The Fallacy Of #1

For years I have patrolled the stacks on Wednesdays to find each week's new titles. It should come as no surprise that the big two have vastly different marketing strategies. All the way down to numbering of the issues, both companies' divergent philosophies lend to an interesting debate. Should continuity matter?
DC's flagship titles (Action Comics, Superman, Batman, Detective Comics) have cruised along since their premiere issues, quietly ticking off issue after issue toward landmark thousandth issues. The approach is methodical and helps the hardcore fan knowing exactly which place his reading has left him. Casual fans also have the ability to see exactly how many issues may have eclipsed since last picking up the book.
Marvel employs a much more chaotic approach to numerical chronology. The House of Ideas thinks that counting patiently in order is, indeed, madness. Marvel employs every new story arc, costume change, lineup change, bowel movement, and change in narration to press the reset switch and revert the book back to #1. Then like a freshly waxed used car, Marvel rolls their "#1" onto the showroom floor. But wait, isn't it the same character? Same villains? Same history? Shouldn't this just be part one of a new storyline? No my friends, this here is a fancy new Marvel #1, hot off the presses and complete with 13 overpriced variants.
Well, its not much of a debate. There are positive features to a constant state of flux. It gives potential new readers the luxury of a place to begin their collection and exposure. But these aren't true first issues, with their back story development and exposition to explain the ground rules of what you need to know to participate in this adventure. A Marvel "#1" in the modern age is a false face, a promise left unkept. I have bared witness to more Avengers #1's than I could possibly begin to list. For a popular, high-selling character like Wolverine to be on his fourth volume "#1" is an insulting joke.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Simple Seven: 7 Great Non-Superhero Reads

Welcome to the Simple Seven, a series of quick lists that I will be throwing up from time to time. Today I will give you seven great comic reads that have nothing to do with a hero or super power.

-> I Kill Giants

I had to fight rabid fanboys off with a discarded intercostal clavicle at last year's NYCC to secure this gem. Comic vet Joe Kelly delivers a touching story about a young girl coming to grips with a horror she just can't wrap her head around. Jm Ken Niimura delivers a sleek anime style that leaves the work feeling lighter than its weighty subject matter.

-> The Essex County Trilogy

Jeff Lemire's magnum opus follows three generations of a Canadian family struggling to cope with both the world and each other. At times it seems the only genuine connection they share is a love of Maple Leaf hockey. Each chapter reveals more and more of the full canvas Lemire has painted this poignant tale upon.

-> American Vampire

Yet another in a long line of vampire mythos force fed due to newfound popularity, American Vampire does alot of things right. Basically think of the new vampire race in Blade 2 in the Old West, and their weaknesses are still shrouded in mystery. Did I mention Stephen King is writing half the book? That's enough reason right there.

-> Northlanders

Brian Wood has consistently churned out enthralling storylines concerning the Norse world since the series' inception. A rotating stable of quality artistic talent add variety to a series that lacks a main character to focus the book's energies, but this in no way inhibits Wood's storytelling.

-> Scars

A black and white crime drama, where a detective who lost his own child goes above the law to capture a child murderer. Warren Ellis depicts the stark and shocking fracturing of a man unequipped to deal with the horror presented him.

-> Fortune and Glory

Brian M Bendis' autobiographical first encounter with the ridiculous Hollywood movie machine. Will make you laugh out loud to find that in Hollywood, stereotypes are not the exception, but he rule.

-> We3

Grant Morrison's commentary on animal testing. Three house pets are outfitted with state-of-the-art weapons of war. When they escape, their animal natures take hold... high tech explosion soon to follow. Visual master Frank Quitely brings these animals' fantastic adventure to life.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review: Spider-Man- The Grim Hunt

This past Wednesday, Marvel released its final installment in the storyline The Grim Hunt. This was the big conclusion to the year-long, talent-laden march through Spidey's past and present bad guys, The Gauntlet, where Marvel either revamped the Spider-man's classic villains or swapped them out for sleeker, deadlier models. Tabbed as the dramatic rebirth of Kraven the Hunter, The House of Ideas pulled out all the stops, letting veteran Spidey scribe Joe Kelly and the talented Michael Lark craft this reincarnation. Surprisingly, Grim Hunt both fails to live up to expectations and astounds with some blatant nonsense.

Firstly, I will address Peter suddenly acquiring Swine Flu. We begin Hunt with Parker laid up in bed, apparently delirious and ravaged by a vicious case of this draining virus (only about six months removed from Swine Flu being on the front pages!). I say apparently because by issue four, mere hours later in the night, Peter seems right as rain when he is beating Kraven into submission. I understand the "flu" was used as a plot device to make it conceivable that Kaine, Spidey's pathetic clone, could knock him unconscious to perform his selfless deed of sacrificing himself for Peter. I just ask a little continuity in the story, especially within only an arc spanning four issues!

Then we come to Kaine the clone. A career C-Lister at best, Kaine basically commits suicide to botch the flesh and blood return of Kraven. We have been shown the consequences of what happens when the Kraven family tried to reincarnate Kraven's dead brother without using Parker's blood, turning the subject into a sort of were-lion. Yet apply the same principle to Daddy Kraven's big return, using a messed up clone's lifeblood, and we get- Daddy Kraven with a bad attitude. Wha?! Again, continuity dammit! I would have been cool with another were-lion thing and Mommy Kraven enraged with blood lust rallying the troops in a true Grim Hunt of Spidey. I mean what a twist, tease the return of Kraven the Hunter only to turn he and his brother into matching nightmare beasts. (Well okay, its not great, but better than what we get.) Kaine really sent me over the edge in true Mighty Marvel fashion- as the Epilogue (that's right folks, the Epilogue) is all we have to wait until Kaine rises from his grave with a new persona. Why does Marvel insist on keeping everyone on the roster alive? Killing someone in such a dramatic moment in the body of the story loses major impact when the same character rises from the grave in the last scene. That gag worked in Masters Of The Universe, yet it comes across as really cheesy in Grim Hunt.

There's only so much one could trash a four issue story arc, but this story was supposed to be this big must-read event. Spidey had seen such strife throughout The Gauntlet, to see Kraven's return reduced to such rubbish leaves Gauntlet ringing a bit hollow. Just imagine that the fuse is lit, anticipation building, only to watch the firecracker fizzle out. A dud. Such a shame considering the creative team. Joe Kelly is a favorite writer of mine, especially on this title in particular. Michael Lark was brilliant during his run on Daredevil, and he doesn't necessarily turn in a bad showing here. Lark just fails to make the work transcend the poor script as sometimes happens with a great artist. If you've invested the time to soldier through The Gauntlet, then you almost have to read Grim Hunt to see your reading through to its conclusion. Just don't expect much.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dolan- Spend Wisely

I am here tonight to make an impassioned plea to Mr. James Dolan. For far too many years(16 and counting), my beloved Madison Square Garden has failed to raise a championship banner to the rafters. The Knicks have been woeful for well over a decade, riddled with cap missteps and one Isaiah Thomas. The Rangers, while competitive and a perenial favorite to reach the playoffs, have been mismanaged by the same cap malfecence perpetrated by the notorious Glen Sather. These franchises have remarkably found themselves ready to crack open Dolan's endless check book for two big money superstars. In each case, I think Dolan should hold on to his assets and wait for the right fit rather than the big splash.

-> The Knicks: Lebron James. Will he leave his home town? Will he go establish a championship dynasty in Miami on Wade's Heat? Or will he embrace Broadway? I am in the minority that thinks the Knicks should stay well away from this egomaniacal blowhard. "King James" has made a mockery of the free agent process with this three ring circus, complete with formerly self respecting owners, GM's and coaches groveling at his feet. While his talent is undeniable, his maturity and motivation are suspect. Besides, D'Antoni's style would be far more effective with a superstar point guard, a la Chris Paul. Grab CP3 in a trade, surround him and Amare with some more jump shooters and outscore everyone until you hit the playoffs. Then hit the market next year for that one last crucial piece to put the Knickerbockers on that championship level.

-> The Rangers: Glen Sather has a reputation of overpaying for players that are ill-suited to the organization. The problem is that during Glen's reign the Rangers have lacked an on-ice identity. Throwing Ilya Kovalchuk into such a situation would only exacerbate his worst attributes. Ilya is the king of the garbage time goal, amassing impressive goal totals in the least pressure filled situations. Invisible in the playoffs, practically invisible in his stay in Newark. You'd only know he was there when you watch him turn the puck over on the PP from the blue line. Kovalchuk has shown either an inability or complete lack of interest in developing a two-way game. The fire and passion Ilya brings to the ice is great to sell tickets, but such a flashy cap-choking contract is all fans will point to when the Rangers lack a center to feed him (or Gaborik) the puck or one of a half dozen other problems signing Kovalchuk does not address. If Glen's considering banishing Redden to Hartford to bid on Ilya, sack up, demote Redden, and use the cash to lock up Staal and Girardi.

So maybe Dolan shouldn't stray from shelling out the big money, he should really consider spending wisely. Making the playoffs every year fills the coffers, the financial and emotional rewards of a few championship runs to this city make it worth considering.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Review: Arkham Asylum- Madness

Welcome to Arkham Asylum, a home for both the Criminally Insane and the desperate and downtrodden fringe of society paid to house them. Where burned-out doctors walk the halls barring the Johnathan Cranes of the world to spread their own unique brands of madness. The walls have their own story to tell, however... Crafted deftly by the eccentric hand of writer/artist Sam Kieth, Arkham Asylum: Madness is an eerie 24-hour whirl through the famed haunted house of Batman lore.
Sam Kieth's artistic style, especially in his stellar Batman work, drew me to this book. But instead of the dark insanity that usually sprawls across the pages of a Keith-drawn Batman comic are replaced but a more fluid experimentation in the artist's technique. Still punctuated by trademark Joker close-ups we all come to expect from Sam, he has seen to evolve artistically. His characters are more clearly defined and the refinement really works. I particularly like his re imagining of Killer Croc. Aiding in his task is master colorist Dave Stewart, using his own deft touch to affect the book's tone. The story doesn't shed any new light on the psyche of this loony bin's inhabitants like Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum, Kieth instead focuses on how the house and its foreboding reputation play on the minds of its workers. The Joker doesn't help matters either as he unleashes a some new practical jokes on his caretakers.
Kieth's pacing and storytelling read like a great suspense filled horror movie rarely seen in the last ten years(at least). I've even mapped out this books creepy soundtrack in my head. Just think of the possibilities of using the Batman movie franchise on an idea of this magnitude: a horror movie set within the Batman universe, starring the Joker, with cameos from a long list of Batman's enemies, WITH NO BATMAN. I'll line up to see it twice. Will it ever happen? Doubtful. Perhaps as a sequel to an animated Arkham Asylum? Now I'm really nuts. But this book could pull it off, with a few small tweaks.
In name alone, AA:M will doubtlessly draw comparissons to the Morrison book of a similar name, they really have very little to do with each other. Same characters, new house, and a great read from the mind of my favorite Batman artist.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rangers Free Agency Recap: Day One

July 1st is upon us! Free agency opened today at noon. Traditionally, Glen Sather takes this opportunity to brake out the Johnny Walker Blue Label, chain smoke a box of Macanudos that he lights with James Dolan's spare $100's while drunk dialing the free agent list and offering ridiculous sums to whomever answers. This July 1st turned out to be a little different this year. Perhaps Messier hid the "good stuff" today, because Glen more or less stuck to a list of needs.

- Rangers re-sign Eric Christensen and Vinny Prospal: These two were much-rumored to be returning. Can't really find much fault in these two. Christensen acquitted himself well playing well out of position as Gaborik's C. Prospal will have to find a way to avoid his "good year, bad year" career trend.

- Rangers sign Derek Boogaard: The Boogie Man comes to Broadway! Brings a familiarity to Gaborik and a whole lot of ass-kickery. Excellent signing. Interesting that the Rangers couldn't re-sign Jody Shelley after he showed all signs toward wanting to come back.

- Rangers sign Martin Biron: Marty is an outstanding goalie to back Lundqvist. He is a great locker room presence and has never really get a fair shot at a starting job outside of Philly, who goes through goalies like Heidi Montag tries out new body parts. Biron has now joined a short list of men who have played for all three NY franchises.

So Glen made it through day one without throwing a ridiculous contract offer at someone or trading away our future to bring in Spezza. Now if only the Sather can lock up Staal and Girardi long term. Hopefully, Mess will hold onto the key's to Mr. Dolan's liquor cabinet and let us start building a championship level franchise.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Amazing Spider-Man: More or Less Amazing Since Brand New Day?

The Fantastic Four may be the first family of Marvel. Iron Man may be it current cash cow. But make no mistake, Marvel's golden child has always been Spider-Man. Right behind Superman and Batman, heroes with much longer shelf lives, Spidey is probably most well known character in the pop-culture lexicon. So when Marvel began a dramatic shift in their main character's preeminent book, the comic book world took notice. Gone would be the object of Peter Parker's affections and constant source of odjita Mary Jane Parker. The storyline was called One More Day. The story read well in parts, but the entire angle pulling MJ out of Peter's world fell flat in a big way, Straczynski's low point on the book. But I'm not here to talk about One More Day. I'm here to discuss the Brand New Day that followed: Spidey hits the shelves like the plague, upping publication to a whopping 3 books a month. Parker awakens in what amounts to the '70's Spidey mythos with a few twists to keep it modern day. Harry Osborn, once deader than Uncle Ben, is reincarnated ("Harry's been in Europe") and owns his own coffee house. But most importantly, MJ is nowhere to be seen. She is only a ghost from Pete's past only mentioned in whispers. For this reason ASM has really taken off.
I don't want to come off sounding like a MJ hater here. I have nothing against the red-headed population, nor the super-models. But since the increasing of tensions between Tony Stark and Parker since pre-Civil War, every other panel of the book was dedicated to the emo whining concerning MJ or Aunt May's safety. Talk about dragging a book to a swift halt. Staczynski did what he could, but its impossible to write anything backed into such a creatively stifling corner. While I would have moved towards killing MJ, Marvel decided to take their lumps now and bring back Harry as well. This removes the later calls of bullshit when MJ mysteriously rises from the ranks of the temporary Marvel deceased.
Brand New Day also introduced the concept of the "Spidey Brain trust"- a number of the Marvel writing stable both collaborating on where the book was headed in a big picture sense while rotating the actual writing duties. The concept has given the book a fluidity that makes it read as if a single writer was diligently firing off scripts. The group introduced some interesting new villains and redesigning almost every main baddie from Spidey's history during "The Gauntlet."
While the writing has been sharp, the artwork has been schizophrenic. There has been some inspired work, particularly that of Chris Bachalo and John Romita, Jr. But the break neck pace of 3 books a month has left Marvel seemingly scrambling for artists to get the book out on time. This has left the talent level well below where a book of this stature should be as ASM motors toward number 650 likely early next year.
So the book has been markedly better since wiping Peter Parker's slate clean. The only real suggestion I would make is to absorb a few top name artists into the Spidey Brain trust and get them in a rotation to improve the book's artwork. It is a comic after all. I suppose I'll look back at this in a year or so when Marvel reunites the happy couple, only to watch sales decline as ASM once again writes itself into the corner. Mary Jane's a nice girl and all, she just ain't comic material.