Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Batwomen, Demons, and Thunder Gods: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!!

So I thought I might do something a little different tonight, and review some week-old funnybooks. You know, just for a change of pace…

Batwoman #0
by JH Williams III, W. Hayden Blackman, and Amy Reeder

When the Greg Rucka / JH Williams Batwoman strip in Detective Comics ended earlier this year, both creators sounded pretty pessimistic about continuing with the character. Which made me sad, because that book was one of the best pieces of corporate spandex to come down the pike in a good long while, fairly standard modern super-heroics in some ways, but given layers of added depth by Williams’ visuals. But Rucka had a hand in planning that visual depth, so when the Batwoman on-going was announced, with Williams but not Rucka at the helm, I wondered how the new series would stack up.

Pretty well, it turns out. This zero issue is just an introduction to the character for new readers, and a chance for Williams and co-artist Amy Reeder to strut their stuff, but they do a nice job of it by and large. Williams and co-writer Blackman do take the shortcut of showing us Batwoman through the eyes of the recently-returned Batman, and on some level I feel like that’s a mistake. Having Batman express his admiration is a cheap way to establish the new character’s credibility. Rucka avoided that, generally preferring to let Kate Kane stand as her own character, inspired by Batman but not in need of his approval.

But Williams and Hayden still make it work for them. The way they’ve framed it, the story’s less about Kate seeking the Bat-Seal of Approval, and more about Batman’s obsessive need to know who this new cape is, and if she’s worthy of infringing on his gimmick. Also, by showing Kate to us through Batman’s eyes, they’re able to fill us in on her methods and backstory, and even her on-going plotlines, without it all seeming like rote exposition. Even though that’s pretty much what this entire issue actually is.

And artistically, of course, the book is just top-notch. Williams illustrates the sequences where Batwoman’s in costume, while Amy Reeder handles the Kate Kane scenes. They’re mostly working in two-page spreads, with Williams handling the top half while Reeder takes the bottom, or vice-versa as the script demands. Williams seems to have designed the layout on many of these pages; his jagged panel borders and diagonal page divides stand out from Reeder’s more traditional layout. In fact, I’m afraid that Reeder can’t quite hold her own with him in general. Her work is very nice, don’t get me wrong. She’s good with expressions, her staging shows some pizzazz, and her linework is some of the better traditional comics art out there right now. But next to Williams, it looks more than a little bland. Granted, about 95% of all funnybook art would. “Not as good as JH Williams” isn’t really much of a criticism.

So overall, I was pleased with this zero issue. It doesn’t promise a series as good as what came before it, but it still sets the bar pretty high. Looking forward to reading it for a good long while.

Grade: A-

Batman and Robin #17
by Paul Cornell and Scott McDaniel

It’s the first post-Morrison issue of Batman and Robin! And it’s… pretty okay! Cornell captures the glib façade of the Morrison run well, and Scott McDaniel’s a perfect sort of artist for something with that tone. His stuff is light and breezy and fun to look at, if not terribly… deep. And therein lies the problem with the book as a whole: it lacks depth.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ten Dorky Things To Be Thankful For

So here we are at the end of Thanksgivin’ weekend. We’ve had a grand ol’ American good time the last few days, and now we thought we’d slow down a little and take stock. Think about the thing this holiday’s really s'posed to be about: the stuff from the precedin’ year that we’re thankful for. There’s friends and family and good health and all that, of course, but... Bein’ on the Nerd Farm really makes us think most about all the dorky crap we loved in 2010. So here, in no particular order, is our list of Ten Dorky Things To Be Thankful For…

1. Mythbusters

There’s nothing dorkier than science, and this show combines science with urban legends AND blowing stuff up! Could documentary television really get much better than that? Not in our eyes, my friends! From the ridiculous concepts, to the fascinating practical science of the experiments, to the genius hosting odd couple of Adam Savage and Jamie Heineman (pictured), we love this show deep down to the core of our dorky little hearts. Even with the cheesy fake enthusiasm of the back-up team (who I like, don’t get me wrong), Mythbusters is like some kind of dork wet dream, and we’re thankful that they’re still making new ones.

2. JH Williams III

The single-best artist working in mainstream funnybooks today. With his innovative layout, mutable style, attention to detail, and talent for visual symbolism, Williams has made every comic he’s worked on twice as good as it might have been without him. This year, that comic was Batwoman, which was to funnybook art what Grant Morrison’s Batman was to funnybook writing: head and shoulders above the competition in the world of corporate spandex.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Quick Word About Birth and Death

So things have been pretty quiet here on the Dork Forty in the back half of Thanksgivin' week. We had a big ol' time with family and friends, ate a lotta turkey and pie, and then settled back to take in the official sportin' event of the Dork Forty: the annual Punkin Chunkin' competition. It was either that or rasslin', and mama don't like the rasslin'. But while we been celebratin', two important dork events got past us, and we'd like to make mention of 'em tonight.

First, on a sad note, Hammer horror star Ingrid Pitt passed away this week. Among many other roles, the Polish-born Ingrid set many an adolescent pulse a-racin' in the films The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula. RIP.

But on a happier note, this past Tuesday would have been the 123rd birthday of the man who was arguably the greatest horror star of all time, Mr. Boris Karloff. I won't list Karloff's many achievements, but if you really don't know who he was and why he's so important, you can read about him on the Wikipedia. Karloff appeared in heavy make-up for all his most famous roles, but here he is looking more or less like himself in a promotional picture for one of my favorite obscure Karloff films, The Black Cat:

Happy birthday, Boris! Wherever you may be!

And now it's time to slip back into my turkey-induced coma for a while. But I might just be back later this weekend with a very late list of things that Dorks ought to be thankful for from the year 2010...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Love, Death, and Super Powers: Funnybooks in Review Are Go!!

So I’ve got this pile of week-old funnybooks sitting here on my desk, and I thought I might, like, review ‘em or something…

Highland Laddie #4 (of 6)
by Garth Ennis and John McCrea

Annie and Hughie talk things out a bit this issue, in another example of Garth Ennis turning in some really brilliant character writing. Though he’s primarily famous for extreme transgressive action/comedy, there aren’t many people in the business who write about normal human relationships as well as he does. He’s also making me like Annie January more with each passing issue. Her apparent naiveté has been slowly revealed as just a lack of cynicism, and she’s strong enough to fight for her relationship with Hughie even in the face of the frankly horrible melt-down that happened between them a few issues back. She’s also not going to give Hughie an out on the insanely hurtful things he said to her, which I was afraid she was going to accept as something she deserved. Between this, and her on-going loss of faith, Annie has become refreshingly complex over time, the best female character Ennis has ever written, and maybe the best period, of any gender. Doubly impressive coming from a writer better-known for his “guy” writing.

And she’s made even more interesting this issue, as we discover her “secret origin.” Born with super powers due to one of her parents having been exposed to Compound V, Annie grew up in a Vought-sponsored foster parenting program, and was subjected to the world of (for lack of a better term) “super pageants” as a child. It’s sort of like Jon-Benet Ramsey in tights. Except that, instead of lasting psychological scars, some of these kids wind up with melting eyeballs and such. Ugly. But also a fascinating look into the super-culture, and how Vought prepares and packages their supes pretty much from birth, but gives them zero guidance on how to conduct themselves. It’s no wonder so many of them are messed up. And amazing that Annie turned out as good as she did.

Annie’s also more than a little suspicious about how Hughie got the surveillance tape of the Seven’s HQ, so I suspect that we’ll be getting another round of confessions soon. She also brings up a really good point: Hughie doesn’t have it in him to say some of the things he said to Annie when they broke up. So… What, exactly, is going on here? The answer, for the reader, is obvious: Butcher. He wound Hughie up pretty badly just before the confrontation, putting Annie’s secret-keeping in the worst possible light and making Hughie seem like a gigantic fool for not seeing through her. And though I think Butcher believed every word he said, and that he thought he was doing it for Hughie’s own good… Damn. What a bastard. Hughie’s even seen through what he did, too: before leaving for Scotland, he asked Butcher, point blank, if he’d seen the tapes of Annie before he set Hughie up to find them. He took Butcher at his word then, but if Annie’s gotten through to him as much as I think she has… Butcher’s going to be dealing with a very angry wee man when Hughie gets back to New York.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Batman's Back And There's Gonna Be Trouble

Batman: The Return
Batman Inc. #1
by Grant Morrison, David Finch, and Yanick Paquette

Attention all crime-fighting bad-asses! Batman franchise opportunities are now available!

No, seriously. I mean… Batman just foiled the master plan of the God of Evil and his thematic reflections throughout the history of time itself. What’s he gonna do now that he’s back to his drab work-a-day existence? Go back to protecting Gotham City? Pssh! Hell, no! Gotham’s small potatoes to the Bat now! He thinkin’ bigger! He’s thinkin’ better! He’s gonna found an international brotherhood of crime-hatin’ motherfuckers! A real “Batmen of Many Nations” to protect his new turf: Earth! Or, as Bats himself likes to think of it: PLANET GOTHAM!

That’s the title of the story in the “Batman: The Return” one-shot, and it would have been a far better title for the comic itself. In fact, I think I’ll call it that from here on out. Planet Gotham. It’s a title that sums up Batman’s new crime-fighting philosophy in a succinct and stupid-awesome manner. He’s going global, and he’s not doing it alone. This comes as a direct result of his Thogal-inspired epiphany, his enlightenment to the Truth of the Batman: much as he once liked to think otherwise, he’s never waged his war on crime alone. He’s always had help. So why not reach out? Why not train and fund others to protect their hometowns the way Batman’s always protected his own? Sounds like a natural extension to me. And a great excuse to do a Batman team-up comic, too…

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Floppies for Trades: Two Americas

Captain America: Two Americas
by Ed Brubaker, Luke Ross, and Butch Guice

So THIS is the storyline that got the Tea Party’s panties in a bunch? Seriously? For a movement that’s all about individual freedoms, they’re certainly some thin-skinned SOBs. But as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself…

When the on-going Captain America series went to four bucks a pop earlier this year, I decided it was time to start reading it in trade paperback collections. I found the “Nomad” back-up strip pretty much unreadable, making its “added value” an actual detriment to my enjoyment of the monthly funnybook reading experience. And, since this isn’t a book that really needs my monthly support to keep going anyway… It seemed like a perfect candidate for trade-waiting. So here we are at the first of those trade collections, Two Americas. And, sure enough, it’s a better deal than the monthly. I got five issues of All-American Action and Political Subtext for 15 bucks. Which still seems a little steep, honestly, but which nonetheless feels like a better use of my funnybook dollar.

The story concerns “Bad Cap,” the poor bastard who became Captain America in the 1950s and was driven insane by the knock-off of the Super Soldier Serum they used on him. This character’s been knocking around for years now. Initially an attempt to explain the insane Commie-bashing Cap stories of the early 1950s (in which Our Hero did some decidedly Un-American things in the name of freedom), he’s since become a great doppelganger villain to toss out periodically, and remind everyone of just what the real Cap stands for. He was brought out of mothballs in Brubaker’s big multi-year Red Skull storyline (which name-checked pretty much every great Captain America story ever), and escaped into the American heartland to be dealt with here.

And Brubaker, of course, makes the most of it. Bad Cap returns to his hometown of Boise, Idaho, sees the unemployment and the erosion of American Values, and decides that he’s got to change things. And, since he’s crazy and super-strong and solves most of his problems by hitting things, he decides to form a super-militia. Or, rather… He becomes the leader of one that’s already in place: the Watchdogs. I‘ve never read a story with these guys in it, but they‘ve been kicking around since the 80s. They’re essentially a bunch of right-wing terrorist militia types with high-tech weapons and body armor, a perfect group to use if you want to discuss the current political climate in the guise of a super hero comic.

And this is where they got in hot water with the Tea Party. Upon arrival in Boise, Cap and the Falcon watch a protest rally made up of working class Americans:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Movie Night on the Dork Forty: Black Sunday

As we do from time to time, tonight we've decided to show a movie out on the Dork Forty. The bedsheets are hangin' over the barn door, we got the etherweb pro-jector all hooked up, and the popcorn is fresh and hot. So come on over! Pull up a lawn chair! Grab a refreshin' beverage! Help yourself to one of our Evil Satan Robes-- I mean, uh... Snuggies! And settle on in to enjoy that delightful 1961 family classic, Black Sunday!

Click to embiggen

What's that? You ain't never heard of Black Sunday?! Well! It's one a' them Eye-talian movies, the di-rectorial debut of Mr. Mario Bava, and the first starrin' role for the beatimous B-Movie horror queen, Barbara Steele! The film was (very loosely) based on the story "Viy" by that famous Rooskie author Nikolai Gogol (read a book!), but was really Bava's tribute to the Universal Studios horror classics of the 1930s and 40s. It's atmospheric, and just too damn cool. The story's about a witch (Barbara Steele) who's executed in one of the most inventively vicious ways ever seen on film, but not before she lays a curse on her oppressors and vows to return as a vampire to seek her revenge. Which (spoiler alert!) she does.

Now, this movie was considered pretty shockin' by 1960 movie audiences. The American edit had three minutes of violence and gore edited out, and they still didn't let anybody under the age of 12 in to see it! And it was banned in England til 1968, when it was released as The Mask of Satan! And that English print seems to be the one we got our hands on via the etherweb tonight.

So, without further ado... here's Black Sunday, aka The Mask of Satan... after the jump!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Dangerous Art of Frank McCarthy

So I've recently stumbled across the work of an artist named Frank McCarthy. A commercial artist and illustrator by trade, McCarthy spent a lot of time in the 1960s doing movie poster work, which is how I ran across him. In later years, McCarthy did more "fine art" style paintings, mostly with Old West themes. And I like that stuff alright, but it's his movie poster art that's been blowing me away. Here's his poster art for one of our personal favorite B-flicks here on the Dork Forty, Danger: Diabolik!

For god's sake, click to embiggen!

Holy crap! Does that not look like the most exciting movie ever?! And, honestly, this isn't even McCarthy's best work. But it does show off his specialty: summing up all the action of a film into one big image. Or series of images, as in the case of his poster for The Dirty Dozen:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Last Week's Comics Today!

Scarlet #3 by Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev

So sometimes I feel like a tool when I review the latest issue of a book I like and essentially say, “Another triumph!” But, man… Scarlet #3 really is another triumph for the Bendis/Maleev team. Scarlet continues her manipulation of the audience, which is still my favorite aspect of the book. I don’t know how I feel about all the things Scarlet’s up to, and she only confuses the matter, implicating me in her actions by virtue of the entertainment I gain reading about them. She also puts those same skills to use for the first time in-story, on her dead boyfriend Gabriel’s best friend, who she recruits to film the first public step in the revolution: [SPOILER] taking a sniper rifle and putting a bullet through the head of the Chief of Police. This isn’t a random killing, mind you. The Chief is the uncle of the cop who killed Gabriel, and the man responsible for putting that cop back on the street in spite of his drug habit. [/SPOILER]

She’s slowly expanding the ring of responsibility for Gabriel’s death. The question, then, is how far out can she expand that ring before she goes too far? I can’t answer that question just yet, but I’m really looking forward to seeing where I wind up drawing the line.

Grade: A

The Boys #48
by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun

As the action of Hughie and Annie’s oh-so-painful split moves over to the pages of Hughie’s spin-off mini Highland Laddie, The Boys series proper moves on to the new story arc “Proper Preparation and Planning.” We’re heading into the third and final act of the series now, and this arc seems to be about Butcher and the Homelander getting their pieces in place for whatever ultimate play each of them is going to make. And as worrisome as Homelander’s increasingly sociopathic behaviour is, it’s Butcher that’s really got me worried.

The Zombie Apocalypse Will Be Televised

So The Walking Dead has now gone from an indy comics slow-burn hit to the most-watched program in cable television history, and we’ve yet to say two words about it here on the Dork Forty. Which is odd, considering that our dual obsessions with funnybooks and horror border on the pathological. And I have been watching and enjoying the show, so… I guess maybe it‘s time to talk zombies.

In spite of the obsessions mentioned above, this really isn’t a show I should be all that gung-ho for. For one thing, I’m not a big zombie fan. Or, rather, I’m not a big fan of the zombie apocalypse, which is a slightly different thing. Zombies themselves I’m okay with. I mean, who doesn’t love a rotting corpse? It’s just when the zombies have over-run society that I start to lose interest. Part of the problem, I think, is that I‘m not real big on apocalypse fiction in general. Growing up in the third and fourth decades of the Cold War, I saw an awful lot of apocalypses in TV sci-fi. Those all seemed to mostly involve people running around in deserts and big fields of yellow grass, and uniformly bored the crap out of me.

While watching how a society collapses might fascinate me, the aftermath of that collapse leaves me cold. It typically only reveals ugly truths that I kind of take as a given anyway. Yes. Get hungry enough, or desperate enough, and the rules really do change for most people. That doesn’t tell me anything new or interesting about human nature. So it really does take a lot to make me enjoy Armageddon. Colorful characters help (“I Master! He Blaster!”). So do mysteries surrounding the cause of the apocalypse (such as the one Jeff Lemire‘s created in his Sweet Tooth comic). Or you could just write it so well that I can’t not read it (as in The Road).

The zombie apocalypse seldom gives me any of those things, though. Once you get past the first couple of Romero flicks, very few people (Romero included) have said anything new or interesting. I recognize, for instance, that 28 Days Later was a really well-made zombie apocalypse movie, and I can appreciate it on that level. But it’s still just the goddamn zombie apocalypse all over again. So I’m not a big fan. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see more zombie apocalypse fiction that explores different themes, and I enjoy the few examples I’ve seen that have (Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, World War Z).

And we'll finally get around to talking about Walking Dead... after the jump!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bat-Finale II: The Next Day

So apparently, I’m a moron. I mis-read something pretty horribly in the finale to Grant Morrison’s Batman saga, something that alters my reading of the story quite a bit. My original reading still works, I think, but not in a way that makes me feel like I can claim any longer to have “nailed it” at all. Ah, hubris! Thy name is Dork!

And I mean it this time. This isn’t something as minor as mistakenly guessing that Alfred was dressing up as Batman, it’s a pretty fundamental breakdown of basic funnybook reading skills. I’m actually kind of embarrassed. But in the interest of honesty (and getting to write about Batman some more), I figured I should probably ‘fess up.

Here’s the crux of it: at the end of Return of Bruce Wayne 6, Bruce rips the Hyper-Adapter-infected future bat-suit off himself, it’s swiftly taken down by the JLA and tossed into a booby-trapped Time Sphere, which then activates and self-destructs. So far, so good. But I read the panels that followed as images of fractured time like the ones we get before and after, caused by the time-shattering effects of the Omega energy built up around Bruce in his trip through time. I thought we were getting some key images of the Hyper-Adapter’s past as it died in the destruction of the Time Sphere.

But then I made a trip to read the discussion of the issue at Rikdad’s Comic Thoughts (always a source of more sober insights than the Circus of the Glib approach we often practice here on the Dork Forty). And following a quick re-read in light of that discussion, it became apparent that those panels weren’t some crazy Morrisonian time fracture, but something much simpler: actual, linear funnybook storytelling. The Time Sphere activates, sending the Hyper-Adapter back in time, but self-destructing as it goes. The next panel shows Dick Grayson’s encounter with Barbatos in the Secret Batcave, with the added detail of the shattering “glass” of the Time Sphere as it breaks up. Then we get a page set back in caveman days, as a flash of light comes out of a cave mouth, followed by Barbatos (and, again, shards of Time Sphere “glass”) as it flies off to meet its death at the hands of Vandal Savage, as we saw back in the first issue of Return of Bruce Wayne.

And that sets up a whole different story than the one I’d been imagining.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Halloween at the Shiver Shack

So Halloween might be over, but that don't mean the Dork Forty nerd wranglers can't pull some more Halloweenie goodness out of the fields for your enjoyment. And tonight, they found us a doozy: Uncle Eerie's Halloween Shiver Show! We profiled Uncle Eerie in our run-down of the Dork Forty's favorite horror hosts last month, but in case you don't remember...

Though it just debuted earlier this year, the Shiver Show's off to a great start. Uncle Eerie himself has a really fantastic look and gimmick, and the show is, in general, a bit of a visual feast. The costumes and set design for this thing are really impressive, especially for a public access show. The Shiver Shack set is particularly nice, evoking "run-down hell-hole" while still being otherwise aesthetically pleasing. I dig on the Lite Brite set with "REDRUM" spelled out on it, especially.

Pretty as it is, though, the Shiver Show's comedy material can be a little hit-and-miss. It's very funny on the concept and character side of things, and I really like the 1950s documentary music cues they use. But some of the actual gags fall a little flat. Some of that's on purpose, I'm sure, corny gags being a horror host staple (Svengoolie, anyone?). Sometimes, though... I don't laugh when I think I'm supposed to. But it's early days yet for this show, and it's otherwise so good that I cut them a little slack.

And, I'm pleased to say, they got the comedy firing on all cylinders for the Halloween special. I laughed my ass off at this thing. The opening features one of my new favorite fake ads I've seen for anything...

(And Blogspot's acting up on us again, so please click through into the article to watch.)

HA! My favorite Halloween myth, brought to cheesy life!

(Because, yes, children: no police department in America has ever received a report of razor blades in Halloween candy of any type. No poisoned candy, either. It's an urban legend, folks! So feel free to take a delicious candied apple from the old lady at the end of the block next Halloween! Unless you hate candied apples, of course. In that case, chuck some eggs at the old bag's house and run like hell!)

In the second segment, Uncle Eerie demonstrates the true spirit of Halloween...

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Batman & Robin #16
Return of Bruce Wayne #6 (of 6)
by Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart, Chris Burnham, Frazer Irving, Lee Garbett, and Pere Perez

So I have to admit: I over-thought things on this book. Seriously, I blew it. Morrison’s plot and theme have been so labyrinthine that I got lost in the maze, just another victim of the lit-crit minotaur lurking at its heart. So it is with hat in hand that I come to you this fine evening to admit my critical failure: it wasn’t Alfred in the Bat-Suit after all.

Click to Embiggen

Otherwise, though… I think I pretty much nailed it.

(Oh, and I suppose that now’s as good a time as any to let you know that this post will be ALL-SPOILER, ALL THE DAMN TIME. So stop reading now if you don’t wanna know…)

What was I saying? Ah. Yeah, I think I nailed it. Not in every detail, certainly, but on the whole. Hurt really was trying to take Batman’s place through communion with Barbatos, and didn’t realize that all he was actually doing was taking the place of the Joker as Batman‘s number one arch-foe. Or trying to, anyway. Because, let’s face it: in the field of iconic arch-enemies, Joker has had Hurt badly out-classed from the outset. Sure, Hurt’s a classic “opposite number” villain, and he’s got the weight of history behind him, drawing on all sorts of hurtful minutiae from Batman’s past. But that’s the sort of thing that only matters to comics historians and massive dorks like myself. Joker’s the real deal, the actual antithesis of everything Batman stands for. Plus, his gimmick’s all his own, no previous knowledge of Batman necessary. And he’s way-cool to boot, something Hurt just can’t lay claim to.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wonder Wha--?!

So my planned look at Batman and Robin 16 has been delayed. My analysis got bogged down in subtext, and though I think I've got it figured out finally... I'm too damn tired to actually write it up. But I wanted to post something tonight, so I'll share this lovely photo of Lynda Carter that a friend of mine found recently...

Hmm. I don't know what's going on there, and I don't think I wanna know.

But, man. They sure did have some wild parties back in the 70s, didn't they? 

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Funnybooks of October, Part Two

So our marathon of Halloweenie goodness put us behind on everything but, well… Halloweenie goodness. We still got hours of new Fall TeeVee to watch, an embarrassin’ number of movies layin’ around, and a Lucha Libre pay-per-view! I never even finished that book I grabbed when my house caught on fire! Oh, and of course… a crap-ton of funnybooks to review. Tonight, it’s a cavalcade of corporate spandex, starting with my favorite cover of the month...

Strange Tales II #1 & 2
by Various

Marvel’s second indy-comics anthology mini-series is off and running, and it’s just as much a mixed bag as the first. Some of the stories are a lot of fun, while others just kinda fall flat. I suspect which stories are which will depend on your taste in the avante-garde edge of the funnybook business. For my money, the second issue is much stronger than the first, featuring both Hernandez brothers (!) and Tony Millionaire, and featuring a completely insane heavy metal Ghost Rider story by Sheldon Vella. The first issue can’t be counted out, though, as it features Jeff Lemire, Jhonen Vazquez, and my personal favorite story to come out of the Strange Tales project to date…

Rafael Grampa’s “Dear Logan.” This is a story about a future time when Wolverine founds and competes in a pro rasslin’ style super-bloodsport federation in which every competitor has a healing factor, and thus can be eviscerated and/or dismembered in the ring for the enjoyment of the fans. But it’s not just a super-cool paean to manly violence, oh no. It’s also about pain, and (as the title probably implies) how Logan’s addiction to it has driven yet another woman away from him. It’s hot stuff, drawn in Grampa’s signature sleazy-baroque cartoon style, and well-worth the cover price all by itself. And speaking of covers, Grampa provided that, too, as you can see above. Love his Wolvie there, but that Thor also kicks ass pretty hard. At any rate. I could read Grampa Wolverine stories forever, I think, but for now we’ve only got this one. Something I’d love for Marvel to fix as soon as possible…

Grade: A+ for “Dear Logan.”
             B for Strange Tales as a whole.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Funnybooks of October, Part One

So I’ve put this off long enough. The stack of comics I haven’t reviewed due to my October Halloween marathon has gotten out of hand. I’ve got two issues of some books piled up in there now, and I need to get it cleaned out. So without further ado… for reals this time… FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez, and Various

This is sort of an historic publication. Warren Ellis was just getting off to a good start on the Hellblazer series when one of his stories ran up against content concerns from DC Comics publisher Paul Levitz. It was a story dealing with school shootings, and something in it caused Levitz to pull it from publication at the 12th hour. So its publication now, in the wake of Levitz stepping down as publisher, has to be seen as a message to Ellis and anyone else that ran afoul of censorship issues in the Levitz era that DC’s current management is more open to extreme content.

I must admit, though, I spent most of the story wondering what the big deal was. It follows a government researcher trying to figure out what’s causing the rash of school shootings that were sweeping America at the time. It’s sad, sure, but unless Levitz was afraid of discussing the issue at all, I wasn’t seeing why it might have been killed. But then… [SPOILER] Ellis has been obliquely drawing comparisons to the Jonestown massacre throughout the story, but then Constantine shows up at the end, talking about his own investigations and how what he’s seeing are kids so numbed by their dead-end futures that they don’t even run when confronted with a gun. And it slowly dawns on me that Ellis isn’t even going for some kind of symbolic supernatural explanation here. He’s flat-out saying that the victims of these shootings, while not suicidal in the classic sense, were just waiting for someone to pull the trigger. [/SPOILER]

Well, okay then. I can see where that might have caused some concern.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Caprica: RIP

So you might have guessed, from my taste in funnybooks, that I was a big fan of Battlestar Galactica. Or you might not have ever given it any thought; lord knows I wouldn’t have if I were you. Regardless, though, my love of Galactica carried over to its bastard offspring, Caprica, which has recently been cancelled. Now, the writing’s been on the wall for that cancellation since the spring season wrapped. Ratings weren’t good, and they didn’t get any better when the show resumed in the fall. So we’re left to wonder why. It would be easy to blame sci-fi fanboys’ obsession with action-adventure material, something the deeply character-based Caprica lacked. But that’s too easy an answer, and so tonight I’d like to take a look at the show and what, exactly, might have gone wrong.

But maybe I‘d better outline why I like it so much first. Essentially, I just appreciate the sheer raw quality of it. Caprica, even moreso than Galactica before it, offers up a cast of complicated and deeply-flawed characters that I love to watch. The best example of this is probably Eric Stoltz’ Daniel Graystone. Arguably the series’ central figure, Graystone is the creator of the Cylons. He’s a driven visionary, a scientific artist and hyper-successful Type-A businessman. His genius and magnetic personality make me want to like the guy, even though he’s also arrogant and unthinking, and possessed of a ruthless practicality that drives him to intellectual (and literal) theft. I’m left riveted by him as he slowly learns that he’s not as good a person as he thinks he is. It’s a great look at the making of a villain, and one that keeps him more relatable than (though not as much fun as) JR Ewing.

Which brings us to the “Dallas” thing. Caprica was conceived as a science fiction family drama. In other words, a sci-fi nighttime soap opera. Or in yet still other words… Dallas in space. Robots instead of oil. Virtual reality addiction instead of alcoholism. But otherwise… pretty much the same thing. Now, times being what they are, Caprica was also conceived as the “quality drama” version of the nighttime soap. So the leering villains and bitchy heiresses have more depth, and the moral dilemmas are shaded with gray. I dig this aspect of the show, too. TV sci-fi (hell, sci-fi in general) doesn’t often venture into the realm of character-driven drama, where emotions are as important as plot, and character motivation isn’t always spelled out or easily-explained.

But Caprica jumps in with both feet and handles it well. Going back to the Greystone family for example, we have Daniel’s daughter Zoe, who’s a real piece of work. Raised by loving but neglectful parents, Zoe craves her father’s attention so much that she creates an AI program more advanced than anything he’s capable of (which he promptly steals as the basis for the Cylon brain). And her relationship with her mother, Amanda, is so far gone that she joins a monotheist cult out of disgust. Zoe’s motivations unfold over the course of the season, difficult to discern clearly because she dies in the pilot episode, but slowly revealed through the AI copy she made of herself. Until finally it hit me that the show’s major storylines, these things that so many grown men and women are willing to fight and die for, are only important to the story because of the pained and spiteful lashing-out of a petulant (if brilliant) teenage girl rebelling against her parents. Heh.

Though far from perfect, Caprica is for the most part a polished piece of dramatic writing, filled with complex and conflicted characters moving through a well-imagined, interesting, and most important of all relatable, science fiction culture. It’s well-written and -acted, has an interesting look and feel, and is directed with style and flair. It’s just damn good television.

So why did it fail?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Madblood Redux

So some of you may remember, back at the beginning of the Countdown to Halloween, me going on at length about the TeeVee horror host I grew up watching:

Doctor Madblood

The Doc's retired from the regular horror hosting gig now, but he does a Halloween special every year. And now this year's special's been posted up on-line by his station, WHRO. It's the show's 35th Anniversary special as well, chock-full of clips from past episodes and the usual Madblood goofiness. It's a great improvement over last year's special, as well, which I felt was sort of a long-time-fans-only sort of affair. The movie is Horror Hotel, (not)starring Christopher Lee.

So to get a full dose of Madblood goodness, complete with cheesy-ass movie, go here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


So October was a long spooky month here on the Dork Forty, and the general macabre overtone prevented me from dealing with my usual business of reviewing my weekly funnybook haul. Except for Batman, of course. Because, as I said at the time… BATMAN. But now’s the time to rectify that. I’ve been keeping all my new funnybooks stacked up in a pile awaiting review, and it’s time to plow through it. So, without further ado… FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWARE(once again)GO!!!

Powers #6
by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming

Even though Powers won the funnybook battle between itself and Batman, I didn’t feel compelled to break with the Halloween writing to cover it. And why not? Because, unlike Batman, Powers doesn’t call for in-depth analysis every issue. Not that there aren’t matters of character and technique worth discussing; far from it. But Batman’s a literary puzzle, written in such a dense and unforgiving style that each issue needs to be unpacked as you go. Powers is more sprawling, and lends itself to analysis better in the long-form. That more natural flow, with its accompanying reliance on a stronger balance between story and art, is what gave it the nod over Batman. But, you know… The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and all that.

ANYway… This issue begins a new arc of sorts, or at least a new case for Walker and Sunrise.

(And, geez… I know I’ve said this before, but “Enki Sunrise” is such a fantabulously horrible name that I find it difficult to even refer to her with a straight face. I mean, DAMN. Maybe I’ll just stick with “Enki” from now on. Though I can’t say that I like her enough to, you know, be on a first-name basis with the silly bitch. I mean, I LOVED Deena Pilgrim, and I still refer to her mostly as “Pilgrim.” Grr, Bendis! GRR!)

Where was I? Oh, right! New issue, new story arc, new case. I hesitate on the “story arc” label, though, because much of the issue was spent moving the third volume’s various on-going plots and themes forward. How many of you had forgotten that Enki (grr) was spying on Walker for Internal Affairs, for instance? I kind of almost had, and I pride myself on paying attention to things like that. Thinking back to that really awkward conversation she had with Walker back in issue one about partners and trust and all that… Well, it seems a lot less awkward now. She was, in a very unsubtle way, trying to pump Walker for information. Because Enki could give two shits about the sacred bond of cop partners. She only cares about outing corruption and getting to the truth of things. She’s said as much. So good on ya, Bendis! I take back any bad things I had to say about that conversation at the time.

But we were talking about the new issue. In addition to Enki talking to IA, Walker gets a call to go out and use those super powers he’s not supposed to have to stop some horrible alien things from wreaking destruction on the Earth. He takes Calista along, and so we’re reminded, in one fell swoop, that 1. Walker’s got alien-fighting powers, and 2. He’s training Calista to be the new Retro Girl. It’s one hell of a sequence, too. Walker goes down beneath an ancient temple in the Andes to fight these weird-ass alien lamprey-worm thingies and Oeming goes nuts with the giant splashy panels full of giant splashy action. It’s awesome. If Oeming drew Bendis’ Avengers books, I might still be reading them. The centerpiece of the sequence (and of the issue, I suppose) is a really nice two-page spread that gives the whole scene this feeling of Lovecraft filtered through Kirby, Steranko and MC Escher. No, seriously! Check it out:

click to embiggen

I suppose this is the point where I should say something about SPOILERS, isn’t it? Or was that back before I ruined the best spread in the book? Sorry. But this thing came out weeks ago. If you cared, you’d have read it by now!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween's Over...

...but wasn't it fun?

Personally, all of us here on the Dork Forty are just a teeny tiny bit... depressed... now that our favorite time of the year has passed. I mean, we did get to see the Great Punkin, and that was pretty great, but... I dunno. It's like somethin's gone outta life now that we've scared all the evil spirits away for another year. I mean, we gotta wait til next October 1st to really look over our shoulders in fear that some weird boogitty-man's gonna be waitin' there with a meat cleaver! And none of our non-dork friends will be willin' to put up with our Screamin' Lord Sutch records again til then, either! Not even when he's coverin' Little Richard! And god forbid you suggest watchin' another horror movie til anytime after Christmas!

Huh. I guess this is whatcha call post-mortem depression.

But anyway. It ain't all bad. Now that I don't feel compelled to post somethin' every single day, I can get caught up on my TeeVee! I actually filled my DVR with unwatched programmin' in October! I wound up deletin' my saved copy of The Incubus by mistake 'cause I got in such a hurry to make room for last night's Venture Brothers! OH the humanity! How long will it be before I get to see Billy Shatner talkin' in Esperanto again?!

But I can get back to my normal course of talkin' about the funnybooks again, too. Expect a mighty big "Last Month's Comics Today" comin' tomorrow night. And all this yappin' I did about Halloweenie things in the last month reminded me that, when I started this blog for the nerd farm, I'd intended to talk about more than just the funnybooks. 'Cause, seriously, we're really all-purpose dorks out here. We like the movies and the TeeVee, too. And the music and lord knows what all else. So I'll be writin' more about all that kinda stuff comin' up, as well. Not every day, mind you. 'Cause that near-'bout killed me...