Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pullin' Up Stakes

This will be the last post I'll be making here on this version of the Dork Forty. The blog will continue, but it will continue elsewhere. I've been having continuing log-in issues with Blogger, and since I've been wanting to expand the blog's focus anyway, I figured it was just time to move on.

So I hope that you'll join us at our new location,

Things are still a bit... under construction over there as of this writing, but we're whipping it into shape fast. The new version of the nerd farm will feature bigger fields devoted to stuff about movies, books, television, and music in addition to the funnybook coverage you're used to over here. It's the same skewed viewpoint, just applied to more stuff.

Thank you for reading.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Metropolis Mysteries and Eye-Popping Body Horror: FUNNYBOOKSINREVEWAREGO!!

Action Comics #3
by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, and Gene Ha

This comic is good, okay? Fast-paced, don't-let-it-catch-you-sleeping action, equally tricksy character development, some really nice artwork from a guy who not only knows anatomy, but is also good at camera placement and visual storytelling... It's a class act all the way around. And this issue also gives us a peek at life on Krypton, illuminated by the incomparable Gene Ha, including a cameo by Krypto. It's the best thing to come out of DC's New 52 by far, with nothing else even close to being in its league.

So. Action Comics. Grade A. Got it? We all in agreement? Good! Now that we've got the "review" part of this review out of the way, we can move on to more interesting things...

Three issues in, the larger plot is starting to really take shape. This issue, we discover that Clark Kent has a secret source, a "Deep Throat" if you will, feeding him information on corrupt businessman Glen Glenmorgan. Deep Throat has some pretty specific knowledge of the events of issue one, and he's egging Clark on to keep pushing against the man known as "Mr. Metropolis." It's clear at this point is that someone is manipulating the major players in Metropolis. But who?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Happy Birthday, Steve Ditko!

That's right! It's Steve Ditko's birthday, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate the birth of Spider-Man's co-creator than with a big ol' gallery of his artwork. But, much as I love his Spider-Man, and much as I'll always be blown away by the surrealist landscapes he created on Dr. Strange...

click to embiggen ... then trip your ass off!
...I honestly don't think those books represent his best work.
click to embiggen
Okay, maybe Dr. Strange. Anything that could inspire such 70s blacklight poster insanity as seen above simply HAS to be among anyone's best work. Just because.

But his early work on 1950s horror comics was often more detailed and imaginative. And in his work for smaller publishers like Charlton, Ditko felt the freedom to experiment more wildly, and the results were often quite stunning. So it's that work I want to salute tonight: the early, the weird, the obscure Ditko. I'll try to keep my comments to a minimum for once, and just let the art speak for itself. Let's start at the beginning, with a few samples of the great man's earliest, pre-Code artwork...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tales of Gods and Spacemen: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!

Two weeks' worth of funnybooks to cover here, one with a decidedly mythological tone, the other with a decidedly science fictiony one. I have no deep point to make with that statement, mind you; I just think it's interesting that those two seemingly disparate approaches hit in such great numbers in such a short period of time, especially considering that the vast majority of the books I'll be talking about here are super hero books. Just goes to show what a weird genre mish-mash super heroes really are, I guess. At any rate... Without further ado... FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!
Fear Itself #7 (of 7)
by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen

I'll most likely do a more in-depth look at Fear Itself a bit later, once I've had a chance to sit down and re-read the whole thing. Matt Fraction had a lot of balls in the air here, and this issue was his last chance to catch them all before this whole super-porn juggling act came crashing to its end. I think he managed to snag most of them, if not all, but time will tell. In the meantime, though, I can comment on the merits of this final issue in and of itself...

This series has suffered from an unfortunate lack of emotional immediacy along the way. In fact, I often missed the intended emotional impact of some of the big shocking events in previous issues until I went back over them for review. This final issue alleviates that somewhat, mostly thanks to Captain America. He reaches his point of apotheosis this issue, and it's the emotional tipping point of the series, Marvel's greatest hero rejuvenated by the bravery of his allies, and I'm a big enough sap that I was right there with him. It's a great super hero moment, aided by having this as the exclamation point at the end:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wertham Was Right II: The Horrifying Art of Basil Wolverton

"No small child exposed to his drawings could ever be expected to walk in a straight line again, or vote a party ticket."
- Gahan Wilson

See?! Even so respected a horror cartoonist as Gahan Wilson thinks that Basil Wolverton was bad for children! WERTHAM WAS RIGHT!!

Okay, no. No, he wasn't. To reiterate, in fact, he was dead wrong. Again.

But if you were ever going to make a case that a single artist should never, ever be seen by small children, it would be Basil Wolverton. Or Kevin O'Neill, according to the Comics Code Authority. Or maybe even Simon Bisley, if you're Paul Levitz.

Anyway. Basil Wolverton. The man who drew stuff like this:

Horrifying, isn't it? I mean, my god. To be sure, artwork like that should never be shown to the Children of America. It would terrify them! It terrified me when I was a wee lad! See, Wolverton had been hired by DC Comics to do covers for their new humor series Plop!, and when that book hit the stands and made its way before my tiny little virgin eyes...

Instant Nightmare Fuel!
Why are you laughing?! This cover scared the complete and total bejeezus out of me back before I could read! I lived in fear of this comic! It was traumatizing! I could hardly bear to look at it after I bought it, and... WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?!

Okay... It is pretty funny. And it did get me to buy the comic, even though it freaked me out. I had this kind of love-hate relationship with all kinds of things that scared me back then, and Plop! definitely fit into that category. I was simultaneously repulsed by it, and drawn to it. Let's look at a couple more Wolverton Plop! covers before we move on, shall we?

Friday, October 21, 2011

25 Horror Comics That Prove... DOCTOR WERTHAM WAS RIGHT!!

Okay, not really. In spite of Frederick Wertham's claims in his legendary anti-funnybook screed Seduction of the Innocent, reading lurid comics featuring gruesome images of horror is cathartic, natural, and (most important) fun! For the whole damn family!

But, man. Sometimes, when I'm browsing through pre-Code horror comics, the sheer excesses on display make it a little easier to understand why people lost their shit over this stuff. Take this shy and retiring example from Gilmore Comics' Weird Mysteries #5...

Abby... Normal...
Okay, so that's one of the more notorious examples from the period. But, still. WTF, man?!

I can't promise that any of the rest of the covers I've culled for your Halloweenie enjoyment this evening will match that one, but there's still some real gems waiting... after the jump!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Happy Bela Lugosi's Birthday!

A national holiday here on the Dork Forty, Bela Lugosi's Birthday is a time for reflection and remembrance, indeed of appreciation, for all the evil brought into our monstrous little hearts by the Patron Saint of Halloween.

Click to embiggen, children of the night!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pearls Amongst Swine: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

The last couple of weeks haven't been great ones at the funnybook store, I'm afraid. There've been a couple of real gems in the batch, but for the most part I've found myself awash in a sea of mediocrity. Lots of books that I like okay, but very few that I love. But since it's always nice to start on a happy note, let's hit one of the high spots first...

Batwoman #2
by JH Williams III and W Haden Blackman

This issue sets aside most of my doubts about Williams and Blackman's ability to write a compelling Batwoman comic. They're continuing the main plot of the missing children and the drowning ghost who's preying upon them while still keeping tabs on the larger picture with Abbott and his were-creature Crime Cult. But they're also doing some very nice character work, and that's what impresses me the most. Not only are they doing a nice job on the damage done to the relationship between Kate Kane and her father, but they also wrote one of the better "first date" scenes I've read in a while for Kate and Maggie Sawyer. It's comfortable, real, and charming, and the fact that it's a lesbian first date doesn't really matter at all. That's nice. I guess we really have come a long way from this:
Say it loud! Say it proud!
Art-wise, the book is of course just as stunning as always, with Williams continuing to innovate on layout and mix styles with aplomb. The high point this time out is this stunning two-page spread in which Maggie Sawyer shows off her detective chops by recreating a crime scene:
Ah, man. That's the stuff.
Click to embiggen the awesomeness.
All in all, an excellent second issue. Looking forward to more.

Grade: A

Animal Man #2
by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

Two issues in, and Jeff Lemire's new horror reboot of Animal Man is picking up speed. He really is drawing on all the best stuff from the Vertigo series here, wedding the charming family drama of the Morrison era with the meaty body-shock horror of the stuff from Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh. Travel Foreman is channeling Pugh in particular on the art, with some genuinely disgusting biological anomalies popping up as we get deeper into things.

The book still feels like it's lacking something to me, though it's hard to put my finger on what, exactly. It may just be my reaction to Lemire's Midwestern stoicism at work. There's always a matter-of-fact coldness to his writing, and while that works for Sweet Tooth, I'm not feeling it as much here. I dunno. I may not be making any sense, even to myself, at this point. There's just something keeping me from loving this book, and I really kinda want to.

Grade: B

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Super-Porn and Other Distractions: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

Catch-up reviews part two, coming up... now!

Fear Itself #6 (of 7)
by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen

Most of these big crossover series are, essentially, super hero porn. They're all money shots, big super-fights removed from their normal context of story, of anything with actual emotional resonance. That's why only a few of them in the genre's history really stand up in the long term. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two, in fact: Civil War and Final Crisis. And now, though it's too early to make the call for sure, Fear Itself seems to be shaping up as a third.

Like all super-porn, it's about death and destruction on a grand scale. But unlike most, it's also delivering on the character side. I've discussed the on-going Asgardian family saga before, Odin's grumpy kingly bluster and Thor's noble rage in response. And it's nice to have my reading of Odin confirmed: he's willing to burn a world to the ground just to save his only son from death, but in this issue, Odin's asshole front dissolves in the face of the badly-wounded Thor being brought home for healing. He's still gonna kill us all to stop the Serpent, mind you. But at least he finally explains himself to Thor before the end.

Of course, before that breakdown of kingly resolve happens, we see a chink in the armor. Captain America gets all up in his grill, and Odin (if only for a moment) blinks. Seriously, check this shit out:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ultimate Sci-Fi: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

Funnybooks! Staaaale funnybooks! Get'cher weeks-old funnybook reviews right here!

That's right, folks! It's time to play catch-up with the books we didn't talk about during our coverage of the DC Reboot. We've got a whole bunch of funnybooks to cover, enough that it'll take two posts to deal with them all, and that kind of volume can only mean one thing: brevity. So now, once again... QUICKIESAREGO!!!

The Ultimates #1&2
by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic

Running right alongside DC's reboot is Marvel's uncharacteristically quieter response: rebooting their Ultimate Comics line. The new Ultimate Spider-Man is the big news-grabber here (and we'll get to it in a minute), but far more exciting for me is this reboot of The Ultimates. Ten years ago, this was the most cutting-edge super hero book on the market, a vision of the genre's future. But the series has since become... uninspired (to put it politely), and descended into wretched self-parody (to put it a bit less politely). It ceased to be cutting edge, and simply became neanderthalic crap (to put it truthfully).

Welcome back to the future. Jonathan Hickman's delivering his typical science fiction approach, with a city that encloses itself inside a sphere of accelerated time, emerging only hours later with a thousand years of social and technological growth, and a desire to reshape the rest of the world in its image. It's engaging stuff, and if Hickman's not the type of writer who's likely to deliver a "Hulk straight!" kind of moment, he does give us this great bit with Thor and the new Captain Britain:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Every Day is Halloween: Get Bitten by Tarantula Ghoul!


Tonight we bring you one of the lost treasures of Horror Hosting:

Pardon the lady's crease... and click to embiggen
That's Tarantula Ghoul, who hosted Portland's House of Horror. Tarantula (Taranch to her friends) was a pretty typical host in many ways. She rose from a coffin at the beginning of each show, lampooned the movies, engaged in macabre social satire, and had a sidekick. In her case, the hunchbacked gravedigger-turned-gardener Milton.

Though one wonders if perhaps he didn't sometimes confuse his two careers...
Also like many horror hosts, Tarantula's rise to stardom was surprising, meteoric... and quickly over. House of Horror ran from October of 1957 to November of 1958, but in that short span Tarantula hit it big. Her show was popular enough that she was featured in TV Guide (from which the creased picture above came), she made public appearances... which she apparently carried Screamin' Jay Hawkin's walking stick...
...and generally lead the life of a successful 1950s horror host. And then her show got cancelled, only a little more than a year after it began. But it didn't end due to poor ratings. It was cancelled because Tarantula (aka Suzanne Waldron) got pregnant out of wedlock, and that just wouldn't fly in that more restrictive era.

That's not why we remember Tarantula Ghoul so fondly, however. We remember her because in her year of fame, she also cut a record. And what a record! Dig the hep sounds of Tarantula Ghoul and the Gravediggers, with their one and only single, "Graveyard Rock."

(Not the original video... obviously, I guess...)

Hot damn! That's one of our all-time favorite Halloween songs here on the Dork Forty, and it's not even the A side! No, that honor goes to the bossa-nova-flavored "King Kong," which you can also hear below:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reboot Shmeboot! Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

Alright. Now it's time to start talking about funnybooks we actually like again.

Not that we didn't enjoy our two-month look at the DC Reboot. That's exciting, heady stuff for fans of super hero fiction, and they even managed to make as much as 10% of the line good enough to spend money on. But while we were focused on the shiny new thing, all kinds of amazing-ass funnybooks hit the stands, and it's time to turn our attention back to those. It'll take a few posts to work through it all, so I figured we might as well start with something current. Something really fantastic and not related at all to the Reboot. Something like... oh, shit...

Action Comics #2
by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

Okay, so this book pretty much defines the Reboot as far as I'm concerned. Sue me.

I really will get to other stuff tonight. I'll be talking about my three favorite books of the week, and this is the only one that comes from DC. But it's also the only Grant Morrison we're getting right now, so I really can't help but lead with it. Plus, look at this cover:


That kills, man! That fucking kills! Has there EVER been a picture of Superman that bad-ass? If that cover doesn't make you want to read this comic, you hate everything good.

(Remember this over-statement. It'll come back again, and there will be a test.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Every Day is Halloween: Jack the Ripper

A little more Halloweenie goodness for you tonight, this time the late great Screaming Lord Sutch, with a live performance of his horror rock classic, "Jack the Ripper."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"What's Wrong With Being Sexy?" -- DC Reboot Overview

So launch month of the DC Reboot is over. I've reviewed all the books I picked up (and a few I didn't), but how'd they do overall? Pretty well, as it turns out...

Money Money Money

Financially, the Reboot can't be seen as anything but an unmitigated success. Many of the launch issues are going back for a second print, with a good few of them getting a third. And it's not just the big name titles getting second prints, either: calculated risk Animal Man is getting a second print, apparently off good word of mouth alone. And Swamp Thing, which ought to be a big name but hasn't been for most of the last 20 years, has just been announced for a third.

Even more interestingly, sales may have actually picked up as the month went along. At the very least, I know I started seeing more sell-outs at my local funnybook store as we got deeper into the launch. And the guys there tell me that they steadily had more new customers making pull lists. That last phenomenon got so big toward the end that it overwhelmed their ordering: they didn't have enough of some books to fill all their subscriptions, and they were sold out of every big-name title released by the time I arrived two hours after they opened.

(This is not a criticism, by the way. I'm glad they're having so much success. More power to ya, boys!)

So it looks like the new reader appeal is working out well, better even than I was expecting. And I was expecting a lot. The biggest sales seem to be centered on the characters everybody knows, which may be only natural. We already know that the hardcore funnybook dorks prefer their traditional characters, after all, and most newbies are probably going to get their feet wet with a character they're already familiar with, too. This could also mean that the sales upsurge is a speculator boom, of course; you don't have to be Bob Overstreet to figure out that Action Comics #1 is going to be worth more than, say, Men of War #1 (I say that now, of course. In ten years' time, when Men of War has sparked a war comics overthrow of the funnybook market, I'll be eating my words). But we'll see. If DC's still selling high in six months to a year, we'll know that they brought in an influx of new readers, rather than just a bunch of assholes out to make a buck.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Every Day is Halloween: The Comics of Emily Carroll

While I won't be doing the insane "one post a day" Halloween countdown I did last year here on the Dork Forty, I can't let the season go by without posting at least SOME Halloweenie stuff. So here, for your reading pleasure, are two horror webcomics by Emily Carroll.

First up is last year's His Face All Red. A story of conflict between two brothers, it starts like this:

...then moves on into spookier and even more paranoid territory. You can read it, starting here.

And if you like that...

This year, Carroll's doing something that uses the web comics format more creatively, in Margot's Room. This one starts with the following image...

...which is spooky enough in its own right. But every Friday in October, Carroll will add one line to a poem that suggests an item in the picture. Click on that item, and you get the next chapter of the story. Pretty nifty. And though the story's not in horror territory yet, that opening image promises something ugly...

Hope you enjoy. And if you do, you can read even more comics from Emily Carroll here. It's all good stuff, much of it in a sort of children's book style. My favorite is maybe Out the Door. Which, now that I think of it, is also a horror story. So, hey! Halloween bonus!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The End of the Line: The DC Reboot, Week Four

And here we are in the fourth and final week of the DC Reboot. I mean, all these books will continue along with their new status quo after this, don't get me wrong. But this was the final week that DC will be debuting new books en masse. So how'd they do? Patience, Grasshopper, patience. First, let me review the funnybooks of Week Four...

I, Vampire #1
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Andrea Sorrentino

I was really looking forward to this book, and for that reason I'm just the tiniest bit disappointed in it. It's not a bad comic at all, mind you. Far from it. It's just not quite as good as I'd hoped. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

For the uninitiated (which, I'd guess, would be the vast majority of you), I, Vampire was originally a strip that ran as the lead feature in DC horror series House of Mystery in the early 1980s. I read it and loved it as a kid, which is something I'm sure I'm pretty much alone in; of all the little-known franchises being given a new lease on life in the reboot, this has to be the most obscure. But because I loved it so much, I really wanted this relaunch to work. And, considering that it's written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, whose comic Tumor is one of my favorite indie books of recent vintage, I had high hopes that it would.

And for the most part, it does, offering up a nice slice of epic vampire fiction and in the process almost effortlessly quieting the Twilight jokes that abounded when that cover was released. I'm still not sure why Our Hero's shirtless up there, other than to appeal to the Twilight market, but hey. His girlfriend's nekkid except for some weird vampire body paint, so maybe it's just equal time.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Point of Diminishing Returns: The DC Reboot, Week Three

Aaaannd we're back! Two posts in one night, bringing us up to date on the DC Reboot with a look at the funnybooks of Week Three, which came out just yesterday. That's ground-breaking speed for this blog, my friends, but I'm afraid it's come about as a result of some diminishing returns for the Reboot. In Week One, I bought five titles in all, three of which I'll be checking out again next month. In Week Two, I bought four, but only one of them will be getting a second look. And this week... Well... After getting burned so hard last time out... I only bought two comics.

Some of that is because this week didn't bring me many new talents to try out, or any indie comics faves graduating to books they can actually make money doing. No, Week Three seems to be all about Known Quantities. Writers and artists I already know I don't like, whose books I feel pretty safe skipping without fear that I'll be missing anything worth my time and money. Which doesn't explain why I bought this first book...

Wonder Woman #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang

I'm not a big fan of Brian Azzarello. I don't think he's a bad writer, really. He's just maybe one that doesn't appeal to me. He often has really intriguing ideas, but I usually walk away from his work feeling like I've seen the same things done better elsewhere. And that bothers me.

But his Wonder Woman, I'm incredibly pleased to say, does not bother me in the slightest. In fact, other than Grant Morrison's Action Comics, it's the Reboot book I've enjoyed the most thus far. It's a fresh new start for a character desperately in need of one, and you can see the facelift in action just from artist Cliff Chiang's cover alone:


click to embiggen ... or you just might piss her off!

That's nice work. An action shot that goes a long way toward getting across the tone of what's inside. The rain of arrows, the bloody sword, the sun setting behind dying trees... Yeah. That looks like something I wanna read. Even the new logo, with its boldly modern design and "weathered" finish, fairly screams at you that this is going to be something new.

Bats and Crap: The DC Reboot, Week Two

So we're still running a little behind schedule here on the Dork Forty. We went on vacation at the start of the month, and it's thrown our coverage of the DC Reboot off. But tonight we play catch-up, with not one, but two posts, covering both Weeks Two and Three. Once again, I'll only be looking at the books I actually bought. And once again, I'll be trying to take the wider audience into account at some point in each review. So without further ado, let's get going with Week Two...

Batwoman #1
by JH Williams III and W Haden Blackman

A fine launch, and a good follow-up to last year's ground-breaking Detective Comics run. The artwork of JH Williams is the real draw here, of course, and he does not disappoint, delivering another issue of pretty pretty pictures and innovative layouts. This is one of those rare occasions in funnybook history where you feel like you're reading something creatively historic, watching an artist create new rules of comics storytelling out of whole cloth.

Williams has, thus far, been accomplishing this through two main tricks: panel borders that become character motifs, and slightly altering his drawing style on different aspects of the story. Batwoman panels, for instance, are arranged in creative, fluid layouts, and often happen in the shape of lightning bolts, the better to herald the electricity of her arrival. And they're drawn in a style with a heightened sense of reality, where the ink lines soften and stark color does much of the work on defining shapes and figures. When she changes out to her everyday life as Kate Kane, however, everything snaps to a traditional panel grid, and everything in those panels is defined by hard, thick lines colored with more of a pastel pallet. The artwork is no less beautiful, mind you. It's just that everything is much more sharply defined (if a bit less "real").

Williams even has a sort of "in-between" style for the "in-between" pages with Kate training or doing detective work in her Bat-Tree-House. The layouts are still on the creative side, but they tend to be a bit more structured and squarish, and the artwork's done with a lighter line and a mix of the stark and pastel colors. There's a pretty stunning two-page spread done in this style featuring Gotham detective (and Batwoman love interest) Maggie Sawyer at a crime scene. It's a nice style choice, and an even nicer layout, built around the motifs of the opening arc's villain, La Llorna:


Please oh please click to embiggen

(Please excuse the red circle. It's got something to do with the Reboot's meta-mystery plot involving some mysterious woman who they keep inserting into crowd scenes. I don't really care about that, but my scanner's not big enough to handle a two-page spread, and I stole the best web image of this one I could find.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Looking West

Everybody here on the Dork Forty would like to wish Mr. Adam West a very happy birthday.

You're still our favorite Batman.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Three Outta Five Ain't Bad: The DC Reboot, Week One

Say one thing for the DC reboot, it's got me buying more DC funnybooks in September than I've bought in many a moon. How many will I be buying in October? Well, that remains to be seen. We're two weeks in now, and even being selective, very little has blown me away. Of course, as I said when looking over the solicitations this summer, that may not be a bad thing in regards to the wider market.

Or, as Warren Ellis put it: The New DC comics stuff looks so much like stuff I would never read that it oddly fills me with hope that they are targeting the core audience they want. If a 43-year old man looks at most of this promo stuff and goes meh, then that’s very probably a good sign for them.

So there you go. With that in mind, I'll be reviewing each of the new books (the ones I bought, anyway) in two parts: my impressions, and my thoughts on how the book might do with an audience that's... not me. And, since I missed writing about week one in a timely manner due to a vacation, I've got lots of ground to cover. Today we'll deal with the first week's books, and try to get to week two before week three hits the stands this Wednesday. So let's get started with what many people are seeing as the real flagship of the reboot...

Action Comics #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Rags Morales

I joked that I'd only be truly satisfied with Grant Morrison's "back to the beginning" take on Action Comics if Superman went after corrupt landlords and threw wifebeaters out windows the way he did in his early adventures. Well consider me truly satisfied, then, because damn if that's not exactly what he does in this issue! Okay, so the wifebeater thing happens off-camera. But I didn't expect it to happen at all, so it counts.

But I'll get to all that. First impressions first. On the surface, this book is a pleasing action-oriented thrill ride that establishes some surprising things about its star. It opens with Superman going after a rich developer named Glen Glenmorgan (the afore-mentioned corrupt landlord), bullying a confession of wrong-doing out of the man, and declaring in no uncertain terms that he has no faith in the criminal justice system. It's quite an introduction, and quite a far cry from the bastion of the status quo we've been conditioned to expect.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Same Shit, Different Universe: The DC Reboot Goes Live

Justice League #1
by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

I wasn't going to buy this comic. In fact, when I was in the funnybook store last Wednesday, I gave it a quick flip-through and put it back on the rack. Sure, I'm curious about the DC Reboot (of which this is the very first comic), but not curious enough to buy books I don't think I'm going to enjoy. I'm not generally a fan of either Geoff Johns or Jim Lee, and nothing I saw in my once-over convinced me that I needed to give it a shot. So back on the rack it went.

But then... Then I got into a discussion of the book on-line, started spouting opinions about it, and decided that, if I was gonna do all that, I should buy the damn thing and actually read it. As it turns out, my flip-through gave me a pretty accurate picture of the issue, but since I went and spent four bucks on the thing, I figure I might as well give it a more thorough working-over here.

Not that I hated the book once I read it. To be honest, I thought it was a perfectly okay (but only okay) example of 21st Century super-heroics. It's not something I'd normally spend money on, but in concept, if not execution, I found it to be a good start for a longer, more in-depth look at the Justice League's origins. Which is to say, I had my usual problems with Johns' script and Lee's art, but I liked the ideas quite a bit. This is a raw, new world we're dealing with here, one with lots of room to grow, and that's pretty exciting. In fact... The first page tells us that this story is set "five years ago," but I really wish all the books were going to be set in this era. There's more conflict, and the young heroes have interesting character flaws their more experienced selves will no doubt have shed.

Which brings us to the first DC fanboy bone of contention with the issue. It mostly focuses on the first meeting between Batman and Green Lantern, and they don't get along all that well. Batman is stand-offish, very much the seasoned pro annoyed by an enthusiastic amateur, while Green Lantern is an over-confident jock. This page pretty much sums the relationship up:

And that seems pretty much right on the money to me for these guys at this point in their careers. I mean, my one complaint about this aspect of the issue is that it's too tame. To my eye, it plays out a little too much like a PG-rated version of Frank Miller's All-Star Batman and Robin. PG-rated, and more boring. In comparison to Miller's tongue-planted-firmly-in-the-goddamn-bat-cheek approach, Justice League #1 reads kinda like your dad's super hero comic. Which is something I'd assume that DC would really rather avoid with this youth-oriented reboot. But maybe they made a wise choice there in terms of their current core audience; based on the reviews I've been reading, conflict and character flaws don't fly in the Fanboy Nation.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Movie Night on the Dork Forty: Enter Mr. Lobo's Domain!

So it's been a long, hot summer here on the Dork Forty. We took a little vacation from the reviews, turned our attention elsewhere for a while, and kinda just let things pile up around here on the nerd farm. You should see the giant stack of stuff we've got sitting there waiting to be belatedly written up. It's frankly a bit overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that we won't be getting to it tonight.

No, tonight I wanted to simply direct your attention to the Dork Forty's new favorite portion of the YouTube empire: Cinema Insomnia TV! As we've spent ample time outlining in the past, we're big fans of the horror host genre around here, and Mr. Lobo (host of Cinema Insomnia) is our favorite of the current generation of hosts.

The Man Himself!

Lobo's mix of classic (and not-so-classic) public domain schlock, retro commercials and some genuinely clever host humor segments always make for an entertaining evening, whenever we can catch it. And now, we can catch it pretty much whenever we wanna. Because Mr. Lobo's posted up about 20 full-length episodes, with movies, to his YouTube station. These are mostly the episodes he's been making available via streaming video at his website, but now you can watch whichever of them you want, whenever you want, instead of constantly stumbling upon the Superbug episode like we do.

(Which, you know... Nothing against Superbug. It's a funny episode, with one of those rare movies that's so mind-bogglingly awful that you can't believe it exists. But after the third or fourth viewing, even if you're just turning it on to nap to... Well, let's just say that the nerd wranglers get restless, and that's never a good thing.)

Anyway. After the jump, I've linked to one of my all-time favorite B Movies, and one of my favorite episodes of Cinema Insomnia as well: Vincent Price in Last Man on Earth. It's a genuinely effective low-budget adaptation of the novel I Am Legend, and in his portion of the show, Mr. Lobo paints a portrait of masculinity that should be all too familiar to those of us in the Dork Nation. It's worth a click just to see the opening PSA, though...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Why I Love Shaky Kane...

...and why his upcoming Monster Truck just went to the top of my November must-buy list:

click to embiggen

That is all.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fifty Fantastic Years

So today is, evidently, the 50th birthday of the Fantastic Four.

Well, really, that's just our best guess. August 8, 1961 is the most common cover-stamp date to be found on surviving copies of the first issue. Dealers would stamp the arrival date of new magazines on the cover, to better keep track of how long certain issues sat on the rack, and there are far more August 8th stamps than any other:

Thanks, Bleeding Cool!

But, hell! Any excuse to celebrate the Fantastic Four sounds good to me! FF is my favorite funnybook series of all time, bar none. I love the characters, I love the concepts, I love the villains... And I love the strip's early years best of all. So I thought I'd celebrate 50 years of the best damn funnybook ever by slapping up a few memorable covers, pin-ups, and oddities from the classic Stan Lee / Jack Kirby era that launched the book. Starting with, of course, the full cover to that first issue...

Kind of a piss-poor way to start off The World's Greatest Comic Magazine, huh? It looks a little rushed to me. The composition isn't Kirby's best, the backgrounds are kind of sketchy, the Thing's back is to the camera... I mean, the mole monster is pretty awesome, and I still wish they drew the Human Torch with that kind of flame detail now. But overall... Eh.

Of course, Lee and Kirby improved rapidly.

Thingbeard notwithstanding.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bats, Gods, and Other Assorted Freaks: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

Lots of really fascinating comics material has come out in the last little bit: Grant Morrison's Supergods, Ray Fawkes' One Soul, Dave McKean's Celluloid, Jim Woodring's Congress of the Animals, the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen... All great books deserving of in-depth reviews. But honestly? I'm a little too tired from my day job right now to discuss them with the sort of intelligence they deserve. So instead, I think I'll just engage in something we haven't seen too much of around the nerd farm lately: straight-up reviews. That's right. It's that time again: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

Batman Incorporated #7
by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham

You knew I had to start with Batman, right?

With all the over-arching plot and mysteries in this book, surrounding not only the evil bad guys' schemes but also Batman's own, it's easy to forget that, really, Batman Incorporated is all about Grant Morrison having fun with some of the goofier aspects of the Bat-Myth. Nowhere is that more clear than in this issue, which is a low-rent re-working of RIP, on the rez, starring Chief Man-of-Bats. It's touching and funny, and embraces the ridiculousness of the character...

Riding. A. Buffalo.
...while still acknowledging the very real problems facing the Native American population. I came away from the issue feeling like Man-of-Bats, for all his limitations, might just help more people on a real, personal level than Batman himself ever has. As Bats himself says, "It doesn't have to take millions... The idea just works."

Grade: A-

Detective Comics # 879
by Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla

Decided to give Snyder's Detective run another try, and was impressed. The story, about Jim Gordon looking into the supposed rehabilitation of his son, James Jr, was a tense, low-key little mystery story with a sad and kind of terrifying ending. I did spend much of the story kind of confused, since I was under the impression that James Jr was dead, when he's instead, apparently, a psychopath. The Wikipedia didn't entirely clear things up for me, either; it confirmed his not-deadness, but said nothing about him being crazy. Of course, the same entry (for Commissioner Gordon himself) also fed me some kind of convoluted bullshit about Barbara Gordon not being the Commissioner's biological daughter, which made me want to take this whole weird Gordon family history and chuck it out a window from a very great height. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Funnybook Battle: Fear Itself vs Final Crisis

Haven't done one of these in a while...

While we gazed ever more deeply into the as-yet-insubstantial navel of the DC Reboot, lots of other stuff was going on in the funnybook world, too. For instance, across the street at Marvel, Matt Fraction has very quietly turned their big event crossover series Fear Itself into something transcendent.

Not transcendent in the way Grant Morrison's Final Crisis was transcendent, understand. That book took the tropes of these big crossover event comics and raised them up, transforming them into something that was at once literary, and mythic on a grand scale. It sent many of its readers into paroxysms of impotent on-line anger in its obstinate insistence on being difficult, and is either the very apex of “event comics” storytelling... or a complete piece of unreadable crap, depending on your point of view.

What Fraction's doing in Fear Itself is neither that ambitious, nor that divisive, in spite of the two series' many surface similarities. He's playing with the same tropes as Morrison, the same end-of-the-world grandeur, and the same mix of myth and literary ambition. He's even using the same exhausting, never-stop-to-take-a-breath “super-compressed” storytelling style (and, frankly, improving upon it by exercising a bit more clarity). But he's doing all that to very different ends.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I'm Not Ignoring You...

...Blogspot simply won't allow me to post comments on my own blog. I get stuck in a log-in loop, and the comments never make it to the site. So my apologies to anyone who's commented and didn't get a response. I don't mean to leave you hanging. But it appears I have no other choice.

Just, you know... FYI...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Six: At Last, the Cynicism!

We took a little break after completing our run-down of all 52 series of the DC reboot. Because that was some exhausting shit. But now we’re back with an overview of the apparent mentality behind the New DC.

In a word, that mentality seems to be “lowbrow.”

Okay, okay. That’s fun to say, but it’s not entirely fair. I think they’re actually taking a very widespread approach that embraces many different types of readers. There are books for their current Fanboy audience, books for lapsed readers who grew up in the 90s, even a handful of books aimed at freaks like myself. But honestly, all continuity changes aside, I don’t see anything they’ve solicited as a major move away from the kinds of funnybooks DC’s putting out now. The real change here seems to be in the marketing, and in a renewed focus on the characters with the widest name recognition. Which is a smart, smart move for them, I think.


Stupid is the New Smart

I’ve also gotta say that they’re doing their best to make it sound like they’re dumbing things down across the line, or at least aiming more for the lowest common denominator. Which, certainly, is one tried and true way to grab for the brass ring of the mass audience. It’s the road Hollywood’s chosen to take in recent years, anyway, and it’s hard not to see more of a Hollywood influence coming into DC these days, what with half the company being relocated to Los Angeles and the Warner Brothers suit who’s been put in Paul Levitz‘s old job.

Then there’s the Dan Didio one-man dumb comics road show. DC’s Co-Publisher is out there talking shit about “talking head comics” at retailer summits across the nation, and pushing the idea that the New DC will be all about action, action, and more action. He’s even said that the movies are making better comics than the comics themselves. Which is an easy thing to say, but… Outside the Raimi Spider-Mans, I’m not so sure he’s right. I mean, the first two acts of Iron Man were great (you know, the talking parts). But it falls apart in the third act when it tries to do the super hero stuff. And that’s generally considered the best of the lot.

But I’m getting off-topic. Between Didio’s antics, an upcoming series from the writers of Transformers (a film so stupid it made me ashamed to be a dork), and an obvious attempt to grab for the Twilight audience that turns this guy…

…into this guy…

…I can’t help but think that the New DC isn’t exactly going to be challenging my intelligence very often.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Five: ...Aaand the Rest!

So here we are on the final lap of the Round-Up, but we’re not out of interesting things to talk about. In fact, the first book on our list today is a transplant that may be the key to understanding the post-reboot DC Universe…


The Team: Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda

The Premise: Much as I‘ve been enjoying coming up with pithy and/or sarcastic summations of these books, the solicit for this one is so complicated that I’m just going to quote it verbatim:

They are Stormwatch, a dangerous super human police force whose existence is kept secret from the world. Directly following the ominous events of SUPERMAN #1, Adam One leads half the Stormwatch team to recover the [INFORMATION REDACTED] from deep in the Himalayas. Meanwhile, Jack Hawksmoor and the rest of the Stormwatch crew look to recruit two of the deadliest super humans on the planet: Midnighter and Apollo! And if they say no? Perhaps the Martian Manhunter can change their minds…

So… wow. Let’s unravel that one step-by-step, shall we? Well, the book’s core premise is pretty easily summed up: Stormwatch is a super-human secret police force. Pretty simple, and something of a tonal shift for the DCU. Because “super-human secret police” is not a concept I could see existing in this world as we currently know it. But Stormwatch is a concept being brought over from Jim Lee’s Wildstorm universe, formerly an Image Comics imprint, until DC bought them out early in the Noughts. The Wildstorm books have continued publication set aside in their own separate continuity ever since, their importance and sales constantly declining under DC’s stewardship (and, it must be said, editorial interference).

But now DC is bringing Wildstorm into the mainline DCU fold, and with it, if this book‘s premise is anything to judge by, something of Wildstorm’s more realistic (or, honestly, perhaps just bleaker) tone. And so: super-human secret police. Again, that’s not something I’d have expected to see in the DC Universe as it stands now. I mean, there’s Checkmate, I suppose, but honestly… Checkmate? Even with Mr. Terrific and Alan Scott attached, that group’s never been one I’d consider a serious threat if, say, the Justice League went rogue. Stormwatch, on the other hand… This is the team that went on to become The Authority. You know, the super-team that killed God. If they wanna shut the JLA down, that’s one hell of a fight.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Four: The Test Tube Babies

Previously, on the DC Reboot Round-Up… In an attempt to prop up flagging sales, DC Comics has decided to hit the reset button on their super hero continuity and go for a more action-oriented (some say, “Nineties-Style”) focus. The degree of change to each character is predicated entirely upon sales. So Batman barely changes at all, while Hawkman (for instance) gets a major overhaul. Other changes include Wonder Woman getting pants, and Superman losing his underwear.

Now we move on the experiments, books DC’s launching in hopes of capitalizing on the more diverse interests of the wider digital audience they hope to find waiting for them out there on the world-wide interwebs. There are war books and westerns, but first we’ll be looking at something that I (though not DC) am calling their “Dark Line.” A group of books that seem designed to be a sort of “Vertigo-Light,” corporate-owned supernatural characters having adventures that, while perhaps a bit… well… darker than your average DC super hero title, don’t go the Mature Readers route, either.

This is the sort of thing out of which Vertigo itself grew, of course, back when DC was having such good luck with their mature readers Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and Sandman titles that they decided to create a separate imprint for them. And they did something similar a few years later, when Starman, The Demon, Hitman, Chase, and maybe a few others formed a small group of edgier (but still all-ages) comics set in the DCU. So this is hardly new territory for them.

If anything in the reboot seems geared toward me and my interests, these books are it. So let’s see how they fare…

Justice League Dark

The Team: Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin

The Premise: When threats too weird for the regular Justice League arise, that gap is filled by the team of Shade the Changing Man, Madame Xanadu, Deadman, Zatanna and… John Constantine?!

The Appeal: The sheer “what the fuck” factor will no doubt spark some Fanboy interest here. I know I’m planning to check out the first issue, anyway, just to see if Pete Milligan can pull this off. It’s Constantine that’s the problem, of course. The rest of these guys can function just fine in the spandex world. But Constantine? I don’t have a problem with them re-establishing him as a citizen of the DC Universe. It’s fun to have him pop up and put one over on Superman every now and then. But having him join an organization that would call itself the Justice League of anything just seems… Wrong? Silly? Out of character? Maybe all of the above.

As for mainstream interest… Maybe? Constantine’s the only character anyone who’s not a huge funnybook dork is going to be familiar with, and they’re probably going to wonder why he’s not American…

Saturday, June 25, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Three: Franchise Free-For-All!

Before we launch off into our discussion of DC’s rebooted “family” franchise titles, a quick aside: The DC brass have been making the rounds, doing their best to sell funnybook retailers on Fall initiatives that are, in part, designed to put those very people out of business. They’ve been facing understandably tough crowds, but in the process it seems a bit of the company philosophy behind the reboot has been revealed.

First and foremost, DC will be all about the action, post reboot. “No more talking heads!” is one phrase they’ve apparently been tossing around. Which, near as I can remember, isn’t something DC’s been doing anyway, but okay. That does seem to be the predominant trend out there in the world of cutting edge pop comics these days, and it’s probably a good model to attract new young readers. As long as you couple that with words like smart, funny, or cool… You’re on to something. Unfortunately, those are NOT words they’ve been tossing around, so… Hrm.

Another interesting tidbit is that they’re aiming the reboot at males between the ages of 18 and 34. Or, in other words, the same people who are buying their books now (or does the average DC Fanboy come in at 40 or above these days?). Actually, to be fair, I’m sure they’re talking about males between the ages of 18 and 34 who don’t already read comics. Which is most likely an achievable market that’s worth expanding into, albeit one in which DC will be facing an awful lot of competition. I would hope, though, that this is just the initial wave they’re talking about here. The market for women and teenaged girls is potentially even more massive, and DC already has properties and publishing lines in place that could be marketed toward them with very little effort, as well. Of course, they’ve marginalized Vertigo sufficiently at this point that maybe that’s not in the cards for them after all…

At any rate. With all that in mind, let’s get back to those solicits, starting with maybe the most important super hero of them all...

Action Comics

The Team: Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

The Premise: Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… Oh dear god in heaven! It’s a MAN!!!

The solicit for this one is kind of sparse on the details, but Morrison himself has said that this book will be telling the story of Superman’s earliest days in the cape, sort of an “angry young Superman” take that looks at how he operated initially in the new history, and how the world responded to their first super hero. It’ll apparently be a slightly more vulnerable Superman, too, one who’s still growing in power as his cells soak up solar radiation, and thus might still be hurt by, say, an exploding shell bursting on his chest.

Perhaps even more interestingly, not long after All-Star Superman wrapped up, Morrison also said that he’d like to do just such a “Year One” take, incorporating the character’s early righteous anger and Depression-era social activism. So I’m hoping we see some wife beaters and evil landlords getting tossed out of windows in this book, or maybe a corrupt politician or two being bullied into public admissions of guilt. But that’s just speculation and wishful thinking.

The Appeal: As a huge Grant Morrison fan, I’m a little biased here, but I’d imagine it would be pretty broad. Morrison’s already shown that he has a rock-solid understanding of the Man of Steel that’s proven popular with Fanboys, intellectuals, and mainstream readers alike. His one weakness in terms of the mass audience is his penchant for complex narratives that require actual thought on the part of the reader. His Final Crisis series, for instance, was so demanding that it drove many Fanboys into a rage. But his recent work has shown him incorporating that sort of thing into stories that still work for people who are only looking at the surface and just like to be wowed by cool ideas.

On the artistic side, meanwhile, Rags Morales is a solid draftsman of the type traditionally assigned to the Superman books. His clean lines and clear storytelling make his work easy for inexperienced funnybook readers to follow, and he has just enough flair that his stuff’s not boring to look at, either. I’ll be most curious to see how well he works with Morrison. Artists with more traditional styles don’t always deal well with the more bizarre ideas he throws at them. I like Rags’ stuff, though, so we’ll see.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Two: Gonna Be a New World

In Part One of our analysis of the DC Reboot, we waxed cautiously optimistic. Change is always just a little bit exciting, and the prospect of a drive to push comics into the faces of more readers than they’ve had in a good long while is heartening for an industry that’s been dying on the vine in recent years. But it’ll all be for naught if the books themselves aren’t any good.

So, armed with Bleeding Cool’s list of the September solicits, I’m going to sit down and take a critical look at what we currently know about all 52 series debuting in September. Of course, none of these comics have come out yet, so this will be pure speculation, based on what the solicit says, and the track record of the creators involved in each book.

Also, I should probably admit that I’m not really the intended audience for these comics. I like super heroes, and like to read good comics about them, but I'm a tough audience. I like to work a bit as a reader, and if I'm not given any work to do, I need to be dazzled by audacity so I don't get bored. I tend to prefer personal, quirky, idiosyncratic projects to this kind of corporate-owned-and-orchestrated stuff. So since DC doesn’t currently employ very many writers or artists I’m a fan of, I won’t be buying many of these books myself. Consider this more of a clinical look at the reboot, then, dissecting the books’ appeal to the Fanboy Nation, and to this mysterious audience of casual readers DC’s courting on-line. It’ll get smart-assed from time to time, I’m sure, but I’ll try to keep my personal biases clearly identified as such.

And with that, away we go…

Justice League

The Team: Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

The Premise: At the dawn (or at least second breakfasts) of the age of heroes, Batman brings together a team to combat a mysterious threat too big for him to tackle alone.

This book will be launching in the past to establish the heroic foundation of the rebooted DCU, then (according to Jim Lee) moving on to the present day. This new JLA origin story works fine for me, considering the way the modern interpretations of these characters interact, and will probably make a lot of sense to readers familiar with the team mostly by reputation. No word on the exact final line-up, but we know the book will at least feature the original core six: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Flash. Oh, and Cyborg. Which-- whoa, weird! Cyborg is now a founding member of the Justice League?! Guess he's replacing Martian Manunter. Which, I should add, does nothing to endear this book to me at all. At. ALL.

The Appeal: For me, zero. I love the Justice League, but this creative team is like my own personal funnybook Kryptonite. AND they seem to be taking Martian Manhunter off the team, in case I forgot to mention, which not only makes this the worst Justice League book evar(!!1!), but also gives me even more reason to hate them.

In the world of People Who Aren't Me, however, this book is a perfect storm: it‘s being positioned as DC‘s flagship series, and Johns and Lee both have massive fan followings that could combine to make this a funnybook store sales juggernaut. I’d guess that it’s going to have good mass appeal, too. Johns’ storytelling style is very mass-audience-friendly, and the fresh start may limit the amount of history he tries to pull in. Lee should be fine, too, but as long as I’m talking about him…

The fact that DC’s chosen Jim Lee to redesign their characters in a way that appeals to a fresh new 21st Century audience cracks me up. His sensibilities might have looked fresh 20 years ago, but now? I dunno. This is symptomatic of the biggest problem I see with the new line in general: how are they supposed to draw in a new audience when the books will, for the most part, be done by the same people who are doing non-mainstream-friendly versions of them now, and guys who were popular with huge funnybook dorks 20 years ago? But more on that as we progress…

Friday, June 17, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part One: They Shoot Fanboys, Don't They?

It’s an interesting time to be a funnybook fan.
That is, of course, a Chinese curse, and I’ve seen many of my fellow fans reacting in that spirit. But in spite of the turmoil, I have to admit, I’m kind of excited. Sure, on the one hand, the industry is dying. Sales are terrifyingly low, and getting lower. Partially, that’s because of the recession, and partially because of competition for the audience’s leisure time from more novel (and free!) on-line content. I mean, even I must admit that I’ve spent more time reading about comics in the last month than I have reading actual comics. But that, in part, is because of anticipation for what’s coming up in the immediate future. Which brings me, in roundabout fashion, to my topic for today: The DC Reboot. Now that all the solicits are out, and some of the basic questions have been answered, it's time to take a look at the plans and try a little "big picture" analysis based on what we know so far...

Reboot? Relaunch? Rehash?

Come September, DC Comics will be starting all their comics over from number one, with an altered history and a different attitude. Some characters will be different, some won’t change, and still others won’t exist at all anymore. They’re insisting that it’s not a “reboot” of their shared universe, that the continuity the Fanboy Nation holds so dear to their hearts still “counts.”

And, sure. They’re not changing much for Batman or Green Lantern (rather wisely not fixing what ain’t broke), but you know… It sounds to me like they’re making some pretty significant changes here. No super heroes in World War II? An aloof Supergirl who doesn’t like Earthlings very much? The Authority (okay, Stormwatch) exists alongside the Justice League? The public doesn’t like or trust masked heroes? Wonder Woman in pants?!

And then there's this:

Wh- Where are his underpants?!??!

Not Dead Yet...

Stepping out of character for just a minute (which is to say, all Nerd Farm gags aside)…

It’s been kind of quiet around the Dork Forty of late, but don’t think that’s because I’ve lost interest, or have run out of things to say about the funnybook business. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve just been preoccupied with other interests of late: music, movies, role-playing games, books with words in them… As I’ve always said, and seldom shown around here, I’m an all-purpose dork, and other things have captured my attention. But I hope to get things back on track around here soon. I’ve been following comics all through this little blogging vacation, and have lots to talk about. Later today, in fact, I should be weighing in with a look at the upcoming DC reboot...

Monday, May 23, 2011

At Last! A Long, Rambling Discussion of Batman!

So the nerd wranglers have been givin’ me funny, kinda worried, looks lately. Askin’ me if I was feelin’ okay. They were obviously hintin‘ at somethin‘, but I couldn‘t figure out what. But then, just last night, I found an autographed photo of Adam West on the door to the bunkhouse, and it all fell into place. Nerd wranglers are a superstitious lot, afraid of angerin’ the Funnybook Gods. None of ’em wanna work for a man who forgets what’s really important. And well… I guess it HAS been awhile since our last serious discussion of Batman.

There’s lots of reasons for that, and you could probably track them if you went back and ferreted out all the reviews I’ve done on the run of Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. to date. But even I can’t see taking the time to do that, and lord knows I love the sound of my own voice. So just let me boil it down for you now: the book’s seemed a little too… obvious thus far for me to really feel the need to dig in and write about whatever deeper meanings and complexities are folded into it. Now, I’ve been trusting that this obviousness is surface only, and that eventually some keystone issue will drop, shedding new light on all these preliminaries and making them much more than the sum of their parts. And, hey presto, it seems that issue dropped just recently, with…

Batman Inc #6
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham

(And it’s all SPOILER, all the time, from here on out, so… you know… You have been warned.)

Entitled “Niktomorph,” this story really is the capstone for the series’ first arc, the issue that defines the whole Batman Incorporated concept, and what it’s supposed to accomplish. Niktomorph translates roughly as “nightshape,” which is ultimately what Bruce Wayne is building here: an ever-shifting and difficult-to-trace global bat-presence, multiple agents acting as one to fight evil wherever it rears its head. In becoming ubiquitous, he’s also becoming more legendary, spreading the new world-wide Bat-Myth amongst the underworld, using his various agents to generate even more confusion as to who and what the Batman is.

Or, as Bruce himself puts it in the story: “Wayne arrived in Paris, Batmen sprung up … Batman’s in Hong Kong. Batman’s a girl. Batman‘s in Australia … Batman is everything you fear.” He even goes so far as to fabricate (I think?) extreme actions, spreading a story that he tattooed ‘child molester’ onto the forehead of a slave-purchasing celebrity pedophile in Australia. The terror campaign against crime has gone global. Welcome to Planet Gotham.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hey, I Was Reading That!

DC Comics Presents Night Force 100-Page Spectacular #1
by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Bob Smith

So DC recently put out this reprint book of one of my favorite early-80s funnybook series. The team behind Tomb of Dracula, reunited on a new horror series? That was like getting a new Sex Pistols album or something! My young mind reeled! I HAD to have that, and I bought all 14 issues of the series, hanging on right through to the bitter (bitter!) end. Fast-forward 29 years, and this thing comes out. And, since I can't re-read the original comics anymore due to an unfortunate allergy to decaying newsprint, I picked it up.

The story holds up pretty well. Far better than I expected, in fact, especially after reading Wolfman's really kind of dreadful early Tomb of Dracula work last year. Sure. There's still some achingly bad dialogue here and there, and the story's emphasis on the Soviet occult/parapsychology program does make it a bit dated. But Gene Colan's artwork is (as always) just gorgeous. And on the whole, it's a neat little supernatural mystery with interestingly flawed heroes. And it stars maybe my favorite of the corporate spandex magical mystery men: Baron Winters. Part Phantom Stranger, part Barnabas Collins, and part con man, Baron Winters has a pet leopard and a house with doors that open onto other times and places. He's mysterious and cool and just sleazy enough to keep him relatable.

The story concerns an attempt to summon up and harness Evil itself, at the cost of the sanity of a young woman who's serving as an unwitting psychic conduit to the experiments. But a pair of Soviet spies want her, too, and lead Our Heroes (the doctor conducting the experiments, and a washed-up alcoholic hack reporter) on a merry chase back to Russia, where...

Well, this collection doesn't reveal what happens once the story gets to Russia. Because for some reason, DC decided to only collect the first four issues here, and it leaves off with everyone packing off for Commieland, the story an issue or two away from its conclusion. That's right. They collected the first Night Force arc, and didn't reprint the whole thing!

What the fuck, man?! Who thought THAT was a good idea?! If I thought that this was the first of a series of these "100-Page Spectaculars" collecting the series, I'd be fine with it. But the big "One-Shot" logo on the cover says pretty decisively that it's not gonna happen. So again... What the fuck?! I paid eight bucks for this shit, and you're not even gonna give me the whole story?! I can't decide if this is a case of gross editorial incompetence or very poorly thought-out corporate hucksterism. But whatever's going on... I don't cotton to it! Not one damn bit!

Grade for the Story: B
Grade for the Publication: F. Minus.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Back in the Saddle: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

So it's been a busy coupla weeks 'round here on the nerd farm, and I'm not gonna lie to you: it's still pretty damn busy. But not so busy that I can't strap in for some quick reviews this week...

Invincible Iron Man #503
by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca

Fraction delivers a really nice wrap-up to his battle of wills between Tony Stark and Otto Octavius this time around, with Stark finally giving in and begging Doc Ock to stop the timer on the nuclear device he's holding over New York's head. Which, as it turns out, isn't acually a bomb at all. Ock lied, and Stark fell for it. But in a situation eerily similar to the dark future we saw in issue 500, Stark caved. He caved, and called Octavius "master" to save lives. Which is, of course, the real difference between Stark and the other arrogant geniuses Fraction's compared and contrasted him with over his long tenure on the title. He may have sat back and laughed at the ignorant masses with Madame Masque in his younger days, but when the chips are down, Stark will do anything, including debase himself, to save them.

On the flip side, Fraction does cheat on the conclusion of his Pepper vs Electro and Sandman battle, allowing the bad guys to slip away without any real explanation to make room for a few pages of "Fear Itself" crossover. But the character work that precedes that spandex plot cop-out far outweighs any disappointment I might have felt. This was good work, made better in light of the long-term writing. Or, in other words, it's exactly what I look for in franchise work-for-hire super hero comics.

Grade: A-

Fables #104
by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha

Oy. My happiness with the current Super Team arc lessens with each passing issue. Any time this book goes "meta" and starts discussing the fictional underpinnings of the magic that connects the Fable Homelands with the Mundy World, my eyes glaze over. So this continual discussion of super hero tropes, and how they have to balance the team correctly to make the magic work properly, just makes me want to stop reading. And that's not even mentioning how much I despise fucking Brock Blueheart, the talking animal Boy Blue cultist that also makes me want to stop reading, every time he walks on-screen. It's all far too cute for my taste, and the promise of it being followed by another saccharine story about Bufkin the talking monkey in Oz does very little to make me want to keep buying.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gone Fishin'

So things are gettin' pretty busy around the nerd farm right now, and the next couple of weeks might be a little light on the postings. But we'll be back in full force in May, with more funnybook reviews, a look at A Game of Thrones (book and TeeVee version), and the too-long-in-coming continuation of our history of the Comics Code Authority!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Super-Spies, Thunder Gods and Gender Benders: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!

So here we are, another week older, another week wiser, another week heavier with new funnybooks to discuss…

Journey Into Mystery #622
by Kieron Gillen, Dougie Braithwaite, and Ulises Arreola

I have to like Marvel’s marketing strategy here. They’re giving Thor a new number one to better-capitalize on the upcoming movie (which I don’t think ever works, but whatever). But rather than completely abandon the original numbering they just returned to less than two years ago, they’re treating the new Thor as a separate series and restoring this series to its original title: Journey Into Mystery. Which is one of the better monster/suspense series titles ever, and one I‘m finding myself surprisingly happy to have back on the racks.

Series writer Kieron Gillen is embracing his title in earnest, too. It’s still a Thor comic, of course, but more of a Thor spin-off starring the young Loki, recently reborn and as-yet-unformed. Gillen is sending his young god of mischief off on a literal “journey into mystery,” a quest that will decide exactly what sort of Loki he will be. I’m finding it pretty compelling so far. Gillen’s Loki is clever and sharp-tongued, and driven by a refreshing mix of curiosity and enlightened self-interest. This first issue plays a little like a children’s fantasy novel, with Our Hero following a trail of bread crumbs left behind by his former self and realizing that it’s part of a larger scheme that he’s going to walk into anyway, if he wants to be his own man.

It’s a nice take on the character, and one more in line with how he was often depicted in the myths. “God of Mischief” too often morphs over into “God of Evil” in modern depictions of the Norse gods, but he’s a much more complex figure than that. There’s every indication that the Vikings admired Loki’s cleverness, even though it was of a type they also believed you couldn’t entirely trust. He exists in a queasy sort of grey area, one that I hope Gillen exploits to the fullest.

On the artistic side of things, the book is apparently being colored and reproduced directly from Dougie Braithwaite’s pencils, which gives the work an illustrative texture that’s difficult to attain with ink. I wouldn’t call the artwork beautiful or anything, but I like the feel of it. It suits the book, I think, and that’s what’s really important in the end.

Grade: B+

Casanova: Gula IV
by Matt Fraction, Fabio Moon, and Gabriel Ba

The reprints of Gula wrap up this issue, and the cat’s out of the bag on what I still consider the best twist ending ever. I have to admit, though, that I’d forgotten how Fraction cheats on it a little here at the end. [SPOILER] The way I remembered it, Seychelle’s artificial life tech had been behind the transformation of Casanova into Zephyr, but he’s just as shocked as the rest of Our Heroes to realize the truth. Which means that Fraction doesn’t actually explain how they did it at all. I’m okay with it, don’t get me wrong; in a world of weird-ass super-science and Life Model Decoys, a little gender-bending DNA manipulation is far from outside the realm of possibility. But an explanation, even one as glib and incomplete as the one I just tossed out there, would have been nice. [/SPOILER]

He makes up for that, though, with the fascinating manifestation of guilt we get from Cas. Faced with Newman Xeno’s choice to fire the gun or re-write history and die, Casanova chooses to go back to his own timeline and die, leaving his friends and family where they were if he’d never made the dimensional jump that started the series. Of course, he’s not really making that choice out of altruism; he thinks he’s really messed things up, and would rather die than face the guilt. Fortunately for us, though, the decision to fire the gun’s really not up to him, and so we get to watch the juicy aftermath. Speaking of which…

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Ward

From those fine fellows over at the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast comes their Lovecraftian YouTube sitcom, The Ward! You can go here to view all three parts of the pilot episode, but part one can be seen below...

Monday, April 11, 2011


So we just can’t seem to keep the funnybooks cleared out here on the Dork Forty. Every time we make some headway into the storehouse, somethin’ comes along and keeps us from reviewin’ everything the way we oughtta. Well, that ends now. We’re drawin’ a line in the freakin’ sand, and today I’m gettin’ this mess cleared out one way or another. Which, of course, means that it’s time for a whole mess of quickies…

Osborn #4 (of 5)
by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

A few pacing problems surface this issue. As the story nears its conclusion, there’s still a good number of plot points to cover, and DeConnick is dutifully cramming them in. Unfortunately, there’s so much ground to cover that a major character reveal toward the end of the issue isn’t afforded the visual space needed to give it the proper impact. But Emma Rios continues to knock it out of the park on the art front, with the dynamic storytelling and convincing character acting that have distinguished her in my mind as an artist to watch.

Grade: B

The Sixth Gun #9 & 10
by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt

I missed a couple of issues of this book between the first trade and the monthly, but the handy-dandy inside-cover plot synopsis has gotten me up to date: Our Heroes are laying low in New Orleans, and have (of course) attracted the attention of the local supernatural community, as well as that of foreign powers who know more about the guns than they do. So it’s voodoo and swamp ghosts and a posse of gun slinging Italian priests for the weird western this time around. Bunn’s started fleshing out Becky Montcrief a bit, as well; she’s still the innocent in all of this, but she’s not so innocent that she won’t take a lover and keep it from her jealous partner. This book still isn’t great, but the pulpy mix of voodoo, Vatican hit squads, and compromised morality are enough to keep me happy for now.

Grade: B