Friday, January 26, 2007

Weekly Comic Reviews for January 24, 2007 -- SPOILERS

Only two books to review this week, Civil War: The Return and Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show #9. Spoilers abound.

Civil War: The Return -- The regular cover pretty much gives away the big return, the limitted cover leaves no doubt. Captain Mar-Vell is back. My big question is "why?" Was it really necessary to bring him back? And why do it during Civil War? Was it just to give Civil War yet another "wow!" moment without really concerning yourself with what Civil War is supposed to be about? Was it like their reasoning for cloning Thor? Did they just want Captain Mar-Vell's likeness in their big epic story even if it didn't really make sense? All in all, him returning now leaves a bad taste in my mouth so I was hoping this book would alleviate some of those concerns. For me, it failed pretty badly in that area. The random "plucking" of Captain Mar-Vell from time seems to be something the Marvel janitor came up with because they couldn't come up with something better or more tied into the Civil War storyline. And since he still has the blackend (I'll avoid calling it cancer just as Marvel did) you have a character with a limitted shelf life (or he'll be cured of his disease this time which for me would be the wrong thing for Marvel to do for several personal reasons). And in the end, this half of the book played out like a 30 second movie teaser and really not worth the money. I actually wish I hadn't bought it. The second half with Sentry battling the Absorbing Man didn't really make up for it either. So we get to see Sentry's reasoning (somewhat) for registering (a few months late isn't it considering he had that dilemma so many months ago but has been shown to be on the pro-side since then). To be honest, I had to look up the Absorbing Man's powers because this idea that he could also absorb all of Sentry's strength and powers seemed off but it seems he has been able to do stuff like this in the past (like absorbing Thor's strength). So I can't criticize Jenkins there, he is sticking with established abilities of the character. It's mostly the other writers who haven't been consistent and haven't used this aspect of his powers. It wasn't a horrible story as you get to see what's weighing on Sentry's mind but since it didn't really fit with the first half of the book it made the entire book appear more as a "hey, we have a month to fill, let's throw something together." All in all, a pretty big disappointment for me.

The Great and Secret Show #9 -- I think a recap of this book would be next to impossible if you haven't been reading it for yourself. There's just too many characters and too many stories going on to do so. Having said that, this issue continues to work well. I can only think of one complaint I had and that's the scene where Raul is about to be attacked and you see one of the Lix (snake-like creatures) start to move. The problem, you have a few Lix lying "dead" on the floor and one starts to move but they put word balloons over the Lix that started to move. If you don't look hard and realize that little greenish part popping out to the top left of the balloon is one of the Lix you'd be a little lost. But other than that, I'm still enjoying this book. I'll probably still have to read it again after the series is done though. It remains too hard to keep track of characters and storylines with the month gaps in between.

And hopefully Carl gets his RSS feed fixed so he actually reads this review. ;) I'm not sure if anyone else might be having this issue but I hope not.

Monday, January 22, 2007

We are the champions!

Wow, a post not related to comics! Yesterday my ball hockey team played in the league championship game and won. We had a rough season with 3 players going down to various injuries and 2 replacements coming in mid-season but we fought hard during the playoffs. We had a few really close calls earlier in the playoffs with one game going to a shootout and one game where we tied it up with less than a minute to play and took the lead with 20 seconds remaining. Yesterday's game we won 6 to 3 but it was a tense game.

To be honest, I was pretty nervous going into it. When I went out for my first shift my heart was already racing. Which I know is silly for recreational hockey but I really wanted to win this. We had a lot of players who had never played for the championship (including me) much less won it. Even the league organizer, who is on our team and has been running the league for 14 seasons or 7 years now, had never made it this far. But with incredibly solid goaltending and every contributing in both the offensive and defensive zones, we pulled through.

I'm looking forward to the end of season banquet this Friday. And there's no rest for the wicked as next season's draft happens tomorrow (Tuesday) and the new season starts Sunday.

Oh yeah, our team name was the Bruins. As a Canadiens fan it's bitter sweet to know that we're adding "The Bruins" to the list of championship teams. But oh well, what can you do.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Weekly Comics Reviews for January 17th, 2007 -- SPOILERS

Better late than never I suppose. Only one book to review this week, She-Hulk #15. So let's just get right to it:

She-Hulk #15 -- Let's see, She-Hulk questions how heroes might become agents of SHIELD and then is forced to become one herself and she seems to have mixed feelings about it. This issue starts her new storyline of chasing after Hulk foes. It seems that without the Hulk around some of his villains are popping up and SHIELD is sending in She-Hulk to deal with them. In this case, it's the Abomination. Character-wise, Slott continues to make She-Hulk an interesting, multi-levelled character. Her attitude towards SHIELD and the registration is done much better in this series than in Civil War and most definitely better than Frontline. I still cringe when I think back about how she got physically pushed aside by a few media people or how she seems to buckle at the first sign of adversity in Frontline but that's a rant for another review. Besides that, she's filled with doubt on several levels. The separation of Jen Walters and She-Hulk, being thrown in there against Hulk foes, marrying the Man-Wolf, the registration and working with SHIELD, and her final "getting busy" moment in this book. They're all weighing heavy on her. Though I do question some aspects of this book. For one thing, why start with the Abomination? Was Slott trying to start with a bang? Because Peter David really did a great job of building Blonsky up where he wasn't just someone that got his butt handed to him repeatedly by the Hulk. This was the guy who killed Betty (ignoring Bruce Jones' switheroo of putting her into a coma instead) and also the guy who was pretty much made to go toe to toe with the Hulk, even starting off at as stronger than the Hulk. Slott tries to play up the Abomination with She-Hulk's narration but in the end, she beats him without Abomination doing anything to her. Sure, she started off using her "fighting prowess" courtesy of Cap and a psychological attack courtesy of Doc Samson but still, if she can put away the Abomination in such short time, and the Abomination regularly goes toe to toe with the Hulk in matches that last a long time, where do you go from there? I mean, just the fact that SHIELD only sent She-Hulk in kinda diminishes him and in turn, the Hulk. And although the psychological twist she uses makes use of just who the Abomination is and his self-hatred, it was all done just a little too easily. So yeah, as a Hulk-fan, I found this book to be a little disappointing. I know with Slott's She-Hulk sometimes you can't take things too seriously but on the other hand, I find it was diminishing character.

Secondly, there was the art (ooh, I started a second paragraph, unusual for a review). The art continues to be bad. Now I'm not a fan of the overly cartoony stuff but the art here continues to disappoint me. I've complained about it for the last few issues and although there seems to be improvement, it still bugs me. When the Abomination first appears the bumps on his head look like little ... well, I won't say what they look like but they stick out way too much. But as the book goes on it seems like the artist got tired of drawing them because by the end of the book he only has 5 or so. His head starts to look like an inflated latex glove albeit with small fingers. For a book that is as well received for its writing as this book is, I think it deserves better in the art category. And overall, I'm still hoping for a turnaround in this book after Civil War is done. Hopefully the time between Civil War/Planet Hulk and World War Hulk will do the job for me.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Weekly Comic Book Reviews Delayed, Classic Reviews Continue

My weekly reviews will be delayed until this weekend as I won't be able to get to the comic store tonight. I think I only have She-Hulk coming in anyways. But to fill in the gap here are my reviews of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which I will now refer to as "The League") volumes 1 and 2. I'm only reviewing the comic portion of them as I haven't read the other written stories that accompany them (I'm a couple chapters into the first one). And I'll do it all in one chunk to save me time but I'll include a second part to comment on the movie. I should also mention that the books are intended for a more mature audience due to violence, nudity, and all that other good stuff. ;)

The Review: What can I say about Moore's writing. The guy has received so many awards and so much recognition for his work that it seems rather silly for me to continue to praise it on my simple little blog. The level of detail in the writing in the League is exceptional. His inclusion of characters (from major to minor) and even the smallest detail from classic literature and how it's all woven together is really amazing. A lot of the details went over my head (I have to admit my ignorance to a lot of the classics) but I didn't find it to distracting to be missing out on some things while catching others. The thing I love about Moore's work is that the characters are real. They're not perfect and despite their flaws the heroes still come out as heroic (well, those who are supposed to be heroic do). The pacing of the book, the character designs, the dialogue, it all helps the reader make that connection with the characters. I'm reminded of one scene after the Invisible Man killed a police officer, you have a page (maybe it was more, I can't quite recall now) of silent panels with him removing the officer's uniform and putting it on. I found myself wondering what the heck the guy was doing and almost urging him to hurry up and get back to the Nautilus. And as he strolls through the street so nonchalantly I found myself just as frustrated with his actions as the characters in the book. It's that kind of connection that truly great writers and artists can make with a reader. And it's moments like that and the appreciation of them that make me the comic geek I am. Which leads me to the art. Now normally I'm not a big fan of the style Kevin O'Neill displays in this book so I was a little worried when I started. And at the beginning, that prejudice on my part made me question whether another artist might have done a better job of drawing some panels or scenes. But it didn't take too long before I was won over. I think the fantastic nature of this book needs an artist like O'Neill and the characterization he achieves is remarkable. And his rendering of some of the scenes (such as the Invisible Man one I mentioned earlier or Hyde sitting down for dinner with Nemo at the museum, a scene Wizard Magazine listed in their top 25 "creepiest, eeriest, goriest, most disturbing, and just plain scariest comics moments ever" so I won't spoil it) is top notch comic book story telling. Needless to say, I loved both volumes and recommend them.

As for the movie, I saw this movie a while back so obviously it was before reading the books. Upon first viewing I had mixed feelings about it. The over-the-top fantastical nature of the story threw me a bit. But it grew on me and to this day, I actually enjoy watching it. Which is actually a little hard to admit to now (after having read and enjoyed the comics so much) because the liberties they took with the characters and the story would normally make me cringe. Some of the changes really take away from the indvidual characters and their ties to their origins in the literature and that's too bad. On the other hand, it's Hollywood so at least they were in the ballpark in some cases. And it was a rather fun ride even if it was rather predictable. The books tell the story as it should be told and even though the movie falls short of that, I still find it a guilty pleasure to watch.

So that's it for now. Hopefully the She-Hulk review will go up this weekend. I'm not sure what's next on my list. I have "Re-inventing Comics" by Scott McCloud to read and I'm looking to pick up a copy of "Marvels" to re-read that. But there's also a few novels I'd like to get to and of course, all this reading is keeping me from doing any drawing. So we'll have to see where I go from here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Comic Reviews for January 10th, 2007 (SPOILERS)

It was a slow week for me with only White Tiger #3 coming in. I considered getting the Hyperion/Nighthawk series set in Darfur but passed on it for now. I'll wait and see how the rest of the series is received and then maybe hope for a Trade Paperback. But I also finished Making Comics by Scott McCloud so I'll have some final thoughts on that book.

White Tiger #3 -- I found this issue to be an improvement over the previous two but it still seems to be missing the mark for me. The characters (especially White Tiger herself) are well thought out and interesting but the storytelling seems off. Spider-Man's extremely brief appearance seems to come out of nowhere and he really doesn't contribute too much (just a brief insight and a few jokes) before running off on the next page. Some parts feel disjoint, like when two people talk about not knowing where White Tiger was and the next panel says "A few blocks away" while showing her confronting a guy trying to steal a car. Then we're taken away from that scene back to the two people. It just seemed too choppy. And her narrative about how she's spending her days doesn't match up with the panels (she gives the narrative and then it's followed by several panels, the narrative could have been broken up so that each part is with the panel it matches). Then there are the 2 page displays. They feel out of place here and not very effective. It was almost like they were trying too hard to make more out of some scenes than was necessary. It didn't help that some slender panels were put right in the middle of the two pages, you kinda overlook them as they get lost in the crease of the book (which made me miss some dialogue in my first pass). Although the story seems interesting it still seems to be struggling to get out of the gate. And even though I'm enjoying it on some level I wouldn't recommend this book outright.

Making Comics by Scott McCloud -- I know I'll be singing the praises of Mr McCloud for quite some time now. I started reading his books just because of the praise he was getting on various message boards and now I see why. I don't know about his "Redefining Comics" (which came in the mail yesterday), I've heard it's not as good, but Making Comics and Understanding Comics are great books. Understanding Comics is really for the comic enthusiasts out there but is a great overview of comics in general. Making Comics carries on for those interested in... well.. making comics. There are tidbits in there that might be of interest to others but yeah, for the most part it's all for the makers of comics. He might not go into the level of detail as some other dedicated books (like David Chelsea's book on comic book perspective or Gary Martin's book on comic book inking) but he covers so much already. And although some of those books cover the how to as well as the why/when (though many books out there just cover the how to and not the why or when) McCloud breaks it down with theory and clear explanations. His love of comics in all forms (though he seems to really push Manga) really opened my eyes to a lot of the comic book world that I had passed over in the past. I don't think this book will go on my shelf for quite some time as I'll probably be pulling it out to look something up so often. It'll just be easier to leave it next to my drafting board for quick access. I really can't praise this book enough and I think every comic book creator, whether it be a penciller, inker, writer or editor, should read it.

Although I got "Redefining Comics" in the mail yesterday, I may take a break from Scott McCloud's books so that I can read the other books I got. Those would be the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume 1 and 2.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Weekly Comic Reviews (and 24 season 3 DVD) some spoilers -- January 3rd, 2007

Happy new year everyone! Let's get right to the reviews because I might be ranting a bit today. Spoilers will be kept to a minimum where possible (mostly for Carl's sake with Civil War #6). We have three books this week with Civil War #6, Civil War Frontline #10, and Incredible Hulk #103. On top of that we have Watchmen and 24 Season 3.

Civil War #6 -- I find the penultimate issue in most comic book stories to be a downer. It's generally that lull where things are put into place for the big finale but nothing really significant happens. Civil War #6 was really not much different. Yes, we get some of the "traitor" stuff resolved though I'm curious how in Frontline Tony and Reed claimed to know about the traitor and who he/she was but seem genuinely surprised here. I'm not sure the whole "traitor" thing was resolved. Punisher provides a few highlights. But after reading it I just felt "meh". It didn't really help that I felt this was some of McNiven's weaker artwork on the series. The artwork had its highs and lows but it just didn't seem to have the intensity it needed. And that hurts some panels. And when it comes to Tony's line about no shame in "making enemies", it comes off as rather callous in the face of all the deaths that the pro-reg side has been responsible for in this war, especially when the looks on Reed and Tony's face seem to be just happyness. You don't even get a sense that they're just trying to put on a brave face or anything, it almost seems like they're enjoying it. I continue to dislike where Marvel is going with this series but there was very little meat to this book so there's less for me to gripe about.

Civil War Fronline #10 -- Technically, I read Hulk second but I'll keep the Civil War reviews together this week. This book continues to be crap. Last issue the two reporters each discovered "the secret" behind the Civil War. The first half of this issue they plan on meeting up and telling each other. Well, they eventually meet up (after Ben Eurich quits) and then spend a few pages running from explosions that just happen to be happening around them. It's a fight between some pro-reg villains and some anti-reg heroes. Of course Venom is drawn as the old Eddie Brock Venom for a panel or two (and some scrawny Venom-lite in the background of one panel) and "Daredevil" is there (making me wonder about the timeline, I guess this is where they captured him but that doesn't seem to mesh either). And we have the pro-reg heroes and villains blowing up buildings and killing people (apparently civilians and anti-reg people). Yay for that nano-technology SHIELD put in them to monitor their activities. And yay for Radioactive Man who had turned good in Thunderbolts but seemed to be going along with the death and destruction. But enough about that, the two reporters get to a safe spot and ... and ... cut to a few minutes later, after they've revealed their big finds to each other, the end. What the heck!!! I'm all for building suspense but that's just crap! That story contained absolutely nothing of use. As an aside, when reading Scott McCloud's book about making comics he says to remove a panel and see if the story changes. If it doesn't then maybe that panel isn't needed. The fact that you could remove this whole 12 pages and other than the one panel where Ben quits the reader would miss out on absolutely nothing shows just how unnecessary this story was. It was filler, plain and simple. And as a consumer I felt ripped off. The second half of the book was slightly better. Sure, I knew the result but in this case it was my fault for reading the preview stuff on the Thunderbolts. But even with that, it just dragged on and on. Page after page or repetitive junk. I almost fell asleep reading it... in fact, I wish I did. And the dialogue is pretty bad, especially Reed. The whole "Don't do this, you'll be committing suicide" while avoiding saying what "this" is comes off as unbelievable and unrealistic. But at least they got rid of those comparisons of this Civil War to the real one. Yeah, this series has been junk.

Incredible Hulk #103 -- The good story continues. But so does the so-so presentation in my mind. At least this time there were a few reminders like "one hour ago" and "now" to let you know about the jumps (even though they still seem jarring) but then at the end it seems to fall apart. A big problem is that there's not enough space provided in the writing to create scene establishing shots. Instead of having a larger scene showing that the setting has changed and we're moving ahead in time we get a couple headshots and dialogue that seems to be mismatched. It's a page later that we discover we jumped ahead in time and to a different location. In some instances that can be used as a story telling device. In this instance, it's out of place and a little jarring. Having said that, I can still forgive these issues due to the fact that the Hulk has a decent storyline to it. But the one thing I can't really get over is the Hulk's display of strength. By the description of the act (which I'll avoid spoiling) it almost seems to be something that pre-Crisis Superman would have done. And as much as I want the Hulk to be shown some respect when it comes to his strength I don't want him to fall into the "overpowered" crowd either. But overall, still a good series.

Watchmen TPB -- Okay, it might have taken me 13 years to get around to "Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud but it took about 20 years to get around to reading Watchmen. And that's really sad considering. The praise this book has received for not only re-inventing the world of comics (showing the potential for the medium) but as an exceptional literary work (being listed in the top 100 English literature books by Time Magazine in 2005) is all over the place so I won't get into that. Let's just say I had to read it eventually and I think most comic book enthusiasts have to. And in some ways it's probably best that I waited until I was old enough to appreciate it. By this time the book may have lost some of its "oomph" as many comics have followed in its path. No longer is it so shocking to see a serious attitude taken to writing a complex and meaningful story in a comic book format. So you kinda have to remind yourself of what the comic book world was like in 1986. But putting all that aside as well, the story still holds out. The characters still have the emotional impact on the reader, the symbolism is all there for those who want to delve into it while for others it will just be an amazing story. You could spend forever discussing the ins and outs of Rorschach (probably the most memorable character in the book for many people) or any other character in the book (though Rorschach would be my pick). The art might seem dated by today's standards but it's effective in telling the story and still holds its own. The body language, the emotion, the settings, it's all top notch. Many artists of today could learn a thing or two from examining those details. Personally, I cringe at all the work that went into it. All those pages of 9 panels, each panel containing more information and detail than some artists put in a whole page. And just when you think you've absorbed it all you learn something new on a second or third look or when it's pointed out to you. The same goes for the writing and story. It's really a masterpiece and the more I think about it the more I realize that it deserves all the praise it gets. If you're a serious fan of comic books and haven't read this than do yourself a favour and do so.

24 season 3 -- Yeah, I'm behind on this as well. How I got into this series? Well, people kept talking about it but I never bothered with it. Then one night I was channel surfing and saw Sean Astin. Since nothing seemed to be on and I've enjoyed his work in the past I figured why not watch whatever it was. It was 24 season 5 of course and I was almost immediately hooked. The problem was that I had no clue what was going on but I was hooked nonetheless. So I resolved to stop watching it and catch up via DVDs. Seasons 1 and 2 were amazing which leads me to season 3. I had heard that this was the weakest of the seasons but I don't know about that. I really enjoyed it. The intensity remains. You never know what's going on or what's going to happen and just when you think you do, the rug gets pulled out from under you. I have commented in the past how everything seems to happen on the hour every hour (since the show is in real-time and you need that cliff hanger every week) but other than that, it's great. It leaves you on the edge of your seat constantly. It's addictive actually. You keep saying "one more episode before going to bed" but after each episode you have to see what happens next. The joy of watching it on DVD, you don't have to wait for that week in between. Plus, you don't have to worry about missing an episode. In season 2 I hated Jack's daughter. Her constant nagging of him while he's busy with stuff (like you know, saving the world from WW3 and little stuff like that) made me very angry. In season 3 it's Chloe while the daughter wasn't nearly as bad. Chloe just rubbed me the wrong way and was just way too annoying. I'll have to see if that improves in season 4 (oops, that might be a spoiler there). And for the Heroes fans out there it might be hard to watch the actor who now plays Sylar. Every scene he was in I half-expected him to start ripping people's heads apart to get at their brains. Wow, I just got deja vu. Weird. Anyways, it's a great show and I can't wait until I get season 4. It's smart, it's emotional, it's engaging, etc, etc. :)

As a preview for my next reviews (at least I hope I'm done the book by then) I'll just mention that I've been reading "Making Comics" by Scott McCloud. I'm about half way through it and have come to the conclusion that McCloud is a god of comics. I think every comic book writer and artist should read this book. I might even do a few of his little exercises, especially the ones about body language and emotions. I've been told several times that the characters I draw are too rigid and such (which I admit is very very true) so it would be good to try some of these things out. But enough about me. Once I'm done the book I'll say more but already it's high (probably the top book) on my recommended reading list for comic writers and artists.